Monday, March 30, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: Time Bandits (1981) - How Gilliam Turned Script into Storyboard Sketches

[Quick Summary: A young boy travels time with six thieving time bandits.]

I confess this is all I knew about Terry Gilliam:

- He was part of Monty Python.
- He has been working on a Don Quixote film since 1998.
- I heard that he could really draw.

I finally saw those drawing skills when I read this script in book form.*

Gilliam's sketches pepper the script. 

They're worth studying to see how to translate words into pictures.

ex. In one scene, Napoleon is the only audience member at a Punch and Judy show.

Backstage, the puppeteer is wounded, but carries on.

These are the 3 sketches that follow:

First, the nervous manager and the puppeteer:
 Move in closer on the dying puppeteer:
 Punch and Judy from Napoleon's POV:


WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The script was focused, clear (distillation #1).

This allowed Gilliam to reduce whole scenes into sketches (distillation #2).

Time Bandits (1981)
by Terry Gilliam & Michael Palin of Monty Python

* It is now out-of-print, but used copies are available.

Monday, March 23, 2015

2015 OSCARS: Whiplash (2014) - The First Ten (um, First THREE) Pages

[Quick Summary: A college jazz drummer's best & worst enemy is his teacher Fletcher.]

Wow.
Wow.
Wow.

I guzzled this script like ice water in the desert.

It is EX-HIL-ER-A-TING.

It's got RHYTHM, PASSION, ENERGY!

It's my favorite Oscar nominated script this year.

I recommend reading the first ten pages...actually, the first THREE.

The first three pages told me everything:
- I knew exactly what this story is about (student vs. teacher).
- I got a sense these characters are carrying baggage.
- I felt the inner and outer conflict.
- I saw where Andrew's journey was going.
- Most importantly, the tempo starts at a simmer, so I knew it would start boiling fairly soon.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This story relies on rhythm and tempo to convey feelings.

The writer was so smart to establish it early and keep focused on it.

Whiplash (2014)
by Damien Chazelle

Monday, March 16, 2015

2015 OSCARS: The Theory of Everything (2014) - I Fell For Romance & Subtlety

[Quick Summary: The unconventional love story of Stephen and Jane Hawking.]

This is one of the most romantic scripts I've read in ages.

I think the key is subtlety, which "is an old-fashioned concept," said writer Anthony McCarten.

It was used so well here.

It makes small moments so much sweeter than any grand gesture.

ex. "The BARMAN takes STEPHEN's POUND and glances at the NAPKIN.

BARMAN: I'd commit that number to memory if I were you.

STEPHEN smiles - then glances at the mirror-backed bar. Reflected - a WOMAN who looks like JANE. Is he imagining this?

TIGHT ON: STEPHEN's face: we see JANE's reflection appear and disappear in the glass of his glasses as she crosses the room.

The BARMAN's voice is distant...

BARMAN: Here you go...

STEPHEN snaps out of it - stares at the BARMAN holding out CHANGE - a smile DAWNING.

BARMAN: Sir? Are you okay?

STEPHEN: Uh, my napkin just walked in."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Romance is seen best in those small, subtle connections.

The Theory of Everything (2014)
by Anthony McCarten
Based on the book, "Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen", by Jane Hawking

Monday, March 9, 2015

2015 OSCARS: Inherent Vice (2014) - In Order to Have A "Stoned and Surreal" Tone...

[Quick Summary: A 1970s p.i. investigates the disappearance of an ex-girlfriend's married lover.]

THREE THOUGHTS:

1) The best piece of advice for reading this script:
The less you try to figure out Anderson's rambling, mesmerising mystery, the better.
I found this helpful, as I agree that:
Pynchon works to the principle that the less a reader is able to grasp, the better.
--------------------------------------------------------------
2) BEST THING ABOUT THIS SCRIPT: Its "stoned and surreal" tone.

The story sometimes did and did not make sense, all at once.

ex.  "DOC: You're emotionally involved? With a boat?

SAUNCHO: Not just a boat, Doc. Something much more...."

WORST THING ABOUT THIS SCRIPT: Its "stoned and surreal" tone."

It was often hard to follow, i.e., tangents, multiple characters, plots, etc.
----------------------------------------------------------------
3)  This tone walks such a fine line between ludicrous and operatic.

Why does it work? 

I think it's because the anchor story is grounded and simple.

Every scene goes back to GUY LOOKS FOR GIRL.

ex. Even when the situations are outlandish, far fetched, or psychedelic:
- When Doc is disguised as a reporter...
- When he takes the odd dentist back to his Bel Air mansion...
- When he enters a hippie enclave...
- When he confronts squirrely FBI agents...

Doc is always trying to track down Shasta, the ex-girlfriend he loves.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: You can go as far or high or broad as you want, as long as there's a solid anchor for the story.

Inherent Vice (2014)
by Paul Thomas Anderson
Based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon

Monday, March 2, 2015

2015 OSCARS: The Imitation Game (2014) - A Revealing Abruptness

[Quick Summary: Alan Turing during WWII.]

Abruptness* for no reason is a useless gimmick.

The reader will feel manipulated (and, in my case, angry at the page).

However, if the trait reveals subtext, it is pure gold.

Here, notice how it shows Turing's inability to read others:

ex. "INT. BLETCHLEY PARK - COMMANDER DENNISTON'S OFFICE - LATER

A few minutes later, Alan sits alone in a cluttered office. He stares ahead blankly at the empty chair behind the desk. Waits.

COMMANDER DENNISTON (O.S.): -What are you doing here?

Alan turns with a start.

ALAN TURING: The girl told me to wait -

COMMANDER DENNISTON: In my office? She tell you to help yourself to a cup of tea while you were here?

ALAN TURING: No. She didn't.

COMMANDER DENNISTON: She didn't tell you what a joke is then either, I gather.

ALAN TURING: Was she supposed to?

COMMANDER DENNISTON: For Christ's sake - who are you?

ALAN TURING: Alan Turing....

COMMANDER DENNISTON: ...King's College, Cambridge. Says here you were a bit of a prodigy in the maths department.

ALAN TURING: I'm not sure I can evaluate that, Mr...?

COMMANDER DENNISTON: How old are you, Mr. Turing?

ALAN TURING: 27.

COMMANDER DENNISTON: How old were you when you became a fellow at Cambridge?

ALAN TURING: 24.

COMMANDER DENNISTON: And how old were you when you published this paper here, that has a title I can barely understand, which apparently got you this fellowship?

ALAN TURING: 23.

COMMANDER DENNISTON: And you don't think that qualifies you as a certified prodigy?

ANA TURING: Rather depends on how old my peers were when they did comparable work, doesn't it?

COMMANDER DENNISTON: And how old were they?

ALAN TURING: Newton discovered the binomial theorem at 22. Einstein published four papers that changed the world at 26. As far as I can tell I've barely made par.

COMMANDER DENNISTON: You're serious, aren't you?

ALAN TURING: Would you prefer I make a joke?

COMMANDER DENNISTON: Not sure you know what those are."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Use socially unacceptable traits to show subtext.

(Don't just use it to manufacture a surface conflict.) 

The Imitation Game (2014)
by Graham Moore
Based on "Alan Turing: The Enigma", by Andrew Hodges

* Or any character trait, for that matter.