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Great Scenes: Birdman
Jan 30th, 2017 by paul peditto

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Want to write great screenplays? Read them. That logic is too facile– like saying everyone who pays for classes at Second City will end up on Saturday Night Live, or win an Oscar like Adam McKay. The walls of Second City are filled with famous faces, but for every one of them who “made it”, there are thousands who did not. Same with reading screenplays. I won’t guarantee that you’ll end up signing with William Morris Endeavor if you do so, but you’ll improve. That I’d bet on. And if you’re reading screenplays, why not read an Oscar winner? Full Birdman script is here.

I usually spread the wealth on these greatest scenes posts but there are a dozen scenes from Birdman which are worthy of a script/clip look. Let’s study how this movie looks on the page…

*p.s.: Sorry for the script scrunching, nothing to be done about it.

  • RELEVANT

Emma Stone and Michael Keaton go off on what it means to be relevant in the era of Facebook:

RIGGAN
Listen to me. I’m trying to do something
that’s important…
SAM
This is not important.
RIGGAN
It’s important to me! Alright? Maybe not to
you, or your cynical playmates whose sole
ambition is to end up going viral and who,
by the way, will only be remembered as the
generation that finally stopped talking to
one another. But to me… To me… This is–
God. This is my career, this is my chance to do
some work that actually means something.
SAM
Means something to who?
You had a career before the third comic book movie,
before people began to forget who was inside the bird
costume. You’re doing a play based on a book that was
written 60 years ago, for a thousand rich, old white people
whose only real concern is gonna be where they go to have
their cake and coffee when it’s over. Nobody gives a shit but you.
And let’s face it, Dad, it’s not for the sake of art. It’s because
you just want to feel relevant again. Well, there’s a whole
world out there where people fight to be relevant every day.
And you act like it doesn’t even exist! Things are happening
in a place that you willfully ignore, a place that has already
forgotten you. I mean who are you? You hate bloggers. You
make fun of twitter. You don’t even have a Facebook page.
You’re the one who doesn’t exist. You’re doing this because you’re
scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don’t matter.
And you know what? You’re right. You don’t. It’s not important.
You’re not important. Get used to it.
Silence. Riggan seems devastated, and Sam can see that.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Long Take
Jul 31st, 2016 by paul peditto

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.***

  • TOUCH OF EVIL

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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.  

SUSAN 
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.
MIKE
It exploded -  

SUSAN 
(breathlessly, by now 
they are almost running) 
Just the car? - How could it
  do that? 
MIKE 
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 - 

SUSAN 
(catching up with him) 
Why? - Can't I come and see, too? 

MIKE 
(turning back with a 
nervous laugh) 
Darling, don't be morbid. 

SUSAN 
(Flaring up a trifle) 
Well, what are you being, for 
golly's sake?  Anyway, it happened 
over here on the American side - so -  

MIKE 
(his voice hardens) 
So it's none of my business? 

SUSAN 
(after a moment) 
That's sort of what I mean, I guess.

MIKE 
(very serious) 
You're wrong, love.  This 
could be very unpleasant for us... 
SUSAN 
For us - ? 
MIKE 
I mean for Mexico. 
(Sighs)
There's probably nothing I can do - 

SUSAN 
So - 

MIKE 
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.



  • GOODFELLAS

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.

                                     KAREN
                         What're you doing? What about the 
                         car?

                                     HENRY
                              (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 
               WAITERS.

                                     KAREN
                              (sitting down)
                         You gave them twenty dollars each?

               WE SEE the CAPTAIN approach with champagne.

                                     CAPTAIN
                         This is from Mister Tony, over 
                         there.

                                     HENRY
                         Where, over there?

                                     CAPTAIN
                         Over there, over there.

               KAREN watches HENRY turn around and wave at a 280-POUND 
               HOOD.

                                     KAREN
                         What do you do?

                                     HENRY
                              (toasting Karen and 
                              clinking glasses)
                         I'm in construction.

                                     KAREN
                              (taking his hands)
                         They don't feel like you're in 
                         construction.

               HENRY turns to the stage where the lights begin to dim and 
               BENNY YOUNGMAN walks out.

                                     HENRY
                         I'm a union delegate.

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Birdman
Feb 18th, 2015 by paul peditto

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SPOILERS! Good Reader, if you haven’t seen the movie Birdman, you might want to pass this week’s entry. We’ll be checking out the script for Birdman, which you can find here.  My over/under on Oscar wins for this movie is 5 including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Original Script, so yeah, I dug it. Inarritu and his three co-writers brought the poetry and a not-so simple elegance. If only it could be bottled, that knack for laying down something so thematically complex on the page in a manner that appears fluid and simple. Maybe looking at the script will furnish clues. Here’s how it opens on the page…

 

  • POINT OF ENTRY
BLACK
We hear a clock ticking.
FADE IN:
INT. RIGGAN’S DRESSING ROOM – THEATER – DAY
Close on the brilliant colors of a middle eastern rug, the
center of what seems to be a makeshift “meditation” space.
We slowly tilt up to discover the back of Riggan Thomson (55).
He is in the proper ‘Lotus’ position, dressed only in tight
white briefs and he appears to be meditating deeply. And if all
this seems a little odd, it becomes all the more so when you
notice that he is levitating almost two feet above the floor.
His breath is calm and measured… in and out… in and out.
MAN (V.O.)
How did we end up here?
(Beat.)
This place is a fucking dump.
We begin to slowly move toward Riggan’s back while his measure
breathing continues. We see a clock on the wall, ticking.
MAN (V.O.)
Smells like balls.

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Oscars Edition: 2015
Feb 9th, 2015 by paul peditto

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With the Oscars about 10 days off, time for a quick rundown. I shall turn my gaze to each Oscar category and give you one ex-craps dealer’s prognostication on who will win. Good Reader, no wagering or Vegas odds offered here!

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  • BEST PICTURE

No contest. I thought this would be closer. All the nominees have virtues, passion, maybe even the poetry. So why Birdman? Because it defies analysis. (*SPOILERS!) In the end it doesn’t matter if the guy actually has powers. Yeah, the gun at the end seems like it comes out of nowhere, but it’s actually grounded firmly in the dialogue of the play, the same scene they read over and over. The structure builds suspense inevitably. I was watching for 10 minutes before I realized there hadn’t been a cutaway. This continuous shot (or the appearance of a continuous shot–he apparently did do extremely long takes but broke off seamlessly, for instance with a tilt up to the sky and fade to morning) was the most seamless I’ve seen since the one-take, 99 minute Russian Ark.  If you want to see how the hell they did it, look here. Keaton’s astonishing performance. Not a wasted supporting role. Loved Inarritu since Amores Perros. Don’t know if it’s a movie I’ll go back to twenty times like Goodfellas or The Godfather but it stayed with me for days after viewing. The movie soars.

Birdman_poster

  • ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Keaton, barely. Eddie Redmayne’s transformation is unreal in The Theory Of Everything. (*SPOILERS) I had no clue he divorced his wife. And after all she did for him! Talk about pouring some dark side into a trans-formative character. Or that he could still…you know…do it. How do you pass up on Bradley Cooper in American Sniper? He’s another actor who physically transformed for the role (gaining 40 pounds and really looking like the real dude). Liked him here way better than in Silver Linings Playbook. And the politics of the flick didn’t bug me either. Again, Birdman was just that good. And Keaton…role of his life.

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  • ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Don’t bet on this, but I’m taking Felicity Jones. Before we buy the ticket we already know the Steven Hawking story. We expect that transformation. What we don’t know is his wife’s story. Being harsh, one could call the movie by the numbers. Straight linear storytelling with few surprises. The noble suffering wife role might seem superficial, and might have been if not for Jones’ performance. She could be a candidate for sainthood as her character bears the weight of Hawking’s illness on her day to day life. (*SPOILERS!) The scene where Hawking breaks up with her is a masterpiece of subtext- Does she say more than one line? And after a lifetime of suffering with him? That prick! The end scene is an elegant statement to their love. I’ll root for her, though Julianne Moore will probably win it.

p.s.: Yeah, I walked out on Wild. Somebody, please, tell me what that movie was about. Laura Dern takes the hard knocks here. Bringing the wrong butane fluid is not suffering!

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  • ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Can’t go against J.K. Simmons here. As a teacher myself I’m always wondering how far to push a student–Though tossing a symbol at someone’s head in today’s world would trend on Twitter and raise a social media firestorm long before you’d be fired. That’s why we go to the movies– because people on the screen are doing shit we can’t. Truth be told, if it was just my vote, Mark Ruffalo would win it. Loved the performances in Foxcatcher, but the movie itself, not so much.

boyhood

  • ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

12 years in the making. That’s the tagline–how they’re selling the movie. They can’t sell the story because there’s not that much to it. One mother’s coming of age tale as she disentangles from a pair of loser husbands, protecting her two kids and finding herself along life’s path. What makes this film obviously unique is it was shot over 12 years. We see the child actors grow up. We see Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke physically change. We’ve never seen that and director Linklater has made me say that before with Slacker and A Scanner Darkly. I liked both those movie better, and Bernie too. This is a brave performance and though I might personally pick Emma Stone, Arquette will win it.

  • ANIMATED FEATURE

Didn’t see any of them. Shit, gotta get out more. Damn February Chicago slush puddles.

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  • CINEMATOGRAPHY

Didn’t see a couple of these movies either, but I’m giving it to the utterly seamless Birdman. The POV he gets with those endless tracking shots puts us right into Keaton’s head. Beautiful and frenzied.

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  • DIRECTOR

True story: My mother lives in the same New York city apartment building as Wes Anderson. When he moved in the movers had his beautiful ceramic hot tub laid up on its side in the elevator. As they split back to their truck I shifted up against the ceramic surface and before I knew it, I was laying in Wes Anderson’s hot tub. Who says Peditto hasn’t brushed up against greatness!

Wes, I freaking loved Grand Budapest. It has poetry my brother, but not the essential, kill me poetry of Birdman. A victory for Inarritu here.

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  • DOCUMENTARY

Protest vote. Saw Life Itself a couple nights ago and it killed me. HOW WAS THIS NOT NOMINATED??? Three question marks, bold and italicized–I must be angry. James’ best film since Hoop Dreams. Ebert’s face at the end was a mask you could barely look upon, but there he was, fighting to walk a simple staircase, blogging to 880,00 people, full of joy at, yes, life itself.

This is a screenwriting blog, so now for the big awards…

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  • WRITING- ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Tough call. Did anyone else think Inherent Vice was ridiculously overrated? Trippy scenes, but what a mess. Whiplash will be honored when Simmons wins. Theory Of Everything and Imitation Game are strong but almost too by-the-numbers. Which leaves American Sniper– I think this one gets snubbed elsewhere, but gets honored here.

Birdman_poster

  • WRITING- ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nightcrawlers got screwed too. That character ain’t Travis Bickle, as so many contend, but he’s spooky beyond belief. A great statement on the 24/7 news monster and those who feed it. That said, I’m going back to the well and calling for a Birdman win.

I’m a card-counter and ex-craps dealer, but I’m also frequently wrong. Good Reader, be advised!

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