Micromanaging your screenplay leads to overwriting…

March 3, 2016 § Leave a comment

salvador-dali-by-willy-rizzo-1Keep an eye out for bad habits. Here are a few tips to avoid hanging on so tightly to every description or line of dialogue. It will kill your writing in the long run and harm your reputation of a talented screenwriter. So…


What should be a 105 page screenplay will end up at 125 pages and you wonder why?

You might be asking, “What do you mean by micromanaging?”Here is my Top 10 Checklist to see if you’re guilty of this:

  1. You describe every action detail between the lines of dialogue. The fewer words on the page the better. Leave the specific character’s business up to the actor unless it’s absolutely necessary to move the story forward.
  2. You’re TELLING and not SHOWING in your writing: “It was a hot summer day like the ones you remember as a child.” How do you SHOW this?
  3. You’re directing the character’s actions with too many details: Frank rolls his eyes, shrugs, smiles, blushes, folds arms, grits teeth, scowls and drops his head. It’s Bad Acting 101 and actors will hate this from the writer.
  4. You describe every “turn” the character makes. It’s assumed characters are talking to each other unless to write otherwise. You don’t need to constantly write “Frank turns to Kate.”
  5. You’re using idioms: “Lisa was over the moon by the performance.” No. She wasn’t literally “over the moon” so don’t write it. Screenwriting is only what we can see and hear on the screen.
  6. Don’t repeat phrases or words in dialogue between characters. You’re not David Mamet, so don’t waste space by writing, “Are we going? Yeah we’re going. Okay, when are we going? We’re going now.”
  7. Don’t write what a character is thinking: “Henry was sad as the remembered the good times with his wife.” You have to show this visually and not TELL us.
  8. You write WE SEE and WE HEAR in your descriptions. Leave this out of your screenplay. It takes us out of the read and you are directing as this point. What you write on the page is what “we see or hear.”
  9. You describe the set with too many unnecessary details: The living room had green shag carpet, paisley wallpaper and a giant crystal chandelier. Unless it’s necessary let the set designer and art director do their jobs.
  10.  You’re writing eight pages of dialogue. Sure, Quentin Tarrantino can get away with opening a film with ten pages of dialogue–you and I cannot. Most of the time the dialogue should be cut and then cut again by fifty percent.

Keep writing and filling your pages because if you stop—you’re guaranteed to never have any shot at success. This is a business with no guarantees even when you do sell a screenplay.

“Consider this: in Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence in flowing white robes, sits on a truck in the middle of the desert giving a press conference. He’s ten feet tall on the screen and overwhelmingly immaculate. He faces a grimy-looking reporter who scratches his beard and asks snidely, “Just what is it, Colonel Lawrence, that attracts you to the desert?” Lawrence glances distastefully at the dirty reporter and offers a three word reply: “Because it’s clean.” It is not the text but the context that gives this reply its full force. Those three words in a novel or even the stage would be mildly amusing at best, but on the screen the effect is as overwhelming as the figure of Lawrence and the desert looming behind him. Those three words are the scene. There is no speech, long or short, about Lawrence’s need to seek remote places of the earth in order to avoid the corruption inevitably found in its more populated areas. Only a clean man, a dirty reporter, a big desert and three little words — “Because it’s clean.” It’s a movie. What else do you need?” —by Robert Towne (Chinatown) from “Why I writer Movies,” Esquire magazine, July 1991.

@Scriptcat out!

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Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?” ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

“To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script.” – Alfred Hitchcock

“Most writers can’t tell at the premise stage whether they’ve got a good story because they don’t have the training to see the deep structural problems in the idea before writing it as a script.”—John Truby

“If a writer stops observing, he is finished.”—Ernest Hemingway

“So the only environment the artist needs is whatever peace, whatever solitude, and whatever pleasure he can get at not too high a cost. All the wrong environment will do is run his blood pressure up; he will spend more time being frustrated or outraged. My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.”—William Faulkner

“There is no point in having sharp images when you’ve fuzzy ideas.” – Jean-Luc Godard


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