questionmarkThanks for posting the script to The Nines. In it, you give some dialogue a “(PRE-LAP)” extension. This dialogue begins in V.O., bridges us to the next scene, and continues onscreen. Obviously, it’s a useful and commonly used device.

The term “Pre-Lap” makes obvious technical sense, but is it common enough for us unknowns to use in our scripts? I’ve seen some scripts that use “(BRIDGING)” or “(BRIDGE)” – or even put some explanation in action paragraphs. I’d hate to adopt “PRE-LAP” only to find that low-level readers think I’m making up my own neologisms, or using obsolete technical terms like SFX or M.O.S.

What would you recommend?


Pre-lapping is when dialogue begins before we’ve cut to the scene in which it’s spoken. Here’s an example from The Nines:

He turns his back to the foyer, listening to the instructions on the phone.


Nine leopards run through the jungle.


I bought two cakes at the store.

His identity evidently confirmed, he hangs up. He looks back into the foyer.


The house is haunted. There’s a zeitgeist, or something.


Margaret has brought coffee and pastries from Susina.


Poltergeist, and no. Maybe they were rats. L.A. is teeming with rats. They live in the palm trees.

Often, it’s a choice made editorially, during post-production, but you can also write it in if it helps sell a joke or moment. It’s common enough — and simple enough — that I think most readers will understand it in context, even if they’re unfamiliar with the term.

You should know that some readers despise pre-laps, despite their usefulness. If you use them, you need to have a vigilant script supervisor, because these dangling lines of dialogue can find themselves forgotten in the rush of production.


mapI’m in New York for the second time in a week. This trip is for a director meeting on the studio’s dime.

While no one will confuse me for a native, I’ve become a lot more comfortable with the city in the past few years. When people give me cross-streets, I generally have some idea what area they’re talking about. I’m a fast walker and subway enthusiast, so a visit to New York City is an adventure.

The biggest challenge for me is that beginning with my first visit in 1994, I flipped Manhattan north-south in my head. I don’t know how it happened, but whatever map I first studied was 180 degrees wrong, and it’s taken every brain cell to get the city reoriented.1

For years, I’ve been relying on my trusty laminated flat maps of the city. Nothing screams tourist like pulling one of these out while waiting at a crosswalk.

The advent of Google Maps on the iPhone changes all that. Quickly setting a few bookmarks, I can zoom in and out of the city. And if I have to refer to it at an intersection, I just look like everyone else checking email. But it’s not perfect.

  1. You can show where you are, or what you’re looking for, but not both. At least a dozen times, I’ve searched and found what I wanted — only to forget where I was at the moment. Yes, you can bookmark both locations and pull up directions, but a persistent “I Am Here” flag would be a great addition for version 2.0.

  2. Don’t automatically trust the pins. Upon arriving in the city, I searched for my hotel, and bookmarked it. However, it was four blocks wrong — a fact I only discovered when trying to get back to my room after a morning trip to Hamilton Heights. Fortunately, I remembered that I’m right next to the Directors Guild Theater, so it was simple to re-map.

  3. It always assumes you’re driving. When you use the directions, a “walking” option would be a huge help, since it could ignore one-way streets and other restrictions.

Once Apple releases the SDK, I hope one of the first applications is an iPhone-native version of Métro. It’s a terrific mass-transit mapper for the Treo and other platforms, which I’ve used to get around New York, Paris, London and Tokyo. There’s a web version, but that’s not especially helpful when you’re underground and out of signal range.

  1. It’s not unlike that damn [spinning dancer](, which is strictly clockwise for me. I can’t even fathom her going the other way.

They love it and they’re passing

questionmarkThe good news is that I’ve got a script out, my rep has gotten it into a number of hands and studios. The bad news is that they love it enough to pick up the phone and rave about the writing, but they’re passing because of content/violence. Granted, it is not a safe flick. It is however, fresh and a great ride. There must be fearless producers out there, looking, presumably aching, for something they can sink their teeth into. How the hell do I find them?

In other words, how do you make your first Kill Bill, or Sin City or Pulp?

– Rodney
New York

Been there. We took Go out as a spec script, and everyone really liked it — but no one wanted to buy it. I would go in for meetings, and executives would pitch me projects that were, “a lot like your script, which was great by the way. We would totally love to do that. Man. But we just can’t do that here.”

We ultimately sold Go to a tiny production company that had foreign financing. Eventually, a big studio bought us out, but only once we had a hot director and an attractive cast.

So that may be where you go next, Rodney — finding a director who loves your script and can help get actors attached.

In the meantime, take people at their word that they really like your script, and land some writing assignments. In the time between Go being an unsold spec and Go being a movie in theaters, I’d written four paid projects. I would have had a career even if the movie had never been made.

So capitalize on people’s affection for your script to find something that pays money. And know you’re not the only writer in your situation.

From Russia with Questions

questionmarkMy name is Nerses, I am from Moscow, Russian Federation. I have two questions and I hope you will find time to answer on some of them.

I am 16 and next fall I’m going to apply to US universities as an international applicant. But before getting into film school (like USC or UCLA), I want to receive my bachelor in something not connected with filmmaking. That’s one of my problems, as I haven’t yet decided what other specialization I can be good at. Right now I am thinking about undergraduate Advertising and Public Relations in Chapman University (by the way, it also has very good film programs). But my question is, can I get into Screenwriting or Producing program of graduate film school, if I already have BFA in Film Studies (a.k.a. Critical Studies) or Television & Broadcast Journalism?

And, my second question is, did any of your friends from USC get into Hollywood film industry and become successful filmmakers being international alumni? I am asking this question, because I didn’t hear much about famous people, who had similar situation to mine (kid from another country trying to find his way to get noticed)?

– Nerses

Advertising is a great and relevant degree to choose for undergraduate studies. You’ll learn a little bit of production (probably shooting some commercials on video), but most of your time will be spent writing and pitching, which are skills you’ll be using a lot of in the film industry. Having some marketing classes under your belt will also be a help.

I speak with first-hand experience: I was an undergrad Advertising major, with a minor in English.

However, if you find an undergraduate film program that appeals to you, don’t dismiss it out of hand. I strongly believe you should pursue what fascinates you at every stage in your education (and life). I don’t think it would affect your chances of getting into a film graduate program regardless.

As for your second question, yes, we had several international students in my film school class who went on to be quite successful. For instance, Miles Millar, the executive producer of Smallville, hails from England. In my class of 25 students, four were international students, and three of them are still working in the industry.

New York, Africa

I’m in New York for a U.S. Doctors for Africa benefit, during which I’ll be introducing the founders of FOMO, the Malawian orphan group I worked with this summer.

Coordinating our small part of the event has been an interesting example of the flat-worldness of 2007. I’m American; the charity is British; the filmmakers who put together the video for tonight are from Abu Dhabi. Without email, it would have all been nearly impossible to organize.1

The goal of tonight’s activities is to enlist USDFA into getting much-needed medical care to the Mulanje region of Southern Malawi. Most readers are probably more familiar with Doctors Without Borders, another terrific organization. The difference between the two groups is in approach. Doctors Without Borders goes into crisis locations. They’re firefighters. USDFA is much more about building sustainable, locally-centered programs — which is why Malawi (and FOMO) makes so much sense.

Underscoring the small-worldness meme, upon checking the schedule, I learned that one of the other presenters tonight is Mia Kirshner — an actress from my very first TV pilot, whose departure from the series inspired a portion of The Nines. I don’t think she holds a grudge. But then, she is an actress, so would I know?

It’s uncomfortable to have aspects of my life crossing over. By and large, Africa John has been pretty autonomous. While there, I didn’t introduce myself as a screenwriter. 2 And outside of a small area of Los Angeles, I don’t have any measurable celebrity quotient. So I’ll be speaking tonight with only the authority of a guy who helped paint a mud-brick building. And I’ll be hoping the DVD intro plays correctly. Because I’m pretty sure they shot on PAL.

UPDATE (11:55 pm EDT)

  • The video went off without a hitch.
  • Cipriani is a beautiful space.
  • I was apparently looking at some other event’s schedule, because there was no Mia Kirshner to be found. However, Brett Ratner was there to introduce Russell Simmons. After that, I was probably the next biggest celebrity. Which is alarming.
  • If Alex Band were a tradable stock, I’d probably buy some shares. I’d never heard of him either, so it was smart for him to sing, “Wherever You Will Go” first for the “oh, yeah” factor.
  • I ended up chucking my script, which is a bold choice for a screenwriter. But after a string of hold-my-award speeches and a soporific live auction, I thought it best to just speak from a place of emotional honesty. It cut through the post-dessert fog, which was all I could hope to do.
  • The emcee introduced me by saying, “a man who needs no introduction,” which is patently false. The friend of the guy who was in The Brothers McMullen3he knew who I was. Because he’d just finished a novel. And was looking for an agent.
  1. That Malawi is almost completely internet-inaccessible is not lost on me. I have ideas and hive-mind questions, but that’s another post.
  2. They don’t have movies, so being the guy who writes movies is roughly the same as being the guy who paints unicorns.
  3. No, not Ed Burns. The other one.