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Old 10-16-2016, 07:42 PM   #1
ComicBent
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Default A springboard observation ...

I am just throwing this out because I feel frustrated. Other people might want to add their own comments (or just ignore this entirely).

I spent about an hour just now trying to read a screenplay from Zoetrope that looked as if it might have some promise. But, of course, it collapsed — and not because the story was bad, but because of really stupid mistakes.

So here it is, my advice.

When you write a screenplay about Puritan times in America, do not have your characters saying "Okay" to one another. The word is an Americanism that sprang up in the first half of the nineteenth century (a long time after the era of this story). Do not have them talking to one another with all kinds of contractions and using a diction that simply does not ring true for the time of the story. Do not have them taking out a small box of matches and striking one on the box. Do not have one character say to another that the library is about to close for the day (and then show a multi-storied library) with a grumpy librarian on duty. If you have based your script on a Hawthorne story in which he used the term "Goodman" with a surname, do not use Goodman as the first name of your character. (Goodman was a title like Mister — it was not a first name.)

I did not want to spend my time reading the script and then reviewing it. I thought I might just send the writer a note to tell him in a nice way that I liked his use of the story but that he had a lot of anachronisms in language and in physical objects, and that these problems made it impossible to take his script seriously. I will add that he also added a lot of worthless exposition that told us things about characters that the audience would never know — it was all just stuff for the reader, as if the script were a novel.

But then I looked at the Zoetrope bio of the writer, and I realized that I would be wasting my time. He presented himself as a graduate of the Blah-Harrumph School of Film and the writer and director of a couple of films. I knew that he would never listen if he had gotten that far and had learned so little about writing and about the need to achieve some kind of historical verisimilitude.

End of rant.
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Old 10-17-2016, 05:20 AM   #2
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Default Re: A springboard observation ...

Quote:
Originally Posted by ComicBent View Post
When you write a screenplay about Puritan times in America, do not have your characters saying "Okay" to one another. The word is an Americanism that sprang up in the first half of the nineteenth century (a long time after the era of this story).
If the screenwriter needs a good example of why you don't do this:

After all these years, the one thing that sticks out most at me, from the "The Patriot" with Mel Gibson, is this line, when Mel asks if he can sit down next to a lady. Her answer:

"Why not -- it's a free country -- or soon will be."

Gag!

Robert Rodat was also in love with the "F" word. I read his script and he even used it in description.
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Old 10-17-2016, 02:06 PM   #3
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Default Re: A springboard observation ...

With this script, you have to read the dialogue to get a sense of how off-key it is. He does not have anachronistic language in every speech. But the tone of it is just wrong. The writer has obviously never read literature from about 1700 to get an idea of how people talked.

And then I found specifics like these, and I did not read much of the script:

1) Using the verb 'baby-sit'.
A quick Internet search yielded this result as the first hit: The term "baby sitter" first appeared in 1937, while the verb form "baby-sit" was first recorded in 1947.
2) The phrase 'a bone to pick with you'.
Again, from the Internet ... The original phrase was 'a bone to pick' (or gnaw), which meant 'something to work on', as in 'a nut to crack'. That phrase goes back to the 1560s. It did not refer to a discussion with someone. The derived phrase meaning 'a dispute to discuss with someone' does not appear until much later, reportedly 1812.
3) Adding the interjection for Christ's sake to a statement, as in:
He was your friend, for Christ's sake.

I changed the first part of the sentence for reasons of copyright concerns. Now, in Shakespeare's time, it was common to swear with by Christ's hooks (nails), gadzooks (by God's hooks), 'swounds (God's wounds), and other phrases. But for Christ's sake is clearly a modernism; and even more importantly, the writer does not appear to be aware that the Puritans considered swearing like that to be an instance of profaning the name of God or Christ. At least, I am assuming so, on the basis of what I know about Puritan beliefs and behavior.
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Old 10-17-2016, 08:04 PM   #4
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Default Re: A springboard observation ...

Quote:
Originally Posted by ComicBent View Post
But then I looked at the Zoetrope bio of the writer, and I realized that I would be wasting my time. He presented himself as a graduate of the Blah-Harrumph School of Film and the writer and director of a couple of films. I knew that he would never listen if he had gotten that far and had learned so little about writing and about the need to achieve some kind of historical verisimilitude.

End of rant.
Oh! Didn't you know, CB, that what they teach at such Blah-Harrumph Schools of Film is that if there's anything wrong with anything at all from script to screen that they can "fix it in post"???
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Old 10-17-2016, 09:42 PM   #5
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Default Re: A springboard observation ...

'a springboard observation'

could be a good movie title, maybe.

the word 'springboard' was first written in 1799, according to someone on the internet monster, i've heard, and the twenty-ninth time it was used, i believe it appeared here.

i'm writing a story right now that is told through the eyes of a woman on her 100th birthday, in 1977. not only does she live with her sins and regrets, she believes she lives with a ghost.

i don't know much about being an old woman, or being a woman at all, or being 100, or ghosts, or memories of 1977, except i think i do on some basic level with all of those things. i'll try to get the appliances right, the rabbit ears on the tv set (not tv, it's a tv set) right, what she would eat, how many blankets and quilts would she have on her bed (maybe an electric blanket?). in her dreams, what did she do when she was younger and...where did she go for fun, what was her husband like, etc.

need to get the important things right, for sure. but i don't sweat it if poplar paneling didn't get introduced until 1932 and in my story her husband paneled their living room in poplar paneling in 1926. in my story, poplar paneling was available in 1926. and i think if i'm doing my job right, a reader could give a crap one way or the other about paneling.
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Old 10-19-2016, 11:53 AM   #6
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Default Re: A springboard observation ...

I remember one time I read a spec kind of like what you're describing. And it had a ton of characters in it. TONS OF THEM. Like, I had read 15 pages and there were 15 characters. After I got about 20 pages in, I got suspicious about it and googled some details.

Well, the whole script was based on a little known book. And the writer of said script hadn't mentioned that AT ALL.

Mhmm. I said "yeah that's not a thing you can do, you need to be UP FRONT about this." Also, it was a hot mess of an adaptation. So.
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Old 10-19-2016, 12:46 PM   #7
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Default Re: A springboard observation ...

A free-roaming conversation about bad experiences with screenplays ... That's a good way to go. Maybe some other people will chime in and tell us things that really rankled them in some scripts.
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Old 10-19-2016, 02:38 PM   #8
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Default Re: A springboard observation ...

I stopped reading a Tarantino script once. After 15 pages of spelling and gramatical errors too numerous to count I was so distracted by those things that I couldn't get into the story. I think it was Inglourious Basterds...the spelling of the title actually foreshadowed what was to come. I wouldn't have made it out of grammar school without knowing the differences between there, their, they're, but Quentin seems to have done alright despite those difficulties.
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Old 10-19-2016, 08:28 PM   #9
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Default Re: A springboard observation ...

Roland's experience is a common one. The upside is that it gives clear signals that no further time need be wasted reading or contemplating the script. When it comes to thoroughness and effort, Stanley Kubrick summed it up succinctly and perfectly: "Either you care or you don't."
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Old 10-20-2016, 07:58 AM   #10
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Default Re: A springboard observation ...

I think you should tell the person. Maybe don't waste your time writing pages and pages of feedback. But tell them.
I've written period stuff where people gave feedback that the dialogue was too STILTED and that it was okay to put contractions in or try to make it more modern. This disaster you read could've been a result of the writer listening too much to the wrong feedback. Or s/he could be just a disaster. Still, you spent that time reading it and you're obviously still annoyed. Find a way to say it so the person will hear it.
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