Some time ago and bitterly nursing a hangover, I wrote a comment on a screenwriting forum to help amateur and professional writers alike with my experiences as a reader and a scriptwriter. It drew some praise and criticism, even a few death threats. I have decided to repeat the statement here and remind everyone of a few basis do's and don'ts that'll allow you to quit your job Fight Club style and drive off in Hyundai.
- The "waking up montage" is of course one of the most common things that's slapped on my desk, normally described in a staggering amount of detail.
- Repetitive language, find new ways to describe things to me. Don't go over the top you budding romantic poets, but sometimes I like even the dullest rooms brought to life.
- Ellipsis... Cut that shit out... Once or twice is already too many... it's annoying isn't it... almost like... it's being read by... Christopher... Walken.
- If you describe your story as a slow burner. Don't even - actually I'll come back to this one in a moment.
- Too much fucking swearing. I don't fucking care if "that's how people talk", get to the fucking point you car wash cunt.
- Repetitive language is quite annoying. I remember one screenplay where a character was introduced twice, and both times using the same paragraphs. I was a bit confused about how that happened.
- A controversial one, but "CUT TO". If you're switching locations, it's pretty obvious that the editor will need to cut, and if needs be we put this in later. Just tell me a story.
- Referencing copyrighted material or brands, especially music. That's not your call, and acquiring rights will prove more expensive than buying your screenplay. I don't know who Less Than Jake are but you've just lost them a fan - me.
- If it's blatantly obvious that you've read Save The Cat - and nothing else. Oh look, here comes page 11... are you seriously that stupid?
- Unconvincing names. Or ones that are just too generic. I've read a ton of screenplays with protagonists called "Jack", and I can honestly say I have never, ever met anyone with that name. Even though I live in a major, multicultural city.
- Repetition is quite annoying.
- Strange and unnecessary establishing shots.
- POV: Reading the script. C/U of vein pulsating. Another EXTREME CLOSE UP OF REDDENING EYES. CAMERA PANS AROUND DESK. The script reads: "You're not a director or a cinematographer. You're a writer. Write. This stuff comes much later and it will always be ignored. You're wasting space on the page."
- Which also brings me to paragraphs being too long and sometimes not having proper punctuation instead they just keep going on and on with the occasional SOUND EFFECT and DESCRIPTION OF WALKING like I don't know what that sounds like but seriously folks it really doesn't need to be this long I've read far too many paragraphs that would've been far shorter I think that four to five lines is more than enough space to give me a detailed and punchy description of exactly what is occurring in the which you are writing and want to show me because you want to be famous and stuff and we can do this together as long as you just trim these down. Instead:
Make it punchy.
Make it count.
Draw my attention.
- When you clearly haven't done your research on a certain subject, such as how police officers or military personnel behave, and assume this is something I don't immediately double check. We look for tropes like that. You're a loose cannon, I'm reassigning the case. Your gun and your badge.
- Formulaic stories with episodic plotting will always get thrown away if you don't get to what makes yours unique very, very quickly.
- Zombies. Anything with zombies. Sorry, but the last good zombie movie was made ten years ago and that's it, it's done, it's over. Go ahead, prove me wrong. I'd gladly welcome any attempt to redefine the genre. I'm just not convinced. I've seen far too many stories set in post-apocalyptic cities where a group of average joes get picked off one-by-one, by a slow moving and boring villain. Come on folks, you're smarter than this. If the only thing you're writing is zombie movies? You're in trouble, not me.
- The "kooky" female love interest, also known as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Makes me wonder when and how you graduated high school.
- Unfunny comedies, especially with sitcom style jokes designed for a laughter track. You've got five minutes to make me laugh. I may stick around for ten, but you better hope I had a good morning.
- If it's written to be cheap - for example, single location, less than 8 characters, very low concept, all about "human drama", I'll ask you to stage it as a play or at least be a little braver with your next draft. The budget is not your concern, it's mine, and I find it insulting that you don't think I can pull something together because I can - if you're good enough.
- Did I mention repetition?
- Stop describing people smoking with some kind of odd fascination. I don't need to know about them removing it from the packet, licking their lips, waving the flame to tease those delicious cancer sticks - just put "he/she smokes".
- Voice overs that are just trying to be cool, or trying to indulge in your philosophical side. Honestly I love v/o's used well, but tons I've come across either a) don't make any sense or b) are so utterly irrelevant that when removed, we ended up with a screenplay thirty pages shorter (this actually happened with our current project and it's all the better for it).
- Oh, and slow burners. I'll send you a rejection letter in six months time and see how you like it.
The only things you need to do? Read about correct script formatting, write clearly and concisely, and most importantly of all, write the greatest possible story you can.
Keep it simple, stupid.