Explaining Yourself

There’s some good screenwriting advice over at The Blank Page:

Okay, this is more of a pet peeve of mine, but I see it in scripts all the time. It comes from writers who think they have made a clever pun or (even worse) double entendre, and then, not trusting that the reader is getting the joke, they have to explain it in the next line of action-description. For example, you might see this:

  Hey, Jim, can you pass me the corn?

   Of course I’ll lend you my ears.

Jim laughs at his little Shakespeare joke.

This reminded me of an experience we had years ago when Roger Corman hired us to write and produce a TV series version of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Roger sold the pitch to the then-fledgling USA Network. When we wrote the pilot script, the inept USA exec asked us to underline the jokes and italicize any clever  social commentary. This really pissed Roger off  (us, too, but he was the lion in the room). Roger told her that if we had to explain what the jokes were then it would kill the jokes. But the executive argued that she really wanted to be sure she caught the jokes and might miss them if they weren’t clearly marked. After this horrible experience, Roger ran screaming from TV for the next decade…

4 thoughts on “Explaining Yourself”

  1. This sounds like a rhetorical question, but it isn’t. How do you deal with that kind of stupidity? Do you just learn to consider the whole thing a big piece of performance art, or what?

  2. Oh, but wouldn’t life be so much easier if all jokes were underlined and clever social commentary italicized? Maybe we could come up with hand signals to use when we’re talking so people will know if we’re being funny or sarcastic or serious. We could start with air quotes and expand from there. If Hollywood movies started using the system, I’m sure it would catch on in real life.

  3. I think I’d make a special copy just for her.
    Though I’d be hard pressed not to underline and italicize things that had no humor in them whatsoever. So she’d still feel left out.
    I can be mean that way.


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