One thing that did come through consistently through the reviews is the almost religious adherence to the 3 act structure, plot points and other Syd Field/ Mckee commandments. I am not a Syd Field hater. I have even written an entire article about a particular film script not working because it didn’t follow certain structural rules. But some times script writers tend to forget that though these things are useful to break down your script and analyse it, it is not the ultimate truth. I can imagine some possible reactions to these lines, like- ‘You can mock the structural rules and learn it the hard way, or you can accept the hard earned experience from the veterans,’ ‘even people who mock these rules may write good scripts but only because they follow these rules subconsciously,’ etc. My problem is not with guidelines regarding structure. Because, when art becomes a commercial product (as with cinema) there will always be certain patterns regarding what influences the audience. My problem is with the dogma that arises from there. The western concept regarding dramatic elements is heavily influenced by the Greek tragedies. Gradually the three act structure has become an unquestionable truth even for film scripts. The biggest booby trap in the whole exercise is in the way which you decide what the plot points and act breaks are, in a particular script. Most of the times I have felt that these decisions finally boils down to just interpretations. Often there are events and twists adjacent to the supposed ‘act breaks’ which some one else can argue as the original act break.
Another thing is the obsessiveness regarding punctuation, spelling, grammar, capitalising, format, page count etc. I can understand where this comes from. In a system where spec scripts get sieved by a reader who is looking for an excuse to disengage, such issues can simply cause your ‘brilliant’ script to end up in the waste bin.
But sometimes this goes into the extremes. Up to a point where it is forgotten that once a film gets made, a screenplay is just a useless blueprint (except for wannabe scriptwriters). If you go too much into ironing the paper and colouring the borders in your blueprint, you are often taking away your attention from more important issues.
Now when I compare the kind of feedback that is available in the west with the kind I get here in India, I think the most important difference is in the professionalism. The kind of effort the reviewers put into breaking down and analysing the script is immense in the west. Here the kind of review I would get if I send the script to some one would contain some vague comments like ‘This part doesn’t work’ or ‘characters are absolutely mind blowing’ or ‘the second half drags’ etc. The conscientiousness that goes into breaking down each and every page is very rare here. May be for us, even now the screenplay is an alien concept. We are more into narrations and brief synopsis. I have heard from friends of lot of instances where the film maker signs the film after reading a treatment or hearing a narration. May be this is related to the Indian culture where every story is heard rather than read. Or it could be just plain impatience or lack of a literary sensibility or ignorance about cinematic medium or all of the above.
Another thing about the western reviews is the persistent effort to break down and analyse every element of the script as if you are studying a gadget. Some times this does lead to a complacence regarding the lack of originality of the various story elements you are juggling with. You miss the forest for the trees. But on the other hand in India, if you try to theorise regarding why some screenplay elements are working or not, you get an (pseudo?)intellectual shrugging of shoulders that you shouldn’t analyse these things. Writing/creating ‘just happens.’ Its divine. You don’t try to break down the logic. We don’t want to believe that there are certain reasons behind our decisions to write a story a particular way and that if you find those reasons, we may come up with better solutions.
Photo by Lars-M