Write In Star Names? - Complications Ensue
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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Q. If I write a screenplay with an actor in mind, can I put down what actor I want to play the part?
No.

First of all, the actor you're writing for may be ungettable. If you say "Brad Pitt," then a reader is likely to say, "Well, you won't get him, so why am I reading this?" It comes off a bit amateurish.

Second, what if you've actually written a pretty good part for Johnny Depp? Someone might read your script and think "Johnny Depp!" But not if you've written "Brad Pitt."

It's even more dangerous when you're in the land of great deadpan stars like Harrison Ford or Clint Eastwood. If you were actually writing for Clint Eastwood, you would underwrite the dialogue a lot, knowing how much he can do with a few words. But if it's not Clint Eastwood -- say you have a standard-issue B-movie tough guy actor -- the lines may just come off as flat.

It's a bit of a cheat. You're expecting the reader to imbue your lines with Brad Pitt's quirky star delivery. But your job is to imbue the lines with star quality yourself. Ideally, you should create a character so compelling and fun that someone reads the script and thinks, "You know who'd be great in this? Brad Pitt."

It's better to overwrite the character a bit until you have a star, knowing that you can take it back down later if a star comes on board. In a selling script, you have to do all the work. In a shooting script, you can leave more air for the star to fill in.

That said, it's not a bad idea to consider a star when you're writing. I just rewrote a movie for a director. We agreed that the main character should be written for a certain quirky actress / ukelele player. Not that we're likely to get her. But keeping her in mind defines the sort of things that character would and would not do -- a sort of "strike zone." This character is not written for Milla Jovovich. There will be no cartwheels while wielding dual machine pistols.

But then my job is to write each line of dialog so that it is practically a star vehicle for this actress. It's the old criterion that competent dialog is writing only things the character would say, but great dialog is writing things that only that character would say.

Then, when we go to cast, another actor with similar qualities will bring her own charisma and stardom to the lines, and make the character unforgettably hers.

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3 Comments:

Sorta reminds me of when I was recently looking at an online transcription of an early draft script for Tim Burton's first "Batman". It describes Jack Napier (who later becomes the Joker) as "32.... His features are delicate, almost feminine, and he takes a vain, gangsterish pride in his appearance." Which strikes me as more a role for Johnny Depp than for Jack Nicholson. But, Nicholson got the part and played the hell out of it.

By Blogger JoshM, at 10:40 PM  

What's worse, is when you get asked who you were picturing and it doesn't match up with who the producer has in mind.

It's such a question that doesn't matter at all on our end.

By Blogger James, at 4:55 AM  

Clearly, you need to do more research on Milla Jovovich:

Quirky Milla while a ukulele plays

Clearly.

By Blogger deanareeno, at 9:18 PM  

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