Monday, October 30, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: All the Pretty Horses (2000) - What a Good Vertical Read Looks Like

[Quick Summary: In 1949, two young Texans ride to Mexico to work as ranch hands, which is complicated when one falls in love with the owner's daughter.]

***WARNING***: Advanced skills ahead. Not for the impatient new writer.

I normally don't read first drafts, but this is the only version that I could get.

So why am I reading a first draft at all?

First, it's Ted Tally adapting author Cormac McCarthy.

Second, it reads like greased lightning,* despite being an early draft.

How does he make the pages fly by? Why did I gobble up pages and forget time?!

One answer is the ease of vertical reading, which I blogged about earlier.  In brief:
-It's easier to read down the page when there's less black print.
-It's easier to read faster with short sentences.

However, this script reads quickly EVEN WITH:
- Paragraphs of narrative
- Occasionally long dialogue

Why does it work here?  The truth is I don't know, but I suspect the following helps:
-This is an adventure in a foreign land (Mexico).
-This is a test for these young boys (16-17 y.o.) to graduate into manhood.
-In the scene below, note that it's all movement and action verbs.
-Note the ease of grasping a paragraph, i.e., a shot, with one eye sweep (L-->R).
-Also note the unusual ease of eye sweeping diagonally and down.**


Rawlins and John Grady approach the corral carrying forty-foot maguey catchropes coiled over their shoulders, saddle blankets, a riding hackamore with a metal noseband, and John Grady's Hamley saddle with its stirrups shortened. Two or three vaqueros are drifting along after them, sipping their morning coffee, ready to be entertained. Rawlins mutters.

RAWLINS: We mess this up, bud, its goin to be a long ride back to Texas.

JOHN GRADY: Ride, hell.

When the boys reach the gate, we see stacked on the ground there are more coils of rope, of assorted sizes and materials, along with a pile of hand-fashioned rope hackamores. Rawlins lifts the wire loop and opens the gate and the two of them go inside, closing the gate behind them.

The mustangs shift and stir at the far end of the corral, eyeing the boys suspiciously...

John Grady sets down his saddle and catchrope then squats to adjust the hackamore. Rawlins stands building his catchloop. He has a pile of sideropes slung around his neck.

RAWLINS: We goin to bust these varmints twice?

JOHN GRADY: What for?

RAWLINS: Cause I never seen one yet that completely believed it the first time. Or ever doubted it the second.

JOHN GRADY: I'll make em believe. You'll see.

RAWLINS: I'm goin to tell you right now, cousin. This is a heathenish bunch.

JOHN GRADY: Then let her rip.

Rawlins steps forward with his catchloop. At his approach the horses move skittishly along the fence. As the first one breaks away from the herd, Rawlins rolls his loop and forefoots the colt, which hits the ground with a tremendous thump. The other horses flare and bunch wildly.

Before it can struggle up, John Grady has run to the animal, squatting on its neck. He pulls its head up and to one side, holding the horse by its muzzle with its face against his chest, its nostrils flaring. The huge wet eyes roll in terror, staring into his from inches away. He cups his hand, stroking over the eyes, and all the while murmuring into the horse's ear in a low, steady, comforting voice.

JOHN GRADY: Esta bien. Esta bien...No hay peligro, entiende...? Esta bien. De acuerdo. Eresmuy guapo. Muy fuerte y valiente...

Working swiftly, as John Grady continues to murmur, Rawlins has dropped a slipnoose around the pastern of a hind leg, then halfhitched that to a foreleg. Now he frees the catchrope, tosses it away, then takes the hackamore and slips it over the horse's muzzle and ears. John Grady runs his thumb into the animal's mouth and Rawlins fits the mouthrope, then slipnooses a second siderope to the other rear leg. Then he clips both sideropes to the hackamore. He looks up.

RAWLINS: You all set?

JOHN GRADY: All set.

John Grady lets go of the horse's head and both boys step quickly away. The horse struggles up, turns, shoots out a hind foot, snatches itself in a half circle, then falls down. It gets up, kicks again, falls down again...

The vaqueros exchange glances at this curious procedure...

The colt gets up again, snorting, hopping up and down in a furious dance, snatching its head about, then finally pausing to glare at the boys.

RAWLINS: These sumbucks are as crazy as a shithouse rat.

JOHN GRADY: You pick out the one you think is craziest and I'll give you a finished horse this time Sunday week.

RAWLINS (grins): Bullshit.

                                                                                            FADE TO:

By now there are a dozen vaqueros standing along the fence, all watching with keen interest as...

John Grady jumps away from another horse's neck; the colt lurches to his feet, tries to kick him, falls down. Half of the horses are now hobbled, while the other half race and scatter in a rising sea of dust...

                                                                                           FADE TO:


The crowd of spectators has swelled to thirty or more, and now includes women and children as well. More people are drifting up from the direction of the hacienda's gate, some of them even carrying blankets and picnic supplies..."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I often forget the importance of movement and action verbs.

All the Pretty Horses (2000)(1st draft revisions, dated 11/1/93)
by Ted Tally
Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy

*This is one of Tally's trademark skills that also defies genre. ex. This is a Western. His other scripts: Thriller. Procedural/Thriller. Crime/Thriller.

**As noted in my previous post, readers will skim vertically to read as fast as possible. What can you do to help them read faster?

Monday, October 23, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Before & After (1996) - Emotional Engagement in a Thriller

[Quick Summary: When a teenage girl turns up dead, the parents of the prime suspect (girl's boyfriend) struggle to navigate the emotional repercussions.]

Ah, the 1990s, how I miss your emotionally engaging thrillers.

Today's thrillers are often so plot driven that they lose some humanity, i.e., making mistakes, showing vulnerability, making the audience worry.

This story has its issues,* but the script is good at making me feel.

First, I like that Jacob's parents (and sister) are the protagonists, not Jacob.

We're experiencing the consequences of his actions from the parent or sibling POV. This sheds a different light, i.e., how the people who love you experience your pain.

Second, I like how the writer externalizes the internal conflict.  This is tough!

In the scene below, Carolyn is Jacob's mother.


POV ANGLE, MOVING across the site where Martha's body was found. Trampled snow, a highway shoulder. Many tire tracks, footprints. In one area the snow is still tinged pink. Several small floral tributes have already been left here, on the ground or tied to the split-rail fence. Hand-written notes, heartrending little signs: "Martha, We Love You" ... "For MT from BK & CG"... "God Keep Our Angel." [We see the sad scene that Carolyn is seeing - the blood, the tributes.]

Carolyn turns away, her eyes moist. It is bitter cold. She stares off into the woods. After awhile she climbs over the fence, walks in amongst the trees, staring all around, looking for - what? She doesn't even know. Any sign at all of her son. A few more halting steps, then something stops her ... [She can barely process all this roiling emotion: trauma, loss, uncertainty.]

A spot where the ground is churned up, clods of frozen dirt mixed with the snow. Like a shallow grave. [Primal fear strikes her heart.]

Choking back a cry, Carolyn falls to her knees, begins scrabbling at the snow with her gloved hands. no good. She looks around, seizes a piece of fallen branch, stabs at the snow with this, almost frantic, till a voice stops her. [She's reacting without thinking.]

VOICE: Ma'am?

Carolyn turns, frightened...

It's Tommy, the young cop we met at the house. He looks down at her anxiously from the fence. His cruiser idles nearby, pulled in behind Carolyn's Audi.

TOMMY: We've been all over this area? And that's just somebody's dog.

Carolyn stares up at him, becoming aware of how she must look - dirty, wild-eyed, her breath steaming... [Very vulnerable, very human. I look a mess.]

But Tommy's face shows only a kind of embarrassed sympathy."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: To keep thrillers fresh, find another way into the story.

I don't think the tried-and-true formula of following the perpetrator here (Jacob) would've been as effective.

Before & After (1996)(dated 9/20/94)
by Ted Tally
Based on the novel by Rosellen Brown

*I can see why the critics didn't like it as a film:

"The story elements here are dramatic, but it's impossible to determine what the point of the film is. The characters behave stupidly and pay a price for it. There are no bad characters, and no lessons to be learned."    

Monday, October 16, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Juror (1996) - An Emotionally Compromised Villain

[Quick Summary: "The Teacher" threatens a female juror in order to manipulate her, then becomes enamored with controlling her.]
Each film is only as good as its villain. Since the heroes and the gimmicks tend to repeat from film to film, only a great villain can transform a good try into a triumph. - Roger Ebert
To me, this script stands out because of The Teacher, a cold and calculating villain.

1) The Teacher is a typical bad guy who enjoys the power play...

The Teacher keeps Annie (protagonist) in line by threatening her son Oliver. 

This is a fairly typical setup, but his added pleasure in his work increases my disdain.


The Teacher stares at Annie's hand, till she forces herself to release his sleeve. He smiles.

THE TEACHER: Don't you trust the Teacher, Annie?

ANNIE: Yes. I trust you! Yes.

THE TEACHER: But it's like trusting in the whim of God, isn't it? This random Rodney, he does whatever he pleases. He just drifts...

He lets the car slide out into the left lane. The pastures are just a green smear, whipping by. Annie puts her wrist to her mouth, bites at it, staring through the windshield.

THE TEACHER: The least error, and you're plunged into hell...Annie, what if he should suddenly wake up and see he's in the wrong lane? He overcompensates -

He turns the wheel sharply and floors the accelerator, and suddenly, they're aiming straight at Oliver. Six hundred yards away...five hundred...


Oliver is on the right-hand shoulder, the same side as the car. As it roars down behind him, on a killing path, he is still unaware of it. Four hundred...Three hundred...


Annie is curled into a terrified ball, her feet almost on the dash. she claws at her own face, screaming.


THE TEACHER: Who will protect you?


THE TEACHER: Who will shield you?


THE TEACHER: Did you say the judge?


She slams her hands against her door, the seat, her feet are kicking the dash, she is screaming, screaming, her eyes locked on that purple shirt dead ahead of them...."

2) ...But he's also emotionally involved (though may not recognize it).

This is what ups the ante. He seems rational. He think this is just business.

But the truth is that he's irrational, and it's very PERSONAL.

He cannot see himself objectively and deludes himself, which makes me curious to see what happens next.


The Teacher stops the tape, rewinds, punches up the volume. When he plays this segment again, we can hear the SOUND very distinctly. It's Annie shushing her son.

ANNIE (on tape): Shh. (beat) Juliet? No. Do your homework.

The Teacher turns...

On ONE wall of the attic, across from his electronic racks, we see a visual catalogue of Annie's life. Photos of her house, grocery store, laundromat. Maps of her movements. Copies of photos we've seen in Annie's own house - friends relatives, Mickey. These artifacts are labelled, dated, cross-referenced, minutely annotated. The display is frightening, almost unhinged in its obsessive detail: the Annie Museum. Centered, almost like an altar, is a large facial closeup of Annie, and beside this, a grainy enlargement of her santos figure."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I like the irony that this villain thinks he is in control of everything, but cannot control himself.

The Juror (1996)(2nd draft dated 3/18/95)
by Ted Tally
Based on the novel by George Dawes Green

*Ebert also stated that this general principal applied to all epic serials, especially the "James Bond" movies.

Monday, October 9, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Bound for Glory (1976) - A Multi-Layered, Multi-Purpose Goodbye Scene

[Quick Summary:  In 1936, Woody Guthrie leaves the dust bowl of Texas for the lure of work in California, where his folk music career begins.]

My Three Random Thoughts:

1) EASY READ. I liked, but didn't love, the script. Kudos for being a smooth read.

2) POLITICSEbert writes that "Guthrie's politics were central to his music, and yet in the film they seem almost superfluous; the politics could have emerged organically from the narrative, instead of being shoehorned in."

Hmmm...they were fine on the page. I wonder if it just didn't translate over to film?

3) SAYING GOODBYE. I liked that this script was rather objective about Guthrie.

It showed his warts and all: he was kind, but he had a temper. He loved his family, yet he cheated on his wife.  He built a home, yet his wanderlust kept him away.

All of these contradictions are seen in the goodbye scene below.

- This is not just a goodbye to the family, but goodbye to his old life too.

- In an earlier scene, there's a song about "Them California waters taste like cherry wine." Now in this scene, cherry wine = going to California. (Setup --> Payoff)

- Observe the lovely economical writing that transitions us through the goodbye:
Guthrie's note --> Food for the road --> Saying goodbye to guitar --> Takes brushes to earn a living painting signs --> Leave $$ for family --> Say goodbye without using "goodbye" --> Long shot of him walking from old life toward new life

Mary and the children can be HEARD in the back yard as Woody hurriedly tapes a note to the cooler door. As he opens it, we read,"Gone to California, will send for you all...Love Woody." He grabs a couple of pieces of bread and a chunk of cheese from the cooler and shuts the door. Woody goes to the couch, picks up his guitar, plucks it a couple of times, sets it back down and takes a harmonica from a table and puts it in his pocket. He goes to a corner of the living room, reaches into a cardboard box and pulls out three or four paint brushes and stuffs them into his pocket, at the same time taking out a dollar or two and laying it on the table. As he starts for the front door, Mary's VOICE calls:

MARY'S VOICE: Woody, you home?

Woody pauses by the door.

WOODY: Yeah, but I'm jus' leavin'...

MARY'S VOICE: Where you goin'?

WOODY (after a beat): Ta get some cherry wine...

MARY'S VOICE: When you comin' back?

WOODY: Don't know, fer sure...

He hesitates, then goes out the door.


Woody exits the house and walks in opposite direction of the "Pampa Texas" sign."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Don't be afraid to give a character time for a goodbye scene, nor the following long shot scene, which finishes the sequence.

I tend to ax those kinds of long shots for length concerns, but am learning that this is a bad knee jerk reaction.  This script is much better with that long shot.

Bound for Glory (1975)(dated 8/11/75)
by Robert Getchell
Based on the autobiography of Woody Guthrie

Monday, October 2, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: A Bridge Too Far (1977) - The Kid Spy (With Thick Glasses)

[Quick Summary: To end the war, the Allied air and ground troops try to secure key bridges in the Netherlands to close off Germany from the north. (Sept. 1944)]

GOOD NEWS: This is a previously unseen William Goldman script.

BAD NEWS: This could very well be a great film, but...on the page, I disliked it.

Maybe because it covers so much ground? I found myself wishing that I cared more.

GOOD NEWS: There were still some great character moments.

My favorite was "The Kid With the Thick Glasses" who was his own spy:


A GERMAN SENTRY. Armed. Well turned out, creased trousers, polished boots. He moves into the road, raises his hand.  THE KID WITH THICK GLASSES stops.
(This scene is IN DUTCH - SUBTITLED)


KID WITH THICK GLASSES: --but I want to --

GERMAN SENTRY: -- you will do as directed.

KID WITH THICK GLASSES (near tears --frightened and upset --he points on past the hotel): But my friend --she lives down the road and...It is my birthday -- she has a present --my present. (stares up at the sentry) Please?

GERMAN SENTRY (finally gestures for the kid to go through): Be quick.
                                                                                                                         CUT TO

THE KID WITH THICK GLASSES as he zooms on by the place. He doesn't seem to pay much attention, just glances at it once once as we
                                                                                                                        CUT TO


THE SENTRY. Watching. Nothing arouses his suspicions.
                                                                                                                        CUT TO


THE KID WITH THICK GLASSES, pumping on, rounding a bend, and the instant he's out of sight of the SENTRY -- he brakes, whips out a piece of paper and a pencil stub and starts to make a sketch.
                                                                                                                        CUT TO

The sketch. It's a copy of the flag that we planted on the lead staff car. As THE KID continues to draw, licking his pencil stub, scratching away --
                                                                                                                        CUT TO

Another drawing of that pennant. Only this isn't a quick pencil sketch of it, this is much more carefully done. It's in color and the colors of the flag are pretty close to what the actual flag looked like."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I liked that a "kid spy" was how the writer brought us into the underground spy network (vs. an adult spy acting all mysterious).

A Bridge Too Far (1977)(draft dated 3/29/76)
by William Goldman
From the book by Cornelius Ryan
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