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