Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Reader questions: Day 3

Robert asks:

What's your take on having v.o. in the opening image? Understand it's not being used as blatant exposition but rather to give a bit of backstory and set the tone. It's also the only v.o. in the script. I ask because it really works in the context of the script but there seems to be a universal rule out there to not to have v.o. in the opening image of a spec script.

Well, you earn a few points for it being used to set the tone more than exposition, but then you lose some by saying it's the only voiceover in the script. Though it is a bit funny that you say it's not for blatant exposition, but rather to give backstory. Backstory and exposition are virtually synonymous.

My feeling on this is that it always seems strange to me when a movie opens with voiceover and then doesn't revisit it at all over the course of the story. I'd need to see it in context to really evaluate this, but my question to you would be: Would the script suffer for removing it? Is it essential, or is it an indulgence?

If I open a script and the first thing I see is voiceover, I'm going to expect that particular character to remain as the narrator and that narration to be used throughout the script. Now if it's an omniscient narrator, then my "exposition alert" really will go off. I'm sure that people will point out professional examples of this - "War of the Worlds" comes to mind - but be cautioned that it can read awkwardly.

Scott queries:

A big fan of your blog, and I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions if you do not mind.

1) The generally accepted wisdom has been that if you want to make it as a feature film writer, you need to live in LA. Is that still true?

To get established as a Hollywood writer, you pretty much have to live here. If you're going to try to get your script in front of agents you're seeking representation with, or producers you're hoping to sell to, you'll need to be able to meet them face-to-face. Email and phone meetings won't be enough. The few instances of people being able to sell their script and still live in Peoria are the exception. Plus, even after you sell your first spec, you'll want to stay out here in order to take meetings for rewriting your work and other work-for-hire projects.

2) If you live overseas like I do, would you recommend moving to LA to get started, or is the economy so bad that I should wait until it picks up before moving?

The economy is so terrible that I'd advise anyone with a semi-stable lifestyle to sit tight and wait for it to pick up. The job market in LA is in terrible shape, both in and out of the industry, so it can be hard to find ways to support yourself. Since you're coming from abroad with presumably few contacts, I'd say that would be doubly true in your case.

If you somehow are able to either arrange a job situation before you move across the pond, or if you have a very understanding friend in LA who either needs a roommate or is amiable to letting you crash on his couch, then it MIGHT be feasible to move here. Might.

And before you move, make sure you've got enough money saved to support yourself for at least six to eight months without a job.

Noreen wrote:

Things I read on your blog and others have led me to conclude that male and female readers like different things. Duh!

Example, I read female readers don't like graphic sex scenes and they think the writer is creepy, then I read a male reader say the sex scenes are not graphic enough for him and pls pile on the explicit details.

Should I pander to a male or female reader?

I'm in a bind here because I've never heard of a male reader saying that the sex scenes aren't graphic. I have seen plenty of examples of readers - male and female - rolling their eyes and flat out laughing at sex scenes overwritten to the point of reading like a bad romance novel. Those are the kinds of passages that often provoke a reader to stop what they're doing, walk across the office and show the scene to their friends, saying "You've got to read this."

I've covered my own feelings on these sorts of scenes twice before.

As far as choosing which gender to pander to, that never even enters my mind as a writer. I don't think it's as easy as saying "Male readers like this, but women like this." Write in the least skeevy, least awkward way.

That's it for the questions, folks. Don't be shy about sending in more.


  1. I'm dumbfounded at how point-of-view can be used in film through narration devices that violate all the basic physics of the story. Presumably if a person is telling us a story they are either God (Morgan Freeman usually) or someone involved in the events that took place in which case they have to have been around to have a reason to know why everything happened as well as have a purpose for having been chosen by the writer as the character best used to tell the story. And in some movies the narrator opens the story but never closes it. Did the narrator pass out as he was telling the story? Fall asleep? Die? Then how is the movie continuing? Who's telling us the story?

  2. What about living in NYC, though? It's even bigger than L.A! Yeah, I want to move to L.A, but it doesn't seem possible anytime soon, but I might be able to move to the east coast next year, hopefully.

    So, do screenwriters still have a shot if they live in New York?

  3. Thanks for your thoughts Zuul.

    The opening v.o. is from the protagonist, i.e. American Beauty (not that I'm comparing my stuff to Ball)

    By blatant exposition I mean "I was born in 1959, the son of a sheepherder...". Mine is more tonal, the protagonist giving his thoughts on urban decay (yeah it isn't a comedy).

    Deaf Indian, I live in NYC and know a few writers more established than me (agent, manager, etc) who also live here so it can work. But many of them got their careers off the ground in LA then moved east.

  4. I read a review on Scriptshadow of a script about white farmers in Mugabe's Zimbabwe, and the reviewer dismissed the whole concept as hopelessly uncommercial - a "competition script". That disappointed me: I would have thought that topic had enough inherent drama to make it viable. So my question is, are there any settings or situations that you can't make a commercially successful movie from, and how do you know what the audience will tolerate?