Notes From A Screenreader


photo via Go Into the Story

Billy Wilder believed that “There are only two types of movies, one for the audience with a simple story, nicely decorated and ornate…or a complicated story that is simply put on film.  If you put too many ornaments in there, people won’t be able to follow it.” 

Clarity is the quality in your screenplay that makes it easy to follow. Simple stories solve their own clarity problems, they need bells and whistles to keep the reader interested. More complex ideas, however, can lose the reader if they are heavily laden with extras.

To write and rewrite for clarity:

  • Prune your cast. Combine characters who represent similar ideas. Eliminate characters whose function can be carried out by someone else.
  • Spotlight. Establish your protagonist, the goal and the stakes quickly. Give the reader the thread to pick up before overloading your first act with explanations.
  • Stay on task. Complex stories spin off a lot of interesting possibilities. Fully develop only the subplot that most supports the theme. 
  • Simplify. Make your characters’ motivations strong and simple rather than adding more story to justify their decisions.

-ANNIE LABARBA @annelabarba



nywift New York Women in Film & Television supports women calling the shots in film, television and digital media.

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