Indie Scripts vs. Studio Scripts

Ok. Maybe this post isn’t exactly about the differences between independent feature scripts and studio scripts, per se, but it is about the plain divide that I’ve personally observed on a regular basis when reading screenplays of all kinds.

I recently made the comment that it is consistently remarkable that a script that’s in the development or production stream at a studio reads differently from page one than does the average script on the same track at an independent/smaller production company. There’s no real reason for this yet it seems to be so. I gave the matter a wee bit o’ thought and am tossing it out here for you all to chew on and toss back. I’d love to hear what you think out there in writer/editor land.

What I’ve noticed is this: stories written by writers who work within the studio system–regardless of the project’s genre or artistic merit–move more briskly on the page than do those by writers who are affiliated with smaller and/or newer houses. This may not be news (and it may incense several of you) but I found it intriguing.

  1. Focus. Speedier scripts keep each and every word tied to the forward motion of the story. If it doesn’t relate to the action or the character arc, it’s not on the page. Literally. Every word.

  2. Economical verbiage. Atmospheric descriptions, character descriptions, backstory scenes, and the like are deceptively trim. Rather than spend a sentence recreating the writer’s vision of a character, an economical writer will often make an introduction by offering traits, impressions given, or simply offering the bare-bones of the character’s role in the story.
    …RIA, American-born Hispanic, thirties, heart racing, breathing hard, but watching Graham with real concern.
    Crash by Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco
  3. Pacing. The speed at which meaningful events occur is rapid-fire. This applies to internally meaningful events as well as pure action. Even scenes intended to offer breathing room offer story points that are crucial. There’s just no fat.
  4. Style, baby, style. It seems to me that there’s a certain ease and, dare I say, sassiness to many of the studio-sourced features that make the screenplay a pleasure to read. This same style is often distinctly the writer’s own even while “conforming” to an accepted standard.

These are all fine lines being drawn across similar points, of course, and are purely one observer’s opinion but I thought you might not only be interested but have something to add. This post comes in response to party conversation about the quality of scripts being produced at high budgets and a certain, “My grandma could do better than that” peanut gallery.

One may bring up a quality difference between stories produced by these two sizes of production houses or by The System in general. My experience thus far has been that we are all capable of brilliance and shite in equal measures depending upon the day. And thank goodness for that.

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