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

Monday, October 1, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Ghost & the Darkness (1996) - Musing on a Change from an Earlier Draft

[Quick Summary: In 1898, Tsavo, Africa, two man-eating lions prey on an encampment of bridge workers.]

I usually do not read earlier drafts, but make the occasional exception, ex. whenever I can get my hands on early William Goldman scripts.

Here, I was curious about how much was changed from the earlier to the later draft. 

Answer? Not much.

I did wish they had kept a minor thing: the personal conflict between the protagonist (Patterson) and the experienced hunter (Redbeard).

In the final draft, the two men first meet in Tsavo. It was ok, but predictable.

In the earlier draft, they have prior history that is still unsettled. Conflict and tension!

I understand why they didn't keep it, but I thought it made the characters more 3-D.

Here's the scene from the earlier draft:

ex. "REDBEARD'S TENT. Night.  He is finished unpacking -- there's not a lot to do, the man travels light. He takes several thick books out of a sack, places them in a pile on the table by his cot. No sound. REDBEARD is facing away from the tent opening.

REDBEARD: I have no secrets, come in.

PATTERSON moves into the opening. He looks at the cot.

PATTERSON: You used to sleep on the floor.

REDBEARD: I used to have more hair.

PATTERSON: Don't you think you went a bit far, calling me "Patton"?

REDBEARD: I was giving you the lead -- Beaumont said you didn't want me here. I wasn't sure you wanted to acknowledge me.

PATTERSON: I don't much -- but you are, so now we have to deal with that reality.

REDBEARD: It shouldn't be so hard. We both want the same thing.

PATTERSON: And what is that?

REDBEARD: Why, the lions, of course.

PATTERSON: I want more, I want you to fail.

REDBEARD: After all these years nothing has changed -- was what I did that terrible? (PATTERSON simply stares at the other man. Finally, REDBEARD turns away) It was. I know it was. Of course it was."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Life is messy. The scene above reflects it well. I wonder if the powers-that-be preferred a neater, less messy version?

The Ghost & the Darkness (1996)(undated; possibly shooting draft)
The Ghost & the Darkness (1996)(3rd draft, Jan., 1994)
by William Goldman

Monday, September 24, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Chamber (1996) - Transitions = Preparing the Reader's Emotions

[Quick Summary: A new lawyer takes on a last minute death row appeal of a Klansman who killed two kids with a building bomb...and is also the attorney's estranged grandfather.]

Why do Goldman's scripts read like greased lightening?

One reason is that he takes the time (but not too much) to transition the reader's emotions for an upcoming curve ball, surprise, crisis, etc.*

I am always on the lookout for good transitions, as I find them particularly tricky.

In the example below, notice how we're being prepared for a pivotal moment:

- Scene A: We see Adam get upset over news. [Something is up.]
- Scene B: We see that he's nervous, agitated. [This news must mean a lot to him.]
- Scene C: He asks for a case that has upset him and is very personal. [Why?]


It's small, befitting an associate less than a year out of Law School. he breezes to the desk, flips on his computer, puts down the documents and coffee, places his briefcase on the credenza behind him, opens it, takes out some papers and file folders, places them on his desk. . . takes a look a the screen, clicks his mouse on something. . . then turns his back to the computer, takes off his jacket, hangs it on a hook, sits at his desk, opens the documents, takes a sip of coffee. . . takes another glance at the screen . . . and stops cold.

He gives the screen his full attention. There is something on it that drains the blood from his face. Finally he turns away with the look of one who knows the day he had dreaded has come.

He looks at the speaker button on his phone. Thinks. Hits it.

SECRETARY (O.S.): It wasn't de-caf, was it? I could get you some tea --

ADAM: I need to see Goodman. Now.

He clicks off.


A long hallway from Adam's office to the more senior offices. Adam emerges from his office and tries to control his nervousness as he walks the long walk.


E. GARNER GOODMAN has done one amazing thing in his life: he has been a practicing lawyer for forty years and has yet to do anything illegal. He is all tidy and neat. His office, on the other hand, is a zoo.  Bookcases sag from the strain, the floor is a minefield of piles of legal briefs.

GOODMAN: Have you lost your mind?

He is talking to Adam who is seated in a chair. Adam repeats:

ADAM: No. I am very serious. I want the Cayhall case...."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I had never really considered how important those on-ramps are before an emotional turn.  It makes a big difference in the reading experience.

The Chamber (1996)(shooting draft dated 4/16/96)
by William Goldman and Phil Alden Robinson and James Foley
Based on the novel by John Grisham

*FYI: Transitions are not just moving a character to a different location. 

In writer's lingo, "transitions" are a broad umbrella of things that help prepare the reader for a switch in emotional state.

For example:
- Setting up scene A so that scene B is a payoff (structure)
- Seeding a conflict in scene A so that it explodes in scene B (conflict)

Monday, September 17, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Fierce Creatures (1997) - Exaggeration is Helpful for Satire

[Quick Summary: After a corporation buys a zoo and tries to corporatize it, the keepers rebel.]

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: The second half of the script was a little strained.

WHAT I DID LIKE: The first half was much more solid, especially the use of exaggeration to emphasize the irony of a situation.

In the scene below, Octopus, Inc. has bought a zoo and wants to increase profits. 

Its executive, Rollo, has decreed that only Fierce Animals will draw crowds and will be allowed to stay.

Note the use of exaggeration and contrast, which makes us laugh.


ROLLO stands arguing with SYDNEY, PIP, DEREK, HUGH and others.  SYDNEY is inside the enclosure, holding a chair, which he occasionally uses, lion-tamer style.

ROLLO: Fierce??! That coatimundi...

He indiciates a Coatimundi, which is watching in a friendly manner. [A lion-tamer chair for a 2 foot, 8 lb. animal?!]

SYDNEY: It's a wild animal, sir. It's not domesticated.

ROLLO: Neither's a house fly and I wouldn't call that savage.

SYDNEY: You take a liberty with him and he'll give you a nasty nip. [Trying to make him sound ferocious.]

ROLLO: A safety pin could give me a nasty nip Lotterby. I'll tell you what's fierce: fierce is taking your whole hand off.

KEEPERS: Whole hand!?! No! Impossible! No!! [Aghast reactions are funny.]

ROLLO: (Walking away) Lotterby, could I have a word with you over here please

HUGH: It is all right if it wrenches the hand off?? [More exaggeration to make the animal sound fierce.]

ROLLO: Oh yes.

HUGH: Phew.

SYDNEY: (Showing a scar) That's what a coati did to me. Look! [Big exaggeration compared to the likely small scar.]

ROLLO: I'm surprised you lived. Now... 

ROLLO and SYDNEY have arrived at some cages. SYDNEY looks at them, winces, and then puts on a very positive, cheerful polite act.

ROLLO: ...These are your meerkats, correct?

SYDNEY: Er...yes sir.

ROLLO: (Pointing) On the new plaque here it says ... they're known as the 'Piranhas of the Desert'? Is that right? [Good exaggerated visual.]

SYDNEY: Yes sir, they can strip a human carcass in three minutes.  [Blood thirsty description!]

ROLLO: (Pulling out a book) My encyclopedia says they're easy to tame and are often kept as pets. (He shows SYDNEY the page) See?  [I like the contrast of 'tame' vs. 'piranha'.]

SYDNEY: Well, you haven't been attacked by one sir.

ROLLO: Nobody's been attacked by one, Lotterby (He moves on) Or if they have, they didn't notice... [He calls Sydney on the unlikely possibility of an attack.]

SYDNEY: They've got diabolical temperaments, sir..." [I give credit to Sydney for his commitment to his mission.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I laughed because the keepers created such an exaggerated fiction compared to the modest reality.  It was just simply ridiculous.

Fierce Creatures (1997)(9th draft, 4/4/95; originally titled Strictly Confidential)
by John Cleese and Iain Johnstone

Monday, September 10, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: American Buffalo (1996) - The Mamet Voice; Unusual Dialogue Format

[Quick Summary:  After Don, a junk shop owner with a shady side business, agrees to steal a valuable buffalo nickel with Teach, his protegee Bob brings bad news.]

Some Mamet plays translate to film, but this one does not for me.

I think it is still worth a read. Here are a few thoughts why:

1) The distinctive Mamet voice

- Like many Mamet original scripts,* this one follows a winding path.  It takes a little while before we know what the story is, but I like how it winds out and then back.

- The dialogue has a staccato tempo that meanders too, i.e., like real conversations.   

- It is more interested in the space between two people than plot (sorry, plot junkies).

2) The unusual use of parentheses in dialogue

This is the first time that I've seen the frequent use of parentheses like this.

There's no further instruction or description on what the parentheses mean, so I assume the dialogue is meant to be spoken in a low or soft voice.

Also, I noticed that as I saw more parentheses, they became a visual cue = "low voice" = automatically caused me to read between the lines a little more. 

In the scene below, Teach tries to persuade Don not to bring young Bob on board.  Notice how much is unspoken yet understood between the two old comrades.

...Don crosses to his desk.

TEACH: It's hard to make up the rules about this stuff.

DON: (You'll be in there under lots of pressure.)

TEACH: (Not so much.)

DON: (Come on, a little, anyway.)

TEACH: (That's only natural.)

DON: (Yeah.)

TEACH: (It wouldn't be unnatural I wasn't tense. A guy who isn't tense, I don't want him  on my side.)

DON: (No.)

TEACH: (You know why?)

DON: (Yeah.)

TEACH: (Okay, then.) It's good to talk this stuff out.

DON: Yeah."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I'm not sure that I'd recommend frequent use of parentheses, but it works here.  It's nice to see something that I had not seen before.

American Buffalo (1996)(shooting script w/revisions, dated May-June, 1995)
by David Mamet
Adaptation from his play

*By "original," I mean scripts based on his original work or his plays.  I do not mean adaptations that he has written for others.

Monday, September 3, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Mother (1996) - Irony; Very Small Things; Entrenched

[Quick Summary: As an experiment, John, a twice divorced 40 y.o. man moves back in with his mother Beatrice to find out what is the root of his problems with women.]

Why is this script funny?

Because it made me chuckle a lot? Yes.

Because it was clever and multi-layered? Yes.

But mostly, I think it was the way it skewered family dynamics that are so, so familiar.  These characters are entrenched in their positions over very small things.


...They stop at the jellies. There's Smucker's, Welch's, and all the standard brands. Then there's one luxury brand for $10.95. It's wrapped up in tissue paper and has a ribbon on it. John takes that. Beatrice almost has a heart attack.

BEATRICE: Oh, don't buy that.

JOHN: Why?

BEATRICE: Because that's a waste of money. You can get a whole jar here for $2.50. Why do you want to spend $10.95? [Arguing about...jelly = Very small things.]

JOHN: Cause this looks like good jelly and thank God we can afford it. Let's experience this together.

BEATRICE: I don't want this experience. You're fooled by these names and all that fancy wrapping. [She's convinced he's being taken.]

JOHN: I'm not fooled by anything. This is not what the experiment's about. It's not about being fooled. It's about splurging. See, I realized something. I think you treat yourself very cheaply, and I think that therefore you have instilled that into me. [He's convinced that she's seeing things narrowly.]

BEATRICE: Honey, I don't treat myself cheaply at all. I lived through a Depression. You didn't.

JOHN: Things aren't so great right now.

BEATRICE: Well it's not like it was in the thirties. You don't have to wait in line to buy bread.

John looks to his left. There's a huge line over by the bakery. The camera sees it. No one says anything. [Irony!]"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  I liked how the script poked fun at familiar situations using irony, very small things, and deep commitment to one's position.

Mother (1996)(final draft, June 1995)
by Albert Brooks and Monica Johnson

Monday, August 27, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Wedding Singer (1998) - The Unfulfilled Desire

[Quick Summary: The wedding singer, who is engaged to the wrong woman, and a waitress, who is engaged to the wrong guy, fall in love.]

I have issues with this script, but it's ok.

I was pretty impressed, however, by how fast we get a hint of the protagonist's unfilled desire (interior conflict to come)* - by page 3!

In the scene below:
- Robbie, the wedding singer, can't wait to get married (unfulfilled desire). 
- He thinks his life is all smooth sailing.
- He has just wrested the microphone from the Best Man and saved his client's wedding reception. 

ex. "Robbie raises his glass and everyone in the thankful crowd follows suit in a smattering sort of way. The tension is broken.

Many look at Robbie hopefully, many still disturbed. The bride is ashen, unable to look at her husband, who sits by her side sweating.

ROBBIE (continued): C'mon everybody, we've all done crazy things. I had dreams of being a rock star and I was living what I thought was a rock'n'roll lifestyle. 'Til I met a girl who made me realize what's really important in life. And I'm marrying her next week. [Uh-oh.]

The crowd applauds. Robbie acknowledges it.

ROBBIE (continued): The point is, when you're in love, the emptiness is gone and there's no reason to do stupid things. Cause you got something to live for - each other. And the way I've seen these two look into each others' eyes all day long, I can tell they're gonna live for each other the rest of their lives. Cheers! [He's a romantic.  We sense that he's soon to be disappointed.]

The entire room fills with the warmth generated by Robbie's love inspiring speech."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I liked how we got to Robbie's current status quo quickly, with a light comedic touch, and set us up for where we'll be going.

The Wedding Singer (1998)
by Tim Herlihy (rewrite by Carrie Fisher, 11/8/96)

*This is known as Step 1: The Chemical Equation (Setup):  "A scene or sequence identifying the exterior and/or interior conflict (i.e., unfulfilled desire), the "what's wrong with this picture" implied in the protagonist's (and/or the antagonist's) current status quo."

Monday, August 20, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: 9 to 5 (1980) - Farce is a Skillfully Exploited Situation

[Quick Summary: Three very different female co-workers bond over some wild, crazy adventures outwitting their sexist, lying, egotistical boss.]

Two lessons from this script:

1) How a Script Can Hinge on the Right Casting. Even with a good script, Dolly Parton added that "extra" vibrancy.  So if you can get Dolly Parton, get Dolly Parton.

2) Why Do We Laugh at Farce?  Let's start with the definition: 
Farce (n.) = A light, humorous play in which the plot depends upon a skillfully exploited situation rather than upon the development of character. (my emphasis)
This is a new idea to me that farce is more about the situation than the character.

This script had several great examples, including the scene below.

Prior to this scece, Violet has accidentally put rat poison in the boss' coffee.
--> The boss hit his head, became unconscious, and spilt the coffee.
--> He is rushed to the E.R., woke up, and walked out.
--> Meanwhile, another unconscious man is wheeled in.
--> The police are waiting to hear about man #2.

Watch how we laugh the misunderstanding in the situation:


...A Medic that brought in the man on the gurney exits the emergency room. The Detective stops him for a moment.

DETECTIVE: The guy they just brought in on the gurney; how is he?
MEDIC #1: Not so good.
DETECTIVE: When can I speak to the Doctor?
MEDIC #1: He knows you're here. [This line signals to Violet that "everyone knows what she did."  The reality is that no one does yet.]

The Medic walks on down the hall.

VIOLET: Oh, my God. They found out about it already.
JUDY: Don't panic. Don't panic.

The Doctor comes out and the Detective speaks to him.

DETECTIVE: How is he, Doc?
DOCTOR: He's dead.

Violet receives the news with a shock. Doralee and Judy are equally horrified.

VIOLET: Oh, my God. [She thinks the boss is dead, but ironically he's not.]
DETECTIVE: Can you tell what caused it?
DOCTOR: Not without an autopsy, but I'm fairly certain it was some kind of poison.
VIOLET: Ohhh... [She thinks she's to blame, but she's not.]

Violet feels suddenly faint and Judy and Doralee rush to help her. The Doctor leads the Detective and the Policeman into his office down the hall while Judy and Doralee help a distraught Violet to a seat in the waiting room."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Farce is about the situation more than the character development.

9 to 5 (1980)(final draft, 12/12/79)
by Colin Higgins
Story by Patricia Resnick

Monday, August 13, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Pelican Brief (1993) - A Good Example of Suspense

[Quick Summary: After two Supreme Court justices are murdered, a Tulane Law School student proposes a possible conspiracy, and ends up running for her life.]

I'm not sure that I liked this script (or maybe it was the story?)

However, I did like the following suspense scene where Darby is on the run.

She has arranged to meet with Verheek, someone she has never met before. 

She has no idea, but we know that this guy is an imposter.


The boardwalk is crowded; a line has formed beside the Bayou Queen, a paddle wheeler. They stop at the end of the line.

HE: Are we getting on this boat?

DARBY: Yes. I've got a car a mile upriver at a park where we'll stop in thirty minutes.

The line is moving now.


CAMERA follows his hand as he touches the trouse pocket that contains the gun. He reaches into the pocket and pulls out a handkerchief.

CAMERA pans up with him as he brings it to his nose. There is a tiny flash of metal against the base of his skull just below the red baseball cap.


CLOSE SHOT DARBY as she whirls around.

DARBY'S P.O.V. of HIM falling to the ground.

CLOSE SHOT OF WHITE HANDKERCHIEF still clutched in his hand as it hits the ground. It turns bloos red.


CAMERA whirls around to her P.O.V.

A man is running away. He disappears in a crowd.

WOMAN (V.O.): He's got a gun.

CAMERA whirls back again, following the sound of the woman's voice. SHe is standing next to Darby.

CAMERA slams down to her P.O.V.

The man she thinks is Verheek is on all fours with a small pistol in his right hand. Blood streams from his chin and puddles under his face. He lunges to the edge of the boardwalk. The gun drops into the water. He collapses on his stomach with his head hanging over and dripping into the river."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I think it's her reaction shots that makes the shock resonate so strongly with us.

Pelican Brief (1993)(1st draft, 2/10/93)
by Alan J. Pakula
Adapted from the novel by John Grisham
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