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Plot Point 1: The Godfather
Aug 30th, 2015 by paul peditto

 

Vito_and_Sollozzo

Remember this scene? The first meeting with Sollozzo. This is not Plot Point 1 of The Godfather, but it’s arguably the most important scene in the movie. Now you’re like…huh?

Classic screenplay structure, meaning Old School Syd Field variety, tells us that the Plot Point 1 takes us out of the First Act. It’s a lynch pin scene. There’s no movie without it. In a 100 page movie, it happens around page 25. In a two-hour movie, it happens more like page 30.

In the case of The Godfather, and indeed the entire Godfather trilogy–not of it would exist without this Sollozzo scene.

6194-the-godfather-1280x800-movie-wallpaperWhat the hell is Peditto–a Southern Italian on BOTH his parents sides– talking about?

Recall the scene: Don Corleone is talked into meeting the drug dealer Solozzo by both Sonny and Tom. In the meeting the Don is offered the chance to go into business with Sollozzo. Sollozzo wants access to Don Corleone’s powerful friends– judges, politicians. In return he will cut the Don in for a thick percentage. Everyone stands to make millions. Yet Brando turns him down. He points out he would lose his political connections and judges if they discovered he was peddling heroin. He wishes Sollozzo the best, but refuses him.

This single decision determines the entire course of The Godfather Trilogy.

THE GODFATHER, from left: Al Pacino, Sterling Hayden, Al Lettieri, 1972Think about it: If Brando tells Sollozzo he will go into business with him, there is no assassination attempt made on the Don. Brando doesn’t end up in the hospital. Michael, the war veteran, if he follows through his previous life course, marries Kaye and never becomes the Don. Michael does not kill Sollozzo in the restaurant. He doesn’t go to Italy. Sonny doesn’t die–least not at the tollbooth like he did.

All of this happens because Brando turns Sollozzo down. Plot Points are lynch pin scenes. There is no movie without them.

So what is the Plot Point 1 scene for The Godfather? We had two sequences before the Sollozzo meeting. The first sequence, The Wedding, opened up the movie with 15 or more scenes (19 pages total) concentrating around the big event of Carla’s wedding. This introduces us to the entire Corleone family. It also fully sets up the world, the tone, and the beginnings of conflict.

The second sequence is what? Right…Hollywood. The horse’s head!

Godfather_horse_head

The Sinatra character had to have that role, so Tom Hagan roles out to L.A. to have a little talk with the all-powerful movie producer Woltz. He disses Tom at the start, then learns who he is and brings him to him home to make amends. They go to the stables, see the beautiful million dollar horse, have a marvelous dinner, but the movie producer isn’t changing his mind. Johnny Fontaine ruined one of his young actresses lives with his olive oil voice and guinea charm (well, presumably the damage was done more than just guinea charm)…Tom excuses himself and makes plans to leave, the Don always insists on hearing bad news quickly. Cue night, silk sheets, and Seabiscuit no more. This sequence puts the Puzo-Coppola draft on page 22.

That brings us to the Sollozzo scene on pages 23-25. So, what’s the Plot Point 1 scene?

Yep, it’s the assassination attempt on Don Corleone:

The Godfather (1972)

This happens on page 32, just about the exact page a two-hour movie would want to be according to the Old School, Syd Field structural model.

Here’s what the script looks like:

THE DON AND FREDO LEAVING THE GENCO OFFICE – LATE AFTERNOON
VITO CORLEONE
Aspetta, Fredo; I’m gonna buy some fruit
aspetta…wait.
FREDO
(getting into the driver’s
seat of the car)
Okay, Pop
VITO CORLEONE
(to merchant)
Hi, merry Christmas; I wan some fruit over
there. What is this? Gimme three. And that
one…
After the don gets some oranges and a green pepper, he hears
footsteps, then running. He begins to run toward the car, he
stumbles and falls onto the car. The shooters shoot about 10 shots
at him. The Don screams Uh!, falls over, the assassins run, and
the Don falls to the curb.
FREDO
(gets out of the car,
fumbling with the gun, then
sits on the curb crying)
I can’t…I can’t…Papa!

Best Screenwriting Links 5: Miscellanea
Aug 17th, 2015 by paul peditto

baker-street-miscellanea-bsm-cd

Good Reader, today we’ll hit the links once more with a bunch of articles I couldn’t group. So we’ll just toss ‘em into the Miscellaneous pile. The goal, as ever, is to help you along on your script-writing journey. Let me know if any of this hits home…

index When you want to learn how to build your house, talk to the guy who BUILDS HOUSES, not the guy who has TALKED to guys who build houses, while building none himself. Carefully avoiding the morass of screenwriting consultant politics (and yeah, I’m one of them), let’s just call this a personal choice. I KNOW there are teachers as well as writers. I KNOW there are plenty of kick-ass writers who can’t teach a lick. I KNOW there are folks who have zero credits on the IMDB board who have helped people in fundamental ways. If it were me, I’d be listening to Writers Guild screenwriters on the art of screenwriting. All this to say that you should check out the Tales From The Script series. Not sure if you know it, but here’s a useful clip as introduction with some heavy hitters talking about the state of the art. A worthwhile nine minutes.

  • WHY SPEC SCRIPTS FAIL

index   Since I’ve been writing for Script Magazine I’ve had a chance to read over most of the contributors’ stuff on the Script Mag blog site. It’s a group of 60+ folks and there’s some good stuff being curated by my editor Jeanne Bowerman. I’m planning on a whole series of Script Mag posts, but for now here’s a taste, written by Stuart Farquhar, about some of the basic reasons why your spec script might be getting rejected. Sometimes the most important reasons are the easiest and most obvious. They’re right under your nose–which is why you can’t see them. This article might help.

  • TOP 25 SCREENWRITING TWITTER ACCOUNTS

index  Guilty, I am. I did not give a SHIT about Twitter a year ago. Even now, though my followers increased tenfold last year (to a whopping 277!) I’m mostly “too busy” to work it. I post once a week. Which is a pity, because there’s no retreat from the technological reality that is Twitter. It’s upon us, so deal with it. I plan on greater Twitter use in 2015. Script Gods might someday make this list, but for now, check out what’s happening with these Twitter accounts who communicate to thousands of screenwriters. And yeah, some of these are the folks I mentioned above, not necessarily WGA writers of major motion pictures– but good enough as teachers of the art to MAYBE help you. Check out this Screencraft article with their info.unnamed

  • EIGHT TELL-TALE SIGNS OF A BAD ACTOR

the-huffington-post-iconThis one from the Huffington Post might help immediately if you’re casting your micro-budget and are about to step into the audition room. These tips, compiled by Marcus Geduld, Artistic Director of the Folding Chair Classical Theatre, NYC are, in my experience, pretty truthful. Take point 9: “Bad actors don’t listen. They deliver a line, pause for the other actor to speak, and then deliver their next line. When they’re not “on,” they’re off. Good actors know that speaking is just 50% of the job. Listening is equally important. Notice how often, in a film, the shot is the listener, not the speaker. Notice how often, when you see live theatre, your eye is drawn to the actor receiving information. You can’t easily fake listening. You have to really do it. It’s dangerous, because if you listen, and the actor you’re listening to speaks in a way he’s never spoken before, you may have to stray from your plan when you respond.” Check out the list here.

  • THE DEFINITIVE SPEC SCRIPT LIST

gits_logo_border Tell me you’re hip to GO INTO THE STORY. Yes? No? It’s right there with the John August blog, Indiewire, and No Film School, as the top filmmaking blog. Go Into The Story is even more writer-centric and the list Scott Myers has compiled here is staggering. He and his team has spent Christ knows how many hours putting it together. In his own words: “Pretty much ever since I sold a spec script in 1987, I have been fascinated by them. The very idea that a writer could conceive a story concept, research, craft and write an original screenplay, then sell it to a Hollywood buyer is in and of itself a remarkable thing. When you consider that each year an estimated 25,000-40,000 stories filter through the studio acquisition system and only about 100 spec scripts sell annually, that makes it even more notable.

I didn’t start tracking all spec script sales until 1991, but then I tried my best to note the details whenever I learned about them. Over the years I often thought about those files and wouldn’t it be great to have a comprehensive list of all spec script sales in Hollywood? Here are some reasons why:

* To create an historical record of these special accomplishments by screenwriters in the movie business.

* To compare what spec scripts sold and got produced to those that never got made.

* To track buying trends in Hollywood [e.g., genre, high-concept].

* To create a resource for contemporary writers to brainstorm new story ideas.”

The Millennials I teach don’t understand. You didn’t use to be able to get a list like this ANYWHERE, let alone free. This is an invaluable look at what got bought, broken down in categories such as Writer–Logline–Agent–Agency–Studio–Production Company–Price Paid–Genre & Date Sold. This list goes back to–I shit you not–to 1991!

Check it out here.

gointothestory

Going Vertical: 28 Days Later
Aug 10th, 2015 by paul peditto

28-Days-Later

Give white space. Go vertical. You hear that from about 10,000 websites and I guess I’m gonna be 10,001.

As a screenwriter, you don’t want this  ———————————————————————>

You

want

this…….

Driving the eye down the page. Why is that an advantage? Always comes back to the reader. If you haven’t written a micro-budget you’ll need other people’s money. That means you’ll need the script to beat a reader somewhere– at the lit agency, screenwriting contest, production company. Readers have tired eyes. They want smooth, “fast” reads. Thus, going vertical helps. But what’s that look like?

Here are a few pages of an unspecified draft of 28 Days Later by Rowan Joffe and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo & Jesús Olmo.

This style may or may not work for what you’re doing. It will chew up page count for sure, but it flows and works with what the screenwriters wanted to accomplish in the scene. This is action/horror. Tell me this doesn’t move….

28 DAYS LATER- MORE WHITE SPACE28-days-sfReally flows, does it not? Drive the eye down the page with those three little dots:

ON THE FIRE ESCAPE DOORS…

…as they smash open and the Infecteds burst through them.

I would recommend this style for action or horror genre. I would not recommend it for genres where, if you were giving white space on every cut, you would have a 200+ page script. But for something like 28 Days Later…it’s perfectly suited to the material.

28_days_laterThe visuals on this movie were so stark, the action lines would need to be spectacular. I recently posted about Birdman, a different genre but essentially Inarritu doing the same thing with the screenplay, creating the illusion of a single take by moving the action from dressing room to hallway to rooftop to stage without break. This is the craftsmanship of the true artist, where you don’t see the cuts, even down to the script.

Study screenplays for your genre on IMSDB or Simply Scripts or Drew’s Script-O-Rama. Learn from the best and

steal

well.

 

Great Scenes: On The Waterfront:
Aug 3rd, 2015 by paul peditto

On the Waterfront BR (1954)Criterion

You get one scene from On The Waterfront, which do you pick?

Waterfront_074Pyxurz

How about the Father Barry (Karl Malden) monologue where he gets pelted with crap for rabble-rousing?

 

 

 

 

Waterfront-Brando-Cobb_l

 

 

Or the final punch up scene with a half-crippled Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) fighting the heinous Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb)?

 

 

 

 

 

OnTheWaterfront2

How about the alley scene with Brando and Eva Marie Saint (16th credit on IMDB??? The hell is that about?!) where Brando discovers his brother (Rod Steiger) nailed up to a wall, dead, like a sliced side of beef?

 

 

 

Nope, gotta pass on those for this scene with Steiger and Brando in the back of a taxicab–and you know the one I’m reaching for…

We remember some classic scenes by a single line of dialogue, and this is one of them…

th

I coulda been a contender….”

Read the rest of this entry »

Character Introductions
Jul 28th, 2015 by paul peditto

The writer Bruce Vilanch once said something in one of my classes that resonated. When you describe your lead character, imagine someone of star magnitude, A-list, reading it. The description is the first exposure to their character. You don’t get a second chance to make a good impression. Protagonist/antagonist descriptions should be nailed down. How do you do that? Find the visible essence of the character. That means you may have to cheat it when it comes to the ol’ “unfilmable” rules. Telling me they’re 35, average height, wearing jeans is telling me you put zero effort into the critical first look we have at the character. And that tells me you don’t want to sell the script.

Here’s a post that speaks to this, from the excellent www.johnaugust.com, one of the best blogs on screenwriting.

http://johnaugust.com/archives/2007/how-to-introduce-character

assassins

Let’s look at a few pro examples of how major characters were introduced, starting with this concise one from Assassins:

17 INT. INTERNATIONAL TERMINAL – DAY 17

Tired travelers trudge, clogs the concourse. But one
man moves briskly. Singular of purpose. Dressed
stylishly, we don’t quite see his face. He’s BAIN, a
presence, and for whatever reason, no one ever seems to
be in his way.

The Wachowskis do quite a bit with only two lines here. Singular of purpose, a presence, no one gets in his way. We can see this is a guy not to be fucked with.

Bad-Santa-ThorntonHere’s a classic from Bad Santa:

A wiry, hard-bitten, sun-baked saddlebag of a man, GIN SLAGEL
sits behind his cluttered desk sucking on a filterless Pall
Mall. We can hear his in-taken breath rattling over and around
the phlegm, growths, and polyps that line his embattled
trachea. His words come out on an exhaled cloud chamber’s
worth of smoke:

GIN
“Fuck stick”?

Nailed! Get over the unfilmable stuff, cheat in critical moments, like when your protagonist is introduced. Not to mention actors LOVE this sort of detail. There are no CG effects involved, we’re not gonna actually show phlegm and growths and polyps, but this dude is played out, and we can see it in our minds here.

Bull-Durham-mv02Another method of visual essence, visually defining your characters, is describing the world they inhabit. Here’s a great example from Bull Durham:

A WALL COVERED WITH BASEBALL PICTURES behind a small table
covered with objects and lit candles. A baseball, an old
baseball card, a broken bat, a rosin bag, a jar of pine tar–
also a peacock feather, a silk shawl, a picture of Isadora
Duncan. Clearly, the arrangement is–

A SHRINE — And it glows with the candles like some religious
altar.

We hear a woman’s voice in a North Carolina accent.

ANNIE (V.O.)
I believe in the Church of
Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions
and most of the minor ones–I’ve
 worshiped Buddha, Allah, Brahma,
Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms,
and Isadora Duncan…

PAN AWAY FROM THE SHRINE across the room. Late afternoon
light spills into the room, across fine old furniture, to a
small dressing table. A WOMAN applies make up.

ANNIE SAVOY, mid 30’s, touches up her face. Very pretty,
knowing, outwardly confident. Words flow from her Southern
lips with ease, but her view of the world crosses Southern,
National and International borders. She’s cosmic.

3954349_stdHere’s another from Constantine. Notice there’s no age or talk of dress. We get down to the essence in three lines, the core of the guy:

INT. NARROW STAIRCASE HALL WALL

Lined with tenants trying to get a glimpse of the
unexplainable.

The Stranger pushes through. Suspicious faces step out
of his path. The ones that don’t he pushes aside — even
the gangbangers.

The man has no patience for politeness, no time for tact,
no fear of anything.

This man is JOHN CONSTANTINE.

The-HustlerAnd, just to mess with your minds, here’s a last one where the clothes absolutely define the character. Good Reader, I wish I had one single way for you to accomplish this task. I do know rubbing up against the kind of great writing can only help, so here’s a description from The Hustler, Minnesota Fats walking into Ames Pool Hall:

Eight sharp. A departing customer holds the door for an incoming one:
Minnesota Fats. Heads turn when he makes his punctual appearance.
Fats’ clothes reflect his high station at Ames Pool Hall: a gray felt
bowler hat, and an expensive, tailored overcoat, with a carnation in
its lapel and two silk handkerchiefs peeking up from its breast pocket.

He moves like a sultan through the room, past Big John, whose eyes dip
significantly, and over to the coat rack, where Henry respectfully
takes his coat and hat. The buzzard-like eyes of the cashier direct his
gaze toward Eddie’s table. Fats withdraws a cigarette from his gold
case, then casually strolls toward Eddie’s table standing apart and
quietly observing the sharp, precise movements of his prospective
opponent. Even though Ames is filled with players, there is little
noise other than the clicking of pool balls.

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