Friday, May 04, 2007

Format Follow Up

A couple of questions emerged from the recent discussion about format. If you’d like to know whether it’s okay to finish a scene with dialogue, or to start a scene with dialogue instead of description, then check out the comments section of the post.

Robert, a regular reader, then emailed to ask about the use of FREEZE FRAME in a screenplay: “I’ve read that it’s a director’s instruction and shouldn’t be used by the writer in his spec script. This is the scene from my screenplay where I need to use it. Fred isn’t present in the first scene, but he speaks, and we then cut to his scene.


Derek steps into the room. He’s wearing a wedding dress, and is clutching a bouquet of plastic flowers.

You sure Jack won’t be back today? Maybe we shouldn’t—

Wait - who was wearing the wedding dress?



Derek and Fred are walking through an abandoned street. Each of the men is carrying a pair of handcuffs.


Do you think I am using it correctly, or would something else work better?"

The use of FREEZE FRAME is perfectly fine in a spec screenplay. It would take an extremely sensitive, and perhaps egotistical, director to object to its use in a script. There’s nothing wrong with the example, above, and, more importantly, it doesn’t bring attention to itself. It creates a good transition, and generates some pace and interest. (I would say that Fred's line is probably Off Screen (OS) as Voice Over, to me, is Narration.)

There seems to be a view that scriptwriters should concentrate on writing “the story”, and not employ overly elaborate film techniques within their script. The truth is more to do with how well these techniques are presented, as so often it is difficult to appreciate the intended style because the writer won’t have used the techniques to good effect. Techniques like Freeze Frame, Voice Over, Split Screen, Rewinds, Fast Forwards, Flashbacks, Alter-Ego Narration etc.

As a reader, I LOVE getting a script that is lively and inventive with its style and technique but I HATE it when it’s obvious that the writer’s not very confident, or is over-stylising the piece, or simply doesn’t know what he’s doing. Scripts can sometimes try too hard to entertain and be ‘different’, and this is why flashy techniques have to be used carefully and effectively. It’s all about craft, and an innate understanding of how the techniques work, and where to use them.

Recently, I wrote a spec pilot for a half hour comedy/drama series using this kind of style. I think I wrote it well, and it almost got nabbed by a major broadcaster. Eventually, the exec said that while the techniques were effective in script form, he had reservations about how they might pan out on screen. Still, another producer stepped in and optioned the script, so it’s still got a chance of a commission somewhere down the line…

Basically, though, if you’re going to use techniques such as Freeze Frame, Voice Over etc, then use them consistently, and make them inherent to the style of the story. A lot of scripts will use an occasional Freeze Frame or Voice Over at the start of the story but then will fail to reappear as the script progresses. This is frustrating as it means that the style has no real bearing on the characters or story, it was just a writer’s passing whimsy on one particular scene at the beginning. So, by all means, use Freeze Frames, and the like, but consistency and awareness is the key.

On another note, PotDoll, Robin and 1000 Dollar Film have been talking about short films recently, and how to go about making them. Last year, Mark Kermode gave his top tips for short filmmaking on The Culture Show, and I took a note of what the good doctor said. If you’d like to check it out, follow the link.

Also, keep those questions coming - on any topic! Ta.


Anonymous said...


thanks for that!


Stuart Perry said...

Great stuff, Danny. I think I've solved the mystery of 'ANGLE ON' from the comments on the original format post. It is covered in Syd Field's popular Screenplay book, which would explain why a lot of people are using it.

Syd suggests using it to avoid having to refer to the camera, but it seems to me to be just as disruptive and inelegant if not used carefully.

potdoll said...

Dear Danny Kermode,

thanks to that link. I loved reading that!

Lucy V said...

Really! I've actually read that book and didn't notice the thing about ANGLE ON...tho I have to force myself to read such books, so most likely skimmed over it. Nice one Stuart. I don't see the point of it - it seems clumsy and useless to me and is just another potential annoying distraction for me as a Reader.