No, seriously. They suck. And I hate them. They're boring. Technical. And do not represent the final experience audiences have while watching a movie. AT. ALL. Sure, I went to film school. I write screenplays for a living. I understand that sluglines show locations, character names are for who's doin' th' talkin', and that the inciting incident happens on Page 10 or the script goes in the trash. And sometimes it's necessary to explain what the camera is doing: "We pull pack to reveal" ... "The camera zooms in on" ... "smash cut to" WTF? How can you smash cut while reading? Do you slam your face into the screen!?!? Personally, I think that's—to drop an SAT-word on y'all—"whack" to read and often confusing to everyone except the writer.
I've seen two types of screenwriters: Technical & Literary. The Technical Writer lays down their words like law, detailing every camera angle, cut and prop/character/location in ALL CAPS. "Our HERO grabs a GUN and SHOOTS the SCREENWRITER." This is exhausting to read, AND it FEELS a bit LIKE a crazy PERSON is alternately YELLING and speaking SOFTLY. Maybe they're just Christopher Walken. Or maybe they just have tourettes.
Literary Writers create scripts as fancy as novels. Beautifully described vistas, seductively thesaurus'd words, and blocks of action that read like Stephen King at his finest. (See, a simile, and previously, a metaphor) These are often a pleasure to read, but don't feel like movies. The opposite problem.
INT. PINK'S APARTMENT - DAY
Pink sits in bed reading. All is quiet, except for some faint boy band music. Suddenly, the door bursts open.
BLUE: PINK I LOVE YOU!
BANG! Pink pulls out a gun and shoots Blue.
That scene got one of the biggest laughs in the show (somehow) but on paper it's boring as F. Because that's really the problem. You drop a script on someone's desk. It's black and white. There are...words... Lots of technical mumbo jumbo. It's slooooowwwwww to read. And you're asking people to laugh. To envision the setting, pace and delivery for a scene.
After writing dozens of scripts in both formats, Ed Skudder and I devised our own way of writing for our show, and then movie, DICK FIGURES that would be just as enjoyable to read as to watch. We started writing scripts that were funny throughout. Like, every line. To an insane degree. This made every part of the screenplay—sluglines, dialogue, camera direction, action—feel like a comedy, not just the funny lines and moments when characters fart.
Well, I've already broken #1 Rule in Writing 101: Show don't tell. So lemme remedy with a few short examples. Here's the preface to the DICK FIGURES THE MOVIE screenplay.
Ah yes, that University of Southern California Cinematic Arts Production Degree (Phew!) is really being put to good use.
Talking directly to the reader:
A joke that started in the script action, but makes its way to dialogue. To be honest, this doesn't even make sense unless you read the screenplay AND watch the movie. Definitely Post-Modern.
My favorite opening to any movie ever:
And to show just how dedicated we were to this method, when I went to type THE END! I accidentally typed THE NED! and we just kept it because it was funnier. For anyone who wants to read the screenplay for DICK FIGURES THE MOVIE in its entirety, here's a link to the PDF. For screenwriters, DF fans, or drunk people, I think you'll enjoy.
And please comment below with your thoughts on this, on writing, or even just about DICK FIGURES. I'm happy to banter about it all.