Friday, 8 July 2016

CONCISE WRITING & THE CONCEPT

Just a short post today as I'm busy with projects...

I was reading a screenplay last night in which the writer was over-writing and over directing character movements. 

For example, the writer was micro describing movements such as - let's call the main character John - 'John's eyebrows lift in the middle, he lifts his hand to his neck, scratches nervously. '

Or, 'John takes out his wallet, he opens, it, finds $200 in mixed notes, then offers them to Michelle.'

There's far too much action being described and it slows the read waaaay down. 

This is something I see far too often in screenplays. If you're writing a novel and you want to get into describing micro-movements - go nuts - have at - it's a novel, there really are very few 'rules.'

But because screenplays have set page lengths - you have to use your writing real-estate wisely. 

Your feature screenplay should never come in over 110 pages. And really, if you're starting out, as in, you haven't even optioned a screenplay yet - then you really should bring your script in at the 100 page mark at the most. 

One of the very first things a reader looks at is page count. Why? Because a seasoned reader can tell from the page count what kind of writer they're dealing with. 

If an unknown writer has handed in a 123 page script to read - you know from the get-go the writer hasn't taken the time to edit their script back to a far more digestible 110 pages. 

If you, the writer can't be bothered to take the time to edit your script down, then why should the reader take you seriously?

They've got 100 other screenplays to read - literally. ANY excuse to start skim-reading and they will. 

Now, if there's anyone reading this right now and saying to themselves, 'that's not right, I see plenty of scripts that are over 110 pages'.

Yeah, you do, they're either major screenplay competition winners, or they're from writers that have managers, agents and have pre-existing relationships with producers. 

If you're not one of these, then do yourself a huuuuuuge favor and learn how to write concisely.

Using the second example above, let's look at how to trim down the writing. 

John takes out his wallet, he opens, it, finds $200 in mixed notes, then offers them to Michelle.

That's four beats -- 

beat 1 - John takes out his wallet.
beat 2 - he opens it
beat 3 - finds $200 in mixed notes
beat 4 - offers them to Michelle.

OR

A concise way to write this is - John offers Michelle $200 from his wallet.

This way, you have conveyed all the information in the previous sentence in one simple sentence and in one beat. 

THE TAKE AWAY...

Take a look at your screenplay you're working on. Do a pass where you focus solely on trimming down sentences where you direct the actions of your characters. 

CONCEPT -- 

I've talked about concept before quite a lot - but now I want to talk about it in relation to an actual film that came in February this year.

The film is TRIPLE 9.

I remember reading this screenplay way, way, back. Somewhere near 2011/12. 

It didn't strike me as a terribly interesting script, but quite a few people were going nuts for it. I never really got why?

It cost $20m to make, and has only done $20m at the box office. 

To the uninformed eye that might look the film broke even - but it's not so. To break even at the box office, you roughly need a 3:1 ratio. 

So if your film cost $20m to make - a box office take of $60m puts you in the black. 

I could write an entire post on why that is and the numbers that go into box-office break down of receipts... but for now, I'm in a rush, so do some googling about it if you want to know more. 

The Concept of Triple 9 is - Some nefarious cops conspire to kill one of their own.

That it in its simplest form.

It's a movie about cops killing cops. That's it.

That's not a terribly interesting or unique concept. There's nothing hugely new about that - and there's no new interesting angle to the execution of the concept. 

So you've got a film with really good actors throughout - and a decent budget - that is a financial flop. 

THE TAKE AWAY...

Look at your concept. What is the simplest way to sum up your film? Can you summarise it in a few words. How interesting does it sound when it's reduced like that? 

Be honest to yourself - would you want to pay money to see a film about 'X'? (X being the short summary of your film concept.)

If not - then do yourself a favor and move on - OR if you're married to the concept - at leat re-work it until the concept really pops. 

Remember, if you're working on something we've all seen before - you need to have a unique execution of that idea. What is the NEW ANGLE you're bringing to the tried and tested story. 

I'm out... 

Hope those two tad bits are helpful.... :)