Monday, October 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

ANNIE: Yes. I trust you! Yes.

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

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

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

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


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


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


THE TEACHER: Who will protect you?


THE TEACHER: Who will shield you?


THE TEACHER: Did you say the judge?


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Teacher turns...

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 9, 2017

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

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

My Three Random Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARY'S VOICE: Woody, you home?

Woody pauses by the door.

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

MARY'S VOICE: Where you goin'?

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

MARY'S VOICE: When you comin' back?

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

He hesitates, then goes out the door.


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

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

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

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

Monday, October 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

GOOD NEWS: There were still some great character moments.

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


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


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

GERMAN SENTRY: -- you will do as directed.

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 25, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Parallax View (1974) - The Difference the Protagonist's Career Can Make

[Quick Summary: In this draft, a police officer tracks down the shadow entity that wants to kill him, and uncovers a government wide conspiracy.]

OK, OK, I know it was 1974...

...and investigative reporters were hot in films...

...but I still wish they'd stuck to this script and kept the protagonist as a cop.*

Both Fradys (as an investigative reporter, as a cop) witness an assassination and then are targeted because they witnessed it. Both go on the run.

However, I find that idea of Frady the cop more appealing.

First, it would be more threatening. If no one believes Frady the cop, will anyone?!

Second, it would be a more layered, morally complex character.**  Frady the reporter could disregard questions that would require a few extra steps for Frady the cop.

Read the scene below with: a) Frady as reporter, and b) Frady as cop. 

Do you, like me, have different experience/expectations with reporter vs. cop?


Frady enters and stops short, like seeing a ghost.


A GIRL is standing by the window. Her name is HILDY. She's in her early 30s and quite attractive enough to explain Cpl. Harmon's whistle, and her attempt to hide her obvious uncertainty isn't very good.

HILDY: Hello, Frady. Surprise.


He just looks at her. His eyes are strangely cold. Then his eyes go off her as ANGLE LOOSENS.  Making a point of not looking at her, he hangs his jacket on a hook but leaves on his shoulder holster as he goes to desk and yanks open a bottom drawer.

FRADY: How you get in here?
HILDY: Said I was engaged to you.

No look, no comment. Frady takes a bottle from the drawer. Antique label says "Sloane's Horse Liniment," but it's probably not that because he uncaps it and drinks a slug.

HILDY: I had a heck of a time finding you. I never dreamed you'd be a policeman.
FRADY: Me neither.
HILDY: I'm terribly glad you are.
FRADY: I'm glad you're glad. Why?
HILDY: It's the damnest thing. It's -- Look at me, won't you?

He won't. He sticks bottle away, wipes his mouth with back of hand, starts shuffling papers on his desk.

FRADY: Talk of damnedest things. Your first name's Hildy, but in -- let's see - ummmn - - in nine years, I've forgot your last.
HILDY: Miller. Look at me.
FRADY: Hildy Miller -- don't you know why seeing you makes me so sad?
HILDY: Of course. I don't like to be reminded either.
FRADY: Then what's the score?
HILDY: Someone wants to kill us, Frady.


He turns his head at last. He looks at her.


WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I was surprised at how much the story changed for me depending on the career.

As a reporter, the story seemed more plot driven; as a cop, more character driven.

Parallax View (1974)
by Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Based on the novel by Loren Singer

*Even Roger Ebert noticed:  "A couple of years earlier, the hero of "The Parallax View" would probably have been a cop or a private eye. But what with Woodward and Bernstein and all, Warren Beatty plays a newspaper reporter instead."

**Ebert comments: "Beatty, in the central role, does a fine, taut job, but the movie is so straightforward that it doesn't ever require the superior acting he's capable of; plot seems so much more important than character here that it doesn't matter that this is Warren Beatty. And that's a waste, because he doesn't need one-dimensional roles." (my emphasis)

Monday, September 18, 2017

TODAY'S 2nd NUGGET: The Seventh Seal (1957) - Formatting Myths

[Quick Summary: While he staves off dying by plays chess with Death, a knight searches for the meaning of God's absence among the country folk he meets.]

This is the 2nd of the two of the most infuriating truths that no one tells you:

Quest. #2: This script is in single spaced paragraphs!! Where's the formatting?! Why didn't they follow the (fill in the blank) book on formatting?!

Answer #2:  Here, the script is written by and for the director.

Each line is a shot and reads easily in paragraph form.

It works for Bergman here, but may not work for everyone. (Try it yourself.)
But since I'm on my high horse, may I share some Hard Won Truths?

Q: Don't script readers care about formatting?
A:  They DO NOT CARE about formatting as long as it's a good read.

Q: When do they care?
A: When YOUR writing gets in the way of THEIR reading.

Q: Doesn't bad formatting "get in the way"?
A: It's an easy way to spot the experienced vs. non-experienced, but it's not the top reason to reject your script.

Q: Wait, what?
A: Bad formatting isn't enough since it is too easily fixed.  More likely, it's a deeper script problem.*

Q: What do you mean?
A:  Many non-writers (and many writers) are confused by problems that just LOOK like formatting issues on the surface, ex. bad structure, bad transitions.

These all use the same tools and cues but for very different reasons and effects.

ex. Formatting - Make sure "INT. KITCHEN" is all caps, spelled correctly, right font.

ex. Transition - INT. KITCHEN needs to be scrapped for INT. HOUSE and one continuous shot of woman running in front door --> hallway --> kitchen --> back door. No individual headings, as it would disturb the building momentum.

Q: But I like formatting! What's wrong with formatting?! Wordsmithing?
A: I like them too. But if we're honest, those are the easier parts. You want to get paid for the tougher stuff.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Study and pay attention to what works (or doesn't) in other scripts.

It's the only way to master the harder skills.

The Seventh Seal (1957)
by Ingmar Bergman
Adapted from his play

*I only mention things that are within a writer's control above.

Remember that there are many things that are NOT within your control.  ex. Sometimes the timing is lousy. Or five scripts enter the market together with the same concept.  Or the producer lost funding.

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Seventh Seal (1957) - Juggling Humor into a Serious Film

[Quick Summary: While he staves off dying by plays chess with Death, a knight searches for the meaning of God's absence among the country folk he meets.]

This script demonstrates two of the most infuriating truths that no one tells you:*

Quest. #1: It's about the "silence of God"? Why bother with such old fashioned film?

Answer #1: I had mixed feelings after reading this script.

First, this story doesn't have a clear cut objective to accomplish.

The Knight asks "Where is God?" and the answer is a struggle. With Death. With meaning. With day to day life. Yikes.

Second, however, this script did keep me entertained while discussing a serious topic.

What a major juggling feat!  How did the writer do it?

Perhaps we could get a few insights from this recent review of another 2017 film:
This is the story of a kid learning his parents aren’t perfect and all of his neighbors are violent racists. Without any humor or interesting characters to keep the film entertaining, that’s a tough premise for a movie. And it’s tonally impossible to balance. It makes “xxx” a comedy with almost no laughs and a drama with no depth. (underline mine)
Hmmm....Humor or interesting characters keep the premise alive and the tone balanced. Eureka!

Here, the Knight's search for answers to the silence of God (heavy premise) is palatable because of his travels with actors Jof and wife Mia (interesting characters), who add humor and fun.

Note below how life goes on despite Death stalking Knight (life vs death):

ex. "JOF stands in the hot sun with a flickering lantern in his hand. MIA pretends to be asleep on a bench which has been pulled forward on the stage.

JOF: Night and moonlight now prevail Here sleeps my wife so frail...

VOICE FROM THE PUBLIC: Does she snore?

JOF: May I point out that this is a tragedy, and in tragedies one doesn't snore.

VOICE FROM THE PUBLIC: I think she should snore anyhow.

This opinion causes mirth in the audience. JOF becomes slightly confused and goes out of character, but MIA keeps her head and begins snoring.

JOF: Night and moonlight now prevail. There snores - I mean sleeps - my wife so frail..."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Tone has always flummoxed me, so I'm glad to have clearer insight into how humor affects a heavy drama's tone.

The Seventh Seal (1957)
by Ingmar Bergman
Adapted from his play

* FYI: I had too much to say, so here's the first of two posts today.

Monday, September 11, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) - An Unusual Form (Elegy)

[Quick Summary: A 19 y.o. Robert Ford can not imagine how his hero worship of suspicious and violent Jesse James could lead to tragedy.]

This script really threw me.  It's odd, but I didn't know why. 

In my greener days, I would've been quick to dismiss it:

- It's rather plotless for the first 50+ pgs. until it picks up pace.
- The last 30 pages seem like an epilogue gone too long.

But when faced with an unusual script, I know now to take a step back and look:

- In pgs. 55-100, there's great suspense and a dueling between Bob and Jesse.
- The purpose of the scenes is different than other scripts. It's less about plot, more an attempt to capture a feeling. Here, it's knowing that loss is coming.

I think the closest analogy is an elegy, "a mournful, melancholy poem, especially a funeral song or lament for the dead." *

Notes for the scene below:
- Prior to this, Bob has killed Jesse's cousin but is unsure how much Jesse knows. Now Jesse has come to Bob's relative's house and he baits Bob.
- This is a bittersweet moment. Bob finally gets what he's been wanting (Jesse's acceptance) but now his hero is a threat.

ex. "BOB: How come George has a grudge against you?

JESSE: Hmmm?

BOB: You said George Shepherd had a grudge against you and I've just been wondering what it was?

JESSE: Oh. George asked me to protect this nephew of his during the war and it so happens the kid had five thousand dollars on him. The kid winds up killed, and all the money swiped from him, and when George was in in prison someone whispers to him it was Jesse James slit the boy's throat.

CHARLEY: Just mean gossip, was it?

JESSE: Bob's the expert; put it to him.

BOB rises from the table like a stamping boy in a snit.

JESSE: I've make him cranky.

WILBUR snickers.

BOB: I've been through this is all. Once people get around to making fun of me, they just don't ever let up.

MARTHA: Someone's speaking awful fresh over there!

BOB is forced to walk past JESSE to get to the main room. JESSE kicks a leg across BOB'S path, clouting the floorboards with his boot. BOB glances down at his bogus grin - the suggestion of malice beneath his antics.

JESSE: I don't want you to skip off to your room and pout without knowing why I dropped by for this visit.

BOB: I suppose you're going to tell us how sorry you are that you had to slap my cousin Albert around.

Such a great heat seems to come then from JESSE'S eyes that BOB glances away as if from sunlight, but in a second the man cools and says:

JESSE: I come to ask one of you two Fords to ride with me on a journey or two. I guess we've agreed it ought to be Charley; you've been acting sort of testy.

BOB stands pale and silent. Then he steps around JESSE'S boot and calmly climbs the stairs to the upper room."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I can see why this script would be a tough sell. It's harder to grasp than a traditional narrative form.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)(dated 12/8/04)
by Andrew Dominik
Adapted from the novel by Ron Hansen

*"The elements of a traditional elegy mirror three stages of loss. First, there is a lament, where the speaker expresses grief and sorrow, then praise and admiration of the idealized dead, and finally consolation and solace."

Monday, September 4, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Omen (1976) - Horror = Fear, Dread, or Dismay

[Quick Summary: After he is convinced to swap in another baby for his stillborn, an American ambassador and his wife are not prepared for the destruction that follows.]

ME: "What exactly is horror? 
MYSELF: It's blood and guts.
ME: That's lazy. This script is clearly horror, i.e., scary, but WITHOUT much blood and guts. So why is it still horror?
MYSELF: How does the dictionary define it?
ME: "(n.) painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay."
MYSELF: A-ha! Now you see why used the shorthand of "blood & guts"?

In other words, rely on "fear, dread, or dismay" (not blood & guts).*


Thorn turning to Kathy; pleased.

KATHY: I like her.
KATHY: Where did you find her?
THORN (taken aback): Where did I find her?
KATHY: ...Yes.
THORN: I didn't find her, I assumed you found her.

They exit.


KATHY (shouting up the stairs): Mrs. Baylock!


about to open the door to the child's room.

MRS. BAYLOCK (turning): Yes?


ascending the stairs, Thorn behind her; pausing as they reach the landing.

KATHY: I'm sorry, we're a little confused.
MRS. BAYLOCK (stiffening): Why is that?
KATHY: We don't know how you got here.
MRS. BAYLOCK: By taxi. I sent it away.
KATHY: What I mean is, who 'called' you?
MRS. BAYLOCK: The agency.
KATHY: ...The agency?
MRS. BAYLOCK: They saw in the papers you'd lost your first nanny, so they sent you another.



THORN: ...very enterprising.
KATHY: I'll call to confirm that.
MRS. BAYLOCK: That'll be fine. Here are my references.

There passes an uneasy silence: all staring dumbly at each other.

MRS. BAYLOCK: If you'll excuse me now.
KATHY (uneasy): Yes, of course.

Mrs. Baylock reaches for the door...                                                                  CUT TO:


as the boy sits on the bed gazing out the window...slowly turning as he hears the door opening.


ENTERING; closing the door behind her, and locking it -- turning to gaze at the child. As she does, her expression transforms --her body stiffening, as though she is gazing upon something of incomparable beauty.


vaguely frightened.



MRS. BAYLOCK (fighting to control her voice): ...Fear not, little one. I'm here to protect Thee.

CAMERA HOLDS on her face."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: For horror, it's all about building the fear, dread, or dismay.

The Omen (1976)(dated 9/8/75)
by David Seltzer

*I once read a spec horror script that was pages of blood and gore, but failed to build any fear/dread/dismay. It was boring. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Femme Fatale (2002) - Voyeurism & Increasing Tension

[Quick Summary: A double crossing French con woman flees her conspirators, and when she's forced to return home, she runs a con to avoid the retribution.]

As mentioned last week, De Palma chooses "more controversial terrain: suspense, violence and eroticism."

I'd also like to add "voyeur" a minor addition to the list.*

Voyeurism is all about:
- Watching and seeing, which is why it works well with film format.
- Danger of being discovered, which increases the tension.

But how do you make 'watching and seeing' interesting on the page?

My two thoughts: 

1) As always, the audience always need to wonder what is going to happen next.
2) But in this script, the added twist is that even the voyeur is wondering.

Note in the example below:
- How each scene lures the voyeur (and us) into wanting to see more
- How there is danger to Larry, to Mrs. Watts, which keeps us anxious, curious

[FYI: Larry is a papparazzo following Mrs. Watts, the femme fatale.]


...As the driver's side of the LEXUS sweeps past [Larry], he catches a glimpse of a face.

A classic model's profile if [sic] wasn't marred by that ugly shiner spreading out from under her sunglasses and down her left cheek.

Could this be the LADY OF THE HOUSE with "photo op" written all over her face?

LARRY speed after her to find out.... 


The LEXUS parks in front of a SEX SHOP. LARRY finds a parking place across the street as MRS. WATTS gets out of her car and walks over to a STREET WHORE. They talk for a few seconds, then MRS. WATTS folls the STREET WHORE into the shop.

LARRY, grabs a camera out of the car, and crosses the street to get a closer look.

Through the window, he watches MRS. WATTS talk to the MANAGER. LARRY snaps off a few shots. A little insurance in case SHIFF tries to muscle him again.

The MANAGER motions MRS. WATTS to follow him. As they move toward the rear of the store, the STREET WHORE turns to face the front door. LARRY ducks down out of sight. He retreats back behind a newsstand. When he turns back to look, the STREET WHORE has returned to the street and MRS. WATTS and the MANAGER have vanished. LARRY rubs his hand across his mouth. What the hell is going on? He looks up and sees two figures silhouetted in the second story window. One's a woman. One's a man. They appeared to be in a heated argument. Finally the woman opens her purse and flings something down on the floor. The man kneels down to retrieve it. The woman slowly pulls up her skirt, turning her back to the window. Her hand reaches behind her back and grips at the shade cord. Grabbing hold of it, she pulls down the shade, cutting off LARRY'S VIEW.

A few minutes later, MRS. WATTS emerges from the SEX SHOP carrying a BROWN SHOPPING BAG. She gets back into the LEXUS and drives of.

What was that all about? A bag of sex toys for an evening adventure? A perplexed LARRY continues tailing her....

LARRY watches from his car as MRS. WATTS checks in[to a hotel]. While she's occupied with the DESK CLERK, LARRY slips out of his car, crosses the road, and looks into the side window of the LEXUS. Resting in the bottom of the SHOPPING BAG is a GUN and a BOX OF BULLETS.

LARRY ducks down from view as MRS. WATTS returns to her car, takes out the SHOPPING BAG and returns to the hotel. LARRY follows."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Even in 'watching and seeing' scenes, the character is actively reacting to what he/she is seeing.

Femme Fatale (2002)(dated 11/21/00)
by Brian De Palma

*I hope that critic Roger Ebert might agree with me.  He wrote: "This is a movie about watching and being watched, about seeing and not knowing what you see."

Monday, August 21, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Body Double (1984) - Writing an Erotic Scene

[Quick Summary: An out-of-work actor watches a beautiful woman through a telescope, and when she is murdered, he chases her killer.]

I don't really like reading sex scenes on the page.

Frankly, they're often handled poorly, and I do not appreciate the writer trying to show off and/or shock me with yet another orgy scene that is neither sexy nor erotic. 

So what's does a good erotic scene look like on the page? 

I find it ironic that I cite this De Palma script as a good example.*

However, I admit that he explains well about what it should look like on the page: **
A lot of filmmakers think that just showing people kissing each other, and having a very good time, is enough. But so often their eyes are closed, and you can’t see their faces. The audience is completely shut out. In Hitchcock movies, you can see that they are kissing each other on the neck, and talking. They’re kissing lightly on the lips, and you can see their eyes. You see how they’re reacting. That’s what creates the eroticism of the scene. - Moviemaker (emphasis mine)
Note in the scene below how many times De Palma directs us back at the protagonist's (Jon) reaction.  We get involved as Jon gets involved:

ex. "Sam goes over to the telescope.
Looks through the viewfinder.

SAM: There's one very special feature to this house...

Sam fiddles with the viewer.
Pans to the side --up and down.Finds what he's looking for --

SAM: Come here, Jon. Meet my favorite neighbor.

Jon approaches.
An expression of doubtful bemusement on his face.

JON: Hey, Sam, what're you --

Sam grabs his arm.
Positions him at the telescope.

SAM: Just take a look.

Reluctant, but curious, Jon leans over.
Presses his eye to the lens.                                                                  CUT




Out of focus:
A family of four at the dinner table.


SAM (o.s.): See her?

JON (o.s.): Huh? Just a fmily.

SAM (o.s.): Not them, lower.

Jon pans down.
A jiggly movement.


Focuses on the window below the family.
There in the window, a WOMAN.
Standing in the shadows.
A candle on the window sill.
Her face is obscured.
Like an eclipsed sun.
The woman, GLORIA, is drinking wine.
And touching herself.
Slowly, sensually, her breasts.
She puts the wine glass down.
Unbuttons her blouse.
Shrugs it off.
Beneath, she wears a thin silk camisole.
She unhooks her skirt.
It puddles to the floor.
She puts one foot up on a chair.
Touches her leg.
Caresses herself.


at the telescope.
Fighting a battle.
And losing.
He cannot tear himself away.
Sam smiles.

SAM: Nice, huh?

And Sam retreats into the bedroom to pack."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The protagonist's reaction to what he sees, i.e., the change in him, is as important for us to see as what he's focused upon.

Body Double (1984)(revised 12/16/83)
by Robert . Averch and Brian De Palma
Story by Brian De Palma

*First, because his scripts are not really my cup of tea.

Second, if you didn't know already, De Palms is quite a divisive filmmaker, who chooses "more controversial terrain: suspense, violence and eroticism." (emphasis mine)

**I like that he says that eroticism, in his words, is "a bit of an illusion."