Mixing in bits of other languages

questionmarkI’m writing a script at the moment which at various points throughout requires characters to speak in different languages other than English. I was just wondering if there is a strict code for writing small moments of French or Italian in an English speaking script?

For example, do I write the foreign language as a regular piece of dialogue underneath the character name in block capitals as normal and write the English in brackets underneath? Or do I write the dialogue in English and indicate in the stage directions it should be spoken in Italian or whatever?

— Garreth
London, England

There are no hard-and-fast rules. My best advice is that if the word or phrase is short, and easily understandable in context, use the foreign language. So, the Frenchman says, “Bonjour.”

If it’s serious dialogue you’re talking about, put it in English. Here’s a few snippets from the Ops pilot Jordan Mechner and I wrote, which shows a few ways of doing it.


A corrugated-metal shack. We don’t see much of it.

A terrified Dagny is flanked by TWO KIDNAPPERS.

Their leader (the Voice) passes the phone to Dagny.


Papa? Papa!

(fast stream of Norwegian)

Give them what they want, please get me out of here, I’m scared! Papa!


Hospital! Where is hospital?

The old man scurries inside.



As you can see, we didn’t always format things the same way. In this case, I think consistency is less important than clarity.

If a significant chunk of your dialogue is going to be in a specific non-English language — for instance, if an entire scene is two characters speaking in Farsi — save your readers some bother and drop the “(in Farsi, subtitled)” parentheticals. Just say it’s in Farsi in the scene description. It’s your choice whether to leave it in italics.

Crisis of Infinite Celebrities

Most screenwriting nerds can be divided along an axis of DC Comics fans and Marvel men. Largely because of the too-young-to-realize-it-was-bastardized Superfriends, I ended up in the DC camp. But one of the things that’s kept me there has been the franchise’s willingness to accept that every once in a while, you need a good housecleaning.

Thus, you have events like Crisis on Infinite Earths, which, while clumsily executed, had the laudable goal of simplifying the DC Universe. Through drastic and sometimes painful choices, the editors succeeded in getting rid of extraneous characters and plotlines, effectively rebooting the world.

I have come to believe the same thing must happen in the real world. The time has come to rethink, retool and retire many of our celebrities.

I urge the editors of People, US Weekly and Star, along with their brethren at Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood, to consider my suggestions as merely the first part of a major and much-needed overhaul of the American celebrity system.

Tom, Katie and Suri
Can we just admit we have no idea where this storyline is going? It’s become embarrassing, the real-life equivalent of last season’s Alfre Woodard plotline on Desperate Housewives. Let’s just say they’re happy and fine. Is that true? I don’t know. I don’t care. Tom Cruise isn’t even shooting another movie yet, so it’ll be at least 18 months before he needs to resurface to do publicity. We can all take a break until then. Seriously.

Lindsay Lohan
Talented young actresses should be going to Princeton, not nightclubs. Rather than focussing on her weight, let’s examine how a 20-year old actress gets into bars every night. It’s not like she has a fake I.D. If I were the Chief of Police for New York or Los Angeles, I would gather all the press photos of Lohan with a cocktail in her hand and close every nightclub she’s photographed inside. Once her favorite watering holes are shuttered, Lohan can then get drunk at an Ivy League party like a normal young woman.

Britney Spears
I bet most young mothers would come off poorly if photographed 24/7. She’s made a string of bad choices, but she’s clearly not a bad person. Let’s recast her as an Erin Brockovich-style underdog hero and root for her comeback. But not now. Let’s put her in storage for few years.

Closeted stars who are obviously gay
Enough with the winking and blind items. One reason that even minor stars don’t come out is because the press is so childish and nasty even when they aren’t naming names. Let’s declare a one-year moratorium on tawdry innuendo and see if we can at least get the bit players on crime shows to come out.

The cast of Laguna Beach
One of them needs to die under mysterious circumstances. That’s the only way I could ever be interested in them.

Celebrities’ kids
Uncool to photograph them unless they’re at a public event like a movie premiere. The first magazine to adopt (and stick to) this policy will earn tremendous goodwill from celebrities and publicists.

David Hasselhoff
Killed in a blimp accident. Or moves to Germany, never to return. His choice.

Hot tennis players
Call me crazy, but I think we could use more of them. They’re wholesome; they’re goal-driven; they have a valid reason for fame, unlike Paris Hilton. I want them to date, break up, have drama, then happily marry and breed a new generation of athletes.

Obviously, this is only a rough draft of a much larger agreement that will need to be negotiated at the Celebrity Summit later this month. But, for the good of popular culture, I urge all of the editors and producers attending to take my suggestions — and your suggestions — to heart.

J.J. Abrams got a $55+ million deal

Actually, it’s two deals: one for TV at Warners, and another for film at Paramount. Though I’ve never met the guy, I’m very happy for him. It honestly couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy. Not only has he consistently created great material in the past, he clearly has great work ahead of him.

And yet…

I feel exhausted just thinking about it.

Right now, he has three TV shows on the air: Lost, What About Brian, and Six Degrees. He’s prepping the next Star Trek movie, and is supposed to be producing other, smaller movies on top of that.

Meanwhile, I’m going to be spending this entire week working on a two-minute section of The Movie. Oh, and I have a lunch with my TV agent about a show I probably won’t do because I don’t have time. Because, you see, I operate on Mortal Time.

Godspeed, Mr. Abrams. I look forward to your work, and pray that your stretching the boundaries of the time-space continuum don’t have any grave repercussions. (But as mutual fans of science-fiction, we both know that’s unlikely.)

Fingers crossed.


About halfway through shooting The Movie, the propmaster asked, “Hey, where are your glasses?” I had taken them off to check my email, and left them sitting on the dining room table. It’s part of his job to recognize continuity issues, so it’s natural he noticed something was off.

But it was only his comment that made me realize: Holy shit. I wear glasses.

The truth is, I’ve had glasses since high school, but I’ve never considered myself a glasses-wearer. I’m near-sighted, with mild astigmatism. Originally, the glasses were only for driving at night and watching movies on the big screen. After college, I found myself wearing them for watching TV. Then, several years ago, I started wearing them for all driving, day and night. But I work at home, so I don’t drive much. And TV hours are limited, particularly with the baby. Most days, you’d only find me in glasses for ninety minutes, tops.

Then came The Movie.

Whereas a writer only has to look at the words on the screen, a director has to look at actual things: people, props, stupid bamboo plants that keep getting moved into the shot to conceal light stands. In having to look at all of these things at various distances, I found myself wearing my glasses 12 hours a day.

The crew naturally assumed I was a person who wore glasses full-time, so any moment where I had them off was an anomaly. Thus Greg Props’s question. Thus my dismay: Without realizing it, I’ve become a (nearly) full-time four-eyes.

I’ve got nothing against glasses, really. They work. But they kind of suck for a director. When we were filming out in Malibu, they kept getting streaked with sweat and sunscreen. When looking through the camera lens, one has to take them off, adjusting the diopter to find focus, which screws it up for the operator. Mostly, they just get in the way. I have magnetic clip-on sunglasses which work okay, but honestly look stupid. The alternative — carrying around prescription sunglasses — just isn’t going to happen.

Contact lenses aren’t a terrific solution for me, partly because my eyes freak out at the mildest irritation, and partly because my reading vision is better without them.

All of which serves as introduction to the real topic at hand: laser eye surgery.

My uncorrected vision is good enough that I’ve put off LASIK for years, assuming (correctly, as it turns out) that it would get better and cheaper. But in putting it off, I’ve also gotten older, which means that correcting my distance vision will put me in reading glasses sooner. Maybe immediately. (This isn’t particularly a laser thing; it’s a time thing. As you hit your 40’s, your eyes lose the ability to focus clearly at short distances. Fixing one’s nearsightedness often hastens the need for reading glasses.)

Is losing my distance glasses worth adding reading glasses? Maybe. And considering I’ll eventually need reading glasses anyway, it might be time.

One possible alternative to the either-or scenario is monovision. That’s a terrible word for it, because it conjures up images of Colonel Klink, patch-wearing pirates and the foreign policy of George W. Bush. A better term would probably be “split vision” or “asymmetrical vision.” Basically, they correct one eye for distance, and the other for reading.

The literature touts it as the “best of both worlds,” but clearly it’s a compromise — your distance vision isn’t as good as it could be, nor is your reading vision. But good enough is often the best solution.

I’m test-driving it now, wearing one contact in my right eye (my dominant eye). So far, it’s pretty good. My distance vision is much sharper. The challenge is reading. I can focus with either eye separately, but together, things tend to be a bit blurry, as if the right and left are fighting about who should be in charge. From what I’ve read, your brain eventually figures out how to make sense of it.

For now, I’m enjoying my monovision experiment. But it’s brought up another issue: sunglasses. I didn’t have any non-prescription sunglasses, so I had to borrow a pair.

I guess you never really get away from glasses.

Spec, or write it for the producer?

questionmarkI recently went out to about 10 companies with a comedy pitch. I had some good response, although no sale, as I somewhat expected as a new writer. But it was a great experience to pitch it, meet new people, etc.

One of the producers I pitched to loved the overall concept but had issues with my execution of it. He wants to develop it with me as a script.

On the one hand, I can see the value of having an experienced exec’s insight. Plus he was very excited about the idea and got it on a thematic level.

On the other, I am so sick of developing this idea which I’ve been working on for months and really want to start writing it now. (Even though it didn’t sell, I still think i can execute it well enough to sell.) I’m worried the producer’s ideas for plot changes were pretty major, and I may not agree with all of them. Plus I’d have to cater to his views in order for him to bring it to the studio. My inclination is to just go ahead and spec it, then show it again to him and everyone else. But I’m wondering what you think. I’d hate to pass up a good opportunity.

Los Angeles, CA

I don’t know the producer, so I can’t speak to his taste. But I think your instincts are right.

Look at it this way: Say you write the script and it still doesn’t sell. At least if you wrote the script the way you wanted, you’d always have something you believed in. But if you wrote it to the producer’s vision and it didn’t sell, you’d be stuck with a script that’s not really what you wanted in the first place.

So I say, spec it and take it to the producer first. If he still wants it his way, you can decide whether it’s worth the work to try it. He may even option it. But whatever happens, you’ll always have your version in the vault.

NPR interview postponed

Daryl G. Nickens, who edited Doing It for Money, passed away over the weekend. So the interview scheduled for this afternoon — which was supposed to be Daryl, Chris Brancato and myself — has been pushed back to some unspecified date. I’ll let you know when I know.

Daryl worked mostly in television, with a career going back decades. I never met him, but my sympathies go out to his family and friends for the loss.