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