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.