Monday, September 30, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: Unfaithfully Yours (1948) - One Way to Visually Move From Reality to Fantasy

[Quick Summary: A conductor suspects his wife is unfaithful.]

Once upon a time, I heard a writer I admire say the mark of a pro is his/her transitions.

What the hell does that mean?!

I finally discovered transitions aren't just at the ends of scenes. 

They encompass the whole flow in a script:
- getting in and out
- moving in and out of closeups
- switching locations, etc.

In this script, let's examine 2 transitions:

[Note: I know these are long. Sturges wrote for himself to direct.]

ex. "Now after a pause the CAMERA PUSHES IN until his eyes, eyebrows and nose fill the screen. After this we PUSH IN still closer until one eye fills the screen and finally so close that the pupil of one eye, which is to say blackness, fills the screen. Now that we are in Sir Alfred's mind, a very, very slow FADE IN begins and we find ourselves in Sir Alfred's study on a CLOSEUP of the antique village orchestra clock."

ex. "TRICK SHOT ON SIR ALFRED. We go into his mind again...(it might be interesting at some point to see the whole orchestra from the conductor's viewpoint reflected on something black and shiny, then PULL BACK and see it is the pupil of the conductor's eye)."

Sturges move us from reality to fantasy with just visuals:

- Alfred's face is described in closer and closer detail.
- Then the next scene is at regular distance.
- The audience understands this close--> closer--> farther sequencing as going into a man's head for a fantasy or flashback.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  It's refreshing to see how clean the reality-to-fantasy visuals are here. 

Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
by Preston Sturges

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Great Moment (1944) - Breaking a Biopic Rule

[Quick Summary: The true story of the first dentist to successfully use ether, which results in both success and villification.]

Did you know Preston Sturges wrote a biopic?

Me either.

As always, Sturges doesn't follow the rule, he breaks them.

Notice the non-chronological sequencing to this biopic:*

A - Present day. Dr. Morton's destitute widow tells how her husband died with a broken heart.
B - In the recent past, Dr. Morton loses business to competitors.
C - In the further past, Dr. Morton loses a $100k award to red tape.
D - In the far past, Dr. and Mrs. Morton struggle in a young marriage.
E - Young Morton experiments with ether.
F - Morton coins the term "letheon" for his secret ingredient.
G - Morton convinces a medical professor to try his "letheon" in a live demonstration.
H - Letheon is extremely successful during surgery.
J - The medical community demands to know what letheon is. Morton finally admits it is simple ether.  They take his findings, but do not appreciate Morton's work.

Why does it work here?

Usually, biopics follow a chronological approach.

The purpose of this general rule is to help build momentum.
ex. Girl is young but brash --> Faces trouble --> She learns lesson at climax
Here, Sturges found another way to group together scenes that would still build momentum.
ex. #A-D gains our sympathy. 
#E-G shows Morton's uphill battle. 
Then #H-J punches us with success, then the sharp unfairness of it all.
WHAT I'VE LEARNED: 1) Know the purpose of the general rule; 2) Go ahead & break it; 3) See if the story still works.

The Great Moment (1944)
by Preston Sturges

* I find it fascinating that Sturges (and/or the studio at the time) breaks down every script into sequences A through J or K. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) - Anti-Hero in a Farce

[Quick Summary: A discharged marine gets a rousing, but undeserved, homecoming.]

Some call this Sturges' finest work, and I agree.

The script is remarkable because it fools you at first.

On a first read, I thought that Woodrow should not be the protagonist:
- Woodrow is very, very, very reluctant to go home. (He's an anti-hero.)
- But he's dragged home by marine buddies.  (Does he have a goal?)
- He gets an undeserved hero's welcome. (Things happen to him.)

But I was wrong.

Why?

This script has an unusual and complex combination of an ANTI-HERO in a FARCE:

1 - As an anti-hero, Woodrow is very, very, very reluctant to take pro-active action.  He seems to react rather than act.

ex.  Woodrow befriends marines at a bar, far from home.
He wants to go home but can't. [Reluctance]
The marines learn he pretended to mom that he's still enlisted.
The marines insist he go home and accompany him. [Reacts]

2 -  But look closely -- He does take steps toward a goal (telling mom).

However, he is swimming against a tsunami of farce.

Farce requires extreme exaggeration.  

In other words, our attention is on the ridiculous town folk with agendas (antagonists) rather than Woodrow:

ex. Woodrow tries to bolt from the train. The marines shove him into uniform and medals.

ex. Woodrow's mother wants him to wear his (borrowed) uniform to church. He balks and wears a suit.

ex. Political hacks put Woodrow up for mayor. He tries to decline. They call him modest. 

Note that all the action is ALWAYS around Woodrow, whether or not he is on screen (which is why he IS the protagonist.)

What great craftmanship!

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Farce can emphasize the protagonist's journey (even an anti-hero).

Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)
by Preston Sturges

Monday, September 9, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944) - When I Don't Like a Script

[Quick Summary: Unintended consequences results when a young woman persuades a milk toast friend to marry her.]

Between you, me, and the lamp post, I didn't like the last script.

Nor this one either.

I used to rush on to the next good script.

But over time, I've made it a rule to take the time to analyze:

1) Why the script didn't work for me
2) One good take-away for my writing tool box

Why this script didn't work for me:
- It's very talky, without enough movement. 
- Trudy always takes advantage of Norval, even to the point of a fake marriage.
- I didn't want this couple to be together. Where's the rooting interest?

One good writing tool: Reveal coverups in the last 25% of the scene.
 - ex.  Norval pretends to be Trudy's army fiancee before the justice of the peace (coverup).  They are married (75%), then Norval signs the wrong name (25%).
- The script takes its time to stretch the coverup.  The reveal isn't too soon.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: When I don't like a script, I still need to push myself to figure out what does and does not work.

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)
by Preston Sturges

Monday, September 2, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Palm Beach Story (1942) - Funny Character Names

[Quick Summary: A wife runs away so her husband won't suffer financial ruin, but he chases after her.]

[NOTE: The next two chronological scripts are reviewed here: Lady Eve, Sullivan's Travels.]

Sturges uses funny names.

I can't stop thinking about:

- Mr. McKeewie
- The Weenie King
- John D. Hackensacker III
- Snoodles
- Captain McGlue

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Weird names are memorable.

The Palm Beach Story (1942)
by Preston Sturges