Wednesday, April 27, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #84 WGA Script of All Time - The Princess Bride (1987)

[Quick Summary: A mysterious Man in Black sets out with two unlikely sidekicks to rescue a kidnapped Princess from the dastardly Prince Humperdink.]

This week, I covered an adventure script. 

Unfortunately, something was missing.  But what was it?

When I read "The Princess Bride", I realized that the missing element in the previous script was tension/jeopardy that moves the story forward. 

ex. Inigo Montoya, the swordsman, stands at the edge of the high Cliffs.  He looks down below at the Man in Black who is climbing up. Boooorrring...

...except both parties are offended the other is taking so long.

INIGO: I don't suppose you could speed things up.

MAN IN BLACK (with some heat): If you're so anxious to hurry things, you could lower a rope or a tree branch or find some useful thing to do.

That's funny. And tense because:

#1 There's jeopardy - The Man In Black is literally hanging in the balance.
#2 There's tension - Are you friend or foe?
#3 The resolution of #1 & #2 adds more brick to the story road.

Here, Inigo & the Man in Black fight, then become allies, which advances the plot.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Scripts often miss #3. 

That was the problem with the adventure script.  The tension was about side characters or unimportant details. It didn't add to the main story.

Princess Bride (1987)
by William Goldman

Friday, April 22, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #86 WGA Script of All Time - Harold & Maude (1971)

[Quick Summary: When an extremely death obsessed young man meets an even more extreme 79 yr. old woman, he is transformed by her zest for life.]
A writer had asked for examples of a good midpoint turn & I was all out of 'em.

So I lucked out that "Harold & Maude" was this week's script-o-the-week. It's got a great midpoint!

Midpoint can be defined as:  "a setback, reversal or turning point which sends the character in a new direction, pushes the plot into a higher gear or raises the character's commitment to another level." (New School Screenwriting Curriculum Glossary)

Here, the script shows at the midpoint how much Harold has changed because of Maude.

This is the moment we finally see Harold has reversed his downward spiral. 

1st - The writer sets the tone in an amusing narrative.

ex. "Partly because of the pot, but mostly because he has found a friend, Harold opens up for the first time in his life."

2nd - The writer gives Harold a long, bang up speech that actors would kill to deliver.

ex. "I decided then I enjoyed being dead."

3rd - Maude does the unexpected - she reacts with acceptance & then gives him a swift kick in the pants.

ex. "I understand. A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not really dead. They're just backing away from life....(leading a cheer) Give me a "L"..."I".."V"..."E" LIVE!!!"

4th - Because Harold trusts Maude is looking out for his happiness, he reacts with good cheer. This is a markedly different response than what he gave his controlling Mother.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Harold is a different man at the midpoint. He's gone from morose to happy because of the antagonist, Maude.

The stakes are higher now. Can he sustain this happiness?

Harold & Maude (1971)
by Colin Higgins

Thursday, April 21, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: Logline vs. Script

Please make your script:

1) match your logline, &
2) be as good as (or better than) your logline.

I've become self-protective & jaded. 

I've read too many loglines (like I did today), only to be crushed when the script doesn't match (disappointment doesn't even describe it).

Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease do this for me?

I want to trust I'm in good hands.

But if your logline overdelivers & your script underdelivers, I will not trust you to deliver what you've promised. 

That is all.

Friday, April 15, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #87 WGA Script of All Time - 8 1/2 (1963)

[Quick Summary: A filmmaker is having a block, & his thoughts overlap fantasy & memories.]

I know this is a celebrated film.

I'd heard that it can be confusing to people on a first read/viewing.  I scoffed that I'd be "one of those people." 

I stand before you, chagrined, & "one of those people."

I could swallow that it's terribly long at 264 pgs.  I could've dealt with the non-traditional format.  I would've even been ok with slipping into fantasy & memories w/o warning.

My biggest issue was that I simply could not follow the storyline. I had no idea what the main character, Guido, wanted nor what I was supposed to experience besides confusion.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I wish I knew why this script is #87 on the WGA list.  Could anyone help me understand this script better?

8 1/2 (1963)
by Federico Fellini

Friday, April 8, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #88 WGA Script of All Time - Field of Dreams (1989)

[Quick Summary: An Iowa farmer is led by a Voice to build a baseball field in his corn field & to go find a reclusive writer, all in the face of skepticism & potential financial ruin.]

Yeah, I cried.

I banked them for as long as I could, but when Ray says in awe, "I am pitching to Shoeless Joe Jackson", I lost it. 

This script doesn't read like a clunky adaption for two reasons:

1) No Cul de Sacs - I heard the director/writer say in an interview that he first eliminated all the cul de sacs, i.e., the things that didn't push the plot forward. 

I know from covering many scripts that it's such a temptation to keep cool subplots in.

ex. The writer had to drop the identical twin brother storyline from the book because it distracted from Ray's development.

2) Streamline to Focus - The script is a moving bullet from beginning to end because it is always clear what Ray is facing, what his motive is, & what inner struggle he's trying to overcome.  Any other distractions were stricken.

ex.  The writer changed the character of J.D. Salinger to a made up writer b/c mixing fictional and non-fictional people didn't make it real enough on-screen.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Nothing should hamper the story arc pushing forward.

I saw an interview of the book's author who said that he cried when he read the script.  He was moved by a work based on his own book - now that is a great adaption!

Field of Dreams (1989)
by Phil Alden Robinson
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