Monday, December 29, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Silkwood (1983) - "Likeable" vs. "Empathetic" (Choose the Latter)

[Quick Summary: Karen Silkwood is contaminated for uncovering health hazards at her plutonium plant.]

"I don't like that character."
"He isn't likeable enough."
"Can't you make her more likeable?"

What the hell is "likeability"?

I've discovered over time that if you ask a few more questions, it boils down to this:

People use the word "likeable" when they actually mean "empathetic."

[Heads up writers, your job is to decipher what this shortcut means:

-"I don't like him [because I don't get why he made the decisions that he did]."
- "He isn't likeable enough [because he's always angry for no reason]."
- "Can't you make her more [conflicted/contradictory/complicated]"?]

Nora Ephron's scripts are pure gold for empathetic characters. 

Karen Silkwood is a great example. She makes radical decisions in 1970s Oklahoma. She smokes weed. Her three kids live with their dad in Texas. Her boyfriend can't take the stress and leaves.

Yet we identify with her facing her dilemmas and struggles. 

ex. "DENISE reaches out to hand her half-eaten hamburger to KAREN.

DENISE: I finished.
DONNY (to Drew): Do you still sleep with Mama?
DREW: Yes.

The hamburger drips ketchup all over KAREN'S dress.

KAREN: Oh shit.
DOLLY (without turning around): Don't say that, Mama.

DREW hands KAREN a napkin, sits down at the table.

DONNY: Do you hit Mama?
DREW: Not unless she hits me first."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  Our job is to get the audience to empathize (understand) with the characters, not necessarily to approve.

Silkwood (1983)
by Nora Ephron & Alice Arlen

Monday, December 22, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) - Conflict = Eager to Engage

[Quick Summary: A professor and his wife trap entertain couple in a booze soaked, button pushing evening.]

The recent passing of brilliant director Mike Nichols prompted me to read the scripts that he directed. 

This was his first produced film. 

It was a ballsy choice and still burns up on the page.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the conflict is impressively strong.

I discovered that one of the reasons is because the opposing characters are eager to engage.

They may evade for a little while, but always circle back, swinging.

ex. "GEORGE: I'm tired, dear...it's late...and besides --
MARTHA: I don't know what you're so tired about...you haven't done anything all day; you didn't have any classes, or anything....
GEORGE: Well, I'm tired....If your father didn't set up these damn Saturday night orgies all the time....
MARTHA: Well, that's just too bad about you, George....
GEORGE (grumbling): Well, that's how it is, anyway.
MARTHA: You didn't do anything; you never do anything; you never mix. You just sit around and talk.
GEORGE: What do you want me to do? Do you want me to go around all night braying at everybody, the way you do?
MARTHA (braying): I DON'T BRAY!
GEORGE (softly): All right...you don't bray.
MARTHA (hurt): I do not bray.
GEORGE: All right. I said you didn't bray.
MARTHA (after a moment): Fix me a drink.
GEORGE: Haven't you had enought?
MARTHA: I said, fix me a drink."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I think the "engaging" is why people are interesting to watch.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
by Ernest Lehman
Adapted from the play by Eward Albee

Monday, December 15, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Great Gatsby (2013) - More Than Non-Stop Energy

[Quick Summary: Writer Nick Carraway observes the privileged lives of his cousin Daisy, her husband, and mysterious neighbor Gatsby.]

I think this adaption is remarkable for two reasons:

1) It makes Nick part of the action (he was an observer in the book).
2) It pulses with a 1920s squeeze-every-drop energy.

Note in the scene below:

1) How Nick is an observer (staying true to the book) but also a participant.
2) The non-stop energy (i.e., non-stop action) captures the recklessness of the time, but also reflect Tom's privileged attitude.

ex.  INT. BUCHANAN MANSION - HALL OF CHAMPIONS - LATE AFTERNOON

Tom leads Nick down a grand hall lined with the trophies that chonicle Tom's infinite sporting achievements.

TOM: First team, all-American!

Tom admires his own achievements.

TOM: You see? Made me who I am today.

Tom pulls his favorite trophy from the cabinet --

TOM: Here --Forest Hills...I played the Prince of Wales. What a sissy!

Tom exchanges the trophy for a football.

TOM: Life's something you dominate Nick.

He pelts Nick with the ball --

TOM: If you're any good.

Nick fumbles as Tom charges him --

TOM: Ha-ha-ha!

Tom tackles Nick, knocking him back, through a pair of vaulting doors, and into [the salon]. 

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: On the surface, the non-stop energy (i.e., non-stop action) captured the 1920s.

However, it was also tailored for each character. For Tom, it was recklessness. For Daisy, desperation. 

The Great Gatsby (2013)
by Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce
Based on the novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Monday, December 8, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Carnal Knowledge (1971) - What I Learned from an All Dialogue Script

[Quick Summary: In three life phases, two friends talk about sex.]

This script is the funniest, most thought provoking script I've seen about sex.  (It's really not about the sex.)

Three Things Your Should Know:

1) The writer is Jules Feiffer, a prolific, renowned illustrator, novelist, playwright, screenwriter and all around sharp political observer.*

2) Feiffer stated in an interview where this film came from:
Your attitudes to sex and intimacy in Carnal Knowledge are similar to those that we see in your strip from the ’50s onwards. You seem to have a certain rage against the sexual revolution before it even got started.
Well, the point of the film, based on my life and my observation, was that -- and I still think is permanent -- is that heterosexual men didn’t like women. They liked sex. They liked pussy. But they didn’t like the conversation afterwards. They didn’t like the commitment. They didn’t like what women expected of them. They didn’t like the fetters. They wanted their freedom. While women wanted commitment. And by freedom they usually meant freedom to be miserable. I thought this had to be documented and nobody had ever done it. And that’s why the film struck such a chord, because as in the strips where I dealt with sex in the ’50s -- and also the politics too -- but particularly the sex, I was saying things that everyone knew but no one had ever recorded. Except for, about the same time as me, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, which is why we got along so well. What Nichols and May were doing in their sketches, in the clubs, and later television was essentially what I was trying to do in the comic strip.
3)  The script is 90% dialogue. Why does it work so well here?

a - Know what you want to say. From #2 above, Feiffer was focused on men's contradictory "freedom to be miserable".

Feiffer channeled that point of view into the dialogue.

b -  Keep conflict clear. I think Feiffer stuffs the dialogue with conflict so inherently clear that narrative is unnecessary. **

c - Subtext, NOT THE TEXT, does all the heavy lifting

ex. JONATHAN: You don't know every mood of mine like you know every mood of his. [He wants to be her #1 guy.]

SUSAN: No.

JONATHAN: How come?

SUSAN: I don't know.

JONATHAN: You don't tell me thoughts I never knew I had. [He's free as a bird, so why is he jealous?]

SUSAN: Does he say I do that?

He nods.

SUSAN: Then I guess I must.

JONATHAN: You do it all right. So do it with me. [The bachelor is asking for more?!]

SUSAN: I can't.

JONATHAN: Why can't you?

SUSAN: I can't with you.

JONATHAN: This has gone far enough. [He's reached his limit.]

SUSAN: I can't stand any more ultimatums, Jonathan.

JOHNATHAN: This is my last one! Tonight you tell him about us or tomorrow I tell him! Look at me, Susan. [Does he want her because she's someone else's girl?]

She looks at him.

JONATHAN: Now, tell me my goddamn thoughts!

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This script is all dialogue, but don't be fooled.

It only works because the foundation is solid (clear POV, clear conflict, clear subtext).

Carnal Knowledge (1971)
by Jules Feiffer
Adapted from his own play

*He was a Village Voice cartoonist for 40+ years, children's book illustrator, and writer of 35 plays, novels, and screenplays.

**I think Feiffer's illustration training lends itself to screenwriting, i.e., both use few words as possible to get a message across. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade (1989) - Sight Gags

[Quick Summary: Indiana Jones searches his father, who has gone looking for the Holy Grail.]

I like that this script doesn't take itself too seriously.

The tone is light with gaffs and gags.

I think this adds a dash of the unexpected to scenes with exposition, or routine actions.

One of my favorites is when Indy breaks into the library floor.

The scene itself is routine, but necessary, to get to the next clue.

The writer used a funny gag to make it memorable:

"Indy rushes past Brody to a cordon held in place by a brass stand underneath the stained-glass window.

Indy raises the brass stand and timing his actions, hits the tile precisely as the Librarian stams a book. The Librarian regards the stamper curiously.

Indy continues to pound at the tile as the Librarian resumes his stamping, still puzzled by the SOUND ECHOING through the library.

Finally Indy breaks the tile.  As he bends to remove the pieces of broken tile, a TWO-FOOT SQUARE HOLE IS REVEALED."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: A sight gag in the right place can add a new twist to an otherwise ordinary scene.

Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade (1989) 
by Jeff Boam
Story by George Lucas & Menno Meyjes

Monday, November 24, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Crimes of the Heart (1986) - Writing How Females Interact

[Quick Summary: Three sisters reunite in their hometown when tragedy strikes.]

After reading this comedy script, I believe there's no excuse for flat female characters.

Many scripts reduce women to one dimension - bitch, golddigger, etc. 

They may get "what" her role is, and "why" she is in the story, but often miss HOW she interacts with people:  

- They miss the double/triple meanings. 

- They miss that female interactions are layered, nuanced, complex, with attitude, ALL AT ONCE.

[Thus, reducing women to one dimension always feels incomplete.]

This script excels at capturing the "how":

ex. "CHICK: Oh, speaking of which, remember that little polka dot dress you got Peekay for her fifth birthday last month?

LENNY: The red and white one?
     
CHICK: Yes; well, the first time I put it in the washing machine, I mean the very first time, it fell all to pieces. Those little polka dots just dropped right off into the water.

LENNY (crushed): Oh, no. Well, I'll get something else for her then...a little toy.

CHICK: Oh, no, no, no, no, no!....We wouldn't hear of it! I just wanted to let you know so you wouldn't go and waste any more of your hard-earned money on that make of dress. Those inexpensive brands just don't hold up."

Note in this scene:

- Chick wants to thank Lenny for a gift (goal).
- Chick also enjoys embarrassing Lenny.
- Chick is both polite (thanking) and rude (slyly pointing out Lenny is poor for no good reason other than to feel superior).
- Lenny wants to finish this conversation fast (goal).
- Lenny is humiliated.
- Lenny is under stress (from previous scene) which makes this scene even worse.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This script only has three characters and a few settings, yet it's terribly memorable because of the women's interactions.

Crimes of the Heart (1986)(rev. dated 2/1/86)
Adapted by Beth Henley from her 1981 Pulitzer Prize winning play

Monday, November 17, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGT: Catch-22 (1970) - Blurring Reality & a Dream State

[Quick Summary: While wounded airman tries to get out of flying again, he falls in and out of memories.]

No disrespect to anyone, but this story didn't appeal to me.

It all seemed pointless.

(Perhaps that was the point, since the script ridicules war (satire), and mocks black marketing (farce).) 

I did like how this script excels in blurring reality and dream state:

ex. "Tappman opens the book, then closes it again and looks up. His eye focus on something in the distance. He blinks.

SHOT - TAPPMAN'S POV

In the distance, sitting high up on the branch of a tree, watching the ceremony, is Yossarian, naked.

SHOT - TAPPMAN

He shakes his head.

MAJOR MAJOR: Is there something wrong?

TAPPMAN: I - no - I thought I saw something.

MAJOR MAJOR: A naked man in a tree?

TAPPMAN: Yes, That's it.

DANBY (Looking down, slightly embarrassed): That's just Yossarian.

TAPPMAN: Oh. Well - in that case -

Tappman opens the book and begins reading the thirteenth Psalm."

Is this reality? A dream? I couldn't tell.

However, it works here because the story didn't rely on one or the other.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Most stories want the audience to distinguish between reality and dream state.  This one deliberately wants them blurred.

Catch-22 (1970)(second draft)
by Buck Henry
Adapted from the novel Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Monday, November 10, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Mission Impossible (1996) - Opening an Action Film

[Quick Summary: IMF agent Ethan Hawke goes after the elusive "Job" who killed his teammates.]

How do I convey, "This is an action film!" (without saying so)?

Let's examine this opening scene (p. 1-2):

- Jack is inside a hotel room closet in Kiev.
- On a small tv, he watches surveillance of two men in the next room.
- One man (Anatoly) interrogates a sobbing man (Kasminov).
- There's a dead woman on the bed.

Up until this point, this could be a thriller or a drama.

Then on p. 2:

"JACK, impatient, checks his watch.

JACK: Jesus, she's been under too long. Come on, come on!"

A-ha! Jack, and others, are in on the con.

Notice that this is p. 2, and we're moving fast, i.e., action-y pacing.

More clues:

- Jack's concern re: the woman = Urgency
- Anatoly's physicality hurries things up
- Genre words: "bare bulb", "blood", "shabby room"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  An action opening has suspense, much like a thriller, but its pacing is often quicker (urgency, dire consequences).

Mission Impossible (1996)
by David Koepp & Robert Towne

Monday, November 3, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Goonies (1985) - Real Stakes = Strong Motive

[Quick Summary: Kids from the wrong side of the tracks ("goonies") hunt for buried treasure.]

Bad news: This script is approximately 134 pgs.

Good news: This 134 pg. script is chock full of how to involve the reader in your adventure.

ex. "Data sees himself as Agent 007. Data STANDS on the window of his home. He has ATTACHED himself to a clothes line that CONNECTS Mikey's house to Data's. A LARGE PORTABLE CASSETTE player is STRAPPED to Data's chest. The Bond Theme BLARES from the cassette."

Bad news: I wanted to share an early draft of this script, but it isn't available online.

Good news: I read the early draft for you.

It was good, but I was impressed how the later draft deepened my investment in the characters.

ex. In the early draft, Mikey and friends went after buried treasure because they were bored, and it was summer.

This motive seemed weak. 

However, in the later draft, Mikey went after the treasure because he was losing his home the next day.

These real stakes = strong motive. This make-believe world suddenly became much more three dimensional to me.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: If you find the right motive for your character, I will likely buy whatever you tell me about that character.

Goonies (1985)(4th draft)
by Christopher Columbus

Monday, October 27, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Analyze That (2002) - Sequels; Conflict

[Quick Summary: After a failed assassination attempt, a mobster escapes from jail to find his assassins.]

I know I have unrealistic expectations for sequels.

So I wasn't surprised that I liked Analyze This much better than Analyze That.

It boils down to this:

In the first film, the mobster Vitti was terribly conflicted inside. He lost all confidence and couldn't function at work or at home.

He desperately needed the shrink to work through the conflict.

In the sequel, Vitti wasn't conflicted.  He needed the shrink once, i.e., to break out of jail.

In the first film, I rooted for Vitti. I needed to know how it would end.

In the sequel, I had little reason to root or care.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Conflict = Keeps the reader caring.

Analyze That (2002)
by Peter Steinfeld, Harold Ramis, & Peter Tolan

Monday, October 20, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Analyze This (1999) - Setting the Right Tone, Rhythm, Pacing

[Quick Summary: A psychiatrist gets roped into psychoanalyzing a mobster.]

READ. THIS. SCRIPT.

There's such a great tone from the start - funny, sharp, poignant, and crazy readable all at once.

I think much of it is due to rhythm and pacing.

Within the first ten pages, there are:

- Interesting introduction of co-leads
- Funny jokes
- Rip-your-heart-out-moment
- Strong theme (father-son dynamics)

ex. BEN (fuming): Okay. Listen, for two seconds, pretend I'm not your father. I'm just some guy, okay?

MICHAEL: You gonna vent?

BEN: Yeah. (venting) I hate her! I really hate her! (a beat, then brightly) Okay. Dad again. Let's go.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Can one learn this kind of rhythm? I wish I knew how it's done.

Analyze This (1999)
by Peter Tolan, Harold Ramis, & Kenneth Lonergan
Story by Kenneth Lonergan & Peter Tolan

Monday, October 13, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Heat (1995) - Intent of a Scene

[Quick Summary: A bank robber squares off with a cop over one last high stakes heist.]

On the page, this isn't the prettiest script.

But it gets the point across, without talking down to the reader.

ex. "INT. JUSTINE'S BATHROOM - JUSTINE

Putting on makeup. She's dressed up: short black dress, fish net stockings.

HANNA: Where we going?

No answer. Hanna gets it.

HANNA (continuing; acid): Where are you going?

JUSTINE: Out.

Hanna leaves. Then Justine looks at where he stood. Her cold demeanor cracks, then reassembles and she lights a roach, takes a hit, dumps it in the toilet and finishes her makeup."

The script doesn't try to micro-manage the mood, i.e., "He's kidding here", "Now he's sarcastic."

Instead, it trusts the reader to make the leap.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Your job is to keep the intent of the scene clear.  The reader will do the rest.

Heat (1995)
by Michael Mann

Friday, October 10, 2014

BOOKS TO READ: The Man Who Heard Voices, Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale (2006)

[Quick Summary: Philadelphia sports writer Michael Bamberger meets M. Night Shyamalan at a 2004 dinner party, and follows him over two years during the creation of Lady in the Water.]

A few weeks ago, I saw this book mentioned on Twitter.

I was curious because they said this was a "cautionary" tale.

I didn't see it the same way.

I thought it was an excellent look at how decisions are made behind-the-scenes.

The author covers it all:

- The tense dinner with studio execs over Shyamalan's script
- The good and bad on set
- Shyamalan's angst when readers didn't get his story, etc.

If nothing else, read this book for:

1) How Shyamalan outsmarted Harvey Weinstein (p.20-21)

2) An amazing primer on how to handle a NYU student director who saw a private rough cut and posted a review without Shyamalan's knowledge (p. 255-258; Shyamalan turned it around in a big way.)

3) Dealing with doubt and desperation

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I will not forget the priceless story on how to truly apologize to a crew member (p. 238-239).

The Man Who Heard Voices, Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale (2006)
by Michael Bamberger

Monday, October 6, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Nashville (1975) - I Don't Know Why This Episodic Film Works

[Quick Summary:

I liked that writer/director Robert Altman reveled in breaking rules.

However, I do not recommend his scripts to new writers because:

1) Altman scripts are specifically written for him.  Thus, they include things that are frowned upon - long back stories, telling vs. showing, etc.

2) Altman enjoyed BIG ensembles.  ex. Nashville follows 25 characters.

3) Sometimes there is no real plot, just stories.

4) He liked weaving episodic stories together.*   

I find #4 particularly troublesome.

So why did it work for him?  I don't know.

All I can say is that he had a talent for:

- Juggling multiple story lines to create a snapshot of country music, AND
- Keeping the same tone in very different episodes, AND
- Keeping the pacing, AND
- Saying something about America.

I did notice that several episodes repeated the search for one's dreams in different forms.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I'm still not sure why this episodic film works.

Nashville (1975)
by Joan Tewkesbury

*Episodic = Separate, tenuously related stories

Monday, September 29, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Ace in the Hole (1951) - Ridicule as Satire

[Quick Summary: A newspaper reporter manipulates the media around a man trapped in a cave.]

In anticipation of this soon-to-be-released film critiquing the media, I decided to see how Billy Wilder did it.

Here, Tatum is a reporter who stumbles on a story of a lifetime.  He controls the situation in order to milk it for as long as he can.

I liked how Tatum's hypocrisy is revealed through ridicule (satire).

In this scene, we know that Tatum is trying to delay the rescue:

ex. "RADIO REPORTER: What's your name, sir?

MINER: My name is Kuzak. Did a lot of mining in my day. Silver mining, that is --up in Virginia City. The way I see it --

RADIO REPORTER (holding mike to him): Go on, Mr. Kuzak. We're very much interested. [Tatum is losing control.]

MINER: We had cave-ins. Quite a few of them. One of them I know of farther in than yours.

TATUM: Were you ever in a cave-in yourself, Mr. Kuzak? [Tatum casts doubt to regain control.]

MINER: No, not personally....

TATUM (stepping in - to Kuzak): Mr. Kuzak, this is a Cliff Dwelling, not a silver mine. [Tatum mocks the miner.]

MINER: I think it's all the same. A man's underground and you got to get him out.

TATUM: Well, did you get your man out, Mr. Kuzak. [Tatum bluffs.]

MINER (Shakes his head ruefully): I'm afraid we didn't. We were too late.

The little tension which Kuzak had built up subsides.

TATUM: Well, then suppose you let Mr. Smollett do it his way. From the top." [Tatum shames the miner.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Ridicule makes a sharper point when it's polite ridicule.

Ace in the Hole (1951)
by Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels, & Walter Newman

Monday, September 22, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Hot Fuzz (2007) - Sound and Visual Transitions

[Quick Summary: A London police officer smells something funny in a small country village.]

This my favorite film of the Cornetto trio.

As I read it, however, I was struck by the artful use of matched sound and visual transitions.

[Matched transition = You hear/see something in Scene A that is matched in Scene B.]

Here, they do more than move us from point A to B.

They also reorient the audience to a new scene/location/point of view.

1 - SOUND

Note how the common 'hissing' sound moves us to a new location.

ex. "INT. GEORGE MERCHANT'S KITCHEN - NIGHT

MERCHANT is dragged by his feet and dumped into a kitchen chair...GLOVED HANDS empty beans into a pan...Bacon is fried...Gas taps are turned on full...Gas hisses...

INT. DANNY'S HOUSE - NIGHT

Static hisses as the video flickers to life." 

2 - VISUAL

"Beer" is the common visual clue here.

I like that as we follow the beer, we also figure out that we've switched points of view.

ex. EXT. DANNY'S HOUSE - NIGHT

...DANNY: Unless you wanna come in for a coffee?
ANGEL: I don't drink coffee.
DANNY: Tea?
ANGEL: No, no caffeine after midday.
DANNY: How about another beer?

INT. KITCHEN - NIGHT

A fridge opens...We see a number of bottled beers...

GEORGE MERCHANT grabs a beer and swigs it as he staggers to the toilet. Outside the CLOAKED FIGURE watches."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I now have added matched transitions to my writer's tool box.

Hot Fuzz (2007)
by Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg

Monday, September 15, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Prestige (2006) - The Theme is Obsession

[Quick Summary: Two magicians spare nothing in trying to best the other.]

I am impressed.

This is the strongest themed script I've seen in awhile.

In my opinion, the theme of obsession is super-effective here because:

1)  It is present on multiple levels.

- Magicians obsessed with diverting audiences (professional)
- Magicians obsessed with revealing a rival's tricks (personal)
- Men obsessed with being the best (psychological)
- Men obsessed with reputation over family, loyalty, love (relationships)

2) It can be seen whenever a flaw is taken to the extreme.

Here, both the hero and villain are competitive (flaw).

When they take competition to the extreme, we see the obsession.

ex. "INT. HOTEL ROOM, COLORADO --NIGHT

Angier writing in his leather-bound journal.

ANGIER (V.O.):...happiness that should have been mine. But I was wrong. [Personal]

Angier glances at Borden's notebook sitting on the desk.

ANGIER (V.O.): Reading his account I realized that he never had the life I envied. [Psychological]

Angier flips open the notebook. Staring at the coded writing.

ANGIER: The family life he craves one minute he rails against the next, demanding freedom. His mind is a divided one... [Relationships]

INT. PRISON CELL --DAY

Borden sits on his cot. Reading Angier's journal.

ANGIER (V.O.): His soul restless. His wife and child tormented by his fickle and contradictory nature... [Relationships]


Borden is crying . He puts the journal down and jumps to his feet BANGING on the cell door.

BORDEN: Guard! Guard!

The viewing slot slides open.

GUARD: What do you want, Professor?

BORDEN: Paper and pencil. Please." [Psychological]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Pick a flaw. Take it to the extreme. The result is likely my theme.

The Prestige (2006)
by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Based on the novel by Christopher Priest

Monday, September 8, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Point Blank (1967) - THE Script That Inspired Walter Hill

[Quick Summary: A double crossed criminal gets revenge on those who left him for dead.]

For years, I'd read about how this script changed Walter Hill's life.

He had been writing for 2-3 years:
I was dissatisfied with the standard form scripts were written in - they just all seemed to be a kind of subliterary blueprint for shooting a picture and generally had no personal voice....
Alex's script knocked me out (not easy to do); it was both playable and literary....[w]ritten in a whole different way than the standard format (laconic, elliptical, suggestive rather than explicit, bold in the implied editorial style)...
This a-ha! moment led to Hill to his now famous haiku style.

I recommend reading this script for what the writer leaves in, as well as what he leaves out.

See how the writer "suggests" guilt, regret and a conscience with actions, but without using any of those words:

ex. "WALKER (shouting): Shut up - Lynne.

CHRIS (turning to him as she walks towards the bathroom): ...Chris?...Remember?...Chris!

Walker doesn't move but watches her disappear behind the glass partition.

He takes from his pocket the package of money that the messenger had delivered for Lynne.  He stares at it for a moment then leaves it for Chris on the bureau. He goes."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: "Suggesting" only works if the audience can follow the logic in the actions.

In the above example, Walker takes a moment to stare at the money.  Without this reflection, it is easy to assume he has no regrets.

Point Blank (1967)
by Alex Jacobs, Rafe and David Newhouse

Monday, September 1, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Last Picture Show (1971) - A Complex Female Character

[Quick Summary: A group of teens come of age in a dying Texas town.]

Once upon a time, I tried reading one of Bogdanovich's books.

I admired the extremely detailed, encyclopedic discussion of film...but the denseness exhausted me.  I never finished the book.
  
I did finish this script.  Fair warning: It is also very detailed and dense.

On the plus side, the script doesn't shy away from a complex female character.

Watch:

1) How others react to Jacy
2) How Jacy doesn't let their opinions deter her from what she wants

ex. "INT. POOLHALL - DAY

Billy brings Sonny a peanut pattie as Jacy comes in, looking sorrowful.

JACY: Sonny?

SONNY: Come on in.

She comes over, gives him a big kiss...she looks at Billy, who moves away warily; Jacy clearly doesn't like him.

JACY: Oh, I was so worried I just had to see you --

SONNY: I been missin' you -- I'm a lot better'n I was.

JACY: You can't believe how famous we are -- we're all anybody talks about in this town now --

SONNY (unhappily): I guess so.

JACY: I want us to get married.

SONNY: What?!"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This reminds me that I don't need to like a character. I only need to understand what she wants.

P.S.  Have you heard of Bogdanovich's Index Card File?

The Last Picture Show (1971)(10/2/70 final draft)
by Larry McMurtry & Peter Bogdanovich
Based on the novel by Larry McMurtry

Sunday, August 31, 2014

MY 1st GRATITUDE DAY: I Will Read Your 10 Pages for Free* (*See Stipulations)

Recently, I received several kindnesses out of the blue.

I was floored.  I didn't expect them, didn't deserve them, and each one came at the exact right time.

As I look back though, I wish I'd passed the kindnesses on.

So in honor of those persons, I've decided to offer my two cents and troubleshooting skills to 30 writers in the next 30 days.

I will read any 10 pages of your scripts for free.

Here's the fine print:

1.  I will take the first 30 writers to email me with their attached 10 pages.

2.  I have sole discretion who makes the cut.

3.  I will send an email to you if you made the cut. 

4.  I will read the scripts in the order that they arrive.

5.  I will read whichever 10 pages you choose, but ONLY those 10 pages.*

6.  I will send you one (maybe two) paragraph(s) of feedback.

7.  You e-mail must include:

- 10 pages (PDF format).  Do not send the entire script.
- One specific question on which you would like my input.
- Acceptable question: "I'm having trouble with the dialogue. Suggestions?"
 - Unacceptable question: "Why doesn't this make sense?"

8.  If you've read any of my posts, you know this blog is about LEARNING.  

At the end of 30 days, I plan to blog about what I'm learning/seeing in these scripts, i.e., trends, mistakes, problems, etc. 

I will not talk about your script in particular, but may discuss it generally:

ex.  "The most common mistake I've seen in the sci-fi scripts I've gotten..."
ex.  "One writer did X; other writers did Y."

If you're uncomfortable/weirded out/suspicious, DO NOT submit.

9.  If you submit, you agree to all the stipulations above.

Got it?

I look forward to meeting you on the page.


* Do not keep sending me updated or revised pages, like a client I once had.

Monday, August 25, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Following (1998) - Well-Rounded Characters in a Small Budgeted Film

[Quick Summary: A man follows thief and is drawn to criminal life, with unexpected consequences.]

I liked hearing what Christopher Nolan learned from his first film.

(What DO you do when your lead actor decides to shave his head?)
(What does a $6000 budget allow/not allow?)
(What's the US film festival circuit like?)

I was surprised at how this doesn't read like a small budgeted script.

One reason is that the well rounded character interactions kept me "wanting to know more".

(Well-rounded = Characters are three dimensional, with clear agendas, goals, traits, conflicts.)

I could not predict where they would go.

ex. "THE BLONDE glances out of the corner of her eye towards BALDY. BALDY is watching them.

THE BLONDE (looking back to Young Man): Say something to me.

YOUNG MAN: Such as?

THE BLONDE slaps the YOUNG MAN hard across the face. He looks shocked.

THE BLONDE (turning to her drink): I'll be outside in ten minutes."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: These well-rounded characters are driven and create such conflict that I hardly missed the lack of special effects, guns, or car crashes.

(In fact, too many stories are driven by the latter, and not the former.)

Following (1998)
by Christopher Nolan

Monday, August 18, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Long Goodbye (1973) - Pacing That Relies on Suspense (vs. Surprise)

[Quick Summary: P.I. Phillip Marlowe helps a friend escape to Mexico, then is suspicious when the friend "commits suicide."]

4 Things I Learned about Leigh Brackett:

1.  A friend owned a bookstore and snuck one of Brackett's sci-fi novels into a stack of books that Howard Hawks bought.  Hawks liked it so much that he hired Brackett for the Big Sleep.  He was surprised she was a female!

2.  She started out as a sci-fi novelist.  (Suddenly her co-writing credit on the Empire Strikes Back makes sense to me.)

3.  She never wrote a western, but still tackled Rio Bravo.

4.  She describes the Long Goodbye as "start[ing] off with a bang and never quit moving." 

She's not kidding.

This script is a must read for amazing pacing and fluidity.

Here's the first 30 minutes:

p. 1-2 - Marlowe helps his friend Terry get to Mexico.
p. 3-12 - Marlowe is arrested, questioned, released, and off the hook.
p. 13-14 - He doesn't believe Terry committed suicide.
p. 15-19 - He goes to Mexico to see for himself.
p. 20-24 - He gets call from a new client, Mrs. Wade. Her husband is missing.
p. 25-35 - He finds Mr. Wade held at a "spa" and gets him out. Mr. Wade is an unpleasant man.

Also read this script for its precise detail. Just enough, not too much.

ex. "The front door opens, spilling light across the driveway. Eileen stands in the doorway."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This script's sublime pacing/tempo is due to great suspense, i.e., truly interesting things happen in every scene.

I like that the script avoids the cheaper method of surprise, i.e., "drop a bomb and leave".

The Long Goodbye (1973)(1972 draft)
by Leigh Brackett
Adapted from the novel by Raymond Chandler

Monday, August 11, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Sabrina (1954) - Light as a Visual Stand-in

[Quick Summary: After loving David for years, a chauffeur's daughter now falls for his brother Linus.]

I bang my head against the wall much of the time asking one question:

"How do I write so I make the reader FEEEEEEL?!"

In this script, I saw a very unusual way that I'd not seen before.

Watch how the writers make you feel using LIGHT in this pivotal scene:

"INT. LINUS' OFFICE - DUSK

The room is in semi-darkness, lighted only by the magic of a late summer sky already fading into twilight.  [Late summer = dying light = dying relationship.]

The door opens and Linus enters with Sabrina.... He is a large figure dominating the foreground. Sabrina faces him from deep in the background, a very small figure.  [She is in shadow = uncertain.]

LINUS: All right, Sabrina. What is that perfectly good reason why you shouldn't be seeing me?

Sabrina stands silent, just looking at him.

LINUS: What is it? What's bothering you?

SABRINA: It's...(She hesitates. Then:) It's me that's bothering me.

Linus looks at her across the dimness of the vast room. Then he presses one of the many buttons on his desk and the office is flooded with light. [His action signals he is ready to shine a light on the situation.]

SABRINA: Please don't.

LINUS: I'm sorry.

He presses the button, and they stand in semi-darkness again. [She can't take the brightness = She's not ready to face the truth yet.]

SABRINA: I know I'm not making much sense, Linus..."

I was truly impressed because:

1) The writers  use physical light as visual stand-ins for unspoken emotions.
2) The scene is completely visual.
3) There are no metaphors ("light is a barrier") or similes ("light is like a sword").

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  I was surprised how much the use of light affected me as I read.

I didn't realize how subconsciously I absorbed "semi-darkness" or "flooded with light".

Sabrina (1954)
by Billy Wilder, Samuel Taylor, & Ernest Lehman
Adapted from the play "Sabrina Fair" by Samuel Taylor

Monday, August 4, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007) - Delaying the Reveal Gets the Reader to Participate

[Quick Summary: Two brothers rob their parents' jewelry store, but it goes very wrong.]

I find that Sidney Lumet scripts pull you in without you knowing it.

They get the reader to participate.

ex. "INT. HOSPITAL - DAY

Gina and Andy hurry down a long corridor to...

INT. HOSPITAL WAITING ROOM - DAY

They turn into it and both stop. A lone man sits hunched over in a chair with his face buried in his hands. Andy runs to him as Gina hangs back.

ANDY: Dad!

The man looks up and we see it's Charles."

Note:

- This scene does not reveal who the man is right away.
- It makes us wait to discover his identity WITH the other characters.
- We're curious about the "lone man", so we keep reading.

(Also, I like how the scene is uncluttered, i.e., not overloaded with adjectives or description.)

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Don't tell the reader everything immediately.

When possible, let the reader discover things with the characters.

P.S. If you're looking for how to segues into a flashback, this script has several excellent examples.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
by Kelley Masterson

Monday, July 28, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Thief (1981) - What a Great Transition Looks Like

[Quick Summary: A thief tries for one last score, but the local mafia will not let him go.]

This film was Michael Mann's directorial debut, and broke ground for many reasons. (See here and here.)

However, I was impressed by the transitions.

Transitions are not just getting in and out of scenes, but also how the beats move us from one moment to the next.

ex.  "FRANK: I want you with me and make this happen. So I am asking: Be with me. Be my woman. I will be your man. (beat) I got a way...I could make it happen faster, much faster. I'm asking...(beat)...You know?

Jessie stares out the window into the shiny black night and lights. Then her eyes cross back to Frank.

There's a long pause. Frank holds both her hands tighter on the table. They stare at each other across the table. She smiles."

So here's the flow:

- Frank lays out his heart to Jessie.
- The easy way out would've been to have Jessie say, "OK", here.
- Instead, we SEE her stare out the window (indecision).
- We SEE her look at Frank and pause (is he worth the risk?)
- Frank squeezes her hands (please, take a risk on me).
- She stares some more (she waffles)
- Then she smiles (she is on board!)

We have transitioned from two individuals ---> one team.

It's such a strong visual to SEE her fall in love vs. her TELL us.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: What is the only way to understand what transitions are and how to write them?

Experience, i.e., reading a ton of scripts.

Thief (1981)(final draft)
by Michael Mann
Based on the novel "The Home Invaders" by Frank Hohimer

Monday, July 21, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Dead Poets' Society (1989) - Why Keating is A Great Antagonist

[Quick Summary: A boarding school English teacher inspires a group of students to take charge of their lives.]

Oh, Mr. Keating is such a great antagonist!

Can you see how he gets the wheels turning in the boys' heads?

ex.  "INT. KEATING'S CLASSROOM - DAY

Keating paces around the class, teaching.

KEATING: A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don't use very sad, use --

Keating snaps his fingers and points to Knox.

KEATING: Come on Overstreet, you twirp.

KNOX: ...Morose?

KEATING: Good! Language was invented for one reason, boys --

He snaps his fingers again and points to Neil.

NEIL: To communicate?

KEATING: No. To woo women. And, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won't do in your essays.

Keating paces then suddenly leaps onto his desk."

He is a passionate teacher who makes learning fun.
---> Which gets the boys to think differently.
---> Which stirs up their desire for "carpe diem" adventures.
---> Which provokes change in the boys...even when Keating is not on screen.

Could any antagonist ask for more?

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: An antagonist's job is to change the protagonist. 

I believe bonus points are in order if the antagonist is long gone from the screen, and he's STILL changing the protagonist.

Dead Poets' Society (1989)(undated)
by Tom Schulman

Monday, July 14, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Seven (1995) - Elevating a Horror Script

[Quick Summary: Two detectives track down a serial killer whose kills with a "7 deadly sins" theme.]

Very good script.

Very good structure and characters.

But I don't particularly like horror, so why did I continue to read? 

Because the writer had something to say about making decisions and justice:

ex. "SOMERSET: Well, I'm glad you asked. If you were chosen...as if by some higher power, your hand was forced...well...

Somerset turns in his seat to look Doe in the eye.

SOMERSET: ...then it's strange you took so much pleasure in it.

Somerset stares at Doe. Does stares back. After a moment, Somerset turns back to the road ahead.

SOMERSET: You enjoyed torturing those people. That's not really in keeping with martyrdom, is it?

It's the first time anything's gotten to Doe. He's ashamed though trying not to let it bother him."

Here, Somerset makes Doe reconsider his motives for his rampage.

No one escapes self-examination, not even the antagonist.

This immediately sets this script apart because most horror scripts do not grapple with the human dilemma at its core.

Lesser scripts just focus on the gory bits.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I relied on the human dilemmas in order to make the gorier bits easier to read.

Seven (1995)
by Andrew Kevin Walker

Monday, July 7, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: American Werwolf in London (1981) - Don't Shrink from a Less Than Happy Ending

[Quick Summary: In London, an American teen turns into a werwolf.]

The wise and wonderful John Landis says that he was very lucky to make movies in the 1970-80s.

He also bemoans that studio movies today insist on "very happy endings where everything is all neatly tied [up]."

ex. Knocked Up (2001) - "Have sex, without protection, get pregnant, with an asshole...then the jerk you slept with will mature, become a wonderful person, and you'll have a wonderful life

ex. Juno (2007) -  "If you're a high school girl, you'll give away the kid, you give it away, it will mean nothing, and it will be fine."

Today's studios wouldn't risk more unsettling fare:

ex. Fast Times of Ridgemont High (1981) - She gets pregnant, and her brother takes her [in] for an abortion.

ex. Animal House (1981) - Ends in civil insurrection, chaos.

Landis doesn't shrink back in American Werwolf either: The werwolf eats people. It must die.

Landis makes a choice and doesn't try to soften the consequences.

ex. "In that brief instant, Alex realizes it will kill her."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Don't be afraid of unhappy endings. Be afraid of unsatisfying endings.

American Werwolf in London (1981)
by John Landis

Monday, June 30, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Three Days of Condor (1975) - Every Scene Should Convey a Single Shot

[Quick Summary: After a CIA researcher's co-workers are mass murdered, he uncovers a huge conspiracy.]

I hate vague aphorisms.

What does "every scene should convey a single shot" mean?

I know it's a true observation, but for heaven's sake, give me EXAMPLES, people, EXAMPLES!!

This Sidney Pollock directed script happens to have excellent ones:

ex. "EXT. PHONE & TURNER

We should be aware of how menacing PASSERSBY seem to TURNER.

TURNER: I told you, my name's Turner - I work for you! Something's happened, somebody came in and --!

MITCHELL: Identify yourself.

TURNER can only hold tight to the phone, his mind blank. So, very clear, level:

MITCHELL: What is your designation?

It's like talking to a goddamn computer: if you don't speak its programmed language, it won't respond. TURNER makes an enormous effort:

TURNER: This is...oh...Condor!"

The scene = A panicked Turner is on the phone and tries to get help.

The shot = Anxious Turner is in the phone booth. People pass by.  Maybe they look in?  Turner struggles to stay calm.

Notice how the writing directs the mind's eye:

- The focus is on Turner and his paranoia.
- Whether inside or outside the booth, it's all about how Turner acts and reacts.
- It's easy to see the whole interaction in one shot. 
 
WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Think in terms of 1 scene = 1 shot. 

Keep scenes clean (clear, no clutter, not too much busyness).

Three Days of Condor (1975)
by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel
Based on the novel Six Days of Condor by James Grady

Sunday, June 29, 2014

P.S. on Dreams on Spec (2007)

Be sure to watch the extra Interviews with established writers.  Really fun war stories.

(They're on the DVD, but I'm not sure if they're available via streaming.)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Dreams on Spec (2007) - Screenwriters chasing the dream

If you're a screenwriter, this is an eye opening documentary.

It has the usual famous screenwriter interviews, but I particularly like how it shows the sacrifice and struggles of not famous writers:

- One writer has been working on a script for three years. It's tough on his family.

- Another writer has his script re-written by the director.  He is not happy with the changes.

- A former creative executive-turned-writer downscales to a small apartment in order to write and direct her first film.

You get to see what it's like when:

- A writer switches managers.
- A writer seeks help from a script consultant.
- A writer gets to see his first film produced.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: If you're serious about writing, this is as close to reality as I've seen.

But if you don't want to know how the sausage is made; if you don't want the glamor stripped from the process, don't watch this.

Dreams on Spec (2007)

Monday, June 23, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) - Clues are Spice, Not Meat (Pacing)

[Quick Summary: A stranger arrives to an unwelcome reception at Black Rock.]

Read this script NOW.

One Oscar winning screenwriter called it an "airtight...seamless" script.

Paul Thomas Andersen said he learned directing from the director's commentary for this film.

For me, I learned about how to dole out the clues (pacing).

ex. A stranger (Macreedy) arrives by train in a small town.

He announces he needs to drive to Adobe Flat (p.6), a few miles away, but we don't find out why until about p. 27.

Did you see that? Page TWENTY-SEVEN!

So what does happen between the clues?

- He has to deal with the WHOLE town.
- He runs into the biggest landowner, Smith, who bullies the town.
- He can't rent a car, get a room, or a decent meal.
- Everyone, except him, knows the guilty secret about Adobe Flat.

If this were written today, Macreedy would be hinting and/or dropping clues for the whole 27 pages.

I marvel at this script because he does not.

Instead, the meat of the story is Macreedy's character conflicts versus the town folk.

Clues are reserved as spice, to be used sparingly.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I've been using clues as meat for way too long.

Bad Day at Black Rock (shooting script)(1955)
Written by Don McGuire and Millard Kaufman
Based on the story, "Bad Day at Hondo" by Howard Breslin

Monday, June 16, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Adjustment Bureau (2011) - Adapting a Short Story into a Feature

[Quick Summary: The Adjustment Bureau continues to keep apart a couple in love.] 

Today I decided to reverse engineer this script.
 
How did the screenwriter expand the short story into a film?

In the short story:
- David Norris works at an insurance company.
- He's married.
- It happens in a day and within 18 pages.

In the screenplay:
- David Norris is a congressman.
- He's single and falls in love.
- It happens over 6+ years, and 129 pages.

After reading William Goldman's book, I know audiences should be ok with these superficial changes as long as:

1) The emotional core was the same.
2) That the emotional core was protected at all costs.

In the short story, the emotional core is: "Should I tell my wife the truth?"

In the script, the writer structured the story around this question.

The script asks this question three times - all at major turning points, all with higher stakes.

Check them both out for yourself.  They're worth the read.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: To do justice to a short story, stick close to its emotional core.

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
by George Nolfi
Based on the short story, "The Adjustment Team", by Philip K. Dick

Monday, June 9, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Mud (2012) - Moving the Reader Along Visually

[Quick Summary: Two 14 y.o. boys discover a murderer hiding out on a small island.]

In a "Conversation with writer-director Jeff Nichols", he says:
[A script is] more about visually moving your reader through the story and on the page.  So every line, other than descriptions for clothes, and possibly the look of a house or a location...[is] brief....
[E]verything else is a shot in the movie. But I use no camera direction. Camera direction bugs the hell out of me. You don't know what the camera is going to do. Just tell me what I'm looking at, and that will get me there much faster than you trying to tell me what the movie's gonna look like. 
A line that you write can give you the point of view that you need, everything you need. 'He looks through the back of the van to see XYZ burning in the distance' .... From that description, you already know where the camera is going to be. And what it's going to be pointed at.  And what it's going to be seeing. And how it's going to be moving.  It's harder to write this way.  It's very easy to say, "We move with him through the parking lot."
Nichols does walk the walk:

ex. "Ellis turns and grabs one end of the cooler. Neckbone slaps back the security latch and opens the door with his free hand.  They walk out."

Here's how this moved me along visually:

- I saw a shot of two boys walking out with a cooler between them.
- But the script never says 'Neckbone takes the other end of the cooler.'
- It's unnecessary to say so. Why?  We infer it from "they walk out".
- A strong POV ('we're leaving' intent) + Movement = The cooperation between Ellis and Neckbone is self-explanatory.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Write more about what I'm looking at, tinged with the character's point of view.

My new unit of writing measurement is the shot.  

Mud (2012)(shooting script)
by Jeff Nichols

Monday, June 2, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Lego: The Piece of Resistance (2014) - "The Purpose of This Scene Is..."

[Quick Summary: In Legopolis, Emmet races to rescue his mother from the bad Black Falcon.]

I wrote on a deadline last month.

The time crunch revealed that I struggled with building up Act 2.

I got lost because: 1) I was hurrying,  and 2) I forgot a fundamental:

You must know the purpose of each scene, i.e., What do you need to extract before moving on to the next scene?
In Lego, you always know the purpose of each scene:

ex. "INT. EMMET'S CELL - MOMENTS LATER

CLOSE ON A RACQUEL WELCH POSTER. A blowdart gun emerges from her belly-button. TH-THOONK! Two guards outside Emmet's cell go down. DORIS bursts through the poster!

The following conversation is WHISPERED.

EMMET: Mom? What are you doing here?
DORIS: I'm breaking you out.
EMMET: But, that's breaking the rules. You told me never to do that.
DORIS: Well I'm temporarily reversing my position for reasons of convenience."

The purpose is clear:  Emmet must get out of jail.

It also clarifies:
-  the scene before (Emmet gets into jail) and
-  the scene after (Emmet and Doris are on the run).

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: When you're lost, ask, "What is the purpose of this scene?"

Lego: The Piece of Resistance (2014)(undated, unspecified draft)
by Chris Miller & Phil Lord

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) - Delivering the Romance in Act 3

[Quick Summary: Bianca cannot date unless her shrew of a sister, Kat, also dates. Bianca enlists others to get Kat a date, and chaos ensues.]

I wish I saw more romantic scripts that delivered in Act 3.

Act 1 - These are usually good.  Plenty of spark. Plenty of moxie.

Act 2 - Obstacles galore. Good growth! Can't wait for the finish.

But Act 3? It either/often:

- falls to trite forumla ("I love you." "I love you more." I die inside.)
- OR goes off the rails ("I hate you." "You're evil."  NOT romantic.)
- OR limps to a weak end ("I do not want to go on." "Yeah." My heart weeps in disappointment.)

The romance in 10 Things was tricky. 

Acts 1 and 2 worked beautifully.  Act 3, however, faltered for me.

Let's take a look why:    *Spoilers ahead*

- Patrick admits to Kat that he was paid to date her.
- Later, Cameron admits to Kat that Bianca was behind the whole dating scheme.
- Kat confronts Bianca, who confesses all the misunderstandings.
- Kat and Bianca finally become friends.
- In front of the whole class, Kat reads a poem she wrote. She tells Patrick," "I hate the way I don't hate you, not even close, not even a little bit, not even any at all."
- Patrick gives her a guitar for her dream band and admits he fell for her.
- They joke, they kiss.

I liked it all, except the line from the poem. 

I know she's trying to say, "I forgive you", but not hate him even a little bit?

The romance fizzles for me...maybe because that line kills the tension?

Hmmm...now that makes sense.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Don't resolve the tension all the way, even in Act 3.

Romance needs tension!

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
by Karen McCullah Lutz & Kirsten Smith
Based on "Taming of the Shrew" by William Shakespeare

Monday, May 19, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Untouchables (1987) - When in Doubt, "Hope-Fear"

[Quick Summary: Elliot Ness and his Untouchables try to take down Al Capone.]

How do you make a reader FEEL?

I've forgotten how.

Then I read this script, and it reminded me about the classic "hope-fear" sequencing.

You know what? It really works.

ex. 1 - "Ness unwraps the part of his lunch wrapped in the calendar page. He laughs.

NESS: Ha! (he holds it up) Message from my wife.

ANGLE POV

The calendar sheet.  Mrs. Ness has written on it: "I am very proud of you."

ex. 2 - [Then five pages later]  Ness' hand comes out of the pocket with a book of matchees and a folded piece of paper. He unfolds is slowly. It is the note from his wife which reads, "I am very proud of you.""

Ex. 1 - Ness is cheered by his wife's note (hope).
Ex. 2 - After a big defeat, that same note makes him feel like a big disappointment (fear).

Very effective, no?

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: If you're stuck, try out "hope-fear-hope-fear."

The Untouchables (1987)
by David Mamet

Monday, May 12, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Bride Wars (2009) - Satire = Action That is Disproportionate to the Situation

[Quick Summary: Two best friends with the same wedding date try to ruin the other's big day.]

Why, oh why, didn't they use the original script for this film?!

I liked it very much because of its satirical bite.

[I greatly wish they'd kept to the original, and not softened it to "comedy with romantic elements" territory.]

What is satire?
Satire (n.) - The use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc. 
Here, Emma and Liv are the best of friends...until their weddings end up on the same date.

Then each one sabotages the other person's plans for the big day.

Notice how the writers use Emma and Liv's absurd and irrational response to show their selfishness (their vice).

ex.  "EXT. PRINCE STREET BOUTIQUE - LATER

The Jubilant Blonde hangs a display.  The CAMERA REVEALS Liv and Emma through the glass wearing huge pasted, homicidal smiles.  She gestures for them to come in.

INT. PRINCE STREET BOUTIQUE - SIX HOURS LATER

Emma and Liv look haggard. They pace and smoke feverishly.  THE CAMERA CLOSES IN on the The Jubilant Blonde's big mouth.

JUBLIANT BLONDE: I SAID NO!"

In these two short scenes:
-  Liv and Emma enter the shop with inappropriate zeal ("huge pasted, homicidal smiles").
- We can assume from "six hours" that they've overstayed their welcome.
- "Haggard", "pacing", "smoking feverishly" tells us they're losing the argument.
- All this foolish angst...for a wedding? Yes...that's the whole point.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Satire really needs action that is disproportionate to the situation.

If a character's action is terribly exaggerated, it's easier to see his/her vice or folly.

Bride Wars (2009)(original spec)
by Casey Wilson & June Raphael

Monday, May 5, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Anatomy of a Murder (1959) - One Key to Great Descriptive Narrative

[Quick Summary: An army man is on trial for murdering his wife's rapist.]

Cinephilia & Beyond pointed me to this script today.

Someone (can't remember who) who said I should "pay particular attention" to the descriptive narrative.

So I did.

I found that:

- It's not a perfect script.
- It's long overall (204 pgs.)
- Some paragraphs are long.
- BUT I can't deny the writer describes things well.

He chooses certain details that make you a participant in the story.

ex. "Paul deposits his fishing gear on the table, lifts a brown paper sack from his coat pocket, stands it on the table. The sack contains the shape of a bottle."

We put 2 + 2 together and surmise the bottle is alcohol = The writer is telling us Paul drinks without TELLING us Paul drinks.

ex. "Laura is dressed in tight Western slacks and boots. Her blouse is Navajo with the laces open, revealing the push of her ample bosom. With open-mouthed attention, the eternal loiterers are following Laura's progress across the lawn."

Laura's clothes say she's provocative and knows it. She expects, and revels in, the reaction.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Good narrative has clear, well-thought out sequencing of images.

Poor narrative doesn't know how to lead the reader from image to image.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
by Wendell Mayes
Based on the novel by Robert Traver

Monday, April 28, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: About Schmidt (2002) - The Satisfying Ending

[Quick Summary: A recent widower takes a road trip to his daughter's wedding.]

*WARNING: This post contains spoilers.*

If you don't want to know the ending, STOP READING NOW.

*Crickets*

Everyone gone?  Good.

Here's the script* in a nutshell:

- Warren is forced into retirement.
- Then Warren's wife Helen dies early on, but he's not exactly heartbroken.
- Warren struggles in this new life, so he takes a road trip to his daughter's wedding. 
- On the way, he revisits his alma mater, and makes a fool of himself.
- He arrives at the wedding, and isn't thrilled with his future in-laws.
- Warren returns home to face that his life has lost meaning.  

So how would you end the story with a satisfying (but not necessarily happy) ending?

Let's work backwards:

- The writers wanted Warren to return home, depressed, and gets an unexpected, hope filled letter.
-  In order to justify this ending, the writers went back to Act 1 and created an orphan kid.
- Warren writes to this kid periodically throughout Act 2.
- The letters show us Warren's mental state and growth.
- Then when lonely Warren gets home --> He reads the first letter from this kid --> Someone cares.

Why is this ending satisfying to me?

Warren has lost a lot along the way.

But he started out disconnected, and he ends connected.

In the end, the journey was worth what he gained.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: A satisfying ending resolves a big issue.

About Schmidt (2002)
by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor
From the novel by Louis Begley

* FYI: The film's plot differs somewhat from the novel.

Monday, April 21, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Alice in Wonderland (2010) - Never Violate the "Intention of the Book"

[Quick Summary:  Alice revisits Wonderland, and faces off with the Jabberwocky.]

I admit this isn't my favorite book.

However, I did like this script adaption because it was faithful to the "intention of the book" (see William Goldman's advice on adaptions).

A couple of examples:

BOOK: Alice begins the story by stepping through the looking glass. [Intention? She wants adventure.]

SCRIPT: Alice chases a rabbit to escape her surprise engagement party. [Intention?  Also adventure.]

BOOK: Alice wakes up at the end with a revelation. [Intention? She's changed.]

SCRIPT: Alice wakes up and deals with the proposal.  [Intention? She's changed.]

This was pretty eye-opening for me.

Finally, I could put my finger on what bugged me about bad adaptions, and why others were good despite added/subtracted material.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Never violate the intention of the book.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)
by Linda Woolverton
Based on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Thursday, April 17, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: How the Pros Give Each Other Story Notes (& More Good Stuff)

Why didn't I read William Goldman's Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade  (2001) sooner?!

Don't be like me.

READ IT NOW.

It will answer questions such as:

- "What does a screenwriter do when he is asked to damage his own screenplay?" (p. 92)
- When is a story NOT a film? (p. 162, with in-depth explanation)
- What is the one thing doctoring a script is really about? (p. 328)

However, if you've stuck it out this far, I bet you just want to know about story notes.

Goldman does something in this book that I've never seen anywhere else.

He wrote an original screenplay for this book...then handed it for comments to these six screenwriting friends:

Peter & Bobby Farrelly
Scott Frank
Tony Gilroy
Callie Khouri
John Patrick Shanley

Then he INCLUDED their written comments. 

They are helpful, focused, and excellent. You'll see:

- What pros look for in a story
- How each dissects (and explains) the strengths and weaknesses
- What bothers them, what they like

It will take time to read the screenplay and all the comments.

But if you want to see how a working writer thinks, (or if you want to BE that writer someday), it's worth it.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I learned what I, as a writer, must "protect to the death." (p. 179-180)

Monday, April 14, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Proposal (2009) - The Rom-Com Moment That Whets My Appetite

[Quick Summary: To avoid deportation, a book editor cons her assistant into a fake engagement.]

I love the rom-com moments when the two characters connect...and then are separated.

The tension just whets my appetite.

ex.  Richard has just rescued Margaret, and they are laughing. [Finally, they have connected!]

"The two stare at each other for a beat. There's a real spark. They might kiss.

RICHARD: Gertrude wants me back. [Uh-oh. A real monkey wrench.]

Whoah. Not what she was expecting. She looks down. [Confusion is good fuel.]

MARGARET: And?

RICHARD: Well. It seemed like you were having...second thoughts. [He fishes around the unknown. Will she confess how she really feels?]

MARGARET: Yeah. I was. [Ugh. She gives the socially acceptable answer.]

RICHARD: Maybe we should do it. Come clean.

MARGARET: Put me down.

Richard puts Margaret down near the boat. She tries to regain her composure.

MARGARET: You wanna call it off?  [Oh no! She retreats to save face.]

RICHARD: If you do.

MARGARET: Fine. It's over. We'll tell them when we get back."

As this scene ends, there is heightened tension and questions.

This is what keeps me turning the pages...what happens next?!?

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I must believe there's a LEGITIMATE reason (i.e., how Richard feels about Gertrude) for them not to be together.

Without it, the tension just doesn't exist.

The Proposal (2009)
by Peter Chiarelli

Monday, April 7, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Bullitt (1968) - Two Hints About Action Writing

[Quick Summary: After a witness in his protection is shot, Lt. Bullitt hunts for the killer.]

I was interested in Bullitt because:

- Steve McQueen liked it enough to sign on.
- I need help writing interesting action scenes.

I knew that "action" stories are about movement.

However, this script pointed out that "action" does not mean the hero is moving all the time, i.e., "He jumps. He hits. He pivots."  

I was happy as long as the story kept my mind's eye kept roving about, and picking up clues.

I found these hints helpful:

1 - Sometimes a well placed detail deepens the action.

 ex. "EXT. MUSTANG - DAY

Bullitt pulls himself out of the Mustang. Two wheels are bent and a tree has punctured the radiator.  [The wheel and tree detail shows how much our hero is willing to risk.]

He runs in the direction of the burning Dodge."

2  - It's ok to go beyond the hero's point of view (reaction shots, etc.)

 ex. "EXT. GAS STATION

Two men run out from the office. One goes back in for a fire extinguisher.  They head for the burning wreck.  [The men demonstrate the level of danger before Bullitt arrives.]

Bullitt comes running down in the direction of the fire. He stops as:

EXT. BURNING DODGE

explodes in a spectacular ball of flame..."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I've been (unnecessarily) stuck in the hero's POV too long.

Bullitt (1968)
by Alan Trustman & Harry Kleiner
Based on the novel, "Mute Witness", by Robert L. Pish

Monday, March 31, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Magnificent Seven (1960) - One Scene Changed My Mind

[Quick Summary: Seven gunslingers are hired to protect a farming town from thieves.]

I wasn't prepared for this turning point in the script.

It made me feel for Chris:

"HILARIO: It would be a blessing if you helped us.

CHRIS: I'm sorry - I'm not in the blessing business.

HILARIO: No, no. We offer more than that. We could feed you every day.

TOMAS: And we have this.......

Out of a bandana, Tomas lays on the bed, we see, as he spreads it open ---everything of value from the village; inexpensive jewelry, medallions, the Old Man's watch - etc.

CHRIS: What's that?

TOMAS: It's everything we own, everything of value in the village.

CHRIS: I've been offered a lot for my work, but never everything."

This reversal was very effective:  

- Chris turns down the job offer.
- The villagers offer him (literally) everything they have.
- Their plight stirs something in him (perhaps the challenge)?
- He changes his mind to help.

I was much more moved by this moment of compassion than the later violence.

After this scene, Chris was a richer, deeper character for me.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Can one scene changed my mind about a character? Yes!

The Magnificent Seven (1960)
by Walter Newman

Monday, March 24, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Touch of Evil (1958) - When to "State the Obvious"

[Quick Summary: A newly married Mexican cop investigates a bombing, kidnapping, and corruption in a border town.]

In 1958, confidence in Orson Welles was low. 

- It had been 12 years since his last Hollywood film.

- Universal released Touch of Evil "as a cheap bottom-of-the-bill thriller and declined to enter it officially in a competition at the 1958 Brussels World Fair..."* It won first prize anyway.

If you read this script:

- Don't miss how Welles fleshed out this novel.**

- Notice how Welles punctuates a run of dialogue: 
"They eye each other carefully, in silence. This is clearly a case of hate at first sight." 
The last sentence states the obvious (which I've always tried to avoid).

However, here, it also marks the moment that the stakes have risen.

Ah-ha!  It's used for emphasis and transition. *Light bulb goes on*

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This is another tool for my writing toolbox.

I'm learning more and more when and where to use the right tool.

Touch of Evil (1958)
by Orson Welles
Based on the novel, Badge of Evil, by Whit Masterson

* Touch of Evil: Orson Welles (Rutgers Films in Print, Vol. 3), p. 41.

** See "The Evolution of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil from Novel to Film" by John Stubbs, Cinema Journal 24, no. 2 (Winter 1985): 19-39.  It is reprinted here, and contains a thorough comparison of the book, draft #1, and Welles's final draft. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Dirty Harry (1971) - How to Use Camera Angles Appropriately

[Quick Summary: A cop hunts a serial murderer who taunts the San Francisco police.]

When I get stuck, I read scripts that have stood the test of time.

I'd recommend today's script for anyone who has trouble describing locations and/or spatial distances.

One technique the writers used is frequent camera angles.

I know, I know, I KNOW.

We're "not supposed to use camera angles."

Why? Because:

- Writers can get sloppy and overuse them
- Writers are accused of "directing on the page."

However, I'd argue that they're used here (appropriately) for emphasis:

ex.  "CLOSE - HARRY [on roof of Bldg. #1]

as he looks up from dead girl to skyscraper overlooking area. [The shot highlights the closeness of the two buildings.]

ANOTHER ANGLE

as Harry crosses and looks up at Building #2 in b.g. [This action points out where the sniper could have gotten a clear shot.]

REVERSE ON HARRY

Makes up his mind, spins around and exits quickly from rooftop. [This reaction shot shows Harry makes quick decisions.]

EXT. BLDG. #2 STREET - DAY

We are HOLDING on Harry as he long-strides up the street toward us.  We SPIN with him as he passes and discover that we are near the base of Building #2. As Harry moves toward it, we PAN UPWARD."  [This solidifies the relationship between Buildings #1 & 2.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  I must justify each use of a camera angle.

Dirty Harry (1971)
by H.J. Fink, R.M. Fink, and Dean Riesner


Monday, March 10, 2014

2014 Oscars: Her (2013) - What Clear Subtext Looks Like

[Quick Summary: A man falls in love with his computer operating system.]

Her has great subtext.

I was very impressed by how clear the subtext is to the audience.

ex. "THEODORE: Yeah, I just wanna get it done. Sign the papers, be divorced, move forward. [Hooray for me!]

SAMANTHA: That's great, Theodore. That must feel so good. I'm so happy for you!

THEODORE: Me too. I'm meeting her on Wednesday to do it.

SAMANTHA: Oh. Huh. Are those things usually done in person? [I don't think you should.]

THEODORE: No, but we fell in love together, and we got married together, and it's important to me to do this together.

SAMANTHA (feeling off, but trying to be positive): Oh...right. Good. [This is bad.]

THEODORE: Are you okay?

SAMANTHA: Yeah. I'm okay. I'm happy for you. It's just...I guess I'm just thinking about how you're going to see her and her opinion is still really important to you, and she's beautiful, and incredibly successful, and you were in love with her. (beat) And she has a body. [Tell me I don't have to worry.]

THEODORE: And we're getting divorced...

SAMANTHA (laughs): I know, I know. I'm being silly. [I'm not imagining things.]

THEODORE (sing-song): ...soooo I'm avail-able.

They both laugh."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: For clear subtext, keep the meaning simple.

Don't make the audience make two leaps of logic (it's too confusing).

Her (2013)
by Spike Jonze

Monday, March 3, 2014

2014 Oscars: Nebraska (2013) - Lucid? Or Not?

[Quick Summary: A son takes his father on a road trip from Montana to Nebraska to pick up a "winning" lottery ticket.]

I thoroughly enjoyed this fast read, as well as several podcasts with this screenwriter, Robert Nelson.

Nelson stated that he deliberately left it up to the audience whether or not the Woody character is lucid, or not.

So what does that look like on the page?

One thing I noticed was that Woody acts unlike most people. 

The audience has to decide if his behavior is inappropriate, or just eccentric.

Example 1 - Woody's logic is questionable.

ex. "DAVID (reading): Mega Sweepstakes Marketing. Dad, this is a total come-on. It's one of the oldest gimmicks in the book. I didn't even know they did this anymore.

WOODY: They can't say it if it's not true.

DAVID: They're just trying to sell you magazine subscriptions.

WOODY: It says I won.

DAVID: So let's mail it in. I'll help you.

WOODY: I don't trust the mail with a million dollars."

Example 2 - Woody doesn't/can't explain his actions.

ex. "ROSS: He still thinks he 's going to Lincoln to get his money.

WOODY: Gotta get there by the 5th.

ROSS: Hey Dad, how come you didn't think of fixing the truck first or take a bus? Why'd you just start walking?

Woody looks up a moment, thinks about that, then gets back to work. David leads his brother out of the garage."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I liked how this script left room for the audience to make decisions.

I was a participant, rather than just a bystander.

Nebraska (2013)
by Robert W. Nelson

Monday, February 24, 2014

2014 Oscars: Dallas Buyers Club (2013) - Creating Fictional Characters that Don't Exist in Real Life

[Quick Summary: Ron Woodroff fights for illegal meds to treat his AIDS symptoms.]

*WARNING: MILD SPOILERS*

QUESTION: Of these main characters, who was a real person?

a) Ron Woodroff
b) Rayon
c) Dr. Eve Saks

ANSWER: Only Ron Woodroff.

Were you surprised as I was?

I'm not always a fan of creating fictional characters when portraying a real person's life.  So why does it work here? 

I think it's because these made-up characters have a specific purpose.

1 - Dr. Eve Saks

Dr. Saks was created to show how even the "experts" knew very little about battling AIDS in 1985.

She represented doctors skeptical of the AZT medications.

Without her, we would only see one side of the debate (the pharmaceutical company). 

2 - Rayon

Rayon was created to track Ron Woodroff's emotional growth.

Through Rayon, we saw how Ron got involved in other people's lives.

Without Rayon, we would only see "business Ron" and not "personal Ron."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I need a specific reason to create a fictional character that rings true. 

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack

Monday, February 17, 2014

2014 Oscars: American Hustle (2013) - For A Natural Jump in Space/Time

[Quick Summary: Two cons take down the mayor of NJ, and the feds.]

Once upon a time, I used too many sluglines, and for the wrong reasons.

You see...I didn't trust my readers.

Did they catch that we were moving from room to room?

Did they get we jumped ahead four hours?

I've found the best cure is to see how other writers do it.

Here's a good example of a space and time jump:

ex. "Irving sits holding court with some friends by the pool when he turns and sees Sydney for the first time. [Where are they in relation to each other?]

PUSH IN ON: Irving. He looks up, they lock eyes across the party.  [Ah ha! "Across the party" = across the room.]

SYD REACHES FOR A SLICE OF FRUIT ON HIGH SET PLATE WHEN IRVING'S HAND GRABS HER ARM -- she turns, taken aback -  [Irving must have moved if he's close enough to touch.]"

This flow really works:
- First, they spot each other.
- We then see their locations are across the room.
- So the next time they are together, it makes sense that space/time has passed.

Also, I liked how the audience gets to put 2 + 2 together for themselves.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: For a space/time jump to feel natural, it has to be set up properly with a logical progression (see each other --> opposite side of room --> see them together).

American Hustle (2013)
by Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell

Monday, February 10, 2014

2014 Oscars: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) - Breaking the 4th Wall is Possible (But Rare)

[Quick Summary: This is the story of Jordan Belfort's epic rise and fall on Wall Street.]

I always thought breaking the 4th wall was an absolute no-no.

But in this script, the characters speak to the camera THREE times.

For example:

"INT. JORDAN'S OFFICE - DAY (FEB '95)

Donnie pours champagne nearby, oblivious to Jordan, who sits at his desk, speaking directly to camera:

JORDAN: Of the two million shares being offered for sale, a million belonged to me, held in phony accounts by my ratholes. Once the price hit the high teens, I --

Jordan abruptly stops. A beat, then:

JORDAN: Like I said before, who gives a shit? As always, the point is this --

BACK TO SCENE -- Donnie hands Jordan a glass of Dom.

DONNIE: 22 million in three fucking hours!"

Usually this technique will pull the viewer out of the story.

However, it works here because:

- It's short and limited in use.

- It's used for a very specific reason, i.e., to show us that Jordan is only concerned with results, and is ballsy enough to say it to your face. 

The writer also does a clever thing: He has Jordan speak to the camera ---> continue the conversation in the scene.  This blending keeps the momentum going and we do not feel any drag.


WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I now have seen how breaking the 4th wall is possible and effective.

However, I still place breaking the 4th wall at the top of my "Use With Extreme Caution" list.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
by Terence Winter
Based on the book by Jordan Belfort

Monday, February 3, 2014

2014 Oscars: Philomena (2013) - A Breather Before Escalation

[Quick Summary: Years after her son was taken, an Irish mother travels with a journalist to find the truth.]

This script gets one of my highest praises: It's a pleasurable read.

I liked the smooth way the writers turn up the heat on Martin:

"To escape his embarrassment he walks over to JANE, standing close by.

MARTIN: Could I get a glass of...Pinot Grigio please?

JANE is obviously not in the mood for niceties:

JANE: It's just red or white.

MARTIN: Oh yes, sorry. White then please.

But as she pours it, there is the first glimmer of recognition. She's sure she's seen Martin before."

There's a subtle, but definite uptick in conflict:

- Martin is embarrassed by colleagues (conflict)
- He tries to escape into alcohol (release)
- Instead he gets a smart bartender (more conflict)

I think it works because of the "release" beat.

With it, there's good rhythm.  The audience has a breather before escalation.

Without it, there's only conflict-conflict-conflict.  There's no momentum to escalate.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: It's like shifting from first to second gear in a manual car. There's always a lull before moving to a faster gear.

Philomena (2013)
by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
Based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith

Monday, January 27, 2014

2014 Oscars: 12 Years a Slave (2013) - Tone of Hope; Visual Foreshadowing

[Quick Summary: After he is sold into slavery, Solomon Northrup, a free man, struggles to survive.]

I knew this story would be an emotionally tough read ... and it was.

However, I'll remember this script for two reasons:

1) A consistent tone of hope.

One of the main character's traits is hopeful.  When you read the script, it permeates every scene.

ex. "Solomon's confidence shifts, but to resolve rather than fear. Papers or none, he will not be easily cowed."

2) An excellent use of visual foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing is used to hint at something in the future.

Notice how the writer used it here to prepare the reader for a shift:  

ex. "Hamilton lingers a bit too long and a bit too close to Solomon for Brown's taste. [The ewwwww factor is high.]

With more than a bit of signification: 

BROWN: Hamilton! Nothing more we can do for him.

HAMILTON: Such is the pity.

Displaying an odd sort of disappointment, Hamilton slinks away from the bed. [Notice the choice of verb. This is going to get worse, isn't it?]

He crosses to, and BLOWS OUT A CANDLE. The room goes dark with a blackness more than night. [This visual sums up the present situation, as well as hints at the future too.]

Brown and Hamilton exit.

Solomon lays in the dark and moans. His sounds becoming MORE AND MORE DISTRESSED." [The crescendo in action = Definitely worsening.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  Note to Self: Foreshadowing is a basic writer's tool from freshman English class.  Why haven't you used it more often?

12 Years a Slave
by John Ridley
Adapted from the memoir of Solomon Northrup

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2014 OSCARS: Before Midnight (2013) - Portraying Arguments

[Quick Summary: The last of a trilogy. Celine & Jesse revisit the past during their vacation.]

Today, I read a review of Boyhood, which just premiered at Sundance 2014.  It is also written and directed by Richard Linklater.

The critic writes:
...[A]s a general rule [about Boyhood], Linklater is less interested in narrative than observation.
To me, this sums up Before Midnight as well.  It's all character, all dialogue, and little plot.

Ordinarily, I would dismiss a script that lacked the usual Hollywood markers...but realized that's the very reason to take a closer look.

One of the things I liked was how the writers got in and out of arguments.

ex. Friends offer to babysit while the couple has a night away.
- Celine and Jesse love the hotel room.
- As the night goes on, Celine sees the room as a burden.
- Jesse tries to put a positive spin on it.
- Celine uses this as a jumping board for other issues re: Jesse's work travel.

ex.  Celine deals with issues by jumping to conclusions. Jesse wants to field options. Each struggles to be heard.  (This is particularly good from p.91 to the end.)

These were clean fights:
- The arguments had clear points of view.
- The general discussion became personalized. ex. The group discussed men and women. Celine turned it into Jesse and her.  This is true to life.
- The mini-fights had mini-resolutions, which built up to the mega-fight, and a mega-resolution.  The writers didn't shoot for a mega-resolution from the start (which doesn't seem true to life).

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: It is such an astute observation that people quickly personalize general discussions...and then argue about them.

Before Midnight (2013)
by Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, & Julie Delpy

2014 OSCARS: The Scripts

I'm going to begin my reviews of 2014 Oscar nominated scripts in the next few weeks.

Where can you find the scripts?

I'd recommend Go Into the Story for the best legal downloads.

Oscars, here we come!


Friday, January 17, 2014

TODAY'S 3rd NUGGET: Dreamcatcher (2003) Part IIIC - My (Embarrassing) Confession

[Quick Summary: During their annual hunting trip, four childhood friends encounter an eerie being.]

3 - My (Embarrassing) Confession

I confess I didn't read this book in its entirety.

This novel flummoxed me, which is no doubt my fault.  I just couldn't follow it. 

However, I did skim nearly every page in preparation for reading the script.

It paid off tenfold:

- I'd never have understood just how much of the novel is in the script.

- I'd never have grasped how EVERY line in the script is truthful to the book (even though every line may not be IN the book).

- I'd never have seen how sprawling, difficult raw source material can be distilled into a screenplay.

So if you want to skip straight to the script, let me state something controversial:
READ (or skim) THE BOOK FIRST. 
 WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I didn't regret the time I spent on the book.

William Goldman said in his forward to this shooting script that he spends SIX months on an adaption - the FIRST FOUR months reading and re-reading the book!

Dreamcatcher (2003)
by William Goldman & Lawrence Kasdan
Adapted from the novel by Stephen King