For Script Writers: What written direction do actors want? Nothing

Mark Christopher Lawrence at the 2009 Comic Co...
Image via Wikipedia

I would suggest very little.  Mark Christopher Lawrence was guest speaker at our recent San Diego Filmmakers meeting.  During the Question and Answer period a screenwriter asked him, “What kind of direction do you want in a script?”

“None.”

“None?”

“Nothing.”

From the actor’s point of view this is true.  Actors prefer to interpret lines to exercise their skill

I’ve been working with several script writers lately.  I find beginning screenwriters often have an overload of directional indications.  It’s much better to tighten your writing and remove most of the directions.

As a script writer you need to trust that the people involved in production—actors, producers, cameramen, and the like—are all professionals.  That means they know how to do their job.

However, at times subtext is not evident and you may insert a brief actor’s direction (often called wrylies).

ALBERTO

(sarcastically)

I love you.

Mainly, to tell the story it is best to keep dialogue sequences tight with minimal direction.  For the most part, the context of the situation and the character’s actions should speak for themselves.

If you are keeping the dialogue tight—every word counts, written like speech with no long strings of full sentences—you will give the production team plenty to use without needing a number of intrusive actor directions.

Photo image by Gage Skidmore.

4 thoughts on “For Script Writers: What written direction do actors want? Nothing

  1. Wow! I agree 100% with this idea! Some years back I was at a Scripwriting contest at NYU (Tisch Hall) sponsored by the Black Filmmakers Association. I had written a script about a boyhood experience that changed my life based on the Civil Rights era in the South.

    One of the main characters was actually based on a Black woman that I observed as a child. Several of the other Screenwriters had already presented scenes from their scripts and I was really impressed. My script was up next and I was sure that none of these ‘northern’ actors could relate to a real ‘down South character’ in my script. Boy, was I wrong.

    The three actors took my script and went over to a corner for a few minutes to prepare. When the performed the 10 minute scene I was TOTALLY AMAZED! Without and directions from me (only the dialogue) the acted this scene out ACTUALLY as I envisioned it when I wrote the script.

    How COOL is that. The main actor PHYLLIS YVONNE STICKNEY played the lead character like she knew her. The inflection of her voice, her mannersims, jestures, were spot on. From that day to this I developed a mad respect for ‘real actors.’

    peace & blessimgs
    Lawrence
    http://www.memphisblackwriters.com

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    1. Thanks for the comment. When I comment on scripts in an analysis this is one place I meet a lot of resistance from new writers with scripts crammed with wrylies. Thanks so much for your feedback from the perspective of a writer.

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  2. Edited the comments above and the original post with errors appeared. Maybe I forgot to save the corrections? But I think you can get the meaning of the post.–SMILE! peace LW

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