Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Breakdown

When I'm hired to do breakdowns or schedules for producers based on a screenplay they have in development, I'm always blown away. Why? After reading the screenplay several times and 'tagging it', there are SO MANY SCENES ABOUT NOTHING. Followed closely by crap that is unfilmable.

These 'breakdowns' are also referred to as 'boarding', a process of organizing the film into a literal or theoretical shoot. This helps in budgeting, of course, and logistics...really, it's all about how much money are we spending? Some of you may know this, but a board is made up showing the scene numbers, the characters, physical elements (cars, stunts, effects etc). The scene is identified by both number and by logline, a description of the scene just sufficient for its ID eg., Johnny looks at the map. Will Dixon falls down the stairs. I was preparing one this weekend and have done so many I have lost count. I looked at the board when it was finished, reading the loglines, and saw that three of the scenes had the 'same logline'. Actually, A LOT of the scenes had similar loglines. I re-read and realized that those scenes are indeed about the same thing.

What's my advice? If you can't figure out what the scene is about CUT IT. If it is necessary, than only once.

They say you get to make a movie three times. When you write it, when you shoot it, and when you cut it. I believe one really doesn't start to learn how to write a script until on has been on a set. On the set you learn the difference between what is filmable and what are merely pretty words. Some screenplays I breakdown as a First AD read like a personals column. The descriptions of characters are: beautiful, smart, funny, likes long walks in the park, honest, sexy. Others are about what can be seen out the window in a particular office. Better yet,'She's the kind of girl who....', which you can write all day but neither helps an actor or director or me in helping to implement it. All of these scripts read like begging letters that are trying to please. What's wrong with trying to please? Nothing. But all that gobblygook has worked not to please the audience but some co-dependent or mysterious 'other' that has little baring on the story.

Another says it better than I....

A script is a succession of scenes, each scene must end so that the protagonist is thwarted in his/her goal - so that he/she is forced to go to the next scene to get what they want. That's it . That's all you really need. The scene need not be ' interesting', 'meaningful' 'revelatory of character', and so on, all of these are synonyms for 'it stinks on ice'. - David Mamet

Another peice of advice: Use some of your development money to do a preliminary breakdown and have your screenplay 'boarded'. It'll be an eye-opener in terms of what is filmable and give you a fighting chance to see it going beyond gathering dust on your book shelf.

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