Don’t Tell Us The Movie In Your Head

Just give us the shorthand version. Please. Oh, pretty please.

######

EXT. MULBERRY GROVE – MORNING

Keeping low, he takes shelter behind a tree trunk. Marines all around him duck in and out of cover and fire towards the road. Whizzing bullets shred and send mulberry leaves flying.

After a few seconds of tense gunfire:

REYES
What are we shooting at?!

######

This is a nicely written piece of a scene by one of my students. He’s a very good writer but he overwrites his scene description. I’m about to cure him of that problem. But anyway.

What he and a ton of writers do is visualize the movie in their head and they write it all down. Totally normal. That’s fine for a first draft, except we don’t want to see the movie in your head, not all of it anyway. You shouldn’t over direct the actors. You shouldn’t over direct the read. It happens all the time.

The offending line…

After a few seconds of tense gunfire:

As the movie plays in his mind, the writer sees that pause and puts it in. Obviously he felt it was crucial, but it’s really not. It eats up two whole lines out of his page, two lines that might be put to better use by being blank or getting used someplace else.

It plays just as well without the pause.

######

EXT. MULBERRY GROVE – MORNING

Keeping low, he takes shelter behind a tree trunk. Marines all around him duck in and out of cover and fire towards the road. Whizzing bullets shred and send mulberry leaves flying.

REYES
What are we shooting at?!

######

See? You kinda miss it because you knew it was there. But if you were a producer, reading for the first time, heck, you’d never notice.

Now, while I’m carving up my student’s work for the world to see… I’ll trim his scene description too.

######

EXT. MULBERRY GROVE – MORNING

Keeping low, he takes shelter behind a tree. Marines duck in and out of cover and fire towards the road. Whizzing bullets send mulberry leaves flying.

REYES
What are we shooting at?!

######

There, all neat and tidy and not over directed. Overtelling is an easy mistake to make, so beware of putting the ENTIRE movie in your head, on the page. Just give us the short hand version and we’ll see enough of it to “get it” and then move on.

And move on, fast!

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4 Comments

Filed under Criticism, Rewriting, Screenwriting, Writing Process

4 responses to “Don’t Tell Us The Movie In Your Head

  1. Sporting Dude

    Try this:

    EXT. MULBERRY GROVE – MORNING

    Marines duck and fire toward a road. Bullets whiz. Leaves scatter upward.

    Keeping low, he hides behind a tree.

    ######

    That’s proper screenplay writing.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      The more I teach, the more problems I see with “the movie in the writer’s head” making its way 100% unedited onto the page.

      • Sporting Dude

        How about:

        EXT. MULBERRY GROVE – MORNING

        Marines fire toward a road. Leaves splatter.

        REYES
        What are we shooting at?!

        ######

        Let the director tell the actors to duck and take cover by trees, right?

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        sounds like a plan to me!

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