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We recently went over Action Line POV looking at My Best Friend’s Wedding. How do the pros infuse their own personality into action lines? Remember, action lines are supposed to be what the camera is seeing now. The pros cheat this, big time. They infuse the objective with the subjective–meaning their own writing style. With them, it’s more like: Who’s in the shot and what’s happening–with attitude. Besides the real rule breakers like Tarantino and Shane Black, there are multiple writing samples that can help you, Good Reader, beef up your own screen direction. So read up, and steal well.
I always go back to Backdraft when I think about Action Line POV. Maybe because the script does it so seamlessly. Check this small passage out:
INT. BURNING FACTORY – DOWNSTAIRS
It’s only the fire’s ghost here, lazy and slow.
Off the corridor are rooms full of commercial sewing machines.
Brian enters one and drops to his knees.
Looks under a table, flashes his light behind a work stand.
Nothing. He turns to backtrack his way out when A TONGUE OF
FLAME suddenly LEAPS up through the floor in front of him,
cutting off the door. Brian lands on his ass as it hisses
and giggles and dances unreally in front of him.
I never forget a face, kid. — That fire from childhood. He
could maybe force his way through but Jesus, the way it looks
at him –
– Brian ROLLS away from it. Looks for another doorway –
And ends up in thick smoke. He drops to a crawl, stays on
his belly where the air’s clear. When he sees it. Behind
some furniture. Something flesh-colored. Shit. It’s a body.
Shit, it’s a body. Right into the character’s mind. See? It really opens up possibilities aside from the usual bland objective what the camera sees now approach. But, of course, when you do it you risk the standard U N F I L M A B L E note from readers and gurus. It’s a risk and you can’t get cute with it and do it every page, for every action line. Save it for character defining, like here in another passage from Backdraft:
INT. ELEVATED TRAIN – MORNING
A pissed-off Chicago, hauling itself off to work in the
morning snap, passes by Brian’s window. Tough Midwestern
brick. Tough Midwesterners. Heads-down in their 150 year war
with a wind committed to pushing the whole damn thing into
Anybody can write Brian steps on to dull gray depressingly cold EL train… This paragraph puts you into Brian’s head, it opens it up. We can relate (as I write this outside my Chicago window the wind temp is -17 so I can relate!)
Read the rest of this entry »
“Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.” -Erma Bombeck
This is my Top 10 Thanksgiving movie list circa 2015. Also 2014, 2013 and 2012. This list is old as hell, and for good reason. Classic movies are timeless…
It’s Thanksgiving week, and as with many holiday scenarios, my own Thanksgiving will be spent with family and friends.
In my case, actually, ex-family. I spend the holidays with my brother’s ex-wife’s family.
Being as I live in Chicago, it’s been convenient through the years to head up to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving. Quick 90-minute car ride, nice scenery. Those folks always liked me more than my brother, even when he was still married to their daughter.
If you’ve missed one of these, maybe while you’re recovering from the tryptophan high of dark meat, mashed potatoes, yams with marshmallows, cranberry sauce and all the rest of it, you can catch one of these….
“A demonic turkey is unleashed…and he’s one fowl-mouthed bastard! Five college kids: a jock, a good girl, an overweight red-neck, a slut, and a nerd head home for Thanksgiving break, each thankful for the chance of holiday hookups. But when their car suddenly overheats, they trespass into the woods for a night of drinking and bonfire debauchery. Little do they know, these are the same woods where an ancient turkey was necromanced 386 years ago by an Indian curse after the very first Thanksgiving. Now, The Killer Turkey is awakened and ready for revenge on the first white men he comes in contact with!”
Now THAT’S a concept! Tha-tha-that’s entertainment!
As good as it got for Pauly Shore, the family Thanksgiving dinner is proceeded with the immortal words, “Let’s munch some grindage!”
John Hughes is for the ages. John Candy, also gone. They are missed. I’ve seen this and Weird Science about 20 times. An advertising executive who just wants to fly home to spend Thanksgiving with his family is stuck with a loud but lovable salesman during an unbelievable succession of blizzards, transfers, strikes, and delays. The Citizen Kane of Thanksgiving movies.
Woody Allen’s 1986 drama about three sisters. The film’s set piece is Thanksgiving, where Hannah’s (Mia Farrow) clan gathers together in a tremendous Central Park West apartment for the holiday celebration. Hearts are broken and mended, everybody talks way too much, a typical Woody Allen drama, but one of this best.
NOT a popcorn movie. Totally depressing, actually. But with a couple scenes that can match any movie. I’m talking about the swinging 70’s key party, and the tragic climax coming down on Thanksgiving Day. Starring Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, and young rising stars Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood and Christina Ricci.
It’s the holidays, it’s Charlie Brown, what more do you need to know?
Hoping to earn extra money over the Thanksgiving break, an innocent and reserved scholarship student at an exclusive prep school agrees to look after a blind, retired Lieutenant Colonel, who takes him off for a wild weekend in New York City. Has the famous Pacino dance scene at the end.
Maybe my favorite Paul Newman flick in his later years. Earned him an Oscar nomination. His character is an old codger who takes no shit from anyone. Set in and around Thanksgiving.
Parker Posey won a Special Recognition award at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival for her out-of-control eccentric performance as Jackie-O. Truly warped in her pill-box hats, flying into a rage when her incestuous relationship is challenged as her older brother (Josh Hamilton) brings home a girlfriend (Tori Spelling) for Thanksgiving.
Terrence Malick takes his time unfolding this new take on the Pocahontas story. Some people don’t have the patience for Malick. I’m not one of them. This is pure poetry.
Can cute, edgy Katie Holmes really cook a turkey? The ex-Mrs. Tom Cruise plays the black sheep of her family, working to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner for the clan in her tiny apartment with a broken stove. How can Mrs. Tom Cruise be the star of my favorite Thanksgiving movie? I don’t know, but she is. This movie packed a punch when I first saw it almost a decade ago, and still does. Check it out if you haven’t yet.
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”-John Fitzgerald Kennedy
“Ecstasy … is not to be communicated by a couple of people, or one person, or any combinations there of, unless it’s actually happening … [Ecstasy] is really not part of the thing we can do on celluloid.”– ORSON WELLS
Orson Wells was well known for a lack of sex scenes in his movies. That’s why this article about a porn film he notoriously was rumored to have edited(not shot) was news to me. The ultimate high-brow directing working on a low brow flick?! Interesting! The film was 3 A.M. The connection was to Wells’ last film, The Other Side Of The Wind. From the article…
“3 A.M. was directed by Gary Graver, Welles’s cinematographer on The Other Side of the Wind. (The productions have several crew members in common.)…
Welles’s presence in the editing suite was owed to his own impatience. He’d been working with Graver on The Other Side of the Wind, his unfinished project shot over seven years. Alas, Welles didn’t have the budget to pay the crew. To offset this volunteerism, Graver, who had a family to provide for, worked on erotic films. As McBride wrote, Welles in turn …
… reciprocated by working without credit on one of Graver’s hard-core films, 3 A.M. Fuming that Graver was busy editing it instead of working on his projects, Welles volunteered to cut a sequence to speed the film’s completion. The star of 3 A.M., Georgina Spelvin, proudly told me that Welles was responsible for the dynamic editing of her masturbation scene in a shower…”
The clip they link to is rare and racy and it got me thinking about doing a couple posts of the Best Sex scenes in the movies. Of course you can click on Google for a dozen similar lists but this will be a Script Gods Must Die special… guaranteed to elicit a couple huuuuuuuh’s????!! from you, Good Reader, but it’ll be fun. Script first, then the scene clip(if available). Let’s go to the sexy videotape!
I’m going to stay non-conventional with this list but some classics simply will not be left asunder. I remember reading Tony Curtis’ take on this scene, how kissing Marilyn Monroe was like “kissing Hitler”. Not sure of the context of that quote but I imagine about a million guys would have been thrilled to be a stand-in here. What a kiss! Script, then scene…
58. INT. SALON OF CALEDONIA - NIGHT. 58.
Joe and Sugar are still in the same embrace. The radio
music continues. Finally they break.
Well - ?
I'm not quite sure. Try it again.
She does. As they break, she looks at him - the suspense is
I got a funny sensation in my toes - like
somebody was barbecuing them over a
Lets throw another log on the fire.
I think you're on the right track.
I must be - because your glasses are
beginning to steam up.
She kisses him again.
59. INT. ROADHOUSE - NIGHT. 59.
Osgood and Jerry have now got the tango by the throat.
Jerry is dancing with his back to the CAMERA, and as
Osgood whips him around, we see that Jerry has the flower
clamped between his teeth. They reverse positions again,
and Osgood grabs the flower between his teeth.
WIPE BACK TO:
60. INT. SALON OF CALEDONIA - NIGHT. 60.
The radio is still on, and Joe and Sugar are just coming out
of their last kiss. Joe removes his glasses, which are now
completely fogged up.
I never knew it could be like this.
They told me I was caputt - finished -
washed up - and now you're making
a chump out of all those experts.
Mineral baths - now really!
Where did you learn to kiss like that?
Oh, you know - Junior League - charity
bazaars - I used to sell kisses for the
They kiss again.
(going, going, gone)
Tomorrow, remind me to send a check
for a hundred thousand dollars to the
She doesn't have to kiss him any more - he takes over now.
Today let’s go back to our clips/scripts series of great scenes. We’ll look at the script for Blade Runner, the final fight sequence between Blatty (Rutger Hauer) and Deckard (Harrison Ford). This is the Hampton Fancher/David Peoples draft dated February 1981. Not sure which draft this is, but it;s very different from the theatrical version of the movie. Because of that, it’s an interesting choice to examine.
This is a favorite scene of mine because of the humanity on display–by the replicant. When Roy sees Deckard desperately hanging on the ledge, something in his mind becomes absolutely human. He will not only NOT kill him, but actually save him from sure death. But he waits until Deckard actually loses his grip before he grabs him.
In that last second, it’s the replicant hunter–Deckard–who can finally feel for the beings he’s been hunting. So there’s a reversal for both characters. The hunter becomes the hunted. At the top and throughout the movie Deckard never experiences such humanity. And then comes the Hauer monologue to Vangelis music that is not in the script…Oh!
To die for…seriously. Couldn’t you go to your grave if you had authored just one moment like that would last a hundred years?
A large piece of this scene is in the Youtube video below.
Let’s look at the script(some trims included):
INT. CORRIDOR – TENTH FLOOR – NIGHT 106
Deckard looks around the corner of the door down the
hall. Batty’s at the other end. Except for jockstrap
and gym shoes, he’s nude.
You wanna play?
Deckard FIRES. Batty’s fast. He ducks into a doorway.
Pops out again.
Not very sporting to fire on an
unarmed opponent. I thought you
were supposed to be good. Aren’t
you the man?!
The makeup on Batty’s face is somewhere between a Coman-
che warrior and a transvestite. The immensity of his
insolence awesome — the muscles of his body are swol-
len, trembling from the thrill of it.
This is how we do it up there, lad!
In a blue of lightning-like action, Batty whips down the
hall, zigzagging off the walls towards Deckard so fast
that Deckard gets only three SHOTS off before the blur
crashes through the wall on his left with a laugh.
Deckard stands there a moment — digesting the impact
of it, then edges up to the gaping wall. Batty is be-
He knees Deckard in the back and slaps him in the head.
Deckard goes to his knees, then over on his face.
Batty kneels next to him.
Not hurt, are you? You better get
it up or I’m going to have to kill
you. Unless you’re alive you can’t
play. And if you don’t play, you
don’t get to be alive.
Deckard’s eyes are closed, mouth bleeding. He exhales
and makes and effort. He slides his hands up even with
his chest and starts to push.
That’s the spirit.
Like a matador, Batty walks away. By the time Deckard’s
on his feet, Batty’s disappeared through one of the
Deckard wipes the blood from his mouth, bends down and
picks up his laser, reloads and looks down the hall,
towards the jeering voice.
Come on, Deckard, show me what you
got! I’m right here on the other
side of the door. But you gotta
shoot straight ’cause I’m fast!
Deckard gets to the door, BLASTS it, kicks it open and
FIRES at Batty. But it’s only the reflection of Batty.
INT. TENTH FLOOR HALL – NIGHT 116
He’s backing Deckard out the door. Deckard trips and
falls. There’s fear on his face. The strength is gone.
Something is starting to crack.
What’s wrong? Aren’t you a lover
of Faster, Bigger and Better?!
Deckard’s pedaling backwards over the floor.
It’s time to die.
Deckard throws the laser at him. It misses. Batty
throws his head back and laughs. A one-eyed colossus
about to eat the world. Suddenly he stops. His eye
moves over the wall.
Playing with him! Blatty could kill Deckard, but he’s teaching him a lesson…what it feels like to fear. Deckard might have the laser but Blatty is in control– “a one-eyed colossus”–beautifully described. The descriptive language fast, to-the-death crosscutting.
As mentioned previously, I’m not sure what draft this is, but check out how different the script ending is from the final movie. Screen the YouTube clip below while reading this. Don’t know about you, but there’s no comparison for me–movie over script:
INT. TENTH FLOOR APARTMENT #2 - NIGHT 117
Provocation accomplished. Batty smiles and walks lei-
surely towards the door. Deckard's terrified scream
and the SOUND of GLASS CRASHING stop him. Batty speeds
up and moves into the room.
The window pane is splattered, curtains sucked out,
bellowing in the wind.
He walks up to the window. Deckard comes away from the
wall, inching up behind him, laser in both hands, aimed
at the base of Batty's skull. Batty starts to lean
over, but even before his eyes see the pavement, he
knows. He spins...
Deckard FIRES again. This one goes home. Batty falls
like he was poleaxed, hits the floor dead weight.
Deckard starts to tremble. His arms go limp as his
head tilts back and he closes his eyes. He can breathe
On the floor, Batty's hand is crawling toward Deckard's
With the unsuspected abruptness of a man slipping on a
banana peel, Deckard comes down. Face knotted in hor-
ror, he EMPTIES THE LASER in Batty's body -- but the
hand holds on. With a screech of frustration he drops
the laser and like an animal claws at Batty's dead
fingers -- but the fingers are welded shut.
Deckard starts to crawl, pulling Batty behind him. He
struggled through the door and stumbles to his feet.
INT. TENTH FLOOR HALL - NIGHT 118
Deckard plunges down the corridor dragging Batty along.
He falls, gets to one foot, falls again and crawls the
last couple feet to the stairwell.
INT. TENTH FLOOR STAIRWELL - NIGHT 119
Groaning, he tugs and pulls, hauls and heaves Batty's
body to the edge of the landing. He pauses for breath,
then lays back, wedging his feet against Batty's shoul-
ders and pushes. Inch by inch the body goes over the
edge. Then all at once it drops. But the hand holds
and the weight of the body takes Deckard with it. As
Deckard slides over the edge, he grabs hold of the
Deckard's hanging three hundred feet over the basement
floor, supporting himself and Batty's corpse -- almost
four hundred pounds of stress on his fingers.
With his free foot he chops away at Batty's hand, try-
ing to break it loose. But it's not working. Deckard's
fingers are starting to slip.
His face is a mask of agony as he wedges his heel over
Batty's thumb. With the help of gravity and everything
he's got in his right leg to push with, he pushes. The
thumb breaks loose. Batty falls.
The SOUND OF HIS BODY HITTING BELOW sounds good, but
Deckard doesn't notice. He's in an awkward position.
He must reverse the way he's facing to pull himself up.
He lets go with his right hand and crosses it over the
left. Then turns the left around so he's got an over-
Like a man doing his last pull-up... the one that can't
be done, Deckard pulls himself up, throws a foot over
the edge and grapples and heaves and wiggled himself
onto the cold solid steel of the stairwell landing.
And lies there, body jerking spasmodically, slowly
clenching and unclenching his cramped hand, but it's
his burning cheek against the cool metal he's most aware
Dizzy, hot, lungs on fire, he stands -- and putting one
foot in front of the other, Deckard descends the stairs.
Let’s continue with our look into some of the best Script Magazine posts. To check out the full list of Script Mag contributors, go here. Website home page is here. A column of my own stuff appears here.
There’s a shamanism to being a writer. It involves breaking out of your own head and becoming a character that has little or nothing to do with your own life or POV. How well one does that might very well determine your success as a writer. So yeah, when I read a pro’s POV on how they interpret my script–that’s of interest to me. Most interesting about this article from Nathan Blair is that it’s from a Director of Photography’s point of view. How does a DP see the script? How can you write more visually, to appeal to the eye of the man/woman who is going to make all the Paris-Is-Burning images in your mind happen? Read the article and get enlightened.
Damn! Look at that screenplay page above… My own notes used to look like that before Columbia College moved to digital homework. I would spend 30 minutes handwriting notes on a page like that not thinking the student would have NO FUCKING CLUE what I was saying. That’s why I was glad to find another excellent article from Stewart Farquhar about format differences between shooting and spec scripts. This article provides invaluable advice. Here’s a taste:
I recently did a webinar for Screenwriting University on True Story Characters. The territory covered here wonderfully by writer/producer/director Bob Boris is similar– trying to help you get your arms around writing a True Story Screenplay. Let’s take a quick timeout and go to the Black List website. Go to their archive of spec scripts down through the years. Pick a year. Now tell me how many are in the list and how many are TRUE STORY inspired. A shitload, yes? Want to see the genesis of the True Story movie down through the years? Look what the elves at Wikipedia have put together. True Story movies from the dawn of cinema to today. What you see is an explosion in that sub-genre. Shit you not–if I’m not writing a micro-budget today, if I’m going Indie, then the only Indie spec I’m writing is a True Story.
All this to say, this article is a good information source from Bob Boris–an interview where he expands on writing fictional screenplays inspired by true events. Check out the article. Here’s a taste:
Movies = moving pictures. Film as visual medium. The manipulation of I M A G E S for emotional impact. The written word– the screenplay– is there to fill in the gap of what can’t be communicated visually. Hitchcock is studied in every film school in the country for a reason. The dude could screw with your mind– How? Juxtaposition of I M A G E S manipulated to evoke specific reactions. Far too often the screenwriter just kills us with words when words aren’t called for. A greater understanding of images and symbols is called for. Thus, I include this epic poem to film symbolism written by John Fraim. Nicely done, John–this one really made me think. Here’s a piece:
“Yet in the vast majority of films, their images don’t go anywhere… The result is that many films, unsure of their central image, unwilling to invoke the power of the single image, bombard viewers with too many images. The shotgun effect of images in modern films create what media theorist Marshall McLuhan might term “hot” images allowing for little participation by the audience. This onslaught of images are “broadcast” 24/7 through modern films like continuous images from cable news networks.
Films need to cut the machine-gun spray of small, lifeless images and focus on creating a few images full of life. They need to call back what McLuhan would term “cool” images, or images that are incomplete, requiring in depth participation by viewers in decoding their message. They need to create images that suggest rather than define, that expand meaning rather than deflate it.”