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A while back I wrote a post about Point Of Entry. I got pinned down by classic movies with famous first scenes. Today, I want to add to that subject with some other great movies that nailed their openings. Remember what we talked about last time concerning point of entry:
Point Of Entry is a tricky one. Robert McKee, one of the original Script Gods, in his book Story, wrote about inclusion and exclusion. One of the most important skills a screenwriter will ever need is knowing what stays, and what goes.
So where do you start your script? Any rules that can help guide you?
Couple things. Events should be interconnected, not random. It’s not A happens, then B happens, then C happens. More likely, it’s A happens, therefore B happens, which in turn causes C to occur. Causality. We want the Point Of Entry to set off the chain of events that will become the movie.
I look for four things to be established in the first pages:
So, let’s look at the opening of The Mummy…
With period-piece epics, sci-fi or action flicks, I’m a sucker for information, right at the top. That’s what we get here. This opening satisfies the criteria for causality. If the Pharaoh doesn’t catch that smear of paint on her shoulder he never discovers these two fooling around and there’s no Mummy or Mummy movie. Of course there’s also no way you’re opening an action without some major visuals at top, and this movie has it in spades. This roles on for five pages so I’ll give you just the end of the opening sequence, setting up the world-tone-title character and conflict:
INT. EMBALMER’S CHAMBER (necropolis re-vamp) – NIGHT
Inside a TORCH-LIT CHAMBER, Imhotep is held by Anubis-headed
EMBALMERS. He cringes at the flickering, impressionistic
glimpses of his Priests being embalmed and mummified alive.
The horrid-looking Embalmers, using knives, needles and
thread, calmly perform their ghastly surgery on the SCREAMING
Priests, who are going insane from the procedure.
A red hot POKER is pulled out of a pit of burning coals. A
Priest’s head is wedged between two strong boards. His eyes
widen in terror as an Embalmer moves to insert the red hot
poker up his nose.
All twenty-one of Imhotep’s Priests squirm inside their
wrappings. Imhotep is forced to his knees. His arms are held
back. His mouth is pried open.
I was condemned to endure the HOM-DAI. The worst of
all ancient curses. One so horrible, it had never before been
Using a pair of tongs, an Embalmer slowly pulls Imhotep’s
TONGUE out of his mouth, then places a very sharp knife on
top of it. WE-GO TIGHT on IMHOTEP’S EYES as his tongue is
apparently cut out.
The Embalmer flings Imhotep’s tongue onto the floor. The
Mumia’s dogs attack and quickly eat it. Imhotep is WRAPPED.
Only his mouth, nostrils and fear-filled eyes are left free
of the slimy bandages. Detritus muck boils inside a black
cauldron. Embalmers scoop out the fetid muck and apply it to
Imhotep’s wrappings as he squirms.
He’s then laid in a wooden COFFIN inside a stone SARCOPHAGUS.
An Embalmer with a BUCKET steps up and looks into the coffin.
Imhotep’s wild eyes stare back. The Embalmer empties the
bucket over Imhotep’s chest: dozens of SCARABS, disgusting
dung beetles. They scurry across Imhotep’s SCREAMING face.
Some vanish into his tongue-less mouth and up his nostrils.
By eating the sacred scarabs, I
would be cursed to stay alive
forever. And by eating me, they
were cursed just the same.
The lid to the coffin is SLAMMED SHUT. Then, using a strange
four-sided KEY, the Head Mumia locks the coffin lid tight.
The heavy sarcophagus lid is shoved into place and with a
loud WHOOSH seals itself airtight. Once again, the Head Mumia
uses the strange key, locking the sarcophagus lid tight.
I was to remain sealed inside my
sarcophagus, the undead for all of
The blue-skinned, strangely tattooed man carefully collapses
the sides of the key, –turning it into a little puzzle BOX.
I would arise a walking disease, a plague upon
mankind, an unholy flesh-eater, with the strength of ages, power
over the sands, and the glory of invincibility.
Imhotep’s sarcophagus is dropped into a DETRITUS PIT. The
disgusting muck SPLASHES up, drools down it’s sides, and then
is mysteriously sucked into it’s seams, vanishing clean.
And if I could raise my beloved
Anck-su-namun from her place in
hell, together, we would be an
unstoppable infection upon this
world. The Apocalypse. The End.
Imhotep’s horrifying tongue-less SCREAMS can be heard coming
from inside his sarcophagus as grave diggers shovel dirt onto
THE MAIN TITLE IS SUPERIMPOSED ON THE SCREAM: THE MUMMY.
Read the rest of this entry »
As a craps dealer, call 11 and you’ll get cheers all day long. 7 and 11 win on the Come Out roll but alas, this has little to do with screenwriting. I’d call out the stickman’s call, Good Reader, if it got you closer to a sale. 11 is lucky in the dice pit so here’s hoping this V.11 of best screenwriting links is worthwhile for you.
Can I tell you a quick one before we move on to business? Cold February night. Well-groomed fellow at my dice game on the Hollywood Casino Aurora riverboat. Loses his roll in the first 15 minutes of the cruise. Man leaves table, proceeds to leap off the rail of upper deck of the riverboat, splashing into the Fox river. He walks to shore, the mighty Fox river being all of four feet deep. He is arrested without commotion upon reaching shore.
Ah, to the remembrances of degenerates. Onto the links…
Thanks to the good folks at Screenwriting Spark for assembling this impressive list of 50 links for better dialogue writers. So Peditto is writing a link’s post and recommending another links post? Yep. The sources are beautifully varied and have got to help a writer looking for help with the brutal task of dialogue writing. Can you teach someone to be funny? You’ll find answers here. Also included, three excellent videos on the subject of dialogue writing, plus a hysterical 100 Cheesiest Movie Quotes video, shown here. Recommended.
I don’t care that the post is nearly 10 years old…this is good advice. Kudos to the excellent Two Adverbs blog for writing what looks to me to be the definitive list of questions you need to ask yourself before you start your rewrite. Writers too often want to jump back into the rewrite without giving time to gain a modicum of objectivity. If you can answer half these questions you’ll be in a better place to make meaningful changes to your script. Put the script away. Let it cool off for a week or two. Hit this checklist. From the post:
“Each story is its own fingerprint. Since each script has its own set of goals, it can be difficult to offer up a checklist to which all screenplays should subscribe. I think each screenplay has its very own unique checklist. However, there are certainly general points that can be considered. The problem with a checklist is that a clueless scribe will review it and mistakenly believe he has all points covered. By no means is a checklist any sort of cureall. Ultimately, the checklist must come from within – not without.”
Talk about positivism, you gotta love this James V. Hart article about screenwriter as job creator. It’s easy to forget that the entire movie-making process with an idea from the screenwriter. He’s a recollection of that simple fact, eloquently brought to us by the writer of Hook and 16 other movies. Let this inspire you, Good Reader. From the article:
“The late great Frank Pierson who wrote such brilliant screenplays as “Cool Hand Luke” and “Dog Day Afternoon” explained this alchemy to me over a couple of single malts at the Hole in the Wall bar at Sundance in 1994. I was in the process of having two of my scripts made by two of the most legendary directors of all time and I was not handling it well.
Frank said in that distinct shrill drill sergeant voice of his; “When you’re in the dumps at the end of your rope ready to throw yourself off a cliff because you’re convinced no one gives a shit about your stories, just remember that no director, including those two legends, no actor, no cinematographer, no set designer, costume designer, sound mixer, no SFX guys, no editor, no caterer, no driver, nobody, nobody has a job until you type “THE END”.
Now, that bit of wisdom has gotten me through some dark times and difficult projects. I thought Frank was just giving me a tool to raise my self-esteem. To make me feel good about my work. At the time, it did not hit me that he was telling the truth.”
While passing along knowledge is my sacred duty, if I turn you on to a grant here and you find yourself making $10,000+ toward your Indie or Micro-budget (which you could do, that’s the point) I certainly won’t reject your generosity in giving back a small piece, I’m from Chicago after all…
Lame attempts at dumb humor aside, check out these three grants for production money for screenwriters of all backgrounds.
A nice guide to Fellowships, Writer’s Labs, and Writer’s Program can be found via Aspiring TV Writer blog, can be found here.
Haven’t you wondered? I have. I chalked it up to legacy.
Really like this article from Slate.com and Ken Miyamotto on the phenomenon. Here’s a piece of it:
“Many then read screenwriting books from the secondary industry of script consultants, gurus, and sure, some writers with great credits and such. They are given “secrets,” “answers,” and “formulas” to success (except for great books like The Screenwriter’s Bible, How Not to Write a Screenplay, and others that teach the general guidelines and expectations). So those people begin to believe that they can make it happen.
Then reality occurs.
They find out that it’s not as easy as those books and seminars make it seem. They find out that having a “good idea” for a movie or television show isn’t enough. Then they find out that there really are no secrets, answers, or formulas for successful screenplays. There are only general guidelines and expectations (general format, general structure, general aesthetics, etc.) to start from, but those aren’t enough. They learn quickly (or all too often not) that it takes more than all of that to get into this business.
And then they stop. Or they put it off. Or they find something better.”
There’s stuff you know and stuff you know.
Charles Bukowski was a pal….
Nah, that’s BS. He was a pen pal, a mentor. I knew the guy. I wrote a play that made National Public Radio. He came to see the production in L.A. about a year before he died. Check out his last book of letters, Reach For The Sun, you’ll find a half-dozen of his letters to me. Or you can read the whole series here.
When he died in ’94 I went out to the graveyard to see his modest tombstone. The inscription reads: DON’T TRY. Think on it…
It’s been a long while since I read Barfly, the Movie. To my knowledge it’s the only screenplay Bukowski wrote. There’s not all that much online about Bukowski and the movies. I remember asking him what his favorite movie was and he said– if I remember correctly– Alien. Never saw Hank as a Sci-Fi guy…go figure.
His book Hollywood, about the making of Barfly, is better than Barfly itself. Great read. The trials and travails of the attempts to make Barfly. Behind-the-scenes stories are many, including one about Barbet Schroeder, the director, taking a gun into a producer’s office to collect on a promised payment.
There’s some debate on whether Hank liked Mickey Rourke in the lead role. He was initially wanting Sean Penn for the role, but later wrote about Rourke: “[…]Part of my luck was the actor who played Henry Chinaski. Mickey Rourke stayed with the dialogue to the word and the sound intended. What surprised me was that he added another dimension to the character, in spirit. Mickey appeared to really love his role, and yet without exaggeration he added his own flavor, his zest, his madness, his gamble to Henry Chinaski without destroying the intent or the meaning of the character. To add spirit to spirit can be dangerous but not in the hands of a damned good actor. Without distorting, he added, and I was very pleased with the love and understanding he lent to the role of the BARFLY”.—WIKI
This was a “small” movie, flawed in every way, but it didn’t do too badly at the award stand…
I’d take a Palme d’Or nomination for my first film, wouldn’t you?
We’ll get back to Barfly in a moment, but did you hear that James Franco was working on Ham On Rye?
Yep. That’s coming out. Some controversy too…what else would you expect from James Franco? He’s hip/cool/trendy enough to make Sundance every year. I don’t think Hank would like the guy, but what do I know? They didn’t exactly come banging down my door to do the adaptation on this one.
While we’re at it, they’re doing his novel Women too.
Checking his IMDB page, I count 40 credits. Other than The Bard, can you name another poet with more movie adaptations of his work?
What would Hank think of his novels selling for six-figures (or is it more now?) I’m guessing he’d shrug and head to Hollywood Park. I tried for many years to get his secret system for picking horses but he never gave it up. Good for Hank and Linda Lee, his wife, in this new Chinaski movie frenzy.
Here’s some good Bukowski stuff I found… Enjoy!
Let’s carry on with my S-E-X-Y movie list. One last time, the Orson Well quote:
“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.”
Disproving the magnificent Orson Wells is a weighty task, but if the numbers are correct, there’s no shortage of demand. From an article on Forbes magazine analyzing internet traffic for sex sites:
“In 2010, out of the million most popular (most trafficked) websites in the world, 42,337 were sex-related sites. That’s about 4% of sites. From July 2009 to July 2010, about 13% of Web searches were for erotic content.”
Here at Script Gods we’ll just be talking (thank you!) mainstream movies. Script, then the film clip to follow. Compare and contrast. I guarantee a couple aren’t on your list. Vamos!
Originality = no other scene like it in the movies. Go ahead and name another scene like the bathtub masturbation scene in Pleasantville. Black and white world turns color, tree bursting into flame on Mom’s climax. The best scenes advance character and story, like this one does.
For my students who point out that this script ruthlessly gives detailed camera angles and it’s famous and I’ve never written one of near equivalent fame despite my screaming to NEVER, EVER direct the script– Thank you for pointing that out. I know, I know…
INT. PARKER BEDROOM – NIGHT
George crosses from the dresser to the TWO TWIN BEDS in the
middle of the room. He wears long sleeve pajamas that are
buttoned up to the neck. George puts his glass of warm milk
on the nightstand and climbs in his own single bed. It is
barely wide enough for his body and takes some maneuvering.
Sweetie? You coming to bed?
There is no answer.
She stands in her bathrobe staring down at the tub. Her
dressing gown is buttoned to the neck as well.
Yeah… I’m just going to take a
CLOSER – BETTY
She swallows once as she stares down at the tub–then reaches
for the spigot and turns on the water. Betty’s heart beats a
little faster as she HEARS the WATER THUNDERING DOWN.
Betty reaches up and unties the little silk ribbon at the
top of her robe. She slips it off, and lets it drop to the
floor, standing naked in the middle of the bathroom. Betty
glances toward the mirror and then quickly glances away. She
takes a deep breath and steps into the tub.
EVEN TIGHTER – ON HER FACE
Betty slides down into the warm water, breathing in the steam,
and closing her eyes for a moment. She lingers like that for
a second or two, before settling a little lower in the tub.
Betty opens her eyes, but they only half open. There is the
slight trace of a smile.
EXTREME CLOSE UP BETTY’S FACE
Her eyes close again as she bites her lower lip gently. The
water continues to THUNDER DOWN as she arches her back.
Betty’s breathing seems to quicken as she opens her eyes all
HER POV – BATHROOM
All at once, everything around starts to turn from black and
white to color. A bird out the window becomes a red breasted
robin. The tile on the tub turns out to be purple. Green
towel… Pink robe… Bright yellow daisies on the plastic
CLOSE UP – BETTY’S FACE
She stares in amazment. Beads of sweat form on Betty’s
forehead as the world goes to TECHNICOLOR. The THUNDERING
WATER POUNDS IN THE BACKGROUND, but beneath can be heard the
beginnings of a faint, low, MOAN. Her eyes dart around the
room. Her breathing quickens: Faster… Harder… More
intense… Then suddenly…
EXT. ELM STREET – NIGHT
The HUGE ELM TREE across the street suddenly BURSTS INTO
FLAMES. Fire shoots straight up into the sky as billowing
clouds of black smoke fill the air. BRIGHT ORANGE FLAMES
LIGHT UP THE NIGHT
Today I’d like to riff off something I did with a series of post on the Buzzfeed article on the “129 most beautiful frames in the movies”. This time it’s a great Screen Crush article on The Long Take. I wondered what the scripts would look like for these famous long take action sequences. Academic circles teach younglings that as a screenwriter you want “white space” and never, ever go more than five lines of description before shifting into a new action block. So how’s that practically translate to some of the most classic sequences in the movies? Let’s check it out.
***The usual disclaimer. I’ll try to format properly but the script cut and pastes are anything but perfect so view accordingly. Content over format and we emerge victorious over the tech.***
The opening of five-minute sequence of Touch Of Evil has attained legendary status. That’s not hyperbole, just fact. Hard to believes are many for this one. First that anyone would cast Charlton Heston as a Mexican police detective. Next that Wells was bought in at Heston’s bequest to salvage the script– which he did, in a week! It’s doubtful I have much to meaningfully add to the analysis of this classic that already exists on the internet. I did find a piece of the script. Run the sequence and follow along. Notice how much of the dialogue has been cut out.
REVERSE ANGLE – NEAR THE FLAMING WRECK OF THE CAR
The following sequence is photographed with a hand camera -
the operator following Mike and Susan through the crowd on foot.
Mike, followed by Susan, is running forward when an OLD MAN
(a field-hand type) dashes by, going in the other
direction. Mike stops him and there is a swift exchange in Spanish.
Mike! - What's happened?
The old man dashes OFF SCENE.
Mike continues hurrying toward the scene of the accident,
Susan tagging along at his side.
It exploded -
(breathlessly, by now
they are almost running)
Just the car? - How could it
I'd better find out, Susie. Don't
you come any closer... it's bound
to be messy... We'll have to
postpone the soda, I'm afraid -
(catching up with him)
Why? - Can't I come and see, too?
(turning back with a
Darling, don't be morbid.
(Flaring up a trifle)
Well, what are you being, for
golly's sake? Anyway, it happened
over here on the American side - so -
(his voice hardens)
So it's none of my business?
(after a moment)
That's sort of what I mean, I guess.
You're wrong, love. This
could be very unpleasant for us...
For us - ?
I mean for Mexico.
There's probably nothing I can do -
So I'll try not to be too long about it.
He kisses her in haste but very tenderly - then turns and
breaks into a run. HAND CAMERA FOLLOWING HIM TO
THE wrecked car. Policemen are holding off the gathering crowd.
Nobody is better as finding the emotion and essence of a complex scene in a SINGLE shot than Scorsese. You see it in Raging Bull with Jake LeMotta (Robert DeNiro) the moment before his championship fight. We go Steadicam from his dressing room, through a crowd of thousands, into the ring–single shot. Scorsese does it in Goodfellas too, in this tour-de-force Steadicam shot as we go from car, through the back of a chaotic restaurant, up front to a table in a packed club watching a comedian. It gives us a POV on a gangster rock star, and gets us into the mind of Karen. How does this guy live this like? It’s a glamorous life and we get how she could quickly fall for this guy who has the world at his feet. What’s the script for that sequence look like? Roll the YouTube video(with commentary) and follow along…
EXT. COPACABANA - NIGHT
HENRY gives the keys and a rolled-up twenty-dollar bill to
the DOORMAN at the building across the street and steers
KAREN toward the Copa.
What're you doing? What about the
(while pushing her
through the crowd
waiting to get in)
He watches it for me. It's better
than waiting at a garage.
HE SEE HENRY deftly steer KAREN away from the Copa's main
entrance and down the basement steps. A HUGE BODYGUARD,
eating a sandwich in the stairwell, gives HENRY a big
"Hello." WE SEE HENRY walk right through the basement
kitchen, which is filled with CHINESE and LATINO COOKS and
DISHWASHERS who pay no attention. KAREN is being dragged
along, open-mouthed, at the scene. HENRY starts up a stained
kitchen staircase through a pair of swinging doors and
suddenly KAREN sees she is inside the main room. The harried
MAITRE D' (he is surrounded by CUSTOMERS clamoring for
their tables) waves happily at HENRY and signals to a
CAPTAIN. WE SEE a table held aloft by TWO WAITERS wedging
their way toward the stage and plant the table smack in
front of what had until that moment been a ringside table.
As HENRY leads KAREN to their seat, she sees that he is
nodding and shaking hands with MANY of the OTHER GUESTS.
WE SEE HENRY quietly slip twenty-dollar-bills to the
You gave them twenty dollars each?
WE SEE the CAPTAIN approach with champagne.
This is from Mister Tony, over
Where, over there?
Over there, over there.
KAREN watches HENRY turn around and wave at a 280-POUND
What do you do?
(toasting Karen and
I'm in construction.
(taking his hands)
They don't feel like you're in
HENRY turns to the stage where the lights begin to dim and
BENNY YOUNGMAN walks out.
I'm a union delegate.