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September 19, 2012
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Back-to-Basics Screenwriting With Snappy
(And Why The Biz Might Not Be For You)

Fully Formatted Article: fav.me/d5erlbh

So ya wanna write a screenplay. Maybe you’re bored with 180,000 word novels, but you still have a full-length story to tell. Maybe you watched a shitty movie last weekend and thought, I could have written that ten million times better. Maybe you heard that every waiter, barista, and pole-dancer in Hollywood has a screenplay under their belt – and so why don’t you?

So that’s your first thought. Your second thought is – I’ve already been writing for years. I’ve got English degrees up the wazoo and my use of epic metaphors has totally made my professor cream her pants on a regular basis. So why the fuck do I need to go to “film school?” Isn’t that just for hacks anyway?

Well, yes – and no. But that isn’t what this article is about. I’m here to tell you, okay, maybe you are a first-rate writer. Maybe you can do it on your own. Maybe you’ve got all your character arcs and your outline and your treatment down and now all you need is a script. I’m here to fill your entire concept of creative reality with maybes.

But not if you don’t learn the fucking rules first.

Rule #1: Forget Everything You Know About Narration

So we’ve already established this is a new form of writing. This is not a novel. So why do you think you can just swoop in and write it like one? We are Hollywood. We don’t care about your flowing locks of gold-specked hair and your internal asides and your extended metaphors. We want you to tell us two things, and two things ONLY:

What do we SEE, and what do we HEAR? If we can’t see it, and we can’t hear it, IT DOES NOT EXIST.
Oh, and by the way, forget adverbs too, and any other form of extraneous wording. It’ll only get cut in the end. Because we are Hollywood – we are not here to sit and take all day reading your shit. We skim – that’s right, we actively try not to read every word.

So give us no more than four lines of text in a row or face the wrath of our collective paper-shredder.
Remember, we are Hollywood – we have no souls. It’s your job to make us feel like we do, in as few words as possible. If you are in love with the unconstrained flourishes of the English language, this medium is not for you.

Rule #2: Are You The Director? No? Then Get The Fuck Off My Lawn

Okay, so maybe you are the director. Maybe this is a no-budget short, which you’re going to shoot on your Nikon D7000, edit with Final Cut Pro, and send off to your local film festival all on your ownsies. If that’s the case, just skip this section.

If not – buckle up, punk.

Many people believe it’s okay to use big professional words like, “pan”, “ECU”, and “zoom”. I’m going to tell you – it is NOT fucking okay. People who argue this have been reading DIRECTOR’S CUTS. These are scripts which have been doctored BY THE DIRECTOR.

If you pretend like you can use these big professional words and send your script off to big professional people, you are liable to A) piss somebody important off for stepping on their toes, B) be laughed at, and C) have your script tossed into a fire.  

Well, you ask, how do I say that I need them to zoom in on a small detail? Or pull back to reveal a key element?

You use your writerly fucking common sense, that’s how. Every time you start a new paragraph, that implies a new shot. Key word is IMPLIES.

With that in mind, you want to teach the director to zoom in? You say:

                         Johnny’s eyes shine with remorse, and a tear rolls down his cheek.

If you want to pull back, then describe a wider radius. Everything you can see. This will get in to the director’s head subconsciously, and he’ll feel brilliant like he got the idea to pull back himself. And then maybe he’ll pay you lots of money to make HIS idea come to life.


Rule #3: Format Is Everything

Now, I’ll stop yelling for a second to tell you that, yes, there are lots and lots of formats out there. Stage-plays are different from screenplays. Sitcoms are different from dramas. UK standard is different from USA standard. Every single scripted TV show has its own format. I’m not going to cover them all; I’m just gonna stick to broad strokes. The important thing to know is that whatever format you use, CONSISTANCY IS KEY.
Also, you don’t really need to know the exact margins and line spacing and things like that, because if you aren’t an idiot, you aren’t going to attempt to use Microsoft Word.

Celtx is a free downloadable screenwriting program. It’s not as user-friendly as its professional-grade counterpart, Final Draft, but it’ll do. Either program will “format” everything automatically for you, simply by hitting TAB or selecting from the drop-down menu. It even tells you how to properly format the title page. Perfect! Easy!

But that’s like saying the autofocus on your camera will take a perfect shot every time. No – it won’t, it is a MACHINE. Just because your car’s an automatic doesn’t mean it will drive itself. I am here to tell you how to drive your car.

Now your car won’t drive if you don’t stick the key in the ignition – unfortunately, your screenplay will, but that would be your first glaring mistake to any director or producer. The first two words, of ANY script, of ANY format, should be:

FADE IN:

Rule #4: FADE IN (Or, That Is Not A Fucking Slugline)

What happens after? And what’s that funny thing you called a slugline?

Dios mio…

Even people who vaguely know what they’re doing have trouble with sluglines. They forget the rule of KEEPING IT SIMPLE.

But wait, what is a slugline?

A SLUGLINE is a header used to stage location and time. It is used for changing scenes. For example:

INT. JOHNNY’S HOUSE – DAY
Or
EXT. PARLIAMENT BUILDING – NIGHT

Notice how I only used Day or Night? Stick with that. Please. Don’t say, TWILIGHT. Or SUNRISE. Or SUNSET. Those are shots that COST MONEY. And for the love of God, don’t say, 4 PM. Believe me, I’ve seen it. It isn’t clever. You can get away with EVENING or EARLY MORNING sometimes, but use sparingly.

Your location will always be INT. or EXT. – UNLESS you are in a doorway, and cutting between inside and out. That would be written as:

INT/EXT. JOHNNY’S HOUSE - DAY

Changing location within a location can be done a variety of ways:

INT. JOHNNY’S HOUSE – KITCHEN - DAY
Or simply,
INT. JOHNNY’S KITCHEN – DAY

If you have a large location and want to switch between crowds of characters during the same time frame, in a simple manner, you can use a mini slug, under the master slug, of course, so you have,

EXT. FOOTBALL FIELD – DAY

And when you change groups of people, you say,

BY THE WATER COOLER
Or
WITH JERRY AND KYLE

And that’s basically it. Just remember, since you’re switching locations with each slugline, that means you have to describe what you’re switching to. You can’t just open on dialogue.

Keeping up so far? Here’s our recap:

FADE IN:
SLUGLINE
ACTION LINE
Next up…

Rule #5: Who Are These People?

You thought we were moving on to dialogue, right? Well, you’re wrong. Not even close. Before we get anywhere near, we need to learn how to INTRODUCE the characters who are going to be telling your presumably marvellous story. Okay, honestly, it isn’t that mindboggling.

INT. SNAPPY’S FLAT – DAY
SNAPPY, 21, bedraggled, tattooed, and covered in dog fur, types on her laptop on the couch.

True story, bro. Now, despite that being a lame-ass opening, that is as simple is it gets. Name in CAPS (only need it the first time), age in commas or brackets, a few physical attributes, and an action. Same for every new character.

Minor characters should still be allotted ages and genders, otherwise you will be getting whoever fits the easiest stereotype.

Rule #6: And What Did You Say?

That’s right, we’re here, the exciting part – DIALOGUE.

Now, because Final Draft/Celtx is so wonderful, we don’t have to worry about TOO MANY complexities being involved with formatting dialogue. So in a nutshell…

                                                                              SNAPPY
                                                            This is dialogue.

Yep, it’s that’s simple. Now let’s say I have an action line, and keep speaking.

                                                                             SNAPPY (CONT’D)
                                                             And I’m still talking.

That little CONTINUED guy happens automatically. See how easy it is!

What if I want to whisper it?

                                                                             SNAPPY (CONT’D)
                                                                           (whispering)
                                                              Still talking...

That funny gizmo is called a parenthetical. Please don’t overload them with action stuff. In fact, try to avoid them altogether. Because while they may look harmless, they take up a SHITTON of room. Need to shave off five pages from your script? Cut out the parentheticals. You won’t miss them. Most readers just skim over ‘em anyway. Don’t believe me? Find a script. Read it. Did you pay them any attention?  

Important parentheticals are beats. You stick those in between chunks of dialogue for dramatic (or comedic) effect, indicating to the actor that they should pause.

                                                                           SNAPPY
                                                            They said I wasn’t much of a comedian.
                                                                            (beat)
                                                            They were probably right.

So what if you can hear me but I’m not in the same room?
    
                                                                         SNAPPY (O.S.)
                                                            Can you hear me now?

What if I’m the godlike Morgan Freeman?

                                                                         SNAPPY (V.O)
                                                            The characters in this scene can’t
                                                            hear me, but you sure can.

To clarify, those are Off-Screen and Voiceover.

Now what if I’m talking at the same time as someone else?

                                                                     SNAPPY/JOHNNY
                                                              Jinx!

If you want characters to speak over each other, there is an option called DUAL DIALOGUE, which places two segments of dialogue in two columns.

Got that all so far? All right, sport. Time for some hardball.

Rule #7: Learn How To Use The Telephone

Thanks to the modern age, there are infinitely more interesting ways to communicate than face to face. I’m not going to get into texting or chatting – I’ve seen it done a variety of ways – but the thing you must learn, no matter how technologically advanced, is how to format the old-fashioned telephone call. It can be done in no less than three ways:

ONE-SIDED CONVERSATION
You can see one character, and hear only what’s on his or her end of the line.

INT. SNAPPY’S FLAT – DAY
Snappy is on the phone.

                                                                        SNAPPY
                                                   Well, I know this phone thing
                                                   gets complicated, all right –
                                                                         (beat)
                                                   No, you’re right.
                                                                         (pause)
                                                   It’s not that bad.

BLIND CONVERSATION
You can see one character, but you can hear what is said on the other end of the line.

                                                                        SNAPPY
                                                   It’s just a lot to take in.
    
                                                                       JOHNNY (O.S.)
                                                   You hang in there. It’ll get
                                                   through their heads eventually.

                                                                       SNAPPY
                                                  Oh, Johnny. You’re always right.

TWO-WAY CONVERSATION
You can see and hear both characters, in separate locations.

INT. SNAPPY’S FLAT – DAY
Snappy is on the phone.

                                                                       SNAPPY
                                                   Hey, Johnny?


                                                                                                                                        INTERCUT WITH:
EXT. PARLIAMENT BUILDING – DAY
Johnny is on the phone.

                                                                       JOHNNY
                                                    What up?

                                                                        SNAPPY
                                                     Does this mean we’re getting
                                                     equal screen-time?

                                                                                                                                      END OF INTERCUT.


Rule #8: Other Fun Gizmos

Hopefully by now you’re getting the swing of things and formatting seems a little more cut-and-dry. So by now you should be pounding away your scenes and your dialogue and your phone conversations… until you come to something freakishly unusual. Such as:

MONTAGES
A montage is a sequence of shots that link to each other thematically.

MONTAGE: GETTING PUMPED
- Snappy opens a new document in Final Draft.
- Snappy pulls an energy drink out of the fridge and opens it.
- Snappy types a full page.
- Snappy does push-ups.
END OF MONTAGE.

SERIES OF SHOTS
A series of shots is a sequence of shots all within the same location and within a similar time frame, used to chop down an action that usually takes up an unnecessary amount of time. Sex scenes are a classic usage. Good for body disposal as well.  

SERIES OF SHOTS
- Snappy covers the room in plastic.
- Snappy pulls out a saw and other cutting utensils.
- Blood flies as the body is dismembered.
- Snappy mixes vats of acid and drops the body parts inside.
END SERIES OF SHOTS.

TIME TRANSITION IN A SINGLE LOCATION
Say your character’s passed out at the table in the morning you want to watch him wake up at night.

INT. SNAPPY’S FLAT – DAY
Snappy snores, face on the table, drooling as she slumbers.

                                                                                                                                   DISSOLVE TO:

INT. SNAPPY’S FLAT – NIGHT
Snappy wakes up.

Or if it’s later, but still day…

INT. SNAPPY’S FLAT – DAY
Snappy snores, face on the table, drooling as she slumbers.

                                                                                                                                    DISSOLVE TO:
INT. SNAPPY’S FLAT – DAY (LATER)
Snappy wakes up.


If you have any more queries for odd bits I’ve neglected to cover, let me know and I’ll throw them in here.

Rule #9: Say What You Have To Say and Get The Hell Out
That’s it. You stuck with me this far. You’ve written your last sentence. Congratulations. C’est fini. It’s over. The end.

NO.

There is no THE END in screenplays. You will be editing the little fucker until the day it gets produced. Until then, you will never call it “finished.”  

But there are two more magical words you get to write.


FADE OUT.
:iconfayefujiko:
fayefujiko Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2012   General Artist
Cheers for this. :aww:
Reply
:iconlastchancelimited:
lastchancelimited Featured By Owner Sep 20, 2012
Angry, but truth. Much respect knuckles
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