Other people’s scripts

I generally like reading other people’s scripts, if only to get an idea about what other people think a script should be. I’m not talking about amateurs here, just other professionals; people who have agents or sell things.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s almost all crap! I used to read scripts when I lived in Hollywood and they were all terrible. There were a few that were good that had already been bought by the company I was working for, but the ones I was given were all of them, 100%, awful. I began to get desperate for anything in a script to be good, so I could pass something positive up to my boss, but it was always a stretch.

Look at it like this: most movies are awful, so it makes sense that most scripts are bad. It’s not too often, though it does happen, that a good script is fucked up by a bad director.

There are a few things that really bother me about other people’s scripts that could just be changed with the slightest effort.   I’m not talking about the tough parts.  Writing characters is hard, or it takes experience and/or talent. Writing a scene, with a beginning, middle and end, isn’t always an easy thing to do.   People who throw around terms like “exposition” and “character arc” generally have no idea what they are talking about.

But what I’m talking about here are basic principles of grammar. This is NOT difficult to master, or, at least, you should have mastered it in high school.  How hard is it to write with complete sentences?  Remember that old rule, that a sentence has a noun and a predicate?  A script is just a means of communicating, so why not take advantage of the techniques that have been established over centuries to make that communication flow as easily and as clearly as possible.

So this:

INT. HOUSE – DAY

Suburbia.  Furniture.  A man on the floor.  Blood.  Next to him, a knife.

Becomes this:

INT. HOUSE – DAY

A man lies on the floor of a furnished suburban house, covered in blood.  A knife lies next to him.

You might think that the first one sets some sort of tone, and it works just fine for that one sentence, but try reading a whole script like that.  It becomes monotonous and painful.

The other thing that drives me crazy is the use of the word “beat”.  If you really need a beat in your dialog, break it up with a little description.  It’s not that hard.

INT. HOUSE – DAY

JAKE

There sure is a lot of blood in here.

Beat.

JAKE

And some of it looks like his.

Becomes this….

INT. HOUSE – DAY

JAKE

There sure is a lot of blood in here.

Jake kneels down, looks closely, then turns back to his partner.

JAKE

And some of it looks like his.

“Beat” means nothing.

I could go on and on.  Maybe I’ll put a few more on here sometime, but I’ve got to get back to work.

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