All right, action fans! Let’s pick up where we left off with action sequence stylings that would make Tarantino or Shane Black envious! You can’t steal them outright, but let me remind you, Good Reader–while there are most definitely copyright laws for content, there is no copyrighting a style, how words are laid out on the page. Nor is there copyright on action verbs, or on driving the eye down the page, or on to the death stakes, double and triple binds, inter-paragraph dash technique, or any of the other popular ways the pros make action sequences jump. Let’s have a look…
- BAD SANTA
I know, Bad Santa isn’t an action movie. Great action sequences are found in all genres. Here, there is crosscutting with a frenzy. They put characters on the clock and the stakes are huge. Check out the Teddy Bear moving to beat the store alarm:
INT. MILWAUKEE DEPARTMENT STORE – SANTA’S WORKSHOP – NIGHT
A large Teddy bear sits under a Christmas tree.
Suddenly -— it moves, bolting upright and sprinting from the
INT. MILWAUKEE DEPARTMENT STORE – DOWNSTAIRS – NIGHT
The alarm continues to count down — 15… 14…
The Teddy bear slides down the space between the railing of
the escalators. Landing on its feet, it barrels toward the
The Teddy bear scrambles for the door, crashing into
everything in its path.
Running past a clothing display, it rips the arm off a
mannequin without breaking stride.
It skids to a stop at the base of the alarm box, too short
to reach the controls.
It raises the mannequin arm, using the pointed finger on its
hand to press the “CANCEL” key on the keypad.
Mission accomplished, the teddy bear rips off its head to
reveal his true identity: Santa’s Elf — in civilian life
known as MARCUS SKIDMORE. He is covered in sweat and panting
like an asthmatic.
- BLADE RUNNER
Here’s a classic, the killing of Pris from Blade Runner. Notice how the action lines put you right into Deckard’s head—what the camera is seeing now, with attitude…the writer’s voice destroying the supposedly objective action line with pure emotion, the crosscuts, the stakes: to the death…
INT. GYM – NIGHT 99
It’s a gym. The mirror-lined walls are cracked and
tarnished, the equipment atrophied from lack of use.
The heavier barbells have sunk into the floor. Two
weight-reducing machines are flapping and grinding away
like idiots. Deckard’s eyes stop on the woman.
She dangles a few feet off the floor, hung by the
shoulders through rings suspended from the ceiling.
Her head is slung forward, her body limp and slightly
Deckard pushes open one of the doors until it touches
the wall. Slowly, he advances toward the hanging figure,
keeping an eye on the mirror to cover surprises from the
door. He’s not breathing hard. His heart isn’t pound-
ing. Deckard’s in his element.
Close enough to look up into her face, he stops. It
isn’t grisly death that causes the reaction in his
eyes. It’s the innocence of her angel face.
It’s not something he has time to consider. In the
mirror behind him, he sees the door starting to open.
Deckard spins. He shouldn’t have. Pris’ legs snap up,
crack the laser out of his hand and clamp around his
Slowly, the door swings closed, but Deckard doesn’t
notice. His carotid artery is no longer sending blood
to the brain. He jerks up his foot and reaches down.
As his fingers close around the ankle laser, Pris’
fingers close around his wrist. Deckard’s hand opens
like a flower. The laser drops to the floor as his
eyes roll back into his head.
She lets go, but before he can fall, she rams a foot
into his back. He’s propelled fifteen feet across the
room, slams into a machine and falls to the floor.
Pris flies off the rings and comes at him.
Deckard reaches out to pull himself up, but she’s al-
ready there. Not too hard and just in the right place,
she kicks him in the stomach. He goes back to the
floor, gagging for air. Oh-so-precisely she reaches
out with a long index finger and flips the switch on
It’s a flab eliminator with a vibrator belt. Normally
an innocuous piece of equipment, but the motor housing
on this one is missing. Lots of GRINDING METAL. A
bad place for flesh and bone.
But that’s where Deckard’s hand is going. An eight-
year-old against a full-down man. In two more seconds
his hand will be ground round. Deckard tries to pull
his hand loose. It won’t come. He yanks hard, but
it’s welded in hers.
His face is twisted and strained as he raises a leg,
wedges his foot against her chest and pushes with all
his might. The hold breaks. They topple back. Deckard
hits the floor gulping to catch his breath. Pris is up
and coming for him again. She hovers over him. Deckard
rolls out of the way as she comes down like a pile
Reflexively Deckard raises his arm to protect himself.
Pris just smiles, takes hold of his foot and drags him
across the floor. She doesn’t like to leave a piece of
work unfinished. They’re going back to the machine.
He goes by a weight-stand of dumbbells and grabs hold.
It doesn’t stop him. He’s sliding over the floor like
it was ice, weight stand in tow.
Pris gets to the machine, yanks his foot up and forces
it toward the opening. Deckard sits up, a five-pound
dumbbell in his hand, and clobbers her in the back. It
knocks her off balance, but she doesn’t let go of his
foot. She hooks out with a fist but misses. He gets
her with a roundhouse in the face.
She goes to the floor and Deckard’s up, the dumbbell
over his head, coming down with it. Fighting for her
life now, Pris drives a foot into his chest. It lifts
him off the floor. He flies back across the gym and
lands in a heap.
No more games. Pris is furious and moving fast. She
rips a steel bar out of the wall and, holding it over-
head, charges him like a samurai. As she comes down
for the kill, she freezes.
Deckard landed near the laser. He crawls towards it.
As in a nightmare, it takes forever. But he gets there.
He reaches out and grabs the laser, rolls over and
takes careful aim. She charges towards him, screaming
her rage. He FIRES as she comes.
The shot amputates her left arm at the shoulder, but
her hand doesn’t let go of the bar. It dangles crazily
in front of her as she charges forward.
He PUTS THE NEXT ONE through her neck. Pris hiccups a
rope of blood as she flies through the air and crashes
next to Deckard. Dead.
Loved the movie Brick. Loved this scene with Tug and Brendan. Two things when I look at it in the screenplay–words are never quite the equal of the images, are they? The way that Mustang circled back to him after the first fight– just insane. Only two dialogue lines once again proves it’s images over words. This isn’t an action movie but a great scene inside a drama/mystery, so drama writers, take note. Check out the full scene below:
EXT. PARKING LOT – LATE AFTERNOON
The sun hangs low. Brendan approaches the car and walks
around it slowly. He peers inside. A tuft of paper pokes out
from under the seat. He pulls the door handle, locked.
Brendan picks up a broken chunk of concrete from the ground,
waddles over to the car and holds the chunk above his head,
ready to drop it through the window.
He stops. His eyes catch something in the distance.
The lanky shaved-head kid, whose name is Tugger. Coming
towards him fast.
Brendan stands there for a moment, then lets the chunk fall
to the ground. He casually leans against the car, removes
his glasses, puts them in a hard case and puts the hard case
in his pocket.
Tugger hits him like a train and throws him across the
pavement. Tug turns back to the car and takes out his keys.
Brendan gets up and comes towards Tug, his face stiff. Tug
turns and pops him once squarely in the mouth. Brendan falls
to his knees.
While Tug unlocks the door Brendan stands up woozily.
Grunting, Tug spins and grabs Brendan’s jacket, pushing him
back while he slaps him hard in the face, back and forth,
three times. When Tug lets go Brendan drops like a stone,
catching himself on his hands and knees. The car door slams.
The mustang drives about a hundred yards out into the
parking lot, spins around and stops, facing Brendan. Its
motor purrs deeply. Brendan begins to limp towards it
doggedly, head up, eyes fixed.
A crackling roar and short squeal of tires spit the mustang
forward. It comes straight at Brendan, rumbling like a tank.
Brendan stops walking and stands very still, eyes steady.
The gap between him and the car closes in no time at all.
It speeds past him not six inches to his left, brushing the
edge of his jacket. Brakes squeal behind him. Brendan turns
and lopes towards the mustang, idling about fifty feet away.
He stops at the window. Tugger eyes him curiously, with
I want to see the Pin.
Yeah, I guess you do.