Thursday, March 29, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: #33 WGA Script of All Time - The Third Man (1949)

[Quick Summary: When a novelist arrives in postwar Vienna to visit his friend Harry Lime, he learns Harry has died & sets out to find witnesses, including a mysterious 3rd man.]

BAD NEWS:

- The only available script is the shooting script, which is rather long (217 pgs.)

- The plentiful stage directions often made me lose track of the story again & again.

GOOD NEWS:

- The script drops clues very well.

- It's an easy story to understand: A man arrives from out-of-town & his friend Harry died in an "accident." As he asks innocent questions, the inconsistent stories make him suspicious.

- Every clue opens another door, & propels us forward - what's going to happen next?

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Clues must arise naturally. 

ex. The protagonist sees pretty Anna (Harry's girlfriend) at the funeral. He's attracted & curious, so he creates an opportunity to talk to (& question) her.

The Third Man (1949)
by Graham Greene

Thursday, March 22, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: #37 WGA Script of All Time - The Philadelphia Story (1940)

[Quick Summary: When a socialite is gets remarried, she's caught between her ex-husband and a journalist who both show up uninvited at the wedding.]

[Grrrr...My apologies for this out-of-order post. I hate that.]

I could not find this script anywhere in print, so watched the film instead.

[Grrrr again, especially because it's a rare rom-com on the 101 list.]

Rom-coms today often make the mistake of putting plot over relationships. 

This film reminds us that it's the dynamic spark between the Man & Woman that elevates a story from average to great. 

ex. Katherine Hepburn charms the journalist (Jimmy Stewart) by looking up his book at the library.  He's flattered and flummoxed.

ex. Reminiscing about the past, Cary Grant both charms and needles Hepburn, who holds her own.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Spark = "Why these two should be together"

It's the mojo of rom-coms.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)
by Donald Ogden Stewart

Sunday, March 18, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: #34 WGA Script of All Time - Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

[Quick Summary: When a a megalomaniacal gossip columnist cuts him out of the loop, a desperate publicist strikes a devil's bargain to break up the relationship of the columnist's sister.]

This script kicks ass, takes names, and annihilates those too.

Despite clocking in at 184 pgs., it reads far quicker than some 90 pg. scripts I've seen.  I easily rank this in my Top 5 "must read" scripts.

If you ever need a refresher in HIGH STAKES, check out how Sidney Falco suffers mightily from a lack of publicity.  No wonder Sidney must agree to Hunsecker's plans.

If you ever need to see CLEAR, STRONG GOALS, look at Sidney's voracious appetite to succeed, and Hunsecker's hunger for power over his sister's life.

If you ever need to see unbelievably good MANIPULATION through REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY, try the confrontation between Hunsecker & his sister (p. 163-166).

It's fresh, cutting edge and a script I'd buy today ---and it's over 50 yrs. old!

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Manipulate the hell out of your characters. It makes them more memorable.

The Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
by Clifford Odets & Ernest Lehman
From the novelette by Ernest Lehman

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: #35 WGA Script of All Time - The Usual Suspects (1995)

[Quick Summary: A group of cons are blackmailed into a smash-and-grab job, but it multiplies into a nightmare, all orchestrated by a mysterious Keyser Sose.]

I love how this script fools the audience the right way.

First, the script plays fair with the audience the entire time. It lays out all the clues.

ex. Dean was lying on that dock. Sose stands above him.

Second, everything has two meanings, though the audience does not know until the end.

ex. We believe Verbal's account that Sose probably killed Dean...except later we learn why Verbal so easily lied about Sose.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Trying hard to trick the audience = Bad.

Playing fair & twisting expectations = Excellent.

The Usual Suspects (1995)
by Christopher McQuarrie

Thursday, March 8, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: #36 WGA Script of All Time - Midnight Cowboy (1969)

[Quick Summary: When a Southern dishwasher comes to NYC to find a rich sugar mama, he faces a very harsh reality, and is helped only by a sickly, fast talking crippled punk.]

This isn't for the faint of heart.  It's a raw, nearly unbearable, dark tragedy. 

However, the sheer vulnerability is the one thing that makes this script hard to read, but it's also THE reason to read it.

As Joe tries to make it in NYC, all his inner turmoil spills out (which makes it interesting) AND he learns from it (which makes a great arc).

ex. Joe makes bad decisions, yet he stands up for himself when people try to take advantage of him.

ex. Joe is barely able to support himself, much less another person, but he takes care of loyal Ratso until the end.

ex. Joe is haunted by his mother and a damaged past, yet he keeps a surprisingly upbeat attitude for the future.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I respond to vulnerability in characters.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)
by Waldo Salt
Based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy

Saturday, March 3, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: #38 WGA Script of All Time - American Beauty (1999)

[Quick Summary: A depressed suburban dad in a mid-life crisis changes course after he becomes infatuated with his teen daughter's classmate.]

This is how you say "feel sorry for me" without saying it:

CAROLYN: "Oh! Oh! And I want to thank you for putting me under the added pressure of being the sole breadwinner now --

LESTER: I already have a job.

CAROLYN (not stopping): No, no, don't give a second thought as to who's going to pay the mortgage. We'll just leave it all up to Carolyn. You mean, you're going to take care of everything  now, Carolyn? Yes. I don't mind. I really don't. You mean, everything You don't mind having the sole responsibility, your husband feels he can just quit his job --

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Great dialogue shows how the character feels.  But it's still show, not tell.

American Beauty (1999)
by Alan Ball