Monday, May 30, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Spartan (2004) - Shifting In, Shifting Out (from Scope to Wideshot)

[Quick Summary: Special Ops ranger hunts for the kidnapped daughter of a U.S. official.]

3 Things I Appreciate in a Script:

1) Clarity of why we are here.  Here, it's laser focused on finding a missing college girl.

2) An intriguing opening.

ex. "Now, the two men look across the ravine at the young woman, seen disappearing over a ridge.

SCOTT (quietly): better catch her..."

3) It's easy to follow when shifting in/out from a scope to wideshot.

I find it helpful to study how Mamet shifts our focus from inside a scope to a wideshot. He uses clear indicators to help the reader see when:

- We're in the scope (1st line, "in green, through a sniperscope), versus
- A specific location ("in the house"), versus
- On the character in a wider shot ("on Anton").

ex. "ANGLE EXT. THE BUILDING. Where we see the man, and Scott. We see the scene in green, through a sniperscope.

ANGLE, on Anton, looking through the scope.

ANGLE CU Anton, as he sees something in the scope.

ANGLE, in the house. Scott advancing toward the man.

SCOTT: ...I just wannit to know, I just came to ask you that question...

The man backs up, past a half-open glass French door.

ANGLE, on Scott, as he advances toward the man.

ANGLE, ANTON'S POV. Through the sniperscope. The faint traces of what might be the Picasso symbol.

ANGLE, on Anton, as we see him move the sniperscope and adjust its magnification toward the symbol...."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I liked that there was story reason for the shifting in or out. In the example above, it increased the tension as Anton watched from afar, helpless.

Spartan (2004)(draft dated Aug. 2002)
by David Mamet

Monday, May 23, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Heist (2001) - A Jaded Mood

[Quick Summary: A thief is blackmailed into one last heist, which is full of crosses and double-crosses.]

This script has all the Mamet razzle dazzle: cross/double crosses, magic, heists, and complex characters.

However, it left me feeling sad and worn.

Perhaps that's apt because although these characters are motivated, loyal, and smart, their mood is jaded and tinged with sadness.

It bleeds into their actions, as seen in the example below.

Watch how these characters are motivated, loyal, and smart (all pro-active traits), but the mood, i.e., "distinctive emotional quality or character," is wearied, seen-it-all.

ex. "On Blane, as a car runs into him.

Blane hits the hood of the car.


On his hand, as it comes down, with a thump, on the hood of the car.

He rolls off the hood, and onto the ground.


On the two policeman, turning to the sound of the accident.

In the b.g. we see Moore, turning the corner.


On Blane, on the ground, holding his leg.

BLANE:...oh god...oh god...

ANGLE on the crowd of onlookers, as the policemen kneel to Blane. Blane starts to his feet. In the back of the crowd we see Pincus, who looks on for a second, and then melts away.


Sidewalk, passerby. Moore walking in the street. Pincus comes up behind him.

PINCUS (sotto): ...he's okay.

MOORE: Yeah, well, you know, that was his road game.

PINCUS: He's too old for that.

MOORE (shrugs): It's his job. Let's get to work."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I saw how mood was like another layer on top of the story.  It's similar to a sustained attitude.

Heist (2001)(draft dated Mar. 1999)
by David Mamet

Monday, May 16, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) - Transferring Emotion to the Audience

[Quick Summary: An ensemble of real estate "closers" compete for the top spot.]

I liked what writer/director Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud, Take Shelter) said in this interview:
My stated goal as a story teller is to transfer an emotion to the audience.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I've heard that many, many times.

But what does it MEAN? What does it LOOK LIKE? How do you DO IT?

I carried those questions in my head as I read this famous David Mamet script.

What about this script transfers emotion to the audience?

Is it his well loved, often quoted dialogue?  Well, yes, in part.

It's also the action that often contrasts with the pitter patter of dialogue.

In the scene below:
- Levene is an older co-worker, scraping by to pay for his daughter's care.
- Roma is younger co-worker on a winning streak.
- They are at their local watering hole.

ex. "Levene takes out his large appointment book, puts it up on the bar. Roma turns to the man on his other side (JAMES LINGK, a man in his thirties, nursing a drink) and begins talking to him.

ROMA (cont'd): They say...they say it was so cold downtown...grown men on the streetcorner were going up to cops begging the cops to shoot them. (to bartender) Thank you.


2 p.m.: hospital
4-6 p.m.: Hendersons, Ralph and Marie V 2242 Logan, Lincolnwood
7:30 Sales promotion conference, H-Inn
9 p.m.: hospital
Call Doctor Lewenstein!!!"

ROMA (O.S.): And they say alcohol is the wrong thing to combat the cold.
LINGK (O.S.): Why says that?
ROMA (O.S.): Something I read, like the St. Bernards.
LINGK (O.S.): ...uh huh...
ROMA (O.S.): That they're not supposed to carry brandy, you know, because it's a depressant.
LINGK (O.S.): Uh huh.
ROMA (O.S.) But I subscribe to the Law of Contrary Public Opinion...


Levene sighs, folds up his appointment book, starts to down his drink."

Why do we feel such empathy for Levene?

Because we SEE that he is burdened with work and an ill loved one, yet all the small talk also shows us that no one is paying attention.

Levene's action + unimportant small talk (dialogue) = No one sees him.

I know that feeling, don't you?

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I'm thinking a lot more now about how to best use images + dialogue (contrasting or complementary) to convey specific emotions.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)(1st draft)
by David Mamet
Adapted from his play

Monday, May 9, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Homicide (1991) - The Invisible Cut

[Quick Summary: A NYC cop is stretched between two cases: a splashy one he wants, and a small robbery case that he does not.]

Things I Do Not Find Helpful in a Script*: Directing on the page
Things I Do Find Helpful in a Script*: Invisible cuts on the page

To me, the first is generally about the visual look, sometimes at expense of story.

The second is focused on the visuals that build the story toward something.

The writer's job is to make these cuts as invisible as possible. But how?

In this script, Mamet uses cuts to:
- gather various points of view (ex. FBI team prepares to detonate a suspect's door) 
- show how a fight spirals out of control (ex. cops and murderer struggle for gun in a squad room)
- increase tension from location 1 to location 2 (see below)

Mamet does it by keeping the reader engaged and curious with what is happening. 

[For what it's worth, I was distracted by Mamet's use of "ANGLE," but it's his style.]

ex. "ANGLE
Ross looking at the sheet on the clipboard. He looks back at it. [What is on the clipboard?]

The letterhead. "Society for Comparative Linguistics" and at the bottom of the page, embossed, the address 212 W. Huron. [1st cut answers the question and asks the next one: "What's so special about that address?"]


Ross standing on the steps. Looking in through the glass. [2nd cut changes our location AND pushes the story forward. We now want to see what Ross is seeing.]

The lobby, empty." [3rd cut shows Ross' POV. Will he scope it out?]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I was surprised how many cuts I missed while reading (an excellent thing).

Homicide (1991)(4/15/89 draft)
by David Mamet

*I speak here of a spec/selling script.  A shooting script, of course, will likely include more directing on the page out of necessity.

Monday, May 2, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Gloria (1999) - Do Not Rush

[Quick Summary: A former showgirl is saddled with a 6 y.o. boy whose parents were shot by unsavory thugs.]

In my search for anything Sidney Lumet wrote and/or directed, I found this script.

I learned that:
- Lumet's version was a remake (with Sharon Stone, circa 1999).
- The great John Cassavetes wrote and directed the original (with his wife Gena Rowlands, 1980).
- I had Cassavetes' draft, which was great, as Lumet's draft is lost to the winds.

I often rush in my scripts because I'm worried I'll lose the audience's attention.

This script taught me take your time and Do Not Rush.

The audience will hang in there if each step has a purpose and builds to somewhere.

In this story:
1) We begin with Jeri (Phil's mom) on the bus, and her groceries spill. (p. 1-2)
2) Jeri gets to her apartment building and is nervous of the strange man in the lobby. (bottom p. 2)
3) Jack (Phil's dad) unlocks many bolts and chains to let Jeri in the apartment. (p. 4)
4) We meet one of our main characters, PHIL (6), and his sister Joan (7) on p. 4.
5) Jeri and Jack argue about packed bags and leaving. The kids are scared. (p. 5-10)
6) The thugs want Jack's secret ledger of the mafia's crooked deals. (p. 7)
7) GLORIA, the other main character, knocks on the door for coffee. (p. 11)

So, it took 4 pages to get to Phil, and 11 for Gloria. Is this necessary? Here, yes.

Each step BUILDS with a PURPOSE:
1) Jeri is a good, hard working, middle class mother.
2) Jeri is scared of something (tension). It makes us curious as to why.
3) The family is in imminent danger.
4) Innocent kids are involved. This is a very bad situation.
5) They are about to flee from thugs. Now I can see that this is a road trip story.
6) This sets up why there are high stakes for Phil and Gloria.
7) Once Gloria takes the kid in, she'll be hunted too.

Notice how the script took its time in showing us that this is a close, loving family. 

If it had started right at p. 7, we would not have as much sympathy for Phil's plight.

ex. "JACK: They know we're close. They know I live for my family.

JERI: How do they know?

JACK: That's all I talk about. I don't run with babes. I've got pictures of the kids in my wallet.

JERI: You talk about the kids to them?

JACK: Of course I do. I talk about the kids to everybody.

JERI goes back into the kitchen.

JERI: All right. Never mind dinner. Pack your things." 

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Don't rush. Build story blocks with purpose.

Kurosawa was impressed too.

Gloria (1980)(rev. through 9/24/79)
by John Cassavetes
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