Excerpted from SEAK’s course, “Screenwriting for Physicians”
Rich: Your job is to look. Does this story lend itself to the theatrical stage? To TV? You know, in TV, you’re thinking, in essence, if you’re pitching a TV show, they want at least three seasons. Nobody wants a show that’s done. If the show’s a hit, they’re gonna want many seasons of it. So, is this a story that can be spun out over 8, 10, 12 episodes for three years? So, when you’re talking 30 minimum episodes, or is this a 2-hour movie? Okay? Well, they’re different formats for those things. What’s the difference? A TV writer or a screenwriter?
That difference is melting, I think, as we speak. You know, people, as I said, TV writing used to be looked down upon. It’s not anymore. It’s really a function of what kind of canvas you want to work on and what size story do you want to tell. In TV, there’s something you would write a pilot episode. So, it’s the first hour, and then, you’d write a bible which outlines what’s going to happen over the next three seasons, and you should see how this show can maintain itself for three seasons.
But what is the physical format of what you’re writing? Well, if you look on the screen, this is a film script, production script with a numbered scene on it. Okay? So, kind of like taking a novel, breaking it up into paragraphs. And then, anytime someone talks, you see their dialogue is down the middle of the page. My favorite note I ever got in a script was the agent looked at me and said three words. Well, he said, “Rich.” He said my name. So, I guess four words, “Rich, more white space, please.”
So, I guess five words. “More white space, please.” So, you look at the script. You want a lot of white space. You don’t want lots of text. You wanna simply, clearly, cleanly describe the situation. Where are we? We’re inside a hospital. It’s daytime. It’s 1885, 7:00 in the morning, blah, blah, blah, boom. The nurse says, “Again? Oh, no.” You know, and the stretcher-bearer says, “What do you want us to do with her?” You know, so it’s dialog down the center of the page, with action description on the outside of the page. Okay?
So, that’s physically what a movie script looks like. Okay? Very hard to see in this. I apologize. This is easier to see. This is the first page of the script from my movie, and this uses voice-over. We’re setting up the movie, and you’re talking about what we see on screen, and we hear with voice-over over those images, and you record that voice-over. Once in a while, you call a shot, shot of the earth, camera zooms down, and sometimes you don’t call the shot. So, this is something you can learn. It’s not hard. See it happening now. I hope this will work and see maybe you can recognize this.
Sean: I thought about what you said to me the other day, about my painting.
Rich: And what you’re going to see here is the writer spent a lot of time. Obviously, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck supposedly wrote this. There’s controversy over that different story. William Goldman rewrote it. And so, the question is, how much did the famous writer, William Goldman, add to the script without being credited?
Don’t know, but I do know this is a spectacular actor who’s no longer with us doing probably one of the most famous scenes in what I call a revelatory monologue. And you’ll see, he read the script. He memorized the script, but he’s not staying exactly on script, but you don’t stop a great actor like this from doing a little improv to bring it to life. So, watch how it comes to life. You’ll see this dialogue in the center of the page, and you’ll see it on screen as it was shot.
Sean: Stood up half the night thinking about it. Something occurred to me. I fell into a deep, peaceful sleep, and I haven’t thought about you since. You know what occurred to me?
Sean: You’re just a kid. You don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about.
Will: Why, thank you.
Sean: It’s all right. You never been out of Boston.
Sean: So, if I asked you about Odd, you’d probably give me the skinny on every Odd book ever written. Michaelangelo. I know a lot about him, life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientation, the whole works. Right? I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling, seen that. If I ask you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus of your personal favorites.
You may have even been laid a few times, but you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re tough, kid. I ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right? “Once more into the breach, dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap and watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. If I asked you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet, but you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable, known someone that could level you with her eyes feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you, who could rescue you from the depths of hell.
And you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping, sitting up in a hospital room for two months holding her hand because the doctors could see in your eyes that the terms visiting hours don’t apply to you. You don’t know about real loss because that only occurs when you love something more than you love yourself. I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much. I look at you, I don’t see an intelligent, confident man. I see a cock-…
Rich: All right. You’re gonna hate me. I had to stop. Why did I stop? Amazing monologue, memorable. Look at how young he looks. Wonderful to watch again. You could probably do this once in a movie. This, really, actually is more theatrical. In a stage play, you wanna have big speeches like this. In a movie, you do it once or twice. What I want you to notice here, though, is they didn’t say, “Close up of Matt Damon. Close up of Robin Williams.” They don’t call the camera shots. You write the dialogue. You let the actors act.
You let the director choose what they’re going to do with the camera. You’re the writer. Get the words on paper, but even then, when you put the words down, did you see he added the Shakespeare, “Into the Breach,” the famous line from Henry. And so, this is a great example of that, you know. Now this one is much more action-driven. So, if we watch this.
Baby: I love this. Amazing.
Rich: So what is this? Baby Driver. And this is really music-driven and action-driven. So, there’s much more scene description. It isn’t a revelatory monologue being delivered. So, you see what’s happening on screen being described in words, and you see how the music adds such power to that. And look at the physical writing on the page, and we can learn how does this work. Well, this is what the writer wrote, and this is what the director ended up putting on screen.
[00:09:25.499] [music] [00:10:12.651]
Rich: All right. So, complete opposite of what you just saw. All description. No dialogue. All written. And did you notice it kept saying, “We see. We see.” So, they chose that method to tell exactly… What your job is as a screenwriter is to describe in words, as few, as clean, as clear language as possible what the audience will see on screen and will hear. So, that’s what they do here. Really, if you’ve never seen Baby Driver, it’s a great movie. You gotta watch it. Okay. We’ll do one more really fast. You might recognize this.
Terence: A little trouble there. Let’s pick it up at 17. Okay. Five, six, and… Not quite my tempo. Here we go. Five, six, and… Downbeat on 18. Okay. Here we go. Five, six, and… Bar 17, the and of four. Got it? Five, six, seven. Not quite my tempo. It’s all good. No worries. Here we go. Five, six, seven. You’re rushing. Here we go. Ready? Okay. Five, six, and…
Rich: All right. So, I hope you get it now. This is a nice combination of action and dialogue. Inevitably great actors, great directors, you know, it’s not gonna be verbatim, every single word, every single action exactly. They say there are actually three movies. There’s the movie you write, the movie you shoot, and then the movie that ends up in the editing room being created. So, a lot to learn. If you love this kind of stuff, definitely take the screenwriting class.
We do a lot more of this. We can go deep into it, but I just wanted to give you a flavor of how writing a script looks on the page and what it ends up looking like when the movie comes out. Okay? So, a TV script is a little different. Not much different. It looks pretty much essentially the same. Sometimes you’ll see in a sitcom script. If you’re interested in this, you can go online and learn about what a sitcom script looks like. I can share with you, you know, different scripts I’ve written for TV and film if you want to mimic them. You gotta read scripts and get a sense of it, but it’s not hard. Okay?
And a play script is different because, as I said, a play script is much more dialogically driven. It’s a lot of talking. And so, if you look at this playscript, the dialog goes all the way to the margins. And go back, look at the movie script, the dialogue is in the middle. So, see the difference? Movie, TV script, the actions go all the way to the margin, dialogue is in the middle. Theatre script, the action is in the middle, dialogue all the way to the margin. So, it’s different.