Stop "Summing Up" Your Characters

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  • Craig Mazin
    replied
    Re: Stop "Summing Up" Your Characters

    Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post

    Maybe Mazin will disagree with me, but I think that if you've got the talent to pull it off, there's nothing wrong with an unfilmable stage direction, if it helps the reader enjoy the story.
    I agree. However, none of the folks in here have yet to demonstrate a level of talent commensurate with Quentin Tarantino.

    Perhaps the most famous example:
    That example is perfectly fine by me, and has nothing to do with summing up characters.

    Should you do it? Probably not.

    Should you listen to anyone who tells you you can't? Definitely not.
    No, for sure. Don't listen to me if you're awesome.

    Leave a comment:


  • JeffLowell
    replied
    Re: Stop "Summing Up" Your Characters

    Originally posted by Mazin
    Also note that you're not Quentin Tarantino. If you are, you can cheat more than the rest of us.
    Originally posted by Patrick Sweeney View Post
    I must have made this point a dozen times here, and all I ever get in return are sneering remarks about how if Tarantino can do something in his scripts, anyone can. Maybe now that a pro has said it people will stop recoiling in horror at the idea we're not all Quentin Tarantino.
    Well, no.

    The point a lot of people (including, apparently, you) make is that there are different rules for pros and amateurs.

    The point that I and others (apparently sneeringly) made was that Quentin Tarantino got to be Quentin Tarantino because of his style - a style that flies in the face of what a lot of gurus say.

    He didn't start off carefully putting in a call to action before breaking into act two, all without camera angles or asides, and then discover his voice once he was a pro.

    Maybe Mazin will disagree with me, but I think that if you've got the talent to pull it off, there's nothing wrong with an unfilmable stage direction, if it helps the reader enjoy the story.

    Perhaps the most famous example:

    EXT. POSH BEVERLY HILLS HOME - TWILIGHT 49

    The kind of house that I'll buy if this movie is a huge
    hit. Chrome. Glass. Carved wood. Plus an outdoor
    solarium: A glass structure, like a greenhouse only
    there's a big swimming pool inside. This is a really
    great place to have sex.
    Should you do it? Probably not.

    Should you listen to anyone who tells you you can't? Definitely not.

    Leave a comment:


  • Craig Mazin
    replied
    Re: Stop "Summing Up" Your Characters

    Yeah, look, just to be clear...

    The primary sin isn't "I can't film this."

    The primary sin is: "I've opted to Cliff Notes you the summation of my character, rather than do the necessary and satisfying work of revealing my character through choices of action and choices of dialogue and choices of narrative."

    Leave a comment:


  • holly
    replied
    Re: Stop "Summing Up" Your Characters

    if im reading craig correctly, or if im forcing his post to piggyback on my complaint, its not that the egregious descriptions are unfilmable in themselves thats the issue - as noted, lots of great description technically falls into that category. its that these descriptions are increasingly becoming terribly precious - and that PLUS unfilmable is the sin.

    its funny because you can read a stack of scripts that have unfilmable description in it and some is fine and some is not - like larry flynts porn, you know it when you see it. as BDZ says, it should be intuitive.

    Leave a comment:


  • Craig Mazin
    replied
    Re: Stop "Summing Up" Your Characters

    Originally posted by SuperScribe View Post
    Thank you. Seriously. I think you might have just freed me from some nonsense that I always felt was obligatory. Weird how that (feeling certain things are obligatory, but not remembering why) happens, isn't it?

    What if the parenthetical were something like "40s, decked out in his finest leisure suit"?
    Perfectly fine.

    Leave a comment:


  • BattleDolphinZero
    replied
    Re: Stop "Summing Up" Your Characters

    Most of the time those kinds of descriptions stop action. It's like hitting a brick wall. And it's almost never necessary. I hate it. I might have done it on my first script but I usually can't stand it. Sometimes someone like Mann or Bass will do it and I like it. So, if you're that good, go for it.

    I would stray away from explaining why. Meaning, I don't even care to get as specific as Craig does about what makes it work or not.

    Again, so much of this sh!t should be intuitive.

    One instance I recall using those kinds of descrips was in a meeting scene with secondary characters. I felt it was necessary to lock down the dynamic in the scene, right off the top.

    But for lead characters or even recurring, it's almost never necessary.

    Imo.

    Leave a comment:


  • SuperScribe
    replied
    Re: Stop "Summing Up" Your Characters

    Originally posted by Craig Mazin View Post
    "asshole to the core" does seem superfluous. Actually, worse than that. It's annoying, because you're not letting me draw a conclusion from the action you've written, so you're hurting the stuff next to it.
    Thank you. Seriously. I think you might have just freed me from some nonsense that I always felt was obligatory. Weird how that (feeling certain things are obligatory, but not remembering why) happens, isn't it?

    What if the parenthetical were something like "40s, decked out in his finest leisure suit"?

    Leave a comment:


  • Craig Mazin
    replied
    Re: Stop "Summing Up" Your Characters

    Originally posted by SuperScribe View Post
    Craig --

    How do you feel about something like this?

    Tess makes a beeline for the only EMPTY STOOL, but --

    REX VARNER (40s, asshole to the core) plops his ass down on it before she can get there... and then SMIRKS as he raises his Budweiser in a fake toast to her.

    REX
    Next time, sweetheart.

    To me, his actions make the parenthetical seem a bit superfluous. Generally, I try to do a VERY brief personality description and then dramatize the dominant character trait almost immediately.

    Yet I sometimes feel as though that sorta thing doesn't quite work because of the redundancy issues. So maybe I could just drop the second part of the parenthetical entirely?

    (I stole the parenthetical-as-intro thing from Bill Wheeler.)
    "asshole to the core" does seem superfluous. Actually, worse than that. It's annoying, because you're not letting me draw a conclusion from the action you've written, so you're hurting the stuff next to it.

    Leave a comment:


  • Craig Mazin
    replied
    Re: Stop "Summing Up" Your Characters

    Originally posted by Centos View Post
    There weren't any. That's why I put "unfilmables" (in quotes). But I'll edit the comment to make it clearer what I meant.

    But just in case anyone is following this, what I would have once described as "unfilmable" would be the italicized portions of the following ...

    "The caller, dressed in rough clothing, stands in the foyer, looking very out of place, and knowing it."
    You can shoot that. The clothing makes him look out of place. "Knows he's out of place" means he's looking around, embarrassed.

    "The caller turns -- it is WILL TURNER. Handsome, with a watchful demeanor that gives him a weight beyond his years."
    That's totally fine. Entirely about his appearance. His demeanor IN THE MOMENT.

    My real beef is with character sum-ups that give us some kind of deep psychological insight into the person we're meeting.

    "Will's face falls. Clearly, the work is his, and he is proud of it."
    Yes, an actor can portray that. Pride in an object... this is in the moment. Perfectly acceptable.

    "Elizabeth stands on the stairs. Granted, the dress may be painful to wear, but holy smokes!"
    Well, the holy smokes is really for us, as in, "she's really, really hot."

    Leave a comment:


  • SuperScribe
    replied
    Re: Stop "Summing Up" Your Characters

    Craig --

    How do you feel about something like this?

    Tess makes a beeline for the only EMPTY STOOL, but --

    REX VARNER (40s, asshole to the core) plops his ass down on it before she can get there... and then SMIRKS as he raises his Budweiser in a fake toast to her.

    REX
    Next time, sweetheart.

    To me, his actions make the parenthetical seem a bit superfluous. Generally, I try to do a VERY brief personality description and then dramatize the dominant character trait almost immediately.

    Yet I sometimes feel as though that sorta thing doesn't quite work because of the redundancy issues. So maybe I could just drop the second part of the parenthetical entirely?

    (I stole the parenthetical-as-intro thing from Bill Wheeler.)

    Leave a comment:


  • Centos
    replied
    Re: Stop "Summing Up" Your Characters

    Originally posted by Craig Mazin View Post
    Centos:

    Where are the unfilmables in that section?
    There weren't any. That's why I put "unfilmables" (in quotes). But I'll edit the comment to make it clearer what I meant.

    But just in case anyone is following this, what I would have once described as "unfilmable" would be the italicized portions of the following ...

    "The caller, dressed in rough clothing, stands in the foyer, looking very out of place, and knowing it."

    "The caller turns -- it is WILL TURNER. Handsome, with a watchful demeanor that gives him a weight beyond his years."

    "Will's face falls. Clearly, the work is his, and he is proud of it."

    "Elizabeth stands on the stairs. Granted, the dress may be painful to wear, but holy smokes!"

    Leave a comment:


  • Craig Mazin
    replied
    Re: Stop "Summing Up" Your Characters

    Laura:

    I'm not saying people don't do it, or that people who sell scripts don't do it.

    I'm saying... don't do it, because it's not good craft and it will hurt the read. Will it hurt a great script? No. Nothing does. Will it hurt a good script? Yes, I think so.

    Hey Craig, can you just elaborate a little more.

    You're not saying that we can pretty much leave out character description/traits, are you?

    I don't think you are.

    The ONE place where I have always been told that an unfilmmable can exist is in the character description. Is this not accurate?
    I'm saying yes... leave out things I can't see. What this forces you to do, of course, is SHOW ME, in the introduction, what it is you want me (and the audience) to know.

    It forces you to think about how you want to parcel out information about your character to the audience.

    It forces you to visualize the traits that you want us to know RIGHT NOW, and it forces you to plan on how to reveal the traits you want us to know LATER.

    Centos:

    Where are the unfilmables in that section?

    Leave a comment:


  • Centos
    replied
    Re: Stop "Summing Up" Your Characters

    I know, I know ... yet another Elliott and Rossio excerpt -- but look how much we know about Will Turner (and Elizabeth Swann) after reading this relatively short scene. Note how the so-called "unfilmables" are used here. Note how, when Elizabeth shows up, there's not one direct word about her physical appearance, but we clearly know she is beautiful because of the reaction from Will and from the writer's aside "... holy smokes!" It reads effortlessly.

    There's six Elliott & Rossio screenplays posted on WordPlay, plus one by Marsillii & Rossio (Deja Vu). I honestly think you could learn more by reading (and re-reading) these seven scripts, with the intent of learning, (as opposed to the desire of trying to pick them apart) then by reading 50 "guru" books.

    Code:
    INT. GOVERNOR'S MANSION - FOYER - DAY
    
    The caller, dressed in rough clothing, stands in the foyer, 
    looking very out of place, and knowing it. He holds a long
    presentation case. He polishes the toes of his boots on the 
    back of his calves, but it doesn't help.
    
                         SWANN
              Ah, Mr. Turner! It's good to see 
              you again!
    
    The caller turns -- it is WILL TURNER. Handsome, with a watchful 
    demeanor that gives him a weight beyond his years.
    
                         WILL
              Good day, sir. 
                   (holds out the case)
              I have your order.
    
    Swann hurries to him, opens the case. Inside is a beautiful 
    dress sword and scabbard. Swann takes it out reverently. 
    
                         WILL (CONT'D)
              The blade is folded steel. That's 
              gold filigree laid into the handle. 
              If I may --
    
    He takes the sword from Swann, and balances it on one finger at 
    the point where the blade meets the guard.
    
                         WILL (CONT'D)
              Perfectly balanced. The tang is 
              nearly the full width of the blade. 
    
                         SWANN
              Impressive ... very impressive. 
              Commodore Norrington will be 
              pleased, I'm sure. Do pass my 
              compliments on to your master.
    
    Will's face falls. Clearly, the work is his, and he is proud 
    of it. With practiced ease, he flips the sword around, catches 
    it by the hilt and returns it to the case. 
    
                         WILL
                   (bows slightly)
              I shall. A craftsman is always 
              pleased to hear his work is 
              appreciated --
    
    He stops speaking abruptly, staring past Swann --
    
    Elizabeth stands on the stairs. Granted, the dress may be 
    painful to wear, but holy smokes!
    
                         SWANN
              Elizabeth! You look stunning!
    
    Will tries to speak, but can't. He gives up, smiles to himself, 
    and simply nods emphatically.
    
                         ELIZABETH
              Will! It's so good to see you!
                    
    Her hand goes to the chain around her throat (the medallion is
    hidden in the bodice of her dress).
    
                         ELIZABETH (CONT'D)
              I dreamt about you last night.
    
    Will reacts with surprise: "Really?"
    
                         SWANN
              Elizabeth, this is hardly 
              appropriate --
     
                         ELIZABETH
                   (ignores her father)
              About the day we met. Do you 
              remember?
    
                         WILL
              I could never forget it, Miss Swann.
    
                         ELIZABETH
              Will, how many times must I ask you 
              to call me 'Elizabeth'?
    
                         WILL
              At least once more, Miss Swann. 
              As always.
    
    Elizabeth is disappointed and little hurt by his responce.
     
                         SWANN
              Well said! There's a boy who 
              understands propriety. Now, we must 
              be going.
    
    Swann takes the case from Will, opens the door for Elizabeth.
    
    Elizabeth straightens her back, gathers her skirts and strides 
    past Will.
    
                         ELIZABETH
              Good day, Mr. Turner.
    These scripts are available here ...
    http://www.wordplayer.com/archives/welcome.html

    Leave a comment:


  • fanatic_about_film
    replied
    Re: Stop "Summing Up" Your Characters

    Hey Craig, can you just elaborate a little more.

    You're not saying that we can pretty much leave out character description/traits, are you?

    I don't think you are.

    The ONE place where I have always been told that an unfilmmable can exist is in the character description. Is this not accurate?

    Leave a comment:


  • Laura Reyna
    replied
    Re: Stop "Summing Up" Your Characters

    Here's an example that caught my eye. It's from GLIMMER by Carter Blanchard:

    BEN JOHNSON, 17, blows away killer robots on Tyler’s
    computer. Ben is a shapeless geek with a spatter of acne
    who fancies himself much cooler than he is or ever will be.


    He pans to TYLER, driving, a geek in transition; only now
    growing into his own skin. He’s got a lot more going for
    him than poor Ben, but he’d be the last one to know it.
    I very much noticed these descriptions & they pulled me out of the read.

    BUT...

    I think this was handled well. I wouldn't do it this way, but most would probably say the writing works.

    Leave a comment:

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