Friday, February 25, 2011

TODAY'S 2nd NUGGET: Francis Ford Coppola & Hope

On days I find it hard to believe I'm just one script away from a career, I think about the story behind Patton.

Francis Ford Coppola was hired to write "Patton," but there was a disagreement about the now iconic opening. He was replaced by another writer.

Time passes. Just as Coppola is about to be fired again from "The Godfather," "Patton" is up for an Academy Award, & Coppola wins for best screenplay!

Coppola has said that if he hadn't won for "Patton", it's likely he would've been fired from "The Godfather."

This gives me great hope that things work out the way they should.

TODAY'S NUGGET: #94 WGA Script of All Time - Patton (1970)

[Quick Summary: This film depicts the war career of WWII General George S. Patton, a controversial, but wily leader of the US Army.]

I liked reading this script because it's a look at Coppola's writing before "The Godfather."

Patton was larger than life, & Coppola does not shy away from showing all of Patton, including the less admirable traits.

However, I admit that if he pitched it to me in 1969, I might've been one of his many doubters.

Why? In reading the script, I wasn't swept away. Yes, I was impressed at Patton's character traits, the sweep of what he accomplished, his faults.

But I didn't connect with Patton's story on the page and I'm one of those people who enjoy biopics. What went wrong?

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I'm still flummoxed. I should've connected, but didn't.

Patton (1970)
by Francis Ford Coppola & Edmund North

Friday, February 18, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #95 WGA Script of All Time - Hannah & Her Sisters (1986)

[Quick Summary: Between two Thanksgivings, Hannah, her two sisters & their significant others face a myriad life experiences, told in a vignette style.]

After reading this script, I'm once again glad I've had no excuse to avoid it.

[WHINY ME: It sounds like a boring read.
MATURE ME: Too bad, it's on the list.
WHINY ME: Who made them the list king?
MATURE ME: Because they're the ones who READ the scripts.]

I'll admit that it's long (207 pgs).  It has several story lines that sometimes wander.  It's quintessential Woody Allen, & thus it's not everyone's cup of tea.

But what really impressed me is that Woody Allen wrote characters who are very, very clear what they want...even if they don't know what they want.

ex. Jewish Mickey (Woody Allen) might/probably doesn't have a fatal tumor/benign nothing.  But since he could be dying, his thoughts turn to God for the first time in years.  He wants to believe in something, & visits a Catholic priest to possibly convert, then a Hare Krishna leader for answers. 

Throughout the script, Mickey wonders what life is worth living for & doesn't have an  answer, BUT he's doggedly determined to find it...and in the end, he does.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  Showing WHY a character wants something is as important as showing WHAT he wants.

Hannah & Her Sisters (1986)
by Woody Allen

Friday, February 11, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #96 WGA Script of All Time - The Hustler (1961)

[Quick Summary: To win against the great Minnesota Fats, Eddie, a talented (but temper prone) pool shark, must learn what 'character' is.]

I inhaled at "FADE IN" & only exhaled at "THE END." 

It seemed as if I'd read one continuous story, & I didn't notice any transitions, sluglines, or breaks. 

My heart broke for these characters. 

I suppose it's because:

1) they're so flawed & a bit raw, &
2) when they jumped an obstacle, there was a bigger one waiting.

ex. When Eddie takes care of Sarah, it's the first step beyond his self-centeredness.  They bond, but soon he gets a chance to compete in another town & must leave her.  She never asks him to stay...just that "I made you up, like everything else....I wanted you to be real."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Character arcs thrive on showing flaws, overcoming obstacles, then making even bigger decisions.

The Hustler (1961)
by Sidney Carroll & Robert Rossen

Friday, February 4, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #97 WGA Script of All Time - The Searchers (1956)

[Quick Summary: A Civil War vet goes searching for his niece who was kidnapped by Indians.]

This is an uncomfortable script.

Why?

- John Wayne plays an unrepentant racist.
- This isn't my genre of choice.
- This story happens over several years.
- John Wayne doesn't come face to face with his antagonist Scar until the climax.

But despite my misgivings, I was determined to figure out why this film is at the top of many critics' lists.

And I discovered that the script drives to the end with an energy & focus because the main character Ethan (John Wayne) is single minded.

ex. He makes difficult, unpopular decisions, like abandoning Martin at the homestead.  But each one gets him closer to his goal. 

ex. He hangs on to his goal like a bulldog.  He is never far from his pursuit.

ex. The antagonist is always present (even if not physically present) because the protagonist continually plots against the antagonist at all times.  

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The script is blunt, to the point, & decisive. 

This film endures because the Ethan character is unforgettable. 

Right or wrong, you're never in doubt who & what Ethan is, where he is going, what he is doing.

The Searchers (1956)
by Frank Nugent