11 Basic Absolute Avoids
Part 3 of our "Survival" series for screenwriters:
Let the director direct and the actor act. Don't presume to dictate the smallest gesture. No smiling, sighing, smirking or hand gestures that don't directly impact plot. The actor, when filming the scene on page 63, is not going to remember you wanted him to point with his right hand before the words: "Land, ho!"
Get to the verb.
Jimmy begins to eat the casino buffet food.
Jimmy digs into the $3.99 beef tripe extravaganza.
Grammatical errors are deadly. Want to wave the red flag for the reader? Write this on Page 1: They're in the Deathly Hallows did the Darkness cast it's Great Gloom upon Harry Potter ...
Trim out but and and from action lines. Use shorter sentences. Mundane as it sounds, use commas well.
Don't be so busy concentrating on story and character that you forget basics, like using active verbs.
Avoid is walking, is jumping, is playing.
Walks, jumps, plays.
Yes, I've read about the "new spec style" at the Page Screenwriting Awards (scroll down for the Dave Trottier link).
I would say avoid gimmickry if you can. Don't get cute, don't get fancy, unless there's good reason for it.
As you previously read here, Page 1 is valuable real estate. When you take your story back too far, it slows down the opening of your movie. Figure out the place in your story where we have to start, where the story won't make sense without it. Where you start your movie is a critical decision. You want it to be logical, hit the ground running.
INT. STARBUCKS- DAY
DAVID works the counter as PETER approaches.
Hi Pete. Nice weather we're having...
Nice? Reminds me of that Christmas I was stationed in Baghdad...
Fast forward, past the 2 page backstory war-is-hell monologue..
I see. Soooo...the usual soy latte?
Seek the visual, not verbal, solution.
If it's in the action line, we see or hear it. It's a given, why tax the reader's eye with it?
Give white space between paragraphs. Go vertical. Force the reader's eye down the page, have him turning pages. Look to cut to a new paragraph where the camera would naturally cut. For example: When the focus of the scene shifts from one character to another.
You've got music in mind for your Boy Scouts vs. Zombies script so you write Dead Man's Party by Oingo Boingo into your action line. Unless you have the money for Oingo Boingo, I wouldn't. 80s Rock works just fine as description, unless you can pay the piper.
PAUL PEDITTO wrote and directed Jane Doe, an A-PIX Films release starring Calista Flockhart. The film was awarded Best Feature at the New York Independent Film & Video Festival and grossed over 2 million dollars.
Six of his screenplays have been optioned, among them Crossroaders to Haft Entertainment (Emma, Dead Poet's Society).
He has won semi-finalist honors at Nicholl Fellowship Screenwriting Awards and Slamdance.
Other imdb credits include Home In The Heartland, and The Group, which was accepted at multiple film festivals around the country.
Four of his stage plays have been published by Dramatic Publishing Company, two of which were presented on National Public Radio's "Chicago Theaters On The Air" series. Over 25 productions of his theatrical work have been performed in Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York. His adaptation of Nelson Algren's Never Come Morning won 9 Joseph Jefferson Citations including Best Play and Best Adaptation. His adaptation of Ben Hecht's 1,001 Afternoons In Chicago is a two-time Jefferson Award nominee. Pura Vida, a stage play based on his novel, was produced at Chicago's Live Bait Theater, earning a feature article in the New York Times.
He teaches screenwriting at Columbia College and Chicago Filmmakers, professionally consulting on thousands of screenplays since 2002. His book Writing Screenplays is now available for purchase.