Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Rules Are Meant To Be Broken-Except For These!

Rule #1: Do not use voice over
Reason?: Show don't tell.

This one always pissed me off. Other writers will take you out behind the woodshed for this one, even before reading it. And I quote: "So many beginners use it wrong, it's best just to forego it all together. The risk isn't worth it." To which I say, "Beginning writers do almost everything wrong. Formatting, structure and transitions are often just obliterated in the first few or even 10 screenplays. They'll learn how to do it properly through practice, like anything else". Besides, some of the greatest movies of all time use Vo extensively. Goodfellas, Citizen Kane and Taxi Driver, among countless others. You can show, and accent with voice over. Obviously, saying what's happening on the screen, well that's just stupid. But who does that, except someone who can't write, or has just begun, anyway? If a man is walking very deliberately in a downpour, without an umbrella, you know he has some sort of problem, or dilemma on his mind. Now say I comment on something else entirely? Like this:

Roslo Bogolog tenderly steps through the river of water that streams by his feet. He stops at the corner, glares at the Do Not Cross sign, and sets his gaze back to the river amongst his toes. The rain pounds his shoulders relentlessly as he studies his sloshed shoes with dismay.

I wonder if she's with him right now? How much time can one spend with a urologist without it sending them into fits, anyway?

The light turns red, and he is allowed to cross. He kicks at a rather deep sea set in a pot hole on the street, sending a wave of water briefly into the air.

I mean, I've met urologists, and they're boring as hell. Urinary track this, urinary track that.

He approaches the glass double doors of the law offices in which he practices. He walks in, takes his jacket off, and shakes it dry. He stands in front of the gaudy gold elevators, silently staring at the numbers as they slowly count down to ground level.

Then again, I've met many lawyers in my day, and we're no Swiss picnic, either.

End horrible example/

So what's wrong with using VO in that situation? To me, using voice over in this way shows and tells, without being redundant. He is not telling anything of what he's doing at the present time, which is walking sheepishly to work, not caring about the rain soaking him. We see that. But the VO does give us some insight to what he is thinking, without going overboard. So, was this example incorrect? Obviously, it's not necessary for this scene, but I think it adds a layer, and doesn't hurt it. I would really like to know, because I have a hard time believing this is a detriment to the story. But if I'm wrong, tell me so.

Tune in next time when I hit on fantasy and dream sequences.


John Donald Carlucci said...

But is what he's thinking that important to the scene? The only VO I use is in my RomCom, and that is because the main is talking directly to the audience.

The handful of good examples just doesn't out distance the VOLUME of bad examples. I've read for three companies and still cry myself to sleep at night when one of those scripts comes back at me out of the dark. The only thing I took away from reading is that the majority of the scripts flooding the market are just bad.

I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that it pisses you off to be told what is a rule and what is a strong suggestion. I did too. I had a roommate that would tear my script apart because the action lines were too long, I was two descriptive, or I put in a few camera directions. His attitude pissed me off and I dug in my heels. Maybe what he said was right and maybe the accepted norm was to leave out certain things. However, this was my script and it was a great piece of work. Readers would overlook and recognized the NEED for the extra long action lines.

What I didn't want to admit was that I was being fantastically stubborn. Screw the advice, I'm gonna kick in some doors.

I didn't kick in doors.

I did make the decision to be more open to the advice other writers offered. Over the last four months, I have devoured websites like Alex Epstein and John Rogers. I submitted my work to Zoetrope. I learned a lot on how to tweak what I already know. My work has improved and looks more professional.

What I'm saying is to break rules when you REALLY believe it is important, but the advice is very important too.

However, there a million way to break into Hollywood. Maybe what I've said is bullshit too. Do what works for you man.


JD said...

I rarely use Vo, because I don't believe there's a need for it in any of my stories. But one definitely benefits from it, and it's received very good reviews. So, actually, I haven't been told "Take that out", because they see it is needed. What does piss me off is, people who say you should never use it, when it's blatantly obvious to me it works incredibly well in the right circumstances. And these aren't pros telling me this, these are people who read that 'rule' somewhere, and regurgitate it back to me, without taking it in the context of my script. I don't like the cut and dry of it, I guess.

The handful of good examples just doesn't out distance the VOLUME of bad examples. But I would say that's true with every part of screenplay, not just VO. As many scripts you've read that have great dialogue, there's probably hundreds that are horrendous. Same with format. I think if a script is bad, it's bad. If it's good, it's good.

I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that it pisses you off to be told what is a rule and what is a strong suggestion.

How very true. But I'm old enough now to take my medicine in good faith, and wait for the payback.:) I take advice from all the pros very seriously. And they aren't the ones that I'm speaking of. It's the people in the same boat as me, who, because they read it somewhere, it must be true. It's like fashion-one person wears a shirt, and suddenly, that's all that people wear. Too many blind followers.

What I didn't want to admit was that I was being fantastically stubborn. Screw the advice, I'm gonna kick in some doors.

See, I know I need the advice. I've mellowed in the last few years. But i'm taking the advice and I'm kicking in the doors when I make my movie come Winter time!

John Donald Carlucci said...

And I have to say that everything I said concerned myself. If anyone takes anything from it, I'm glad to help.


moses said...

I'm with ya on this one. Bogus rule or whatever. I think VO can kill ya if the VO is basically just "explaining" the scene. But if it's subtle and not knotted to scene then it can be great.

Anonymous said...

My current script started out as a dual VO, essentially having a couple looking back on their life, then on a second pass I left it with just one VO, a lot of the humor came through in his attitude in the VO... believe it or not on the third pass now and I ended up taking it right out. I still think that coming of age stories a/la Stand By Me use it brilliantly and I really love VOs

JD said...

I just want to add what I wrote as an example was off the cuff, so It doesn't really represent what type of situation I'm thinking about.