Whether you plan to write, direct and produce your script, sell it to a production company, or pitch it to your mom and dad for funding – at the end of the day, someone other than yourself is going to be reading it, and you have to keep that person in mind as you go about your writing, especially when it comes to action lines and scene description. When you write a script for a movie you plan to shoot with your friends in a warehouse somewhere, the rules are different than when you write something you plan to pitch to an agent or present to an investor, so please bear that in mind as I ramble.
I used to have the need to write long action lines and fill the page with rich descriptions of sets, characters, and situations before writing a single word of dialogue. That habit was abandoned after I ran through the first table read for my very first feature film and noticed that it took a little over four hours to read a movie that was supposed to be two hours long. My need to “overly describe” everything was stealing valuable time from people who were there to help me get my movie made.
Scene description and stage direction should be short and to the point (Read the screenplay for the movie, “Up!” and the movie “Gone Girl” - to see what economical writing looks like). Another error I made was to write very long dialogue scenes. I had a scene that lasted 13 minutes on paper where the key antagonist was being introduced. It wasn’t necessary; I was just falling in love with the sound of my own voice. I could have told the very same story and got the same results in four minutes. At the end of the day, that is exactly what happened. We ended up spending a lot of time on set trying to shoot lines of dialogue that never made it into the final cut; that’s time and money wasted. Take a lesson and learn to be economical. Another big problem with writing long, sprawling scenes is that your actors are supposed to memorize them. This is hard enough during plays, where the actors have several weeks to rehearse on a daily basis, but it’ll be very difficult during the production of a low-budget indie feature that doesn’t have the budget for a long rehearsal period.
The Closer look does a great analysis of both amazing and absolutely terrible dialogue in many blockbuster movies. Take a look and see what you make of it yourself.