Down and dirty with the Filth script

Spoilers ahead.

Scriptic Clues is intended as an educational site, not a collection of reviews. Like a good student, I’m going to expect that you’ve come prepared; all of my analyses will assume that you’ve seen the film already. If you haven’t, or the film isn’t fresh in your memory, I strongly recommend you go and watch it first to get the most out of this site.

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Why I chose this script

Filth is one of the rare films that I enjoyed a lot more on second viewing. I didn’t dislike it the first time around, I guess I just had extremely high expectations of the next adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s work. But I gave it a second try and with adjusted expectations I found it a compelling story about the limits of control. Because it is rare for my opinion to change so drastically on a second viewing, I couldn’t pass this script up when I happened across it.

Marking animation in a script

I’ll get this short point out of the way first as it directly relates to my last post about the Monsters University script. The Filth script opens on a short animated sequence that set up some of the thematic elements of the film. Baird handles this as follows:

OPENING ANIMATION SEQUENCE 1

Music: “******” by ******

Cartoon style animation of an innocent country setting. LITTLE PIG waves goodbye to MOTHER HEN at the entrance to a cottage. He jumps on his trike and cycles off, just as an unaware BA BA BLACK SHEEP appears in the distance.

In my last post I asked how writers indicate that something should be animated and here we have an answer.

If your whole film is going to be animated, you probably shouldn’t use a slugline like the Filth script does here for the opening sequence. In that case, just include a comment in the opening paragraph of scene description.

Using other films as reference points

Though the Filth script made an interesting read and led to the production of a fantastic film, it did contain a few elements that I hope other screenwriters don’t emulate. The first I want to point out is Baird’s tendency to use other films as visual short-hand. Here’s an example:

INT. SUBWAY TUNNEL – NIGHT

JAPANESE STUDENT is aware of a presence behind him and increases his pace as the GANG’S menacing silhouettes become visible (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE style).

I think this is another example of the writer/director privilege at work with Baird making notes for himself of how he wanted to shoot certain scenes in the Filth script.

INT. IDENTITY PARADE ROOM – NIGHT

A Usual Suspects style minorities line up including; a BLACK GUY, a GAY GUY, a MIDGET GUY and a WHEELCHAIR GUY, who are all handcuffed to each other. GILLMAN marches up and down the line laughing insanely.

It’s a tempting thing to do in a format that seems to always demand more concision from us. But I also can’t help but think of it as a little lazy.

BUNTY (O.C.)

Who’s he?

(screams)

WHO’S LITTLE FRANK?

BRUCE

Errr….i’m not talking anymore Boontay.

(shouts over his shoulder)

No mum, I’m not speaking to dirty prostitutes again.

BRUCE slams down the phone. There’s a massive cheer from the TV show which becomes so deafening that BRUCE has to cover his ears. (REQUIEM FOR A DREAM style).

None of us can help being shaped by what we watch and read, but we all have to be on the lookout for derivative ideas in our own writing. It’s a slippery slope from artistic influence to clichés and tropes if you don’t keep up that vigilance.

Montage formatting

Montage sequences seem to be in a kind of formatting limbo in modern screenwriting. There seems to be general acceptance that they should receive some special formatting, but very little agreement on how.

It’s not even a case of screenwriters each having their own way of doing things. If you look through the Filth script montages are formatted at least two different ways.

INT. PHOTOCOPYING ROOM – NIGHT

Montage as INGLIS, GUS, GILLMAN and a reluctant LENNOX individually enter and approach the photocopier. BRUCE enters confidently and presses the enlargement button to 100%. He grins at US.

The above example is very minimalist, just a word of scene description to inform us that this should be shot and shown as a montage. Then there’s another example further down where Baird makes it more explicit:

I/E. MONTAGE OF CAROLE/BRUCE SCENES – NIGHT

A quick flash of some of the CAROLE scenes (scenes 3,4,49,50,76A,119) but from a different perspective (See below) and with BRUCE in drag. BRUCE is ‘Carole’.

Scene 4pt – ESTELLE laughs at BRUCE in the tunnel.

Scene 49pt – BRUCE puts on a blonde wig in front of the mirror.

Scene 76A – BRUCE sits staring out of the car window in silence as PUNTER drives.

Scene 115A – BRUCE wanders around the club as the FLAMBOYANT CHARACTERS stare at him in confusion. He looks in a mirror but a reflection of CAROLE stared back at him.

This is a pretty unusual scenario caused specifically by the narrative of Filth. I’m interested to see how other films that flash back to previous scenes in this way tackle this problem. As one example of how unusual this is, scene numbers aren’t usually added until a script goes into production so it’s extremely rare to use them as a reference point in the story.

I said there are at least two examples of montage formatting in the Filth script because there’s a third sequence which certainly feels like a montage, but isn’t formatted as one at all. This is when Bruce (McAvoy) and Bladesey (Marsan) spend a weekend in Hamburg:

EXT. TOWN HALL SQUARE, HAMBURG – DAY

Music – ‘You’re all that matters’ by Curtis Stigers.

BRUCE and BLADESEY (romantic comedy style) walk happily around the tourist spots.

EXT. CANAL SIDE CAFE, HAMBURG – DAY

BRUCE has been drinking heavily. He taunts BLADESEY.

INT. BLADESEY HOTEL ROOM, HAMBURG – NIGHT

BLADESEY is sleeping, fully clothed and still wearing his specs. BRUCE enters and carefully tucks BLADESEY under the covers and removes his specs, quite motherly.

EXT. CANAL BRIDGE, HAMBURG – NIGHT

BRUCE crushes the specs and throws them in a canal.

What we can take away from all this is that there is no one true way to format a montage in a screenplay. The perfectionist in me would urge you to at least be consistent with whatever method you choose but if the Filth script is anything to go by, that doesn’t seem to be a hard requirement.

For the record, this is how I tend to do my montages, which you’re welcome to copy:

MONTAGE – VARIOUS

1) INT. SUSY’S BEDROOM – DAY – Susy packs her teddy, some EZ-bake cupcakes and a juice box in a Dora the Explorer backpack.

2) EXT. CARLSON HOUSE – DAY – Nicole, also wearing a backpack, waits for Susy and the two run off together.

3) INT. SUSY’S BEDROOM – DAY – Jennifer sticks her head into her daughter’s room, looks surprised to find it empty.

4) EXT. SCHOOLYARD – EVENING – A Dora the Explorer backpack lies open on the ground, its contents spilled out.

Off-screen, off-camera and on-the-phone

Montage formatting isn’t the only inconsistency in Mr. Baird’s writing. He also doesn’t seem too concerned with interchanging between (O.S.) and (O.C.) for characters not in view, sometimes in quick succession:

BRUCE opens a cupboard, removing two whisky bottles.

BLADESEY (O.C.)

What about your daughter though?

BRUCE thumps the table hard, then quickly composes himself.

BRUCE

Enough of that family stuff. Come on, a wee drink. Merry Christmas and all that shite. I’ve a cheeky wee Single Malt through here.

BRUCE pours expensive whisky for himself and a cheap one for BLADESEY.

BLADESEY (O.S.)

Suppose one between friends wouldn’t hurt.

You’d think (after the last point) that I would be all hot and bothered about this, but that’s not entirely right. Sure, I think it’s a bit sloppy, but honestly I didn’t even notice it until I was skimming through the Filth script again to summarize my notes. Once you see a bracket opening to the right of a character’s name your brain tends to fill in the rest.

What I did notice the first time around was how Baird uses (O.S.) as the only indicator that a character’s voice is coming through the phone. This is another example of a situation that each screenwriter approaches slightly differently. Here’s Baird’s take:

BUNTY (O.C.)

Hello?

BRUCE

(mimics Frank Sidebottom)

Hello Boontay! That’s your name in’t it, Boontay?

BUNTY (O.C.)

I’ve had just about enough….

For comparison, I went and took a look at some of the scripts I’ve read in the past for this site. Mark Boal, in Zero Dark Thirty, employs a similar approach, as do Hubert Selby and Darren Aronofsky in Requiem for a Dream with a minor difference. In the Requiem for a Dream script off-screen is always written in full in parentheticals instead of to the right of the character’s name. In the Brick script, Rian Johnson takes a slightly different approach, he puts “over phone” in parentheticals on the first line of dialogue spoken that way. In the Prisoners script, Aaron Guzikowski does both (O.S.) and “over the phone” in parentheticals for each line.

For what it’s worth, I think it’s useful to point out that it’s a phone conversation as the voice over will need to be modified accordingly in post, but it doesn’t seem to be a deal-breaker. I’ll keep an eye on this in future screenplays and see if a trend emerges.

In summation

The Filth script gives us an example of short animated sequences in a live action film. It might be tempting to reference other films as short-hand, but do so at the peril of becoming dependent on derivative ideas. There’s no gold standard for formatting your montage sequences, but try to be consistent with whatever method you choose just for the sake of professionalism. There’s also very little agreement on formatting phone conversations, but do make an effort to highlight them as they need to be treated differently in post-production.

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