“It’s the Script, Stupid!”

There really are only two kinds of scripts:  good scripts and bad scripts.

Several things contribute to making a script good, or greaat: plot, pacing, dialog, prose, narrative, concept, pathos, character development and arc.  Or, in the case of the bad script, the absence of these essential elements.

There is far too much to be said about how to be a good writer, much in the same way there is too much to say about being a good artist.

But I really wanted to address a singular error in modern film making, and that is the willfull intention of making the film sequences modular.

When a film has been reduced in any part to a modular framework, the writer (read here, the director, producer or some meddling executive) is surrendering the orderly narrative for some “cool scenes we can put in.”

This error seems particularly prevalent in The Wolfman, where it seems over 50% of the entire movie really could have been in any order; they just happened to choose one order over another for the final cut.   Entire sequences in the first and second act seem entirely unrelated.

I can only assume this style of filmmaking is the diabolical and unwated bastard child of music and advertising video influencewhere nothing really has to connect.  A friend of mine made a great observation, in the Post-Modernist age where we have allegedly evolved beyond supersition, silly cultural mores and substantive meaning…well…nothing means anything.

To subtract meaning from a film is the first  murderstroke in the death of tension.  Again, The Wolfman has zero tension.  It is actually not present in the film.  When you kill tension, your film, pretty as it may be, is flat and dramatically boring.

The first reflex of the director, producer or executive (or even the writer, given the age) who believes nothing matters, is abandonment of building the story, the characters and the tension.

The building of the story, 1-2-3-4-5-6-etc., is what creates higher expectations, greater consequences, and tension.  When it is abandoned, you are left with a meaningless, modular story arc.

When I realized I had to cut certain scenes from Shroud, it created a structure nightmare because each built strategically upon the ones before it.  It was like pulling on a thread:  you tug on a line on page 60, suddenly the line that set it up ono page 25 seems random and superfluous.  As does the follow-up line on page 90.

This level of scene integration (and it was mild in Shroud) is beyond the patience of scatter-brained sketch artists who are currently mistaken for scriptwriters.

Today, films are not edited in the editing room, they are discovered in the editing room and that is a grave mistake.   When you get to the editing phase, you hand your editor your finished script and tell him to edit the film according to the script.

Not anymore.  Too many films are discovered in the editing room.  That is why all the dialog  has to be self-contained within a scene.  If any scene refers to another scene, then you have an order, and that limits the editor.  Of course it limits the editor! It should limit the editor!  He is not there unscramble your mess.  He is there to assemble the best takes into a story.  Watch your  next movie, pick one at random, and see  how many scenes are entirely self-contained and do not refer to previous scenes.  The majority of them are modular.

They sit around and say “we need this scene, that sceneoh, this would be cool” and they write the script by round table instead of a single guiding voice.

In the end, they have a “bunch of scenes” and not a story.

How many timeshow many?have you walked out of a theater disappointed and said to your friend “well, it had moments?”

It is almost as if those moments were tactically culled specifically to make a great trailer and not a great film.  Again, once you’ve been suckered into buying the ticket, the studio doesn’t care if you actually like the movie.

Of course, they should.  Not only on the honor of an artist trying to entertain an audeince, but because word of mouth is still the absolute best for of advertisingnot all the Internet ad, Superbowl commercials, or bought reviews from studio-controlled “film critics.”  What a laugh.

So the bottom line is this:  write your story.  If you aren’t a writer, find one.  One guy or one girl.  They write it. Then have the script flight-checked for style, dialog, pace, plot, continuity errors, internal logic, etc.

When you like it, shoot it.

Do not, repeat, do not have six writers all competing to get their neat scene in your movie. Your film will end up a modular, move-the-scene-anywhere-you-want mess that will have no dramatic value.

It is hard enough to create dramatic tension with structure.  Why would you further handicap yourself by abandoning structure entirely?

Control your own vision.


~ by David Jetre on February 15, 2010.

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