Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Screenwriter’s Lens

Screenwriting, or perhaps rather learning about screenwriting, has spoilt a lot for me.

For one thing, it has spoilt watching mediocre films. Well, that’s no great loss, you may say, but actually – there’s a certain type of film I used to enjoy watching, just to chill, rest my brain after a hard day at the office. I can’t do that any more. I get too annoyed by underdeveloped characters and badly structured stories.

I also find it difficult these days to find a book or other prose that holds my attention. I keep wanting to say “get to the point” or “cut the verbiage!” even in books that I used to like. We had an interesting discussion about this in the Forum over on TwelvePoint.com – seems that many screenwriters feel the same – we spend years honing our skills to convey a maximum of action and emotion with a minimum of words, and thus quickly get bored with pages and pages of inner ramblings or minute descriptions.

So I can’t help but look at everything through the screenwriter’s lens – I weigh, I measure, and I usually find wanting by page 20.

Last night, however, I had an interesting experience. I went to the premiere of a friend’s play, a piece for six women entitled “The Gentle Sisters”. Within minutes I was drawn in completely by the actresses and their skilful handling of a very well-written and moving script. Afterwards I talked to an actress (who was not involved in the production). She liked the play but thought the staging was a bit static, and to my surprise I realized she was right.

How odd that I hadn’t noticed this lack of movement, of visual action on stage, when I’m so used to the scriptwriting mantra of “make it visual, use action to express emotion, show don’t tell”! But then I realized what had happened.

I aim to build my screenplays from the inside out because I hold that stories must grow from the characters and their development. In this play, the characters and their emotions were so well crafted and so genuine, both in the writing and in the portrayal, that I was completely captured. Perhaps after several viewings I would have started shifting actors and scenery around in my head, and a different director – not the author, as in this production – may stage it quite differently. But it did not and does not matter because the material was so good. It was all there, in the characters.

So the screenwriter’s lens made me not see a minor “fault”. For once, it did not spoil the show but enhanced it. Thanks, Stewart, and good luck with taking this play much, much further still – it’s worth it!

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