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
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!