Your questions answered by a  Hollywood professional


A bit of Hollywood humor 


 



Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

I never know how much description to use in my screenplays.  Can you give me a rule of thumb?

S. Morgan 


This week's Answer: 

The "Undescription" for Success

 
INT. DcH's OFFICE - DAY

A less-than perfectly organized workspace that cries out for a cleaning woman (or a maid in a French maid's uniform, duster and all).  Scripts are scattered everywhere -- just like the mind of DcH, 20's (I wish), who sits at his desk in front of his computer in a semi-stupor, clacking away on his keyboard.  Clearly a genius who is waiting for inspiration, and nothing is forthcoming.  DcH stops typing, reaches for a yellow pages book, thumbs through, finds what he's looking for:  "French Maids For Hire," accompanied by a provocative cartoon of a lovely lady attired as such.  DcH smiles wryly to himself, reaches for the phone and starts to dial as he pulls out a pile of more scripts from his desk and tosses them around the room.

Now, Mr. Morgan, many in the screenwriting business might say that the above description is far too-wordy and that all of it is not pertinent to the story at hand.  That may be so.  Most script consultants and screenwriters would advise that the above description be cut back (like a an overgrown yard that hasn't seen a gardener or a landscaper for more years than you want to count).  I would have to agree with them.  Because producers, especially nowadays, want to read sharply-written, taut scripts (which includes description) -- translate:  "They don't like to read" -- you don't want to overdo it with the description factor.  A better, tighter version of the above would be:

INT. DcH's OFFICE - DAY

Messy.  DcH, computer, yellow pages, French Maid, phone, scripts.

Okay, that's a little too tight.  Try this one:

INT. DcH's OFFICE - DAY

DcH, 20's, sits amidst clutter at his desk, typing on his keyboard in front of a computer.  He picks up a yellow pages book and finds an ad for an outcall French Maid service.  As he dials, he scatters scripts on the floor, which is covered with more of the same.

I think my examples say it all.  Or nothing at all.  Either way, I hope you get my point -- even though I'm not certain even I know what it is.  Obviously, I've been writing too many scripts (which are all over my floor) and I'm starting to unravel at the seams (or slug lines).

You do want your description to be rather economically written and integrated into the story.  If you notice, description and action are often written in a kind of shorthand, using the often-omnipresent comma more than the period.  If you can, "describe as you go," incorporating it with the action.  No one really wants to have to sit through a long description of a location before the action begins.  You find the aforementioned in stage plays (an audience needs something to look at while latecomers are still taking their seats) and in novels (I don't think I ever finished the classic, superb--that's what they say, anyway-- novel, "Grapes of Wrath" because of the extensive descriptions of the landscapes and weather and whatnots,  And where were the descriptions of the grapes!?  I don't remember any grapes.), but a screenplay is a completely different beast, altogether.  The director and D.P. will take care of the long pans of the interiors and exteriors; that will all come out in the wash when we see the finished product on the screen.  WE WANT ACTION!  Give us our engaging opening; hook us with your hook; keep us intrigued with all the challenges the hero/ine, who you've got us to care about, faces; walk us through the long second act with surprises and reversals;  throw us into the purging fire of the third act and let us face our demons together with courage and dignity! 

JUST DON'T SLOW US DOWN WITH A LOT OF DESCRIPTION

WE'RE NOT INTERIOR DESIGNERS

WE'RE NOT LANDSCAPERS

WE HATE TO SAY THIS IN CASE IT OFFENDS THE NOVELIST IN YOU, BUT:

WE DON'T CARE

Now, I, personally, don't mind a well-described and poignantly-pinpointed moment in a screenplay.  But it's those "other guys" you have to convince.  You can do it.  Here's a good formula:

1.  Write all the description that comes to mind about a scene without editing   anything.

2.  Now that you've descriptively expressed your expressive self and gotten it all down, letting it all out, all the way to"... the grime on the curtains that waft in the soft breeze that intermittently permeates the room through the invisible cracks in the house that seemed to never be built, but grew from the ashes of the ruins of an antiquity that would never die."  Now that you've expressed all that.

3.  Now cut 9/10ths of it and you're there.

Problem solved.  Glad I could help.  

DcH

 

Script Advisor Home | About Us | Contact | Links | Samples | Help | Services | Weekly
Copyright 2003/2005 Script-Advisor.com ... All Rights Reserved