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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 (often with a humorous eye) 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: 

DcH, I get bogged down because screenplays have to be so (I could swear here) exact!   I wish I could just be free to write what I want and not worry so much about all this demanding formatting.  Can you comment?

Joanne from Minnesota

This week's Answer: 

Exactly Speaking

Joanne, your missive is appreciated.  I know that "bogged down" feeling.  It makes me want to pull out my kazoo and play "I've Got Those Bogged Down Blues, Baby."  Or, come to think of it, it puts me more in the mood to run to my zither and crank out a chorus of "Formatting Blues."  I relate.  I really relate.

Screenwriting is a demanding mistress (I wish she'd just accept the apartment, the car, and the "bling" and let it go at that) and "exact" is a good word to describe her overall personality.  The problem is that in order to give screenplays a raison d'etre (I was never absolutely clear exactly what that is, but I like to use the word once in a while to look like I do.  I think it has something to do with the rights for French raisins.), they have to be made into movies, and movies have a time limit (mostly, I think, because audiences have to eventually leave their seats so they can go to the bathroom -- and, nowadays, make cell-phone calls every thirteen and a half minutes.  Oh, wait.  They do that anyway without leaving their seats.  What was I thinking?).  So this time limitation, along with the fundamentals of telling a story, which somebody back in Greece a long time ago by the name of Aristotle -- whoever he was -- talked about (I still don't see the big deal about him.  I mean, the guy wore togas, gave speeches on building steps, and never saw a movie.  So what makes him the big authority on screenplays?!)  puts many demands  on those who write for film and requires the exactness that has been mentioned.

But let's see if I can reframe the idea of exactness so it's more palatable:  

Are you willing to be as exact as possible with your screenplay to prompt a producer to see how he or she can exactly envision the film that could be made from it?

Would you like the producer who buys your script to not be adequately exact and neglect putting your name in the credits as the screenwriter?  

Would you like him to not be exact and leave a number of zeros off your check?


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