I spend time on forums and in groups discussing writing and giving screenwriting advice. There is always a debate going in some form regarding what a screenwriter can and cannot do. Can a screenwriter call out a shot? Can a screenwriter use long descriptions? Can a screenwriter use transitions? They are not asking for writing advice, they are asking for permission. Rather than “how do I” they are asking “should I”.
It took a while but I have developed the perfect answer to all those questions.
“If you have to ask that question, you shouldn’t use that tool. So for you it is a no”.
It is like the legendary answer given by a Rolls Royce salesman when someone asked how much the car cost, “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it”.
Why shouldn’t all screenwriting tools be used by all screenwriters?
Screenwriting tools are techniques. We call them tools because they are used to accomplish something, but when we use them they become a technique. Would you like a learner driver using every driving technique? You are coming home, walking towards your front door and a learner is coming down the street with their car drifting in a power slide, smoke billowing from the tyres. Do you think? That is dangerous and out of control or do you think, ”great drivers” can do it, so should they?
This is not a backflip.
I am the guy that gets angry when people say “you can only do (insert word) when you’re famous”. I am the guy that says there are no rules. I am the guy that says “gurus are the root of all evil”. I have come to the realisation that if you have to ask if it is okay, it is not okay for you.
It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something.
It just means, not now.
Asking if it is okay to use something, means you don’t know how to use it. All the screenwriting advice in the world will not change that. If you know how to use a tool you would pick it up and use it. Having to ask, means you don’t know the tool and how to use it to solve problems. You think using a tool will somehow magically make you a better craftsperson. That is so far from the truth. Using a tool incorrectly has the reverse effect.
It is far better to have a script that is very basic in its format and narrative approach, than a screenplay that has elements that makes the reader snicker. A tool in the wrong hands turns something with potential into something that is laughable.
So the very best advice I can give is, “only use a tool when you know what you are doing”. I would add “and only when there is no alternative”.
It is okay to say “Craig walks to the door”, we don’t need “a crane shot on a long lens, ensuring a shallow depth of field tracking close in on Craig as he walks to the door”.
Keep it simple.