Monday, January 26, 2015

Why do writers use "we see" in screenplays?

Brian writes: I wanted to ask why some screenwriters use "we", in their scene descriptions, while others do not. WE hear, WE see, and even WE saw etc...and it's not used just once or twice. Why do they do this?

Some people are very anti "we see," but I'm a little more lenient. Plenty of pro writers use it. I've used it. In many cases, writers probably don't need the much-maligned phrase; "We see Jenny walk up to the car" isn't really an improvement upon "Jenny walks up to the car." And if you're writing "we see" several times on a page, maybe your action could be trimmed.

I think writers use the phrase to convey the sense that we're all experiencing the script together as a movie, and to explain what precisely the camera is revealing at what time (as opposed to what the camera isn't revealing, or isn't revealing just yet). "We see" can also show us what's happening from a particular character's visual perspective.

Here's an instance of "we see" from FOXCATCHER, which earned Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye a 2015 Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay:

I/E. TAXI/MADISON/DAVE’S STREET - DAY

Mark rides in the back of a cab. As he nears Dave’s house, we SEE Nancy tapping a beer keg in the side yard. Dave and Alex sit in the TOP OF THE TREE, watching Mark arrive.

In her screenplay for GONE GIRL, Gillian Flynn also treats the script like a movie we're all experiencing together with "ushers us":

EXT. NORTH CARTHAGE - MORNING 2

A carved faux-marble entry—reading FOREST GLEN—ushers us into a ruined HOUSING DEVELOPMENT. Mostly VACANT houses. A few Fourth of July decorations hang in windows. A weird, BUCOLIC air: swaying grasses, stray wildlife.

If a reader criticizes your use of "we see," the reader might be a bad analyst who is focusing on the wrong things. However, the reader might be right that your action/description is clunky or uninspired, and just doesn't have specific advice for improving it.

The reader might also be trying to find things to say because he or she simply didn't love your script. Sometimes if a script is boring or unimpressive (but doesn't have obvious structure or character issues to talk about), readers find themselves getting picky about other things, because they don't know how else to fill up their required document of notes. I read a fair amount of "meh" scripts with clear concepts and fine characters and don't always know what to say beyond "I just don't love it." I try to not to obsess about things like "we see," but I think this is why some readers do. (I do think you should aim to make even the prose in your script impressive, though. In a script, you're creating an atmosphere while also showing off your ability to write. Words like "lavender" and "cinnamon" can even stimulate multiple parts of your readers' brains.)

Keep reading professional scripts to see how the best writers formulate their pose. Also, remember that "We see" is a small style thing. Agonize over the more important things in your script.

1 comment:

Al Bloom said...

Totally agree -- so many writers seem to get hung up on the small things like using "We see" or whether to bold sluglines rather than concentrating on the important things, like STORY!