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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog

(OR EL DUDERINO IF YOU'RE NOT INTO THE WHOLE BREVITY THING)

-- 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 09, 2006

Q & A Times Three, Internationally

Time to answer a few reader questions (though I've done some direct responding to some of them already via email).

First a question from David Baltazar, who writes from over "on the continent." David asks:

Dear Joel,

Do you think an agent or a producer would even bother to read a query letter from some guy who lives in Portugal?
Not a question I know that much about, to be honest. But the bottom line as far as I can see it is, sure, why not? Every agent or producer is looking for one thing -- a great script. And it could easily come from Portugal as well.

However, I'd say there are still things you can/should do to improve your chances anyway. Firstly, maybe it is worth investing in an L.A.-based mailbox, so that you can avoid the potential of them being immediately turned off by the foreign address. You can probably do this relatively cheaply, and might be able to get the mail forwarded. I'd recommend contacting Maziar at Digital Express. He's a good guy, and always trying to work with screenwriters. (By the way, he also has very inexpensive script copying/printing costs.) You can tell him I sent you -- Joel who he met at Expo, and who writes for scr(i)pt mag.

The other thing I'd suggest is to make very clear that you can and will be willing to come to L.A. to meet, if they are interested. It goes without saying that you should not only make this clear, but also actually be willing to do so! If not, there will be little chance of you selling a script to a producer, or gaining representation.


Okay, keeping up the international theme, the next question comes from a Canadian -- Allen M.

I got a question for you...It seems from what I've read and seen that it's debatable as to whether I should write "Bob is swimming" or "Bob swims." Is there a convention I should stick with?
Most certainly, yes there is. In almost all cases, not only in screenwriting, active language is preferable to passive language. For example, I should have just written something like "active language kicks passive language's butt." As a good rule of thumb, try to avoid forms of the verb "to be" -- no "is," "are," or certainly "is being." Yes, there are times when you might choose to highlight a state of passivity, but more often than not, stronger writing makes a greater impression.

Interestingly, a script I just read over the weekend began nearly every scene with a passive statement of that sort. I understood that the author was merely trying to set the stage, describing what was taking place as we first see each scene. Still, I felt that in most cases, the descriptions would have been stronger and more evocative if stated actively, and I told the author so. When the active language wouldn't have greatly improved the script, the "action" that she described in passive terms might have been unnecessary to write at all!

Ultimately, you must remember that there is no screenplay element called "description." It is called "action" and thus should describe just that.


Finally, I received a question just earlier today from Dan Hobart (who I believe is in the U.K., rounding out the international Q & A).

I want to pen almost the entire first scene of my script in first person POV - as in, literally seeing things through his eyes. Is this allowable, or am I overstepping the mark by taking charge of the camera? And the other thing is, this will cause me to have to use the dreaded 'we' a lot during this scene.

What are thoughts on this? I only want 'us' to see the protag at the end of the scene.
Let me address the more minor point first, then the main question. Dan refers to using "the dreaded 'we'" but I must say I fall on the opposite side of this minor debate. I have absolutely no problem with using the word "we" in my action descriptions. I actually love it, and use it a decent amount myself. It's what classifies me as a "Readerist" in John August's Screenwriter Classification system. Basically, there are plenty of people who will complain about writers who use the "we" and plenty who won't care, an will even like it. But no reader worth his or her salt will reject a script because you use it, so I'd say not to worry about it, and use it if it works for you.

Now on to your main question, Dan. Can you write the entire first scene as seen through a character's POV. The short answer is yes. The longer answer is, yes, but make sure there is a reason to do it.

Plenty of screenplays feature shots as seen through a certain character's POV, and the listing of such POV in a slugline is perfectly within the realm of accepted screenplay formatting. However, featuring an entire (presumably somewhat extended) scene from one character's perspective will stand out to anyone reading the script. It could potentially pull the reader out of the story, rather than drawing him or her in. So there should be a good reason for setting the scene up in this manner.

If all you're trying to do is set it up so that we only "see the protag at the end of the scene," there are better ways of doing it. For example, a simple note that the character is never seen clearly throughout the scene should be enough. You might even include some appropriate indicators to build the right mood along the way. Talk about a character's face being obscured by shadow. His feet being all that is visible. A dark shadow of indistinguishable shape passing across our field of view.

But, if the reason for the POV is for a more specific reason, go ahead and do it. One of my favorites is from the old Bogart film noir Dark Passage. In it, Bogart plays a man wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. He escapes from prison to prove his innocence, and needs to change his face via plastic surgery so he can solve the crime without being caught. Possibly due to the lack of strong special effects (it was released in 1947), the entire portion of the film before the plastic surgery is seen through Bogie's eyes. It is a very literal POV shot, moving as his head and eyes would move, etc. We see what the character sees and hear Bogart's voice talking, but don't see him until he gets his "new" face -- that of Humphrey Bogart.

Yes, the POV shot here was something of a gimmick, but it was a clever and fun one, and one that had a reason in the story itself. I'd suggest only doing the same if you have a strong reason for doing it as well.

Hope this helps, and keep the questions coming! Just send an email from the link in the sidebar!

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4 Comments:

Blogger taZ said...

Nice info you've got there. I myself live outside US (Sweden) and had the first question in my head without even knowing it. Well, there's the answer.

I don't quite understand the second answer that well. It's not YOU, it's me...

3:03 PM  
Blogger DDog said...

The answer to question one is worth its weight in gold to outside-of-LA-folk like me. Thanks for the link.

8:18 PM  
Anonymous Doom the Movie DVD said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Is it actually possible that a mainstream movie would spam the release of its DVD? That was the comment I deleted above. I have no idea if it was genuine or not, but if so, I'd urge you to not buy the DVD for that reason alone.

10:09 AM  

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