Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself. – Doris Lessing

Go forth into the unknown, explore the caves of your unconscious, fear not your “dark side,” find the gold.

— Robin Hoffman (@AuthorAlchemy)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Hazards of Studying a Good Script

THE TROUBLE WITH studying good scripts is that they're so good I forget to pay attention to the mechanics of the script.

I had that experience again last week while reading Chinatown by Robert Towne.I hadn't seen the movie for several years and had forgotten many of the details of the story. But as soon as I started reading Towne's script, the visuals began flooding in. Not only the visuals, but even the way Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway delivered their lines. And the tenser the story got, the faster I read.

I couldn't slow down for INT. or EXT. or whose POV it was. After a few pages I could guess the settings from my memories of the movie and just go for the meat instead.

I've been having the same experience this week with The King's Speech and Adaptation. I'm reading The King's Speech online in a pdf I found on and Adaptation.offline, in a book from The Shooting Script series (Newmarket Press). They're both so good I'm devouring them.

I suppose I take it all in on some level—plus the more scripts you read the more natural it all seems and the less you have to sweat the details. But, still. I'm here to learn as well as enjoy.

Now that I'm thinking it through in writing, I think the problem lies in semi-following the standard advice: study a script as you watch the movie. (I haven't watched those three again yet, but I chose the scripts because I'd already seen the movies.) I think the standard advice is extremely sensible. But when I already know and love the movie, I tend to get too lost in the story to study formatting or scene structure.

I think I'll mix it up more from now on. My new theory, as of this minute, is that reading scripts for which I have no prior exposure to the movie will force me to pay more attention in the schoolhouse.

I can start right away with the other half of the Robert Towne book: published by Grove Press, it also contains the script for The Last Detail. Another Nicholson role but one I've never seen.

Should be an interesting experiment. Will the screenwriter cause me to vividly visualize The Last Detail playing out on a movie screen? And will that distract me from the mechanics of the script?

Can't wait to find out.

Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver's Travels and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer's Muse Coaching Service.


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