Monday, September 18, 2017

TODAY'S 2nd NUGGET: The Seventh Seal (1957) - Formatting Myths

[Quick Summary: While he staves off dying by plays chess with Death, a knight searches for the meaning of God's absence among the country folk he meets.]

This is the 2nd of the two of the most infuriating truths that no one tells you:

Quest. #2: This script is in single spaced paragraphs!! Where's the formatting?! Why didn't they follow the (fill in the blank) book on formatting?!

Answer #2:  Here, the script is written by and for the director.

Each line is a shot and reads easily in paragraph form.

It works for Bergman here, but may not work for everyone. (Try it yourself.)
-------------------------------------
But since I'm on my high horse, may I share some Hard Won Truths?

Q: Don't script readers care about formatting?
A:  They DO NOT CARE about formatting as long as it's a good read.

Q: When do they care?
A: When YOUR writing gets in the way of THEIR reading.

Q: Doesn't bad formatting "get in the way"?
A: It's an easy way to spot the experienced vs. non-experienced, but it's not the top reason to reject your script.

Q: Wait, what?
A: Bad formatting isn't enough since it is too easily fixed.  More likely, it's a deeper script problem.*

Q: What do you mean?
A:  Many non-writers (and many writers) are confused by problems that just LOOK like formatting issues on the surface, ex. bad structure, bad transitions.

These all use the same tools and cues but for very different reasons and effects.

ex. Formatting - Make sure "INT. KITCHEN" is all caps, spelled correctly, right font.

ex. Transition - INT. KITCHEN needs to be scrapped for INT. HOUSE and one continuous shot of woman running in front door --> hallway --> kitchen --> back door. No individual headings, as it would disturb the building momentum.

Q: But I like formatting! What's wrong with formatting?! Wordsmithing?
A: I like them too. But if we're honest, those are the easier part. You want to get paid for the tougher stuff.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Study and pay attention to what works (or doesn't) in other scripts.

It's the only way to get better at the tougher stuff.

The Seventh Seal (1957)
by Ingmar Bergman
Adapted from his play

*I only mention things that are within a writer's control above.

Remember that there are many things that are NOT within your control.  ex. Sometimes the timing is lousy. Or five scripts enter the market together with the same concept.  Or the producer lost funding.

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Seventh Seal (1957) - Juggling Humor into a Serious Film

[Quick Summary: While he staves off dying by plays chess with Death, a knight searches for the meaning of God's absence among the country folk he meets.]

This script demonstrates two of the most infuriating truths that no one tells you:*

Quest. #1: It's about the "silence of God"? Why bother with such old fashioned film?

Answer #1: I had mixed feelings after reading this script.

First, this story doesn't have a clear cut objective to accomplish.

The Knight asks "Where is God?" and the answer is a struggle. With Death. With meaning. With day to day life. Yikes.

Second, however, this script did keep me entertained while discussing a serious topic.

What a major juggling feat!  How did the writer do it?

Perhaps we could get a few insights from this recent review of another 2017 film:
This is the story of a kid learning his parents aren’t perfect and all of his neighbors are violent racists. Without any humor or interesting characters to keep the film entertaining, that’s a tough premise for a movie. And it’s tonally impossible to balance. It makes “xxx” a comedy with almost no laughs and a drama with no depth. (underline mine)
Hmmm....Humor or interesting characters keep the premise alive and the tone balanced. Eureka!

Here, the Knight's search for answers to the silence of God (heavy premise) is palatable because of his travels with actors Jof and wife Mia (interesting characters), who add humor and fun.

Note below how life goes on despite Death stalking Knight (life vs death):

ex. "JOF stands in the hot sun with a flickering lantern in his hand. MIA pretends to be asleep on a bench which has been pulled forward on the stage.

JOF: Night and moonlight now prevail Here sleeps my wife so frail...

VOICE FROM THE PUBLIC: Does she snore?

JOF: May I point out that this is a tragedy, and in tragedies one doesn't snore.

VOICE FROM THE PUBLIC: I think she should snore anyhow.

This opinion causes mirth in the audience. JOF becomes slightly confused and goes out of character, but MIA keeps her head and begins snoring.

JOF: Night and moonlight now prevail. There snores - I mean sleeps - my wife so frail..."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Tone has always flummoxed me, so I'm glad to have clearer insight into how humor affects a heavy drama's tone.

The Seventh Seal (1957)
by Ingmar Bergman
Adapted from his play

* FYI: I had too much to say, so here's the first of two posts today.

Monday, September 11, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) - An Unusual Form (Elegy)

[Quick Summary: A 19 y.o. Robert Ford can not imagine how his hero worship of suspicious and violent Jesse James could lead to tragedy.]

This script really threw me.  It's odd, but I didn't know why. 

In my greener days, I would've been quick to dismiss it:

CONS
- It's rather plotless for the first 50+ pgs. until it picks up pace.
- The last 30 pages seem like an epilogue gone too long.

But when faced with an unusual script, I know now to take a step back and look:

PROS
- In pgs. 55-100, there's great suspense and a dueling between Bob and Jesse.
- The purpose of the scenes is different than other scripts. It's less about plot, more an attempt to capture a feeling. Here, it's knowing that loss is coming.

I think the closest analogy is an elegy, "a mournful, melancholy poem, especially a funeral song or lament for the dead." *

Notes for the scene below:
- Prior to this, Bob has killed Jesse's cousin but is unsure how much Jesse knows. Now Jesse has come to Bob's relative's house and he baits Bob.
- This is a bittersweet moment. Bob finally gets what he's been wanting (Jesse's acceptance) but now his hero is a threat.

ex. "BOB: How come George has a grudge against you?

JESSE: Hmmm?

BOB: You said George Shepherd had a grudge against you and I've just been wondering what it was?

JESSE: Oh. George asked me to protect this nephew of his during the war and it so happens the kid had five thousand dollars on him. The kid winds up killed, and all the money swiped from him, and when George was in in prison someone whispers to him it was Jesse James slit the boy's throat.

CHARLEY: Just mean gossip, was it?

JESSE: Bob's the expert; put it to him.

BOB rises from the table like a stamping boy in a snit.

JESSE: I've make him cranky.

WILBUR snickers.

BOB: I've been through this is all. Once people get around to making fun of me, they just don't ever let up.

MARTHA: Someone's speaking awful fresh over there!

BOB is forced to walk past JESSE to get to the main room. JESSE kicks a leg across BOB'S path, clouting the floorboards with his boot. BOB glances down at his bogus grin - the suggestion of malice beneath his antics.

JESSE: I don't want you to skip off to your room and pout without knowing why I dropped by for this visit.

BOB: I suppose you're going to tell us how sorry you are that you had to slap my cousin Albert around.

Such a great heat seems to come then from JESSE'S eyes that BOB glances away as if from sunlight, but in a second the man cools and says:

JESSE: I come to ask one of you two Fords to ride with me on a journey or two. I guess we've agreed it ought to be Charley; you've been acting sort of testy.

BOB stands pale and silent. Then he steps around JESSE'S boot and calmly climbs the stairs to the upper room."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I can see why this script would be a tough sell. It's harder to grasp than a traditional narrative form.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)(dated 12/8/04)
by Andrew Dominik
Adapted from the novel by Ron Hansen

*"The elements of a traditional elegy mirror three stages of loss. First, there is a lament, where the speaker expresses grief and sorrow, then praise and admiration of the idealized dead, and finally consolation and solace."

Monday, September 4, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Omen (1976) - Horror = Fear, Dread, or Dismay

[Quick Summary: After he is convinced to swap in another baby for his stillborn, an American ambassador and his wife are not prepared for the destruction that follows.]

ME: "What exactly is horror? 
MYSELF: It's blood and guts.
ME: That's lazy. This script is clearly horror, i.e., scary, but WITHOUT much blood and guts. So why is it still horror?
MYSELF: How does the dictionary define it?
ME: "(n.) painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay."
MYSELF: A-ha! Now you see why used the shorthand of "blood & guts"?

In other words, rely on "fear, dread, or dismay" (not blood & guts).*

ex. "INT. LIBRARY

Thorn turning to Kathy; pleased.

KATHY: I like her.
THORN: Yes.
KATHY: Where did you find her?
THORN (taken aback): Where did I find her?
KATHY: ...Yes.
THORN: I didn't find her, I assumed you found her.

They exit.

INT. ENTRY HALL - ANGLE ON KATHY

KATHY (shouting up the stairs): Mrs. Baylock!

INT. UPSTAIRS - SAME - ANGLE ON MRS. BAYLOCK

about to open the door to the child's room.

MRS. BAYLOCK (turning): Yes?

ANGLE ON KATHY

ascending the stairs, Thorn behind her; pausing as they reach the landing.

KATHY: I'm sorry, we're a little confused.
MRS. BAYLOCK (stiffening): Why is that?
KATHY: We don't know how you got here.
MRS. BAYLOCK: By taxi. I sent it away.
KATHY: What I mean is, who 'called' you?
MRS. BAYLOCK: The agency.
KATHY: ...The agency?
MRS. BAYLOCK: They saw in the papers you'd lost your first nanny, so they sent you another.

ANGLE ON KATHY

amazed.

THORN: ...very enterprising.
KATHY: I'll call to confirm that.
MRS. BAYLOCK: That'll be fine. Here are my references.

There passes an uneasy silence: all staring dumbly at each other.

MRS. BAYLOCK: If you'll excuse me now.
KATHY (uneasy): Yes, of course.

Mrs. Baylock reaches for the door...                                                                  CUT TO:

INT. THE CHILD'S ROOM - SAME

as the boy sits on the bed gazing out the window...slowly turning as he hears the door opening.

ANGLE ON THE NANNY

ENTERING; closing the door behind her, and locking it -- turning to gaze at the child. As she does, her expression transforms --her body stiffening, as though she is gazing upon something of incomparable beauty.

ANGLE ON THE CHILD

vaguely frightened.

CLOSE ANGLE ON MRS. BAYLOCK

moved.

MRS. BAYLOCK (fighting to control her voice): ...Fear not, little one. I'm here to protect Thee.

CAMERA HOLDS on her face."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: For horror, it's all about building the fear, dread, or dismay.

The Omen (1976)(dated 9/8/75)
by David Seltzer

*I once read a spec horror script that was pages of blood and gore, but failed to build any fear/dread/dismay. It was boring. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Femme Fatale (2002) - Voyeurism & Increasing Tension

[Quick Summary: A double crossing French con woman flees her conspirators, and when she's forced to return home, she runs a con to avoid the retribution.]

As mentioned last week, De Palma chooses "more controversial terrain: suspense, violence and eroticism."

I'd also like to add "voyeur" a minor addition to the list.*

Voyeurism is all about:
- Watching and seeing, which is why it works well with film format.
- Danger of being discovered, which increases the tension.

But how do you make 'watching and seeing' interesting on the page?

My two thoughts: 

1) As always, the audience always need to wonder what is going to happen next.
2) But in this script, the added twist is that even the voyeur is wondering.

Note in the example below:
- How each scene lures the voyeur (and us) into wanting to see more
- How there is danger to Larry, to Mrs. Watts, which keeps us anxious, curious

[FYI: Larry is a papparazzo following Mrs. Watts, the femme fatale.]

ex. "INT. LARRY'S VW - AFTERNOON

...As the driver's side of the LEXUS sweeps past [Larry], he catches a glimpse of a face.

A classic model's profile if [sic] wasn't marred by that ugly shiner spreading out from under her sunglasses and down her left cheek.

Could this be the LADY OF THE HOUSE with "photo op" written all over her face?

LARRY speed after her to find out.... 

EXT. PLACE PIGALLE - NIGHT

The LEXUS parks in front of a SEX SHOP. LARRY finds a parking place across the street as MRS. WATTS gets out of her car and walks over to a STREET WHORE. They talk for a few seconds, then MRS. WATTS folls the STREET WHORE into the shop.

LARRY, grabs a camera out of the car, and crosses the street to get a closer look.

Through the window, he watches MRS. WATTS talk to the MANAGER. LARRY snaps off a few shots. A little insurance in case SHIFF tries to muscle him again.

The MANAGER motions MRS. WATTS to follow him. As they move toward the rear of the store, the STREET WHORE turns to face the front door. LARRY ducks down out of sight. He retreats back behind a newsstand. When he turns back to look, the STREET WHORE has returned to the street and MRS. WATTS and the MANAGER have vanished. LARRY rubs his hand across his mouth. What the hell is going on? He looks up and sees two figures silhouetted in the second story window. One's a woman. One's a man. They appeared to be in a heated argument. Finally the woman opens her purse and flings something down on the floor. The man kneels down to retrieve it. The woman slowly pulls up her skirt, turning her back to the window. Her hand reaches behind her back and grips at the shade cord. Grabbing hold of it, she pulls down the shade, cutting off LARRY'S VIEW.

A few minutes later, MRS. WATTS emerges from the SEX SHOP carrying a BROWN SHOPPING BAG. She gets back into the LEXUS and drives of.

What was that all about? A bag of sex toys for an evening adventure? A perplexed LARRY continues tailing her....

LARRY watches from his car as MRS. WATTS checks in[to a hotel]. While she's occupied with the DESK CLERK, LARRY slips out of his car, crosses the road, and looks into the side window of the LEXUS. Resting in the bottom of the SHOPPING BAG is a GUN and a BOX OF BULLETS.

LARRY ducks down from view as MRS. WATTS returns to her car, takes out the SHOPPING BAG and returns to the hotel. LARRY follows."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Even in 'watching and seeing' scenes, the character is actively reacting to what he/she is seeing.

Femme Fatale (2002)(dated 11/21/00)
by Brian De Palma

*I hope that critic Roger Ebert might agree with me.  He wrote: "This is a movie about watching and being watched, about seeing and not knowing what you see."

Monday, August 21, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Body Double (1984) - Writing an Erotic Scene

[Quick Summary: An out-of-work actor watches a beautiful woman through a telescope, and when she is murdered, he chases her killer.]

I don't really like reading sex scenes on the page.

Frankly, they're often handled poorly, and I do not appreciate the writer trying to show off and/or shock me with yet another orgy scene that is neither sexy nor erotic. 

So what's does a good erotic scene look like on the page? 

I find it ironic that I cite this De Palma script as a good example.*

However, I admit that he explains well about what it should look like on the page: **
A lot of filmmakers think that just showing people kissing each other, and having a very good time, is enough. But so often their eyes are closed, and you can’t see their faces. The audience is completely shut out. In Hitchcock movies, you can see that they are kissing each other on the neck, and talking. They’re kissing lightly on the lips, and you can see their eyes. You see how they’re reacting. That’s what creates the eroticism of the scene. - Moviemaker (emphasis mine)
Note in the scene below how many times De Palma directs us back at the protagonist's (Jon) reaction.  We get involved as Jon gets involved:

ex. "Sam goes over to the telescope.
Looks through the viewfinder.

SAM: There's one very special feature to this house...

Sam fiddles with the viewer.
Pans to the side --up and down.Finds what he's looking for --

SAM: Come here, Jon. Meet my favorite neighbor.

Jon approaches.
An expression of doubtful bemusement on his face.

JON: Hey, Sam, what're you --

Sam grabs his arm.
Positions him at the telescope.

SAM: Just take a look.

Reluctant, but curious, Jon leans over.
Presses his eye to the lens.                                                                  CUT

INT. SAM'S HOUSE

POV
THROUGH THE TELESCOPE

EXT. FAMILY OF 4 HOUSE

Out of focus:
A family of four at the dinner table.

INT. SAM'S HOUSE

SAM (o.s.): See her?

JON (o.s.): Huh? Just a fmily.

SAM (o.s.): Not them, lower.

Jon pans down.
A jiggly movement.

EXT. GLORIA'S HOUSE

Focuses on the window below the family.
There in the window, a WOMAN.
Standing in the shadows.
A candle on the window sill.
Her face is obscured.
Like an eclipsed sun.
The woman, GLORIA, is drinking wine.
And touching herself.
Slowly, sensually, her breasts.
She puts the wine glass down.
Unbuttons her blouse.
Shrugs it off.
Beneath, she wears a thin silk camisole.
She unhooks her skirt.
It puddles to the floor.
She puts one foot up on a chair.
Touches her leg.
Caresses herself.

INT. SAM'S HOUSE

JON
at the telescope.
Fighting a battle.
And losing.
He cannot tear himself away.
Sam smiles.

SAM: Nice, huh?

And Sam retreats into the bedroom to pack."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The protagonist's reaction to what he sees, i.e., the change in him, is as important for us to see as what he's focused upon.

Body Double (1984)(revised 12/16/83)
by Robert . Averch and Brian De Palma
Story by Brian De Palma

*First, because his scripts are not really my cup of tea.

Second, if you didn't know already, De Palms is quite a divisive filmmaker, who chooses "more controversial terrain: suspense, violence and eroticism." (emphasis mine)

**I like that he says that eroticism, in his words, is "a bit of an illusion."

Monday, August 14, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Blow Out (1981) - Laying Story Pipe

[Quick Summary: After recording the sounds of a car "accident," a movie sound effects guy is hunted for that recording.]

This script surprised me in two ways:

First, the plot is intriguing and fairly...well, normal (though it's De Palma, so not THAT normal).

Second, I was ok that the inciting incident* (the car accident) occurs on p.15.

- So what was happening from p. 1-14?  The writer was laying down what I call "story pipe," which is necessary to setup a situation or a setup a payoff later.**

- What is the "story pipe" that kept me turning pages from 1-14?
p. 1-8: The script opens with a maniac stalking female college students in their dorm.
p. 9-12: We see that p. 1-8 is a film within a film, and our protagonist Jack is working the sound effects.
p. 12-14: On TV, a reporter states that the Governor McRyan will be announcing his candidacy for higher office, maybe tonight.
p. 15: Jack is recording sounds at night, near a creek, and sees McRyan's car swerve off the road into the water.
- Was all that story pipe necessary? In this script, I'd say yes because it sets up why Jack is outdoors at night with a sound recorder.

ex. "Jack nods. Sam starts to pace again.

SAM: And I still don't understand what a smart guy like you is doing this shit for.

JACK: Hey, I do the sound - you do the shit!

SAM (getting mad): No - you do the shit -- like that wind in the trees. Sounds like you're whistling in the crapper.

JACK: It's out of the library. We've used it a million times.

SAM: That's the trouble. I've heard it a million times -- get something new.

Jack nods.

SAM: And what about that scream? We got to dub it.

JACK (innocently): Right. (beat) Know any good screamers?

SAM: I got a few ideas."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Don't be afraid to lay story pipe. Make sure it isn't backstory.***

Blow Out (1981)(shooting script, dated 10/21/80)
by Brian De Palma

*Inciting incident = Act that kicks off the action

**"Story pipe" is not backstory, which is often unnecessary.

***How will I know the difference? 
a) Experience over a long time.
b) Reading more scripts.
c) From good feedback from other good writers.

Monday, August 7, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Dressed to Kill (1980) - Formatting; A Series of Shots

[Quick Summary: When a woman is murdered by a blonde, the lone witness becomes the blonde's new target.]

YOU: THAT IS NOT "STANDARD" FORMATTING!

ME: Yes, I know.

YOU: Do you care???

ME: Nope.

YOU: Why not?! I don't get it. Everyone is so uppity about formatting.

ME: Because IF the writing shows the story so I can connect the dots...
...and IF I get swept up in the story
...and IF it makes me feel intensely for the characters
...and IF it delivers the punch, the climax, the ending
...then the script works.  I don't notice the formatting.

YOU: So what's the deal with formatting "rules"?*

ME: They are like training wheels. You use them:
- As a fallback.
- When you're unsure what the producers want.
- Until you don't need them as much, i.e., When you're the director and know how to write in a series of cinematic shots.

De Palma is a good example of the last category.

Note below:
- how it is a series of cinematic shots
- how the shots build on each other

ex. "INT. ELEVATOR

When the elevator finally arrives, KATE steps in the car. She hears the sound of footsteps rushing down the hall. She frantically pushes the "close" button. The doors shut before the person coming down the hall can reach her. She is crying openly now and is thankful that no one is in the car to witness her shame. She pushes the lobby button and the car descends. As she pulls her finger off the button she realizes she's left her wedding ring on the bedside table.

KATE: Oh God!"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Pay closer attention to how the shots build upon each other, because the sum of those shots is what the audience sees.

Dressed to Kill (1980)
by Brian De Palma

* Remember: On this blog, "rules" = guidelines.  They are not etched in stone.

Monday, July 31, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Obsession (1976) - The Secret is Not the Creepy Parts

[Quick Summary: After his wife and child die in a kidnapping, a Southern real estate investor falls into a deep emotional freeze, until he meets his wife's look alike.]

In the land of "De Palma weird,"* this story is mild, but the twist is creeeeepy.

I thought that I'd be too creeped out to read on...but it's an addictive page turner.

Why? Why is this creepy but good vs. other creepy thriller/horrors just tedious?

I think the secret is NOT THE CREEPY PARTS:

1) The secret is to lay out a character's emotional dilemma that stirs our empathy.

ex.  In this story, Michael Courtland has his wife and child stripped from him, then he descends into hell.  His wound never heals and he is emotionally stuck in 1957.

2) Now the character's RESPONSE to the dilemma can go screwy/creepy/wild.

ex.  Twenty years later, he meets a woman who looks like his dead wife. He drags her to the old places, has her wear the wife's clothes. He's unmoored and doesn't notice.

Do I really need #1? Yes.

Why can't I just do smash a bunch of screwy/creepy/wild scenes together? ** #1 teaches me to care about the characters. A stream of #2 won't hold on the reader.

Note below how the writer:
-  Lay out the dilemma (Mike's emotional vulnerability in his first date with Sandra)
-  Lay out the threat (his spying business partner La Salle)
-  Prepare us for Mike's response later when he finds out

ex. "There is an awkward moment as they say goodnight. Sandra's prepared to accept a goodnight kiss, but Michael is afraid to offer one. Instead, he extends his hand in a shy, awkward way, and she takes it.

COURTLAND: Goodnight, Sandra.

SANDRA: Buona notte, Mike.

They turn and go their separate ways. The CAMERA PANS with Courtland as he walks down the street. Suddenly it STOPS on a man watching from an alley. We ZOOM IN TO DISCOVER it's La Salle."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Take the time to first lay out the character's present emotional state and dilemma, no matter what the genre.  Otherwise, it's forgettable.

Obsession (1976)
by Paul Schrader
Story by Brian De Palma and Paul Schrader

*De Palma scripts are outliers, i.e., they lie outside the normal bell curve of weird.

"De Palma weird" = My attempt to describe this outlying weirdness level.

** This is especially true of what I call "horror porn" scripts where it is scene after scene of gruesome --> more gruesome --> gross out. There is no emotional development, and it becomes tiresome.

Monday, July 24, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Phantom of the Paradise (1974) - Showing Character Through Interactions

[Quick Summary: After a rock opera producer steals his music and his muse, an up-and-coming composer fights back to get everything that was stolen.]

I've read a lot of weird scripts in my day. This one is WEIRD.

Is it Bad Weird or Good Weird?

This is Good Weird, which was worth a second look because it had something worthwhile to say. (BTW, it took me at least 2/3 of the script before I got it.)

Notice how the writer show us what the characters stand for by using interactions:

- Swan (antagonist) is a creepy bastard, as seen by his interactions with the girls.
- Winslow (protagonist) is persistent, as seen by his disguise to meet Swan.

(FYI: If you read the scene below and feel creeped out, it's ok. That's the intent.)

ex. "INT. SWAN'S RECORD-SHAPED BED - NIGHT

Winslow, in drag, but determined to see Swan, lies on a massive water bed surrounded by skimpily clad singers.

GIRL ONE: When do we get to sing?
GIRL TWO: I don't think too much singing goes on here.
GIRL THREE: I've been here 12 times and I don't get to sing -- all I get is to come back.
GIRL FOUR: What do you do here?
GIRL THREE: You'll see.
GIRL FIVE: Can't you sing on your back?
GIRL SIX: I've never tried.
GIRL FIVE: Well, if you can sing standing up, you can sing lying down.
GIRL SEVEN: Why don't you take off your slip?
GIRL EIGHT: I'm waiting for Swan.
GIRL SEVEN: He won't miss anything, if you do it now.
GIRL FIVE: Yeah -- you're being auditioned right now.
GIRL ONE: What do you mean?
GIRL THREE (whispered): The whole place is bugged.
GIRL FOUR: You're kidding.
GIRL THREE: No...no, Swan is watching us right now...

Suddenly Dorian enters the room from his sunken bath. Winslow leaps up, confronting him.

WINSLOW: Mr. Dorian, you remember me. I'm Winslow Leach.
DORIAN: Who let this fag in here?! (yelling to the guards) Get her out of here!

Winslow rips off his wigs.

WINSLOW: Mr. Dorian! It's me, Winslow.

The guards arrive and grab hold of Winslow.

GIRL FOUR: Hurry up, we're cooling off fast.

Dorian turns his back on Winslow and lustfully approaches the bed.

WINSLOW: Don't you remember me? Mr. Philbin gave you the music of my cantata. You're auditioning girls for the chorus. I'm Winslow Leach! I wrote it!

The guards drag Winslow from the room as Dorian slips into the rapidly cooling flesh pile.

DORIAN (to Girl Four): Hand me that telephone."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The reader can tell a lot about your protagonist (and antagonist) by how other characters react to him/her.

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)(dated 11/23/74)
by Brian De Palma

Monday, July 17, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Holy Matrimony (1943) - Sight Gag

[Quick Summary: When a famous but shy painter returns to London, he takes on the identify of his recently deceased valet in order to paint in peace.]

DEEE-lightful!  This script is smart, fun, witty, and rapier sharp.

First, I had to applaud the writer* who made me laugh with a 123 word sentence with NO PUNCTUATION.  It even looks funny on the page. Gutsy move.

Second, when I chuckled at this sight gag, I knew I was in good hands:

ex. "Dissolve to:

Montage - Letter

Occupying much of the screen, the envelope is stamped and addressed to PRIAM FARRLL, ESQ. The address itself should be indecipherable. Superimposed on the letter are:

(1) English railway train.

Dissolve to:
(2) Ocean liner.

Dissolve to:
(3) Black native paddling dugout canoe up river.

Dissolve to:
(4) Black native driving primitive oxcart along dirt road.
(5) Black native runner racing through jungle."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Why does this sight gag amuse me? Is it the exaggeration? The sequencing? The economy and clarity of what he's trying to convey? All of it?

Holy Matrimony (1943)
by Nunnally Johnson
Based on the novel, "Buried Alive," by Arnold Bennett

*Nunnally Johnson is no ordinary top notch writer.  Just look at his laudable range in films: Grapes of Wrath, The Three Faces of Eve, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Dirty Dozen, etc.

Monday, July 10, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Julia (1977) - Flashbacks That Nail the WHAT, Not the WHY

[Quick Summary: On a request from her best childhood friend Julia, Lillian Hellman is asked to deliver a package into Nazi occupied Berlin. Based on a true story.*]

My Three Thoughts:

1) My hat is OFF to you, Mr. Alvin Sargent. This is an incredible script.

When was the last time that I didn't want a script to end? I cannot remember.

2) For a tutorial in suspense, do NOT miss the train scene at the end.

3) I like flashbacks, but only if you know how to use them.**

Here, Sargent is extremely precise in how he's using flashbacks: To nail the protagonist's present emotions.  What is Lillian feeling now? (Not WHY, but WHAT.)
 
Notice the FLOW of the next three scenes (I have edited for length):
Scene #1 - Lillian is in shock at the request.  She must decide by tomorrow and doesn't have any guarantees.
Scene #2 - Flashback of Lillian in trouble. Fear --> trust in Julia.
Scene #3 - In the present, Lillian walks in a daze. The flashback shows us the war inside her, i.e., WHAT she's feeling inside now.
ex. EXT. THE GARDENS OF THE TUILERIES - LONG SHOT

[Lillian is in Paris and has not heard from Julia.  Then Johann, a friend of Julia's, shows up with a request: Would Lillian smuggle money to Berlin for Julia?

Lillian asks for time to decide.  Johann walks away.]

Another angle Lillian

walking on the path.

JULIA (O.S. - young girl): Lilly, you don't have to come this way. Go down under. Wade across.

Cut to

EXT. A TRAIL IN THE ADIRONDACK MOUNTAINS - DAY

Angle on a fallen tree which serves as access from one side of a relatively deep ravine to the other. Water rushes down the ravine. Julia and Lillian (children) have approached the tree. They study the pros and cons, Lillian with some trepidation. Finally, Julia moves with great alacrity across the fallen tree. Lillian remains on the edge of the ravine behind her. She is contemplating the depths. Quiite clearly her fear is increasing.

Angle on Julia

on the tree trunk as she reaches the other side. She looks back toward Lillian.

Her P.O.V. Lillian

Standing frozen in the distance.

Full shot

We wait a moment for Lillian to decide. Finally she makes her move. Carefully, she puts one foot on the log....

as Lillian continues on slowly. She moves closer to the other side. Finally, she is only a few yards from making it. She freezes again. We can feel the panic coming on her. She is about to lose her balance and starts to get down to her knees, but she slips off the log. As she does, she throws her arms around it and holds on for dear life. She is hanging beneath the log.

JULIA: Pull yourself up!
LILLIAN: I can't!
JULIA: Hold tight - just hold tight.

[Julia pulls Lillian up on the log. They are safe!]

....Closer shot Lillian and Julia

as they lie on their sides, exhausted.

LILLIAN: I'm sorry.
JULIA: It's all right.

She looks at Lillian like a good teacher, smiles.

JULIA: You'll do it next time.

Cut to

EXT. THE TUILERIES - ANGLE ON LILLIAN

walking on the path. The gardens are breathtaking, but Lillian is oblivious to everything around her, even a line of schoolchildren who nearly bump into her as they move with their teacher along the path."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I didn't notice the flashbacks. (That's how I knew they must have been unusually well crafted.)

Julia (1977)
by Alvin Sargent
Based upon the story by Lillian Hellman

*The forward notes that there is still great debate whether Ms. Hellman's memoirs and recollections are entirely true, or all or partly fictional.

**The "rule" says to not use flashbacks.  Why? Because it's too often used to dump information. That is lazy. Don't do that.

Monday, July 3, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) - Personify the Inner Conflict

[Quick Summary: A tribunal decides the innocence or guilt of four German judges who were on the bench during WWII.]

How do you make a 1948 war crimes trial that lasted 8 months appealing? Relevant?

This script could've been a boring trial, but writer Abby Mann* kept it interesting:

- The story follows Justice Haywood (played by Spenser Tracy) who is a fish-out-of-water. He is very curious, and takes us outside the courtroom into every day life.

- I expected the courtroom scenes that follow the prosecutor, defense attorneys, etc.  However, I did not expect so many character scenes outside the courtroom.

- I really liked how Mann structured the story to show Haywood's inner conflict about judging other judges' innocence or guilt:

1) We see glimpses of the inner conflict, here and there, mixed with humor.**

2) Mann personifies the German point of view through the character of Mrs. Berholt, a German widow with whom Haywood bonds with over music.

She represents the Germans (like her husband) who did not want the Nazis in power, but were swept up in the mess, and falsely accused of crimes and punished.

She makes Haywood face the fact that the issues are not black and white:

"ex. MRS. BERHOLT: What did he know about the crimes they cited him for? (pause) He was placed on trial with the other military leaders. He became part of the revenge which the victors always take on the vanquished...(simply, devastatingly)...it was political murder. (pause. Quietly look at Haywood) You can see that, can't you?

Pause. There is a moment. Haywood speaks finally. Obviously terribly moved by what she has said but not looking at her.

HAYWOOD (finally): Mrs. Bertholt. I don't know. (pause) I don't know what I see. (pause) I shouldn't be here right now talking to you. But I want to understand. I want to understand. I have to.

Mrs. Bertholt looks at him a moment. The stooped, agonized bulk of man sitting on the couch. She realizes how fully he is involved with his case and how much he really wishes to do what is right.

He is giving back to her the memory of the people in America that she had most come to admire. There is a moment.

MRS. BERTHOLT (gently): Would you like some more coffee?

HAYWOOD (quietly): Yes. I would.

Mrs. Bertholt begins to pour."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: One way to show the protagonist's inner conflict is to set him/her against another antagonist/friend/bystander who strongly takes one side in the conflict.

Now the protagonist's inner opinions will be brought out in the open.

Judgment at Nuremburg (1961)
by Abby Mann
Adapted from his 1959 teleplay (play here)(original 1959 video broadcast here)

*FYI: Mann is also the writer who brought the great Kojack (1973) to tv.

**The glimpses were just enough.  I so appreciate that it is not heavy handed conflict, ALL THE TIME.  Otherwise, it would have felt like a lecture.

Monday, June 26, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: My Man Godfrey (1936) - Simple + Complex

[Quick Summary: Godfrey, who lives at the town dump, is whisked away to become the Bullock family's butler.]

Two related thoughts:

1) Writer Taylor Sheridan repeats a 'rule' that I knew but didn't quite grasp:*
Simple story --> Allows room for complex characters, i.e., a character piece.
Complex story --> There's essentially room only for simple characters.
2) I find the above concepts helpful when reading such crazy, off the wall screwball comedies such as My Man Godfrey.  How did they do that?!

The story is indeed SIMPLE.  The writers broke it down into five parts:

1 - Godfrey is hired.
2 - Godfrey is introduced to the highly entertaining, odd family.
3 - Godfrey's secret is exposed.
4 - Godfrey is pseudo-blackmailed and his anonymity is challenged.
5 - Godfrey quits.

Now we have more room for the characters to play in COMPLEX conflicts.

In the scene below, notice:
a) How much fun it is to watch the characters bounce off each other.
b) Complex & complicated = requires a lot of space on the page. 

BULLOCK - father
ANGELICA - mother
CORNELIA- older daughter
IRENE -  younger daughter
CARLO - mother's 'protegee'

ex. "BULLOCK's face shows that he is furious.

BULLOCK: Well, who would know what they're talking about, living with a bunch like this. There is one thing I do know - what this family needs is discipline. I've been a pretty patient man - but when people start riding horses up the front steps and parking them int he library, that's going a little bit too far.

Bullock has crossed to the doorway and addresses himself at this point to Irene.

IRENE: Horses?
ANGELICA (rising): Are you insinuating that I rode a horse up the front steps last night?
BULLOCK: Maybe that wasn't a horse I saw in the library this morning.
ANGELICA (holding the dog, sits down): Well, I'm positive I didn't ride a horse into the library because I didn't have my riding costume on and I hope you're not insinuating that I should ride a horse into the library without my riding costume on.
CORNELIA (now seen in a close-up; seated): It was Irene who rose the horse - up the front steps.
IRENE: What horse?
CORNELIA (again, visible, in a close-up): Don't try to be innocent. I begged you not to do it.

Irene walks angrily over to Cornelia.

IRENE (accusingly): I didn't ride a horse - but if I did ride a horse - Who broke those windows on Fifth Avenue?
CORNELIA: What windows?
IRENE: You know what windows. And how about the college sap? Yah! Yah! Yah!
BULLOCK (going over to them): And I don't care who broke the horse or rode the windows up the steps or who yah-yah-yahed - (seen in a close-up now; excited) - This family has got to settle down!
CARLO: Ooooh!
ANGELICA (out of sight): Will you stop bellowing! (Seen standing; indignantly) Look what you're doing to Carlo.
BULLOCK (furious): Hang Carlo!"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I'm learning that Simple + Complex is one limitation of writing for film.**

My Man Godfrey (1936)
by Morrie Ryskind & Eric Hatch
Based on the novel by Eric Hatch

*And you know my opinion on "the rules" (here).

**Writing for film is different than other writing.

When writing for things to be SEEN... 
- A complex story with complex characters may/may not be possible to be shot.
- Zooming in and out of a character's internal thoughts may/may not be possible to be seen.

Both the above would be easier to do in a book form vs. film.

Monday, June 19, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Dreams (1990) - The "Rules"; Helpful Example of Suspense

[Quick Summary: A series of 11 short film episodes based on dreams by the director.]

TWO THOUGHTS: (Ok, 1 rant and 1 thought)

1) First, I heard that there were "rules" of screenwriting.

Then I heard that there were no "rules."

Then I noticed screenwriting nitpickers abhor using the word "rules," even though it's a useful term.* 

My opinion?  I think "rules" equals "guidelines." **

Do you need to know the "rules"?  Yes, you need to know them so that you know what you're doing when you break them.

For example, the "rules" say that writing episodic scenes are a no-no...

...Except this script is ELEVEN episodes that are meant to be seen together.

It works here. If it works, it wins.

2) In this script, I liked some of the episodes better than others.

However, the one undeniable thread through all of them is a feeling of SUSPENSE.

It comes from uncertainty and wondering, "What is going to happen next?"

Note how it builds because we cannot predict either characters below:

ex. From the episode "Crying Devils":

"Seeing me, he braces himself as if under attack by a wild animal. "Are you human?" he growls.

Startled, I stop short and nod.

He looks me up and down, as if evaluating, seemingly reluctant to accept my reply as fact.

"Who are you?" I venture.

He glares at me. Then his face gnarls with pain and he crouches.

"What's wrong?" I ask. "Something the matter with you? Are you sick?"

I move closer, but he jumps back like a beast and glares at me again. After a few moments he relaxes and runs a filthy hand through his matted hair, revealing a horn on his head.

Shocked, I jump back. "Are you a devil?"

The man's face contorts again. "Maybe. But I used to be a human being."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: When writing suspense, allow room for uncertainty in both the protagonist and antagonist.

Dreams (1990)
by Akira Kurosawa

*TIP: Don't be a nitpicker.

** Thus, the "rules/guidelines" means "possibly helpful, tried and true patterns"  It does NOT mean 'set in stone' or 'applies in every situation.' 

Monday, June 12, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Ran (1985) - Setting Up/ Paying Off the Comeuppance

[Quick Summary: Based on King Lear. The Great Lord Hidetora turns over his empire to his eldest son, and it triggers in-fighting and great destruction.]

I feel bad for Hidetora, but I also don't. 

He obtained his land by violence, and now it's coming back to bite him. Ironic, yes?

My favorite "gotcha" moment is the scene below.

Notice:
1) How the writers innocently set up Hidetora for a big payoff.  I didn't see it coming.
2) How they get us to empathize with the occupant.  This is key to making the comeuppance more emotionally satisfying.

ex. "INT. - STRAW HUT - DUSK

...TANGO: Excuse us for coming in with our shoes on, but our lord was suddenly taken ill... [Setup: Hidetora and company barge into someone's house. So unclassy.]

He steps up on the wooden floor and, together with Kyoami, carries Hidetora over to the hearth and, laying him there, addresses the occupant of the house, seemingly a woman.

TANGO (looks at the occupant): He is wet. Do you have something to cover him with? [More setup: Then they demand help. No 'please'? No manners?]

The occupant stays seated and does not move.

TANGO: Answer me, woman!

OCCUPANT: Are you talking to me?

TANGO: Yes.

The occupant of the house silent rises and goes to a corner of the room. Tango and Kyoami watch the person suspiciously. The occupant, seen from behind in the dim light, appears to be looking for something. [We get why the occupant is reluctant to help these intruders.]

The occupant rises and comes over, silently handing something over. Tango receives it - it is folded clothing. He opens it, puts it on Hidetora, and stares in surprise. It is a beautiful robe with a colorful design, out of keeping with the humble hut. Tango and Kyoami are amazed and curious as they look at it.  [1st surprise/payoff: They are wrong about the robe.]

TANGO: Speak up...woman!

OCCUPANT: I am not a woman. [2nd surprise/payoff: They are wrong about the occupant.]

TANGO: What? It is so dark, I... Bring me a lamp.

Tango reaches for a stick of lighted firewood in order to take a good look at him, and notices a cane leaning by the side of the hearth.

TANGO: I am sorry. Is your eyesight poor?

He holds up the stick of firewood. The occupant of the house is illuminated in the light from the burning stick. It is the face of a blind but handsome youth. Kyoami pulls back with a start and looks at Tango. [3rd surprise/payoff: They're wrong about his disability.]

TANGO (shocked, gazes at the youth): Are you Lade Sue's younger brother...Master Tsurumaru?

TSURUMARU: Yes.

Hidetora sits up, turns his eyes, and stares at the youth. Then, his voice trembling, he mutters with a frightened voice.

HIDETORA: Tsu...Tsurumaru?

TSURUMARU: It has been a long time...Lord Hidetora.

HIDETORA: Do you remember me?

TSURUMARU: How could I forget you? I was just a child, but how could I forget the one who gouged out my eyes in exchange for sparing my life...the day you burned down my father's castle?" [4th surprise/payoff: They've dug themselves a deep well. We see why Hidetora should be ashamed and feel justified at his current comeuppance.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: When there's a good setup and payoff, we see why the comeuppance is justified...and it feels so cathartic!

Ran (1985)
by Akira Kurosawa & Hideo Oguni & Masato Ide
Based on "King Lear" by William Shakespeare
Translated by Tadashi Shishido

Monday, June 5, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Kagemusha (1980) - What is the Premise/ Central Story Question/ Promise?

[Quick Summary: A thief who resembles a samurai warlord is drafted into becoming his body double during a time of war.]

BAD NEWS: I find Kurosawa scripts to be very dense.

Also, I have difficulty seeing on the page what he saw in his head.

GOOD NEWS: I never have trouble locating the premise/central story question/promise that he makes with the audience. 

Why? Because there is defined unity, i.e., everything points to the central question.

In the example below, the warlord Shingen gives an urgent speech from his sick bed. No one knows that it will also be his death bed.

Notice how the writers use the speech to instruct the men and to lay out the stakes:

ex. "*A ROOM IN THE TEMPLE

Arm rest on bedding. Shingen, with white bandage on chest, sits and leans on the arm rest. From his posture and expression, it can be seen that his condition is far from good.  [The big man is ill while at war with other warlords. What will happen?]

Darkened expressions on faces of Katsuyori, Baba, Yamagata, Kosaka, Oyamada and others surrounding Shingen. [Reaction of gloomy followers.]

SHINGEN: It is regrettable. I guess I will not see the Takeda flag fly in the capital.

KATSUYORI (impatiently): Father, what are you saying...

SHINGEN: Don't get excited. It has been my lifelong dream to place the Takeda flag in the capital. But, if I should die now, do not dwell on this dream of mine. If it is known that I've departed, Oda, Tokugawa and other enemies will rush into our domain. Do not reveal my demise for three years and guard the domain well. Do not make a false move. If my orders are not observed an you move our soldiers in vain, it will mean the end of the Takeda clan. Listen well, all. This is my last will. [This is the promise of the film: Why do our heroes go to extremes to create and protect a false double of Shingen? To protect the clan. To carry out his dying wishes. The rest of the film will answer: Do they succeed?]

Nobody speaks. Shingen, with extreme exhaustion and changed face, laughs deliriously and with bright eyes.

SHINGEN: This Shingen is not dead yet. I've spoken as I did because of the one in the a million chance that I should go. No, I won't die.

But these words give an impression of impending death to all present. Heavy air sets in."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Keep the premise/ central story question/promise clear in the story.

If you wander from it, you will have confusion and lack unity.

Kagemusha (1980)
by Akira Kurosawa & Masato Ide

Monday, May 29, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Throne of Blood (1957) - How to Show Significance (Literature vs. Film)

[Quick Summary: An adaption of "Macbeth" by William Shakespeare.]
 
In a 1990 conversation, film critic Gabriel Garcia Marquez asked Kurosawa:*
Q: Has your method also been that intuitive when you have adapted Shakespeare or Gorky or Dostoevsky?
A: Directors who make films halfway may not realize that it is very difficult to convey literary images to the audience through cinematic images. For instance, in adapting a detective novel in which a body was found next to the railroad tracks, a young director insisted that a certain spot corresponded perfectly with the one in the book. “You are wrong,” I said. “The problem is that you have already read the novel and you know that a body was found next to the tracks. But for the people who have not read it there is nothing special about the place.” That young director was captivated by the magical power of literature without realizing that cinematic images must be expressed in a different way. [Underline mine]
What an astute observation! YOU may know, but don't assume your reader knows.

So how do you convey to the reader "this is a special place/person/thing of significance"?

Take the time to SHOW it in how people act or react. 

In the scene below, two riders approach the witch's house in the woods.

Watch how we get the first clue from the horses, then the unease in the men:

ex. "Two men galloping, shrouded in lightning, in thunder and in strange laughter. Two men galloping. [The writers set the atmosphere: threatening and spooky.]

Their horses suddenly stand erect, and cannot be pressed forward. The frightened eyes, gasping sounds, and trembling ears of the horses, YOSHIAKI suddenly stops spurring his horse. Looking ahead he shouts involuntarily. [The horses sense danger first.]

YOSHIAKI: My god! What's that? [Dialogue conveys shock.]

TAKETOKI looks hard to the front. Ahead of them is a place rather sparsely wooded, leaving a small open space of grass. There stands a small straw-thatched cottage, deserted. The thunder and lightning, which were so violent a moment ago, have mysteriously abated. A beam of light falling through the trees calmly shines upon the cottage. [More unease because it's odd to have a cottage here.]

YOSHIAKI: Have you ever seen that cottage?

TAKETOKI: No, I have never seen such a cottage. This also must be the work of an evil spirit.

YOSHIAKI: But...

TAKETOKI: Behold, our horses! Their fright is real.

TAKETOKI fixes an arrow to the string and draws it to the full, aiming at the cottage. At that moment, a delicate, sad song reaches them from inside the cottage." [Odd sounds further the unease.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: In literature, there's more leeway for expression (external, internal).

ex. A character's reaction to a shocking incident may only be in his internal thoughts.

In film, we must express the same emotions but in a different way. It's mostly external,  i.e., to be seen externally.

ex. A character's reaction to a shocking incident may be an uncharacteristic move (fainting), an inconsistent behavior, etc.

Throne of Blood (1957)
by Shinobu Hashimoto & Ryuzo Kikushima & Akira Kurosawa & Hideo Oguni
Translated by Hisae Niki

*Yes, THAT Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Monday, May 22, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Seven Samurai (1954) - Giving Weight & Meaning to Action/Violent Scenes

[Quick Summary: Under the threat of bandits, a village hires a band of seven samurai for protection.]

Three Things Worth Noticing:

1) I've seen this film and it's everything everyone says that it is, including:

- One of the first modern action films
- One of the first films to show the unglamorized consequences of violence
- Excellence in editing

2) For me, the genius of Seven Samurai is in the editing and shots.

I would've bought it based on a short film or discussion with the director.

I probably would not have bought it based on the script because I just couldn't see the whole film visually.

3) So should you still read the script? (Yes, it's a long one.)

Yes, if only to learn how to give your action/violent scenes weight and meaning.

One key is to include a visual of what results from of the fighting and/or violence, i.e., people DIE. People get HURT. There are CONSEQUENCES.  If this is absent, the action is forgettable.

ex. "Low-angle medium shot of the WOMAN holding the baby with KIKUCHIYO in three-quarter back view in the foreground. The mill wheel still turns in the background, now almost enveloped in flames. Without saying a word, the WOMAN hands the baby to him; then, thowing back her head, she staggers forward. KAMBEI rushes up to catch her. As she falls into his arms he feels blood on his hand and looks at it. KIKUCHIYO, holding the child, looks at the WOMAN's back.

KAMBEI: She was speared. RIght in the back. Yet she got as far as here. What will-power!

KAMBEI hoists the WOMAN's dead body onto his shoulder and KIKUCHIYO puts out a hand to stead him, still holding the baby in his other arm.

KAMBEI: Kikuchiyo, let's go back.

He starts to wade back down the stream towards camera.

Medium shot of KAMBEI coming towards camera carrying the WOMAN over his shoulder. Behind him, KIKUCHIYO is staring at the child in his arms, the mill blazing in the background. KAMBEI notices that KIKUCHIYO is not following him and turns back, uring him on.

KAMBEI: Come on, what's the matter?

Medium close-up o KIKUCHIYO holding the child, silhouetted against the flames. Tilt down with him as he sinks down onto his knees, waist-deep in the stream.

KIKUCHIYO: This baby. It's me! The same thing happened to me!

He sobs, hugging the child tightly."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Remember to include the consequences of action/violence through reaction shots, etc.

Otherwise, the audience is less inclined to get invested.  

Seven Samurai (1954)
by Akira Kurosawa & Shinobu Hashimoto & Hideo Oguni

Monday, May 15, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Ikiru (1952) - How to Show a Man's Internal Turmoil

[Quick Summary: When a boring office drone is diagnosed with cancer, he struggles to make sense of his remaining time on earth.]

Ah, the conundrum: How do you show a man thinking/feeling, without dialogue?

In this script (from the master, Kurosawa), it is in the man's reaction (or non-reaction) and interactions with his surroundings.

Note below how our hero, Watanabe, reacts:

[Prior to this scene below, a stranger spews out a list of symptoms to Watanabe.]

ex. "WATANABE is feeling more and more uncomfortable. Quiet sinister music. He changes seats, but the MAN follows him. [His movement away = discomfort.]

Shot of WATANABE becoming more and more uncomfortable. [Watanabe is increasing in discomfort as he absorbs the Man's comments.]

MAN (cont'd): And you won't be able to eat meat, or anything you really like, then you'll vomit up something you ate a week ago; and when that happens, you have about three months left to live.

Cut to a long shot of WATANABE alone in the waiting room. The slow and melancholy music of the opening is heard. He is small in the distance, almost lost in the large waiting room. [Wantanbe alone, far away = Even the positioning of the camera shows how he must be feeling inside.]

A NURSE suddenly calls his name; she calls it several times because he does not hear. He finally hears and rises. The music fades.  [He does not hear the nurse = He is lost in deep thought.]

Cut to the X-ray room; two DOCTORS and a NURSE are waiting.

Cut to WATANABE entering, then a shot of their faces as they wait for him to sit down.

Quick close-up of the DOCTOR's face, then WATANABE's.

DOCTOR: Yes, please sit down. Well, it looks as though you have a light case of ulcers.

Cut to WATANABE's hands. He drops the coat he is carrying. The music begins again. [His reaction shows shock.]

Cut to their faces.

WATANABE: Be honest with me. Tell me the truth. Tell me it's cancer.

The DOCTORS' faces; the NURSE's face; the back of the young DOCTOR's head - he is looking at the X-ray picture. She picks up WATANABE's coat.

DOCTOR: Not at all. It's just a light case of ulcers, as I said.

WATANABE: Is an operation impossible?

DOCTOR: It's unnecessary. Medicine will fix you up.

WATANABE: But what shall I eat?

DOCTOR: Anything you like, so long as it's digestible.

Cut to WATANABE. Hearing this he lowers his head so that it almost touches the desk." [No need to tell us he is discouraged because his movement shows us.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: To show a man thinking, show us his reactions and interactions with his surroundings.

Also, sometimes a character in the distance (or in a close-up) may help mimic feeling far or near.

Ikiru (1952)
by Shinobu Hahimoto & Akira Kurosawa & Hideo Oguni

Monday, May 8, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Marnie (1964) - Conned by a Pretty Girl

[Quick Summary: Thief, liar, and embezzler Marnie is caught in a criminal act by wealthy Mark, who falls for her and tries to unravel her frozen emotional past.]

Two Thoughts:

1) PROTAGONIST-ANTAGONIST SWITCHEROO

I want to complain today.* I am irritated.

This is Marnie's story. It is about HER fear of men, desire, and intimacy.

So why does it feel like the protagonist (Marnie) switch to the antagonist in the second half? And antagonist (Mark) becomes the protagonist?

After a little cooling off, I did see that this is a tough adaption.

It is not easy making this character's internal life apparent in the external world.

Marnie is so self-protective, so self-absorbed in her own pain that she doesn't pay much attention to anyone, much less men.   

She has no real motivation to break out of that cocoon...so Mark has to do it.

Though I don't like it, I can see why the writer did it this way.

2) CONNED BY A PRETTY GIRL: Establishing her M.O.

Marnie is pretty, which is why she gets jobs that she is not qualified to have.

In the amusing scene below, we see how she used her looks to con one male owner:

ex. "MED. SHOT - STRUTT AND DETECTIVES

STRUTT (fairly screaming): No damn it! That's Miss Croft! I told you people over the phone! Marion Holland! She's the one! Marion Holland!

One DETECTIVE takes a notebook out as his partner crosses the foreground toward the safe.

DETECTIVE: Can you describe her, Mr. Strutt?

STRUTT: Certainly I can describe her! (his little eyes narrow in bittersweet memory) Five foot five. One hundred and ten pounds. Size eight dress. Blue eyes. Black hair...wavy. Even features. Good teeth...

As he writes the DETECTIVE begins to grin.

STRUTT: What's so damn funny? There's been a grand larceny committed on these premises!

DETECTIVE (straightens his face): Yes sir. You were saying... (reads from notes) 'Black hair, wavy...even features, good teeth...' She was in your employ four months? .... What were her references, Sir?

There is a pause during which the CAMERA MOVES gently forward to include a

CLOSE-UP OF STRUTT ONLY

STRUTT (this one really hurts): Well...as a matter of fact...her...uh...yes, I believe...(lamely)...she had references, I'm sure.

CLOSE-UP - MISS CROFT

MISS CROFT (blandly): Oh, Mr. Strutt, don't you remember? She didn't have any references at all!

CLOSE SHOT - STRUTT AND THE DETECTIVES

STRUTT stiffens with indignation at this betrayal. The DETECTIVES remain tactfully deadpan.

STRUTT (clears his throat): Well...uh...she worked the copying and adding machines...no confidential duties, you know.

He looks off suddenly."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Sometimes solutions are downright inelegant and clunky.

On the other hand, it was elegant to expose Strutt's embarrassing mishaps and showcase Marnie's clever con....

Marnie (1964)(shooting draft, 10/29/63)by Jay Presson Allen
From the novel by Winston Graham

*My first complaint: This script is LONG (201 pgs.)

Monday, May 1, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: They Live (1988) - "Compare & Contrast" Technique for a Reveal

[Quick Summary: Down on his luck worker finds a pair of sunglasses that allows him to see that aliens are keeping humans asleep and enslaved.]

How would you reveal aliens among us?

In this script, writer John Carpenter first grounds us in the mundane...

...and then mixes it with the extraordinary (because he is, after all, Carpenter).

Below, he uses a "compare and contrast" technique to get the reveal across:

a) Nada, our hero, sees a human get into a car (no sunglasses, ordinary).
b) Nada sees an alien (with sunglasses, extraordinary).
c) Nada can't make sense of what he's just seen (can't process the illogical).

ex. "Nada looks over...

HIS POV: (normal, color) as the Well-Dressed Customer walks up to his Mercedes. He drops a full paper on the sidewalk, keeps the business section, gets into the car. Sunglasses come up OVER FRAME (black and white) and now it's a Well-Dressed Hideous Ghoul who shoots Nada a final glance...

VENDOR: Hey buddy -- I don't want a hassle, okay? Either pay me or put it back...

Nada numbly puts back the magazine. He's moving on auto pilot now, staggering past the Vendor who looks at him curiously. Moving on down the street...

HIS POV: THRU SUNGLASSES (black and white), a BUSINESSMAN GHOUL, same awful face, stands at a pay phone...

BUSINESSMAN GHOUL: Don't worry, the insurance company will take care of it."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: "Comparing and contrasting" external situations is an effective way to reveal what a character is having difficulty processing internally.

They Live (1988)
by John Carpenter (written as Frank Armitage)(shooting script)
Based upon the short story, "Eight O'Clock in the Morning," by Ray Nelson*

* I am interested that Nelson is apparently the creator of the propeller beanie.

Monday, April 24, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Halloween II (1981) - Delivering the Promise from the Opening Shot

[Quick Summary: Picking up from the first film, Laurie is transported to the hospital, where she and others are stalked by Mike Myers, who is still alive.]

BAD NEWS: I liked this script but didn't love it.

The stakes are high and it's scary, but...it feels like Halloween 1, the second half.

I guess I'm still not sure what makes a sequel good to meet people's expectations.

GOOD NEWS: I think the opening is a real crowd pleaser.

It acknowledges the loyal audience, "We know why you came: For scares!"

ex. "FADE IN:

MAIN TITLE SEQUENCE

In the middle of a black screen is a pumpkin.

A jack-o-lantern. Two candles on either side cast a flickering orange glow on the carved, grinning face.

CAMERA SLOWLY DOLLIES IN on the pumpkin.

SUPERIMPOSE MAIN TITLES.

Finally the pumpkin FILLS THE SCREEN. The final credit is SUPERIMPOSED.

Then suddenly the pumpkin CRACKS OPEN from top to bottom!

Underneath the meat, pulp and seeds that pour out is a wet, gleaming skull!

                                                                                                                  DISSOLVE TO:
BLACK SCREEN."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I like a script that knows what it is, and delivers.

Here, this is a horror script and it delivers the scares from the opening shot, i.e., the audience knows it's in good hands.

Halloween II (1981)(shooting script, dated 3/12/81)
by John Carpenter and Debra Hill

Monday, April 17, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Escape from New York (1981) - Antagonists + 1 Goal = Unity & Clarity

[Quick Summary: Convict Snake Plissken has 24 hrs. to find and rescue the U.S. President in NYC, which now is essentially a prison island ruled by the Duke.]

What I like about John Carpenter scripts: They are very clear.

For example, Escape is about a man vs. his environment.

It could've been confusing because there are multiple antagonists:

First, Plissken commits a crime, then
--> He is jailed
--> He's offered his freedom if he rescues the President from NYC, a place so treacherous that the police avoid it.
--> He arrives in NYC (p. 41) and ducks and dodges criminals to locate the President*
--> He finally meets the biggest antagonist, the Duke (p. 84)*

I think the script was so clear because it has the unity of a single goal, i.e., no matter how many obstacles, Plissken focuses on finding the President and getting him out.

ex. "PLISSKEN: Mister President...

The man turns around. He is DRUNK. He holds a bottle of awful-looking yellow liquid. He wears the President's coat and the vital signs bracelet. He grins drunkenly.

DRUNK: I'm the President. Sure, I'm the President. I knew when I got this thing I'd be President!

Plissken grabs him.

PLISSKEN: Where'd you get it?

DRUNK: Woke up. There it was. Like a miracle!

Holding his arm, Plissken WHACKS the vital signs bracelet against the wall!"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  Go ahead and create multiple antagonists!

(As long as you have a unity of goal to keep the story focused, that is.)

Escape from New York (1981)(shooting script, dated 6/10/80)
by John Carpenter and Nick Castle

**I was surprised that Plissken gets to NYC so late, and meets the big Duke even later, but it works here!

Monday, April 10, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Fog (1980) - How Long Before the Bomb(s) Detonate(s)?

[Quick Summary: On the evening before its centennial celebration, a small northern Californian town and its citizens are attacked by vengeful supernatural fog.]

Let's say you know there is a bomb under the table.

How many pages into a script do you have to know WHY it was placed there?

In this script, the writers were able to postpone it until p. 45! That's amazing.

So how did the writers keep us interested between p. 1-44?  I found a few hints:

- There are multiple bombs detonating all the time.
- The bombs are not all the same.  ex. The first one is like a smoke bomb, i.e., destructive but not deadly.
- The bombs happen at random, like shark attacks.
- The citizens have to figure out that bombs are happening. 
- Then they have to discover the bombs have a pattern.

I don't want to spoil the reveal WHY, so here is a sample of an early "smoke" bomb:

ex. "INT. CAR

...Nick puts the truck in gear and starts up again. The MUSIC onthe radio ends and Steve's voice comes on.

STEVE (voice over radio): It's four and a half minutes after midnight and let me be the first to wish Antonio Bay a Happy Birthday. We're one hundred years old today!

Suddenly the driver's window next to Nick SHATTERS wildly into a million pieces!

ANGLE ON FRONT WINDOW

The entire front window SHATTERS, BLASTING inward!

ANGLE ON ELIZABETH

She SCREAMS and the passenger window CRASHES in on her!"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: It's ok to postpone the WHY of a bomb. 

We can build suspense in the meanwhile: who might be a potential victim; the consequences for the town during a public celebration; etc.

The Fog (1980)
by John Carpenter and Debra Hill

Monday, April 3, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Halloween (1978) - Delivering a Gripping Script on a Low Budget

[Quick Summary: A babysitter and her friends are stalked by evil Mike Myers who has just escaped an asylum.]

Three Things I Find Fascinating About This Script:

1) Carpenter made it for $300k and thought it didn't need a sequel:
But Michael Myers was an absence of character. And yet all the sequels are trying to explain that. That’s silliness – it just misses the whole point of the first movie, to me. He’s part person, part supernatural force. The sequels rooted around in motivation. I thought that was a mistake.
2) Mike Myers is a super-scary character BECAUSE he has no motivation:
But it was a movie where the main character, the guy in the mask, really isn’t altogether human. He has no characteristics. He's, uh, almost like a machine. He was just pure evil. That was what I intended to do. It's evil out of nothing, evil from no background, which completely creeps me out as a human being, that evil could arrive at my doorstep without a purpose, without a past, without an origin. So that's the idea behind it. It was put together to scare you. That’s all.
3) This script reads very fast, and does not read like a low budget film. Why?

I think it's because Carpenter:
- knew the film was going to be done on the cheap
- knew he had to deliver the scares
- knew that he had to deliver SOMETHING that didn't require stunts, car chases, etc.

So he cranked up the levels of tension about what was to happen next (also known as Hitchcock's "bomb under the table.")

ex. "[Dr.] Loomis glances at Marion as she lights a cigarette. She shoves the matches into the pack and tosses it on the dashboard. Loomis stares at the cigarette pack. The pack of matches reads: "The Rabbit in Red Lounge -- Entertainment Nightly." Loomis turns his eyes back to the rain-slicked road. [This is a setup for a later payoff.]

LOOMIS: Ever done anything like this before?
MARION: Only minimum security.
LOOMIS: I see.  [This feels bad.]
MARION (defensively): What does that mean?
LOOMIS: It means ... I see.
MARION: You don't have to make this any harder than it already is.
LOOMIS: I couldn't if I tried. [Yes, it is really bad.]
MARION: The only thing that ever bothers me is their gibberish. When they start raving on and on... LOOMIS: You don't have anything to worry about. He hasn't spoken a word in 15 years. [This is really, really bad! I am anxious. What is next?]

Both of them suddenly stare out the windshield in front of them.

POV THROUGH WINDSHIELD -- FIELD

Through the rain we see a field off to the side of the road. Dimly lit by the car headlights are FIVE PATIENTS, dressed in wind-blown white gowns, drenched by the rain, wandering aimlessly around the field."  [So, so bad! HOW WILL THIS END??!!]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I like that this script puts the focus on what it can do (increase tension), and not on what it cannot (big effects, CGI).

It does not whine about its budget nor try to overcompensate ("aren't we clever!")
  
Halloween (1978)(shooting draft, dated 4/10/78)
by John Carpenter and Debra Hill

Monday, March 27, 2017

2016 OSCARS: Moonlight (2016) - Explaining A Bit of Local Jargon

[Quick Summary: Told at three ages, this story follows abandoned Little/Black who is struggling in Miami to survive life and figure out his sexuality on his own.]

As I was reading this script, I didn't really pay attention to the setting.

Later, I realized how important Miami is to this particular story and filmmakers.

Without the beach, the ocean, and sunny temperatures, it's a different story.

Miami also has its own lingo, as every metropolitan city does.

I liked how the writer explained a bit of local jargon without dumbing it down or insulting the reader's intelligence. 

It is matter of fact and informative (the insult is insulting, but not too insulting):

ex. "Black nodding.

BLACK: Can't picture bein' in Miami with no car, man.

KEVIN: Yeah it's real out here.

BLACK: I bet.

KEVIN: Real slow, real hot, real busted, got me like a duck out here.

Both laughing at that, you can be called a lot of things in Miami and next to snitch, duck is about the worst."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Don't be afraid to explain a bit of local jargon, if it helps the reader understand context. 

Without the explanation, I would've been clueless if "duck" was a good or bad thing.

Moonlight (2016)
by Barry Jenkins
Based on "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue", by Tarell Alvin McCraney

Monday, March 20, 2017

2017 OSCARS: Lion (2016) - After the "All is Lost" Moment; Coincidence

[Quick Summary: Twenty five years after being lost in an Indian railway station, Saroo, who now lives in Australia, struggles to identify his small Indian hometown and family.]

Q: How does one EARN an "all is lost" moment?

A: A character tries, and tries, and tries, but cannot accomplish a goal --> He/she falls into despair, depression, discouragement, i.e., "All is Lost" (AIL).

Q: But then how does he/she RECOVER (or NOT) from it?

A: A few suggestions:

- First, recognize that AIL is a turning point. Now life will either get better (something positive happens) or worse (something negative).

- Second, after the AIL moment, the recovery (or not) moment needs to be truthful.

It does not have to be big, drastic, or unusual.

It's even ok if it seems coincidental because it does happen in life.

In this script, Saroo tries, and tries --> All is Lost --> The recovery seems to happen by coincidence, by chance...but it's the truth!

ex. "INT. LIVING ROOM, BEACH HOUSE - NIGHT

....Saroo slumps down on the couch. End of the road. He has to move on too.

Over on the Wall: that mess he's just made. [Here begins the All is Lost moment.]

The laptop sits open on the couch. He leans across, places his finger on the trackpad, follows a train line -

- then starts to flick the track pad, faster. So that before the station has time to reach full resolution -

- he flicks again, carelessly, without method.  [He's mad that all his efforts have failed. He is careless, which is a natural reaction to failure.]

And suddenly - it's a kind of goodbye - he veers off the rail line completely - out over land - and more land -  [He's on a destructive spree.]

- doing on the SCREEN what he just did on the WALL -

- random shifts, here, there, left, right. Jerky. EVERYTHING starts cascading in his psyche, as his memories make their final fight for life. So we see MAD SNIPPETS and FLASHES:

GUDDU - COAL THEFT - DAM - JOY - UNDERPASS - STREETS - WATERMELON ACCIDENT - HIDE AND SEEK WITH SHEKILA AND KAMLA.

- and on and on it goes - interwoven with the Google Earth search on screen, as Saroo carelessly continues flicking the cursor, saying goodbye to the search as his past and his memories disintegrate into fragments -  [More images that equate to a middle finger, "burn it all down" mentality.]

He stops. Exhausted. His face perfectly blank. Equally randomly now, he tap-tap-taps on that "Zoom Out" minus sign. 

He ZOOMS OUT, higher. Higher. We're now staring down on a good chunk of India.

Scrolling, Saroo flicks quite a distance left. Still just random moves. We are now way outside the search perimeter.

Nothing maters. Flick, flick. Who cares? [He's exhausted. All is Lost moment ends.]

And then: something stops him. He tilts his head - [The recovery begins here. Hope?]

ON THE SCREEN: an expanse of ochre fields.

He pulls the laptop onto his thighs. Something about that COLOR. Still as the Sphinx, he stares at the screen."  [On the one hand, it seems like coincidence. On the other, it follows naturally from the destructive behavior. Like a phoenix rising from ashes.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The AIL moment is a turning point.

The recovery (or not) moment after AIL can be wild or "coincidental", but must be truthful.

Lion (2016) 
by Luke Davies
Based on the book A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierley

Monday, March 13, 2017

2017 OSCARS: Hidden Figures (2016) - Style (Showy) vs. Substance (Story)

[Quick Summary: Katherine Goble/Johnson works through the mathematics and politics of a 1962 workplace to help put an American into space.]

**clapping**

Three Reasons I Applaud This Script:

1) This is probably the fastest that I've read an Oscar script.

2) It totally sucked me into another place and time (so rare).

3) Some scripts are a pain to read because style (showy) wins over substance (story).

This script was a pleasure to read because style was always in service of story.

For example, the story opens on Katherine as a child. She is above average smart. 

How would you have shown how smart she is?

Does another child mock her? Does she get an award? Show off? Spout off?

The writers chose a less showy, but more effective way that keeps us on track.  (Also, I feel this probably reflects more truly of who the real Katherine is):

ex. "In darkness, the voice of a little girl. Counting.

LITTLE GIRL (V.O.): 14, 15, 16...prime. 18, prime.  [A little girl knows what a prime number is?!]

EXT. TREE LINED PATH - DAY

A pair of little feet navigates down a gravel path. Kicking a pine cone.

LITTLE GIRL (O.S.): 20, 21, 22, prime, 24, 25, 26... [I didn't know what prime numbers were until high school. And here, she's counting...for fun.]

Pulling up, we reveal: KATHERINE COLEMAN (8), a peculiar, quiet, mouse of a child, wearing glasses bigger than her bookish face. Counting to herself. 

A VOICE (her Mother's) in the distance hollers out:

JOYLETTE COLEMAN (O.S.): Katherine! Come on now!

Katherine looks up. Sees a car stopped at the end of the path. She runs off. Counting all the way."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I liked that the writers did not try to shoehorn the characters into outlandish situations (showy). 

Instead, they got out of the way and allowed the characters' traits to surface, and that created conflicts more organically.

ex. Katherine thrived on data, but Man #2 withheld data, claiming she didn't have 'clearance' --> She figured it out anyway and left Man #2 with egg on his face.

Hidden Figures (2016)
by Allison Schroeder and Ted Melfi
Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly

Monday, March 6, 2017

2017 OSCARS: Fences (2016) - When a Play Format Works in a Screenplay

[Quick Summary: Troy and Rose, a black couple in 1957, struggle with life's disappointments and unexpected curve balls.]

I used to be a self-righteous script snob: "You can't do...", "You shouldn't do..."

I say "self-righteous" because I'd read a lot of books on writing scripts and listened to a lot of podcasts about scriptwriting, but had not actually READ a lot of scripts.

Then I read and studied a lot of scripts. A lot, a lot, a lot. It took longer than I'd liked.

This screenplay, Fences, is in play format.*

My former self would've screeched, "That's wrong formatting!"

But my wiser self today says: "Who says it's wrong? It works here. That's smart."

This script was written this director and cast, some of whom had done the play.

It delivered what was needed to tell the story (characters, tone, mood, etc.), and little of what is not (ex. details on the house).

Note how the writer lays out the essentials (character, conflict), i.e., Rose's contradictions let us know that Troy is a unreliable narrator.  All else is imagination.

ex. "ROSE: I told him if he wasn't the marrying kind, then move out they way so the marrying kind could find me.

TROY: That's what she told me. "Nigger, you in my way. You blocking the view! Move out the way so I can find me a husband." I though it over two or three days. Come back -

ROSE: Ain't no two or three days nothing. You was back the same night.

TROY: Come back, told her... "Okay, baby...but I'm gonna buy me a banty rooster and put him out there in the backyard...and when he see a stranger come, he'll flap his wings and crow..." Look here, Bono, I could watch the front door by myself...it was that back door I was worried about.

ROSE: Troy, you ought not talk like that. Troy ain't doing nothing but telling a lie.

TROY: Only thing is...when we first got married...forget the rooster...we ain't had no yard!"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Forget "rules." Use whatever works to convey your story.

(Ok, ok, there are guidelines that might help, but I don't like calling them 'rules.')

Fences (2016)
by August Wilson
Based on his play

* Fences was originally a stage play, and was adapted into a screenplay by the playwright.

Monday, February 27, 2017

2017 OSCARS: Arrival (2016) - What They Don't Tell You About Transitions, i.e., Linking

[Quick Summary: A linguist establishes contact with 12 alien "shells" to find out why they have come to Earth.]

I scoff that I once thought transitions were easy.

It is just "getting in and out of scenes," right?! Nope. There's more.

I liked what Eric Heisserer (@HIGHzurrer, and a hoot on Twitter) tweeted:
TODAY'S CHALLENGE: Transitions. Remove the slug lines (INT./EXT.) and examine scene relationships. 
When I don't have a slug line announcing a new scene for readers, it forces me to forge a cinematic link between them.  I start to think about why and when I'm leaving one scene, and how it connects to the visual or audio of the next one. But the stronger you bind one scene to the next, the more you protect them from unnecessary changes later. More and more, I'm learning that great storytelling is about the relationship: of two shots, of two scenes, of two characters, etc. (1/30/17)
Transitions are what link a scene(s) together.

Without those links, the reader will: 1) not get your vision, and/or 2) stop reading.

Let's try to identify the links in this scene:

ex. "INT. BARRACKS - MORNING

ON A LAPTOP SCREEN: Aerial footage of the Shell appears. Back from a safe distance. The Shell looks, as always, intimidating.

But now with the footage is a SINISTER SCORE added by shock-jock radio host RICHARD RILEY, who emphasizes words -- [This scene opens on tv footage on a laptop screen.]

[For brevity, I cut out Riley's dialogue here.]

REVEAL the LAPTOP is in:

The military barracks. And PRIVATE LASKY listens intently to it. Nodding. Glancing out the open flaps of the barracks tent toward the giant Shell in the distance.

[We see we are in military barracks.  This establishes our location.]
[The 1st POV is Lasky, who agrees with the shock jock.]

Three bunks over, a group of SCIENTISTS watch a news program on a separate TV, following riots somewhere. Could be Prague, could be Detroit. One SCIENTIST shakes his head in disgust. Outside, Louise walks past the barracks, on her way to --"

[The 2nd POV are the scientists, who are concerned about the rioting.]
[We glimpse a 3rd POV, Louise.]
[Note how this one scene shows three distinct POVs, without any dialogue. This links them AND contrasts how each one feels about the present events.]

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I liked the idea that the stronger my transitions, i.e., linking scenes, the bigger the chance that they will stay in the final draft.

Arrival (2016)
by Eric Heisserer
Based on the story, "Story of Your Life," by Ted Chiang

Monday, February 20, 2017

2017 OSCARS: 20th Century Women (2016) - Conveying Uncertainty and Vulnerability

[Quick Summary: Dorothea (55), her son Jamie (15), the renter upstairs, Abbie (28), and Julie (17) try to make sense of life in the 1979.]

In this script, Dorothea tries to connect with her son, but it's awkward and imperfect, as real life parenting often is.

To me, this script really stands out because it conveys the day-to-day uncertainty and vulnerability of life so well as a parent, a child, or just a person.

I liked how each character continues to pursue their needs in the face of uncertainty.

I liked that the writer allows the characters to be hurt and vulnerable, i.e., human.

For example, in the scene below:
- Dorothea (mom) wants to connect with Jamie (son)
- Jamie wants to be cool and grown up and doesn't know how
- Abbie wants to "jam on" and forget her present life

ex. "INT. ABBIE'S ROOM - NIGHT

Jamie  and Abbie sit together, listening to The Raincoats - Fairytale In The Supermarket.  Abbie's looking at the cover, Jamie's looking through her other records.

Dorothea appears in the doorway, observing her son, and his obvious love of this. She enters, sits down and listens with them, an awkward moment.

DOROTHEA: What is that?

ABBIE: It's The Raincoats.

She nods awkwardly to the beat, trying to relate.

DOROTHEA: Can't things just be pretty?

JAMIE: "Pretty" music's used to hide how unfair and corrupt society is.

DOROTHEA: Ah, okay so... they're not very good, and they know that, right?

He just looks at her - 'why're you still here' - she looks at him confused by his pushing her away. Seriously curious.

ABBIE: Yea, it's like they've got this feeling, and they don't have any skill, and they don't want skill, because it's really interesting what happens when your passion is bigger than the tools you have to deal with it. It creates this energy that's raw. Isn't it great?

CU on Dorothea feeling like an outsider, lost."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: For me, the gateway into these characters were their uncertainties and vulnerabilities.

I connected because they didn't have all the answers, but kept trying.

20th Century Women (2016)
by Mike Mills

Monday, February 13, 2017

2017 OSCARS: Manchester by the Sea (2016) - Flashbacks that Expand Present State of Mind

[Quick Summary: After his brother dies, a building custodian goes back to his hometown as his nephew's guardian, and faces the ghosts that haunt him.]

I did not expect to like this script as much as I did.

(A very reliable friend had told me, "Great dialogue. Too slow.")

Though I haven't seen the film yet, I found it deeply moving on the page. 

Two thoughts:

1) It reads extremely fast.  Always double points!

2) It is an unusual use of flashbacks to peer into the main character's (Lee) present state of mind.  He experienced trauma a few years ago, but it is still raw.

His emotional state then = His emotional state now.

In the scene below, Lee makes a positive statement about Dr. Betheny --> The flashback expands on his POV of Dr. Betheny, but it is not an "information dump."

ex. "INT. HOSPITAL ELEVATOR

Dr. Muller and Lee ride down very slowly.

LEE: How is Dr. Betheny?

DR. MULLER: Oh, she's doing very well. She just had twin girls.

LEE: Oh yeah. Irene told me.

DR. MULLER: Apparently weigh about eleven pounds apiece. So she's gonna have her hands full for a while...I'll call her this afternoon and tell her what happened.

LEE: She was very good to him.

DR. MULLER: Yes she was.

EIGHT YEARS AGO --

INT. JOE CHANDLER'S HOSPITAL ROOM. DAY.

JOE CHANDLER, Lee's older brother by five years, is lying in the hospital bed. There's a close resemblance between them.

ELISE, Joe's wife, the same age as Joe, pretty, anxious and high-strung -- stands near to STANLEY CHANDLER -- Lee and Joe's father, 70s. He sits in one chair. LEE sits in another.

They are all listening to DR. BETHENY, 30s. She is small, intense, very serious and focused and level-headed, but thoroughly well-meaning and decent. The bed area is curtained off from the other patients in the room.

DR. BETHENY: The disease is commonly referred to as congestive heart failure --

ELISE: Oh my God!

DR. BETHENY: Are you familiar with it?

ELISE: No...!

JOE: Then what are you sayin' "oh my God" for?

ELISE: Because what is it?

JOE: She's tryin' to explain it to us, honey. I'm sorry, Dr. Beth...uh...

DR. BETHENY: Betheny

JOE: I'm sorry. I can never get it right.

DR. BETHENY: Don't worry about it. Not a problem."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Flashbacks are interesting when used to show a stuck character's present state of mind.

Manchester by the Sea (2016)
by Kenneth Lonergan