Spec Killers #4: CUT TO:

This segment of my blog is dedicated to all those little details in your screenplay that can really add up. The little details that get on reader’s nerves.

Today, we have a little detail that can really bug people. So much so that you’ll find many screenwriting books telling you not to use this spec killer.

I’m talking about the transition “CUT TO:”.

A transition that seems so useful. “CUT TO:” seems like the perfect way to let the reader know that you’re moving to the next scene right?


1) It’s Redundant

This is the reason that most screenwriting books say not to use it. And I agree.

There’s no need to say “CUT TO:” before the next scene because the reader will understand what happened when he sees the next slugline.

Although the use of this transition does create more white space, it also repeats information. Saying the same thing twice is never a good idea.

2) It's Old

If you've ever studied screenplays from the 70's and 80's, you'll notice one phrase that pops up a lot: "CUT TO:"

It's a transition that the "old timers" used before every scene almost. Each page was littered with them.

But that was then. This is now.

Like any form of entertainment, new techniques and strategies will always trump old school rules. In screenwriting, this is even more true.

This business is filled with higher ups who fear anything that isn't new. This quality rubs off on the studio reader. Just a whiff of something old can make you look bad.

And with “CUT TO:” quickly becoming a thing of the past, it’s not outrageous to say that in a few years, “CUT TO:” could be that very whiff that spikes a reader’s radar.

(Omitting “CUT TO:” is especially recommend for anyone who actually has been writing since the 70’s and 80’s. No matter how much it is denied, Ageism is a problem in Hollywood. To get around this problem, do your best to make your screenplay look as “new school” as possible.)

3) It’s Annoying

When I first started wring and studying screenplays, William Goldman’s “Misery” was one of the first screenplays I wanted to read. But when I cracked the script open and started reading, I had to stop before page 20. You know why?

Because each and every page had “CUT TO:” plastered on it at least six times!

It was annoying!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying William Goldman is a bad writer for using so many CUT TO’S. That’s not what I’m saying at all. He wrote in a different time; a time where that was the norm. But when you read something like that now, it’s very, very annoying.

And who knows, maybe I was just having a bad day. And that’s my point here. I stopped reading a script (of one of the best movies ever made) because I got annoyed. Well what if I was the studio reader for “Misery”? I would have past on one of the best movies ever made because I had a bad day and got annoyed.

More importantly, what if this happened to you?

Think about it. You have no control over your reader having a bad day. And when a reader has a bad day, the littlest things can set them off.

What if that one page in your screenplay that has “CUT TO:” three times on it, is the reason why your reader throws your script away?

It may not happen often, but do you want to take that chance?

Like every screenwriting rule, there is an exception. And with this one, it’s comedy writing. Using “CUT TO:” can be very effective when writing comedy. Example:

I think you’re disgusting!

You’re no beauty yourself!

Oh yeah? I hope I never see
you ever again!



Man and Woman rip the clothes off each other.”

The “CUT TO:” works here because of the irony. And irony can work very well in comedy (this scene however is a cliche and should be avoided at all costs).


Most screenwriters worry about what the executive, agent, actor or director is going to think about their screenplay. Although it may be true that those people may not care about how often you use “CUT TO:”, those are not the people you should be thinking about.

Very few writers think about the real problem.

The studio reader.

Because before you get your script read by someone who can pay you, your script will be read by a studio reader. A person who may just have a chip on their shoulder. And seeing a transition as pointlessly redundant as “CUT TO:” may just be the feather that breaks the reader’s back.

Little details always count.

If you want to be safe, cut the “CUT TO:”.

P.S. Don’t even think about using the phrase “SMASH CUT TO:”. There’s no transition more annoying then cutting “fast”.


Gaga Writing

I don't watch music videos. I haven't watched a music video in a very long time.

Not that I hate them, I'm just not exposed to them enough.

It wasn't until a couple of days ago that someone told me about one video that I "had to see, right this instance". It's a video that I will be sharing with you today.

This video is confusing. It's weird. It's crazy. It's unorthodox. And it probably shouldn't be seen by human eyes.

It's Lady Gaga's "Telephone".

This video is pretty old. Like I said, I don't catch music videos often, but I just caught this one recently. And wish I didn't. But in a way, I'm really glad I did.

So what does this have to do with screenwriting you ask? Believe it or not, It has to deal with the most important aspect of screenwriting:


When it comes to structure, this video is a disaster. Now normally that wouldn't matter. Music videos can be a mini-movie, but that doesn't mean that they HAVE to be.

"Telephone" is different. You can tell from the beginning that this is supposed to be a story. And what follows is a mish mash of random images and random events. Not a story.

But the real reason I offer this video to you today is to hopefully pull off the blinders that some screenwriters wear. The screenwriters who believe that structure means nothing and that formulas are for hacks.

If you can make your story work without structure then fine, I bow down to you. But most of the time, with out a structure, you end up with this.

In fact, 4 out 10 screenplays that are handed to me, look more like this video then anything else. Random fights, random sex and random action with no sense of any kind of connective tissue.

When an exec or reader gets their hands on script that looks like this, it's game over.

You'll notice in this video that Lady Gaga has a "written by" credit. Don't write like this. Please. I see it enough everyday.

When you watch this video, keep the word structure in the back of your mind.

If there was every proof of how important structure is, it's this:

I would love to hear any comments that you have.


Writing the Action-Comedy

2010 is shaping up to be the year of the action-comedy. Hits like “Date Night”, “Macgruber” and the sure to be a hit: The Other Guys, make you forget about the disasters that were “The Bounty Hunter” and “Killers”.

Right now, the action comedy seems to be the way to go.

The keys words there are: "right now". There's a reason you don't want to write the genre that is currently trending. The genre won't be trending forever.

By the time you get that script written, a whole new fad will be the “end all, be all”.

However, I've worked with writers for a long time, and I know that you'll write one anyway. You stubborn, stubborn screenwriter.

So I figure, if you're going to do something stupid, do it right.

Here are some tips to make sure your action-comedy is a hit and not a miss.

1) Know your Tone:

Pick a tone and stick with it. This is great advice for any type of screenwriting, but especially for the action-comedy.

So many action-comedy’s that I read fall apart due to tone. The script starts out only being funny and then devolves into just action. Or it starts off with light humor and action and ends up as dark humor with heads being chopped off.

One of the reasons (many reasons) that the movie “Killers” didn’t work is because of the switch in tone. It went from an almost James Bond type feel to a slapstick comedy out of the blue.

If there was a consistent tone, the movie may have fared better with critics and more people may have gone and seen it.

And if you do decide that you must switch up your tone, do it no later then at the act 1 break. The later into the script the more jarring the swich will be.

2) Less Action, More Comedy:

First you much understand the difference between an action-comedy and an action movie with some comedy thrown in.

Movies like The Losers, Kick-ass and The A-Team are all action movies with bits of comedy.

A movie like “Date Night” however is a great example of an action-comedy. It’s a movie with comedic characters being thrown into a world of action.

And it’s that concept that makes the action-comedy what it is.

For every gunfight and explosion, there must be double the amount of jokes and gags.

When an audience goes into an action-comedy they expect to laugh at least sixty percent of the time. If they walk out feeling like they just saw “The Expendables”, they won’t be happy.

3) Make us Like Your Characters:

The beauty of this sub-genre is how easy it can be to get the reader attached to your character. Humor is the number one way to get a reader to like your character. Once you get them to like your character, they will be invested when said character is put into danger.

Use that!

I read so many scripts that put their characters in harms way first, then have them start cracking jokes between gunfights. But why should I or the reader care yet?

The best example of this mistake would be in “The Bounty Hunter”. If you were unlucky enough to catch this disaster (8% on rotten tomatoes last I checked) you probably never connected to Jennifer Aniston’s “Nicole” or Gerard Butler’s “Milo”. And why would you?

Neither one of them were good people. They were both self centered and pretty much boring. But worst of all, they didn’t make us laugh! A sin in the world of comedy.

If your character makes the reader laugh, you’ve done something very special. You got the reader to connect with the character. Now the reader will care when your character's life is on the line.

4) Kill the cliches:

There are so many clichés in both comedy and action that I could never scratch the surface in the space I have for this blog.

But if you saw one in a movie or while reading a screenplay, you would identify it as one.

Reversing these cliches or putting a different spin on them can make your script look really good compared to the rest of the pile on the reader’s desk.

Look at the interrogation scene in “Cop Out”. Or the excellent car chase in “Date Night”. Or the entire concept of “MacGruber”, a comedy that spends most of it’s time lampooning 80’s action flicks.

If you’re writing an action-comedy or already have one written, look through it for anything that you’ve seen in another movie.

If you find a cliché, kill it.

5) Don't Bomb in the Third Act:

Here’s the biggest problem when writing action-comedies myself. The third act. How do you create a finale that’s both exciting and funny?

This is a question with no one answer. Every story is different. The best I can do is shine a spotlight on one of the worst third acts in recent history. The third act of “Killers”.

I suggest that every screenwriter should see this movie. You’ll learn exactly what not to do in a third act.

It’s a third act that wraps up the story in the most confusing way possible. Me and my wife looked at each other and screamed at practically the same time, “But that doesn’t make any sense!”

Your third act can not be rushed, confusing or swept under the rug. And in this case, it has to be funny.

Good luck. With an action-comedy, you’re going to need it.


The action-comedy has been around for a long time. After the success of “Date Night”, everyone seems to think it will be the next big thing. And “The Other Guys” may just seal that deal.

Personally I think we’ll be getting more high concept comedies (”The Hangover”, “Hot Tub Time Machine”, “Due Date”).

But who knows? It’s not something that you can predict.

All we can do is write the best we can. And in the case of the action-comedy, the funniest we can.

If you have any tips on writing an action-comedy, please leave a comment below.

And don’t worry, you don’t have to be funny.


First Ten: Groundhog Day

They say that a studio reader only gives a spec script TEN PAGES before they know if it’s worthy enough to be shown to their boss.
I don’t find this fair.
But life’s not fair and neither is screenwriting.

So I decided to turn the tables a bit. Instead of judging the first ten pages of a spec, let’s judge the first ten pages of a script that has already been sold.

This week: “Groundhog Day” written by Danny Rubin

It’s a movie that’s in my top 5 movies of all time. So I was excited to finally get around to reading the script (much thanks goes to #scriptchat on twitter for having a discussion about the script; if you don’t know what #scriptchat is, go check it out).

But my excitement faded quickly. As quick as the first page.

The Link - http://www.mypdfscripts.com/screenplays/groundhog-day-1990-04-15-draft

[If you wish, you may read the first ten pages of the script before reading this blog. There maybe many versions of this script floating around the internet. I chose this one.]

Page 1:


This is not the best way to start a screenplay. First, it’s a camera direction. Second, what clock? When I read “clock”, I think of a clock on the wall. And that’s not what this clock is.

For the sake of clarity, always introduce something first before giving it a “CU” (and don’t use “CU”).

* “PHIL” doesn’t have to be in all caps every time it’s used in description. Just the first time. The same goes with every name in the script.

Doing something like this will mark you as a complete amature.

* “The D.J. an his SIDEKICK come on.” - and.

NEVER have a typo on the first page.

Page 4:

* By page 4, we get it. We may not understand what exactly is going on, but we know that Phil is supernatural is some way.

Page 4:

* Phil’s voice over. This is possibly the biggest problem with the script and you can feel it in the first ten pages as well.

This is the exact reason why voice over is hated so much. All the voice over does in this script is give us exposition that should be shown visually, or fill us in on information that we should get through the narrative.

If you read this script and then watch the movie, you’ll notice that the voice over here just gets in the way. It’s not needed.

Page 5:

* A story like this requires rhyming scenes. Scenes where you see something play out one way, and in a scene eerily familiar later on in the script, it plays out another(just like in the movie Groundhog Day).

On page 5, we find a scene that should have been the set up for a rhyming scene. Phil side-steping the puddle in the street. A gag like this works best when we see it affect the hero first, and then see how he overcomes it in the pay off scene.

Page 6:

* Page 6 is where the structure of the screenplay falls apart. Starting with this one line:

“I’m playing by an entirely different set of rules. Suffice to say, it’s a handy skill for a weatherman.”

This is a MAJOR “show don’t tell” problem.

Phil being a weatherman is an important fact in the characters life. You can’t just have the character say: “Oh by the way, I’m a weatherman.” You have to show it.

Watch the movie to see how they fix this problem.

* Phil punching Ned should be another rhyming scene. Not knowing why Phil is punching him works for mystery, but it loses the impact that a rhyming scene would give it.

When this scene is polished for the movie, it’s one of the best rhyming scenes in the film. And one of the funniest ever!

Page 7:

* The pumping Nancy for info scene is devilishly brilliant.

Pages 8/9:

The exposition found here is actually not that bad. But all of it could have been done visually.

The Verdict: Would the reader continue to read past page ten?

The mystery might drag the reader in, but ultimately, there’s a few things holding this back.

1) This isn’t a setup.

What the writer did here was took a great concept and threw you right into that world. On paper, that sounds fine, but in practice, it loses its punch.

Phil shouldn’t go into the constant loop until act 2. That’s his upsidedown crazy world. We can’t really take a journey with this character if he’s already in his new world.

The first ten pages is supposed to be all about set up. And that’s exactly what happens in the rewrite.

2) Phil himself.

There’s just something about the character of Phil. In the first 10 pages, he does nothing to make us like him, which is fine because this is a comeuppance tale. We’re suppose to not like him in the beginning and then fall in love with him in the end.

However, he does very little for us to hate him as well. Sure he hits on the women and sets up Nancy, but it’s not enough.

For a story like this, we need Phil to do at least three bad things and one good (so we don’t hate him completely). It might sound formulaic, but it works. Just look at how they did it in the film.

3) It’s confusing.

Sure, it may not be confusing to us now. Now that we know what exactly is going on with the time loop. But think about if you never saw the movie. These first ten pages can be pretty confusing.

For a spec script, it’s best to keep things as clear as you can. Save your Groundhog Day’s, Matrix’s and Inception’s for when you hit it big. For now, keep it simple.

I see many readers start to skim around page 6.


The first page of this script really took me aback. When I realized that the first draft of one of my all time favorite movies started out with Phil “in the loop”, I instantly hated it. But I knew that I only hated it because it was new to me, so I decided to give the idea a shot.

But it didn’t take long for me to hate it even more.

The structure for this draft is way off. The voiceover never stopped being annoying. And worst of all, the story tries to explain why Phil is going through the time loop.

Everything felt like an exploration of the story’s concept instead of a journey we can follow with the main character.

This is the perfect example of writing a story, not a movie.

If you’d like to get the first ten pages of your script Reader Proofed, email your script to support@readerproof.com or visit www.readerproof.net


Spec Killers #3: Day and Night

Anyone who has ever written a screenplay should know what a slugline is (aka scene header). It’s one of the first things a screenwriter will learn and one of the first things a screenwriter will make a mistake with.

The most common slugline mistake is the time of day. The mistake: substituting “DAY” or “NIGHT”. I see this mistake at least 1 out of every 3 scripts. Any script consultant will tell you the same.

Instead of:


The writer will write:



When all you need is “NIGHT”.

Now, there have been plenty of arguments about how substituting “DAY” or “NIGHT” is not a bad thing. That it doesn’t take away from the story and actually puts the reader more into the story.

Let me give you three reasons why not using “DAY” or “NIGHT” can potentially kill your script:

1) There’s no need to be fancy:

It may seem like “DAY” and “NIGHT” would bore the reader. They read those words two hundred times a day. In our spec screenplays, we need to spice it up a bit right?

Not really.

Using “TWILIGHT” or “MAGIC HOUR” almost feels pretentious. And there’s just no need for that.

Sure, it may not affect the story, but does it HELP the story? Does it tell the story better to know that it’s “AFTERNOON” instead of just “DAY”?

Your job as a writer is to let the reader know if the sun is out or not. And “DAY” and “NIGHT” will do that just fine.

There’s no reason to make it fancy.

2) You’re drawing attention to the slugline:
Sluglines for screenwriters are similar to the phrases “he said” and “she said” for novelists. If you have ever taken a course on novel writing, one of the first things they tell you is to write “he said” more often then substitutions like “he exclaimed”, “he screamed”, “he pontificated”, and so on.

The reason for this is so that the “he said” becomes invisible. The reader reads it quickly and then moves on.

Same with your sluglines.

When you read enough screenplays, your brain is trained to scan the slugline, extract the location and move on. “DAY” and “NIGHT” help make it a smooth transition.

Even a word like: “EVENING” can stall a readers brain. Bringing attention to the slugline.

You want your reader to know where your characters are and tell your reader quickly. The reader’s day is a busy one. Don’t let the little things make their day busier.

3) It’s not your job:

Here’s the big one. The time of day that each scene is shot in, is not the decision of the writer, but of the director of photography. Ultimately, you really have no say in the matter.

So if the DP wants to shoot a scene at “MAGIC HOUR”, that’s the DP’s call, not yours.

The writer writes the story and the DP decides how to light it. A writer who has a problem with this is a writer no one will want to work with.

Just like every rule, there are exceptions. There will be situations where an exact time actually helps the story.

Lets take a vampire story for instance:


This helps build tension. We all know what happens when the sun goes down in a vampire story.

Another example is if your story is told within a 24 hour period. It may prove useful to be more specific with the time of day.



You don’t need ‘em.

90 percent of the time, good ole “DAY” and “NIGHT” will do you just fine.

Put your creativity in your story. Not in your slugline.

If you have any questions or opinions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me at: support@readerproof.com


Bad Movies

During a discussion I had recently with a writer on Twitter, an age old screenwriting question was brought up:

"Why should we as screenwriters trust studio executives when they are the reason for so many bad movies?"

This one's a classic.

First, let's talk about the second half of the question: why they make bad movies.

There's a lot of them out there huh? Most of the movies you find in the theater today are horrible. How could something so horrible make it to the big screen? How could they mess up so badly?

Here's the bad news: they didn't mess up the movie.

You did.

The only reason that they changed something in your script is because you gave them the opportunity. They saw a hole in your through line and
jumped at the chance.

As writers we tend to blame the other guys. "It's not our fault, it's that damn producer!"

But look at it from their perspective. They're trying to sell a product. To the mass audience or to the independent crowd, it doesn't matter. No one is going to respect your original work if it doesn't
look like it will make them money.

And if it doesn't look like a money maker, trust me, they'll make it in to one. And there's nothing you can do about it. So you better do it on your terms and not theirs.

But here's the good news: If you nail the structure, your set. That's all you have to do. Structure is the skeleton of your script. If you have a well built skeleton, your story can never truly turn out bad.

Sure they can mess up the dialogue, delete your favorite characters, add stupid characters, create pointless "trailer moments" and horrible
set pieces. They can even take your name right of the script (most likely they will). But if you nail the structure, there's nothing they can do to ruin the core story.

This is where most writers make there biggest mistake. You must make sure that every event that happens in your script leads directly into the next. You must make it clear for anyone reading your script that if they pull or change one event in your screenplay, they will upset the balance of the entire screenplay and the audience will hate the

And that's why there are so many bad movies out there. Too many scripts floating with incomplete skeletons.

Scripts without act two and three breaks. Scripts without midpoints. Scripts without escalating roadblocks and obstacles. Scripts without aftermath and final images that endure the test of time.

That's the writer's fault, not the executives.

So let's tackle the first part of the question we started with: why should we trust executives?

Well, you probably shouldn't. No one messes up a script quite like an executive. An exec can spot a structure issue faster than anyone but at
the end of the day, they're not writers. They can find a problem, they just can't fix it.

And when they try to fix it... well we know what happens when they try.

It's best to let them worry about marketing your script rather than making the story better (so nail that structure).

However, don't write off all execs quite yet. Every once and a while they know what they're doing. Take "Date Night" for instance.

It's a fun movie that enjoyed a good amount of success. And it has a great structure. It's fair to say that "Date Night", is not a bad movie.

Now look at the original draft. It's nothing like what showed up screen! 90% of the draft got rewritten. All because the structure wasn't perfect.
Somewhere down the line, it was an executive who decided to have it rewritten.

It was a good call. If the original script was filmed, it would have been a bad movie.

It happens every day. Bad movies get made and stuffed down our throats.

But remember, you can't always blame the guy at the top. Story problems use originate at the bottom. The guys at the top try to fix them. They just don't know how.

So it's up to you.

Never forget that. Most writers do.

Only you can prevent bad movies.

Your Original Work

It's every screenwriter's dream to get their work on the big screen.

However, there's a huge misconception with this dream.

Most writers assume that whatever they write on the page will show up on screen

That their final draft will be the FINAL draft.

That every word they put down on the page will be an image put on the screen. That every line of dialogue they write will be spoken by the stars.


No, this will not happen.

In fact, you'll be lucky to find 40% of your movie put on the screen.
Even if you do everything right with your screenplay, you'll be lucky to find 60% on opening day.

The bottom line: you will be rewritten.

In most cases, there's no way around it.

There's only two ways to get your script on the screen without getting rewritten: one, you direct it yourself. Two, you're James Cameron.

Otherwise, that script you've been working on for eight months (or years), will be torn apart and be put back together by a team of screenwriting strangers.

They mean well, they really do.

Everyone is just trying to make a good movie. In theory, an unproven writer is limited in his writing abilities. Thus, they bring in more writers. More drafts. More polishes.

More ways to ruin the original.

It's part of the business. There's nothing that any screenwriter can do about it.

There are two ways to deal with this fact:

One, accept it. Write every script with a voice in the back of your head saying: "I know that most likely, someone will rewrite this. I will do my best to give them very little to rewrite."

Two, you don't accept it. If you choose to not except this fact, my suggestion is to stop sceenwriting now. You can write novels,
books, or even comics. But if your original work is that important to you, screenwriting is not for you.
Why? Because making a movie is a group effort. It may start with you and your script, but it ends with a crew of over three hundred people.

No movie is made by one person.

So if you're not a team player, this is not the business for you. It's best to get out now while you still have your sanity.

It all comes down to this: how bad do want your screenplay to end up on the big screen?

Are you willing to change your original draft to get your screenplay sold? Are you willing to surrender creative power to those who may not have much creative ability?

Are willing to be a team player?