Monday, March 28, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Spellbound (1945) - Connecting Scenes Help Flesh Out World

[Quick Summary: A female psychiatrist falls in love with an amnesiac who has seen a crime.] 

In my own writing, I have a bad habit of hitting only the big story points and rushing through connecting scenes.

It results in a horribly confusing, bumpy read.

Connecting scenes are vital to fleshing out an imaginary world for your reader.

For example, in the scene below from Spellbound,* Hitchcock uses them to show what is happening in the world while Constance is sleeping and unaware.

Note that the writer takes the time to include:

- What is written on the note.
- The note slipped under the door.
- The note appearing on the other side of the door and Constance sleeping.

ex. "INSERT J.B.'s hand writing a note.

We see the note:

"I cannot involve you in this for many reasons. One of them being that I love you. When the police step in, tell them I am at the Empire State Hotel in New York. I prefer to wait alone for the end. Goodbye. J.B."

His hands fold the note and put it into an envelope. He writes her name, "Dr. Petersen" on it in his bold, heavy script.



We see a man's shadow and hand insert the envelope under the door to Constance's room.


The envelope appears on the other side of the door. CAMERA PANS UP from it and we see through into the moonlit bedroom. We can just discern the recumbent figure of Constance, sleeping."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I would've axed the last scene as unnecessary since the next scenes tell us Constance was sleeping.  However, there's more visual impact because it's included.

When in doubt, err on the side of more visual impact. 

Spellbound (1945)
by Ben Hecht
Suggested by the novel, "House of Dr. Edwards," by Francis Beeding

*Not one of my favorite Hitchcock films.

Monday, March 21, 2016

2016 OSCARS: Room (2015) - What Peril Looks Like

[Quick Summary: A 26 y.o. mother and her 5 y.o. son, who are hostages in a 10' x 10' shed, dare to escape.]

I was afraid of this script. I did not want to read it.

I kept saying to myself, "This is the most I've ever dreaded reading a script."

But to complete my tour of the 2016 Oscar scripts, I had to read it.

So I did, and I'm telling you, "You should read this script."

If it helps, I list the top three questions that I had prior to reading this script:

QUESTION #1: Why would I want to go there?
ANSWER: Yes, the story takes place in a horrible situation, but Donoghue, the writer/novelist, finds the joy and empathy. By p. 2, I knew I was in good hands.

QUESTION #2: Is it scary? I'm squeamish.
ANSWER:  Yes, in a good way. It's more about the non-stop suspense and tension.

QUESTION #3: I've seen characters in danger. What's the big deal?
ANSWER: This is tension of the highest order - peril, I tell you, PERIL.

The stakes are extremely clear, and the consequences more immediate.

It boils down to a razor's edge, minute by minute survival.

ex. Can Ma's mental health hold out one more day?

In the scene below, note how the writer ups the stakes (Jack is hurt, Ma might be).

Note also how she simultaneously:
- explains what happened (a 5 y.o. escaped alone)
- moves the story forward (need to find Ma ASAP)
- ends the scene (writer lets the reader piece together what the cops are thinking through action, not dialogue) 

ex. "JACK (louder): Old Nick. But that's not his name.

OFFICER PARKER: Did this Nick guy hurt you?

She goes to touch his lip, but he flinches away.

JACK: I bit me by accident. And the, the, the -

He pats the ground to remember the word.

JACK: The hard of the street. I jumped and smasheded my knee.

He remembers Bad Tooth and takes it out of his mouth.

OFFICER PARKER: What's that, Jack?

JACK: A bit of Ma.

Both officers peer at Bad Tooth, and exchange a dark look."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Peril is an extremely dramatic device. Keep all other things (B story line, settings, etc.) fairly simple so as not to draw focus away from it.

Room (2015)
by Emma Donoghue
Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue

Monday, March 14, 2016

2016 OSCARS: The Martian (2015) - Hats Off

[Quick Summary: An American astronaut is stranded on Mars while his team tries to bring him back home.]

Hats off to you, Mr. Drew Goddard.

Hats off for making me read 118 pgs. lickety split.

Hats off for getting me emotionally invested despite all the astronaut gibber jabber that I did not understand, did not need to understand, but made me believe.

ex. "BRUCE: The hull's mostly there to keep the air in. Mars' atmosphere is so thin you don't need a lot of streamlining. By the time the ship's going fast enough for air resistance to matter, it'll be high enough that there's practically no air.

VINCENT: You're sending him to space under a tarp.

BRUCE: Yes. Can I go on?"

Hats off for the combination of humor and adventure.

ex. "ANNIE: How do you know that? Why does "Elrond" mean "secret meeting?"

BRUCE: The Council of Elrond. From Lord of the Rings. It's the meeting where they decide to destroy the One Ring.

ANNIE: I so quit right now."

Hats off to some of the best lines in my recent memory:
- "I'm gonna have to science the shit out of this."
- Pathfinder rides on top of Rover 1 like Granny Clampett.
- He labels a few ration packs as he sets them aside: "Departure," "Birthday," "Last Meal..."

Hats off for an exceptional script, both moving and poignant.

Hats off to you, sir.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I was impressed that all the elements (narrative, dialogue, story, characters, ensemble) were balanced just right to strike the exact right tone: adventure, serious, funny, moving.  I do not know how he did it.

The Martian (2015)
by Drew Goddard
Based upon the novel by Andy Weir

Monday, March 7, 2016

2016 OSCARS: Carol (2015) - The Bridge to Take Us Between POVs

[Quick Summary: Therese, a young 1950s shopgirl, gets involved in a relationship with Carol, a married woman and mother in a difficult situation.]

This well-written script has:
- an elegant tone (which I expected) and
- nearly constant movement (which I did not).

The writer moves us from one POV to the next seamlessly.

(OK, there's a lot of black print on the page, but the movement makes it work.)

In the scene below, note how a package is used to bridge us between POVs:


THERESE stands in front of a postbox, wearing a coat over her night clothes. There's not a soul in sight in the cold night.  She looks at a small package addressed to "Mrs. H. Aird" for a moment before dropping ti into the postbox. She looks up at her window a moment before being seized by a chill and running up the stoop to her building.


A MAILMAN pulls up to a large stone house with a gabled roof, along the stately residential street. He grabs a handful of mail, jumps down and begins walking up the driveway.


Mail is dropped through the letter slot, including THERESE'S package to CAROL. FLORENCE, CAROL'S housekeeper, glances over to the entry while mopping the floor."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: It's handy to use an object to bridge the viewer between POVs.

Carol (2015)
by Phyllis Nagy
Based on the novel, The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith
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