Monday, December 30, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: Wyatt Earp (1994) - Why You Should Read Scripts

[Quick Summary:  The personal side of how Wyatt Earp became a feared Wild West lawman.]

Please don't be dense like me.

For years, I scoffed at the value of reading scripts.

"Read?! REAL writers WRITE. What could I learn from reading?"

I didn't care that every famous screenwriter said to do it.

It was optional, right? I believe the answer is no.

It takes time and is a pain, but it's the only way to teach how to tell a story.
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An example from today's script: 

"DOC (impressed): Bat Masterson. You're the man that killed Sergeant King in Sweetwater?

Bat nods, not knowing Doc's feelings about the deceased.

DOC: Got you in the leg, I understand. My congratulations to you, sir. King was a skunk of the first order.

BIG NOSE KATE: I wish you'd got him before he shot poor Molly Brennan. She was a sweet girl.

This is a subject of real feeling for Bat, who loved the dead girl. Quietly --

BAT: Yes she was, ma'am...."
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How do you interpret the bolded sentences above?

A new writer might think, "That's wrong.  Those sentences violate the "show, don't tell rule."

However, a seasoned writer who has read many scripts will realize:

- It's ok to violate the rule if it helps the story.
- These sentences are NOT telling.  They are describing REACTION SHOTS to the dialogue.  That is why it is so easy to visualize this story.

I was naive to think I could pick up these tricks of the trade by reading once in a blue moon.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Reading scripts is your continuing education.

I recommend setting a reading curriculum for yourself.

Don't stop learning.

Wyatt Earp (1994)
 by Lawrence Kasdan and Jake Kasdan 


Monday, December 23, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Bodyguard (1992) - Safe is Not Good

[Quick Summary: A bodyguard is hired to protect an actress, and inadvertently falls in love.]

This was Lawrence Kasdan's first screenplay.

I'd heard it was quite impressive.

To see for myself, I managed to finagle an original/early draft.

Did it live up to the hype? Yes.

Is it worth hunting down? Yes.  

Did I like it better than the shooting draft? Yes.

Why? Because it's riskier, ballsier, and the characters are allowed to be more flawed.

ex. Rachel Marron actively tries to make Frank pay for rejecting her.

ex. The bad guy's hijinks on the golf course involved a senator and two little boys. [Great suspense.]

I liked that characters had more regrets and no free passes.

In the shooting draft, I often felt it took an emotionally safer road.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  Take more risks.

Safe is not good four letter word for stories.

The Bodyguard (1992; early draft, undated)
by Lawrence Kasdan

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: Silverado (1985) - More fun

[Quick Summary: Four gunslingers descend on Silverado to right wrongs in intertwining stories.]

I liked this script very much.

Lawrence Kasdan might be my new "go to" guy for ensemble writing.

Two things to marvel at:

1)  The degree of writing difficulty that ensembles require.

ex. Last week's script  = 7 high school classmates who are reliving their common pasts in a confined crucible.

This week's script = 4 people whose 4 story lines cross over each other in real time.

2) It's never takes itself too seriously and is fun to read.

ex. "The three men ride hell-for-leather away from town. At the first bend they leave the road and head off cross-country their horses straining up craggy hillsides and sliding down dusty slopes. There is some good riding going on here." (italics mine)

I laughed at the last sentence.  It captures the tone perfectly.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Need more fun. Need more fun. Need more fun.

Silverado (1985)
by Lawrence Kasdan & Mark Kasdan

Monday, December 9, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Big Chill (1983) - Keep It Simple & Specific

[Quick Summary: A group of college buddies gather for the funeral of one of their own.]

I felt deeply when I read this script.

First, it's an amazing ensemble piece that juggles seven protagonists/antagonists.

Second, every story line felt so realistic and honest.

ex. "HAROLD: I want you to sit with Chloe.
MICHAEL: Okay.
HAROLD: I've got to be up there, and it's a little touchy with Alex's folks.
MICHAEL: I understand.

Harold gives him a "I knew you would" squeeze.

MICHAEL: Who's Chloe?

Harold gestures discreetly in Chloe's direction.

HAROLD: It's Alex's girlfriend.

Michael peers into the pews.

Harold indicates Chloe in the front row, which they have almonst reached. Michael is impressed, brightening at the sight of her. But when he speaks to Harold, he's all solicitous friend.

MICHAEL: I'll take care of her."

I think the keys are:
- The writing is simple (but not simplistic).
- The actions reflect very specific feelings (and not vague).

These put me inside the character...all seven of them.

Now that's a high level of skill.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  Keep it Simple and Specific.

The Big Chill (1983)
by Lawrence Kasdan & Barbara Benedek

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

TODAY'S NUGGET: Return of the Jedi (1983) - How to Introduce an Ewok

[Quick Summary: While the rebels disable the Death Star's shield on Endor, Luke faces Darth Vader.]

I'm a big Ewoks fan. (I can't believe some people are not.)

How would I have introduced such a new creature to a franchise?

I would've probably dived in with the physical description, i.e., "short, bear-like, cuddly."

However, the writers had a more effective way to draw the reader in.

They began with character actions, then physical attributes:

"EXT. FOREST CLEARING - LEIA'S CRASH SITE

A strange little furry face with huge black eyes comes slowly into view. The creature is an EWOK, by the name of WICKET. He seems somewhat puzzled, and prods Leia with a spear. The princess groans; this frightens the stubby ball of fuzz and he prods her again. Leia sits up and stares at the three-foot-high Ewok."

Here's my short break down:

1 - Black eyes enter the screen [Not too much detail]
2 - He's puzzled [Now we're curious at his curiosity]
3 - He pokes Leia [Action and movement]
4 - He's frightened, but pokes again [We see his brave action]
5 - She wakes and sees a 3 ft. teddy bear [Finally the whole picture]

I liked that we didn't know the Ewok was 3 ft. until the end.

It's a surprise, and adds respect that such a short fellow would attempt the previous behavior.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  If possible, describe a character with behavior first.

Return of the Jedi (1983)
by Lawrence Kasdan & George Lucas