Details, Details...



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  • Details, Details...

    Let me begin by saying that I am new to this. I have written two screenplays which, the Good Lord willing, will never be read by anyone else, and I am working on a third which has actually has a v-e-r-y slight chance of not being embarrassingly bad (he said with great pride).

    My question is regarding the level of detail which is appropriate. The script is set in a law firm (I know, I know, the world desperately needs more lawyer movies...), and since I am familiar with that setting (having recently left a large national law firm for a part-time legal job to give me more time to write and there is no reason for this aside but sometimes I have to write that because I can't believe I walked away from that salary to do this and I'm rambling again...)
    my inclination is to make the details as accurate as possible. My concern is losing the audience in minutiae.

    The question (finally) is, generally speaking, is it worth keeping jargon and technical details that the audience is not likely to understand as background color (assuming it will not interfere with following the plot), or should things be simplified so that the audience is able to understand every detail?

  • #2
    (Amateur opinion...)
    I think you need a balance. In other words, keep some representative details - these lend authenticity to both the reader and the eventual audience. Without some legal-ese dialog (some words that people DON'T understand), some viewers might not buy the fact that the character is lawyer. There is probably a certain expectation to be met there.

    I would be careful on the description within you action lines though - again include representative details.

    BTW, I work for the company that writes the editorial software for Martindale Hubbell. Ever notice how these books (and for those of you who don't know, they are justs lists of lawyers, not laws) appear in EVERY darn scene with a lawyer. Even Ally McBeal has the familiar tan, red, and black Hubbell volumes.


    • #3
      Hey Mac

      From another ex-attorney, welcome aboard. Seems to me you've got the right kind of attitude to make it at this screenwriting thing. A good sense of humor is sometimes necessary to deal with all the crapola out there.

      Wrt your question...I think modern day audiences are pretty familiar with legal jargon. There's been an endless stream of TV law series and (as you pointed out) law films since the birth of moving pictures. So, your average viewer is at least familiar with a great deal of legal phrases. That said, I wouldn't overdo it. As Ray suggested, keep it realistic, but don't alienate the reader/audience with too much technicality. In this MTV world we inhabit, too much thought could lead to changing chanels/tuning out.

      Good luck.


      • #4
        Agreeing with above and welcome.

        Ray, that was funny. That particular book wouldn't mean anything to me but some other inappropriate choice might and throw me right out of the story. Perfect example of the importance of "getting it right," even though that choice probably came right out of the prop dept.



        • #5
          Bigger Details

          What everybody else said, plus:

          The level of detail will also come into play in your choice of scenes. I read a lawyer script (for not enough money) that contained every moment of the trial. If three witnesses said the same thing, we got all three witnesses' COMPLETE testimony and cross. There was a fifteen page scene about a motion to suppress evidence that not only put me to sleep, I swear it killed brain cells with its boredom. Hey, and it was a really long trial & a really long script, too.

          On those legal TV shows they always cut straight to the good parts. We cut to the Judge saying "Motion denied" instead of seeing the whole boring scene played out.

          I'm sure you would never consider having a five page closing speech, but this writer thought it was a good idea.

          In a script you have to cut right to the juicy part - there isn't enough time to show us each step in a complicated process.

          - Bill


          • #6
            Re: Bigger Details

            My thanks for all of the responses. They were very helpful.
            Like any profession, lawyers speak in our own jargon which can be inpenetrable to outsiders (hey, if the public actually knew what we were doing how could we overbill them?). I guess I am trying to make my characters sound like they actually do, but without requiring sub-titles.

            By the way, I loved the Martindale-Hubbell reference. I love seeing those books. It fills me with pride to know my name is in the movies, if only a few lines buried in a book on a shelf behind a character. Ya gotta start somewhere right?

            My favorite Martindale-Hubbell scene was from a Lifetime Original movie where a lawyer raced back to her office to do some legal research to save her client, and opened up one of them. I couldn't stop laughing as she stared diligently at the book (probably trying to find her client better counsel). On an unrelated note, my wife won't watch movies with me anymore if lawyers are involved. Still trying to figure that one out.


            • #7
              Re: Bigger Details

              What everyone else said. I'd add that you can always use your script notes (assuming you have Movie Magic or Final Draft) to include some additional details. They don't show up in the script itself, but they serve as a great reference if you get a call to further discuss the script. I bury them all over my scripts. Little pieces of detail that I don't want to include in the script, but that I think are interesting or would be helpful in Development I toss into my script notes.

              Dream interpretation may differ.


              • #8
                Please kill several lawyers in the script.

                Just 'cause it would make me feel good.
                Thanks muchly.


                • #9
                  Re: Please kill several lawyers in the script.

                  Actually the first script I finished (now safely buried in my backyard where it can harm no one), was entitled "First Thing We Do" and involved a young attorney (hmmm, a lot like me) working for a large national law firm (gee, a lot like the one I used to work for) who snaps and begins arranging the deaths of partners who have irritated/aggravated and/or humiliated him (coincidentally a lot like the partners I used to work for) and suddenly finds himself rising in the firm as a result. Think "A Shock to the System" meets John Grisham meets the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

                  Less a real screenplay than a violent fantasy put on paper, at least the only cinematic victims were lawyers. More importantly for me, it was cheaper than therapy.