Monday, October 14, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Dolores Claiborne (1995) - Switching Time Without Sluglines

[Quick Summary: A reporter has not been home to Maine in 15 yrs. but returns to deal with her mother Dolores who is accused of murdering her rich, ill employer.]

Tony Gilroy is famous for writing without sluglines.

How does he keep time straight for the reader?  When there are flashbacks too?

I think it starts with keeping the character's current emotional state very clear.

For example, in the scene below, note:
- The structure is to start in the present --> flash back to the past --> return to present.
- The emotional state is confusion in the present --> confusion also in the past --> neither the characters or the audience has all the facts --> we get the confusion.
- Dolores is the mother. Selena is her 30 y.o. daughter who is a reporter now.

ex. "DOLORES at the bottom of the stairs. Crushed. Moving heavily back through the living room and --

     THE KITCHEN.  DOLORES just about to start putting things away, when she hears SELENA coming back down the stairs.  [PRESENT TIME]

     DOLORES (turning back): Selena?

     SELENA (12) standing at the bottom of the stairs.  Dressed to go out. A backpack. [PAST STARTS HERE]

     SELENA: Don't try and stop me.

     We're still in the living room, but it's a bright, Spring afternoon in 1975.

      DOLORES (36) Standing near the kitchen. Bare feet.

      SELENA (backing for the door): Mrs. Devereaux called, she need extra help with the hotel because of the people coming for the eclipse. I'm going to stay over a few days.

      DOLORES: Selena, we talked about this --

      SELENA: I don't care what we talked about! (rushing out the door --) I don't want to be here when you talk to dad about your crazy ideas!

      DOLORES rushing to follow. Not as fast in bare feet. Through the front door and --

      OUT INTO

      The yard. DOLORES running off the porch -- heading across the field -- trying to cut SELENA off --

       DOLORES (yelling as she goes --: Selena! Selenaaaa...!

       SELENA already way ahead -- almost beyond earshot -- SILHOUETTED AGAINST THE SKY as she runs along the road to town and --

       DOLORES running -- trying to chase -- tough without shoes --

       DOLORES: Selena!!! (stopping as --)

       Suddenly -- DOLORES stumbles -- A CRACKING SOUND -- something giving way -- boards breaking -- DOLORES falling -- catching herself -- GASPING -- grabbing at the ground as her legs disappear beneath her -- and then scrambling back up -- standing slowly and staring down at --

      A DRY WELL - covered with rotting boards -- grown over with weeds and scrub -- a black hole there in the middle of nothing and --


THE ROUND KITCHEN TABLE. Cluttered with Selena's laptop, tape recorder, notebooks, etc...

 DOLORES picks up her glass. Finishes the last of the Scotch."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This is an excellent example of a flashback that gives us information, but is not an info dump.  It's more about the emotional state of affairs.

Dolores Claiborne (1995)(3rd draft, 1/31/94)
by Tony Gilroy
Based on the novel by Stephen King

Monday, October 7, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Lookout (2007) - How to Show Man at War with Himself

[Quick Summary: Now hampered by a head injury, Chris is a frustrated bank janitor who impulsively decides to assist thugs with a bank heist, then regrets it.]

Chris is angry because he is hampered by a head injury:

- He must write everything down because of his frequent memory lapses.. 
- He has difficulty in social situations because of frontal lobe problems. 

What does Chris want? His old life back.

What is the obstacle?  His trauma. This protagonist is his own greatest antagonist.*

So how do you externalize that a man at war with himself?

I saw one method in this script:
- First, present the protagonist with a routine situation.
- Have the protagonist react in an odd way so we see his internal problem.
- Have other characters react and/or say what the protagonist is probably thinking.

The scene below shows how Chris' trauma gets in the way of what Chris wants most (externalizing the antagonist).


...Chris then turns away, sees the BARTENDER watching him. [Normal situation: Chris needs to pay the bar tab.]

BARTENDER (loud, slow): Two-fifty. For. The. Beer.  [This is an insult, disrespectful to Chris.]

"Gary" turns back now and watches as Chris fumbles about for the right amount of cash, pays his tab.

BARTENDER (cont'd): Thank. You. Very. Much.

Gary keeps looking at Chris now. Finally: [Chris's reaction is not to speak up when others would. We see he is used to this treatment and shame.]

GARY: You hard of hearing or something?


Gary nods, turns as the bartender sets Gary's change on the bar, starts to move away when Gary grabs his arm.

GARY: Excuse me...(reads his name tag)...T.J.

The bartender looks down at Gary's hand on his arm.

GARY (cont'd): He's not deaf.


GARY: He just told me, he's not deaf. [Gary is saying what Chris is embarrassed to say.]

The bartender glances at Chris, pulls his arm free.

BARTENDER: I know he's not.

GARY: There some reason, then, why you keep raising your voice every time you talk to him?

The bartender glances at Chris, then...

BARTENDER: So he can understand.

GARY: Why wouldn't he? [Again, he speaks what Chris thinks.]

The bartender is uncomfortable. Gary looks at Chris.

GARY (cont'd): Can you understand him?

CHRIS: It's no problem...

GARY: Can you understand him?


Gary looks at the bartender, and smiles, but it isn't mirth or good cheer that the bartender reads on Gary's face.

GARY: So now you know.

BARTENDER: Now I know.

The guy can't get out of there fast enough. Gary shakes his head."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  I'm glad to have found this example, as they do not show up much.

The Lookout (2007)(3/26/04 draft w/revisions)
by Scott Frank

*This takes up the first 2/3 of the script. The last 1/3 is the heist and the usual bad guys take over as antagonists.

Monday, September 30, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Coming to America (1988) - Misunderstandings Keep Lovers Apart

[Quick Summary: Akeem, a Zamunda African prince, comes to America with his bodyguard Semmi to look for an independent thinking bride.]

I liked that the writers did not make it easy for Akeem to win the girl. 

Here, they used misunderstandings (cultural, male vs. female) to keep them apart.

(Misunderstandings also are key to a fish-out-of-water story.)
In the scene below:
- Akeem has just overheard teenage girls swooning over a Prince magazine cover.
- He assumes that all women find Prince attractive.
- He assumes Lisa would like a big public display, though he doesn't know her well.


...Akeem slides into the room on his knees in full Prince attire: open ruffled shirt, fishnet stockings, stacked heels, make-up, curl of hair dangling in his eyes.


Everyone in the room gazes at him in open-mouthed amazement.


Akeem gets up and shimmies across the floor, licking his fingers, rubbing his hands all over his body.


Lisa looks at him like he's crazy.


Akeem drops to the floor and slithers toward her on his belly, moving in time with the sensual music, humping the floor like a reptile in heat.


He wriggles up to her, lying at her feet, flicking his tongue.

Lisa stares at him, astounded, repulsed.

Akeem speaks in a low, breathy Prince-like moan.

AKEEM: Let us become one, Lisa.

 LISA (calmly): I don't think so.

He tries to lick her knee

LISA (evenly): Don't. Don't even think about it.

He wriggles half-heartedly.

LISA (coolly): Go away.

All the bravado drains from Akeem's face. He slithers back out of the room as inconspicuously as possible."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This misunderstanding works because it came from character.

Akeem has had little contact with the middle class, and his assumptions show it.

Coming to America (1988)(shooting script w/revisions, 10/21/87)
by David Sheffield & Barry W. Blaustein
Story by Eddie Murphy

Monday, September 23, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) - What I Look For in a Sequel

[Quick Summary: After his friend Capt. Bogomil, is shot while following up on a hot tip, Axel Foley hightails it to LA to track down the culprits.]

When a sequel comes along, I want to know:

1) Did they understand what made the first movie work?
2) Did they deliver that again here?

In this sequel:

1) Foley was funny in first film, especially with LA cops Rosewood and Taggart. They overcame big obstacles together as a team.
2) Not really. Foley is not that funny and does not seem to have difficulty overcoming obstacles.  The script seems more interested in explosions, car chases.

The one thing that worked was the team dynamic of how Foley is always dragging Rosewood and Taggart into his schemes.

I liked the scene below because it is funny and reminiscent of the first film.

We know very well that Foley is up to something crazy but Rosewood and Taggart are willing, if reluctant, accomplices.


Taggart and Rosewood stand staring up at the gates.

TAGGART: This has GOT to be a mistake.

ROSEWOOD: There's his car.

Way up the driveway. There it is.

TAGGART (very nervous): Billie, if he's here, he must be robbing the place.

He pulls his gun. They walk cautiously up the long driveway. CAMERA HINGES to see:

WILLIE AND MAY'S CAR parked down the street a couple blocks."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The writers tried, really tried, but sometimes you can't recapture funny in a bottle.

Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)(shooting script, 10/24/86 w/revisions)
by Larry Ferguson and Warren Skaaren

Monday, September 16, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Beverly Hills Cop (1984) - Excellent Clarity + Character in an Action Sequence

[Quick Summary: When his childhood friend is gunned down in Detroit, cop Axel Foley travels to Beverly Hills to locate the goons who killed his friend.]

This script reads lickety split.  It is such a pleasure.

It especially shines in its clarity of story spine while allowing great character work.

For example, in the semi-truck chase below:
- Axel is a fast thinking, fast talking cop, in the first few lines. [character]
- When things go south with the two cons, Axel does not give up and hangs on to them, which he literally does in this scene. [character]
- There is even great character work without dialogue. ex. Axel chooses not to listen the cop (get offa there!) in order to nail these cons.  [character]
- Notice how clear the story spine is despite the multiple characters, action, guns, etc.  We're focused on Axel -- hang on Axel!


Mirsky has the engine running. He stares out the side view mirror at the cops walking toward the truck. He licks his lips and puts the truck into gear, ready to take off.


tries to play it cool.

AXEL: Are we glad to see you! You want to call us a tow? We threw a bearing.

The second cop has been staring at Axel.

SECOND COP: Don't I know you from someplace?

FIRST COP: Both you guys, break out some I.D.


panics and runs toward a pickup truck parked across the street. The cops draw their guns.

FIRST COP: Freeze!

But Carlotta keeps running. The first cop chases after him.


Mirsky lets out the clutch and the rig jerks forward.


is still standing on the bed of the rear trailer of the moving truck. The second cop yells at him --

SECOND COP: Get down offa there!

--but Axel stays right where he is, hanging on as the truck gains speed. The second cop fires a warning shot; Axel braces himself at the side of the trailer to offer a narrow target but now the truck is going about 40 as it takes the next corner and


bounces up over the curb as the truck cuts the corner too close. It looks like the truck is going to jackknife, but instead it comes out of the turn gathering more speed.


is nearly thrown off the rear of the truck, but he hangs on."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Don't forget clarity when trying to jazz up the character.

I've seen scripts that get so lost in trying to be funny that it lacks clarity.

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)(shooting script, 5/14/84)
by Daniel Petrie, Jr. (with Martin Brest pages)

Monday, September 9, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Black Cat Run (1998 TV movie) - Setting Up a 2nd Chase

[Quick Summary: Pursued by a deputy with a score to settle, an amateur car racer chases after a gang of escaped cons who have kidnapped his girlfriend.]

I knew about writer-director Frank Darabont for his well known adaptations (Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Walking Dead).

However, this was the first original story and script of his that I'd ever seen before.

This is a chase story which takes up about 3/4 of the script.

How do you keep the audience emotionally engaged that long?

It's hard enough when there is one chase, but when there are TWO chases?

In one word: Stakes.

For example, in this script:

Setup for 1st CHASE:
- Johnny pumps gas at his dad's station. Sara believes in his big dreams. 
- When Sara Jane is kidnapped by escaped cons, Johnny chases after them. 
- I have no problem believing this chase because Johnny loves Sara

Setup for 2nd CHASE:
- The writers wanted someone to chase Johnny to increase the tension.
- But why would anyone chase Johnny?
- The writers needed a character who wasn't entirely objective and took things very personally, i.e., Norm, the deputy sheriff who wants to date Sara.
- What are the stakes for Norm?  Ego (so strong that it lasts 3/4 the script!)
- Note in the scene below how the writer sets it up so we believe that Norm is the pig headed type who could easily be stirred up into chasing after Johnny.


...NORM: Howdy, Sara Jane. You're lookin' mighty pretty today.

SARA: Norm. What are you doing here?

NORM: Oh, just about to go on duty. Thought I'd stop by and have me a few words with the Sheriff.

SARA: Oh? About what?

NORM: Oh...things. This and that. By the way, what'd you think of that race today? Wasn't that somethin'?

SARA (wary): What race is that, Norm?

NORM: That race I won. The race Johnny Del Grissom took you to.

She stares at him with distaste, making a huge effort to keep her voice level.

SARA: I think you must be mistaken.

NORM: C'mon darlin' you didn't think that crouchin' down in that towtruck like that was gonna fool me, even for an instant, did you?

He moves in close, pressing her against the wall of the house, putting his face close to hers.

NORM: Just what were you doin' to that boy all crouched down like that?

She tries to slap him, but he catches her by the wrist. He kisses her fingers lightly, then presses her hand back against the wall and holds it there. Their eyes locked all the while.

NORM: Sara Jane...darlin'...the day's gonna come...soon...when you're gonna wish you'd been a lot nicer to ol' Norm Babbitt.

She spits in his face.

SARA: This ain't the day.

NORM: I can see that.

He releases her and very calmly wipes his face with his sleeve.

NORM: But the day will come.

He turns and heads for his patrol car, tipping his hat jauntily.

NORM: Awful nice to see you again, Sara Jane. Have a nice day now, y'hear?

Disgusted, she turns and enters the house."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Despite that it is mostly chase scenes, I think the script read so quickly because the stakes were so well defined from the start.

Black Cat Run (1998 TV movie)(undated draft)
by Frank Darabont
Story by Frank Darabont & Douglas Venturelli

Monday, September 2, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Greedy (1994) - Putting a "Button" on a Comedy Scene

[Quick Summary: When rich old Uncle Joe hires a "nurse," the estranged family lures back his favorite nephew, Daniel Jr., in hopes that he can get rid of the nurse.]

I'm sure someone else can define better the "button" of a comedy scene.

For me, it's the last joke of the scene that:

1) "bursts the tension bubble" of the build up and sums up the scene, and
2) sends us off with a laugh.

No one does it better than Ganz & Mandel.

Note in the example below:
- Rich old Uncle Joe is descending in an open elevator. 
- Carl and his family, one of Uncle's bloodsucking family members, descends beside him on the staircase.
- Carl touts the success of his nine year old son, named after Uncle. [build up of hot air, tension]
- Then the nine year old has the button line.  [bursts the balloon!]


...During the preceding, Douglas has pushed the chair into a small ELEVATOR CAGE.  There's only room in it for Douglas and Joe in the chair. The elevator cage slowly descends, leaving the others on the landing. [This chase builds the tension.]

NINE-YEAR-OLD: Why don't we just cut the cable?

NORA: Ssh!

Carl and Nora look at each other, then at the elevator...

CARL (sotto): It's too thick.

The family descends a spiral staircase which surrounds the elevator. They hurry to keep up.

CARL (CONT'D): Did you hear what happened to General Fruit Company? the old man died and he left it to his son --who had no head for business -- and eight months later, they were bankrupt --the work of a lifetime, down the drain. You should see how Big Joe -- our Big Joe -- what a head for business he has. Already -- just nine years old -- he organized this snow-shoveling company with the other fourth graders. It was amazing. [Carl touts Big Joe's accomplishments to make an unspoken good impression on Uncle.]

They've all reached the bottom Joe comes off the elevator.

JOE (to the nine-year-old): So, you're interested in money.

NINE-YEAR-OLD: Uh-huh. I made ten bucks just comin' here. [Button: His admission points out how desperate his parents are to make a good impression!]

His parents GASP." [We laugh at the audacity. We know the scene has ended.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The "button" does more than make us laugh as a punchline.  It's also a valuable tool to skewer, prick the tension balloon, add irony, reverse expectations, etc.

Greedy (1994)(pre-production draft, 4/14/93)
by Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel

Monday, August 26, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Fever Pitch (2005) - What is Good on Paper is Not Always Right for Film

[Quick Summary: When Ben, a diehard Red Sox fan, meets Lindsey, a competitive banker, they learn what it is like to manage love with the baseball season.]

A tip for screenwriters: Sometimes what you write on the page is great and makes a point, but on film, it's too predictable.

(In other words, be flexible.  Directors may change things for a good reason.)

For example, in this script, Ben does not know Lindsey well yet.  She is sick at home, so he picks up a video to make her feel better.

Her favorite film is "Young Frankenstein." He picked up "Young Frankenstein" just by chance!

As a reader, one would think, "Awww, isn't that sweet? They have the same sensibility.  They are meant for each other!"

However, the directors felt it was too "on the nose." They kept the scene, but changed the video title.

ex. "He PICKS UP a Blockbuster Video bag.

LINDSEY: What's that?

BEN: Oh, I rented some movies in case you woke up. Not in case -- I knew you'd wake up. I meant, in case you woke up in the middle of the night.

LINDSEY: Anything good?

BEN: Uh...mostly animated pornography from Japan.


BEN (CONT'D): And a few things I like.

LINDSEY: Like what?

BEN: Well, things I watch when I'm sick.

LINDSEY: With me it's "Young Frankenstein."

He looks STUNNED.


He takes a copy of "Young Frankenstein" out of the bag.

LINDSEY (CONT'D): ...spooky."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: To be honest, I'd have written it the exact same way.  The scene doesn't convey the same meaning with two different films.

However, I also think the directors made the right change for film.

This is a great example of how a script is a blueprint to get a point across, but the actual execution may be different.

Fever Pitch (2005)(10/18/02 draft)
by Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel
Based on the novel "Fever Pitch" by Nick Hornby and the 1997 film "Fever Pitch", screenplay by Nick Hornby

Monday, August 19, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: EdTV (1999) - The Purpose of a Montage

[Quick Summary: Ed, a video store clerk, signs a deal to broadcast his life on reality tv 24-7, but the stress and lack of privacy ruins all his closest relationships.]

Q: Why are new writers told, "Don't use voice overs, flashbacks, montages"?
A: They are often overused and/or used poorly.

Q: How are they used poorly?
A: Solely to dump information on the audience. It bores the audience, and is lazy.

Q: Is there a better way to use voice overs, flashbacks, montages?
A: Yes.  You, the writer, must always know what is the purpose for them.

ex. Is the voice over trying to set an ironic tone?
ex. Does the flashback show the character's current mind, i.e., stuck in the past?
ex. Does the montage ramp up the tension?

Below is a montage from this script.

- What is its purpose?  It is a SET UP for the next scene in the rock club.

- The montage does not just deliver information (despite fame, Ed and Shari are finally happily dating) but also sets up the turn (fame is interfering with happiness).


Ed and Shari dating. She's shy, but she really likes Ed. He likes her and is very sweet to her.

1) Ed and Shari some place like "Tavern on the Green." She looks pretty. He's very happy.

2) They come out of a club. TOURISTS photograph them. Shari is a little disconcerted. Ed takes out a little camera of his own and photographs the tourists. This makes Shari laugh and relaxes her.


CLOSE-UP of Ed, riving the Zamboni. He's loving it. He WAVES to Shari.


watching. She waves and smiles.

The ice, a WIDER SHOT.

The Zamboni is, basically out of control. Carlos is sliding along the ice, shooting Ed as the Zamboni zig-zags dangerously, eventually crashing into the boards, shattering the plexi-glass.


It is very CROWDED.  Claustrophobic. Loud. Ed and Shari enter -- just to see the show. They're spotted.

The Crowd, which is already fired up by the music, sees them.  It starts out okay, people crowding around, patting Ed on the back.

A CHANT begins "Ed, Ed, Ed..." Pretty soon it drowns out the music.

More people press toward Ed. It's too crowded --dangerous. Shari is swept away from Ed. She's buffeted about, violently. She goes down. Ed can't move. The Crowd is friendly and happy, but the effect is scary.


BOUNCERS squeeze Ed and Shari out the door, protecting them. Ed is unnerved. Shari is somewhat bedraggled. Her clothing is torn."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: A montage is a wonderful shortcut, but is most effective if it has a defined purpose.

EdTV (1999)(6th draft, 7/16/97)
by Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel

Monday, August 12, 2019

TODAY'S NUGGET: Multiplicity (1996) - Clever Way to Show the Protagonist's Flaw

[Quick Summary: To have more time, Doug clones himself to help with work and family, but then he misses out on the life that the clones are living for him.]

BAD NEWS: This script was started to drag about half-way through. 

Why?  As one critic put it:
As it is, the promising material of “Multiplicity” gets awfully thin. It feels more like a short film grown long, which is death to a comedy.
GOOD NEWS: The first half lays out the premise well in an economical manner.

Also, I really liked how the writers introduced the protagonist's flaw.

Doug is a general contractor and a good family man, but he's a workaholic.

The scene below shows us in one scene how Doug is trying to juggle everything and failing.  His flaw is not knowing what he wants and failing to prioritize.


Doug juggles the cellular phone and a cup of McDonald's coffee as he pops a couple of Tums.

DOUG (bugged): All right, fax the plans to me in the car...Okay, go.

He pushes a couple of buttons on his car fax and hears a beep.

DOUG: Hold on --I got another call. (he hits call-waiting) Hello?... Oh, hi, babe. How's it going (it's his wife, who he loves) I don't know when I'll be home. Why?... What's "bridging"?

The fax machine comes alive and starts spitting out shredded paper.

DOUG: Shit!...No, not that -- my fax is screwing up. Hold on a sec, okay? (back to the guy on hold) Eddie, you have to send it again. My fax machine just ate it... What brand? "piece of shit." It's an off-brand.

He angrily rips the shredded paper out of the fax and spills his coffee on his lap.

DOUG: Goddamn it!...What?! No, not you. I just spilled my coffee. Hold on... (back to his wife, mopping up coffee from between his legs) I'm sorry, babe. This is like a bad dream. What's this "bridging" thing?...Oh yeah, Jennifer -- Daisies to Brownies. Right, I remember. (he doesn't) Six-thirty -- I'm writing it down -- (he isn't) Okay, I love you, too. See you later.

The fax machine makes a terrible grinding noise and starts shredding more paper. Doug slams his fist down on it."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I thought the juggling in a confined space was very clever because the juggling is not just a metaphor, but literal (car fax, phone, coffee).

Multiplicity (1996)(rev by Harold Ramis, 5/10/95)
by Chris Miller & Mary Hale and Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel
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