Oralize to Trick out your Script
The legendary Paul Schrader says that he does not write his screenplay until he can say it out loud for 40 minutes to a captive audience. That’s how he knows he has a screenplay, if he can sustain 40 minutes of narration. I have never practiced this and as writers go, the last thing you want to do is meet a bunch of people and talk your 120 pages. It sounds like a complete nightmare, right?
But in actuality, a screenplay is written to be said aloud. It is after all, the blueprint to a movie. And in a movie, there is dialogue, expressed by actors. So you see, your screenplay was never meant to be hidden in the privacy of your mind. Your dialogue was meant to be spoken. And heard. And if you never hear it, you may never be able to judge properly if what should be there or not. Learn how to…
Oralize your Heart out
A painter studies his canvass by renting a loft with lots of space so he can stand back and see the whole picture. A singer can study her music by hearing her songs played back to her. But a screenwriter, he usually assesses how effective his pages are by reading it, over and over again in his mind. Only one of these scenarios is NOT shared by the audience. The screenwriter’s. A painter sees his painting the way museum visitors see it. A singer hears her songs played the way her fans would hear it. But a screenwriter rarely hears it out loud.
How much more would the screenwriter understand if he heard his words spoken out loud. I discovered recently reading to my newborn. As a way to take care of my own professional needs and tend to the offspring, I often read OUT LOUD to him screenplays, including my own pages. And something happens when you hear it, even if its badly performed (in my case, 100% badly performed). You’re seeing the dialogue tested in reality for the first time and you instantly know if it works or doesn’t. It is so magical, its amazing screenwriters don’t use this FREE tool more frequently.
Here are THREE WAYS you can Oralize Today!
1) THE TABLE READ… Invite your friends over to read your script. Cook them dinner. Get them drunk. But definitely give them the privilege to read your script. They will do it. People not in the film business love to read screenplays. It’s exotic to them. What works and what doesn’t work will become as clear as day, I promise you. You will cringe, but you will also have moments of pride. It will help you take your script to the next level.
2) THE NARCISSISTIC READ… In this day in age, we have all some kind of recording device. And who wants to invite a bunch of people to your house anyway? You haven’t sold that big screenplay, what makes these people think you can buy them dinner. This is when you use your recording device, smartphone, tablet, to RECORD your own reading of your entire screenplay. You can play this back to yourself in any circumstance… waiting in line to pay bills, the post office, the DMV. What you will hear are very clear flaws in your script that you are, by now, thanking your lucky stars that only YOU HEARD. You know exactly what to fix.
3) THE BLUNT READ… okay, forget recording yourself. You’ve been working on the same scene for 3 weeks. You have no idea if it works or not. You’ve rewritten it umpteenth amounts of time. The only thing you haven’t tried is reading it OUT LOUD. Do it right now. This very second. In your own space? What just happened? Did everyone at Starbucks just pivot to you and think you’re losing your mind? No, because you probably whispered it if you’re in a public space. This is what happened. That beautiful dialogue you wrote suddenly makes you feel ashamed of yourself. Those extra adjectives in your action stick out like weeds. The name of that character sounds stupid. BUT… now you know exactly what to fix to make this scene work.
And if THAT doesn’t work, do the Schrader
And if you can’t bring yourself to do any of these, try the SCHRADER READ, as described above. The point to this technique is that you’ve had it all wrong about screenplays. They’re oral, not literally. ORAL. And the sooner you treat them that way, the better you will write. It’s no accident that many great screenwriters are also actors. Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Sylvester Stallone, John Cassavettes… and William Shakespeare (enough of his plays have been converted for Willy to be considered a screenwriter). These guys had the greatest screenwriting tool available to them, they could act out their own writing… and well… to test out their script.
Apparently, Quentin Tarantino (who originally aspired to be an actor, not a director) read most of “Pulp Fiction” to Stacy Sherr from various pay phones while traveling in Europe. That’s how he knew he had something great in his hands.
We’ve assembled all 13 of our screenwriting tips in this monster of a page to help you improve your screenwriting habits and enjoy the craft more than ever.
Written by: Norith Soth