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

Monday, February 6, 2017

2017 OSCARS: La La Land (2016) - Seduction & the Slippery Slope

[Quick Summary: In modern L.A., an actress and jazz musician struggle with making compromises while chasing their dreams.]

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

GOOD NEWS: There's a lot going for it.  It's focused, full of emotion, and hope.

I especially liked how it shows:
- Success as a slippery slope.
- Seduction is the first step on that slope, and it often is a small, innocent step.

In this story, the main character (Sebastian) wants to open an old school jazz bar of his own.  He has resisted modern elements, and is scraping by.

When a modern jazz band offers him big bucks, he reluctantly agrees to meet.

Watch below how success with this band pulls him further from his dream: 

ex. "KEITH: Let's play, see how it feels.

He pulls out a guitar. Cole starts on drums. Keith joins in. Malcolm and Tom follow suit. Sebastian listens. It sounds like modern jazz - electronic in feel, but still jazz...

Sebastian approaches the keyboard. Joins --slowly, one step at a time. Then begins playing out a bit more, his fingers starting to race. Malcolm gives Keith a look: "Damn.". Keith gives Malcolm a look back: "I told you so." Bit by bit, Sebastian eases into the groove. This isn't so bad...

Then -- Keith move to a LAPTOP. Introduces a DRUM-MACHINE SAMPLE.

Sebastian, into the music, is caught off-guard. Uneasy now. This isn't him...

Keith plays a riff on his guitar. Tom echoes it on bass, then Malcolm on trumpet. Now it's Sebastian's turn. He hesitates. And then -- finally -- he plays the riff...

It doesn't feel so bad. The guys build on the riff. Sebastian keeps up with them, trying to let go of his presuppositions. [This bolded line is my emphasis. This is why seduction works. How can this small step be harmful?!]

After all --these guys can play ..."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Seduction down the slippery slope often begins with one small innocent step...and then another...

La La Land (2016)
by Damien Chazelle