Love that line. Al Pacino in HEAT. I forget the mechanics of the scene exactly – I think he was questioning-stroke-threatening an informant – but that’s what good movie moments are made of in my book: you may not remember the whys, you remember the how. And Al Pacino was so manically exhuberant here, repeating the line just enough without becoming irritating, that it stuck in my head and undoubtedly countless other viewers’.
We all want these moments in our screenplays – those lines and moments people repeat to each other, out of context. It’s those little bits of movie magic that brighten up people’s days: we all do it. We get bad mobile reception where we live and even worse internet; I’ve been unable to connect to broadband at all for some godforsaken reason and every now and again the mobile signal and dial-up connection will spontaneously die, right at the same time. My husband’s response, every single time? “Skynet is becoming self-aware!” From time to time at home I’ll ring the landline from my mobile from another room; my husband will pick it up and I’ll say, “Mr. Hammond? The phones are working.” It’s okay; I know. Sad. but you do it too, I know you do you little fibbers.
I’m still working on the magic ingredients of producing one-liners that people will remember, but I can tell you how to not bore a Script Reader. Us Readers all have problems, man. We’ve got psychological problems brought on by absentee protagonists appearing and disappearing in the narrative or those characters where the action is all in their head. We’ve got sexual problems brought on by all the bad love scenes and physiological problems from being hunched over a desk all day. Hell some of us even have beards (Danny I’m looking at you).
So, in short then – we’re all weirdos with ADHD and a twisted attitude. There ARE things that suck out the pace from your screenplay – if you recall, I gave you a list yesterday. Here’s what to do about it if any of the following pop up in your script:
– Over-reliance on phone calls/triviliaties. Cut them all out. The Americans have one school of thought re: using phone calls in specs and that’s DON’T! The Brits don’t seem to be so hardcore on this issue and as a Reader, phone calls don’t particularly bother me…But they have to figure in the plot for a specific reason. If you have characters phoning each other all the time, ask yourself: why can’t they MEET? Much more interesting. As for trivilaities, have you ever noticed how few people say “Hello” or “Goodbye” in movie-land? It takes up space, baby. Cut cut cut it all!
– Static scenes Keep your characters on the move, but more importantly don’t have scenes go on for pages and pages. I read a good guide once that recommended one page for “ordinary” scenes and up to three for “extraordinary” scenes (I can’t remember where though). I think this is good to aim for, certainly stops the Reader from drowning in a sea of Exposition. It also makes the writer “focus” – what do they need to get across and how many pages do they need to do it? What is the most dramatic way?
– The Disappearing Protagonist and Character Role Functions. Two words: don’t and do. DON’T have your protag appear and disappear, DO make your secondary characters’ role functions obvious. With the protag, starting with him/her is best: establish from the very first page who this is about and keep with them. You don’t have to have them in every single scene (though this can help if you’re having “focus” issues) but I have a rule – never stay away from the protag for more than 2 pages: this seems to work. Regarding the secondary characters and what they’re doing in your script, make ’em justify their place – think before you start or when you’re redrafting what they actually ADD to the narrative: is s/he comic relief? The weakest link? Best friend? Lover? If you can’t figure out what their function is, they need to go. KILL!
– Flashbacks without a discernible pattern to them. Writers attempting a non-linear narrative sometimes don’t realise there needs to be a pattern to flashbacks – they need to tell a separate story, in effect, else they just become a mad soup of images for the Reader. If you consider THE BOURNE SUPREMACY, he kept seeing that hotel bedroom door and flashes of faces and the gun… As he pieced it together, we saw more and more, until we remember, with Jason Bourne, what exactly happened there. In other words, the writer built it up and up, took us on a journey into the past, if you like. This is really hard to do. However, if you do attempt it, you have to re-structure your structure: in other words, look at how the action is running forwards, in order to make sense of what is going to go on in the narrative backwards. Did I tell you this is hard?
– Long, “Wonder Years”-style Voice-overs. Just one point here: please don’t.
– Characters thinking about things. Ditto above.
– Peripheral characters popping up, then never being seen again. And again.
– Too much black on the page – especially extraneous info. Amen.
So, any thoughts? I’m particularly interested in what some of my colleague Twisted Readers think… Go!