Thursday, September 29, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #60 WGA Script of All Time - L.A. Confidential (1997)

[Quick Summary: In post-war L.A., three very different cops face corruption in three intertwining stories.]

Helgeland & Hanson are good writers.  Damn good.

Of the 71 scripts I've read so far on this list, this is the only one that keeps THREE protagonists with THREE story lines going at once.

(In an interview, Hanson said that producers tried to get him to reduce the number of protagonists, but he resisted.)

How did they make it easy to follow?

1) The three story lines are like three strands of a braid.  All are distinct, but will eventually combine to form one unit.

2) It is always clear which protagonists' story it is, even if the other protagonists are present.

ex. Early on, Bud's partner gets in trouble.  Exley agrees to testify against Bud's partner in exchange for a promotion.  For the rest of the script, Bud tries to clear the partner's name.

This is Bud's story line.  Exley is not involved... until much later when Exley's story crosses with Bud's.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This story wouldn't have been as good with 2 protagonists. 

It is possible to have three protagonists...but only if the story remains tight.

L.A. Confidential (1997)
by Brian Helgeland & Curtis Hanson

Thursday, September 22, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #61 WGA Script of All Time - Silence of the Lambs (1991)

[Quick Summary: A female FBI agent-to-be must elicit information out of the incarcerated psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter in order to find the serial killer Buffalo Bill.]

In this script, I really like how Clarice Starling is introduced to us.  We infer a lot about her personally through her actions.

- She's polite.

ex. In the middle of Crawford's long dialogue: "Claire notices, in the corner of the room, a rumpled cot, a hot plate, soiled dishes. She looks back at him."  (p. 3)

The absence of Clarice speaking here shows us that she's too polite to mention the mess.

- She's vulnerable.

ex. "Clarice flinches as a heavy steel gate CLANGS shut behind her, the bolt shooting home."  (p. 5)

- She thinks fast on her feet.

ex. "CLARICE (quickly blocking him): Dr. Chilton - if Lecter feels you're his enemy, then maybe I'll have more luck by myself. What do you think?" (p. 7)

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Another way to look at "Show, not tell" is to infer.

This allows the audience to put 2 + 2 together for themselves.

Silence of the Lambs (1991)
by Ted Tally

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #62 WGA Script of All Time - Moonstruck (1987)

[Quick Summary: After a mousy accountant gets engaged, she visits her fiancee's brother to invite him to the wedding, & falls in love with him.]

The thing about John Patrick Shanley's dialogue is that it is funny AND realistic, WITH subtext & attitude, WITHOUT edging into farce.

MR. JOHNNY: And I'll have the special fish.
LORETTA: You don't want the fish. [Nice attitude.]
MR. JOHNNY: No? [Meekness here shows he cowers before strong females.]
LORETTA: It's the oily fish tonight. Not before the plane ride. [She's got funny point of view, but she's got a point.]
MR. JOHNNY: Maybe you're right. [Dude is a doormat.]
LORETTA: Give him the manicotta, Bobo. Me, too. [She's in charge.]
BOBO: Yes, Miiss Loretta. [Everyone else also knows she's in charge.]
LORETTA (to Mr. Johnny): That will give you a base. For your stomach. You eat that oily fish, you go up in the air, halfway to Sicily you'll be green & your hands will be sweating.
MR. JOHNNY (smiles): You look after me. [Ironic. He sees this as caring, even though he's really being told what to do.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Great dialogue contains conflict without saying so.

Moonstruck (1987)
by John Patrick Shanley

Thursday, September 15, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #63 WGA Script of All Time - Jaws (1975)

[Quick Summary: A police chief, scientist & grizzled fisherman battle to protect a summer resort town that is terrorized by a gigantic white shark.]

Should you ever need to write a blood spatter scene, take note of this excellent one:


They begin a water fight, slapping at the ocean with karate-type blows, sending little explosions of water at each other.... [Ah, a nice innocent set-up.]


He hits the water, which sprays all over another youngster.


His face dripping with red rivulets. [Hooray! Tension increases without announcing 'tension increases here.']


Looks down at his hand. The water surrounding all the boys is slick with blood." [More tension. How will this resolve? Must read on.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Blood in motion should stay in motion.

Jaws (1975)
by Peter Benchley

Friday, September 9, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #64 WGA Script of All Time - Terms of Endearment (1983)

[Quick Summary: A mother-daughter relationship struggles over 3 decades to make sense of themselves, men & family.]

The best description I've seen of this movie is that it's about characters trying to connect.

The writer (James L. Brooks) sets up the situation beautifully for the mother Aurora (Shirley McClaine):  She is her own worst enemy. 

ex. Aurora desperately wants to be loved, yet she's extremely critical & difficult.  She attracts men like flies, yet not one is good enough.

To connect, Aurora has to change.  She has to modify her words & expectations. 

The genius is that it's also funny as she trips all over on her way to self-improvement.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Aurora is memorable, specifically because she's so difficult.

Terms of Endearment (1983)
by James L. Brooks

Saturday, September 3, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #65 WGA Script of All Time - Singing in the Rain (1952)

[Quick Summary: A famous silent film era actor must convince a new female singer-dancer to help out when his team has trouble transitioning into the talkie era.]

I liked the scene inside the movie theater, which cuts between action on the movie screen & action in the audience.

For once, I didn't mind the use of several "CUT TO:" in a row. 

Why? Because 1) it clarifies where to look; & 2) it reads faster than a lot of narrative.

"There is laughter from the audience and shushing.


DON (kissing Lina's hand): Imperious Princess of the night, I love you.
LINA: Oh, Pierre!
DON: I love you!
LINA: Oh, Pierre!
Don (covering her arm with kisses up to her neck): I love you - I love you - I love you - I love you - I love you - I love you - I love you - I love you - I love you -


They start to laugh.

COSMO: Did someone get paid for writing that dialogue?

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: When there are a lot of transitions in a scene, it's best to keep it simple.

Singing in the Rain (1952)
by Aldoph Green & Betty Comden
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