What does I/E mean?

questionmarkDuring my screenwriting process, I have encountered something called “I/E,” which I can’t find in your glossary. What does it mean?

Gothenburg, Sweden

I/E is simply a shorthand way of writing “INT./EXT.” in a scene heading, when the action will be taking place both inside and outside of a given location, like a parked car or a garden shed. Because it’s not all that commonly used, I usually just write it out:


Ronna knocks on the door.  A SPIKY-HAIRED GUY rolls down the window.

It’s a matter of personal preference. Many screenwriters do use I/E when the situation comes up.

New Fox show announced

Both The Hollywood Reporter and Variety had stories today about the new one-hour drama that I’m developing for Fox with Jordan Mechner, the writer of Prince of Persia.

The show is about two guys, business partners, who work as private military contractors. They run their own startup firm. Week-to-week, they find themselves in the most dangerous parts of the world — Iraq, Africa, South America — trying to complete short-term contract jobs such as rescuing hostages, guarding facilities, or protecting diplomats. Of course, being a drama, things never go as smoothly as planned.

The idea sprang from research Jordan was doing about military corporations, the mercenaries of the 21st century. It could have been a feature, but the more we talked about it, the more excited we got about developing it for television. The show is sort of a procedural (the term for all the CSI’s and such), but instead of trying to find a killer, our heroes are trying to complete a mission.

Television moves fast, but as I have updates, I’ll try to keep them posted.

How do I find out who represents a given actor?

I was wondering if it’s possible for you to tell me what agency Freddie Highmore is represented by.


No. And not only because your question was posted in the comments section of a random, unrelated topic.

However, I can tell you how to find out Freddie Highmore’s agent — or any actor’s agent. All film actors belong to some film acting union or guild — that’s how they get paid residuals when movies come out on video and television. In the U.S., that means SAG (Screen Actors Guild); the closest U.K. equivalent is probably Equity, but I trust an experienced U.K. reader will correct me if I’m wrong. For whichever guild, look up the phone number, call them, and ask for agent contact information. Voila.

The same basic process can be applied to directors or screenwriters.

Now for the more difficult question: why would you need to know who represents Freddie Highmore? Unless you’re calling to offer him gainful employment, an agent is not the one to help you. If you simply admire Highmore’s work — and why not, he’s a remarkable young actor — you’re much better off visiting a fan site where you can bond with others who feel likewise.

Can you be just a screenwriter anymore?

Recently, I struck up a correspondence with a successful screenwriter and asked him for advice on how to move my career forward. He told me that I should focus on making films instead of writing them, because that now was the best if not only way to break in.

Do you think that is true? I was inspired to take up screenwriting by people like William Goldman and Richard Price, who worked in the business solely as screenwriters. That’s what you’ve been able to do thus far in your career. Is it still a possibility?

– Vince
Seattle, WA

While films, short and otherwise, are increasingly being used as the foot-in-the-door for young writer-directors, if your goal is to become strictly a screenwriter, I’m not sure it’s the best use of your time and money. Yes, it’s still viable to be “just” a screenwriter. Not only will Richard Price and WIlliam Goldman continue to work, but new screenwriters emerge every year, propelled by nothing more than the quality of their writing.

What may have changed over the last decade is the degree to which a screenwriter is required to have social interaction. The classic nebbishy writer who gets spooked by his own shadow would have a hard time in modern Hollywood.

Take me. I’ve produced and directed, but 90% of my work consists of pushing words around on the page. The other 10% is crucial, however. It consists of making phone calls, taking meetings, discussing notes, and feigning interest in terrible projects just to be polite. My writing is what makes me hirable, but it’s sociableness that gets me hired.

One reason this sucessful screenwriter may have given you this advice is because you’re in Seattle, and while it’s easy to shoot a film there, it’s harder to come in contact with the people (agents, managers, producers) who can help you get your career going as a screenwriter. Since you can’t do the social part of a screenwriter’s job in Seattle, making a film isn’t a terrible idea. But neither is moving to Los Angeles, which might be the better use of your money.

‘Data’ is singular

rantI make my living writing dialogue — which, like real speech, is largely ungrammatical. Characters say “gimme” and “gotta” and “woulda.” They speak in fragments. Like this.

So I tend to be forgiving when a writer bends the rules, or uses words differently than I would prefer. Split infinitives? Fine by me. Dangling participles? No objection here. In fact, the only choice that drives me insane is when writers cling to false rules. To me, the shibboleth is the word “data.” This, from the Los Angeles Times:

Another 32 million have some information on file, but the data are too sketchy to create a traditional credit score, he said.

Most reasonable people would say “data is” rather than “data are.” Not only does it sound better, but it makes more sense. In this case, “data” refers to “some information” — it’s not clear what the individual bits of information would even be.

In fact, another article in the Times does treat data as singular:

Information security deals with issues such as who should access the data and how the data is stored, controlled, marked, disseminated and disposed of.

My suspicion is that the official style guide for the LA Times instructs writers to use data as a plural; the second writer broke the rule. “Data is plural” seems to be a common mandate. From The Economist’s style guide:

Propaganda looks plural but is not. Billiards, bowls, darts and fives are also singular. Data and media are plural. So are whereabouts. Teams that take the name of a town, country or university are plural, even when they look singular: England were bowled out for 56.

Why would publications insist on such arbitrary and wrong-sounding usages? Blame Latin. “Data” was originally the plural form of “datum,” which means “something given.” English speakers who use data as a plural noun, in constructions such as “these data” or “data are,” do so with conviction: they know intellectually that data is supposed to be plural, so they use it that way.

Unfortunately, many dictionaries disagree with them. From the American Heritage Dictionary:

[M]ore often scientists and researchers think of data as a singular mass entity like information, and most people now follow this in general usage.

Oxford Dictionary says the singular form is fine for us Yanks, and will probably become the rule in the Old World as well:

[T]here has been a growing tendency to use it as an equivalent to the uncountable noun information, followed by a singular verb. This is now regarded as generally acceptable in American use, and in the context of information technology. The traditional usage is still preferable, at least in Britain, but it may soon become a lost cause. Compare with agenda.

Yes, let’s. Following this logic, which I’ll call the Plurican Mandate –

If the word is plural in its source language, then it must be plural in English.

– the following sentences are correct:

(agendum, agenda)
* Let’s move on to the next agendum.
* The meeting’s agenda are long.

(graffito, graffiti)
* The boy was apprehended while spray-painting a graffito on the wall.
* Bathroom graffiti are particularly vulgar.

(forum, fora)
* This is the appropriate forum for this discussion.
* Due to a server problem, the fora are temporarily closed.

Obviously, I feel pretty strongly that blindly following the rules of the source language is ridiculous, or else I wouldn’t have written this interminable essay. But I’m not going to chastise individual writers for choosing the opposite tack. Different things sound right to different people. As long as no one is an asshole about it, Pluricans and Singlecrats can still get along.

All I would ask of the Pluricans is to get off their high horse. Saying “data are” is like an American putting a “u” in “color,” “honor,” or “valor.” No, it’s not technically wrong, but it’s showy, deliberate and vain.

It’s like over-pronouncing Italian at the Olive Garden. No one is impressed, and frankly, we’re just a little embarrassed for you.