Sunday, April 02, 2006


A writer I'm working with recently asked me how much visual information he should put into a scene. Since he will also be directing the piece, I advised him to make sure that he put in enough information to clue in his crew, to avoid questions about things that he already knows he's solved, but not so much that actors, financiers and distributors get lost and confused and give up on the script.

How will he know he's achieved maximum visualization? When he can have someone read it who isn't a visual artist and they finish it in one sitting. If your scripts are taking people more than one sitting to finish (or you have a failure to launch) but when you pitch it folks are excited about the idea, than you've got to re-jigger the pacing and reconceive the way you are getting into and out of scenes. There are a number of excellent posts about these things, so I won't go into that here. This one by Jane Espenson is great, this one by John August which is about different "styles" of screenwriting, I thought was interesting as well. If, on the other hand, no one is excited about your idea, or they get that curiously flat expression of someone who has no idea why you'd want to write that thing you're talking about, head back to the drawing board.

In general, a base line I adhere to and suggest to new writers is nail the emotional arc of the story first, then go back through and nail the pacing of the script. Things like visuals and dialogue polish are the fine picks you use on the sculpture after you've got the major pieces in place. Sometimes a scene will read "flat" because you haven't done the job of finding "business" for your characters. Do they smoke, knit, do yoga? If you have nailed the emotional content of a scene and the general pacing of a script, then do go back through and find places where a juicy visual, or a really sharp line of dialogue can elevate the drama.

But do that during the third or fourth pass of the script. Really. If the emotional arc of your character isn't working, it won't matter how big the action sequences are. And if the pacing doesn't work -- it' probably because the emotional arc doesn't function. Everything about the film services that arc, exists because of that arc. Everything. Especially the juicy visuals.

No comments: