Since there is so much discussion going within each of the reviews, I'm going to hold off posting more reviews for another day or so.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Like our previous reviewers, she too, has been recognized on TriggerStreet as “Reviewer of the Month.” She has three stories under her name that have shot up into Top Ten status and a new fourth story called Schism that seems to be headed for similar accolades.
She’s very honest, and I so appreciate her time and thoughts.
Act I – three main characters introduced: Rosalind, Donny and Joel. Rosalind’s goal – to get her husband elected. Donny’s goal – to get his book back. Joel’s goal – to get Rosalind to visit Ian. Don’t know which one’s the protag – all three? No antags apparent yet. No idea about the theme. None of the characters are particularly likeable either. Not sure what the opportunity turning point is. Joel filching Donny’s book (and the trip to Florida) could be one but that happens a little late in the act. Rosalind hasn’t made any remarkable decisions through this point and is “rescued” at the end of the first act by her husband so that narrows the possibility that she’s an active protag. Donny hasn’t made any unforced decisions yet, either. Everything he’s done is a result of Joel’s blackmail. Joel is the only one so far to have made any affirmative decisions or taken a proactive stance.
Act II – the “change of plans” turning point should be a decision made by the protag that takes him/her in a new direction. There’s a change of plans, for sure, but it’s Donny throwing Rosalind into the Neon’s trunk that changes her plans, not a decision she, herself, made. Again, she’s not an active protag. Things happen to her and around her – she just reacts to circumstances. Midway through the second act, there should have been a “point of no return” where the protag decides that there’s no turning back, that she has to see the thing out come hell or high water. I can’t find anything that resembles this turning point. There’s a point where Rosalind thinks about leaving but Donny pulls her out of the cab rather than Rosalind taking the action. Also, near the place where the second act should end with the major setback, it looks like the thugs may get Rosalind but, again, someone else rescues her. From a beat point-of-view, Rosalind learning of Ian’s cancer feels like the end of the second act but it doesn’t coincide with any goal that Rosalind has expressed until only a page before the disappointment.
Act III – this should be the protag’s final push toward goal achievement but this act doesn’t play out that way. Rosalind gives up on the Ian thing and returns to her husband. Donny gives up on the Big Guy and the diner just before the cops take him down. Joel is hauled away and returned to the orphanage. We learn that Arthur wins the election without knowing if Rosalind’s past was ever publicly revealed. All we get is a brief “we’ve separated” comment from Rosalind. She learns that Joel is her son, not Ian (something this reader knew all along), and that Joel dies of cancer. Rosalind bails Donny out of jail and the two stroll off into the sunset after Joel’s funeral. The end. The climatic turning point doesn’t even involve the protag – it’s Joel’s revelation that Donny’s book is still back in the diner.
I was disappointed. The setup – a hard-hitting senator’s wife working to get him reelected and the possibility of a mob-enforcer derailing the plan – was intriguing but wasn’t really carried through. It morphed from what had the potential to be a dramatic political thriller into a melodramatic, MOW for Oxygen or Hallmark. The B-stories, something to do with the backgrounds of the cops, the judge that owed a ton of money to the mob and Donny’s unpaid debt, were never really explored or resolved (especially Donny’s bit – he can’t just show up unharmed at the end of the story without letting us know what happened to all the money he owed to the big guy). Much of it bordered on illogical and unbelievable, too. The Joel character never played like a 10-year-old, I couldn’t buy that a man running for U.S. Senator didn’t know his wife any better than Arthur “knew” Rosalind, and that Arthur’s opponent didn’t have the wherewithal to get the dirt on his opponent. There wasn’t much in the way of reversals – it played out just like I knew it would.
During the first few pages, two things came to mind: Hillary Clinton and the movie The Contender. I don’t like Hillary but I was able to put that dislike aside. I’m a huge fan of The Contender and hoped this character would be as intriguing as the Joan Allen character. Sadly, she wasn’t. As a protag, she wasn’t active. Things happened to her. Decisions were made by others. There wasn’t a clear antag, either. Joel and Donny helped Rosalind come to grips with her true self, they didn’t impede any of her goals (whatever they were). Rosalind had an arc of sorts – she came to an acceptance of her roots – but I suspect that it was an acceptance forced on her by her husband as a result of her dishonesty. Nowhere does the story hint that Rosalind left Arthur because she couldn’t play the part anymore. Again, another instance of the protag’s life being moved in a direction by actions other than her own.
Serviceable for the most part. Again, as mentioned earlier, Joel didn’t speak like a 10-year-old but had a unique voice. Same with Donny and Rosalind. It was easy to identify the speaker without knowing the name. One note – the “little fucker” reference toward the end needs to be removed for TV.
No concerns other than those mentioned in the reading notes.
A girl from the wrong side of the tracks makes good but find true happiness only when she returns to her roots.
- p 1 – Gack, I hate it when I see a V.O. narration on page 1.
- Odd capitalization is a bit confusing
- p 3-4 – courtroom scene unrealistic
- Rosalind reminds me of Hillary Clinton.
- a number of formatting conventions ignored. Ex – unfilmable asides, unfilmable descriptions, numbers in dialog not written out, etc.
- Joel doesn’t sound remotely like a 10-year-old kid
- twelve pages in and I haven’t a clue who I’m supposed to be rooting for. Both of the main characters introduced – Rosalind and Donny – have been given equal screen time and both are thoroughly unlikeable so far.
- the more the story goes on, the more unbelievable it becomes primarily as a result of the Joel character. If he were 13 or 14, I could buy it but 10 is too young.
- if a bunch of 10-year-old kids could discover this stuff about Rosalind, why couldn’t the hired guns of the opponent get to it, too?
- p 35 – another major character introduced?
- by p 41, I’ve grown weary of this cat-and-mouse game between Joel and Donny and the ultra-passive protag (Rosalind?) who just goes along for the ride. As a movie, I don’t see this working on the big screen and even as a made-for-Hallmark TV flick, it’s pretty uninteresting. If I had managed to stay tuned ‘til this point, I would certainly change channels here.
- p 54 – ok, I see where this is going. The parentless Joel is going to end up with Rosalind. Please don’t let me be right.
- p 70 – the ball never gets hit to the farthest row of the nosebleed seats.
- p 75 – in the diner, Donny guarded his food with his right arm, not his left.
- if it’s a suspected kidnapping across state lines, why are Florida cops still involved? Wouldn’t it have been turned over to the FBI as soon as they crossed over from Florida into Georgia?
- p 100 – Rosalind’s speech is pure exposition. Boring!
- p 104 – feels like the major setback. Rosalind learns Ian is dying.
Back to The Senator's Wife
Posted by Mystery Man at 3:15 AM
She does everything. She puts together the Movie Breakdowns for us, and her analysis of Taxi Driver, which includes the world’s first script-to-screen comparison of that movie, is still one of our most popular posts. She’s the consummate, prolific screenwriter. She’s a good friend and a reliably tough critic who pulls no punches, and we love her for that. Like everyone else, she is a recognized “Reviewer of the Month” and has a number of great screenplays under her name that have those little blue stars to indicate that they had at some point shot up in the ratings to become Top Ten favorites.
I don’t know how she finds the time to do it all, but I am so grateful she’s made time for us. Thanks so much, Mim.
The first thing I noticed about this screenplay is the lack of grammar. The first paragraph is nothing but sentence fragments: a screenwriting convention and one I hope to end. It's very visual and sets an emotional tone as well as gives a physical description of the setting, but any middle school English teacher would shudder to read it.
As far as the story, it's decent. It's well-structured and hits the right notes in the right places. But it's kind of low-key and doesn't shine the way, say, Little Miss Sunshine did. It will join the other movies on the comedy shelf, or perhaps the drama shelf, and a few people will rent it. Then it will end up in the previously viewed discount bin and customers will thumb past it looking for something they feel is really worth the $5.99 price tag.
Rosalind and Donny are equally decent characters. They go through a well-defined change as they discover things about themselves and about each other in their travels with Joel. There's some good dialogue here and there, but mainly it's not very memorable. The first dialogue turns out to be a campaign speech that Rosalind gives on behalf of her husband, Arthur. It's kind of funny. Ms. Fugate came up with this inspirational "it's the moments" speech and recognized that it would never pass as natural conversational dialogue, so she gave in to the obvious and made it a speech.
Donny's supposed to be some kind of mobster or a bag-man in New York. Ms. Fugate made the decision to have him speak a little more intelligently than the cliché "whaddaya" kind of dialogue we hear from mobsters on The Sopranos etc. He demonstrates that he knows how to cause both pain and injury, or not, when he punches the Judge, and that he doesn't let social niceties stand in the way of doing his job.
The description of Donny is that he's 40 and that his face and his hands are scarred, like his soul. Rosalind is in her thirties. Honestly I didn't buy the sparks that flew between these two. The genre that this story seems to have aimed at dictates that the female and male leads are co-protags and will fall in love by the end of act two. First of all, there's precious little "com" and not much more "rom" in this script. It reads more like a light drama. But romcoms seems to be gravitating more heavily towards drama lately. Second of all, and more important, is the fact that Ms. Fugate has pushed Donny and Rosalind into romance based upon the expectations of the genre, rather than allowed them to naturally find kindred souls in each other. I think producers might prefer to stick to formula because it's worked before, but it can lead to situations like this. Why couldn't Donny and Rosalind have helped each other work out some other romantic relationship in their lives?
The kid, Joel, bounces in talking like some forties film noir cop. "First cup, black. Second cup, two Sweet 'N Lows. The buzz makes you ache for the sweet stuff." And a few pages later: "A gift. A little something – something extra. Later. Donny."
This is supposed to be a ten year-old boy. Even a child who has grown up in an orphanage in New York isn't this savvy or ironic. I sincerely hope that a lot of Joel's dialogue is re-written either before production or during production.
The progression of the story is fine. I found it a little far-fetched that Joel would have managed all the FedEx transactions that they follow from New York to Florida and from there into Georgia. Then we find out near the end that he just went back into the diner and stuffed the book down into the seat. I was okay with that.
I kind of had a feeling that Joel was Rosalind's kid from the first time he revealed the scam, but I wasn't sure until Rosalind told him to stop reading the comic right before he threw up. That's when I knew. And that scene was nicely written. There was a lot of sub-text there. How does Rosalind know so quickly that Joel is car-sick? Probably because she's experienced it herself. And motion sickness is hereditary. But none of this was brought out. There was only her instant reaction, which said a lot more than any explanation could have. Also, Ms. Fugate did not want to reveal that Joel was the real son in this scene. All in all, nicely handled.
Most of the other scenes as well as the progression from one to the other were fairly predictable. Joel tricks Donny and Rosalind into a road trip. They all leave their familiar lives and form their own little unit. Arthur's suspicions grow. Donny's job is threatened. Then the journey comes to an abrupt end when the posse shows up, and just as they were getting to like each other. It was skillfully done, but there was nothing special about it.
I found the twist that Joel had cancer a little too maudlin. But what else can you do with a story like this? A truly happy ending would have felt too unreal. I think I would have tried to come up with something besides terminal cancer as the impetus for the search. Maybe there's a couple who wants to adopt Joel and he wants to find Rosalind before the final papers are signed. Then the ending would be when she returns to claim her child, only to find that his new parents have disappeared with him. Or he has been with a family, but they've been abusing him. Or he's been bounced around from foster home to foster home and just happens to cross her path instead of engineering it.
The terminal cancer diagnosis guarantees an audience of teenage girls, as well as a few of their boyfriends, plus a few twenty-somethings for good measure. It might not make back its budget at the box office, but it should clear a profit on rentals. Again, this might have been a producer's request. It's a tried and true device that is sure to cause tears.
All in all, I can see why this script was greenlit, but it doesn't stand out from among the many other movies that are going to come and go this year. This is a second draft. I don't know that I could come up with anything better on a second draft myself, so this serves as a lesson to all of us to keep re-writing. It might also serve as a lesson to offer studios something different so they will stop asking writers to stick to formula.
Back to The Senator's Wife
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Let the Script Club begin!
The first thing I’d like to do is thank our good friend Christina Ferguson for not only her contribution and partnership in keeping the Script Club alive but also her suggestion of The Senator’s Wife. Mine was Kaufman’s Synecdoche, NY, and yeah, that would’ve been a disaster.
Second, I want to define to the world exactly what we’re doing here. This is like a Book Club. It’s not meant to be anything. It’s not meant to influence anything. It’s not meant to be an early review of an unfinished work or any kind of indicator about how good or bad a movie may be before it’s even released. This is just a discussion by screenwriters (for the consumption of other screenwriters) about one version of one draft, which just gives us the chance to talk about the craft. That’s it. And while the script is not available for download, I think we can all still get something out of this discussion.
Third, I’m going to post 2 reviews a day, so hopefully, we’ll be done by this weekend. I’ll list all the reviews in this post and publish my review at the end. So without further adieu, on with the reviews.
Hope you enjoy them.
David Mulhfelder’s Review
Michelle Carver’s Review
Miriam Paschal's Review
Laura Deerfield's Review
Bob Thielke's Review
James McCormick's Review
Christina's Review (and here's Christina's mother!)
And finally, MM's Review
Posted by Mystery Man at 3:30 AM
I’ve mentioned before that my script reviews on TriggerStreet average about 2000 words, and if I really love your story, I might go up to 5000 words. On the other hand, our very good friend David Muhlfelder will shoot you down with unbelievable accuracy in about 200 words or less, and I SO admire that skill. He always makes me think of David & Goliath. While I would take down any giant with a submachine gun riddling holes into every crevice of its body, David will use a simple pebble and sling and never fail to hit his target right between the eyes.
David has reviewed over 600 scripts (and counting!) and has been recognized as a Reviewer of the Month on TriggerStreet where you can also find 4 superb screenplays he’s written, which have all been Top Ten favorites (as rated by his peers). And, well, I love his bio: “From the age of 16 months to 5 years, I lived in a state mental hospital in Harrisburg, Pa. My father, a German/Jewish psychiatrist and refugee from Nazi Germany, was the hospital's clinical director. We had a nice house on the grounds. We got all our food for free from the hospital grocery store. We ate steak almost every night. I was happy there. One day I hope to return to a place just like it. I think I'm well on my way.”
While this is a little more than 200 words, it is, as always, superb.
Thanks so much, David.
A CAPITOL IDEA
I’m used to reading and reviewing spec scripts. It’s quite a different experience reading and reviewing a script that’s in production and starring Jennifer Aniston. I went into it looking for those elements that got this project greenlit, and there were many. A strong high concept anchored this story. A ten-year old boy enlists a leg breaker for a loan shark to track down the biological mother of a dying friend who gave the baby up for adoption, and is now the socialite wife of a Florida senatorial candidate. From this premise, I found myself wanting to know what happened next thanks to clean and well-paced writing. Although, there were a few too many unfilmmable character internals for my taste, we all know that the “rules” are different for working writers. The twist ending truly caught me by surprise. But while the ending addressed many of the concerns I had with the first two thirds of the script, I also felt a bit manipulated, dirty even. But more on that later.
Young Joel was a truly resourceful character, maybe a bit too resourceful. Precocious children have always been a staple of movies. Tatum O’Neal in “Paper Moon” and Natalie Portman in “The Professional” are good examples. The latter kept coming to mind as Joel used Donny, and then Rosalind, to do his bidding. But you never lost sight of the fact that Mathilde in “The Professional” was a child, even when she talked tough and smoked cigarettes. Especially in the first half of the story, Joel just didn’t sound and act like a ten-year old. With the exception of pretending that Donny was his father in the hospital corridor, I missed seeing the vulnerable child under the streetwise orphan. Both Donny and Rosalind were crafty survivors, which made it hard to buy that they could be so easily manipulated by Joel. Joel’s ability to orchestrate events so perfectly, and Donny’s and Rosalind’s willingness to fall in line undercut any rising tension the situation presented. I never had any doubt that Joel would succeed. The writer had to rely on external elements (tornadoes, red necks, the police, etc.) to create obstacles. Given what was going on in their own lives, neither Donny nor Rosalind seemed overly concerned that this child turned both their lives upside down. They treated it more as an inconvenience. It made Donny, especially, come off as somewhat passive. Even though Joel had something on both Donny and Rosalind, it would have been nice to see them at least attempt to wrest control of the situation from him, or attempt to change the equation in some way. Instead, the focus is on the surrogate mother-son/father-son relationship that develops between Rosalind and Joel and Donny and Joel, which was pretty predictable and unsurprising.
Without giving it away, the twist ending explained a lot about Joel’s motivation and determination (If not his uncanny ability to pull off his plan), but at the same time it left a bad taste in my mouth. It was sort of the dramatic equivalent of “suddenly everyone is hit by a speeding truck.” Had Donny (And the audience) discovered Joel’s secret early on, not only would it have explained his willingness to go along with all this, but it would have allowed Donny to have more genuine internal conflict as he balanced his working life with Joel’s needs. But as written, it felt like a sentimental cheat. It’s effective, but ultimately it’s unearned emotion.
There were a few minor glitches, which momentarily took me out of the story. The early scenes in New York felt particularly inauthentic. I’ve lived in New York most of my life, and I’ve never heard of a “Little Senegal” section of Harlem. I’m not sure there are enough Senegalese residents here to warrant it. There is no Superior Court in New York. We have the Supreme Court, the Appellate Division, and the Court of Appeals. I don’t know what the writer meant by a “jury-rigged boom box.” I assume she meant jerry-rigged, but I still don’t know what that means in the context it was used. And a pet peeve of mine is people who use the term “holds court.” The correct term is holds FORTH. A minor point, but it bugs me, like when people spell definitely with an “A.”
Finally, I want to say that I really like Jennifer Aniston. She’s attractive, appealing, a deft comedienne, and in films like “The Good Girl,” she has shown serious acting chops. Picturing her as Rosalind was easy. She has taken some critical hits of late for her choice material. She is listed as a producer of “The Senator’s Wife,” so she’s even more invested in this choice. Will it be the one to turn critical opinion around? I don’t know. I’m the guy who proclaimed that Drew Barrymore would win the Oscar for “Riding In Cars With Boys.” But if you pin me down, I’d have to say probably not, for all the reasons stated above. As they say on American Idol, song choice is important.
Back to The Senator's Wife
Posted by Mystery Man at 3:15 AM
In the TriggerStreet bio of Michelle Carver, you’ll find, “I'm a Gemini. I love films and Mexican food. That's about it.” Hehehe... She has a great script called Daddy’s Girl, which has been rated as a Top Ten TriggerStreet favorite.
While you’ll be reading reviews from a few bloggers in scribosphere, let it be said that my TriggerStreet friends who have graciously contributed reviews for our edification this week have almost all been inducted into the VERY prestigious “Reviewer of the Month” academy. And our friend, Michelle Carver, is the newest and latest member of the club! THIS is her month and you will see her picture plastered all over TriggerStreet. This recognition is so very well deserved.
Overall I really enjoyed "The Senator's Wife". It's not a perfect script and suffers from various weaknesses. But it's an entertaining script filled with interesting characters, witty moments, a strong hook ( dying orphan devises a clever plan to spend time with his mother before it's too late) that held my attention and has a satisfying ending that quite literally moved me to tears. But I am a loser sap, so that's not saying much. Reading this professional script was a valuable learning experience for me and I plan to use what I've learned from it. But no doubt this film has weaknesses. And off I go....
I think what bothered me the most when reading this script were the scenes that exist in this script that attempt to milk sympathy for the characters. Rosalind and Donny both have scenes were they "express" their feelings, lay out their tortured pasts in blatant, unmoving ways. It's necessary that the audience does eventually sympathize and like Rosalind and Donny, but I think those scenes would have been far stronger if the blatant milking gave way to layers of subtext. I'd prefer to not know the specifics about Rosalind's past, but merely hints that she has one and she's running from it. It's in these scenes that I checked out emotionally and that's a shame, because there's so much potential for yumminess in these scenes if only the writer wouldn't rely on cheap emotional ploys.
Clearly Rosalind is meant to be the protag and does indeed have the greatest emotional arc in this story, but it's actually Joel's goal to find/spend time with Rosalind that pushes this story forward. Rosalind is a rather passive protag and I feel she could use a stronger goal than her negative goal of merely wanting to hide her past. I think it would be a stronger script if it truly became Rosalind's story and this would help make her a more interesting character. Either that or Joel should actually be the protag and the story should be centered around him, not Rosalind. Right now, this story hasn't decided which character's tale is more important and it needs to.
Characterization - For the most part this script had decent characterization. Rosalind, Joel, Donny all had internal/external goals motivating their behavior and I wanted to follow their story. However, Donny needed stronger characterization. He's intro'd as a hard-ass willing to beat up judges and be mean to little girls and then he meets Joel and he's redeemed. I didn't buy his redemption. Mainly, again, I think that is because the writer tries to redeem him by giving him a scene in which he basically tells the audience why he's the way he is. Poor him. Cue the violin. Ugh. Rosalind/Joel - I really liked the progression of their relationship and how it played out. These were some of my favorite moments in the script. It softened Rosalind and made her much more likable. I thought the script may possibly have contained 1 too many scenes showing Rosalind mothering Joel. After a while we get the point. But overall most of their scenes engaged me.
Action lines: I've noticed I have a thing for action lines. When written well, they serve as a powerful tool to aid in story-telling, mood-setting, visualization, etc. This script is often guilty of "cheating" in its action lines. It tells us how the characters are feeling rather than showing us. I realize this writer has the freedom to indulge. But I think that freedom can make a writer lazy and dependent upon telling us, the viewer, how to feel, rather than creating those emotions in us, by how they expertly craft the scene together. Pg 25 "But she knows she can't bet. Can't call his bluff." Well, okay, I get the point and the action line is certainly functional. But man, I'd love to see how she reacts and let me, the viewer realize what effect he's having on her. Off my soapbox now.
Furthermore, some events such as the tornado and the Stankevich/Alexander subplot came off as so annoyingly contrived, but I realize scripts are contrived entities and Hollywood films are full of necessary contrivances, so I'm sure this script can get away with those moments as well.
And lastly, the tone felt inconsistent to me - Sometimes it was almost a gritty drama other times it veered off into something resembling a mainstream melodrama.
11 - Very interesting concept and reversal. Having a kid not be afraid of this tough guy and be the one to order him to work. Very interesting.
16 - Joel tells Ian "I won't let you down." This is clearly to mislead the audience.
58 - "Do you think he'd like this one?" Touching that she can't answer.
71 - "You gotta understand, no one ever remembers your birthday in the Home." This line took away from the scene for me. It moved from me experiencing the moment to being told how to experience the moment. The scene is moving, this line is not.
76 - God, this whole scene is utter crap! Why don't they just show his unwillingness to kill someone. That will make him more sympathetic than this. Leave the question vague as to whether he actually has killed or not. Rosalind could even ask him and he could avoid in a way that makes us think he never has. Or just show him not willing to kill.
78 - Why didn't the Det. just ask her what hotel she was staying at? She wouldn't have been able to answer. Well, that's why.
Back to the Senator's Wife
Friday, May 25, 2007
And subsequently changed the world.
In celebration of not only the 30th anniversary of Star Wars but also the Star Wars Blog-A-Thon, which is being hosted by our very good friend Edward Copeland, I thought I’d have a little fun and talk about the early drafts of Star Wars.
Thus, I tried my very best to read all six drafts - May 1974, July 1974, January 1975, August 1975, January 1976, and February 1977. Yeah, that was a bit much. Each one of those suckers is filled with about 30,000 words.
So I’d like to concentrate on the very first draft, which was titled simply The Star Wars. (Lucas would go on to title later drafts Star Wars: Adventures of the Starkiller, God help us all, but thankfully, he came to his senses and in the end stuck with Star Wars: A New Hope.)
Let it be said, my friends, that the early drafts of Star Wars should be a rich source of encouragement to every aspiring screenwriter the world over - because they royally sucked. They are of the same low, amateurish quality that may be found in many first screenplays written by newbies on TriggerStreet. (Thus, many scripts and new writers have the potential to reach Star Wars heights.) Had Star Wars never happened, had Lucas uploaded his first draft onto TriggerStreet, and had he theoretically asked me to review his script for him, I’m not sure I could’ve even finished reading the darn thing.
Let’s compare the opening scenes of the 1974 draft vs. the 1977 draft.
The 1974 draft opens with a shot of space and “the vast blue surface of the planet, Utapau. Five small moons slowly drift into view from the far side of the planet.”
The main titles roll-up:
“Until the recent Great Rebellion, the Jedi Bendu were the most feared warriors in the universe. For one hundred thousand years, generations of Jedi perfected their art as the personal bodyguards of the emperor. They were the chief architects of the invincible Imperial Space Force which expanded the Empire across the galaxy, from the celestial equator to the farthest reaches of the Great Rift.
Now these legendary warriors are all but extinct. One by one they have been hunted down and destroyed as enemies of the New Empire by a ferocious and sinister rival warrior sect, the Knights of Sith.”
A small silver spacecraft emerges from behind one of the Utapau moons. The deadly little fightercraft speeds past several of the moons, until it finally goes into orbit around the fourth moon.
Now consider the 1977 version:
First, the roll-up:
“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy...”
And then the action:
The awesome yellow planet of Tatooine emerges from a total eclipse, her two moons glowing against the darkness. A tiny silver spacecraft, a Rebel Blockade Runner firing lasers from the back of the ship, races through space. It is pursed by a giant Imperial Stardestroyer. Hundreds of deadly laserbolts streak from the Imperial Stardestroyer, causing the main solar fin of the Rebel craft to disintegrate.
The first is just setting and backstory. And it’s boring. The second is setting, backstory, establishes the conflict, and then we’re thrown right into action with this little spacecraft being chased down by a giant Imperial Stardestroyer. It also sets up better the expectation of the thrills to come and makes a very clear visual statement.
Of this statement, I loved what Barry Toffoli said at Scanners:
“Star Wars" opens with a shot of space and the soft sound of John Williams score, then the shot shifts to a planet. So right away we know we’re in for adventure on foreign soil, in outer space no less. Then a small vessel comes from the top of the screen. This is quickly followed by a series of blasts as the score turns into that famous booming on sound, akin to Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars’ [from "The Planets"]. This is all quickly followed by the enormously famous and copied shot of a behemoth star cruiser coming in from the top of the screen and going on forever. It doesn’t take long to figure out that this story is a tale of good versus evil, the little guy getting bullied by the big guy. Even the planet in the shot plays into the theme, representing a new undiscovered world a new hope for freedom and life. But we know the journey will be hard as the star cruiser looms over everything from the rebel ship to the planet below to the audience watching it in the theatre.
Following the opening sequence (in the first draft), we find ourselves on the wastelands of the fourth moon called Utapau with an 18-year-old Annikin Starkiller (who would eventually become Luke Skywalker). He’s wearing a “breath mask” and “goggles.” He’s surveying something with his “electrobinoculars.” He runs home. We’re introduced to his younger brother, Deak, and his father, Kane Starkiller, who is a master Jedi. The three go out into the wasteland together to investigate a Sith spacecraft that had landed nearby. His father leaves the boys to get a closer look. While he’s gone a “sinister Sith warrior” attacks Annikin and Deak. “Laserswords” are drawn. The Sith kills Deak. And just when Annikin is about to die, he is saved by his father. (All of this business about Jedis and Siths and laserswords was just too much too soon.)
Darth Vader is just a “tall, grim-looking general.” We see the Emperor tell his troops about a forthcoming battle and the Empire’s intent to conquer the Aquilaean System, “the last of the independent systems, and the last refuge of the outlawed, vile sect of the Jedi.” It is a system that will bring them “more scientific wealth than that of any other House in the Tribunal.” They will easily “gain control of the directorship.” Oh. Nice.
The armies of Aquilae are led by an old Jedi – General Luke Skywalker. “He is a large man, apparently in his early sixties, but actually much older. Everyone senses the aura of power that radiates from this great warrior. Here is a leader: a Jedi general. He looks weary, but is still a magnificent-looking warrior. His face, cracked and weathered by exotic climates, is set off by a close silver beard, and dark, penetrating eyes.”
Kane and his son just sort of... show up. Kane’s old friends with Skywalker. He begs Skywalker to take Annikin as his Padawan Learner in order to be a complete Jedi, because he is too old to complete his training. Annikin’s already reached “the fifth stage.” Skywalker reluctantly accepts him. And then Kane takes off for “the spaceport at Gordon to visit an old friend, Han Solo, the Ureallian.”
And from here, the story descends into the seventh circle of screenwriting hell.
There’s this business about Skywalker desperately trying to get a “war code” in order to “start the war computers” and send his troops into space to be ready for an imminent attack by the Empire, but he can’t get it until there’s a vote about an alliance treaty. And then they say, “May the force of others be with you all.”
Skywalker learns about a death star, which we never see, but we see “a space fortress.” Maybe they were the same thing. I'm not sure. In any case, they’ll be attacking at sunrise. He sends Starkiller to get Princess Leia to bring her to safety.
And here’s the basic arc of their sordid relationship.
Forget the cases - we've no time.
These are my things. They must...
I said forget them, and hurry...
Just who do you think you are?
Starkiller grabs the princess by the arm, and hauls her to the speeder. Mina and the old women run after them.
I will not be treated like this! You bring my things.... My father will have your head... (etc.)
Leia struggles to break away from the young warrior's grasp as he opens the door of the speeder.
When the door to the speeder is opened, Mina starts in, and Starkiller stops her.
You must stay. Here, take the Crest.
Starkiller rips the royal crest from the princess' neck, and hands it to the startled handmaiden. The old women gasp in horror. The princess starts hitting Starkiller with little result.
Mina's not staying...I'm not leaving her. You can't....
Starkiller punches her square on the jaw and knocks her cold. Mina is panic stricken, one of the old women faints, and another starts for Starkiller with a large staff.
She'll be all right. I'm taking her to safety...as ordered. You will wear the crest and continue as before.
Later as they are flying along in a landspeeder:
You are such a barbarian. I'll have my father cut you into little pieces when we get back...and I'll take pleasure in feeding you to the Gonthas....a little bit each day. I may save your eyes though. I'll have them petrified and made into a necklace.
Your sweetness is only surpassed by your beauty. Just try to remember, I'm only following orders.
... to beat me and abuse me?
I'm afraid I've only learned one way to treat wild animals.
And then, somehow, they fall in love:
Will we make it? Is there any hope? Stay with me... I love you.
Starkiller is slightly shocked at this outburst. The princess starts to cry and clings to him for support.
No-one is going to die...so stop acting like a child, and start behaving like a queen. What is this silly talk of love? You belong to the people of Aquilae, and my job is to return you to them, nothing more. Now straighten up and get into a lifepod.
She's deeply hurt by his callousness. She breaks away from him and runs down a hallway into a lifepod. He is tired, and angry at the whole incident.
And in the very next scene:
What's going on with you two?
We're in love. She loves me, and I just realized... I love her.
Pardon me while I heave.
There were two androids. They were annoying. "Artwo" could speak.
This is madness; we're going to be destroyed. I'm still not accustomed to space travel.
The external bombardment does appear to be concentrated in this area. The structure has exceeded the normal stress quotient by point four, although there appears to be no immediate danger.
No immediate danger! You're faulty. This is madness!
Because they’re losing the battle to the Empire, they decide to take the Princess and 33 of the greatest scientific minds to the Ophuchi system to be safe. But they don’t actually take the scientists.
The doctor moves over to a safe-like cabinet guarded by two attendants. The doctor gingerly picks up a small clear vial filled with grey fluid. It has a label which reads: Faubun, Astro-dynamics...In the background the scholar on the operating table is undergoing a form of mechanized brain surgery.
Yes. It has been greatly perfected. The brain is condensed into five ounces of fluid. Cloning cell samples are included so that a structural duplicate of the scientist can be reproduced. When the duplicate child reaches the age of six, he or she begins a series of injections of the brain fluid. By the age of ten years, they have received all the knowledge and memory of an experienced scientist: an old mind in a young body. We have prepared a special shock-belt to carry the vials.
I’ll bet that was fashionable.
Here’s the rest of the story, which was woefully inadequate:
- Skywalker, Starkiller and company try to flee with the princess (and scientists floating inside their special shock-belts).
- The escape attempt fails and they crash land on the planet Yavin.
- They lose the princess.
- They’re taken in by “Wookees,” whose colony is run by Chewbacca.
- The Empire captures the princess and takes her to the “space fortress.”
- Skywalker and company teach the “Wookees” how to fly a spacecraft.
- And then the “Wookees” fly the spacecrafts into outer space and attack the “space fortress.” Vader tells Leia, “I'm afraid I have no more time to deal with you. A senseless and futile attack by your friends has forced me to take a rather unpleasant course of action. Your execution will have to be expedited.”
- Skywalker and Starkiller board the “space fortress,” rescue the princess, take her to a spacecraft, and float away with the garbage, while the “Wookees” continue the attack and eventually blow up the “space fortress.”
- There is much celebrating in the end.
Okay, I should make at least one serious point here. Let me ask a question: why should we care about this kid, Annikin Starkiller, who gets pushed off onto General Skywalker? Here, I think we find some of the great lessons in the transformation of Star Wars as a story. It’s not just about special effects and being entertaining and being halfway intelligent (please!) about the relationships between these characters. This is about having a protagonist who has a goal. In this first draft (and second), Annikin is just a young adult who has almost completed his training and seems likely to do so. And then we just watch him in action. Yawn. So what? He’s all set!
But consider the final version in which we’re given a young Luke Skywalker who not only has an inner goal to be a hero Joseph Campbell style, but he’s also disadvantaged because of his circumstances, and they're holding him back from being what he really wants to be. Who couldn’t sympathize with that? When Luke stared at that horizon on Tatooine and those two setting suns and longed for something better, we longed with him and rooted for him to get it. When his parents were murdered we knew he was on a trajectory for a great adventure that we were very ready to go on with him. And so we were introduced to this great universe through Luke and his inner needs, which made all the difference in the world.
By the way, George, I am interested to know what the hell happened to those scientists floating around in those little bottles on Skywalker's shock-belt. I guess they're okay now.
May the force of others be with you all.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Not sure exactly when I’ll be able to return. However, I will be back in time to participate in Ed Copeland’s Star Wars blog-a-thon on May 25, and on May 27 the reviews for Jennifer Aniston’s The Senator’s Wife will be due and all of the following week, we’ll be discuss the script.
And then starting next month, we’re going to have an interactive exploration into Writing Exposition, so try to think of the best examples you know on exposition in films.
In the meantime, here’s a chance for a lot of my new readers out there to get caught up with some of my popular posts. Hope you enjoy them.
Indiana Jones 4
Indiana Jones & The City of Gods
Kaufman’s Synecdoche, NY - Part One & Part Two
The Godfather & The Great Ones That Failed
Miriam Paschal’s superb breakdown of Taxi Driver
Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon
Transformers Script Review
Donner’s Superman II
And of course…
The Art of Subtext!
Posted by Mystery Man at 12:42 PM
Thursday, May 10, 2007
We know that Hitchcock’s purpose in his very famous shower scene in Psycho was to shock us with not only the event of the murder itself but also the brutality of Mary’s murder. He dramatically switches the pace of the scene from the slow entrance of the dark figure to the quick cuts of the murder. (In one of my books, it was said that Hitchcock used 78 cuts in 45 seconds.) It’s as though Hitchcock’s exaggerated use of cutting was an intentional reference to the cutting of poor Mary.
In any case, the slow entrance and quick cuts is still a very effective cinematic jolt to an audience.
In the December 1, 1959, revised draft by Joseph Stephano, the shower scene is (by today's standards) ridiculously overwritten.
Here’s a portion:
The noise of the shower drowns out any sound. The door is then slowly and carefully closed. And we see the shadow of a woman fall across the shower curtain. Mary's back is turned to the curtain. The white brightness of the bathroom is almost blinding.
Suddenly we see the hand reach up, grasp the shower curtain, rip it aside.
MARY - ECU
As she turns in response to the feel and SOUND of the shower curtain being torn aside. A look of pure horror erupts in her face. A low terrible groan begins to rise up out of her throat. A hand comes into the shot. The hand holds an enormous bread knife. The flint of the blade shatters the screen to an almost total, silver blankness.
An impression of a knife slashing, as if tearing at the very screen, ripping the film. Over it the brief gulps of screaming. And then silence. And then the dreadful thump as Mary's body falls in the tub.
The blank whiteness, the blur of the shower water, the hand pulling the shower curtain back. We catch one flicker of a glimpse of the murderer. A woman, her face contorted with madness, her head wild with hair, as if she were wearing a fright-wig. And then we see only the curtain, closed across the tub, and hear the rush of the shower water. Above the shower-bar we see the bathroom door open again and after a moment we HEAR the SOUND of the front door slamming.
Here’s my question: using today’s industry standard format, wouldn’t Hitchcock’s famous shower scene be a SERIES OF SHOTS?
We know from our good friend,
If we're to rewrite this scene, perhaps it'd look something like this:
...she turns her back to the bathroom.
A figure quietly enters and walks toward Mary. The shadow of an old woman materializes on the shower curtain.
SERIES OF SHOTS – MARY’S MURDER
A) The figure rips aside the curtain and raises a knife.
B) Mary turns and screams.
C) The figure stabs Mary.
D) She tries to defend herself.
E) The figure stabs her again and again.
E) Blood pours onto the bathtub.
F) The silence of Mary's dying face.
G) The old woman leaves.
BACK TO SCENE
Mary falls against the bathroom wall and slides down...
This cleaner, simpler version implies the camera direction, as well as the slow build-up of tension and sudden quick cuts, without having to write camera angles or “we see.” (It also implies, without having to write it out, that we don’t really see this old woman's face.)
Too often newbies and pros alike opt for big fat chunky paragraphs in important scenes because they think that fewer words somehow means “talentless writer” when, in fact, fewer words is the strength of a screenplay. And simple techniques like a MONTAGE or a SERIES OF SHOTS can be really exciting on the page for a big scene like this.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Brittany Murphy Elopes With Screenwriter
In the clip above, Roger Ebert opens the 2007 Ebertfest and speaks (with the assistance of an electronic device) before a screening of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. For more 2007 EbertFest coverage, including photos, visit Scanners.
Billy Mernit’s superb Vonnegut for Screenwriters:
4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.
Because what else is it doing there, describing scenery? Fine, if the scenery is speaking to character ("His furniture was as cheap as he was") or moving the story along ("The woods are quiet tonight -- too quiet!"). Otherwise? Zzzzzzz... Poetry is poetry. A good story, lyrical though it may be, functions like a shark: it must keep swimming forward to keep breathing. GMTA: Here's producer Lindsay Doran on the subject -- "Scheherezade was a woman who had to make her stories so interesting she didn't get killed that night. That's exactly how I feel. We all have to keep our stories so interesting that... if the reel suddenly broke, everybody would rather die than leave that theater and not be able to find out what happened next."
John August’s The Perils of Coincidence:
Like several million people worldwide, I saw Spider-Man 3 this past weekend. And like a substantial percentage of these viewers, I got frustrated by the number of unlikely coincidences in the movie.
Dix’s Pulling a Levy…:
I was thinking someone needs to write a new vehicle for Judy Greer.
Piers Beckley’s Why Talent is Irrelevant:
Some people claim that writing can't be taught. That there's an indefinable spark in a few which, in time, will blossom. That if you don't have such a spark, training will do nothing for you. That hard work and experience is not as important as talent. This point of view is, in a word, bollocks.
Around the World:
...just eight months after calling off a previous engagement, the actress has secretly got hitched to her screenwriter boyfriend, Simon Montjack.
SCRIPTLAND: 'Genie Bob' resurrected, poof, out of the lamp
A screenplay about a genie, which has been shelved three times, is granted a fourth wish.
Cinematical Seven: Ways They Could Have Made 'Spider-Man 3' Better
It's screenwriting 101, especially in a movie of this kind. By the end of Act One, you better be damn sure your audience knows who the antagonist is...
Screenwriting teacher Robert McKee was paid $73000 to assess Cussler's script for Sahara, as an expert witness for the Anschutz side...
Under Sandler's wing, he's taken off
"We bought a screenwriting book," says Swardson. "I would stay at his house and he would talk me out of going out drinking and he would pay me cash out of his own pocket. I wrote a draft in two weeks."
CLOONEY’S BRINGING ‘EM BACK
I know lots of Chewers share screenwriting aspirations, and we’ve enjoyed a lot of success tales lately from the likes of Dave Davis and Jeremy Slater.
Bogus Brit Rumor of the Day: Brad Pitt to Play He-Man?
No word on whether screenwriter Adam Rifkin is still attached (last month he claimed the film was still going to be made)
Screenwriter Andrus ("As Good as It Gets") drew upon his Mormon upbringing to tell the story of Rachel, a trouble-making California teen
Luke Wilson: I Need "Old School 2"
As long as the original screenwriter and director are in place, Wilson has no concerns for the sequel's quality.
Biel a Street Fighter?
Screenwriter Justin Marks has been hired to pen the script for the movie which will center around the game's prolific female fighter, Chun Li. Other details of the story are being kept secret.
The Cinema Breakdown with Mark Burger
Screenwriter/producer Carl Foreman had been blacklisted only a few years before, but he picked up Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Screenplay
Douglas returns to Wall Street
Screenwriter Stephen Schiff (Lolita, True Crime) is currently working on the script and is expected to complete it by the end of the year.
Amanda Peet discusses her delivery and large supply of milk
... O'Brien and talked about her "okay" delivery of Frances Pen, 10 weeks, and how some extra breast milk excited her husband, screenwriter David Benioff.
Julianne Moore and Tom Hanks for Western flick
Boone's Lick is adapted from a book written by Brokeback Mountain screenwriter Larry McMurtry.
Queer as Folk screenwriter tops UK's Pink List
Topping the list is Russell T. Davies, screenwriter for the groundbreaking Queer as Folk, who was named Industry Player of the Year
Who'll Be the Villains in "Spider-Man 4"?
Word is that screenwriter David Koepp might be brought back to the series for the next go-round, what with the latest Spidey flick thwapping every box office…
A hard day's Knightley
Knightley is excited about working with that film's screenwriter, her mum, Sharman Macdonald.
Or as one struggling screenwriter friend of mine puts it jokingly: “For years, I searched for a matchbook-sized vessel to hold the ashes of my hopes and dreams, and now I've finally found it.”
Joe Eszterhas: Plagiarist?
A section of Hollywood screenwriter Joe Eszterhas’s 2006 book, The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood, offers advice on how to keep from being ripped off by Hollywood sharks. He cheekily defines the term “parallel creativity” as “the phrase that will be used by someone who has plagiarized you.”
History.com Developing Digital Originals
History.com is bringing history into the digital age with the launch of five original digital brands. They include exclusive short-form original series, featuring rarely seen historical footage and a military blog that will enable users to experience soldiers' stories directly from the front-lines.
Duo has small screen on Slate
LONDON -- U.K. movie production banner Slate Films, founded by Andrea Calderwood and Vicki Patterson in 2000, is ramping up its small-screen activities in a bid to diversify after more than six years as a player in the film arena.
GAFFERS Announces Contest Winners
The Global Arts Film Festival has announced the finalists for their 2007 screenwriting competition.
Scriptapalooza 1st Place Winner Optioned
Scriptapalooza's 2006 1st place winner, CAN'T LIVE WITH 'EM by Chris Pentzell has been optioned by Bullet Heart Productions.
WorldFest 2007 Announces Competition Results
WorldFest has announced their screenplay competition winners for 2007.
IndieProducer.com Announces Contest Winner
IndieProducer.com has announced Ann Maciver's The Code Switch as the winner of their 5th Annual Screenwriting Competition.
Lionsgate finds 'Love'
Knightley, Miller, Murphy star in Maybury film
Eurimages funds van Dormael pic
'Nobody' receives $800,000
Landon to lead 'The Flock'
Warner picks up 'Disturbia' scribe
It's hip to hate critics
Reviewers just happy to be noticed
Paul M. Kimatian, 61, writer/photographer
Work includes 'Taxi Driver,' 'Deuces Wild'
BSkyB, Sony renew movie deal
Pact extended to new services
Intrepid singles out 'One'
Production unit acquires rights to comic
Bavaria Film picks up Cannes pair
Company buys rights to 'Toilet,' 'Tourists'
Bleiberg acquires rights to 'Man'
Slater, Macy, Cuthbert star in 'Quiet'
Twisted horror film to debut online
Break.com makes 'Killer' deal
Bruckheimer finds his 'Gemini Man'
Benioff to write action film for Disney
Fox heads back to 'Street'
Studio puts stock in 'Money'
Warner wants 'Weekend Warrior'
Actor Birch to write supernatural comedy
Averill to head special interest group
Exec to top Women and Film and TV
'Star Wars' 30th anniversary
How Lucas, ILM redefined business-as-usual
DreamWorks, Peter Jackson unite
Studio picks up 'Lovely Bones'
Wookieepedia tracks 'Star Wars'
Web site covers all aspects of film's universe
Arclight to sell Lights' foreign rights
'Ten,' 'Brooklyn,' 'Descent' on Cannes slate
'Sputnik' takes off for HBO
Nitzberg to write wrestler's biopic
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
The videos below come to us from Rob Ager who runs the Collative Learning website and also provided us the superb analysis of The Shining. Of all the Kubrick films, I watch this one the least because I cannot get past my complete disgust with all of that horrifying, depraved behavior in Alex.
I remember Ebert was so outraged at this film that he wrote, "Alex is violent because it is necessary for him to be violent in order for this movie to entertain in the way Kubrick intends. Alex has been made into a sadistic rapist not by society, not by his parents, not by the police state, not by centralization and not by creeping fascism -- but by the producer, director and writer of this film, Stanley Kubrick." He went on to argue that Kubrick's visual style glorified the violence and made Alex appear as the most normal person in the film. He finally said, "What in hell is Kubrick up to here? Does he really want us to identify with the antisocial tilt of Alex's psychopathic little life? In a world where society is criminal, of course, a good man must live outside the law. But that isn't what Kubrick is saying. He actually seems to be implying something simpler and more frightening: that in a world where society is criminal, the citizen might as well be a criminal, too."
On the flip side, I admired Ager's ability to distance himself emotionally from the atrocities on the screen and try to intellectually dissect what's really going on. I'm inspired by his analysis - not so much from Kubrick's theories behind the story as much as the way Kubrick makes connections with the sets, costumes, and props in order to make visual statements about the characters. In particular, I liked the motif with the wigs and the little statues of Beethoven and the way Kubrick dressed the women to appear, at least in Alex's mind, like either his disapproving mother or sexual objects, which says a lot about Alex's twisted view of women. The entire film presents the world as Alex sees it for good or bad, right or wrong, but certainly disturbing.
In the end, I was surprised by Kubrick's references in his own movies to the landing on the moon, almost teasing audiences about the theory at the time that the landings were staged and directed by Kubrick himself. This, of course, reminded me of Matthew Allen, a TriggerStreet member, who actually wrote a satirical screenplay about this very subject called How Stanley Kubrick Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Hoax, which was quite a bit of fun.
At the bottom is a list of essays thanks to the Kubrick site.
The Clockwork Orange Controversy by Christian Bugge
UK Clock ticks again for Kubrick's Orange by James Howard
A Clockwork Naartjie: Censorship of Kubrick in SA by Craig Clarke
The Cultural Productions of A Clockwork Orange by Janet Staiger
The Aestheticization of Violence by Alexander Cohen
Kubrick's Psychopaths by Gordon Banks