Screenwriting, not choreography


In her weekly blog Why The Face, my friend Marsha Mason (more “Hey, there!” than Goodbye Girl) hits briefly on two topics of particular angst in new screenwriters: camera directions and over-written action sequences.

For me, both of these come down to the same issue: the screenwriter’s need to choreograph his or her story so that the reader “sees” the movie as the screenwriter “sees” it.

Below, with permission, I have reproduced Marsha’s original post and my comments on it.


Why The Face, March 1, 2014:

There are two things I’ve noticed of late in a number of the scripts I’ve been reading that you really don’t need to do.  They’re small things, but they can wind up pulling the reader out of your script, when what you really want is them sucked into your story.

1) Camera directions: leave them out. When someone falls in love with your script, the director that attaches to it will be the one to figure out what camera angles they’ll use and when.


2) Detailed descriptions of fight sequences/car chases/long physical comedy bits: once someone falls in love with your script, there will be stunt choreographers, fight directors, and your star actor/comedian, people whose specialty it is to design these sequences for the production, based on the needs/wants of the director/producer/star.

A better idea is to describe the feeling and the tone so the reader knows what you’re aiming for, rather than going on for a page or more.  Ie “An epic car chase ensues.   More Seth Rogen behind the wheel than Al Unser Jr., it goes for blocks, barely missing nuns and orphaned children.”

Essence of, then right back into your story.

My comments:

Couldn’t agree more. Too many people feel they have to direct their screenplay to ensure the reader “sees” what they “saw” in writing it.

In a few screenplays I read recently, the writer went to great lengths to choreograph fight scenes, offering the minutiae of balletic movements.

“Raising his knee, he blocks X’s kick, and then twirls to chop X across the back of the neck. Stunned by the blow, X falls forward but recovers quickly enough to tuck and roll back to his feet. Etc. Etc. Etc.”

A fight sequence should have a sense of energy, urgency. These are people struggling. You want that to play out emotionally. You want the reader to break out in a sweat, his or her pulse elevating while reading the scene.

Instead, you slow down the reading with lengthy descriptions. The reader has to wade through line after line of description.

As Marsha describes, you can offer the fight in broader strokes to elicit feeling or tone.

Alternatively, you can present a sequence in short, staccato phrases and sentences. It is like having 20 hockey players firing pucks at you, at will. You become powerless in the onslaught, never precisely sure from where the next shot is coming.

Because the descriptions are short, they take little time for the reader to absorb before he or she moves onto the next one. Each line comes faster and faster, until the reader finds him or herself in the fight.

And then suddenly, it is over and the reader is left drained, but exhilarated.

In action sequences, less is more.



(Note: The above sequence is from my latest screenplay The Naughty List, a holiday-themed film for adults. Think The Santa Clause meets Good Morning, Vietnam.)

3 thoughts on “Screenwriting, not choreography

  1. Pingback: Bobby Newberry Talks Transition From Choreography To Music

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