When characters have multiple names

questionmarkIn screenwriting classes they say not to introduce a character by one name only to switch it later on. For example, introducing a character as BARTENDER only to change it to BOB two pages later for no reason. However this feels like a different situation than my problem.

In my script there is a character that, for the sake of an important reveal later on, lies about his identity to the protagonist. In the script right now, the character introduction has his real name, while in the dialog he is referred to by his fake name. This ruins the important reveal later for someone reading the script.

The best example from a movie I can think of is the movie Charade. In Charade, Cary Grant’s character goes through at least three or four names.

How is this handled format-wise?

— J. Jovel
via imdb

In general, treat your reader like an audience member. As much as possible, you want to give readers the same information on the page that they would get on the screen. So if the character is introducing himself as “Mr. Truefake,” that’s what you should call him in the script.

In the third act, when it’s revealed that his real name is actually Ichabod Donnweather, it’s up to you whether you want to change his name in the scene description. If he’s only going to be sticking around for a page or two, you might consider using both names, like Truefake/Donnweather.

Another option is a quick explanatory note: “For clarity, we’ll continue to refer to him as Truefake.”

Either way, I’d advise you to keep using the original name in some form. Readers often lose track of characters, and changing up the names will generally make the situation worse.

Final Draft buys Script magazine

Today’s Variety reports that the makers of Final Draft have bought Script magazine and some related assets from Forum Publishing.

The deal probably makes sense for Final Draft. Rather than buy a big ad every month, why not just buy the whole magazine? Plus, Final Draft probably has a huge mailing list from its software registrations, which can help boost the circulation numbers.

Final Draft boss Marc Madnick is planning to redesign and relaunch Script in January. Given his company’s past record of upgrades — Final Draft 7.0, anyone? — here’s what I’d expect:

  • It will actually ship in 2008.
  • The staples will be in the wrong place.
  • An errant font will crash the magazine.
  • When you flip a page, the text will get jaggy.
  • Each issue can only be “installed” three times.

Can’t wait. Also…

Madnick said Final Draft is on track to sell about 35,000 software licenses this year.

That’s a lot of aspiring screenwriters. It also makes me wonder about the economics of screenwriting applications.

Final Draft’s list price is $229, but you can get it from Amazon for $169. Since we don’t know what percentage of their sales come from their own site and elsewhere, I’m going to pick $150 as their per-copy profit. That’s an arbitrary number, but it’s round, and we’re only looking for ballpark figures here.

35,000 x $150 = $5,250,000

Suffice to say, Microsoft won’t be going into the screenwriting software business. But for a lot of smaller software makers, that’s probably good money. Final Draft charges for tech support, so that’s not a big cost, and with online distribution, inventory costs are minimal. There’s certainly room for competing products.

But you won’t be reading about them in Script magazine.

I Heart Shortbus

I saw and loved John Cameron Mitchell’s SHORTBUS over the weekend. I’ll spare a few hundred words of praise and say I pretty much agree with Moriarty’s review — though I’d hope my readers are a little less eww-gross-boys-kissing! than the average AICN commenter.

Mr. Mitchell and I used to eat lunch at the same Koo Koo Roo — yes, the notorious one — back when he was a bit player on the short-lived sitcom Party Girl. I want to claim that I knew him before Hedwig, but the truth is I only knew who he was. Important distinction.

Because it’s not rated, Shortbus probably won’t play in most markets.1 But that’s what DVDs are for.

  1. Which reminds me: Check out THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED, a funny and interesting documentary by Kirby Dick about the MPAA ratings system.

As it turns out, I could care less

I fired an eight-year old girl.

It was the third day of production on The Movie, which had already endured freak rains, poison oak, rattlesnakes, bee swarms and a mountain lion. None of which could compare to this little girl.

The soon-to-be-fired pre-teen was a stand-in for our eight-year old actress. As a stand-in, her entire job was simply to reflect light and not be annoying. She failed.

She was ΓΌber-annoying: a cross between Pippi Longstocking and Nellie Olsen. Whichever way I looked, she was there. While I was discussing wardrobe with an actress during lunch, Demon Girl pushed her way into the actress’s trailer, just for a look.

I promptly told the first A.D. that I wanted the brat gone. When she somehow showed up on the set after lunch, I clarified my earlier statement: I never wanted to see that little girl again, beginning immediately. A white production van arrived to whisk her off to whatever circle of Hell or Reseda had spawned her.

Was it really this little girl’s fault? Perhaps not. She was, after all, eight. Her parent-slash-guardian was alarmingly lax, considering the aforementioned rattlesnakes. And there’s a compelling argument that children should not be stand-ins at all. 1

But that’s not the point.

I offer this story of juvenile termination to illustrate the single most important skill I developed while making The Movie: I learned to care less.

It seems anti-social — anti-human — to argue for less compassion. But in order to direct the film, I consciously decided to harden my heart a little. And by Zeus2, it helped.

In ordinary life, I’m nice, to the point of obliging. I tend to treat people in my life like guests at a never-ending dinner party I got roped into hosting. I want everyone to be comfortable, yet at the same time, I secretly want them to leave.

I find myself apologizing for things completely out of my control, like the weather, or the incompetent baggage clerk at Newark.

A friend of mine, who is one of the more emotionally-intelligent people I’ve met, labels this behavior “over-functioning.” I take responsibility for things that I should better leave alone, and reverse-delegate tasks out of a skewed sense of fairness.

This is a questionable strategy for life. But it’s a flat-out awful strategy for directing a movie. A director’s first and only concern needs to be getting the story into the camera — damn the cost, fatigue, frustration and hurt feelings.

So I changed.

I decided that while I was on set, my only responsibility was to the movie, and my ability to direct it. With this philosophy in hand, many decisions became easier.

It didn’t matter why the little girl was annoying. It wasn’t my job to figure out what her malfunction was, or why her parent-slash-guardian wasn’t keeping tabs on her. The little girl was getting in the way, and thus, she had to go.

When the the focus puller tripped during a complicated Steadicam shot, Ordinary John would have insisted that he get checked by the medic. Director John didn’t. Mr. Focus said he was okay, so we kept shooting. I could see he was hurt, but that wasn’t my responsibility. He was a grown-up, and it was his decision. He could take care of himself.

The real test of this new philosophy came while we were shooting at my house. Normally, the presence of any stranger in my home sends me into full host mode. 3 But when it came to The Movie, I let it go. The house was just a location; the crew was just the crew; it wasn’t my responsibility to find more toilet paper.

The real surprise of my Month of Caring Less was that I found myself caring much more deeply about the things that actually mattered.

Without the background noise of a thousand little niceties, I could focus much more clearly on what I wanted to happen in front of and behind the camera. I could talk to actors about motivation in very precise terms, because all I cared about was their moment, not the long-simmering feud between the gaffers and the camera department.

To be clear, I didn’t become an asshole. I think.4 I only yelled three times, which is three more times than I would normally yell in a year, but well within guild standards. After the little girl, I fired three other crew members, not because they were bad people, but because they weren’t doing what I needed them to do for the movie. Which was all that mattered.

And now that we’ve wrapped? I’m probably a little less obliging, a little less eager-to-please. I expect more out of people, and am quicker to express my displeasure when someone isn’t performing.

Still, there’s no doubt I’ve gotten softer. As I recently wrote to that better-adjusted friend:

I’m worried that the theoretical actors and crew of my theoretical movie might feel exploited by a decision I don’t need to make for months if ever. This keeps me awake at night. Not North Korea. This. Bah.

Which, in a way, is fine.

I think part of being a writer, or an actor, is letting yourself feel things without judgment. A director leads an army into battle; a screenwriter leads characters into danger. They’re vastly different jobs, which require different temperaments.

But I’ll definitely keep part of the experience with me. After you’ve cared less, you recognize a certain dishonesty in a lot of what passes for sociability, and the opportunity cost of too much pleasantry.

For example, the first day of shooting, there was one crew member I was certain wouldn’t work out. He was uncomfortably weird and grumpy. Yet as I watched him work, I realized he was just really into his job. Essentially, he was doing what I was doing, putting the movie first and everything else later. He was too focused to be friendly. But he ended up being a lifesaver, solving problems in seconds that could have taken minutes.

So what did I learn in making The Movie? It turned out, I could care less. And both the film and I were better for it.

  1. I had asked about using an adult little person for a stand-in. Apparently, it’s not uncommon, but we couldn’t swing it in time.
  2. In appreciation of Richard Dawkin’s [The God Delusion](http://www.amazon.com/God-Delusion-Richard-Dawkins/dp/0618680004/sr=8-1/qid=1160776464/ref=pd_bbs_1/002-6262160-3232047?ie=UTF8), I’ve decided to stop referring to the Abrahamic God and start spreading the wealth to other mythical deities.
  3. If I haven’t offered you something to drink within the first minute of your arrival, either I’m off my game, or I’d rather you leave.
  4. I guess technically, I shouldn’t care if I did become an asshole.

The collected works of 17.255.XXX.2

One of the great qualities of the internet is that it allows unfettered discussion and disagreement. Unlike traditional media, which is largely one-way, a blog like this one benefits from constant reader feedback. That’s why I’ve chosen to leave comments open for the majority of my posts, putting up with the inevitable comment spam and Prince of Persia casting suggestions.

And putting up with 17.255.XXX.2.

That’s not his real name, of course. He goes by Frederick Pina, The Lousy Truth, Jack, Stephen Spielberg (nice typo), Ben Davidson, Under the Blankets, Upper Class Weenie, Idea Man, Hillary Harper, Hiding Happily, Mr. Love Knuckles, Bia Tarpy, and From New York.

Over the last three months, he’s left 25 comments, all of which are dutifully recorded with his IP address. I’ve xxx’d out one section of his IP address to protect his illusion of anonymity, but savvy readers will figure out where he likely works.

“Frederick Pina” frequently complains of censorship, and although he’s using the term incorrectly, I’ll confess that I have at times deleted his less coherent thoughts from the moderation queue, largely because they’re off-topic. (My sexuality and baldness are pretty far from the blog’s stated purpose.)

“Do not feed the trolls” is the standard advice in this situation — eventually they get bored and move along. However, this commenter has been so diligent I feel it’s only fair to offer his un-abridged works, complete with their limited grasp of punctuation and spelling.

I’ll leave it to you, good readers, to decide if I’ve done right. And to possibly re-consider starting a blog of your own.

July 18, 2006 3:41:55 PM PDT

Yes ! I can’t wait ’till I get my own $55-million dollar deals. I’ll finally be able to afford my own personal John August, complete with bald head and sarcasm !


July 19, 2006 2:16:24 PM PDT

Is… Each and everyone of you are JEALOUS of J.J. Abrams. Admit it, you are all JEALOUS !!! A bunch of wanna-be screenwriters who are trying to break into the business, dream of being in J.J. shoes right now !!!


Jealous Ones Still Envy

July 19, 2006 4:23:48 PM PDT

There’s so much CENSORSHIP on this blog. Censorship is illegal John August. I wll have my attorneys look into this. Let freedom roam. You’re an American. If you don’t like something. Let the democracy rule on your blog.

July 20, 2006 3:38:28 AM PDT

Yes ! I can’t wait ’till I get my own $55-million dollar deals. I’ll finally be able to afford my own personal John August, complete with bald head and sarcasm !


July 21, 2006 10:05:36 PM PDT

John August,

Butt out of your own blog. We, the people, own it now !!!

HA ! HA ! HA ! HA ! HA !

p.s. Add live chat feature.

p.s.s. Also inter-national translation services whic all work simultaneoulsy and live !!

July 21, 2006 10:07:41 PM PDT


I just had a fantasy. What if you were put a chain around your next, left completely nude in front of typewriter and whipped daily to produce screenplays !!!

July 22, 2006 4:34:38 PM PDT

I have a question. My writing partner and I have an argument. I wrote a comedy. The singer PRINCE has an un-flattering light cameo. My friend says you can’t use the name PRINCE even on a spec script. I feel it’s a 1st Amendment issue.

Your thoughts.

July 25, 2006 7:49:01 PM PDT


I think you should make gay-porn with a mask on. Then have a contest to see who can spot you. The prize would be a film deal for the screenwriter with a major studio.

July 25, 2006 8:11:24 PM PDT

I want my prize John !

July 26, 2006 3:32:34 PM PDT

Screenwriters who are MORE talented than John August.

-David Koepp
-M. Night Shyamalan
-Charlie Kaufman
-Eric Roth
-Quentin Tarantino
-Stephen Gaghan

July 26, 2006 9:40:35 PM PDT

If a screenwriter kills someone, you can always say your characters made you do it.

July 26, 2006 11:32:42 PM PDT

Has anyone seen Lady in the Water. I saw over the weekend in New York City. Mr. Shyamalan is pure genius ! Two thumbs up !! Anyone care to disagree ??

July 26, 2006 11:34:02 PM PDT

I agree. M. Night Shyamalan is an Oscar worthy contender !! Very exciting films he writes & directs !!

July 27, 2006 7:05:49 PM PDT

What if celebrities are really just CGI shots shown on television & movies ??? What if we’re all just chasing some fantasy ??

July 28, 2006 5:26:57 PM PDT

I have a question about a movie practices which peeves me. In movies, characters have a tendercy to speak their thoghts. In real life we don’t do this, a movies should try and re-present reality. It would make it more believable. Once a character starts speaking his toughts, I’ve become aware I’m “watching” a movie, instead of being part of the “real” experience. Does this makes any sense ? Your thoughts ladies & gents !!

July 28, 2006 5:31:35 PM PDT


Why don’t you have interviews of Hollywood screenwriters, their beliefs, ideas, etc. It would be aspecial feature of the month. You could charge to access that information.

July 30, 2006 6:11:02 PM PDT


Coming Soon

July 31, 2006 8:52:12 PM PDT

Why don’t you discuss the business side of Hollywood. We could use some insight to stories, such as signing with a major talent agency, politics of the movie studios, what are stars like in private, do other screenwriters have envy, how do executives treat each other ??

August 2, 2006 9:05:33 PM PDT

What happened to screenwriters of the 60’s 70’s or 80’s. Do Hollywood tells to go to hell or do they keep pumping films ? In other words, do a screenwriter’s life expires because of age ?

August 3, 2006 9:24:39 PM PDT

You’re all a bunch of members of John’s gay mafia !!

August 7, 2006 11:04:01 PM PDT

I’m sure your movie will have lead characters which are gay and bald headed. Thanks for corrupting the moral fiber of America’s youth John August. Not only gay, but bald headed too ?? Heaven help us !!


August 23, 2006 2:45:15 PM PDT

I hope and pray your movie is a bomb, so your Hollywood careers crashes and burns into a flaming, fiery, burning hell John August.


August 24, 2006 6:51:28 PM PDT

John August is weak punk.

September 14, 2006 5:51:39 PM PDT

I rarely use it. I always carry my fancy Texas Instruments calculator to relieve me from thinking too much.

September 20, 2006 7:14:06 PM PDT

Is it allowed to deliver a screenplay written on MS Word to agents or producers in Hollywood ??

September 22, 2006 11:10:31 PM PDT

Hey John, am I still on the shit list ? I want to come back onto the play-ground !!


September 26, 2006 9:33:07 PM PDT

Go to hell bald man !!

October 11, 2006 7:37:59 PM PDT You’re such an arrogant screenwriter. We should stone you for that.


Come on fellow wanna-bes, let’s have John have it…

October 11, 2006 7:40:58 PM PDT

Let him who is with out sin cast the first word !

In defense of script supervisors

In the comments following yesterday’s article, someone suggested that a screenwriter looking for a no-experience-required job on a film set should look in to being a script supervisor.

This is absurd. Being a scripty isn’t a job for a screenwriter. It’s a job for a masochist. While not physically demanding in the way being a grip or a gaffer is, it’s still a lot of hard work, which if done correctly, is completely invisible to the audience.

In an Actual Movie, as opposed to a student film, you can’t just suddenly be a propmaster or an assistant director or script supervisor. That’s why in yesterday’s answer, I was careful to pick jobs that J.R. could theoretically land without experience to back it up.

Sure, given 20 minutes, you could probably figure out how to write down the information about various takes. But that’s a tiny fraction of a script supervisor’s job. They’re the field goal kickers of filmmaking, staying out of everyone’s way until needed in a crunch:

Quick, which hand did Margaret pick up the glass with, and after which line did she take a sip? And did she do that in take 4 or 5? Okay, that’s the master take. Let’s match that in the rest of the coverage we shoot today, Saturday, and three months from now in reshoots.

Wait, did he say, “my friend’s cousin, Bob” or “my cousin’s friend, Bob?”

Oh, and we need those camera reports now, because we’re breaking the film for the run tonight.

I’ve met great script supervisors, and ones I’ve wanted to throw off bridges. But screenwriters should never undervalue the scripty’s job, because she (or he, but usually she) is often the last defense against our scripts being mangled.