Tuesday, July 26, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #70 WGA Script of All Time -The African Queen (1951)

[Quick Summary: After the Germans burn down her jungle village, the only survivor, a missionary's sister, convinces a riverman to hunt down enemy's warship.]

*Sigh.*

I know I'm supposed to like this script, but I did not.  I wish I did.

It's well crafted.  There are stakes.  The dialogue flows.

Yet, it didn't move me.

Well, except for the spark between Allnutt (Bogart) & Rose (Hepburn).  Allnutt changes dramatically because of Rose.  She's a strong female who doesn't fall into overused female stereotypes. 

Guess what is her strongest tool? Her opinion of Allnutt.  It's more effective than a sword.

ex. Rose has just dumped all Allnutt's precious gin into the jungle river.  He is aghast.

ROSE: So you think it was your nasty drunkenness I mind.

A foolish, helpless gesture from Allnutt.

ALLNUTT (bewildered): Well --wot else?

ROSE: You lied to me.....You promised.

ALLNUTT (shouting): Well, I'm takin' my promise back!

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: To write a strong female character, make her a woman to be reckoned with.

The African Queen (1951)
by James Agee, John Huston & Peter Viertel

Monday, July 18, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #71 WGA Script of All Time - Lion in Winter (1968)

[Quick Summary: King Henry II & his estranged wife Eleanor of Acquitaine battle over which son will succeed to the throne: his pick (weak teenager John), her pick (military Richard), or no one's pick (Geoffrey).]

Eleanor of Acquitaine has some @_#$)(*%&!! balls.

She's been imprisoned for 10 yrs., her husband has replaced her with a  mistress, she has weak sons, & her heart still aches for Henry.

Yet she is conniving & EXTREME in getting her son Richard on the throne. 

The best two moments in the script are when the stakes rise to unbelievably tense heights:

- After 10 yrs. in prison, Henry promises her freedom - if he gets the Acquitaine in exchange.  Unfortunately, the transfer would 100% ensure that Richard will not be king.  Will she give up her freedom for her son's throne (her goal)?

- Henry knocks her for a loop when he demands an annulment so he can marry his mistress, French princess Alais (who is actually intended as a wife for Richard). 

This shatters her.  Above all else, she prizes being important to Henry.  If he truly wants to cut ties with her, how will Eleanor deal with being unimportant to him?

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Stakes rise because the character is about to lose something of great importance.

Knowing your character's trigger points is extremely helpful.

Lion in Winter (1968)
by James Goldman (older brother of William Goldman)

Friday, July 15, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #72 WGA Script of All Time - Thelma & Louise (1991)

[Quick Summary: When two female best friends go on a road trip, Thelma is almost raped by a stranger, & Louise shoots him, causing them to flee toward Mexico, with a trail of police on their tail.]

Louise has a cloud that hangs over her.

The audience doesn't know where it comes from until late into the film, but we SEE it underneath her actions.

The writer shows her mastery of subtext by showing, not telling, that Louise is a control freak & has trouble trusting any man. 

ex. Harlan laughs. Thelma laughs, too, but doesn't really get the joke. Louise does not laugh.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This is trusting your reader.

Giving just enough info, but not treating them like they can''t put two and two together.

Thelma & Louise (1991)
by Callie Khouri

Friday, July 8, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #73 WGA Script of All Time - Amadeus (1984)

[Quick Summary: In an insane asylum, Antonio Salieri recalls how he manipulated everything in his power so that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart cannot succeed - but fails.]

Salieri is a damned man.

He's a vindictive guy, consumed by jealousy, powerful, rich, & ...oh yeah, he's the protagonist.

How did the writer, Peter Shaffer, make the bad guy someone the audience actually sympathizes with? 

One reason is that it is easy to relate to Salieri

- He shows (NOT TELLS) his jealousy. 
- He wants to be the best composer (his goal), but Mozart is better.
- He is prideful (a universal flaw) which he struggles with.

Another reason is that Mozart is a tough antagonist.

Watch how the script uses music as an extension of Mozart...Mozart is pushing Salieri even though Mozart isn't in the room.

ex. "[Salieri] walks around and around his salon, reading the pages [Mozart's work] and dropping them on the floor when he is done with them. [This is the action we see on screen.]

We see his agonized and wondering face: he shudders as if in a rough and tumbling sea; he experiences the point where beauty and great pain coalesce.... [This is the reaction shot to the music, i.e., his enemy Mozart.]

Finally we hear the tremendous Qui Tollis from the Mass in C Minor. It seems to break over him like a wave and, unable to bear any more of it, he slams the portfolio shut. [Salieri & Mozart have battled.]

Instantly the music breaks off, reverberating in his head. [The stakes have risen. Salieri knows he's lost to Mozart & is shaken.]

He stands shaking, staring wildly. Constanze [Mozart's wife] gets up, perplexed.

CONSTANZE: Is it no good?
A pause.
SALIERI: It is miraculous."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: A bad guy is sympathetic if he's flawed & human.

Amadeus (1984)
by Peter Shaffer

Friday, July 1, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #74 WGA Script of All Time - Being John Malkovich (1999)

[Quick Summary: A puppeteer begins work at a short, rather hum-drum office, and discovers a portal directly into actor John Malkovich's head.]

The reason why Charlie Kaufman is on this danged list three times is because he writes stuff like this:

INT. CAR - NIGHT

Lotte drives. Craig looks out the window. Both are silent.

LOTTE (finally): Is the trial date set?
CRAIG: May 11th.

More silence.

LOTTE: Why'd you do it, Craig?
CRAIG: I'm a puppeteer.

In that small scene, the audience knows who Craig is. 

He's a guy who takes risks, lives on the edge, & connects with others through a weird passion for puppeteering. 
He's got a wife who isn't on the same wavelength.
He's kind of crazy, but not insane. 
He's going to get in a lot of trouble (& drive the action) because he has this pent up need to express himself, & makes unwise decisions.

So why do we root for Craig? And, more importantly, how did Charlie Kaufman do that?

Kaufman wrote Craig as a man doggedly pursuing a hope & a longing to connect. 

Craig may make unwise decisions, & fail, & encounter unbelievable things, but he never has a false moment.  And that is why Craig is universally understood.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I don't have to like the character, or his decisions or actions, but I DO have to understand him.

Being John Malkovich (1999)
by Charlie Kaufman