Screenwriting : Leaving Stuff Out: Is Less Better? by Christopher Binder

Christopher Binder

Leaving Stuff Out: Is Less Better?

So I just submitted my feature into the state competition here in VA. It's just a first draft and I'm not expecting to win or anything, but one of the benefits is if you make past the first round they do give you a free, multi page professional level critique. I feel like a criticism that could be leveled at me is that maybe I left out too much stuff. I had thought about the story in my head for two years before I started causally writing it down off and on in Celtx on my laptop (over the course of another two years). A lot changed and/or got rewritten in my head if I instinctively felt something wasn't working. What I ended up with was pretty lean and a quick read, at 90 pages even. The story does jump back and forth through time but honestly its nothing really confusing if you follow along. I did leave a lot of stuff out but I did drop hints here and there as to what could have happened in between time periods, because I felt like a bunch of exposition as to what did happen would have slowed down the story. I hope I wasn't too vague in that regard (well what happened to this character or why is this the way it is now etc). While writing I was watching Nicholas Meyer's commentary for The Wrath of Khan and he had this great reasoning that stuck with me the rest of the way. "Only movies, the 20th century art medium, has the hideous capacity to do it all for you. And in doing so, it tends to render the audience passive. The great commercial directors who make movies are taught to put everything in. And the result, I find myself sitting in those movies, which are visually stunning. Every image is perfect. There is no distinction in priority between what is an important image, what is an unimportant image. It’s all perfect. Everything is in it. And as a director, I’m always looking to leave things out." Obviously he's talking about images here but I felt that what he said could easily be applied to screenwriting as well, which is why I took the approach that I did. Anybody else agree or disagree with this? What have been your own experiences creating enough material to constitute a feature? Why do some put in everything and not take out any of it?

Dan MaxXx

hey bro, my gut tells me your script/writing will do well in the contest. maybe win. u appreciate the mentors before us, have a sense of Film History. respectfully, I would disagree with Meyers. He was a successful novelist before movies and he writes knowing he is directing . screenwriters don't direct. most don't even stay past development. from my personal experiences with crappy movies, the script that gets sold is not the same script used for production and never the finished product. The "Final Draft' of the script really belongs to the Film Editor. Yes, the Film Editor. Scorsese uses the same film editor for all his movies; he s alway knowledged his Editor as the true genius :)

Christopher Binder

Aww thanks, seriously. I think who the "Final Draft" of the script belongs to is a case by case basis, as with a lot of things. Yes, Meyers was everything you said before he got into movies but I think Meyers the screenwriter is a different person from Meyers the director, as with all those who do what he does. They would have to be.

Bill Costantini

I'm not quite sure if this applies to your query as it relates to Nicholas Meyer's commentary, but I guess in my stories what I'm going for is a story path that people can relate to, and can even expect to end in a certain way, but will still be surprised by the actions, reasonings, intents and epiphanies that happen along the way. I put in what I think is necessary. Some of my stories rely on following every line of dialogue and every visual element , and some don't. I could understand the "passive audience" comment. I could understand how, in some movies, filmmakers might want people to just sit there, shut off part of their brains, and take in the visceralness of a film's effects on the senses. I don't think that's bad - sometimes I just want to get immersed by the physical beauty of a film, and absorb the sound that compliments that beauty, and have my senses bombed. Sometimes...I like to be more of an intellectual participant, knowing that if I don't pay attention to every dialogue and every physical clue, or if I walk away for one minute, I might miss something that will prevent me from getting or understanding the film's pot of gold. It's a see-saw, in the way movies can be portrayed, I guess. I like both sides of the see-saw, and the middle, too, though, depending on how I feel when I choose what I choose to watch.

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

"Leaving Stuff Out: Is Less Better?" I'd say probably. When I sit down to write, before I move forward with new pages, I'll go back through the previous five pages or so. I often find that I can eliminate words from lines of dialogue, compress scene descriptions, and rarely, that I don't even need a particular scene. I've found that writers' groups can be helpful. If the read of your pages goes reasonably well, if they're not confused, then you probably presented enough. If a fellow writer tells you that there seems to be material missing, if they don't have enough to follow the story, then perhaps you've cut too much. But it's all contextual on your story and how it develops on the page.

Dan Guardino

Less is better. If your scripts reads slow your career will advance slower.

Dan Guardino

Write only what we can see on film. Don’t describe every detail in the scene. Avoid describing character’s every movement. In other words, paint your scenes with broad strokes and let the reader’s imagination fill in the rest. Avoid words that can usually be eliminated such as “are”, “and”, “there”, “it is”, “it's”, “to go”, “to say”, “is”, “to be” and words ending in “ly” and “ing.” You can usually eliminate first words of dialogue such as "Well", "No", "Yes", "Of course", "I mean", etc. Eliminate words like "hello", "goodbye", "please", "thank you", and "you're welcome" unless used for irony or emphasis. Avoid having your character ask questions but when they do don’t have the other character answer if the audience will assume what the answer would be. Replace the "to be" verbs with an active verb or eliminate them entirely. For example "She is in uniform" becomes "In uniform.” "It is dark outside" becomes “Dark, " etc. Make all your action immediate. Eliminate words like "suddenly", "then", "begins to", "starts to" and just make the action happen without any sort of temporal qualifier. For example: "Suddenly, he runs off." becomes "He runs off." "She starts to climb" becomes "She climbs."

William Martell

You want to use the best words - evocative words which paint entire pictures in the mind of the reader. Fewer words, more impact. This is why screenwriting is more difficult than writing a novel - you can go on and on in a novel, in a screenplay you have to paint the same picture with only a handful of words.

Melissa Bonet

Leaving something for the imagination and forcing the audience to conceive. figure in price of production balanced out portions of the movie. Figure it out if you would have spent 10-20 bucks to go see it. that's my way Of doing it. I guess. Now for the people to recognize me part. I learned years ago as an artist to go the way of custom. It lead me into a career before that I was painting on consignment. Before that.. painting what I wanted. Give the audience what they want. The sale is already made. Now I'm passionately creating a movie. So sick of Hollywood Esque selection process. I hear the wounded cries of all that talent out there and what do I see? A pile of poodles jumping through hoops. Keeping them busy while who is selected is more important than who is elected. As soon as i have a large amount to plunk down on this.. its done.! Now find me a theater. =)

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