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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.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Smells Fishy

This should go without saying, but apparently it needs to be spelled out. So here goes:

In movies, if we can't see it or hear it, it ain't there!

I'm not even just talking about the little things in the action description like, "Bob has just gotten out of a divorce and is depressed." The one that irks me most is when a screenwriter tells us how something smells.

I mean, yes, I know that it is meant to be a clever way of evoking a mood and look, but it still fails. If you say something like "the room reeks horribly" we might be able to envision an actor translating that (though I'd still argue there are better ways of delivering the same description). But, "the room smells like decay" is not filmable! So why are you telling me that? What would you like me to do with that piece of useless information?

Most you might be able to get away with, if you're going to get all Shane Black about your style, might be to say something like, "If we could smell it, the air in here would present a surprisingly homey mix of cigarette smoke, days-old sweat, and whiskey breath." But you need that "if we could smell it" in there. Because we can't!

Okay, rant over.



Blogger Danny Stack said...

I'd argue that the advice should be changed to: "In screenplays, if we can't see it or hear it, it ain't there" because at the movies, there's a wide range of emotion and experience and story delight to be gained from what's not on the screen.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

I hear you Danny, but I'll respond that all of that other stuff (emotion, etc) is purely a function of what we see and hear. It has to be.

4:55 PM  
Blogger Ralphie said...

Unless, of course, the movie is filmed in "feel-around."

12:10 AM  
Blogger Brett said...

I'll dismiss one or maybe even two appearances of such stuff in a script if everything else is kicking copious ass. My prob is when it becomes a repeated affectation which clearly indicates lazy writing.

Neat trick-- when you're done with a draft, do a quick search for touchy-feely sense words such as "feels" or "smells" or "seems." This will often help flag the accidental use of such constructions.

Also, for yet more fun (seeing as how you're FUN Joel and all), run a search for all appearances of "*ly " to help flag adverbs which might be tossed or hammered into more active explosive descriptive verbs.

3:50 PM  

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