Tuesday, September 25, 2007

One damn, two bloodys and a pair of ****s

I'm one of those incurious people when it comes to technology and software. If something works, it works - I don't need to know how. I don't read manuals and I don't bother to explore the full extent of any software I buy. So it took an entry on the BBC writersroom blog to tell me about the Profanity counter in Final Draft. You discover something new everyday.

By hunting around in script reports on that program, you can find out exactly how much swearing appears in your screenplay and who says what. For example, the title of this blog entry was inspired by the five cases of profanity in Hopes and Fears, the script I submitted for the TAPS continuing drama showcase. [Don't worry, the missing word rhymes with thruppeny bits, not Gene Hunt.] You can also get a ratio of dialogue to action, and discover how characters are grouped together. Fascinating stuff.

Final Draft also has a facility for having your script read aloud, so you can listen for bad writing, errors and other issues. You can assign different voices to different characters, even alter the pitch and tone of those voices. Sounds great, right? Well, yes, if all the voices were merely variations upon the mechanical tones of Stephen Hawking. Helpful if you're writing for the Daleks, less useful the rest of the time. So I don't tend to bother with robotic read throughs.

I'm in rehearsals for a play at the moment, Jake's Women by Neil Simon. 100 pages of script and I'm on stage for all of it - bar one sequence where I leave the stage and nobody else talks until I return. At a guess I'd say the character I'm playing, Jake, says between 40% of all the dialogue, if not more. But because he's on stage effectively the whole time, anyone playing Jake has to learn the entire text. And be able to recall it, in order, upon command.

My acting is strictly amateur dramatic standards, but it's been a help to my writing. There's nothing like having to act bad dialogue - illogical, out of character or simply lame - to make you realise how important dialogue is to characterisation. As Harrison Ford is famously supposed to have said to director George Lucas on the set of Star Wars, "You can type this shit, George, but we can't say it." Oops. Better make that one two bloodys and a trio of ****s.


FilmTraveler said...

I must say, I find much Jedi wisdom in this post. I'm an actor too, and a really brutal theater critic on the inside, and I've learned a lot about good writing from bad plays. (I'm one of those people who's capable of learning from other people's failures.) I keep Harrison Ford's comment pretty close to my heart myself. I've learned that it was people like him telling Lucas how shitty his writing was, and throwing other such sensible obstacles in his way, that saved the first three films from becoming the garbage the second three became.

Oli said...

I do a Profanity Report on Final Draft any time I'm feeling down. Cheers me right up reading a big long list of swears.