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