I believe this is a first for the screenwriting world – a review of a Billy Mernit screenplay! Yeah, baby!
The Trouble With My Sister, which was written by Billy from a story conceived by him and Bruce Perstein (the attached producers right now are Jim Pasternak and Richard Marshall) is a solid, fast-paced, visually-oriented, 109-page, 3-act, hard-liquor shot of black comedy horror. The script has been around for a little while. Billy described it as “the little indie that will not die… [the script] keeps getting periodically optioned, and a pair of indie prods are currently trying to get it setup as an under $3K job for me to direct no less (I'll believe that when I see it) but anyway -- I've always had affection for this twisted little pic…”
(Pssst… Billy Mernit uses Secondary Headings. Pass it on.)
In the story, we follow Terry and his sister, Madeline, who live in a creaking old domicile on Elm Street in a picturesque little town called Briar Hollow. Terry, 17, goes to high school. Madeline, 18, remains holed up in the house... day and night.
(Pssst… Billy Mernit keeps his action paragraphs down to 4 lines or fewer. Pass it on.)
In school, Terry falls in love with Judith. At home, Madeline decorates a dollhouse. In school, Terry has a typical teenage conflict with this territorial, testosterone-filled bully. At home, Madeline has this little habit of killing men who just happen to visit the house. Terry and Judith slowly head toward the inevitable consummation of their love. Madeline ensnares men with a scent of raw sex like bugs to a Venus Flytrap. A thief, by the name of Nathan, breaks into the house. Madeline discovers him and, umm, keeps him locked in the basement. He eventually escapes and... kills Judith’s father. Oooo...
(Pssst… Billy Mernit is all about cinematic storytelling. He writes the shots. Pass it on.)
Not even 5 pages into this script, I already knew exactly what this review would be about. Listen closely: I’m not sure where the idea originated or how it became so prevalent in the thinking of so many newbies like those on TriggerStreet and Zoetrope, but countless non-produced screenwriters believe (or have been told) that you cannot “write the shots” or “direct the director” in the action lines and that all you can do is setup the scene with a brief description and just write dialogue. That is total bunk.
If you study the great screenwriters and elite closers of modern cinema like Robert Towne or Shane Black or Lawrence Kasdan -- they WRITE THE SHOTS. They carefully guide the camera through the action lines without using camera angles. And let it be said that this is not offensive to directors – it is, in fact, INSPIRATIONAL when you read something that you can actually visualize as a real film. Writers are filmmakers, too, and we have to write our scripts like filmmakers.
And so, for me, Billy’s action lines were the highlight of his script. What elevates his screenplay above so many other black comedy specs I’ve encountered is the simple fact that his action lines exemplify the principle of visual storytelling and writing the shots.
Consider Billy’s opening sequence:
A DARK BEDROOM
Dimly visible, a bureau and a bed on thick carpet and… strange: the bed’s tilted at an unnatural angle; there’s something odd, slightly off about the dimensions of everything…
Sound of blinds being pulled up and the room’s suddenly flooded with morning sunlight, as:
A GIANT HAND with polished pink nails reaches into the room and pulls out the bed, holding it up for inspection. The front leg’s broken. The toy bed is whisked away for repair and now we see:
THE DOLL HOUSE
Its cutaway front reveals a beautifully appointed toy home in progress: miniature Americana with a purity that would be hard to find in the real world. Although, actually…
A RED ROSE BUSH gleams under postcard-blue skies.
SOMEONE’S MORNING PAPER hits their driveway, the shadow of a bicycling newsboy passing by.
A SPRINKLER swooshes lazily back and forth, silver water splashing over a deep green lawn.
Notice how he guides the camera - first inside the dollhouse, then outside the dollhouse, then outside the real house, and then he moves the camera from the rose bushes over to a newspaper landing on a driveway and then around to a sprinkler. Of course, this sequence continues beyond what I shared with you here. He moves through the entire neighborhood to show us other locations and characters, but then he comes right back to the house where we started to meet Madeline in all of her sensual, twisted, murdering glory. Second, did you also notice how Billy was making a visual statement about façades by comparing the façade of the picturesque dollhouse with the façade of the picturesque neighborhood?
Consider this other moment, a very tense one, in which Nathan, the thief (who is being chased by cops) wiggles into the basement of Terry and Madeline’s happy domicile:
THE BASEMENT FLOOR – is dimly visible below, and something – a table? that he could conceivably climb down to.
Nathan holds his breath as he tries the window. Miracle of miracles, it squeaks open at his touch, unlocked.
Nathan wriggles through the window. Suspended half in and half out, he grabs his pillowcase booty and throws it to the floor behind him.
INSIDE THE BASEMENT
Nathan's feet swing wildly for a foothold, finding the table top at last. Except it's a thin piece of plywood atop two sawhorses ‑ and Nathan goes crashing right through it.
IN MADELINE'S ROOM UPSTAIRS
Madeline's hands are just placing a completed miniature couch matching the flower‑covered chair onto her card table as the muffled crash sounds from below.
IN THE BASEMENT
Nathan's face contorts in a silent scream of pain. He's crumpled in the corner, holding both hands around his ankle. Slowly, agonizingly, he straightens out the leg, then wincing all the way, tries to get up.
Sweet ‑ Je‑sus ‑ H ‑
Nathan puts weight on the foot. Big mistake.
With a moan he sinks back, clutching his ankle, as the sound of footsteps comes from directly above him. Nathan freezes. He follows the steps across the ceiling with a look of dread.
Suddenly remembering, he reaches inside his jacket, curses. In the dim light he can just barely make out:
HIS GUN ‑ glimmering faintly way across the floor, beyond a bulbous ancient boiler, just as
THE DOOR AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS ‑ suddenly creaks open, filled by a dim silhouette.
Nathan holds his breath, cringing in the shadowy corner.
MADELINE'S HAND ‑ feels along the wall for the light switch.
Nathan can't look. He shuts his eyes. There's a loud click followed by silence. He opens his eyes.
Madeline's hand leaves the switch. The lightbulb is out.
Nathan watches her shadowy silhouette hesitate... withdraw. The door creaks shut.
Nathan's head falls back against the wall. He exhales a shaky breath, looks forlornly from the distant gun to his wounded ankle. His black shirt and pants are now a lint, leaf and grime‑dusted grey. He sighs.
Notice how he starts with hints of long and medium shots of Nathan, and when the action intensifies, Billy describes close-ups of Madeline’s hand and Nathan’s eyes. And when it’s over, he reverts back to medium and long shots.
He does the same thing in this next example. He starts with descriptions of medium shots but when these two get intimate, he describes close-ups. We’re still in the basement, but this scene is shortly after Madeline discovered Nathan:
Nathan steels himself as the footsteps approach again...
The door creaks open. Madeline comes down the stairs, flashlight in one hand, a paper bag clutched in the other. She's smiling. Nathan can hardly believe his good fortune.
What ‑ they're not...? You...
What did you tell them?
Madeline kneels down by Nathan.
You're kidding. That's ‑ Wow.
I don't know how to thank you,
I mean all I can say...
Madeline rests her hand on his other ankle, the good one. She gives it a playful, tender caress, gently squeezes the calf. Nathan looks down at her hand, then at her.
That's not... It's the other one.
Madeline gives him a dreamy little smile.
Am I your baby?
Nathan stares at her. Then suddenly, as the whole situation sinks in, he can't help himself - relief, despair, the absurdity of it all ‑ Nathan starts to laugh.
Madeline draws back, her eyes fierce as she frowns at Nathan.
I'm sorry, it's just...
(a last chortle)
But... Are you my baby?
I think you're my angel of mercy
is what you are, and sweetheart...
(shaking his head)
I am so beholden to you, really, I...
She puts a hand on his bad ankle. Squeezes. He yelps.
Madeline smiles. Terry's muffled voice comes from upstairs:
Madeline and Nathan both turn to the ceiling. Nathan, freaked:
Madeline gazes at the ceiling, thinking. She turns slowly back to Nathan, chewing her lower lip - gets an idea.
Nathan stares at her. She leans forward. With satisfaction:
He's a cop.
Maddy, where are you?
Nathan's mouth hangs open, eyes wide.
But I'm going to take care of you.
Nathan can only nod weakly. In a croak:
Madeline pulls a handful of thick pink yarn out of her paper bag. Before Nathan even comprehends what's happening, she's binding his hands behind his back.
What the ‑
Madeline clamps a hand over his mouth. Annoyed, whispering:
Quiet. Or I'll tell.
Nathan's eyes dart frantically to the ceiling as Madeline removes her hand from his mouth. She yanks his hands behind him. She's quick and effective with her yarn.
Nathan's hands are now tied behind him. Madeline reaches back into her bag, pulls out a pint bottle of brandy, uncaps it.
She opens her palm to show him the capsules.
For the pain.
She feeds him the capsules. Nathan gulps as she lifts the bottle to his lips. He drinks, coughs, eyes tearing.
Nathan's lips gleam, wet with liquor. Madeline leans over him and kisses him full on the mouth. It's deep, long, fierce. Then she rises abruptly and hurries up the stairs. Nathan can only stare dazedly after her. Is this really happening?
Following our study on exposition, I’m going to write at length about this topic of “writing the shots” and “directing the director.”
Okay, Billy, I have only one minor suggestion for you:
The lesbian cop, Nicole, flirting with Madeline felt like a setup without a payoff. The fact that Nicole was so willing to flirt with Madeline seemed to be an indication that, despite what we saw in the opening scene with her kissing her beautiful live-in lover, all was not well in that relationship. So why not let Madeline explore a relationship with Nicole? How much fun would that be? Why not make Nicole Madeline’s first true love, which would add to Terry’s overall stress? And this could also destroy Nicole’s relationship with her significant other. Thus, in the Third Act, Nicole and Marvin enter the house. Nicole sees Terry cradling Madeline’s body. She is stunned and drops to her knees, which would add another layer of tragedy to the ending. This relationship could also bring an interesting change in motivation in Madeline. First, she was killing to take out her anger about her father, but then she kills to cover up her sins because she’s now fighting for love, which neither she nor Terry can obtain because of their past sins. And I wonder if we should see Terry get arrested and dragged away from Judith. And then cut to their reunion after he’s released from prison.
Good job, Billy.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
I believe this is a first for the screenwriting world – a review of a Billy Mernit screenplay! Yeah, baby!
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
You know you’re in for a good time when you order an erotic novel you know nothing about just because you know the author and you peak inside the cover to discover some great critical praise:
“A hilarious book that will have you chuckling throughout.”
“Sexy and funny, Out of This World is absolutely entertaining!”
A funny erotic novel? People write that?
We discover Arnie Simpson, a sexy, brilliant, (and perhaps extra terrestrial?) mechanic who works on Cessna airplane engines in a small town. A plane lands. Arnie looks up. A woman steps out. “She had an unusual aura surrounding her that he could plainly see. It seemed to undulate and vibrate. Were those her emotions? Her thoughts? Whatever the visible energy emanating from her was, it was doing outlandish things to his dick.”
Say “hello” to Ann Wesley Hardin.
I've honestly never read an erotic novel before. (Yes, REALLY.) And I must say, this book really was funny: “Ava [a doctor] brought up the rear, studying Arnie’s assets with more than professional interest. Oh to have him bending her over the examining table – armed with a French tickler and strawberry-flavored body lotion.” Hehehe… And yet, there was also this sweetness to the story. (Is that acceptable in erotic novels?) I never thought something that’s usually considered to be so dirty could be so… innocent. Because this wasn’t just about the physical act of love. This was about love. And respect. And inner conflicts.
All served up with a great sense of joy about sex.
And while reading Ann’s book, I had 5 Screenwriting Epiphanies:
5) Erotica is very similar to horror films. Because it’s not really about the scare (or, in this case, the orgasm). It’s really about the context. And it’s really about how well you handle the rising tension that leads up to the inevitable climax. (Yes, pun intended.) Arnie and Ava first saw each other on page 14. And from that moment on, they desperately longed for each other every single page, paragraph, sentence, and comma until they’re finally alone on page 74. It’s in those pages filled with sexual tension leading up to page 74 that you find the fun in Ann’s writings. Even then, they only had oral intercourse. They didn’t actually have real intercourse until page 108. I was having so much fun, I almost didn’t want them to hook up.
4) Sometimes smaller moments like a first kiss can be more fun than hours of sex. “He kissed her the minute her mouth opened, capturing her lower lip and sucking it before covering her mouth with his. Tactile lips held an intimate candlelight dinner, sampling, sipping, feeding. His tongue slipped in for a tentative taste, flicking her teeth and upper lip then venturing in farther to skim along the roof of her mouth. Good Lord. She never realized she had a G-spot in there.”
3) Know your genre and don’t be afraid to play with it. When Ava stepped off that plane, did Ann give us the usual description of the gorgeous, sultry, bosomy woman? Oh no. She wrote, “This one was incredibly… odd looking. Arnie never paid much attention to anyone’s appearance male or female… But that hair. It was white.” It’s fun because she’s toying with the conventions of the genre and not doing what you’d expect.
2) It’s not what it’s about – it’s how it’s about it. I mentioned this recently on TriggerStreet in Gary’s Review, but ya know, I thought of this again, and I think it’s true. Ebert has a phrase that he will occasionally throw into one of his reviews (like in his recent Departed review): "It's not what it's about -- it's how it's about it." I guess when you have to sit through so many movies every year like he does (or read and write as many scripts as we do), concept doesn't matter as much as execution and what the story is really about. Because it’s never about what it’s about. A romantic comedy is not just about being a romantic comedy. It’s really about… accepting yourself or something. And I think Ann's book is another example of that. This may be an erotic novel but this isn’t really about the sex. This is how it’s about the sex. It’s how these two people come together (literally and figuratively), and it's about their inner conflicts and other obstacles I won't reveal that they overcome for love.
1) What the gurus never tell you - MAKE IT FUN.
“Ava didn’t mess around.
He convulsed as she sucked him into her tight, slick mouth and he felt her tongue bind the length of his shaft. Up. Down. His head found heaven at the back of her throat.
With incredible expertise and mind-boggling economy of movement she explored every sensitive region on his cock, fondled his balls gently in her hands, and generally proved how freaking awesome it was to be blown by someone who’d gotten a degree in men’s anatomy.
Why hadn’t he dated a proctologist before?
Every man should, at least once.
Like once would be enough.”
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
I'm going to post a new surprise review tomorrow. In the meantime, please keep emailing me those exposition articles for our new study! (I've already received some superb submissions. I'm really excited about it.)
Email me (or post on your blog) 3 examples:
* One BAD example of exposition.
* One good VERBAL example of exposition.
* One good NON-VERBAL example of exposition.
Here's my example. We'll begin August 1.
Monday, July 23, 2007
This week, I'm posting 3 surprises for our Scribosphere friends. (Woo hoo! Hehehe…) And thus, I’d like to begin with a review of Joshua James’ superb Tallboy Walkin’.
Let it be said that after having read two of Joshua’s One Acts – Prudence and The Beautiful One – I thought he was pretty good, but his full length play solidified for me his undeniable talent as a writer.
“Tallboy Walkin' is the story of five different men, of different ages and ethnic backgrounds, who find themselves stranded at a bus stop late at night in a dangerous urban city. A confrontation between two men, men of color, holds the other three men as their unwilling captive audience, trapped by circumstances, a late bus and the presence of a loaded firearm. A high-wire meditation on race, religion and the comedy of life, Tallboy Walkin' asks the question all of us at some point have to answer.”
That should excite you, right? (You should ask Joshua to e-mail his play to you. It’s a great read. You get sucked into it and you can’t walk away until it’s over.) I re-read his play a second time today, and halfway into this story, I’m actually thinking thoughts like, “Ya know, this kid should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.” Joshua has the courage to be ambitious about important issues and he is quite successful with the way he puts out his messages of respect and understanding between people. Because above all those things like race, politics, religion, and class, we have commonalities like pain and regrets and sins and hopes and fears. THAT is life. And life, in and of itself, is difficult enough without adding racism into the mix.
With respect to the craft of writing, what’s beautiful to me about this piece of work is not just the way Joshua constructed distinctive characters with distinctive voices, a clearly rising conflict, and unforeseeable twists within the most simplest setting, but also the variety of ways he shows us how these men are all different but the same in many ways.
Oh, and the dialogue kicks ass.
It opens with Frank, an elderly man. He sits on a bench at a bus stop. Paul, a tall athletic black man, sits on the ground near the bench.
And then Sean shows up. He’s Irish.
SEAN: Is this where I get the two-twelve?
Long, long, LONG pause.
SEAN: Well for fuck’s sake. Where is this gob-shite fuck of a bus?
And boy does Sean ever talk.
SEAN: I’ve never been good at waitin’, y’know? I want what I want when I want it. Y’know what I’m sayin’? It never fails, NEVER fuckin’ fails, when I really NEED to be somewhere… y’know what I’m sayin’? It’s like that law, our man’s law about stuff goin’ wrong just because it will when it can. You know? You know that law?
SEAN: Whatever CAN go wrong WILL, that’s how it goes. What was the name of that lad, somebody’s law, what the fuck was that lad’s name, it was an Irish name as well an’ here I am not rememberin’ it. Do you know the name of our man that wrote that law?
FRANK shakes his head.
SEAN: Well for fuck’s sake, why can’t I remember this fucking Irish name? I ought to be put up against a wall an’ shot for an Orangeman. It’s the whiskey, that’s what it is, the whiskey destroyin’ me fucking brain cells. Either that or the rugby…
Spenser shows up. He’s well dressed. Scattered. Bit of a dweeb.
SPENSER: Has the bus come yet?
Very brief pause.
SEAN: Aye, it did, but we didn’t like the look of it so we decided to wait for a better one.
SPENSER: Really? Oh. Oh, I get it. Yeah. I’m sorry, I’m a little distracted. I’m sorry.
SEAN: No worries, mate.
They talk. Spenser leaves to use a pay phone.
Another pause. SEAN looks down at Paul, then looks at FRANK.
SEAN: I’m tellin’ ya, Pops, when this cuntpig of a bus driver gets here, I am going to put my boot so far up his arse he will be tastin’ shoe leather for a week.
Short pause as they both wait. SPENSER comes back.
SPENSER: They don’t work, four payphones and every one broken. Damn it. Damn it. Damn it!
SEAN: It’s just like I was sayin’ to my quiet friend here, it’s that law, our man’s law ‘bout thing goin’ wrong because they can.
SPENSER: What, what law?
SEAN: That law, that fucking law, what is that fucking name, I am such a simpleton for forgettin’ something like this.
FRANK: Murphy. Murphy’s law.
They both look at FRANK in surprise. SEAN jumps up and down, whooping. Paul brings his head up, looking at them.
SEAN: MURPHY’S LAW! That’s it, that’s fucking IT, thank you granddad, Murphy, Murphy’s fucking law, Murphy like the bitter stout. I should be shot for not knowin’ that!
FRANK: It just now came to me.
Reading Joshua James inevitably leads to a discussion about dialogue. There’s a poetic ring to his words and once you “get it,” it’s infectious. To me, it felt like a variation of David Mamet, whom I love dearly. Glengarry Glen Ross is still one of my many all-time favorite plays (and films). There’s truth beneath that style of dialogue, because people don’t always speak in complete sentences. Sometimes, they speak in fragments. Sometimes, they change their minds mid-sentence. Sometimes, they forget what they’re trying to say. Sometimes, they just ramble on about nothing.
Yet, at other times (like in Oleanna and Edmond) I felt that all of his Mamet-speak got in the way of good storytelling. Not every person in the world talks the way David Mamet likes to write. And some of the circular conversations between his characters will get on my nerves, too, as in American Buffalo, because it just grinds the story to a halt. Thus, I so admired the way Joshua seemed to not mimic but actually improve on Mamet’s style of dialogue while avoiding Mamet’s many pitfalls. In the end, I think it’s just best to construct dialogue that’s perfectly suited for that character, not conform every character to speak the way one prefers to write dialogue.
I once asked Joshua about his approach to dialogue. He gave me a very short answer:
"For me, a lot of dialogue is about rhythm, everyone has their own individual beat, and once you nail that cadence, you got the character... that's me, anyway... We've all got tell-tale rhythms, I've got them, I've got actor friends I can nail right away just by looking for the beat of what they're saying. A lot of what I do, when I write, is putting people I know right into the fucking story and it becomes easier after that. It may help that I began as an actor, but I dunno, I think I just got an ear for it... I've taken music lessons for five different musical instruments, when I was a wee lad, and couldn't learn to play a single one. Just couldn't get it. My brother sat down at a drum set at 9 years of age (my drum set, need I add) and taught himself how to play fast. He's since taught himself three other instruments and fronts a band. He just had an ear for it. Me, I never really had formal training as a writer, but when I began writing, I just seemed to have an immediate feel for it. I've worked hard since, took to the books ('cause there's definitely a lot more to writing than people talking) but when I started, I just had the touch for characters right out the gate...
"I hear the characters, and I think that could be a stop-gap for a lot of writers... they're sitting there, trying to think of cool things to write as dialogue... me, I'm seeing whomever it is I've got pictured in my head, and once I can see them, I can hear them. I never try to write dialogue. That's an important key, I think. Hear the characters before you hear the dialogue. Tallboy Walkin' is a great example... it began as a challenge from a director friend, who wanted me to write a play that happened in real time, one scene, one set, a real play (the knock on me as a playwright, I should note, is that too many of my plays felt like movies, heh) and I lived in a boarding house with seven Irish men when I began writing it, and it was easy to picture who Sean was, really fuckin' easy. He's a combination of two Irish guys I knew well who were, well, fucking crazy and funny and could not stop talking if their life fucking depended on it. It just poured out of me. Funny, 'cause Sean isn't the focus of that play, was never supposed to be, but he wouldn't shut up. So it was easy, it just came out. It'd be harder now, because I'm not surrounded by it, but not impossible.
"Some of it is people I know, or once knew, or would LIKE to know... the important thing is to get that person locked, see them, even like a small character with three lines, if you locked them good, you got them. Even an imaginary character (well, especially those) you have to see them, put a friend in that role, and then you'll have it. I've done that in a couple of my screenplays, have a character with only a few lines and LOCKED them in, made even their one small moment ring true. When I figured out how to do that, that's when I had a break-through in screenwriting... Jesus Christ, I'm a long-winded bastard, aren't I? Cut me off, bartender!"
No worries, mate. I loved it.
How about some more bits of dialogue?
In no time, a trouble-maker by the name of Axel shows up.
AXEL: Problem? Somebody gots a problem?
SEAN: No, no problem.
AXEL: Fuckin’ right dere’s no problem. Hey you. Hey, Pointdexter. You gots the time?
SPENSER: Uh, eleven after.
AXEL: Okay Pointdexter, I gots a job for you. Uncle Axel wants YOU. I’m going over to that deli over ‘dere an’ grab me a tallboy. I want you to do me the solid of lettin’ me know when you see the bus is coming.
AXEL: It’s real simple, Pointdexter. When you see the bus coming, you skip your skinny white ass over to the deli and let me know, okay? That’s ALL I’m axing you to do. You can handle th'job, I gots faith in you, Pointdexter.
Axel stalks off.
SEAN: See, jobs is plentiful here in America.
SEAN: Eh, Look, look at that. A woman, a lovely woman. At this time ‘o night and you still have lasses ever’where. This country is truly something in that way, it’s like a fuckin’ candy store. Oh, she’s lovely. I’d lick her out.
PAUL: That’s a prostitute.
SEAN: Me bollocks. Really? She’s dressed just like any other lass. Aren’t they supposed to be dressed up in heels an’ tights an’ whatnot?
PAUL: She is definitely a prostitute.
SEAN: Maybe I wouldn’t lick her out then.
Axel returns. There is a skirmish. A gun is revealed. And suddenly, Paul manages to take the gun away from Axel and controls this moment at the bus stop. The other men are not allowed to leave. Axel must give Paul a good answer to the question “Why are you here,” or he’ll shoot him. And then, a great debate takes place between these men, and it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard.
AXEL: Yeah. How come you so nice to whitey?
PAUL: Why not?
AXEL: White man sold the black man to slavery.
PAUL: And what is it you sell to the black man, Axel? What are you selling to the black man while you’re working your street from here to there?
AXEL: ‘Dey still white, still look down on you. White man shit on the black man every chance he get, so why you be so nice to them?
PAUL: I don’t recall any of THESE gentlemen calling me “nigger”.
AXEL: Not to yo’ face.
PAUL: To my face is the first thing that counts.
Here’s another sample. Sean sees another prostitute. Except it’s a man. Thus, Sean makes gay jokes throughout the play. Spenser holds him accountable.
SEAN: I hate waiting. The transport in this country, I'm tellin' you Paul, the transport companies in this country are fuckin' GAY as Christmas, if you ask me.
SPENSER: THAT'S ANOTHER ONE!
SEAN: Another what?
SPENSER: Another HOMOPHOBIC comment!
SEAN: Was it?
SEAN: For fuck's sake, it's hard to keep track.
PAUL: You have to be careful. You can never be sure who you might be talking to.
SPENSER: You shouldn't say things like that no matter WHO you're talking to.
SEAN: That's what one of me lads told me when I first moved here, he said, "watch yourself here Sean, the homosexuals are plentiful and they like to lift weights!”
SEAN giggles at his own joke. AXEL joins in.
SPENSER: THAT'S ANOTHER ONE! YOU DID IT AGAIN!
SEAN: Look buddy, calm down, don’t be stupid, it's just... it's just funnin' y'know? I'm just makin' a joke.
SPENSER: How come you always have to joke about homosexuals?
SEAN: Because... they're HOMOSEXUALS.
SEAN and AXEL giggle again.
SPENSER: AGAIN! THERE YOU GO AGAIN!
SEAN: I know, I know. I couldn't help meself.
SPENSER: You shouldn't even JOKE about stuff like that.
SEAN: I know, I know. I'm sorry. No wait. Fuck it. I'm not sorry.
SEAN: I said I'm not sorry. I'm not. I'm Catholic, that's what I am and believe, and homosexuality is just fuckin' wrong and fuck anyone who thinks different.
SPENSER: Oh Jesus Christ.
SEAN: Hey, don't take the Lord's name in vain.
SPENSER: You know, people DIE because of those beliefs, you know that don't you? Homosexuals are the victimized everyday through hate and prejudice just like yours.
SEAN: Well then, they shouldn't be sinning as they are, should they. It's a sin and they're reaping what they sow, so fuck 'em. Fuck the fags.
SPENSER: I don't believe this. You don't really believe that, do you?
SEAN: It says so in the bible, sorry boyo.
SPENSER: It doesn't say "fuck the fags" in the bible!
SEAN: Well, not in those words.
SPENSER: It also says love thy neighbor!
SEAN: Yeah, love thy neighbor, not LOVE thy neighbor!
AXEL: Yo', I'm wit' him.
FRANK: It also says, "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone."
SPENSER: That's right! And I don't believe you're that strict of a Catholic. I don't believe you live a life free of sin.
SEAN: Well, there is sin, then there's SIN.
SPENSER: And you, the way you're thinking, that's the true SIN.
SEAN: Fuck you, you're not even Catholic, are ya?
SPENSER: You don't know what I might be. You haven't asked, you've just shot off your fat mouth.
There is so much more that I will leave for you to discover. This play DESERVES a production for all of the right reasons.
One last thought: I think the bus was intended to symbolize progress. At one point in the play, we witness this exchange of dialogue:
FRANK: The bus will come.
FRANK: The bus will come. It always does.
SPENSER: You’re sure?
FRANK: I’ve ridden this bus for over forty years. Sometimes it’s early, sometimes it’s late, but it always gets here. It’ll come. Just be patient.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
(For our new study.)
My non-verbal example comes from Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. As you may know, it took Marie a few years to… umm… consummate her delicate marriage to Louis XVI. But consummate they did, and over the course of Act II, we see Marie give birth to two children - first, a girl and then a boy. Toward the end of Act II, servants hang a painting on a wall of Marie Antoinette with three children indicating that she’s given birth to another boy. Then, a quick flash forward, and we see those servants take down that painting and replace it with a new painting of Marie with only two children and an empty carriage.
Cut to a sad funeral.
GOOD & BAD VERBAL EXPOSITION
My good and bad examples shall be in the form of a comparison between Richard Lester’s and Richard Donner’s version of Superman II. (I love comparing these two films. I wrote about it here and here.)
BAD, VERY BAD
30 minutes into Richard Lester’s version, Clark and Lois just sort of show up in a hotel in Niagara Falls, and Lois mutters the most horrifying line of exposition: “Can you believe this? Us posing as newlyweds in order to expose a honeymoon racket in Niagara Falls.”
Yes, Lois, he can believe it. HE WAS THERE when Perry White sent you two on assignment. HE FLEW WITH YOU TO NIAGARA FALLS. And… you’re explaining this to him IN NIAGARA FALLS? Are you kidding me? But, of course, this line was thrown into this scene not for Clark’s benefit but the audience’s and they had to endure a bunch of whining and moaning to get it. And then, of course, we’re forced to sit through her SLOW revelation about Clark being Superman. (Lois TALKS TO HERSELF to show how she’s putting two-and-two together.)
BETTER, MUCH BETTER
Donner doesn’t make us wait for Lois to eventually put two-and-two together. He just hits the ground running in his opening scene with a great plot twist that’s completely rooted in his characters. Lois sits at her desk. She sees Clark enter. She looks a front-page photo of Superman. She looks at Clark. And then she happily draws Clark’s glasses, hat, and suit over that front-page photo.
And she whistles.
(How beautiful is this non-verbal moment? Lois never says a word to anyone to explain that she figured him out. And none of this talking to herself crap, either. THIS was purely visual. And fun!)
Clark strolls up to her. “How are you, Lois?”
With a sly wink, she says, “Oh… just super, thanks.”
Next, they’re inside Perry White’s office in a wonderful scene filled with subtext and happy banter. Perry orders them to go to Niagara Falls. He wants them to pose as honeymooners to expose a newlywed racket. Clark is stunned. “Newlyweds? Us?” Lois is thrilled. “That's a great idea, Mr. White.” But Clark protests, “I'm right in the middle of my series on the City Council…” Lois interrupts. “Oh, it won't take long, Clark. We can just... fly right up there and then sort of... zoom right back again. You know. Like Superman.” Perry says, “Hey. If Superman could give you two a ride we could save a couple of bucks.”
The exposition of Perry ordering them to pose as newlyweds in Niagara Falls would have, first of all, gotten a laugh out of the audience, because that’s the ideal setting for these two lovebirds who are, as they stand in front of Perry White, pretending to NOT be in love. Second, the exposition heightens the already growing tension between them about Clark's secret. Third, the exposition is fed to the audience in the context of SOMETHING ELSE. This wasn’t just about setting up Niagara Falls. This was about turning up the heat on Clark, foreshadowing what’s to come, and giving the audience the sense that Niagara Falls might be Clark’s undoing. And, indeed, it is. Lois would prove, once and for all, that Clark is Superman. SHE outsmarts HIM in a wonderful “gotcha” moment. Fourth, this setup in Perry’s office is fun because we see Clark and Lois react in ways we wouldn’t expect. Lois would’ve despised an assignment like that but she CAN’T WAIT to go. Clark, who would’ve gratefully accepted anything Perry gave him, tries his best to wiggle out of this losing battle with Lois.
And finally, the growing tension in this scene between Clark and Lois reaches a wonderful climax. Clark says, “Lois... you're priceless... you know that? I mean, that's the single funniest thing...” She shows him the newspaper. “Get the picture?”
“Su... Superman? You think I'm Superman?”
“Think? I’ll bet my life on it.”
And she jumps out a window.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
(Paintings by Todd White.)
...two areas I thought were lacking: Pick-Up Artistry and Comedy.
In order for two guys to be superb Break-Up Artists, they must first be superb Pick-Up Artists, and Chris and Jerry are quite simply not up to snuff. But you're in luck! Your very own Mystery Man once infiltrated a secret, underground society of pick-up artists! And I got what I wanted from them, too - I walked away with two superb outlines and 5 concepts. Hehehe... They are SO going down. (In fact, I plan to work on one of those outlines after I finish my current "dark thing.")
Thus, I recommend:
* Art of Seduction by Robert Greene. He offers an excellent breakdown of the different kinds of seducers, methods, and victims. I share this because I think you could've made better distinctions in methodologies and personalities between Chris and Jerry. And also between them and Sergei's differing approaches. There's a wide variety of seduction artists out there.
* Doc Love's System - He's completely wrong about how long a guy should wait before calling a girl - 5 to 9 days - is he flippin' MAD? But he has a lot of great things to say, particularly when it comes to measuring a girl's Interest Level (touching, body language) and there are sure-fire ways to lower that same girl's Interest Level, which should be of great interest to this writer and concept.
* The Game by Neil Strauss. He'll tell you everything you'll ever need to know about being a PUA (and I'd recommend all of the books Neil recommends, too). Neil was the biggest geek in the world who became the greatest pick-up artist in the world, who in turn felt he lost his soul and gave it all up for his true love. THAT is a great story. (In fact, the girl who REFUSED to sleep with him was the one who broke him free of his self-indulgent pick-up artist lifestyle.)
* I'd also recommend spending the few hundred dollars it would take to be "trained" by a private PUA just for the sake of experience. You'll get a lot of ideas by just going through that kind of training in person. If you can afford it, go with Neil Strauss. I've met him. He was known in the underground as "Style." That's what everybody called him. (He now runs the StyleLife Academy.) There's another guy I like who is known simply as "Mystery." (No, he's not me.) I am, of course, partial to his Love System. Hehehe... Mystery's a bit screwed up, but you can't help but love the guy. And he IS an expert. (One time, he actually stole Scott Baio's girlfriend right in front of him with this hilarious wristwatch magic trick. I was rolling. Mystery would walk into a club or a bar and be THE MOST outrageously dressed guy in the city - crazy hats, shirts, pants, 5 watches on his arm, ANYTHING to get the attention of every girl in the room. And he was very successful.)
I share these things with you for a number of reasons: 1) as I mentioned, in order for two guys to be superb Break-Up Artists, they must first be superb Pick-Up Artists. Chris and Jerry's approach was all wrong. There's no indication with the way they interacted with Rachel and Mary that they're schooled in any way in the art of "picking-up women" and that's learned behavior. Their interaction smacked of just ordinary AFC's (Average Frustrated Chumps) when, in fact, you should be highlighting wild tactics and lies and tricks and deceptions to illustrate what's WRONG with their lifestyle. These guys would never use pick-up lines. Only AFCs stoop to pick-up lines. They'd never openly reference sex. (It's all in the subtext, baby!) They'd say carefully scripted (and memorized) conversational approaches designed to not only start a conversation but bring out very specific emotions in women. Not only that, they would say those lines using this kind of hypnotic neuro-linguistic way of speaking, as championed by the infamous Ross Jeffries. He has an example on his home page of that kind of speech. (I can't say I'd recommend him. He has a bit of an anger problem. But he's very smart. One COULD learn a lot.) Another example: it's always the MEN who would suggest going somewhere else, which would have been carefully planned and orchestrated from the very beginning. And they would've had a limo to impress them. 2) You have no idea what an ultimate bachelor pad looks like. Style and Mystery had THE pad in L.A. It was crazy. Courtney Love lived with them for a time. For example, a pick-up artist would never have a chair in his bedroom. The ONLY place a female visitor could sit in his room would be, of course, the bed. 3) I think your structure should be modeled more after the structure of Neil Strauss' book. Thus, Chris and Jerry could've been the geeks who wanted "the life," who needed someone to teach them, and then they're given a chance to join the Cocksman group. THEY are taught. They evolve in their methods in different ways, and become superb in pick-ups but even more renowned for their break-ups. They build the ultimate bachelor pad, etc, only to eventually discover that the life's hollow and empty by repeating the same patterned speeches and behavior over and over and over. THEN Chris threatens to leave to find true love. Or something. (After Neil Strauss spent some time with his "true love," he ran out of scripted dialogue to use on her, and he eventually had no other choice but to be himself.)
FYI - I have chairs in my bedroom.
Just so you know.
I may be repeating myself here, but the overall setup was kinda weird. Chris and Jerry are already pick-up artists and arguing about a change in lifestyle as early as PAGE 13. WAY too early. That's the kind of conversation that should lead to an Act Two climax which puts everything at stake. Even then, what you have is not enough of a conflict for a script, because Chris and Jerry could easily go their separate ways. If they were, perhaps, the guys who ran the Cocksman group and built A LIFE training newbies on how to pick-up and break-up with women, as well as this ultimate pad which has given them financial rewards (because newbies are paying THEM to live with them to learn) then perhaps you'd have something more tangible at stake, because Chris' departure would mean the end of life as they know it. And perhaps the end of big money, too. And it would have to be a case where Chris is the more expert of the two, the main draw of wannabes around the world, so Chris' departure would REALLY mean THE END of their lifestyle. And finally, their most successful break-up is when they break-up with the PUA community. Or something like that.
This kind of concept cannot be camp or comedy-lite. This has to be a full-blown, laugh-out-loud, pee-in-your-pants comedy. Period. That's the only way this'll sell. Humor is essential to A) pick-up women and B) win over audiences in a RomCom like this one. You should up the comedy to at least 7-10 jokes per page and make one third of those non-verbal gags. The biggest problem here in terms of your comedy is the dialogue. You have way, way, WAY too much talk, man. A number of thoughts about this, too. 1) The blocks of dialogue looked a little wide to me. I could be wrong. The dialogue margins should be no wider than 3.5 inches, but in your case, I'd recommend 3 inches just to discipline you to use WAY less dialogue. 2) Using less dialogue means that you have to think more cinematically. Consider Jennifer van Sijll's book, Cinematic Storytelling. Consider physical symbols of their love. Consider non-verbal ways of communicating like those listed here:
The Nonverbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs, & Body Language Cues.
3) Cut the chit-chat. 4) Enter a scene LATE and leave EARLY. 5) People don't always speak in complete sentences. Fragments are welcome. 6) Comedy is more effective when the sentences are SHORT. It's always short with a verbal punch at the end. Usually, that verbal punch would be a funny word with a "ck" sound in it. Consider the short sentences, fragments, and endings with a "ck" sound in this example from Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor:
VAL: (Russian accent) Ernie, do me a favor. Look for a pompernickel bagel.
MILT: His name is Arnie.
LUCAS: It's Lucas.
VAL: It's not Ernie?
MILT: It's not even Arnie... It's not even "pompernickel..."
VAL: Don't bother me. It's too early in the day to say "go fock yourself."
MILT: There's no such word as "fock." A person can't say "fock" himself. You can't be a U.S. citizen until you say "Go fuck yourself."
VAL: Kiss my naturalization papers, okay? (looks at the table) I can't believe there's not one pompernickel bagel...
LUCAS: There's one.
VAL: Thank you, Lukela. You'll go far on this show. (opens bagel) Look at this. Already sliced. This is why my father brought us to America.
LUCAS: For sliced bagels?
MILT: Mine came for chocolate pudding. In Poland, they could make it but they couldn't get it in the cups.
MILT: This is our head writer, Arnie. A man who learned to speak English from a dog who barked at night.
VAL: Is dot right? I got news for you. My dog dreams funnier than you.
MILT: My dog can say "fucking pumpernickel."
VAL: Good. Then he can take your place on the show.
Do you see what I mean? I'm not saying to mimic his style but find for yourself a much tighter rhythm of comedy that's usually punctuated by short sentences with verbal kicks at the end. 7) I'd recommend Comedy Writing Secrets (2nd edition) by Mel Helitzer. Every screenwriter should understand the principles of comedy, and Mel has the best book on the market. I also loved Steve Allen's How to Be Funny. 8) I'd hate to be in a position where I'd have to decide between Steve Garvey and Ger (for SOM), but your comedy should be at that level or funnier. Aspire to kick both of their asses. That kind of obscenely competitive ambition can only help your spec.
Click here for the full review.
Friday, July 13, 2007
- THE ART OF EXPOSITION IN FILMS -
Ugh… the frickin' plot dump. Just shoot me. Nothing gives me bigger fits, really. So… let’s study it. What are some great examples of exposition in films? What are some poor examples? What tricks and principles about exposition we can glean from studying films?
I invite anyone and everyone to submit to me by email (or post on your blog) 3 examples:
* One BAD example of exposition.
* One good VERBAL example of exposition.
* One good NON-VERBAL example of exposition.
No limit to how much you can write.
We’ll begin August 1.
And I would so appreciate your help getting the word out.
Thanks so much.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
(This is a continuation of our series on Character Development Sheets, and in fact, this post covers two elements of the sheet – Character Depth & Cast Design.)
This is the section where I would map out the depth of a character. How does one create depth? By constructing contradictions in the personality. For example, a character talks one way but BEHAVES another way. Or a character ACTS one way but at his/her core, that person’s True Character is in fact, something very different. This is one area that we can thank Mr. Robert McKee for teaching us. In “Story,” he wrote: “Dimension means contradiction: either within deep character (guilt-ridden ambition) or between characterization and deep character (a charming thief). These contradictions must be consistent. It doesn’t add dimension to portray a guy as nice throughout a film, then in one scene have him kick a cat.”
In any case, I would write a paragraph, usually about 300 words or fewer, chronicling the various dimensions / contradictions of a character, much in the same way that we conducted our Character Depth study last September.
Everyone wrote such great samples. Here are three. First, our very good friend, Pat (GimmeABreak), wrote about Hannibal Lecter:
“That a sociopathic cannibal could be brought to tears by beautiful music, recall with delight the fate of a census taker who had the temerity to disturb him, behave so tenderly toward Clarice (the finger touch as he hands her the file), take such pleasure in tormenting Miggs, salivate at the thoughts of eating Dr. Chilton, patiently explain the delicate flavor of (human) brains to a child, gently guide Will Graham toward death, and disfigure himself instead of his captor (who happened to be the only person he loves or has ever loved) makes Hannibal Lecter my nominee for the most interesting and complex character in modern cinema, the only character I've loved, feared, admired, and despised all at the same time.”
Christina Ferguson gave us a fun paragraph about Graham Dalton:
“One of my favorite movie characters of all time is Graham Dalton from Sex, Lies and Videotape. He's an honest pathological liar. An impotent man obsessed with sex. A man who is able to know the female subjects he videotapes more intimately than their husbands, without touching them. He comes to town to obtain some measure of closure on a relationship he destroyed ten years earlier and ends up inspiring a naive woman to leave her deceitful husband, his former friend. In doing so, he redeems himself. All of this - while in dire need of a simple haircut.”
And finally, here’s a sample I wrote about Cyrano de Bergerac:
“Cyrano is an interesting character for sure full of contradictions - on the one hand fearless of nothing and on the other terrified of rejection. He will openly mock his own nose, declare that he is proud of his great appendage, and yet, his hopeless insecurity about said nose keeps him from declaring his love to Roxanne. He is self-involved and yet selfless as he sacrifices his own happiness in order to give his love that which her heart desires most. He talks to Le Bret about refusing to be morally tainted or compromised and then Cyrano allows himself to become entangled in a great big deceptive lie to his most beloved object of desire. All the while, apart from the occasional duel, he fights for the pride of the Gascons, he fights for France, he fights a hundred men for Ligniere, he fights for everyone within reach but himself.”
Cast Design is another way to carefully construct character depth. With most stories, you have a protagonist who is basically the sun around which all of the other supporting characters rotate. But you have to carefully construct your cast design. You have to make sure that your supporting characters serve a storytelling function by having each one bring out very specific, very distinctly different dimensions out of your protag. By doing this, we get to see ALL the different sides of your leading character, right? So that, for example, your protag behaves:
* optimistic and amusing toward Character A but morose and cynical toward Character B.
* compassionate and fearless toward Character C but fearful and cruel toward Character D.
Monday, July 09, 2007
...I want to make a point about horizontal and vertical narratives. I've mentioned this before, but it's worth mentioning again. You are consistently short in all of your scenes, which is great, but it's a bit of a misnomer to do that in EVERY scene. Keep short the setups and action that pushes the story forward (horizontal narrative), but when you get to heightened moments of great drama (vertical narratives), you can stop, build your story vertically, and take your time by really getting the most emotionally out of that scene. And I mean scenes like the one on page 100 between Sean and Michael. That can go on for a couple of pages (instead of the half page we're given) because you already know that you have your audience by the throat and you won't lose them. Do you see what I mean? The idea for horizontal and vertical narratives came from Maya Deren, I believe. (I referenced her in my final thoughts on Napoleon article.) To quote her:
“In Shakespeare, you have the drama moving forward on a ‘horizontal’ plane of development, of one circumstance - action - leading to another, and this delineates the character. Every once in a while, however, he arrives at a point of action where he wants to illuminate the meaning to this moment of drama, and, at that moment, he builds a pyramid or investigates it ‘vertically,’ if you will, so that you have a ‘horizontal’ development with periodic ‘vertical’ investigations, which are the poems, which are the monologues… You can have operas where the ‘horizontal’ development is virtually unimportant—the plots are very silly, but they serve as an excuse for stringing together a number of arias that are essentially lyric statements.”
Click here to read the full review.
Posted by Mystery Man at 9:00 PM
You’ve seen his work already on my blog.
He was first known for his graffiti:
Here’s my favorite rat graffiti. What screenwriter couldn’t relate?
Banksy moved on to “remixing masterpieces found in flea markets.” Consider the before shot of this painting. The emphasis was on the beauty of nature and the color in the crashing waves.
But when you place a Guantanamo Bay prisoner on the beach…
…the waves suddenly become symbolic of his inner turmoil.
Banksy also “remixes” fine art to make statements about humans blemishing nature.
He's also known to make these kinds of statements in his graffiti:
He’ll also make statements about hypocrisy:
One day, Banksy went to L.A.
Sometimes, he’ll make statements about peace:
And here’s a reporter who may or may not have been given a recording of his voice:
And finally, Banksy once mysteriously showed up in the middle east and drew some images on the wall between Palestine and Israel:
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Today, I'm proud to post Miriam’s latest movie breakdown. For those who may not be familiar, Miriam is so passionate about screenwriting that she will actually time scenes when she watches movies. On rare occasions, she will even do a complete breakdown of a film, which is great for aspiring screenwriters in terms of studying pacing, scene length, and how much that has to be accomplished in so little time. She WILL change the way you think about screenwriting.
At the end of her study, you’ll see a breakdown with her general thoughts, like this one: “There are 83 scenes that average 1 minute and 28 seconds long. Only 17 of them are over 2 minutes. 30 of them are less than a minute. Lee keeps his action going with short, concise glimpses of the story.”
You can get the script by Russel Gewirtz here.
As always, you did a superb job, Miriam.
1. 0:59 – In less than a minute Spike sets up the premise, gives you a taste of things to come, and gives you a clue that things aren't as they appear in this story. We open with Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) against some kind of cinder block wall in a dark room. He tells you, "Pay strict attention to what I say." He then tells WHO he is. The WHERE can best be described as a prison cell, but it's not a prison. Then we get some quick shots of Dalton in his cell, reading, doing push-ups, etc. He says the WHAT is the perfect bank robbery, and that's also the WHEN. WHY? "Because I can." That leaves only HOW and, "therein, as the bard would say, lies the rub." By showing us Dalton first, and having him introduce the story, Lee is telling us that Dalton is probably not the antagonist he seems for most of the story. Pay strict attention. 0:00:59
2. 2:33 – The music comes up (Chaiyya Chaiyya Bollywood Joint by AR Rahman) and under the title we watch the set-up. A dark van with "Perfectly Planned Painting" on its side drives through the city and picks up several people. The driver and all the passengers are dressed in white painter's coveralls and carry supplies we assume are for painting. The titles themselves spin in and out of view. For the title (Inside Man) and the Directed by Spike Lee titles there are faint lines around the perimeter of the circle they describe. Later we will realize they look like they're on the dial of a combination lock, such as what you might find on a bank vault. 0:03:32
3. 1:25 – The music fades out over shots of the details on the bank: the gargoyles, the stylized eagles, and finally the brass statue of the bull. The camera tilts down to find the van coming up the street. Inside the bank, people go about their business. A bosomy girl strikes a discordant note by talking loudly on her cell phone. A Jewish jeweler talks to a loan officer. The van parks and the "painters" get out. They unload lots of supplies and carry them into the bank. 0:04:57
4. 0:53 – Dalton enters the bank and places things that look like emergency lights on a table. As the security guard approaches the girl on the phone, the lights black out the security cameras. 0:05:50
5. 1:26 – The other "painters" bring in supplies while Dalton continues to put out the cameras. Nobody notices his lights and the security guard seems not to notice the team of "painters" and their supplies. When they put a big lock on the door, he notices that and approaches them. But Dalton is behind him and sticks a .357 magnum in his ear. The whole team goes into action. Several smoke bombs are thrown, AK-47's come out, and the robbers curse and yell threats. Within seconds, everybody is on the floor, including the tellers. Dalton grabs the Jewish jeweler and pushes him down. We don't see him hit the floor, because he falls with a desk blocking him. Yes, this is significant. 0:07:16
6. 0:52 – Sgt Collins (Victor Colicchio), a beat cop outside the bank, notices the smoke curling out from under the door and goes over to check it out. Dalton opens the door, sticks his .357 magnum in Collins' face, and talks in a fake Russian accent. He tells Collins he has hostages, to stay away from the door, and to call it in. 0:08:08
7. 0:45 – Technically this is part of the next scene, but I've separated it because two distinct things happen. During this first part, Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) talks to his girlfriend, and the camera is so close that it almost caresses his face. It's a very intimate shot. She asks about some kind of check cashing problem, they discuss her brother, who is locked up, and then she says she wants a ring. The conversation is intercut, so we know she's also a cop, but she wears a uniform and Frazier is a detective. After she asks for a ring, they switch to sex talk. He says he has the twins and she says she has the handcuffs. 0:08:53
8. 1:03 – As Frazier ends the call, Lee cuts to a long shot that encompasses the scene around him. He doesn't have a private office, and his desk butts up against that of his partner, Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor in a thankless role). Bill asks about the call and Frazier explains his situation, which is purely for the benefit of the audience. It's so blatantly expository that it almost hurts. Poor Ejiofor's only role is to keep Washington from having to explain all this to the camera. So Frazier tells Mitchell that his girlfriend wants to get married, she has a lazy, alcoholic brother who lives with them, and that he knows the check cashing thing will work out just fine, because he's innocent. She wants to get married, but he wants to wait until he makes Detective First Grade. Then their captain bursts in to tell them the bank is being robbed. The scene winds up with the captain asking about the check cashing thing, so now we've heard about that three times. 0:09:56
9. 0:38 – An active scene. Frazier and Mitchell burst through a door toward the camera and walk through a pulling shot as they get their coats on and check their guns. Frazier sets a very spiffy hat at a jaunty angle on his head. He says, "Bad guys, here I come." The scene continues very briefly outside as they jump into a car and race away. 0:10:34
10. 1:51 – In one of the longer scenes during the opening set-up, Lee shows us the details of turning the outside of the bank into a crime scene. A huge van pulls in, metal barricades are set up to keep the crowd back, red tape is run around the perimeter, and fire trucks and reporters show up. The big van is a traveling police station. Inside, it has a small meeting room and a larger room with computers, phones, and files. It has a satellite link-up so they can download info from various databases. The pace is frenetic. 0:12:25
11. 0:57 – By contrast, this scene is quiet and slow. It starts on a shot of an intricately tiled ceiling: the kind of thing you might find in an Italian castle. The rest of the room is full of rich antiques and speaks of old money. It is an office, but also a sanctuary. The man who owns it, Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), is used to power, but the news of the break-in at the bank hits him hard. As soon as he realizes what his assistant has come to tell him, he asks which branch has been hit. Then he says, "Oh dear God." At first we think he's concerned about the employees. Later we find out that he has a personal reason to be extremely concerned about a breach in security at this particular branch. 0:13:22
12. 1:02 – Frazier and Mitchell arrive at the bank and we find out through dialogue that he's a hostage negotiator. Sgt. Collins fills him in and confesses that having the gun stuck in his face shook him. Frazier exudes authority. He tells Collins he can go, but Collins wants to stick around. Frazier gives him the nod. 0:14:24
13. 5:36 – This is the longest scene of the set-up, and it establishes Dalton's goals and methods. He and his team take the hostages down to the offices in the basement. He lines them up by employees and customers, then collects their cell-phones. Peter Hammond (Peter Frechette) tries to hide his cell-phone, but Dalton finds it by calling it from another employee's phone. He asks Peter what he would like on his headstone. During this shot, Dalton seems reasonable and even gentle, but his gun appears as he says, "headstone" and he ends up beating Peter Hammond pretty severely. All the other hostages are frightened into submission. Dalton then separates the hostages by male and female, which confuses them, and tells them to strip to their underwear. Then he makes them put on dark jumpsuits and masks that are exactly like what he and his team are wearing. Now everybody, hostages and kidnappers alike, all look the same. The only glimpse of humanity in Dalton is when the only child in the group offers up his video game along with the cell-phones. Dalton lets the kid keep the game and doesn't make him wear a jumpsuit. 0:20:00
14. 0:05 – The sound for this scene starts over the end of the last scene. It is the first report of the bank robbery. We'll get these scenes periodically throughout the story. They don't really add to the information, but they do underscore the realism, just like the scene where the barricades were set up and the police van was brought in. 0:20:05
15. 1:19 – Frazier finds the uniformed cop in charge, who is Captain Darius (Willem Dafoe). There is some tension at first because Darius is used to dealing with Mr. Grossman. Frazier says he's the "big dick" today and that DETECTIVE Grossman is on vacation. Darius backs down professionally and then Frazier backs down just as professionally to give Darius a chance to get control of the situation. He tells Darius to come get him at the café when he's ready to give him his preliminary report. There's no sub-text, but it's a nice example of how things work in the hierarchy of policemen. 0:21:24
16. 0:38 – This is a completely useless scene. Frazier and Mitchell head to the café and Frazier explains to Mitchell what just happened, as if we didn't catch it. The character of Mitchell could have been written out entirely and the story would have been stronger. 0:22:02
17. 1:18 – Inside the bank, Dalton is summoned to a room where an old man is gasping for breath. Dalton unlocks the door and shoves him outside. Because of the jumpsuit, the cops think he's a kidnapper and surround him with guns drawn. They finally identify him as a hostage. Now they know that Dalton has disguised his hostages. 0:23:20
18. 0:33 – In a dramatic shift, the scene switches to an interrogation room. The lighting is bright and contrasty. One of the hostages talks directly to the camera documentary-style. He tells how he was afraid he would never see his family again. At the very end, the shot cuts to a wide shot showing Frazier and Mitchell across the table from the hostage. They are listening sympathetically. 0:23:53
19. 0:56 – A series of shots. The hostages have been separated in groups of about ten into various offices in the basement. They can talk within their own little groups, but don't know what's going on in the other rooms. The kidnappers patrol the rooms, to make sure the hostages stay submissive. Dalton checks out the vault, and safety deposit boxes, and the storage room. When he sees the storage room, he says, "Beautiful." 0:24:49
20. 2:00 – We meet the last major player: Maddy White (Jody Foster). Maddy is carefully groomed and always in complete control of both herself and her surroundings. She is interviewing a Middle Eastern businessman in an impeccable suit about his uncle. There seems to be a problem with his uncle. Her assistant comes in to tell her Arthur Case is on the phone and she drops the businessman like a hot potato, but politely. She escorts him out as quickly as possible, and then goes to her desk. She checks with her assistant that it was Arthur Case himself who initiated the call, not his secretary, and then talks to him. In an intercut conversation, he tells her he has a problem and he needs her help. He understands she is somebody who can get things done. We are given to understand that she is meticulous and careful, and that she has a lot of influence with powerful people. She tells Arthur that she will help him, but that he will then be in her debt. This is how she influences people. She calls in favors. All of this is in the subtlest sub-text, of course. People like Maddy never come out and say exactly what they mean. If her clients can't understand her subtle hints, then they aren't the kind of people she wants to help. 0:26:49
21. 1:24 – Back to the interrogation room with the bright, contrasty, light. Now we see that Frazier and Mitchell are actually grilling the hostages, even poor, beat-up, Peter Hammond. He explains that they had a genius plan. The next guy says they called each other variations of Steve: Stevie, Steve-O, etc. The last guy is the old man who had the heart attack, or whatever it was. Even though he was the first one out, Frazier and Mitchell hammer him with questions, as if they suspect him. Do you know what an AK-47 looks like? Have you ever robbed a bank? Apparently they don't know which of these people is a hostage and which is a kidnapper. This is also the first time we realize that these scenes take place in the future, after the hostages have been freed. 0:28:13
22. 1:31 – Darius makes it over to the café to update Frazier on what is going on. The information basically rehashes what we already know. This scene is more about Frazier and Darius continuing to establish the ground rules of their professional relationship. Darius asks Frazier if he's going to call the kidnapper (Dalton), but Frazier says it's not time. 0:29:44
23. 2:13 – Maddy and Arthur Case stroll through a park next to Hudson Bay while the camera tracks them. He wants her to retrieve something that's in a safe deposit box inside the bank. He says it's personal, but she knows it's dangerous, otherwise he'd have his own secretary get it. He gets defensive and calls her "young lady," but she doesn't care. She knows she has the upper hand. He says he doesn't want anybody to touch it. Eventually everybody does. 0:31:57
24. 0:16 – A short but important scene. "Steve" (a burly kidnapper played by Carlos Andres Gomez) is in the storage room (the one Dalton said was "beautiful") moving boxes off the racks against the far wall. Dalton comes in and asks, "Stevie?" "Steve" says it's time for "Steve-O." As Dalton leaves, "Steve" smashes a pick-axe into the floor. 0:32:13
25. 0:24 – The police find the van that the kidnappers used to transport themselves and their supplies to the bank. One of them mentions that it's probably stolen and they begin to sweep it for bugs, bombs, and prints. 0:32:37
26. 1:18 – Another intercut phone "conversation." Frazier decides it's time to call Dalton, but Dalton doesn't pick up. He only stares at the phone while it rings. As Frazier hangs up, one of the officers announces that they've downloaded the video from the surveillance cameras. They all gather round to watch as Dalton puts out the lights on the cameras. 0:33:55
27. 1:08 – Back to the interrogation room in the future. Miriam Douglas (Marcia Jean Kurtz), a middle-aged woman, cries as Frazier and Mitchell grill her. They really fuck with her hard, which shows how desperate they are. They have no idea which hostages were actually kidnappers who were part of Dalton's gang. 0:35:03
28. 1:10 – The kidnappers unlock the door and shove Vikram Walia (Waris Ahluwalia) out with a metal cash drawer tied around his neck. He's blindfolded and has his hands tied behind his back, but the cops surround him and yell at him to put his hands up anyway. He says (in a perfectly calm voice) that he can't. They push him down and snatch his turban off his head. For anybody who doesn't know, this is a huge offence to a Sikh. It's a dishonor to God. When he gets angry, they yell at him to calm down. This is part of Lee's MO. He likes to show people how prejudice affects us all. The cops assume that Vikram is a terrorist because he has a turban and a beard. 0:36:13
29. 1:43 – This scene was filmed in one shot. The camera follows Maddy into the mayor's office, then down the hall as he takes her into a private office, then circles them as they talk, and finally zooms to a close-up of a TV screen. The mayor seems very happy to see Maddy and discusses an upcoming charity benefit with her until they are alone, then drops the act. He asks, "what the fuck do you want?" and calls her a "magnificent cunt," which she takes as a compliment. She tells him she wants to get inside the bank and he promises to arrange it. Apparently she has him over a barrel. As she leaves, he turns to look at the television, which leads into the next scene. 0:37:56
30. 0:16 – Another reporting scene that recaps what we know so far. This story is about the van, to remind us that they found it. 0:38:12
31. 1:25 – Frazier and Mitchell grill Vikram in the café. This is real time. He has an ice-pack on his head and keeps asking for his turban. They tell him he'll get his turban when he answers some questions. He says he won't answer any questions until he gets his turban and explains about the offence to God. He says they called him an Arab. Darius denies this and says he didn't hear clearly because he was panicked. Lee really hates authority. At the end of all the mutual accusations, Vikram finally tells them there are four kidnappers and about twenty to thirty hostages. 0:39:37
32. 1:39 – The drawer that was hung around Vikram's neck contains a message. They place the drawer on a desk in the van, basically in the middle of their center of operations, and read the message. Dalton is demanding a jet and two buses. Frazier says he gets nothing until he answers the phone. Arthur Case shows up and offers to help. He pretends to be a doddering old man and tries to stay, so he can get inside information, but they throw him out. 0:41:16
33. 0:41 – There's activity at the bank. A gang of cops covers the doors while two kidnappers bring out a hostage with a note. One cop ventures up and snatches the note. "50 hungry people need food now." 0:41:57
34. 0:36 – Inside the van, Darius and Frazier discuss the request. A female cop says that pizza is best for transmitters, because they'll gather around the boxes and talk. Frazier says they get food because Dalton gave them a hostage (Vikram). 0:42:33
35. 1:14 – Inside the bank, one of the hostages takes off his mask and says, " Fuck this." He's a young guy. The other hostages tell him to be cooperative. A kidnapper bursts in and drags him by the feet out of the room. Now he's scared and tries to grab onto the other hostages. But Dalton has done his job well. They are too scared of him to help their fellow hostage. 0:43:47
36. 1:03 – Back to the interrogation room in the future. Chaim (Bernie Rachelle), a Jewish jeweler, explains that they were kept in separate rooms and couldn't hear the kidnappers. Frazier and Mitchell call him Steve and Steve-O and tell him not to lie. 0:44:50
37. 1:09 – They deliver the pizzas. Frazier accompanies them to the door and tells Dalton to "calm the fuck down." The only one who doesn't seem calm is Frazier. Then he introduces himself as the hostage negotiator. They size each other up. Even though Dalton is wearing sunglasses and a mask pulled up around his mouth and nose, you can tell he's looking carefully at Frazier. 0:45:59
38. 0:38 – Inside the van, the cops listen to the transmitters hidden in the pizza. Somebody is talking in some foreign language. Darius gets scared that he's going to have to "shoot it out with those savages." Spike Lee really doesn't think much of cops. Frazier calms him down and sends for a translator. 0:46:37
39. 1:36 – Now we see the beauty of Dalton's plan. He goes into one room of hostages with the female member of his team, who is holding a gun (an AK-47?), and drags out another hostage. He and the girl put the hostage into another room and go to a third room. Now he takes her gun and she starts to cry. He opens the room and shoves her in. So all the hostages in that room think that she is also a hostage. And in order to pull off this scheme effectively, he had to have had plants inside the bank posing as customers when he arrived with the other members of his team. Is this what the title means? 0:48:13
40. 1:22 – Back to the interrogation in the future. An Asian hostage identifies other hostages from Polaroid photos. He identifies "Stevie," the female kidnapper, as a hostage. Frazier asks if he's sure. He says he is because of her boobs. "You can't hide quality like that." The busty girl who upset the other customers with her loud cell-phone conversation (in scene #3) tells the story of the guy who took off his mask and was dragged out of the room. She notices that Mitchell is staring at her boobs. 0:49:35
41. 0:16 – It's worth watching the film for this scene. It starts with a shot of a pair of sweaty breasts inside a thin tank-top. If you can get your mind off this, you'll discover that they belong to the OTHER busty girl, the one Dalton calls "Stevie," and that she's pulling chunks of cement out of the hole in the floor of the storeroom. It is now very deep. 0:49:51
42. 1:59 – This takes place both inside and outside the van, so in terms of screenwriting and shooting, it's two scenes, but in terms of story, it's one scene. A Russian policeman listens to the conversation that's coming into the van through the pizza transmitters and says it's not Russian or Polish or Hungarian. Frazier broadcasts it through the loudspeakers and goes out to the crowd of onlookers, held back by the metal barricades. He asks if anybody can identify the language. One man, a construction worker, says it's Albanian. Frazier brings him in and then demands that he translate it. There's an exchange when Frazier claims that the man said he spoke it and he clarifies that he only recognizes it because his ex-wife speaks it. It's another of Lee's commentaries on the mentality of cops. Somebody also says that the van was stolen, but there are no prints on it. 0:51:47
43. 1:56 – Dalton goes to the vault where the kid is playing with his video game. Dalton has him separated from his father and the other hostages, but isn't being mean to him. He asks to see the video game, which is another Spike Lee special. It's called "Kill Dat Nigah" and it's a version of Grand Theft Auto with a lot more blood and violence (if that's possible). Dalton gives the kid pizza and tells him he'll be home soon. 0:53:43
44. 0:23 – The Albanian consulate wants money to send over a translator. The construction worker hates his ex-wife, but Frazier makes him call her. 0:54:06
45. 0:38 – Music swells dramatically as Dalton regards the money in the vault. "Stevie" stands guard with her "AK-47." 0:54:44
46. 1:52 – The ex-wife (Limary Agosto) shows up. She's sexy as hell, but a stone-cold bitch. She hands Mitchell a brown, paper bag full of parking tickets and pulls out some long cigarette. She speaks with a heavy (Albanian?) accent. Frazier asks her to translate the conversation. She points to the bag and says, "Parking tickets." He tells her it's taken care of. She smokes and shows off her long nails, then laughs and says it's a tape of the ex-president of Albania, who is dead. Frazier says last time he had his johnson pulled that good it cost him five dollars. The sexy ex-wife leaves. Mitchell states the obvious, that they knew the cops would bug them. Then he throws the bag of parking tickets in frustration. At least he got to do a bit of acting in this scene. 0:56:36
47. 1:31 – "Steve" eats pizza. On the table is a transmitter and an Ipod broadcasting the dead ex-president of Albania. Down in the safety deposit box room, "Stevie" picks the lock on box 392 and Dalton opens it. He removes an envelope, which reveals many little black velvet bags and a red jewelry box, the kind that usually holds a ring. He takes the envelope of documents and leaves behind the jewels. 0:58:07
48. 1:22 – The mayor shows up with Maddy and they invite Frazier into a limo. She rubs Frazier the wrong way and he's quite rude to her. She drops some broad hints about pay grades and disappearing paychecks to show that she's done her homework. He doesn't want to cooperate. 0:59:29
49. 1:42 – At the midpoint, Dalton and Frazier finally have their conversation. Frazier initiates the call, even though he said he wouldn't. They kid around about pina coladas and being Bubba's bitch in jail, and then get serious. Frazier tries to bully Dalton, but Dalton issues an ultimatum. Get that jet and those buses ready or else he'll start shooting hostages. 1:01:11
50. 0:44 – A crane shot down the street to find Maddy sitting at the window of the café that switches to a shot from behind her, looking out into the street to all the police activity. She's there for the duration. 1:01:55
51. 0:09 – "Steve-O" is working on the hole in the storage room. It's really deep. 1:02:04
52. 0:58 – In the interrogation room in the future, Frazier and Mitchell talk to "Steve," whose real name is Ken Demurjian. They ask him if his name is Albanian and how he knows they robbed the bank. He reminds Frazier that Frazier saw him gagged, which we haven't seen yet. 1:03:02
53. 2:22 – Frazier calls Dalton and stalls for time. Dalton wants his jet and buses now, but says he'll give Frazier more time if he answers a riddle. Which weighs more, the trains that pass through Grand Central Station or the trees cut down to make paper money. They both weigh the same because trains go to Grand Central Terminal and money is made from cotton. 1:05:24
54. 0:45 – Their argument echoes through the bank. Is it sound continued from the previous scene, or is it something else? Inside the rooms, the hostages exchange personal information. Inside the storage room, Dalton examines the deep hole. He says, "It's a good looking shithole." 1:06:09
55. 2:29 – Sunset. Frazier calls his girlfriend, who is home, out of uniform, and wearing a negligee. Then he talks to Maddy outside the café. This is how she talks: "What matters is what I can offer you." "If certain interests are protected." "Let's not get into any names." "I can't discuss that." She plays all her cards not just close to the vest, but practically inside the vest. Frazier allows her to go inside the bank and, surprise surprise, Dalton lets her in. 1:08:38
56. 3:14 – Dalton's people frisk Maddy and then lead her in. She tells him she can arrange a short sentence and two million dollars if he walks away. He refuses the deal and tells her he already knows about her interests. Arthur Case worked for the Nazis. He shows her the documents, which bear a swastika at the top. The ball is no longer in her court and she's thrown off-balance. She asks how he knew and he says it doesn't matter. There is no back-story on Dalton. He is an enigma. She asks how he plans to get away with this and he says he's going to walk right out the front door. 1:11:52
57. 2:05 – Outside the bank, Frazier demands to know what Dalton told Maddy, but she covers up her failure, which must sting a lot. Finally, Frazier gets her to tell him her impression of Dalton, why has he allowed them to push him into a corner like this? She say she thinks Dalton chose this corner. 1:13:57
58. 2:47 – In the interrogation room of the future, Frazier and Mitchell talk to the kid. They know he wasn't one of the kidnappers. They talk to Pablo/Paul, who has a rap sheet, but we know he wasn't a kidnapper. Chaim can get Frazier a deal on a wedding ring. "Stevie" notices them looking at her tits and shows them off. She asks if she's guilty of violating section thirty-four double D. 1:13:44
59. 1:45 – Frazier finally figures out that he's not stalling Dalton, they way a negotiator usually does with a kidnapper. Dalton is stalling him, playing for more time, and he can't figure out why. He calls Dalton and gets an invite inside. 1:18:29
60. 5:31 – Frazier tours through the rooms of hostages. At the end, Dalton says some of the misbehaved and shows him a separate room with people in gags and tied up. Peter Hammond is there with his bruises, and the guy who took off his mask and got dragged through the room. "Steve," Ken Demurjian, is also there, with his gag. Frazier and Dalton leave the hostages and share personal information. Frazier says he wants to get married and Dalton says money shouldn't be a problem. He also tells Frazier that when he's ready, he's going to walk right out the front door. As they leave, Frazier attacks Dalton and tries to get his mask off, but "Steve O" is there with her "AK-47" and they both regain control. Dalton is angry, but calm. 1:24:00
61. 0:38 – Frazier tells his team he has Dalton right where he wants him: "behind me with my pants down." "Steve-O" tells Dalton he's letting the cop get too close. Dalton asks how much longer. "Steve-O" says two or three hours. Are they doing more than digging a hole? 1:24:38
62. 1:04 – Frazier tells Darius that Dalton isn't a killer; he's got a game plan. Dalton calls Frazier and tells him to train the lights on the second floor window. As they all watch, he shoots a hostage in the head. The hostage has a white cloth over his head, but they see the shot and the blood. Frazier goes ballistic and runs out of the van to the bank. He's followed by one of those mini-cameras attached to the actor that keeps the face of the person steady while the background jumps around them. 1:25:42
63. 1:28 – Frazier comes to the door of the bank and yells at Dalton. Dalton says he wants two buses and a jet. Frazier asks him what he really wants. Dalton says he's too smart to be a cop and to get somebody sane. 1:27:10
64. 1:07 – Darius decides Frazier has lost it and makes a call to bring in another negotiator. 1:28:17
65. 1:48 – Darius decides he's going to move in with his own team. They spread out a blueprint and discuss tactics. As they talk, we see what they imagine will happen when they enter the bank. Some of the hostages will get shot, money will get shot and fly around. Somebody suggest rubber bullets that will stun, but not kill them. 1:30:05
66. 0:46 – Mitchell consoles Frazier on his failure. Frazier insists he's making Detective First Grade on this one. 1:30:51
67. 1:05 – Cut out of the action, Frazier goes to talk to Sgt. Collins, the beat cop who first reported the robbery. Collins got a gun stuck in his face and shot the kid. Now he's gun-shy because it wasn't a real gun. He says it was "annnn…African American." He almost said the "N" word, but realized Frazier is also black. Frazier chides him about using such terms and says you never know who might be listening. Then he gets that look like he just realized something. 1:31:56
68. 0:45 – Frazier bursts into the empty van and tears the metal drawer apart. Remember the drawer? It was tied around Vikram's neck and had a message. They left it in the van and it was on the table the whole time they were discussing strategy and what they knew and didn’t know. It had a bug in it. Frazier gets on the radio to Darius to tell him, but Darius is going in anyway. 1:32:41
69. 0:54 – Dalton is listening. "Stevie" runs in and he tells her to get everybody together. They use their guns to force the hostages out of the rooms and up into the main part of the bank. As the crowd panics and stampedes, "Steve," "Steve-O," and "Stevie" drop their guns and join them, beoming hostages again. 1:33:35
70. 2:05 – Outside the bank, it's morning. The cops are ready with their guns. There's an explosion inside and then the doors burst open. Smoke pours out, momentarily obscuring the hostages, and the cops start shooting them. But they're using rubber bullets. Some of the hostages are knocked out, and then the cops realize what's going on. They stop shooting. "Steve," "Steve-O," and "Stevie" look disheveled and distraught. "Stevie" is crying. 1:35:40
71. 3:43 – Inside the bank the camera moves in long, sweeping shots. The vault is secure and there's no missing money. There was no robbery. They find the cell-phones and the "AK-47's," which were toy guns. They can't find the magnum that was stuck in Collins' face. They decide that whoever did it is upstairs, sucking pavement. They also find the "dead hostage," which was a fake gun, a piece of white cloth, and a chamber to pump fake blood out. Nobody has been killed, nothing has been stolen, and some of the hostages are also kidnappers, but they don't know which ones. 1:39:23
72. 1:58 – Outside, they cuff the hostages, take their pictures, and get their names. Some of them protest. They don't understand the scam and don't want to go downtown to answer questions. They put them all on two police buses (how ironic; Dalton got his buses after all) and take them away. 1:41:21
73. 2:21 – Now the story catches up to itself. We have seen the pertinent sections of the interrogation throughout and skip ahead to the next part. Frazier tells the captain they can't ID the bad guys and the main perp (Dalton) and the magnum are gone. The Captain says to bury it. Apparently Maddy, and mayor, and Arthur Case have been pulling strings. And, by the way, the missing money in the check cashing scam showed up. 1:43:42
74. 0:30 – Frazier doesn't want to give up. He wants to solve the puzzle. He discovers safety deposit box 392 because there's no record of it 1:44:12
75. 2:12 – Frazier goes to the court building to get a search warrant. As he comes out, he finds Maddy White waiting for him. She tells him to let it go and he shows her a neat little pen that was in the police van. It's actually a mini-recorder and he recorded their conversation when she offered to get him promoted and he refused. Now both Dalton and Frazier have managed to trip her up. 1:46:24
76. 3:49 – But Maddy still has Arthur Case in her pocket. She tells him she knows about the diamonds and the Nazis. She's selling a co-op to Bin Laden's nephew (the Middle Eastern businessman, remember?) and she's putting Case down as a reference. That's how she does business. 1:50:13
77. 2:25 – Now we find out what the title really means. We hear voice over of Dalton's first speech: "My name is Dalton Russell, etc." And we see him packing up to leave his "cell." He opens one of the black velvet bags and removes a single diamond. Now there were about twenty of those bags in the safety deposit box, so how many did he take out? We also see flashbacks of them building the cell, which was constructed at the back of the storage room. They pulled the shelves out and built a false wall. The shithole was literally that. He brought in his own food, but it had to go somewhere. Outside, "Stevie," "Steve-O," "Steve," and Chaim are waiting in a car. So Chaim was one of the inside men, but Dalton was the real inside man. While they wait, they see Frazier entering the bank and call Dalton on his cell. He's not worried. 1:52:38
78. 0:55 – Dalton crosses to the exit just as Frazier comes in. He's wearing sunglasses: a different pair. He deliberately bumps into Frazier and says, "Excuse me." Frazier doesn't pay any attention. 1:53:33
79. 1:50 – Frazier is there with his warrant to open box 392. All the black velvet bags are gone, as is the envelope full of documents (of course). But Dalton has left the red ring case behind, some gum wrappers, and a note for Frazier. "Follow the ring." 1:55:23
80. 3:14 – Frazier pays a visit to Arthur Case, whose non-existent safety deposit box was the source of all this intrigue. He tells him he found out a few things and then asks if his cronies will vouch for him, "…after I find out the truth about this ring?" He hold the ring up on his middle finger, flipping Case off at the same time that he shows him the ring. 1:58:37
81. 0:20 – Mitchell and Frazier laugh about how Frazier got the best of Arthur Case. This was a completely useless scene. 1:58:57
82. 1:21 – Frazier interrupts Maddy and the mayor at lunch and gives her back the pen with the incriminating recording on it. He mentions the ring and says he's tracking it through the War Crimes office. Maddy knows she didn't win this one, but doesn't let the mayor see her vulnerability. 2:00:18
83. 1:55 – Frazier returns home, where his girlfriend is waiting in her negligee. She asks if he brought Big Willy and the Twins (I don't even want to know about that). He empties his pockets as he undresses and finds the diamond that Dalton was looking at before he left his cell. In a flashback, he remembers Dalton telling him that he's going to walk right out the front door and the man with the sunglasses who bumped into him on his way into the bank. He grins from ear to ear. Behind him, his girlfriend tells him the handcuffs are getting cold (still don't want to know) and the music comes up. 2:02:13
This story is all about plot and character. The dialogue is all expository, even though there are some memorable lines. "I'll walk out that door when I'm good and ready." "Pay strict attention." Maddy White's dialogue doesn't count because it's her job to be cagey with her words. Spike Lee seems to be more interested in inserting scenes that highlight prejudice and casual stupidity, rather than initiating interaction with any deeper meaning between his characters.
The characters themselves are good. And the structure is interesting. There are two protags, Frazier and Dalton, against two antags, Maddy and Arthur Case. At first Dalton seems like Frazier's antag, but he actually helps Frazier achieve his goal. Maddy and Case are the real bad guys, with Case being the main one. You can tell because the final show-down scene is not between Frazier and Dalton. It's between Frazier and Case. And we know Frazier has won because he gets to flip Case off under the pretext of showing him the ring.
There are 83 scenes that average 1 minute and 28 seconds long. Only 17 of them are over 2 minutes. 30 of them are less than a minute. Lee keeps his action going with short, concise glimpses of the story.
It also showcases an international cast, with the actors coming from all nationalities. Part of this is because the story is set in New York, which is a melting pot of ethnicities, but most of it is because Spike Lee is very interested in getting some color into predominantly white Hollywood. He's got an axe to grind, but he knows the value of telling a good story while he's doing it.