Monday, December 4, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: In Good Company (2004) - "Well-Defined, Three Dimensional Character"

[Quick Summary: A 51 y.o. magazine ad exec is demoted and to make it worse, his daughter starts dating his new 26 y.o. boss.]

What is a "well-defined, three dimensional character"?!
Over the years, I've grown frustrated with this term for 2 reasons:

1) Everyone wants one, but what is it? No one had a good definition.

So here are my own working definitions:

- "Well-defined" = Clear traits, flaws, distinguishing characteristics, etc.
- "Three dimensional" = We can tell the characters have larger lives outside the scene.  This story is only a snapshot or a small part of that life.

2) How much do you show of a character's life to make him/her "three dimensional"? A little bit? A lot?

This is trickier.  The short answer is "Just Enough," i.e., personal taste.

The long answer is: It depends on what the writer is trying to accomplish.

Some scripts have more. Some scripts have very little (mostly procedurals or plot driven).*

This script is one of those that show more of the personal life. 

Why?  One reason is that his professional life (demotion) leaks into his personal life (daughter in college, and a baby on the way).

In the scene below, note how:
- The parallel format makes us contrast how Dan and Carter handle stress.
- Showing a peek of their lives away from the office (away from Dan vs. Carter) gives the audience a little more about each of their motivations.
- These motives will pay off later.  They're not just here to take up space.

ex. "EXT. BANK - DAY

Ann and Dan walk into a bank MORTGAGE LOAN office.


Dan and Ann are in the BANK LOAN OFFICE, filling out forms for a second mortgage.

LOAN OFFICER: Sign here, here, and here and you've got your second mortgage.

Dan looks at Ann. She smiles at him, a bit ruefully.



Carter SIGNS papers.

Carter is sitting in a LAWYER'S OFFICE, filling out forms for his divorce.

DIVORCE LAWYER: Sign there, there... and there. And it's official...


DIVORCE LAWYER: You're divorced."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I always afraid that if I take the reader away from the main conflict, they'll lose interest.

Here, I see that it's actually encouraged, as long as there's a reason for those scenes.

In Good Company (2004)(final shooting script)
by Paul Weitz

*To get a better feel, it helps to read a wide range of scripts.

Monday, November 27, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Constant Gardener (2005) - Adaption: Intent or Content?

[Quick Summary: After his activist wife is killed mysteriously in Nairobi, a mid-level British official finds answers in governmental and corporate treachery.]

It's rare that an author loves his book's adaption. Here, Le Carre does:
Why was this one so good? Why do I keep watching it and feel none of the usual alienation? p. v.
Ah, isn't that the million dollar question? We all know films that are absolutely true to the book...and deadly boring. So what makes a good adaption?

Screenwriter @HIGHzurrer has offered these wise words on adaptions:
For me it boils down to how a story makes me feel. Recapturing that feeling goes a long way to honoring the source material. Literature can give you the EXACT motivations, clear as day, without the character acting or speaking. Impossible visually. I feel like you either have to capture the intent or the content. But not both. (emphasis mine)
Let's look at today's script and the choices that were made.

In the novel, Tessa dies on p. 1.  In the script, she dies around p. 40.

Then from p. 1-40, we're shown:
- Tessa and Justin's marriage dynamics (she's outgoing, he's reserved)
- how they interact with their peers, people in need
- how Tessa charmed others to help her help others in need
- who is powerful, who isn't, etc.

As a result:
- I believed in Tessa and Justin's love story. 
- I believed Justin, this mild mannered, reserved fellow, would pursue her killer to the ends of the earth.

As an audience member, I did not have access to Justin's internal thoughts (as in a novel). I needed to see the couple interacting for their connection to be "real" to me.

The scene below takes place early in the script.  At first, I thought he was suspicious.  On a second read, I saw that he is trying to protect her by deleting the email.

An interesting insight into their relationship, no?


...Justin clicks on the message. The sender isn't identified, but the message originates from the High Commission's communal e-ail address.

It reads: "What were you and Arnold Bluhm doing in the Nairobi Hilton Sunday night? Does Justin know?"

Justin stares at it a moment, then deletes the message as Tessa enters from the bathroom, still in her underwear.

TESSA (cont'd): What was it?


TESSA: The e-mail.

JUSTIN: Oh...junk. Some ad.


JUSTIN: The Nairobi Hilton.

He waits for a response. There isn't one.

JUSTIN (cont'd): Weekend package deal. Two nights for the price of one.

She indicates her pregnant abdomen.

TESSA: Two guests for the price of one.

...and exits to the landing.

Justin closes his screen, no longer in the mood to write. On Tessa's Desktop we now see a variety of folders, among them: "HOUSEHOLD"; "KIBERA"; "AFRICAN WOMEN'S FOUNDATION"; "HAM"; "ARNOLD'S LINKS"; "GRACE MAKANGA".

A moment, then Justin clicks on "ARNOLD'S LINKS". Receives the prompt: "ENTER PASSWORD". He tries to access "KIBERA". Same result. He stands and leaves the room."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Sometimes the best that a film can do is capture the "feel" of a book.*

The Constant Gardener (2005)(dated 3/8/04)
by Jeffrey Caine
Based on the novel by John Le Carre

*I used to believe that deviating from the book was a bad thing.  I had no idea what "film is a different medium" meant.

Now I understand that it's often necessary. Books can do things that film cannot. Books can explain thoughts and motivations, but films cannot explain, only show.

Monday, November 20, 2017

TODAY'S 2nd NUGGET: Strange Days (1995) - From Scriptment to Draft

[Quick Summary: Lenny, a shady dealer in VR "experiences," is trying to find a psycho-sexual killer who killed his friend Iris and may be after his ex-girlfriend.]

Director Ridley Scott said in a round table interview recently
The studio head's job, I think, is read the fucking material. You can't delegate material. I can tell within a paragraph whether I'm going to be in good hands or not. By the time I get to page 10, I'm beginning to perspire because I'm thinking, "Please don't drop the ball; please don't drop the ball." Page 30, I'm now beads of perspiration. "Holy shit, we're really getting there." And so writing is everything. Everything else is dressing. Sorry, actors. (Laughter.) (my emphasis)
Is that really true? Yes.  One gets a "feel" after reading many scripts.*

What about material that is admittedly messy and too long? Yes, even then, there's a focus, a feel that "I'm in good hands." 

Today's scriptment is a good example.  It's a messy and flawed early draft, but there's a solid story spine, the setups and payoffs, etc.** 

The script drops and adds things, but keeps the essentials from the scriptment.

One thing that I liked in both drafts was that they kept the odd, futuristic mood.

The scene below is nearly the same in both drafts:

ex. "A stairwell. Lane sprinting up, two steps at a time. Trying the door at the second floor landing. Locked. Shit.

Running up. Dizzying whirl as we run, up and up.

The POV is finally broken by a ...
                                                                                          CUT TO:


But we don't know where we are yet. We see a man in extreme close-up: just his eyes and mouth. The eyes are closed, the eyeballs tracking under the lids like he is watching a movie in there. This is LENNY.

LENNY: This is great...the doors are all locked. Who are these losers, friends of yours?
                                                                                          CUT TO:

BACK TO POV as we reach the fifth floor landing. Lane is coming unglued as he finds this door locked. We look down, see cops coming two floors below. One cranks off a couple rounds at us and we snap back from the railing. Pounding up the last flight. Finally! The door is unlocked."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The writer's most important job is to convey the ideas from the head to the page.

It doesn't have to look great, but it does have to be on the page.  This is very helpful in case someone else has to take over the writing duties (as happened here).

Strange Days (1995)(Cameron's published scriptment)
by James Cameron

Strange Days (1995)(script draft dated 8/11/93)
by James Cameron and Jay Cocks

*How do I define "many"? When I was at a small production company, I estimated:
-About 30-40 new scripts came in the door every week.
-The development execs read between 10-20 on weekends, maybe another 10 during the week.

**The scriptment is worth reading to see how Cameron thinks.  In his words:
So what you have in your hands is at once a kind of pathetic document; it is as long as a script, but messy and undisciplined, full of cheats and glossed-over sections. But it is also an interesting snapshot of formatting a moment in the creative process. It contains notes and references and textures that do not exist in the finished script. It takes the time to gaze around at a grim future world and paint it in neon gets in the mood first, then tells the story. p. ix.

Monday, November 13, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993) - Learning From a Passive Protagonist

[Quick Summary: In 1973, Sissy, who has enormous thumbs, is a hitchhiker, a hygiene model, and a witness to a feud involving a cowgirl ranch and drugged whooping cranes.]

When I read scripts for a production company, I went in cold.

I liked that I knew nothing, and could judge the scripts solely on their merits.

This is still my preferred approach, and I apply it to all the scripts that I read here.

One of the side effects is that I occasionally read produced scripts that I Do Not Like.

I know you're wondering, "Are these scripts worth reading?"

Yes, though I admit that people (including me) don't like the fact that this takes a little more energy.*

However, I've found that these scripts can teach me unexpected things.

For example, this is a script that I Do Not Like.  Here are a few thoughts:

- This script reads fast.
- Sissy travels a lot and has several significant life experiences (emotional, sexual).

- Sissy is an acute observer of all the colorful characters, which is fine in a novel, but boring in film.
- She is often the bystander, i.e., passive.
- She lacks purpose or goals, so the other characters take over.

- I found this structure (of the scene below) repeated often in this script.
- Jelly is the head of the ranch.
- Sissy SEEMS active because she's interacting with Jelly.  However, Sissy is the passive one and Jelly is actively running the scene.


A FIST pounds on Sissy's door.

IN SAILS Jelly, a cowgirl so cute she makes Sissy blush just to look at her. She wears a tan Stetson with an aster pinned to it, a green satin shirt embroidered with rearing stallions snorting orange fire from their nostrils....

Jelly grasps Sissy's elbow and sits on the side of the bed.

JELLY: Welcome podner. By God, it's great to have you here. It's an honor. Sorry I took so long getting to you, but we've had a mess of hard work these past few days - and a heap of planning to do.

SISSY: Er, you seem to know who I am, and maybe even what I am. Thanks for breakfast.

JELLY: Oh, I know about Sissy Hankshaw, all right. I've done a little hitchhiking myself. Ah shucks, that's like telling Annie Oakley you're a sharpshooter because you once knocked a tomato can off a stump with a fieldstone. I'd heard tales about you from people I'd meet in jail cells and truckstops. I heard about your, uh, your, ah, your wonderful thumbs, and I hear how you were Jack Kerouac's girl friend...

Sissy sets her tray on the bedside table.

SISSY: No, I'm afraid that part isn't true. Jack was in awe of me and tracked me down. We spent a night talking and hugging in a corn field, but he was hardly my lover. Besides, I always travel alone.

JELLY: Well, that doesn't matter; that part never interested me anyway. The beatnicks were before my time and I never got anything outta the hippies but bad dope, cliches and the clap. But the example of your life helped me in my struggle to be a cowgirl....

SISSY: Tell me about it.

JELLY: About...

SISSY: About being a cowgirl. What's it all about? When you say the word you make it sound like it was painted in radium on the side of a pearl.

JELLY: Cowgirls exist as an image image. A fairly common image...."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Protagonists do not have to physically move in every scene, but they do need to be moving toward a goal or with purpose in every scene.

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993)(5th draft, dated 7/6/92)
by Gus Van Sant
Adapted from the novel by Tom Robbins

* It's another reason why I don't want to know anything. Otherwise, I'd avoid them like the plague.

Monday, November 6, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Red Dragon (2002) - Action, Tension; Creepiness

[Quick Summary: To stop a serial killer, FBI agent Graham, who was injured while bringing in Hannibal Lecter, must once again ask Lecter for help.]

How does this thriller/horror/adaption stay on track with SO MUCH going on, i.e., multiple story lines, twists and turns, a ticking clock, etc.?

I thought Roger Ebert had two great thoughts on this:
1) "Lecter is a character who commands contemplation and unease, and too much action just releases the tension." (emphasis mine)
ex. I noticed that both Graham and Lecter themselves are often very still, despite the constant movement around them.  Less is more here.
2) "But this movie, based on Harris' first novel, has studied "Silence of the Lambs" and knows that the action comes second to general creepiness. There are stabbings, shootings, fires, explosions, tortures, mutilations, and a flaming corpse in a wheelchair, but within reason." (emphasis mine)
In other words, "story before spectacle." Action serves story, not the other way.

In the scene below, note:
- A little bit of action, a lot of tension
- Creepiness comes first, then action


...Graham drops into a chair. Lecter, who's been waiting politely, sits behind his desk. Graham leans forward urgently. Despite his weariness, his face is alive with fierce excitement.

GRAHAM: We've been on the wrong track this whole time, Doctor. you and I. Our whole profile is wrong.

Lecter is very still; there is not a flicker of emotion; he just watches Graham, like someone studying an insect.

GRAHAM (cont'd): We've been looking for somebody with a cray grudge. Some kind of anatomical knowledge, decertified doctors, med school dropouts, laid-off mortuary workers -

LECTER: From the precision of the cuts, yes. And his choice of - souvenirs.

GRAHAM: But that's where we're off target. He's not collecting body parts.

LECTER: Then why keep them?

GRAHAM: He's not keeping them. He's eating them.

Lecter just watches and listens."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I need to set my characters up better with flaws and clashing desires from the start. 

Tension flows a lot more easily from character this way.

Red Dragon (2002)
by Ted Tally
Based on the novel by Thomas Harris

Monday, October 30, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: All the Pretty Horses (2000) - What a Good Vertical Read Looks Like

[Quick Summary: In 1949, two young Texans ride to Mexico to work as ranch hands, which is complicated when one falls in love with the owner's daughter.]

***WARNING***: Advanced skills ahead. Not for the impatient new writer.

I normally don't read first drafts, but this is the only version that I could get.

So why am I reading a first draft at all?

First, it's Ted Tally adapting author Cormac McCarthy.

Second, it reads like greased lightning,* despite being an early draft.

How does he make the pages fly by? Why did I gobble up pages and forget time?!

One answer is the ease of vertical reading, which I blogged about earlier.  In brief:
-It's easier to read down the page when there's less black print.
-It's easier to read faster with short sentences.

However, this script reads quickly EVEN WITH:
- Paragraphs of narrative
- Occasionally long dialogue

Why does it work here?  The truth is I don't know, but I suspect the following helps:
-This is an adventure in a foreign land (Mexico).
-This is a test for these young boys (16-17 y.o.) to graduate into manhood.
-In the scene below, note that it's all movement and action verbs.
-Note the ease of grasping a paragraph, i.e., a shot, with one eye sweep (L-->R).
-Also note the unusual ease of eye sweeping diagonally and down.**


Rawlins and John Grady approach the corral carrying forty-foot maguey catchropes coiled over their shoulders, saddle blankets, a riding hackamore with a metal noseband, and John Grady's Hamley saddle with its stirrups shortened. Two or three vaqueros are drifting along after them, sipping their morning coffee, ready to be entertained. Rawlins mutters.

RAWLINS: We mess this up, bud, its goin to be a long ride back to Texas.

JOHN GRADY: Ride, hell.

When the boys reach the gate, we see stacked on the ground there are more coils of rope, of assorted sizes and materials, along with a pile of hand-fashioned rope hackamores. Rawlins lifts the wire loop and opens the gate and the two of them go inside, closing the gate behind them.

The mustangs shift and stir at the far end of the corral, eyeing the boys suspiciously...

John Grady sets down his saddle and catchrope then squats to adjust the hackamore. Rawlins stands building his catchloop. He has a pile of sideropes slung around his neck.

RAWLINS: We goin to bust these varmints twice?

JOHN GRADY: What for?

RAWLINS: Cause I never seen one yet that completely believed it the first time. Or ever doubted it the second.

JOHN GRADY: I'll make em believe. You'll see.

RAWLINS: I'm goin to tell you right now, cousin. This is a heathenish bunch.

JOHN GRADY: Then let her rip.

Rawlins steps forward with his catchloop. At his approach the horses move skittishly along the fence. As the first one breaks away from the herd, Rawlins rolls his loop and forefoots the colt, which hits the ground with a tremendous thump. The other horses flare and bunch wildly.

Before it can struggle up, John Grady has run to the animal, squatting on its neck. He pulls its head up and to one side, holding the horse by its muzzle with its face against his chest, its nostrils flaring. The huge wet eyes roll in terror, staring into his from inches away. He cups his hand, stroking over the eyes, and all the while murmuring into the horse's ear in a low, steady, comforting voice.

JOHN GRADY: Esta bien. Esta bien...No hay peligro, entiende...? Esta bien. De acuerdo. Eresmuy guapo. Muy fuerte y valiente...

Working swiftly, as John Grady continues to murmur, Rawlins has dropped a slipnoose around the pastern of a hind leg, then halfhitched that to a foreleg. Now he frees the catchrope, tosses it away, then takes the hackamore and slips it over the horse's muzzle and ears. John Grady runs his thumb into the animal's mouth and Rawlins fits the mouthrope, then slipnooses a second siderope to the other rear leg. Then he clips both sideropes to the hackamore. He looks up.

RAWLINS: You all set?

JOHN GRADY: All set.

John Grady lets go of the horse's head and both boys step quickly away. The horse struggles up, turns, shoots out a hind foot, snatches itself in a half circle, then falls down. It gets up, kicks again, falls down again...

The vaqueros exchange glances at this curious procedure...

The colt gets up again, snorting, hopping up and down in a furious dance, snatching its head about, then finally pausing to glare at the boys.

RAWLINS: These sumbucks are as crazy as a shithouse rat.

JOHN GRADY: You pick out the one you think is craziest and I'll give you a finished horse this time Sunday week.

RAWLINS (grins): Bullshit.

                                                                                            FADE TO:

By now there are a dozen vaqueros standing along the fence, all watching with keen interest as...

John Grady jumps away from another horse's neck; the colt lurches to his feet, tries to kick him, falls down. Half of the horses are now hobbled, while the other half race and scatter in a rising sea of dust...

                                                                                           FADE TO:


The crowd of spectators has swelled to thirty or more, and now includes women and children as well. More people are drifting up from the direction of the hacienda's gate, some of them even carrying blankets and picnic supplies..."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I often forget the importance of movement and action verbs.

All the Pretty Horses (2000)(1st draft revisions, dated 11/1/93)
by Ted Tally
Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy

*This is one of Tally's trademark skills that also defies genre. ex. This is a Western. His other scripts: Thriller. Procedural/Thriller. Crime/Thriller.

**As noted in my previous post, readers will skim vertically to read as fast as possible. What can you do to help them read faster?

Monday, October 23, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Before & After (1996) - Emotional Engagement in a Thriller

[Quick Summary: When a teenage girl turns up dead, the parents of the prime suspect (girl's boyfriend) struggle to navigate the emotional repercussions.]

Ah, the 1990s, how I miss your emotionally engaging thrillers.

Today's thrillers are often so plot driven that they lose some humanity, i.e., making mistakes, showing vulnerability, making the audience worry.

This story has its issues,* but the script is good at making me feel.

First, I like that Jacob's parents (and sister) are the protagonists, not Jacob.

We're experiencing the consequences of his actions from the parent or sibling POV. This sheds a different light, i.e., how the people who love you experience your pain.

Second, I like how the writer externalizes the internal conflict.  This is tough!

In the scene below, Carolyn is Jacob's mother.


POV ANGLE, MOVING across the site where Martha's body was found. Trampled snow, a highway shoulder. Many tire tracks, footprints. In one area the snow is still tinged pink. Several small floral tributes have already been left here, on the ground or tied to the split-rail fence. Hand-written notes, heartrending little signs: "Martha, We Love You" ... "For MT from BK & CG"... "God Keep Our Angel." [We see the sad scene that Carolyn is seeing - the blood, the tributes.]

Carolyn turns away, her eyes moist. It is bitter cold. She stares off into the woods. After awhile she climbs over the fence, walks in amongst the trees, staring all around, looking for - what? She doesn't even know. Any sign at all of her son. A few more halting steps, then something stops her ... [She can barely process all this roiling emotion: trauma, loss, uncertainty.]

A spot where the ground is churned up, clods of frozen dirt mixed with the snow. Like a shallow grave. [Primal fear strikes her heart.]

Choking back a cry, Carolyn falls to her knees, begins scrabbling at the snow with her gloved hands. no good. She looks around, seizes a piece of fallen branch, stabs at the snow with this, almost frantic, till a voice stops her. [She's reacting without thinking.]

VOICE: Ma'am?

Carolyn turns, frightened...

It's Tommy, the young cop we met at the house. He looks down at her anxiously from the fence. His cruiser idles nearby, pulled in behind Carolyn's Audi.

TOMMY: We've been all over this area? And that's just somebody's dog.

Carolyn stares up at him, becoming aware of how she must look - dirty, wild-eyed, her breath steaming... [Very vulnerable, very human. I look a mess.]

But Tommy's face shows only a kind of embarrassed sympathy."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: To keep thrillers fresh, find another way into the story.

I don't think the tried-and-true formula of following the perpetrator here (Jacob) would've been as effective.

Before & After (1996)(dated 9/20/94)
by Ted Tally
Based on the novel by Rosellen Brown

*I can see why the critics didn't like it as a film:

"The story elements here are dramatic, but it's impossible to determine what the point of the film is. The characters behave stupidly and pay a price for it. There are no bad characters, and no lessons to be learned."    

Monday, October 16, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Juror (1996) - An Emotionally Compromised Villain

[Quick Summary: "The Teacher" threatens a female juror in order to manipulate her, then becomes enamored with controlling her.]
Each film is only as good as its villain. Since the heroes and the gimmicks tend to repeat from film to film, only a great villain can transform a good try into a triumph. - Roger Ebert
To me, this script stands out because of The Teacher, a cold and calculating villain.

1) The Teacher is a typical bad guy who enjoys the power play...

The Teacher keeps Annie (protagonist) in line by threatening her son Oliver. 

This is a fairly typical setup, but his added pleasure in his work increases my disdain.


The Teacher stares at Annie's hand, till she forces herself to release his sleeve. He smiles.

THE TEACHER: Don't you trust the Teacher, Annie?

ANNIE: Yes. I trust you! Yes.

THE TEACHER: But it's like trusting in the whim of God, isn't it? This random Rodney, he does whatever he pleases. He just drifts...

He lets the car slide out into the left lane. The pastures are just a green smear, whipping by. Annie puts her wrist to her mouth, bites at it, staring through the windshield.

THE TEACHER: The least error, and you're plunged into hell...Annie, what if he should suddenly wake up and see he's in the wrong lane? He overcompensates -

He turns the wheel sharply and floors the accelerator, and suddenly, they're aiming straight at Oliver. Six hundred yards away...five hundred...


Oliver is on the right-hand shoulder, the same side as the car. As it roars down behind him, on a killing path, he is still unaware of it. Four hundred...Three hundred...


Annie is curled into a terrified ball, her feet almost on the dash. she claws at her own face, screaming.


THE TEACHER: Who will protect you?


THE TEACHER: Who will shield you?


THE TEACHER: Did you say the judge?


She slams her hands against her door, the seat, her feet are kicking the dash, she is screaming, screaming, her eyes locked on that purple shirt dead ahead of them...."

2) ...But he's also emotionally involved (though may not recognize it).

This is what ups the ante. He seems rational. He think this is just business.

But the truth is that he's irrational, and it's very PERSONAL.

He cannot see himself objectively and deludes himself, which makes me curious to see what happens next.


The Teacher stops the tape, rewinds, punches up the volume. When he plays this segment again, we can hear the SOUND very distinctly. It's Annie shushing her son.

ANNIE (on tape): Shh. (beat) Juliet? No. Do your homework.

The Teacher turns...

On ONE wall of the attic, across from his electronic racks, we see a visual catalogue of Annie's life. Photos of her house, grocery store, laundromat. Maps of her movements. Copies of photos we've seen in Annie's own house - friends relatives, Mickey. These artifacts are labelled, dated, cross-referenced, minutely annotated. The display is frightening, almost unhinged in its obsessive detail: the Annie Museum. Centered, almost like an altar, is a large facial closeup of Annie, and beside this, a grainy enlargement of her santos figure."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I like the irony that this villain thinks he is in control of everything, but cannot control himself.

The Juror (1996)(2nd draft dated 3/18/95)
by Ted Tally
Based on the novel by George Dawes Green

*Ebert also stated that this general principal applied to all epic serials, especially the "James Bond" movies.

Monday, October 9, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Bound for Glory (1976) - A Multi-Layered, Multi-Purpose Goodbye Scene

[Quick Summary:  In 1936, Woody Guthrie leaves the dust bowl of Texas for the lure of work in California, where his folk music career begins.]

My Three Random Thoughts:

1) EASY READ. I liked, but didn't love, the script. Kudos for being a smooth read.

2) POLITICSEbert writes that "Guthrie's politics were central to his music, and yet in the film they seem almost superfluous; the politics could have emerged organically from the narrative, instead of being shoehorned in."

Hmmm...they were fine on the page. I wonder if it just didn't translate over to film?

3) SAYING GOODBYE. I liked that this script was rather objective about Guthrie.

It showed his warts and all: he was kind, but he had a temper. He loved his family, yet he cheated on his wife.  He built a home, yet his wanderlust kept him away.

All of these contradictions are seen in the goodbye scene below.

- This is not just a goodbye to the family, but goodbye to his old life too.

- In an earlier scene, there's a song about "Them California waters taste like cherry wine." Now in this scene, cherry wine = going to California. (Setup --> Payoff)

- Observe the lovely economical writing that transitions us through the goodbye:
Guthrie's note --> Food for the road --> Saying goodbye to guitar --> Takes brushes to earn a living painting signs --> Leave $$ for family --> Say goodbye without using "goodbye" --> Long shot of him walking from old life toward new life

Mary and the children can be HEARD in the back yard as Woody hurriedly tapes a note to the cooler door. As he opens it, we read,"Gone to California, will send for you all...Love Woody." He grabs a couple of pieces of bread and a chunk of cheese from the cooler and shuts the door. Woody goes to the couch, picks up his guitar, plucks it a couple of times, sets it back down and takes a harmonica from a table and puts it in his pocket. He goes to a corner of the living room, reaches into a cardboard box and pulls out three or four paint brushes and stuffs them into his pocket, at the same time taking out a dollar or two and laying it on the table. As he starts for the front door, Mary's VOICE calls:

MARY'S VOICE: Woody, you home?

Woody pauses by the door.

WOODY: Yeah, but I'm jus' leavin'...

MARY'S VOICE: Where you goin'?

WOODY (after a beat): Ta get some cherry wine...

MARY'S VOICE: When you comin' back?

WOODY: Don't know, fer sure...

He hesitates, then goes out the door.


Woody exits the house and walks in opposite direction of the "Pampa Texas" sign."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Don't be afraid to give a character time for a goodbye scene, nor the following long shot scene, which finishes the sequence.

I tend to ax those kinds of long shots for length concerns, but am learning that this is a bad knee jerk reaction.  This script is much better with that long shot.

Bound for Glory (1975)(dated 8/11/75)
by Robert Getchell
Based on the autobiography of Woody Guthrie

Monday, October 2, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: A Bridge Too Far (1977) - The Kid Spy (With Thick Glasses)

[Quick Summary: To end the war, the Allied air and ground troops try to secure key bridges in the Netherlands to close off Germany from the north. (Sept. 1944)]

GOOD NEWS: This is a previously unseen William Goldman script.

BAD NEWS: This could very well be a great film, but...on the page, I disliked it.

Maybe because it covers so much ground? I found myself wishing that I cared more.

GOOD NEWS: There were still some great character moments.

My favorite was "The Kid With the Thick Glasses" who was his own spy:


A GERMAN SENTRY. Armed. Well turned out, creased trousers, polished boots. He moves into the road, raises his hand.  THE KID WITH THICK GLASSES stops.
(This scene is IN DUTCH - SUBTITLED)


KID WITH THICK GLASSES: --but I want to --

GERMAN SENTRY: -- you will do as directed.

KID WITH THICK GLASSES (near tears --frightened and upset --he points on past the hotel): But my friend --she lives down the road and...It is my birthday -- she has a present --my present. (stares up at the sentry) Please?

GERMAN SENTRY (finally gestures for the kid to go through): Be quick.
                                                                                                                         CUT TO

THE KID WITH THICK GLASSES as he zooms on by the place. He doesn't seem to pay much attention, just glances at it once once as we
                                                                                                                        CUT TO


THE SENTRY. Watching. Nothing arouses his suspicions.
                                                                                                                        CUT TO


THE KID WITH THICK GLASSES, pumping on, rounding a bend, and the instant he's out of sight of the SENTRY -- he brakes, whips out a piece of paper and a pencil stub and starts to make a sketch.
                                                                                                                        CUT TO

The sketch. It's a copy of the flag that we planted on the lead staff car. As THE KID continues to draw, licking his pencil stub, scratching away --
                                                                                                                        CUT TO

Another drawing of that pennant. Only this isn't a quick pencil sketch of it, this is much more carefully done. It's in color and the colors of the flag are pretty close to what the actual flag looked like."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I liked that a "kid spy" was how the writer brought us into the underground spy network (vs. an adult spy acting all mysterious).

A Bridge Too Far (1977)(draft dated 3/29/76)
by William Goldman
From the book by Cornelius Ryan
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