very, very, very, very, very, very

1/16/07

We all spent months of our lives fiddling with the typewriter margins – and later, the margins in AppleWorks and Microsoft Word – to make our term papers look longer. Some of the margins were so pathetically large that teachers would actually dock points for believing them to be fools.

And now, in Hollywood, everyone’s script is always too long. The first thing a manager/agent/writing partner will tell you is “this thing needs to lose ten pages.” And so there you are again, this time in Final Draft, messing with the margins in a desperate attempt to make the piece appear smaller.

What is the poetry here? We spend our youth extending that which is small, and our adulthood truncating that which is too large. What lesson am I to take away from this?

0 thoughts on “very, very, very, very, very, very

  1. jason savage

    less is more. brevity is the soul of wit. jazz is in the notes you don’t play. etc etc.
    i think that as good as someone like, say, Sorkin is, he overwrites. there are no silences. everyone is always talking. doesn’t seem real after a while. I like the John Sayles style better.

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  2. Beth

    Jason, I couldn’t agree more. The actors seem like they have to talk at double speed just to make all the (admittedly snappy) dialogue fit.
    In revision, it’s easier to cut than expand. One benefit of being a grown-up.

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  3. hilary

    i’m on agreement about sorkin; he comes off as trying way to hard; he doesn’t give his characters room to breathe; or give them any room for interpretation. screenwriting is so hard because there’s an inherent trust one must have in the cinematographer, the actors, the director, the editor…so the writer just has to distill his/her words down until there’s really nothing left but action, some nuance and the seedlings of character devp and dialogue. i don’t know; it’s just incredibly hard. but i do know that when someone requests a cut, that i can 99.5% of the time trust that advice (even though it’s hard). and that the cutting process can (most of the time) become a challenging exercise in creativity.

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  4. michelle

    I feel like I spend my writing life cutting. I always write at least a third too much, and then tighten, but the cutting always takes longer than the writing. And being that every last little thing I write has a pretty strict word count, it’s always tough.
    I know the end piece is always stronger than the longer one, but when the cuts have to be extreme I feel like it takes out much of the craft and leaves the skeleton, and that’s a bummer.
    I know Sorkin doesn’t give his characters room to breathe, but he also sometimes gives them language that is so lovely to hear.
    I think I’m the Sorkin apologist, even if I can’t bring myself to keep watching Studio 60. I honestly think I’ve watched it in the past because I miss Josh.

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  5. noj

    if “jazz is in the notes you don’t play”, then the BEST jazz would be absolutely no notes at all. i’d like that version of jazz…

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  6. DDrake

    Kids spend much of their time extending themselves on all levels – physical, metaphysical, emotional, intellectual, etc. Everything from vocabulary to height to world view, are all growing rapidly. When they are lacking, they don’t want to SEEM to be lacking. Anybody under age 10 will tell you that they are “8 and a half” if, in fact, they are. Don’t slight them that half year. They’re stretching the margins to get themselves closer to 9.
    We continue to do this throughout our lives. The problem for adults is that others aren’t as interested in your “extensions” as you are. It’s like looking at someone else’s vacation slides. It’s fine to see 8-10 photos but nobody cares about the other 200 that you took. As we get older, we’re lacking less and still extending.
    And Ian, of course, we’re all interested in your “extensions” since we read you regularly. :)

    Reply
  7. GFWD

    Margins? Just be careful when trading on them.
    Awkward segue: I just want to brag that I won an Ebay bid to get that Scosche (sp?) FM transmitter for my iPod. Including shipping, I saved more than $12 and I can’t wait to get it.
    Sorkin segue: Michelle, for Christmas I got the DVD complete series to Sorkin’s Sports Night. As an avid fan of everything Sorkin’s done, it’s funny to watch SN and see similar plot lines (many times down to the same facts and phrases) from The West Wing, which followed SN. I enjoy Studio 60. I fail to see why others don’t. I hope it survives. “Josh” and “Chandler” are great. And I’ve enjoyed seeing D.L. Hughley’s acting chops.
    Segue back: I need to get to the gym to truncate my waistline.

    Reply
  8. Joanna

    Ok, I guess I’m back in . . .
    I really don’t have time to write, but some related thoughts. . .
    Mark Twain quote, “sorry about the long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one” . . .
    I’ve always found the perfect movie length to be 90 min. and if Woody Allen can do it . . .
    Maybe your target audience is the distracted margin-messing youth.

    Reply
  9. xuxE

    i think
    (1) someone always has their own $.02 to throw in, for better or worse;
    (2) shorter is not necessarily better, but better is better, and sometimes the cutting process itself really does make things better.
    i wonder what a draft script from Hal Hartley looks like.

    Reply
  10. oliver

    The lesson is never let the current MS Word get too far ahead of you, or prepare to face eternity in Kinkos. Bill Gates owns all of our asses.

    Reply
  11. killian

    xuxE!! I LUUUURVE Hal Hartley!
    Funny, I made a dance in ’90 about women going to the gym to get smaller and men going to the gym to get bigger. . .
    There seems to be some richly ironic SOMEthing here about size.
    Anyway, good luck finding that elusive target. If anyone can do it, Ian , you can.

    Reply
  12. kent

    When a child writes something, he or she is facing a different problem than an adult. A child’s experience of the world is more inchoate and less discrete and categorized. They read Charlotte’s Web and they may have strong reactions to it, but they don’t experience it as plot, themes, and a Cornell box full of neatly separate telling details.
    An adult, especially a writing adult, has a fully developed narrator, who can blah blah blah on about stuff. So when you write, you have more to say than you need to say. You can explain until you’re blue in the face, especially when the goal is to have pretty faces act out your blah blah blah.
    If you’re trying to make capital A Art, what you’re really going for is something that puts people back into the child’s way of perception. You want something that gets and holds people’s intentions without giving itself away immediately. You want people gobsmacked, unable to break it down to its constituent pars.
    But I kind of like the Sorkin approach. It’s baroque. He’s hearing voice speak as music, with counterpoint and ornamentation. A Sorkin production is like a 3 hour Mamet play sped up by a factor of 3. It might bug you if you were hoping for something calmer and closer to natural speech, but it does have it’s own thing going on.

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  13. Neva

    I love Sorkin’s writing but it’s never sounded real to me in any way – too wordy.
    On another note, I think it was Salem’s sis who asked about ear tubes recently and I wanted to mention that there is a great study in the New England Journal this week saying this
    “Delaying insertion of tympanostomy tubes in children with persistent middle-ear effusion does not affect their cognitive development measured at age 9 to 11, according to a randomized study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
    The study included almost 400 children who had persistent middle-ear effusion before age 3. Most had also scored abnormally on at least one hearing test. Tympanostomy tubes were inserted promptly after criteria for persistent effusion were met in about half of the children; for the other children, insertion was delayed for 6 or 9 months. At age 9 to 11, the groups scored no differently on evaluations of literacy, attention, academic achievement, or social skills. Previous reports from the same study found that prompt tube insertion did not improve developmental measures at ages 3, 4, or 6.
    An editorialist concludes that there is now “convincing evidence that persistent middle-ear effusion in otherwise normal children does not cause developmental impairments.”
    Sorry for using your comments section this way but I know it was a topic of hot debate recently and wanted to add this recent updatethat may dramatically change the recommendations or ear tubes.
    We are having snow here today. Fun for the kids. Hope your revisions are going well Ian. Hang in there..

    Reply
  14. GFWD

    So getting ear tubes are good? I got lost in all of that high brow talk?
    Though Sorkin is entertaining, I agree with you that noonereallytalksasfastashischaractersandnoonewalksandtalksasmucheither.

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  15. Neva

    Greg,
    I took it to mean that the tubes didn’t make much difference in the long run and there was no big rush to get them. Good example of too many words to make a point I guess!

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  16. kent

    The reason to get ear tubes is that they make the child more comfortable, and by extension, make the parent more comfortable. On the other hand they’re kind of a scam — they can and do fall out prematurely, and they can actually be a path for infection into the ear. They are incompatible with swimming unless you use wax earplugs, and i’ve never met a 5 year old that thinks those are fun.
    There are things you can do to avoid infections — don’t feed a child laying down or put them down with a bottle, change diet, etc. You can look it up on the internets. Melissa and I went through the Ear Infection Years before the Internets, and it kind of sucked. You can be led astray by the Internet but on balance I don’t know how we did without it.

    Reply
  17. Neva

    Kent – the recommendations against swimming with tubes is old information. See below. I agree that the internet can be helpful but at least half the time the information is crap. You need to know the source and their motives. I have mixed feelings about tubes. See the long previous discussion on here. The strongest argument by doctors in the past has been to help kids hear better and thus ensure their speech and language develops correctly. This point is what the NEJM article was disproving and thus perhaps debunking the only real “medical” reason for the tubes. Here’s the info on swimming with tubes. By the way, my youngest has tubes and swims/bathes etc. without restraint.
    Archives of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery: The investigators followed 399 children with PE tubes. They were divided into four groups at the beginning of the study. Children in the first group were encouraged to swim without precautions. Those in Group 2 received antibiotic ear drops each night after they had been in the water. Those in group 3 wore molded ear plugs whenever they were in the water. Children in all three of these groups were instructed against diving and swimming more than 6 feet beneath the surface (since water under pressure presumably enters the middle ear through the tubes more readily). The fourth group consisted of confirmed non-swimmers. All parents were warned not to allow soapy water to enter the ear during bathing (since the lower surface tension of soapy water could allow it to penetrate the tubes more easily. Also, soapy water could be more irritating to the middle ear if it gains entrance).
    Drum roll, please…
    Children in the three groups of swimmers experienced no intergroup difference in the incidence either of ear infections or of draining ears regardless of plugs or ear drops. There was also no difference found between the swimmers and the non-swimmers.
    Conclusion — relax and follow your doctor’s advice. Let your son enjoy swimming. Forget ear plugs. If your son turns out to be one of the unfortunate few who gets frequent ear infections in the summer months even after tubes, you might want to try water precautions on the chance that he is particularly sensitive to water exposure

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  18. Salem's little sister

    Thanks guys! We have been ear infection free for about a month now and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I know our doctor is very conservative on that subject so no worries about rushing to a solution. We were in Durham checking out pre-schools yesterday and saw the snow. I loved it for about 20 minutes, then we hightailed it back to Charlotte.

    Reply

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