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