2017 Austin Film Festival: Scott Frank (Part 1)

Reflections on observations by Out of Sight and Minority Report screenwriter.

One of the panels I attended at the Austin Film Festival featured Scott Frank. Moderated by Craig Mazin, Frank — whose screenwriting credits include Dead Again, Little Man Tate, Malice, Out of Sight, Minority Report, Marley & Me, and Logan — delved deep into his creative and writing process. I thumbed my way through copious notes on my iPhone notes app. Over the next several days, I’ll do a series of reflections based on comments made by Frank during the talk.

Scott Frank

Today:

The first paragraph of a screenplay can tell you if they can write.
The first five pages can tell you if they have a voice.

Both of these are critical. And as Scott notes, both need to be apparent at the earliest stages of a script’s pages.

How can you tell if a writer can write from the first paragraph of a script?

They have a solid grasp of and love for the English language.
They know how to immediately set the tone and atmosphere of the piece.
They are smart enough to write something which is entertaining.
They are clever enough to exploit a narrative element which hooks the reader.
They embrace visual writing.
They engage the reader’s emotional life.

Bottom line, as per Scott Frank, they establish right up front that they are in control. They know the craft, they know this story universe, and they know how they want to tell the story.

All that in a first paragraph.

How can you tell if a writer has a voice from the first five script pages?

They create a consistent tone throughout the script’s opening.
They convey personality through both dialogue and scene description.
They match style to genre as an active reflection of the story’s feel.
They exhibit something distinctive in the interplay of moments and scenes.
They make a reader feel there is a real character telling the story.

From their words on the page, the writer exhibits a unique narrative voice, specific to this story, this writer, these pages.

All that in a script’s first five pages.

It’s a lot to ask. It also speaks to how important it is to accomplish both goals straightaway in a script. It not only can grab a reader’s attention and propel them into the story, it also creates a kind of mental lens through which one interprets and experiences the entire rest of the story.

When you know the writer can write… has a firm control of the story… has a distinctive voice… and that’s all established from the first paragraph through the first five pages…

That sets us up to look forward to the rest of the script with anticipation and hope that these pages we’re going through…

It’s a good read.

More tomorrow from the 2017 Austin Film Festival panel featuring Scott Frank.

Here is the trailer for Scott’s Netflix series ‘Godless’ which he wrote and directed. The series debuts this month.

Those of us in attendance at Scott’s Austin Film Festival panel got a sneak preview of a second ‘Godless’ trailer. The series looks great, really looking forward to watching it!

‘Godless’ website here.