Thursday, August 25, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #66 WGA Script of All Time - Jerry Maguire (1996)

[Quick Summary: When a dissatisfied sports agent tries to take a higher road, he is fired & must start over with only one client.]

I'm ornery. 

When people said, "You have to read 'Jerry Maguire'!", I didn't want to.

So I'll understand if you don't want to read it either. 

But if you ever want to see great pacing & character set up, read the first 10 pages of this script.

The pacing is brisk, yet we see a completely character based snapshot of Jerry & his problems.

p.1 - In a montage, we see Jerry's sports clients. [A-ha! Jerry is a sports agent.]
p. 2 - Jerry is hard at work negotiating for a NFL client.  [He excels at his job.]
p. 3 - Jerry competes at the office with his fellow agents.  [This is a story about good guy vs. bad guys.]
p. 4 - We see Jerry losing heart because sports is now more about money. [Jerry is a decent guy.]
p. 5 -  Jerry is even more disillusioned when a severely injured client insists on playing because of a bonus.  [Our hero will face questionable decisions.]
p. 6 - Jerry writes his Manifesto & reclaims some honor.  [We're hopeful!]
p. 7 - The Manifesto gives Jerry hope.  [More hope!]
p. 8 - His fellow agents read the Manifesto & applaud him.  [Uh-oh...niggling doubts.]
p. 9 - We meet Dorothy, who is Jerry's guardian angel & antagonist.  [Hope again!]
p. 10 - Jerry confides in a fellow passenger about his shaky love life.  [This is not good.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  Great pacing = My eyes never slowed down or backtracked.

Why? Because the character & his conflicts were clear and were revealed on a rolling basis.

Jerry Maguire (1996)
by Cameron Crowe

Friday, August 19, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #67 WGA Script of All Time - E.T. (1982)

[Quick Summary: A 10 yr. old boy strives to return an abandoned alien back home, but must outwit the adults who want to get their hands on it.]

It drives me batty when people say, "The tone of that script is good/bad/not there", but don't explain.  

What the hell is "tone" anyway? 

My unscientific definition: Tone is the mood of a script. 

Why is it important?  You can teach structure or dialogue, but it's harder to explain how to keep a tone/mood consistent.

However, in reading the script for "E.T.", I did find a few clues:  

- This script never violates character.  It's realistic & truthful.

GOOD - The script is realistic when the kids hide their new alien friend & take him food.
BAD - The script would've been false if the kids thought like adults & called a press conference.

- The script doesn't try to be too politically correct & lose the point of view. 

GOOD - From the kids' point of view, the adults who want E.T. are BAD people.
BAD - If the script tried to defend the adults & make everyone happy, the conflict is lost.  The tone is more like a news show than a story.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: If you don't violate character, you probably won't violate tone/mood either.

E.T. (1982)
by Melissa Mathison

Friday, August 12, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #68 WGA Script of All Time - Star Wars (1977)

[Quick Summary: After his home is destroyed by the evil Galactic Empire, a young farm boy leaves to learn the ways of the Force and fight with rebel forces.]

When I first saw this film as a child, I couldn't stop talking about them.

Luke & Leia? Han & Chewie? R2D2 & C3PO? They're burned into my psyche.

Best script I've ever read? Well, no.

One of the best sci-fi scripts I've ever read? Hands down yes.

Here are my top 3 reasons:

1) It lays out the rules of the world from page 1, & doesn't violate the rules.

2) It's about something universal (good vs. evil) & not just about futuristic weapons or advanced technology.

3) Luke's goal to prove himself drives the story. 

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Even in an advanced sci-fi world, classic story structure makes it universally understood.

Star Wars (1977)
by George Lucas

Thursday, August 4, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #69 WGA Script of All Time - Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

[Quick Summary: Based on a true 1972 story, two robbers hold up a Brooklyn bank (one robber is financing his lover's sex change operation), and become the first inadvertent media darlings.]

Though the 1st half of the script was struggle to read, I was impressed by the opening lines:

"EXT. ELECTRIC SIGN

It FILLS THE SCREEN....It says:

2:51

This message will be a little cryptic to the movie audience on an essentially BLACK SCREEN. HOLD for a beat, then it changes: the lights flash this sign, which should explain it to everyone:

94 degrees F."

I know everything in a few sentences: 

- It's summer & hot & in the afternoon.
- We're at a bank.
- Something is about to go down at the bank.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  It's extremely smart to orient your reader to the location. 

It says, "I'm not trying to outsmart you, reader. I trust you. We're in this together."

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
by Frank Pierson