Monday, February 13, 2006

The following post contains strong language, which some viewers may find amusing

When the TV announcer warns you that the following programme contains "strong language", you expect a bit more than a few shits, couple of bollocks, and one single, solitary fuck, thrown in for the sake of it. Eleventh Hour has the same warning every week, but that's all you get. It feels like a bit of a cheat, saying "look out, big swearwords up ahead", when there really aren't. Almost like a desperate attempt to be seen as controversial or adult. I don't care if there's swearing or not, but don't prepare me for something that you're not going to deliver.

Most of the stuff I've written so far has got swearing in it. I don't do it to be cool, I don't decide to do it, I just do it. I swear a lot in real life, as do a lot of people. Severance is about a group of office workers getting attacked, maimed, or killed in various horrible ways, so all the characters swear. It would be ridiculous if they all maintained perfect, soapy clean mouths in that situation. Take the most polite, well mannered person, stab them in the arm with a rusty knife, and I guarantee you they'll immediately scream out words that would embarrass a sailor. So I didn't hold back or censor myself, and the script was quite a sweary cocktail. In the draft I originally sold, there are: 48 fucks or fuck variants, 25 shits, 10 bollocks, 8 bloodys, 6 arses, 6 pisses, 5 cocks, 4 bastards, and 1 prick. The most recent production draft has 46 fucks or fuck variants, so not much difference there. As for Curfew, it's a dark, gritty, violent horror thriller. Many people are killed, in extremely nasty ways. Without even thinking about it, I'm fairly positive that the characters are going to swear. The School had a light sprinkling of shits and bollocks, only bringing out the f-bomb when things got serious. The characters in it were fairly innocent, normal kids - not the glue sniffing, violent scumbags that kids really are - so their speech reflected that.

I've used a lot of swearwords. I even like to come up with swearword combos, to vary things. Like shitfucker, or cockwank. Two for the price of one. But the one swearword I haven't yet used in a script is the strongest one of all - cunt. Again, not a conscious decision. I say it a lot in real life, but so far, it hasn't found its way into a script. Maybe I'm waiting for the right place, the right moment. It is, after all, the best swearword. The one guaranteed to offend, guaranteed to get a reaction. Even in today's modern, cynical, naughty-words-before-the-watershed world, it's the one that'll always rub someone up the wrong way. It's special. So I'm saving it.

But my point is, if there's any point to this post other than to swear a lot and sound clever, that you shouldn't censor yourself. Don't throw in stuff to be deliberately offensive, but don't restrict the characters when it doesn't make sense to. People do bad things. They swear, they kill people, they have sex with people they shouldn't. So don't hold back. Unless it's a movie for kids, about a fluffy rabbit who has an amazing adventure, then you should probably try and avoid things like swearing, murder or incest. Mind you, who wouldn't pay to see a movie about a sweary cartoon rabbit who fucks and then kills his brother? It's a niche market, obviously, but they said that about every other genre.

15 comments:

Jodie said...

Oooooh, look at me! I'm James! I swear a lot and I think it makes me big and clever!

Cunt.

James Moran said...

Quiet you, or I'll blacken your other eye.

oneslackmartian said...

My latest logline:

"A sweary cartoon rabbit fucks and then kills his brother."

Damn it all to fucking hell. Back to the double dumbass drawing board. (What do these shits want?)

James Moran said...

Someone needs to submit that to the Screenplay Agency, like Warren at Screenwriting Life did - just to see if they even read the loglines before sending the form email...

And a double dumbass on *you*!

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Funny post. My screenplays have minimal swearing and I'm not clever enough to make swearing funny. However, when I cocaine starved thug sticks a gun to the 7-11 clerk's head, he doesn't usually say, "gimme the money or I'll blow your dad gummed head off!"

Danny Stack said...

Forget you man!

My favourite dubbed bit of cursing on-screen, usually on airplanes or films shown on ITV.

James Moran said...

But then, that's funny in its own way, a cokehead armed robber who doesn't swear at all - dad gummed sounds like an Annie Wilkes swear substitute actually. Cockadoodie!

I say "forget you, pal" all the time, no idea where I heard it first - I watch too much melonfarming TV, I guess.

Best fake swearing ever: Johnny Dangerously. "You farging icehole!" Also the movie with the gun so powerful, it "shoots through schools"...

james henry said...

Although although although....

Constant swearing in a film or tv show can become weirdly distracting. What looks normal on the page can quickly jar on the screen. It's a strange one.

Danny Stack said...

Too true.

I've just started watching The Wire, v good police show, and I'm only just getting used to their liberal use of f**ks & m'f**ks.

Hey! Who bleeped me out?!

James Moran said...

(much swearing follows, c-words and all)

True - it can be overused, and comes off like they're trying too hard. It's like they're artificially adding in extra ones, instead of just letting it flow naturally, like a sweary waterfall. Nothing worse than a non-swearer trying to sound like a swearer.

Then again, somehow Ben Kingsley manages to pull off the line "You're the fucking problem you fucking Dr White honkin' jam-rag fucking spunk-bubble!", which is second only to the greatest sweary line ever, delivered by Begbie in Trainspotting: "Fucking obvious that cunt was gonna fuck some cunt". Totally gratuitous, but incredibly funny.

There must be a league table of swearwords in movies - this is the internet after, surely someone has created such a thing? I want to know what the competition is.

Danny Stack said...

I was always impressed by the level of swearing in Six Feet Under, not that it was extreme or gratuitous but for the very fact that it felt very natural. For example, Nate was on the phone to some telephone operator who told him there was a problem with something to which he replied, really cool: "Well son of a mother fuck". Which has now become a personal motto for rejections and general unpleasantries.

Oh, and the script for Sexy Beast (by Mellis & Scinto)? A joy. An absolute joy. I've lost it now though. Bugger.

The Moviequill said...

I did this debate on my current screenplay, because I have two 12 year old main characters, but because it also has gangsters, I need the odd fuck in there to add realism

Danny Stack said...

I try to write scripts without any hard cursing at all...

James Moran said...

But it's big and clever!

Danny Stack said...

Sadly, I am neither.