Thursday, March 31, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #89 WGA Script of All Time - Forrest Gump (1994)

[Quick Summary: A good natured, but not so intelligent man participates in many important historical events of the 20th Century, but all he longs for is his childhood friend Jenny.]

What do you do when a string of writers before you can't crack an adaption?

If you were Eric Roth writing Forrest Gump, you figure out that the key was tone. 

Tone is a dashed difficult thing to define.  I'm not sure I can either, but in this script, it's the "wink & a nod".

Forrest is always in the middle of history making events & meeting famous people, but he never realizes it...but the AUDIENCE knows.

ex. Forrest runs along a river, & sees a civil rights march.  Police let loose their dogs, who grew up with Forrest.  The dogs are about to attack the marchers, but Forrest calls them to go home.  Forrest apologizes to Martin Luther King, Jr. for the interruption.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The tone is light & hopeful, though the events are often heavy.  This is Forrest Gump in a nutshell & makes you want to see him succeed.

(BTW, Robert Zemeckis, the director, said he kept turning the pages because he couldn't stop wondering what would happen next to Forrest.)

Forrest Gump (1994)
by Eric Roth

Friday, March 25, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #90 WGA Script of All Time - Sideways (2004)

[Quick Summary: Depressed school teacher-writer and his woman-obsessed best friend drive through California wine country for one last hurrah before the latter's wedding day.]

Holy crap, this script was a definite first.

It was the first script that I didn't see the words on the page, but as a series of moving images, like a picture book. When I finished and blinked, I wondered where the film went.

Then I blinked. I had been reading?

What this script does better than any I've seen is that it trusts the reader to fill in the details.

ex. "The boys turn to see Phyllis now dolled up in thick make-up and a PANTSUIT. Her eyebrows are painted & cock-eyed. Overall she looks much worse than before."

I love how the script gives you exactly what you need to know, & lets you imagine the rest.

You only need to know Phyllis has changed clothes, but not the actual color, shape, etc.

You need to know she's overdone her face, but only that it's "much worse than before."

The writers don't micro-manage, & actually draw the audience in as a co-conspirator.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: These writers are specific about the universal, & thus leaves the details alone.

No wonder I know Phyllis - I've met her type many times before.

Sideways (2004)
by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor

Friday, March 18, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #91 WGA Script of All Time - The Verdict (1982)

[Quick Summary: When an alcoholic lawyer gets an "easy" personal injury case that is ready to be settled, he does the unthinkable & takes it to trial.]

Holy freaking cow.  Why have I not read more David Mamet?

He's known for his dialogue, but this script's subtext blew my mind.

On the surface, this is about a washed up lawyer who has only one, rather weak case.

Below the surface, Roger Ebert writes:

"Sidney Lumet and Paul Newman, seem to be going for something more; "The Verdict" is more a character study than a thriller, and the buried suspense in this movie is more about Galvin's own life than about his latest case."

How does Mamet do it? 

First, the trajectory of the case parallels Galvin's (the main character) personal recovery.

Second, when Galvin battles setbacks on the case, it's really about his own setbacks.

ex.  Early on, we learn that Galvin was a big firm lawyer who was accused of jury tampering on a case. He lost everything - wife, job, respect, etc. 

He gets now gets Deborah Ann's case.  She is in a coma now because she received the wrong anesthetic during delivery. 

Around p. 27, the doctors' lawyer offers Galvin a generous settlement of $210k...and Galvin refuses.  He wants the world to know the truth of what happened. 

But why?  Wouldn't it be better just to settle?

We only discover Galvin's reasoning around p. 53: He was also an innocent victim in the jury tampering case.  When he seeks justice for innocent Deborah Ann, he is also settling the score for his own innocent self.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I've never seen subtext that is felt rather than seen.  The craft was the sublime b/c everything was clear, but nothing was heavy handed or remotely on the nose.

The Verdict (1982)
by David Mamet

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #93 WGA Script of All Time - Do the Right Thing (1989)

[Sorry - I read the last script out of order. The numbering has been corrected.]

[Quick Summary: During the hottest day in Brooklyn, tensions snap between a local Italian pizzeria owner & the surrounding black neighborhood.]

This isn't a perfect script because it takes awhile to get going.

However, Spike Lee conveys his distinct voice very well.  He does not get up on a soapbox, but there's a definite message. 

I was most keen on how he creates a crucible. 

ex. Mookie (played by Spike Lee) works for Sal, who owns the only pizza joint in a mostly black neighborhood. 

A customer, Radio Raheem gets upset at Sal for not posting any pictures of African-American heroes.  Raheem starts a protest against Sal's & the neighbors take his side. 

Mookie is torn between Sal, who has been good to him, & the neighbors, who act out of a long simmering injustice. 

The key to the crucible is that Mookie has no way out.  He must choose, & will be damned whichever way he chooses.   

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I find a crucible interesting because it forces a character to make a decision.

If there are too many ways out, it's not a crucible.

Do the Right Thing (1989)
by Spike Lee

Thursday, March 3, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #92 WGA Script of All Time - Psycho (1960)

[Quick Summary: When a young woman absconds with her boss' client's money, she ends up at the Bates' motel, where it's always the wrong place & wrong time.]

I do not like horror nor creepy, & have never read nor seen the whole Psycho.

So how surprised am I that this is the best horror script I've read to date? Very.

This is an extremely fast read (even at 133 pgs.) & breaks all kinds of rules.  ex. The protagonist, dies about 1/3 into the story & is replaced by another one (Norman Bates).

But Psycho is heads & tails above all other horror scripts because it structures the fear so well.

Every level pushes the character off a ledge (cliffhangers = high vertical suspense), & can only be answered by the next level (this increases pace = fast horizontal speed).

ex. LEVEL 1 - The writer establishes empathy for Marion & sends her to the Bates motel. This sets up an unresolved question: Why did she have to die?  We liked her & this is disturbing!

LEVEL 2 - Then the writer sends a private eye to the motel & he dies.  The fear rises to a panic: Doesn't anyone notice?  Who will stop these deaths?!

LEVEL 3 - So when Marion's sister & Marion's boyfriend come to investigate, the fear is at an all time high.  Don't split up! Why are you two splitting up? You know there are crazy Bates who've killed twice!

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The genius of Psycho is that we expect Marion to live, but she doesn't...& the script doesn't die, but speeds up.

Psycho (1960)
by Joseph Stefano