Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A cardinal screenwriting sin

Reading a lot of neophyte screenwriter's scripts and now my screenwriting students' outlines for short films, I often come across elaborate shot descriptions: camera moves, dolly in, close up and all sorts of kludge that reveals the writer as a wannabe director.

We're all wannabe directors! After all, John Gregory Dunne said wanting to be a screenwriter is like wanting to be a co-pilot. However, that doesn't mean wannabe directors who are now screenwriters can get away with this cardinal sin: directing on paper.

As brilliant as your vision for your film is, there's nothing that raises the ire of any professional reading your material more than if it's cluttered up with directing crap. What the screenwriter is responsible for, as Paul Schrader says, is three things: Story, Character, Theme. No one else can provide that to the film. However, it's the director's responsibility to figure out how to shoot a scene, not the screenwriters'.

Even if the screenwriter intends to direct their work, they owe it to themselves, and certainly to their creative collaborators to be a screenwriter when they're writing. Tell the story--as visually as possible and all that--but describe WHAT we see and WHAT we hear. Not HOW we see it or hear it. That's the director's job and when the screenwriter changes hats and becomes a director, then he can shotlist to his or her heart's content. But cluttering up a screenplay, or worse, an outline, with this stuff just gets in the way of the reader--and remember that they're usually looking for any reason to toss your script--of being able to TRACK THE STORY.

Do your story a favour and favour it, rather than your own directing aspirations when telling your story on paper.

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