[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.
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).