answer: most screenwriting gurus, writing instructors, authors
of the numerous how-to-write books, are not directors or have
never visually interpreted written material, their own or of others,
to a movie screen. I wish to be clear that I respect and admire
their knowledge, personal techniques, ability to teach and communicate,
and as a professional screenwriter myself, I have been helped
by and learned much from their teachings whenever I indulged in
screenwriting academia earlier in my career. But with utmost respect
to the good ones I have learned from in person or from books,
not once did any address, example or advise on the issue of visual
writing to me.
only from my experiences through my work as a director that I
realized the obvious critical need of all in my profession to
visualize material, and hoping time-and-time again that the writer
has given us a visual map of his/her story to translate to the
screen. From words to images -- as mundanely clichéd as
those four words sound -- I beseech writers to nurture this process
and guide us filmmakers to tell your stories the way you see them.
If you don't, then do you really have the right to bitch about
how we screwed it up, how characters didn't come to glorious life
as written, how pacing sucked, how transitions were awkward or
how we failed to fully visualize the story?
can hear what you're thinking ... yes, of course, directors come
in many varying grades of creative storytelling talent themselves.
A director of the highest caliber, e.g. Ridley Scott, can tell
an amazing visual story regardless of whether there is an ounce
of visualization in the writing of the script or not. But, I'll
bet you the Bank of America's holdings that a visually written
screenplay will not only catch his eye and commitment faster,
but what he puts on the screen would be a lot closer to the writer's
vision and visual intent. Same for all talented directors. Thus,
the holy marriage between a writer and director, in visual storytelling
sync, would result more often than not in an especially wonderful
motion picture experience and not in bitter failure or divorce!
instead of writing 'Bob ran to the store,' which is boring exposition
(the most common trap for new writers), how about, 'Bob arrives
breathlessly at the store?' -- a more visual choice of vocabulary.
Instead of writing 'The hustler is skinny, paranoid, with unkempt
hair,' which is expositional description, how about 'The hustler
couldn't pass a urine test on a bet?' -- more visual.
you're dying to give direction (which is actually expressing your
visualization), be smart and resourcefully subtle. Try it this
way: instead of 'we open WIDE on the beach as she walks alone
feeling abandoned,' how about 'sunlight shimmers across the ocean
waves, silhouetting her moment of loneliness?' How else would
a talented director interpret/shoot this but with a wide lens
on an empty beach with the character small in frame with heavy
backlight? A win-win?
of 'we SLOWLY ZOOM into her as she cries seeing her man leave
in the pouring rain,' how about 'as rain drops bead on the window
pane, a tear rolls down her cheek as his reflected window image
disappears in the mist?' Again, how else would we see her tear
and window reflection through the rain without a director calling
for a slow push-in close-up and focus-pull between them? A writer
using visualization to communicate with a director the imagery
of the story? Hallelujah! Or instead of 'the LOW ANGLE CAMERA
SLOWLY TRACKS past the grieving funeral attendees,' how about
'a collage of profound sadness expressed on the many faces surrounding
A sure bet a director would interpret this as a slow tracking
shot across faces from a low-angle coffin POV? Bingo!
don't care if you agree or quibble with these specific examples;
I care that you get the visual vocabulary process I am highly
recommending you adopt...religiously.
this mean a writer needs to learn/know about the director's visualization
process and the basic tools and language of directing to write
subtle visual vocabulary in expressing the imagery of their stories
without including actual direction? You betcha! No other way.
writers tell me how 'difficult,' 'tough to do,' or 'laborious'
this all sounds. Which brings me to my last point: who the hell
ever said good screenwriting was easy? Is it just an arrogant
by-product of those who think they can write because they possess
a pen and paper or keyboard? Is there a general lack of pride
of workmanship from the majority of aspiring writers? Or is it
simple (sorry) slacker-laziness or rush to judgment? How else
would you explain a writer handing you a screenplay hoping/expecting
a six-figure payday and wishing you to devote months/years of
your life to realize it when they haven't even bothered with such
basics as proper screenplay formatting or even a simple spellcheck?
I ask what 'pass' (how many times it's been revised) is a certain
screenplay, I usually get 'first' or 'second' or maybe 'third.'
My response is always, 'please don't ask me to waste my time,
but I would be happy to read it when you get to the 10th revision!'
I do have one-on-one consulting opportunities with my seminar
graduates, so months later I am always happy to read that much
improved revision, and more often than not, it is now bursting
with visual language.
good writing is very difficult. It is as all consuming as the
search for proper story expression, be it action or dialogue or
even just carefully thought-out choices for character names. It
is all about the profoundly personal, and, hopefully for you,
joyful craft of creative screenwriting. Personally, I would never
dream of letting a new screenplay out onto the playing field until
I reach double-digit rewrites...why would you? Selling screenplays
is serious business, and a calling card of your talents. Should
it not reflect your absolute best, most accomplished work?
besides all the three-act structure techniques, plot-point triggers,
story arcs, surprises/reversals, character development, subtext
layering, etc., be smart -- develop further or add to your writer's
quiver the discipline of careful, intentional choices of crafted
evocative vocabulary. This is essential to create the wonderful
stories we can SEE when we read your own written visual imagery,
to be translated by directors to movie screens 'coming soon' at
a theater near you!'
created visual language to inspire great moviemaking...let's use
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