Monday, March 18, 2019

2019 OSCARS: Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) - Retain the Unpleasant; Protagonist as Antagonist

[Quick Summary: After an unpleasant, down-on-her-luck writer is suspected by the FBI, she enlists the help of a ne'er-do-well to continue to sell faked celebrity letters.]


1) RETAIN THE UNPLEASANT. Lee Israel was a difficult person.

I liked that this script did not try to soften those edges or excuse them. It merely showed the cause and effect of her idiosyncratic, but human, behavior.

ex. At a party at her agent's house, Lee feels the agent is brushing her off/rejecting her. Instead of dealing with the feeling, she steals someone else's nice coat.

2) PROTAGONIST AS ANTAGONIST. What do you do when the protagonist's greatest antagonist is herself? How do you externalize her fight with herself?

For Lee, I think she wanted to connect, but her unexamined issues got in the way.

This script does a nice job of putting Lee into situations where her flaws are on display and work against her being able to connect.

In the scene below, note:
- Lee owes three months rent. Andrei is nice to her.
- Lee is in the wrong, yet she continues to treads on his kindness and asks for another favor.
- Lee does not take responsibility for the lost job and blames others.
- The scene shows how Lee's imposing behaviors caused others to stay away.


Lee enters her building, and upon seeing Andrei, 50s, Romanian, tries to turn around and go right back out, but he calls out.


LEE: Hi, Andrei.

ANDREI: I knock on your door but you never answer. We're going on three months.

LEE: No, I know. I'm really sorry about that. I'm working on it.

ANDREI: I don't want to have to call the management.

LEE: Can you cut me a little slack? It's been a rough patch. I just lost my job. I think it was ageism.

ANDREI: Can't you write another book?

LEE: Last one was a bit of a calamity.

ANDREI: I like you, you've been here longer than I have, and you've always been kind to my mother. Just get it to me soon.

LEE: I will. Absolutely. Thank you.

Andrei start to walk away.

LEE (CONT'D): But hey, in the meantime, do you think you could get an exterminator in my apartment? I've got an untenable fly situation."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This script is unusual because the protagonist is the main antagonist too. It must've been difficult to figure out how to externalize the internal fight.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)(final shooting script, 3/13/17)
by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty

Monday, March 11, 2019

2019 OSCARS: BlacKkKlansman (2018) - Tension; Intercutting for Compare & Contrast, Cause & Effect

[Quick Summary: This is the true story of Ron Stallworth, an African American cop in Denver, who infiltrated the KKK.]


1)  RISING TENSION. This script was not super-fun to read, but it read smoothly. I particularly liked the continued rise in tension until the end.  


This script intercuts two simultaneous events (A, B) which makes the audience compare and contrast two opposing views.

In the scene below:
- Scene A:  Jerome Turner, 90 y.o. black man, speaks to the Black Student Union about a public lynching of his friend.
- Scene B: Devin Davis, Grand Master of the Klan, initiates undercover cop Flip.
- Notice the intercutting of Turner and Davis makes the audience think about the cause and effect:
  • past vs. present = We see that the present is still perpetuating past behaviors.
  • pain vs. 'glory' = We see how that pain will continue because of these new members.
  • new ideas vs. old ideas =  Patrice and friends want a new world. Klan wants the old.


JEROME TURNER: I was working at the Shoe Shine Parlor. After the verdict, a Mob grabbed Jesse, wrapped a Chain around his Neck and dragged him out the Court House.



JEROME TURNER: I knew I had to hide.


DEVIN DAVIS: Ron Stallworth. Are you a White, Non-Jewish American Citizen?

Flip is breathing hard.

FLIP: Yes.

DEVIN DAVIS:Yes, what?

FLIP: I am a White, Non-Jewish American Citizen.



Tears rolls down her face.

JEROME TURNER (V.O.): The Attic of the Parlor had a Small Window and I watched below as The Mob marched Jesse along Stabbing and Beating him. Finally, they held Jesse down and cut his Testicles off in Front of City Hall.


JEROME TURNER (V.O.): The Police and city Officials were out there just watching like it was a 4th of July Parade.


Davis looks into Flip's Eyes. Flip returns The Stare.

DEVIN DAVIS: Are you in favor of a White Man's Government in this Country?"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I liked the deliberate intercutting of A and B to assist the audience in comparing and contrasting, in cause and effect.

It's not just a fancy technique for show.

BlacKkKlansman (2018) 
by Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee

Monday, March 4, 2019

2019 OSCARS: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) - Fables; Clear Geography

[Quick Summary: An anthology of stories from the old West, with a twist of dark drama and humor.]


1) FABLES. I did not enjoy reading this anthology.

I found it hard to grasp what it was trying to do.

However, I did like that these stories are like Aesop's Fables, with the moral of the story left up to the reader.  One story with very little dialogue still haunts me.

2) CLEAR GEOGRAPHY.  I liked how easy it was to follow the action.

I also like that the script assumes that you know a little about Westerns.

For example, the scene below assumes you know that bank "teller's bars" go up to the ceiling.

Also, the description of how the cowboy/robber moves is very easy to follow:

He moves down the counter --> on top of the counter --> up the bars --> drops off.

ex. "INT. BANK - DAY

The cowboy enters.

The one-room structure is empty except for a trapper with white hair and mustache behind the teller's bars, hands planted on the counter. He wears a black eyeshade and black sleevegarters.


The unmistakable clack of a shotgun-prime.

The cowboy's eyes widen. He takes a nimbly evasive step down the counter as --

ROAR! --wood from the base of the counter splinters outward where he'd just been standing.

ROAR!--another explosion further along.

The cowboy grabs the bars at one end of the counter and hoists himself. He stands perched on the counter lip, hugging the bars. The shotgun continues to roar.

He scales the bars and drops to the counter's far side."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Don't over-explain geography (and don't under-explain either).

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
by Joel Cohen and Ethan Cohen

Monday, February 25, 2019

2019 OSCARS: Vice (2018) - Unusual V.O. Narrator; A Strong Female Role

[Quick Summary: The life and rise of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, particularly after 9/11/01.]


1) USE OF AN UNSEEN NARRATOR. I don't think that I've seen a script before in which the the identity of a narrator is unknown until Act 3.

2) STRONG FEMALE ROLE. I think I remember hearing that Christian Bale (who plays Dick Cheney) said that the secret to Dick is Lynne. He's right.

I think that she is a very strong female role, in part because:
a) She is aware of the limitations for women of her era, but
b) It does not prevent her from standing on her own ground.

In the following scene, we see:
- A glimpse of Lynne's background
- Lynne laying her cards out and calling for a decision from Dick
- The chemistry between  Lynne and Dick (bringing out the best in each other)



LYNNE, 21, pretty and sharp, stands over him with a fury in her eyes.

LYNNE: Two times! Two times I had to drag you out of that jail like a filthy hobo!!

DICK: I'm sorry, Lynne...

LYNNE: What? What did you just say?

DICK: I'm sorry, Lynney.

LYNNE:You're sorry? Don't call me "Lynney!" One time is "I'm sorry." Two times makes me think I've picked the wrong man! They kicked your ass out of Yale for drinking and fighting! Now are you just a lush who's going to hang power lines for the state? Are we going to live in a trailer and have ten children!? Is that the plan?!

Dick looks like he might be sick.

DICK: Can we please...discuss this later?

LYNNE: No. We discuss it right now while you smell of piss and cheap booze!

EDNA, Lynne's Mom, starts to walk in.

EDNA: Does Dick want some coffee?

LYNNE: Mother get out! Does Dick want some coffee? Jesus Christ! (back to Dick) Here's my plan. Eight you stand up and put your back straight and have the courage to become someone or I am gone! There are a dozen men and a few Professors at school who would date me!

DICK: I love you, Lynne. I've loved you since the day I first saw you.

LYNNE: Then prove it! I can't go to a big Ivy League school! I can't run a company or be Mayor! That's just the way the world is for a girl! I need you! And right now you're a big fat piss soaked zero! (beat while she reloads) I've seen my Mother waiting up all night for my Father to come home. And I've seen him drunk in this house raising his voice and way worse, and I'm not dancing that dance anymore...I'm not!

QUICK FLASH BACK to Lynne's FATHER yelling at her MOTHER in the kitchen. Her dad is scary and has been drinking.

LYNNE (CONT'D): Can you change? Or am I wasting my goddamn time?

Beat as Dick looks up. There is a GROWLING DETERMINATION IN HIS EYES.

DICK: I won't ever disappoint you again Lynne.


WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I liked this female role because she offers him a decision, but does not shy away from laying out what she needs. Nothing namby-pamby.

Vice (2018) 
Written & directed by Adam McKay

Monday, February 18, 2019

2019 OSCARS: Roma (2018) - Point of View; Simplicity & Foreshadowing

[Quick Summary: The lives of both a maid and the family she serves crumble simultaneously in 1970s Mexico.]

TWO THINGS THIS SCRIPT DOES WELL:  (especially when writing about memories)

1) Point of view.  I liked that the writer chose a fresh point of view (housemaid) to be the protagonist rather than something more typical (himself as the child).

2) Simplicity & Foreshadowing.  I also liked that these memories were simple on the first read.  Later, we'll see the foreshadowing layered in between.

In the scene below:
- Cleo is the protagonist and a long time, trusted maid.  She is from a poor, uneducated, minority background.
- Pepe is 5 years old.
- This simple scene seems to be about play. Later, we will look back and see that it is about her feelings toward a death to come.


....A spray of invisible bullets shoots through him and Pepe falls dead, his arms spread open, like Paco said. And he stays there, lying down motionless on the ground.

Cleo dries her hands and walks over to him. She stops and watches him -

CLEO: What happened to you?

Without opening his eyes, Pepe answers from the ground.

PEPE: I'm dead.
CLEO: Well, let's go down then.
PEPE: I can't. I'm dead.
CLEO: Then come back to life, we have to go down!
PEPE: If you die, you can't live again.
CLEO: Now what am I going to do without my Pepe!?

Cleo sits on the ground next to Pepe, who remains motionless.

CLEO (CONT'D): I can't live without my Pepe!

Cleo lies down next to Pepe, arms also extended, and closes her eyes -

CLEO (CONT'D): I'm also dead.

And so she remains still, Pepe next to her. A DC 8 flies overhead.

Pepe opens an eye to see Cleo. She's not moving and seems not to be breathing at all. Pepe reaches his hand and takes Cleo's.

PEPE: Cleo...?

But Cleo's not moving. Pepe sits up -

PEPE (CONT'D): Cleo...?
CLEO: I'm dead.
PEPE: No! C'mon, get up!
CLEO: Didn't you say that was impossible?
PEPE: Cleo, stop it!

But Cleo doesn't answer.

PEPE (CONT'D): Cleo!

She remains still.

PEPE (CONT'D): Cleeoo!

Pepe's starting to get scared -

PEPE (CONT'D): Cleeeeeeeeoooooooo!

Cleo opens her eyes and smiles at him.

CLEO: I'm playing your game. Let's see...shall we play a little longer?

Pepe lies down next to her, arms outstretched.

CLEO (CONT'D): Close your eyes.

They both close their eyes.

CLEO (CONT'D): I like being dead.

Pepe holds her hand.

The two of them lie dead on the roof - "

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This simple scene was very well crafted.  I did not see the layer of foreshadowing until much later.

Roma (2018)(dated 9/23/16)
Written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Monday, February 11, 2019

2019 OSCARS: Green Book (2018) - Hope; When Humor Comes Out of Character

[Quick Summary: In 1962, racist New Yorker Tony Lip becomes a bouncer for black concert pianist Dr. Don Shirley's tour of the South.]


1) Hope. I really enjoyed the hopeful tone of the script, especially in the ending.

2) Humor Out of Character. Director/co-writer Peter Farrelly said that the script is not terribly funny on the page.* He did not set out to write funny scenes.  

Instead, the humor comes out of character.

What is "humor out of character"? I think it is more about behavior than jokes.

For example, a character's misunderstandings, contradictory actions, back tracking, etc. are funny because he/she don't see them, but the audience does. **

I like this scene below as an example of misunderstanding:


....Lip goes back to his plate.

LIP (CONT'D): By the way, when you hired me, my wife went out bought one of your records -- 'one about the orphans.

DR. SHIRLEY: Orphans?

LIP: Yeah. Cover had a bunch of kids sitting around a campfire?

Shirley has to think a moment.

DR. SHIRLEY: Orpheus.

LIP: What?

DR. SHIRLEY: Orpheus in the Underworld. It's based on a French Opera. And those kids on the cover? They were demons in hell.

LIP: No shit? Must of been naughty kids."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I think humor coming from character is harder to write, but more universal. It seems to rely less on understanding language than behavior.

Green Book (2018) 
by Nick Vallelonga & Brian Currie & Peter Farrelly

* Interestingly, he only started to see that it was really funny when the actors elevated it.

**Farrelly cites The Andy Griffith Show as a model of humor out of character. It is not a show built on jokes.

Monday, February 4, 2019

2018 OSCARS: First Reformed (2018) - Showing Grave Illness in Two Lines

[Quick Summary: An ill minister of a small congregation grapples with more despair after a parishioner commits suicide in upstate New York.]

This is the 4th Paul Schrader script that I've read so far (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Obsession), but perhaps my least favorite.*

Enough about me.  On to the good stuff...


1)  It is stripped down.  This shows what can be done for $3M today (and investors can get their money back!)

2) It shows (not tells) grave illness. In the scene below, we see Toller in a normal, routine biological act... except for one thing. 

Notice the power of only two sentences (especially the last two words):


Propping one hand against the wall, Toller urinates into the toilet. His urine runs dark brown."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: How does the writer gets the reader to make the conclusion that Toller is ill? Use a universally understood behavior + unexpected result.  

First Reformed (2018)
Written and directed by Paul Schrader

*For anyone who cares: I could stomach that this is a serious film about a serious circumstance, but it took me until p. 17 to get interested.

Monday, January 28, 2019

2019 OSCARS: The Favourite (2018) - Thought Provoking Ending; Subtext of Manipulation

[Quick Summary: Lady Sarah Marlborough, the Queen's trusted confidante, and Abigail, a new social climber, make pawns of Queen Anne and England.]

For this year's 10 Oscars scripts, I've decided to pick out two things that I think that each script does well.


1)  The ending left me thinking.  I do not think every ending has to be happy.

However, they should be satisfying and predictable.* 

This script adds the extra layer of "thought provoking," which is a special bonus. 

After a full script of manipulating and being manipulated, a major character gets a well timed "aha!" moment that comes too late.

"Is that all manipulation brings?!" I wondered.  Great food for thought.

2) The subtext of manipulation

Every character in this script is a manipulator. 

The best ones make their point without saying so (subtext).  This allows the audience the pleasure of putting 2 + 2 together. 

For example, in the scene below, note:
- Harley's words do not match his actions.
- The symbolism of the wren = Abigail


HARLEY: ....I need a friend Abigail, one with cute ears and wide eyes. I am often blind-sided by the distorted situation at court. As Leader of the Opposition I should not be.  I would merely like to know of any plans her Ladyship, Godolphin or the Queen may have.

ABIGAIL: I will not betray my mistress's trust.

HARLEY: Oh look a wren. How cute.

She looks to the trees. Harley trips her and she goes face first into the stony path.

HARLEY (CONT'D): Are you alright? Let me help you up.

He reaches down. She warily reaches out a hand and he pulls her up a little.

HARLEY (CONT'D): Thing is if you're not my friend.  You are..

Then suddenly lets her go, she falls back down.

HARLEY (CONT'D): definition my enemy. Anyway, think on it. No pressure.

Harley stalks off. Abigail sees the little wren, lying dead on the ground beside the path."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  I liked that the writers had something to say and they delivered it cleanly.

The Favourite (2019)(final draft, 3/23/17)
by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara

* By "predictable," I do not mean dull or trite.  I do mean "logical, foreseeable, and/or the payoff to a previous setup."

Monday, January 21, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: California Suite (1978) - Setting Up a Screwball Comedy in the 1st Two Pages

[Quick Summary: Parallel stories of five couples arriving at the Beverly Hills Hotel.]

This was the best FIRST TWO PAGES that I've enjoyed in a very long time. 

The script sets us up for a good screwball comedy because its structure lends itself to great conflict:

1) The characters are opposites, and
2) Diana does the unexpected thing.


At the controls is an hysterical YOUNG MAN. He is screaming at the top of his lungs. Next to him, looking cool and radiant, is DIANA BARRIE, quite English and quite collected. In fact, she is powdering her nose. [Afraid vs. calm]

YOUNG MAN (screaming): ...Where's the airport?... There's no airport!! Look for an airport. [Afraid]

DIANA (coolly): Oh, don't make such a fuss. Just put it down among the cacti. [Calm. It is not the expected response.]

YOUNG MAN (shouting, barely able to control it): What do you mean, just put it down? I'm lucky I can keep it up. I told you I never flew before. [Panicking]

DIANA: Don't shout at me. I'm a first class passenger. [Offended. Leads us to believe that she knows little about planes.]

YOUNG MAN: You're a first class Lunatic!...It's all over, Wendy. Our relationship has about a quarter of a gallon to go.  [Funny line about relationships.]

DIANA: Yes, but you do love me, Harold? I know it's an awkward time to bring it up, but I must know...for our future. [An important question at an inappropriate time.]


The plane suddenly goes into a dive. Harold SCREAMS. [Afraid still]


HAROLD (O.S.): If you like short romances, yes... I love you!!! [No longer emotionally afraid]


suddenly the plane pulls out of its dive. 


Diana is handling the controls...

DIANA: I'm so glad. Unrequited love is such a bore. [She pulls a rabbit out of a hat and confounds our expectations.]

He looks at her in utter amazement.

HAROLD: You -- you can fly?

DIANA: Well, it's not all that difficult. It's like making love...You just have to know what to touch! [She gets the punch line too.]

She lowers her lids and smiles at him and banks the plane.


The plane banks into the horizon and flies off...into the sunset.


We PULL BACK AND DISCOVER we have just been watching a film on the screen in the cabin of a superjet... The credits of the film we just saw start to come up as the window shades are raised in the cabin and the bright California sunlight shoots through. We SEE the final starring credits...James Coburn and Diana Barrie starred." [Another surprise: This was all a movie.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  Since screwball comedy leans heavily on conflict, it is important to choose the right one, preferably one that cannot be resolved too quickly.

California Suite (1978)(final draft, revisions (Mar., 1978))
by Neil Simon
Adapted from his play

Monday, January 14, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Goodbye Girl (1977) - The Two Step Wrap Up in Act 3

[Quick Summary: When her boyfriend sublets their apartment without a word, a dancer and her daughter are forced to live with the sublessor, an eccentric actor.]

*****NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD*****************

When the protagonist has a flaw in Act 1, he/she usually faces it in Act 3 --> Then the story wraps up on an up or down note.

This script is a comedy (maybe a rom-com?), and I expected it to end on an up note.

The protagonist does face her flaw in Act 3, but it was on a bittersweet note.

I still felt left in the lurch, and wondered, "Is this how it's going to end? She essentially says, 'I love you,' but we never know what he says.  Does he ever say it back?!"

To my relief, there was a TWO STEP wrap up instead of the more typical one step.

A little background:
- Paula has been been dumped hard by two other actors who have left her for paying work elsewhere.
- She fears that anyone that she falls for will leave her.
- Elliot moves in. They fight, then fall in love
- In Act 3, Elliot gets an acting job in Seattle. 

STEP 1:  Paula faces her fear of being left. This is her "I love you."


...ELLIOT (controlling himself): Okay...Okay, I get the point...Forget it. I'm not going. It's not worth it. Not if I have to put you through four weeks of hell wondering whether I'm coming back or not...If I got this picture, I can get another one...I'm not going, okay?

PAULA: Okay.

ELLIOT: The hell I'm not. That's crazy! Why should I do a dumb stupid thing because you don't trust me? I'm going. You're just gonna have to trust me...Are you gonna trust me, Paula?

PAULA: I'll plan my days around it.

ELLIOT: Dammit!!...Dammit-to-hell!!...I hate those two guys who walked out of here. I'm the only one who's coming back and I'm getting all the blame.

PAULA: No...You go, Elliot...I want you to go...If you come back, fine. I'll be right here putting up my wallpaper. And if not, that's okay too...I'll miss you but I'll survive, Elliot, because I've grown up these last two months. Look at me. I'm all grown up. It was better than spending a summer at camp. I have never felt better or stronger in my life. Somebody is actually walking out that door and I'm not crumbling into a million pieces...Oh, Jesus, it feels good...Goodbye, Elliot. make a nice move...Have a wonderful career and if you're ever up for an Academy Award, I swear to God I'll keep my fingers crossed for you...."

STEP 2: Elliot does return that same night.  This is his "I love you" back.


It is the same one Elliot originally called from. He is very wet. A cab is waiting on the curb.

ELLIOT: Get dressed.

PAULA: What?


ELLIOT: Get dressed, you're coming with me.

PAULA: Where are you?

ELLIOT: On the corner, in my old leaky phone booth...The plane has engine trouble. We're delayed two hours. I cashed in first class for two economy's....

PAULA: I thought you said I couldn't come with you.

ELLIOT: I'll tell them you're my analyst. Actors are known to be very high strung.

PAULA: And you really want me to come?

ELLIOT: Jesus God, you sure love a love scene, don't you? Yes. YES! I want you to com!

PAULA (teary): ...Then it's okay. I don't have to...Just as long as you asked.

ELLIOT: Paula, don't play games with me. My socks are under water."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: When the protagonist gets over her fear and does say "I love you," make sure there is a response from the other side, even if it takes 2 steps.

Otherwise, I'm left hanging because the emotional cycle is incomplete.

Goodbye Girl (1977)(rev. dated 12/15/76)
by Neil Simon
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