Tuesday, June 25, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: Limitless (2011) - Two Conflict Texture

[Quick Summary: After a day-trader gets hooked on a mind-enhancing drug, thugs and his boss come after him.]

Bad news - I so wanted to like this script.

But I wasn't keen on it, despite that there's solid writing and premise. 

Good news - I did enjoy the double conflict scene on p. 16-17.

Eddie has just swallowed his first pill. 

He encounters the ranting landlord's wife just as the pill kicks in. 

There are 2 things happening at once:
 1) Eddie grapples with new physical effects from the chemicals (internal conflict)
 2) He has to disarm the shouting wife (external conflict)

Here's how the writer described it:

"The room is changing...springing into sharper focus.

EDDIE (V.O.): Everything had more definition...more dimensions...

There seems to be a little more light, too --he can see more clearly. The SOUND drops out for a moment; he can see VALERIE'S FACE, mouth contorted, continuing to heap the abuse, but there's something in her eyes that's not mean...something anxious.

EDDIE (V.O.): "I was blind, but now I see."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  Two conflicts at once has a different texture than one.

As a writer, you need to know which texture will work the best.

Sometimes you need two. Sometimes you only need one.

Limitless (2011)
by Leslie Dixon
Based on the novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn

Monday, June 17, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) - Allowing the Reader to Add 2 + 2

[Quick Summary: A marked hitman reunites with his first love at their high school reunion.]

I love it when scripts allow the reader put 2 + 2 together.

(Pssssssssstttttt! It's also called "show not tell.")

Here's a great example in the introduction of Martin, the protagonist:

[The italics are my reactions to the script as I read it.]

- Camera focuses on a golf ball. [We're on a golf course.]
- We see yellow trousers. [This is a man.]
- He chips the ball into a hole. [He can play golf.]
- Hands clean the iron's face. [He's knows about golf.]
- "Both hands are gloved, instead of one, and the gloves are black." [WHOA. Wait a minute. Why are his gloves black and not white? Hitmen wear black gloves. Ah ha! He's a hitman.]

Note how the writers led me through the logical process.
1) They laid out the clues
2) The clues were bite sized, so that the reader could jump to the desired conclusion
3) They let me connect the dots

I loved that they trusted the reader to make those leaps.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: It's tough to fashion the right sized clue.

If it's too esoteric, the reader won't make the connection.

If it's too patently apparent, the reader feels insulted.

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
by D.V. deVincentis, S.K. Boatman, & John Cusak

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) - Outlandish Dialogue Needs _______

[Quick Summary: A thief and a p.i. witness witness a female body being dumped, which leads to an unruly L.A. mystery.] 

I really liked this script because Harry (thief) is a first rate raconteur.

His dialogue is fast, off the seat of the pants, and effective. It gets him out of the most absurd situations.  

I just couldn't stop reading, so why does it work so well? 

One reason may be the scene structure, i.e.,  solid setups and payoffs.  

The dialogue can be extreme and outlandish AS LONG AS the structure holds it together:

ex. Harry and his partner rob a toy store. His partner is shot and killed.
- Harry runs and is wounded. [Setup is that Harry is running scared]
- He runs into a building and opens a random door to a casting call.
- Sweaty and bloody, he is still picked for the next audition. [Twist]
- He goes along with it because a cop is searching the building. [Increased stakes]
- The audition scene is a confrontation between the police and a killer (Harry). [Callback to when Harry's partner was shot.]
- Harry reads the lines, which could easily be his own confession. He falls apart. [Payoff]
- Harry is so convincing that he is hired. [Payoff of dialogue being so great] 

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Always, always, always structure first.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
by Shane Black  

Monday, June 3, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: Donnie Brasco (1997) - Applause for a "Passive" Protagonist

[Quick Summary: In the 1970s, an undercover FBI agent seems to like mobster life than his real life.]

I loved how this script turns the definition of "active protagonist" on its head.

Donnie Brasco is one of the first undercover FBI agents in the NY mob.

His job is to gather intelligence and set out bait...and then wait for the prey to bite.

So on the surface, Donnie often LOOKS passive.

ex. At their first meeting, Donnie lets Lefty approach first.
ex. Donnie offers to help facilitate mob deals, but never initiates.

It's only later, however, that we realize this is Donnie's plan.

He is actually quite active behind the scenes.

ex. Donnie lets Lefty scold and teach him.  Lefty thinks he's in control.

ex. Donnie sets up a mole in the Florida mafia. He maneuvers Lefty into a meeting with the Florida mob. Lefty believes he is the Big Man.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Donnie's casual passivity disguises his activity.

This is how a good writer follows (and breaks) the rules.

Donnie Brasco (1997)
by Paul Attanasio
Based on the book, "Donnie Brasco," by Joseph D. Pistone with Richard Woodley