The Voice of the Screenwriter
Featuring examples from The Departed, Saving Private Ryan, Collateral, Munich, Lethal Weapon, As Good As It Gets, Forrest Gump, Casanova and The Chronicles of Narnia.
[note: some of the screenplay excerpts on this page have not been properly formatted for this blog, yet. I’m working on it. -Dan]
There are three main categories of skill needed to write a screenplay: Structure, Characters and Voice. Dialogue may win Oscars and get many an established pro hired on assignment, but I believe it’s a distant fourth when it comes to a spec screenplay submitted by a NEW writer.
You’ve probably heard about the dreaded studio Readers who read only the dialogue in a script. Well, that can happen, so I’d contend that it’s your job to make the reader WANT TO READ your description by seducing them with a compelling narrative voice that establishes TONE, PACING and EMOTION right off the bat, rather than just listing flat stage directions. You need to grab them, shake them, and hold them.
This is not a license to pack each page with dense blocks of text and riddle them with landmines o’ wit in the form of sarcastic asides, but rather a call to not waste a single word, while considering how your Reader (your “audience of one,” which is all you have and should be concerned about at this point) should feel at this moment in the movie.
It all comes down to…word choice. Which may seem obvious — isn’t that what writing is? Choosing the right words? But too many of you have been told to view your screenplays as “blueprints” for films, which just sounds like so bland a task, when I think you’d be better off approaching it as the “emotional cinematic template” for a film. It has to FEEL like a movie, it has to feel REAL and it has to make the Reader feel EMOTION. The only way to do that is to choose the perfect combination of words.
Too many of you look at the description/action as mere blocking cues. It’s true that the most important aspect of description is to show us what we see and hear, and it must be CLEAR above all else, but that doesn’t mean you should employ the most flat, boring verbiage you can find. I ask you to please abandon those awful forms of “be:” is and his dreaded brother are.
There is, there are and we see are not going to BLOW AWAY THE READER! The Reader does not want a shot list, they want two hands to reach out of the manuscript, grab them by their sallow cheeks and PULL THEM KICKING AND SCREAMING INTO THIS MOVIE.
In short, we’re all writing spec screenplays for a professional Reader who reads flat, uninspired prose all the time. They’re waiting for something fresh, something with LIFE. They’re dying to read work by a writer who can really write, not just string together sequences. You need to establish right off the bat that you are confidently taking them to a specific world which only you know in this way, at this time, in this manner, with this FEELING. And the best way to do that is with a unique voice on the page, in description and dialogue, but we’re going to focus on description because I think there’s a need for it and because dialogue should be the subject of its own separate workshop.
THE BAD NEWS, THE GOOD NEWS AND THOSE PESKY INTERNETS
The bad news is that voice can’t really be taught; you either know just the right word to capture the moment or you don’t. But the good news is that there are plenty of examples online and in print that can demonstrate for you what to do and what not to do.
I will always believe the best way to learn about screenwriting is to read as many screenplays and books as possible, to see the good and the bad. The more you read, the more you detect patterns in structure and form and you build mental lists of what works and what doesn’t.
But it’s important to note that most produced screenplays to be found online are production drafts, not spec submission drafts.
And many are the result of writing assignments which have come with specifications from the producers and director and with the understanding that they will be trimming the fat in post-production. So these scripts tend to run much longer than your average spec script (e.g., 120+ pages, rather than the ideal range of 100-110 pages for a spec), can be littered with camera and shot references and the style is often over-written as “actor-bait” to attract talent. This is just one of the reasons why peer review is such a crucial activity for the developing screenwriter.
[Note: I’m going to use examples from several produced screenplays in this article, and in each case I’ve done my best to replicate exactly the text of the script as printed. Most of my sample scripts were referenced in bound form, but in the case of the downloaded screenplays, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the transcription and layout.]
DON’T BE OLD SCHOOL
Yes, everyone in Hollywood is looking for the next Shane Black and William Goldman. But here’s the deal: you are not Shane Black or William Goldman. And their style is old.
So why are you trying to write like them?
You should be writing like YOU. And not forcing it. And not commenting on it.
Black and Goldman’s commentary style has been done, it’s gone, it’s old school.
Maybe you can come up with a new style of commentary? Perhaps. I’m sure you’d have Readers guffawing aloud with red thighs from slapping themselves.
Or maybe not.
Maybe you can just forget about being a wise-acre and just stick to telling a great story with precision and elegance?
Yeah, that sounds like the best route to me. And it’s tough enough to pull off without having to comment on said great story in a pithy manner along the way.
Let me give you an example. Here’s a line from page one of William Goldman’s screenplay Absolute Power…
We’ll find out more about him as time goes on,
but this is all you really have to know:
Luther Whitney is the hero of this piece.
Did you hear my GROAN?
You see, his little “heads-up” to the reader is completely extraneous, considering that the scene is a well-written opening that SHOWS us
Luther Whitney. Thus no need for Bill Goldman to TELL us he’s the hero. It’s almost as if the writer isn’t trusting his own storytelling.
Plus, the Reader naturally assumes the first major character they meet is the Protagonist; they’re often proven wrong a page or two after, but it’s a natural assumption because when you read enough scripts and see enough movies, the hero is usually the first bloke or dame you meet.
So please don’t do the little “wink-wink” commentary thing. And if you decide to ignore me, which if you’re the iconoclastic-self-described-rebel-Black and Goldman-worshipping type of writer means you probably will, at least keep it short. For me.
So with that said, let’s worship a little bit at the altar of Shane, shall we?
CAPTURE THE MOMENT
Shane Black’s Lethal Weapon screenplay had a huge impact on the industry, and rightfully so. It’s dripping with voice, has tons of commentary and never lets up, for better and for worse. In the “better” category, Black shows his penchant for nailing the TONE of a room or a scene with some distinctive language on page 1…
Lethal Weapon, pg. 1…
PASTEL colors. Window walls. New wave furniture
tortured into weird shapes. It looks like robots live here.
I like the furniture being “tortured into weird shapes,” but for me that “robots” line hits the bulls eye. We immediately know this is a chic, Hollywood condo owned by people with too much money and zero compassion for their fellow human beings. That’s not necessarily commentary for me, that’s just good description.
But a little bit later, he throws in a line that feels disassociated from the introduction of the Martin Riggs character (Mel Gibson).
Riggs smiles at him innocently. Strokes the collie’s fur with one hand.
With the other, he reaches into a paper sack and produces a spanking new bottle of Jack Daniels, possibly the finest drink mankind has yet produced.
That Jack Daniels line feels like it’s trying too hard. That may have made me groan, as well. Well, maybe not if I knew I was reading a Shane Black screenplay, since this is his calling card. I’d throw him a little slack.
But not you. The unknown. The newbie. You get no slack, scribe. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. But you can do something about it.
You can be elegant…
which by definition means gracefully concise and simple; admirably succinct.
Concise, simple, and succinct. Damn, I love those words. Why? Because they so rarely describe what I read. But I always want them to.
So that’s your task.
Use as few words as possible.
But make them the BEST words.
Which, I know, can be crippling to you playwrights, novelists and poets who are used to waxing on like Mr. friggin’ Miyagi with his backyard deck over here. But welcome to screenwriting. It’s a totally different animal. And it thrives on simple, elegant prose.
You MUST learn to capture an entire mood in a single word or short line of dialogue. If you can’t, then personally I don’t think you have any business writing screenplays.
Because of the Reader. Remember that lovely gatekeeper of a human being?
They, like the average filmgoer or channel-surfer… don’t… have… time… to… waste. So keep it short. And sweet. And use —
white space. It’s your friend.
And keep those description paragraphs to 2-4 lines thick. And by great Odin’s beard make sure it’s CLEAR. Show us what we see and what we hear in the most straightforward, clear way possible…while still choosing the best word in the entire English lexicon. No biggee, right?
Actually, it is. But to make you feel better, I’ve prepared some handy lists, which are always fun and never dull and are most often like having a cake and eating it too…
TO DO —
- Be clear
- Be specific
- Be elegant
- Be unique (without being too literary)
- Use strong, active verbs
- Capture tone
NOT TO DO —
- Don’t explain
- Don’t comment
- Don’t use forms of “be” (is, are)
- Don’t use generic descriptions (e.g. “He looks
All-American captain of the football team.”)
So those are the rules. And yes, they’re broken all the time, sometimes in brilliant ways, but mostly in ham-handed ways. Here’s an example of a nice break of the rules.
Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks “direct” the shot and comment all over the place, but they manage to beautifully capture the first kiss between MELVIN (Jack Nicholson) and CAROL (Helen Hunt) in As Good as it Gets, approx. pg. 90…
Carol moves to the chair next to him... She sits very close -- he tenses. CAROL Have you ever let a romantic moment make you do something you know is stupid? MELVIN Never. CAROL Here's the trouble with never. TIGHT SHOT for the kiss. Their faces are close -- she looks at him... She closes her eyes -- her face moving toward him -- he is wide-eyed and afraid...His face almost moves -- in a shot this close it's almost flight... But now his head moves back and he receives her kiss. It is brief. Carol smiles encouragement to him and herself. Melvin can't bear the pleasure. MELVIN You don't owe me that.
Nice, huh? If you lean back and look at that big paragraph as a whole, it looks unwieldy with all the ellipses and dashes, but when you read it…it works. And I can’t say why, or how they did it.
That’s for you to wonder. Have fun with that.
On the opposite end of the emotional and genre spectrum, here’s a brutal scene from the opening of an early draft of Robert Rodat’s Saving Private Ryan, found on the web…
THE LEAD LANDING CRAFT
The Motorman holds his course. Shells EXPLODE around them. FLAMING OIL
BURNS on the water. CANNON FIRE SMASHES into the bow.
THE MOTORMAN IS RIPPED TO BITS
BLOOD AND FLESH shower the men behind him. The MATE takes the controls.
A YOUNG SOLDIER
His face covered with the remains of the motorman. Starts to lose it.
Begins to shudder and weep. His name is DELANCEY.
THE BOYS AROUND HIM
Do their best to stare straight ahead. But the fear infects them. It starts to spread.
Pushes through the men. Puts himself in front of DeLancey.
The figure is CAPTAIN JOHN MILLER. Early thirties. By far the oldest man on the craft. Relaxed, battle-hardened, powerful, ignoring the hell around them. He smiles, puts a cigar in his mouth, strikes a match on the front of DeLancey's helmet and lights the cigar.
Rodat immediately brings us into this deadly world. He starts out with a very intense voice to reflect the battle, creating an immediate sense of dread and chaos with the shells EXPLODING, canon fire, burning oil, and the Motorman being “RIPPED TO BITS.” He uses very specific word choice and grammar…
His face covered with the remains of the motorman. Starts to lose it.
Begins to shudder and weep. His name is DELANCEY.
Rodat avoids a conventional active sentence, such as “DeLancey, a 19 year old private, begins to shake and cry.” That wouldn’t be as interesting as the description “Starts to lose it. Begins to shudder and weep.” which is shorter and thus reads more intense; and to save the introduction of the man’s name for the end of the paragraph adds an edge as well. Then we meet the men…
Do their best to stare straight ahead. But the fear infects them. It starts to spread.
Can “fear spreading” be shown or is this a breaking of the rules, a telling of something internal? It’s a bit of both, but it works, in that we can picture the ‘spreading’ as these boys all adopt terrified looks on their faces. It’s elegant and economical, so he doesn’t need to show us 3-4 specific soldiers and what they’re doing (e.g., crying, knuckles going white on rifles, praying, etc.). He lets us picture it in our head as we will, but he manages to capture the TONE — fear and foreboding. WE know how to feel; we know how the film feels. We’ve been dropped with these men into a nightmare. And it’s just beginning — something’s coming and it will no doubt be deadly.
On that note, let’s talk about…
Pushes through the men. Puts himself in front of DeLancey.
In the above description, Rodat chooses to introduce Miller (Tom Hanks) first as A FIGURE. This makes us picture his back, assuming his face can’t be seen by the camera. And it gives a sense that he is a dark character, to be feared; maybe he’s in charge of this mess? Then when he strikes his match on DeLancey’s helmet and lights up a cigar in the midst of this hellish scenario, we are shown his character through action: he’s a seasoned, tough-as-nails veteran of war who refuses to succumb to fear.
Notice how he “Puts himself in front of DeLancey“; he doesn’t “stand” in front of him or “address” him. This is a man who will throw his body in front of anything, and this shows even more in the next scene as he enters the fray and fights with reckless abandon.
Here’s Stuart Beattie’s introduction of VINCENT (Tom Cruise) in his screenplay Collateral, pg. 1…
INT. BRADLEY TERMINAL - BLURS - DAY
slide past in a 400mm lens. Then, entering a plane of focus is
VINCENT. He walks towards us...an arriving passenger.
Suit. Shirt. Tie. Sunglasses and expensive briefcase say "confident executive traveler." The suit's custom-made but not domestic. His hair and shades are current, but it would be difficult to describe his identifying specifics... grey suit, white shirt, medium height. And that's the idea...
The little commentary blurb “And that’s the idea…” clues us into the scenario, draws us into what seems to be a ruse, a disguise of some sort. Some game is being played. We don’t yet know if it’s a funny or deadly game, but we’ll soon find out.
I especially like that the description and commentary are not describing anything internal; it’s all shown.
Unlike this example, which unfortunately comes from As Good as it Gets and if it were in a spec from a newbie I’d file it under the NOT TO DO column…
in the hallway... Well past 50...unliked, unloved, unsettling. A huge pain in the ass to everyone he's ever met. Right now all his considerable talent and strength is totally focused on seducing a tiny dog into the elevator door he holds open.
This description TELLS us about this guy, it EXPLAINS him to us. Which might be fine, if he weren’t about to SHOW us his true character by shoving his neighbor’s dog down the trash chute.
After sending Verdell the dog on a little trip, Melvin performs the following actions, which I would file under the TO DO column…
INT. MELVIN'S APARTMENT, BATHROOM - NIGHT
Melvin locks and unlocks and locks his door, counting to five with each lock. He turns the lights quickly on and off and on five times and makes a straight-line towards his bathroom where he turns on the hot water and opens the medicine chest.
INT. MEDICINE CHEST
Scores of neatly stacked Neutrogena soaps. He unwraps one -- begins to wash --discards it -- goes through the process two more times.
It’s always best to SHOW, not tell.
Here’s the introduction of LT. DAN from Forrest Gump by Eric Roth. Roth chooses to use very little description, letting the dialogue and actions speak for him…
Lieutenant DAN TAYLOR steps out of a tent. Shirtless, he holds a roll of toilet paper in his hand.
You must be my F.N.G.'s.
BUBBA AND FORREST
LT. DAN Ho! Get your hands down. Do not salute me. There are goddamned snipers all around this area who would love to grease an officer. I'm Lieutenant Dan Taylor. Welcome to Fourth Platoon.
Lt. Dan looks at Bubba.
LT. DAN What's wrong with your lips?
BUBBA I was born with big gums, sir.
LT. DAN Yeah, well, you better tuck that in. Gonna get that caught on a trip wire. Where you boys from in the world?
BUBBA amp; FORREST Alabama, sir!
LT. DAN You twins?
Forrest and Bubba look at each other oddly, they don't get the joke.
FORREST No, we are not relations, sir.
Concise and funny, it works.
Here, the screenwriters of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe manage to achieve a nice sense of wonder…
The Centaur stares at him, unmoving.
We…have come to see…Aslan.
The centaur says nothing.
Suddenly behind them all of the creatures kneel, leaving the three Pevensies standing alone.
Peter blinks. Suddenly, LUCY GASPS.
Just below the tent flap steps…an ENORMOUS PAW.
The flap parts, and there in the shining sunlight stands a FEARSOME, BEAUTIFUL, GOLDEN…
LION. He gazes at them. His mane shimmers.
Lucy stares for a moment…then KNEELS. The Beavers drop to all fours, bowing their heads.
Peter and Susan awkwardly go down on one knee.
Aslan addresses the CHILDREN in a BOOMING VOICE.
Welcome, Peter, Son of Adam. Welcome, Susan and Lucy, Daughters of Eve.
Another. Completely different feel. From American History X, by David McKenna…
TIGHT ON DEREK VINYARD. The young man has a shaved head, a trimmed goatee, and a SWASTIKA on his right tit — the center of the symbol crossed perfectly at the nipple.
McKenna calls a man’s chest a “tit.” It gives an edge, an intensity, a street feel to this young man. And you notice he puts swastika in CAPS because it’s such a strong image and it immediately and dramatically introduces the themes of white supremacism and hatred that will permeate the story. This demonstrates the need for you to…
Sometimes it’s just one distinctive word or phrase that brings the zing.
Stuart Beattie calls Vincent’s gun by its dealer name: PARA-ORDNANCE. An unwieldy term to be sure, much more so than just “pistol” or “.45,” but distinctive and memorable and it makes the writer sound like he really knows what he’s talking about.
around a corner, clearing space.
Fast. His Para-Ordnance up.
Max and Annie running, now…
Vincent sees vague shapes…
BOOM-BOOM! BOOM-BOOM! Gunshots punch through the glass, inches
from Max and Annie, collapsing walls revealing Vincent against the LA-scape. Blossoms of white flame: BOOM-BOOM…
William Monahan uses the adjective “flash” several times in his Oscar-winning screenplay The Departed, to denote the contrast between the rich upper-crust world that Colin (Matt Damon) aspires to and the filthy underbelly that he must cater to, as here on pg. 20…
INT. APARTMENT ON BEACON HILL – TWILIGHT
A REALTOR switches on lights. An empty, flash apartment above the Parisian rooftops of Beacon Hill. A view of the Dome.
More than you’d think a cop could afford.
On page 8, Monahan comes up with a clever linguistic take on a generic tension device as BILLY (Leonardo DiCaprio) takes the police exam…
A CLOCK TICKS, sweep hand coming around.
BILLY’S EYES on it.
I love that “sweep hand” term! Never seen it. And I like how he didn’t bother with the CLOSE ON Billy’s eyes, he just showed us BILLY’S EYES, so naturally we view this shot in our minds eye in Close Up. We don’t need the “direction,” which is a no-no in a spec submission draft but a common occurrence in a production draft.
Here’s a lusty moment from Casanova, pg. 4, production draft…
Casanova runs into a dark closet. The darkness becomes the interior of a covered gondola. We pull away and see the boat floating in a canal– legs sticking out from all sides from under the felze.
What the Caravaggio is “felze?” I have no idea, but it sounds like something they’d have in Venice in 1797, so I’m on board with it.
Unfortunately, even the pros exhibit the bad habit of explaining too much in their production drafts, but we’ll let them slide because they may be catering to the skimming habits of all of the execs, actors and crew members who will be reading this draft. But YOU can’t make the same mistake.
Collateral, pg. 122, I’ve bolded the offending line for your reading pleasure (or pain?)…
VINCENT + MAX sit there, riding the train.
We’re almost at the next stop.
Vincent smiles faintly. He leans his head toward Max as if conferring a secret. In a halting whisper:
Hey, Max… A guy gets on the MTA
here in LA and dies
(off Max’s look)
Think anybody…will notice?
MAX looks into Vincent’s eyes. It means “I’m that guy” and “will anybody notice that once…I was here?”
leans back, gazing straight ahead
now. Rocking gently with
the motion of the train. And then
Vincent’s no longer
rocking. In fact, Vincent’s no
longer doing anything. Ever.
We know what Vincent means, and we get the callback to the first exchange between him and Max in the opening pages. No need to point it out. It’s especially offensive, considering this elegant moment on the last page of the script, the last we’ll ever see of Vincent the assassin…
WE HOLD ON Vincent for awhile.
Riding the train by himself,
his head forward as if sleeping,
alone in the car.
Another dead guy on the subway…riding somewhere.
Speaking of great moments in screenwriterly offensiveness, we have a wildly successful novelist who perhaps should avoid screenplays — here’s Stephen King with his own adaptation of his novel Desperation, Third Draft, 1998, pg. 117…
TAK is whamming ELLEN’S bloody hands on the window while MARY
tries to start the car. IT CRANKS BUT DOESN’T START. (Film critic Roger Ebert calls this the “kidding battery.”)
That’s fascinating, but what pray tell does Leonard Maltin call this particular filmic device?! (Ed. note: Stephen King was unavailable to answer this question as he had opened the window in his office and he was busy placing piles of money on top of the five manuscripts he’d written before breakfast that day so they wouldn’t blow away.)
Anyway, this MIGHT have been okay if I hadn’t have been EXHAUSTED by this point with King’s penchant for huge, dense paragraphs like this, on pg. 98…
A MINER falls, exhausted. A WHITE FOREMAN kicks him to his feet again. We PAN JERKILY TO CH’AN and SHIH, loading an ore-cart. Beyond them is the shaft face. Six or seven miners are working at this. RUBBLE FLIES. The MINER PEERS into the hole, getting the attention of his fellow miners. The FOREMAN walks down to see what they’ve found. The MINERS widen the hole to the size of a dinner-plate. The FOREMAN shoves a couple of MINERS aside and shoves his face into the hole. CH’AN and SHIH stand a little apart from all this, looking.
A MINER falls, exhausted. A WHITE FOREMAN kicks him to his feet again. We PAN JERKILY TO CH’AN and SHIH, loading an ore- cart. Beyond them is the shaft face. Six or seven miners are working at this. RUBBLE FLIES. The MINER PEERS into the hole, getting the attention of his fellow miners. The FOREMAN walks down to see what they’ve found. The MINERS widen the hole to the size of a dinner-plate. The FOREMAN shoves a couple of MINERS aside and shoves his face into the hole. CH’AN and SHIH stand a little apart from all this, looking.
You don’t want to shove this much in one paragraph. Break it up — think of it in terms of shots, but without referring to them as shots. Remember: no “directing.”
I will concede that commentary often works for historical or culturally complicated pieces, to provide facts to the historically-challenged Reader.
For example, Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana, pg. 54…
INT GROTTO – BEIRUT – DAY
An ancient grotto where the early
Christians used to
hide, be discovered, and executed.
A tourist attraction,
it’s a cool, vast, dimly lit,
I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that little history of the grotto aids the script or not. If one considers that the goal with submission was to find a producer interested in the middle east, then I’d warrant it was appreciated. But too many of these asides would quickly make the script into a history lesson, an excuse for an amateur writer to show off their research. And I’ve seen that too many times, my friends, too many times. It breaks my heart every time. Okay, no it doesn’t.
Here’s a couple more excerpts from The Departed, what I’d call good and bad…
On page 4, Monahan toes the line of explanation and showing…
Church wants you in your place.
Do this don’t do that, kneel, stand,
kneel, stand…I mean if you go for
that sort of thing…
YOUNG COLIN, the recent altar boy,
visibly doesn’t go for
that sort of thing.
…and it works (although personally I don’t care for italics in a screenplay). But next, this parenthetical just smacks of a carebear that needed to be smothered in its sleep…
(not vainglorious, but
innocently stretching for
You’re in trouble if you’re “only”
There’s different methods for capturing those moments when the pulse must race. Here’s an example of an action sequence from Tony Kushner and Eric Roth’s Munich, pg. 73. It’s dynamic and it flows well, but with no CAPPING, it certainly feels different than a thriller like Collateral. Softer, perhaps? Was this intentional, since Munich is a historical drama?
Avner moves closer to the balcony
railing where it abuts the
hotel wall. He hauls himself
up, then leans in. He hears al-
Chir moving about, singing softly
to himself. A tap running.
Peeing. A toilet
flush. Then the sound of a man lowering
himself into bed with a sigh.
Avner leans further in. He
can just see the foot of the bed,
and al-Chir’s legs sliding under
the bedclothes. He lowers
himself back to his own balcony,
goes in his room, switches
off the light.
A beat, and then an enormous
explosion; the wall Avner’s room
shares with al-Chir’s is pushed in
and falls over, intact,
knocking Avner back onto his
bed. The fan in the ceiling
above is sheered off and falls,
nearly hitting Avner.
EXT. THE HOTEL OLYMPIC – NIGHT
Smoke and flames explode from
al-Chir’s room across his
EXT. THE STREET IN FRONT OF THE
HOTEL OLYMPIC – NIGHT
Glass and plaster and stone rain
down on the street, bouncing
off a car in which Steve and Carl
Robert and Hans are in the car
behind Steve and Carl’s car,
Hans driving, Robert holding the
detonator. The car lurches
forward, preparing to drive off as
Seems a bit odd that they wouldn’t cap an “enormous explosion,” doesn’t it? Just for the sake of research, let’s look at another Eric Roth action scene, from Forrest Gump…
Forrest looks up as the sun suddenly appears. Forrest’s
platoon is attacked. A bullet kills the soldier standing
next to Forrest. Bombs explode all around as the soldiers
scramble to the ground.
Forrest crawls over a berm as bullets fly overhead and explode
all around him.
Yeah, I think it’s safe to say this guy doesn’t like CAPS…but I’m not going to argue with the writer of Forrest Gump, The Insider, Ali and The Postman (which was supposed to be a really great spec, by the way).
Let’s leap back to Shane Black’s Lethal Weapon for a famous action sequence and a definite breaking of the rules. It’s interesting how he describes the action in a more stylistic than literal manner…
Rianne screams. Murtaugh
shouts. Strains. The chair
thumps up and down, creating an
insane, staccato rhythm.
The Gen eral laughs.
Rianne shrieks. Harrowing. Terri-ble.
A scene out of Hell. And then the Devil comes in and kicks the door off its hinges. Okay. Okay. Let’s stop for a moment. First off, to describe fully the mayhem which Riggs now creates would not do it justice.
Here, however, are a few pointers: He is not flashy.
He is not Chuck Norris. Rather, he is like a sledge-hammer hitting an egg. He does not knock people down.
He does not injure them.
He simply kills them. The whole room. Everyone stand- ing.
There’s more to it than that, but just that beginning to the sequence took some huge guts.
You’re not going to do that now, right?
Just making sure.
CALL TO ACTION:
- Get professional notes and coaching on your completed screenplay.
- Develop a new screenplay from scratch with the guidance of an industry professional.
- Hire an industry pro to rewrite your script for you.
- Ask me a question.
COLLATERAL by Stuart Beattie, 123 pages.
CASANOVA Screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher and Kimberly Simi, Story by Kimberly Simi and Michael Christopher, 129 pages.
but I prefer…
CASANOVA Written by Kimberly Simi (original spec draft), 128 pages.
THE DEPARTED by William Monahan, Based on Infernal Affairs, script as shot compiled September 2006, 152 pages.
DESPERATION By Stephen King, 1998, Third Draft, 137 pages.
SYRIANA by Stephen Gaghan, 129 pages.
MUNICH Screenplay by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, Based on the Book “Vengeance” by George Jonas, 162 pages.
PARAVEL By Ann Peacock And Andrew Adamson And Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, Based on the book by C.S. Lewis, 113 pages.
AS GOOD AS IT GETS by Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks, Story by Mark Andrus, Internet draft, source: imsdb.com.
FORREST GUMP Screenplay by Eric Roth, Based on a novel by Winston Groom, Internet draft, source: imsdb.com.
LETHAL WEAPON by Shane Black, Internet draft, source: imsdb.com.
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN by Robert Rodat, Internet draft, source: NOT imsdb.com, that one’s awful!
ABSOLUTE POWER Written by William Goldman, Based on the book by David Baldacci, May 1996 draft, Internet draft, source: imsdb.com.
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