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