Tuesday, October 30, 2012


I did go to the London Screenwriters Festival and it was good. Very good. I almost didn't go, I'm very glad I did.

But that's not what this blog is about.

It's about something screenwriters talk about in relation to scripts but something I have never seen defined: "Script energy".

This came to mind because of John August and Craig Mazin's podcast this week. You can listen here, the relevant bit is around 33 minutes - but why not listen to it all?

[Of course, it was a risk writing this before I finished listening to the podcast and, of course, they carried on and said much of what I wrote here, but less pedantically. But what the hell. I'll leave it, it was still my realisation, at the time.]

So "energy": Craig is talking about scenes ending with an energy that propels the viewer forward. But what is this energy? Just saying "your script lacks energy" or "this scene lacks energy" is unhelpful. Am I supposed to fry it with 20,000 volts? Okay, disingenuous, but still. What. Is. It?

So I applied some of the old mind power. And this is what I came up with, you may feel differently.

When talking about this energy we're actually talking about the viewer's reaction. It's not actually energy in the script, it's the energy the script generates in the viewer. I got a grip on it by looking at a scene which lacks energy (a metaphorical scene, not a real one):

Let's say someone watches this metaphorical scene, and at the end of it they sigh and say "so what?" The scene engenders nothing in the viewer, or rather it engenders boredom, disinterest. An emotional state of nothing much really. That scene has no energy.

A scene that brings about any emotional state reaction is a scene that has energy. But that's not all of it.

A scene could of itself be complete, it could start somewhere, cause an emotion and then complete. It still wouldn't have the energy we're really talking about because at the end of it there is no impetus to continue. The viewer could just stop and be satisfied. And we don't want that. (Want to know a reason why you get out of a scene as early as possible - that.)

What we want is the viewer to cry out "What happens next???!!!" They want to know, they must know what happens next. They cannot stop watching they have to know.

And, in my view, that is the energy, it's the desire to keep going, keep watching, keep listening, to stick with it because they have to know. (In horror it's a kind of negative: they have to know, but they really don't want to, but they have to...)

'Nuff said.

What's on the turntable? "BWV 1004 Chaconne by Bach" by Steve Hackett from "Tribute to Bach"

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