Screenwriting: When Less is More

Brevity.  Clarity.  Subtext.

In reading the work of some of the more influential screenwriters of the last few decades, one thing (with a few exceptions) holds true across the board. These top-tier writers are both thrifty with their use of words, yet also able to convey so much more than most with the words they commit to the page. Sure, every writer knows about subtext, yet some are true experts at crafting dialogue and descriptives that can fill a reader’s mind with a full-frame of information from just a few brief lines.

The Script Lab

Be Clear. Be Concise. Be Creative.

The Script Lab recommends “The Three C’s” as a simple guideline to keep in mind. Now if you’ve read my previous posts, you know I’m not a believer in following cut & dry methods (and don’t get me started on Save the Cat), but I do believe “The Three C’s” is actually a useful and easy to remember tool when you find yourself questioning if something is perhaps too wordy, too vague, or too bland.

For an example, let’s turn to arguably the most well known script from the legendary William Goldman. I’ll link the shooting script (there’s a bit more included in shooting scripts, such as direction for camera and whatnot, but you’ll get the idea). Look at the economy of words, the quality of words chosen, and the mental picture painted with them.

Goldman’s writing is a classic example of The Three C’s well before that was even a thing. His writing is Clear and Concise with not a wasted sentence as he crafts the world, the scene, and the dialogue, yet even his shortest of lines has that Goldman Creativity. The man had a way with words, on that we can all agree. If anyone says otherwise, I have but one word for them…

Inconceivable!

For further insight into screenwriting, as well as occasional amusing nuggets, The Bitter Script Reader Twitter feed can provide an enjoyable barrage of quips and commentary that are often surprisingly on-point.

He’s been an industry script reader for a decade and his exchanges with fellow readers can be downright hilarious. You’ll likely notice that followers of the “more is more” and “fill the page, let the reader figure it out” school of writing tend to be pet peeves of the pro-reader crowd. In other words, the pros tend to agree, Less is More more often than not.

Tax Benefits Shooting Film in the UK

Everyone is looking for a deal, an incentive, a tax credit, something to help them get their project made, be it in the swamps of Louisiana or the wilderness of New Zealand. For those filming in the UK, the incentives currently available there seem quite attractive.

Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, aka SEIS

The SEIS is designed to help small production investors realize tax savings. £100k or less in shares can have 50% deducted. Additionally if you hold the shares for 3 or more years and have made a profit, that profit will be free from Capital Gains tax. It’s a fantastic way to fund a project and immediately cut your risk in half.

Enterprise Investment Scheme, aka EIS

The EIS is the big brother of the SEIS, and investors can realize tax savings of 30% on amounts up to £1,000,000 in shares. As with the SEIS, if Capital Gains are realized after a minimum of 3 years, they will be tax free. While tax savings are 30% rather than 50%, you can invest up to 10x the amount as SEIS and still receive a tax write-off.

UK Cultural Tax Rebates

For culturally UK films a tax rebate is available for up to 25% of the production budget, up to £20 million, to qualifying production companies. What this means is when the production company files its tax return, it can claim a cash refund of up to 25% of qualifying expenditures (such as pre-production, principal photography, and post-production). Development and marketing are not included as qualifying expenses.

With incentives like these, the UK saw a 35% increase in overall film/tv spending in 2014.

Obviously there is a tremendous amount of information not covered here, and this is not intended as legal or tax advice. Seek out investment counsel or tax professionals before making any financial decisions.

Really Good Writers Sometimes Write Not-So-Good Material

Working on some fairly big features and television shows over the years, I’ve noticed an interesting but often overlooked occurrence. That of otherwise good writers putting out some truly wretched material.

Sometimes it’s too many chefs in the kitchen. We’ve all seen laundry list credits with scores of writers and story editors, all chipping in their two cents worth, but once in a while there’s the opportunity to observe a single writer’s “shooting script” of remarkable crappiness evolve into a dozen or so revision scripts, also of remarkable crappiness. Let me tell you, it can be pretty impressive, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

Recently I had the opportunity to take a gander at some of the clunkiest dialogue I’ve read in years. I’m talking burn the script after 10 pages bad. Instant PASS bad. How does this person have a job writing bad. The twist is, this writer has previously penned a bunch of things I really enjoyed in the past. Apparently this particular assignment just wasn’t in their wheelhouse. I was torn, I wanted to like their work, but holy crap I just couldn’t.

And that’s the thing I began thinking about. Even seasoned pros sometimes blow it big time but keep getting a free pass. This fact really doesn’t do much for us aspiring screenwriters, once you’re established you can fail pretty spectacularly and still get work, but the takeaway for me at least is that a good many of us have quite likely written things objectively better than some seasoned pros. Will that knowledge get any of us work? Of course not. Can we keep that tidbit tucked away for those rainy days when we feel like our work just isn’t up to snuff and want to give up in a fit of frustration and foot stomping while howling at the moon in an angry tirade like a frustrated child with a bad case of colic? You bet your run-on sentences we can. (and that was a painful one to write).

I’m really just posting this as a little pep talk, an incentive to fellow writers, an objective bit of info that sometimes it’s not about the material as much as the connections and name you’ve built up.

Frustration happens and we all have self-doubt sometimes, just don’t let it stop you from writing.