Don’t Write a Remove on a Remove
Quick screenwriting tip. I was on one of the Facebook screenwriting groups—there are a bunch of them.
From time to time, people post their loglines for feedback. I’ve done it, myself.
Typically, the loglines you read are nowhere near anything that would garner professional consideration. Lots of reasons for that. (You can read my long series of columns here.)
I’ll summarize somebody’s idea—which I probably shouldn’t do, but they posted it publicly, and it’s useful as a teaching tool.
The concept was a shrink who starts to realize his patient can see the future.
Okay, not entirely terrible. But I pointed out what I thought is the most glaring problem:
It’s really the patient’s story. He or she is the one with the power. The shrink is just interpreting it.
The story has its first “remove” from reality: what if you could see the future?
But having the protagonist be the person’s shrink—that’s a remove on a remove.
And those tend to fail. Because the audience will always be drawn to the most important and interesting thing in the story: here, it’s the future power!
And if that is a secondary element—if the person with the power is actually off-screen most of the time—it will be annoying and slow down the storytelling, the fact that the audience’s attention is persistently elsewhere.
This comes up all the time in amateur screenwriting. Typically, amateur writers are overwhelmed by the possibilities of their concept (here, the concept being “seeing the future”). They want to make it manageable to write, so they shunt off the concept to the side and do something less difficult—but also way less compelling.
Years ago I was at a reception and some guys were pitching their TV show to a big-shot writer/producer. Their show was about the assistants to the most powerful people in the world.
I said, um, won’t it be a problem that the assistants’ stories are way less interesting than the actual powerful people?
I don’t think anybody was interested in hearing my feedback—then or now, on Facebook!
When The West Wing was first conceived, Aaron Sorkin thought he would do the story of all the President’s staff. The President might be perennially off-screen—or at most, just make an occasional appearance.
But he quickly realized that the President himself was an integral character.
So there you have it: Don’t write a “remove on a remove”!