Sunday, June 20, 2010

TODAY'S NUGGET: Push Me Forward

Question: What is the most common problem I see in scripts? 
Answer: A narrative that lists to the left or right (or outright sinks the boat).

My most consistent comment/complaint/prayer/begging in coverage is: You Don't Push Me Forward.  You MUST push me forward.

But what does that mean in practical terms?

It means that every line ADVANCES the story. 

The tendency is to bask in the moment, especially in the reaction shots.  Every line - YES, EVERY LINE - should leave us wondering, rooting, curious, aghast, horrified at what is coming next. 

ex. Heroine steps on the gas to make the red light, and just swerves to miss a traffic cop. She weakly smiles and waves apologetically.

Let's focus on the weak reaction shot.  It shows that the character feels guilty.  Fine, but it's a dead end narrative b/c it does nothing to keep us reading. 

[This is the perfect time for me to take a snack break.  Hint: Don't give me an excuse to eat Cheetos.  Once my face is covered in cheese dust, there's no reason to return to your script.]

Here are some better alternatives:

ex. She taunts him with a "f- you" smile, and speeds up, despite the flashing red lights.  [Horrific! What cop would stand for that disrespect? Must read on...]

ex. Heavy with guilt, she shouts, "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I'm --" Suddenly, she collapses at the wheel.  [Holy cow! Is this woman epileptic? Must read on...]

ex. When the cop pulls her over, she's "penitent" - and palms him a get-out-of-jail-free card.  [Bribery! Good conflict.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: These are called "moving pictures" because something must be moving on the screen.

And yes, there is an hierarchy of snacks.  If I'm deep into my second pint of mint chocolate chip, then you've lost me for good.