January 15, 2010


I feel like a cheater.  I decided to cut this (first draft) from my book proposal on scene writing.  But if you live an intertwined multi-media life, a column becomes a book proposal whose "killed darling" becomes a blog.  Welcome to my world....



Jim Mercurio

Imagine two scripts on an executive's desk. Each of these scripts has two hours worth of story in it. They both have cool concepts and are in the same genre.

The one on the left is the script the writer wrote before he or she read this book.

It has 3 brads.

The title page has the WGA number, copyright number and the Midwestern Address of the writer. And the email.

It’s 118 pages. It has some funny jokes but a few of them are buried in the clutter of unfunny lines or a few extra words here or there.

It has some funny scenes, but a few go on too long and there are a few extra pages of unnecessary exposition. A few times, the subtext of a character’s line is absolutely clear but this draft has an extra line that states the obvious intent of the line.

The main character is likable but unfortunately has a lot of flat and boring lines that no A-list Actor would ever say.

A lot of the scenes are static and talky, so the reader will have to envision that a good director will bring them to life to make it a real movie.

There are no typos and it’s an okay read and the writer comes off as close to professional.

Now, let’s consider the script on the right that was written after the writer read this book.

It has 2 brads. Why? Because the story starts here. There isn’t going to be a wasted anything. If it's not needed, it's not in it or ON IT.

Title page has an LA phone number or only email as the contact. No chance for the reader to get distracted or biased from an area code or address. There is already 1/2 as few words as the other one.

This script has just as much story as the first script but it’s nine pages shorter. Six of the pages are gone because of the tighter scenes and dialogue. There are more jokes, more tightly executed and less filler in between. A few are little more audacious than anything else he or she has read today. In fact, he or she "cuts and pastes" one and emails it to a CE at another company.

Just like the extra brad and the contact information. Everything not necessary is jettisoned. Explosition, gone. Explaining, gone. Characters telling characters what they already know, gone.

The main character has the best lines. They are all active, strong, full of subtext. He never has to say anything that any other character could say.  No yes or no questions answered with, well, yes or no.

Scenes use location, lighting, blocking, props, body movement and sound to tell the story. Several scenes that were all talk are either gone or rethought. The reader can see that there is a movie on the page. The script "directs" itself.

This is the tightest script that the reader read today. It took him or her 14 minutes less to read this script compared to the other one. The one or two cheats and embellishments contributed to the read, and the reader is relieved that he or can can pass the script on to his or her bosses. Even if it’s not the next reader’s cup of tea, there is not doubt this is a good script.

Which script do you want to be yours?