Not Overdescribing, and Trusting Your Reader/Audience
From the "real-life examples from scripts I just read" department --
This script was submitted to a production company, by a producer.
On page 3, the writer describes the main character, in this paragraph (all names changed):
We PULL to reveal MORRIS himself. A tall, slim man in his 60's. His face handsome in a windswept way. Rugged. Like the outdoors he loves. By the age of 18, Morris was working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as an "Adjuster", a free-lance cowboy hired to mediate land disputes between Anglos and fragmented groups from the Indian nations. The job required some charm and skill, and when that failed, a Colt "Peacemaker". He tried always to be fair. Or at least, consistent.
This is a perfect example of overwriting. Though it's tempting to drop huge chunks of character description into an introduction, the bottom line is still the fact that there really isn't any reason to put anything into the script that the audience wouldn't see or here. If the information is that important, figure out a way to bring it across in the dialogue or the story.
So that's what I would have told the writer. Work it into the tale.
But it turns out that that would have been unnecessary. Because on page 5, we get this exchange, between Morris' daughter and his young grandson.
He didn't shoot people.
He says he did. He's an "Adjuster".
He was an "adjuster", a long time ago. I don't think he shot a single person.
And then, on page 6, we get this:
My partner and me once headed off renegade Comanches that were making trouble with some ranchers up north of the Grass River...
Extensive description of an "adjusting" incident follows.
So on pages 5 and 6, we get plenty of backstory into Morris' character and the job he had, rendering the whole page 3 description superfluous.
But the writer doesn't stop there. On page 7, one minor character tells another about how Morris was an adjuster, and what that means. On page 15, Morris talks about adjusting again. On page 22, he talks with his old partner about what they used to do in the old days. On page 26, Morris' son tells a cop:
The Bureau of Indian Affairs used to call in cowboys to negotiate border disputes. They were called "adjusters". That was a long time ago.
On page 32, Morris' partner tells another character that they are adjusters, and they negotiate land disputes. On page 53, he tells another woman "In the old days, when there was a land dispute, the Government brought us in to mediate it". On page 63, he tells a sheriff "We used to work for the BIA, just after the war. Mostly resolving land disputes". On page 69, a TV reporter describes the characters as "cowboys once hired to settle land disputes between Native Americans and Anglo landowners".
If your characters have a job that is important to the plot and a little obscure, just establish it early. And though in reality they might have to fill in people along the way about what they do, there's no reason the reader (or the audience) needs to hear about it over, and over, and over again, in the same words. Especially since it isn't a running gag -- it's repetitive dramatic exposition.
(I'm sure the people reading this know all this already. Just wanted to let you know that there are scripts like this being repped by producers. Doesn't it make you nuts?)