Referring to scenes from other movies

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  • Referring to scenes from other movies

    Just read a bit of the script for The Big Short.

    Right at the beginning, I found this:

    "A bunch of FAT BOND TRADERS eat deli sandwiches and smoke cigarettes on the Solomon Brothers Bond Trading floor. It’s not exactly Michael Douglas in Wall Street."

    The scriptwriter refers to another movie. So I began wondering how kosher this is. The reference here is very general and steers the reader away from a wrong mental image which might appear. I'm thinking it should be okay to do this.

    But what about more specific references? For example, I may want to show a terriffic sword fight, but not to choreograph it down to every single cut and thrust. This is better left to the director. Now it would seem rather feeble to write something like

    "Harry fights the three robbers. He cuts and stabs with great skill. Eventually, they all lie dead."

    So I thought I could write something like

    "The robbers run and jump, frantically trying to get at Harry, who walks calmly among them, his blade flashing. It's like Toshiro Mifune killing the bandits in in 'Yojimbo'".

    Would that suck?

  • #2
    Re: Referring to scenes from other movies

    The problem is, we are all familiar with Michael Douglas from Wall Street. No one knows who or what yojombo is, therefore it provides no mental picture.

    This kind of thing does get done and it's usually during a character intro, but the reference needs to be very pop culture and broad so it provides a mental picture for all.

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    • #3
      Re: Referring to scenes from other movies

      Thanks. You're probably right. I'm only surprised that anyone interested in film would not be familiar with the Kurozawa classic Yojimbo, also called The bodyguard (story later stolen by Hollywood for "A Fistful of Dollars" with Clint Eastwood.)

      But the conclusion is: it's okay to refer to something well-known from another movie -- as long as it's instantly recognizable.

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      • #4
        Re: Referring to scenes from other movies

        Yojimbo is a classic. A worrying amount of people aren't film literate.

        By all means you can write in literally anything you like. Just don't expect any readers to instantly get the image that you're trying to convey.

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        • #5
          Re: Referring to scenes from other movies

          It's one of those things that can work for you or against you. Your reference may provide the perfect mental picture for the reader or it could provide none. That's why sticking to pop culture movies is safe.

          I've never seen any of the Johnny Depp Pirate movies but if someone referenced Capt. Jack Sparrow in a script, I would know exactly what to picture. Remember, there's a good chance that a twenty something intern will read your script. You can't go referencing some Japanese movie that the reader may or may not know.

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          • #6
            Re: Referring to scenes from other movies

            "A bunch of FAT BOND TRADERS eat deli sandwiches and smoke cigarettes on the Solomon Brothers Bond Trading floor. It's not exactly Michael Douglas in Wall Street."
            A lot of things in screenwriting are strictly a matter of opinion, and that is the case with this issue.

            So here is my opinion. That kind of thing is all right for dialogue, because a character is speaking and is making a cultural reference. That is what people do in conversation. They make remarks about common experiences, and those comments convey, variously, erudition, insight, sarcasm, and satirical and other comic humor. They tell us something about the character, and they set a tone for the conversation.

            You also find something similar in the authorial comments that were common among novelists until late in the nineteenth century. The narrator often addressed the reader in remarks of that kind. But it was all an artistic pose. The narrator became a free-floating, nebulous, but omnipresent character who might berate his characters for their actions, in comments to the reader. Although this technique of "authorial intrusion" fell out of favor toward the turn of the twentieth century, it had a justifiable use in the novel, because it arose from an implied relationship that is implicit in narrative that uses exposition (explanatory revelations of motives, thoughts, and backstory). A narrator in a novel is your personal guide, who takes you into a world of confidential exploration.

            Things are different with a screenplay. The author does not usually establish himself as a narrator who is an implied character in the script. A screenplay does not provide that kind of narrator-reader relationship. The use of wisecracks and other references, in action, to cultural events is not a desirable technique. Such remarks tend to be smarmy, pretentiously ostentatious, self-flattering, and often just plain silly. And they are always obtrusive.

            As I said, this is something that is just a matter of opinion. But my reaction, when I encounter this kind of thing, is that I do not like the script, and what is more, I do not like the writer, either.

            Again, just opinion. Yours is probably different. All is well.

            "The fact that you have seen professionals write poorly is no reason for you to imitate them." - ComicBent.

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            • #7
              Re: Referring to scenes from other movies

              Originally posted by ComicBent View Post
              As I said, this is something that is just a matter of opinion. But my reaction, when I encounter this kind of thing, is that I do not like the script, and what is more, I do not like the writer, either.

              Again, just opinion. Yours is probably different. All is well.
              But this is just how so many good professional scripts are being written. They read well because there IS a narrator vibe. It builds a connection to the reader, to immerse him/her in this world. Just read "Deeper" by Max Landis. So many unfilmables and Shane-isms, and such weird sh*t I have to call them Landis-isms. And it's for that very reason it reads well. If it was a straight technical draft, I would have tossed it in the trash bin.

              And this is why amateurs fail so often. They're told not to do this. And their scripts read flat and technical, like an actual (dull) blueprint. I hate to say it, but Carson Reeves (Scriptshadow) is right. If you have to convey info through the fourth wall to bring your story to life. DO IT.
              I'm never wrong. Reality is just stubborn.

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              • #8
                Re: Referring to scenes from other movies

                I agree. Narrative needs pizazz. You are asking someone to read 120 pages of your words. The least you can do is be interesting.

                There's an old saying that good writing jumps off the page. Good writing involves good story but it also involves good presentation.

                When people talk about voice, this is what they are talking about. The writers ability to use narrative to move the story forward, but also be entertaining, be mood setting, provide comic relief, be dramatic.

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                • #9
                  Re: Referring to scenes from other movies

                  Originally posted by Merlin View Post
                  "A bunch of FAT BOND TRADERS eat deli sandwiches and smoke cigarettes on the Solomon Brothers Bond Trading floor. It's not exactly Michael Douglas in Wall Street."
                  Yeah I like that and the comparison reference is fine by me.

                  "The robbers run and jump, frantically trying to get at Harry, who walks calmly among them, his blade flashing. It's like Toshiro Mifune killing the bandits in in 'Yojimbo'".
                  Cool, but why not a Seven Samurai reference instead? Everyone's heard of that one -- if only because it's mentioned again and again as the source for The Magnificent Seven.
                  Check out the DDP Logline Throwdown thread in Writing Exercises forum

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                  • #10
                    Re: Referring to scenes from other movies

                    I see nothing wrong with referring to a well known movie in the narrative or the dialogue.

                    But... let me tell you what happened to me once.

                    I wrote a very short screenplay, maybe five pages. I wanted a gal and a guy to find something in common, so I decided I would have them both be classic or golden age movie fans. Coincidentally, at that time, San Francisco was having a mayoral race and one of the candidates chose to list his name as Carl LaFong. This struck me as funny because I remembered that this name comes from an old W. C. Fields movie that I had seen on TV as a kid. That character introduces himself as "Carl LaFong, capital L, small A, capital F, small O, small N, small G." This memory prompted me to use that reference.

                    I used that line in the dialogue so the gal would recognize the guy as a movie buff.

                    A critique I received read, "One thing that really pisses me off is seeing a writer brag about the canon of movies he has seen," in direct response to that line. So much for objective, useful criticism.
                    We're making a movie here, not a film! - Kit Ramsey

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                    • #11
                      Re: Referring to scenes from other movies

                      Tools, not rules. Everything in moderation, and ***for a reason.*** Any reader worth their salt is not gonna get pissy over a cleverly placed reference. It's indiscriminate use that blows chunks

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                      • #12
                        Re: Referring to scenes from other movies

                        Originally posted by Cyfress View Post
                        The problem is, we are all familiar with Michael Douglas from Wall Street. No one knows who or what yojombo is, therefore it provides no mental picture.l.
                        Agree with this. You don't know who is going to read this and who will get your reference.

                        Clearly, you want to give your work the very best chance to succeed with whatever reader who reads it, and not for them to be scratching their head.

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                        • #13
                          Re: Referring to scenes from other movies

                          Originally posted by billmarq View Post
                          I wrote a very short screenplay, maybe five pages. I wanted a gal and a guy to find something in common, so I decided I would have them both be classic or golden age movie fans. Coincidentally, at that time, San Francisco was having a mayoral race and one of the candidates chose to list his name as Carl LaFong. This struck me as funny because I remembered that this name comes from an old W. C. Fields movie that I had seen on TV as a kid. That character introduces himself as "Carl LaFong, capital L, small A, capital F, small O, small N, small G." This memory prompted me to use that reference.

                          I used that line in the dialogue so the gal would recognize the guy as a movie buff.

                          A critique I received read, "One thing that really pisses me off is seeing a writer brag about the canon of movies he has seen," in direct response to that line. So much for objective, useful criticism.
                          Well, as another writer bragging about the canon of movies she has seen, just wanted to point out a correction: the movie you reference is "It's a Gift," and there isn't actually a character in the movie named Carl LaFong. W. C. Fields is a henpecked husband trying to catch up on sleep on his porch, and he's tormented in the early morning by Baby LeRoy, a vegetable vendor yelling about his wares, and an insurance salesman who strolls by and shouts up at Fields to ask if he knows Carl LaFong, with the "capital L" bit:

                          Insurance Salesman: Do you know a man by the name of LaFong? Carl LaFong? Capital L, small a, Capital F, small o, small n, small g. LaFong. Carl LaFong.
                          Harold: No, I don't know Carl LaFong - capital L, small a, capital F, small o, small n, small g. And if I did know Carl LaFong, I wouldn't admit it!

                          Hilarious scene in a great movie. I think Johnny Carson once screened a clip on his show and the audience went wild laughing, it might be the longest laugh ever on the show if I recall correctly.

                          But the movie's pretty obscure, and W. C. Fields doesn't seem to be much in the "canon" of supposed cinephiles these days. Which is a shame, because his gallery of henpecked characters are funny and surprisingly touching, with more depth than the stereotypes most people associate with Fields.

                          As for the original passage from The Big Short, I like the reference because it's used as counterpoint and adds an ironic dimension to the scene, not just put there to name-drop another movie. Whereas the Yojimbo example is used more as illustration, and it doesn't seem to enhance the description.
                          Last edited by castilleja32; 02-01-2017, 01:49 AM.

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