Monday, June 18, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Wind and The Lion (1975) - How To Read a Script With Distracting Formatting

[Quick Summary: When an American woman and her children are kidnapped by the last of the Barbary pirates, Teddy Roosevelt sends a rescue team in a political move.]

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know.

You've skimmed down to the example below and said, "How does a writer get away with that? Scripts today don't look like that! Why should I read that?"

First, today's script was written by the director.

Second, it was probably the best he could do to convey what he was trying to convey.

Third, reading challenging scripts make you a better writer. 

Fourth, ugly scripts are bought as often as pretty ones.*

HOW TO READ A SCRIPT WITH DISTRACTING/UGLY FORMATTING:

- Ignore the formatting as best you can.
- Ignore the denseness of the black print.
- Focus on what the writer is trying to convey (mood, emotion, etc.)  Did it work?
- Focus on why the scene worked as it was intended, despite the formatting.

In the example below, notice:
- Eden is being seduced by the desert. 
- Each sentence is part of the puzzle, a layer upon layer.
- The arc of the scene is from surprise --> enjoying --> startled at the seduction.
- Did you see her surprise coming?

ex. "THE PALACE OF RAISULI - NIGHT

...Eden put her foot into the water with great trepidation. She looked around again to see if anyone was watching and once more took in the extreme aloneness of the place. It was timeless, as if it had been waiting forever for her to be here now. She stepped back out and loosened her silk Berber robes at the belt, let them cascade down her shoulders and fall silently at her feet. She now stood naked, the moonlight reflecting softly on her skin and the breeze gently cooling her. Above her the vast expanse of the moon and stars, around her the cliffs and flower drenched walls. The sound of the Berber men singing carried from distant tents on the sweet smelling dry wind. She slipped smoothly into the warm scented waters and watched the reflection of the moon sparkle on their surface. The world seemed to ripple like the surface of the water starting from deep within her and pulsating out in ever widening circles over everything she had ever known or been. She gave herself up to the desert, the cliffs and the sound of the Berbers singing. And a part of her soul slipped easily away on the wind and brushed over the mountains. And she knew it was gone. She sat up.

EDEN: I can't let this go on. I must escape, God willing. I must escape!"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Be bold on the page. Don't limit yourself, even if you need paragraphs to get your ideas across.

The Wind and the Lion (1975)(undated draft)
Written & directed by John Milius

*Scripts are not rejected solely based on formatting, contrary to popular myth.  The determining factor is whether the execution of ideas is effective (is it moving? inspiring? scary? romantic?) 

Monday, June 11, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Ghosts of Mars (2001) - Clarity When Changing POV

[Quick Summary: On Mars, four cops arrive at a mining outpost to take a prisoner back to the big city...but only one cop survives the trip.]

CON: I didn't connect with this script, though it has all the elements - efficient, fast moving, Western, sci-fi, an escape. I'm not sure why.

PRO: I've always found it difficult to clearly change point of view (POV) without confusing the reader.  This script makes it look so easy and natural.

In the scene below, we begin with characters meeting the Local Cop ---> Local Cop looking at the characters.

ex. "INT. STORAGE AREA - NIGHT

Bashira is alone in the storage area. She's frozen, staring at a locket closet. From inside comes a rhythmic THUMPING. Something's inside....

Helena draws her weapon and nods to Jericho to unlock the closet. He quietly fiddles with the lock and...

THE DOOR OPENS [First, characters look at Local Cop.]

A uniformed woman, a LOCAL COP, 20's, falls out. She seems more like a mental patient than a cop. She's in a stupor, but she raises her right arm and then makes a strange repetitive gesture, moving her arms listlessly together and then apart, the thumbs and index fingers extended upward.

HELENA: Officer, are you all right? (no response) Can you speak?

LOCAL COP (GHOST) POV [Then we switch to Local Cop's POV looking back.]

looking at Helena and the others.

The POV is strange, distorted.

Helena's VOICE sounds weird, slowed-down. This is the POV of something inside the Local Cop. A ghost. [This emphasizes we're still in Local Cop's POV.]

HELENA: Officer? Talk to me. What's going on?"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Introduce a character before switching to that character's POV.  Don't jump too fast to the new character's POV, otherwise it's too confusing. 

ex. Introduce Local Cop before switching to Local Cop's POV.

Ghosts of Mars (2001)(undated)
by Larry Sulkis & John Carpenter

Monday, June 4, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Black Moon Rising (1986) - Part 2: Emotionally Justifying the Big Action Scene

[Quick Summary: Quint steals and stashes evidence in Black Moon, a prototype car which has been stolen, and must break into a chop shop fortress to retrieve it.]

TWO THOUGHTS:  [Sorry for the length of the post, but the example is long.]

2) EMOTIONALLY JUSTIFYING THE BIG ACTION SCENE.

OLD DAYS: The writer would first create a character's story ---> He/she may/may not include a big action scene.

TODAY:  A director or producer says, "I want a big explosion and a car chase."  --> The writer has to create a story around, i.e., justify, the explosion and/or car chase.

So what do you do? You start with character if you're smart. Where is the character emotionally at the Big Action moment?  Why is there need for emotional release?

Then you backtrack:
- The goal is the Big Action scene. Where is he/she emotionally?
- Create a conflict that will ramp up your character into that emotional state.
- Create a situation that allows those emotions to surface.

Let's use the scene below as an example.
- Big Action scene: Nina drives a Jag out of an underground garage by the skin-of-her-teeth.
- This scene releases all the tension of the scenes that have come before.
- Where is she emotionally? Needs release from anger at Ryland, her boss.
- What conflict would allow those emotions to surface? She is angry at Ryland. Indebted. Unappreciated. Disrespected.
- What situation would show that she's angry, indebted, unappreciated, disrespected?  A scene where Nina conflicts with Ryland.  She wants independence. He wins the argument. She is steaming.

ex. "INT. UNDERGROUND ASSEMBLY PLANT

...She indicates an apparatus on the engine wall.

TECHNICIAN: Runs on hydrogen?

NINA: Runs on something. [Nina is smart, confident.]

Another Technician runs his hand along the car body.

SECOND TECHNICIAN: It's so light.

NINA: It's a composite of some kind, probably carbon fiber. [She knows what she's talking about.]

She moves to the rear of the car, checks the parachute holder.

NINA: It's got a parachute. It needs it.

She looks down into a notch in the rig - where QUINT stuffed the memory disk. Does she see something there?

RYLAND (O.S.): Interesting machine. What is it?

NINA's exploration is cut short. She looks up as RYLAND strolls over, LUIS right behind him. The Technicians and Mechanics show deference. NINA doesn't bother.

NINA: It's an interesting machine.

RYLAND takes it in.

RYLAND: And what am I supposed to do with it? [He dismisses her opinion.]

NINA: Nothing. It's mine. [She asserts independence.]

RYLAND: I see. You're making these decisions now. [He feels threatened.]

NINA: Just this once. [She backs down a little, knows owes him a debt.]

RYLAND: Oh. Good. For a moment there I thought you were after my job. [He makes a joke but still dominates.]

He smiles. LUIS laughs. Others laugh. RYLAND's eyes never leave NINA. She matches him stare for stare.

RYLAND: I understand there was a problem. [He's probing to test loyalty.]

NINA: What do you mean?

RYLAND doesn't reply. The silence is his reply. All eyes are on NINA now.

NINA: A guy tried to follow me. I lost him.

RYLAND: Did you?

NINA: Yes.

RYLAND: There was a man in the outer garage right after you got in. Coincidence? [He doesn't believe her. Is she helping Quint?]

NINA: I lost him.

RYLAND: So it was a coincidence.

NINA says nothing.

RYLAND:  A car like this attracts attention. Did you think about that? [He is unappreciative.]

NINA: I brought in half your goddamn order tonight.

RYLAND: I'm talking about this one! [He scolds her for independent thinking.]

He slams the hood of the Black Moon.

RYLAND: This is a business, Nina. We don't take "trophies." [He shames her.]

NINA: Fine, then do what you want with it. [She's mad.]

She's as angry as he is. She turns and stomps away across the plant floor. RYLAND calls after her.

RYLAND: I have your permission, do I? [He dominates with the last word.]

NINA stops, turns. If looks could kill.

RYLAND meets her look. The plant has gone silent, everyone watching, anticipating an explosion.

NINA turns away. This isn't the time or the place. She heads across the floor. Crisis averted.

RYLAND, the winner of the round, gives the Black Moon a gentle pat.

RYLAND: Quite a car.

...
INT. UNDERGROUND ASSEMBLY PLANT

NINA steers a sleek E-Type Jaguar across the busy plant floor toward the garage wall exit gate. She stops by a control box with a speaker and video camera attached. She looks into the camera.

NINA: Open the door, Richard.

No response. Then...

VOICE: One moment.

INT. RYLAND'S OFFICE - DAY

RYLAND is transferring numbers from his clicking Telex Machine into his computer. There's a buzz. He responds.

RYLAND: What?

NINA: Nina's leaving.

RYLAND instantly activates one of his monitors. The image of NINA in the Jag materializes.

RYLAND: Where are you going?

She shows her frustration.

NINA: Jesus Christ, out!

RYLAND: I want to see you. [He demands obedience.]

NINA: Later.

RYLAND: Now!

INT. PLANT

NINA speaks straight to the video camera, her voice quiet but intense.

NINA: No. [She defies him. Earlier, we saw why there's anger built up (setup). This is the payoff.]

She suddenly jams the car into reverse. The tires squeel. The Jag screeches backwards across the plant floor.

Started Mechanics and Technicians turn to see what's up.

INT. RYLAND'S OFFICE - DAY

He punches up a row of monitors trying to keep NINA in view. He picks her up as the car brakes sharply near the head of the assembly area.

RYLAND: What the hell are you doing?

INT. JAG

NINA throws the car into forward gear, steps on the accelerator. The car shoots ahead.

The audience reacts. She's heading all out for the wall.

INT. RYLAND'S OFFICE - DAY

RYLAND reacts.

RYLAND: Nina!  [He has personal feelings for Nina.]

INT. JAG

NINA's unwavering. He hands are clamped the wheel, her face is calm. The car rushes toward the wall.

RYLAND'S VOICE: NINA!!

INT. RYLAND'S OFFICE/PLANT/JAG

RYLAND reaches for the wall door switch, hesitates.
The gap narrows.
The crew looks on, breathless.
NINA'S not going to stop.
RYLAND stares at his monitors.
The Jag nears the wall
RYLAND throws the switch.
The wall door starts to rise.
NINA doesn't let up.
RYLAND watches, stunned by what's happening.
The Jag scrapes just under the rising door, clearing by inches.
NINA lets out a long held breath.
The Mechanics and Technicians burst out of their tense silence. Some applaud, some cheer, everyone's buzzing. [Relief.  All the emotions are released.]
RYLAND is trembling. Beads of sweat rim his forehead.
The wall door starts down again.

EXT. RYLAND TOWERS - DAY

The Jag roars out of the parking garage into the cul de sac.

INT. RYLAND'S OFFICE - DAY

LUIS comes in with a handful of business papers. RYLAND'S still shaking.

RYLAND: Get out! [He is mad that she won the war.]

Luis goes."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The most effective Big Action scenes have a good amount of setup beforehand, both emotionally and plot wise.

Black Moon Rising (1986)(2nd draft, dated  12/19/84)
by John Carpenter and William Gray
Story by John Carpenter

TODAY'S NUGGET: Black Moon Rising (1986) - Part 1: Three Story Lines

[Quick Summary: Quint steals and stashes evidence in Black Moon, a prototype car which has been stolen, and must break into a chop shop fortress to retrieve it.]

TWO THOUGHTS:

1) 3 STORY LINES. In my list of the "most difficult writing skills,"* I put three separate story lines near the top.**

This script has three story lines that will intersect, which is a more common structure:

- Quint's story - He needs to find the Black Moon to retrieve the evidence.
- Nina's story - She's a car thief who has stolen Black Moon.
- Black Moon builders - They want their car back.

Everyone has a different motive, but everyone wants Black Moon, i.e., the point of intersection.  This puts them in direct conflict with each other.

Also, it keeps the tension keeps rising.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: When story lines intersect, it is often over a common object or person.  This ensures that the characters continue to directly conflict.

Black Moon Rising (1986)(2nd draft, dated  12/19/84)
by John Carpenter and William Gray
Story by John Carpenter

*Also on the list: Rom-coms (for striking the right tone).

**Best Years of Our Lives (1946) is the only script that I've found so far that handled three separate story lines in a satisfying way.  Even there, I considered it 2 1/2 story lines because two stories crossed a little.

Monday, May 28, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Escape from L.A. (1996) - Satire in an Action Film

[Quick Summary: After he is infected with a viral time bomb, Snake Plissken must retrieve a prototype from the prison island of L.A. in order to get the antidote, or die.]

Ah, the sequel.  How to do it right fifteen years after the original?

I'll be honest...It wouldn't have occurred to me to satirize the genre.* It's brilliant.

I think it's the reason that the over the top, crazy special effect scenes don't come off as "trying too hard."  It is not meant to be taken seriously and takes the pressure off.

And it's a lot of fun!

For example, the ridiculous tsunami vs. car chase mocks all car chases:

ex. "The water sweeps them up until they disappear under the blackness...

Until suddenly Pipeline pops up on top of the tsunami, riding on his surfboard, arms outstretched, feet braced.

And then Plissken pops up beside him, surfing clumsily on top of the tsunami wave, kneeling on his surfboard.

They blast down Wilshire Canyon at 80 miles an hour. Plissken is wobbly on the surfboard, but he manages to stay on top of the wave. Finally, he gets the hang of it, glances over at Pipeline who grins from ear to ear.

PIPLINE: Awesome, Snake, AWESOME, man!

Plissken looks up ahead...

HIS POV - MOVING THROUGH WILSHIRE CANYON

Five feet from street level. An old van speeds along what's left of Wilshire Boulevard, right on the canyon's edge. It veers around debris in the street, changes lanes suddenly, hell bent for leather.

Plissken and Pipeline move closer and closer to the van as the tsunami sweeps them along.

Now they move alongside the van, and Plissken stares over...

CLOSER - THE VAN

Behind the wheel is Map To The Stars Eddie, diving like a lunatic, his teeth bared and set, madder than shit.

Plissken's eye widens, burns.

PLISSKEN (to Pipeline): See you later.

And suddenly Plissken stands up, shifts his weight, and the surfboard slides sideways, across the surface of the tsunami all the way over to the edge, right next to the van.

MAP TO THE STARS EDDIE

glances to his left...

HIS POV - PLISSKEN

is surfacing the tsunami not 10 feet away from him.

Map To The Stars Eddie stares in absolute horror. Plissken tips the board again, and slides another 5 feet closer...

AS MAP TO THE STARS EDDIE

Jams on the pedal, and the van screams forward...

AS PLISSKEN

Stands up and leaps from the surfboard...

For a moment he is airborne, leaping across the gap to the van...and slams into the side of the van. He grabs on to the roof, hangs on with one hand, his body whipping against the rocking, bucking side. Map To The Stars Eddie starts swerving, trying to throw Plissken off."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: When ridiculing a car chase, still play it real.

In the scene above, Snake might be riding a tsunami, but he is still on a mission to find the prototype and Eddie is the key.

Escape from L.A. (1996)(undated draft)
by John Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Kurt Russell

*"...But “Escape From L.A.” has such manic energy, such a weird, cockeyed vision, that it may work on some moviegoers as satire and on others as the real thing."

Monday, May 21, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Unfaithful (2002) - Putting 2+2 Together Through Behavior

[Quick Summary: A happily married wife slides into an affair with an intriguing rare book dealer, and her husband finds out.]

This is a "cheatin' story," in common parlance.

However, this script is anything but common. 

First, it is a drama that does not rely on formulas or the tropes of a thriller or sci-fi:
That's what's intriguing about the film: Instead of pumping up the plot with recycled manufactured thrills, it's content to contemplate two reasonably sane adults who get themselves into an almost insoluble dilemma. - Roger Ebert (my emphasis)
Second, the characters "tell" us everything through behavior rather than dialogue:
Connie Sumner's heart and other organs have their reasons for straying outside a happy marriage in "Unfaithful,'' but the movie doesn't say what they are. This is not necessarily a bad thing, sparing us tortured Freudian explanations and labored plot points. It is almost always more interesting to observe behavior than to listen to reasons.  - Roger Ebert (my emphasis)
 In the scene below, I liked how the writers let the audience put 2 +2 together.

We see Connie +We see the young couple in love = We add up that this is the way Connie longs to feel.

ex. "INT. PARTY STORE - SOHO - AFTERNOON

Connie glances up at the ramshackle bank of black-and-white surveillance monitors hanging haphazardly near the ceiling. In one of them, a YOUNG COUPLE can been seen trying on funny hats and clowning with each other. Even watching the fuzzy monitors, Connie senses an electricity between them.

Slowly, she begins moving through the aisles, half shopping and half seeking the Couple. She keeps peering at the monitors, seeing herself in one and the Couple in another.  They move to another aisle, disappear from view, reappear on a different monitor.

She turns a corner, and there they are, only now they're no longer clowning but kissing. Nothing else exists for them except each other.

Then they pull apart and begin SIGNING to each other tenderly. Connie realizes that they are deaf."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: It's so rare to have a gripping story about characters dealing with reality w/o special effects, car chases, explosions, and/or robots.

I think it also gives the story a timeless feel to it.

Unfaithful (2002)(6/14/00 draft)
by Alvin Sargent, William Broyles, Jr., Stephen Schiff
Based on the film "La Femme Infidele" (1969), by Claude Chabrol

Monday, May 14, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Nuts (1987) - "Likeable"; Note Behind the Note; Handling Unlikeable Characters

[Quick Summary: At a competency hearing, a public defender struggles to defend his new client, an ill-mannered psychiatric patient who is accused of manslaughter.]

Three Related Thoughts (especially for new writers):

1) "LIKEABLE" - There is a myth out there that a character must be likeable (whatever that means). I disagree.

I think the character needs to be understandable, whether or not you like him/her.

2) NOTE BEHIND THE NOTE. Writers are always looking for the most precise and concise words. We assume that everyone communicates that way too, right?

Actually, no.  Most people are often vague, verbally sloppy, and/or unaware.

A prime example is when an executive, director, actor, producer, etc. says, "But the character is not likeable..." What does that mean? They usually do not know.

Part of your job as a screenwriter is to: a) recognize when this is happening, and b) figure out what that person is really trying to convey (note behind the note). 

DO NOT automatically assume this character SHOULD be likeable.

DO pause, regroup, and ask questions. Is the character hard to relate to? Unclear what his/her motives are? What is the confusing part?

3) IRRITATING & UNPLEASANT.  How does one handle an unlikeable character?  Today's protagonist is a good example of how to do this well.

Claudia is a difficult, off-beat prostitute who is hospitalized. But is she really insane?

I liked how the writers did not excused her behavior, but kept her motives clear and slowly revealed secrets. We may not like her, but do start to understand her.

The scene below is her first real meeting with Levinsky, a public defender and her 2nd defense attorney (she bloodied the first one in court). 

ex. "INT. TINY CONFERENCE ROOM - NEW YORK COUNTY PRISON HOSPITAL

... LEVINSKY (he pulls a file from his briefcase): Well, what we've got here is a seven-thirty process, a process whereby...the patient does not understand the charge against him or her, and whereby a patient is incapable of assisting in his or her own defense.

CLAUDIA: You married?

LEVINSKY: What?

CLAUDIA: You got a missus?

LEVINSKY: Yes.

CLAUDIA: She give good head?

LEVINSKY: Look,, you want to talk about your situation, here? You've been indicted for manslaughter, first degree.

CLAUDIA: I know all that. Tell me why you're really here.

LEVINSKY: The truth?

CLAUDIA (getting worked up): No, Levinsky, the bullshit. I love listening to bullshit, especially when I'm drowning in it. I know why you're here. You're here to see for yourself if I'm crazy -- no, no, no, you're here to see just how crazy I am.

LEVINSKY: Two psychiatrists say you're incompetent.

CLAUDIA: Morrison and Arantes. Frick 'n Frack. Arantes can barely speak English and Morrison's a very weird guy. I flashed and he didn't even look. (she flashes now) How 'bout you, Levinsky, are you weird, too?

LEVINSKY: I must be okay, I'm looking.

She covers up and walks across the room.

LEVINSKY: Your mother said to tell you she loves you.

CLAUDIA: Fuck my mother! Why didn't you tell me you were working for them?

LEVINSKY: Look, lady, I came here to do my job in good faith. You can cooperate and maybe it goes your way. Or, you can yell at me and tomorrow I move to commit and that's the end of that.

CLAUDIA: You creep lawyers are all alike. As long as you get your fee you don't care who goes where for how long.

LEVINSKY: Hey, wait a minute. I don't take any money from you.

CLAUDIA: Now...this one comes in here, wearing the worst tie I've ever seen, and tells me that if I don't kiss ass he's going to walk out on me. Well, walk!

LEVINSKY: And, be held in contempt of court? No thank you. I'm stuck with you...."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I liked how it was clear from the start what Claudia wanted, but her motives and secrets were only revealed little by little. It kept me engaged.  

Nuts (1987)(final draft, dated 10/15/86)
by Darryl Ponicsan and Alvin Sargent
Based on the play by Tom Topor

Monday, May 7, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Electric Horseman (1979) - Filled with Messages, But Not a "Message Movie"

[Quick Summary: A retired rodeo star-turned-breakfast-cereal-spokesman steals a maltreated $14M spokes-horse, and is pursued by a journalist looking for a story.]

Roger Ebert's review made me think:
...But although this is a movie filled with messages, it's not a message movie. (1) The characters and plot seem to tap-dance past the serious stuff (2) and concentrate on the human relationships. (3)
(1) I liked that this is a movie with a message (vs. message movie*).

(2) Ebert is right that it did "tap-dance past the serious stuff." However, I don't think every movie is meant to address/solve all the ills of the world.

(3) This was the light bulb moment for me.  The reason that the film works is because of the focus on the human relationships.

For example, how do we discuss treating animals right (without being preachy)?

Create conflict that is based on character (caring for animals vs. not caring). 

In the scene below, notice how Sonny is only one who is concerned about the horse.  Everyone else has a different priority - the show, employers, etc.

ex. "INT. "SHOWROOM" - ON STAGE - NIGHT

Only the work lights. The giant room is in blackness. Sonny half listens to DANNY MILES, the famous industrial show director. Eight showgirls stand on stage, bored.

DANNY: After the circle, you dismount. come down to your mark, stage right --

SONNY: --Where's the horse?

DANNY: Bring in the damn horse! [Even the language exposes how the horse is seen as a thing and not valued.]

Sonny stares into the darkened room. The horse is led on stage. A Wrangler maneuvers him to a mark.

DANNY (continuing): Spot, please!

A spotlight hits Rising Star. He gleams.

DANNY (continuing): God, he's a beauty. Look at him shine. [To him, horse = thing.]

CLOSE - SONNY

On his turf. He looks the horse over appraisingly, runs his hand down his shoulder, smells his hand.

SONNY: You'd shine, too, if you were covered with fly spray.

DANNY (to Wrangler): Now, Sonny rides in, circles three times -- applause, applause, applause -- then he dismounts on this mark. (to Sonny) Sonny, your first line is -- [He is not paying attention to Sonny.]

Sonny isn't listening. He walks around Rising Star, patting him, clucking. He listens to the horse's labored breathing.

SONNY: He's got shipping fever.

WRANGLER: Had the vet his afternoon.

SONNY: What you got him on?

WRANGLER: Penicillin.

A cynical look from Sonny.

WRANGLER (continuing): ...and a little Bute.

SONNY: For that tendon?

Wrangler nods.

SONNY (continuing): Should be bandaged.

WRANGLER: They think it don't look right...you know, for the public. [This conflict reveals that the wrangler knows what is best for the horse, yet he still compromises.]

SONNY: Muscled up pretty good, isn't he?

DANNY: Sonny, the first thing you do after you dismount is you say -- [Still not paying attention.]

SONNY: --your horse is stoned.

WRANGLER: How we gonna get him up in front of all these people...with lights...and cables, and... [He's bowed to pressure.]

DANNY: Excuse me, gentlemen! Sonny, your first line is --"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: To avoid the "message movie" trap, keep focused on the relationships, and how the character's beliefs/desires/wants conflict with others.

The Electric Horseman (1979)(draft dated 8/30/78, by Alvin Sargent (uncredited))**
by Robert Garland
Screen story by Paul Gaer and Robert Garland
Story by Shelly Burton

*Message movies tend to be too preachy for me.  Actually, I wouldn't mind a little preaching, as long as it was entertaining, but it's a hard balance to find.

**As you may have noticed, I've been reading a string of Alvin Sargent scripts.  Here, I'm guessing that he was hired to do a rewrite polish, given the date on this script and having just written Bobby Deerfield for director Sidney Pollack.

Monday, April 30, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Straight Time (1978) - Not Likeable + Showing Humanity

[Quick Summary: After he gets out of jail, a felon cannot readjust and returns to crime, the only life that he knows well.]

Max is an unsympathetic, unrepentant, and desperate felon.

I liked that the script did not try to make him "likeable" or excuse away his behavior.

Max is also lonely, looking for love, and thoughtful.

I also liked that his character had real humanity.  The script did not shy from the fact that humans are messy,  funny, inconsistent, kind, etc., often all at the same time.

For example (below), Max is robbing a pawn shop AND SHOPPING FOR HIS GIRLFRIEND FROM STOLEN MERCHANDISE.  It's both despicable and sweet.:

ex. "INT. PAWN SHOP

Max crawling back through the hole. He takes more watches, stuffing them into his pockets. We HEAR the SOUND of PEOPLE TALKING. A WOMAN GIGGLING. He freezes. Finally the VOICES FADE. Max moves out of the cage toward the display case. He picks up small metal statue and is about to smash the glass. He looks in, sees pendants with astrological signs next to the pistols. He looks around, sees telephone. Crawls to it. Dials.
                                                                                            CUT TO:
INT. JENNY'S APARTMENT - NIGHT

The PHONE RINGS. Jenny, in bed, reaches for phone.
                                                                                            CUT TO:
INT. PAWN SHOP

Max, crouched low, on the phone.

MAX (whispers): When's your birthday?...I'm in a meeting, when's your birthday?...Jesus Christ, will you just tell me your birthday?...What sign's that?...Good, see you later...What? Just a second...

He hangs up. He moves to the case. On the way sees a small satchel, picks it up along with the small metal statue. He breaks the glass of the display case. An ALARM GOES OFF. He hurries. Sweeping the jewelry and pistols into the satchel, putting a gold Pisces on a chain in his breast pocket. He runs to rear door. Opens it. ANOTHER ALARM GOES OFF. He moves outside."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I think what makes this "felon on the run" story different for me is the humanity of Max.  I don't like his choices, but I understand it.

Straight Time (1978)(final draft, dated 3/11/77)
by Alvin Sargent
Based on the novel, "No Beast So Fierce," by Edward Bunker

Monday, April 23, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Bobby Deerfield (1977) - Invisible Structure & Setup-Payoff

[Quick Summary: After his team mate is killed in a race car crash, a world famous American driver falls for an terminally ill Italian woman who opens him up to life.]

Q: What do screenwriters do?
A: They structure a film/tv's story on the page.

Q: I thought they just wrote dialogue?
A: They do write dialogue, but it is dialogue with a purpose. 

Q: Where is the difficulty in that?
A: The writer must combine/juggle/squeeze/shove several dramatic elements, such as dialogue, setups and payoffs, into a structure that is invisible to most viewers.*

Q: Can you give me an example of dialogue + setups and payoffs?
A: Let's look at the scene below from today's script. I know it doesn't look like much.

However, this is the most that Bobby speaks/reveals to anyone, including his brother or regular girlfriend.

Notice how the writer uses dialogue to setup a deepening relationship:

ex. "EXT. OUTDOOR RESTAURANT - BOBBY AND LILLIAN

...Lillian devours the dinner. Bobby watches, fascinated.

BOBBY: Don't you ever get fat?
LILLIAN: No. Do you?
BOBBY: No.
LILLIAN:  You eat carefully, hmmm? [Setup for an analogy later.]
BOBBY: Right.
LILLIAN:  Are you married?
BOBBY: No. You? [Bobby is not usually so straightforward.]
LILLIAN:  No. Were you married?
BOBBY: Was I married? Why?
LILLIAN:  Just curious. You were married.
BOBBY: Once, for a minute. [He barely knows her and reveals personal details?!]
LILLIAN:  You watch people eat. But you don't eat. (pause) I have been told that the intestine is thirty-two feet long...but we control only the first few inches of it. Maybe that is why you do not eat, it's too risky. [Payoff: Eating is an analogy for control.]
BOBBY: Maybe.
LILLIAN (pause): You're a careful man, Deerfield.
BOBBY: You like to pick on me, don't you? [Setup: He calls out that she's prodding him.]
LILLIAN: I find you curious. [Payoff: She admits to her behavior.]
BOBBY: Curious, huh?
LILLIAN: You are such a turtle.  [Payoff: She explains why she's curious.]
BOBBY (smiles): Well, that's one thing I've never been called...a turtle. [Humor for the 1st time! We have not seen this connecting with anyone else.]
LILLIAN: Perhaps you are the world's fastest turtle, but just the same, you are a turtle...

....Then three musicians who have been playing in the b.g. pass their table enroute to another art of the cafe. Lillian watches them for a moment.

LILLIAN (continuing): I have musicians in my family. I've thought lately about learning to play the cello. Do you have musicians in your family? [Setup: She dares to be vulnerable, go more personal.]
BOBBY: No.
LILLIAN:  What do you have in your family?
BOBBY: Y'know...you're a very difficult person to have a conversation with. I never know what you're going to say next. [Payoff: Her questions make him uncomfortable, in part b/c he WANTS to engage.]
LILLIAN: Do you always know what you will say next?
BOBBY: I have some idea. But you...I mean...you're all over...Like right now, I have no idea what you're going to talk about...what you're going to hit me with...I mean...I don't know what you're thinking. [Payoff: Her vulnerability prompts him to spell out her effect on him. Maybe a first for him?]
LILLIAN: Would you like to know?

Pause. Bobby thinks a moment. She studies him. Waits for his answer.

BOBBY: Sure... [He is attracted and takes the risk.]

She waits a moment. Then lifts her hand, extends it toward him, palm up.

LILLIAN (quietly): Do you think my hands are too large to play the cello?" [Moving toward more physical and emotional involvement.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Structure is the hard, invisible work that often gets overlooked in favor of shinier objects, like explosions and set pieces. 

(And in my opinion, it's often the reason why films work, or don't.)

Bobby Deerfield (1977)(dated 4/3/76)
by Alvin Sargent
Based on the novel "Heaven Has No Favorites," by Erich Maria Remarque

*I don't want to sound like a broken record, but give yourself the TIME and SPACE to read MANY scripts to get the hang of structure. (I always wondered how many is "many"? For me, it turned out to be hundreds, plural. Not a hundred, singular.)
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