Saturday, 24 May 2014

How did they write it?

Much of what I know about screenplay formatting I learned from produced screenplays. I'd be writing a scene when I'd run into something I could see and I could say, but I drew a blank on how to write it in a screenplay. So I'd go thumbing back through scripts that I thought might contain a similar situation. I even started collections of extracts from screenplays under themes, just to help me get into that frame of mind. For example, sex scenes, I-love-you speeches, M.O.S. scenes, etc.

For instance, how would you write a scene where one character doesn't speak English? This is how Kevin Wade did it in Working Girl.



Hundreds of dumplings piled on tin-foil platters, waiting on the steam table.  Tess arguing with two tiny CHINAMEN, she in English, they in Chinese with supplicating gestures.

                     TESS
         Also serve!  Yes!
             (demonstrating)
         Serve!
                     CHINAMEN
             (shaking their heads)
             (quick burst of Chinese)

Katherine tears in.
Of course, that tiny scene fragment didn't survive into the actual film, but it
did serve its purpose in the screenplay, helping establish character attitudes.
In the film, Tess makes an appearance at the party in her own cloud of steam.



I don't know if you find that sort of thing useful, but I consider it priceless. Someone who had the same basic idea, but executed it to an impressively high degree is Nathalie Sejean. She has gathered over 400 examples from 25 screenplays into an indexed PDF. Every few pages along there is a full page blurb about one of the movies that these lines came from. (Although it's very pretty, I found it disruptive and annoying, but that's just me.) Apart from that, an excellent innovation. You have to subscribe to her weekly newsletter to get your own copy, and you can do that by clicking here.


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1 comment:

Kathy Smart said...

One can never study too many screenplays, but I guess the danger is in copying style and method when one is only trying to get the formatting clear.