Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Do Minears Decieve Me? (sorry. that was bad.)

As I mentioned yesterday, I've been rereading Jane Espenson's blog. And in order to make my life easier, I've started a Word document entitled "Jane Go-Tos" for when I'm too busy to search through her whole blog and just need a tiny boost. She's the most brilliant person; here's an example I just added--
"Anyway, I'm certain the makers of Little Miss Sunshine looked at this film [Living Dolls]. In addition to pageant moments that are captured perfectly, I spotted the most lovely overlap. Both films feature a character working on one of those little handheld slide puzzles. In both films it's the same one: when solved, it forms a picture of a happy face. Nice. Isn't that a perfect symbol? "Want to be happy? Then work it out."

"And the thing that’s best about this little puzzle-symbol? You don't notice it! I didn't remember seeing it in the movie at all until I saw it again in the doc. The effect is subtle to the point of invisibility. Anything more obvious than that, and the artifice of the script will jump out at you and then you’re in trouble.

"So use symbols if you want to, but use a light touch. We've all seen torn photos, empty shoes, empty picture frames, wilted flowers... and they tend to smell like... huh... what is that? Oh yeah, writer."
So, so true. Subtle symbolism is hard but poignant, and she makes a good point: you should put effort into using the right one. Because going for tired visual shorthand isn't adding depth; it's sheer artistic laziness. (A fun sidenote: the blog entry I took from is entitled 'The Crash of Symbols,' which I think is sheer awesomeness.)

So while we're on the subject of scripts, I wanted to talk about the other thing I've been doing today-- reading through my Firefly Official Companion: Volume Two. It contains a second handful of the original scripts of the series-- I've owned the first volume for a while. It's incredible to have access to these scripts, especially considering that Firefly was on the air in 2002 and that, like, they're so... different. From each other, that is. They're remarkably similar to the final shot products (which is not always true on television shows like this). But the different writing styles shine through in script just as easily as they do in prose; the personality styles of, say, Jane, as opposed to Joss Whedon or Jose Molina or whomever... it's as clear as the differences between Hemmingway and Fitzgerald.

And to make a long story shorter: I fucking love the way Tim Minear writes scripts.

Who's Tim Minear? Only the god king of failed TV shows. He was a co-executive producer on Firefly, Wonderfalls, and Drive, three wonderful series that were canceled by Fox before they had the chance to grow. He got his start working on Angel, and has since done many wonderful things-- including write several awesome episodes of Dollhouse, which were made available online after airing.

And the way he writes is brilliant. He actually makes use of the script not just as a reference document for the director, cast and crew, but as its own written medium.

Take for example 'Belle Chose,' Dollhouse episode 2.3. You remember the one. With the killer and the living dolls? And that great open? (If you haven't seen Dollhouse and would like to avoid spoilers, skip these next indents):
CLOSE: a BEAD of SWEAT trickles from Aunt Sheila’s hairline. The mannequin is perspiring? And now she MOANS.

No use in moaning about it.

Now WE SEE that these aren’t mannequins. They’re real women being used as mannequins. Paralyzed. Horror.
God. Just, the way he captures that moment. What a perfect tone set for the director and actors. A simple "horror." That's all you need. And at the end of the teaser--
Terry eyes the crowd. He spots a PROFESSIONAL WOMAN. She’s roughly the same look of “Aunt Sheila.”

WE SEE Terry has the loaded syringe at the ready, hidden at his side. He takes one step off the curb -- BASH-CRACK! He’s HIT by a CAR. Yeah, you heard me.

"Yeah, you heard me." That kills me. Or take this example, from his Firefly script "Out of Gas" (regarded by many as the finest episode in a series of fine episodes):
BOOOOM! A horrific EXPLOSION from the back of the ship, at the engine room.

Zoe is on her feet in an instant. She lunges for Kaylee as --

-- a giant BALL OF FIRE roils from the back of the ship, filling the aft corridor. Zoe shoves Kaylee clear of the doorway, but the big ass FIREBALL bursts at the doorway. Zoe is knocked back hard by the concussion of the blast, her body glancing off the dinner table, then hitting a wall -- god-damn hard.
Minus several points for saying "the doorway" twice, but plus several million for sheer economy of language. There is later in that episode a moment where Simon restarts Zoe's heart with a shot of adrenaline. And rather than tiptoeing around the obvious homage, Minear embraces it-- the script reads simply, "Ready for the big Pulp Fiction moment? 'Cause that's always funny."

In the script, it says that.

I don't expect everyone else to share my mad love of script-writing, but I hope you can see why that's so effective. There's more to writing a good script than constructing a good episode of television-- though certainly that should be first and foremost in the writer's mind. But Minear goes that extra step. He writes like how he talks, peppering the stage directions with "goddamn" and "fucking" and "maybe." Like how you'd tell a story to a friend.

Ultimately, it makes his scripts pop, make the stories more real and visceral, and gives you a deeper connection to the characters.

... Whooo. So I think maybe I'm getting the hang of this. Imma try to balance my new Daily Dose blog schedule with the original "Sounds Passing Through Sudden Rightnesses" mission statement-- that is, talking about art and what affects me as a creator. You'll probably see a lot more posts like this one. Hopefully.


  1. This is fascinating. I mean, I've read some of Minear's scripts and thought they were amusing, but I never thought beyond that. Hearing you analyze them and rave about's so, so interesting to me, and it's something I never would've considered six months ago. God. I love that you and Jane have completely changed how I watch television and how I think about it. It's EXCITING. It's like finding out that your dog can talk. Y'know? Something I've always loved but never knew was this intricate and artistic and important is revealed, and everything is somehow new. Aaaah. If you don't watch out, you're going to make a scriptwriter out of me. Not really, but still. I like your blog.

  2. In other news, I just read the title (backwards reading is the best kind of reading?), and man, you're a dork.

  3. Isn't there a big stress to keep scripts away from that language. I've talked about this sort of thing with my screenwriter friends that type of writing just doesn't seem to fit industry standards. I thought there were rules about not writing anything...flowery. I'm so confused?