Monday, July 27, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: Troy (2004) - Making the Reader Feel

[Quick Summary: Two Spartan brothers (Agamemnon, Menelaus) retaliate against two Trojan brothers (Hector, Paris).]

Last week, I saw this tweet from a screenwriter I admire:
TROY by David “Game of Thrones money” Benioff is one of the scripts I give aspiring screenwriters to read. That’s how it’s done.
Other writers chimed in and agreed that not a line is wasted.*

First, I too am impressed at the economy of writing.

The writer boils down a complex war story to brother vs. brother, and Troy brothers vs. Spartan brothers.

Second, I am impressed how deeply the script made me feel.

Perhaps the reason is that we always know:
1) What is at stake.
2) What are the motives.

Things to know about the scene below:
- Hector (older) and Paris (younger) are brothers and princes of Troy.
- They have just left Sparta after negotiating a peace treaty.
- Paris has smuggled Helen, the Spartan king's wife, aboard their ship.
- Paris' action will launch a war between Sparta and Troy.

ex. "INT. TROJAN SHIP

Paris pauses in front of his cabin door.

PARIS: Before you get angry with me -- [Younger brother tries to avoid anger.]

HECTOR: Open the door. [Older brother isn't messing around.]

Paris opens the door. Helen, wearing a hooded robe, sits on the edge of a hammock, swinging slightly. She stands. Hector stares at her in disbelief. He turns and glares at Paris.  [The script guides our eye: Open door. See her. See Hector's reaction. See his action.]

HECTOR: If you weren't my brother I'd kill you where you stand. [He is mad b/c his brother has jeopardized their new treaty via this woman.]

PARIS: Hector --  [Paris needs Hector to help him out of this mess.]

Hector is already out the door. Helen looks at Paris.

HELEN: We'll never have peace. [This is what's at stake.]

PARIS: I don't want peace. I want you. [This is his motive.]

He kisses her -- a desperate, hungry kiss, the two of them against the world -- then turns and follows his brother. [Simple yet complicated emotions together, i.e., I love her + I need help to be with her.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: To make the reader feel, keep the characters' motives and stakes crystal clear at all times.

Troy (2004)
By David Benioff
Based on Homer's poems

*They also agreed the script was better than the film.

Monday, July 20, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) - A Key to Romantic Chemistry

[Quick Summary: A movie fan falls in love with a fictional character (who walks off of the screen to be with her) and the real actor who plays him.]

Great romantic chemistry is hard to define.

Billy Mernit comes to the rescue with help:
That special kind of romantic "sympatico" doesn't come out of mere body heat and thin air. Your job as a writer is to forge such a bond by digging as deep as you can into your protagonists' characterizations. What you're looking for is the subtext hidden inside the old cliche, "opposites attract." Two people who seem to be opposites are not automatically magnetic. But they may well have interlocking needs (p. 80).
Note the last two sentences:

1) Putting together opposites does NOT AUTOMATICALLY make them magnetic.
2) But there's a better chance when characters have interlocking needs &/or are incomplete (p. 81).

In this story, these are the opposites:
- Tom is a courageous, privileged, and 100% fictional character. He needs help becoming "real."
- Cecilia is a dreamy, hard working, practical waitress.  She needs hope and whimsy.

ex.  Tom has just tried to pay for dinner with his play money. He and Cecilia walk around a carousel.

"TOM (O.S.): I'm sorry about the money. I had no idea.

CECILIA (O.S.): Oh, that's okay. (Chuckling) It's, it's not going to be so easy to get along without it in this world. [She gently reminds him to be realistic.]

TOM (O.S.): Oh, I guess I have to get a job (Sighs) [He changes because of her.]

The camera stops as it comes to the couple, who are sitting in a chariot. Tom's arm is around Cecilia's shoulders. They look at each other, illuminated by the moonlight.

CECILIA (Inhaling): But that's not going to be so easy, either. Right now, the whole country's out of work. [She's honest with him.]

TOM: Well, then we'll live on love. We'll have to make some concessions, but so what? We'll have each other. [He speaks of their future which gives her hope.]

CECILIA: That's movie talk. [She enjoys this real life fantasy.]

The camera moves closer and closer to their faces. Romantic piano music beings to play.

TOM (Looking softly at Cecilia): You look so beautiful in this light. [He admires.]

CECILIA (Looking into Tom's eyes): But you're not real. [She brings him to earth.]

Tom looks at Cecilia, then kisses her.

TOM (Breaking the kiss, sighing): Was that real enough for you?

CECILIA (Sighing): You, you kiss perfectly. It's what I dreamed kissing would be like. [For once, her reality is better than her dreams.]"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Romantic chemistry blooms when A meets B's needs (& vice versa).

Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
by Woody Allen
Published in Three Films by Woody Allen (1987)

Monday, July 13, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: Broadway Danny Rose (1984) - Winding Up for the Sucker Punch

[Quick Summary: Talent manager Danny Rose desperately tries to persuade his client's girlfriend to show up for the client's big night.]

Woody Allen wrote this script, so I knew a sucker punch would eventually come.

However, I was truly surprised how much it still stung.

I think one reasons is that the wind up to the punch really intensified the punch.

Here's why:

1)  I really invested in Danny Rose, who went to extremes for clients that no one else wanted. (EMPATHY)

ex. He clients include a blind xylophone player, a penguin act, a hypnotist.
ex. He is devoted to Lou, a has-been lounge singer, and picks out Lou's songs, clothes, and even eats with Lou's family.

2) The punch starts moving toward Danny Rose, but it takes awhile.  The hurt builds and coils like a spring, which is where all the power lies. (WIND UP; SUSPENSE)  

- Bigwigs are coming to see Lou sing. This might be his big break into tv.
- Lou is married but has a volatile girlfriend, Tina.
- Lou won't perform unless Tina comes. He asks Danny Rose to get her there.
- Tina is mad and has other plans. She takes off and Danny Rose pursues.
- Danny Rose has many crazy, fun mis-adventures with Tina.
- She starts to like him but is conflicted.  In flashback, we see her make a bad decision that will affect Danny Rose.

3) The punch lands.  It stings much more strongly than I thought. 

Danny Rose is betrayed. It hurts bad.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I liked how flashback was used well in the wind up phase.

It is not used to explain Tina in the PAST (boring).

It is actually used to further complicate Tina in the PRESENT (interesting), as well as Danny Rose.

Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
by Woody Allen
Published in Three Films by Woody Allen (1987)

Monday, July 6, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: Zelig (1983) - How Voice Over Can Help a Satire

[Quick Summary: In the 1920s, a psychiatrist tries to help Zelig, an actual human chameleon who has lost his identity.]

I tip my hat to Woody Allen on this script.

It's not perfect, but it's one of the most unique ideas I've seen in ages.

Zelig unconsciously adopts to whomever is in his surroundings, including attitude, skin color, etc. If he's with Asians, he acts/speaks/looks Asian. 

He shows up at big historical events, becomes famous, and then disaster follows.  The public celebrates Zelig, then demonizes, then celebrates him.

I thought the choice to use of frequent narrated voice over was odd for this satire. However, it began to make sense in hindsight.

Satire uses ridicule and exaggeration to make a point. 

I think this script is satirizing how public opinion can turn on a dime.

The script uses voice over:
1) to lead us through the public's thought processes, and then
2) to exaggerate it to poke fun.

ex. "NARRATOR'S VOICE-OVER: That Zelig could be responsible for the behavior of each of the personalities he assumed means dozens of lawsuits. [He had no idea what he was doing, but let's still make him responsible!]

The film moves inside the courthouse, where the presiding judge is seen over the shoulders of the packed room. Lawyers walk back and forth in front of the seated spectators, exchanging documents, talking among themselves in clusters, going up to the judge. As the narrator continues, the film cuts to a somber-looking Zelig, sitting at a table with his lawyer. His hands are clasped in his lap.

NARRATOR'S VOICE-OVER: He is used for bigamy, adultery, automobile accidents, plagiarism, household damages, negligence, property damages, and performing unnecessary dental extractions. [He's liable for the kitchen sink!!]"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: In satire, voice over can be used to state the premise, then ridicule it.

Zelig (1983)
by Woody Allen
Published in Three Films by Woody Allen (1987)