Thursday, December 22, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #48 WGA Script of All Time - Bridge On the River Kwai (1957)

[Quick Summary: At first, a British colonel POW defies the Japanese war camp commander over building a bridge, but eventually adopts the enemy's task with enthusiasm.]

Alas, I had a hard time reading this script.  Just not my cup of tea.

However, I did find it interesting how the writer used the image of a pin up calendar girl in the Japanese commander's office. 

This image was seen several times, always in the background or the commander looking directly at it.

As the story moves along, the commander looks crazier & crazier in contrast to the girl who remains the same...and that's a great way to tell a story without "telling" a story.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The right props can keep engaging the audience - all without dialogue.

Bridge On the River Kwai (1957)
by Pierre Boulle

Thursday, December 15, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #49 WGA Script of All Time - Schindler's List (1993)

[Quick Summary: Businessman Oscar Schindler easily bargains/bribes/bullies to keep his factory open, but he is unprepared by the effect his Jewish workers have on him.]

I've seen lots of ensemble spec scripts.  They usually aren't very pretty for one of 3 reasons:

1) Too sprawling
2) Too many characters to juggle in my head
3) Too many subplots fighting to be the main plot

So I was glad to read Schindler's List & see an ensemble script done right.  Here's why:

1) Though the enormity of the Holocaust is the backdrop, it's really an intimate story about ONE man.

2) All characters are there to support the ONE man, Schindler. 

Even if Schindler is not in the scene, the characters' actions will somehow affect or tie into Schindler.

3) All the subplots are there to support Schindler. 

ex. The Nazis have their own agendas, but their purpose in this story is to provide obstacles for SCHINDLER. A woman may want to get her parents moved to the factory, but her purpose in this story is to provoke SCHINDLER into action.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Frankly, ensemble scripts are easier to follow if there's ONE main character to form the spine around.

Schindler's List (1993)
by Steve Zaillian

Monday, December 5, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #50 WGA Script of All Time - The Sixth Sense (1999)

[Quick Summary: A child psychologist tries to help a child who sees dead people (but doesn't know they're dead).]

When The Sixth Sense came out, I avoided it like the plague.

I don't like scary stuff, or reading scary stuff, or watching scary stuff.

But this script is on the official WGA list, so I read it.

Now I can confidently say that if you haven't read this script, you should for 2 reasons:

1) The reading is wonderfully vertical (thus the reading speed is very fast).

2) Everyone thinks the big reveal at the end makes this script special. But I've broken down and rebuilt enough stories to know that Shyamalan's skill is really shown in how he constructs the setup. 

ex. Throughout the script, Anna avoids speaking to Malcolm in realistic ways:

- He thinks she's speaking to him, but she's actually speaking on the phone.
- She laughs with someone, and he turns away, hurt that she's not laughing with him. 

We think she's mad at him (setup), only to find out later she isn't (reveal).

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I like that this script is devoid of "Look at me! See how clever I am!" tricks and gimmicks. 

Instead, there are solid story building blocks put together in a clever way.

The Sixth Sense (1999)
by M. Night Shyamalan

Saturday, December 3, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #51 WGA Script of All Time - Broadcast News (1987)

[Quick Summary: A driven female news producer is torn between two men: the new, handsome, not-so-talented news anchor, and the older, talented news anchor-on-the-way-out who is her friend.]

The more I read scripts, the more I see that scripts operate on two levels: spectacle & heart.  You need both parts.

The better the two blend, the better the movie.

Broadcast News is a perfect example. 

It's got the spectacle and rush of the big news room. 

But it's also got the heart of a woman, torn between a guy who's probably the devil but exciting, and a schlub who's like a pair of old sneakers but brilliant.

The love story is enhanced by the spectacle of the news room.  If Jane doesn't pick the right guy, the level of journalism could disintegrate.

The spectacle is enhanced by the romance.  If Jane demands the journalistic integrity she's worked so hard for, she could be alone for the rest of her life.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The right amount of spectacle + heart = Fantastic story.

Too much spectacle = There's no heart.

Too much heart = It's maudlin & boring.

Broadcast News (1987)
by James L. Brooks