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Archive for July 18th, 2008

Continuing from yesterday, there was this script I came across some time ago. It was a fantasy story involving punarjanam (how novel!). The story opened with a fight between a husband and wife. Midway through the scene, the screenwriter wrote: In spite of being repeatedly goaded by Rahul, Shivani remained silent. It wasn’t as though she was being stubborn. How could she explain to Rahul that there were just so many things she wanted to say that she didn’t know where to begin.

Exactly. If she can’t explain this to her on screen husband, how on earth is she going to explain this to the audience? All this is fine in a novel but in a screenplay? Is the screenwriter planning to add cue cards at the bottom of the screen?

One must remember to only write what can be conveyed. And the instance given above is NOT one of them.  How on earth is the actor going to convey all this with facial expressions?

There is a famous anecdote about F. Scott Fitzgerald working as a screenwriter at a major studio. The problem was that he wrote screenplays like a novel, i.e., he said wryly or she said wryly, which of course meant that a lot of it was unfilmable.

But who was going to tell him that? A celebrated novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald enjoyed a formidable reputation and no one was willing to bell the cat. In the end the studio head was elected for the task. He poked his head into the room where Fitzgerald was working and told the latter that his screenplay would need a rewrite.

“What’s the problem?” Fitzgerald asked.

“I can’t film wrylies,” said the studio head and hastily shut the door.

I don’t remember the exact episode but the gist is the same.

Instead of impressing the director and the rest of the unit with your awesome command over the English language, you could write: Shivani opens her mouth as though to speak, then closes it as though changing her mind. She does this a couple of times.

Now technically, as though changing her mind cannot be filmed. But it can be conveyed. The director can visualize it and so can the actors.

By all means use rich imagery in a screenplay but restrict it to what can be conveyed. And don’t overdo it. Don’t go into raptures about a feeling that can be summed up as she smiled brightly. Remember you only have 110-120 pages to tell your story. Use them wisely.

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