When’s a Good Time to “F” the Rules in a Screenplay?


From a screenwriter in a forum:

“F The Rules…

…Is an idea swirling around in my head these days, despite being relatively new at this (I started writing a year and a half ago). I notice that people respond to my scripts when I ignore the rules (by rules, I don’t mean format), yet when I consciously employ them, I fail…miserably.

I’m beginning to think that I may be one of those guys who cannot abide by rules, at least consciously. I’m beginning to feel that, for me, they are somewhat of a creative mouse trap. Do I know them? I can’t say that I know all of them, I know that if I were to be generally interrogated (I meant questioned), that I could point to various fundamentals, but I’m beginning to feel that my brain isn’t hardwired in such a way where The Rules facilitate my best work.

So…”F’ The Rules?”

Strike you as a crazy idea? Why or why not? Anyone relate to this?

The short answer: It’s okay to “F” the rules when you no longer need anyone else to buy your script or anyone’s money to make your movie. Here’s my thoughts on this question: If you F the rules; the rules F you back. And if you’re not established yet, they F you without protection, and then discard you like a spent whore. The good thing is, you can wash up and try again.

My experience says this is not so much related to your style or skill as a writer, but to the realities of the Hollywood marketing engine. Your breaking the rules might result in a very good story, but it won’t sell. So you’ll have a great screenplay sitting on your shelf, waiting for you to get humble and change it or to finance and film it yourself.

Everything is subjective in Hollywood. No one knows what will work so everyone is paranoid. One of the only things prodcos, studios and those with the money believe they understand is rules–what a screenplay should look like, three act structure, how it should be marketed to which demographic, etc… If you want to make them more paranoid, change one of these elements. They are skiddish enough, they will be absolutely terrified if you F around with the rules.

The artist in me says, “this is bullshit! ” And it is…to the artist in me. Although, when I think about it, I’m not a fan of the avant-gard, so maybe I don’t actually like when the rules are broken either. But if all you had to impress were other writers or readers, I could at least understand it. But the name of this particular game is not “Great Stories,” it’s “Show Business.”

In tennis, they call it a low percentage shot. F the rules if you want. But do so at your own peril.

Hope this helps. Good luck.

T. R. Locke

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Posted in For Writers, Hollywood Dreams, The Business of Entertainment and tagged , , , , , , .


  1. Ok. Now I got to rethink some things. Thanks.

    • @CMoore–I hope that’s a good thing. Thanks for the comment.

  2. What if I like the car in the pic?

    • @Jason–LOL. Somebody does. Thanks for the comment, Jason.

  3. You missed one other thing,most scripts that break the rules suck anyway. The rules r there because they work. They have worked year after year after year. Good post.

    • @Scriptor–great point. I was going for something like that with the pic, but you made it plain. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Love the tennis analogy. Can relate! It’s like the down the line shot — I can never get those (hope my opponents aren’t reading this). So I asked my coach what to do about them. He said not to worry about them because there’s a slim chance the opponent will succeed in keeping the ball in and out of your reach.

    But if someone does it repeatedly, then I adjust and move closer to the edge as I know my partner will take care of the middle shots.

    Indeed, the line between following the rules (they’re there for a reason) and breaking them to be more creative is gray. All we can do is look at the situation and decide — play it safe or take a risk? (The chefs do this in Chopped.)

  5. Love your zest for life and honest approach to the rules … however, if we all followed the rules all the time the status quo would remain intact for ever and where would that get us? That’s why Gandhi made salt and the Brits marched out of India of their own accord!
    Please check out http://robbryce.com/2009/07/grabbing-the-bull-by-the-horns/ it’s not about being right or wrong but sometimes taking a calculated risk and breaking the rules can take you beyond the bar! And sometimes living a little on the wild side will make you feel alive and real and not owned by anyone. Love you’re writing by the way!!

    • LOL. Okay, Rob. Congrats on starting your company. It does take a lot to start out on your own. The film of the Angus seems pretty straightforward (no real rule breaking there). Perhaps if you’d shown a bloody slaughterhouse instead of that pristine conveyor belt, I’d have felt you broke the rules in terms of making your film. But filming a black bull in a dark space? Clint Eastwood’s been doing stuff like that for years. Check out the cover of almost any of his movies, particularly Unforgiven Absolute Power or Million Dollar Baby.

      I will say this, though, because it was pointed out by Ed Solomon the writer of Men in Black: If the rules are getting in the way of your writing, it is better to throw them out until you get the writing done. Do whatever you need to do to get the material out of your creative soul. Don’t let a mindful of rules stop you from writing. But before you submit it to Hollywood, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. That is what I was saying in this blog–get the rules right before you submit it to anyone. If you don’t need it to sell, do whatever you want.

      Thanks for your comment. And good luck with the company.

  6. well written blog. Im glad that I could find more info on this. thanks 🙂

  7. How to save a marriage

    Hey… Things look a little screwy with the with the layout of the page. For some reason the text block overlaps the edge. I don’t know if it’s just me or have you heard this from other ppl? Just wanted to let you know in case you’ve been making changes. Thanks!

    • I see what you mean. Thanks for pointing that out. I’ll have it checked out.

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