Today, just a quick interruption of our exposition study to share a review I posted last night of Ger's hilarious script, Journey to the Island of Killer Dinosuars!, which was the latest Screenplay of the Month nominee on TriggerStreet. Although his script did not win (lost to Stephen Garvey's hilarious The Ten-Timer), Ger garnered some praise and generally high marks from ScriptShark including an "Excellent" rating for his dialogue.
Yet, there were some fairly thoughtless comments and "Needs Work" ratings in their their coverage that just... really irked me.
Hope you enjoy it.
Let's Spank the Shark
FAUX PAS #1
"The screenwriting mechanics could use a bit of a polish. The sluglines on page 1 are in the correct format (i.e. EXT. OXFORD UNIVERSITY – DAY) but then are truncated so they only read 'CORRIDOR' or 'PRENDERGHAST’S OFFICE.' The correct formatting pops in every time the script moves to a new location, suggesting that the author merely doesn’t know that the full slugline needs to be used for every scene, regardless if several successive scenes are taking place in the same building. Other than that, the rest of the script seems to conform to industry standards."
Bwaaah ha ha ha ha ha ha WOO ha ha ha ha ha...
Are you kidding me?
Please, God, tell me that you guys ARE JUST KIDDING. Right?
First, let us assume that you already know quite well (and that I only have to write this for the sake of newbies on TriggerStreet) that the most accessible and widely-followed format book in the industry is Dave Trottier's Screenwriter's Bible (the newer 4th edition). Right? Because you reviewers, of all people, should know exactly what Ger was doing on page 1. With "CORRIDOR" and "PRENDERGHAST'S OFFICE," Ger's using a perfectly acceptable industry standard technique that we in the biz call "secondary slugs," a.k.a, "SECONDARY HEADINGS," which Trottier explains IN GREAT DETAIL. Go buy the book. You'll love it. Thus, if you have scenes taking place in the same building or the same general location, writers are quite FREE to use Secondary Headings as much as they like. Not only that, writers can use Secondary Headings for scenes taking place inside and outside that same building, too. Because if Trottier says it can be done, well, it CAN be done. Period.
Let me ask you - how would you handle multiple conversations taking place in different locations at the same party? Like, for example, the wedding reception at the beginning of The Godfather? Secondary Headings - BY THE BUFFET TABLE, ON THE STAGE, IN THE PARKING LOT, etc. How would you handle long tracking shots like the great ones we’ve seen in Stanley Kubrick’s films? Secondary Headings. (I love long tracking shots. There was always a point to Kubrick’s tracking shots, too, you know. Kubrick was, in essence, marrying his characters to their environment and saying, “Hey, look, these characters are products of their environment” or “They are being horribly affected by this environment.”) How would you handle the third act dogfight sequence in Top Gun? Start with EXT. BLUE SKY – DAY and then fill it with Secondary Headings - INSIDE MAVERICK'S TOMCAT, ABOVE THE SEA, INSIDE MIG TWO, etc.
Secondary Headings have had a long and treasured history in cinematic storytelling. There was Lawrence Kasdan with Raiders (I'll never forget those Secondary Headings in that famous opening sequence like "HALL OF SHADOWS" and "CHAMBER OF LIGHT" and "THE SANCTUARY" - didn't know those rooms had names, did you?). Spielberg also used them prolifically in Close Encounters. And there was Ted Tally with Silence of the Lambs (probably the most famous and chilling Secondary Heading in screenwriting history - "DR. LECTER'S CELL"). There was William Goldman with All the President's Men, and John Milius with Apocalypse Now, and Robert Towne with Chinatown, and Paul Schrader with Taxi Driver, and Randall Wallace with Braveheart, and Scott Frank with every script he's ever written but lately Minority Report and The Lookout, and of course, a classic - Herman J. Mankiewicz & Orson Welles with Citizen Kane.
Do I really need to go on?
And you probably knew this, too:
Secondary Headings are so popular right now amongst the pros that some ONLY write Secondary Headings and NO Master Scene Headings AT ALL. Like the Coen brothers. Fargo is one that comes to mind. Or take, for example, their latest script - No Country for Old Men. It's so downright minimalist without any primary slugs at all that it's just plain weird-looking. (I can't say I approve of this, but hey, they're writing for themselves nowadays.) I recently did a review of a Billy Mernit screenplay. (And you guys KNOW who Billy Mernit is, right? He's a published writer and pro reader at Universal.) I didn't mention this in the review, but he didn't use ANY primary slugs either. This is the trend. (Of course, this means nothing to us. We have to continue to follow industry standard format as outlined in Trottier's "Bible" and prove to all those intelligent industry people how well we understand how a screenplay FUNCTIONS. Once we become "established," THEN we can take a left turn at Albuquerque and do crazy things like not write any Master Scene Headings.)
But you guys already knew this because you're not out of touch with current trends, nor ignorant about format or the history of our craft.
FAUX PAS #2
It is high time someone with a wealth of script knowledge sat down to teach you reviewers when to use the "N/A" slot for a wide variety of subjects in that stupid chart at the top of your coverage, because it is beyond absurd that you would apply the same narrow principles to every story in every genre.
BECAUSE THOSE RULES DO NOT APPLY TO EVERY STORY!
Since when did protagonists have character arcs in slapstick comedies? Since when did Monty Python characters have arcs? How about Inspector Clouseau? The Marx Brothers? Abbott and Costello? Martin and Lewis? Chaplin?
The most you can hope for in slapstick comedies are characters who have “blind obsessions,” individuals who fail to see their own flaws or the dangers of their own ridiculous fixations. Got that? Blind obsessions. Ridiculous fixations. Moliere’s life-long career in the theatre was built on that one fundamental, lampooning the ridiculous fixations of the social elite. (And the actors would always play those characters seriously, as if they had no clue they were being ridiculous, and that had us rolling in the aisles.)
Consider the comedy-gold combination of the money-fixated Max Bialystock and the producer-fixated Leopold Bloom. Or Oscar Madison living with the germ-obsessed Felix Ungar. Or the war-fixated General “Buck” Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove. Or the sex-obsessed teens in countless movies. Or any of a number of Woody Allen characters. And Inspector Clouseau was obsessed about being the greatest detective in the world but it never occurred to him that he was always the dumbest man in the room. He fumbled his way into foiling the plans of countless bad guys without ever realizing what actually happened. Then he’d get decorated with honors for his brilliance, and that, my friends, was the big cosmic joke. The moment truth gets revealed, the moment Clouseau realizes he has flaws in his personality and that he needs to change (thereby giving his character an “arc”) will be the very same moment the comedy will die.
And thus, in the latest Steve Martin / Pink Panther incarnation, we had a failure of colossal proportions, because Inspector Clouseau gets outed in the media as the bumbling idiot he always was, he actually REALIZES that he IS a bumbling idiot, he APOLOGIZES to different people if he made them look silly, and then he SOLVES the big case thereby proving to the world that he is, in fact, a brilliant detective.
Question - can protags in slapstick comedies have arcs? Yes. Is it essential that every protag in every comedy has an arc? ABSOLUTELY NOT. And that's ESPECIALLY true if those comedies are within a franchise, which is exactly what Ger is writing.
The point is this - many of these kids work long and hard (sometimes years) studying their genres and getting their scripts right and there is no excuse for being ignorant about their genres in your coverage. At all. And there is absolutely no excuse for being wrong about format when you could easily look it up. You owe it to them to give them the kind of thoughtful analysis they really deserve.