Where’s crafty?Ed. Note: In preparation for this post to be reprinted in Written By (the magazine of the WGAw), I’m adding more terms and definitions, including some that our commenters suggested. Thanks for all of your input!
If we have a philosophy here at The Artful Writer, it’s that screenwriters need to become more production-oriented, because we don’t write scripts…we write movies.
Once you get to the Promised Land of the set, you’ll find that you don’t exactly speak the language. The natives have a fascinating patois that they use to implement a very particular protocol. In an attempt to save you the confusion I’ve experienced in the past, here is my handy dandy guide to set lingo.
20: When you want to know where someone is, don’t say “Where’s Joe?” That’s the mark of a rookie. You want a “20″ on Joe. An alternate is to get on the walkie and ask, “Does anyone have eyes on Joe?”
50-50: When you hear someone suggest a 50-50, it means a two-shot in which both actors share the screen equally. You can have a 50-50 head on, or a profile 50-50. This term is used exclusive of an over, which is a shot over one actor’s shoulder to another, or a single. Singles can be clean (just one actor) or dirty (one actor with a bit of another in the frame).
Abby Singer: The second-to-last shot of the day. Apparently from an A.D. named Abby Singer who routinely announced that a shot was the last of the day, only to learn that there was one more.
apple box: Ubiquitous crates used for everything from door stops to seats to actor-heighteners. There are full apples, half apples and quarter apples. Ask to sit on a half-apple, and you’ll be looked upon as a veteran of the trade.
day for night: When you’re shooting a night scene during the day. Naturally, this happens on stages.
circle: Film is expensive to print, and it’s annoying to have to pour through endless dailies when you know there’s a particular take that was great. Directors tell the script supervisor to “circle that take”, and only circle takes are printed. Happily, the uncircled takes are still developed and can be mined for hidden gold when your circle take turns out to be worthless in the cutting room.
cowboy: Another common shot description, denoting a frame that runs from mid-thigh to the top of the head. Taken from Westerns, where the shot was commonly used.
crafty: The typical nickname for Craft Services, aka “the table with the fattening food on it.” The locale for snacks and drinks. “Can you run by Crafty and get me a cookie?”
flying in: When something is requested to be brought to the set, it “flies in”. I don’t know why. It just does. “Can I get a double filter for this light?” “Double filter, flying in.”
gag: Not a joke, but any bit of film trickery or special stunt. For instance, if you’re doing a war scene and you need a soldier to run by and get an arm blown off, that effect might be called an “arm gag” if you’re doing the gag practically, rather than with CGI.
go to 2: Most of the crew are wired into a walkie system. Channel 1 is the main line. Everyone generally stays tuned to that one (certain departments just stay tuned to their own channel to avoid the chatter on 1). When you need to speak to someone, you ask for them on 1. When they respond, the caller will often say “go to 2″, meaning “let’s not busy up channel 1 with our conversation that no one else will want to hear, so go to 2 and we’ll talk semi-privately”.
going again: When the director wants another take right away, the AD will announce “going again” to the crew to avoid any disruptions. After six takes or so, this phrase can begin to take on a certain bemused twang.
honeywagon: A trailer that houses multiple dressing rooms with bathrooms. When you’re looking for someone and they’re in the honeywagon, a PA will tell you that they’re going “10-100″ or “10-1″. Otherwise, they’re going “10-200″, which takes a bit longer.
last looks: The AD’s warning to hair, wardrobe and makeup that they’ve got dwindling seconds to beautify the actors before the cameras start to roll.
Linda Stills: Linda is a person, but her last name isn’t Stills. She’s the stills photographer. Crews can be large, and when you have three folks named “Linda,” it gets annoying to ask for one on the walkie and get the wrong one. Beyond that, no one really cares what your name is. On a set, you are your job. If you’re Linda and you’re the still photographer, they call you Linda Stills. They’ll call you Jim Hair and Ellen Crafty and Craig Writer. Seriously. The name on my trailer door says Craig Writer.
lunchahalf: When the crew goes to lunch, it’s usually for an hour, but sometimes the production shortens lunch (with costs to be paid to the crew). When the AD calls “lunchahalf,” it means you’re getting 30 minutes for lunch…and they really mean 30 minutes, so eat fast.
The Martini: The last shot of the day. In Vancouver, they call this “The Window.”
MOS: A shot done without any sound recorded. Why MOS? No one’s exactly sure. The most popular explanation is that it’s an abbreviation of “mit-out sound”, which is how the German directors in the early Hollywood era would say “without sound”. Other explanations are “microphone off set” and “minus optical sound”, but frankly, none of them really make sense. A true Hollywood mystery.
overlap: There are two kinds of overlapping. One is good, and one is bad. The good kind is done for editorial purposes. When shooting, you always want to overlap the action that comes just before the moment you’re aiming for and just after the moment you’re aiming for, so that the editor can cut into the action fluidly from the preceding shot. That’s the good kind. “Shouldn’t she enter frame cleanly before doing her line so that she overlaps?” The bad kind has to do with sound. When two actors are on screen together, their dialogue can overlap because we see them. When you’re doing a single on an actor, though, you don’t want an off-screen actor’s voice overlapping with the on-screen actor’s voice, because you can’t see them. You want it clean.
pick: When you have a shot where an actor is hoisted into the air, “pick” describes both the harness they wear as well as the shot itself.
picture’s up: There’s a lovely kabuki aspect to the beginning of a shot. Once everyone’s ready to shoot a take, the first A.D. says “on the bell!” That alerts the crew to prepare for a shot. “Picture’s up” is followed by “roll sound” and “roll camera”, which tells the sound and camera guys to get the tape and film speed going (given that one day all sound and images will go directly to a drive or chip, these phrases will eventually be as quaint as MOS). The camera operator will say “camera’s set” to let you know he’s speeding, the sound guy will say “sound speed” to let you know the sound is ready, and then it’s time for the director to call “action!”
practical: Used to define action that occurs entirely in real-time in front of the camera. You could have someone run on a gravel floor on a green screen stage and then make it look like they’re on a rooftop in post, or you could film the actor running on an actual rooftop and do the scene practically.
roundy-round: Shooting typically involves two or more angles, or coverage, of the same action. The simplest example is a conversation. First we shoot me talking to you, then we shoot you having the same conversation with me. Later, we’ll cut it together. When you shoot the first actor, there are small relights that occur for size changes (going from an over to a single, for instance), but those relights are minor compared to what must occur when you move everything around to shoot the other actor. When you hear “roundy-round”, that means the crew is turning everything around to the other side. Go to crafty. Have a snack. It’s gonna be a while.
show: This one still takes getting used to. If you’re like me, everything I watch on TV is called a “show” and everything I see in a theater is a “movie”. Film crews, however, call everything “shows”. The movie that they’re shooting? A show. “Hey, didn’t I work with you on the last show?” More than anything, this will make you seem like an insider when you’re on a movie set.
transpo: Transportation. Be good to the Teamsters, and they’ll be good to you.
video village: On every set there’s a small encampment (and sometimes three of them) where you’ll find set chairs positioned around monitors pulling in video feeds from the cameras.
wild: Use this word for anything that isn’t fixed into position by either physicality or narrative sequence. If a set has a wall that can be detached, that’s a “wild wall”. When you’re shooting a scene and just want to run the actor through a series of lines or reactions without regard for the rigidity of the script, you do “wild lines” and “wild reactions”. When you need to just grab audio, you ask for “wild lines”.
I hope you found this short list useful. It’s not everything, but it’s a start. Next time you walk on set, stop by crafty, mention that you wrote the script for the show, swing over to video village, compliment the director on his choice of a cowboy, and then enjoy a large coffee.
“Large coffee”, by the way, is a large coffee.
Scary, yes, but
good for ya…Mentors are highly overrated. I know everyone’s supposed to have one, and everyone probably does, which is why I figure they’re overrated. I mean, think of the Great Mentored Mass out there absorbing wisdom at their masters’ knees and yet never actually succeeding.
Blame the mentor.
Mentors are wonderfully avuncular support systems. They nudge you slowly, carefully nurture your talent, pick you up when you fall and tell you confidence-restoring tales of how they once stumbled.
Meanwhile, they’re rich and successful, you’re not.
Face it. Their mentorship is probably 95% about making them feel good about themselves.
The other 5% is inefficient mollycoddling of the mentored, who would probably get a lot further with a few swift kicks to the rear.
That’s why I always say what screenwriters really need (pro or otherwise) is a benefactor.
A benefactor doesn’t give a sweet crap about your self-esteem, nor are they interested in picking you up and dusting you off. They probably like you personally, but if you got a brain tumor that killed your writing ability, it’s almost certain they’d stop calling after a few weeks. They’re too busy for encouragement, they’re too selfish to be a shoulder to cry on, and they’re way too mean to ever ever ever be avuncular.
Seriously, watch out for avuncular. Avuncular people will put the sleep of death on you.
No, benefactors are mostly interested in doing whatever the hell it is that actually needs to be done to make you better than you are now, because they’re paying you for a product.
The concept of the benefactor (or patron of the arts, if you prefer) is as old as both creativity and hunger. Artists and craftsmen have always sought the patronage of the wealthy. The wealthy, by dint of their voracious appetite for more wealth, are ambitious enough for themselves and us. That’s why the relationship is so wonderful. They give the artist a certain purpose beyond his own squirrely mind. Mozart was a genius no matter what he played, but he tended to actually get the work done when he was being ordered to.
Mentors let you get drunk and dream the day away because, in part, they honestly don’t care if you ever make it. In fact, they secretly want you to fail, which may be why they became mentors in the first place.
Benefactors dump cold water on your head and drag you to the typewriter because your lazy, writer’s blocked self-indulgent artsy-fartsy crap is getting in the way of their plans.
In its best form, the artist-patron relationship becomes stable and pleasant. Most big-time screenwriters naturally gravitate towards one or two steady patrons of their art. The patrons provide direction and purpose beyond the mere ego direction and purpose the screenwriter would rely on otherwise, and the screenwriter provides the patron with works of value and, just as importantly, style.
Consider the case of Jerry Bruckheimer. Jerry doesn’t write movies. He’s a patron. A benefactor. More to the point, he’s a steady patron of Ted and Terry’s. Beyond the money that he makes off of the movies that they write, they have added a certain sensibility and style to his oeuvre.
Yes, patrons have ouevres.
At least…the good ones do. Or try to.
My patron is Bob Weinstein. John August loves to work with Tim Burton. David Koepp works repeatedly with Spielberg. Akiva Goldsman found a patron in Brian Grazer and Imagine.
None of these writers (including me) is married to our benefactor. We all flit around here and there, but slowly and surely, like the pairing off process that happens before a prom, matches are made.
They have real staying power, and they help both parties grow as craftsmen, businessmen and entertainers.
If you’re a pro, try and find that single patron. Become a “company man” for a bit, because it will actually free you in the exact ways you might have expected it would not. You find yourself trusted. Treated like an equal. Consulted. Depended upon.
If you’re an aspirant, ditch the kindly old man with the twinkly eyes who makes you feel warm inside after a hard day at the laptop. Find someone crazy enough to want to pay you to write. Doesn’t have to be a script. Earn some money writing anything. Learn how to work for a patron. They, and only they, can transform you into a professional writer. Everyone else is just killing time.
Somewhere out there in the world, there’s an ultimate feature screenplay format sheet. I know that Warner Brothers has one, but that’s just them. I’ve seen a few in books here and there, but where did they get their numbers?
And why the hell do any of us care?
It’s really a matter of money. If we do our jobs well, someone is going to have to take our script and break it down into budgetable eighths of a page. They’ll have to create a schedule, where each day is no more than a certain amount of pages. Given that, regulating exactly how much shootable material there is per page would be nice. After all, how much shooting time does one page of nothing but two people talking in a restaurant cost?
Depends on your margins. Your font. Your line spacing.
Because professional screenwriters and amateur screenwriters all delight in masturbatory procrastination (including actual masturbation, henceforth to be known as “procrasturbation”), here’s my format sheet, approved by a real live 1st A.D. who employs this for all of the features he works on. Use it happily, knowing that your 105 page comedy really is a 105 page comedy, and not a 149 page time bomb.
With this format, you should achieve an approximate count of 50 lines per page.
Font: Courier New, 12 pt.
Top Margin: .6 inches Bottom Margin: 1.4 inches
Scene Headings (Slug Lines): Left Margin – 1.3 inches, Right Margin – 1 inch. One blank line before. Single-spaced.
Action Lines: Left Margin – 1.3 inches, Right Margin – 1.2 inches. One blank line before. Single-spaced.
Character Names: Left Margin – 3.3 inches, Right Margin – 1.0 inches. One blank line before. Single-spaced.
Dialogue: Left Margin – 2.3 inches, Right Margin – 2.7 inches. Single-spaced. (You hear me? SINGLE spaced. Not half-spaced. No one likes a cheater.)
Parentheticals (“Wrylies”): Left Margin – 2.8 inches, Right Margin – 3.5 inches. Single-spaced.
Transitions (e.g. “CUT TO:): Flush Right. Left Margin – 1.5 inches, Right Margin – 1 inch. One blank line before. Single-spaced.
Bottom “Continued”: Left Margin – 5.5 inches
Now go! Gaze upon the bloated monstrosities that were your once-slender screenplays! Cut! Cut! Cut!
“Go home and get a
nice quiet sleep.”For a large portion of my first year on the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America, west, I was involved in an effort to mediate a serious dispute with the Writers Guild of America, East.
If the notion that there are two WGAs sounds stupid to you (much less the idea that they’re fighting), well, join the club called “everyone else in the world who is rational”.
The dispute centered around screenwriters, and it goes back to the formation of the two unions. I’ll give you the really short version: the WGAw agreed that the WGAE could represent screenwriters in the East in order to help the WGAE seem, well, prestigious, but in return, those screenwriters would also be in the WGAw, and half their dues would have to come our way.
That worked just fine. And then, at some point in the early 70′s, the WGAE said, “Actually, we don’t want to pay anymore.”
So begain a rift that would last 30 some-odd years.
The rift isn’t only financial. There are huge cultural differences between West and East. The East is considered by some to be overmilitant. The West is considered by some to be obsessed with first writers when it comes to credits. The East is more of a traditional labor union. The West has far more members and far more money, and acts like it.
And so it goes. Over the years, the distrust and malice has grown. So, too, did the increasing debt owed by the East to the West for the services that the West performs on behalf of East members. After all, the West has a staff of around 200 employees, included a few dozen attorneys. The East has a staff of fewer than 30, with maybe 2 attorneys.
A few weeks ago, the new leaderships of both unions announced that they had finally reached an agreement. What can I say? I think it’s an okay deal. Not great. And I think we would have gotten a far better deal for WGAw members if we had held out, because our legal case was far far stronger than theirs.
On the other hand, given the leadership we have right now, I believe this is the best deal I could have hoped for. That’s not a back-handed compliment, by the way, if any of those folks are reading this. It’s a direct criticism.
That out of the way, here are the major points of the deal.
In order to compensate the WGAw for the various services they receive from it, the WGAE will essentially pay a percentage of all of its dues to the West. That number will be far greater than the zippo we were receiving to date, but far less than what our current constitution calls for them to send us. Since the courts would have eventually compelled the WGAE to give us more per year, call this one as WINNER: WGAE
In the past, despite reams of passages calling for arbitration between the guilds in cases of dispute, the WGAE has often used a delay tactic. In this current dispute, they challenged the arbitrability of it in the first place, which was flat out insane. Theoretically, this settlement will create an arbitration clause that no one can wriggle out of or challenge without serious penalty. Since this takes away a traditional weapon from the East, this one’s WINNER: WGAw
While our constitutions called for national meetings once a year between the Guild leaderships, the WGAE often dragged their feet on this, and the WGAw wasn’t exactly banging the drum for them either. The settlement agreement forces these meetings to happen more frequently, and the dates are already set in stone. This is sort of a push, but since I think the result of these frequent meetings is a positive net gain for those of us who want a merger, and since it’s the WGAw that has been most in favor of a merger, I’m calling this as WINNER: WGAw
There are joint committees for things like awards and credits. Those committee makeups have now been mandated by this settlement to ensure that the WGAE has at least 33% of the seats. Given that they do not have anything close to 33% of the screenwriters out there (it’s more like 18%), this is a major victory for the East on committees like screen credits committees, etc. This is also a huge victory for them because instead of having 2 out of 15 seats on the Negotiating Committee, their representation will be proportional by voting members, which should mean an increase in seats. WINNER: WGAE
If there’s one thing that has angered me about the WGAE, it’s that they have different membership and voting standards than we do. To get into the WGAw, you need to accumulate a certain amount of work that equals 24 “credits”. At that point, you’re in, and as long as you stay current with your dues, you can vote on things like collective bargaining agreements…or strikes. Not so with the WGAE. All you need to get into the WGAE is employment. One job. That’s it. No matter how small. Therefore, a guy who writes one half-hour script in L.A. isn’t in the union and can’t vote, but a guy who writes a half-hour script in NYC can! This is ridiculous. This settlement states that the two unions will come to an agreement on common voting standards. The WGAE can let in whomever they want, but the voting standards for both memberships will be the same. Assuming the WGAw doesn’t lose its mind and lower its voting standards too far, this one is…WINNER: WGAw
There are a few other areas, but I feel like I’ve bored you enough. Suffice it to say, this was possibly for the best, but perhaps for the worst.
How’s that for mealy-mouthed?
In the meantime, I’ve got a ton of opinions about what has been going on with our union lately, but I’m going to keep my mouth shut until I’m in a more comfortable position to talk. Stay tuned…because things in this town are getting very very very odd.
And not in a good way. At least, I’m not happy.
If you haven’t read the recent article in the L.A Times about where we’re heading, check it out here.
Egon, my hero…I know the kind of movies I’ve done, and I know the kind of movies I’ve been doing, but when people have asked me the kind of movies I want to do, I’ve always had a hard time putting the genre into words.
I’ve called it “smart stupid movies” or “comedies about something” or “thematic idiocy”. None of those phrases comes close, however, to the accuracy of a line I read in an interview with the most excellent Harold Ramis.
He calls a movie like Groundhog Day a “madcap redemption comedy”.
Not all of his madcap redemption comedies are great. One is kind of bad, actually. One is good. Groundhog Day is absolutely brilliant. Frankly, I’d happily put my name to a thousand bombs if only to be associated with one Groundhog Day (Ramis shares screenplay credit with Danny Rubin).
What I love about the phrase “madcap redemption” is that it shines a light on why I love comedy so much. While I love a good spoof movie (duh), comedies that allow us to laugh at the tragedy of our own existence…and then give us hope that idiots like us can win…well, that’s my kind of story.
It’s nice that William Wallace can paint his face blue and white, kill a field full of Englishmen and then get his guts ripped out and die for our sins, but there’s something more illuminating about Bill Murray learning that just because life is meaningless doesn’t mean we are, individually, without purpose.
Why? Because he’s not a superhuman. He’s an all-too-human. He’s us. The heroes of comedies are shlumps like me and you. That’s why I love Tootsie and The Ref and There’s Something About Mary more than I like, say, MASH or Being There or Dr. Strangelove.
Don’t get me wrong. I like those last three movies a whole lot. It’s just that I’ve always found good satire to be thought-provoking, good spoof and farce to (hopefully) be gut-busting, and good madcap redemption comedies to be just…wonderfully satisfying.
Granted, this is all personal preference. On the other hand, I’ve been lucky enough to work on some madcap redemption comedies in the past (all yet to be produced), and I’m working on one right now that is getting made (no, not Scary Movie 4…if you bug me about which one, I’ll tell you in the forum), so I hope this begins a trend.
More to the point, I hope that Ramis’ definition actually catches on as a genre-definer. These kinds of comedies should be made more often.
Next up…a belated report on that WGA East/West compromise. Following that, a bunch of Q&A’s, and then hopefully another production-related article or two, as I’m now back in Vancouver.
Whoo hooo!I wasn’t planning on giving another “state of the blog” address until our first year anniversary (which is still a few months off), but lately, we’ve been experiencing a really nice growth curve.
In the month of October, we had 12,000 unique visitors. That’s pretty remarkable, I think, for a blog that is as studiously dry as this one. It’s not just gratifying to my ego (although, okay, it is); it’s exciting to me that my philosophy is getting out there. I can’t tell you how many times I hear studio executives moaning about the dropoff in writing quality. Is it partially their fault? Yes. Is it partially the fault of the writing and film academia? Yes.
Can sites like this help reverse that trend (if it really is a trend)?
It’s worth a shot.
We promote “production-smart” writing here, so I hope it’s all catching on. Twelve thousand folks a month is a lot, and even though the biggest draw by far is our excellent forum (where I hear we may have actually contributed to a writer making a script sale!–but more to come about that later…), I’m hoping people spend a little time to read my screeds as well.
As part of my ongoing education in all things CSS, PHP and HTML, I’ve been tinkering with a few things on the site. I want to thank John August, the professional CSS advisor who moonlights as a screenwriter of some repute, for his generous assistance.
Lastly, I’ve been doing some link pruning and rearranging. I used to use an egalitarian alphabetical order system, but it’s been bugging me. If you have suggestions for blog links (or other links), head to the forum and point them out in the “Screenblogging” section. I don’t necessarily put everything up, but you never know what will tickle my fancy.
Thanks for reading and spreading the word. Up next, a look at the recent settlement between the WGAw and the WGAE…the gives, the takes, and why it’s not a perfect but “good enough” deal for the two unions.