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05/29/2007: The Thing on Giles' Lapel
Rene from Melbourne writes in with a question that's so Australian that I literally had no idea what she was saying for a while. Delightful! Aussie Aussie Aussie! (Now you, gentle readers, say "Oi Oi Oi".)
Anyway, Rene says she loves "coloring her big print" and wants to know if that's okay. Further investigation suggests that she's referring to getting creative and figurative in her stage directions. She writes:
I know it probably depends a lot on the tone of the show, but to me, "An awkward pause" doesn't have nearly as much flavor as "Crickets chirp", for example. And, "Cameron knows a rhetorical question when he hears one" seems way juicier than, "Cameron doesn't respond."
She worries, however:
...I sometimes wonder if I'm getting too far away from the basic big print function of describing the action in my pursuit of keeping the reader interested between the lines. [...] So, do we treat the reader and the viewer as one and the same?"
First off, I'm fascinated by this use of "big print" to describe stage directions. Is that Aussie? English, too? Or is it just new and hip? It makes sense for multi-camera scripts where the stage directions are in all caps, I suppose. Interesting.
But to actually answer the question, Rene: go for it. Yes, creative stage directions are a great way to make a script into an interesting and confident-sounding sample. A reader is not the same as a viewer and they deserve to have attention paid to the special constraints of script reading. They don't get the benefit of music, editing and pretty people to look at. We have to use other ways to help set the mood of the script, and this is a great way to do it.
My only quibble is with "crickets chirp." That particular stage direction could be read as a real sound effects instruction, so unless you really want the reader to imagine hammy clammy crickets on their internal sound track, I'd steer clear of that one.
In fact, I'm reminded of one of my first jobs. We were working together as a staff on a script. We had just put in a stage direction: Fran enters, walking on eggshells. After a moment's thought we changed it to something like Fran enters cautiously. The show had a very eager and very literal crew, and we feared that actual eggshells might appear on the set.
Oh! And now I'm remembering another story. Once, in a Buffy script (Band Candy), I wanted to indicate that Giles was very embarrassed and self-conscious about something Buffy was talking about. I wrote "Giles finds something interesting on his lapel." Several members of the production staff came to me to ask about the thing on Giles' lapel -- would it turn out to be the villain of the next week's episode, they asked?
So be poetic, but careful. If there's a way to read your direction as literal, someone will do it.
Lunch: salad bar