Script Myth Busters

Here are some extracts from LA-based script consultant, Pilar Alessandra seeking to debunk some myths about screenwriting:

  • Men go to the movies more than women. FALSE. The MPAA stated that women purchased 55% of movie tickets in the USA, while men represented the remaining 45% in a report dated March 2010.
  • A studio reader’s job is to pass on scripts. FALSE. A studio reader’s job is to source potential material for development within the remit of the production company, not to crush your dreams.  Readers aren’t going to waste a creative executive’s time on inappropriate material. The fact that over 90% of incoming scripts are passed on is a stark reality.
  • The first thing a script reader looks at is the page count. TRUE. The title is equal first. Incidentally, shorter scripts tend to get read first. The average page count today is around 110 rather than 120 pages. If a script is t0o long and over-written, the reader is subconsciously looking to edit rather than simply enjoy the script.
  • You cannot write a movie about the film industry. FALSE. You can, but most flop because the industry references are not current, true or relevant. Many tend to be complaints of the misunderstood artist rejected by Hollywood.
  • Every character must have an internal arc. FALSE. Some characters are steadfast and don’t undergo any transformation. That is the role of the main character. Steadfast characters don’t change and often bounce off the main character to explore theme and create conflict.
  • You must use politically correct language in your script. FALSE. Only if it is authentic or congruent to the theme or the world of the story. Foul or overly explicit language shouldn’t be used to sensationalize a script.
  • The main character’s name must be said out loud during the first ten pages of a script. FALSE. This is more a rule in TV writing, but it isn’t essential in film.
  • Write what you know. FALSE. You don’t need to be an expert in something or have experienced it first hand to write about it. For instance, if you want to know how to steer a boat, a google search may be all that’s required. Don’t let real life get in the way of your creativity. Immerse yourself in the world of your story.
  • If something is scientifically improbable, it must me supported by scientific evidence. FALSE. You can dazzle sci-fi geeks with some tech speak. Ultimately your story is about the drama. However, if you set certain scientific rules, keep them consistent.
  • The main character must do something likeable in the first act otherwise the audience won’t empathize with them. FALSE. They must do something interesting so we follow their arc. The audience just needs to enter and understand their world. They should probably redeem themselves by the third act and be more likeable.
  • You shouldn’t add emotion in screenplay direction because they are the directors’ and actors’ jobs. FALSE. Everyone likes some guidance to understand the writer’s intention. However don’t add to much. Similar rules apply to parentheticals.
  • You can add as much scene direction as you like in a shooting script. FALSE. This is out of the writer’s hands. The director, production manager, DP and other key staff break down a script into a shooting draft so they can plan their production schedule.
  • Don’t use voiceovers or flashbacks. FALSE. Only if they interrupt the script and impose on the action. Voiceovers and flashbacks are often used badly.
  • A movie set in the 80s is a period film. TRUE. You can really go to town reliving a bygone era. Anything not contemporary is technically a period piece. If the time setting is essential to your story, make it as authentic as possible.
  • Each character must have unique voice to avoid on the nose dialogue. FALSE. Each character must have a specific dramatic function and characteristics. However, characters of an identical background such as rich, private school jocks will have similar dialogue. Maybe give them a quirk, speech impediment or catchphrase if you really want to color them.

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