Thursday, August 30, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Odd Couple I (1968) - Show Me a Slob

[Quick Summary: When slobby Oscar and neat freak Felix become temporary roommates, chaos ensues.]

Here's how Neil Simon SHOWS (and not TELLS) us that Oscar is a slob:


It is an unholy mess. [Oscar's surroundings = Oscar himself.]

Most of the things are uncovered, a half-eaten lamb chop, bottles without caps, melting ice cream in a dish, etc. [Oscar is unorganized.]

Oscar's hand reaches in to get a bottle of Coke and he knocks over a jar of syrup that drips onto the next shelf, getting the lamb chop.  [Syrup + lamb = Messy.]

It's too horrible to describe. Oscar gets the Coke out." [Oscar is unaffected.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: One prop can show so much about a character's inner state.

The Odd Couple (1968)
by Neil Simon (based on his play)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: Magic (1978) - Art of Blurring

[Quick Summary:  A timid ventriloquist just might be possessed by his bawdy dummy...or not.]

Bad news: Psychological horror/thrillers are hard to write.

Good news: There's a high demand.

Bad news: Most psychological horror/thriller spec scripts don't know how to blur the line between reality and the bizarre/fantasy.

Good news: Magic does blurring very well. 

So how did Goldman do it?

#1 - The script takes time to establish:

- Who Corky is (awkward ventriloquist, loyal, fears success)
- What he wants (to be with Peg, his childhood fantasy girl)

#2 - The script makes Fats (the dummy) a crutch in Corky's world.  

ex. Fats expresses Corky's deepest, unspoken feelings.
ex. Fats is the reason Corky gets jobs.

Weird becomes "normal" for Corky.

#3 - To be with Peg (goal), Corky must break up with Fats (face his demons).

The psychological horror/thrill comes from the fact that it's darned near impossible now to tell where the demons are coming from:

- Is Fats is real?
- Or has an evil dummy possessed Corky?
- Or is it all in Corky's mind?

The torment is that Corky has melded to his crutch/demon.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  To blur reality vs. non-reality, justify both sides.

ex. Reality = Peg
Non-reality = Fats
Corky wants both but can only have one, so he vacillates.

Magic (1978)
by William Goldman (from his novel)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Great Waldo Pepper (1975) - Killing Off a Character

[Quick Summary: After a series of failures, a 1920s daredevil pilot tries to regain his confidence by flying for the movies.]

This script had everything going for it!

Airplane chases! Romance! Death! Envy! An underdog!

So why do I feel so ... lukewarm about it?

I suppose it's because I was so invested in Waldo and Mary Beth. 

Mary Beth is a challenging, spunky counterpoint to Waldo, and brings out the best in him. 

Unfortunately, she's killed off approximately 2/3 into the script. For the last 1/3, it seems as if she never even existed.

Without that relationship, Waldo seems less accessible.

Frankly, I just lost heart in his journey.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: It's a tricky balance to know when to kill off a character. 

Just make sure you have a really good reason.

(And repeating it again in the last 1/3 wouldn't hurt.)

The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)
Script by William Goldman
Story by George Roy Hill

Thursday, August 9, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: Marathon Man (1976) - Trait & Conflict in Dialogue

[Quick Summary: A graduate student who is at the wrong place, wrong time, runs from a sadistic Nazi dentist.]

Why do I root for the protagonist Babe?

He's just so earnest.

ex. In his first conversation with Elsa, note how the dialogue expresses:

a) Babe's earnest trait, and
b) the struggle to say "I like you."

BABE: Sorry to bother you, Miss Opel, but one of your books must have fallen in your cubicle earlier and I happened to spot it - (hands it over) - just thought it might be important. [He's sincere.]

ELSA: That's very kind. (starting to go inside) Good night.

BABE: 'Night. Your name and address are on the inside - "Elsa Opel" and where you live - in case you were curious how I found you, Miss Opel. [He's desperate to keep it going.]

ELSA: I wasn't. Good night.

BABE: 'Night. [No manipulation.]

ELSA: You keep saying that but you also don't leave.

BABE: I twisted my ankle on the way over, I was giving it a rest. [Flimsy, but a brave stab.]

ELSA: You weren't limping jst now.

BABE: I'm the worst when it comes to lying. [Throws himself at her mercy.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Good dialogue tells us about the character's trait(s) AND inner conflict.

Marathon Man
Screenplay and novel by William Goldman

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: Harper (1966) - When Violence Has Meaning

[Quick Summary: "A private detective is hired by an unloving wife to find her rich drunk husband." *]

I saw this video interview with writer/director Terry George.  George recommended:

1) Reading William Goldman's Absolute Power script (which I did; it is faboo!)

2) Getting my grubby paws on anything Goldman's ever written, even unproduced scripts.

Hmmm.   I realized then how little I knew of Goldman's lesser known works (to be rectified in the coming weeks.) 

So I begin with Harper, Goldman's first produced film.

It's a noir, so I expected violence. 

What I didn't expect was it was "good" story violence, i.e., violence that I could justify.

ex. Harper is bound and tied in a shed.  A thug keeps watch.

Harper insults him, and gets backhanded.  ["Shut up, Harper," I thought.]

"You stink," Harper says. Another backhand.  [What are you doing?]

"You're afraid of me."  Gut punch. [Shut up NOW.]

The thug pummels Harper into mush. [Pleeease stay down.]

Then the stupid thug unties him and says, "Now try to trick me." [Don't take the bait!]

Harper manages to barely stand.... [Don't do it!]

...and proceeds to trick the thug. [Wow!]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  Here, violence has a defined STORY purpose.

The fight built up the thug's confidence ---> increases the payoff when Harper reverses the situation.

by William Goldman
Adapted from the novel The Moving Target by Ross McDonald

*This is William Goldman's own logline. I couldn't improve on it any better.
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