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09/07/2007: This is Not My Beautiful Script
Gentle Reader Samantha in Los Angeles asks a terrific question I've never contemplated before! Samantha:
I just started looking at some produced The Office scripts and comparing them to what was finally broadcast. I've noticed that many scenes are moved around in editing, even from one act to another. My question is whether I should write to emulate the script of the finished product in terms of technical issues like how many talking heads per act, or how the B story is interwoven with the A story.
Oooh. Fascinating. (By the way, for those of you unfamiliar with The Office scripts, when Samantha refers to "talking heads," she is referring to the interview-like segments of the show.) This kind of divergence between the script and the show is not uncommon. A lot of writing actually happens in the editing room when something doesn't work (either because of the writing, the performance, the direction, or for length), and the script has to be restructured out of footage that already exists.
I'm going to surprise myself a bit with my answer here. You know, Gentle Readers, that I'm all about the script, much more than the broadcast. But in this instance, I have to recommend emulating the final product. There are a couple reasons for this.
First off, the broadcast version is what the ultimate readers of your spec are going to be most familiar with. You're going to appear to be a better chameleon if you've captured that tone and pacing.
Second, and more importantly, the broadcast version is, of necessity, tighter. Early cuts of a show rarely come in short, they're almost always too long, so the changes usually reflect a paring down of the material. And pared-down is good -- the story becomes more focused, the weakest jokes are lost, and the page count of your spec decreases, making it a more appealing read. You end up with script-concentrate, which is delicious. It's hard to miss stuff you never knew existed.
Of course, sometimes something genuinely valuable is lost in the process. A sweet little character moment simply takes too long and gets cut, or a clever dovetailing of the A and B stories goes away because it's the only thing that CAN go away that doesn't touch the logic of the events. You're going to have to decide if making your personal spec The Office look like the broadcast version is going to cost you something in terms of depth. As you cut, be very wary of that, since you've got to give your script that little special sparkle that makes it better than an average episode, and that sparkle ALWAYS resides in the little character moments that are not essential to plot.
If you really can't decide, try opening a new file and just playing with a cut-and-restructure that reflects something more like the broadcast structure. Then you can actually look at both versions side by side without having committed to anything and pick the one that works best.
Lunch: vegetable and chicken stir-fry with lots of garlic