a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Monday, August 29, 2005

Things In Your Script That Turned My Hair Gray (Part I)

There are a bevy of repeated awful things that I keep seeing in screenplays, that have left my dashing brown waves a dull gray... oh, who am I kidding. My dad started to go gray in his 20s, and bald a few years later, so I'm not doing so badly.

But I'm constantly amazed at the amateurish things I see a lot of in scripts, and I'm not talking about the really amateurish things, like character names that keep inexplicably changing throughout the script, or a character's name on the bottom of one page and the dialogue on top of the other. That is basic stuff -- if you aren't reading your screenplay over before it is sent out, you have more problems than this blog can ever help with.

Still, as nagging things occur to me, I'll post them, just to get them off my chest. Here's a few --

THE MAIN CHARACTER'S LIFE THROWN INTO CHAOS BECAUSE HE OWES A BOOKIE MONEY. Really, how often does this happen, particularly nowadays, when the bookie has gone the way of the beehive? But it still pops up in screenplays all the time, a thin excuse to drive the action, while generally by the end the main character's gambling problem isn't even dealt with. Instead, it's cue hulking guys named Rocco, who bang on the door while the main character dives onto his fire escape, or flees down the stairs with the befuddled love interest.

NAME-CHECKING THE SCRIPT YOU'RE STEALING FROM. It's dumbfounding how often I come upon this. Generally, the writer will take big plot hunks from a popular movie, and then have the characters talk about that same movie during the script, as if this somehow makes it okay -- as if it's somehow a "homage" if you acknowledge it. It's not. Even all the Die Hard ripoffs had the class not to have the characters talk about Bruce Willis during the movie.

If you are doing a movie about single girls looking for love, don't have them mention "Sex In The City". Please. Please. Please.

SEEKING LAUGHS IN A CHARACTER FORGETTING ANOTHER'S NAME. Yeesh. This is generally the bottom of the barrel in terms of seeking humor, when a character purposely or forgetfully calls a character by a bunch of different names. "Chip!" "My name's Bob". "Bart!". I know, itt has been done in movies a lot, but as a source of humor this is marrow that has been pretty much sucked dry.

FART JOKES. If you haven't come up with the greatest twist in fart joke history, don't go there.


At 2:55 AM, Blogger iBrotha said...

I saw a preview of Tideland, and it's got the lamest fart joke in it.


At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Peter said...


Have you been plagued by scripts with the phrase "gives chase" in it? WTF? Where did that ridiculous expression come from.

And I've encountered it at least a dozen times.

Like some kind of sick virus, spreading itself through the screenwriting community. Ugh!

How did it get to be so popular???

At 3:06 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I've seen it before. And yeah, grammatically it doesn't really stand up very well.

If you have so many chase scenes that you need to come up with variations on how to phrase it, then maybe it's time to add more plot and less chases.

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Fun Joel said...

Finally reading through your old posts Scott. I suddenly found myself some time, since I'm staying home sick from work today! Anyway, my current article in scr(i)pt magazine talks about just this very topic -- overused devices, plot elements, etc, that are not QUITE cliches. I call it: Easy as Pie or a Tough Nut to Crack? Check it out!

At 9:36 PM, Blogger coltrane said...

Come on. Farts are funny.


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