Thursday, December 27, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: Wild Bill (1995) - What is a Good Motive?

[Quick Summary: The rough and tumble life of Wild Bill Hickok, from Nebraska to Deadwood.]

Wild Bill is pretty memorable, but I kept thinking about the antagonist, Jack McCall.

McCall is a cowardly gunman with a grudge, who follows Wild Bill.

I thought he had a "good" grudge, since his motive convinced me.

What makes a motive convincing anyway?

I remembered author Patricia Highsmith who wrote:

"It's much easier to create from positive, affection emotions than from negative and hateful ones. Jealousy, while powerful, I find of no use at all, and it most resembles the disease cancer, eating away and giving nothing."*

Here, McCall's mother and Wild Bill had a relationship long ago.

The mother languished and died, and McCall always blamed Wild Bill.

Out of love for his mother (positive emotion), McCall swore he'd kill Wild Bill (grudge).
Love would easily energize McCall through the whole story.

But vengeance or jealousy (negative emotions)? Perhaps a few scenes, but they don't have nearly the same kind of sustaining energy.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: For motives, think in terms of positive emotions.

Wild Bill (1995)
Written & directed by Walter Hill

* Plotting& Writing Suspense Fiction, by Patricia Highsmith, (1983, p. 24).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: Alien 3 (1992) - Some Things You Can't Mess With

[Quick Summary: After Ripley's spaceship crash lands (with an alien hitchhiker) on a prison planet, she must rally the prisoners to fight the alien.]

Fortunately, Alien and Aliens set up a franchise.

Unfortunately, Alien 3 had a hellish production.

Fortunately, there is a cohesive script.

Unfortunately, it's missing something...

Here's the best I can explain:

- Ripley is alone on a prison planet. [Fish-out-of-water. Good.]

- The prisoners are suspicious of her story. [New environment. Good.]

- Ripley must convince the prisoners to fight. [Aaaaand here's my problem.]

Ripley is a leader who is pushed to the limit, but in previous films, her team has always had her back.

Half the fun of Alien and Aliens is the team spirit.

I liked watching them solve the puzzle together.

But in Alien 3, the prisoners seem hopeless and resigned to their fate.  They're scared, but not amped up to fight.

In short, most are not on the same page as Ripley.

She must constantly refocus them on the alien...and it gets less and less fun to watch.

I miss the team spirit, you know?

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Sometimes fundamentals shouldn't change.

Alien 3
by Walter Hill and David Giler

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: Red Heat (1988) - A Moment When the Woman Was Essential

[Quick Summary: A Russian cop must team up with an American cop to capture a fugitive Russian cocaine lord who is loose in Chicago.]

As I read everything in my Walter Hill library, I've grown cynical when it comes to the females.

I've noticed the roles tend to be one note and disposable.*

Generally, there's only one job for women.  I wonder why they are marginalized to the edges so often.

Are they a distraction? Is a triangular conflict less intense?

I'll probably never know.

However, one section of Red Heat did surprised me because a female played a rare key role.

Danko, the unemotional Russian cop, is ambushed in his hotel room.

He survives because of unexpected gun power, i.e., the hooker down the hall has had his back.

"DANKO: Wait!

She turns, startled.

DANKO: You saved my life.
HOOKER (suspicious): Yeah?
DANKO: I just wanted to thank you.

And he lifts her, hugs her and kisses her. It is a moment of pure exultation. for the first time since Jusso's [his cop partner] death, he feels glad to be alive.

The Hooker is caught up by his infectious mood and she responds with a great peal of laughter. They have both come through a life and death situation. They have both made it."

The female is essential to the action, for once.

It might not seem like a big deal, but in a Hill script, it's huge.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: It's great to see a writer step out of the comfort zone.

Red Heat (1988)
Written by Troy Kennedy Martin & Walter Hill
Directed by Walter Hill

*Here, I exclude Alien's Riley, and refer to the other 8 Hill scripts I've read.

Friday, December 7, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: What if There's No Character Arc (a la Jack Reacher)?

I'm extremely curious about the upcoming film, Jack Reacher, based on the book One Shot by Lee Child.

Child writes here about 3 problems why the character of Jack Reacher is troublesome for film:

1 - Reacher's physicality (6'5", 250 lbs.)

2 - "Reacher has no character arc"

3 - "Much of Reacher's appeal is inside his head"

Immediately, #2 made my hair stand on end.

Awhile ago, a writer argued endlessly with me that a character arc is unnecessary in a script.

I countered that it's near impossible to make an interesting story without it. 

I even blogged about its importance here.

I bought the belief in Hollywood that it could not be done.  (Secretly, I'd hoped it was possible, but I have never seen it.)

So how did Christopher McQuarrie (Oscar winner, writer of The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie) adapt this book?

I am dying to know, & will report back as soon as I can read the script.

Anyone have thoughts?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

TODAY'S NUGGET: Alien (1979) - One Secret of a Great Action Script

[Quick Summary: The crew of a commercial starship investigates an unknown planet, unaware that a terrifying creature has hijacked on to their ship.]

In the beginning, there was Alien.*

I read this script in its entirety for the first time, and I admit I was discombobulated.

This script is REALLY spare:

- The crew has little back story.
- There is no discussion home or personal life on Earth.
- There is no talk about future hopes and dreams.

The usual tricks to lure the reader are gone, i.e., no lush descriptions or painful character motivations.

So what is left for a compelling story? ONLY the present.

The script is stripped down to the NOW, i.e., getting rid of the monster on the ship ASAP.

The mood is survival. The tone is urgent. It's all-action-all-the-time (as all Hill scripts are).

A good action story is about characters making interesting decisions NOW.

ex. Do we let infected crew back on board?
ex. How to avoid the creature's acid?

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Don't get bogged down in justifying or explaining.  Strip down to the present.

Alien (1979)
by Walter Hill & David Giler
Based on screenplay by Dan O'Bannon
Story by Dan O'Bannon & Ronald Shusett

*For those who don't know, there are 4-5 films built on this one:
- Aliens
- Aliens 3
- Alien Resurrection;
- Alien vs. Predator (arguably)

Go here for the development history and scripts.
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