Monday, February 23, 2015

2015 OSCARS: American Sniper (2014) - Clarity is So Important

[Quick Summary: The journey of US sniper Chris Kyle to Iraq and back home.]

I...I..I have no words for this script.

It's not your typical war story.  (I was surprised. It's a character study).

It is emotionally costly. (I was unprepared).

It takes you to the front lines of responsibility. (I was floored).

I was interested to hear that both Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood worked on this project.

They gave the writer one overarching note: Clarity.*

I saw it everywhere, even in the small scene below.

Notice the clear intent to convey what the brotherhood feels like:

ex. "INT. HUMVEE #2 - TWO DAYS LATER

Chris looks to Marc Lee, eyes closed in prayer. When he opens them he sees Chris looking. The rig sways.

MARC LEE: I went to seminary school before I joined the Navy. Came close to being a preacher.

CHRIS: Why didn't you?

MARC LEE: I love to gamble, man. Love those dice.

Their laughter is liberating. It bonds them.

CHRIS: My kind of preacher.

MORE LAUGHTER. A PHONE RINGS. Chris digs out a SAT PHONE.

MARC LEE: It's like that now, huh?

CHRIS: You haven't heard? I'm The Legend. (laughs at self; into phone) Hey babe --

TAYA (O.S.) You were right, doctor says it's a boy.

CHRIS: It's a boy!

MARC LEE: Hell yeah. Congratu--

WHAAP! Windshield spiders."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Even with complicated shooting scenes, I could always follow what was at stake.

That's good clear writing.

American Sniper (2014)
by Jason Hall
Based on the book by Christ Kyle with Scott McEwen & Jim DeFelice

*The writer further explains:"[C]larity of purpose, clarity of intention, clarity of emotion. What are they saying? What's the feeling? What are you trying to get out? What are you trying to say?"

Monday, February 16, 2015

2015 OSCARS: Nightcrawler (2014) - Writing a "Visual" Script

[Quick Summary: A news feed vulture hustles for nightly video footage in L.A.]

Dear New Writer,

I don't say this lightly: 

- This script will screw with your head.
- You'll only get ONE chance to read it for the first time. 
- Please DO NOT ruin this gem by reading it before you're ready.*

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dear Hardened Seasoned Writers,

This is a high caliber, character driven script.

It is a confident script, and rules are broken left and right:

- There is no protagonist arc. (Gilroy is "sick of arcs.")
- It's deliberately non-conformist. (No sluglines, different size fonts.)

However, it stands out to me because it is a good example of the highly coveted, highly elusive "visual" script.**

Notice how the writing directs your eye to details that make up a whole picture:

ex.  "LOU

goes to the body in the car...props it into view...drapes it over the steering wheel...runs to the brush...drags the second body by the leg onto the road...positions a lifeless arm...stepping back and

LOU'S POV THROUGH CAMCORDER

as he focuses on a shot of both bodies in the foreground...red RECORD light on...fire starting...entangled cars becoming a bonfire as

FIRETRUCKS and POLICE

start arriving and"

The craft here worth studying is:
- How the writer moves your eye;
- How the visuals flow together (Lou stages the bodies --> What he see in the camcorder --> Firetrucks arrive);
- What the pictures together add up to (Lou is messing with a crime scene)

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I think a "visual" script means the script has good building blocks that add together easily.

What we see in Scene 1 + Scene 2 --> naturally leads us to Scene 3.

Nightcrawler (2014)
by Dan Gilroy

*Ready = Have already read at least 20+ scripts (40+ is better)
** Everyone wants a "visual script," but no one knows how to define it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

BOOKS TO READ: Hope for Film (2014)

You NEED to read this book!

Ted Hope uses true stories from his vast indie experience to explain different "virtues" that you'll need to work in show business (patience, joyfulness, etc.)

Please, please, do NOT miss Commitment (Chapter 4).

Hope explains what producers really face in a jaw dropping, behind-the-scenes account of his time on The Savages (2007).

I have not stopped talking about it for three days.

Hope for Film
by Ted Hope

2015 OSCARS: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) - Showing Character Through Dialogue

[Quick Summary: A concierge goes on the run after inheriting a priceless painting.]

This script is dense.

It made me tense.

But look beyond...

And see multi-tasking spawned:

ex. "A second criss-crossing group of people new engage M. Gustave. This time: a very old washroom attendant carrying a monkey-wrench, the head waiter wearing an apron and waving a menu, and a woman of a certain age in a beautifully-embroidered dress with a small dachshund cradled in her arms.

WASHROOM ATTENDANT: Now it's exploded.

M. GUSTAVE: (sweetly to the dachshund) Good morning, Cicero.
(coldly to the washroom attendant) Call the goddamn plumber.

HOTEL GUEST NO. 2: (flirtatious) This afternoon, M. Gustave?

HEAD WAITER: (angrily) What in the hell is this?

M. GUSTAVE: (equally flirtatious) Without fail, Frau Liebling.
(sharply to the head waiter) Not now!"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This dialogue shows (not tells) us M. Gustave's habit of multi-tasking (constantly engaged, juggling several things).

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
by Wes Anderson
Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness

Monday, February 2, 2015

2015 OSCARS: Foxcatcher (2014) - Enhancing the "Creepy" Factor

[Quick Summary: Two wrestling brothers are hired by a millionaire to create an Olympic wrestling team.]

This was a great script, but a tough emotional read.

It is so honest, yet creepy, which suits this tale of desperation.

Here are two things I noted:

CREEPY FACTOR #1: NEGATIVE ENERGY

I read this about a common motivation in Gene Hackman's acting:
Hackman drew on that sort of negative energy — the unshakable feeling that he wasn’t good enough to warrant consideration — as motivation for much of his life, perhaps starting with the moment in the street when he watched his father walk out on him.
From p.1, this script also has that "not good enough" tone.

Mark hangs on to past victories. *Not good enough.*

If he doesn't win, he's a failure. *Not good enough.*

CREEPY FACTOR #2: INVADING PERSONAL SPACE

Another effective technique is to show physically what is going on mentally:

ex. "Du Pont walks over. Mark can barely look at him. Du Pont stops close to Mark.

Mark looks to Dave to save him from this. Dave's clearly caught in the middle.

Mark looks down, closes his eyes as if in pain. Du Pont moves close to Dave, speaking to him so Mark can hear -

DU PONT: If you and I can't get him there, no one can. We're in this together.

After a long moment, du Pont moves off the mat. He starts to stretch nearby. As Dave tr to get Mark back to work, du Pont starts to JOG around the perimeter of the gym. Mark's trying to keep it together, but it's clearly driving him insane."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: "Creepy" feels claustrophobic and cornered.

Foxcatcher (2014)
by E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman