London Screenwriters' Festival

First Impressions Count

Posted on: September 13th, 2010 by Lucy V Hay No Comments

My husband (whom I affectionately call Mr C on my Twitter stream) grew up in the back of beyond on a farm and as a teenager spent most of his time feeding animals, baling hay or blowing stuff up with illicit chemicals pinched from his Dad’s shed. As a result, Mr C was the poster boy for the phrase, “dragged through a hedge backwards”.

Fast forward ten years and Mr C, fresh out of university and a degree where he spent 99% of his time on his own at Porlock Bay’s gravel barrier measuring seawater levels (yes, seawater levels) and you can safely say he looked more than a little mad. He had long curly hair that would make that bloke out of The Darkness jealous; plus he dressed only in black and was so pale and thin you’d definitely think he was a vampire… Though instead of smelling of the crypt, he smoked his body weight in hand-rolled cigarettes every day so was more than a little festy. This was compounded when he started work in a lab soon afterwards which surely must have been UNDERGROUND because all of its inhabitants came out blinking with nervous tics at the end of each working day.

Understandably Mr C didn’t like working in an (allegedly) subterranean environment that much and it wasn’t long before he decided he would give up this science lark altogether and retrain as a teacher of kids with behavioural difficulties. Somewhere in-between all this I started going out with him/married him and made him my pet “project” as females are wont to do (whether the men and women themselves realise it or not).

The endless ream of black shirts and black jeans? GONE. Ridiculous skull jewellery? Gone. The HIDEOUS bar stuck through his tongue? Gone. Cigarettes? Gone (well, mostly – the bugger still gets the odd one past me, even now).

Yet there was one thing I couldn’t part him from: his luscious long hair.

Now I haven’t got anything *against* long hair on a bloke, but I will say two words:

Widow’s peak.

If you’ve got one fellas, long hair’s gonna accentuate it. And Mr C has one. He might take the mickey out of his brother mercilessly for the fact he still HAS hair when his brother doesn’t, but Mr C’s gotta face facts: it’s going. Slower than most of the other males in his family, sure, but it’s GOING. Having long hair made him, conversely, look OLDER than his (then) 29 years, with a side order of Spinal Tap.

So Mr C retrained and started looking for jobs. He had an impressive CV, so got loads of interviews. Yet every time he went for these interviews, he described a weird thing:

“I felt like they were looking at my hair the whole time,” he would say.

Job after job, week after week this went on. Now, I’m sure some of his rejections were down to *other* factors as well – lack of experience in the classroom maybe for starters (though a new teacher’s much less substantial salary surely would have been a draw, too). Let me just point out Mr C did not go into these interviews looking like a crazy wild loon. He’d wear a nice suit, a tie, shined shoes. I’d even brush his hair FOR him and tie it in a neat ponytail after a while.

But the interviewers couldn’t get past it. For the *type* of job Mr C wanted – working with nutcase kids who throw chairs out of windows for the most part – it would seem a ponytail was just not the “done” thing.

For a long time, Mr C said, “It’s my life, it’s my hair, I’m not being dictated to like this.” But then, after the seventeenth rejection – and the news I was pregnant – one day Mr C arrived home… with no hair. ”Let’s see if this makes any difference,” he says.

Result? He got the next job he went for.

So what’s this story got to do with scriptwriting? Well, as much as we all like to imagine first impressions DON’T count… I’m afraid they DO. Every time a reader opens your script, a judgement is made on how your script LOOKS before a single word is actually read. That impression can be positive, it can be negative, it can be neutral – the choice is yours. But make an INFORMED choice. If you’re going to break supposed rules and maxims – KNOW you’re doing it.

For instance, I frequently use implied narrator, “We see/hear/etc…” I know loads of readers hate it, I know why, but I’ve CHOSEN to do it. Rules and maxims don’t mean that much to me; I spend half my life being told by various people what they are and for a while I even believed *they* were right, but now I’ve been round the block a few times I’ve realised it’s just a load of crap anyway. This scriptwriting malarkey is about GOOD writing, end of.

So do what you want… But know what’s considered “bad” and decide: is it worth it?

Format One Stop Shop: List of errors in format/script convention most seen by Bang2write

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