Script Note: Screenplay exposition

B. O'Malley

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logo for Free Script Notes on your first 10 pagesScreenplays need to show exposition, not tell us

Hero – Screenplay by L. Mukwacha (pages here)

In regards to your setup / exposition, avoid big chunks like this: 

The film crew is preparing for their journey to Africa. They are all at the director’s house in the back yard. They are all very excited about setting foot on the African soil.

Screenplay exposition is best when shown.  Not told.  Don’t tell us what’s going on.  Let your screenplay’s characters show us; reveal it to us with what they say.

You might just have the title on the first page of the script for this submission, but just in case:  don’t have the title on the first page of your script.  Also, omit “The Script” and “Action, Drama.”

The superficial / first-glance stuff:  Use a Courier-based font, 12 point. Get your screenplay into the right script format (margins, tabs, etc. are all wrong). There are so many free screenwriting tools out there that do this, it’s no longer anywhere remotely acceptable to not have your script look like a script.  If this was in the right script format, it would probably be more like 12-13 pages, not 10. If you’re having trouble with format, get your script into a screenwriting program or hire a script formatting service like ours.

Going through the text line by line, there’s a few key things you could improve with regards to readability:

TOM, a black chubby and ever smiling fellow in his late twenties, raises a hand. Easthood nods. at him.

TOM

(Smiling)

We will be getting some time to go on some game drive down there, won’t we?

1) Huge red flag: a misplaced period/full stop after “Easthood nods”  You’re not conveying to the reader that they can trust you as a writer if you goof on silly typos like that.

2) If Tom is ever-smiling, the parenthetical (Smiling) is redundant. Avoid redundancy.

Another example of redundancy:

JERRY, one of the camera men speaks.

JERRY

No sh*t. Where did you hear that?

Just have him speak by writing the character name and dialogue line. No need to tell us he’s about to speak in the action line prior.

After reading these pages, I get the sense that English isn’t your first language. Get your script format right, then work on making your dialogue more natural sounding, as well as less jam-packed with “standard, in-your-face” screenplay exposition.

Screenplay exposition should “walk and chew gum at the same time”

My Evil Internship – Screenplay by M. Staniec  (Pages here)

To old for that.  Too old for that.

…they are fighting next too.  They are fighting next to.

Errors like that will knock most readers right out of the screenplay.  “This guy doesn’t know his ‘to’ from his ‘too.’ ”  Don’t give them that excuse to put down your script.

The fight scene needs fewer details.  Remember: 1 page of screenplay is about 1 minute of movie. The top of page 3 has a lot of verbiage to describe a very small handful of actions.

Similar verbiage density problem at the top of page 4.  You use a lot of word and line space to get Jake into Mr. Levi’s office.  Just get him in there.  We picture everything else about that process that you’re conveying with text.

Three pages of Mr. Levi and Jake, with the ultimate point of Mr. Levi suggesting an internship to Jake – that’s a lot of pages as well.  We don’t need Mr. Levi bringing up Jake’s dad. Nor do we need the info about his friend at Pennsbury, etc. .  The point of the scene is: internship.  Get to it faster.

He looks shiftily both ways

Watch out for unnecessary adverbs and other modifiers.  The context makes it perfectly clear that he’s looking both ways in a cautious manner.

Lots of backstory in the Jake/Diane scenes that could be compressed or omitted as well.  Screenplay exposition needs to be more brief and more layered.  Peppered throughout the script.

For example, just Jake’s look at Grace tells us he likes her. It’s nice that you’re trying to subvert the cliche of “nerdiest kid in school” falling for the prettiest girl, etc. but take it to an even less expected place.  Give us interesting, not exposition, whenever possible.

Try putting the Diane/Jake stuff first, and end your 10 pages on “internship.”

Regarding all your screenplay’s exposition, see if you can let that exposition “walk and chew gum at the same time,” so to speak.  That is, if a scene is only designed to provide exposition on X, see if you can make the scene do double duty, or triple duty, and provide exposition on Y and Z as well.

For example, use the Jake/Diane stuff to show us not only Jake’s thing for Grace, but why he’s going to need to take an internship.

Weave in his doing nothing as manager of the swim team, or some laziness, or whatever is the reason he’s forced to take an internship.  Screenplay exposition, like I said, is best when it’s weaved into the fabric of every line a character says, or an action she takes.  It doesn’t always need to be something you hit us over the head with.

And do force him to take it.  He should have no choice.  That might take some significant restructuring and rewriting, but ultimately you need to apply that pressure that leads to him having to take the internship.

Here’s a great article by Chuck Wendig on exposition:  How To Make Exposition Your Bitch

And here’s another quick post on screenplay exposition: Four Secrets for Better Exposition

To find out how you can submit your screenplay’s first ten pages for free script notes, click here.

 

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