Monday, July 15, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Splash (1984) - Laying Out the Internal Conflict, But Funny

[Quick Summary: A cranky lovelorn produce salesman falls in love with a mysterious stranger who is a mermaid.]

I really like this script for a few reasons:

1) It is rare that a comedy is this solid or this good.

2) It is very rare that a comedy at all is OSCAR NOMINATED.  This one deserves it.

3) It has an unusual structure: The antagonist (a scientist) chases the protagonists (Alan & Madison) throughout the whole story, but they don't meet until Act 3.

4) It has a cheeky first line:  (It works here but not everywhere.)


We know it's twenty years ago, because WE WRITE ON THE SCREEN "TWENTY YEARS AGO," thereby leaving little doubt."

5) It takes the time to lay out Alan's internal conflict and in a funny way. 

In the scene below:
- Alan is an usher at his friend Jerry's wedding.
- Freddie is Alan's brother.
- Victoria, Alan's girlfriend, has just dumped Alan.
- Alan is conflicted: lonely, embarrassed, and defensive that Victoria left him.


Alan is in the aisle, ushering. Freddie is next to him.

ALAN: There's got to be something wrong with me. (to passing guests) Anywhere, but the first three rows.

GUEST #1:  Hey, Freddie, Alan. Where's Victoria?

ALAN: She's uh...sick. (to Freddie) Why didn't I love her? She was bright, sensitive, beautiful.

GUEST: #2: Hey, Alan. Where's Victoria?

ALAN: Flu. Bad flu. Very sick.

GUEST #2: Give her my love.

ALAN: Sure. (to Freddie) I can't even give her my love. I'm serious, Freddie. (points to his heart) Something in here's not working.

FREDDIE: There are worse organs to not be working.

GUEST #3: Hi, guys. Hey, Alan, where's that pretty girl of yours?

ALAN (getting annoyed): She's not coming, okay? You want your money back?

The guest walks off, confused.

ALAN (continuing to Freddie): I don't know. Maybe it's all for the best.

GUEST #4: Hey, Alan --

ALAN (loud): She left me, all right?! She moved out. My life is a shambles. Okay? You got the news, you want the weather. (to someone else, surly) Anywhere, but the first three rows."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Ganz & Mandel scripts are built well.  I like that they get to the point, but aren't afraid to lay pipe when needed.

I also like that the humor comes from internal character (Alan is trying to juggle multiple emotions) rather than the external situation (Alan is unhappily single at a happy event.)

Splash (1984)(2nd draft, 2/1/83)
by Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel 
Story by Brian Grazer

Monday, July 8, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Night Shift (1982) - Lacking Story? Then Face Your Flaw

[Quick Summary: A timid morgue night employee is talked into using the morgue as an office for prostitutes, but then competing pimps come after him.]

I never knew about Ganz & Mandel until I watched these interviews.

They both started out writing for tv shows, including the popular show Happy Days.* This is their first feature film.

I think one strong hallmark of a Ganz & Mandel script is that is there is a story rather than just a situation.** 

Story = The protagonist must face his/her own flaw, often resulting in an arc.
Situation = Series of events.  Flaw and arc are not important.

In the scene below:
- Chuck is the protagonist and is engaged to Charlotte.
- Vivian is Chuck's mother. Edward and Rose are Charlotte's parents.
- They were all at dinner when Belinda, Chuck's neighbor and a prostitute, called him to bail her out of jail.  They are now returning from court.
- FLAW: Chuck lets everyone push him around.
- Notice the structure of the scene: No one will let Chuck speak in this car (or in his life).  He must do it now or else he is doomed. This is Chuck's a-ha! moment.


Edward and Rose are in the front. Rose has her head out the window. Chuck is seated in the back between Vivian and Charlotte. Everyone is distraught.

EDWARD: You know what really steams my beans? They just let that strumpet right back out on the streets!

CHARLOTTE (to Chuck): You're moving out of that building.

VIVIAN: Absolutely.

CHUCK (softly): Wait a minute --

VIVIAN: You stay out of it.  (to Charlotte) Let me tell you something. When you get married you have to handle him the way I handled his father.

There's a big bump in the road. Everyone flies up.

EDWARD: Potholes! You all right, Rose?

We hear Rose moaning. We PUSH IN TIGHT on Chuck. He's not speaking but clearly he's listening to every word and weighing them carefully.

VIVIAN: If it wasn't for me, his father would've done any old thing he pleased. You know what he wanted to do? Make furniture by hand!  Don't worry, Mr. and Mrs. Koogle, I straightened out Al, and together we'll all straighten out Chuck.

They hit another bump and go flying.

EDWARD (O.S.): You all right, Rose?

She moans."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  I thought the scene above fit perfectly with Chuck's flaw. 

The structure and the visuals are all great setups.  They all are forcing Chuck to take proactive action in the next scene.

Night Shift (1982)(3rd draft, 7/20/81)
by Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel

*Happy Days featured actor Ron Howard who was to become the future director of Night Shift. Ganz & Mandel would go on to write several films for Howard.

** The Problem with 99% of Screenplays (aka Fat Tootsie Syndrome) does a nice job of explaining story vs. situation and the need for a character to have a flaw.

Monday, July 1, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Peeping Tom (1960) - It Does Not Let You Off the Hook

[Quick Summary: A young focus puller/ photographer/ director wannabe is an underground serial killer who is trying to capture the moment of death from fear.]


1) It's one of the best psychological horror/thriller scripts that I've read.  It is 60 y.o., yet still relevant, still could be made today, still has something to say.

2) It's risky. The critics' and public's response to this film essentially ended director Michael Powell's career in England.* **

3) It does not let you off the hook.  I liked that the script does not try to explain away Mark's murdering instinct or soften the blow of his decisions.

Yes, Mark is a loner, socially awkward, driven, and probably was harmed by his scientific father's psychological experiments. 

However, he does not make excuses for himself and takes responsibility for his actions. What a dilemma!  Do I root for or against him?

In the scene below, note:
- Helen is a neighbor and possibly the first girl to show interest in Mark.
- Their rapport makes me hope that Mark could change, but his "better be soon" tells me that he knows that he will be facing consequences soon.
- This scene is so bittersweet and tragic, yet does not veer from Mark's goal.


...HELEN: I'll tell you that too - but, Mark...this is the problem...The children who read the book will want to see the pictures the camera takes - but the publishers say they're impossible to photograph, and suggest drawings...but I don't agree.

MARK: No - nothing's impossible.

HELEN: was hoping you'd say that! There must be photographs - however difficult to take - and I was wondering, Mark - if you'd...

MARK: Oh yes.

HELEN: discuss it with me.

MARK: take them.

HELEN: Mark - I can't ask you to do that...

They have cancelled his Oscar.

HELEN (cont'd): I mean...the publisher's mightn't agree.

MARK: I'd take them...for you.

HELEN: Yes but...the money.

MARK: There are some things...which I photograph...for nothing.

HELEN: I didn't mean to offend you.

MARK: Offend?


MARK (cont'd): Helen...if you knew what it meant...for something to happen to me...that I don't have to make's've given me a twenty-first birthday...

CLOSE SHOT of Helen looking at him...

MARK (cont'd): What does your camera photograph?

HELEN: Mark - I must go...I just wanted to know...if you'd talk it over with me.

MARK: When please?

HELEN: That's up to you.

MARK: Helen...I don't know much about...dinner out...but would you come with me?

HELEN: Thank you.

MARK: Thank you.

HELEN: When?

MARK: Oh...

HELEN: What's the matter?

MARK: It had better be soon...

HELEN: Are you going away?

MARK: Almost for certain!...

HELEN: Oh...well you suggest when.

MARK: Are you free...tomorrow night?

HELEN: Yes."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I admire this script for having something to say and sticking with it.

Peeping Tom (1960)(shooting draft, 1959)
by Leo Marks

*Why did critics and the public hate it so? I think because it didn't allow the audience to lurk anonymously in the dark, but implicated us in the voyeurism of the title character.

**Powell was the well regarded director of The Red Shoes (1948), Tales of Hoffman (1951), etc. He was the husband of Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese's editor.

Monday, June 24, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: I Love Trouble (1994) - Catching a Character in a Lie

[Quick Summary: Hallie Peterson, the new Chronicle reporter, outscoops Globe reporter Peter Brackett over mysterious deaths of scientists.]


1) IS THIS A ROM-COM? It's more mystery than the Hallie-Peter relationship.

2) CATCHING A CHARACTER IN A LIE.  How does the audience know that the character knows the jig is up?  Often by the reactions of other characters.

For example, in the scene below:
- Peter has submitted one of his old newspaper columns to his editor Greenfield. 
- Greenfield remembers seeing it before.
- From Greenfield's reaction, the audience puts 2 + 2 together that Peter realizes he has been caught.
- Notice the script does not tell us Peter's reaction. 


...Greenfield looks at Peter with hooded eyes, says nothing.

PETER: Don't give me that hound dog look, I don't cover the beat anymore.

GREENFIELD: And I don't print recycled columns.

PETER: I don't believe what I'm hearing. Are you accusing me of --

GREENFIELD (to Copy Boy): --Pull up Brackett's columns from the mid-eighties. Something like, 'Gun Shy', 'Guns of Something...', 'Guns and Roses'...

Peter starts to object...

GREENFIELD (remembers): 'Johnny Got A Gun'!"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I never know if my intent is clear enough to the reader. Is my writing clear about how I want them to put 2 + 2 together? Or am I too vague?

I think this is one of those things that benefits from feedback from colleagues.

I Love Trouble (1994)(revised draft, 6/2/93)
by Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer

Monday, June 17, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Big Trouble in Little China (1986) - Use of a Kiss During an Action Sequence

[Quick Summary: Jack Burton helps his friend Wang Chi rescue Wang's green eyed fiancee from the supernatural Lo Pan whose lair is underneath Chinatown.]


1) Too Much of the Same.  I liked that this script has so much action.

But after awhile, it was the just the same scene, the same emotional dynamics.

Roger Ebert explains it much better:
...the first 30 minutes of the movie gave me lots of room for hope. It was fast-moving, it was visually spectacular, it was exotic and lighthearted and filled with a spirit of adventure. But then, gradually, the movie began to recycle itself. It began to feel as if I was seeing the same thing more than once. After one amazing subterranean chamber had been survived and conquered, everybody fell down a chute into another one. By the end of the movie, I was just plain weary.
2) Use of a Kiss During an Action Sequence.  This script does not really delve into the Jack-Gracie relationship, which is fine. It's not that kind of movie.

However, I liked the kiss in the scene below because it has multiple layers:
- It acknowledges there is a Jack-Gracie attraction.
- It releases the audience's tension, now that all the captives are freed.
- It symbolizes freedom and celebration.




Up ahead the first Chinese girl surfaces! Still in the pipe but above its water level! The going's still nightmarish but there's air...AND THE PIPE'S GETTING WIDER, NOT MUCH, 36 INCHES. Gracie breaks the surface! Wang Chi next!

GRACIE LAW: Where's Margo?!

Wang Chi has no idea, and Gracie shoves him on by her, Margo appearing, Gracie shoving her on by...


GRACIE LAW: Where's Eddie?!

Eddie! Gasping for air! Gracie helps him, shoves him forward...

GRACIE LAW: Where's Jack?!

"Jack?" Getting familiar, Gracie showing concern, huh? She's looking back at the water, no Jack... THEN JACK ERUPTING IN HER FACE!


She grabs him, elated. So is Jack, to be breathing again and be hugged by Gracie Law when a second ago he thought it was he kisses her!


JACK BURTON: Sorry, sorry, I'm just thrilled to be alive.

GRACIE: Yeah, right. Let's go.

Their wet bodies on top of each other, no way they can move at the same time.

JACK BURTON: Ladies first."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The purpose of the kiss was not one fold, and thus had more meaning. 

(In other words: It meant something more than just romantic attraction.)

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)(rev. shooting script, 9/17/85)
by David Weinstein and Gary Goldman
Revisions by W.D. Richter
Directed by John Carpenter

Monday, June 10, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Maid in Manhattan (2002) - One Key to a Strong Rom-Com

[Quick Summary: In a case of mistaken identity, a maid is asked out on a date by a senatorial candidate and chaos ensues when the truth is leaked.]

I stand by my belief that rom-coms are one of the hardest genres to crack. 

So what is the secret to pulling it off?

I saw a good answer TWICE in the last week: Fall in love while doing other things.*

Simple, right?!...Wait, that's difficult... How do you do that?

This script shows one key:

We see that protagonist in his/her daily life.
--> Protagonist encounters love interest.
--> Protagonist CHANGES in his/her daily life.
= The change IS the evidence of "falling in love."

I chose the scene below for two reasons:

1) Because it shows Chris, the love interest, at a benefit (his daily life) and breaking away from routine after meeting Marisa (a definite change).

2) Because the unconscious smiling thing really happens in real life.**


...The song ends. The dance floor empties. Chris and Marisa remain, face to face.

MARISA: Look, I don't want to stop you from doing the right thing.

Chris smiles. She looks at him questioning.

MARISA: What? Why are you smiling...

CHRIS: Nothing, it's just, up until this minute, I didn't know what that was. But I do now.

MARISA: You do what?

He begins to walk away.

MARISA: Where are you going?

CHRIS: I'm going to give old Jerry an interesting challenge.

MARISA: Because of me?

CHRIS: Because of us. We're not staying.

MARISA: We're not?

CHRIS: Nope. And that might make him a little...miffed."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Falling in love should be part of the protagonist's overall story, but not the whole story.  Otherwise, it's rather dull.

Chambermaid (Maid in Manhattan) (2002)(2/25/02 draft)
by John Hughes (story), revised by Kevin Wade

*I read the same observation TWICE in the last week:
- Ebert: "And Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes make an intriguing couple because their characters have ways of passing the time other than falling in love. (I grow impatient when movie characters are so limited they can think of nothing better to do than follow the plot.)"

- Mernit on "It Happened One Night": "The movie's a textbook on how romantic happens, which is often when your characters are busy doing other things." 

**In grad school, I met "someone special" from another school and didn't tell anyone.  A classmate, who rarely spoke to me and did not know me well,  asked me why I was smiling all the time.  It freaked me out! Was I that obvious? I could've sworn that I was acting normally. I had had no idea. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Flubber (1997) - The Space Between Two Characters

[Quick Summary: An absent minded professor invents flying rubber ("flubber") that might save his college from closing.]

GOOD NEWS: I can tell John Hughes worked really, really hard on this script.

BAD NEWS: I'm not sure if it was requirements of the job or not, but it tries to go large.  I felt it lost some of that intimate, Hughes-ian dynamic.

GOOD NEWS: The beginning starts off with that intimate feel, and some of the best character work.

I think the scene below remained very real and intimate to me because it is focused on the space between the Professor and the students. 

Who will realize what is going on first? Who will dare speak up first?


A pleasant, small town university. Brick buildings spangled with ivy, clipped lawns, mature trees overhanging quiet walks.


From behind. Nude. ART STUDENTS are drawing.


The Professor walks into the classroom.


She looks over her shoulder with surprise.


The Professor crosses to a still-life table. He  removes an orange, a pheasant, and a bunch of grapes and places them on a desk beside the table. He sets his briefcase on the table.

PROFESSOR: Whoever brought me the orange, the pheasant, and the grapes, thank you.


They stare at Phillip with confusion.


He clears his throat.

PROFESSOR: Last time we met, we were discussing the unstable and transient nature of supersaturated solutions.

He steps back from the table and puts his hands in his pockets.


They exchange puzzled looks.


He grins warmly.

PROFESSOR: Stick with me, it's simple.

Something catches his eye. His smile fades. He snaps his fingers angrily.

PROFESSOR: Young lady! Shirt and shoes in my class, please.That's the rule.


The startled Model holds her robe to her chest and shoulders. She quickly puts on her slippers."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I found this script hard to believe.

(Perhaps it was because the important dilemma for everyone else (save or destroy the university) was not really important to the Professor?)

Absent Minded Professor/Flubber (1997)(early draft, 10/31/95)
by John Hughes
Based on a short story,"A Situation of Gravity," by Samuel W. Taylor

Monday, May 27, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) - Suspense Inside a Slapstick Routine

[Quick Summary: When 11 y.o. Kevin inadvertently gets on the wrong plane during the Christmas rush, he heads to NYC while his family is in Florida.]

I am not fond of sequels, unless they have something new to say.

This one does not.  It is essentially a rehashing of the first film.*

However, I do appreciate John Hughes' excellent use of suspense within a slapstick routine.

In the example below, note:
- Hughes does not release the tension of suspense too soon.
- Marv must struggle with the cheesecloth, react to something odd, then the reveal.


Marv stands up from the collapsed shelving unit. He's covered in paint. He wipes his face with his sleeve. His eyes are stinging. He looks for something to clean his face with.


Marv grabs a piece of cheesecloth off the trp.


He puts the cheesecloth to this face. It sticks. He tugs on the towel. It won't come off. He grips it firmly with both hands and gives a fierce pull. it tears free with a dreadful RIIIP!
He SCREAMS and clutches his face. He notices something. He feels his face. When he lowers his hands, he's missing his eyebrows, moustache and goatee. He looks at the towel.


Two eyebrows, a moustache and a fluff of goatee stuck to the towel."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This script got me thinking that the much of the pleasure that I find in slapstick is the suspense and release.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)(9/10/91, production draft B)
by John Hughes

*I understand why Home Alone got a sequel. From a business point of view, it had all the hallmarks of a good decision: public awareness, successful box office, etc.

As a writer, I can understand the reason(s) behind the decision even if I don't particularly like it.

Monday, May 20, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Home Alone (1990) - Unified vs. Episodic; Using Compare & Contrast

[Quick Summary: When his family leave for Paris without him, seven year old Kevin defends his home against robbers and realizes that Christmas is lonely by oneself.]


1) UNIFIED vs. EPISODIC. I never quite realized how many simultaneous stories there are in this film:
- Kevin overcoming fears of being home, alone
- Kevin vs. Mr. Murphy
- Kevin vs. robbers
- Kevin's mom trying to get home
- Robbers in the neighborhood

All these stories revolve around one theme or linchpin: Kevin, his growing up, his need for connection and family.

I think that this is the reason that the stories are more unified (like spokes on the wheel around Kevin) than episodic (series of unrelated stories).

2) EXPRESSING INTERNAL FEELINGS. I noticed this scene below because:
a) I keenly felt Kevin's internal feelings, yet....
b) There is no defined protagonist on the outside.

How is it done? I think it's the cuts that help the audience compare and contrast the visible vs. the implied.


Kevin's walking home. It's dark. The street lights are on. Kevin is walking slowly. He's looking at the houses. [We see slow walking. This seems to imply Kevin is thinking, thoughtful.]


A house with lights around the door, lights burning in big windows. People inside celebrating. Kids running around, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. It seems as if their excitement and joy was made int he extreme to emphasize Kevin's sorrow. [We unconsciously compare that there is one of Kevin vs. a group.]


Shuffling down the sidewalk, eyes on the house he's passing. He looks forward and stops suddenly. [Compare/contrast: Kevin is in the lonely dark. Family in the bright light.]


A young MAN and WOMAN, she carrying a baby, he loaded with gifts, walking from their car which is parked far down in a crowded driveway to the sidewalk of the house Kevin's watching. [Compare/contrast: Bonded family vs. solo Kevin. Imply loneliness.]


The young family continues up the walk to the house. Kevin stands at the foot of the walk, watching. CHURCH BELLS RING in the distance. [Compare/contrast: belonging vs. alone.]


Kevin's eyes are brimming with tears. As strong as he wants to be, it's too much for him. A tear falls. He wipes it away, only causing more to fall. [The previous scenes lead up to this moment. We see his sadness spill out.]


Kevin's framed in the door of the holiday house and the young family passes off the baby and the gifts and takes off their coats. Great warmth and cheer. Christmas music is playing. Children are running wild, old men are laughing, grannies, are yakking. It's everything Kevin wants. He stands like a sobbing statue at the end of the walk, lit by a coach light, wiping tears from his cheeks with the back of his cold, bare hands. The door closes on him." [Because we see how he responds to external scenes, we are able experience his internal emotions of missing his own family.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I think I was clued in more by Kevin's response to what he's seeing rather than what he is actually seeing.

Home  Alone (1990)(1/17/90 shooting draft, with revisions)
by John Hughes

Monday, May 13, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: She's Having a Baby (1988) - Portraying Lost & Confused

[Quick Summary: After 22 y.o. Jake gets married, he is lost and confused as he goes kicking and screaming into adulthood.]

How do you make the audience feel something?

I still don't know and desperately wish I did.

Meanwhile, let's study the scene below.

It made me feel as lost and confused as the protagonist Jake does. 

I think it works because:
1) The scene is straightforward, i.e., groom and best man before the wedding.
2) There is a sad-happy mix jumbled together: joy, fear, anticipation, and dread.


....Jake looks at his watch. He tenses. Takes a deep breath.

JAKE: It's time.

Davis' smile drifts away. He drops his look to his shoes. Jake takes a deep breath. He sniffs back the beginnings of a full-on cry.

JAKE: Here I am on the verge of binding myself to Kristy for life and I've never felt so alone. Damn! I'm gonna cry.

Jake's angry at himself for losing control of his emotions. Davis looks at him. He's suffering as well but is better able to control it.

DAVIS: We can split. But you'd be back tomorrow. You know what, Jake? You know why you feel like crying? Because you love her and you want her and you know there's no way around it.

Jake looks at him puzzled.

DAVIS: You were married the minute you saw her. Sixteen years old and you were gone.

Jake cracks a smile.

DAVIS: This is your destiny, Mr. Dick. To be forever caught in the crossfire between your head and your heart.

He gives Jake an affectionate jab in the upper arm.

JAKE: You think I'll be happy? Honestly.

DAVIS: You want to be a writer. you want to be a husband. Maybe it'll work. Who knows. Yeah, you'll be happy. You just won't know it.

 JAKE'S VOICE: Never before and never again did he nail a moment more firmly than that afternoon. He's not all that wise. He just knew his subject matter very, very well..

DAVIS: This is the last time I'm gonna say it. You don't have to go through with this. You can walk. Say the word and we're outta here.

Davis' remark arouses the coward in Jake. He hesitates. He looks at the church and momentarily flirts with flight."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I think Jake's jumble of emotions is easier to follow because the scene is fairly simple. 

Too many twisty plots + Too many twisty emotions = Hard to follow.

She's Having a Baby (1988)(shooting draft, 9/7/86, w/revisions)
Written and directed by John Hughes
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