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