Saturday, May 25, 2013

Screenwriting Mistake #60: Forgetting that Cell Phones Exist

It's that time of year again when I've been reading a bunch of student screenplays and I'm encouraged by how good some of them have been. However, there's one issue that cropped up in several scripts that I wanted to mention here today – cell phones exist.

I've never liked it when characters in movies and TV series just show up at someone's house without any warning. Fist of all, the person they're visiting is always home (What are the odds?) and second, this is just a lazy contrivance to add the forced drama of a surprise visit to a scene that would otherwise consist entirely of dialogue. Since everyone has a cell phone now, there's no excuse for doing this any more. People don't just drop by someone's house unannounced like this, so neither should your characters. If you want to see an example of this in action, watch any episode of the TV show "Grimm." Almost every week, someone shows up at another character's house unannounced. Every time that happens, I actually yell at their writers through the screen. But then I keep watching, so maybe this problem is more about me than them.

If you want to add drama to a dialogue-intensive scene, there are tons of other ways you can do that. Your first option is always to set the scene in a location that's more interesting than a doorway. You can also introduce some interesting actions into the scene, which usually involves setting it somewhere that has more visual possibilities. This is all straight out of Blake Snyder's "Pope in the pool" chapter, so please refer to his book for a more eloquent explanation. (Seriously, I should know better than to try to write blog posts on a Saturday morning.)

Or you could even use a cell phone to create more visual interest, maybe by having a guy call his girlfriend while driving, then he crashes his car. Okay, that's not much better than just showing up unannounced. How about, the couple could meet at a visual location, such as a putt putt golf course or a hockey game or a Carnaval parade, and then the girl can start off by holding up her phone and saying, "I came to the location you sent me. Now what do you want?" Did I mention that I'm writing this on a Saturday morning? Wait, I've got it! Do exactly what Blake Snyder says and have them meet at the Vatican pool! Then you can show a cool scene of them being chased by the Swiss Guard with their awesome harlequin uniforms. Problem solved.

The bottom line is that there's no excuse for a screenplay character to show up by surprise at someone's house or at any other location. If you want to put something like this in a screenplay, it needs to be absolutely necessary for that scene and you need to demonstrate why calling or texting in advance wasn't an option. You have been warned, "Grimm" writing staff!