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Vertical Writing

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This topic contains 13 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  llmri 9 months, 3 weeks ago.

Viewing 14 posts - 1 through 14 (of 14 total)
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  • #1938

    Shaula Evans
    Keymaster

    Okay folks, how do you feel about vertical writing for action films or action sequences?

    I’m afraid that “vertical writing” as a term is rapidly going the way of “high concept”: a lot of people toss it around without knowing what it means (imho).

    I’d say a conservative definition is where action sequences are written with one camera shot per line, breaking up sentences into short phrases, in a more stylized and abrupt (/dramatic) way than action lines are usually written.

    Paradoxically, it inflates your page count but at the same time makes the read feel faster.

    Done well, vertical writing can add drama to the page, guide the camera of the mind’s eye, and create an immersive experience for your reader.

    (Done poorly, it can be telegraphic and silly.)

    Walter Hill is often held up as the high priest of vertical writing. Here’s a link to his draft of Alien: http://www.horrorlair.com/scripts/alien.html

    The script to Wall-E also comes up as a frequent example.

    Some articles on the topic:

    Charles Deemer: Screenwriting Craft: Making Screenplays Vertical

    Christopher Lockhart: The White Devil

    Danny Stack: Vertical Writing

    I’m sure Scott has covered this at GITS but I’m having trouble finding the articles. Anyone have them on hand?

    Do you use vertical writing for your action set pieces? For any other screenwriting? Does it depend on the genre or the nature of the story? Any tips on getting it right? What scripts do you recommend as good examples? (Not the ones that everyone else cites, but the scripts you actually find helpful.)

    #1952

    debbiemoon
    Participant

    I use it in very small amounts – just for action sequences I really want to read cleanly and quickly. I suppose I’m worried that, as a beginning screenwriter, people might not get what I’m going for and think I just don’t know how to lay out a script!

    And yes, I worry too much…   :)

    #1953

    debbiemoon
    Participant

    Actually, my “models” for action scripts are Tony Gilroy’s Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum. A lot more traditional (wordier than Alien, Wall-E, etc), but good clean prose that reads at a fair speed.

    #1957

    Timothy
    Participant

    It’s true that writing action that gets your scene on the page, and isn’t 20 sentences long — is hard. Some of it, I suppose, is letting go of all the control. They director will block the action differently is most cases. Unless you intend on directing.

    Unless your Tarantino.

    #1975

    david joyner
    Moderator

    Thank you for these, Shaula. I had never heard of it but these articles help a lot. The more familiar I become with script formats, the stranger it seems, like I’m going down the rabbit hole.

    #6759

    Shaula Evans
    Keymaster

    Update: See this great guest post from Scott comparing the scripts of Wall-E vs Alien for more great vertical writing examples

    #19961

    Shaula Evans
    Keymaster

    Another related post: Russell T. Davies on Writing Action

    #20019

    Despina
    Participant

    This is perfect! I’ve got lots of action for at least 2 I’m currently working on. Thanks, Shaula!

    #20067

    byChrisPhillips
    Participant

    Here’s another vertical example from an article written by Charles Deemer…

    http://www.screenwritersutopia.com/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=2698

    The non-vertical version is what we normally read in dense description by writers like Michael Mann or James Cameron. In Deemer’s vertical version note how related elements are kept on the same line and not completely separated like Hill’s Alien.

    “Let me reinforce the point with an example. Here is a scene from one of my students:

    Derek is walking across campus. All over, there are students reading copies of the official campus newspaper and Derek’s magazine. One girl, ANNA KABIS, is laughing hysterically. She is young and beautiful. Derek stops and stares at her. A friend of Anna’s is reading over her shoulder, a look of shock on her face.

    This snippet has much to recommend it. The writing is clear and direct. But this is not vertical writing. Let’s open up the text:

    Derek is walking across campus.

    All over, there are students reading copies of the official campus newspaper and Derek’s magazine.

    One girl, ANNA KABIS, is laughing hysterically. She is young and beautiful.

    Derek stops and stares at her.

    A friend of Anna’s is reading over her shoulder, a look of shock on her face.

    Notice how much easier this is to read quickly, to skim. Believe me, readers skim your script before anyone reads it carefully! This is, in contemporary jargon, a much more user-friendly version of the exact same language. This is vertical writing. “

    #20069

    byChrisPhillips
    Participant

    To demonstrate my comment from above here is some action from Michael Mann’s Heat.

    INT. “TOYS ‘R’ US STORE” – ON CERRITO – DAY

    MICHAEL CERRITO – at 40 – is looking at a doll house. He’s a wide, thick, coarse-featured big man. Sicilian from Sunnyside, he’s spent 15 years in Attica, Joliet and Marion penitentiaries. He’s strictly a “cowboy”: his natural inclination towards a score is “...get the guns and let’s go.” He’s been off smack and everything else for five years. He’s clean and sober. He’s the nicest guy on the block and a loving father. If you get in his way, he’ll kill you as soon as look at you. If you asked him about the contradictions, he wouldn’t know what you were talking about.

    Here is James Cameron’s Aliens.

    She grabs the cat like a life preserver.

    RIPLEY

    (cooing baby-cat talk)

    Come here Jonesy you ugly old moose...you ugly thing.

    Jones patiently endures Ripley’s embarrassing display, seeming none the worse for wear. The visitor sits beside the bed and Ripley finally notices him. He is thirtyish and handsome, in a suit that looks executive or legal, the tie loosened with studied casualness. A smile referred to as “winning.”

    So we have two great writers with very dense and very different styles, different voices.

    #33199

    llmri
    Participant

    In a post I read days ago, in a thread I cannot recall, Shaula used the term “vertical writing.”  I’m unfamilar with the phrase.  Could someone tell me what that is or post a link to something about it?

    Thanks!

    Elle

    #33203

    Shaula Evans
    Keymaster

    I’ve merged your post into our Vertical Writing post. Just look up. ;)

    #33468

    llmri
    Participant

    Thanks, what a great thread!!! I have to sleep now, but I’ll be back. (Yes, please delete other thread.)

    #33517

    llmri
    Participant

    In response to what byChrisPhillips said:

    Here’s another vertical example from an article written by Charles Deemer…

    http://www.screenwritersutopia.com/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=2698

    The non-vertical version is what we normally read in dense description by writers like Michael Mann or James Cameron. In Deemer’s vertical version note how related elements are kept on the same line and not completely separated like Hill’s Alien.

    “Let me reinforce the point with an example. Here is a scene from one of my students:

    Derek is walking across campus. All over, there are students reading copies of the official campus newspaper and Derek’s magazine. One girl, ANNA KABIS, is laughing hysterically. She is young and beautiful. Derek stops and stares at her. A friend of Anna’s is reading over her shoulder, a look of shock on her face.

    This snippet has much to recommend it. The writing is clear and direct. But this is not vertical writing. Let’s open up the text:

    Derek is walking across campus.

    All over, there are students reading copies of the official campus newspaper and Derek’s magazine.

    One girl, ANNA KABIS, is laughing hysterically. She is young and beautiful.

    Derek stops and stares at her.

    A friend of Anna’s is reading over her shoulder, a look of shock on her face.

    Notice how much easier this is to read quickly, to skim. Believe me, readers skim your script before anyone reads it carefully! This is, in contemporary jargon, a much more user-friendly version of the exact same language. This is vertical writing. “

    I see. Yes, I know what it is, but hadn’t heard the term. This is the one para for each camera angle theory.  And it does allow the writer to direct the “camera” or at least the imaginary eye of the reader.

    The first paragraph is seven lines, nine with space before and after.  The vertical version is 12 lines, 14 with spaces.  The difference in my script when I switched from the first draft I wrote vertically and the draft where I combined and condensed was 9 pages.  I went from 128 pages to 119 pages in one day.  (It’s now 107 pages.)

    What we seem to be doing now is writing series of shots or montages where vertical writing is desirable. Sometimes, in those really dramatic moments, switching to vertical to emphasize a reaction shot, or heighten tension, or contril pacing, seems quite useful, to me. I like “vertical writing” I’m sorry if it’s dropped out of favor, seems quite useful for referring to this style.

     

    BTW, I think this is a terrible sentence in a screenplay:

    All over, there are students reading copies of the official campus newspaper and Derek’s magazine.

    You don’t put anything in the screenplay you don’t see onscreen. And – is the official newspaper also his magazine? How would we know the magazine is his? Even if we know because it says “Derek’s Magazine” on it, how do we know he is Derek? Is he wearing a nametag?

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