Monday, February 19, 2018

2018 OSCARS: The Shape of Water (2017) - What a Non-Verbal, Developing Romance Looks Like

[Quick Summary: In a 1962 top secret Baltimore facility, a mute janitor falls in love and frees an amphibian man, who the government wants to exploit.]

My two cents:

1) Pros and Cons

PRO: This script has several, very strong, three dimensional characters.

CON: The script delved into several characters' personal lives in order to show their bias against the creature. It pulled me out of the main story and felt tangential.

PRO: It is well written and very emotional on the page.

CON: Was there a purpose to the narration on p.1-2? It was confusing to me.

2) What a Non-Verbal, Developing Romance Looks Like

I did think the following montage was quite effective to show the developing intimacy between Elisa and the creature.

It's so romantic how they're learning more about each other and responding.   


- Five eggs. Boiling. Dancing slowly in the water.
- Elisa sets all five Boiled Eggs on the edge of the pool.
- The creature emerges. Does the sign for "egg". [He has adapted to her language.]
- Elisa chooses new records.
- Her locker room is filling up with LP's. [She's trying to figure out what he likes.]
- Elisa travels on the bus with more eggs and records. [She's making a real effort.]
- Elisa mops - a smile on her face. Zelda watches, concerned. [She shows the effects of a real relationship.]
- Elisa readies her bath - mesmerized by the water. [She thinks about him.]
- Giles watches as Elisa "borrow" extra eggs from his fridge. [Her behavior is changing.]
- Elisa packs all 7,8,9 eggs in her paper bag.
- Elisa shows a new record to the creature in the cylinder. [She brings him a gift.]
- She mops while the music plays

Quietly, Hoffstetler enters the lab just as the song ends:

The Amphibian Man bangs on the glass to ELISA and signs: "play a different record." His markings brighten. [He shows physical signs of emotional changes.]

ELISA signs- asking him to "point." The AMPHIBIAN MAN points. Elisa turns the record around. "MOONGLOW" by Benny Goodman plays.

Elisa dances in front of the cylinder. [She delights in his choice.]

The AMPHIBIAN MAN swims, delighted! [He delights in her.]

Elisa walks over and puts one hand up against the glass, slowly, the creature puts a hand up "against" hers. His markings active and color-changing. [They connect physically and emotionally.]

Her smile turns wistful. She keeps her hand there. Leans her forehead on the glass. [They show longing.]

Hoffstetler watches- a tray of raw fish in his hands- Mesmerized. Moved."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Non-verbal romance = Showing how two souls learn and connect with each other.

The Shape of Water (2017)
by Guillermo Del Toro & Vanessa Taylor
Story by Guillermo Del Toro

Monday, February 12, 2018

2018 OSCARS: Lady Bird (2017) - Humor Through Situation

[Quick Summary: A very clear, amusing character study of a 17 y.o. Sacramento girl's senior year, with the typical self-absorption and arrogance of youth.]

I liked this script because the characters were fully formed and three dimensional.

I will remember this script because:

1) The situations were very specific.*
2) The humor came out of these very specific situations (vs. funny dialogue).

This is the scene below:
- A 17 y.o. has not gotten into the school of her choice.
- This is likely her first taste of harsh reality settling in.
- She has little life experience, so handles disappointment poorly (lashes out).
- Marion is the mother. Larry is the father. Miguel is adopted brother. Shelly is Miguel's girlfriend.

Note how the humor comes out of specifics:
- The situation is funny because her hysterics are disproportionate to the big picture.
- It starts controlled and deteriorates into argument (very universal!)
- It's not so much WHAT is said as HOW words are used to thrust and parry.


Lady Bird sits at the computer with a list of instructions in front of her - Marion, Larry, Shelly and Miguel stand behind her.

LADY BIRD: It's a new system - you just enter your social security number and... [I like the building of anticipation here.]

She is presses [sic] ENTER and is lead you [sic] to a website that lists all the schools in the UC system she applied to with a "yes" or a "no" beside them. They all say no except for...

LADY BIRD (CONT'D): DAVIS?! [LB is outraged.]

MARION (relieved): Davis is good. Maybe you should have looked at it. [Very grounded response.]

LADY BIRD: It's only half an hour away! Less if you're driving fast! [This is her criteria?! Funny.]

LARRY: I went to graduate school there.

SHELLY: Lots of smart people go to Davis.

LADY BIRD: I thought Berkeley had to accept me. You and Miguel went there. I'm a legacy. [An entitled, childish, emotional response.]

LARRY: Eh, not if we don't give money. [Realistic, parental response.]

MIGUEL: And you get bad grades. [Snarky sibling response.]

LADY BIRD: Oh what do you know about it? [She doesn't know how to deal, so picks a fight.]

MIGUEL: Meaning?

LADY BIRD: Nothing. [Passive aggressive, insult.]

MIGUEL (turning red): What are you implying? YOU FUCKING RACIST. [He's offended. Conflict escalates.]

LADY BIRD: I didn't say anything. [She defends her "non" position.]

MIGUEL: I DIDN'T PUT DOWN MY RACE! [He defends against her "non" position.]

LADY BIRD: I'm sure they had no idea, MIGUEL! [More passive aggressive attacking.]

MIGUEL: You are actually fucking evil. What is wrong with you?



MARION: I did not raise you like this, I didn't --

LADY BIRD: I don't have to go ANYWHERE! I'm not going to a fucking university that's famous for it's fucking AGRICULTURAL SCHOOL. [She, stung by rejection, erupts with nonsense.]

She runs out, furious. She'd kick the computer if she could.


Miguel self-consciously puts his hand to his nose-ring, rotating it. Shelly mentally tallies all her piercings."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I'm beginning to understand that humor can come from the structure of the situation, i.e., "not what characters say, but how they say it (and what it's used for)."

Lady Bird (2017)
by Greta Gerwig

*I have noticed that when a situation is very specific, it seems very universal as well.

Monday, February 5, 2018

2018 OSCARS: Get Out (2017) - Emotional Building Blocks

[Quick Summary: When a young African American man accompanies his Caucasian girlfriend to meet her parents, he uncovers an awful horror.]

"A screenplay is not written to be read. It is written to be filmed."

Ugh.  True, but ugh.  What does it mean?!

How can you NOT read a screenplay?

How do you write something (words) to be filmed (pictures)?

As a new writer, I had the bright idea that I could just copy shooting scripts.  Wrong.

Years went by and I continued to read shooting scripts but wrote crap.  Why?

I was focusing too much on shooting script format and style (ex. he sits, she stands) rather than how WORDS form PICTURES THAT CONVEY AN EMOTION (ex. he jumps to his feet every time she gets up from the dinner table).

Today's shooting script is a good example to study.

It's not perfect and I wished for a little more than the utilitarian style.

However, if you can see the big picture, each scene conveys an emotional building block moving us forward.

How does the scene below make you feel? Loyal? Like a team?


...Rose finally pulls her driver's license from her purse. The Officer looks at it and over at Chris.

OFFICER RYAN: You two coming up from the city?

ROSE: Yeah. My parents live in the Lake Pontaco area. We're up here for the weekend.

OFFICER RYAN: Sir...? Can I see your license?

CHRIS: Oh...yeah. I have a state I.D.

ROSE: Wait, why?


ROSE: He wasn't driving?

OFFICER RYAN: I didn't ask if he was driving, I asked to see his I.D.

ROSE (to Officer Ryan): But why? It doesn't make any sense.

CHRIS: Here.

Chris offers Officer Ryan his I.D.

ROSE: No, fuck that. He shouldn't have to show you his I.D. because he hasn't done anything wrong.

CHRIS: Baby. It's okay --

OFFICER RYAN: Ma'am, any time there is an incident we have the right to --

ROSE: That's bullshit!


There is a tense silence. Officer Ryan gives up. Not worth the trouble. Officer Ryan's walkie chimes in.

OFFICER FROSTY: Everything alright up there Crowsie?

He presses his walkie button.

OFFICER RYAN: Yeah, I'm all good. (to Chris and Rose) You guys drive safe.

Rose and Chris get into their car.

OFFICER RYAN (cont'd): Get that headlight fixed...And the mirror."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: When they say "Screenplays are written to be filmed," they mean that they are filming a scene that convey an emotion --> series of emotional scenes --> a story.

Get Out (2017)
by Jordan Peele

Monday, January 29, 2018

2018 OSCARS: The Big Sick (2017) - "Keeping Lovers Apart" Complication at the End of Act 1

1) EXCELLENT, FAST READ. Did I say FAST? (Comedies = FAST READS, people.)

2) EXCELLENT COMPLICATION AT THE END OF ACT 1. I thought this script stands apart from other rom-coms because of this very important turning point.

What happens at the end of Act 1?
According to rom-com guru Billy Mernit, structuring conflict in a rom-com includes a "Sexy Complication (Turning Point)":
"Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 1, a new development that raises story stakes and clearly defines the protagonist's goal; most successful when it sets man and woman at cross-purposes and/or their inner emotions at odds with the goal." p. 112 (underline mine)
Furthermore, this is the moment
"when the story's central conflict is crystallized in no uncertain terms. A problem is defined that forces the central character to act or react; now we know what the story is about, and we have a pretty good idea (generally better than the characters do) about where we're headed next." p. 112-113.
In this script, the end of Act 1 is different than most rom-coms because it entwines both the cultural and romantic conflicts. 

In the scene below, note how it accomplishes several things at once:

a) It shows the characters' contrasting cultural backgrounds.

b) It shows how the characters' emotions are at odds with the goal:
- Emily's anger at Kumail's shame/fear is in the way of being with him.
- Kumail's fear at what his family thinks is in the way of being with Emily.

b) It crystallizes the conflicts that each must now overcome.


Emily is eating cereal in bed. Kumail in the kitchen making coffee.

KUMAIL (calling out): Hey, I liked our friends. That Craig guy or was it Greg? I can never tell with those names. I'm glad I like him cause I don't want to have to come up with excuses to avoid him, you know. Like, oh no, I have kite surfing tonight.

Emily opens the cigar box and sees the headshots of the women. She flips through them. [The headshots are: 1) an interesting cultural behavior; 2) symbolic of Kumail's romantic indecisiveness.]

KUMAIL (O.S.)(CONT'D): Did you know in the UK it's pronounced "Crayg". Which is good because that's actually how it's written, right? He's a "Crate" guy.

Kumail enters.

KUMAIL (CONT'D)(sees her with the box): I was going to tell you about that. [This is his Achilles' heel. He hides from conflict.]

EMILY: Are you like judging Pakistan's Next Top Model or something? Seriously, who are these women? [She is direct and surprised that he has not been.]

KUMAIL: You know how we have arranged marriage in my culture? These are those women. [A little cultural explanation, a little sidestep.]

EMILY: These are women in Pakistan who want to marry you? [She grapples with the cultural differences.]

KUMAIL: They're not in Pakistan.

EMILY: You've met these women? [She asserts her worth and tries to judge whether he values it too.]

KUMAIL: Just with my parents. We haven't like - [More sidestepping. Both cultural and romantic.]

EMILY: You're not serious about this, are you? [She's getting mad, moving away from the goal.]

KUMAIL: It's my mom's thing, I just go along with it. [Digging deeper hole. Both cultural and romantic. Telling mom "no" is scary in any culture.]

EMILY: So what does your mom think about you and me, then? [She goes for the big elephant in the room.]


EMILY (CONT'D): She doesn't know about me, does she? [She's embarrassed/ mortified that he doesn't think they are worth the fight.]


Emily storms out of the bedroom."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Using both cultural and romantic conflicts to keep the lovers apart is a fresh, interesting spin on the typical rom-com.

The Big Sick (2017)
by Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani

Monday, January 22, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Out of the Past (1947) - Double Cross as Extension of Character (vs. Plot)

[Quick Summary: A retired detective double crossed his former client over a beautiful woman, and now the client is back with a second (possibly frame) job.]

Did you know that this is "one of the greatest of all film noirs"? I did not.

I do know that this script excels at the satisfying double/triple/quadruple crossing.

After reading this, I wondered how much of it was plot (40%) vs. how it made me feel (60%). Where did those feelings stem from?

Roger Ebert summarized it best:
The scenes in San Francisco, involving the murder of Eels, the whereabouts of the tax records and the double-dealing of Meta Carson, are so labyrinthine, it's remarkable even the characters can figure out who is being double-crossed, and why. The details don't matter. What matters is the way that Jeff, a street-wise tough guy, gets involved in the face of all common sense, senses a trap, thinks he can walk through it, and is still fascinated by Kathie Moffat. (underline mine)
That's it! Early on, the script convinced me of Jeff's hazardous feelings for Kathie.

Then when the crazy double/triple/quadruple crossing began, it wasn't so much another plot device, but more an extension of Jeff's character.

The scene below is early in the script. Notice how Kathie connects to (seduces?) Jeff:


....Without looking at him, she speaks very softly.

KATHIE: When are you taking me back?

He glances grimly at her, looks away, puts the pipe in his mouth. They are silent for a moment, while she waits.

JEFF (quietly): Is that why you kissed me?


A little pause. He lights the pipe.

JEFF: Whit didn't die.

KATHIE (slowly; thinking): He didn't?


KATHIE: Then why --

JEFF: He wants you back.

KATHIE (slowly): I hate him. (crushing some sand in her tight fingers) I'm sorry he didn't die.

JEFF: Give him time.

There is a little silence again, with only the surf breaking in.

JEFF: There was a little business -- about forty thousand bucks....

KATHIE (fiercely): I didn't take it!

JEFF: How did you know it was taken?

KATHIE: It's what you meant. (looking away) I don't want anything of his, or any part of him!

JEFF (quietly): Except his life.

KATHIE: I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know anything, except how much I hated him. (a pause) But I didn't take anything. (looking at him, softly)I didn't -- Jeff.

She takes his head and pulls it down on her lap. He looks up at her and she bends over him.

KATHIE: Won't you believe me?

JEFF: Baby -- I don't care."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I'd always considered the "double cross" as a plotting device. I don't know if I've ever seen it in a script before as a possible extension of character.

Out of the Past (1947)(final draft)
by Daniel Mainwaring (writing as Geoffrey Homes)
From his novel, "Build My Gallows High."

Monday, January 15, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Freedomland (2006) - Setup/Payoff; By The End of Page One

[Quick Summary: A black cop has his doubts when a bleeding white woman stumbles into his sector, claiming she was car-jacked with her 4 y.o. son still in the backseat.] 

BAD NEWS: This script irritated me a bit because:
- I didn't know what it was trying to say.
- A few key setups were paired with tepid payoffs.

GOOD NEWS: It had my attention by the bottom of page one.

In short, the writer surprised me with a twist.

The script begins with a typical chase (cops after bad guys).

My thoughts: "I know where this is going."

But by the end of page one, there is a twist that upended my expectations.

My thoughts: "Where is this going?!?" I was excited to turn the page.

Here is the lower half of page one.  How soon do you realize the twist?

ex. "The two chased men split up; one running into the woods; the other (Eric) into a massive dormitory of some kind -- so big it blots out the weak winter sun.

Eric, before he squeezes through the rotted door, tosses a package (drugs?).

The two cops break into the clearing and then split up, the white one (BOYLE) chasing the kid who went into the woods, the black cop (LORENZO) going after Eric in the fortress-like abandoned dorm.

Lorenzo disappears inside through the same rotted door.


a buckshot creaky sign tells us we're looking at "FREEDOMLAND VILLAGE - CHILDREN'S UNIT A".

After that hold, we see Lorenzo slowly back out of that same rotted door almost like film being shot in reverse.

Despite the wintry air, he is sweating. HE looks totally haunted, almost shell-shocked, as if he forgot what he had gone into the building for in the first place.

He stands there for a beat, just trying to come back to himself, then --


almost leaping into Lorenzo's arms, as if he wants this cop to save him from something.

ERIC (near-babbling): Yo Lorenzo, get me the fuck out of here, man, just get me the fuck..."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: 1) It's good to upend the reader's expectations; 2) Be sure that you pay off whatever you set up.

Do both of the above, not either/or.  Doing #1 well will not cover for lack of #2.

Freedomland (2006)(undated)
Novel and script by Richard Price

Monday, January 8, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Flightplan (2005) - When the Antagonist's Identity is Delayed

[Quick Summary: When a widow flies back to the U.S. with her husband's casket, her fragile mind is strained when her 4 y.o. daughter goes missing on the plane.]

What I liked about this script:
- Strong female lead
- It's a real page turner
- Interesting mystery: Is the mother delusional with grief or not?
- Several nice twists & turns, red herrings

What I didn't like about this script: The antagonist takes too long to show up.

I do understand why structurally there is a delay in the reveal.

First, there is plenty of pipe to lay down (ex. the search of the plane; why the female protagonist, Kyle, is distraught; etc.)

Second, the antagonist is continually manipulating Kyle's situation from off screen.  So he is "there," although we do not see him.

Third, part of the mystery is who the antagonist could be.

Fourth, it's a matter of taste and preference how to tell this story.

But for my two cents, the script didn't zip as much until the antagonist shows up (well into Act 2), as in the scene below (SPOILERS AHEAD):


She rushes toward the window. Through it she sees the apron of the tarmac:

A Plain FBI SEDAN approaches. CARGO-GUYS off-load suitcases and golf-clubs. There's that pallet bearing the Mercedes and its smashing window

...And David's casket, rolling off a conveyor belt.

But now Kyle has to picture Julia inside it. God no... 

Her legs fail her; she literally folds toward the floor. Breathing feels impossible. We stay on her, tight on her face, as:

CARSON (cont'd): She'll wake up in about an hour, give or take, and find herself face to face with your husband. You fuck with me, even a little, and she'll die in there - there's about five hours worth of oxygen inside.

A four year-old girl, in a coffin with a corpse. It's unimaginable, enough to drive a mother mad.

And that's just what it's doing - we can see it Kyle's eyes.

She backs away from the window, into the aisle. Carson takes out his phone, casually.

CARSON (cont'd): Now. Let's talk about your exit strategy.

She's about to explode. It's coming...

CARSON (cont'd): After the money is wired  you're going to --

Bang. She goes off.

In a blur, she has bolted down the aisle, catching Carson completely off-guard.

CARSON: Goddamit...

He takes off after her."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Even when it doesn't work for me, I admire when writers attempt a bold structure (here, concealing the antagonist's identity as late as possible).

Flightplan (2005)(current revisions by Billy Ray, dated 6/8/04)
by Peter Dowling, rev. by Larry Cohen, Terry Hayes, and Billy Ray

Monday, January 1, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Shattered Glass (2003) - A Contradictory Character

[Quick Summary: Based on a true story. A well-liked young staff writer from the esteemed The New Republic reports on the most fascinating stories,* until a journalist fact-checks one and finds it is fictional.]

I find contradictory characters both fascinating and frustrating, i.e., good reading.

Here, for example, I like AND dislike the Stephen Glass character.

a) I LIKE HIM BECAUSE: He's doesn't brag, is entertaining, thoughtful, and loyal.  He's the friend that enters when all others exit.


Lane looks over theother reporters at this table - recalling that painful time:

LANE: No one on the staff would speak to me. No one... (they nod, remembering) Except for Stephen.

The Staffers react, surprised. Very.

                                                                                                     CUT TO:


It's late; the suite is still. Glass walks down the hallway in his socks, checking to see thatnoone's around to spot him... Then he ducks into:


Lane looks up from his desk, drained - and thrown... because Glass is standing in his doorway.

GLASS (softly, with compassion): How's it goin', Chuck?

Lane sighs with relief. He's got an ally."

b) I DISLIKE HIM BECAUSE: He lives in denial, even when the reputation of others is on the line.

The scene below is a conference call between Glass and Lane (his boss), and Penenberg, a Forbes Digital Tool reporter, who has questions about a Glass article.

ex.  "PENENBERG: Um, a few other people we can't seem to locate. Julie Farthwork, Frank Juliet, and Restil's agent - Joe Hiert...We called the numbers you gave us and got voice-mails for all three. And all the e-mails we sent came back saying "no address" or "account closed."

GLASS: Really? 'Cause I've e-mailed them about a million times each. Hiert's on-line all day long.

PENENBERG: Did you ever call these people and get them directly?

GLASS: No. I always left messages and spoke to them when they called back.


That hangs we SPLIT SCREEN INTO FOUR SEPARATE IMAGES, each a little slice of tension: Lane's eyes, his notepad, Glass' fidgeting hands, the mini-cassette.

INTERCUT with Penenberg, who is as calm as can be...

PENENBERG: And the references in the article to Nevada law enforcement officials. Was Jim Ghort the only one you spoke to?


PENENBERG: Do you have a phone number for him?

GLASS: Yeah. Definitely. Somewhere around here.

Glass looks through his notes as if inconvenienced. Then:

GLASS (cont'd): Ready?

PENENBERG: Mmm-hmmm.

GLASS: 605-43--



PENENBERG: 605. That's not Nevada.


He pauses. Lane tightens.

GLASS: I guess I got him mixed up with another source. I just have to -- (shuffling pages) Ghort is actually the guy who told me about the Law Enforcement Officials. (more shuffling) I might have to --

LANE (sharply): Give him the number, Stephen.

END a deafening silence fills both offices. Glass looks wounded.

...and Penenberg and Foroohar look stunned. They know that a lined just got crossed...

PENENBERG (for Foroohar only): This guy is toast.

Foroohar nods."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The contradictory nature of the Glass character (both loyal and untruthful) gives a familiar story a new angle.

Shattered Glass (2003)(revised draft, dated 5/20/02)
by Billy Ray
From an article by Buzz Bissinger

*He bamboozled The New Republic into printing at least 41 invented or partially invented articles.

Monday, December 25, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Hart's War (2002) - Up the Stakes: A Good Twist & Moral Quandry

[Quick Summary: In a "trial" to amuse the senior German officer, an American POW must defend a black POW who is accused of murdering a third POW.]

Two thoughts:

1) I imagine this was a tough novel to adapt:
- It's a war film with political and racial issues.
- There's a very large ensemble cast.
- There is a lot of material to cover, so it takes a while (40+ pgs) to set up.*
- It's a mystery and a courtroom drama.

2) A good twist in the story and/or moral quandry really up the stakes and conflict.

This script has both.

In the scene below, Tommy Hart is summoned to the office of Commander Visser.

- Visser is the enemy, but....he's offering help? (Good twist!)
- The writer set up a tough decision for Tommy: either betray his beliefs for the benefit of his client, or stick by his beliefs and doom his client. (Good moral quandry!)


Well-appointed...but those appointments are all starting to show their age. Visser sits, reading Huckleberry Finn (in English, of course) as Tommy is escorted in.

VISSER: Ah, Lieutenant! How are you?

Cell Guard #2 clicks his heels at Visser and exits. Visser lowers his book. Tommy looks around, wary.

VISSER: Not too well, I imagine. That was quite a beating you took today. Sit.

Tommy sits, eyeing the copy of Huckleberry Finn.

VISSER: You know this book? It's wonderful....And after watching that trial all day, I found myself longing for the tales of "Nigger Jim!"

TOMMY: Major, I have witnesses to prepare for...

VISSER: Yes. This has been very much on mind. In fact it's why I wanted to see you.

He crosses to a bookcase, grabs a MILITARY MANUAL, and hands it to Tommy: "The U.S. Army Officers' Handbook of Military Law and Court-Martial Procedure." Tommy eyes it, surprised.

TOMMY: How did you --

VISSER: We keep a library of all American military manuals. I thought this one might be of particular use to you. (pleased) As I'd said, my sense of fair play...

Tommy pauses. Something's feeling a little Faustian here...

TOMMY: I don't think I can accept this, Major. We have a policy about fraternizing with the --

VISSER: You walk back in there unarmed and your client is going to face a firing squad. Would that be better?

Tommy's wavering now. They both know it.

VISSER: Read it. You might learn something.

On Tommy, we...
                                                                                                   CUT TO:"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I think war films tend to blend together unless something sets it apart.  Here, the unusual structural elements make it memorable.

Hart's War (2002)(2nd draft revised, dated 8/16/00)
by Billy Ray
Based on the novel by John Katzenbach - and drafts by Jeb Stuart and Terry George

*Yes, it was necessary. No, I don't know if it could be sped up faster than it was. No, this does not make me happy, but it is the reality of screenplay form vs. novel.

Monday, December 18, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Volcano (1997) - Rhthym/Tempo in an Action Film

[Quick Summary: When molten lava breaks through the earth's crust, the no-nonsense O.E.M chief struggles to corral the lava amid multiple emergencies.]

Disaster films are a tough sell to today's audiences.

However, I think that today's script is still worth a read because it is a good example of rhythm/tempo in an action film.

For me, rhythm/tempo is one of the more difficult things to describe to new writers.

If done right, it is generally invisible to the audience.  If done wrong, the audience senses something is off, but often can't tell you why.

A few rhythm/tempo clues from this script:

1) It will take more space on the page than you think.
2) Rhythm/tempo conveys feeling: fast (urgency); building (pushing to a climax); pause (off guard or thinking); etc.
3) In scripts, it consists of the sequence of scenes STRUNG TOGETHER.

Note in the scene below:
- There's a lot of writing on the page (sorry it's so long).
- The sequence is: Show us other rescuers --> show protagonist Roark --> show other rescuers --> show Roark. It is the drumbeat of battle.
- When Dr. Jaye disagrees with Roark, he pauses before answering (see notes below).


A BRAVE FIREMAN climbs up to the passenger door of the prone truck, and dives into the cab.


We hear the BRAVE FIREMAN scream from the heat. He tries to pull the Wounded Driver straight up...A SECOND BRAVE FIREMAN reaches in...trying to pull both of the men out.


The BRAVE FIREMAN and WOUNDED DRIVER are burned alive. We hear their screams.


He grabs the SECOND BRAVE FIREMAN before the guy can get himself killed. Pulls him out. AMBULANCE SIRENS wail.


He sees JAYE TRYING TO DRAG THE HEAD-WOUND FIREMAN out of the path of the flow. She's not fast enough.


Kelly's in his arms, burned, choking from all the ash. Ten feet away, two more firemen are sitting ducks...


She should be safe there.


He grabs the legs of the Head-Wound Fireman. Jaye has the guy's arms. Together, they move him.


Lava's still coming...And the BROKEN-LEG FIREMEN is right in its path.

With the help of a THIRD FIREMAN, they hoist the guy up and haul him back to that bush-bench. Broken-leg Fireman screams in agony.



JAYE (has to shout): We have to get these people to Cedars.

ROARK: This is my daughter. I'll get her there myself.

JAYE: You're O.E.M. right? (Roark nods) You're needed here. I'll take her.

ROARK: I don't...

JAYE: You bring her in, she waits in line. I bring her in, this burn gets treated. (that scored) It's not major. She's gonna be okay...But I don't want it infected.

ON ROARK [Notice that Roark doesn't answer immediately.]

He eyes, Jaye, sizing her up. She's all-business.

AROUND HIM - CHAOS [Instead, we see what he's seeing, i.e., what he's thinking.]

More accidents, more fires, and it's just beginning.


They line the entrance to LACMA. One by one, the palms ignite. From within the Museum, fire alarms WAIL.


Then back to Jaye again. He nods.

ROARK: Take her."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Give yourself room on the page. Rhythm/tempo needs space.

Volcano (1997)(draft dated 5/3/96)
by Billy Ray and Jerome Armstrong
Story by Jerome Armstrong
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