Monday, September 28, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: Intolerable Cruelty (2003) - Making A Talking Head Scene Interesting

[Quick Summary: Expert divorce attorney falls for an alluring serial divorcee.]

I scratched my head a little on this script.

The bad news is that I have no idea why it's not a screwball comedy (because it could've been).

The good news is:
- It reads incredibly fast.
- I was never bored.
- Even the "talking head" scenes between two characters are funny and interesting.

What's one secret to interesting talking head scenes?

Answer: Something else is happening simultaneously (which affects the conversation).

In the scene below, the lawyers (Miles, Ruth) are negotiating terms of a divorce.

At the same time, the clients (Marylin, Rex) are connecting.  Is this a possible reconciliation? If so, it would affect the lawyers' negotiations.

ex. "MILES: Why only fifty percent, Ruth? Why not ask for a hundred percent?

RUTH: Oh brother. Here we go.

MILES: Why not a hundred and fifty percent?

RUTH: Yes. Maybe you're right, Miles. Maybe we're being too conservative. Seventy-five percent.

Rex winces. Rubs his stomach. Marylin leans forward and whispers to him.

MARYLIN: Do you need a Tagamet?

REX: You have some?

She removes a pack of the tablets from her purse, along with several vials of prescription drugs.

MARYLIN: These are yours....

She hands the pills to a grateful Rex. Their hands touch for a moment.

MARYLIN: Have you been taking your digestive enzymes?

REX (contrite): Sometimes I forget.

She looks at him like a concerned parent. Miles and Ruth watch the interaction.

MARYLIN (to the attorneys): I'm sorry. Where were we?"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Talking head scenes are more interesting if something else is simultaneously going on that may/may not affect the talking heads.

Intolerable Cruelty (2003)(1st draft, 3/25/97)
Based on story by Robert Ramsey & Matthew Stone, John Romano
Screenplay by Robert Ramsey & Matthew Stone, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Monday, September 21, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) - Both Talking/Not Talking About One's Feelings

[Quick Summary: Three escaped convicts have four days to reach their buried treasure.]

I have two thoughts on this script:

1 - It has several great moments, but...well, the story eluded me.

Critic Roger Ebert put it more eloquently:
I left the movie uncertain and unsatisfied....I had the sense of invention set adrift; of a series of bright ideas wondering why they had all been invited to the same film.
2 - However, I did think this line of dialogue captures the complexity of the Southern language:

"The men head for the station, with Junior lagging.

PAPPY: Shake a leg, Junior! Thank God your mama died givin' birth - if she'd a seen ya she'd a died of shame..."

Note that:
- The words are colorful.
- AND they are funny.
- AND on the surface, they seem to project feelings on to a 3rd person (mama).
- BUT they are really about the speaker's feelings (Pappy).

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  I find that Southern language is complex and sometimes contradictory because it's more INDIRECT.

ex. Pappy doesn't talk about his own feelings, while talking about his feelings.

O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Monday, September 14, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Big Lebowski (1998) - Gap Filling

[Quick Summary: The Dude, an inept courier, loses (and then locates) the ransom money for a kidnapping victim.]

Reading a Coens' script reminds me that I don't have to show every single moment.

The audience's mind will fill in the gaps.

For example:

Scene #1 (below): Brandt is a rich man's assistant and offers the Dude a job as a courier. 

Scene #2 (below): The Dude tells his friends about it back at the bowling alley.

Question: Did he accept the job? How do we know?

"BRANDT: Mr. Lebowski is prepared to make a generous offer to you to act as courier once we get instructions for the money.

DUDE: Why me, man?

BRANDT: He suspects that the culprits might be the very people who, uh, soiled your rug, and you're in a unique position to confirm, or, uh, disconfirm that suspicion.

DUDE: So he thinks it's the carpet-pissers, huh?

BRANDT: Well Dude, we just don't know.

.... [At the bowling alley] BACK TO WALTER AND THE DUDE

They have been joined by Donny.

WALTER: Anyway. How much they offer you?

DUDE: Twenty grand. And of course I still keep the rug.

WALTER: Just for making the hand-off?

DUDE: Yeah.

He slips a little black box out of his shirt pocket.

DUDE: ...They gave Dude a beeper, so whenever these guys call --"

Answer: Yes, he took the job.  We know this because the Dude is acting like he has the job and we see that he has the beeper.  

We don't need to see him actually taking the beeper. It is enough that he has it.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Jumps in time are ok. As long as there's a logical leap between scenes, the audience will be able to fill in the gaps.

The Big Lebowski (1998)
by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Monday, September 7, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: Hudsucker Proxy (1994) - What Slapstick Looks Like on the Page

[Quick Summary: The Hudsucker Board hires a well meaning college graduate to run the company into the ground and drive down stock prices.]

This is what slapstick looks like on the page:

1) It will be longer than you think.
2) It needs to be more descriptive than you think (audience needs to see both actions & reactions).

ex. "Findlandsen raises his hand to look quizzically at Norville's handkerchief which he now holds himself, apparently having been given it during the handshake. [Action]

He hands it back to Norville.

NORVILLE: Thank you, sir...

He stuffs it nervouly into his outside breast pocket as Findlandsen stares at him. [Reaction] Mussburger stands watching him in the executive at-ease, hands dug into his pockets.

NORVILLE: ...I understand your concern about the down-ward you know, but I think you'll find under our strong new leadership...

As Norville's hand drops from his breast pocket the handkerchief, perhaps caught on his sleeve, whips out of the pocket and follows his hand down. [Action]

Findlandsen looks down and Norville follows his look, and stoops BELOW FRAME to retrieve the hanky. [Reaction]

Findlandsen leans quizzically forward and peers down at Norville, who continues, O.S. [Action]

NORVILLE (O.S.): We anticipate, in short order, an upward...

In rapid fire, Norville straightens up into -- crunch -- Findlandsen, whose head snaps back, eyes rolling, a hand pressed to his nose, drink sloshing [Reaction]; Norville, on hand pressed to the back of his own head and the other wildly waving his hanky for balance, takes a staggering step forward onto the toe of an elegantly-gowned MRS. FINDLANDSEN. [Action]

MRS. FINDLANDSEN: Ahhh!"[Reaction]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Slapstick takes a bit of time to describe on the page.

Don't freak out (like me) if there's not a whole lot of white space.

Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen