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Too Many Parentheticals?


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#1 Steve McBride

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Posted 23 June 2008 - 08:45 PM

I'm more of a director/ dp/ editor myself and not much of a writer and I am writing a script for a short that I ahve been juggling around my head for about a year, and I'm just wondering if there is such a thing as too many parenthetical's when writing a script?

For example...

MARA
						 (narrow eye'd)
					Ah, the stubborn type, you tend to
					see that a lot these days.

							  DAVE
						 (looking down)
					Heh, yeah.
						 (beat; looks up)
					You said you were in marketing?

							  MARA
						 (finishes a sip)
					Mmm... yeah...
						 (laughs)
					sorry...

It kinda goes on like that a bit, maybe not so much of the mid-dialogue notes, but a good amount of the dialogue has it's own parenthetical. Is this considered "right" or should this be done with action, or just with notes in a seperate document?
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#2 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 23 June 2008 - 09:15 PM

It kinda goes on like that a bit, maybe not so much of the mid-dialogue notes, but a good amount of the dialogue has it's own parenthetical. Is this considered "right" or should this be done with action, or just with notes in a seperate document?


I would say that you should place that sort of thing in your actions. Then again, it all depends onwhat you plan doing with the script. If you are going to shoot it and fund it, it really doesn't matter what you do. You can write a script on a bar napkin if you wish. If you are looking to make a fest run and try to achieve external funding, you should make your pitch script look as pro as you can. In that case, I would definitely recommend eliminating parentheticals for stuff like that and putting that in your action segments. Honestly, if you can avoid parentheticals all together, you may be better off.

DISCLAIMER: Before anyone accuses me of not being an "artist" for having "rules" just remember that I am aware that parentheticals have their place. I just feel like it's better to avoid them altogether than to use them wrong. Same thing with a previous thread where I was against breaking the 180 degree rule. If you break it, you had better add something to the story by doing so. I find it's better to avoid that too than to use it wrong.
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#3 Ruairi Robinson

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Posted 23 June 2008 - 10:12 PM

I'm more of a director/ dp/ editor myself and not much of a writer and I am writing a script for a short that I ahve been juggling around my head for about a year, and I'm just wondering if there is such a thing as too many parenthetical's when writing a script?

For example...

MARA
						 (narrow eye'd)
					Ah, the stubborn type, you tend to
					see that a lot these days.

							  DAVE
						 (looking down)
					Heh, yeah.
						 (beat; looks up)
					You said you were in marketing?

							  MARA
						 (finishes a sip)
					Mmm... yeah...
						 (laughs)
					sorry...

It kinda goes on like that a bit, maybe not so much of the mid-dialogue notes, but a good amount of the dialogue has it's own parenthetical. Is this considered "right" or should this be done with action, or just with notes in a seperate document?


If a script like this went through Warner Bros formatting, they will translate every single one of these to action lines, and if you have these on practically every page, your script will baloon in length. Unless used sparingly, it's considered a bit of a lame cheat to try and cram more onto a page.

(beat; looks up) is a particularly bad offender, because it doesn't really take a "beat" worth of page space to write this in parenticals.

For the most part you should be able to imply their behavior just from the dialog, unless the action is crucial to the story. A lot of actors will just cross them out and ignore them.

These are just suggestions, and for a short they wont really matter all that much, but it's good practice if you end up working on studio pictures to get your head around how they prefer things to be formatted.

You are not using them wrong, you are just overusing them. As with any of these things, use sparingly. Is it really, really crucially important that the Mara character "finishes a sip" at this point? If you can cut ANYTHING out, and it still reads clearly without it, then do.

Best,
R.
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#4 Jorge Espinosa

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Posted 24 June 2008 - 01:41 AM

Do not write"beat".
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#5 Ruairi Robinson

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Posted 24 June 2008 - 02:33 AM

Do not write"beat".



Er... why on earth not?

I could cite many many many great scripts that have used this device, from Billy Wilder script for The Apartment, to Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, to L.A Confidential, to the script for American Beauty (which uses it a LOT)

The point is not to use anything to excess, not to tell people what they are allowed to write.

R.
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#6 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 24 June 2008 - 10:17 AM

Er... why on earth not?

I could cite many many many great scripts that have used this device, from Billy Wilder script for The Apartment, to Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, to L.A Confidential, to the script for American Beauty (which uses it a LOT)

The point is not to use anything to excess, not to tell people what they are allowed to write.

R.


Beats and pauses are pretty common in scripts. However, I wouldn't put things in like "narrowed eyed" in because it's nothing to do with the dialogue, although I'd use "joking" or "laughing" or "with biting irony".

The "beat: looks up" I'd leave the "beat" out because it already implies the line will be delivered after the look up. The looking down I'd put in the action and so I'd tend to also put the looks up in an action line.


Dave looks down (I'd say where or why he looks because it gives some subtext eg "at the floor" "at the crumpled bed" "into Maria eyes" or "in thought" )

DAVE
Heh, yeah.

Looking up ("at Maria", "at the atomic plans on the wall" "the dead body hanging from the light fitting")

DAVE (cont)
You said you were in marketing?


Sorry this isn't formatting correctly - just think standard script layout

Edited by Brian Drysdale, 24 June 2008 - 10:19 AM.

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#7 Steve McBride

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Posted 24 June 2008 - 11:48 AM

Thanks for the feedback and I agree with what has been said. Most of my parentheticals are somewhat needless/ useless as it would be implied by the type of setting/ mood I would give the actors. Some of my parentheticals should just be in the action.

Thanks again!
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#8 Keneu Luca

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 05:23 AM

In filmmaking, objectivity is so important. And it is no exception in the format of a script. The difference with a script's format is that it is objectvity in relation to your potential producers, cast, and crew, as opposed to the audience.

Those parentheticals really slow down the reading and action of the script. But in the mind of the writer it wont, because you already see them in your head.
But the reader has to read it and process it. This is their first time experiencing the scene. The writer already has it processed it, so they dont always see the problem. The writer has had the scene in their mind for some time so it all flows easily for them.

It is in the writer's best interest to make it as easy as possible for the reader.

As stated before, are those parentheticals crucial? I'm guessing probably not. But I could be wrong.

Consider this. You can eliminate all of those parentheticals, but if youre directing anyway, you can still direct those parenthetical actions when shooting. But if you can find actors who after doing their script analysis already do those parentheticals, or something close, then isnt that better than having to spoon feed it to them?

You want your actors to be able to figure those things out on their own because that means you found good actors. Actors need to be able to find the subtext on their own.

Plus, they may do something completely different than you imagined and pleasantly surprise you. And its even better if they do that on their own.

Edited by Keneu Luca, 25 June 2008 - 05:24 AM.

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#9 Glen Alexander

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 06:41 AM

Parentheticals are like spices, use them lightly and sparingly.
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#10 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 08:42 AM

Consider this. You can eliminate all of those parentheticals, but if youre directing anyway, you can still direct those parenthetical actions when shooting. But if you can find actors who after doing their script analysis already do those parentheticals, or something close, then isnt that better than having to spoon feed it to them?

You want your actors to be able to figure those things out on their own because that means you found good actors. Actors need to be able to find the subtext on their own.

Plus, they may do something completely different than you imagined and pleasantly surprise you. And its even better if they do that on their own.


One film actor (he's starred in quite a few feature films) said at the writing workshop that he'd like as many clues as possible. I'd say only put in a parenthesis if it's conveying information about the dialogue and keep it very brief and only use it when a dramatic/story necessity.

Dialogue is often subject to change, but short, snappy parenthesis is a good starting point for an actor. Perhaps more important, when trying to sell a script or fund a film, the script reader doesn't have to pause to work things out e.g. is this character joking or serious?

Basically, use them with restraint.
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#11 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 01:32 PM

Parentheticals are like spices, use them lightly and sparingly.


Unless it's pepper then you can pile it on... :D
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#12 Paul Bruening

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 02:23 PM

I usually save parentheticals for singular, significant and sudden changes in the emotional flow. As I think back on it, I don't think I ever put more than about 5 parentheticals in any feature script.
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#13 Jorge Espinosa

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 02:51 AM

QUOTE (Jorge Espinosa @ Jun 24 2008, 07:41 AM)
Do not write"beat".



Er... why on earth not?


Because on the day, you accomplish that "beat" either giving the actor a certain direction to pause or slow down your pace, or you write something like what Brian Drysdale said earlier:

Dave stares at the floor.
[/center]DAVE

Heh, yeah.

Dave stares at the floor. He suddenly looks up.

DAVE

You said you were marketing?[center]

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#14 Jim Keller

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Posted 30 June 2008 - 01:43 PM

As a general rule, you should only use a parenthetical if two possible interpretations of a line are possible, and it's important for the story that only one of them be used.

So, "looking down" is a fine parenthetical if it's important to the story that this character is not making eye contact. If it's in there just because it's what you see in your head, you're guilty of what we call "directing on paper" and you should take it out.

That level of detail is very appropriate for prose, but if you give your actors that level of detail they will either ignore it (and therefore probably miss the things that truly are important) or follow them and deliver a mechanical performance.

Edited by Jim Keller, 30 June 2008 - 01:44 PM.

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#15 Joe Giambrone

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Posted 07 September 2008 - 06:14 PM

I didn't find the parentheticals you posted worth reading, as in they were unnecessary.

If there is a compelling reason for these actions, include them, but unnecessary trivial actions are just ... unnecessary and trivial. This is my opinion of course, but it seems to have some wider agreement.
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#16 Adam Orton

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Posted 21 October 2008 - 04:04 PM

Actors hate them. Avoid unless it's something very specific to that character.
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#17 Chris Keth

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Posted 22 October 2008 - 07:54 PM

Read the script blurb you posted with and without the parentheticals. None of them make any difference to the story. They only show that the writer is trying to direct, photograph, and act the story in advance. If a director got a script like that to direct I guarantee they would black out all of the parentheticals before doing anything else.
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#18 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 23 October 2008 - 01:55 AM

The reason you're doing this is because you're not use to writing a script so you're essentially imagining what your characters look like, what they are feeling and doing, so you're directing the piece on paper. That's fine while you're writing the first draft just to help you visualize what you're doing BUT remember a script goes through many drafts so as you RE-write the script, start pulling out all those "suggestions" you stuck in there because that's all parentheticals actually are, suggestions and here's a little secret, your actors are gonna read them then ignore them because they're gonna bring their own interpretation to the role as will the director (EVEN if that's YOU believe it or not), cinematographer, set designer etc, etc, etc. What parentheticals are good for is clarification of important points in the script, IE a role can be interpreted 2 ways but it's important it be interpreted THIS way or to give your actors and film crew a starting point. As you grow more comfortable with writing, you'll begin to not need the crutches and leave out all the extraneous stuff in order to go right to the meat of the scene. I would recommend you go ahead and finish the script with all your parentheticals left in place THEN go back and re-write it and then re-write it again and keep re-writing it a couple of more times til it flows like warm butter. Like Speilberg once said-"Thank God for the 5th draft!" B)

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 23 October 2008 - 01:58 AM.

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#19 Del Collens

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Posted 15 January 2009 - 07:40 PM

I think you just need to remember that every writer and director is different, and depending on the circumstances and it's intentions, add what you feel is important for the story.

Certain writer/directors write their first drafts in directors scripts, most actions including shots, movements, reminders, etc.
There is no specific 'formula' to writing a script outside of the format of them. Actually, 9 times out of 10, besides the (pause)'s, most parenthetical are completely ignored (at least by people who work in development).

You best bet is to simply ask yourself if its necessary, if it isn't, then get rid of it.

As a personal preference for myself, when taking someone else's script into production, I have it re-written in notes, because the page doesn't direct the actors itself, and you may often find that something doesn't work (more often than not) either for pacing purposes or emotion.
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