When a character has two names

questionmarkI have a character that appears midway through the script, but is never introduced by name and the reader should not know who he is at this point. So, let’s call him something descriptive: ONE-LEGGED MAN. All the while, in other scenes, his actual name is being mentioned. Let’s say: KEVIN SUGARMAN. Towards the end of the script he introduces himself to a character and it becomes important that the reader understands that ONE-LEGGED MAN is KEVIN SUGARMAN.

From this point out what do you think would make for the smoothest read:

1. Continue calling him ONE-LEGGED MAN
2. Call him ONE-LEGGED MAN/KEVIN SUGARMAN
3. Or start calling him KEVIN SUGARMAN

— Ruckus
Atlanta, GA

This happens in scripts all the time. There’s no perfect solution, but your general goal should be to confuse the reader as little as possible for the fewest number of pages.

If One-Legged Man has dialogue as “ONE-LEGGED MAN,” keep using that name through to the end. It’s confusing to have dialogue blocks with differing names.

If One-Legged Man has no dialogue (or very little dialogue) before he becomes Kevin Sugarman, it may be worth swapping his name, particularly if he hasn’t been prominently featured in a lot of other scenes. The slash technique (One-Legged Man/Kevin Sugarman) works best in scene description, and then only as a reminder to the reader. The guy’s name shouldn’t be 25 characters long every time you use it.

Finally, there are times when the best solution is to simply tell the reader that the character’s name is Kevin Sugarman from the time he’s first introduced. From what you’ve described, it sounds like the reveal is very important to your story — it a key joke or plot point. But in many cases, it may not be worth the trouble and possible confusion.


Saturn Award nomination

Matt Venne emailed me this morning to point out something I would have otherwise missed: The Nines just got a Saturn Award nomination for its DVD.

It’s a cliché to say, “It’s an honor just to be nominated,” but really, it is. And surprising, too. The Nines isn’t an obvious choice at all.

The Saturn Awards are all about science fiction, and while The Nines ultimately fits in that category, the viewer doesn’t really understand why until the last 10 minutes. When we were doing press for the movie, I called it “stealth sci-fi.” Hearing the logline, you wouldn’t guess it goes into Star Trek territory. (I’m spoiling very little to say it does.)

So, my thanks to the nominators, who obviously did watch it and get it.


You know, like in that other movie

questionmarkIs this a smart shortcut or stupid laziness?

“We are thrust into the middle of a vast, vicious ground fight (think of the main battle scene in Braveheart, except with assault rifles and bayonets). On the right side is a sea of soldiers wearing red uniforms. The left side is a sea of soldiers in black uniforms.”
— Sung

Your example would fall in the “stupid laziness” category. Lazy in that it coasts on a cinematic reference without really expanding or commenting on it. Stupid in that it squanders an opportunity to show what’s exciting or unique about your battle scene as opposed to all that have come before it.

But I suspect you were really asking about whether it’s okay to drop a reference to another movie in your script — something to help the reader understand what you’re describing.1 And the answer is yes. Just be smart about it.

You’ll almost always want to marry a movie reference with a significant qualifier, something that greatly amplifies, defeats or transforms it. Some examples…

Carla’s date PHIL is like Shrek’s uglier cousin.

There’s something uncomfortably sexual in Josh and Stan’s rivalry. It’s like Top Gun without planes.

With razor-sharp teeth and leathery wings, the dremonae are a cross between prehistoric fish and Oz’s flying monkeys.

So while it’s okay to drop an occasional movie reference, you’re almost always better off doing it your own way. Let’s take your hypothetical example and see how it might be better constructed.

We are thrust into the middle of a vast, vicious ground fight

All good up to here. But rather than immediately reducing it to a movie reference, why not better establish the goals and geography?

We are thrust into the middle of a vast, vicious ground fight: the mighty Empirix Guard, backlit by the afternoon sun, and the scrappy Raiders, whose zeal somewhat compensates for their lesser firepower. From above, we can make out the serpentine battle line, neither side clearly winning.

That feels like Braveheart without explicitly calling it out. And by being more specific to your world, you don’t risk popping the reader out of the story to remember what that scene was like in Braveheart, and how promising Mel Gibson was before he started drunk-driving and crucifying people.

  1. Here’s the distinction: In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, there’s a very deliberate reference to 2001, with a Wonka bar replacing the black obelisk. That’s in the script, and in the movie. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

Pack-saddles to listen

After reading this Italian blog review of The Nines, I’m convinced that the translation technology behind Babelfish is actually Icelandic singer Bjork.

I confess. They are remained struck by lightning from the film The Nines, of which for other I do not have news regarding the distribution in Italy. To the foreign country it is already exited in DVD. Which thing has of special The Nines?

Beh, is an independent film that it knows to astonish with one apparently simple weft, but much deep one. Three episodes in which the same actors they interpret various parts, in some way tied. It will be only discovered to the end. A film that leaves numerous interrogated to you and that it deserves of being discussed and see again.

Which thing alloy The Nines to the net? The director and scripteriter of the film, John August, have a blog. In its blog he has published the audio comment to the film, bonus that in kind he only finds himself on the DVD, free of charge. He has commented the escape of the film in the exchange circuits rows with sobrietà, convinced that it is only a good for the film that is seen and that if of it speaks.

In order to promote the film it has been opportunely launch a competition in order to realize a trailer beginning from “social” some material puttinges to disposition of the navigators. The sonorous column is simply sublime. Pack-saddles to listen to the topic of Alex Wurman in order to convince itself. In Italy, but that it has participated to the Festival of Venice 2007, probably nobody has seen this film and is a true sin. It deserves.

UPDATE: The original author noticed the link, and wrote up his own English translation.


Facebook, a hive mind question

beeOnce upon a time, I had a MySpace page, to which I happily added anyone as a friend. But right around hitting the 1,000 friend mark, I realized my patience for the site’s embedded idiocy — the 1998-style formatting, cheesy graphics, junior high demographics — was finite. I left it sitting fallow,1 even while recognizing it would be another way to promote the DVD release of The Nines.

Peer-pressured into trying Facebook, I added only friends I hung out with in the real world.2 I admire Facebook’s clean design and overall lack of hooliganism. The news feed is ingenious, and the company shows a willingness to borrow from the best (Twitter, Flickr, etc.). Still, I’m a sporadic user; I haven’t become addicted to Scrabulous or any of the real time-sucks.

This morning, I stumbled upon the “fan” architecture for Facebook. It’s a separate kind of page you set up for a person or thing (such a band or a movie), which users can subscribe to without the mutual-approval process of Facebook friendship.

So I’m now contemplating whether to do such a page for The Nines, and possibly myself. I’d welcome any insight from Facebook power-users, because while I see a lot of potential in leveraging the news feeds to build awareness of the movie’s existence, I don’t know if it’s going to be worth my time or others’. The discussion and message board features seem useful, yet are only slightly more advanced than the IMDb equivalents. There may be good Facebook applications to make it a no-brainer.

I don’t know, but I have a hunch some readers will. Thoughts?

  1. Well, not technically “fallow,” which implies the possibility of new fertility after a period of dormancy. I’m pretty sure I’ll never be going back.
  2. Which is why, if I’ve “ignored” you, please don’t take offense.

Changing horses mid-stream

questionmarkI am on page 75 of a screenplay that I am writing, and I was so excited about finally finishing a draft. Then today, I went to write and came up with a MUCH better first act — which would mean completely rewriting the first act and seriously reworking the second and third act. I pitched it to an exec I used to work for and he agrees that, while the old idea is viable, the new idea is much more organic and the characters are inherently more flawed, and thus, more likeable than the Kate Hudson-esque characters that preceded them.

If you were in this situation, would you proceed with the current draft, or immediately begin on the rewrite?

— Anna
Los Angeles

If your new first act embodies the movie you want to make, then grinding out the last 45 pages of the “old” movie will do you no favors. So write the new first act.

Yes, I generally caution that rewriting is the enemy of finishing — you can find yourself rewriting the first 20 pages a dozen times, and never complete the full script. And your new ideas will always seem more exciting than your old ideas, simply because they’re fresh and unimplemented.

But there’s nothing so dispiriting as finishing a script you know is fundamentally flawed. As a professional writer, you’re sometimes stuck in that situation, forced to implement notes that couldn’t conceivably work (c.f. Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle). But for your own scripts, you should never be printing out 120 pages of ambivalence.

Continuing this discussion of mixed emotions, what is “Kate Hudson-esque?” Is it a mathematical derivative of Goldie Hawn, approximating the slope of comedy without ever achieving intersection?

Because while I can sense the stereotype you’re wrestling with — pretty, manic, girl-next-door — there’s a fairly wide swath of actresses I’d put in that category: Jennifer Aniston, Mandy Moore, Katherine Heigl. Many actresses could play a “Kate Hudson-esque” role, more or less interchangeably. And that’s not good, particularly in a comedy. (I’m guessing you’re writing a comedy.)

So as you’re rewriting the first act, and introducing your characters, create situations and motivations that will keep the reader from ever thinking of Kate Hudson. If it helps, make the oddest mental casting choice you can and write the role that way. When your script sells, and Kate Hudson stars in it, she’ll have the opportunity to not be “Kate Hudson-esque.” And she’ll thank you profusely.