Monday, April 30, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: Bugsy (1991) - Three is Not a Crowd

[Quick Summary: Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel tries to build the first big casino in Las Vegas, but as costs skyrocket, his mafia financiers put the screws on him.]

I was intrigued how Toback applied "Warren Beatty's Third Intelligence Theory"* over & over to scenes.

The tension grows because there are three people instead of two.

ex. Harry Greenberg, one of Bugsy's oldest friends, has ratted on the "family" and asks Bugsy what to do.

Bugsy takes Harry for a drive, and Virginia insists on going too. [The triangle in this scene is Bugsy, Virginia, & Harry.]

In the car, Harry brings up Virginia's ex-boyfriend and Bugsy's divorce. [Ignorant Harry makes things worse.]

At the train trestle road, Bugsy and Harry walk up a path.Virginia gets impatient and yells to Bugsy.  [Virginia ups the tension now.]

Shots. Bugsy returns without Harry.  Virginia is distraught. [The tension now is HIGHER than before.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: A 3rd person can really push the main story forward.

Bugsy (1991)
by James Toback

* Toback writes about "Beatty's Third Intelligence Theory of Moviemaking" in the introduction to the script:

"Essentially, the idea is that three people deciding the course of a movie are better than two, since when there are two, one always emerges as the stronger and the film is left without a sufficiently tense dialectic, whereas when there are three, every idea needs to pass rigorous scrutiny."

Toback was talking about himself, Beatty and director Barry Levinson, but it can also apply to screenwriting.

** This is a very smooth read after
- 20 drafts (over 6 yrs.)
- 7 rewrites (in 4 months of pre-production), &amp
- daily re-writing of lines, moments and scenes daily (over 3 months of shooting)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Goddess (1958) - Take the Punch

[Quick Summary: To ward off loneliness, a young unloved girl grasps at a career as an up-and-coming Hollywood starlet, but it's never enough.]

Emily Ann Faulkner, who transforms herself into Rita Shawn,just can't understand why no one loves her enough.

I mean, after all, she's made all the "right" decisions for her career:

-  Like leaving her child with her ex-husband
-  And getting married to a 2nd guy who tells her he'd be a terrible husband
-  And sleeping with producers as bribes for parts

But this isn't a story about career vs. personal life.

It's about a woman who angles, schemes, begs, guilts, and STILL can't fathom what is wrong with other people...when the real problem is her.

Chayefsky allows his characters to make decisions, then suffer the consequences each time.  It's real life.

There's no pulling the punch, which I see too much in spec scripts. 

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: It's nice to see characters take the punch.

If they learn from it, they will have earned their victory at the end.

If they don't, then they don't deserve it anyway.

The Goddess (1958)
by Paddy Chayefsky

Friday, April 20, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: Marty (1955) - Hey, That's Me!

[Quick Summary: Marty the butcher can't get a date to save his life, until one night...]

Paddy Chayefsky was an award winning playwright, tv and film writer for a reason.

He sure knew how to introduce a character with actions instead of words.

The script opens and a female customer peppers Marty the butcher with questions about his brother's recent wedding. Then she basically needles him with "Why aren't YOU married, Marty?"

Marty is polite, but exasperated.

Why? Because the next female customer is exactly the same: "I heard about your brother's wedding. So why aren't YOU married, Marty?"

We get the idea that this happens ALL day long and instantly, we know all about Marty...and he's said very little.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Chayefsky writes beautifully flawed but identifiable characters.

Who's Marty? Marty is me.  That awkward situation? I've been there too.

Now that's a great introduction!

Marty (1955)
by Paddy Chayefsky

Thursday, April 19, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: Goal Acomplished!

I finished the 101 WGA Scripts of All Time!

I managed to read all but two (#57 Crimes & Misdemeanors, & #37 The Philadelphia Story).

Some I simply could not finish (ex. #23 Gone With the Wind).

A few I did not completely understand (ex.#87 8 1/2).

But overall, this was the best thing I've ever done for myself as a  writer. 

Thank you, writers, for allowing me to stuff my tool box with little things that I noticed in your scripts that made them great.

I think I will keep up this one script per week as long as I can.  

Any suggestions?

Monday, April 9, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: #31 WGA Script of All Time - His Girl Friday (1940)

[Quick Summary: The night before a newspaper woman is to be re-married, her news publisher ex-husband lures her back into the news game with a juicy capital murder story.]

This movie is praised loudly & widely for its funny, fast-paced, furious dialogue.

Upon reading the script, I was interested to note that the dialogue is great in large part because the REACTION SHOTS are so great.

ex. "HILDY: I won't be more than ten minutes, I promise you.
BRUCE: Even ten minutes is a long time to be away from you.

We hear a giggle off scene.


He looks towards Bruce and Hildy and giggles.


HILDY: What did you say, Bruce?

Bruce, embarrassed, looks at the office boy, then looks back at Hildy as they turn toward second gate leading into City Room.

BRUCE: I said -- uh -- I said even ten minutes -- is a long time -- to be away from you."
HILDY: Don't be embarrassed, Bruce. I heard it, but I just wanted to hear it again.

Notice the reactions:
1) The office boy giggles at the lovey dovey adults
2) Bruce is even more embarrassed & we know he's a private guy
3) Bruce's response to Hildy shows that he lets her lead the relationship

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Reaction shots can be an extension of the dialogue.

His Girl Friday (1940)
by Charles Lederer

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: #32 WGA Script of All Time - Fargo (1996)

[Quick Summary: When a car salesman schemes to have his wife kidnapped from their small town, it all goes wrong.]

A Coen brothers trademark is not to use "EXT./INT." in the slug lines.

So how do they make sure that the reader is clear about changes in location? It's all in the transitions:

1) The narrative and dialogue work together to show us where we are.


Jerry enters through the kitchen door....He is carrying a bag of groceries which he deposits on the kitchen counter. [Where are we? Whose house is this?]

JERRY: Hon? Got the growshries. [Ah-ha! We know we're in his house because a person would only use that kind of familiar language if he were in his own house.]"

2) Scene A ends and we SEE in Scene B that we have changed locations.

ex. Scene A - Over dinner at Jerry's house, Jerry asks his father-in-law Wade for a loan.

Scene B - "WHITE. A black like curls through the white. Twisting perspective shows that it is an AERIAL SHOT of a two-lane highway, bordered by snowfields. The highway carries one moving car."

The narrative of Scene B leads the reader into the outdoors with key words such as "aerial shot," "highway," and "snow."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I've depended too much on slug lines to change locales. Gotta orient the reader more with the narrative.

Fargo (1996)
by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
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