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October 18, 2012

Breaking Screenwriting Rules with 'The Princess Bride': Unfilmables

Screenwriting is a topic broached fairly regularly, and often authorities on the subject talk about the rules that govern scripts. An aspect of screenwriting discussed less often that seems to govern all other rules, however, is the Secret Rule, which is: “Feel free to break any of the aforementioned Rules if necessary.” Scott Myers at Go Into the Story recently posted about doing just that with screenwriting, and why The Princess Bride should never have worked as a film.

Interestingly enough, the whole script is full of things that seem to violate the heck out of that universal Screenwriting 101 stipulation -- that anything and everything in the script must be filmable. The post contains several excerpts from the script, which was written by Oscar-winner William Goldman. Here is a good example:

And what we are starting now is one of the two
greatest swordfights in modern movies (the other one
happens later on) and right from the beginning it
looks different.

Aren't there consequences to this type of abstract description? Comments under the post propose that it allows each reader to see the writer’s vision of the film in his or her head -- and indeed, sometimes it can create a mental image even richer than concrete, tangible language. This is a technique common to novels, but isn’t the Golden Rule of screenwriting in place for serious reasons? The answer, of course, is yes -- in cinema, not everything is up to the writer by any means -- and each person crafting the look and feel of the film is responsible for their own respective layer of the final image. The flip side is that many of these artists are chosen because of their individual style.

For instance, many directors will seek out certain cinematographers because of the trademark look that they bring to the moving pictures. Vittorio Storaro and Chris Doyle are two classic examples -- and both are considered to be among the greatest DPs of all time. They are renowned for their uncompromisingly unique styles and working habits, and both have been in high demand by directors. (And both are famous -- or maybe infamous -- for the time it takes them to set up a shot. If you want that amazing, special look, Mr. Director, you’d better be ready to wait for it.)

There is no question it’s helpful to have scripts that are interpretable by the various creative people working on a film, but if directors, cinematographers, production designers, art directors, and all of the other artists are sought for the individualistic voice with which they carry out their work, why should a screenwriter and his/her unique style be any different?

I know that questions sounds rhetorical, but I'd love to know what everybody thinks about this!

Link: Go Into The Story - Why The Princess Bride Should Not Work As a Movie: Part 3

Your Comment

11 Comments

Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

October 18, 2012

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john jeffreys

Amazing movie, all time favorite.

October 18, 2012

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Derek Stevenson

I love this film... My first job was at Hollywood Video and I basically watched this on loop every time I worked... I was recommended to read His book "Adventures in the screen trade".. great read for fans of his...

As for the format of his script delivery... I say let it be... it produced such a great end result that why argue with it... I think too many people, at least in my experience, are so eager to conform to the structures and rules of screenwriting that they lose the spice and creativity and making the reader think and having fun while writing... Form and structure are very important... but if you take a side route and in doing so, take your reader on a journey all while conveying your message... then I think you've done all that could be asked of any screenwriter...

Happy writings!

October 18, 2012

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I think that it is an amazing thing to say that because a writer enjoys him/her self by adding so-called "spice" to a script that all of a sudden that makes the script impossible to film. What? Are the professionals so devoid of a sense of humor that they can't filter the "spice" out of their own imagery during their shoot? Obviously it's possible because A Princess Bride will forever be a classic and this is the first time I have ever read one word from the script. Thanks for the heads up though, I think I will go find it and read it.

October 18, 2012

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Keith Brooks

Please get rid of that pop up on site entry or disable for mobile visitors.. It's so hard to get rid of on a smart phone that I often skip your fantastic site to avoid it. You're welcome :)

October 19, 2012

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Chris

Breaking rules is great except many writers have no idea why they are breaking rules - they're breaking them just for the sake of it. I once had a writer tell me about the incredible script he was writing and how he was breaking all the rules including killing off the protagonist on page 10... If I have to explain why that's insane then this post isn't for you.

Something else to remember when breaking rules, a measured hand and some restraint is required if you are not yet an established screenwriter. I've lost count of the number of times writers have explained away their rule-breaking as "yeah, but Tarantino did that in such and such a film!" or even "William Goldman did that in The Princess Bride!". They did indeed BUT they had already earned the right to do whatever the hell they felt like doing. Nobody is going to tell someone like Tarantino "dude, that's against the rules" because then Tarantino could easily turn around and say, "Fine, I'm not working with you then". Hollywood is insecure especially when it comes to those who are perceived as talented and can bring in the $$$.

If you have yet to win a major screenwriting award or if you have yet to pen a screenplay for a movie that rakes in the $$$ then I recommend you play by the rules as much as you can or you simply won't get read.

October 20, 2012

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Neil

Thanks for your comment Neil, I think you make some very good points. I agree that rule-breaking should be carefully considered in every instance, and not abused -- if the story is pulling the writer a certain way, it seems to be working, and it's worth the risk, by all means. But doing so just for the sake of doing so, to me seems like a self-defeating exercise. Thanks again for your input!

October 20, 2012

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avatar
Dave Kendricken
Writer
Freelancer

A copy of the shooting script is available online if you're interested in checking it out. In my senior year, I took a class to learn about the role of the Producer; we were each told to pick a script that all our assignments would be based on for the semester and I went with The Princess Bride, as it was my very first favorite film.

Having spent hours and hours with this script and also having seen the film itself countless times, the style in which it was written is clearly intentional. Goldman knew what he was doing and was very intentional about it. Without his own miniature commentaries within the script, the film would have been very different. He gives multiple insights into the characters minds and makes several third-person comments. It's really quite fascinating, but if he had chosen to stick to all the principles of script writing, doubtlessly the final product would have been very different.

Goldman knew what the film needed to be and made sure his writing communicated that, even if the way was less than orthodox.

October 25, 2012

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Eric

I totally disagree that the description below is un-filmable.

"And what we are starting now is one of the two
greatest swordfights in modern movies (the other one
happens later on) and right from the beginning it
looks different."

Anybody that reads this knows exactly what we're about to shoot and starts getting their own visuals of how it should be filmed. Just because it's a tiny bit unorthodox and has a note about a later scene, doesn't mean it's un-filmable.

October 25, 2012

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I took a community college animation class the summer before college taught by Tex Henson (creator of Chip n Dale, the lesser known of the two "Tex's" of the golden age of animation---Tex Avery being the more famous "Tex")...

...and his whole thing was "I'm not gonna tell you to like (this or that) film...but know *why* you like it." I've sat with that advice all through film school and the dozen years since then and realize that this is one of the most solid pieces of advice I've ever had. It really makes you able to articulate what you are writing/directing/shooting/animating...etc...

So to take that advice and apply it to "rules" of screenwriting or making feature films or whatever...I'd say, break the rules...but know *why* you are breaking the rules. Don't just break them for the sake of breaking them. I think most people (such as the amateur screenwriter Neil was talking about) that do arbitrarily are destined to fail.

October 26, 2012

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Daniel Mimura

"Jog his memory, Fezzik."
Bam!!! Faaalllll
"Sorry, Inigo, I didn't mean to jog him so hard. Inigo? "

February 22, 2013

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Jessica