Why screenwriters NEED to make friends with directors…

By Lucy V Hay

… because I have had waaaaaaaaay too many conversations with screenwriters that have gone like this:

ME: If you want some control over your work, be a writer/director.

WRITER: Oooooh no. No way. No sirreee. I want to write.

ME: Okay, well meet some directors then. Collaborate on something, even a one or two minute short film. Get out there and make something, ANYTHING!

WRITER: Oh no, I don’t think so. I’m better off leaving them to it. I’ll just send them the script and stay out the way.

YARGH.

The deeper I get into script editing (rather than scriptwriting or even script reading), the more I realise how important the visual aesthetic is to film. Obviously, we KNOW this, but going back the majority of spec screenplays I read, this just doesn’t happen on the page.

Don’t believe me? Check out your nearest spec pile. You’ll soon find the average spec script will have a shedload of static scenes; it’ll be a chain of dialogue. At best, it will be a screenPLAY: highly theatrical, full of what I call “false movement” … A turn about the room here; a raised eyebrow, handshake, hug or smirk there.

At best, it will be a screenPLAY: highly theatrical, full of what I call “false movement” … A turn about the room here; a raised eyebrow, handshake, hug or smirk there.

Nooooooo!

Yet film is about PICTURES. And by that, we’re not talking about the LOOK of a scene: screenwriters are not set dressers, or location scouts, or directors of photography. You have tasked yourself with one job and one job ONLY … And that’s telling a STORY.

Le DUH.

Many Bang2writers say it’s “not possible” to tell that story in a screenplay without using craft elements like scene description and dialogue and they’re absolutely right…

So it’s not that script editors like me DON’T want you to use those craft elements, it’s to appreciate HOW you use them … ie: really appreciate what those craft elements are FOR.

And this is why you need to meet and talk with some directors.

Directors are all about the visual aesthetic; that’s what THEY do. If nothing else, a short conversation about what they expect from the page in front of them; how they work; what they need versus what they want is sure to blow your MIND.

Because this is the thing: directors look at screenplays and first thing on THEIR minds is usually not character motivation, narrative arc, theme or whatever, but –

How the hell are we going to render this scene as IMAGE, instead of just words on a page?

But spec screenplays typically drop the ball on the above. They do NOT have enough visual potential as standard, simply because spec screenwriters are too often in love with dialogue, or character arcs, or overwritten scene description (or all three)!

So here are 3 reasons screenwriters have GOT to get with the programme on visuals – and QUICK:

1) Dialogue takes over MOST spec scripts these days.

Well-written dialogue may make actors love you and get you noticed by your audience as they quote your movie or TV show in memes on Facebook, but you’ve got to get to that point first – ie. get your script into production.

One of the quickest ways of differentiating from the masses then is by dumping dialogue wherever possible and stopping it taking over your scripts!

2) Your craft needs FOCUS!

Before I wrote this post, I did a quick straw poll of a few directors I know via email, asking them what they would prize most in a spec screenplay they wanted to make themselves.

Knowing them as I did, I expected the results would be varied, so imagine my surprise when they all came back with effectively the same answer: short scenes. When I pressed them why, here’s what they came back with:

“The story is lean, more focused.”

“They won’t overwrite every little thing.”

“It’s cheaper… they know what we can and can’t do with the money we’ve got. Time is money!”

“Short scenes mean the writer is better, anyone can write a long scene.”

That last one was the one I liked best: anyone can write a long scene. Reminds me of the old saying, “This [essay/ article/ screenplay/ scene] is longer, because I didn’t have the time to make it shorter.”

So make those scenes work FOR the story, not against it! 

3) Because they WILL make YOUR idea, if you write it “well” – and that means VISUALLY.

Here’s what I hear from directors all the time: “I couldn’t find a screenplay, so I had to write it myself.” That’s right. They couldn’t FIND a screenplay. In a marketplace FULL OF THEM. And this isn’t because they’re all blind, either.

It’s because writers are doing one of two things: they’re either insisting on the industry fitting THEIR concept (it should be the other way around) … And those writers that aren’t doing that – are – you guessed it! – writing chains of dialogue in long scenes that aren’t visual enough. Nooooo! 

But don’t despair. All the above IS good news – for you, the savvy screenwriter.

Because **all** you have to do is write your superb story, with your kickass characters AND write it in a visual AND focused manner, then you’re home free! Production City, here we come. Right?

So, what are you waiting for? Get going and make some director friends!

This article was originally published by London Screenwriters' Festival.

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