By Barri Evins
They say an experienced reader can pick up a script and, with a brief glance at the page, peg you as an “accomplished” or “aspiring” screenwriter.
Making the right impression on the street is important.
If your goal is to be seen as green, I can tell you how to write a screenplay that shouts “amateur!” from the very first page. With a little help from an enthusiastic frog, a glamorous piggy, a really big bird and some other friends in the neighborhood, it’s so easy it’s child’s play.
Moi? Splash your title everywhere. Why stop at the cover page? After all, you probably spent a lot of time coming up with a title, so don’t let us lose sight of it. Put your title on Page One – and every single page that follows too. Novelists in a manuscript put their name and title on each page. If it’s good for a manuscript, then it should be cool for a script too.
Count von Count. Why just put a number in the upper right hand corner of your script? Write “Page 1” in case the reader is unclear about what those mysterious numbers mean. The Count vould be proud of you.
Today is brought to you by the shot number 107. Just because you are writing a selling script meant to be read – not a final shooting script about to go into production – doesn’t mean you can’t put shot numbers in anyway. So what if shot numbers are there so that the shooting script can be broken down into a production schedule and budgeted. It may drive us as batty as the Count’s pets Grisha, Misha, Sasha, and Tattiana (that’s four bats), but it makes your script look so important and grown up. Now vhat else can I find to count?
Today is brought to you by the letter “B.” When naming the people in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood, it’s A-OK to be repetitious. No need make them distinctive and easy to distinguish on the page. Why Bert and Ernie when you can have Bert and
The Number of the Day is 8. Miss Piggy will tell you that her age is “None of your beeswax!” However, you can tell us the exact age of every single character if you’re in the mood. Harried Waitress bringing Elmo his milkshake is 28. Why settle for “Statler and Waldorf are a pair of grumpy old men,” when you can say, “Oscar the Grouch is 43 but looks 50.” On the other hand, kids are just kids. Whether they’re five or fifteen, what’s the diff? Of course, Big Bird is six not sixteen which is why there’s a lotta stuff he doesn’t know.
Go CRAZY with CAPS. A long, long time ago, caps were used to point out important sound effects like “Then we HEAR a rubber duckie QUACK.” It may look dated now, but it’s so much FUN to JUST emphasize things. Why STOP at sounds when you CAN add IMPACT? Yaaaaay!
Be bold with BOLD. Character names, sluglines, go crazy. I saw an entire script in bold. As Fozzie Bear says, “Wocka, wocka, wocka!”
Don’t stop with bold when you can also underline!!!
Red, Purple, Orange: Color Me Quirky. Anyone can write, “Oscar lives in a trashcan, loves trash and is grouchy all the time,” and go on to reveal his character through behavior that we can see on the screen. Go for the Gonzo character description instead! “An unclassifiable alien creature with blue fur, bug eyes and a long, crooked nose. A daredevil performance artiste who takes pride in his uniqueness and enjoys everything that he does – no matter how painful or ill advised it may be. Gonzo once attempted to defuse a highly explosive bomb “while simultaneously, and at the same time, reciting from the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley.” Heap on the details, even if they’ll never be seen in the film.
Under, around, over and through. Call the shots. You can see the movie in your head. In fact, someday you might want to direct! Tell us how the camera moves, whether it’s a medium close-up or a long shot. Cover all the angles. Don’t just tell the story; tell us how to shoot the story.
Why are there so many songs about rainbows? Create your own sound track. Throw in your favorite songs to set the tone and enhance the scene. So what if the reader doesn’t know the song? Maybe it will make them feel frustrated or even stupid, but why should it speak to everyone? Suggesting simply “a classic rock and roll song” or “country heartbreak ballad” isn’t nearly as colorful as specifying the iconic “C is For Cookie.” As Cookie Monster himself would say, “Mmm tasty! Who cares about other things, that’s good enough for me.”
Circle? Square? Triangle? Today’s Shape.
Center your dialogue. Sure, it’s w-a-a-a-y more challenging to read, but then the reader will have to focus on every single precious word that you have written just to get through your script. Now you’ve got their attention. Hiiii-YA!
ABC-DEF-GHI-JKL-MNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ. Spelling, smelling. As Big Bird says of this strange long word, “I wish I knew exactly what I mean.” Fozzie Bear wrote the word “Muffets” as part of the title card for The Muppets Go to the Movies. Fozzie is either a bad speller or a bad typist or both. So what? The movie still got made.
News Flash! Include notes to the reader in your description. Feel free to let us know how the scene should look and feel, or what you have in mind for casting or subtext. As Miss Piggy says, “There is the satisfaction of providing your public with a vision of true beautology, true sytlisity – how can I put it? – true glamorositude.”
“Hi-ho, Kermit the Frog here.” Why leave the wry, self-referential description to Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Last Boy Scout, Iron Man 3) boys and girls? Moi thinks you should chat with us in description like we’re sharing secrets. Moi doesn’t believe that a man whose name became an adjective for this style of writing should have all the fun.
One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong. Will any of these “Green Flags” make a reader stop cold or stuff your script in the trashcan? Probably not, but it might make them grouchy. Mr. Snuffleupagus might say, “Ohhh, dear.” But you’re a Hip Dude. No need to follow the crowd, proofread your work and spend a lotta money for fancy software like Final Draft or Movie Magic. As they say, “It’s Hip To Be a Square.”
According to Kermit, “It’s not easy bein’ green. It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things. And people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky.” Now that I’ve told you how to write a screenplay that proves you’re an amateur, I hope it will make being green as easy as child’s play.
Just remember, it’s a sunny day. Everything’s A-OK. Sweepin’ the clouds away, on our way to where the air is sweet…
Lyrics for “Bein’ Green” by Joe Raposo.
Lyrics for “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street” by Jon Stone, Bruce Hart, Joe Raposo
- More Breaking & Entering articles by Barri Evins
- Good in a Room: 17 Phrases That Make You Sound Like a Hollywood Rookie
- Balls of Steel Goes Into the Writing Room and Behind the Lines with DR
- Ask the Expert: How Do I Get My Material Seen?
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