Posted by: steveonfilm | October 16, 2008

“Vertical Writing”, The Revenge, With A Side Of “In Late, Out Early”

One of the challenges I face with my current draft of Marianas is getting it under the 120 page threshold. When I started my current revision I was at 129 pages. I’m currently at 124 pages, and only at page 42 into my revision. I’m less than half way through and only have 4 more pages to cut.

Certainly not an impossible task.

A lot of amateur writers think cutting is hard to do. Since I’ve implemented the practices of Syd Field’s “in late, out early,” and Charles Deemer’s “vertical writing,” I’ve been able to cut stuff left and right out of older works.

Cutting is not hard to do. You just have to look at the meat and potatoes of what you’re writing, and let go of the parts that aren’t important.

Take this kidnapping scene from Marianas. Some dark figures sneak into Xia’s room, kidnap her, and throw her in a truck. That’s it. That’s the summary of the scenes.

But look at how I originally wrote it two years ago:

INT. BARRACKS – NIGHT

The barracks are dark and everyone is asleep, Xia in her cot, Betty sleeps on cot next to her. Four figures dressed in black move through the rows of sleeping women and over to Xia and Betty.

The figures make no sound. Their movements are quick and concise. Each of them has done this a dozen times before, and likely will do it a dozen times again.

The figures stop at Xia and Cammy’s cots. One figure at the head and foot of each. The lead figure holds up three fingers. Two fingers. One finger.

They grab Xia and Betty, stuffing rags into their mouths and pulling them from their cots. Xia and Betty struggle but can’t put up much of a resistance.

Within moments they are both taken through the back door of the barracks. Not a single woman sleeping stirs.

EXT. BARRACKS – CONTINUOUS

The figures swiftly carry the women down some steps and toward a white moving van. Betty and Xia continue to struggle. Xia free’s her arm and yanks the rag out of her mouth.

XIA (CHINESE)
Help!

Without hesitation, the person carrying Xia by her arms drops a vicious elbow to the middle of Xia’s forehead with enough force to knock her unconscious. Betty watches in horror.

A DRIVER opens up the back of the moving wan and the figures carry Betty, and Xia’s limp body inside. The Driver closes the doors to the van.

INT. MOVING VAN – CONTINUOUS

Once inside the van, the figures pull hoods over Betty and Xia’s head.

Rong leans back from the passenger seat as the Driver gets into his seat and starts the engine.

RONG (CHINESE)
Restrain them.

The lead figure nods and the other immediately tie up Xia and Betty to some bars wielded to the side of the van.

Rong turns to the driver.

RONG (CHINESE) (CONT’D)
Lets go.

EXT. RED STAR INC. FRONT GATE – CONTINUOUS

The van leaves the Red Star compound through the front gate.

Here are four things that popped into my head when I was deciding how to cut the scenes down.

One, the large blocks of text are a pain to read. Two, I’m getting in way too early by following the “dark figures” sneaking through the room. These details aren’t important. Three, how would you film “done this before and will do it again”? You can’t. So it probably doesn’t need to be there. Four, obviously someone decides when to drive off, do I need to actually show that?

I made modifications to the scenes while taking those four points into consideration. Now contrast the changes I made in the revised scene. Keep in mind the slug lines are more descriptive, reflecting some minor changes to settings, and that Betty (Chailai) are no longer kidnapped at the same time:

INT. RED STAR HOUSING COMPLEX – BUILDING 1 – ROOM 406 – NIGHT

Xia is asleep in her bed.

Suddenly a gloved hand covers her mouth.

Her eyes dart open. She tries to scream, struggle, but it’s no use.

THREE DARK FIGURES pull her out of bed.

EXT. RED STAR HOUSING COMPLEX – BUILDING 1 – LOADING BAY – CONTINUOUS

The Dark Figures carry Xia down the loading bay toward a BLACK VAN.

The lights in the loading bay reveal the figures to be some of the female guards.

Xia continues to struggle. She bites down on the hand covering her mouth. The hand immediately lets go.

Xia cries out.

XIA (CHINESE)
Help!

One of the guards drops a vicious elbow to the middle of Xia’s forehead. She falls unconscious.

INT. BLACK VAN – CONTINUOUS

Two guards toss Xia into the back of the van. They shut the rear doors.

Another woman is already laying there, unconscious.

It’s Chailai.

EXT. RED STAR INC. FRONT GATE – CONTINUOUS

The van leaves the Red Star compound through the front gate.

This is the same scene. I just got in later, and out earlier. I simplified the actions. And made it more vertical. I also saved myself a third of a page.

That is how you cut stuff from screenplay.

Enjoy.
-Steve

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