Monday, October 29, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: Hard Times (1975) - I Can't Explain It

[Quick Summary: Chaney, an uncommon street fighter, temporarily partners up with Speed, a hustler hunted by loan sharks.]

**WARNING TO NEW WRITERS: Read about 50 scripts before you read this one.**

Once in very long while, I read a script that is a rare exception to a rule, and I can't explain why it works. 

This is one of them.

My general rule: The protagonist is the character whose arc changes the most.  

I've had writers ask, "Does the character HAVE to change? Why can't he/she remain the same from beginning to end?"

I usually reply, "Because it's boring.  Watching a character change and learn is interesting."

ex. Bertha (protagonist) begins as a self-absorbed lawyer.  Devious Debbi (antagonist) is the opposing counsel and pushes Bertha to grow.  At the end, Bertha lets someone else take the credit (transforms from selfish to generous).  

Here, however, the writer Walter Hill does not follow the rule.

Chaney does not really change from beginning to the end (in fact, everyone else changes more), AND HE IS STILL INTERESTING.

Why does it work here?

I don't know for sure.

All I know is that the protagonist is mysterious, sympathetic, and keeps us guessing what his next step will be. 

All without any big internal change or emotional arc.

That's really hard to do.

One in a million.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: If you can write a mysterious, sympathetic, what-will-he-do-next character without an emotional arc, you clearly don't need my blog.

For the remaining 99% of us writers, I highly recommend an emotional arc.

Hard Times (1975)
Written and directed by Walter Hill

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973) - Decisions, Decisions

[Quick Summary: Webster, a computer programmer-turned-thief, gets an unexpected partner in crime who helps him outwit a smart insurance claims man.]

Whoooooeeee! What a fun ride!

Unlike last week, I found this script engaging, especially because of Webster's unpredictable decisions in sticky situations.

- He is sneaky.

ex. As Webster steals from Mrs. Donner's jewelry box, Mrs. Donner and her escort return home. Webster sweats bullets, but dodges them both.

- He confronts.

ex. Webster lifts jewels from a mansion, but two necking teens in a car block his escape.  Exasperated, he shines a light on them.

WEBSTER (shouting): What the hell's going on here! This is private property.
BOY (still wide-eyed): I didn't know this place had a watchman.
WEBSTER: You know it now! Haul ass or I'll have the cops here in five minutes.
BOY: Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. Leaving right now.

- He is unafraid to backpedal.

ex.  Laura urges Webster to break into her house.  He does it to impress her, but he learns too late that it's someone else's house.

WEBSTER: Never mind that. Where are the Tylers?
LAURA: Upstairs, asleep, I suppose. They're certainly smart enough to recognize a dull party, they left long before we did.
WEBSTER: Thank you very much. It's been nice knowing you,  I wish you well. Good night.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: A character can continue to surprise audiences with the decisions he/she makes.

The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973)
by Walter Hill

Thursday, October 18, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Getaway (1972 & 1994) - What to Do With the "Girl"

[Quick Summary: After a criminal and his wife are manipulated into robbing dirty money, they cross and double-cross their way to Mexico.]
 
Who's that action man? Walter Hill!

Who's dan-ger-ous? Walter Hill!

Who can you count on for guns ablazing? Walter Hill!

How many Hill scripts have I read? Um...one.

So for the next several weeks, I'll steep myself in his body of work.

My first script is The Getaway, both 1972 and 1994 versions.

I didn't like either script, as I often could not figure out what the story was trying to say.

However, the one good thing in these scripts is the way Carol is written.

Carol is the only real "girl" character in a sea of men, and most scripts would treat her as mere window dressing.

But here, she has real weight:

- She makes active decisions as Doc's full partner.
- She stirs up doubt in Doc, which makes him human.
- She makes mistakes that increases the stakes, ex. losing the suitcase of money.

Carol is important, even as a supporting character, because her behavior has a direct affect on Doc McCoy.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Even if you have a small "girl" role, make her influence felt on the protagonist.

The Getaway (1972 & 1994)
by Walter Hill (based on the novel by Jim Thompson)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: Elizabethtown (2005) - When an End Does Me Wrong

[Quick Summary: When a recently fired sneaker designer travels to Kentucky to oversee his father's funeral arrangements, he finds unexpected love.]

In Act 1, I loved the premise of this script, i.e., a guy is sent to retrieve his father's corpse.

In Act 2, I liked the characters, i.e., lost son, smart-ass flight attendant, relatives with grudges.

In Act 3, I became extremely irritated.  First, there is a 7 page speech...by Hollie, Drew's mother.

"Hollie?! Why Hollie?" you ask.

Exactly my point.  This is Drew's story.

Drew flies out to Elizabethtown, KY to deal with his father's family. He falls for the flight attendant, learns about his dad, gets over failures.

Hollie, on the other hand, breaks down and stays in Oregon.

She only appears in Kentucky around p. 105.  And for that she gets a big "this is what I've learned" speech?

No no no.

Second, Act 3 read as if there was no end in sight.

Roger Ebert writes about his first viewing of the first cut: "It seemed to end, and end, and end."*

Reading it also felt that way.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  Please - no new people, & wrap it up ASAP in Act 3.

Elizabethtown (2005)
Written & directed by Cameron Crowe

*Ebert saw the film twice. The first was longer and shown at the Toronto Film Festival.  The final cut was much tighter, and had 18 min. trimmed.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: Vanilla Sky (2001) - An Unsatisfying Read

[Quick Summary: An heir to a NY fortune searches for answers after he wakes up again and again to what could be a surreal dream or a nightmare.]

I simply don't understand this script.  I wish I did.

In Act 1, David Aames, Jr. is pursuing the girl of his dreams (literally).

In Act 2, he's in dreams, he's out of dreams, he plunges into nightmares, he wakes up from nightmares.

In Act 3, he comes to a self-realization in the end, and wants to live a real life.

But what was the point of his journey?

The ending doesn't have any easy answers (fair enough), but I wish the script was clearer about why Aames needed self-realization.

I was at a loss, and ended up not liking this script very much.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  This Cameron Crowe script was unlike any other I've read.

It was a technically adept Crowe script, but it felt odd.

It was not just the genre, but the tempo, the mood, the narrative line.  Probably because it was an adaption?

Vanilla Sky (2001)
by Cameron Crowe
Based on a screenplay "Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes)" by Alejandro Amenabar & Mateo Gil