It’s been a long time since I wrote an entry for my How to Please a Screenplay Reader. I got work and then I’ve started a new screenplay. But I need to start catching up here.
To continue with my topic of storyboarding, I will devote this entry to a basic set of no-no’s when it comes to narrative. Most, if not all, of these rules you should know already. If not, let’s just say that the following should almost never be done. And remember, you’ve been warned: I have a ruler and I’m not afraid to use it.
Do not indicate transitions shots. This means anything like “fade in”, “fade out”, “cut to”, “dissolve to”, “smash cut to”, “match cut to”, etc. The only exception is using “fade in” to begin the screenplay (it’s like saying “once upon a time”) and using “fade out” at the end of the screenplay (there is no need to say “the end”--fade out is the same thing).
Including “cut to” is something that is just not necessary anymore. It serves no real purpose these days and is implied. And eliminating them saves you two lines for every transition. (I’ve read scripts where a writer could cut the script by two to five pages alone by getting rid of these annoying, pesky, little creatures--and believe me, if you don‘t get rid of them early on, they start breeding like rabbits.)
You don’t use any of the others (“dissolve to”, “slow dissolve”,
“match cut to”, etc.) because those are a director/editor’s decision based on issues you don’t know yet (budget--some transitions can be more expensive than others; style--what effect the director is trying to communicate; what shots are available to connect one scene to another; what rhythm is the director trying to create, etc.). In addition, “smash cut” is no different than a cut. It’s not faster (it’s impossible for anything to be faster than a cut). Some people use it to imply that something jarring is happening. That makes it a variation on the match cut with all the no-no’s attributed to that (again, that’s up to the director and editor).
As an adjunct to this, a friend in a writing group separated two scenes with:
Not on the transition side of the script, but in the narrative area. None of us knew what this meant. The writer explained that this was traditional shorthand to indicate a long period of time passing. I actually like this idea. But again, it’s not necessary. It’s one of those things that just isn’t done anymore and many readers will have no idea what this means (they’ll think you deleted a scene and forgot to delete the transition shots).
Do not state camera angles. You know what I mean and I know you know what I mean and you know I know…whatever: POV, CU, WIDE SHOT, LONG SHOT, etc.
These are all a director’s decision (along with the editor, cinematographer, even the actor). And it’s a decision they often won’t or can’t even make until after the scene has been shot and the director/editor can see what shots are available and what camera angles work and don’t work and what is the best way to tell the story and communicate what is going on in the scene.
What a screenwriter does, if he wants, is imply shots. The one example I remember from a book is:
A cowboy rides up onto a hill. He is sweating heavily. He looks behind him to see if he’s being followed. He rides down the hill and off into the distance.
A cowboy rides up onto a hill (wide shot). He is sweating heavily (close up). He looks behind him to see if he’s being followed (medium shot followed by POV). He rides down the hill and off into the distance (wide shot).
However, the director may still want to shoot it differently. But again, that’s his job, not yours.
There are always exceptions. The one that comes to mind is a POV shot when you don’t want the audience to know who’s watching (Friday the 13th). I still wouldn’t say POV. I would imply it. “An UNSEEN PERSON watches as Character A does something”. But this is a bit tricky, I agree.
1. Please don’t use a Prelap or Postlap voice overs. These are voice overs that began at the end or beginning of a scene, but are said by someone in the next or previous scene.
And now we homo erectus.
INT. COLLEGE CLASS ROOM-DAY
Jane points to a picture projected on a screen behind her.
First, this is just plain annoying to read.
Second, it causes a momentary disconnect as the reader has to stop and think a moment in order to figure out which scene this line belongs to.
Third, this is a director’s decision with all the yadda, yadda, yadda reasons already mentioned.
Fourth, I have yet to read an example where it was essential to the plot.
Fifth, it’s just plain annoying as hell to read.
2. INSERT is no longer required:
John looks at the clock.
The insert is implied and redundant. Just say: John looks at the clock which says “12:00”. This also saves space and streamlines the narrative.
3. PERONAL PRONOUNS: Don’t use “we”, “us” or other personal pronouns in the story. The main reason here is that it’s just not done and people tend to look down on writers who do (not rational, I know, but there it is). It’s also redundant. Saying “we see a boy running” is the same thing as “a boy runs” and the later is more succinct and stated in a more streamlined manner. It also is a way of sneakily suggesting camera angles, etc., which doesn’t fool anyone and is not the writer’s job.
NEXT: I FEEL A NEED FOR SPEED: HOW TO STREAMLINE YOUR SCREENPLAY