Sunday, May 22, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #80 WGA Script of All Time - Witness (1985)

[Quick Summary: After a young Amish boy witnesses a cop being murdered in the big city, an Internal Affairs cop takes the boy and his mother back to the Amish to protect them from a killer.]

When I read spec scripts, I see many writers (including myself) fall into the trap of a lousy protagonist introduction.

Here's a typical example:

JOHN DOE, 22, a hip hop wannabe, wears run down sneakers and a ripped t-shirt.  He's 6'2", handsome with brown hair and blue eyes.

"But wait!" you say. "What's so bad about that?"

Let me list the ways:

1) I know very little about John's mental state.  Yeah, you heard me. Is he worried? Happy?

2) I expect every word to be important. Is his height going to pay off later? Does his eye color change later? If not, then realize right now: I WILL FORGET YOU WROTE THIS.

3) This is a static description. There is no movement.

Here's the intro of John Book in "Witness".  Pay attention.

"The diffused shape of faces behind the frosted glass of the mens' [sic] room door, which is pushed open to reveal, JOHN BOOK, who comes striding through to be momentarily lost in the crowd of police, reporters and others. He is about 40, with a rangy, athletic body."

OK, this is a long intro, but it got me interested.

1) I know that John Book is a no-nonsense guy just by his walk. He's focused, on a mission.

2) Brevity & conciseness here. He's 40, i.e., he's not a rookie. He's rangy & athletic, i.e., he's got some ability to protect & defend.

3) He's in motion.  My mind's eye tracks John as he travels out of the men's room, which was the crime scene. What was he doing in there?  Is he a good guy? Bad guy? I want to know more.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: An introduction should keep the reader's eye moving, & only relay what is absolutely necessary (if in doubt, leave it out).

Witness (1985)
by Earl W. Wallace & William Kelley

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