Monday, October 27, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Analyze That (2002) - Sequels; Conflict

[Quick Summary: After a failed assassination attempt, a mobster escapes from jail to find his assassins.]

I know I have unrealistic expectations for sequels.

So I wasn't surprised that I liked Analyze This much better than Analyze That.

It boils down to this:

In the first film, the mobster Vitti was terribly conflicted inside. He lost all confidence and couldn't function at work or at home.

He desperately needed the shrink to work through the conflict.

In the sequel, Vitti wasn't conflicted.  He needed the shrink once, i.e., to break out of jail.

In the first film, I rooted for Vitti. I needed to know how it would end.

In the sequel, I had little reason to root or care.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Conflict = Keeps the reader caring.

Analyze That (2002)
by Peter Steinfeld, Harold Ramis, & Peter Tolan

Monday, October 20, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Analyze This (1999) - Setting the Right Tone, Rhythm, Pacing

[Quick Summary: A psychiatrist gets roped into psychoanalyzing a mobster.]

READ. THIS. SCRIPT.

There's such a great tone from the start - funny, sharp, poignant, and crazy readable all at once.

I think much of it is due to rhythm and pacing.

Within the first ten pages, there are:

- Interesting introduction of co-leads
- Funny jokes
- Rip-your-heart-out-moment
- Strong theme (father-son dynamics)

ex. BEN (fuming): Okay. Listen, for two seconds, pretend I'm not your father. I'm just some guy, okay?

MICHAEL: You gonna vent?

BEN: Yeah. (venting) I hate her! I really hate her! (a beat, then brightly) Okay. Dad again. Let's go.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Can one learn this kind of rhythm? I wish I knew how it's done.

Analyze This (1999)
by Peter Tolan, Harold Ramis, & Kenneth Lonergan
Story by Kenneth Lonergan & Peter Tolan

Monday, October 13, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Heat (1995) - Intent of a Scene

[Quick Summary: A bank robber squares off with a cop over one last high stakes heist.]

On the page, this isn't the prettiest script.

But it gets the point across, without talking down to the reader.

ex. "INT. JUSTINE'S BATHROOM - JUSTINE

Putting on makeup. She's dressed up: short black dress, fish net stockings.

HANNA: Where we going?

No answer. Hanna gets it.

HANNA (continuing; acid): Where are you going?

JUSTINE: Out.

Hanna leaves. Then Justine looks at where he stood. Her cold demeanor cracks, then reassembles and she lights a roach, takes a hit, dumps it in the toilet and finishes her makeup."

The script doesn't try to micro-manage the mood, i.e., "He's kidding here", "Now he's sarcastic."

Instead, it trusts the reader to make the leap.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Your job is to keep the intent of the scene clear.  The reader will do the rest.

Heat (1995)
by Michael Mann

Friday, October 10, 2014

BOOKS TO READ: The Man Who Heard Voices, Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale (2006)

[Quick Summary: Philadelphia sports writer Michael Bamberger meets M. Night Shyamalan at a 2004 dinner party, and follows him over two years during the creation of Lady in the Water.]

A few weeks ago, I saw this book mentioned on Twitter.

I was curious because they said this was a "cautionary" tale.

I didn't see it the same way.

I thought it was an excellent look at how decisions are made behind-the-scenes.

The author covers it all:

- The tense dinner with studio execs over Shyamalan's script
- The good and bad on set
- Shyamalan's angst when readers didn't get his story, etc.

If nothing else, read this book for:

1) How Shyamalan outsmarted Harvey Weinstein (p.20-21)

2) An amazing primer on how to handle a NYU student director who saw a private rough cut and posted a review without Shyamalan's knowledge (p. 255-258; Shyamalan turned it around in a big way.)

3) Dealing with doubt and desperation

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I will not forget the priceless story on how to truly apologize to a crew member (p. 238-239).

The Man Who Heard Voices, Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale (2006)
by Michael Bamberger

Monday, October 6, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Nashville (1975) - I Don't Know Why This Episodic Film Works

[Quick Summary:

I liked that writer/director Robert Altman reveled in breaking rules.

However, I do not recommend his scripts to new writers because:

1) Altman scripts are specifically written for him.  Thus, they include things that are frowned upon - long back stories, telling vs. showing, etc.

2) Altman enjoyed BIG ensembles.  ex. Nashville follows 25 characters.

3) Sometimes there is no real plot, just stories.

4) He liked weaving episodic stories together.*   

I find #4 particularly troublesome.

So why did it work for him?  I don't know.

All I can say is that he had a talent for:

- Juggling multiple story lines to create a snapshot of country music, AND
- Keeping the same tone in very different episodes, AND
- Keeping the pacing, AND
- Saying something about America.

I did notice that several episodes repeated the search for one's dreams in different forms.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I'm still not sure why this episodic film works.

Nashville (1975)
by Joan Tewkesbury

*Episodic = Separate, tenuously related stories