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

TODAY'S 2nd NUGGET: Dreamcatcher (2003) Part IIIB - Make 'em Laugh & Scream at the Same Time

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

2 - TONAL CHANGES (Make 'em Laugh and Scream at the Same Time)

Tone is hard to explain.

How to change a tone is even harder.

However, a light bulb went on when I read "make 'em laugh and scream" at the same time in Stephen King's forward.

The book has several chapters to get the reader to that place.

However, a script must get there in few scenes.

I thought the writers did a nice job of capturing funny with scary:

ex. In this scene, Pete and Henry nearly run over a woman at the side of the road: 

"HENRY: Hello.

Nothing.

PETE: Forget it, H., she's gone.

Pete pulls his gloves off and leans down close to her face, where he CLAPS his hands loudly in front of her nose.

PETE: Hello!

Suddenly the woman's hand shoots up and grabs Pete's leg! Henry jumps, but Pete SCREAMS, pulling away in terror and falling on his ass in the snow. Henry drops down in front of the woman.

HENRY: Ma'am, can you hear me? Are you okay? Hello!

In reply, she FARTS deafeningly. Henry has to back off.

HENRY: I wonder if that's how they say 'hello' in these parts?

PETE: Phew! Listen, Miss Roadkill, you almost got us dead...say something.

The woman, BECKY, turns, registers them as if for the first time.

BECKY: I have to find Rick."

[FYI: The farts aren't just funny here; they're an important indicator.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I could sense the tonal change, even if I couldn't explain it at first.

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

TODAY'S NUGGET: Dreamcatcher (2003) Part IIIA - Characterization

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

In the forward to this shooting script, Stephen King writes:
[F]ilmmakers get blinded by the visual possibilities of sequences the want to adapt, and then they get their heads in a box: They believe they are making genre films.... The complexity of the story tends to get lost. So do the characterization and the tonal changes.
I tried (but failed) to write a single post about my reactions to the script.

So I divided them up in a terribly unoriginal manner:

1 - Characterization
2 - Tonal Changes (Make 'em Laugh and Scream)
3 - My (Embarrassing) Confession 

FYI: There are a few mild spoilers ahead. 

----------------------------------
1 - CHARACTERIZATION

Everyone talks about character, but what IS it?

So far, I gather that it's a combination of a person's motives, decisions, and reactions.

This script helped me by showing me fine character work in dialogue.

Note the subtext going on here:

ex. "HELICOPTER GUY (amplified): HOW MANY ARE YOU? HOW ME ON YOUR FINGERS. THIS AREA IS UNDER TEMPORARY QUARANTINE. YOU MUST STAY WHERE YOU ARE!

BEAVER: What do you mean, quarantine? We got a sick guy down here?

BEAVER and JONESY (overlapping): -- We need help here! -- Real sick guy here! --

JONESY: Take him with you now!

HELICOPTER GUY (booming on): GREAT YOU MUST NOT LEAVE. THIS AREA IS UNDER QUARANTINE.

BEAVER (screaming): What's so damn great? We got a guy here could be dying! We need some help!

GUY IN HELICOPTER (makes an A-OK sign): GLAD YOU'RE OKAY. THIS SITUATION WILL BE RESOLVED IN 24 TO 48 HOURS.

Stunned, Beaver and Jonesy watch the big copter fly away."

This is great because the audience must put 2 + 2 together: 

- The helicopter guy speaks in a helpful manner, but his (unspoken) message is "You're on your own."
- The men are reassured everything is under control, but see the lie and know there's a huge problem.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: "...Without character there is no horror, no laughter, no empathy, no nothing." - S.King

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

Monday, January 13, 2014

TODAY'S 2nd NUGGET: Dreamcatcher (2003) Part II - King's Opinion Why This Script is Good

I just had to share this one last quote from King's forward.

He explains further why he thinks so highly of this script:
Maybe the most notable thing is what you won't find here: the easy shortcuts, the stereotyping, the reliance on shock effects to replace the work of building characters the audience is willing to care about.  Believe it or not, I have never been particularly interested in horror; what I care about is how people react to the unexpected, the painful, and the terrible --Jonesy's accident, for instance, which isn't a bit supernatural. The business of good fiction, whether on film or the printed page, is saying something true about how we live, how we get along, and how we die.

TODAY'S NUGGET: Dreamcatcher (2003) - "...This is One of the Very, Very Good Adaptions of My Work..."

A NOTE TO MY READERS: I hope you'll grant me some leeway, as I'll be posting my usual Monday script-of-the-week much later this week.

I blame it on Stephen King.

He writes this in the forward to the print version of the shooting script:
And speaking of tonal changes...sure, I like to make people scream, but I also like to make 'em laugh. Best of all, I like to get the readers of a story to a place where they want to do both at the same time. So far as I can tell, only the version of Dreamcatcher scripted by Bill Goldman (who also wrote the screenplays for Misery and Hearts in Atlantis) and Lawrence Kasdan has succeeded in transferring this emotional paradox to the screen....
Wow! That's a serious compliment.

He goes on:
It's not my job to tell you why this particular adaption works so well.  You have the screenplay in front of you, and if you haven't read the novel, you can buy an inexpensive paperback copy at your local bookstore (or take it out of the library, if you're a tightwad).  I'll just say that a close and thoughtful comparison of the two will teach you a great deal about the delicate and difficult art of turning a complex 600-page novel into a film that runs two hours and ten minutes.
In other words, read the book first.

I admit this seems like a lot of unnecessary work...and the resulting film wasn't even reviewed all that positively.

However, King convinced me:
At the risk of repeating myself, this is one of the very, very good adaptions of my work, and the book that follows is a valuable artifact showing how successful adaption is accomplished.
Ah, now I see.

I should be more concerned about grasping the messy process of adaption, not just the end product.

Also, I should pay attention if King approves of someone else's writing.

After all, he's not been so keen on others:
Others - I'm thinking chiefly of Christine and Stanley Kubrick's take on The Shining - should have been good but just...well, they just aren't. They're actually sort of boring. Speaking just for myself, I'd rather have bad than boring.
So I'm off to read the book first, and will post later this week.

Thanks in advance for understanding! 

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

Monday, January 6, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Mumford (1999) - Another Example of When a Character Doesn't Change

[Quick Summary: The new, helpful psychologist in town hides a secret.]

Mumford is an excellent psychologist.

He listens more than he speaks, and people flock to him.

In fact, they're so occupied that it slips by that Mumford has a secret....

...so Mumford doesn't really change for 50 pages
...AND it's still interesting.

How does Kasdan do that without an arc in the first hour?! 

I've encountered a lack of a character arc before (here and here), but still am not sure how it works.

However, this script did give me one clue:
Mumford has engaging reactions.

ex. "LATER. The bar crowd has thinned. both Mumford and Skip have had a few. In fact, Mumford is now carefully pouring them each another drink from a bottle of Glensomething on the table.

MUMFOR: You want me...to be...your friend.

Skip beams. Mumford leans forward in the same confidential way Skip did before; he indicates that Skip should lean in too.  Mumford is almost whispering --

MUMFORD: But that's not what's really going on... (Skip is excited)...What's really going on is...you have some problems and you want some therapy, but you feel it could be very bad for Panda Modem stock if word got out that you were having head problems.

Skip confirms that's it.

MUMFORD: Can I ask you a personal question?

SKIP: Of course! That's exactly what I want.

MUMFORD: Have you thought about getting a wife?"

I so enjoyed Mumford's reactions (and his mysterious secret) that I was ok without the usual character arc that I am used to.  Weird. 

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Again, not for amateurs. But boy, it works.

Mumford (1999)
by Lawrence Kasdan