Monday, September 29, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Ace in the Hole (1951) - Ridicule as Satire

[Quick Summary: A newspaper reporter manipulates the media around a man trapped in a cave.]

In anticipation of this soon-to-be-released film critiquing the media, I decided to see how Billy Wilder did it.

Here, Tatum is a reporter who stumbles on a story of a lifetime.  He controls the situation in order to milk it for as long as he can.

I liked how Tatum's hypocrisy is revealed through ridicule (satire).

In this scene, we know that Tatum is trying to delay the rescue:

ex. "RADIO REPORTER: What's your name, sir?

MINER: My name is Kuzak. Did a lot of mining in my day. Silver mining, that is --up in Virginia City. The way I see it --

RADIO REPORTER (holding mike to him): Go on, Mr. Kuzak. We're very much interested. [Tatum is losing control.]

MINER: We had cave-ins. Quite a few of them. One of them I know of farther in than yours.

TATUM: Were you ever in a cave-in yourself, Mr. Kuzak? [Tatum casts doubt to regain control.]

MINER: No, not personally....

TATUM (stepping in - to Kuzak): Mr. Kuzak, this is a Cliff Dwelling, not a silver mine. [Tatum mocks the miner.]

MINER: I think it's all the same. A man's underground and you got to get him out.

TATUM: Well, did you get your man out, Mr. Kuzak. [Tatum bluffs.]

MINER (Shakes his head ruefully): I'm afraid we didn't. We were too late.

The little tension which Kuzak had built up subsides.

TATUM: Well, then suppose you let Mr. Smollett do it his way. From the top." [Tatum shames the miner.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Ridicule makes a sharper point when it's polite ridicule.

Ace in the Hole (1951)
by Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels, & Walter Newman

Monday, September 22, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Hot Fuzz (2007) - Sound and Visual Transitions

[Quick Summary: A London police officer smells something funny in a small country village.]

This my favorite film of the Cornetto trio.

As I read it, however, I was struck by the artful use of matched sound and visual transitions.

[Matched transition = You hear/see something in Scene A that is matched in Scene B.]

Here, they do more than move us from point A to B.

They also reorient the audience to a new scene/location/point of view.


Note how the common 'hissing' sound moves us to a new location.


MERCHANT is dragged by his feet and dumped into a kitchen chair...GLOVED HANDS empty beans into a pan...Bacon is fried...Gas taps are turned on full...Gas hisses...


Static hisses as the video flickers to life." 


"Beer" is the common visual clue here.

I like that as we follow the beer, we also figure out that we've switched points of view.


...DANNY: Unless you wanna come in for a coffee?
ANGEL: I don't drink coffee.
ANGEL: No, no caffeine after midday.
DANNY: How about another beer?


A fridge opens...We see a number of bottled beers...

GEORGE MERCHANT grabs a beer and swigs it as he staggers to the toilet. Outside the CLOAKED FIGURE watches."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I now have added matched transitions to my writer's tool box.

Hot Fuzz (2007)
by Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg

Monday, September 15, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Prestige (2006) - The Theme is Obsession

[Quick Summary: Two magicians spare nothing in trying to best the other.]

I am impressed.

This is the strongest themed script I've seen in awhile.

In my opinion, the theme of obsession is super-effective here because:

1)  It is present on multiple levels.

- Magicians obsessed with diverting audiences (professional)
- Magicians obsessed with revealing a rival's tricks (personal)
- Men obsessed with being the best (psychological)
- Men obsessed with reputation over family, loyalty, love (relationships)

2) It can be seen whenever a flaw is taken to the extreme.

Here, both the hero and villain are competitive (flaw).

When they take competition to the extreme, we see the obsession.


Angier writing in his leather-bound journal.

ANGIER (V.O.):...happiness that should have been mine. But I was wrong. [Personal]

Angier glances at Borden's notebook sitting on the desk.

ANGIER (V.O.): Reading his account I realized that he never had the life I envied. [Psychological]

Angier flips open the notebook. Staring at the coded writing.

ANGIER: The family life he craves one minute he rails against the next, demanding freedom. His mind is a divided one... [Relationships]


Borden sits on his cot. Reading Angier's journal.

ANGIER (V.O.): His soul restless. His wife and child tormented by his fickle and contradictory nature... [Relationships]

Borden is crying . He puts the journal down and jumps to his feet BANGING on the cell door.

BORDEN: Guard! Guard!

The viewing slot slides open.

GUARD: What do you want, Professor?

BORDEN: Paper and pencil. Please." [Psychological]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Pick a flaw. Take it to the extreme. The result is likely my theme.

The Prestige (2006)
by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Based on the novel by Christopher Priest

Monday, September 8, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Point Blank (1967) - THE Script That Inspired Walter Hill

[Quick Summary: A double crossed criminal gets revenge on those who left him for dead.]

For years, I'd read about how this script changed Walter Hill's life.

He had been writing for 2-3 years:
I was dissatisfied with the standard form scripts were written in - they just all seemed to be a kind of subliterary blueprint for shooting a picture and generally had no personal voice....
Alex's script knocked me out (not easy to do); it was both playable and literary....[w]ritten in a whole different way than the standard format (laconic, elliptical, suggestive rather than explicit, bold in the implied editorial style)...
This a-ha! moment led to Hill to his now famous haiku style.

I recommend reading this script for what the writer leaves in, as well as what he leaves out.

See how the writer "suggests" guilt, regret and a conscience with actions, but without using any of those words:

ex. "WALKER (shouting): Shut up - Lynne.

CHRIS (turning to him as she walks towards the bathroom): ...Chris?...Remember?...Chris!

Walker doesn't move but watches her disappear behind the glass partition.

He takes from his pocket the package of money that the messenger had delivered for Lynne.  He stares at it for a moment then leaves it for Chris on the bureau. He goes."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: "Suggesting" only works if the audience can follow the logic in the actions.

In the above example, Walker takes a moment to stare at the money.  Without this reflection, it is easy to assume he has no regrets.

Point Blank (1967)
by Alex Jacobs, Rafe and David Newhouse

Monday, September 1, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Last Picture Show (1971) - A Complex Female Character

[Quick Summary: A group of teens come of age in a dying Texas town.]

Once upon a time, I tried reading one of Bogdanovich's books.

I admired the extremely detailed, encyclopedic discussion of film...but the denseness exhausted me.  I never finished the book.
I did finish this script.  Fair warning: It is also very detailed and dense.

On the plus side, the script doesn't shy away from a complex female character.


1) How others react to Jacy
2) How Jacy doesn't let their opinions deter her from what she wants


Billy brings Sonny a peanut pattie as Jacy comes in, looking sorrowful.

JACY: Sonny?

SONNY: Come on in.

She comes over, gives him a big kiss...she looks at Billy, who moves away warily; Jacy clearly doesn't like him.

JACY: Oh, I was so worried I just had to see you --

SONNY: I been missin' you -- I'm a lot better'n I was.

JACY: You can't believe how famous we are -- we're all anybody talks about in this town now --

SONNY (unhappily): I guess so.

JACY: I want us to get married.

SONNY: What?!"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This reminds me that I don't need to like a character. I only need to understand what she wants.

P.S.  Have you heard of Bogdanovich's Index Card File?

The Last Picture Show (1971)(10/2/70 final draft)
by Larry McMurtry & Peter Bogdanovich
Based on the novel by Larry McMurtry
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