!%$^#(*!?!Dan from UK asks:

Is it appropriate for a blasphemous, foul-mouthed American character living in LA to repeatedly use the word “wanker” and its variations (“wank”, “wanking” etc)?

Might sound silly but I know Americans who use this, but I’m wondering if it’s an allowable swear in American cinema?


There is no profanity that is per se not allowed in a spec script. The caveat is that profanity should never be used to substitute for story nor should it be gratuitous to the story. Both are common mistakes made by less experienced writers. “Yipee-ki-yea…mother-fucker” is an exceptional piece of profanity that worked in Die Hard because it was truly an expression of John McClane and his overall problems – a tough guy in the face of a complex world that sometimes required something different. After that, a million specs tried using heavy profanity and most ended up where most specs end up, in the trash bin. Careless use of profanity is no different than any other careless work. On the other hand, in the right story, carefully used profanity can be an important part of storytelling.

As for the expression “wanker”, it is mostly a British expression. I’m not sure the average American reader would even understand that it’s profane. It is not really used much here. Your character would probably be seen as having some affectation if he or she relied heavily on it – but that may be the effect you’re going for.

10 thoughts on “F%$?#ING PROFANITY”

  1. I am having a profane dilemma myself. I am writing a coming of age film concerning two kids age 12 and 13, but they are surrounded by Italian mobsters. I come from a heavy Italian neighbourhood back home and I can tell you, there wasn’t one day that went by I didn’t hear cursing. To be authentic I need my goons saying ‘fuck’ a lot but how much do I put in a spec? Since there is kids involved I don’t want to make it ‘too adult’ but then again, I don’t want it G-rated either.

  2. Moviequill:

    Obviously, any answer to your question is just an opinion and my answer is no different. But, to me, it depends upon the effect you are trying to achieve. You might have the kids pick up on the profanity and make a funny point of it with the adults overusing the profanity and the kids imitating the adults and overusing the profanity, too. That’s just one possibility. The main point is that if the profanity is important to the story, the importance needs to be apparent on the page. Just throwing in profanity for authenticity is probably not enough to justify it, especially if the target audience includes children.

  3. but doesn’t all mobster movies justify it? we all expect them to say ‘fuck’ sometime, so if they don’t swear even once, how real a portrayal is it? take out the profanity in Casino and Good Fellas or even My Cousin Vinny, it does add a certain element

  4. Bronx Tale was essentially a coming of age story and rated R for language and violence.

    My opinion is, do what feels right and real to you. If you’re talented and work hard, folks will recognize that regardless whether you’ve written Toy Story or Boogie Nights. If you’re looking into the souls of the characters, it will come through. If you’re doing something for the simple effect of it (swearing in front of kids) that will come through, too. My advice, be real and truthful and let the rest of the world worry about whatever profane thing it is that they worry about.

    The most obscene thing in the world is when someone doesn’t tell something truthfully, which is why I avoid televangalists and scientologists. Always tell the truth about life and things will work out.

  5. Moviequill,

    Not all mob movies use profanity. Pictures like Casino and Good Fellas were going for realism. They sought to portray the mobster world from the inside out. However, other mob pictures have not used profanity or, at a minimum, have used it sparingly. For example, “Miller’s Crossing” and “Road To Perdition”. It depends on what you are trying to achieve. In your case, where children are involved, use of profanity will definitely have an impact. I’m not saying whether you should use it or not. You are the writer and it’s your story. All I’m saying is that you should know why you are using it and it should be a good reason, as with any important story element.

  6. I’ll have a another look at the films mentioned here, can’t hurt right? I guess once you can actually put Screenwriter in your tax returns you can start writing off the Blockbuster, Netflix and dvd purchases at Walmart as ‘research’?…thanks for the advice guys

  7. Sorry guys, came in late to this site, and have been working through it. This is one question I am addressing right now as well, and it is great to find a discussion on it. One factor I also brought into the equation when considering this, was my target audience, and as such, how much the ratings would affect the (hopeful) patronage IF it ever gets made(you have to at least be mildly optimistic 😉 ) anyway, searched on the net and found the MPAA and this paragraph sort of sets the lower limitI feel, and may be helpful.

    “A film’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, shall initially require the Rating Board to issue that film at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive must lead the Rating Board to issue a film an R rating, as must even one of these words used in a sexual context. These films can be rated less severely, however, if by a special vote, the Rating Board feels that a lesser rating would more responsibly reflect the opinion of American parents.”

    This is found at this link.


    For my current main screenplay, I expect anyone from about 13-14 upwards would find it interesting (hopefully), therefore, if I want the widest possible audience, I will have to work within those guidelines. It now becomes a challenge to write the one character who was going to swear a bit, into a more sarcastic smartarse. Oh the joy!


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