Monday, November 13, 2017

TODAY'S NUGGET: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993) - Learning From a Passive Protagonist

[Quick Summary: In 1973, Sissy, who has enormous thumbs, is a hitchhiker, a hygiene model, and a witness to a feud involving a cowgirl ranch and drugged whooping cranes.]

When I read scripts for a production company, I went in cold.

I liked that I knew nothing, and could judge the scripts solely on their merits.

This is still my preferred approach, and I apply it to all the scripts that I read here.

One of the side effects is that I occasionally read produced scripts that I Do Not Like.

I know you're wondering, "Are these scripts worth reading?"

Yes, though I admit that people (including me) don't like the fact that this takes a little more energy.*

However, I've found that these scripts can teach me unexpected things.

For example, this is a script that I Do Not Like.  Here are a few thoughts:

- This script reads fast.
- Sissy travels a lot and has several significant life experiences (emotional, sexual).

- Sissy is an acute observer of all the colorful characters, which is fine in a novel, but boring in film.
- She is often the bystander, i.e., passive.
- She lacks purpose or goals, so the other characters take over.

- I found this structure (of the scene below) repeated often in this script.
- Jelly is the head of the ranch.
- Sissy SEEMS active because she's interacting with Jelly.  However, Sissy is the passive one and Jelly is actively running the scene.


A FIST pounds on Sissy's door.

IN SAILS Jelly, a cowgirl so cute she makes Sissy blush just to look at her. She wears a tan Stetson with an aster pinned to it, a green satin shirt embroidered with rearing stallions snorting orange fire from their nostrils....

Jelly grasps Sissy's elbow and sits on the side of the bed.

JELLY: Welcome podner. By God, it's great to have you here. It's an honor. Sorry I took so long getting to you, but we've had a mess of hard work these past few days - and a heap of planning to do.

SISSY: Er, you seem to know who I am, and maybe even what I am. Thanks for breakfast.

JELLY: Oh, I know about Sissy Hankshaw, all right. I've done a little hitchhiking myself. Ah shucks, that's like telling Annie Oakley you're a sharpshooter because you once knocked a tomato can off a stump with a fieldstone. I'd heard tales about you from people I'd meet in jail cells and truckstops. I heard about your, uh, your, ah, your wonderful thumbs, and I hear how you were Jack Kerouac's girl friend...

Sissy sets her tray on the bedside table.

SISSY: No, I'm afraid that part isn't true. Jack was in awe of me and tracked me down. We spent a night talking and hugging in a corn field, but he was hardly my lover. Besides, I always travel alone.

JELLY: Well, that doesn't matter; that part never interested me anyway. The beatnicks were before my time and I never got anything outta the hippies but bad dope, cliches and the clap. But the example of your life helped me in my struggle to be a cowgirl....

SISSY: Tell me about it.

JELLY: About...

SISSY: About being a cowgirl. What's it all about? When you say the word you make it sound like it was painted in radium on the side of a pearl.

JELLY: Cowgirls exist as an image image. A fairly common image...."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Protagonists do not have to physically move in every scene, but they do need to be moving toward a goal or with purpose in every scene.

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993)(5th draft, dated 7/6/92)
by Gus Van Sant
Adapted from the novel by Tom Robbins

* It's another reason why I don't want to know anything. Otherwise, I'd avoid them like the plague.

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