Sunday, January 7, 2007

Shane Blackisms

I was reading a blog, Scriptwriting & Script Reading in the UK, WATCHING THE SCRIPT.

Pretty much every book I have read, every class I've attended, every bit of information I've read about screenwriting says the exact same thing. And to the extent that you should be communicating through visuals in as terse a manner as possible, I agree...

But how do we explain writers like... Shane Black. He repeatedly defies this convention, gets scripts made, and no one seems to care that a large portion of his scripts are literally being told directly to the person reading them in a manner that could never "literally" be translated to the screen.

Note, that Shane Black isn't the only one. Lawrence Kasdan does it. Quentin Tarantino does it. The list goes on and on... but Shane Black is probably best known for it.

It donned on me as I read this from the afore mentioned blog:

"The irony of having a ‘sparse script’ to read is that readers and execs will appreciate the ‘easy read’ but they may not ‘get’ the key elements because of ‘what the writer hasn’t written’. That’s where the actors and director come in; that’s their job."

True. But does anyone honestly think that a script that producers may not 'get' because of 'what the writer hasn't written' is going to even get the chance for an actor or director to "come in?" More likely than not, the reason a producer will assume he did not 'get' the script is BECAUSE of the writing. That is not a good reflection on the writer.

Get real. You're the writer. Not just a writer... a screenwriter. It is your job to be understood... by anybody!

If you look at Shane Black scripts... the places where Shane Blackisms run rampant are places in which writing a screenplay pales in comparison to a movie. He makes sure that the reader sees his vision of the story -- in cinematic terms.


Pats his jeans ... Realizes his wallet has flown free during the fracas.

Scoops to retrieve it from its resting place on the sand,

where it lies open, and as it lies open, yes, folks, that is a badge we see.

Riggs, we realize, is an officer of the law.

Shane Black is one of the most terse screenwriters around. And yet he does this... and it works.


I'd even go so far as to argue, Shane Blackisms are the parentheticals of description.


Moviequill said...

like with Charlie Kaufmanisms, they are the only one who can get away with it consitantly, since they broke the mold then they should be allowed the glory... any of us who follow will be branded a copier and not an original voice... it is up to us to find our own uniqueness

James said...

A writer should always have their own unique voice.

Just because I call them Shane Blackisms, doesn't mean I think everyone should write like Shane Black.

I do, however, think Blackisms can be used as a tool in the screenwriter's toolbox.

Dave said...

I think that since Lethal Weapon those type comments picked up a lot, but that these days, it's really seen as copying an old style.

I haven't seen anything of his since Last Boy Scout, so I don't know if he's still doing it, but after Lethal Weapon he could have written a script on toilet paper and sold it.

Again - we don't recommend that either.

I think Shane and Lawrence are special writers who both made their name with more than snide asides to the audience. The example you quote has one small aside, but it's 4 lines of action and it's easily and quickly read. If you can write 3 other lines like him, I'd imagine you'd get away with the 4th :)

James said...

Exactly the point.

Rather than saying, this never works, as screenwriting books often do, this is an examination at why the asides work.

Scott the Reader said...

I'm not sure it adds all that much.

If you write the wallet scene straight:

Riggs pats his jeans, and then sees his wallet on the sand. It has flipped open, revealing a badge.

I think it's just as effective, if not more -- because you don't have the annoying (to me) beat in which Shane Black feels he has to point out to the reader that Riggs is a cop, just in case we aren't bright enough to get it. Feh.

James said...

I guess it's a matter of opinion. The badge on the ground reads as very convenient to me. It also borders on cliche (even for the time) and seems like the writer couldn't think of anything better.

For me, without the little extra, I would have disliked the scene.

Oh, great this crazy guy is a cop too... /eyes roll.

It simply reads so over the top that I would otherwise find it hard to have faith in story or the writer.

But the asides act as an acknowledgment that things are over the top. It is there as if to say, bear with me... this'll work.

And I cut him slack because of it.

That is not to say they don't get annoying at times, as well... The asides during the fight at the end I find completely unnecessary. But the majority are crucial for my personal enjoyment and suspension of disbelief.

And the introduction of Riggs, both the talking to the dog (that isn't even his) and the convenience of the badge is really stretching things for me. The asides help.

Joe Valdez said...

Another thing that was in vogue for a while was the long, jokey title, like Untitled Teenage Sex Comedy That Can Be Made For Under $10 Million That Most Readers Will Probably Hate But I Think You Will Love. Adam Herz let Universal figure out what they wanted to name the project, while he was busy counting his money.

I got to hear William H. Macy talk about screenwriting a couple of years ago, and one of the many cool things he mentioned was that - as an actor - he didn't care for scripts loaded with jokey directions. His exact comment was, "If you can't act it and you can't shoot it, don't write it."

Hmmm, quandry. I guess if you want to get your script to a William H. Macy, you have to entertain a lot of secretaries and mid-level studio executives with your clever writing first. Just make sure it's funny.

Michael Ferris said...

I think you've written a great post here - I think the most important factor into why Shane Black or Kasdan write the way they do is because they CAN. A professional screenwriter has the luxury of writing whatever style he chooses, as long as it conveys the story well and it's a concept the studios want to make. On the other hand, amateur writers CAN'T write this way because there is a danger that they will be seen as unprofessional, copycats, or that they plain dont know how to write a script. It is BECAUSE they are professional that Black and Kasdan can get away with it, because they are already viewed as hot sh*t and people know them as good writers. Joe Blow on the street isn't known as professional or as a good writer by default of him being assumed to be an amateur because he is one.

That was a rather long winded explanation, but I hope it conveyed the idea properly.