Monday, July 29, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Power & the Glory (1933) - Getting What You (Don't) Want, i.e., Irony

[Quick summary: A railroad baron's happiest and saddest moments are told in flashback.]

I feel dumb.  When I feel dumb, I read.
I felt dumb recently when someone praised writer/director Preston Sturges (1898-1959).  I knew so little.  Exactly why was he so great?

So begins my education of Sturges with this early script.

It is impressive.*

I particularly liked how Sturges uses irony to punch home a point.

Here's how he built one scene:

1 - The stakes are set up clearly.

Eve, the mistress, gives lovesick Tom an ultimatum.

[To have Eve, Tom must discard Sally.]

2 - The protagonist faces a decision, and a complication.

Sally, the wife, tells Tom that she wants to reconnect with a trip to Europe together. Tom confesses he's in love with Eve.

Guilty, he foreswears Eve, and agrees to go to Europe.

Sally abruptly tells him to go with Eve, have fun, and live it up.

She says, "I hope she makes you happier than I did," and walks out.

[Sally is a roadblock for Tom.  We expect her to fight for their marriage, but she does the unexpected and makes it so easy for him.]

3 - The protagonist "got what he wished for"...but the grass isn't as green as he thought.  

Sally commits suicide.

[It is ironic because Tom got what he wanted (Eve) and not what he wanted (guilt). The irony in #3 underscores his bad decision in #1. ]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Tom chose Eve, confident that she was the better outcome, but she wasn't.  That's irony.

The Power & the Glory (1933)
by Preston Sturges

*A few striking facts about this script:

- It was Preston Sturges' first original spec.
- It was shot without changes.
- It launched him as a serious screenwriter (despite poor box office).
- It convinced him to become a director (he didn't direct this one).
- Its "fractured narrative" and constant voice over was revolutionary.
- It heavily influenced Citizen Kane.

Monday, July 22, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: Sense & Sensibility (1995) - Examples of Silence at Work

[Quick Summary: In 1790s, two witty, poor sisters find hard-won love.]

Producer Lindsay Doran writes eloquently about looking for a Sense and Sensibility writer for TEN YEARS:
"Everything I'd looked at seemed so dry and polite - the romantic scripts weren't funny enough, the funny scripts weren't romantic enough, the attempts to write in the voice of the eighteenth century felt stilted and dull. I was beginning to think that what I was looking for didn't exist."
After working with Emma Thompson, Doran offered her the gig:
"She not only knew how to think in Jane Austen's language, but she understood the rhythms of good scene writing and how to convey a sense of setting....Her experience as an actress ...helped her to understand when silence could say more than any spoken word." (emphasis mine) 
I like how the script uses silence:

Ex. 1 - It can build anticipation.

"[The Stranger] turns to Marianne and smiles. She smiles back gloriously. He bows, and sweeps out of the room.

MARIANNE (hissing): His name! His name!"

Ex. 2 -  It can also convey sorrow.

"Sir John eyes Brandon roguishly.

SIR JOHN: You know what they're saying, of course...

No answer.

SIR JOHN: The word is that you have developed a taste for - certain company.

Brandon stays resolutely silent. Sir John is emboldened.

SIR JOHN: And why not, say I. a man like you - in his prime - she'd be a most fortunate young lady -

Brandon cuts across him.

COL. BRANDON: Marianne Dashwood would no more think of me than she would of you, John."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Silence forced me to connect the dots.

I didn't realize:
1) how versatile it is, and
2) how it involves the audience.

Sense & Sensibility (1995)
by Emma Thompson
From the novel by Jane Austen

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: Adam's Rib (1949) - I Want MORE ROMANCE

[Quick Summary: Two married lawyers take opposite sides in a wife-shoots-husband case.]

I'm here to stump for more romantic comedies.  (Where have they gone? )

I'm a die hard fan, but recent films have turned me off.

My biggest issue is a lack of...well, romance.

Billy Mernit explains it this way in his Romantic Truism #1:

The primary challenge lies not in creating obstacles to keep the couple apart, but in convincing the audience that these two people truly do belong together.

I need to believe these two are better together than apart.

And I did believe it when reading Adam's Rib.

*spoilers below*

ex. Adam is smart. Amanda is witty. They enjoy each other immensely at home.

In the courtroom, Amanda is on fire. Adam shows some fine lawyering.

Amanda finally wins. Adam storms off.

They can't reconcile their legal positions, which affects them personally.

By this time, however, I was rooting for them. When Kip the neighbor put the moves on Amanda, it drove the point home.

Kip wanted to be her doormat, but that didn't help her.

She was far happier fighting with Adam.

That says romantic to me.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Romance is two people who make each other better.

Adam's Rib (1949)
by Ruth Gordon & Garson Kanin

* It is the rare rom-com with 100% approval on Rotten Tomatoes.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: A Knight's Tale (2001) - A Funny Scene of Writing a Love Note

[Quick Summary: A peasant sneaks into the nobles-only jousting circuit.]

This is a solid script.
From The Canterbury Tales it is ripped.

This was my favorite scene.
Funny and vulnerable, see what I mean?

(William's friends give him heat,
Which makes his efforts all so sweet.)

"William strides in with purpose. He holds a ROSE.

CHAUCER: Yes sire!
WILLIAM: I need to write a letter.
CHAUCER: Alright...To who?
WILLIAM: Jocelyn. Make it, Dear Jocelyn. Then put in a bit about her beauty, how her eyes are amazing and then a poem or two.
CHAUCER: A love letter then?
ROLAND: No, a bill for lodgings and beer!
WILLIAM: Finish it with a bit to bring a tear and melt her heart, alright?
CHAUCER: No. I won't. Not a love letter.

Chaucer goes back to his notes leaving William incredulous.

WILLIAM: Why not?
CHAUCER: Because. Your love letter must come from your heart, not mine.
WAT: William. If you like, I'll kick master Geoff until he agrees.
CHAUCER: Kick me, fong me, I won't do it.
WILLIAM: Fine. I'll do it. Will you scribble it for me at least?
CHAUCER: Certainly.

William sets a clean piece of parchment in front of him.

CHAUCER: On parchment?
WILLIAM: What else?
CHAUCER: Vellum. Parchment is for edicts, decrees and death warrants. Vellum is for bibles, pardons and love letters. Scented of course. I have one sheet.
WILLIAM: Good. Vellum. My dearest Jocelyn...I miss you.

Chaucer frowns, but dips his pen and prepares to write.

WILLIAM: Hold! Is that wrong?
CHAUCER: Your letter. It's up to you.

Desperate not to make a mistake, William looks to the others. Wat and Roland both shrug.

WAT: Say something about her breasts.
ROLAND: Yes, you miss her breasts.
CHAUCER: Look above her breasts, William
WILLIAM: I miss her throat?
CHAUCER: Higher! To the heavens.
KATE: The moon at least. Her breasts were not that impressive.
WILLIAM: The moon. Hmm...It is strange to think...I haven't seen you since a month. I have seen the new moon...but not you.  I have seen sunsets and sunrises, but nothing of your beautiful face.

He looks to them. They're stunned. Finally:

CHAUCER: Very good, William."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  William's discomfort is funny
+ Willingness to put forth his emotions is romantic
= Funny AND romantic AND moves the story forward.

A Knight's Tale (2001)
Written & directed by Brian Helgeland

Monday, July 1, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) - Foreshadowing & Unease

[Quick Summary: A barber lies after a man dies, and it all goes to hell, as noir films do.]

This is a good script, but not a favorite.

I did like how it visually foreshadows unease (essential for noir).

ex. "Ed gets into bed next to Doris. He stares at the ceiling. Wind rustles outside.

The shadow of a branch on the ceiling nods in time with the wind.

He looks at Doris....her breathing more peaceful. The leafy shadows play over her face." (p. 38-39)

The shadows over her face are foreboding.

Everything is still for one moment, and Ed is holding his breath.

(And sure enough in the very next scene, the other shoe drops hard.)

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  Take advantage of a moment of quiet and unease in Scene A.

It will help build tension and contrast when chaos erupts in Scene B.

The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
by Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
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