Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Screenwriting Mistake #9: We see / We hear

Like camera angles and beats, any time a screenwriter writes “we see” or “we hear” in a script, it pulls the reader out of the story. This seems like a natural way for writers to give the reader more detail about the environment, but writing descriptions this way brings your story to an emotional halt. You should always let the reader know what he is seeing or hearing in a way that flows naturally in your story. (Notice that I didn’t say the word “organically,” because, come on – how overused is that word?)
For example, someone might write in a screenplay:
“As Stephanie takes one last breath, we hear the cardiac monitor’s rhythmic beeping switch to one long, continuous drone.”
While I would advise against using this hackneyed description of a cardiac monitor to indicate when someone dies in a hospital, it would be possible to rewrite that description this way:
“As Stephanie takes one last breath, her cardio monitor switches from its rhythmic beeping to one long, continuous drone.”
Another example would be:
“As Gwen walks into the sunset, we see birds flying across the sky.”
Again, don’t ever write something this clichéd, but if you must, it would be better to write it as:
“Birds fly by as Gwen walks toward the setting sun.”
But seriously, don’t ever tell me what birds are doing in your script unless you’re remaking an Alfred Hitchcock classic.

2 comments:

  1. In Tarantino's script for Django Unchained he writes "we may or may not notice a tiny small "r" burned into his cheek *"r for runaway), but we can't help but notice his back which has been SLASHED TO RIBBONS by Bull Whip Beatings"

    I guess this is only allowed if your Tarantino?

    I noticed another thing that he does and wondered if that was allowed at all: He almost seems to talk to the reader casually e.g. "As the CREDITS play, DJANGO has a SPAGHETTI WESTERN FLASHBACK. Now Spaghetti Western Flashbacks are never pretty, its usually the time in the film when the lead character thinks back to the most painful memory inflicted on him or his loves ones from evil characters from his past..."

    I guess doing that is also only allowed if your Tarantino?

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    1. It certainly helps if you're Tarantino, but the main reason he does things like this (and gets away with them) is that he's the one who will be directing the film. If you're going to direct your own script, then you should write the descriptions in whatever way works best for you to visualize each shot.

      -Phil

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