Monday, August 30, 2010

"We see" - to use or not to use

Last week on Twitter, I expressed my incredulity that a Done Deal Pro thread on whether or not to use "we see" in your screenplay had grown to 8 pages in only about a day or so. I know in the past that both Scott Myers and I have been surprised at just how drawn out and contentious these arguments over formatting minutiae can become. It's almost as if people are more passionate about how they write than they are about writing good material, and that's just sad.

Naturally, this only provoked a dozen or so people to ask me on Twitter what I thought about the use of "we see."

As with a lot of these nuances, the answer tends to be "It's okay if you use it in moderation, preferably sparingly."

When I write, I try not to use it unless absolutely necessary. I know there are a few pros who took such exception to the "NEVER use this" advice that they actually counted how many times they used it in their writing and then noted that such usage surely didn't prohibit the script from being sold.

My feeling is that 90% of the time it's redundant. Your action descriptions are supposed to be all visual, so if you're writing it, the assumption is we're seeing it. After all, you don't write "We hear" before every line of dialogue, do we?

The one clear exception has already been pointed out somewhere in that thread - that "we see" is valuable when we're trying to limit what the audience sees and then replicate that limitation for the viewer. Someone noted that in an Indiana Jones script, there's a "we see" that introduces a character wearing a fedora and leather jacket, though he's only shown from behind. Obviously, the "we see" is used to offer that description and give the impression that the character is Indiana Jones when that is not in fact the case.

So it's definitely useful when limiting the information the reader has. I wouldn't dispute that at all.

However, as with capitalizing and underlining, this "rule" exists because there are always a healthy sampling of newbies who overindulge. I once read a script that started nearly every paragraph with "we see" and after a while it just got to be annoying. It was a pretty clear PASS. However, I hasten to add that the Pass wasn't because of the "we sees," just that the "we sees" were merely symptoms of this writer's lack of skill.

If all the dialogue in a script sucks, the answer is not "Never write dialogue," it's, "learn to write better dialogue." And if all the uses of "we see" in a script reach such an epidemic proportion that it becomes cluttered and annoying to follow, the answer is "learn to use the tool properly."

Just my take. Bring on the pitchforks!


  1. I'm with you, Bitter. I had the displeasure of reading "Priority Run" last week, and the writer even went so far as to describe a truck thundering past as "shaking us in our seats."

    That really took me out of an already cliched script -- we're not IN the world of the movie, we're in the theater experiencing Dolby surround. Bad move.

  2. I don't like the "we see" stuff because I feel like it puts a buffer between the reader and the action. Instead of telling me we hear something, just let me hear it.

  3. What's your take on the three brad vs. two brad controversy? :)

  4. Great timing on this post.. this just came up for a me a week ago.. it was a short, and it had one lone "we see". Obviously didn't need to be included, but I'm noticing a lot of open assignment/purchased scripts have "we see" more often. I almost get the feeling that some producers prefer more blatant direction. ie dumbed down for understanding. I'm not really a fan, but sometimes it's way easier to direct the camera with "we see", since camera directions are unwanted and hoaky, at least in specs.

  5. Coming from a new media/novel background I don't like using "we see". Simply because it breaks the fourth wall to me.

    It make me feel like someone is reading over my shoulder and I need to scoot over so they can see what I'm seeing.

  6. I completely agree. I feel when I read an action, "we're already seeing" it, so it feels pointless. And to go off what Emily Blake said, every time a script points out to me, the reader/audience, that I'm seeing it, it pulls me out of the story, instead of letting me immerse myself in it. Besides, there are more creative ways of saying "We See" when trying to point out ONLY specific visuals. The Indiana Jones example could have been written with..."From behind, there he is. Fedora. Leather Jacket. Whip." If we already know Indiana Jones' trademarks, then all we need is that information. "Then, he turns, but it's... Not Indiana Jones (or Whoever Not-Indiana Jones character is supposed to be)." Imagery solved. And more interesting to read (though that's not even creative, but more creative than "We See").

    Since we're at it, what's everyone's thoughts on "BEAT"?

  7. "Beat" to me is useful if you don't use it too much. The only time I use it is when a character says something profound or shocking.

    Instead of writing "Everyone in the room sits around, mouths agape unable to respond" I'll just write "Beat". Then resume with the story action.

    But then again, I'm an amateur hack.

  8. Wait, so I shouldn't have "we hear" before every line of dialogue?

  9. Sometimes it can be a struggle not to write we see. But really, I think it's just lazy. There are plenty of words available to work around this description crutch. But coming up with a creative solution forces a writer to put a lot of thought into the action of the script, which for me at least is not the fun part. In the end though, if a script with a handful of we sees sells, it's not going to matter to anyone how unnecessary that phrase is.

  10. For the most part I can see how a writer's "skill" can be judged by something as basic as over using a crutch but if the content surrounding that crutch is excellent, than who is being lazy, the writer or the reader? Real decision makers filtering scripts for houses can be lazy as well and I for one wouldnt want someone that can't look past a simple repetitive word to be the one fielding my script. Avatar is filled with these kinds of crutches but no one is filtering a script written by the director so suddenly crutches are ok? Movie was made. If the story is phenomenal, "we see" can't keep it down. Practice proper format and worry more about great stories!! :)

    1. I agree. In the case of describing a love scene on a bed. " On the floor we see two thongs thrown over empty wine glasses. Moving slowly up to the bed, we see two pairs of sexy feet intertwine as they rub on each other. continuing to move along the well tone pair of legs, we see a tattoo of a flower below one ass cheek as the other ass grinds all over it." What I wanted to do here is not reveal the characters face but let the audience figure out who these two people are. So if I don't use the " we see" then the reader might not know I want the camera to only focus on those specific part of the scene. Am I wrong?