As you may already be aware, GET REPPED NOW! is on the horizon once again (3/13 through 5/15,) and we really want you guys to do well. That’s why we’ve decided to start a weekly column of screenwriting tips. Some will cover more general things to take into consideration and other tips will be very specific.
Today, let’s talk about…
The Importance of Visual Writing
Film and TV are visual mediums. And one of the main mistakes many writers make is not writing for the medium. It’s understandable, of course. Many of us have written plays or short stories or theses or long-form prose, and in those we write thick paragraphs of text describing the details of characters’ thoughts and the Corinthian alpaca wool in their scarf and ruminating on the fall of civilization.
None of that translates cinematically. The viewers of the movie are not reading your brilliant scene description. They cannot know your characters’ thoughts. All we know is what we SEE and HEAR. And that, coupled with the fact that every single script reader, manager, actor and agent in town has ADHD and are looking for any excuse to stop reading, means that you have to learn to spin your yarn visually, concisely and with panache (aka writer “voice.”)
Here is a visual, intriguing, and voice-y example from the original BREAKING BAD pilot (when they still meant to shoot in CA).
EXT. COW PASTURE – DAY
Deep blue sky overhead. Fat, scuddy clouds. Below them,
black and white cows graze the rolling hills. This could be
one of those California “It’s The Cheese” commercials.
Except those commercials don’t normally focus on cow shit.
We do. TILT DOWN to a fat, round PATTY drying olive
the sun. Flies buzz. Peaceful and quiet. Until…
… ZOOOM! WHEELS plow right through the shit with a SPLAT.
NEW ANGLE – AN RV
Is speeding smack-dab through the pasture, no road in sight.
A bit out of place, to say the least. It’s an old 70’s-era
Winnebago with chalky white paint and Bondo spots. A bumper
sticker for the Good Sam Club is stuck to the back.
The Winnebago galumphs across the landscape, scattering cows.
It catches a wheel and sprays a rooster tail of red dirt.
INT. WINNEBAGO – DAY
Inside, the DRIVER’s knuckles cling white to the wheel.
He’s got the pedal flat. Scared, breathing fast.
His eyes bug wide behind the faceplate of his gas mask.
Oh, by the way, he’s wearing a GAS MASK. That, and white
jockey UNDERPANTS. Nothing else.
(copyright Sony Pictures Entertainment. Reprinted for educational use only.)
Hope this gave you a bit of inspiration. As you already know, we’re always here for questions (and the answers are free). [email protected]