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Say you have a scene:
INT. LIVING ROOM - DAY
Next scene, same setting but later.
Do you say LATER or INT. LIVING ROOM - DAY and in describing the action say it's later?
Second question: What constitutes that most heinous of all crimes, directing?
I used to hear it was writing camera and editing directions, e.g., ANGLE ON, DISSOLVE TO, etc.
Now it seems to be anything that describes the action in detail. At least, according to some people.
When I get conflicting you-MUST-do-it-this-ways from different sources, I choose the version that appeals to me. If there's really only one right way, then I want to know it.
To answer your first question
INT. LIVING ROOM - LATER
You want to make things clear for the reader.
There could be a better way to write it, but I would need more details about the previous scene.
To answer your second question....
Less is more, but you don't want confusion.
Confusion is bad.
Simple: keep the camera stuff out i.e. Zoom, Dolly, Close-ups and such.
Simple: Write clean action. Write lean but to the point.
Int. kitchen - morning
Sue cooks. Max enters. Caresses Sue.
They sink to the floor in the folds of matching thick robes.
Perhaps it's a matter of personal style but I think LATER is more elegant than INT. LIVING ROOM - LATER. I also think it's more common.
Aside from mentioning camera angles, one way a writer can over-direct a scene is to be overspecific on unimportant images. This is sometimes found in montages:
Soldiers marching. Feet trekking through mud. Rain falling Soldiers pointing guns. A bird flies overhead. A soldier shoots an enemy soldier. Buildings burn... Another soldier is shot in the head More soldiers march. A bleeding soldier clutches his wound.
Instead of telling a story, it's a shot by shot account of what's supposed to appear on screen. Some directors might frown on this.
I agree with Allen. The conventions have shifted some in recent years. Less is more in the slugs, but don't go overboard by losing your personal style in the description stanzas by staccatto actions that simply denote rather than describe in your unique voice.
Great scripts are written by writers who aren't afraid to bend supposed rules and to be original. Mediocre scripts might have (at their heart) a superb story, but the writer's fear and straitjacket make the read much less intriguing.
Look at the original scripts that are nominated by the WGA this year. That's where the bar is set for us all.
Go for the gusto, D
My understanding of the "directing" question (and this is from a well-read but complete neophyte at this) is that you can direct IF you are really really subtle about it.
A movie is really a series of images. Therefore, a screenplay is a series of images on paper. By selecting your images, you tell what is being seen on the screen--directing.
INT. DINING ROOM - DAY
Brody lays across the table, arms akimbo, head over the end of the table. His chest is coated with maple syrup.
Brody looks at the buffet.
Upside down, it resembles the Empire State Building.
Yes, the buffet still resembles the Empire State Building.
By telling the reader what is being seen, you see how this is directed. But like anything in writing, use is sparingly. Only when absolutely necessary. And then to the smallest degree possible.
I don't know if this is kosher by today's rules, but I use it in my scripts and they still get read. No one has ever flagged it as a bad thing, including my agent, so I am guessing that this sort of thing is quiet enough to not distress readers.
Anyway, my two ducat-worth.
Your example is fine and I can't imagine anyone would accuse it of being over-directed. The difference between your example and mine is that my beats are somewhat random. They can be reshuffled without much significance. (In my example, each shot was supposed to be an individual line, but the message board reformatted it.)
My problem with John's description, is how do you convey to the audience that a character thinks the buffet table looks like the Empire State building?
I see that all the time in scripts. Really cool stuff in the action descriptions that doesn't work into the scene.
I keep going back and forth about camera angles. I'm writing my current script 'Being John Malkovich' style with no CAPS and no angles, just description.
We'll see how long that lasts.
About the directing/description thing:
One of my scripts was part of a script reading last week. There were two scripts featured. The actors were to read about forty minutes worth of each one. I decided that I wanted all of Act Two of my script to be read so, in order to meet the time constraint, I went in and cut out a lot of the description that I had in Act Two (it still read in over 40 minutes). I didn't miss it at all.
In fact, I wish that I had taken more of it out. Sure, there are some things that you have to leave in there, but after hearing my script read with a minimum of direction, I'm going to be much more careful about what I choose to describe. It makes for a cleaner read.
From now on my description will be limited to only what is absolutely essential to the plot.
Frankly, I'm glad to see disagreement here, because it means, as I'd thought--there isn't one solidly defined way to do it. I wouldn't mind if everybody had the same rules, but so many times I hear, "THIS is the only right way," and then an exact opposite right way from somebody else.
Of course, styles change. I don't think anybody writes CUT TO: anymore, and I don't want to be left behind when the LATER controversy is finally solved one way or the other.
What you're seeing is exactly right. One of the first sources of information for me was a website devoted entirely to screenplay format. And the first thing the author said was, "Don't let them tell you otherwise. There are some general rules about screenplays but nothing written in stone." I think that the guideline is having something that is clear and readable but doesn't direct (which personally I think is more of an ego thing than anything else).
Alan: I noticed right after I posted that my message and what I said and my example had little variance from your message. I feel a tad foolish, I'll be honest, but thanks for the ack. I appreciated it.
John Singer: Perhaps that scene could reference something previous in the imaginary script that I was "citing." Maybe his wife divorced him because of his fascination with New York architecture and had listed the buffet as a co-respondant. Incidentally, my sideboard, if looked at upside down, kinda resembles the Empire State Building. But this after the blood has rushed to your head. I've seen a lot of that too, where the writer draws a comparison between two unrelated things and leaves it up to the actor or the production designer to sort it out.
is all that is needed. To use a complete slugline might even suggest to some readers that it's a new location, only later. If it's not a new location, why repeat it
But write to your own style, and be consistent.
I cut everything that isn't essential. I describe only what must be described and with as little detail as possible. Why? To keep my scripts under 110 pages. Also, the people who read scripts often read dozens every week. They don't want to read extra words or elegant description which doesn't advance the plot. Fortunately, though, the rules of screenwriting are flexible. You get to do what suits you, and you hope it suits the reader. When I finished this paragraph, I went back and deleted a third of the words, and I'll bet you're glad.
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