One trick that overworked “readers” in Hollywood use to decide whether a script is worth checking out is the flip test. Goes like this: you start from the back of the script and flip forward, scanning the pages without actually reading the words in order to see if the script has a good balance of action and dialogue. Are there huge chunks of scene direction squatting like monoliths on the pages? Or endless long-winded passages of dialogue that straggle from one page to the next? If the screenplay doesn’t have a nice variety of direction and dialogue, it probably sucks and isn’t worth reading.
Does that seem fair? Maybe not, but if you had to read a million point six screenplays and write coverage reports for your producer bosses, you would probably think otherwise. From what I understand, the flip test is actually a pretty good way of determining whether your boss will want to read the damn thing. Remember, this is Hollywood we’re talking about. They’re interested in making money, not high art.
I’m working on a screenplay right now (one of the reasons I’m not posting a lot these days) and I keep the flip test in mind as I crank out the pages. Bear with me, I’m going somewhere with all this.
My number one job in writing the script is to entertain the person who is going to read it. A big part of that means to make it as easy as possible to read. If I’m writing a big action scene you can bet I’m not going to have huge blocks of unbroken text describing the action – it is death to read. You gotta break that shit up. Similarly, big dialogue scenes will be interspersed with scene direction to add more variety to the page – it just reads better.
I used to work in a comic book store back in The Day, but nowadays I’m just a consumer. I have X amount of time and Y amount of money to spend in a comic book store, and so I’ve started doing my own flip test on comics I think I might like to buy.
Sure, there are some books I will pick up just because certain writers or artists are involved, but lately I’ve been doing the flip test and it’s a surprisingly painless way of making comic buying decisions easy.
(Before you think I’m being callous or flippant, which I kinda am, I would remind you that we all do the flip test when we watch movie previews. In two and a half minutes you make up your mind whether you want to spend money on a flick or pass.)
I love Thor! Let’s check out the Straczynski/Copiel relaunch. Flip, flip, flip… Wait a second, where’s all the head-smashing? Maybe this is just a slow issue, let’s look at another one. Flip, flip, flip… OK, I’m just scanning this from back to front, but I see a lot of talky-talky and not a lot of hammer-to-skull. PASS.
That was easy.
New Avengers! Bendis’ Mamet-y dialogue and Leinil Yu’s vascular artwork. I haven’t picked this up in a while. Flip, flip, flip… Hey, this entire issue takes place during one plane ride? Hmm. What about this issue? Flip, flip, flip… Lots of talking, Wolverine gets shot in the crotch… Sorry, the talking to action ratio seems off. They must want me to wait for the trade. PASS.
OK, let’s give DC a chance. I haven’t picked up that Blue Beetle book yet. Flip, flip, flip… Looks kinda cute, lots of jumping and fighting. Flip, flip, flip… Hmm, there’s some talking and shit, too, so there must be a plot… Flip, flip, flip… Oooh, look, it’s Giganta! SOLD!
This may all seem very glib, but I guess I’m trying to make a point. I don’t want to buy an individual comic book that is really just a chapter in the inevitable trade paperback collection. I want to buy a comic, a 22 page floppy, that stands on its own. The entire industry seems to have drifted from producing comics as an end product towards producing comics that will be repackaged in a couple of months in trade form.
Well, fuck that.
I’m not saying you can’t publish a quiet issue or a ball-busting all-action issue of a certain comic. But if I’m browsing through my local comic shop and have ten minutes and twenty bucks to spend, you had better GRIP MY SHIT. Sorry, if I’ve never seen an issue of Ultimate Spidey before and I pick up 22 pages of Mary Jane and Peter talking on a bed? (I know I’ve used this example before, but Jesus, it still bugs me) I’m never going to buy your comic. I’m a consumer looking for a good comic in a crowded market place, and you blew it.
I don’t want to wait five issues for something exciting to happen in Thor. I don’t want to buy a chapter in your trade paperback. I want a fucking good comic NOW and if you can’t deliver, if your story telling strategy is to “pace for the trade” then you’ve lost me and my measly twenty bucks. Every issue is somebody’s first and somebody’s last, and unless you make EVERY ISSUE entertaining and gripping, forget it. You don’t deserve my cash.
You didn’t pass the flip test.