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