Changes in technology and entertainment platforms is having an effect on how to approach writing a screenplay.
Nowadays consumers want entertainment when they want it, how they want it, and where they want it. And they want it NOW!
Moreover if you consider text or Snapchat conversations, email threads, YouTube videos, web series, podcasts, and all the plethora of social media interfaces as various forms of narratives, then people today have been exposed to exponentially more stories than ever before.
I believe this is having an impact on what people want in stories and as a result how writers need to bear in mind when writing stories.
There are some trends which we, as screenwriters, should pay attention to. Here are three of them:
- Shorter scenes: When I broke into the business in 1987, the rule of thumb used to be the average scene was 2 pages long. Now I tell people if your scene is over 1 1/2 pages, you have to make sure you need that much time. Contemporary audiences are conditioned to faster, quicker, more, and now. We need to be cognizant of that when planning and executing the writing of our scenes.
- Less exposition: Similarly, modern audiences are much more sophisticated, whether they know it or not. They intuitively just seem to know more about ‘story,’ so they don’t need as much explanation or setup. That stuff is dull. They don’t like dull. Our task as screenwriters is to tease out exposition, cut as much as we can, and keep the story moving.
- Enter late: Speaking of which, if you can drop the reader into the middle of scenes or even the beginning of the story itself, all the better. Audiences like being thrust into the action. Even if they don’t know what’s going on, as long as what they see and hear on screen isn’t confusing, they enjoy entering late, skipping interstitial content and exposition until later. Think of movies like Ex Machina or Lucy. Boom! By minute 2 or 3, we’re into the action when we barely know the central characters.
Obviously, all of these dynamics are relative. If you’re writing an historical drama or any sort of drama for that matter, the kind of frantic pace of contemporary sensibilities may not work so well. But we do need to bear in mind that consumer tastes and expectations are changing in response to technological and cultural changes.
Besides in general it’s a good idea for screenwriters to write lean, tight scenes and sequences.