3 lessons television taught me about scriptwriting

Quentin Tarantino once said- ‘Movies are not about the weekend that they’re released, and in the grand scheme of things, that’s probably the most unimportant time of a film’s life.’ I wonder- In that grand scheme of things, where do broadcasting movies in cable networks figure? Is it the old age or is it premature death? Anyway, watching films on tv do give you certain insights about movie scriptwriting.

1-There are no ‘unimportant’ scenes.

Here is a test for every scene of your script. Suppose your movie is playing on tv. Some one clicks on the channel. This particular scene that you are writing comes on screen. The viewer doesn’t know the story, there are no recognisable faces- will he continue watching the movie? That is the test for the robustness of every scene that you have created.

We all tend to write some scenes on autopilot. How many times have we seen the portion where a police officer is introduced as tough and rough and how many of these introductions are really different? How many times have we seen a heroine being established as bubbly and carefree? Do all those scenes really stand out from each other? How many times have a psycho/ghost stalked our girl in a dark  room? Can’t that scene be banned for now?

Just a final example. How would you write opening and ending scenes of a movie about the rise and fall of a great boxer whose career finally gave way to animalistic rage, jealousy and sadomasochism? Think. And then watch Raging Bull.

2-Dialogues matter.

Until recently, dialogues were supposed to be the final, and the least crucial part of scriptwriting for me. What mattered most was the plot and characters and naturally good dialogue would evolve out of it. It is often said that if you can come up with good characters, you can come up with good dialogue too. I hope we are not confusing cause for effect. If you can write good dialogue, naturally the character that gets revealed through that dialogue will also be interesting. Think ‘As good as it gets.’ Anyway what I noticed is that the movies that you really enjoy again and again invariably has good dialogue. Juno, A few good men, Satya, Good will hunting,Tarantino movies, Billie wilder movies, Hitchcock movies… More often than not, dialogues bear the stamp of the writer.

3-Beware, repetitiveness is ubiquitous.

When you watch movies back to back on tv, click to click on different channels, the repetitiveness of all of it strikes you like a hammer. Not only the stories but even the situations are so done to death that you will weep. When you catch up on a flick in the multiplex, you don’t think about it that much. And the fact is, once you review your own work in that light, you  realise that your own hands are not entirely clean.  The eternal revenge story? Another love story spoiled by rigid parents? The perennial love triangle? Another story on unrequited, obsessive love? Grey mafia dons and black hearted adversaries? The clever conman and the stupid police/marks? Ghosts killing off groups? The commitment phobic man-boy/career woman and true love? A naïve simpleton getting away because multiple idiotic criminal groups finish off  each other due to misunderstanding? The police officer/vigilante crusading against political and social evil? The misunderstood terrorist? The other man/woman?

I know I know. It all depends on the execution. It’s all about having a fresh take. It is all about sticking to a commercially reliable bracket. But just one question. Is it so tough for all of us writers to find a subject which is outside all this and  is still commercially viable?

Photo by stevetaylor.fivefour

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2 thoughts on “3 lessons television taught me about scriptwriting

  1. An interesting way of looking at things when it comes to screenwriting. Andaz Apna Apna, or Nayak or even Hum Tumhare hain Sanam are examples of movies which didn’t do too well in the theatres but were very successful on television.

    1. Sameer,
      For a film to be successful in theatres, the plot and structure of the story is very important. For watching on tv, brilliance of individual scenes are more important. Because anyway the structure is broken by commercials.

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