Pop culture reference. I have no idea why, but that commercial always made me giggle like a little kid.
So... I’ve only got a couple of minutes, so let’s talk about right now. Starting... now.
When I used to read for a couple of screenplay contests, one of the most common mistakes I’d see would be writers loading the page with information that wasn’t being shown on the screen.
Push in on PHOEBE, sitting at a table, sipping her coffee. She’s young, blonde, and pretty in that girl-next-door way. She’s also heartbroken because she just found out her boyfriend’s been sleeping with someone from his office. They got in a fight when she confronted him and he told her to move out. She moved here to Seattle to be with him, doesn’t have any nearby family, and has realized that most of her friends were his friends first. So now she’s sitting here in a cafe, with all her belongings out in her car in the parking lot, trying to figure out what to do with her life.
Now, in the scene I just scribbled out... what’s happening in the movie right now? What do we, as the audience, see? What actions are taking place?
Screenwriting is about right now. Not a year ago, not last week, right now. Nothing matters except what’s on the screen right now. If it’s not on screen right now, it’s not important. If it is important, it’ll come out on screen later (later, at that point, being right now). If all the words on page one of my screenplay aren’t related to the first minute of my movie, I’m doing something wrong.
So, just to clarify, my script should only be talking about what’s happening right now.
Now, there are lots of screenplays out there by some amazing screenwriters that mention a character’s background, past relationships, all that sort of thing. Thing is, if I really pay attention when I read all those scripts, I’d see that these elements are only brought up when they’re relevant to what’s happening on screen right now. Because screenwriting is about right now.
Here’s my quick little common sense analogy for you. Feel free to swap genders or locations as you like...
If I’m out at a bar talking with Phoebe, she’s what’s important. If I’m talking to Phoebe but thinking about Dot, it means I’m either A) a jerk or 2) focused on the wrong thing. Because if I’m talking to Phoebe, I should be focused on Phoebe. If I’m thinking about my boss, I’m doing something wrong. If I’m on the phone talking with a friend, I’m doing something wrong. If I’m thinking about my ex-girlfriend or the woman I met earlier in the evening, there’s something wrong. And if I’m thinking about where Phoebe and I are going to be two hours from now... yeah, I’m probably still wrong. Phoebe’s in front of me right now, so I should be focused on her.
When next week becomes right now, I think I may talk a bit about flashbacks.
Until then, go write.