Tuesday 27 December 2011

"Style" in screenwriting

Everything changes; nothing stays the same. Even screenwriting. 

Up until the 1980s, screenwriters focussed on the story they wanted to tell. With the rise of the mega-spec script sales, screenwriters started to write the story they hoped to sell. There's a difference, in style, as well as intent.

I was interested to read a post by venerable screenwriting blogger John August this week. It has the memorable title: Observations on the evolution of screenwriting based on reading one script from 1974. He doesn't say what that one script was, but here are a few of his comments:
Locations got much less writer attention. In this script, a kitchen is a kitchen. In today’s scripts, every location gets at least a color line (“stainless steel and subway tiles, with an $8000 convection oven that’s never been used.”)

By “evolution,” I don’t mean that screenwriting has gotten better, by the way. It’s just gotten different, the way fashions change. Modern screenplays work very hard — too hard? — trying to make everything a fun read.

This script, at least, seemed much more interested in just getting it done:
Tom looks Barbara square in the eye. Barbara looks to Norman. After a beat, Norman stands and leaves.
PAN BACK to Barbara. She returns to her knitting.
It’s not thrilling, but you know what you’re going to see. There’s a lot to be said for that.
One of the things my writers' group settled, at our final meeting for 2011, was what screenplays we're going to study next year. After reading John's comments, I took a look at their age, and wondered whether it was going to become an issue. Here's the list, in chronological order:
Annie Hall (1977)
Alien (1979)
Body Heat (1981)
Platoon (1986)
Carlito's Way (1993)
Toy Story (1995)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Sopranos - Pilot (1999)
Sexy Beast (2000)
Michael Clayton (2007)
That's two from the '70s, two from the '80s, four from the '90s, and two this century. On top of the other exercises, comparing the style of each era should be fun.

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