Monday, December 26, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) - Adaptions; Using P.A., Intercutting

[Quick Summary: When small town Mr. Deeds goes to the big city to accept his $20M inheritance, he experiences love and heartbreak.]

Two thoughts

1) Why are adaptions tricky? Here's what's required: 
It is one thing to read an appealing play, novel, or short story, and quite another to organize it properly a screenplay, opening it up and lengthening it (or shortening it), making the myriad choices of keeping a character here and deleting one there, adding a scene, incident, or crucial detail, writing appropriate dialogue where dialogue is necessary, and ending up with something that is whole and organic and also cinematic. Unfortunately, Hollywood history is full of examples of great works – short stories, novels, and prize-winning plays – ruined by clumsy adaption, or faithfully transcribed unto tedium. Intro, p. XXXV.
2) Robert Riskin was a master adapter.  What is one good piece of advice from him?

Limit the use of parallel action or intercutting between scenes:
Parallel action (if, in the use of it, we can be guided by a rule) should scarcely be used except in instances where the two actions are related to each other - story-wise, or where some social observation is being made via action. Intro, p. XXXV.
So when would it be appropriate to use parallel action or intercutting?

In the court scene below, witnesses are called to testify about Mr. Deeds' behavior.  The testimonies are all related, and also build a fuller picture together.

ex. "CLOSE SHOT IN WITNESS STAND
A policeman in uniform.

POLICEMAN: They kept hollering: "Back to Nature! Back to Nature!" I thought they looked harmless enough so I took them home. I never thought he was cracked.
                                                                                                 WIPE OFF TO:

CLOSE SHOT IN WITNESS STAND
The waiter at "Tullio's."

WAITER: I'm a waiter. He kept pressing me to point out the celebrities, and so help me Hannah I'm coming out of the kitchen a coupla minutes later and there he is moppin' up the floors with them. I never figured he was a guy looking for trouble.
                                                                                                WIPE OFF TO:

CLOSE SHOT IN WITNESS STAND
Mme. Pomponi.

MME. POMPONI: (expostulating) He threw us out bodily! but bodily!
                                                                                                WIPE OFF TO:

MED. CLOSE SHOT IN WITNESS STAND
Of one of the bodyguards on witness stand.

BODYGUARD: We hired as his bodyguard, see? Well, the irst crack out of the box, he throws us in a room and locks the door, see? Now, if a thing like that gets around in our profession, we'd get the bird - see? So I says to my partner, "Let's quit this guy, he's nuts!"
                                                                                                  WIPE OFF TO:

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Riskin pointed out to me that parallel action is a grouping of two (or more) related actions.  Grouping! Never thought of that before.

It's a repetitive rhythm, and may affect how your script "feels." 

It's similar to a repeated note in music, and should be used with care. 

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
by Robert Riskin
Adapted from the story by Clarence Budington Kelland

Monday, December 19, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: American Madness (1932) - Showing an Abstract Concept Like "Faith"

[Quick Summary: Three intertwined stories: A bank president fends off a merger; his bank manager faces a murder charge of the night watchman; and thieves steal $100k which starts a run on the bank.]

The original title of this script was "Faith," as in "faith in one's fellow man."

I really enjoyed the script because it is an excellent example of showing an abstract concept without talking about it.

Two helpful hints:

1) It's easier if the characters' problems are very personal and in close proximity.

ex. Matt is loyal to Mr. Dickson, who gave Matt a bank job.  Last night, Matt suspected Mrs. Dickson of getting in trouble and went to stop her.

Matt is now accused with of shooting the night guard. He can't tell the truth, otherwise Mr. Dickson will find out about Mrs. Dickson.

Mr. Dickson cannot understand why his loyal employee won't tell the truth.

2) Make sure the character earns the virtue. 

It may help to pinpoint the end concept and engineering backwards from that point.

Here, we want to show faith (Act 3), so we start the script with the opposite (Act 1 temptations to believe the worst), and test our characters (Act 2).

In this example, we will see a testing (Act 2) with very personal, immediate problems:

ex. "DICKSON: (to Inspector) Wait a minute. Wait a minute. (to Matt) Matt, do you realize you're up against something? You're being charged with murder. It's serious, son. Now com on. I know you didn't do it. (gestures toward Inspector) But we've got to make them believe it. Come on, tell the truth, where were you last night?

MATT: (doggedly) I can't tell you.

Matt maintains a determined silence.

DICKSON: (getting an idea) Listen, if I get them out of the room, will you tell me?

Matt looks at him. Dickson is the only person he cannot tell  his secret to.

MATT: No. I won't.

DICKSON: You're protecting somebody.

MATT: No. I'm not Mr. Dickson!

DICKSON: Yes, you are. You're protecting somebody Now listen, it doesn't make any difference who it is. It can't be as important as this. Now come on, tell me. Where were you last night? (a note of desperation) Come on, don't be a fool. Matt, you trust me, don't you?

No reply from Matt. Dickson is heartsick. He turns, helplessly, away from Matt and walks out of Sampson's office."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: "Show, don't tell" is especially true for abstract concepts.

The easiest way to lose an audience is to talk and talk about the concept.

American Madness (1932)
by Robert Riskin

Monday, December 12, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Platinum Blonde (1931) - Wisecracks & Minor Characters

[Quick Summary: A newspaper man impulsively marries his wrong match, a socialite.]
-----------------------------------------------------------------
I'm embarrassed that I didn't know how important Robert Riskin was.

(I'd even read one of his scripts!)

To rectify this, I'm making my way through this book. The intro is a hoot.*
------------------------------------------------------------------
Platinum Blonde was Riskin's first film with Frank Capra.

The script went through several different hands, so it's uneven in some places.

However, the dialogue (Riskin's work) shines.

Though this is still early in his career, you can see how he's developing his two trademarks: wisecracks and great minor characters.

Note in the scene below:
- Wisecracks often utilize irony, wit, and stinging observations.
- Grayson is a minor character, but has all the punch lines.

ex. "INT. SCHUYLER DRAWING ROOM - NIGHT
MEDIUM SHOT
Anne in a stunning evening dress is seated, a cocktail in one hand, cigarette in the other. Dexter Grayson, in evening clothes, is standing before her.

GRAYSON: Where were you yesterday?

CLOSE SHOT - ANNE
She has a far-away, speculative look in her eyes.

ANNE: Oh, Stew and I went for a long ride. (Dreamily) Dexter, is there any finishing school we can send him to?

CLOSE SHOT - GRAYSON
GRAYSON: (witheringly) Yes - Sing Sing.

Anne. She ignores this crack.

ANNE: Just the same, he's going to be a different person when I get through with him.

Grayson. He is looking at her, deeply disturbed.

GRAYSON: When you get through with him?

DOUBLE SHOT

ANNE: Yes, it'll be a very interesting experiment.

GRAYSON: (sneering) To make a gentleman out of a tramp?

ANNE: Exactly.

GRAYSON: Now, Anne, you remember how much it cost to get rid of that baseball player?

ANNE: You don't seem to understand that this one's different. He has brains.

MED. CLOSE SHOT
Grayson seats himself beside her on the divan.

GRAYSON: (fervently) But what about me, Anne?

She looks at him coldly with almost an expression of dislike.

ANNE: You? Oh, don't go serious on me, Dexter."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Wisecracks and minor characters alone are not useful.  Wisecracks and minor characters in service of the scene's purpose are very helpful.

In this scene, they point out Anne's delusions of grandeur for humble Stew.

Platinum Blonde (1931)
Dialogue by Robert Riskin
Story by Harry Chandlee and Douglas W. Churchill
Adaption by Jo Swerling
Continuity by Dorothy Howell

*I laughed while reading a purported account about Riskin's first meeting with Frank Capra. In short,  Riskin tells Capra, "You don't want to adapt that play!"  ...and it's Riskin's play! (Apparently, Riskin was right because the film was not good.)

Monday, December 5, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Playback (Raymond Chandler's Unknown Thriller) - Danger Looms

[Quick Summary: Woman on the run meets a charming man on a train to Canada, but becomes suspect #1 when he ends up dead.]

In 1948, Universal Pictures paid Chandler for this script, but never made it.*

It isn't the strongest script (for several reasons in the forward here).

However, I liked that the script knows exactly what it is, i.e., it is a thriller, and delivers the hallmarks of a thriller.

One hallmark is that danger looms for someone (usually the protagonist).

Chandler does a nice job of never letting it fade, even in a flirting scene:

ex. "MITCHELL: (to Betty) Would you care to see the Seattle paper?

Betty turns slowly, stares at him.

BETTY: No thanks. I've seen Seattle.
MITCHELL: My name's Larry MItchell. I live at Vancouver.

Betty says nothing.

MITCHELL: Same as an hour ago. Remember? I'm the steady type.
BETTY: (coldly) I'm afraid there's nothing I can do about it, Mr. Mitchell.

CAMERA NOW HAS MOVED IN CLOSE ENOUGH TO EXCLUDE THE OTHER ROOMETTES COMPLETELY.

MITCHELL: You could tell me your name. And where you're going.
BETTY: How far does this train go?
MITCHELL: Vancouver, B.C.
BETTY: I'm going to Vancouver, Mr. Mitchell.

She picks up a magazine adn opens it, ignoring him.

MITCHELL: O.K. Be rugged.

He turns, starts out, then looks back at her.

MITCHELL: You're next for the Immigration and Customs. I trust your papers are all in order.

Betty looks up quickly and cannot conceal a startled expression. Mitchell reacts. CAMERA PULLS BACK as he comes out into corridor, looks toward the roomette in which the officals are, then turns toward the next roomette and goes into it....

Canadian officials then go on to Betty's roomette, enter.

CANADIAN IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL: Your name, please.
BETTY: Betty -- Mayfield.

There is a perceptible hesitation which the immigration official notices.

OFFICIAL: Betty Mayfield. Miss or Mrs.?

Mitchell is seen in his roomette, standing near the door listening.

BETTY: Miss Mayfield.
OFFICIAL: And where were you born, Miss Mayfield?
BETTY: New York City.

The official is a little suspicious. He looks down at Betty's hands which are clasped in her lap.

OFFICIAL: I see you are wearing a wedding ring.
BETTY: I've been married. My husband -- (she breaks off and bites her lip)
INSPECTOR: Then I take it Mayfield was not your married name?

He is very polite, but is building up to asking for some identification papers. On this cue, Mitchell comes out of his roomette, crosses, enters Betty's roomette. CAMERA MOVES IN.

MITCHELL: I've wired ahead to --

He breaks off, turns to Inspector, recognizes him.

MITCHELL: Inspector Gillette, isn't it? I'm Larry Mitchell. We've met before, several times.

He takes out wallet adn holds it out to Inspector.

MITCHELL: I cross the border so often I carry an identification card.
INSPECTOR: (glancing at card) Yes, I remember you, Mr. Mitchell. (glancing at Betty) You know this lady?
MITCHELL: Very well. Since 1940, at least. I met her --let me see -- it was New York City, wasn't it, Betty?

Betty nods silently. Inspector turns back to her, handing Mitchell's wallet back.

INSPECTOR: (to Betty) How long do you expect to be in Canada, Miss Mayfield?
BETTY: Oh -- a month.
INSPECTOR: (making up his mind): Thank you. I hope you have a pleasant trip.

He turns away, starts out."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Thrillers are about keeping the tension cranking, even in the funny/romantic/quiet scenes.

Playback (Raymond Chandler's Unknown Thriller, published 1985)
by Raymond Chandler

*It was essentially "lost" until someone discovered it in the Universal archives in the 1980s.

Monday, November 28, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Candidate (1972) - Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts

[Quick Summary: A CA legal aid attorney attempts a senatorial campaign to talk about issues, knowing very well that he'll probably lose against the incumbent.]

Before tv was commonly used to shape public opinion in campaigns...

Before there was campaign finance (1972) and this film...

A journalist named Jeremy Larner was the speechwriter for McCarthy (1968).  He wrote a book,* and this prescient script.

In this film, Robert Redford plays an attorney who wants to talk about issues...except no one else does. His campaign staff wants photo ops (that tell half the story).  The media want sound bites (that sound better than his real responses).

He is worn down little by little, like a death by a thousand paper cuts.

I loved how we do not notice the candidate's gradual slide at first.

The writer creates situations where small compromises are required...and another...and another. Soon, the candidate is in a pit and doesn't know how.**

Here is one such innocent "paper cut":

ex."INT. McKAY HOUSE.

McKay comes in the front door and stops short. Photographer's lights are set up on a stand. Two men stand there.

McKAY: What you doing in my house?
WRITER: I'm having an affair with your wife.
McKAY: Huh?
WRITER: She said if you came in I should say I was a writer from Parade, but you don't believe that.

Nancy emerges from bedroom in riding pants, with crop and felt riding helmet.

NANCY: Oh Bill, this is Mr. Shearer, Bill, and this is Mr. Scott.
McKAY: (shaking hands) From Parade.
WRITER: I trust this is the beginning of a life-long affinity.
McKAY: It's the beginning of something, anyhow. Can you excuse us a minute, gentlemen?
WRITER: Certainly, certainly.

McKay and Nancy step to the side.

McKAY: What's going on?
NANCY: They want to photograph me riding.
McKAY: You haven't worn that stuff in years.
NANCY: You haven't worn that dark suit in years.

McKay starts to walk away, turns back to her.

McKAY: Just not in the house, Nancy. Get those guys out of the house.
NANCY: I was doing it for you.

Nancy starts to cry, turns away, walks back into the kitchen....

McKay follows her into the kitchen - takes her loosely in his arms, comforts her awkwardly. We can see by the way he touches her he is irritated and put off."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: These small compromises really do add up.

The beauty is that they seem so inconsequential at the time...until we pull back to see the big picture 

The Candidate (1972)
by Jeremy Larner

*Nobody Knows: Reflections on the McCarthy Campaign of 1968 (1970)

** It's like a frog in a pot.  It doesn't notice the water is getting warmer, nor when it boils to death.

Monday, November 21, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Arthur (1981) - Zingers Can Clue Into Something Deeper

[Quick Summary: A young drunkard must marry his "family approved" fiancee in order to keep his fortune, but then he falls in love with a poor actress.]

Awhile ago, my interest was piqued after reading this:
...whenever I begin writing a screenplay I always reread one of his. It’s called ARTHUR.
I went looking for any script by Steve Gordon, and/or an Arthur final script.

I found the former,* but couldn't find the latter...until now.

Arthur is the funniest, sharpest, cleverest comedy script that I've read in forever.

What sets it apart? The funniest lines aren't just jokes for a sound bite.  The zingers point to character stuff - pain, loss, humor, loneliness - i.e., clues to something deeper.

Below is our first introduction to Arthur.  Note the funny reactions of the minor characters (Bitterman and Girl) clue us in that something deeper stirs.

ex. "One of the girls approaches the car. In the front seat, the driver in full chauffeur's dress stares straight ahead.  This is BITTERMAN, a black man in his forties. The back seat of the limo has a bar, TV set, a refrigerator and almost every device known for mixing a drink. The girl is GLORIA.

GLORIA: What did you have in mind?

ARTHUR: VD! I'm really into penicillin! (he laughs) Now...that's funny!

Gloria stares at him.

ARTHUR:  I know this is last minute. (he laughs) Ahh ...I finally heard someone laughing. Oh...it was me. What I have in mind...is spending the evening with a stranger who loves me.

GLORIA: It's going to cost you a hundred dollars.

ARTHUR: Oh yeah ...what time do you get off work? (he laughs) I'm kidding. If you laugh a little I throw in nylons and Hershey bars. Let's make it two hundred. But I will ask you to Simonize my car.

Gloria stares at him.

ARTHUR: (looking at her staring) Tell me ...has there been a death in your family? This is funny stuff here.

GLORIA: Who are you?

ARTHUR: I'm rich. That's who I am. Get in the car.

[Gloria gets in.] Arthur pushes a button to talk to the driver.

ARTHUR: (to Bitterman) Bitterman, give her friend a hundred dollars. She came in second.

Bitterman gets out of the car. He approaches the other hooker and gives her a hundred dollars.

GIRL: (to Bitterman) Who is that guy?

BITTERMAN: I'd rather not say.

GIRL: I think I know. I've seen his picture in the paper. That's Arthur Bach...isn't it?

BITTERMAN: Uh...what if it is?

GIRL: Is there something wrong with him?

BITTERMAN: Yes."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I read somewhere that Gordon packed "more jokes per page than anyone else."  Now I realize they're not just jokes, but clues pointing us to deeper character stuff.

Arthur (1981)
Written and directed by Steve Gordon

*I was lucky enough to see the special collection mentioned in that blog post.  It is phenomenal, and includes an early draft of Arthur, as well as scripts from The Practice (1976-77) with Danny Thomas.

Monday, November 14, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: On Golden Pond (1981) - Not Over Explaining a Mean Character

[Quick Summary: A crotchety old dad and sweet mom arrive at their summer home, and become hosts to the teen age son of their daughter's boyfriend.]

I am not interested in mean characters who are only mean in order to get their way.

I am not interested in those types of "one note" characters.

They are predictable, boring, and worst of all, unrealistic.

However, I am interested in characters who are acting mean (either consciously or unconsciously) for complicated reasons:

In this script, Norman (Henry Fonda) is a sour and indignant grouch. He's got a critical tongue, borne with humor by his very nice wife (Katherine Hepburn).
 
Norman is mad that he might be losing his senility. He also doesn't express his feelings well, which has estranged him from his daughter (Jane Fonda).

I loved that the writer did not try to over explain Norman's motives to the readers.* 

Why does he flare out at his wife? Why is he mean, then nice to young Billy?

I am not 100% sure.  He is a messy, and very realistic, person.

In the scene below, note how fast happy turns sour (quick emotional turns):

ex. "He tries on more hats, one of which he'll wear for the rest of the scene.

ETHEL: My father got him for me on my fourth birthday. I wanted a red scooter, but my father said red scooters were excessive and contrary to the ways of the Lord. He told me I'd understand when I got older. Well, I'm a lot older now and I'm afraid I still don't understand. But he gave me Elmer [a doll]. And Elmer and I, the times we've had. He was my first true love, you know.

NORMAN: I've known all along I wasn't the first in line.

ETHEL: No, you were a rather cheap substitute for my darling Elmer. And now he's had a fall, poor dear.

NORMAN: Maybe he was trying to kill himself. Maybe he wants to be cremated. Probably got cancer or termites or something.

ETHEL: Are you hungry, darling?

NORMAN: No. It wouldn't be a bad way to go, huh? A quick front flip off the mantel, a bit of a kick at the last minute, and end up right in the fire. Nothing to it.

ETHEL: Shut up, Norman!

NORMAN: When my number's up, do that for me, would you? Prop me up on the mantel adn point out which way is down. I may even try for a full gainer with a half twist.

ETHEL: Norman Thayer, will you shut up? Your fascination with dying is beginning to frazzle my good humor.

NORMAN: It's not a fascination. It just crosses my mind now and then.

ETHEL: Every five minutes. Don't you have anything else to think about?

NORMAN: Nothing quite as interesting.

ETHEL: Well, what's stopping you? Why don't you take your dive and get it over with? See what it's like?

NORMAN: And leave you alone with Elmer? You must be mad.

ETHEL: Oh, for pity's sake. Come along with me and let's get the canoe off the porch."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  Lay out the truth, but don't over explain the character.

On Golden Pond (1981)
by Ernest Thompson (based on his play)

*In today's scripts, I do not like the trend of over justifying or over explaining what a character does or does not do.

[Similarly:  There can't be loose ends.  Everything must have a concrete answer.] 

This isn't realistic! Life is messy, and you don't always get answers.

Monday, November 7, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Sounder (1972) - Showing Emotional Growth

[Quick Summary: In the 1930s, a young Louisiana black boy grows up with a desire to learn, despite set-backs, on his family's share-cropping farm.]

I've read a lot of scripts in my day.  Good ones. Great ones. Bad ones.

This makes me suspicious of any hard sell,* so I won't try any on you.

However, I will say that there's a lost art in these "Best American" scripts, of which Sounder is one.

Ebert says it best:
The story is so simple because it involves, not so much what people do, but how they change and grow. Not a lot happens on the action level, but there's tremendous psychological movement in "Sounder," and hardly ever do movies create characters who are so full and real, and relationships that are so loving. [my emphasis]
Today's scripts seem to rely on empty action gimmicks: "More set pieces! More explosions! Flashy!"  Too often, I remember the gimmicks and none of the story.

The art of Sounder is that it does have action, but it serves (and not overshadows) the emotional growth.

In the scene below, note:

- There's not much action-y stuff, but it's an important emotional turning point.

- The writer chose images that best conveys how we feel in this heavy moment (sheriff avoids eye contact, kids crying, husband and wife eye-to-eye, saying a silent good-bye, etc.):

ex.  "The sound of the truck is heard moving up close to the house and stopping. Rebecca moves away from Josie Mae and Earl, and stops directly in the face of Sheriff Young.

REBECCA: You been knowin' Nathan for a long time, Sheriff Young, and you now what kind of man he is, and you know the trouble we face in these off-seasons.

The sheriff cannot look her in the face - he walks away from her and everyone, and just looks out over the fields - then finally he motions with his hand to the two deputies, standing at Nathan's side to put him into the truck. They lift him up into the truck as Josie Mae, standing up on the porch with Earl, starts to cry softly as Rebecca moves to the edge of the vehicle, real close to Nathan's face. She kisses him lightly on the mouth, and then they just look on each other for awhile, in a way they knew and loved each other so well. Then in a physical, tough manner, Rebecca turns away and walks up on the porch with Josie Mae and Earl.... [Note her emotional maturity here.]

The truck starts to pull away - David lets go of his grip on Sounder, and makes a dash out into the road.  [Contrasted to David's immaturity here.]

DAVID LEE: Don't take my Daddy! Please don't take my Daddy!

REBECCA: David, come back here!"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: One way to show emotional growth:

- First, writing an emotionally laden scene with a fork in the road (as above).
- Then in the NEXT scene, it will be natural for David Lee to build upon it (maturing), or refuse to do so (tragedy).

Sounder (1972)
by Lonne Elder III
Based on the Newbery medal winning novel by William H. Armstrong

* For more explanation, read this screenwriter's tiprant on a newbie who was "very, very, very enthusiastic" about his script and selling hard.

Also, it reminds us that relationships are everything, and explains why bragging too hard about your script might damage them: "This might be a great script but the prospect of dealing with you is nauseating."

Monday, October 31, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Bonnie & Clyde (1967) - How Relationships Deepen Characters

[Quick Summary: In the 1930s, Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow, and their gang rob banks and leave a trail of frightened locals.]

This script is unusual:

- It is a character study.
- It has a female co-lead.
- It still is discussed, thought it was released 51 years ago.
- It still is a script that I would buy today.
- It still is better than 90% of the scripts that I see today.

So, you may ask, "What makes this script stand out?"

For me, it is the unusual focus on character relationships, even with minor ones, that give the audience a fuller picture of what drives Bonnie and/or Clyde.

[This is a great contrast to many of today's scripts which are so, so focused on plot because that's what you can put in the trailers.*  Too much plot = I get bored.]

ex. Clyde could be a stock character, but how he handles relationships deepens him. 

In the scene below, Buck and his wife Blanche are driving to meet Clyde.  What kind of robber stirs up this kind of joy?  Is he really that bad?

"BLANCHE: All right, now you did foolish things as a young man, honey-love, but you went and paid your debt to society and that was right. But now you just gettin' back in with the criminal element.

BUCK: Criminal element! This is my brother, darlin'. Shoot, he ain't no more criminal than you are, Blanche.

BLANCHE: Well, that ain't what I heard.

BUCK: Now word of mouth just don't go, darlin', you gotta have the facts. Shoot. Why he and me growed up together, slept and worked side by side. (laughing). God, what a boy he was!

BLANCHE: He's a crook.

BUCK: (chidingly) Now you stop bad mouthin' him, Blanche. We're just gonna have us a little family visit for a few weeks and then we'll go back to Dallas and I'll get me a ob somewheres. I just ain't gonna work in your Daddy's church - That's final. (laughing it off, singing)....

EXT. CABIN. The front of the motel. Day.

Buck's car drives up to the cabin, honking the horn wildly. The door of the cabin opens and Clyde comes running out. He is overjoyed to see his brother. Buck jumps out of the car, equally delighted. They hug each other.

CLYDE: (hugging him) Buck!
BUCK: Clyde! You son of a bitch!

They laugh happily and begin sparring with each other, faking punches and blocking punches - an old childhood ritual. There is a great feeling of warmth between the two brothers. Clyde is more outgoing than we have ever seen him before."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Relationships can present hidden sides of a character. They can also change our opinion of him/her.

Bonnie & Clyde (1967)
by David Newman & Robert Benton

* Here's the trailer for this film. Note the focus on the relationships.

Monday, October 24, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Rebel Without a Cause (1955) - "Boxing In" Characters; Subtext

[Quick Summary: After a troubled teen moves to a new town, he's challenged to a drag race and everything quickly spirals out of control.]

I am impressed by this script.

Apparently, writer Stewart Stern had a reputation for the "psychological depth of his screen-writing."*  I can now attest that he deserved it.

I like how Stern "boxes in" characters to bring forth emotions, especially through subtext.

In the scene below:

a) Jim is at the police station waiting for his parents (boxed into a tense situation).

b) Father, Mother, and Grandma show up in evening clothes. [Grandma went with the parents on an evening out?!]  Grandma speaks all in subtext.
 
ex. "FATHER: ...You hear all this talk about not loving your kids enough. We give you lvoe and affection, don't we? (silence; Jim is fighting his emotion but his eyes grow wet). Then what is it? I can't even touch you anymore but you pull away. I want to understand you. Why'd you get drunk? You must have had a reason. (Jim stares straight ahead, trying not to listen). Was it because we went to that party? (silence). You know what kind of drunken brawls those parties turn into - it's no place for kids.

MOTHER: A minute ago you said you didn't care if he drinks.

GRANDMA: He said a little drink. [She contradicts mother in subtext.]

JIM (exploding): You're tearing me apart!

MOTHER: What?

JIM: Stop tearing me apart! you say one thing and he says another and then everybody changes back -  [The pent up anger from tensions at home explodes into the open.]

MOTHER: That's a fine way to behave!

GRANDMA (smiling): Well you know who he takes after!" [Her behavior adds fuel to the conflict.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Characters often have to be "boxed in" for those underlying emotions to erupt.  It helps to have a Grandma egg them on too.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
by Stewart Stern
Adaption by Irving Shulman
From a story by Nicholas Ray

*Also, he wrote the mini-series Sybil (1976).  Need I say more?

** In the 1950s, scripts often included a list the characters with a short description of their characteristics. This is the description of Grandma:

"JIM'S GRANDMA: A chic, domineering woman in her sixties who has made her son Frank dependent upon her for every breath he takes. She is the irritant in the household - the silent ruler - the silent enemy of Frank's marriage."

Monday, October 17, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Miracle on 34th Street (1947) - "Platinum Unicorn"; Multiple POV

[Quick Summary: The real Kris Kringle is hired to be Macy's Santa, but doubters try to get him institutionalized at a court hearing.]

I rarely stumble across a unicorn like this script.

I'd consider it "a unicorn" for any one of the following reasons: *

- It's a double Oscar winner for story AND script.
- It's an Oscar winning comedy.
- It's a strong ensemble comedy.
- It's a funny, fun, deep, four quadrant page turner that reads extremely fast.
- It's got it all: comedy, adventure, romance, suspense, heart, uplifting message.
- It's stood the test of time: a beloved, almost 60 yr. old film that's still shown.

One thing that sets this script apart is its creative use of the ensemble:

1) It isn't limited to one point of view, i.e., we are not always with the protagonist.

2) Despite multiple POVs, there is unity: They all are about Kris Kringle.
- ex. In chambers, the judge speaks to a supporter about the Kringle case.
- ex. In the post office, two postal workers talk about all the mail to the Kringle. 

3) Each point of view is chosen for a reason (reaction, counterpoint, etc.)

- ex. Kringle has been advising customers to go to other stores for hard-to-find toys.  Now we switch to Shellhammer's POV (the manager).

Why do we switch?
a) To show the reaction and effect of Kringle's actions.
b) AND amazingly enough, it also furthers the story.

"INT. SANTA CLAUS FLOOR - DAY

...KRIS'S VOICE: - oh yes we have skates and they're very good - (Shellhammer smiles) - but they're not quite what your boy wants - (Shellhammer frowns) - I'd suggest that you go to Gimbel's, they have exactly what you're looking for.

At the mention of Gimbel's, Shellhammer immediately goes into a state of shock. He stands rigid, dumbfounded - sending customers to their arch rival Gimbel is too much for the human mind to comprehend. He begins to tremble and mutter "Gimbel's" unbelievingly to himself. Now, as the full impact of it all hits him, he moves forward with murder in his heart.

ANGLE - DAIS. Kris and a woman in f.g. Shellhammer is seen coming around the corner of dais menacingly. Shellhammer is all set to commit Santacide but realizes it's impossible in front of so many witnesses. He stalks off, frustrated and angry.

ANGLE - Shellhammer walking - Trucking shot. He is still muttering "Gimbel's" to himself furiously. Now the character of the Mother (we have seen previously with Kris) stops him.

MOTHER: Pardon me, but the guard over there said I was to speak to you. You the head of the toy department?

SHELLHAMMER: (he hasn't got time) Yes madam, but at the moment I'm --

MOTHER: (going right in) I want to congratulate you and Macy's on this new stunt you're doin'. (Shellhammer looks puzzled) Imagine sending people to other stores - I - I don't get it. It's - it's -

SHELLHAMMER: (weakly) It certainly is.

MOTHER: You said it. To think that a big store like this puts the spirit of Christmas ahead of commercial - it's - it's wonderful I never done much shopping here but believe me from now on I'm a regular Macy customer!"
  
WHAT I'VE LEARNED: My whole day changed after reading this script. Amazing.

Also, I was never confused or lost, despite the multiple POVs.  I credit that to a strong unifying center, and well-chosen POVs.    

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Written and directed by George Seaton
Adapted from an original story by Valentine Davies

*Since this script is ALL of the below, I deem this a "platinum unicorn."

Monday, October 10, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Meet John Doe (1941) - The Push & Pull of an Angel and the Devil

[Quick Summary: A hobo is paid to pretend to be John Doe, a disgruntled citizen, and stirs up a media frenzy that he becomes more than he can handle.]

This script must've been a bear to craft.

How do you show internal moral conflict? Externalize it.

Here, the protagonist (John Doe) has both an angel (Colonel) and the devil (Ann).

Ann is a newspaper columnist who makes up a fictional citizen, John Doe, who everyone wants to meet. She hires a John, a hobo (and former minor league player).

You can see why John is torn between Ann vs. the Colonel:

A) John falls for Ann, and the newspaper offers surgery to repair his throwing arm:

ex.  "CONNELL: ...Now I want you to sign this agreement. It gives us an exclusive story under your name day by day from now until Christmas. On December twenty-sixth, you get one railroad ticket out of town, and the Bulletin agrees to pay to have your arm fixed. That's what you want, isn't it?

JOHN: Yeah, but it's got ot be by bone-setter Brown.

CONNELL: Okay, bone-setter Brown goes."

B) The Colonel is looking out for John's best interests:

ex. "JOHN: (as he goes) Hey, stop worrying, Colonel. Fifty bucks ain't going to ruin me.

COLONEL: I seen plenty of fellers start out with fifty bucks and wind up with a bank account!

BEANY: (can't stand it any more) Hey, whatsa matter with a bank account, anyway?

COLONEL: (ignoring him) And let me tell you, Long John. When you become a guy with a bank account, they got you. Yessir, they got you!

BEANY: Who's got him?

COLONEL: The heelots!"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I liked how the push and pull between Ann vs. the Colonel externalizes the battle inside John Doe.

Meet John Doe (1941)
by Robert Riskin
Based on the story by Richard Connell and Robert Presnell

Monday, October 3, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) - A Personal Toll

[Quick Summary: A schoolboy impulsively joins the army, and learns the harsh realities of WWI. ]

I don't like scripts that want to hammer home a "lesson" about war.

This script accomplishes the impressive feat showing the personal cost of war without preaching.  It doesn't hide that war is expensive, exhausting, and stark.

I like how the toll is seen even in the small moments. No guns or explosions needed.

(I do not like that this script is very long. Sigh.)

ex. "WESTHUS: (rising) I'd better get that strap fixed on my helmet.

He picks up a helmet. Detering rises, looks at him, then deliberately snatches the helmet out of his hand.

DETERING: What are you doing with that?
WESTHUS: Hey, what's the joke?
DETERING: Will you let my helmet alone?
WESTHUS:Whose helmet? That's mine!
DETERING: (pointing to another helmet) There's yours, with the broken strap!
WESTHUS: All right. Don't fight a war about it.
DETERING: You wanted to hand me the broken strap, that's all!
WESTHUS: (Drawing back his arm as if to strike) You're crazy!
DETERING: Let him alone, Jaie!

He strikes Westhus, who takes the blow without flinching, looks hard at Detering and fails to strike back. Paul and Kat drag Detering away from Westhus and set him down near the wall. He makes no resistance, and begins to sob.

WESTHUS: He's crazy.
DETERING: Well, what if I am?
KAT: (to Paul) What's the matter with him?
PAUL: (to Kat) He got a letter today. He wants to get back to his farm.
KAT: We'd all like to get back, if it comes to that.
DETERING: A woman can't run a farm alone. That's no good, you know -no matter how hard she works. Here's the harvest coming round again --

Detering suddenly gets up and goes out, unable to control himself."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: To get across a large concept ("war is hell") without preaching, look to the small moments to show the toll on the characters.

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
by Maxwell Anderson, George Abbott, and Del Andrews
Based on the book by Erich Maria Remarque


Monday, September 26, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) - Foreshadowing With Visual Gags (On the Cheap)

[Quick Summary: Bumbling King Arthur and his knights encounter silly obstacles while looking for the Holy Grail.]

As you may (or may not) know, this film was shot on a shoestring budget.

How do you get plenty of laughs on the cheap? Visual gags!

The Monty Python gang are among the best at devising the cleverest ones.

For example, see how they foreshadow by repeated use of triads:

ex. "They have ridden past the following signs, all in triplicate: --

CAMELOT 43      CERTAIN DEATH 1
CAMELOT 43      CERTAIN DEATH 1
CAMELOT 43      CERTAIN DEATH 1
[The audience wonders, "Why are there three? A mistake?"]

BEWARE    GO BACK    DEAD PEOPLE ONLY
BEWARE    GO BACK    DEAD PEOPLE ONLY
BEWARE    GO BACK    DEAD PEOPLE ONLY
[The audience sees three again.  Ok, not a mistake, but what is going on?]

EXT. GLADE. DAY.

They now pass three KNIGHTS impaled to a tree. With their feet off the ground, with one lance through the lot of them, they are skewered up like a barbecue.
[Is this the punchline?]

Then they pass three KNIGHTS sitting on the ground with one enormous axe through their skulls. They look timorous.
[Is THIS the punchline? No? What's going to happen next?]

SIR ROBIN rides on a little way with the music building up enormous and terrifying tension, until suddenly there standing before him is an enormous THREE-HEADED KNIGHT.

Large terrifying chord.
[We teeter on the tension.]

(Incidentally the three heads come out of one large body, specially built to accommodate three actors, although the KNIGHT has the usual complement of arm and legs. The THREE HEADS of the KNIGHT speak in unison.)"
[Release of tension. All the "threes" make sense and it's a huge laugh!]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The repeated use of a triad of items is funny, and sets up a subliminal expectation of a payoff.

Also, punchlines are often delivered on the third beat.  Here, it's on the fifth beat.  It works here, but might not always.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, & Michael Palin

Monday, September 19, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Night and the City (1992) - Improvisation & Editing in Dialogue

[Quick Summary: A fast talking lawyer wheels and deals his way into his dream job of being a boxing promoter.]

This is the last script* in the three published screenplays of writer Richard Price.

I think Price has a great ear for snappy dialogue. 

I found his explanations very helpful (from the book's introduction):
I love writing about fast-talkers. I like wheeler-dealers. I love the art of the yackety-yak. I love that because what keeps me fresh as a writer is improvisation. I've got to create scenes in which my characters has got to improvise because then I have to improvise for him....
Good dialogue is not somebody's ability to write authentic speech as heard in real life....Good dialogue on the page is the illusion of reality. It's the essentialization of how people talk. You've got to know how to edit what people say without losing any of the spirit.
So the keys are: 1) Characters improvising, and 2) Editing.

Watch how Harry improvises in the moment, and how the words are edited for impact:

ex. The scene below is at an ATM machine. (My thoughts in italics.)

"Abruptly two male voices slide up on either side of Harry - young, menacing.

VOICE #1 (OS): Pull four hundred, bro. That's the daily max, right?
VOICE #2 (OS): Citi lets you pull five.
VOICE #1: Take out five.
[This Q & A is abbreviated, but realistic. Do you know what the limits are? I don't.]

The camera holds on Harry's hands, his card, the screen asking:

"What can I do for you?"
[Time for Harry to improvise.]

HARRY: (fingers paradiddling on the counter) Jesus Christ
(disguted) Here,
(drops the card on the counter) do it yourself, my secret number is 382741. Be my guest.
[Pretty bold move to confuse the robbers.]

VOICE #2 (OS): Just do it.

HARRY: (softly singing) Hey baby, won't cha take a chance...
[Singing is an odd response to such a stressful situation. Good improv.]

Harry pushes "balance information." All three wait, Harry humming.

Screen lights up:

BALANCE: $00.00
YOU OWE CHECKING PLUS $343.37.

HARRY: Know what I mean, chief?
[The visual carries the scene. No need to explain.]

Voices #1 and #2 sigh and hiss...

Harry's hands lay still on the counter as we hear the muggers exit.

Hands lay still for a beat longer. Silence. Then Harry starts humming "Let's Dance" again. He digs into his pockets with one hand and reaches for a deposit envelope with the other.

He stuffs a thousand in hundred dollar bills into the envelope.

We see Harry's face as he turns to the street, sticks out his tongue and licks the envelope shut. It's a gleeful, animated gesture of childish triumph."
[The payoff for the scam is that he wins against the robbers.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: When your dialogue drags, make your characters improvise.

Also, dialogue isn't realistic. It needs to be edited for the core of what people mean.

Night and the City (1992)(2nd draft dated 1985, revised w/ comments from Scorsese)
by Richard Price
Adapted from the novel by Gerald Kersh

*It is a 1985 second draft (includes comments from then-attached director Martin Scorsese), not the final 1991 shooting draft (for director Irwin Winkler.) I'm assuming Price liked the 1985 draft best.

Monday, September 12, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Sea of Love (1989) - When Others Want to Change Your Script; Character

[Quick Summary: Intense homicide cop falls for a female suspect who could be a serial killer.]

Novelist/screenwriter Richard Price understands show BUSINESS:
...You can pose and play the artist all you want, but if you're going in there you better have your Screenwriter's hat on, not your New York Novelist's hat. You're getting paid by them. It's their project. They've got to sell it in the morning. Now what I have to do is write stuff that I can live with and they can live with.
He gets the importance of COLLABORATION:
The whole point of this book for me is that as a screenwriter you are constantly surrendering your vision. And what I am saying now is that my vision, my role as an independent artist, ended with these drafts. Which is not to say that a lot of the stuff that was done after these drafts was not good and necessary....One thing to remember is that the only screenplays that don't get fiddled with are the screenplays that don't get made.
So what do you do when your show biz partners want to change your script?

Price faced this with Sea of Love.

His first pass (1987 draft) was deemed "unshootable."  (I liked this draft.)

The final 1988 draft included more for a female star, and a more typical Hollywood structure and ending. (I didn't like this draft since the tone changed.)

I understand why producers wanted changes, but it destroyed what I liked best.*

Yes, the script wanders a little, but Frank takes us on fascinating mini-adventures.

He's so much more than his job, and I wanted to see more of that side of him.
 
ex. "INT. REC ROOM

He opens his locker to hang up his sport jacket. On the inside of the door is a photo of a woman, ringed in red, with a diagonal slash across the face a la Ghostbusters. This is Denice.

Detective Gruber, much bigger than Frank, but soft and sad-looking, comes up to him.

GRUBER: Frank...

FRANK: Yo.

GRUBER: I don't want you calling us three in the morning anymore...You want to talk to Denice, you call her decent hours. (beat) Next time you call like that, it's you and me.

FRANK: (unintimidated) You and me?

GRUBER: Try me (Beat) and I want you to take down that picture of her (pointing to the cross-slashed portrait) I find it offensive.

FRANK: (holding his rage) You find it offensive?

Frank slams his locker and walks away, leaving Gruber standing alone, infuriated."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I have no easy answers, but wish the producers had kept it a character piece rather than insisting on a mystery format.

Sea of Love (1989)(draft from 1987)
by Richard Price

Sea of Love (1989)(final draft from 5/26/88) 

* "Part of my problem as a screenwriter is that I'm much more engaged by the moment, the veracity of any particular moment, than by what happens next. Think of a screenplay as a pyramid; you've got four characters on the bottom, you have two hours, and they all have to converge at the apex of the pyramid. Well, my problem perpetually is that my guys constantly wander and mosey on their way up, because there's something very interesting ten feet from the base, and there's something over here forty feet up from the base, and they might not ever get to the top of the pyramid except that I have to do it. My heart is in the moment." - Richard Price, p. xvi.

Monday, September 5, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Color of Money (1986) - Building a House (Structure) to Show Off the Furniture (Dialogue)

[Quick Summary: Old pool shark decides to mentor a young, unseasoned prodigy.]

I am flattened. Destroyed. Wrecked. Gutted.

Have you ever read something so great that it blew your hair back, and made you reach for the good bourbon, while muttering, "Why do I even try?"

THIS is that script.  [*cough* Oscar nominated script *cough cough*]

Some snot-nosed non-writer might sneer,"This script is mostly dialogue. Is that all writers do? That's easy."

Yes, it is mostly dialogue, and it looks easy.  But do not be deceived.

It is only because the writer* first built a sturdy house (structure) that the furniture (dialogue) could be showcased. 

The Setup: Wily Eddie wants to partner with trusting Vincent, who is unsure.  Eddie gets Carmen, Vincent's girlfriend, involved. Eddie then tells Vincent that Carmen is restless and dissatisfied.

The Payoff:  Note how the seeds of doubt sprout in the scene below.

It is especially clear when Carmen makes fun of Vincent, and he's embarrassed for doubting (see ** below).

ex. "Julian walks over to the bar. Vincent tears open the chips.

VINCENT: You see my girlfriend?
JULIAN: She went out.
VINCENT: Out where?
JULIAN: Hey, she's your girlfriend, man.

Carmen enters the room tapping a fresh pack of cigarettes against the back of her hand.

VINCENT: Everything OK?
CARMEN: (shrugs) Yeah.
VINCENT: Where'd you go?
CARMEN: I went to get cigs.
VINCENT: They see cigarettes here.
CARMEN: So I got 'em across the street, so what.
VINCENT: What, do you mean, you wanted to get some fresh air?
CARMEN: Fresh air? There's ninety thousand cars out there. (beat) What is your problem?
VINCENT: No problem... no problem.
CARMEN: (looking at him screwy) Glad to hear it.
VINCENT: I just didn't know where you went...I was looking for you.**
CARMEN: I'm gonna sit down now, OK?**
VINCENT: Great.
CARMEN: I might go to the bathroom in about ten, twenty minutes.
VINCENT: OK.
CARMEN: I'll come and tell you when, OK?
VINCENT: Hey...I just didn't know where you went... Let's not make a federal production out of it, OK?
CARMEN: OK.
VINCENT: Good.

Vincent returns to the empty table, screw the stick together and powers a monstrous break. He studies the spread. Can't concentrate. Puts down the stick and strides over to Eddie.

VINCENT: Let's do it.

CLOSE-UP - CARMEN

casually looking across the room to Eddie.

Eddie catches her glance, nods, looks away."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The better the writer, the more invisible the structure. Here, it's practically gossamer.

The Color of Money (1986)
by Richard Price
Adapted from the novel by Walter Tevis

* For all you sharp-eyed readers, this is the same Richard Price who co-created and co-wrote the recently acclaimed tv mini-series, "The Night Of" (2016), with Steven Zaillian.

Monday, August 29, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Blue Dahlia (1946) - A Character With Honor

[Quick Summary: A Navy lieutenant returns home, only to become a suspect in the death of his estranged wife.]

This is a good, but not great, script.

However, I think it's worth a read because:
1) Chandler wrote this script under unique strained circumstances and timeline;*
2) The protagonist has a code of honor, a frequent theme of Chandler heroes.

Johnny is our honorable hero and prime suspect here.

Since he's a suspect, wouldn't we expect him to pursue the murderer? Yes, but clearing his name is not the sole reason.

His honorable streak is seen in a variety of situations:

- When a friend is about to take the rap for Johnny, he flies into action.
- He does not spill secrets on Mrs. Harwood, even though it could've benefited him.
- In the scene below, he takes the responsibility of confronting his wife's lover.

ex. "INT. HARWOOD'S BEDROOM

As Harwood comes up to the bureau, Johnny following. Johnny leans in the doorway. Harwood goes to work on his tie again.

HARWOOD: If you had good sense, you'd be five hundred miles away. Half the cops in L.A. are looking for you.

JOHNNY: Only half?

HARWOOD: All I have to do is pick up the telephone - and you'd go out of here in handcuffs.

JOHNNY: Why don't you?

Harwood finishes tying his tie and turns.

HARWOOD: I guess I'm not that kind of rat.

JOHNNY: What kind of rat are you?

HARWOOD: Not a police informer anyway.

JOHNNY: Neither am I - so far.

HARWOOD: Whatever that means.

Harwood doesn't answer.

HARWOOD: You rate yourself a pretty tough boy, don't you?

JOHNNY: Tough enough to find out who killed my wife.

Harwood picks up his dinner jacket, starts to put it on.

HARWOOD: Everybody seems to think you killed her.

JOHNNY: Not quite everybody. I think you killed her.

HARWOOD: Don't be a dope. Just because I took Helen out a few times - and you put on that injured husband act...

JOHNNY: What would be a dope in your book?

HARWOOD (impatiently): A guy without sense enough to get out while he can - and hole up in some quiet place where they don't know you -

JOHNNY (cutting in on him): They don't know me here.

HARWOOD: They soon will.

JOHNNY: Go ahead. It's only a nickel call.

Harwood looks at him, puzzled. The doorbell rings in the living room. Neither man pays any attention to it."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: An honorable man isn't a goody-two shoes, but one who abides by his unwritten code. (Note to self: Define the code first.)

Also, I know morally ambiguous characters are popular these days, but an honorable character in a morally ambiguous situation is quite refreshing.

The Blue Dahlia (1946)
by Raymond Chandler

*Do not miss producer John Houseman's fascinating account (a star leaving for the war; a half done script; Chandler's heroic intoxication): Lost Fortnight, A Memoir

**For more: Afterword: Raymond Chandler and Hollywood, by Matthew J. Buccoli

Monday, August 22, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Blow Out (1966) - Challenging Script = Thinking Outside the Box

[Quick Summary: A swingin' 1960s London photographer thinks he may have photographed a murder in progress.]

I hate stale, lazy writing.

To stay fresh and sharp, I will occasionally pick a thought provoking, challenging, often thorny, script to read.*

This script meets all those criteria.

It was a game changer in 1966 (mostly for the graphic nudity), and captured the feel of 1960s London.  I think its themes of youth and ennui are still relevant.

So why is this script challenging?  Well, it has a thriller feel, but no firm solution. You can't read this for the format (paragraphs of action). People move around, but not much happens on the outside.

"Wait! We aren't supposed to do that!" you say.

Yes, and this is where the script requires you to work a little harder.

You have to suspend every thought of "What's the point?" and just go on the ride.

For example, I learned that the writers are not all that interest in plot (setups and payoffs).  They are interested in realism and a character wakening to an internal life.

They don't care about answers. They do want you to walk away feeling deeply.

ex.  "GIRL: I... I've come... I've come for the photographs.

Thomas eyes her curiously.

THOMAS: Well, how did you manage to find me?

The girl avoids his eyes.

GIRL: Do you live here?

THOMAS: Mmm....

Thomas switches on a few scattered lights, motions her to sit down, and switches on the record player. The music is a very slow guitar.

THOMAS: Drink?

She wanders about as if looking for something.

Without waiting for her to answer he pours two whiskeys, and turns in her direction with the glasses.

THOMAS: What's so important about my bloody pictures?

Camera follows Thomas as he goes up to her, now settled on the couch, to give her the glass. She holds him with her eyes.... Doesn't take the glass.

GIRL: That's my business.

Thomas puts her glass down. She gets up and stands stiffly opposite him. Both are obscured by an overhead beam. Close-up of Thomas, drinking and saying as if recollecting a pleasant memory:

THOMAS: The light was very beautiful in the park this morning. Those shots should be very good. Anyway, I need them.

Close-up of the girl, leaning against a cross-beam. She is tense, insisting...

GIRL: My private life's already in a mess. It would be a disaster if...

She moves away."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This script taught me that it's possible to move an audience, without things I expect (3 act format, answers neatly tied up, etc.) 

A new tools to use now!

Blow Out (1966)
by Michelangelo Antonioni & Tonino Guerra

* I like the superb blog Cinephilia and Beyond, which often points me to films and directors that I have not heard of before, and probably would not ordinarily find.


Monday, August 15, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Strip Search (2004) - Hypocrisy; Visual Irony

[Quick Summary: Several stories, in 2 parts.  After 9/11, the same line of questioning is used for 2 interrogations in 2 countries.  One is "acceptable," the other is not.]

This script made me uncomfortable, and it should.

If I had to summarize the theme, it would be "Hypocrisy: You can dish it out, but you can't take it."

In one story, the writer uses parallel situations in the US and in China: 

- When the US gov't questions and humiliates a character born in another country, it seems acceptable.

- But when China questions and humiliates a US character - with the exact same questions, tone, actions, etc. - it is unacceptable.

This is not a "feel good" or (apparently) popular film. But it is thought provoking.

(I wonder if it would have been different if it was a satire?)

I found that mere juxtaposition of the same dialogue for the US scenes and then the China scenes allows the audience to put 2+2 = Hypocrisy.

Also, the writer then added this scene as a summary of our attitude today. Note the visual irony of the last line:

ex. "EXT. BATTERY PARK/MANHATTAN - DAY

MCGRATH buys hot dog from VENDOR, as JOHN SCANLON, newspaper reporter, calls to him.

SCANLON: Yo, Ned --

MCGRATH turns, sees SCANLON, groans.

SCANLON (cont.): I hear you fellows made a bust today, arrested some terrorist.

MCGRATH: Who told you that?

SCANLON: I never reveal my sources. This terrorist --

MCGRATH (bites into hot dog): I don't know what you're talking about

SCANLON: Ned, come on --

MCGRATH: We haven't arrested anyone, that's the truth.

SCANLON: Are you holding anyone? Questioning anyone? Sticking a hot poker up some poor towel-head's ass?

MCGRATH (eats): No comment.

SCANLON: At least give me the schmuck's name --

MCGRATH: No comment. (eats) You know the way these "schmucks" manipulate the judicial system -- and the media -- to their advantage.

SCANLON: My editor's been biting off my dick. Tell me something --

MCGRATH: You give me your source, I'll see what I can do.

SCANLON shakes his head, frustrated.

SCANLON: Ned, come on, this is me. We've always helped each other out. I spin for you, you spin for me. Remember in Kazakhstan --

MCGRATH (finishes hot dog): Ancient history, pal, back before the flood.

MCGRATH tosses napkin into trash can, goes. On SCANLON, looking up at where the World Trade Center used to be...

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I need to be more aware of how the juxtaposition of scenes (A, B, C) build on one another (A+B+C) to equal (= D) what I want the audience to conclude.

Strip Search (2004)(final draft; dated April 24, 2003)*
by Tom Fontana

*This was a tv movie on HBO, directed by Sidney Lumet.

Monday, August 8, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Night Falls on Manhattan (1996) - Dealing With Moral Grey Areas

[Quick Summary: A new assistant D.A. is about to win a big case in which his father, a narcotics cop, is wounded while apprehending a dope dealer, but it all falls apart.]

Recently, I saw a comment on Twitter that the increased online outrage over films was because audiences today do not know how to deal with negative emotions.

This thought intrigued me.

How do we write stories that deal with negative emotions? Grey areas?

Can't we just have happy, happy stories? (NO. It's unrealistic, and worse, it's boring.)

For me, Sidney Lumet was a master of delving into moral grey areas. 

He didn't shy away from taking you through the fire and seeing the bleakest of human behavior, yet his films always ended on a hopeful note.

This script is exceptionally grey, complicated, and human.

I think there are two keys to this script:

1) Everyone is shown with BOTH heroic and selfish traits.
2) No one can escape the tough decision(s).  Good men do the wrong thing for the right reasons.

ex. "MORGENSTERN: Sean, when we capture Jordan, and we will, he's going to be tried. It's the easiest case this office will ever have. He left one empty gun behind. His prints are on it. And I'll bet you whatever you want ballistics to find bullets in one of those four cops that came from that gun. He's the worst dope dealer in Harlem, a murderer of his own people, a monster. As I said: easiest case to ever come in this office. I hope they get him alive. Because I want him put on trial by this office. And you know who the prosecutor is gonna be?

Elihu smiles.

MORGENSTERN (cont): You, Sean. You're gonna try him.

Elihu's smile freezes on his face. Sean looks pole-axed.

MORGENSTERN (cont): That's right. You Sean. (to Elihu) You're looking at me like I'm crazy.

ELIHU: Well - Morgy - with apologies to you, Sean - Morgy, it's a giant case. Sean has never tried anything this close to this, in size, in importance.

SEAN: Mr. Morgenstern -

Morgy starts to cut in.

SEAN (cont): Morgy - Mr. Harrison's right. I'm too inexperienced - A mistake could -

MORGENSTERN: There's no problem here. My son would win this case and he's not out of high school. And he's stupid. This case is not complicated....

He eases Sean out of the room, crosses to his desk, pops a pill. Elihu is sitting in stoney silence.

ELIHU: Why are you doing this?

MORGENSTERN: He's at the top of the class. It's a simple case. I got a feeling about him.

ELIHU (after a pause): You mean it?

MORGENSTERN: You bet your goy ass I do.

ELIHU: You realize I'll have to resign.

MORGENSTERN: So, resign.

ELIHU: Morgy, I'm senior trial counsel. Turning this over to anybody but me is an insult that's incredibly damaging to me.  To my career. But to turn it over to an ADA with eight months experience is more than insulting. It's shocking, humiliating. It's unacceptable.

MORGENSTERN: Listen to me, you prick. You think I don't know what's going on? The walls have ears, my friend. Those planted stories in the papers? Morgenstern is old, Morgenstern's got heart problems, Morgenstern's lost his touch. That's your work, Eli. You and that goddamn PR firm you hired. You though I didn't know? I got lots of friends, Eli. People owe me."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: 

Night Falls on Manhattan (1996)
Based on the book by Robert Daley, "Tainted Evidence"

Monday, August 1, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Running on Empty (1988) - Specificity: Helping Others Read Between the Lines

[Quick Summary: After years on the run with his parents, Danny, a talented pianist, applies to Julliard, which starts a chain of painful and freeing events.]

How do you get an audience to "read between the lines"?

How do you explain things to readers without TELLING them?

Perhaps one clue comes from Rogert Ebert, who gave this film four stars, wrote:
Lumet is one of the best directors at work today, and his skill here is in the way he takes a melodramatic plot and makes it real by making it specific.
Hmmm...specific? What does that mean?

This script is very specific, and I think that is why it's such a great read.

I noticed that the scenes have a specific intention, a specific purpose to accomplish.

Each character also has a specific intention, which often conflicts with others.

The more specific the movement or words, the more unspoken implications are understood.

EXAMPLE #1:
- The scene intention: To show the family moves often.
- Character intentions: The boys express sadness. Mom comforts, yet is realistic.

"INT. CHEAP MOTEL ROOM

The two boys from the earlier scene are lying on the motel bed watching the news. The woman is seated next to them on the bed. She's taking pins out of her hair.

HARRY (seeing the dog): There's Jomo.

WOMAN: You two get out of your jeans and into bed.

No one makes a move.

HARRY (still talking about the dog): What's gonna happen to her?

WOMAN: Someone will take her home.

Harry doesn't appear convinced.

HARRY: We never had to leave her before.

WOMAN: I'm sorry, kid."

EXAMPLE #2:
- The scene intention: To show Annie/Mom has past feelings for visitor Gus.
- Character intentions: Annie tries to maintain normalcy. Gus drags up romantic feelings.

"INT. POPE LIVING ROOM - NIGHT

Gus and Annie sit on the floor with coffee mugs. Annie leans against the foot of the couch. Gus rolls a joint.

GUS: You haven't changed a bit, Annie.

ANNIE: We better keep to discipline. It's Cynthia. (she's silent a moment) I've changed. (but she's not going to tell him about it) Under this Miss Clairol is a grey bush.

GUS (he's not to be so easily deflected): I look at you and I see you standing on the corner of Michigan Avenue in a Mexican blouse and big silver earrings.

ANNIE: That was a long time ago.

GUS: How's Artie?

This question has many levels. She knows it and answers ambiguously.

ANNIE: He's okay. He did some work in Florida on a toxic waste dump. Here he organized a food co-op. And he's trying to get his restaurant to unionize.

He didn't mean this.

GUS: How are you and Artie?

She answers this the same way.

ANNIE: We're okay. It's hard.

GUS: I think about you.

ANNIE: I think about you. (now she qualifies it) I hope you're safe.

GUS (looking around): How do you manage this? Kids. A house. A regular life.

ANNIE: I'm a good liar.

She puts down her cup and stretches out on the floor. He watches her.

ANNIE: God, I'm tired.

GUS: Here. Give me your feet."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I've never really considered how to show the character's specific intent through action.  It makes sense that More Specificity = More Clarity.

Running on Empty (1988)(3rd draft, dated 1/20/87)
by Naomi Foner

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Garbo Talks (1984) - Using Non Sequiturs in Comedy

[Quick Summary: A dedicated son seeks high and low to fulfill his dying mother's wish to meet Greta Garbo.]

This is a comedy.

...which ISN'T an exciting fact, except this IS a Sidney Lumet directed comedy.

...which IS exciting because Lumet did not direct many comedies at all. (In fact, he's states that he's not very good at comedy.*)   

OK, so the execution of the script may not have hit it out of the park.

But is the script good??!  Why did it attract Lumet, Anne Bancroft, and Ron Silver?

The script is a tremendous work of comedy. 

I wonder how many hours it took to hone, and hone, and hone so the comedy became this sharp.

I particularly liked how the script portrays the mother Estelle through non sequiturs.

Estelle is eccentric and maddening, but sane. 

I liked that she would choose a non sequitur and run it all the way to its furthest conclusion.

These "logical" non sequiturs fit this character well. They are broad, but not wacky. They rail against injustice, and champion the underdog.

ex.  "ANOTHER ANGLE - AS A WAITRESS

comes over.

WAITRESS: Hello.

ESTELLE: I'll have the chicken salad plate.

The waitress writes it down.

GILBERT: Just coffee.

ESTELLE (to waitress): You don't reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. That's very nice.

FAVOR WAITRESS

She hasn't the slightest idea what Estelle is talking about. Estelle sees her consternation and explains, pointing to the bottom of the menu.

ESTELLE: In the south, restaurants used to print, 'We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone' on the bottom of  menus ---

ANGLE - GILBERT

Convulsing in his chair with embarrassment:

GILBERT: Mother, for Godssake!

FAVOR ESTELLE

She ignores him.

ESTELLE: They did this to keep black customers out. They would lie and say it was to keep out drunks, but everyone knew differently. You still see it on menus today. It's nice to see it's not on yours.

WAITRESS (after speechless beat): Anything else?"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  When Estelle goes off on a rant/non sequitur, it seems random but it is not.
She has a purpose in mind.

From a writing standpoint, it's a great way to sneak in the character's point of view on topics, while still delivering laughs.

Garbo Talks (1984)(undated)
by Larry Grusin

*I have not seen the film, but this fact could very well be true, if Roger Ebert's one star review is to be believed.

Monday, July 18, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Greystoke (1984) - When You're Ahead of Your Time

[Quick Summary: A human baby is adopted and raised by African apes.]

I do not normally read early rough drafts.

However, this one stirred my curiosity.

First, this draft is solely written by Towne.

Second, he must not have liked the rewritten version, as he used a pseudonym in the credits.

After reading Towne's undiluted vision, I can see why he and the producers probably didn't see eye to eye.  It is an inventive script, but years ahead of its time:

- This is a story about Tarzan mastering the raw, primal jungle elements, which I liked.  (More commercial fare would probably focus on Tarzan and Jane, or how Tarzan adjusted to society.)

- It's nearly a silent film, i.e., apes don't talk. (I liked this, but others might prefer more dialogue.)

- Energetic action chases in the trees, killing a bushpig, etc. well suited for using CGI...except this script was written in 1977 when CGI wasn't possible.

ex. "SILVER BEARD

who has grown more frenzied, charges from behind  her and actually grabs at her baby, tearing it out of her arms, shaking the screeching little ape at the stormy sky as he plunges toward the trees.

KALA

is horrified. She lets out a frenzied scream herself and chases after Silver Beard.

BY THE TREES

she catches up to him, bites him on the neck and nimbly plucks her baby out of Silver Beard's grasp.

SILVER BEARD

is astonished at being challenged. His shock turns to rage. With a roaring scream, he takes off after Kala.

KALA WITH HER BABY

clinging onto her back leaps into the trees in an effort to elude Silver Beard."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Let your imagination really soar, even if the current technology isn't ready yet.

This script could easily be bought today, though it is 39 yrs. old. Its emotions are still THAT engaging.

Greystoke (1984)(draft dated 8/4/77)
by Robert Towne
Based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Monday, July 11, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Yakuza (1974) - How to Tell a Story: Drama, Transitions

[Quick Summary: An American goes to Japan to rescue a friend's daughter who has been kidnapped by the criminal yakuza.]

Would I have green lit The Yakuza in 1974 (Sydney Pollack, Robert Mitchum)? YES.

Would I green light The Yakuza today? YES.

So what sets Robert Towne scripts apart?  Quite simply, he knows how to tell a story.

"Tell a story?!" you scoff, "How hard is that?!"  Beat. "So how does he tell a story?"

The short answer: I don't know.

The long answer: I still don't know, but I see a few helpful clues in his scripts.

First, he understands drama.*

Second, he understands transitions. This is not simply getting in and out of a scene.

It is getting in, getting out, emphasizing important points, moving the story forward, all without shouting, "LOOK AT ME!"

In the scene below, watch how the writer:
- moves the story from the sedan to the gravesite
- shows that this is an honorable woman
- emphasizes that this is an important woman, without saying, THIS IS AN IMPORTANT, HONORABLE WOMAN, AND SHE IS IMPORTANT TO KILMER
- moves us from the gravesite to Kilmer's office

ex. "EXT. TOKYO - PANNING SHOT - BLACK NISSAN SEDAN

driven by a chauffeur. Tono sits stiffly in back. CAMERA FOLLOWS as it drives past an old cemetery. HOLD on the cemetery and PUSH IN to the figure of a lone woman dressed in kimono standing front of a grave.

ANOTHER ANGLE

MOVING PAST ancient shinto grave stones. Lantern shaped and rust colored in the grey light. MOVE INTO TIGHT SHOT of the woman who kneels in front of the grave. The CAMERA STUDIES her beautiful face MOVING IN EVEN TIGHTER until her eyes, nose and mouth FILL THE FRAME, and the IMAGE BECOMES:

INT. KILMER'S OFFICE - EXTREME CLOSE ANGLE - SILVER FRAMED PHOTO

of the woman (twenty years younger). It sits on a cluttered desk. There is the SOUND of a ticker tape over, and then a voice on an intercom:

VOICE (OVER): It's twelve thirty, Mr. Kilmer."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Know your job: Study drama MORE. Study transitions MORE.

The Yakuza (1974)(dated 12/18/73)
Draft by Robert Towne
Story by Leonard Schrader

* Frankly, there's no shortcut except to read the classics, read everything, read, read, read (see John Logan's advice to read classics for language in his BAFTA lecture here).

Monday, July 4, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Two Jakes (1990) - Two Drafts; Opening Sequence

[Quick Summary: Older and wiser, Jake Gittes is embroiled in a confusing case of cuckolded husband, cheating wife, and the dead man's widow.]

Scripts change from concept to production. A LOT.

This is why I generally avoid previous drafts...

...except this week, I read two drafts of Robert Towne's The Two Jakes.

I WANTED to see how Towne made changes to his scripts.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
SIDENOTE TO THE READER:
Yes, yes, yes, Towne's scripts are not always pretty on the page.

They tend to be long (140-180 pgs.), convoluted, and full of paragraphs everywhere.

But in an era of copycats, his scripts stand out: an original voice, a grasp on what's missing in today's films, i.e., drama (see essay), and something interesting to say.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GOOD NEWS: These two drafts (1984, 1985) did not disappoint: a good script, with good bones, complicated characters, everyone is guilty.

BAD NEWS: I was disappointed by how little changed (or needed to be changed) from the 1984 draft to 1985 draft.  Towne seems to have had a solid base from the start. (Sigh.)

I do not know how close these are to the final version, but I leave you to ponder the wonder of the opening shot.

ex. "INT. JAKE GITTES' OFFICE (DAY) - A WIRE RECORDER AND A PAIR OF WING-TIPPED SHOES ON GITTES' DESK-TOP

The glove leather of the shoes contain feet crossed at the ankles, cocked on the heels and nestled up against one another like a pair of love birds.  From time to time the shoes separate an inch or so, then give one another a playful tap - the wire on the recorder moves continuously however, winding tautly around itself. The red light on the machine intermittently flashes to indicate sound levels.

BERMAN'S VOICE (rehearsing, but shaky and nervous): '- oh no, oh no, oh no Kitty, you told me you were going to Murietta Hot Springs and now I find you here at -'

The shaky recitatif breaks off. The shoes have separated, poised in anticipation.

WALSH'S VOICE (a stage whisper): ' - the Bird-of-Paradise Motel -'

BERMAN

an anxious and olive skinned man sitting in front of Gittes' desk and shoes.

BERMAN (going on): ' - the Bird-of-Paradise Motel - in Redondo Beach at two in the afternoon on October 21, 1948 with this man - '

The shoes bump rudely into one another and GITTES sits up into FRAME, visible along with his legs and shoes.

GITTES: Mr. Berman, it's very unnatural for a man to discuss what year it is when he's staring at his wife in bed with another man -

BERMAN: But my lawyer said -

GITTES: - we'll establish the date, let us worry about that. Just -

He gestures gently but firmly in the direction of the recorder."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I picked the wrong two drafts to examine for clues on "how to solve story problems."

I did learn a new word from them, though: "tryptich."

The Two Jakes (1990)(draft dated 10-28-84)
The Two Jakes (1990)(draft dated 2-25-85)

Monday, June 27, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Frenzy (1972) - How Hitchcock Hides Exposition

[Quick Summary: An innocent ex-R.A.F. officer is accused of two murders, while the real serial murderer is on the loose.]

Yes, yes, yes, Hitchcock scripts are filled with Stuff We Do Not Do Today:

- Lots of shots and directions
- Long length (148 pgs. here)
- Long paragraphs.

BUT they are excellent examples of how to tell a story.

For example, humor is an excellent means to distract and hide exposition:

ex. "INT. DINING AREA/LIVING ROOM - OXFORD'S APARTMENT - EVENING

Oxford, sitting at the table, watches apprehensively as his wife brings the tureen of soup from the kitchen, and puts it down on the table. His worry increases as she starts to ladle it out, and strangely shaped objects are seen to plop into his soup bowl along with the liquid.

MRS. OXFORD: It's a soupe de poisson, dear. I know you'll enjoy it.

OXFORD: I have no doubt of it.

If there is any irony in her husband's last statement, Mrs. Oxford appears to be unaware of it. She moves off towards the kitchen.

MRS. OXFORD: I've just got a couple of things to do in the kitchen. Won't be a minute.

Left by himself, Oxford stirs his soup thoughtfully.

MRS. OXFORD (V.O.): Well, what's new in the case? (mocking him) Any sensational breaks?

OXFORD: No. I'll be pleased when we get Mr. Richard Blaney inside, though.

MRS. OXFORD (V.O.): Any idea where he is?

Oxford lowers his head and sniffs the bowl of soup.

OXFORD: No. Our only lead to him left her job this morning, and what's more, I don't know where she is either.

MRS. OXFORD (V.O.): You're certain, he's the one?

OXFORD:  He's the one, all right. There's not even the complication of another suspect. It has to be him.

He lifts his spoon out of the soup and brings out the gaping-mouthed head of a small fish. Carefully he places it on a side plate. He then tries again --gets some liquid, and drinks it cautiously. He gives it a highly qualified nod.

OXFORD: We have him identified as leaving the matrimonial agency at the time his ex was killed. We have the suit which he found necessary to send to the cleaners in a hurry. And we have the evidence of the face powder and the Salvation Army Hostel."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Humor can hide a lot of exposition.

Frenzy (1972)
by Anthony Shaffer
Based on the novel by Arthur La Bern

Monday, June 20, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) - Annoyed, Petty, REAL

[Quick Summary: Lonely, mismatched museum worker and parking lot attendant fall in love.]

This is a messy story about two misfits falling in love.

I like misfit characters. I love falling in love stories.

However, I admit I would've passed on this script because I couldn't see it as a film.*

Robert Towne put the dilemma this way:
The only way a screenplay can be evaluated, almost by definition, is not on the page, but by viewing the movie it caused to be made. It certainly can be read and even enjoyed, but you're stuck with the inescapable fact that it was written to be seen.
So what do you, as a writer, do?  Find a director and producer who can see it.

Luckily in this case, the writer was the director, John Cassavetes, who was generating some heat at this time in indie films.

I think Cassavetes was aiming to show two maddening, contradictory characters trying to work out a relationship.  It's annoying, petty, and REAL.

He succeeded, as I felt annoyed, petty, but satisfied that these two did belong together.

ex. "Seymour puts his arm around Minnie.

MINNIE: I can't do those dances.
SEYMOUR: What dances?
MINNIE: It's very important to me that when we go inside there I don't feel like a fool...because...
SEYMOUR: You're with me. You don't want to go dancing, we don't have to go dancing.
MINNIE: I want to go dancing.
SEYMOUR: Okay."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I respect scripts that make me feel, regardless of the rest.

Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)
by John Cassavetes

*I like more narrative structure. This is mostly a loose and free character study, which I could see as very attractive to actors.

Monday, June 13, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Tequila Sunrise (1988) - Atypical Love "Square"

[Quick Summary: A narcotics detective tries to pin his childhood friend, a smooth, personable drug dealer.]

Like Chinatown, this story defies easy description.

It twists and turns on itself, ravels and unravels. It's complicated.

Suffice it to say:
- Frescia and McKussic grew up together. They still like each other.
- Frescia is a narcotics cop now. McKussic may/may not be retired from dealing drug.
- Frescia's superior is pressuring him to use McKussic to find kingpin Carlos.
- Frescia does not want to involve McKussic.
- McKussic has a crush on Jo Ann, the restaurant manager, but is shy.
- Frescia meets Jo Ann and has no problem asking her out.

For 2/3 of the script,* I liked the dynamic of two friends pursuing one woman, but this isn't a typical love triangle.  Crime is added as the 4th person, i.e., a love "square."

In the scene below, I like how that 4th addition make a nice seduction even better.

But it's complicated too: Frescia is trying to flirt with Jo Ann, protect her from McKussic, protect McKussic from the police, yet nail McKussic if he's still dealing. 

"ex. "FULL SHOT - BOOTH - JO ANN AND FRESCIA

seated while a waiter pours champagne. It is Jo Ann who samples it and nods approval, with Frescia watching.

FRESCIA: Arturo's looking at me and I don't think he approves.
JO ANN: Of what?
FRESCIA: The way I look at you -- (quickly) -- It's quite an experience watching you work.
JO ANN: Oh?
FRESCIA: Like you're in a play and everything's on cue. You're kind of letter perfect.
JO ANN: --Thank you.
FRESCIA: Tell me, do you ever flub your lines?

Jo Ann sets down her champagne glass. Pleasantly:

JO ANN: --Is that a polite way of suggesting I lack spontaneity?
FRESCIA: No --I enjoy the performance.
JO ANN: (amused) --But you'd like to see me flustered.
FRESCIA: Seen Mac lately? ... Mr. McKussic is going to ask you to cater a party.
JO ANN: That is our business.

The salad tray rolls up. The waiter hovers over them, mixing the caesars.

FRESCIA: (reluctantly) --Well, we think it involves his business.
JO ANN: Are you suggesting I refuse because it's a party for drug dealers?
FRESCIA: (embarassed) No! (after the waiter leaves) ...It's just if it's for this one particular guy, he's particularly unpleasant.
JO ANN: You mean violent?
FRESCIA: Oh, I doubt that. Unless of course he doesn't like your lasagne.
JO ANN: (amused) I'm sure Mr. McKussic's friend will be very well behaved.
FRESCIA: Why would you call him a friend?
JO ANN: --It's a figure of speech, Lieutenant. Who else would Mr. McKussic give a party for?
FRESCIA: A business associate. As it happens, Carlos and Mac are friends.
JO ANN: --And you and Mac are friends --
FRESCIA: --That's right --
JO ANN: --Well, it sounds like a pretty friendly situation all around --
FRESCIA: Not exactly. Mac and I went to school together in Redondo Beach and played water polo, Carlos and Mac went to ail together in Mexico and played horseshoes and ping-pong. Nobody knows Carlos. Nobody even knows what Carlos looks like but Mac --

Jo Ann carefully places her salad fork prongs down on the plate.

JO ANN:  Then you want to know what Carlos looks like and you're asking me to spy on a customer so you can find out --
FRESCIA: (exasperated) Absolutely not!...Look, let's not discuss my business, his business, or your business, okay?
JO ANN: (pleased with herself) That leaves us with nothing to talk about.
FRESCIA: -- Let's eat."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Towne really is a master of twisting the expected. I expected a love triangle, but not a love square.

Tequila Sunrise (1988)
Written & directed by Robert Towne

* I didn't like the last third nearly as much.