Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ten screenwriting clichés that refuse to die

Screenwriter, teacher and script reader Billy Mernit shares his pain:
The #1 Most Over-Used Image

No competition here, and no exaggeration: This phrase turns up in about one out of every three spec scripts I read. Not sure who got it started (and I'd like to know, just so I can deck 'em) but Like a deer in headlights is the hands-down most ubiquitous clichéd screenwriting simile in existence..


  1. The most over used image is surely when - hero/ heroine goes to bathroom and washes face [usually for no apparent reason] and then stares at his / her reflection.

  2. If a film is set in a prison the convicts are the misunderstood heroes while the guards are the sadistic villains. And in horror the "real" horror is humanity. And lets add some vampires who feel bad about needing to kill to survive.

  3. Anonymous5:54 pm

    The alarm clock wake up scene.

  4. Anonymous6:40 pm

    the interrupted snog - phone rings, door knocks, child enters. A pre watershed soap standby.

    Someone entering a scene adopting a pose and going 'Ta Da....'

  5. Christopher Neame6:41 pm

    The church bells peal on the cut.

  6. Anonymous6:42 pm

    My experience is that most of the howling clichés are requested/enforced by production execs (UKFC and BBC Drama are the worst culprits). Sadly the higher the script climbs, the more deer in headlights and faces in bathroom mirrors are mentioned admiringly...

  7. Anonymous6:52 pm

    The one where a person sits bolt upright when waking from a nightmare.

  8. "The one where a person sits bolt upright when waking from a nightmare." - That one happens about four or five times in every episode of "Medium".

    How about when someone is walking in to their home with a bag full of groceries - there is always a loaf of french bread sticking out the top.

  9. Chris W8:08 pm

    Tube train noise in in dreary Eastenders....

  10. Anonymous9:10 pm

    The first scene opens with our hero celebrating his victory. A beautiful woman kisses his cheek.

    CUT TO:

    It was a dream! He's just woken up in his bedsit and the dog's licking his face!

  11. ... and of course villains who can never shoot straight!

    Mind you I have to confess that I have done all of the above at some point.

  12. Matt Leys8:46 am

    No woman has ever vomited onscreen without the audience learning soon after that she is pregnant.

  13. David Barry12:03 pm

    What about the ubiquitous urinal scene where two blokes set the plot straight while having a palsy piss?

  14. Anonymous6:08 am

    Funnily enough the cliche that refuses to die is the cliche - 'refusing to die'. I speak of course about the franchise baddie-protagonist of the Horror genre.
    *Echoing laugh from beyond the grave and fade to credits*
    Caroline G

  15. Anonymous5:26 pm

    Surely, SURELY, one of the greatest visual cliches is someone waking up in bed, turning over to drape an arm over a partner who... quelle surprise... isn't there any more.

    And in soaps, I have vowed never EVER to end a scene with the remaining character simply calling out the name of the one who has just stormed out. But that hasn't stopped the odd script ed doing it on my behalf.

  16. What about one character handing another a letter who reads it out loud to themself.

  17. Anonymous2:16 pm

    The makeover - dowdy/shy girl is tarted up by her best friend/sister for a hot date, which turns out be anything but. Another favourite of script eds and storyliners.


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