“WE SEE” (and other “rules”)...

The debate rages on and on and on and on. “Never use ‘we see’ in a spec script!” “Put ‘we see’ in your script and readers will toss it into the trash bin!” “Only rank amateurs put ‘we see’ in a script!”


Yes, you should definitely avoid using we see in your scripts. But the real problem isn’t the use of we see. Fact is, if it’s used properly a few times in a script, it’s not such a big deal. The reason it doesn’t work in your script (and virtually all newbie scripts) is because all the other words around it are so poorly chosen and so poorly placed. This is why we see is overlooked in pro scripts—because everything else reads so darn well.

For example, in the screenplay Heat, Michael Mann breaks every rule in the book, including multiple uses and variations of we see, but we don’t care because a) the story is so good, b) the characters are so well-defined, and c) the action makes this an exciting page-turner. Here's an example of Mann's “overuse” of we see...

CERRITO'S POV: As we approach the street, an armored truck passes by. We fall in behind. At this point we realize these men are going to pull down and armed robbery of this armored truck. But, we turn LEFT. The armored truck went straight. Then we turn RIGHT. However we SEE the armored truck again. It turns left. Our paths will intersect at 90 degrees.

Mr. Mann also grossly over-describes his settings and characters...

Planes ROAR overhead in landing or take-offs. Yellow vapor lamps glare. It's gaudy with lights. Neil and a man named NATE are parked next to each other facing opposite directions. Nate's 50 -- an ex-prizefighter with his nose all over his face in a silver Mercedes. His big muscles have gone to flab. He wears a yellow rayon shirt. He's deeply tanned and pock-marked. Nate functions as a middleman and fence for Neil. All calls from people who want to contact Neil come to Nate. Right now he examines the manila envelope from the armored truck. Neil's in a Lincoln Town car, gray suit, white shirt, no tie.

....and Mr. Mann also uses "CUT TO" after every scene!

So there you have it. Lots of broken rules, even some sloppy writing ("...his nose all over his face in a silver Mercedes."), but when a script works so well, when the characters are rich and the story compelling, we're willing to overlook such sloppiness. (You could argue that Mr. Mann wrote in this manner because it was a script he was directing himself. Still, it's a pretty fab script.)

Here’s another example of “we see” used in a perfectly acceptable manner (from the screenplay Vacancy, by Mark L. Smith):

Amy snuggles close against David. They sit together in the darkness...staring at the door.

AMY: What are they doing?

David glances up to the video camera, aimed toward them.

DAVID: They’re enjoying themselves.

We pull back away from David and Amy...back up toward the camera...farther...into the camera. David and Amy grow smaller...then darkness takes over for a moment...

...until we see David and Amy again...this time they’re lit with a green glow, like we’re watching them through nightvision goggles.

And we pull back farther...realize the image is on a VIDEO MONITOR...we drift back even more...past the head of the MAN, watching the screen.

So please, folks, don’t get soooooooo stressed out over breaking a few of the so-called rules. Nobody really cares. Just worry about the other 14,000 words in the script and you're golden.


APRIL 2015 ANNOUNCEMENT: My debut novel, Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen, is now available in paperback from Amazon.com and Kindle e-book! (You're gonna love it cuz it's all about Hollywood and screenwriting!)


Mark Mika said...

Hi Jim, Great post once again for the struggling newbie that I am. I was debating on this today actually as I agonized over a 2nd act plot point and plucked eyebrows out of my face one at a time.

I've read untold amounts of scripts in the last two years and some of the best ones I've studied break many of the rules while some of the worst follow them by the letter. The universal thing i've seen in ALL of the best ones is that I find myself CARING about the people in the story and that can only come from the writing.

But my question is this, the vast majority of those that do wander off the path are by writers with precedence of work behind them and/or writer/directors who can more easily get away with it. As a non commodity trying to flush out a first deal of any kind is it wiser to keep those rules those in the big chairs hold so close to their hearts? We see/4 line description/avoid camera direction, etc, etc. Not that quality should ever be anything but first priority but should rewriting (especially later drafts) with a close eye on the no-no's and trying to write them out also be a big priority for the non-commodity?

Thanks man and I'm sure you already know but all the guildless wonders out here are wishing you guys all the best in the coming weeks!

Anonymous said...

Its interesting, I never think in terms of we see or pull back. Camera angles I find are the most confusing in screenwriting in general.

Anonymous said...

Yes, great, and this "advice" will become meaningful when I become Michael Mann, and when I have the cellphone numbers of studio executives and A-list talent.

Until then I'll continue to do whatever it takes to avoid giving readers any of those ridiculously trivial excuses they seek in order to stop reading.

Jim Vines said...

Sure, and you can write another bland script with a low probability of being sold. As long as the writing itself is strong, breaking a few of the so-called rules won't get your script tossed into trash bin.