Bill Lancaster’s screenplay for “The Thing” is a great read for a number of reasons – one that struck me immediately, though, is the quiet brilliance of the first page. As a method for introducing a cast of characters, it’s at the same time somewhat unconventional and widely applicable. Unconventional because it presents the characters all at once as a list, rather than in-line as they appear (as the usual convention would have it) – but widely applicable because the characters are built so fully in so few words. If you haven’t read it, click the image to enlarge it. Continue reading
Here’s a great scene from Sophia Coppola’s The Bling Ring that I think says a huge amount about how not to write movie dialogue. It’s the sort of forced, totally unnatural piece of dialogue that only makes sense in a script, where the writer wants to tell us something but doesn’t know how to succinctly show it. Looking at it on paper, it might not seem that bad. It apparently worked for everyone involved in making the film. But if you read a little between the lines, it’s a textbook example of how not to write dialogue.
Any student of English language is, at some point, taught that sentence fragments should be avoided. A sentence needs a verb, or a verb needs a subject, and the lack of one or the other means the sentence makes no sense. But take a look at any half-competent screenplay and you’ll find it full of clipped sentences, which still make sense. This is because screenwriting is about communicating a plan of action, a blueprint, not a full-bodied description or a fortress of flawless grammar. Grammar does matter, but the English language is flexible – the question you have to ask is when is it okay to bend the rules? Continue reading
Everyone loves Danny Boyle. He wooed the world with a slew of excellent films and won over any stragglers with his Olympics opening ceremony. So everyone is almost obliged to love his latest film, Trance. When I first saw the trailer it seemed like an unlikely model for success. A film about a guy who forgets where a painting is. Well, Boyle’s a man who made a film about a man stuck under a rock seem interesting, so anything was possible. On the merits of his earlier work, I spent the whole of Trance trying to like it. But I didn’t. For one simple reason: there’s nothing in it worth caring about. Continue reading
Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths has made me muse on the prospects of how attempts at clever screenwriting can detract from a film’s potential. Seven Psychopaths wasn’t terrible, it had some excellent component parts, but the through-line about a writer was a cheap attempt to pull its clever ideas together. And it would’ve been better off without some of its inconsequential dream sequences and the self-aggrandising dialogue. Rather than just pick apart what I didn’t like about Seven Psychopaths, I thought I’d use examples of other films to demonstrate how seemingly clever screenwriting can ruin a film. These are the 5 examples of poor screenwriting that sprung to my mind when I considered the various elements that weakened Seven Psychopaths. Continue reading