Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Brief Recounter

Not feeling in the mood for another helping of Mother Superior’s Forbidden Donkey Love or more commentary on Michael Richard’s stand-up meltdown while browsing the internet, I found myself reading Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay for The Hospital, which would win him the second of his three Academy Awards for Best Screenplay. It’s great, but boy is it wordy.

I mean...


Dark. Just a bit of moonlight streaking through the not quite closed bathroom. The hallway door opens, and a young woman, carrying a top coat, slips quickly in giggling like hell, followed by Schaefer, who is likewise giggling and admonishing her to be quiet. Her name is SHEILA. Sheila notices the other patient in the room sleeping away and looks questioningly at Schaefer, who reassures her as he removes her coat. After which he strips off his own white jacket and trousers and hangs them in the armoire. The girl asks in a hoarse whisper if they're going to get totally nude and wonders if that's such a good idea. For an answer, Schaefer fondles her crotch. They both giggle, they both shush each other, they giggle again; they're both stoned. The girl unzippers her dress. The dark room is filled for the moment with the flurry of undressing, flung garments, elbows, legs and arms, bumpings into each other, and Sheila saying between giggles, "Boy, I sure hope nobody walks in."

They eventually wind up on the unoccupied bed, and the scene ends looking ACROSS the sleeping profile of THE PATIENT in the other bed as Schaefer and his girl thump away at each other with much creaking of springs, moans, groans, giggles and the white-limbed patterns of fornication.

That’s a whole lot of words.

Maybe it’s the playwright in him being overly specific to detail, or maybe, when it was written, the “rules” for screenwriting were different. I don’t know because back in 1971 I wouldn’t have been paying that much attention to be honest. But I do know that anyone going into that much detail would be in a hiding they’d remember the rest of their life.

I criticized our Short Film Writer friend for putting in far too much information some months back. Other unproduced screenplays I’ve recently read in passing have also mistakenly gone above and beyond the call of duty by providing far too much information when it comes to describing given scenes.

Having written short stories and magazine articles, set word counts pretty much dictated how long each piece would be. So there was no room for over-descriptive descriptions. Instead I trimmed the fat and got down to the meat of the story.

The lesson I learned, which was passed on to SFW was, go ahead and write a description. If it comes in at, say, twenty words, rewrite it using fifteen words. Then ten words. Then eight. Or less.

As long as you can still convey the same message, make sure everything extraneous goes. Until, I suppose, you get down to Walter Hill and David Giler’s revised draft of Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay for Alien which is at the other extreme...


Empty, cavernous.


Circular, jammed with instruments.
All of them idle.
Console chairs for two.

Of course there’s still the genre to consider. A taut thriller should look lean and hungry on the page and read at a pace. A romantic comedy or character piece, not so much. There’s a difference between stripping the fat and seeing the bones glisten.


At 11:36 am, Blogger potdoll said...

ah, now i see what you were on about. i didn't get this cos bloglines is playing up


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