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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

For God's Sake...

...PLEASE always in all circumstances put your character's ages when you introduce them in a script!

One of the most annoying things I encounter way too frequently when I read scripts is character intros without this. (It's happening in a script I'm reading right now, so I had to let off some steam and blog it before I forgot.) When I do coverage, I'm supposed to write the ages of the characters. So what I end up having to do in these cases is think for a little bit and then take a semi-educated guess. I really hate writing something like, HANK (early 20s?). It's not the "early 20s" part that bugs me. It's the damn question mark.

Okay, you don't have to write the ages for truly minor characters, like POLICE OFFICER #2. But if your character is at all substantial, do yourself, and me, a favor and take the few seconds it takes to put in their ages. Acceptable ages could be specific ages, e.g. (12), or even approximations, e.g. (teens), (35ish), or (late 50s). But put something. Please!

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming...

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Anonymous Norm said...

Long team reader, first time commenter.

Are you required to do this for fantasy stories, i.e. the dozens of specs out there regarding a deal with the devil?

"Enter SATAN (older than time, looks 25)"

...actually, I kinda like that. It's got some style to it. But you get the point. If the characters aren't bound by normal human aging, is it needed?

8:38 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

A fair question Norm (and thanks for finally commenting). I had actually thought about mentioning this kind of thing.

Okay, I was a little angry when I posted it, but as with every other rule in screenplay format, common sense is the best thing. For example, if I am covering a script with some alien character, or talking animals or something, I don't have to put in their ages, and thus you shouldn't have to either.

As for your Satan question, if he looks like a real human, I'd say put the age he looks. If he looks more monstrous, don't bother.

What this all comes down to is the reason(s) we put ages in at all. Part of it is so we can understand the characters more. But also it is so producers know how it could potentially be cast. If it's a monster, that's not as much an issue. But if he looks like a human, we might need to know if he'd be played by De Niro, Pacino, or Affleck. Know what I mean?

8:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

in one of my eary read-throughs of my work in progress (to my writer's group) they gave me shit for putting in specifc age of characters: Owen Ratcliffe (44), a handsome man with a body builder physique. They told me to use generalities so I don't pigeonhole the casting director. Owen Ratcliffe is a handsome man in his early forties. Does it really make that much of a difference? I am currently writing a script with kids so I am obviously using exact ages, but for the adults?

3:24 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Quill -- I'm not a casting director, nor am I a producer, so I don't know if that sort of thing bother them. It certainly doesn't bother me. But I have heard such a thing. At the same time, as long as you have at least an "early 40s" in there, I'm happy.

And really, why write 43, unless it is truly important that that is his exact age? Still, I think most Producers/Casting Directors are smart enough to know that if you wrote 43, the character could also be 42, or 44, or whatever.

(Yes, I did just use the words "Producer" and "smart" in the same sentence!)

4:00 PM  
Blogger TN_Dreamer said...

Wow, I didn't know readers have to put ages in their summaries. presumably most newbies don't either. thanks for the post. (filing under my growing list of what_to_remember_about_screenplay_writing)

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the reason I use specific ages sometimes is that if I am going to mention the character doing something at age 16 involving driving a car back in 1973, then he must be have been born by 1957 making him 48 today. I know the generic 40's would suffice, which is easiest

11:21 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Quill, that makes perfect sense to me. I, for one, never have a problem with actual ages, and certainly if there is a specific reason to include them you definitely should. But also don't feel weird about being slightly vague, as in: (mid 30s).

12:02 AM  
Blogger Matt Reynolds said...

For anyone who cares: I round up or down unless it's important to the story.

In the script I'm writing now the lead characters are all taking their exams at school, so in the script I've put their ages as 17.

This isn't the most riveting of subjects though is it? I've got to say I feel like a bit of anorak posting on age specifications in screenplays. Is my life really that sad?

3:05 AM  
Anonymous Neil said...

Just to be another devil's advocate, I also would think it would be a bad idea to be too specific. You want to eventually interest a producer, and you want him to visualize some actor. so, if you say the guy is 25, and the producer is buddies with Ben Affleck, the producer might just say, "not right for Ben." To hedge my bets, I might even write something like "late twenties, worrying about becoming thirty" as a way to be vague. Are you going to kill me now, Joel?

4:13 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Not at all, Neil. I don't have a problem with people being vague like that either, so long as they at least write that, and not just leave it up to me to guess, "hmm, is this guy in his mid 20s, late 30s, or early 50s?"

At the same time, I'll continue that if a Producer was friends with Ben Affleck and you say the guy is 25, most Producers would still be perfectly fine saying, "change the character to make him in his 30s." You don't necessarily have to write it out so the Producer can "figure out" that the character doesn't actually have to be a certain age.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read a lot of scripts and I see a lot of specific ages: 42, 27, 35 etc. I am wondering now if that is because the casting was already completed and these are later drafts, so they re-write it with the actor's actual age now?

8:28 PM  

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