Monday, September 28, 2009

Day 7 (Shawshank Redemption)

Today we touch on Frank Darabont's screenplay for The Shawshank Redemption. This script falls on the flowery end of the scale as scripts go, possibly because it is adapted from a Stephen King novel, and possibly because it was written by Frank-friggen-Darabont. Either way, I'd say it's unlikely I'll encounter lines like this in the Die Hard script tomorrow...


ANGLE ON RITA POSTER. Sexy as ever. The rising sun sends fingers of rosy light creeping across her face.

We see a lot of ANGLE ONs in this script because, as with several in this experiment, the writer also ended up the director and this is a shooting script, not an early draft.

Another neat advantage to being Frank Darabont is earning the right to break our lowly first-time screenwriter rules and specify soundtrack choices in the script. And he does it with such zest...


DOLLYING Tommy as he struts along, combing his ducktail, cigarette behind his ear. We definitely need The Coasters or Del Vikings on the soundtrack here. Maybe Jerry Lee Lewis.

The script reads pretty exactly how the film does, well-written from both a literary standpoint and a formatting standpoint. You really can't ask for a much better script.

But we'll try tomorrow with the shooting script for Die Hard written by Jeb Stuart with revisions by Steven E. DeSouza.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Day 6 (Fargo)

Today's film is the Coen Brothers masterpiece Fargo. Nobody writes dialogue like the Coens. The lines in the film are so perfectly tailored to the situations and to what the character is trying to avoid saying that a simple stutter can reveal a paragraph of intent. Add to that the phonetic spelling of the Midwestern accents and you get lines like this:


What kind of trouble are you in, Jerry?


Well, that's, that's, I'm not gonna go inta, inta - see, I just need money. Now, her dad's real wealthy -

or this...


Well, how the heck are ya?


Okay, ya know. Okay.




Yah - how are you doon?

In places, the dialogue is so specific with how different characters will pronounce different words that it almost casts itself. If I hadn't seen this and someone said William H. Macy's in it, I would know exactly who he plays. Same with Steve Buscemi. The characters remind me of the specific actors, even of their characters in other movies. Perhaps Whiz Kid Donnie Smith and Mr. Pink respectively. Of course Magnolia was after Fargo so perhaps Jerry was more of an inspiration for Donnie than the other way around.

What I considered to be the most memorable scene in the film, is just as memorable on the page. I am sure a lot of people go right for the wood chipper, but I always imagine this scene when I think of the Fargo...

We are high and wide on the office building's parking lot. Jerry emerges wrapped in a parka, his arms sticking stiffly out at his sides, his breath vaporizing. He goes to his car, opens its front door, pulls out a red plastic scraper and starts methodically scraping off the thin crust of ice that has developed on his windshield.

The scrape-scrape-scrape sound carries in the frigid air.

Jerry goes into a frenzy, banging the scraper against the windshield and the hood of his car.

The tantrum passes. Jerry stands panting, staring at nothing in particular.

Scrape-scrape-scrape - he goes back to work on the windshield.

I always loved that this scene plays high and wide because it makes it that much more embarrassing for Jerry if its his father-in-law's view of the scene. It's fun how much of the direction comes across in their scripts.

Tomorrow we discuss The Shawshank Redemption from that Frank Darabont dude.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Day 5 (Body Heat)

Before I get too deep here, I should remind you readers that this review of Lawrence Kasdan's script for Body Heat will contain spoilers.

I enjoyed this script and I have not seen the movie but I probably will soon. However there are some things wrong with this version of the script, and indeed every version I could find, unless I am an idiot for being confused by this.

Toward the end of page 26, I am suddenly treated to a few scenes from Dick Tracy and then we're back into Body Heat. Now, it doesn't seem like anyone suddenly flicks on a television to suddenly watch these scenes. I don't know if this is a scene accidentally pasted in from a Dick Tracy script, and considering Dick Tracy came out nine years later, the blame is probably wholly the transcriber's.


A block away from the station, the patrol car races toward an intersection. Suddenly, a WOMAN steps into the street, pushing a baby buggy. Pat slams on the brakes, and the car skids sideways toward the intersection, where it rocks onto two wheels and stops just a few yards short of the buggy. Sam sticks his head out the window.


Are you crazy, lady? Didn't you hear the siren?

The woman dives to the ground as the BABY sits up in the buggy -- he is a midget with a cigar in his mouth and a tommy gun in his hands. Pat jerks Sam to the floor just as the midget opens fire.

Anyway, I'm fairly certain these scenes aren't meant to unfold within the story of Body Heat, and if they are, they at least deserve a mention somewhere in the remaining 94 pages.

Another, possibly misplaced scene interrupts Racine tracking down Matty in Pinehaven. At one point he is pulling into her hometown, then he's suddenly back at home with another woman, then back to Pinehaven. Wah?


Racine drives past a neat sign -- "You are entering PINEHAVEN Please drive carefully" There's money here. Many of the homes are not visible from the street -- only their gates announce their presence. Those that can be seen are sprawling and lavish. The Waterway appears to the left. A large white yacht cruises slowly by.


Racine sits in bed smoking a cigarette. At the mirror, a Nurse in a fresh white uniform steps into her white shoes and begins attaching her cap with bobby pins.


Dark. Almost classy. The place is half full. Matty is drinking at the end of the bar, her cigarettes next to her glass. The bar chairs near her are empty.

I guess it makes sense that he could be casing the town, then head home for a sex break, and then head back, but I don't see how it adds to the character other than, for the first time, indicating a womanizing tendency that is barely touched upon again. All in all it feels like something that was plugged in later to flesh out the character.

Of course these appear to be specifically technical issues. The script itself is very solid and the many twists and turns caught me off guard again and again. It stays true to its noir roots, almost to a fault at the film's conclusion.

I almost would have preferred a break from tradition at the end where the person the protagonist has ultimately accused is not the mastermind, which would not have been especially difficult. Instead it closes with a bit of a ham-handed stolen identity routine involving a character we had the pleasure of knowing for about four seconds in the first act.

Still the dialogue is consistently engaging without ever seeming "on the nose." For the most part, the atmosphere of the film comes across vividly in the action lines. I was sitting in an air-conditioned apartment for my entire reading but I felt like I was sweating through the whole thing with Racine in the sweltering Miami humidity.

Here's an example of one of my favorite lines, and there are many more where this came from.


Hey, now I want to ask you something, Are you listening, asshole, because I like you?

(Racine nods)

I got a serious question for you. What the fuck are you doing? This is not shit for you to be messing with. Are you ready to hear something? See if this sounds familiar. Anytime you try a decent crime, there is fifty ways to fuck up. If you think of twenty-five of them you're a genius. And you're no genius.

Tune in tomorrow for my reading of some obscure film called Fargo by a couple of one-hit-wonders who called themselves the Coen Brothers.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Day 4 (Some Like it Hot)

Today's script for 1959's Some Like It Hot comes from the capable hands of Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. It was easily the most fun I've had reading a script so far in this exercise. The dialogue is so quick witted and entertaining.


Yes. I come from a very musical family. My mother is a piano teacher and my father was a conductor.


Where did he conduct?


On the Baltimore and Ohio.



The pacing is incredible. Every scene leads immediately into the next and none of them exists solely as exposition. I found the action scenes to be really exciting and violent for a comedy.

This was a shooting script, so it translates to the film almost word for word. I appreciated that Marilyn Monroe's character was not her typical dumb blond persona. Sure, she had a habit of drowning her sorrows, but most of the time she was as quick and intelligent as anyone else in the script.



How's the stock market?



Up, up, up.


I'll bet just while we were talking, you made like a hundred thousand dollars.


Could be. Do you play the market?


No - the ukulele. And I sing.

I also loved the decision that Joe's millionare character would speak entirely in a Cary Grant impression. The scene on "his" yacht is masterfully written and as Joe's intentions become more and more obvious it just gets funnier and funnier.


Water polo - isn't that terribly dangerous?


I'll say. I had two ponies drowned under me.

Tune in tomorrow for my thoughts on Lawrence Kasdan's 3rd Draft of Body Heat.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Day 3 (Alien)

Day 3 of the exercise deals with the screenplay written by Dan O'Bannon and rewritten by Walter Hill and David Giler for Ridley Scott's Alien.

The draft of Alien referenced by Scott Myers' exercise appears to be fairly late in the script's development, as evidenced by credited rewriters, which is to say, the script is practically the same as the film. Some have accused Dan O'Bannon of borrowing shamelessly from John Carpenter's Dark Star which Dan also wrote, but who knows.

As far as formatting, I liked how the consecutive actions of a character were listed, not in paragraph form, but more like a list of sentence fragments.


Explosion of escaping gas.

The lid on a freezer pops open.

Slowly, groggily, KANE sits up.


Kane rubs the sleep from his eyes.


Looks around.


Looks at the other freezer compartments.


Moves off.

Also visible in that example is O'Bannon's neglect for a DAY or NIGHT tag in the scene heading. Of course, this is because of the location in space where Day and Night are not applicable. This pertains in a way to a script I am wrapping up now which takes place largely underground, where characters are incapable of distinguishing the time of day.

I also found it worth pointing out that, against the recent advice of Mr. John August, either Walter Hill or David Giler found it necessary to include a list of characters. Something that is generally not advised by anyone.


The crew of the United States commercial starship Nostromo seated around a table.


Kane...........Executive Officer

Ripley.........Warrant Officer

Ash............Science Officer



Brett..........Engineering Technician


But I guess It's kind of okay here since they are all sitting at the table together, potentially in that order.

Tune in tomorrow for "Some Like It Hot"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day 2 (Witness)

Today's script is for the 1985 Harrison Ford classic Witness, written by Earl W. Wallace, William Kelly, and Pamela Wallace.

Due to the fact that I haven't seen this film in a good many years, I will be foregoing the script-to-film comparison and focusing completely on formatting stuff.

Firstly, the spacing out of action lines I mentioned in my Back to the Future script review occurs much more often here.

The only instance I found it especially helpful was in the dividing of a large combined area into separate parts without a whole mess of new scene headings.


Two Amish buggies reach a crossroads, join a procession of three others. They disappear as the lane wends through a leafless thicket of hickory.


A BIG SHOT... now the procession numbers almost a dozen buggies... it is headed toward a distant farmhouse.


Where literally dozens of carriages are parked. The horses have been taken from the traces, removed to the shelter of the barn.

Unfortunately the script I am working on now takes place mostly within a single building, so this technique might effectively cut the entire film down to four or five scene headings from beginning to end, which is not my plan.

I also noticed, and plan to borrow, the montage technique I found in this one. An introduction with a sort of shot list preceded with ellipses.

As the morning progresses:

...Book and Hochstetler sawing and augering out heavy timbers on big sawhorses. There's an unmistakable atmosphere of competition between the two men, which doesn't go entirely unnoticed by the half-dozen or so other young men on the gang.

...or, indeed, by Rachel; in fact, she seems – without leaning on it too heavily – to be measuring the two men as the morning progresses, and she occasionally passes within proximity of them.

...Eli and a couple of other elders prowling the job with sheaves of hand-drawn sketches under their arms, supervising the construction. All around them the structure is rising with remarkable rapidity.

...Rachel, where she's helping the women set out the huge noon meal. Other women are sitting on benches in the b.g., knitting or doing quiltwork.

...Samuel, where he's banging away with a hammer, with a group of boys his own age. Elsewhere we see little girls "botching" (a hand-clapping game played to German rhymes).

...The very elderly; sitting on the grass or in wheelchairs in the sunlight, looking on – the old men kibitzing in German, the women gossiping.


The last thing I found, literally, was the hallmark of any 80's film worth watching...




Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 1 (Back to the Future)

So Scott Myers, screenwriter of K-9, has a blog of screenwriting advice. A little over a year ago, he wrote a post about how reading existing scripts can help immensely in developing your own craft. He followed the post with a list of 14 scripts which he advised people to read in a span of 14 days.

I am taking him up on the challenge over a year late.

My plan is to divide my findings into (a) interesting script format things I hadn't considered, and (b) things that changed from script to film and whether or not I approve.

Also, be prepared for spoilers script and film-wise.

Today's script is Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale's first draft of Back to the Future.

(a) Format Stuff

There were only two things I hadn't really seen before used here. The first of which was underlining to accentuate a word where I would usually italicize. I think I actually prefer the underlining because it is much clearer to the reader as italicizing can occasionally go unnoticed, resulting in the dreaded misreading of a line.

Another thing, which I am less likely to borrow, was spacing out action lines by naming an object or person in all caps with one line and then describing the object or person in a following paragraph. For example:


with purple radioactivity emblems labeled: EXTREME DANGER! RADIOACTIVE PLUTONIUM! AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY! DO NOT HANDLE WITHOUT RADIATION SUIT! And further down, “Property of San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, San Onofre, California.” The orange is resting right up against it.


takes a deep breath, then uses his foot to roll the orange away from the crate. He cautiously backs away from the cot and tosses the orange into a trash can. Professor Brown continues sleeping soundly.

In a few instances the object or person was centered, but I suspect that was more typo than formatting.

(b) What's the Diff?

The biggest differences between the script and film are in the sending of Marty McFly back and forth through time, but I'll come back to that.

There are little almost needless adjustments. The orange vest was originally a Porsche Jacket, the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance was once the Springtime in Paris Dance, a dog named Einstein was formerly a monkey named Shemp, and luckily for us the famous line "1.21 Gigawatts" replaced the slightly less memorable...


4200 rads? Good God!

In this draft of the script, the benefits of time travel are much more pronounced. The film starts out in an almost desolate Hill Valley. All the businesses are shutting down and Marty's teachers give depressing lectures on the eminent threat of a nuclear apocalypse. But upon his return, he finds the town transformed into a thriving steampunk utopia populated exclusively with the inventions of one Doctor Emmett Brown. In this crazy new future, inflation works more like deflation (50 cents an hour is a generous living wage) and people use Coca-Cola to fuel their flying cars.

One of the things I found interesting in the original draft was Marty's penchant for crime. His first thought upon being introduced to the time machine is to send back horse racing results, and he appears to be something of a VHS pirate and potentially a pot smoker...


Hey, you wanna come over? Get high?


Maybe tomorrow. I gotta dupe some more tapes.

That feels more like Eric Stoltz than Michael J. Fox to me.

A few of the things that bothered me about the original script, which were of course eventually corrected, were the coincidences that seemed to unfold one after another. Instead of following George to where he spies on Lorraine (originally Eileen), Marty just dumbfoundedly wanders up to her house alone, faints when he meets her, and wakes up to Professor Brown, who Eileen's family called to check on the boy.

As much as I have always enjoyed the image of a gang of Libyans opening their new bomb to find a mess of pinball machine parts, I was surprised and a bit pleased to find a much more believable source for Doc's plutonium in this draft. He simply stole it from a nuclear power plant. Instead of being attacked by the Libyans in the parking lot of the Twin Pines Mall, a pair of Nuclear Regulation Commission agents burst in just as the experiment reaches the point of no return.

Which brings us back to the most compelling difference, that which sets the film leaps and bounds ahead of this draft, the severe lack of DeLorean. But it's not just the DeLorean that's gone, it's the clock tower, it's the lightning, it's all the images anyone conjures up at the mention of the film.

Traveling backward, Marty isn't even sent by vessel, but rather by beam of light. From the way it is described, I imagine the time machine closely resembling a machine Rick Moranis might have used to shrink his various children. But that's not even the most important change.

In the film, Marty has a love note from Jennifer on the back of a "Save the Clock Tower" flier. Here it's written on the back of a page Marty has torn from his science book describing the last above-ground detonation of a nuclear weapon, two days after his parents' first date.

That's right folks, but it gets better. As Marty wanders the nuclear test site, complete with fully-furnished track housing and mannequins in life-like poses, I am reminded of yet another, much more recent Steven Spielberg production. I'll let you guys be the judge, but you can probably guess where Marty hides to survive the nuclear blast.

Hint: It rhymes with "a refrigerator."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wires are our friends...

Today's lesson is to always own a wired keyboard.

Wireless keyboards can be a lot of fun! You can pause movies from across the room, wander around as you type, and there are no messy cords tripping you up along the way.

But as I learned today, they are less fun to throw away. Especially when they stop working four pages from the end of a script you are pitching to someone in an hour. Wired keyboards prevent syncing issues as well as battery money issues.

Besides one probably came with your computer. Just keep it on hand.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Good intentions...

I want to be a screenwriter when I grow up, but I'm only 26 so I still have decades to decide. In the meantime, I will be detailing my efforts here.

Lately fortune seems to have smiled on me and if all goes according to plan, I will try to use this blog to convey the lessons I learn the hard way, as well as link to the ones I learn the easy way. If, however, things go the other way, I will use this outlet to vent my furious rage.

Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Silver Screenwriting Competition

A quick congratulations to Kodjo Akeseh Tsakpo and his thriller script "Shift" for winning the 2009 Silver Screenwriting Competition. It was a fun contest and I look forward to entering again next year.