Monday, June 29, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: Stardust Memories (1980) - Seeing What the Writer Saw

[Quick Summary: A comedy filmmaker unsuccessfully tries to break new ground.]

1 - I want script readers to "get" my scripts, i.e., they see what I'm seeing in my head.

So when I read a script that I don't get (like this one), I tend to take a closer look.

This story begins with a popular comedy filmmaker who now wants to make a serious drama. However, the public just wants more of his early stuff.

The filmmaker experiences/complains about the pressures of sycophants, women, family, etc....and then nothing happens.

So WHAT IS THE POINT? I couldn't see what the writer was aiming for.

2 - Here's one scene that was clear, and juggled pathos and comedy as well:

WALKING MAN (Overlapping Sandy's speech): Are you Sandy Bates?
SANDY (To the man, trying to get rid of him) Uh, no. (To Isobel) The kids will probably be starved.
WALKING MAN: Yes, you are.
SANDY (Shaking his head, trying to get rid of the man): Uh, no, no, no, no, no, no. I'm not.
WALKING MAN: My mother buys meat in the same butcher shop your mother does.
SANDY (Laughing): Oh, great.
WALKING MAN (Handing Sandy a piece of paper): Can I have your autograph?
SANDY (Reacting): Oh, Jesus.
WALKING MAN: Could you just write "To Phyllis Weinstein, you unfaithful, lying bitch"?

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: One tip is whatever characters do, they must experience consequences. 

If nothing happens, I'm 99% uninterested.

Stardust Memories (1980)
by Woody Allen
Four Films of Woody Allen (book published 1982)

Monday, June 22, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: Interiors (1978) - How to End a Fight When There Are No Easy Answers

[Quick Summary: When a father decides to divorce and remarry, his three daughters grapple how to cope.]

I admire this script because it's realistic, sometimes uncomfortably so, but not in a depressing way.

In this story:
- Mom is permanently unhinged.
- Dad is ready to move on with a new wife.
- Daughter Renata (poet) has a husband who feels threatened by her success.
- Daughter Joey (photographer) feels second banana to Renata.
- Daughter Flyn (actress) has go-nowhere career.

I liked that each character has a strong POV and issues that conflict with the others.

However, how do you resolve the conflict if both sides are sound?

How do you resolve a scene when there are no easy answers?

I learned from reading this script that:
1) You do not have to have a nice neat resolution at the end of a scene.
2) How the character comes to terms with the argument can happen off screen.
3) #2 above will work as long as all the issues are presented on screen (#1).

The scene below is the tail end of yet another argument about Mom.

Notice that:
- There is no tidy resolution at the end.
- The scene ends without an "a-ha!" moment.
- The scene lays out the issues, i.e., Joey's resentment. 
- If you read the full script, you'll see this conversation have an impact (albeit off screen). We know this because they act differently after this scene.

ex." RENATA: Look, Joey...I can't help it if you feel guilty about your feelings toward Mother. I mean, you-you-you can't seem to do enough to make up for it.

JOEY (looking at RENATA): Hey, what's that supposed to mean?

RENATA: You know what it means. You could never stand her.

JOEY (Upset): I-I don't believe this. My whole life I've only wanted to be her.

RENATA: Yeah...well, for a while there you were her, weren't you?

JOEY (Shaking her head): I don't know what you're talking about.

RENATA: Oh, Joey, you know what I'm talking about! All those headaches every time she'd come home from the hospital. You never wanted her to come home.

JOEY: This is incredible. I mean, you twist everything I say. I-I-I give up!"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Characters don't have to resolve every fight on screen.

Interiors (1978)
by Woody Allen
Four Films of Woody Allen (book published 1982)

Monday, June 15, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) - Constructed for Maximum Emotion

[Quick Summary: A NYC couple are convinced their neighbor has killed his wife.]

What makes a Woody Allen film so special?

Most people, including me, would say, "It's the dialogue."

I still think that's true, but the springboard is that his scripts are first constructed for maximum emotion.

ex. In this story, Carol and Larry meet their neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. House.

Soon, Mrs. House disappears.

Carol thinks Mr. House killed Mrs. House, but Larry doesn't believe her.
 
However, an attractive single friend, Ted, does, and she gravitates toward him.

Larry is unsure how to deal, so he connects with Marcia at work. She becomes interested in the mystery as well.

In the first half of the script, Larry is jealous of Carol and Ted

--> Larry resists helping Carol (& thus getting her to her goal).
---> This pushes Carol closer to Ted.
---> This is uncomfortable for Larry.

In the second half, Carol is jealous of Marcia's positive effect on Larry and Ted.

---> Larry and Marcia become more involved in the mystery
---> Larry solves things, Marcia looks smart.
---> This is bittersweet for Carol.

Once this framework is in place, it's no wonder the dialogue really sparkles:

CAROL: I told Ted.
LARRY: You told Ted before you told me?
CAROL: Yeah. He's more open-minded about these things.
LARRY: Yes, I know. I'm-I'm-I'm a bore. I'm-Because I-Because I-Because I don't break the law, you know?
CAROL: Yeah.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Do the heavy lifting first. Dialogue later.

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
by Woody Allen

Monday, June 8, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: Clue (1985) - Mysterious Before Funny

[Quick Summary: Blackmailed dinner guests have 45 min. to figure out who among them killed the blackmailer. Based on the board game. ]

This script delivers what it promises.

It is FUNNY and MYSTERIOUS.

It seems like it's all FUNNY, but not if you actually look at the construction.

The writers did the heavy lifting: They constructed the MYSTERY first, then added the FUNNY.

In other words, the script was built first with the story, then the comedy added.

Note how much exposition is laid down in this funny scene:

ex. "MRS. WHITE: Yes, just the five. Husbands should be like Kleenex - strong, soft, and disposable.

COLONEL MUSTARD: So, you don't believe in marriage?

MRS. WHITE: I certainly do. Perhaps it's because I was educated in a convent, but I'm in the habit.

COLONEL MUSTARD: You lure men to their death like a spider with flies.

MRS. WHITE: You're right. Flies are where men are most vulnerable.

COLONEL MUSTARD (very uncomfortable): Well, if it wasn't you, who was it? Who had the dagger? It was you, wasn't it, Mrs. Peacock?"

We've learned:
- Mrs. White had 5 husbands.
- Mrs. White doesn't mind losing those husbands. (Makes us curious why.)
- Mrs. White is clever enough to absolve herself of any motive.

But it's also funny because:
- There's funny simile (husband like Kleenex).
- There's a play on imagery (convent - habit).
- There's play on words (flies).

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: You can be funny & mysterious, as long as the mystery comes before the funny.

Clue (1985)(shooting script) part 1 and part 2
by Jonathan Lynn
Story by John Landis & Jonathan Lynn

Monday, June 1, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: M (1931) - Establishing That Dark & Creepy Noir Tone

[Quick Summary: A child murderer is on the loose in 1930s Berlin.]

The Turner Classic Movie channel (TCM) is sponsoring "TCM Summer of Darkness," a film noir festival every Friday in June and July.

It is also sponsoring "Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir," a FREE e-course to go along with the programming.*  I plan to follow along (and hope you do too).

(FYI: I also hope to read a bunch of these scripts for the blog.)

---------------------------------------------------------
No film noir festival would be complete without M.

Why? Because M explores the dark and creepy, but with a specific idea/message, as good films should.  Here, I think it's about taking action when feeling helpless.

How? From page one, it establishes the dark and creepy tone.

Note that the visual is of innocence and exclusion together:

ex. "EXT. COURTYARD - CITY BLOCK - BERLIN, GERMANY - 1930 A.D. - DAY

FADE IN on a HIGH ANGLE - A group of children, standing in a circle, play a game. In the center of the circle, a LITTLE GIRL points her finger from one child to another in rhythm with the chant. [High angle peers down like an all seeing eye.]

LITTLE GIRL (chants): Just you wait a little while, The evil man in black will come. And with his little chopper, He will chop you up. [Innocent kids are playing a bloodthirsty game, as kids do.]

The LITTLE GIRL stops in front of one of her playmates and gestures for her to leave the circle.

LITTLE GIRL: You're out. [The kids aren't worried about the evil man out there (though we are).]

The child leaves the circle and the game continues." [This summarizes the whole film - kids leave and life continues.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: One way to establish a dark and creepy tone is to amplify unease, ex. juxtapose two contrasting emotions like innocence and exclusion.

M (1931)
by Thea von Harbou & Fritz Lang

* If you don't have cable, you can still take the class because each lesson comes with links to publicly available clips.