Monday, December 10, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: A Simple Twist of Fate (1994) - Updating a Novel; How Do We Know a Character is Changing?

[Quick Summary: After a 1 y.o. girl stumbles into his house, a lonely, gold hoarding, furniture builder raises her as his own child, until her real father show up years later.]


1) UPDATING A NOVEL. This is an excellent update of a 1861 novel. It is humorous. It is sets up and pays off beautifully.  The characters are well defined.

However, something was missing for me. Perhaps Rogert Ebert knew why:
The point is, though, that they are Victorians, living in the last century among fears and mores we no longer possess. When you take a Victorian story and plop it down in the 20th century, as "A Simple Twist of Fate" does, you get a strange interruption of the rhythm - as if the characters are dancing to unheard music. They do things that are inexplicable unless you realize they're living according to the codes and cliches of the last century....Try as I might, I just couldn't accept this Victorian story in modern dress....
2) HOW DO WE KNOW A CHARACTER IS CHANGING?  This question haunts me.  How does one show the process of change??

This script was helpful in reminding me that we need:
a) To show WHY a character is changing
b) Then to show the character MAKING DIFFERENT DECISIONS than before.

Before the scenes below:
- Michael lost a wife (to infidelity) and a child (he thought was his but it wasn't).
- He now builds custom wood furniture.  He cashes in his checks for gold coins.
- He is now fostering Mathilda, a 1 y.o. orphan.
Scene #1: Why Michael changes. Notice the emotional connections.


Michael is hard at work building a playpen. The child, wearing overly-large safety goggles, watches him. Michael concentrates on his work, and hears something uttered from the child.

MICHAEL (off-handed): What?


He looks at Mathilda and she stares at him giggling. The full importance of what has happened hits him.
Scene #2: Michael makes a different decision than a previous visit.


Michael cashes a check at the antique store, but this time, instead of getting gold, he loads up on things a baby might enjoy.

MRS. SIMON: Hope you don't mind me saying it, but it's been a while since you bought something for someone else.

Michael looks at the baby rattle in his hand and recognizes the truth, but responds with a joke:

MICHAEL (straight-faced): This is for me.

He stoically shakes the rattle."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: First, take the time to lay out WHY the character is changing --> Then show the character MAKING A DIFFERENT DECISION.

A Simple Twist of Fate (1994)(drafted dated 8/2/93)
by Steve Martin
Adapted from the novel "Silas Marner," by George Eliot

Monday, December 3, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Year of the Dragon (1985) - Showing Respect, With Irony

[Quick Summary: A blunt, newly promoted police captain vows to clear Chinatown of the Asian mafia who is importing heroin.]


1) A VERY BLUNT SCRIPT. Stan is a good, but unpopular, cop, who bulldozes anything blocking his mission to wipe out the Asian mafia. 

He takes life like a linebacker - hit, move on, hit, move on.   He feels things, but there is little contemplation.  He is blunt, with little finesse.

This script mimics this:  It is mostly action - hit, move on, hit, move on. It is also lonely and sad.  Everyone else suffers the consequences of Stan's workaholism.

2) SHOWING RESPECT.  There have been many criticisms about this film.

However, I liked one scene in particular because:
- It gives us a rare moment to breathe.
- It simultaneously is credible for this culture (showing respect for one's elders) AND shows irony.

Previous to the scene below:
- Uncle Yung was the mafia leader.  Tai was hungry to be leader.
- Uncle Yung's restaurant was just ransacked by thugs.
- Uncle Yung does not know that Tai secretly hired these thugs.
- At the mafia meeting, Tai unseated Uncle Yung.

Notice how Tai is "smoothing Uncle's exit" with a show of respect, yet it is still ironic (we know Tai is responsible, but Yung does not):


A half dozen PLASTERERS fill in bullet holes on the wall.  Yung is having a cup of tea. two dozen workmen -- PAINTERS, ELECTRICIANS, GLAZIERS are at work already putting the restaurant back in shape.

Joey Tai is sitting with Harry Yung.

A WAITER pours tea for them. Yung's dark-spectacled wife circles in the background.

They sip tea. Pause.

TAI: When will you be able to reopen for business?

YUNG: There is much to do as you can see.

TAI: Yes. It was gracious of you to serve me tea. (stands up) I must go.

Yung stands. The ceremony is brief and private. Tai hands over a red envelop, fat as a small pillow and full of money, with both hands. Yung does not open it.

But gives a sign it has been accepted. If there is pain there is no sign of it on his face. Nothing shows. The transition of power in Chinatown is complete.

As Tai walk out of the restaurant, Yung's wife joins him. Looking at Joey Tai, she mutters in Chinese, which we subtitle.

YUNG'S WIFE: In the presence of your enemy, hide your broken arms in your sleeve."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: It's ok to hide facts from the characters, but not the audience. I think this is why the irony works here.

Year of the Dragon (1985)(final draft, 9/4/84)
by Oliver Stone and Michael Cimino
Based on the novel by Robert Daley

Monday, November 26, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Ishtar (1987) - Laying Out the Why of the "Point of No Return"

[Quick Summary: When two wanna be songwriters get a gig in Ishtar, they stumble into a conspiracy, and become unwitting targets of the C.I.A. and locals.]


a)  Funny or Not? I admire Elaine May, so I really wanted this script to be funny.

My conclusion: There were many comic moments, but I did not laugh much.

b) Point of No Return (PNR) = A turning point, or fork in the road, in which a character makes a decision and cannot go back to his previous life.

So WHY would a character venture into the unknown vs. safety?

In this script, I particularly like how May lays out WHY the protagonists decide to go to Morocco:

- Chuck and Lyle must decide whether to take the cheap paying gig in Morocco. [Need to make a decision.]
- In flashback, they relive how they met and what solidified their friendship. [Their belief in each other, they have what it takes.]
- Back to the present, they decide to go to Morocco. [PNR: We'll take the gig.]

The scene below is the flashback. Chuck has threatened to jump off the apartment ledge because he does not think he has talent or a future in songwriting:


As Lyle's figure comes out on the ledge, the crowd gasps.


He stands pressed against the building, staring straight ahead as Lyle slowly makes his way toward him.

LYLE (calling): Hold on! Hold on, Hawk, I'm coming.

CHUCK: Don't come any closer. And don't call me Hawk.

Far below Two Firemen begin spreading a net.

CHUCK (closing his eyes): I told you not to tell anyone.

LYLE (as he moves steadily closer): I know you did. But I was afraid I wouldn't get here in time. Don't be mad at me, Chuck.

A VOICE CALLS (from the window): Chuck! This is Rabbi Peirce...

CHUCK: Oh, my God! Rabbi Peirce is here!

Lyle reaches Chuck. The two men stand spread-eagled against the building.

LYLE: Gimme your hand, Chuck. (Chuck does not move) Come on. I know how bad you feel, but there are people in the world worse off than you. Poor people, sick people... (after a moment) People who don't have anyone to go out on a ledge for them.

There is a long pause, then Chuck reaches slowly over and takes Lyle's hand. Together, hand in hand, they start toward the window, two small figures, 15 floors above the ground.

CHUCK: Lyle? (a stone falls out of the facing) Are you disappointed in me? I mean, now that you know I'm not the kind of guy you thought I was.

LYLE: You are the kind of guy I thought you were, Chuck. (he kicks gently at a pigeon)

CHUCK: No, I'm not. I lived with my parents until I was 32. I've dribbled my life away...

LYLE: Hey, it takes a lot of nerve not to have anything at your age. Most guys would be ashamed. but you've got the guts to say fuck it...because you'd rather have nothing than settle for less.

CHUCK (after a moment): I never looked at it that way. (he steps over the pigeon) Maybe...maybe I am the kind of guy you thought I was.

The scene wavers and returns to the present."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The script must lay out a character's motives and desires before the PNR. 

Here, the flashback shows how Chuck and Lyle fought to become songwriters (motive, desire) --> Of course they would take a cheap paying gig.

Otherwise Lyle would have to return to selling ice cream and pretzels.

Ishtar (1987)(blue draft, 10/11/87)
by Elaine May

Monday, November 19, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Laura (1944) - Building Tension & Suspense Through Characters' Actions

[Quick Summary:  A detective falls in love with the murder victim that he's investigating.]


1) Wow, what a great read! Fast, suspenseful, twists, and a surprise ending.

2) This is a first for me: This script has three V.O. narrators, who each speak for about 1/3 of the film, and it did not bug me.

3) I thought the writers did an excellent job of building tension and suspense, especially through the characters' actions.  What does that look like?

Simply put, the characters did not act as I thought they would. Their behavior is inconsistent. Or they lie when I expect truth. Or they tell the truth and it's weak.

---> As a result, I found myself paying closer attention.  What are they doing? Why?

---> This led to me feeling the tension rise.  How will this resolve? I need to know! 

Let's look at an example.  In the scene below:
- Shelby was Laura's fiancee. He is too eager to spill the beans.
- Waldo was the guy she left for Shelby.  He is suspicious of everyone.
- Mark is the detective.  He is uncomfortable falling for a dead victim.
- The three men are now revisiting the scene of the crime, Laura's apartment. Shelby thinks he knows where Laura kept the key to her country house.


Shelby is at the bureau as Mark and Waldo enter. Mark sits down, leaning back on the bed, and takes the puzzle from his pocket. He concentrates on it. Shelby suddenly reacts and pulls out a key. [Why is the detective playing with a puzzle NOW?]

SHELBY: I knew I'd seen it around...Here it is...!

He tosses it on the bed beside Mark who pulls his notebook out of his pocket, glances at it, and goes righton with his puzzle. [This is an unexpected reaction. I would've pounced on the key.]

MARK: That's funny. I got a list of the things in that drawer. The key wasn't in there when the place was gone over... [This is a seasoned detective who is tough to impress.]

Shelby looks embarrassed. [He knows that he's been caught.]

WALDO: Then it's made a recent reappearance? [Waldo rubs it in.]

Mark doesn't look up. [No reaction = This is unexpected.]

MARK (quietly to Shelby): You put it in there, didn't you?

SHELBY: Well...I... didn't want to hand it to you while...Waldo was present.

WALDO: Why? I do not habitually collect old keys. [Clever retort.]

SHELBY (still to Mark): I didn't want him to know I had it. It doesn't concern him... [A confession that will spike Waldo's fury.]


Mark just leans back, balancing the puzzle, as Shelby and Waldo turn toward each other like fighting cocks. [Note how the writers use conflicting motives of Shelby vs.Waldo to ratchet up the tension first with words, then behavior.] 

WALDO (complacently): Everything about Laura concerns me -- perhaps more than you. [Mild dismissal.]

SHELBY (cuttingly): really? But she happened to decide to marry me. [Stronger dismissal.]

WALDO (bristling): That may have been a fatal decision! [Accusation.]

SHELBY (with quiet anger): For your own good, Waldo, I'm warning you to stop implying that I had anything to do with Laura's death. [Warning shot.]

WALDO: All right, I'll stop implying. I'll make a direct statement. [He calls Shelby out.]

Shelby lunges grimly at Waldo, but Mark simply puts up his leg barring the way. [Words escalate into a physical act.]

MARK (to Waldo): Guys with glass jaws shouldn't lead with their beards, Mr. Lydecker.


Waldo glares at Mark, furious at his inattention.

WALDO (raging): Will you please stop fooling with that ridiculous puzzle!! [Frustration gushes out.]

MARK (calmly): No. It keeps me calm... (significantly) And sometimes it makes other people lose their tempers --and say things they wouldn't ordinarily say.  [This is the climax of the scene. Now it all makes sense.]

Waldo controls himself. Mark now puts the puzzle away and starts getting up off the bed. He picks up the key and pockets it.

MARK: Maybe we better get going now."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: When someone acts as I do not expect, it makes me more curious.  ex. Mark was so casual about clues and deliberately did not rise to the bait.

Laura (1944)(final draft, 11/29/43, with revisions (12/21/43))
by Jay Dratler and Ring Lardner, Jr.*
Based on the novel by Vera Caspary

*On IMDB, the screenplay is credited to Jay Dratler and Samuel Hoffenstein and Betty Reinhardt.  Ring Lardner, Jr., was uncredited, probably due to him being blacklisted during the HUAC era.

Monday, November 12, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Young Frankenstein (1974) - A Lesson in Physical Gags & Page Length

[Quick Summary: In Transylvania, American Dr. Frederick Frankenstein attempts to follow his grandfather's notes on how to reanimate a body.]

I've noticed that I'm often too paranoid about script length.

This pressure results in heavy handed, lead filled writing. NOT enjoyable to read.

This script reminds me that comedy is a give and take, and needs to be free to spin, backtrack, meander, etc. Physical gags especially need plenty of room on the page.

The physical gag scene below is about 2 1/4 pgs. 

Also, note that it is a big story point as well (Monster can be controlled by sedatives).


...Igor nervously takes out a cigarette from his pocket and strikes a match, and:

MONSTER: MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM! [A-ha! The Monster is afraid of fire!]

FREDDY (to the Monster): What is it? What's the matter??

The Monster grabs Freddy's throat.

FREDDY: Quick, give him the --

The Monster squeezes. Freddy can't make a sound. Monster relaxes his hands for a split second.

FREDDY: Quick, give him the --

The Monster tightens his hands, Freddy can't make a sound.


Freddy points desperately to the Monster's arm. [The hijinks begin.]

IGOR: Arm! Give him the Arm!

Freddy shakes his head "no." He pushes his thumb against his two forefingers -- miming the giving of an injection.  [To keep things clear, the writers let the reader in on the punchline.  I liked that they kept the characters, but not the reader, guessing.]

IGOR: Give him a cigarette?!

Freddy shakes his head "no" and holds up three fingers. [I like these charades b/c they use visuals vs. language.]

IGOR: Three syllables!

Freddy nods "yes." He holds up one finger.

IGOR: First syllable.

Freddy cups his hand to his ear.

IGOR: Sounds like...

Freddy points to his head.

INGA: Head!

Freddy nods "yes."

INGA: Sounds like 'head.' Said??

Freddy nods "yes," jubilantly.


Freddy holds up two fingers.

INGA: Second syllable!

Freddy mimes "tiny" with his fingers.

INGA: Little word!

Freddy nods "yes."

INGA: The?

Freddy shakes his head "no."


Freddy touches his nose.

IGOR: 'On the nose.' Said -- a -- ...

INGA: Said -- a...

IGOR: DIRTY WORD! He said a dirty word!?

Freddy shakes his head "no" and cups his hand to his ear.

INGA AND IGOR: Sounds like...

Freddy mimes "give."


Freddy nods "yes" furiously.

IGOR: SAID -- A -- GIVE!?? Give him a 'said-a-give!'

Freddy shakes his head "no."


Freddy weakly points to his nose.

IGOR: On the nosey.

Inga runs to the table and gets the hypodermic. Then runs back and jams it into the Monster's tush.

The Monster's eyes FREEZE.  Then he looks at each of them... his hands still clutching Freddy's neck. Then he COLLAPSES like a giant tree."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I give myself permission to mute the "page length" radar.  Form (page length) over function (funny on the page) is pressure that I don't need.  

Young Frankenstein (1974)(4th draft, 2/7/74)
by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks

Monday, November 5, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Big Red One (1980) - The Added Value of First Hand Experience

[Quick Summary: A sergeant of the 1st squad and his four men struggle to survive ground battle in WWII.]

I didn't particularly like this script, as it has all the things I dislike:  It is episodic, has no overall story, has short bursts of peace, then friendly fire, etc. 

It's closer to real life, more an anthology than a narrative film.

However, I think all this is intentional and I admire the attempt.

Writer and director Samuel Fuller was a soldier in WWII and wanted to portray it as it really is - episodic, no overall story, etc., without the typical Hollywood gloss.

I thought Fuller's first hand experience was particularly evident in how real the characters seemed to act and react to the chaos of war.

In the scene below:
- Sergeant and his men have killed the Germans who plowed their tank into a Sicilian's home.
- Vinci realizes it is his grandmother's home and thinks she is under the tank.
- The 'war souvenir' detail could only be told by someone who had been there.


...VINCI (screaming): Nonna! Nonna! Nonna!

He dashes between tank and wall of house, kicking aside smashed furniture, throwing things that are in his path, searching for his grandmother. Crying and screaming like a madman, he collapses against the tank and his body jerks with sobs as the horror of what happened smashes him in the gut.

VINCI: Nonna!...Nonna!

His body jerks with sobs.

AN OLD LADY'S VOICE (in Italian - gentle):  Are you American?

The Lieutenant, Sergeant and Griffith turn.


Tiny, white-haired protruding from under black shawl, in typical black peasant dress, black shoes, advances apologetically. She looks like a saint. She continues in Italian.

OLD LADY: I have come for my crucifix, please.

She moves past them as CAMERA ANGLES TO Vinci on floor sobbing against the tank. She timidly approaches him, sees the crucifix in his hand - and then the photograph.

OLD LADY (kindly): I know soldiers like war souvenirs but please do not take that photograph.

She edges closer, starts to pull photo from his hand. He jerks it away, lifts his tear-splashed anguished face.

OLD LADY: Please, it is my photograph.

VINCI (in Italian): Your photograph?

OLD LADY: Ah, you speak Italian! It is of my son and his wife. They live in America. Why are you weeping, my son?

It is too much for him. He pulls her down, burying his head against her and his body shakes.

VINCI (sobbing): Nonna! Nonna! I am Antonio Vinci!

She breaks into cold sweat, crosses herself and begins to sob as she covers her grandson with kisses."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I'm not sure anyone else could have written and made this film.  It has a rawness of authenticity.  Anyone else would be only approximating.

The Big Red One (1980)(3/20/58 draft)
by Samuel Fuller

Monday, October 29, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) - Why Can an OK Script Still Be a Good/Great Film?

[Quick Summary: A struggling, small time gun runner tries to trade evidence for a decrease in his upcoming prison time, but is unaware of other wheels in motion.]

Q: Why can an ok script still be a good or great film? 
A: I think it lies in the bones, i.e., structure of a script.

Q: How do I get it?  Is there a checklist or book I can read?
A: Do you want the shortcut or the long version?

Q: The shortcut!   Where's the shortcut??
A: Trick question.  There are NO SHORTCUTS.  You have to study scripts, i.e., learn to take it apart in order to learn to build one.  Dissecting and rebuilding take TIME.

Q: ...How much time?  How many scripts?
A: Longer than you think. More than you want to read.*

Q: Give me a hint.  What does a script with "good bones" look like?
A: One clue is that the script delivers what it promises,** and HOW it does it.*** 

For example here, Eddie Coyle is a small fish who is struggling to make it day to day. He is returning to prison soon for driving a truck of stolen goods.

Note how the scene below sets up Eddie's motive ---> Every decision he makes for the rest of the film turns on this motive.


...Eddie goes into the kitchen where his wife, SHEILA, is drying dishes. Eddie washes his hands and dries them on a door towel during the following dialogue.

EDDIE: You didn't say anything to the kids, did you?

SHEILA: About what?

EDDIE: About that trouble there.

SHEILA: No, why would I? (turning) Why?

EDDIE: Well, they were a little funny toward me this morning, I thought.

[He gets something to eat from the refrigerator.]

SHEILA: You're imagining it, Eddie. What do you want for breakfast?

EDDIE: Nothing. I got to go somewhere, meet someone.

SHEILA: All right.

EDDIE: My lawyer, the goddamned harp. He's got oatmeal for brains. If I had time, I'd have someone write up papers for me. Incompetence of counsel, you know. Wouldn't let me take the stand there. I know a feller could do that but he's in the basket.

Sheila turns away from him; she's heard this before.

SHEILA: My mother said she'd move in, take care of the kids while I work.

EDDIE: Work? What the hell are you talking about?

SHEILA: You don't want us to go on welfare, do you?

EDDIE:  Look, Sheila.

He gets up, crosses to the sink, puts his arms around her.

EDDIE: Now listen, I'm going to be all right in New Hampshire there. This feller I'm seeing today, he can square it. And then we're getting out of here. (turns her around) Have I ever lied to you? Have I?

SHEILA (he has, but:): I'm not complaining.

Eddie moves over to his wife. She looks around at him. He knows she understands him so well. Caught again."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Even if I am not particularly fond of this script, I can respect it because the structure is rather sound.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)(8/28/72 draft)
by Paul Monash
From the novel by George V. Higgins

*This screenwriting thing isn't for sissies.  I wanted to believe that I'd learn fast and be the exception to the rule.  I did not and I was not.

**This is not merely a setup-payoff of plot points.

***Do not be surprised at how much digging this will require to understand.  The better the writer, the more seamless it seems. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Cop Land (1997) - A Bold Bitchy Move; 3-D; Subtext; Tension

[Quick Summary: A sheriff uncovers a dicey coverup in his small New Jersey town, where many NYC cops live.]

I know that this is a story about Freddy, a browbeaten NJ sheriff, who stands up against the citizens of his small town who are staging a big coverup. 

(These are not ordinary citizens, but also are corrupt NYC cops.)

But I'd like to focus on a minor character, Rose Donlan, and her bold bitchy move.


1 - Rose is a good example of a three dimensional character.*
2 - The scene shows us the mundane things that Freddy faces every day vs. the exciting life that Freddy imagines big city NYC cops have. This is a recurring theme.
3 - The subtext is great. ex. Even the trash silently says something to the recipient.
4 - There's tension. Freddy doesn't want to upset the ringleader's wife.

The scene below is a little complex, so let me clarify a few things:
- Freddy's high school crush, Liz, told him that someone has been dumping trash bags in her yard for weeks. He looked in the bags and found the Donlan address.
- Liz is married to Joey, a NYC cop.
- Rose is married to Ray Donlan, the ringleader cop who runs Freddy and the town.


The mailbox says: Donlan.

FREDDY STANDS AT THE DOOR OF THE SPLIT LEVEL HOUSE, the soiled phone bill in hand. before him, A BUSTY MIDDLE AGED WOMAN, ROSE DONLAN (46). Hand on hip, she sucks a cigarette.  [Questioning potential trash dumper is as exciting as it gets for Freddy.]

ROSE: What if I said I don't know where it came from?

FREDDY: I'd take your word for it, Rose. Um. Is Ray home? [Politics. Ugh.]

ROSE: Taking care of our little visitor. [3-D: She drops information that is important later. There are other things going on besides this trash issue.]

Freddy plays with the envelope in his fingers, letting this cryptic remark hang in the air. Rose stares at the envelope. [Tension & Subtext: She knows he knows.]

ROSE: I get my garbage picked up every Tuesday. [Subtext: I'm innocent.]

FREDDY: Alright. Thanks for your time. [He doesn't even fight it.]

He walks back to the car.

ROSE: You tell Joey to come here and talk to me about it if he thinks I've got no right.  [3-D: She can't help herself. She has to tell someone that she's mad at Joey.]

Freddy turns around.

FREDDY: Rose. I want to believe you when you tell me something.

ROSE: Oh you do, do you?

FREDDY: Did you dump these bags or not?

ROSE: This is not a law problem - if you catch my drift. You tell Joey Randone that if he doesn't like my garbage he should stop soiling my sheets. [Subtext: She essentially admits her guilt!]

Rose is miraculously nonchalant - her eyes riveted boldly on Freddy; relishing his discomfort.

FREDDY: Rose, you can't just dump garbage on other people's property. [This is the unglamorous side of the job.]

ROSE: But that glamour boy - he can throw away a woman just like she was garbage and that's okay - is that what you're saying? [Subtext: She admits to more of a relationship than we knew.]

A pause. The phone rings. They stand there.

ROSE: Are you gonna tell Ray about this? [Tension rises.]

Freddy shakes his head. Rose takes a drag of her cigarette. The phone still ringing. She spins around, slamming the door."  [Freddy got information, but no satisfaction.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The use of Rose's trash bags was a super-creative way to send a "drop dead" message. Also, we got to see what Freddy is up against.

Cop Land (1997)(shooting script w/revisions, 8/30/96)
by James  Mangold

*Three dimensional = My definition is that the character seems to have a real life beyond what we see.  He/she is not just there to fill in gaps for the main character.

Monday, October 15, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Living Out Loud (1998) - Creating the Bittersweet Goodbye Moment

[Quick Summary: A lonely, divorced nurse and the lonely, divorced elevator man meet at a difficult time, but want different things in a relationship.]


How do you create a satisfying ending when the couple does not end up together?

I think it is the quality of the setup and payoff.


In this story, Pat starts to fall in love with Judith and wants to spend time together. 

She is frank with him: I don't know if this is a good idea and I don't want to hurt you.

He is equally up front: Anything could happen. I'm ok with that, if you are. 

As time passes, their dreams are coming true: Judith is now in pediatric nursing. Pat will be flying to Italy to start a business importing olive oil. 

The only question left is their relationship.  Unfortunately, they want different things.


The scene below is near the end of Act 3. 

Pat is flying to Italy for the first time and wants Judith to go.  She puts him off.

Then she talks about her single, available friend Donna. 

Notice how this is the bittersweet goodbye that neither of them saw coming.


...As Judith looks through her bag for the number, we can see Pat registering very clearly what she is doing. The look of someone who saw it coming - but is nevertheless stung by the pain. Judith hands him a piece of paper.

PAT: Thanks.

Judith sees his face. They exchange a look and know what they are doing.

PAT: It bothered you didn't it? What I did? What I was?

JUDITH: No...Not at all... Pat...I..I can never thank you enough.

PAT (trying to understand): It's because you got alot ahead of you, right? Alot of things you have to do?

JUDITH: That's just it, I don't know what's ahead of me. But I...I don't think I'll be able to see it, if...if I have someone standing in front of me.

Pat considers this and nods. Then jokes;

PAT: What if I stand behind you?

Judith laughs, gratefully...Pat smiles...

PAT: No...really. It's OK..I..I always knew this...was... (fighting breaking down) I always knew...deep down..I just forgot, you know..I'm episode in your life. You're the kind of woman that has many in a lifetime. That's why you stand out. I got a little greedy, that's all. As usual, ha..I wanted to make it a long one..And I don't say that to make you feel bad or anything. I just want you to know I understand. No one's to blame...

Judith nods gratefully, tears forming. Pat tries to smiles.

PAT: You have beautiful things ahead of you. See, I always thought that - when I'd look at you. I was just waiting for you to catch on.

Judith leans her head into the nape of his neck and kisses him, resting their for a moment. Pat dies inside but;

PAT: It's gonna be terrific. You wait and see. You wait and see..

He holds her. He wishes they could stay like that forever. Then,

PAT: Look, I..uh...I'm gonna go, OK? I...

Judith lifts her head. She suddenly doesn't want him to go. But knows it would be wrong to say so. She nods.

PAT: Why don't I..uh..give you a call when you get back..when I get back from uh..Italy and uh..ya know..catch up..OK?

JUDITH: Yeah. Well, when Liz and I get our place I'll call Philly with the number so that when you get back from Italy..ya know..

Pat smiles. He knows neither will call the other. But he's grateful for the life. He leans in and kisses her cheek. He rises and exits. Judith sits alone."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The setup begins when Judith essentially asks Pat, "Do you want to jump into a relationship? It could hurt." 

They payoff was bittersweet:  It was bitter because it did hurt, but it was sweet because the journey was worth it.

Living Out Loud (1998)(originally titled "The Kiss"; 9/4/96 interim draft)
by Richard LaGravenese

Monday, October 8, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: The General's Daughter (1999) - A Moment of Emotional Risk

[Quick Summary: A detective for the military CID investigates the obscene, very public death of a respected female captain, who is also the general's daughter.]

CON: I have a few issues with this script.

PRO: However, on the page, it is an excellent visceral read.

What makes this a compelling thriller to read, despite its flaws?

One thing that struck me was the protagonist (Brenner) was constantly putting himself in physical, emotional, and career jeopardy to find the truth. He took risks.

I liked the example below because it does several things:
- White takes a surprisingly fun, and emotional, risk.
- It's a great "meet cute" scene that slides in a lot of information about her.
- Because he met her in person, it explains White's personal motive to find her killer.

In the scene below:
- White is doing a horrible job at fixing his flat tire.
- Ann Campbell, the soon-to-be-victim, stops to help.  She is an army Captain.

ex. "EXT. FORT MACCULLUM - DAY's a few minutes later  -- she's finishing up. Her movements fast and skilled.

CAPTAIN CAMPBELL: So how long have you taught at mechanic's school?

LT. WHITE: I work at the Armory -- just been there a few weeks. And you never let up, do you?

CAPTAIN CAMPBELL (head shake): This is just heaven -- y'see, in the Army, all the capital G Guys say we can't keep up, we're too weak.

LT. WHITE: Obviously, you don't believe that.

ANN CAMPBELL. CLOSE UP. She looks at White a moment. Then --

CAPTAIN CAMPBELL: Physically, there may be a point, but mentally, we're much tougher. For example, I would never betray you -- (looks at White now) -- but if I slept with you, if I told you how wonderful and strong you were, hell, you'd betray anyone.

WHITE, considering this.

LT. WHITE: I hope that's a proposition, Captain.

CAPTAIN CAMPBELL: Just theory, Lieutenant.


She stands, brushes herself off.

CAPTAIN CAMPBELL: That should do it. (starts off) Luck to you.

LT. WHITE: You probably run Mechanic's school.


He doesn't get it.

CAPTAIN CAMPBELL: Psychological Operations. I teach there.

LT. WHITE: What do you teach?

CAPTAIN CAMPBELL (getting into her car): Mostly, we fuck with people's minds.

And she flashes her wonderful smile, waves, drives off.

White stands looking after her.

LT. WHITE (softly): Thanks..."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This scene made a fictional world a little more real to me.

I'd rather see a moment of humor or emotional risk, i.e., relationship stuff, more than a constant stream of plot -- plot -- plot -- plot, which is boring and not real.

The General's Daughter (1999)(11/19/97 draft)
by Christopher Bertolini and William Goldman
Based on the novel by Nelson DeMille
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