Film Courage: Scripts are just awful when the writer tells you everything?
Wendy Kram, Owner of LA4Hire: Did I say that? Oh…a friend of mine said that who she’s not a screenwriter, she’s not a producer, she’s been in the business. She’s a publicist and she has exquisite taste in films. And I remember asking her because I was asked for I think a topic of an article and I said “What would you say is one of the things that has made you want to get involved with a script. And what do you think makes a script really good?” And she said “What makes scripts awful is when characters tell you everything.” And so if a husband and a wife and let’s say a wife saw her husband having lunch with another woman that she didn’t know about. And he comes home from work and he’s like “Hi, Honey? How was your day?” And if she were to say…what she will probably say in real life was “Nothing.” With that kind of…and Mad Men is the master of subtext and I recommend looking at just about any episode of Mad Men.
Much less interesting…Or the husband comes in and says “What did you do today?” And I was in a similar situation once and I did not say “I saw you having lunch with another woman today.” I wanted him…I wanted to maybe catch him in a lie. I said “What did you do today?” And he said “Nothing special.” “Did you have lunch somewhere interesting?” “What are you talking about?”
And like maybe one of the things that I love is that if you really play along that you can also play with the audience in terms of thinking “Oh yeah, he was having an affair. It was an interior decorator and he was surprising his wife with he just bought a little vacation home. And he was making sure” or “He was renting in Malibu a place and he wanted to make sure all the stuff was special for their anniversary.” And then what can happen is she keeps testing him and testing him and starts bringing up old stuff about how he pisses her off. That scene could end with not telling her what the surprise was and the couple deciding “You never trust me. You know what, I was going to do something nice for you and scr*w you! I want a divorce.” I’m just spinning here and I’m not saying that that’s the greatest scene, but that’s an example when you play with subtext versus characters saying everything that they’re thinking.
Another example if you take A STREET CAR NAMED DESIRE with Blanch and Stanley and Stella and if you had Blanch saying “Well, I really have been working as a prostitute and I’m depressed and I have no where else to live.” Game over! So if you think about it in those terms. And it’s really reflecting how people are in real life, people don’t always say exactly what they are thinking and feeling.
Film Courage: Oh, not at all. But that’s what makes it so interesting, too. Because you said going along on the ride wondering will there be a raised eyebrow that will reveal something?
Wendy Kram: Exactly because then it just has this flat tone and it really doesn’t replicate human life and I feel like that’s one of the things that said earlier when you asked what I love about movies is that we can vicariously put ourselves in the other character’s situation. And we can say “I’ve been in a situation like that. I didn’t want to confront my husband with another woman” and so on and so forth.
Film Courage: Or like you can tell if there is gossip or somebody said something about you, so they come in “How are you!?”
Wendy Kram: Oh, exactly!
Film Courage: And you know that they want something from that statement.
Wendy Kram: And then we can immerse ourselves in the person who is suspecting that maybe they were talking about her but they are not coming out and saying it. But I think that’s such as great point that it really engages us so much more and because that’s a comment that came up before. You want to be engaged. I mean, good writing, good script, scripts that command attention with an extraordinary capacity to engage your reader and that’s usually through really smart dialogue like what you were talking about.
Film Courage: You talked about too scripts that don’t propel the character forward. So can we have some examples of ones that do it and ones that don’t or just some themes?
Wendy Kram: So gosh, okay…Breaking Bad is such a great example of an escalation of situations. So I would say that in the character, every step that he takes there’s a consequence and it leads to another and another and then the character and then the character might try to get himself out of it, but it’s kind of like the notion of McBeth. Once you create or do something bad, it has its own momentum.
It’s hard to say without really doing specifics but basically every scene you want to feel that you’re advancing the story, you’re advancing the plot. Even if the character has a setback that there’s still…one of the best ways to think about it is that there’s the core spine of the story where the character, where you may have an ensemble that each has a goal that there is a primary objective that the character is trying to obtain and the obstacles that get in the way that prevent them from that. Even if it’s a step back, but then they’re still trying to overcome that obstacle.
Most movies (successful movies) follow that formula. I hate to say formula because I don’t like things being formulaic. And an example really where stories are not propelled forward is when the writer loses focus (the focused is too diffused). And one of the common reasons for that would be when there are too many characters. When a writer is introducing so many characters that rather than get to know one or a few really well, we’re getting glimpses of all of these different characters. But none of them (because they don’t have time to develop them particularly well) and so we don’t have a core sense of a character’s primary focus or a group of character’s primary focus. And the goal is what are the obstacles that get in their way.
So I think any time there’s a really diffuse focus, then scripts don’t…they wind up just being very dispersed, rather than having a through line.
Question for the Viewers: What movies is ruined because it reveals too much too soon?
About Wendy Kram:
Seasoned Film and Television producer, Wendy Kram, created L.A. FOR HIRE, a consulting firm for production companies, writers, directors and anyone in media and PR seeking Hollywood connections and expertise on how to get their project to the next level.
With over fifteen years of experience in the entertainment industry, Wendy has supervised and produced a number of award-winning motion picture and television films for companies including: Walt Disney Studios, Sony Pictures, Hearst Entertainment, Sandollar Productions, Granada Entertainment, CBS, NBC, ABC, USA, HBO, Showtime and Lifetime Networks. Credits include “Mad Money” with Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, and Katie Holmes, the award-winning miniseries, “Sally Hemings: An American Scandal” with Sam Neill, and the romantic comedy, “Making Mr. Right” with Dean Caine for Lifetime Network. Wendy has a track record working with A-level talent, agents, filmmakers and executives.
As a native New Yorker who loves the city she grew up in, Wendy recognized a gap between many New York-based production companies and the Hollywood community. L.A. FOR HIRE was created to help fill this gap by providing a bridge between Hollywood’s key decision makers and companies in New York and other metropolitan cities around the globe.
Our clients come to us in order to help them navigate through the Hollywood system, where we provide insider knowledge and know-how that comes from our years of experience.