I am going to explain to you why M. Night Shyamalan is an objectively bad screenwriter. And I am going to do it by breaking-down just six words.
You have heard of The Happening? Rotten Tomatoes gives it 18% and the Golden Raspberries nominated it for Worst Screenplay, which was titled The Green Effect. These are the first three lines of that screenplay:
What is wrong with this picture? Allow me to explain…
In determining what makes Shyamalan’s The Green Effect a “bad” screenplay, what first needs to be determined is what is considered to matter – just the text, or the way the text is presented? Because, before anything, what is immediately apparent is the way The Green Effect simply looks as a screenplay. The Green Effect’s typesetting is Times New Roman, and not the industry standard Courier Final Draft. If one screenplay page is one minute of screen-time, the script typeface used – and its size and pitch – should reflect that.
With Courier Final Draft – at industry standard size and pitch of twelve and ten – fifty-five lines can be written on a page. Therefore, Courier Final Draft (at twelve point and ten pitch) is the most accurate typeface for writing a screenplay page equivalent to a minute of screen-time. So by writing The Green Effect (not specifically in Times New Roman, but) in any typeface other than Courier Final Draft, Shyamalan is writing a screenplay that is not as accurate as it could be. And a screenplay is an instructional document, so not writing a screenplay with as much accuracy as possible is therefore objectively bad screen-writing.
And so, we can see just from Shyamalan’s decision to write a screenplay with a different typeface to the industry standard Courier Final Draft just how “bad” doing so really is. But onto the script of the screenplay – After establishing that Scene 1 takes place “INT. APARTMENT – MORNING”, the first description given is, “LEGEND”, followed by a line break, and “Downtown Philadelphia” indented from the usual scene action margin, followed by yet another line break, before any meaningful description is given. Firstly, what is “LEGEND” supposed to mean? In other technical documents, “LEGEND” usually indicates a visual breakdown of pictographic labels used to provide specific information simply and conveniently.
But screenplays do not need legends, so why is “LEGEND” written? Is Shyamalan indicating that “Downtown Philadelphia” is a labelled text caption to the first scene? Because that is obvious from “Downtown Philadelphia” being presented in quote marks. Moreover, if the location of “Downtown Philadelphia” is important information, should that not have been included in the “INT. APARTMENT – MORNING” scene heading?
“INT. APARTMENT – DOWNTOWN PHILADELPHIA – MORNING” would have saved space without omitting important information. Another thing that is wrong with the way “Downtown Philadelphia” is presented is the indentation. Unnecessarily indenting any script is objectively bad screen-writing because the industry-standardised margins exist for ease of reading. When identifying how many speaking roles need casting, a line producer can scan each page and clearly see when a new character speaks – and this principle can be used for identifying how many INT. Or EXT. Locations are needed, and how many scenes take place at night.
Indenting “Downtown Philadelphia” away from the industry-standardised scene action script margin may only be a small difference, but it is those industry-standardised script margins that make screen-writing a streamlined craft that everyone can access in order to create a larger artwork from literally the same page. A screenplay written in this style would not be bought by a producer. Shyamalan being a producer is probably why that was not an issue.