Above is a random page—and I mean random, I just went to anyplace in the pdf—of Tony Gilroy’s script to The Bourne Supremacy.
I DID NOT WRITE THIS! I wish I did. Gilroy is maybe my favorite screenwriter to read. His pages are like literature.
Yesterday I finished a three-part piece with what I thought were some insights about screenwriting that would help aspiring writers.
I was proud of it, but got cold feet when it came time to post...what if it’s wrong? That would be embarrassing. And I’d truly feel terrible if I was harming anybody’s progress.
But I posted it, and I put it on Twitter and got some nice feedback. Whew.
If you’re one of the handful of folks who kindly check this blog everyday—and I know you read the pieces that are interesting to you, meaning a lot of my film score peeps skip the screenwriting stuff—could you maybe hit like/retweet at Twitter? Thanks.
It’s really hard to teach this stuff because the truth is I spent way more years than I am comfortable admitting trying to learn it—and it just didn’t sink in. I had some professional friends almost screaming at me what I was doing wrong and I was like, DUH, WHAT?
And, you know, I always thought I was smart.
So what I’m trying to do is find some simple keys to unlock these major lessons and maybe help other people without all the time and drama it took me.
If you look at the Gilroy page above, you’ll notice he puts everything into the present continuous tense—all those “-ing” verbs. Instead of “Bourne runs,” it’s “Bourne running.”
Just ignore that. If you try to do it, it’ll just seem like a Gilroy rip-off.
Here’s the major difference between the action writing in amateur vs. pro scripts:
Amateurs describe stuff.
But pros describe people.
So amateur scripts write about glistening dew, and a creaky barn—and some of it can be poetic. But the problem is that poetic is not enough—because it’s just about stuff.
It sets a mood but that’s about it. A little of it goes a long way. And it easily becomes purple.
Pro scripts, instead, are keyed into the human experience: it’s all experiential.
Look at it carefully and you’ll notice that every moment is either about what the character is feeling, or what the audience is feeling—so that everything has a human dimension.
The weird thing about learning this is that it’s actually fun to write. But you quickly find that unless the drama is set up properly...you don’t have anything to write about.
In other words, the reason Gilroy is able to make every page so interesting—besides the fact he’s a genius—is that he has so carefully engineered everything in the structure!
There is a terrific clarity of character—who people are, what they want, how they behave—and it’s all so truthfully tethered to actual human experience, that the scenework just pops.
Once I realized this, I was like, OHHHHH.
But the funny thing was that I had to go back and blow up the scripts and completely redesign their structure so that all the scenework could, well, work.