Are you struggling to create focused characters in your writing? There’s a gem of advice in Syd Field’s classic screenwriting guide, Screenplay, that I feel is really worth dwelling on. It’s introduced mid-paragraph, almost an aside, but I think it’s something that can really help a lot of writers quickly and solidly create a character background. In its simplest form, the point is to ask what and not why when you’re exploring your character.
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
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
If you’ve ever wanted a brief introduction to everything you could conceive of relating to digital filmmaking, this is the book for you. It doesn’t look big, but in the space of some 220 pages Mark Brindle has covered the full gamut of modern filmmaking, including what camera to choose, what software to edit in, how to write a convincing a story arch, tips for funding and how to distribute your film. Read it cover to cover and you’ll be able to convince any stranger you meet that you know how to make a film. 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
Editing and reviewing scripts, I’ve come across a number of common grammar mistakes that are worth flagging. A good script can be greatly hindered by these errors: even with a solid story, clumsy writing can lessen the integrity of the project and turn off potential investors. Some of these mistakes can change the meaning of what you write. Some are a matter of style. With so many scripts out there, readers are looking for an excuse to reject yours, though, and any one of these points could give them that excuse. However, they are all mistakes that can be avoided with some careful attention and editing. 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