Specifying the setting - must I?

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  • Specifying the setting - must I?

    A reader of my most recent script "The Water Tower," suggested that instead of "City in the Southeast" in the slugline, that I name the city (say Charlotte VA, Atlanta GA, or Louisville KY). And, when the protags change locations to a country/rural setting five hours away for most of the film, he suggested that I should state the name of that town as well.

    But, I don't care to name either the city or the rural community. To my mind, the only important thing is that the city and the town be the southeast due to racism experienced by one of the protags in the 1950's. To me, it isn't relevant exactly where the town and/or city is, only that the rural town has a bit of a racist past, like many rural communities in the US. (Yes, I know that 1950's Buffalo NY and Bakersfield CA likely also experienced racism... I don't want to go there. I have decided to set this in the Southeast!)

    It could be Louisville, it could be Charlotte VA, whatever. To my way of thinking, when the setting is vague, readers/viewers might view this as the city he/she lives or have been in. Whoever is lucky enough to buy my fantastic spec script (!) can decide where they want it to be.

    So what is the upside of me specifying a city? Must I? Do you recommend it?

    Thanks all!

  • #2
    Re: Specifying the setting - must I?

    Honestly for me it depends on the person reading it. I've had some people tell me they hate sluglines/scene headings that are too specific (unless it's like New York or LA or Hong Kong, etc.) in the same vein of hating "directing" but also wanting SOME kind of specificity like "SMALL NEW ENGLAND TOWN" or "MINING TOWN" or something that at least paints a picture other than "CITY" or "SMALL TOWN".

    Then I've had other readers like you referred to that want you to "paint the scene" including the slugline/scene header thus "SMALL GEORGIAN FARMING TOWN" or "RURAL TEXAS TOWN" or "BROOKLYN, NEW YORK"

    Either way I think the most important thing to do is make sure you are painting a sufficient picture of your scene (at least the first time we are introduced to it) between your slugline/scene heading AND introductory action lines.

    Here's the intro scene to the "Taboo" pilot (more of a shooting script):

    EXT. RAIN-SWEPT MUDDY ROAD - STORMY NIGHT

    Rain pours in giant drapes against moonlight over rolling
    hills. In the near distance a single carriage lamp burns and
    we hear a man cursing and horses whinnying...

    Caption: ‘Dover to London Road, England, March 1813’.

    We move close to the single light and find a ‘Lightning’ four
    horse carriage, hopelessly stuck in the mud. The carriage
    driver wears a beaver hat with a curly brim which sheds water
    in waterfalls. He wears a slick cape. His porter wears the
    same uniform and is lashing the lead mare in her traces with
    a whip and cursing her to ‘step on’.
    Here's another scene later on (again, ignore the 'shooting script' directions):

    EXT. WAPPING WALL LANE, ROTHERHITHE

    It is afternoon in the busy dockside street. Porters and
    warehousemen carry boxes of goods from the dockside where
    they have been stacked. Small carriages whip by and people
    walk quickly. There is a sense of commerce and urgent
    business all around between the black brick buildings.

    We are taken along by a STREET BEGGAR in a frock coat and
    bare feet. Strapped to his head he has a perfect replica of
    an English naval battleship, made from sticks and paper and
    leather. It is twice as big as his head and he balances it
    with care.
    "When Harry Met Sally" has CHICAGO STREET, CHICAGO THIS AND THAT, etc.

    So IMHO it's a balancing act. If it's essential to the story, then include the place NAMES. If it's not at the very least paint the scene more than just "EXT. STREET - DAY" at least with "EXT. SUBURBAN STREET - DAY" or "EXT. INDUSTRIAL ALLEY - NIGHT" or something that goes at least a little bit beyond STREET, YARD, PARK, BUILDING, OFFICE BUILDING.

    And if your scenes are taking place too often in such bland places, that may be an indicator to MOVE them to someplace more interesting LIBRARY, MUSEUM, OPERA HOUSE, SCHOOL GYMNASIUM.

    Just my thoughts...
    You know Jill you remind me of my mother. She was the biggest whore in Alameda and the finest woman that ever lived. Whoever my father was, for an hour or for a month, he must have been a happy man.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Specifying the setting - must I?

      Personally I feel like it doesn't matter too much. You're giving a general area at least. The slugline isn't really going to decide if it's a great script or not.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Specifying the setting - must I?

        In my experience it's better to use generic descriptions for the setting and let the production choose the locations. The only time to specify a city or town is if there is a story imperative to do so.
        "Friends make the worst enemies." Frank Underwood

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Specifying the setting - must I?

          I would only specify a city if it's important for the story.
          In this case it doesn't seem to be the case so I'd go with generic locations. As someone mentioned above, it's better for production also.
          Check out my website with my productions: http://www.picturesplusproductions.com

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Specifying the setting - must I?

            I'd say the upside is that it makes your setting more specific, and that could give you more to play with. But it's definitely not something you have to do, especially if it gets in your way.

            I wouldn't worry about production, personally - you can always rewrite to a different location, or let one location stand in for another (ever notice how every city in America looks like Atlanta and Vancouver these days?).

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Specifying the setting - must I?

              First, I agree with DavidK.

              Next, it really is not necessary to be specific about a city unless, of course, you have a good reason to include that information in the Scene Heading or in the Action. Common sense really is the principle to apply here.

              However, the Scene Heading is not the best place for descriptors like "A CITY IN THE SOUTHWEST" or "A CITY IN THE SOUTHEAST", etc. Instead, in an early scene in the script, you might do something like:

              Code:
              EXT. TAVERN - DAY
              
              The tavern is on a typical street in a old, rotting rust-belt town.
              If we just need a general sense of location, that works fine. You do not have to say Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, etc., unless it is important to bring geography into the content. You can do something similar for the South if you want. You mention the specific location like a REDNECK BAR, and then in an Action line you say something about a town in the South.

              As for Taboo, what a mess. That script just goes to show you, as some pros have pointed out, there are no rules.

              Code:
              EXT. RAIN-SWEPT MUDDY ROAD - STORMY NIGHT
              What you really need here is a generic location that you can use repeatedly if you have several scenes taking place there. For example, if the road is in London, you might write:

              Code:
              EXT. LONDON ROAD - NIGHT
              
              The road is rain-swept and muddy, and a storm is still raging.
              A subsequent scene may show the same London road (with recognizable features) in the daytime in beautiful weather. Then it would be:

              Code:
              EXT. LONDON ROAD - DAY
              
              The road is muddy, but the day is beautiful.
              Then, when you later run a report of all your scenes in a script, your two LONDON ROAD scenes will be grouped together.

              My usual disclaimer: I do not work in the film industry. I only know what I have read and seen and what common sense tells me.

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

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Specifying the setting - must I?

                Originally posted by ComicBent View Post
                First, I agree with DavidK.

                Next, it really is not necessary to be specific about a city unless, of course, you have a good reason to include that information in the Scene Heading or in the Action. Common sense really is the principle to apply here.

                However, th.

                Great advice. Thanks for sharing!

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Specifying the setting - must I?

                  A reader of my most recent script "The Water Tower," suggested that instead of "City in the Southeast" in the slugline, that I name the city (say Charlotte VA, Atlanta GA, or Louisville KY). And, when the protags change locations to a country/rural setting five hours away for most of the film, he suggested that I should state the name of that town as well.

                  But, I don't care to name either the city or the rural community. To my mind, the only important thing is that the city and the town be the southeast due to racism experienced by one of the protags in the 1950's. To me, it isn't relevant exactly where the town and/or city is, only that the rural town has a bit of a racist past, like many rural communities in the US. (Yes, I know that 1950's Buffalo NY and Bakersfield CA likely also experienced racism... I don't want to go there. I have decided to set this in the Southeast!)

                  It could be Louisville, it could be Charlotte VA, whatever. To my way of thinking, when the setting is vague, readers/viewers might view this as the city he/she lives or have been in. Whoever is lucky enough to buy my fantastic spec script (!) can decide where they want it to be.

                  So what is the upside of me specifying a city? Must I? Do you recommend it?


                  If you're specifying a city you're adding nuance to your story. Now I don't know much about the USA but I would assume Charlotte VA, Atlanta GA, or Louisville KY are all distinct in their own way. Perhaps CITY IN THE SOUTHEAST is too broad and could give the impression that the writer is being lazy. But you don't have to do it. And yes, I would recommend it. I would be more interested to see:

                  EXT. FOGGY LONDON STREETS - NIGHT

                  than

                  EXT. STREETS - NIGHT
                  Nat Palazzo
                  User
                  Last edited by Nat Palazzo; 02-06-2017, 02:55 PM.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Specifying the setting - must I?

                    Originally posted by DavidK View Post
                    In my experience it's better to use generic descriptions for the setting and let the production choose the locations. The only time to specify a city or town is if there is a story imperative to do so.
                    While I agree with DavidK, there are, shall we say, "opportunities" to use a town name that informs the story, particularly, in this case, with respect to the character you describe as one who experienced racism in the 1950s.

                    There is a Charlotte County, Virginia (where Patrick Henry rests) whose county seat's town is named Charlotte Court House. And there is a Charlottesville, Virginia, home to Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. In my mind, these will not do at all as far as informing the story or adding a layer of meaning to it, and so it would be well to "go generic."

                    But there is a real town in southwest Virginia that is named after a man whose business helped found the city and so gave it its name, but the name of the town is also appropriate for the "message" that would inform your story of a character who experienced racism in the 1950s, and the name of that town is Lynchburg.
                    “Nothing is what rocks dream about” ― Aristotle

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Specifying the setting - must I?

                      Originally posted by TigerFang View Post
                      But there is a real town in southwest Virginia that is named after a man whose business helped found the city and so gave it its name, but the name of the town is also appropriate for the "message" that would inform your story of a character who experienced racism in the 1950s, and the name of that town is Lynchburg.
                      Thanks for the thought, TigerFang!

                      As we speak, I was looking up miscegenation laws to know what states were enforcing what in the 1950's.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Specifying the setting - must I?

                        The movie Loving is about that very thing and takes place in Virginia.
                        “Nothing is what rocks dream about” ― Aristotle

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Specifying the setting - must I?

                          Yes, it is. Great film.

                          Interracial marriage is more of a subplot of mine.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Specifying the setting - must I?

                            That Taboo script is the style of script I prefer to read, painting Bob Ross visuals and putting me in the scene. Very atmospheric period drama with Tom Hardy in the main role, if you haven't seen it yet.

                            I'd rather know where a story takes place instead of EXT. GENERIC TOWN - DAY but we're all different I guess.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Specifying the setting - must I?

                              Good writing flows from specifics.

                              You don't have to tell me its Charlotte or Atlanta or Memphis or whatever ... but Charlotte and Atlanta and Memphis are different, and you should know which one it is.

                              When reading the script, I should feel like this is a place that you know, that really exists.

                              There's a saying, which I'm going to butcher, that when you try to create an individual, you create a type ... but when you try to create a type, you create nothing. I don't think you gain by not making a specific choice.

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