lights-camera-action1This one’s for you, action movie writers. Let’s check out some pro script action movie sequences. Before we do, read this rant on the often-attributed Picasso quote: “Bad artists borrow, great artists steal”. The best part of the rant is as follows:

“To me, it means the difference between aping and assimilating; between copying and internalizing; between being unoriginal and innovative…every artist of every stripe builds on that which was done by his or her predecessors. It’s only the great artists who manage to take things to new heights, in new directions.”

Here at Script Gods I sample pro scripts in the hopes of good writing being assimilated. The hope is you, Good Reader, get stronger by expanding your catalog. Like looking at the brush strokes of great painters, writing a kick-ass action movie sequence that grabs the reader-agent-manager-actor-director-producer-Studio Head by the throat is a rare talent. Let’s make a study of those who do…

  • PANIC ROOM

panic-room-2002-09-gPhenomenal concept. Contained thriller–bad guys robbing a house, Jodi Foster and daughter lock themselves into a panic room. Bad guys want in. The simplicity of it! The movie delivers not just by crosscutting between the two desperate groups–robbers and mother/daughter–but complication and conflict within each group. Foster’s daughter needs a shot and they can’t get to her medicine. The bad guys are fractured on how to get them out of the panic room, as we see here. Notice how the eye is driven down the page with short, savage action line description. Stakes are big as it gets: This is to the death… Sequence runs many pages, apologies for trimming:

We move in close as Burnham snugs the cut end of
the garden hose over a spigot at the top of the tank. Red
block letters are easy to read on the side of the tank.

PROPANE
CAUTION – FLAMMABLE

Burnham raises his hand to the knob, hesitates, doesn’t
really want to do this, but doesn’t stop himself either.

Gas HISSES through the spigot and into the hose. We follow
along the length of the hose, across the floor of the room,
through the hole in the sheetrock, into the hole that’s been
drilled in the air duct —

INSIDE THE WALL

— through the wall itself, where we see the horizontal lines
of an air vent up ahead. We squeeze between two of the
horizontal lines —

INT. PANIC ROOM – NIGHT

— and come out in the panic room. Three red streamers, tied
to the air vent, flap to life as the gas HISSES into the
panic room.

Directly underneath the vent, Meg is hunched up against the
wall, her arm around Sarah.

She sniffs.

Again.

Sarah sniffs.

They look at each other.

She looks up. Sees the streamers floating above her.

She leaps to her feet, steps up onto a shelf, and stretches
her nose toward the streamers. Just as she does —

INT. MASTER BEDROOM – NIGHT

Near the tank, Raoul shoves Burnham out of the way.

RAOUL
We ain’t playin’, here.

He cranks the valve handle of the grill open all the way.
The gas pours into the hose with an audible WHOOSH.

INT. PANIC ROOM – NIGHT

Meg, at the vent, falls back, two lungfuls of propane, and
drops to her knees on the floor.

SARAH
What, what, what is it?!

MEG
On the floor! Get on the floor!

Now Sarah coughs. The gas is pouring into the room.

INT. MASTER BEDROOM – NIGHT

Raoul is standing guard over the tank, to make sure no one
messes with the valve.

BURNHAM
Look, don’t be stupid…

Junior has his head pressed against the door to the panic
room, trying to hear any sounds from within.

JUNIOR
Be quiet.

BURNHAM
We’re trying to scare them, not kill
them! They’re gonna die in there!

Pause. Junior turns to Raoul.

JUNIOR
Cut it back a little bit.

RAOUL
No fucking way.

JUNIOR
He’s right, we can’t get into the
room if they’re dead!

INT. PANIC ROOM – NIGHT

Meg and Sarah are down on the floor, rags covering their
mouths, trying like crazy to filter the air, but it’s not
working. Sarah is crawling around the base of the wall, near
to where she was before, clawing at the strange portal thing
again.

Finally, she finds a small metal handle, folded back into the
clover-leaf seal on the portal. She unfolds it, twists it.

The portal cranks open, revealing it to be at the end of a
tube, about a foot long, an emergency ventilation source
directly through to the exterior of the house. She bends
down and looks through it. It’s covered by a metal mesh at
the opposite end, but she can see and smell the outside
through it.

She sits up, gestures to her mother to bend down next to her.
She does, and they both jam their mouths up near the end of
the tube, gulping fresh air greedily.

Meg looks at Sarah, good job, and they both drop to the floor
at the portal and suck air. It’s temporary, but it works.

INT. MASTER BEDROOM – NIGHT

In the master bedroom, the debate has turned physical.
Burnham lunges across the room at Raoul, to get his hands on
the valve, to turn off the gas. But Raoul catches him and
hurls him aside.

Burnham SLAMS into the wall, bounces off and SCREAMS at
Raoul, who SCREAMS right back. Junior leaps into the middle,
trying to break it up, to get them to shut up, keep their
voices down.

It’s bedlam.

  • HELLBOY

Hellboy-Ron-Perlman-Guillermo-del-toro-devil-diablo-MarvelI’ll save Tarantino for another day but Hellboy is in the Tarantino school of zealously CAPPING SOUND EFFECTS. This is a vivid, don’t-give-a-shit style that flashes on the page and captures the specificity of the action. We feel like we’re literally there. This is a popular style, but perhaps a bit too show-offy for my tastes:

VON KRUPT shoots wildly, hitting Broom in the leg. But
Whitman’s bullets rip into the old Nazi’s chest.

Leaving a trail of blood, Broom crawls to a dead G.I. and
grabs a grenade from his belt.

TCHKKK!!! Kroenen extends two gleaming blades from twin steel
bands on his wrists and takes on an entire group of soldiers,
mowing through them with swords spinning like deadly rotors.
The steel chops clean through their weapons.

Broom pulls the pin and throws the grenade at the generator.

CLICK-CLACK!! It wedges itself between two moving tie rods.

Kroenen squeals and — retracting his blades — lunges after
it. The gyrating rails slice through his leather jacket. As
his fingers reach the grenade, it EXPLODES!!!

Kroenen flies through the air, hitting a stone wall, where
two long pieces of shrapnel pin him like an insect.

Another rail plunges — FFFFT!!, like a javelin — into the
earth right next to MATLIN.

  • CONSTANTINE

constantine_2005_1871_posterAnother style of writing for action is using dashes. You can see some of that in the above example– using dashes inter-paragraph– keeping the eye flowing. Constantine does this really well. Here’s a small passage:

EXT. SOMEWHERE IN ISTANBUL – DAY
A PICKUP TRUCK crosses a barren landscape.
In the back bed are several goats and one Prisoner.
He grips the relic tight in one hand. That anxious fever
has returned.

Glazed eyes dart to the side and lock on a rising
jetliner in the distance — dart back to the road they’re
on — heading the opposite way.

Prisoner clamps his eyes tight, grips to the relic
tighter.

Eyes snap open and he turns, thrusts his elbow through
the center window, leans in and grabs the Driver — jerks
his head back against the bulkhead — cracking it in the
process.

Prisoner latches onto the wheel, takes control. He
swerves the car off the pavement, gets out and takes over
as driver.

Truck continues on, bouncing through a shallow ditch and
into the field beyond, aiming straight for the rising
airliners in the distance.

This style appeals to me personally. It drives the eye through the paragraph. The lines use action verbs, no are running, is driving…

Here’s one more:

John quickly wraps the cloth tight around his hand.
Angela spins, eyes seeing only darkness as the sounds get
CLOSER — ghastly sound of MOVEMENT in the fringes of
light.

The cross now resembles a dying wire filament and with
every second the circle of light gets smaller and those
SOUNDS GET CLOSER. John takes out his special lighter.

JOHN
Close your eyes.

They are now standing in pitch darkness.

ANGELA
Why?

JOHN
Suit yourself.

John flicks the lighter and in one powerful motion —
sweeps his arm up as he lights his hand.

Sacred cloth catches fire — then IGNITES with a
brilliant retina-searing FLASH — blinding Angela and
illuminating a –

— CIRCLE OF WINGED DEMONS — a roiling broth of
reptilian death — right there — ready to pounce.

See how these examples correspond? Action verbs, dashes inter-paragraph, specificity on all senses putting us into the heart of the action, life and death stakes, driving the eye down the page….

More action sequences soon!

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