Wednesday, January 11, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: #45 WGA Script of All Time - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

[Quick Summary: When a rebel is shipped to a super-oppressive psychiatric ward, he incites fellow patients to buck the establishment & take back some autonomy.]

My latest pet peeve in spec scripts are protagonists without goals.

"What if it's hard to describe the goal?" you might ask.  "Like Jack Nicholson in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'? What's his goal?"

Let's take a look.

This is a hard script to explain, much less summarize. 

Murphy, the main character, arrives and quickly learns he can't do squat. Everything is pre-measured. Every response is critiqued.

It's like a cult. The routine is dull and designed to strip all creative thought.

So what does Murphy want? His goal is to be able to make his own decisions. (That is so theoretical. Ugh.)

But what does Murphy do to get to his goal?
- He takes patients for a joy ride to go fishing.
- He includes an unlikely patient in a basketball game, and it becomes competitive for once.
- He challenges a nurse re: showing the World Series on the tv.

Hmmm...these are very concrete actions. Murphy pushes boundaries so he can have more freedom.

How do we measure if Murphy is moving toward his goal?  This is a comedy-tragedy, so Murphy actually loses ground. 

But his effect on the other patients is amazing.  They begin to act differently, respond differently than pre-Murphy.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: When a goal is hard to explain, at least create step-by-step scenes so we see the protagonist making progress toward it.

Here, decision-making is the goal. Murphy creates situations that allow him to exercise and expand his decision making abilities.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
by Lawrence Hauben & Bo Goldman
Based on the novel by Ken Kesey

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