questionmarkI’m writing a movie that makes a time jump about 90 pages in, meaning at the beginning I’ve got a couple of 10-year olds who’ll be about 18 at the end. That’s not my problem though, since the jump is unavoidable and casting different actors actually makes sense in this case.

My question is: What’s the best way to label the new characters/actors? I checked your Big Fish shooting script in which you used terms like “YOUNG EDWARD” — but do I have to do this, if the older (or younger) characters never turn up again? Because “ADULT CHRIS” or “ADULT GINA” sounds a bit stupid in German. Could I just keep the original name after pointing out the leap in time or would that cause confusion?

Might sound like an insignificant detail to you, but it’s been bothering me for some time now.

– Fabian

Yes, you need to label them differently, because people will actually get confused. They might not when they’re reading through it from page one, but when they’re going back through the script looking for a specific scene, they will need to know immediately whether they’re looking at an 18-year old or a 10-year old. And if you do make it to the production stage, that chance of confusion increases exponentially, because scenes will be scheduled and shot out of order.

Given where your time jump occurs, I’d label the adult characters as such, or give them slightly altered names. (The young version of CHRIS becomes CHRISTOPHER as an adult, etc.)

. . .

questionmarkA two part question: I’m currently writing a spec script, a legal thriller set in Washington D.C. While I started it over a year ago — outlining, making notes, character sketches — I shelved it due to other work demands. Now I find that the subject matter (domestic oil drilling) is gaining topical currency in a way that I didn’t anticipate when I started out. Which is both good and bad.

A) Should I continue to write it, knowing that there is a strong possibility that it may be old hat by the time I finish (6 months to a year for a passable first draft. I have a day job!)? Or should I forge ahead in the hope that it may still hold some topical currency by the time I’m finished? And…

B) Since much of the story has to do with the law, and the subversion of a particular piece of legislation, how do I go about acquiring some fluency with legal protocol without enrolling in Law School? I’m a naturalized American citizen, so there is still lots I don’t know about the American justice system. If you were to approach material like this, where would you begin in order to make it at least plausible? Would you line up a couple of friendly D.C. lawyers and try to get some interviews? Try for an internship at the Dept of Justice? This material needs to be very well-executed for it not to be laughable (I’m after The Firm, not Pearl Harbor), and I’m anxious that the plot details at least make sound legal sense.

– Mark
New York

Yes, write it. No, don’t take an internship at the DoJ. But you’re going to need to hang out in D.C. to get the answers you want.

The kind of research you need to do will be an ongoing part of the process. You research; you find something that helps your story; you hit a roadblock; you do more research. You’re looking for believable dialogue, but more importantly, a believable approach to the situation you’re presenting in your story. That’s why you need to find someone (better yet, a couple of someones) who approximates the kind of characters you have in your story.

When I was writing the pilot for D.C., I wandered around Capitol Hill introducing myself to young staffers, and got them talking about their jobs. A few were interesting enough that I kept up with them via email, and could easily ask them a question about their lives on or off the clock. The show wasn’t staggeringly realistic — it had roughly as much verisimilitude as Felicity — but the characters were doing and saying the kinds of things they would in real life. (Just faster, and with better hair.)

From what you’re describing, it sounds like you need attorneys and staffers who handle energy legislation. You can find them. If you know anybody working in Washington, you’re probably two degrees of separation from someone in that job. And if you don’t know anyone there, hop on the train and head to the Hawk n’ Dove bar at happy hour. Two beers in, you’re likely to meet someone who knows someone.