Tuesday, June 21, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #75 WGA Script of All Time - High Noon (1952)

[Quick Summary: When news breaks that a feared felon is returning to town, the recently married Marshal Doane puts his future on hold to scrounge up a volunteer posse, but no one will step up.]

What are my biggest pet peeves?

1) Chase/fight/action scenes that are emotional wastelands.  (AUUGH!)
2) On the nose dialogue. (AUUUUUUUGH!)

Luckily, "High Noon" has:

1) Chase/fight/action scenes loaded with emotion.
2) Dialogue that is real. (Not caricatured with gunslinger sayings.)

ex. "Doane watches the Judge make his saddlebags and books secure. Mettrick gives the straps a final tug, hesitates, then turns to face Doan.

[Mettrick isn't just leaving physically. He's abandoning his friend who is in desperate need.]

METTRICK: Goodbye, Will...
DOANE (flatly): Goodbye.

[Subtexted. What else do you say to someone who is about to send you to the dogs?]

Mettrick is horribly ashamed. Doane tries to hid his own sick, still somewhat dazed shock and disappointment.

[These reaction shots to the other character give the reader a sense of uneasy, roiling emotions.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Emotion should show through the action.

And the Western flavored dialogue was based more in attitude in than because of any particular words.

High Noon (1952)
by Carl Foreman, based on a story by John M. Cunningham

Friday, June 17, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #76 WGA Script of All Time - Raging Bull (1980)

[Quick Summary: An insecure, jealous boxer battles his way to success in the ring, but his personal life crumbles.]

The first real screenwriting advice I received was, "Never use flashbacks. It's cheating."

After covering many, many scripts, I want to amend it: “Never use flashbacks UNLESS YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING. OTHERWISE, it’s cheating.”

If you’re using flashbacks to insert needless back story, it’s cheating.

If you’re using flashbacks to make a very specific point, it could be very effective.

In “Raging Bull”, the writer jumps between 1964 (an overweight, out-of-shape Jake LaMotta), and 1956-1958 (Jake in his prime) for a specific reason. 

The script is about regret and the inability to trust. 

What’s the best way to show this?  Juxtapose the present with all his past mistakes. 

Ex. In 1964, Jake is full of remorse that he hit and blamed his only trusted ally, his brother Joey in 1951. 

The script flashes back to 1951.  Jake is lost without Joey, and has lost the will to fight.  He practically hands over the middleweight crown to nemesis Sugar Ray Leonard.

In 1964, Jake admits he was wrong. The flashback emphasizes that he really didn't know why he overreacted then.  The juxtaposition shows Jake still does not why now.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Flashbacks are useful if use sparingly and with a defined purpose.

Raging Bull (1980)
by Paul Schrader

Friday, June 10, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #77 WGA Script of All Time - Adaption (2002)

[Quick Summary: A neurotic screenwriter puts himself into his adaption of the book, The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean, but when he meets the author in real life, it's nothing like he expects.]

Ok, we know Charlie Kaufman can write.

Ok, not just write, he's got a unique tone & voice, & point of view.

Ok, not just write with a unique tone, voice, & point of view, he's bloody imaginative.

This script is on the list because it does something only found in a Kaufman script. 

First, there are several stories:

A - Charlie is a depressed, woman obsessed screenwriter. His twin brother Donald wants to be a screenwriter, takes a McKee weekend course, & sells a million dollar screenplay. 

B- The script shows scenes from the book "The Orchid Thief".  Charlie falls for Susan Orlean in the book.

C - Charlie meets Susan Orlean in real life. She's not exactly like she is in the book... & she kidnaps him.

Second, the script flows from one story to the next, into fantasies & the past & back to reality, AND I AM NEVER LOST. 

I need to emphasize how extraordinarily RARE RARE RARE this feat is.

Yes, he uses subtitles. Yes, he has clear sluglines.

But what's really the secret? The flow is uncomplicated & clear.

ex. Scene 1 - In the past, a teenage Charlie reads a book in his room. Out the window, he sees Donald talking to two girls. Donald walks away, happy. The girls make fun of Donald behind his back.

Scene 2 - In the present, "Kaufman stares at a blank sheet of paper in a typewriter."

Scene 3 - The script jumps to a swamp scene in the book.

Scene 1 to 2: There's no other narrative, but it's clear to the reader that Charlie is staring at the paper & is reliving that moment of embarrassment for his brother. 

Scene 2 to 3: Then the script moves to what Charlie is reading...as if he moved away from the embarrassing memory.  It's clear he's moved on, but there's no unnecessary "Charlie picks up The Orchid Thief..."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: You can take the reader anywhere, just as long as they can follow your sequence with some sort of logic.

Adaption (2002)
by Charlie Kaufman

Friday, June 3, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #78 WGA Script of All Time - Rocky (1976)

[Quick Summary: A small time boxer gets the chance of a lifetime to fight the reigning Champ.]

"Rocky" surprised me.  It's a simple, clean script.

Rocky has a clear goal. He's got flaws to overcome.  He's got a strong antagonist that pushes him to arc. There are subplots that support Rocky's journey.

How hard is it to write a simple, clean script with a character that sticks to his goal and overcomes his flaw?

Very.

Most of the specs I see are overwritten (ex. overlapping description in both the dialogue and narrative) or underwritten (ex. jumps of logic that make it hard to follow). 

It's tough to get the balance just right such as "Rocky".

So what's a solution?  Writing lots of scripts. Reading lots of scripts.

How many is "lots of scripts"? One more than you have written or read.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: "Rocky" works because it's simple, and clean.  Very hard to do.

Rocky (1976)
By Sylvester Stallone