Script Note: Clear writing via brief writing

B. O'Malley

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logo for Free Script Notes on your first 10 pagesRead the pages here.

Clear writing = not confusing your reader

A few confusing terms right off the bat (“O&B SLT’s” / “transfer suit”), and a lot of text density made this a bit hard on page one, but the concept of teleportation, also smack dab on page one, is a beacon of promise.  I’m in.

Clear writing also means more concise description/action

Uh-oh, now we’ve hit another chunk that’s a bit hard to read. Bottom of page 1, top of page 2 – describing the teleportation chambers:  the screenplay is hitting us with way too much description here:

The Salesman moves to the two-leveled structure beside him.

On the top level is a sign reading “Departures”, and on the lower level is a sign labeled “Arrivals. On each level stands an SLT pod, the same pod-like phone booth that was in the sizzle reel.

They stand as two large cylindrical tubes with two rounded sliding steel doors that meet at the centre, elevator-style.

A control panel is connected to each pod at about hand-level beside each entrance. Several long cables connect the control panel to the rear of each SLT. These cables join a larger bundle of power cables that run off behind the Sales Booth.

The Salesman walks to the top-level SLT and taps a TOUCHSCREEN on the control panel. The doors open. He steps inside. The doors close.

The Crowd watches curiously.

A LOW DRONING IS HEARD. A bright white light blinks on at the base of the pod. The light travels slowly upward. As it climbs, a BUZZSAW-LIKE WHIRRING STARTS FROM DEEP WITHIN THE POD. Once the light is at the top, it falls lazily to the base of the pod. A DULL PULSE PUNCTUATES THE MOMENT. 

The lower “Arrivals” SLT HISSES. A RED LIGHT on its control panel turns to GREEN. The Salesman emerges, still in his transfer suit.

The crowd stands dumbfounded.

Replace all of that with something more like this:

The Salesman moves to the teleporter:  two pods stacked on top of each other.  “Departures” and “Arrivals.” 

The Salesman taps a touchscreen, steps into the “Departures” pod.  The doors close.

The crowd watches.

A throbbing hum, a flash of white light. A red light turns green.

The Salesman steps out of the “Arrivals” pod.

The crowd looks dumbfounded.

For the remainder of the scene, pare down on the questions from the crowd, and ditch all the repeated descriptive text.  For example, on page 4, when The Man steps into the teleporter, there’s no need for the text about the hum and the white light and the green/red lights.  We just read that on the previous page.  All you need is:

The teleporter activates.

Keep an eye on spelling at all times. Travelers, not travellers.

Watch out for description that could seem unclear to a script reader at an agency, or a producer, (or even a contest or script coverage company).  For example:

CHESTER DANIELS, 40s, sits in a living room area in front of an open computer bouncing a ball against a wall. On the  computer plays a newscast.

What’s an “open computer?”  Is the case open and he’s working on hardware?  Or is it a laptop that’s open?  Super minor thing, yes, but little moments of dubious clarity like this can add up to large swaths of reader confusion, which is precisely what you need to avoid, especially in your first 10 pages.

Have Mercie be the first to go in, not The Man, in order to save some screen time and keep things moving.  Have her step out and and a reporter asks her a question.  Cut to Chester watching tv as Mercie answers the question, then walks into the room behind him.  A) It keeps things moving  B) It has a sort of “two-places-at-once” vibe to it that ties in thematically with the concept of teleportation.  C) It could be a playful or humorous beat and/or way to meet Chester.

No need for “In the b.g.”  Let the director direct.

Using “1 year later” in your screenplay

“One year later” is clunky, as it is in 99% of scripts that utilize it.  With relatively few exceptions, it’s basically saying “All that stuff that came previously wasn’t the real story.”  It can be done well, but in most cases, it’s not.  In this case, it doesn’t seem to do much, other than give us some distance between the teleporter’s “debut” and ostensibly the point where the conflict of the story begins to present itself.  Get to the conflict faster.  Cut to your story when your story begins.  Make sure every moment in your story is essential, and not just serving in a cosmetic or expositional capacity.

Case in point: the newscast Harvey’s watching upside down doesn’t seem to contain necessary information.

Other beats that aren’t clear…

Moving on, it’s unclear why the family is using different teleporters to go to dinner, and also unclear why Chester is driving.  Where are they starting from?

It’s odd that we’re seeing the strange colors and nebulae-eseque effects here and not the first time we saw the teleporter being used.

Don’t repeat the abstract mesh of colors for Ashley’s moment, in the spirit of paring down repetitive beats and/or text.  Give it to us once, then when it happens again, give us the extremely pared-down version.

The pod fires up. A mesh of colors.

Not clear why the crowd would “Awww” in disappointment, as it seems like they would’ve been able to hear the screams.  Clarify this.

Are all four family members necessary?  Hard to tell with just 10 pages, of course, but nonetheless, make sure you can’t tell the story with just 3, or 2, or even 1. If They’re all vital to the story, that’s fine, but make sure we can tell them apart.  One exercise you can utilize to help with that is describing your characters using only verbs.

By script page ten, we know thoroughly that the film is about teleportation, and that it’s dangerous.  That’s good.  But what would be better is if we knew on page 1 that the SLT’s were dangerous.  Plant a seed there on p. 1 or 2.  Maybe someone comes out of the SLT with something just a bit off.  Their hair is parted differently, or frizzed out, or their legs are wobbly.  Or the surrounding lights dim or spark a bit.   If that seed can be planted, then p. 10’s screams won’t come out of nowhere, as they do now.

Here are a few tips on writing more clearly and concisely from the University of Wisconsin. 

 

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