William Goldman was one of the most successful Hollywood screenwriters.
Amongst other films, he wrote: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, All The President’s Men, A Bridge Too Far, Misery, and Heat.
He’s also written some great books about screenwriting.
The most famous one is Adventures In the Screen Trade.
These aren’t just books full of technical tips about how to write a screenplay.
They’re really interesting books about how human beings function.
This is very useful for us.
Because the one thing that never changes is people.
And that’s our medium.
One of the tips he gives is how to write a sellable screenplay.
He says you don’t get specific in the description.
You don’t write, “Open on the interior of a bar. The door is kicked open, and a six foot tall man stands there. He has windswept blonde hair, and piercing blue eyes that survey the room.”
You don’t write that.
You don’t write that because what happens when you send the script to Dustin Hoffman, or Tom Cruise, or Samuel L. Jackson?
They can see in the first paragraph, that it’s not them.
By being too specific, you’ve painted yourself into a corner.
What you should write is, “Open on the interior of a bar. The door is kicked open and the powerful presence of a man dominates the space. He seems to fill the room as his eyes travel piercingly over everyone present, as if he could see into their minds.”
That’s what you write.
Because it’s not specific.
It allows anyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Danny DeVito to see themselves in that part.
Many movie stars know they aren’t six foot tall, with blonde hair and blue eyes.
But every movie star thinks they can dominate a room with their presence.
So you don’t write what’s in your head.
You write what’s in their head.
It’s the same for us.
When we’re selling a script to a roomful of clients, we don’t sell them what’s in our head.
We sell them what’s in their head.
So I wouldn’t write, “Our hero pulls up in the most stylish car in the world. A maroon, Bentley Continental mark 1, with Mulliner coachwork. The body flowing in a straight line from the roof to the rear bumper.”
That may well be my idea of the most stylish car there is.
But you know around the table there will be as many opinions as people.
Someone will say, “Bentleys are very old fashioned. What about a Ferrari?”
Someone else will say, “Or a Lamborghini, they’re sexy in yellow.”
Someone else will say, “Or the new Audi. I fancy one of those.”
Someone else will say, “If he can have any car he wants, what about a HumVee, they’re great.”
And the idea doesn’t get sold because everyone’s upset that whatever car is specified, it’s not their idea of the best car in the world.
So, taking a lesson from Goldman, we write it differently.
“Our hero pulls up in the car anyone would have if they could afford anything. Gleaming coachwork, polished chrome, long curving lines. As it gently purrs to a halt, he leaves the leather interior and closes the door with a deeply satisfying thunk.”
And six different clients see six different cars in the commercial.
An Audi, a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, a Bentley, a HumVee, or anything else.
The idea being that it’s easier to sell someone what’s in their mind, than what’s in your mind.