Monday, November 20, 2017

TODAY'S 2nd NUGGET: Strange Days (1995) - From Scriptment to Draft

[Quick Summary: Lenny, a shady dealer in VR "experiences," is trying to find a psycho-sexual killer who killed his friend Iris and may be after his ex-girlfriend.]

Director Ridley Scott said in a round table interview recently
The studio head's job, I think, is read the fucking material. You can't delegate material. I can tell within a paragraph whether I'm going to be in good hands or not. By the time I get to page 10, I'm beginning to perspire because I'm thinking, "Please don't drop the ball; please don't drop the ball." Page 30, I'm now beads of perspiration. "Holy shit, we're really getting there." And so writing is everything. Everything else is dressing. Sorry, actors. (Laughter.) (my emphasis)
Is that really true? Yes.  One gets a "feel" after reading many scripts.*

What about material that is admittedly messy and too long? Yes, even then, there's a focus, a feel that "I'm in good hands." 

Today's scriptment is a good example.  It's a messy and flawed early draft, but there's a solid story spine, the setups and payoffs, etc.** 

The script drops and adds things, but keeps the essentials from the scriptment.

One thing that I liked in both drafts was that they kept the odd, futuristic mood.

The scene below is nearly the same in both drafts:

ex. "A stairwell. Lane sprinting up, two steps at a time. Trying the door at the second floor landing. Locked. Shit.

Running up. Dizzying whirl as we run, up and up.

The POV is finally broken by a ...
                                                                                          CUT TO:


But we don't know where we are yet. We see a man in extreme close-up: just his eyes and mouth. The eyes are closed, the eyeballs tracking under the lids like he is watching a movie in there. This is LENNY.

LENNY: This is great...the doors are all locked. Who are these losers, friends of yours?
                                                                                          CUT TO:

BACK TO POV as we reach the fifth floor landing. Lane is coming unglued as he finds this door locked. We look down, see cops coming two floors below. One cranks off a couple rounds at us and we snap back from the railing. Pounding up the last flight. Finally! The door is unlocked."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: The writer's most important job is to convey the ideas from the head to the page.

It doesn't have to look great, but it does have to be on the page.  This is very helpful in case someone else has to take over the writing duties (as happened here).

Strange Days (1995)(Cameron's published scriptment)
by James Cameron

Strange Days (1995)(script draft dated 8/11/93)
by James Cameron and Jay Cocks

*How do I define "many"? When I was at a small production company, I estimated:
-About 30-40 new scripts came in the door every week.
-The development execs read between 10-20 on weekends, maybe another 10 during the week.

**The scriptment is worth reading to see how Cameron thinks.  In his words:
So what you have in your hands is at once a kind of pathetic document; it is as long as a script, but messy and undisciplined, full of cheats and glossed-over sections. But it is also an interesting snapshot of formatting a moment in the creative process. It contains notes and references and textures that do not exist in the finished script. It takes the time to gaze around at a grim future world and paint it in neon gets in the mood first, then tells the story. p. ix.

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