CLICHES TO AVOID WHILE FILM-MAKING
by Frederick Bailey
Here’s a scenario. See if you can make a prediction:
- Major supporting character. In his introductory scene, he saves an innocent man from further torture and he does the right thing.
- We have a scene where he’s enjoying his children at home.
- A converted hardnose, he bonds with the male lead.
What happens to this character?
Guaranteed 100% dead before the movie’s over.
In fact, it appears the problem is solved, the situation under control, but then there’s an unexpected extension of the climactic scene, and you can say to yourself, “Oh sure, this is the scene where he dies.”
This is all in reference to a fairly good movie, The Kingdom. The character under discussion is the Saudi police captain.
This cliché was made fun of in Galaxy Quest: the Sam Rockwell character, afraid he’s going to get killed because he’s the supernumerary in the red shirt in the scene.
In the Dialogue:
“Oh my God.”
“Let’s get outa here.”
“Their lives were changed forever.”
The word fuck is way overused in dialogue.
In the Action:
Starting a story with a dream sequence, but we don’t know it’s a dream, which leads into:
Waking up/sitting up/gasping simultaneously.
X grabs Z by the neck. The next shot shows Z’s feet dangling as he’s lifted off the ground.
Classroom scenes always begin just before the bell rings.
Bad guys with machine guns can’t hit anything, but the hero with a handgun always hits his mark.
The heroine dabbing ineffectually at the hero’s wound with cotton.
The bad guy explains everything before shooting.
The good guy gets winged but not seriously.
The bad guy gets shot 100 times but he’s still alive and bounces back with a surprise vengeance.
In the Descriptions:
It’s clear that
Says it all
Icon or iconic
Why do we want to avoid these and other items? Because we’ve seen them too many times. It’s the bouncing ball effect, the law of diminishing returns: every time the ball bounces, it loses height, right? We’ve seen these clichés and stereotypes over and over again. They’re hackneyed. They’re old as the hills and twice as dusty.
Use of any of these items indicates a lack of originality, lack of thought, lack of depth of understanding.
If you use it, it means you’re using somebody else’s mental processes or thought patterns. And that means you don’t know what you want to say. It means you’re taking the easy way out. It means you don’t really want to work hard. It means you’re not serious about your craft. It’s painting by the numbers.
Examine every element in your script and make sure it’s fresh and full of insight.
A serviceable definition of the word Discovery:
Seeing something that everyone else can see/has seen, but thinking about it in a new and different way.
Frederick Bailey teaches Directing at IAFT-LA.