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Friday, September 19, 2008

Q. I'm fleshing out a SciFi script with a fairly complex entertainment technology. I don't want a whole exposition about how the technology works, but at the same time I don't want someone reading the script for the first time to be thrown off by unknown concepts. Should I write a brief description in the action outside of the dialogue? For example...
  • JOE
  • Sir, step out of the quadstar and keep your hands where I can see them.

  • A quadstar is a vehicle that allows users to instantly transport into wherever they like. Its technology is based on beets.
You should never have anything in the script that wouldn't translate to the screen. If you need the reader to know it, for sure you need the audience to know it. So you can describe what a quadstar looks like (the audience will see that on screen), but you can't tell us in the action what it does or how it works. You need to either explain to us, or better, show us, what the new tech does.

So when Rick Deckard uses the Voight-Kampff to smoke out that Rachel's a replicant in BLADE RUNNER, Tyrell asks:
  • TYRELL
  • Is this to be an empathy test? Capillary dilation of the so-called blush response? Fluctuation of the pupil? Involuntary dilation of the iris?
  • DECKARD
  • We call it Voigt-Kampff for short.
Meanwhile we're seeing on screen that Deckard has Rachel's iris in closeup on his machine.

Earlier in the film, we saw the disastrous Voigt-Kampff test of Leon ("Tell me, in your own words, only the good things you remember about your mother"), and there's some explanation there too.

Science fiction films always have a bit of exposition ("expo" for short). You want to keep it down to a bare minimum necessary for the audience to get it. They already kinda know what the movie's territory is anyway. When you go to see MINORITY REPORT, you know it's about people being arrested for crimes they are going to commit.

But you do need to give the audience an explanation. That can be a TV news report (MINORITY REPORT), promotional film (JURASSIC PARK) or dialog, or any other clever way you can think of.

Also be clear what you need to explain. I don't think STAR TREK: TOS ever explained the transporter, because it was obvious what it did. BLADE RUNNER didn't explain the flying cars; they were obviously cars that also flew. But the replicants needed explanation, so there's quite a bit of talk about what replicants are in the BLADE RUNNER script.

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2 Comments:

Spectacular. Many thanks. Great examples btw.

By Blogger Lokier, at 5:03 PM  

I recommend anyone writing sf or fantasy (for on-screen or off-) to read Orson Scott Card's _How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy_. One thing he mentions is one of Heinlein's descriptions: "The door dilated". Which tells you that you're in a society that has a use for dilating doors, and that has the technology and money to build them. The audience can get a lot out of a nicely packed bit of description - or dialogue.

By Blogger Rich Baldwin, at 11:01 PM  

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