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.

ex. "CLOSE SHOT IN WITNESS STAND
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:

CLOSE SHOT IN WITNESS STAND
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:

CLOSE SHOT IN WITNESS STAND
Mme. Pomponi.

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

MED. CLOSE SHOT IN WITNESS STAND
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

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