Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Look at "The Dark Knight" Script


I must say, this may very well be the best script of the year.

The Dark Knight is 167 pages, all of which flies by just as quickly as the 2 ½ hour film. Everything that’s great about the film is evident on the page. The Nolan brothers are entirely focused on their story. They’re relentless about the tension, suspense, and
inner conflicts, while also being thoroughly professional about the script’s presentation. There are no distractions on the page, like bad grammar or bad format. It’s so polished that once you’re sucked into the story, they keep you there without letting your mind get kicked offline with hiccups like poor grammar, which reminds you that you’re only reading a screenplay. When you read DK, you are in that world and you will stay there until the story’s over. Nolan reminds me of
Anthony Minghella in the sense that he’s a writer-director that refuses to inject into his scripts all kinds of technical details like camera angles and transitions.

On the page, it’s ALL about story.

So let me ask a question. How would you write the opening shot of the film? You may recall the glorious Imax-inspired view of the city and the slow zoom in on one building, then one window, which shatters. How do you write that without camera angles or "we see?" Here you go:

DAYLIGHT. Moving over the towers of downtown Gotham… Closing in on an office building… On a large window… which shatters to reveal -

INT. OFFICE, HIGH RISE – DAY

A man in a CLOWN MASK holding a SMOKING SILENCED PISTOL ejects a shell casing. This is DOPEY. He turns to a second man, HAPPY, also in a clown mask, who steps forward with a CABLE LAUNCHER, aims at a lower roof across the street and FIRES a cable across. Dopey secures the line to an I-beam line – CLAMP on – sends a KIT BAG out then steps OUT the window…

EXT. HIGH-RISE – DAY

…into space. The men SLIDE across the DIZZYING DROP… landing on the lower roof across the street.

I love it! “Moving over the towers of downtown Gotham… Closing in on an office building… On a large window… which shatters…” I’ll take that. The camera directions are implied. No technical details like “zoom in” and “angle on.” No “we see.” The ellipsis implies the time that goes by as we slowly move toward the window in one take. And the words inspire the imagination with a visual vocabulary that places the mind’s eye over the city of Gotham and flying toward a window. And you’re immediately sucked in because you know something not so nice is about to happen in the city of Gotham led by the Joker.


Consider this sequence, which was cut. This shows us how Bruce arrived in Hong Kong and would’ve followed Fox’s business meeting.

INT. HOLD, C-130 CARGO HAULER – DAWN

Two SMUGGLERS steal glances at Wayne, crouched at the rear in balaclava and flight suit. The COPILOT signals Wayne, who pulls on his oxygen mask and stands up. The rear of the plane OPENS. Wayne steps to the edge, then JUMPS.

EXT. SKIES ABOVE HONG KONG – DAWN

Moving across the water toward Hong Kong harbor…

A tiny figure drops into frame, PLUMMETING towards the water – SPEEDING past the highest floors of skyscrapers, seconds from impact. Wayne PULLS the chute – DROPS into the water…

EXT. BENEATH FREEWAY, HONG KONG HARBOR – DAY

Wayne pulls himself out of the water, dragging up his pack.

This would’ve been followed by the scene where Wayne and Fox meet, and Fox shows him his special sonar cell phone.


Consider this Hong Kong rooftop scene, similar to the opening shot.

EXT. HONG KONG – NIGHT

Moving toward the tallest building in the glittering skyline to find Wayne, crouched on the roof. The blades of his gauntlets CLICK into place. He dons the helmet-like cowl. His “cape” is in the form of a hard faceted PACK.

He stands – pulls two black boxes from his belt, CLICKS them together and UNFOLDS them into a RIFLE-LIKE DEVICE. Batman SCOPES a second, lower building. Adjust a setting and FIRES – four times…

Four small STICKY BOMBS SLAP onto the glass of the lower building. They have visible timers which are COUNTING DOWN.



Here’s where he leaps off the building.

EXT. ROOFTOP OVERLOOKING L.S.I. HOLDINGS

Batman LAUNCHES into the glittering night, DROPPING from the tall tower… his pack BURSTS OPEN, becoming his BAT WINGS – he GLIDES down to the lower building, STREAKING around it, BANKING HARD to line up with a window in the rear…

INT. LAU’S OFFICE, L.S.I. HOLDINGS – NIGHT

Lau is talking on the phone, staring at a profit projection on a flat screen monitor. Suddenly, the room goes dark.

EXT. L.S.I. HOLDINGS – CONTINUOUS

As Batman HURTLES towards the glass he collapses his wings, WRAPPING his cape around himself and CANNONBALLING THROUGH THE GLASS –

INT. LAU’S OFFICE SUITE, L.S.I. HOLDINGS – NIGHT

- ROLLING across the floor in a flurry of broken glass…

I look at these sequences and think about how wordy amateur scripts would’ve been to describe the same thing. I usually switch between pro and amateur scripts and the differences are stunning. Pro scripts can have problems with stories just like amateur scripts but they always move quicker. Amateurs too often think small and move too slow while describing incidentals, like room descriptions and the slightest gestures of characters while they have conversations. With the Nolan brothers, only the most essential details were incorporated into the script. They didn’t have time to dilly-dally with slight gestures or room descriptions. They kept it moving. And it’s totally engrossing. There’s something to be said about explaining EVERYTHING vs. explaining JUST ENOUGH to spark the imagination of the reader.


Above is early concept work of the Joker from a DK production book.

There weren’t too many changes from what was on the page to what was in the finished film. In the opening bank heist sequence, the script did not give us the big close-up of Joker’s face as we saw in the film. Instead, when the Joker said his line and took off his clown mask, the script called for a shot of the Bank Manager gasping at the site of his face, but we would only see reflections of different parts of the Joker's grotesque face on the glass debris on the floor lying all around the Bank Manager. Of course, the close-up feels right.


In the fancy restaurant scene, you may recall that Dent told Rachel it took him three weeks to get a reservation and he had to tell them he works for the government. Well, there are two lines that were cut in the exchange between Bruce, Rachel, and Dent, when Bruce crashed their date, which revealed the fact that Rachel knew Bruce was jealous of Dent and actively trying to sabotage their dates.

Wayne: Let’s put a couple of tables together.
Dent: I don’t know if they’ll let us –
Wayne: They should. I own the place.
Rachel: For how long? About three weeks?
Wayne: How’d you know?

The whole point of Dent saying it took him three weeks was to setup the joke that Wayne bought the restaurant three weeks ago just to give Dent a really hard time when it comes to dating Rachel.

I’d like to mention the scene where the Joker crashed the meeting of the mobsters with Lau in that hotel kitchen. In the finished film, the scene’s perfection. But the way the scene played out in the script was different and off. In the film, you had the meeting. You had Lau on a TV screen explaining how he moved all their money without telling them, which is intercut with shots of Gordon and the police trying to seize the funds only to find the money gone. Then, the Joker enters, changes the dynamics of the situation, and the scene ends with a shot of him backing out of the kitchen with all those explosives. In the script, we had the meeting, just like the film. We had Lau on a TV screen explaining how he moved the money, which is interrupted by the Joker who makes a different proposition about Batman. Then he leaves and says, “Let me know when you change your minds.” The mobsters turn back to Lau who finishes talking about the money, which is intercut with shots of Gordon and the police. That doesn’t work. It devalues the Joker’s influence. Plus, a scene has to be a shift in values of some kind. It starts on one value and ends on a different one. Once the Joker arrives, the dynamics of the whole situation changes, and the emphasis should be on him at the end of the scene.

One other change in this scene is that we would’ve learned the money the Joker acquired from the bank heist helped buy his new purple suit. Maroni told Lau that the Joker was just a “two-bit whack job” that “wears a cheap purple suit and make-up.” When the Joker enters later and does the pencil trick, he says to Maroni, “And by the way, the suit wasn’t cheap. You should know. You bought it.” Hehehe

There was also a change in the timing of when Dent reveals his face in the hospital room. In the script, Dent shows his face in the middle of the scene. In the finished film, they moved the dialogue around to let him reveal his face toward the end of the scene, which is better. Scenes are setups and payoffs. Save the payoffs for the end of the scene.

Do you know how much money was in that cargo hold – a billion dollars, which the script described as thirty feet high.


Three other impressions from the script:

1) The Joker wasn’t crazy for the sake of being crazy. They gave him a clear philosophical world view that defined who he was and why he did what he did, which found its origins in
The Killing Joke. Plus, the dialogue for the Joker is such a great reminder to new writers that you have to give actors a chance to really act through the dialogue.

2) The Nolans have a kind of magician’s approach to holding our attention in a story, like the pencil trick. What’s he talking about? How is he going to make the pencil disappear? Then, payoff. Or that scene in the Pool Hall where Gambol was told they have the Joker’s dead body. You know perfectly well the Joker’s not dead, but you keep watching because you have questions. Who’s in the bag? What’s the trick? How is the Joker going to act? What’s going to happen? Of course, you ask that with just about any evil scenario the Joker created, too, because you’re curious about how it’s going to play out. Creating questions in the minds of your readers makes them want to continue reading. It's the oldest trick in writing.

3) The tension and suspense are still the best elements of the film. Consider all the ways time was used to heighten the suspense. Every day Batman fails to reveal himself, people will die. Then, we’d know who was the target and we'd keep watching because we’re curious if or how the Joker will get to that target. “Depending on the time, he might be in one spot… or several.” He had “just minutes left” to save either Rachel or Dent. The way the Joker parceled out crucial information about his new game quickly heightened the tension in that interrogation scene with Batman. Then there was the commercial – tonight at five o’clock, we’ll reveal the identity of Batman. Stay tuned. Or the Joker’s phone call – “If Coleman Reese isn’t killed in sixty minutes, I’m going to blow up a hospital.” Or the ferry situation – If you don’t blow-up the other ferry by midnight, I’ll blow-up both of your ferries.

Thanks to Mr. Daniel Cova for sharing with me The Dark Knight (and a few other) scripts. While this spec’s not available yet, I have no doubt that the script for a film this popular will eventually hit the web.

-MM

54 comments:

Christian M. Howell said...

Good look at a great script. I actually found the script over at Cinematical but it seems to be hiding from me.
I'm glad the movie was close to the script. I've read through tons of scripts while watching the movie and it's amazing how much can change.
I too believe in the economy of words in screenplays.

Specific descriptions only work well for horror where you want creaks, groans, flashing lights and surprise environments.

I'm curious though what you think about the full slug lines in the sequences. I tend to avoid them almost like the plague.
Though I would never deign to second guess someone who has sold scripts and made movies I just got hooked on secondary slug lines.

Nick said...

Great analysis. I agree completely. The bank scene where Joker's revealed works so much better without the glass trick because it needed the punchline to punctuate the scene. The whole scene leads up to some kind of big reveal, and they really deliver with the extreme CU.

It's nice to know the screenplay was as brisk as the final product.

AJ

deepstructure said...

i'm surprised by all the capitalization. you make a point of not being taken out of the script by bad grammar, but i found all the caps a bit distracting, even as an experienced script reader.

i was under the impression that's an old-school technique that's fallen/ing out of favor - especially when used for sounds. but i don't know that i've ever seen action descriptors capitalized so much, this being a prime example:

"Batman LAUNCHES into the glittering night, DROPPING from the tall tower… his pack BURSTS OPEN, becoming his BAT WINGS – he GLIDES down to the lower building, STREAKING around it, BANKING HARD to line up with a window in the rear…"

Luzid said...

"helmut-like" - that's a typo, right? : )

Also, it was midnight, not eleven. :p

Matt said...

Bad grammar first rears its ugly head in the first sentence - the pistol of the man in the clown mask ejects a shell casing, not the man himself - but it doesn't matter because it's readable.

When I'm writing, I get tripped up on vocabulary. I would have described a piece of equipment that the clown mask guys take out, and fire a long sturdy cable, etc. etc.

Jonathan Nolan wrote "cable launcher." Knowing those little shortcuts - really, what word to use when describing something technical, is a problem I have in my own scripts, and it's nice to see an example of people getting it right.

You didn't excerpt it, but I love that during the Joker's 'scar' speech to Rachel, you have this...

"And you know what?"
(starts laughing)
She can't stand the sight of me...
(or crying"

Probably gave all Heath Ledger he needed. Less than 20 words that illuminates character and action.

I want to keep a copy of this script on my desk for reference.

Mystery Man said...

Christian - There were details in the action lines that I would avoid. I didn't think all the caps were necessary, nor the commas in the Master Scene Headings. It wasn't necessary to have a comma and "L.S.I. HOLDINGS" for the headings about Lau's office. We already know that. I would've also written "HONG KONG HARBOR BRIDGE" and then mention in the action lines how, beneath the bridge, Wayne emerges from the water. I seem to recall only one Secondary Heading, which to me makes a read even quicker, but I have no complaints about the use of Master Scene Headings. My biggest complaint was one heading that was, I think, "INT. SAME - LATER". Just write "LATER" as an action. "SAME" is a time switch for a Master Scene Heading.

Nick - Thanks, man.

Deep - I would agree. The caps were a bit excessive at time. It really is old school, and Trottier makes a point of this in his book.

Luzid - AHHH! It's been fixed. Thanks!

Matt - Yeah, I noticed that, too, about Joker's monologue! I thought it was great. I meant to mention the parentheticals. They really handled that well. I loved the "(off look)" for the big dog joke in that early scene with Alfred. It's a waste of space to write an action line about Alfred's look and then write another character line and dialogue. "(off look)" keeps the spec humming along.

-MM

Laura Deerfield said...

Re: the CAPS
While I prefer not to use them, try this experiment, scan the script, reading only the CAPS.

CLOWN MASK, SMOKING SILENCED PISTOL - DOPEY. HAPPY - CABLE LAUNCHER, FIRES, CLAMP KIT BAG... OUT

SLIDE, DIZZYING DROP


The essential bits are highlighted, so you can skim it and still get the idea. It works great if you really are just skimming, but when you try to actually read, it can be distracting.

Susan P. said...

I've just scanned your article and will come back to it later but how did they get away with such a long script? Is it because they were already 'known'? I'm asking because newcomers are always admonished about script length.

Susan P. said...

"SAME" is a time switch for a Master Scene Heading.

What do you mean by this?

Joshua James said...

I LOVE Caps, as you well know. I just love 'em.

Mim said...

The CAPS were a distraction for me too, but Laura's explanation makes sense.

Also, I think the point can be made that the Nolans wrote this script more for themselves than anybody else, so they needed to use language that would be clear to them.

Joshua James said...

I don't know why people find caps distracting, I really don't.

Max-bro.net said...

Thanks for sharing bits of this brilliant script, MM. It does read fast in its non-traditional format. But I wonder if this is because the Nolans already shared a mutual understanding of what the movie would look like, or at the least what some of the nuances would be, as they wrote this script.

It's almost as though a lot of the little things, the camera cuts, were discussed on their own, rather than incorporating them into the script as many screenwriters do when they have to write something that can easily translate to anyone. I wonder if this had been written by someone else if the details would have been as sparse.

Of course, there's no way to know for sure, but I get the sense that TDK was written with a lot of things assumed by the writers, thus allowing them to avoid having to make certain things explicit. Perhaps you can get away with that with Batman, and if you are writing a script for a specific director whom you know well, but I doubt that's something you can do as a general rule.

maria paola said...

Great post, I liked the movie and I'd love to "study" the script.

GabbaGoo said...

Good Script...still think the movie is a tad bit too long.

B said...

I'm curious to know your opinion on the use of ellipses. It seems to be considered no no by some readers.

Ryan said...

I've been out of town for a while on business and I haven't had all that much time to play around on the internet. Finally making it back and I'm impressed with this topic.

Well done... I've enjoyed it.

This is a topic that suprised me and from the looks of the comments... Seems like everyone has read the script. I think I'm the only one who hasn't. I'm curious if I could get a copy of the script, if anyone is willing to lend a hand???

I'd greatly appreciate it.

Neil Brimelow said...

What I am realizing after reading a horde of screenplays, is that EVERY convention that is supposedly not used anymore, IS used, like CAPS.

I just got finished reading the final shooting script for Collateral, and it turned out to be a very difficult read.

Michael Mann, essentially rewrote the spec into his own style and lingo, which worked for him, as he was also the director. However, it really slowed down the flow of the script a LOT.

I am writing a sci-fi/horror/comedy and my opening is set, for all intents and purposes, an alien world. The very fine line that I am walking is providing enough description to adequately describe the alien world and it's inhabitants, flora and fauna, without getting too descriptive. That is the shitty part about writing a spec. The script has to be written within certain parameters otherwise it's chances of even being read, let alone purchased/optioned drop significantly.

I LIKE using caps, sorry it's just my style. I think it's a great way to break up the action in lengthy action scenes or descriptions. Below is an example of how I use CAPS in my writing.

-----------------------------------
At the front of the line is Roan surveying the situation. In front of Roan are stacked rows of cylinder-like plants, stretching for twenty meters, and a massive arched doorway right behind the rows of plants.

ROAN
This is new.

Roan HURLS the dead trooper’s body onto the path in the center of the plants.

Tentacles SHOOT out of each of the cylinder-like bases and make their way to the dead body, “sniffing” the ground as they close in.

The tentacles reach the body, briefly fight over it, then grapple the body, wrapping around it.

Razor sharp blades SPRING from the sides of the tentacles SEVERING the body into several large pieces which fall to the ground.

The plants close in again, and CUT the body up into even smaller pieces, and then drag the pieces back to the base of the plant; the trooper’s head the last body part submerged into the digestive juices in the base of the plant.

The Fire-Spears run up to Roan signaling that they want to burn the plants.
-----------------------------------

The problem I am facing, is that I have a lengthy prologue on PAPER, and that is due to the necessary wordage in describing the alien world and the happenings that the group encounters.

The prologue runs 34 pages, but I timed it out to about 20 minutes in real time.

I have written the prologue so it -can- be left out of the movie without detriment, but my readers so far have really liked the prologue and have told me not to cut it. The good part, is that the prologue, despite the wordy descriptions and actions does flow very well and is an exciting and mysterious read, I.E. the reader can't figure out what is going to happen next, which is what I liked about "The Dark Knight."

terraling said...

Thanks MM for sharing that with us. Those opening lines are a remarkable lesson in brevity.

As good students we are all trying to keep the reader on the page while conjuring up evocative visuals at the same time, and it's easy to tie oneself up in knots trying to control what the reader sees with their mind's eye without reference to "we see's", angles etc. The comments to your recent piece about the unmade Hitchcock movie are a case in point.

It almost feels like cheating, the not-strictly grammatically correct way they write - you can almost feel the omitted "We are's" - We are moving over the towers of downtown Gotham... We are closing in on an office building... But it works beautifully.

It's certainly an art, determining what constitutes "just enough". Maybe you could write some more about it? I would say less is more when it comes to writing action scenes, obviously, but there may be other times when more is appropriate, no? If the setting is unfamiliar, where it feels appropriate to add some more flavour, where we want to take a moment to breath, perhaps if we are setting up some mystery and don't want to race past it? What are your thoughts?

Reading these excerpts from DK, I can't help feeling that we're all reading it with the benefit of having seen the film so we all have the visuals already in our heads. I'm not sure they would be quite so evocative reading from fresh, and agree with comments someone else made that they have the advantage of writing this for themselves.

Perhaps I just too much in love with my own verbage! If we are self-publishing on your blog, here's a few lines of one of my scripts. We've been shown a black crowd crammed into a lounge somewhere watching footage of an assassination on TV. We don't know much about them, and come back to it to reveal a bit more.
---
On the tables food is half-eaten, magazines and books discarded, a chess game abandoned, pastimes overtaken.

The mass of bodies sways slowly, gently left, to right, to left, to right, as if part of some presentient funeral march.

At the doors yet more squeeze in. Beyond them through giant picture windows the horizon rises and falls, rises and falls.

They are on a SHIP.
---
Now, I could have revealed that this crowd of people were on a ship in a single line, but I much prefer the flavour of my existing version.

One last things about formatting. I've been told that in the UK, any form of CAPS other than for character names is an absolute no-no, will mark you out as a rank amateur. That's not codified anywhere, but is a means by which the secret cabal of readers can "guard against the slush pile" while they try and sell their own work.

Ellipses are problematical in dialogue, not in the action lines.

OJ (not that one) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
OJ (not that one) said...

Matt: I noticed the same thing, but found it far from readable. I had to read the sentence three time to make sure I hadn't misread it (and I had already seen the movie).

It's just plain bad English, and the word "which" would have cleared it up without cluttering the page.

(Re-posted due to a blatant grammar error which would have looked really lame considering the topic of my comment.)

terraling said...

Quick one to point anyone looking for the full script to:

http://joblo.com/scripts/The_Dark_Knight.pdf

Link courtesy of simplyscripts.com

Christian M. Howell said...

Hey guys,
I managed to find the Dark Knight script. If anyone wants it, send me an email to darealdjc at yahoo.com.

Nathan Loding said...

I'm a new reader to your blog, MM, and I definitely appreciate what is being said, though I definitely take argument with some of your points. Only in a good way, though :)

I don't necessarily believe in strict rules for any sort of writing. If you have a good reason to break them, do it. Just make sure you have a good reason to. If you're going to put a ton of description to begin your scene, make sure you NEED to.

The same goes for ellipses or the scene headings. I like to use ellipses, but some writers have told me that I should avoid it like the plague and that it's against the rules. I say "Bah!" I also like to be a little more specific with my scene headings, though I don't get super ridiculous with it:

INT. HOUSE - LIVING ROOM - NIGHT
INT. HOUSE - BEDROOM - NIGHT

I'll usually do something like:

INT. HOUSE - NIGHT
THE LIVING ROOM ...
THE BEDROOM ...

What's my trade-off though? I'm aware that my script may not get read. But then again, it may not get read if I follow EVERYTHING that they want to see, and follow all the so-called "rules" of screenwriting.

All that being said, I love reading the script to The Dark Knight, but largely because I had already seen it and could see the development from script to screen.

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

Where can I find a copy of the script? I would love to read it since the movie wasn't subtitled when I saw it :(

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

also, i like the snippets you showed us. The screenplay seems like it would be fun to read, and not just some boring standard screenplay. I think too many screenwriters write scripts in such a boring manner.

Mystery Man said...

Laura – Yup.

Susan – Well, when you read the article, let me know.

Josh – Yes, but you love them in the dialogue.

Mim – I agree.

Max – If this had been written by someone else, the story wouldn’t have been as big or compelling. These boys know what they’re doing. All I have to say is that if you write it, there better be a really important point to it.

Maria – Terraling provided this link.

Gabbagoo- I don’t think so. You want too long and pointless? Watch Lust, Caution. I wanted to slit my wrists. For a story about a murder plot, it’s amazing what little tension and suspense the film contained.

B – I’m okay with using an ellipsis so long as it’s used sparingly.

Ryan – Hey, man! Terraling provided this link.

Neil – You have to be careful, because a screenwriter sending something on spec is a different kind of script than a writer-director on assignment who is essentially writing for himself. If you’re going to send something out on spec, it should be polished, especially newbies. I say follow Trottier’s ”Screenwriter’s Bible.” I would avoid caps. Even if someone were to skim your spec, all they’re going to see are verbs – HURL, SHOOT, SPRING, etc, without any context. Don’t give them the luxury of skimming. Make them read your work and avoid caps.

Terraling – I say “less is more” in every scene. I can’t tell you what to think. You have to figure that one out. But I will say that the more you study the craft, the less you write. It’s true. I love that approach in a scene. I love the questions your putting in our minds in that you’re making us wonder where we are and then you give us the payoff. But I would suggest that you make sure that those details are also essential to the story. If you make us see an unfinished chess game, then it should be part of the story.

Nathan – Hey, man! Great to meet you! I do reviews on TriggerStreet and tend to be strict with format for a variety of reasons. A lot of writers have a natural reaction to the idea of rules, which I get. But that’s not necessarily what format’s about. Format is about making the newbies understand how to write the language of film on paper, which is a different matter altogether. For examples, I will nitpick a writer who has two dashes in their Master Scene Headings. I’ve seen headings like:

INT. NEW YORK CITY – UPPER EAST SIDE APARTMENT – SARAH’S BEDROOM – NIGHT

My question to the writer would be, “If we’re only looking at an interior shot of a bedroom, how will we know it’s an upper east side apartment in NYC? Or for that matter, how will we know she’s in NYC?” This kind of heading makes assumptions about what audiences know that may not translate into film, which creates questions by the director and rewrites, and you need to just get it right the first time. You should only have one dash because it forces you to communicate to the audience through the language of film on paper. Is it crucial that the audience knows that Sarah is in New York City in an Upper East Side Apartment? If yes, then do an establishing shot first, and then just write “INT. SARAH’S BEDROOM – NIGHT”. Or, instead of an establishing shot, mention in the action lines how her window offers a view to NYC. Or bring it out some other way through STORY. Or if you know that we’ll be seeing her walking the streets of NYC later in the story, then don’t sweat it and cut it. If you get into the habit of having multiple dashes in the headings, you will make mistakes with assumptions about audience knowledge that won’t translate. You’re always better off with one dash because it forces you to question how the audience will know these details and is it important? Do you see what I mean? Keep it lean and mean. It’s not a rule so much as it’s there to ensure you’re writing a film on paper. I don’t know if I articulated it well, but when you understand the REASON for the format, you’ll embrace it more, because there’s usually a point to it.

Deaf Brown – Hello, there! Terraling provided this link. By the way, I think too many screenwriters write boring scripts, too.

-MM

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

Mystery Man, so I am curious what you think.

if a screenwriter has a good story but a boring script that's well formatted, polished, but so DAMN BORING TO READ, would that be a problem?

if someone has a wildly interesting fun screenplay that's NOT boring to read regardless of how the story is, would she/he have a better chance at getting it produced?

I ask that cos I am currently reading "Jennifer's Body" and I think it is fun to read. It's not boring at all but it's written non-professionally (constant use of passive verbs, for instance).

I am also currently reading a new screenplay that was just snapped up for preproduction. the story is good and professionally written, but I am honestly bored reading it, lol.

Nathan Loding said...

MM -

Now I agree with what you've said. :) That slug is way too long. INT. SARAH'S BEDROOM - NIGHT is more than enough. I've always thought that working backwards (towards the exterior) is the best policy and rarely have I found a need to go beyond that. Bedroom > Apt. > Building > Upper East Side ... just stick with Bedroom.

But again, what you said in response I agree with, as opposed to what is said in the main post. I agree that everyone needs to learn their foundations, and that they need to be aware of the current standards and "rules," but there are exceptions to every rule. Just make sure your exception is truly an exception.

I guess I'm just tiring of other writer's telling me that this rule or that rule "cannot" be broken for any reason, which is not true. I hope people are trying not to break the rules, but sometimes they must be.

deepstructure said...

"if a screenwriter has a good story but a boring script that's well formatted, polished, but so DAMN BORING TO READ..."

"if someone has a wildly interesting fun screenplay that's NOT boring to read regardless of how the story is..."

what does this mean? are you talking about the style of the writing as separate from the scripted story (i.e., shane black's 'lethal weapon' which included descriptions like 'EXT. POSH BEVERLY HILLS HOME - The kind of house that I’ll buy if this movie is a huge hit.')?

or are you saying something with fun snappy dialog but no story (like i imagine 'jennifer's body' might be)?

Nathan said...

Whilst you're talking about THE DARK KNIGHT script: I heard one of the Nolan brother's mention that the 'transformative arc' of Dent was the major journey he thought the audience would follow and emotionally connect with through-out the film.

Does anyone have a comment on that, seeing that this is a BATMAN movie, with presumably BATMAN as the protagonist...

GameArs said...

I've definitely been working on making my action descriptions as lean, and mean, as possible. This script offers so many great examples of that (and many other things).

Thanks for the examination, MM.

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

deepstructure, I mean:

if a script is well-polished, professional, and straight to the point and has a good story, but still BORING to read, does it have a chance?

if a script is written by an amateur screenwriter and has lots of fun slangs, loosely written sluglines, etc and very fun to read, does it have a chance?

yes, I'm talking about "Jennifer's Body." it falls in the 2nd category. it has a lot of passive verbs and descriptions, which people have told me is a big NO-NO in scripts.

So what do you reckon?

deepstructure said...

honestly it sounds like you're looking for the wrong thing in reading a script.

i still don't understand how a script that is "well-polished, professional, and straight to the point and has a good story," can be boring to read.

when i sit down to read a script, above all i want to get involved. i want to be interested in the characters and where they're going, what's happening next.

sure, punchy description and slang can be fun, but that's icing on the cake. if that's not there i won't miss it (and it could be a serious distraction if it's not suited to the style or genre of the script).

but that to me is not what makes a script boring or exciting to read. it's the content, not the wrapper, that matters to me. consideration of the wrapper only comes into play if it's subtracting from or interfering with the experience, which both "fun" description and poor grammar/spelling can equally do.

an invisible wrapper wouldn't be classified as boring by me.

nestori said...

To make a remark about the movie that seems to be the ideal for good storytelling for many. I'm one the few who didn't like the movie. I would've wanted to see a movie about Batman and his inner conflicts, because the title suggests that, but Batman seemed almost like a side character in the movie. He just appears now and then to kick some criminal butts - that's why the ending didn't work for me either (the chase of Batman and the voice over etc.). Too many characters and too fast pace to get really into the drama. I would've thrown the Two-Face out for starters.

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

what!!! you don't like the movie? HERESY!!!!!!

Okfoxtrot - Jason said...

I loved the film, but where was Bruce's struggle with being Batman? And the final sequences with the boats and the fighting with sonar in the building was very uninteresting.

Mystery Man said...

Deaf - Girl, if you've got a great story and a polished script, don't sweat it! Great stories are always debatable, but if you're on to something good, you'll get support.

Nathan - I hear you, and I thought we would be on the same page.

Nestori - You won't get an argument out of me. I've had other friends say the same thing. The more I see the film, though, the less I complain about it.

Deep - I agree!

Okfoxtrot - I believeBruce struggled with Batman's limitations, did he not?

I need to move on to other articles. Great comments, guys!

-MM

Neil Brimelow said...

"Don’t give them the luxury of skimming. Make them read your work and avoid caps."

Never thought of it like that. Great advice! I am going to remove all caps, unless necessary.

Henry Cruz said...

Wow, really really great insights here...I gave you a link back from my pop culture blog today @ prettyboring.com !!!

keep up the great work, maybe someday I could also write a flick that does 500 mil).

HenryCruz.com

Pram said...

Comic books have all of the important dialog in CAPS, and this is a movie based in part on The Killing Joke, so it makes sense that the script would be written like a comic book.

That said, I've never liked bold, capitalized words in comics. To me, it's like a laugh track on a sitcom; distracting, and self-referential.

Anonymous said...

You know...I agree with you so much on this exam of DARK KNIGHT.

I have to let you and others know...I was writing in that same visual leading style -- without directing or mentioning camera angles-- before and during grad film school at UCLA...and I was still accused of directing on the page.

So...it really has everything to do with WHO YOU ARE...WHO YOU KNOW...and if YOU ARE IN THE SYSTEM or not.

Like one of my teachers told me at UCLA..."...you can write however you want, once you have sold a major script, have a major agent, etc. Until then..."


This is still a great example of telling a story on the page for a visualmedium -- like movies, as opposed to tv.

MARK11

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DH said...

Thanks for the review MM.

Whilst I think it's an excellent film. There are a couple of problems with the story I want to gripe about that I think weaken it.

The first is the climax to the hostage sequence when Rachael gets thrown off the roof. In the script there are some ommited scenes but in the film it just cuts to the next day.

This I just don't buy, especially as the Joker was looking for Dent in the first place - Nobody calls the police, Batman seems to think a closet is good protection for Harvey, and we are robbed of any sort of closure and a potential action sequence.
I have (outlandishly) convinced myself that this scene was the original 'choose between Harvey and Rachael' scene.
Ie: Batman saves Rachael. Joker blows up building. Scars Dent. And the Joker escapes on wires (I loved the constant use of string/wire motif in the film to reinforce how everything is connected.)
My justification for this is that I think Two Face was introduced too late in the story myself. Suddenly cutting to Rachael and Harvey tied up was cheap. Maybe budget was a problem? But again maybe I'm imagining this. It just felt clunky.

The second is the phone radar device. It's only in the script to comment on intrusive goverment serveilance (in real life) but not actually needed as a plot device as Gordon finds the Joker before Batman anywway. They tried to justify it by having Batman use it during the fight in the tower but again it wasn't actually needed.

The third is the use of hostages on the boat. I think it is far too late in the story to introduce characters that we are supposed to care about, and during an action sequence no less.
Logically it makes sense but emotionally I felt nothing as the set up was too quick.

Still, it was great fun!

Mystery Man said...

DH - "I have (outlandishly) convinced myself that this scene was the original 'choose between Harvey and Rachael' scene." That makes sense. Could be. Your third complaint didn't bother me so much, surprisingly, although I would normally complain about introducing new characters so late into the story. I guess the fact that there's so much tension in that setup kind of forces you to go along with it.

-MM

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