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:


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.

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. 


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.
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.

Monday, June 6, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Last Detail (1973) - Dialogue Should Complement the Movement

[Quick Summary: Two sailors decide to live it up while escorting a third sailor to naval prison.]

The 1st reason to get this book: The introduction is a 1995 article Robert Towne wrote, "On Moving Pictures."* ** *** THIS IS WELL WORTH THE PRICE OF THE BOOK.

The 2nd reason: The two (Oscar nominated) screenplays.
I first read the intro article, where Towne writes:
But it has always struck me that in movies, far more than any other dramatic medium, movement, not simply action, is most defining of character.
He goes on to write:
The point is that a fine actor on screen conveys a staggering amount of information before he ever opens his mouth. The screenwriter must be skillful not to interfere with or detract from that information by injudicious dialogue. He must be very skillful with dialogue to add to that information.
Then I saw what Towne meant when I read The Last Detail.

Here, Buddusky and Mulhall don't know each other, or their prisoner Meadows.

However, they have to work together and get Meadows to prison.

They begin to like Meadows, who is naive, well intentioned, and honorable.  They also discover that Meadows has light fingers, especially for candy.

The scene below is about 1/3 into the script.

-  All the movement around and between characters.
- The dialogue is teasing and complements the movement.
- Movement + dialogue = Buddusky knows Meadows's weakness, Meadows knows Buddusky knows


The bus with CAMDEN on it rolls up. The three start out. Meadows tugs at Buddusky's arm.

MEADOWS: Hey, Bad Ass, want a candy bar?

Meadows flicks his eyes toward the candy counter. Buddusky smiles. He winks at Meadows, grabs him around the scruff of the neck and shakes him with mock roughness.

BUDDUSKY: Get your ass on the bus, sailor."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: A character's movement is primary, and dialogue should complement, not compete.

The Last Detail (1973)
by Robert Towne
Adapted from the novel by Darryl Ponicsan

*Originally published in Scenario magazine, 1995.

**Even in 1995, Towne was so prescient on many topics: what silent filmmakers knew better than filmmakers today; what is wrong with superhero movies; etc.

***My favorite part is where he explains Hollywood's historic hatred toward writers: "In other words, he is the asshole who keeps everybody else from going to work."
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