Every subculture has its own jargon, supposedly devised to allow rapid communication between its members (‘A semiotic analysis of post-post-modernist fiction? Right, gotcha.’) But outsiders can’t help suspecting that the main point of jargon is to keep them outside.
During the five years it’s taken to bring ROOM to the screen, I’ve enjoyed learning some of the magnificently obscure jargon of the film world, but I know I’ve only scratched the surface. Particularly in the development stages of a project – meaning, everything that has to be brought together before any cameras can roll – they seem to make up new buzz words every week. Is a screenplay particularly plotty? What will the talent cost, and should the script go out to (be shown to) so-and-so given that he hasn’t really popped since the bump he got from his big breakout? How much of the funding will be soft money or hard? (My understanding of this distinction is that soft lenders such as national film funds will forgive you if you lose money, basically, whereas the hard ones will pursue you into bankruptcy or break your knees.) My favourite contractual phrase was most favored nation status, which sounds like something granted by the UN but seemed to boil down to getting business-class flights.
‘Marketing has its own jargon too. Eventising the preproduction seemed to mean making a song and dance about each announcement; earned media was publicity as opposed to ads that you have to buy, getting traction and generating eyeballs, impressions or clicks were all good things. One phrase that alarmed me was a bullseye film, meaning one that had to hit its market exactly and blow up or it would utterly tank. But all slang aside, I found the marketing was driven by a passion to tell viewers what this film would really be: not horror or true crime, but a parent-child love story like no other.’
The funny thing was, my hands-on rewriting process with Lenny the director had very little jargon in it. He didn’t need me to know the difference between a zoom and a pan, and he used hardly any of the technical terms that make books on screenplay writing sound like sex manuals (inciting incident, rising action, third act climax). ‘Write the scene long, like a wildlife documentary, and I’ll cut it down in the editing,’ he’d tell me. Or, succinctly, if I came up with anything pat or obvious, ‘Too TV.