Scripts exist to entertain. Character and plot are a means to that end, not the end itself.

Author’s note: the next six pages aren’t important. I needed filler to pad out the length so I could have a feature, because I couldn’t think of anything to write. Just skim to the next action sequence.

No script has ever included those words, yet they could appear in 99% of screenplays. Beginners get obsessed with the results. They have an idea, and they try to stretch it over 95 pages, so they can call it a feature, so they can submit it to an agent, so they can make millions of dollars and really stick it to all the kids who were mean to them in high school. This leaves them with a lot of filler.

Good scripts don’t have filler. They’re entertaining. They’re bursting with content, they shine with intent and unity. They have an overriding idea and work to illustrate that idea with genre moments: heartbreaking tragedy, gutbusting comedy, spine-tingling horror. Everything makes sense, every line has a purpose and intelligence, even if its only discernible after the fact.

Many scripts are all filler . They lack premise, character, and fun. It’s all table setting with no feast. The feast is what matters. It doesn’t matter if a meal came from a gourmet chef or McDonalds, so long as it satisfied.

Movies can be bad or good, smart or dumb, noble or base, so long as they’re entertaining. It doesn’t matter if a movie is SOPHIE’S CHOICE or DEEP THROAT, so long as it engaged with the audience on some level. A Transformers movie has thin characters and an arbitrary plot – they still make bank because people all over the globe find the spectacle of giant robots fighting engaging. A movie must entertaining, to entertain they must engage with the audience’s emotion. Plot and character are means to this end, not the end itself.

Some famous scenes: Kenobi and Vader’s duel. Mr. Blonde cuts off a police man’s ear. The chestburster emerges from the man’s body. Eddie Valiant watches Jessica Rabbit sing “Do Right.” Danny encounters two girls who want to “play with him” in the haunted hotel. Marion Crane is attacked in the shower of the Bates Motel. Alec Baldwin explains what it takes to be a salesman. You know these scenes. You have seen them referenced in pop culture. Millions of people watch these scenes These scenes exist without context, there’s something beyond character and plot that makes them worth watching on their own. They were sad, scary, funny, disturbing, sexy or thrilling.

You need moments like these in your script. You need a lot of of them. You need to be able to point to every page in your script and explain specifically why it’s entertaining. If you can’t, your theory on why three act structure is better than five act structure is meaningless, you’re doing it wrong.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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