Tuesday, November 27, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: 48 Hours (1982) - Humor in Action

[Quick Summary: A cop teams up with one criminal for 48 hours in order to track down another criminal on the run.]

I remember this film was huge in 1982.

People couldn't stop talking about it and laughing.

How do you insert humor into an action script?  It's not as easy as joke-joke-joke.

I'm no expert on comedy, but after reading this script, I do know high stakes help.

For example, in the scene below, Cates has just revealed Ganz (common antagonist for Cates and Hammond) is out of prison.

The stakes are high for Cates. Hammond is his last lead.

The stakes are also high for Hammond.  He wants something on the outside.

ex.  [Cates] turns, goes out [of Hammond's cell].
The door clangs behind him.
Hammond jumps up and bangs on the bars, shouts at Cates' back...

HAMMOND: Cates! Come back here!

Cates turns, saunters back, leans against the door.

CATES: Yeah?
HAMMOND: I can deliver Ganz. On a plate. But you gotta get me outta here first.
CATES: Bullshit.
HAMMOND: You heard me. Get me a furlough...a pass. There's ways...sick mother, national emergency...
CATES: You're crazy.
HAMMOND: It's the only way I'm gonna help. Get me out.
CATES: What's so important about you gettin' out?
HAMMOND: Who said it was important?

I like that the scene never stops for the comedy.

Both sides desperately need each other, and are pretending they do not.

Somehow that's ironic, funny and still moves us forward, all in one.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Keep the stakes high. It will help the comedy.

48 Hours
by Walter Hill & Larry Gross

Monday, November 19, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: Southern Comfort (1981) - The Feeling of Dread

[Quick Summary:  A group of lost National Guardsmen antagonize a couple of Cajun trappers, and become prey in the swampy Louisiana bayou.]

I'm struggling to like these past few Walter Hill scripts. 

It could just be my tastes, but I've liked scripts that were far from my comfort zone. 

One thing I did like in this script was how it conveyed feelings of dread.


Along the edge of the bayou. Masterson moving cautiously along, then stops....


Eight dead rabbits hanging from a tree limb alongside the trail. Thin cord around each of their throats. Each animal has been gutted."

Why does this work? It's not over-the-top-gory or excessively bloody (which is an unpleasant trend today).

1) Because it's personal. 

The 8 men know they are the 8 doomed rabbits.

They also know that the Cajun trappers have superior knowledge and skills in this bayou.

2) Because the image provokes a reaction in the characters.

I often see writers try to replicate dread with a hamster wheel of blood-gore-blood-gore scenes.

I do not see often the characters react to the blood/gore in a way, which move the story forward.

Here, the Guardmen do not react well to the rabbit threat.  As a result, cracks start to appear in the group and they break rank in the next scene.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Dread can stem from a character's personal reaction to a scary sight.

Southern Comfort (1981)
Written and directed by Walter Hill

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Warriors (1979) - Unity & 9 Protagonists

[Quick Summary: After the Warriors are falsely accused of killing a rival gang leader, they are the target of every gang in town, and struggle to get home.]

I like ensemble casts, don't you?

Usually I get mired in scripts with large casts, but I found this one an easy read, because it remembered a couple rules of ensembles:

1 - Pinpoint a leader, i.e., one character who puts the whole story in context. It helps the audience follow along.

In this script, The Fox is a member of a New York gang called the Warriors.

The Warriors are blamed for shooting a rival gang leader during a truce.  

The Fox saw the real shooter.  Thus, he becomes the reason for the story, and for the whole manhunt.

2 - If there are multiple protagonists, antagonists, &/or story lines, they should all be unified in action (cf. Aristotle's Poetics).

The nine Warriors (protagonists) are split up and face many antagonists.

The script moves between their various adventures (multiple story lines):

ex. Swan is captured by the Dingos. Swan must escape a straightjacket to get back to the team.

ex. The Fox regrets bringing Mercy, who was with the Orphan gang, on the journey.  Is Mercy a spy or an innocent?

ex. Cowboy and Rembrandt are lured into a gang chick's lair, and escape an ambush.

So why doesn't the script drag with so many characters and stories?

I think it's because the characters are unified by the same enemy (all gangs) and the same goal (make it home together).

There are several individual stories, but they all move in one direction ----> toward home.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: It's the unity of story that keep ensemble scripts clear.

The Warriors (1979)
Written and directed by Walter Hill
Based on the novel by Sol Yurick

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Driver (1978) - A Muscular Voice

[Quick Summary: With one last getaway job, the Driver helps out a dame (The Player), and teaches the Detective a lesson to boot.]

Walter Hill has one hell of a muscular voice. 

I hate talking about "voice" because:

1) It's like trying to define the wind.
2) Everyone tells writers they need one. No one tells you how to get it.

But I can't avoid it here.  The Driver has a big muscular voice.

So I'll bumble around trying to define it.

What is voice?  To me, it is how a writer puts the story together. 
- How does the writer focus the reader?
- What is the flow? What choices does he/she make?

What is muscular? It's a blunt, direct energy.
- It pairs off best with action films.
- It's not limited to a male point of view, but does work well.
Here are a few things Hill does to create a muscular voice:

- The easiest to identify is Hill's trademark fast, spare narrative.

ex. "The Connection steps out.
A tall young woman with slicked back hair."

-  The characters have no frills, no extraneous details.

ex. To keep the focus on the here and now, there is virtually no back story on the Driver, or anyone else.

-  Punches make real contact. There is no backing down from conflict.

ex. When the Driver and Detective clash, one wins the skirmish, and they move on.  No whining, no excuses.

-  Men act like men, and women act like women, without either being weak or wimpy.

ex.  There's no hemming or hawing.  If I like you, I let you know. If I don't, I also let you know.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  A muscular voice is very sure of itself.

The Driver (1978)
Written & directed by Walter Hill
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