Smarter Story Structure (online course)

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Screenplay vs Film: 10 Screenwriting Tips from 10 Things I Hate About You (Part 2)

Script vs Film Comparison: 10 Things

On Tuesday, I continued this Screenplay Vs Film series by describing screenwriting tips learned by comparing the screenplay and film versions of the teen comedy classic, 10 Things I Hate About You — a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.

I learned a lot of screenwriting tips by comparing the two, so I had to break the post into two parts. If you missed it, click here for the first half of 10 Screenwriting Tips from 10 Things I Hate About You. Here is the 2nd part.

Screenwriting Tip #6: Weed out exposition

Exposition, like weeds, pop up EVERYWHERE. You have to be extremely vigilant because exposition scenes are so easy to write without realizing you’re writing them. The movie version of 10 Things was as trim as Britney Spears during her early heyday. The screenplay was pretty trim too, save for a couple scenes. Here’s one:

MICHAEL

You the new guy?

CAMERON

So they tell me…

MICHAEL

C’mon. I’m supposed to give you the tour.

They head out of the office.

MICHAEL

(continuing)

So — which Dakota you from?

CAMERON

North, actually. How’d you–?

MICHAEL

I was kidding. People actually live there?

CAMERON

Yeah. A couple. We’re outnumbered by the cows, though.

MICHAEL

How many people were in your old school?

CAMERON

Thirty-two.

MICHAEL

Get out!

CAMERON

How many people go here?

MICHAEL

Couple thousand. Most of them evil.

When I read the screenplay, this scene felt like a drag to read. When you’re writing your own movie, and you’re in the revising stage, if there are scenes that are just a chore to get through, ask yourself if it’s possible they are expository scenes. Be bold, cut them, and see what happens. Eliminating the above scene from 10 Things didn’t hurt it at all.

Another way to see if you really need a scene is to ask yourself if the information in that scene is already better presented in another scene. In 10 Things, we don’t need Michael to tease Cameron about being from the Dakotas. He was already introduced as the new kid in Miss Perky’s office (and in a funnier way too).

Here’s the second expository scene:

INT. MISS PERKY’S OFFICE – DAY

Patrick sits before Miss Perky, eating his Thai food

MISS PERKY

(looking at chart)

I don’t understand, Patrick. You haven’t done anything asinine this week. Are you not feeling well?

PATRICK

Touch of the flu.

MISS PERKY

I’m at a loss, then. What should we talk about? Your year of absence?

He smiles his charming smile.

PATRICK

How ’bout your love life?

She tolerates his comment with her withering glance.

MISS PERKY

Why don’t we discuss your driving need to be a hemorrhoid?

PATRICK

What’s to discuss?

MISS PERKY

You weren’t abused, you aren’t stupid, and as far as I can tell, you’re only slightly psychotic — so why is it that you’re such a screw-up?

PATRICK

Well, you know — there’s the prestige of the job title… and the benefits package is pretty good…

The bell RINGS.

MISS PERKY

Fine. Go do something repugnant and give us something to talk about next week.

This scene does nothing for the story. It doesn’t drive it forward in anyway, it just brings the momentum to a screeching halt. Sure, it has some humor. But so does the rest of the screenplay. It does show that Patrick is rebellious and doesn’t care about authority, but so do other scenes.

Finally, this scene is super-annoying because it seems to act like this flashing neon light: “even though he acts like a jerk, Patrick is really a decent guy.” Ok, don’t tell us that. SHOW us that–and that’s precisely what Lutz and Smith do in other scenes of their screenplay. Click here for more examples of exposition.

Screenwriting Tip #7: Revenge makes everything spicy

As you can see from Screenwriting Structure: Lessons from 10 Things, Bogie Lowenstein’s party plays a crucial role in the plot. In the screenplay, the party just sort of existed:

INT. CLASSROOM – DAY

CU on a party invitation as it gets handed out. “Future Princeton Grad Bogey Lowenstein proudly presents a Saturday night bash at his abode. Casual attire.”

Michael holds the invitation up to Cameron.

CAMERON

This is it. A golden opportunity. Patrick can ask Katarina to the party.

MICHAEL

In that case, we’ll need to make it a school-wide blow out.

CAMERON

Will Bogey get bent?

MICHAEL

Are you kidding? He’ll piss himself with joy. He’s the ultimate kiss ass.

In the movie, the writers spiced it up and turned the party into an act of revenge. Bogie Lowenstein was a member of the “Future MBAs of America” clique. So was Cameron’s guide, Mike, until they kicked him out. As revenge, Michael turned Bogie’s snooty wine and cheese party into a school-wide beer blowout. It was a smart screenwriting choice. Why?

Plot is all about cause and effect–a lot of aspiring screenwriters (and professionals too!) forget that, especially during Act II. By adding the element of revenge, the screenwriters tightened their cause and effect links because the party was the result, or effect, of Mike being kicked out of the MBA clique. Two other movies which excelled at cause & effect are Back to the Future and Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest. When you’re writing your own movie, and an event has to happen — like Bogie’s party — see if you can make it occur as a result of some of your characters’ actions. Revenge was the cause in 10 Things; it might work in your screenplay too.

Screenwriting Tip #8: Your great one-liners should be monogamous

In the movie, Patrick says a great line to Kat about “Bianca being without.” I love this line because it seems like slang real high schoolers would use. Secondly, Kat is used to everyone, including her father, adoring Bianca. It’s easy to see why Kat would change her opinion of Patrick after he says this, because he’s the first one in the movie to acknowledge that Bianca doesn’t deserve so much worship.

In the screenplay, however, TWO characters share this line: Patrick and Kat’s best friend Mandella.

EXT. SCHOOL COURTYARD – DAY

Mandella and Kat sit down in the quiet corner. They are eating a carton of yogurt with gusto.

MANDELLA

Your sister is so amazingly without. She’ll never read him [Shakespeare]. She has no idea.

When Patrick uses that same description of Bianca later in the screenplay, it doesn’t have the same effect it has in the movie because it’s been diluted. When you’re writing your own screenplay and you come up with a great turn of phrase, have that phrase be faithful to one character.

There are of course times when you should throw this screenwriting tip out the window. One example that comes to mind is if an awkward, geeky character is trying to imitate another more popular character by using the popular character’s slang — and does it in the wrong way for comedic effect.

Screenwriting Tip #9: Exploit comedic opportunities

In the 10 Things screenplay, there were some major comedic opportunities that were squandered. In the end, it didn’t hurt Lutz & Smith because they made use of these opportunities in the movie.

To give you an example: one of the most memorable scenes in 10 Things is when Patrick sings “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.”

In the screenplay, this scene was there, but not in the grand, larger than life way it was in the movie. Compare the movie sequence to this:

INT. ENGLISH CLASS – DAY

Kat and the other students sit at their desks, taking a quiz Patrick’s seat is conspicuously empty.

From outside, we hear the soft, unsure beginnings of a SONG. Kat looks up, then out the window, HORRIFIED.

The song grows louder until we realize it’s The Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You”. Being sung by Patrick.

PATRICK (0. S.)

[song lyrics]

The STUDENTS rush to the window. OUTSIDE Patrick stands beneath the window, crooning.

Scurvy is next to him, keeping the beat on the bongos and doing backup vocals.

PATRICK

[song lyrics]

He makes quite a sarcastic show of it.

IN THE CLASSROOM

Mrs. Blaise touches her heart, as if the song is for her. Kat slowly walks to the window, peeking below.

OUTSIDE

Patrick smiles at her as he finishes the verse with a big finale.

PATRICK

(continuing)

“I think I—”

INSIDE

The other students laugh, clap, cheer, etc. Kat sinks down, mortified, but with a slight smile.

The movie took this moment and expanded it — involving the high school marching band was a great touch!

When you’re writing your own movie, and you think of a funny moment, remember this sequence from 10 Things as your inspiration, and see how much you can “expand” the humor. Who knows, you might be as lucky as these screenwriters and end up with a truly memorable set piece that people like to watch over and over and over again.

Screenwriting Tip #10: Keep the faith

When you’re trying to break into the industry, you’ll come across several horror stories of how a fantastic screenplay was mangled by the studio when it was turned into a movie. This can be very discouraging as you write your own movie, especially if you fear that your own brilliant screenwriting moments will turn into hackneyed rubbish.

You can’t let that fear prevent you from continuing to work on your own screenplay. I hope 10 Things will inspire you because none of the great moments or writing in the screenplay got lost in the movie. All the best stuff…Miss Perky’s inappropriateness, Kat backing into Joey’s car on purpose, Bianca having to wear the pregnancy belly, Bianca kicking Joey’s butt, Patrick’s serenade, Kat’s detention ruse…remained.

So did the 10 Things I Hate About You sonnet that gives the movie its title. That was in the screenplay–verbatim. (On a side note, in the director’s commentary, they said that Julia Stiles did this scene in one take. Pretty impressive!)

None of the greatness was lost in the translation from page to screen — and why shouldn’t the same happen for your screenplay?

P.S. Keep the faith is not just a screenwriting tip; it’s a great line to live your life by!

Watching a blank screen (with modifications) by Kenneth Lu

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