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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.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Q & A: Reading

As promised, here's the first of two Q & A posts I have to write. Dan's question(s):

Hope you're well. I was wondering, how easy is it for you to take in an entire screenplay in one readthrough? Presumably that's a skill that has to be mastered in your job, but is it the writer's responsibility to make a screenplay 'absorbable' in one sitting?

Second, a question about subplots. Most films have them, but do you have any tips on avoiding the 'this happens and then that happens and then..." syndrome (i.e. episodic instead of causal writing).
Let's take these one thing at a time. First of all, I am well, thanks! At least in comparison to the last few days! ;-)

But regarding your first question about writing an "absorbable" script, I'm not sure I 100% get your question. What I mean is this. I (and I presume nearly every other script reader in Hollywood) virtually never read a script twice (for work, that is, not for pleasure). So it is hard for me to say if I would get more from it the second time around.

That being said, I think that most scripts I read I am able to get the salient points from on my single readthrough. I definitely need to get the entire plot, since I have to summarize the whole thing. I get the dialogue, characters, pacing, etc, because those are things that one should get on the initial read. The same way that a viewer will get these things the first time they watch the film.

Do I think I get every single subtlety and detail? No, I'm sure I don't. At least not every time. But I think those are things that people don't necessarily get on their first viewing of the film either. I'd like to think that (since I have a trained eye, read more scripts than most people see movies, and have developed an expertise in this field) I see more of this than casual viewers will see on that viewing, but still I'm sure I don't catch it all.

However, it is infrequent, if ever, that a script should rely so heavily on those subtleties that by missing them I may misjudge the value of the property. Much more likely is that I'll see a very good script, and simply not realize how good it really is. Make sense?

So is it something you should worry about? Making a script absorbable in one sitting? I'd say no. First of all, you should focus much more on the other technical elements, and if you get them all into top shape (a script that fires on all cylinders), everything else will fall into place. Secondly, I'm not even sure if there is a way to ensure that your screenplay will be more absorbable in a single sitting. So basically, I'd not worry much about it.

Now, regarding your second question, I think you somewhat answer it yourself when you mention "causal writing." What prevents a screenplay from having an "episodic" feel is when there is something pushing the story along from scene to scene. If you have a strong dramatic throughline, you shouldn't have much problem with a film feeling episodic.

By the way, I'm not sure I see why episodic writing would be any greater danger in a film with subplots than without. Subplots should not simply be secondary storylines. (I'm not much of a TV guy, but I think that a so-called "B-story" in a TV episode may be somewhat different than a subplot in a film, since I believe they may be less connected to the "A-story," so I'm not referring to those.) The best subplots are tied closely to the main storyline in two ways. They should explore the same thematic material from a different angle, first off. Furthermore, in better films they will intertwine and play off of, or affect, the progression of the main storyline as well. In other words, the subplots and main plot should almost converse with each other throughout the screenplay.

Bottom line? Remember that there is a reason they are called subplots and not secondary plots.

Thanks for the questions, and hope that helps!

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Blogger oneslackmartian said...

I love when people give you homework and you accept the assignment.

Nevertheless, GOOD STUFF. Thanks for answering and sharing.

4:24 AM  

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