Monday, December 28, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Night of the Hunter (1955) - Menance; Rooting for a Protagonist; Upping the Ante

[Quick Summary: A thief only marries a widow only to get to her children, who know where stolen money is hidden.]

Dear Thriller Writers Everywhere,

If you've ever had trouble with writing menace...
If you want to write a protagonist we continue to root for...
If you've never seen a story that ups the ante, with thrills, without blood...

I highly recommend that you read this script.

- Menace

ex. "INSERT - THE PREACHER'S LEFT HAND

Labled H-A-T-E in tattoo across four knuckles, it grips and flexes.

INSERT - HIS RIGHT HAND

Before we see the lettering he slides it into his pocket.

EXTREME CLOSE SHOT - PREACHER

His head slants; a cold smile; one eyelid flutters."

- A protagonist we continue to root for

ex. "CLOSE DOWNWARD TWO-SHOT - JOHN AND PEARL HARPER

They sit in the grass, a sentimental picture. JOHN is nine; PEARL is five. They are working togheter on PEARL's doll; PEARL is dressing her, while JOHN gets on a difficult shoe.

PEARL: Stand still, Miss Jenny!

JOHN (across her): There! What's so hard about that!

He proudly exhibits the shod foot.

They hear the sound of an auto engine O.S.  They look O.S.  and get up, PEARL dangling the doll."

- Upping the ante

ex. "CLOSE SHOT - RACHEL

She takes him in. He doesn't take her in."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Scripts of this era are more restrained, yet more fleshed out, than today's scripts.

I think the constrictions of this era are better for story, i.e., What do you do when there's no fast solution (guns, explosives, etc.)?

The Night of the Hunter (1955)
by James Agee
Based on a novel by Davis Grubb

Monday, December 21, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Conversation (1974) - Repetition of a Conversation = A Haunting

[Quick Summary: Surveillance expert thinks his recording of a private conversation might predict a murder.]

Here's how the story opens:
- Harry Caul is a surveillance expert who likes the chase of getting a recording.
- His job is to record and deliver. He doesn't pay attention to the substance of the conversation. 
- He gets a job following and recording a man and woman as they talk in a park. 
- Unfortunately, he can only record bits and pieces of that conversation.
- It's rather mundane lovers' talk.

Before he can deliver the recording to the client, others try to steal it.

Why would others want such a mundane recording?

These bits and pieces of conversation surface again and again at odd times.  The longer Harry has to wait to deliver the recording, the more it haunts him.

I know that repetition of a single conversation isn't an unusual technique.

However, I was intrigued how it is used here, like a ghost.

Harry usually ignored the substance of his recordings, but this time, he paid attention, and heard a few disturbing clues.

Now he can't get it out of his mind (haunting).  It causes him to takes action to verify the clues, make conclusions and assumptions.

In short, it drives him forward. (Perhaps it's an antagonist too?)

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I've never seen repetition of a conversation used like an impetus, i.e., something that drives the character forward.

The Conversation (1974)
by Francis Ford Coppola

Monday, December 14, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: Man Up (2015) - The Seven Rom-Com Beats

[Quick Summary: After being mistaken for his blind date, woman debates telling the guy the truth.]

Because:

a) Produced rom-coms are now rarer than hen's teeth,
b) This is a terrific read, and
c) Writer Tess Morris is a fan of Billy Mernit's Writing the Romantic Comedy (as am I), and used it while writing this script,

I decided to see if I could find those 7 rom-com beats.

(WARNING: I've tried to stay away from spoilers, but THERE ARE SOME.):

1) The Chemical Equation: Setup - Nancy is fun, but lacks fun in her life.

2) Cute Meet: Catalyst - Nancy runs off a train to return a book to a stranger, but meets the stranger's blind date, Jack, instead.

3) A Sexy Complication: Turning Point - They go to a restaurant where Jack reveals trust issues. Nancy likes him...should she tell the truth and perhaps lose him? (internal conflict)

4) The Hook: Midpoint - Jack finds out, is mad, but they need to return to the restaurant together.

5) Swivel: 2nd Turning Point - At the restaurant, they run into Jack's ex. Nancy helps Jack unload some emotional baggage.

6) The Dark Moment: Crisis Climax - Nancy and Jack argue over desires and part ways.

7) Joyful Defeat: Resolution - Nancy and Jack reunite.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I was pretty much able to find the beats without referring to the script.  For me, that's the hallmark of a well defined, clean structure.

Man Up (2014)
by Tess Morris

Monday, December 7, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Professional (1994) - Where Does Jeopardy Come From?

[Quick Summary: A hitman takes on an orphaned girl, and it changes their lives.]

My 3 thoughts:

1) I'm conflicted about this well crafted script. I liked it, but it unsettled me.

2) I was happy it is well told.  I was not happy with the age of girl (12).

3) I'd recommend reading it if you would like to see examples of characters in constant jeopardy, sometimes physical or emotional, but often both.

Jeopardy arises from the risks the characters take, and keeps the tension going.

In the scene below, Leon introduces Mathilda to his employer for the first time. She is unseasoned and giving her on-the-job training is a risk for everyone.

ex. "INT. TONY'S RESTAURANT - DAY

TONY is completely dumbfounded. He's sitting across from LEON and...Mathilda!
TONY can't believe his eyes or ears.
LEON is slightly embarrassed but stays calm.

LEON: As you can see, I took a hit...and I need a hand. She's young but...she learns fast, and...it's just a try...kids need to be shaped into something - right?

TONY (lost): Uh...yeah...I dunno...I guess...kids maybe, but not babies!

There's silence.

LEON (uneasy): She's eighteen...

TONY looks at MATHILDA doubtfully.

LEON: ...how about something to drink?

TONY (to Manolo): Manolo?! A glass of milk for Leon!

MATHILDA: ...two.

TONY turns and stares down MATHILDA.

MATHILDA (with a sweet smile): ...please.

MATHILDA's sweet face overwhelms TONY.

TONY (strongly): ...Manolo! Two glasses of milk!"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Is your character too safe? Bored? Make a risky move!

The Professional (1994) 
by Luc Besson