Monday, October 26, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: A Serious Man (2009) - Ending Scenes with a "Button"

[Quick Summary: Prof. Larry Gopnik cannot believe the events in his Job-like life.]

This wasn't my favorite script, but I did like how the writers ended their scenes.

Each one ended with a satisfying "button."

Sometimes the button was tying up loose ends. 

Other times it was more open ended: a question was left unanswered, an uncomfortable moment that remained unresolved, a setup for a later payoff, etc.

Buttons gave me confidence that the story was making progress and kept me reading.

ex. "SY: You know, Larry - how we handle ourselves, in this situation - it's so impawtant.

LARRY: Uh-huh.

SY: Absolutely. Judith told me that she broke the  news to you. She said you were very adult.

LARRY: Did she.

SY: Absolutely. The respect she has for you.

LARRY: Yes?

SY: Absolutely. But the children, Larry. The children.

He shakes his head.

...The most impawtant.

LARRY: Well, I guess...

SY: Of coss. And Judith says they're handling it so well. A tribute to you. Do you drink wine? Because this is an incredible bottle. This is not Mogen David. This is a wine, Larry. A bawdeaux.

LARRY: You know, Sy --

SY: Open it - let it breathe. Ten minutes. Letting it breathe, so impawtant.

LARRY: Thanks, Sy, but I'm not --

SY: I insist! No reason for discumfit. I'll be uncumftable if you don't take it. These are isgns and tokens, Larry.

LARRY: I'm just - I'm not ungrateful, I'm, I just don't know a lot about wine and given our respective, you --

He is startled when Sy abruptly hugs him.

SY: S'okay.

He finishes the hug off with a couple of thumps on the back.

...S'okay. Wuhgonnabe fine."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Button your scenes.  Let the reader know where you're going.

A Serious Man (2009)(draft dated 6/4/07)
by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Monday, October 19, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: Burn After Reading (2008) - Fierce, Exaggerated Pursuit = Farce

[Quick Summary: After a fired CIA man's draft manuscript goes missing, several idiots scramble around, trying to capitalize on it.]

My two cents on this script:  Just go with it.

It's not the finest, or the smartest, or the most clever.

However, there is a clarity of writing in this script that I admire.

Here, each character has got immense, single-minded drive, i.e., they pursue a clearly defined goal without hesitation from beginning to end.

These characters are so fierce, so exaggerated in their pursuit that it becomes farce. 

In the scene below, Osbourne (CIA man) has just been fired, yet his wife only cares about cheeses.  As you'll see, this is about not hearing what is being said.

ex. "KATIE: You're home.

Osbourne continues making himself a drink.

OSBOURNE: Hang on to your hat, honey. I have some news. I -

KATIE: Did you pick up the cheeses?

OSBOURNE: Huh?

KATIE: Were they ready? I didn't know you were coming home this early.

OSBOURNE (blank): The cheeses.

Katie rolls her eyes.

KATIE: I left a message for you to stop at Todaro's. The Magruders and the Pfarrers are coming over.

OSBOURNE: The Pfarrers? Ugh. I --what did Kathleen say?

KATIE: What?

OSBOURNE: When you left the message?

KATIE: She said. She would give you. The message.

OSBOURNE: Well she, I don't know, I guess we had bigger news today. My day didn't revolve arou-

KATIE: SO you didn't get the cheeses.

OSBOURNE: Well, since I didn't get the message, no, I didn't get the cheeses. But hang on to your hat, I -

KATIE: Oh for fuck's sake, Ozzie, you mean I have to go out again? All right, well, you better get dressed.

OSBOURNE: Honey, we have to talk.

KATIE: Not right now. They'll be here in, what, less than an hour."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The single minded, exaggerated pursuits of goals (farce) makes the point of missed communication far better than a drama would have.

Burn After Reading (2008)
by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Monday, October 12, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: No Country for Old Men (2007) - A Helpful Tip Toward a Perfect Movie (vs. Perfect Screenplay)

[Quick Summary: A hunter, who steals $2M dollars from a crime scene, goes on the run.]

Screenwriter John Gary said in an interview:
I started reading things and seeing them go up onscreen eventually. I was like, "Oh, that script was great. What the hell happened?" It's because there can be a disconnect between what reads like butter but just isn't a great blueprint. There are some writers who get that, who know how to write scripts that end up great movies. And being able to read a script and think of it not as just a script but rather as a blueprint for making a film is something we often get away from as writers - our focus is so much on how to write the perfect screenplay, when what we really need to focus on is how to write the perfect movie. And those two things can be different. 
This Coens script is an excellent example of writing a MOVIE vs. the perfect screenplay.

I like it because it focuses on the interesting things the characters do (vs. lot of dialogue, or trying too hard, or trying to outsmart the audience).

In the example below, note:
-  the interesting way the bad guy (Chigurh) gets a door open
-  how the writers use action verbs and descriptive words to draw the sequence for our mind's eye

ex. "AIR TANK

We follow it being toted along a gravel path and up three shallow steps to a trailer door. [Action #1]

A hand rises to knock. Tubing runs out of the sleeve and into the fist clenched to knock. The door rattles under the knock. A short beat. [#2, 3, 4 actions in a row]

The hand opens to press the nozzle at the end of the tube against the lock cylinder. [#5 action]

A sharp report. [Result of action #1-5]

INSIDE

A cylinder of brass from the door slams into the far wall denting it and drops to the floor and rolls. [Reaction]

Reverse on the door. Daylight shows through the lock. [Another angle of reaction]

The door swings slowly in and Chigurh, hard backlit, enters." [He achieves goal.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I'm reminded again that the end product (a film) is a visual medium.

Thus, my scripts need to be more visual, i.e., I must learn to draw better pictures with words.

No Country for Old Men (2007)(draft dated 11/28/07)
Adapted by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy

Monday, October 5, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Ladykillers (2004) - One Great Adjective

[Quick Summary: Five robbers dig an access tunnel from a boarding house basement to a casino's vault.]

I did not like this script,
I wish I did.
It tries to be outlandish
(I'd rather it be hid.)

I did like this description,
I hope you will agree.
"Dry-washing" gave me a picture
And peaked my curiosity.

ex. "I/E. MUNSON HOUSE - FOYER - DAY

As Mrs. Munson swings open the door.

G.H. Door stands on the stoop mournfully dry-washing his hands and obsequiously ducking his head."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: If you're lucky enough to find that one great adjective, it can capture the whole scene.

The Ladykillers (2004)
by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Based on the 1955 movie, "The Ladykillers", by William Rose