Monday, December 26, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) - Adaptions; Using P.A., Intercutting

[Quick Summary: When small town Mr. Deeds goes to the big city to accept his $20M inheritance, he experiences love and heartbreak.]

Two thoughts

1) Why are adaptions tricky? Here's what's required: 
It is one thing to read an appealing play, novel, or short story, and quite another to organize it properly a screenplay, opening it up and lengthening it (or shortening it), making the myriad choices of keeping a character here and deleting one there, adding a scene, incident, or crucial detail, writing appropriate dialogue where dialogue is necessary, and ending up with something that is whole and organic and also cinematic. Unfortunately, Hollywood history is full of examples of great works – short stories, novels, and prize-winning plays – ruined by clumsy adaption, or faithfully transcribed unto tedium. Intro, p. XXXV.
2) Robert Riskin was a master adapter.  What is one good piece of advice from him?

Limit the use of parallel action or intercutting between scenes:
Parallel action (if, in the use of it, we can be guided by a rule) should scarcely be used except in instances where the two actions are related to each other - story-wise, or where some social observation is being made via action. Intro, p. XXXV.
So when would it be appropriate to use parallel action or intercutting?

In the court scene below, witnesses are called to testify about Mr. Deeds' behavior.  The testimonies are all related, and also build a fuller picture together.

A policeman in uniform.

POLICEMAN: They kept hollering: "Back to Nature! Back to Nature!" I thought they looked harmless enough so I took them home. I never thought he was cracked.
                                                                                                 WIPE OFF TO:

The waiter at "Tullio's."

WAITER: I'm a waiter. He kept pressing me to point out the celebrities, and so help me Hannah I'm coming out of the kitchen a coupla minutes later and there he is moppin' up the floors with them. I never figured he was a guy looking for trouble.
                                                                                                WIPE OFF TO:

Mme. Pomponi.

MME. POMPONI: (expostulating) He threw us out bodily! but bodily!
                                                                                                WIPE OFF TO:

Of one of the bodyguards on witness stand.

BODYGUARD: We hired as his bodyguard, see? Well, the irst crack out of the box, he throws us in a room and locks the door, see? Now, if a thing like that gets around in our profession, we'd get the bird - see? So I says to my partner, "Let's quit this guy, he's nuts!"
                                                                                                  WIPE OFF TO:

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Riskin pointed out to me that parallel action is a grouping of two (or more) related actions.  Grouping! Never thought of that before.

It's a repetitive rhythm, and may affect how your script "feels." 

It's similar to a repeated note in music, and should be used with care. 

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
by Robert Riskin
Adapted from the story by Clarence Budington Kelland

Monday, December 19, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: American Madness (1932) - Showing an Abstract Concept Like "Faith"

[Quick Summary: Three intertwined stories: A bank president fends off a merger; his bank manager faces a murder charge of the night watchman; and thieves steal $100k which starts a run on the bank.]

The original title of this script was "Faith," as in "faith in one's fellow man."

I really enjoyed the script because it is an excellent example of showing an abstract concept without talking about it.

Two helpful hints:

1) It's easier if the characters' problems are very personal and in close proximity.

ex. Matt is loyal to Mr. Dickson, who gave Matt a bank job.  Last night, Matt suspected Mrs. Dickson of getting in trouble and went to stop her.

Matt is now accused with of shooting the night guard. He can't tell the truth, otherwise Mr. Dickson will find out about Mrs. Dickson.

Mr. Dickson cannot understand why his loyal employee won't tell the truth.

2) Make sure the character earns the virtue. 

It may help to pinpoint the end concept and engineering backwards from that point.

Here, we want to show faith (Act 3), so we start the script with the opposite (Act 1 temptations to believe the worst), and test our characters (Act 2).

In this example, we will see a testing (Act 2) with very personal, immediate problems:

ex. "DICKSON: (to Inspector) Wait a minute. Wait a minute. (to Matt) Matt, do you realize you're up against something? You're being charged with murder. It's serious, son. Now com on. I know you didn't do it. (gestures toward Inspector) But we've got to make them believe it. Come on, tell the truth, where were you last night?

MATT: (doggedly) I can't tell you.

Matt maintains a determined silence.

DICKSON: (getting an idea) Listen, if I get them out of the room, will you tell me?

Matt looks at him. Dickson is the only person he cannot tell  his secret to.

MATT: No. I won't.

DICKSON: You're protecting somebody.

MATT: No. I'm not Mr. Dickson!

DICKSON: Yes, you are. You're protecting somebody Now listen, it doesn't make any difference who it is. It can't be as important as this. Now come on, tell me. Where were you last night? (a note of desperation) Come on, don't be a fool. Matt, you trust me, don't you?

No reply from Matt. Dickson is heartsick. He turns, helplessly, away from Matt and walks out of Sampson's office."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: "Show, don't tell" is especially true for abstract concepts.

The easiest way to lose an audience is to talk and talk about the concept.

American Madness (1932)
by Robert Riskin

Monday, December 12, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Platinum Blonde (1931) - Wisecracks & Minor Characters

[Quick Summary: A newspaper man impulsively marries his wrong match, a socialite.]
I'm embarrassed that I didn't know how important Robert Riskin was.

(I'd even read one of his scripts!)

To rectify this, I'm making my way through this book. The intro is a hoot.*
Platinum Blonde was Riskin's first film with Frank Capra.

The script went through several different hands, so it's uneven in some places.

However, the dialogue (Riskin's work) shines.

Though this is still early in his career, you can see how he's developing his two trademarks: wisecracks and great minor characters.

Note in the scene below:
- Wisecracks often utilize irony, wit, and stinging observations.
- Grayson is a minor character, but has all the punch lines.

Anne in a stunning evening dress is seated, a cocktail in one hand, cigarette in the other. Dexter Grayson, in evening clothes, is standing before her.

GRAYSON: Where were you yesterday?

She has a far-away, speculative look in her eyes.

ANNE: Oh, Stew and I went for a long ride. (Dreamily) Dexter, is there any finishing school we can send him to?

GRAYSON: (witheringly) Yes - Sing Sing.

Anne. She ignores this crack.

ANNE: Just the same, he's going to be a different person when I get through with him.

Grayson. He is looking at her, deeply disturbed.

GRAYSON: When you get through with him?


ANNE: Yes, it'll be a very interesting experiment.

GRAYSON: (sneering) To make a gentleman out of a tramp?

ANNE: Exactly.

GRAYSON: Now, Anne, you remember how much it cost to get rid of that baseball player?

ANNE: You don't seem to understand that this one's different. He has brains.

Grayson seats himself beside her on the divan.

GRAYSON: (fervently) But what about me, Anne?

She looks at him coldly with almost an expression of dislike.

ANNE: You? Oh, don't go serious on me, Dexter."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Wisecracks and minor characters alone are not useful.  Wisecracks and minor characters in service of the scene's purpose are very helpful.

In this scene, they point out Anne's delusions of grandeur for humble Stew.

Platinum Blonde (1931)
Dialogue by Robert Riskin
Story by Harry Chandlee and Douglas W. Churchill
Adaption by Jo Swerling
Continuity by Dorothy Howell

*I laughed while reading a purported account about Riskin's first meeting with Frank Capra. In short,  Riskin tells Capra, "You don't want to adapt that play!"  ...and it's Riskin's play! (Apparently, Riskin was right because the film was not good.)

Monday, December 5, 2016

TODAY'S NUGGET: Playback (Raymond Chandler's Unknown Thriller) - Danger Looms

[Quick Summary: Woman on the run meets a charming man on a train to Canada, but becomes suspect #1 when he ends up dead.]

In 1948, Universal Pictures paid Chandler for this script, but never made it.*

It isn't the strongest script (for several reasons in the forward here).

However, I liked that the script knows exactly what it is, i.e., it is a thriller, and delivers the hallmarks of a thriller.

One hallmark is that danger looms for someone (usually the protagonist).

Chandler does a nice job of never letting it fade, even in a flirting scene:

ex. "MITCHELL: (to Betty) Would you care to see the Seattle paper?

Betty turns slowly, stares at him.

BETTY: No thanks. I've seen Seattle.
MITCHELL: My name's Larry MItchell. I live at Vancouver.

Betty says nothing.

MITCHELL: Same as an hour ago. Remember? I'm the steady type.
BETTY: (coldly) I'm afraid there's nothing I can do about it, Mr. Mitchell.


MITCHELL: You could tell me your name. And where you're going.
BETTY: How far does this train go?
MITCHELL: Vancouver, B.C.
BETTY: I'm going to Vancouver, Mr. Mitchell.

She picks up a magazine adn opens it, ignoring him.

MITCHELL: O.K. Be rugged.

He turns, starts out, then looks back at her.

MITCHELL: You're next for the Immigration and Customs. I trust your papers are all in order.

Betty looks up quickly and cannot conceal a startled expression. Mitchell reacts. CAMERA PULLS BACK as he comes out into corridor, looks toward the roomette in which the officals are, then turns toward the next roomette and goes into it....

Canadian officials then go on to Betty's roomette, enter.

BETTY: Betty -- Mayfield.

There is a perceptible hesitation which the immigration official notices.

OFFICIAL: Betty Mayfield. Miss or Mrs.?

Mitchell is seen in his roomette, standing near the door listening.

BETTY: Miss Mayfield.
OFFICIAL: And where were you born, Miss Mayfield?
BETTY: New York City.

The official is a little suspicious. He looks down at Betty's hands which are clasped in her lap.

OFFICIAL: I see you are wearing a wedding ring.
BETTY: I've been married. My husband -- (she breaks off and bites her lip)
INSPECTOR: Then I take it Mayfield was not your married name?

He is very polite, but is building up to asking for some identification papers. On this cue, Mitchell comes out of his roomette, crosses, enters Betty's roomette. CAMERA MOVES IN.

MITCHELL: I've wired ahead to --

He breaks off, turns to Inspector, recognizes him.

MITCHELL: Inspector Gillette, isn't it? I'm Larry Mitchell. We've met before, several times.

He takes out wallet adn holds it out to Inspector.

MITCHELL: I cross the border so often I carry an identification card.
INSPECTOR: (glancing at card) Yes, I remember you, Mr. Mitchell. (glancing at Betty) You know this lady?
MITCHELL: Very well. Since 1940, at least. I met her --let me see -- it was New York City, wasn't it, Betty?

Betty nods silently. Inspector turns back to her, handing Mitchell's wallet back.

INSPECTOR: (to Betty) How long do you expect to be in Canada, Miss Mayfield?
BETTY: Oh -- a month.
INSPECTOR: (making up his mind): Thank you. I hope you have a pleasant trip.

He turns away, starts out."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Thrillers are about keeping the tension cranking, even in the funny/romantic/quiet scenes.

Playback (Raymond Chandler's Unknown Thriller, published 1985)
by Raymond Chandler

*It was essentially "lost" until someone discovered it in the Universal archives in the 1980s.
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