Monday, September 29, 2008

Batman: Year One

Hey guys,

Below is the complete series on Frank Miller and Darren Aronofsky's unproduced script, Batman: Year One.

Part One
Backstory, exaggerated elements, and exposition in comics.

Part Two
Two weak scenes

Part Three
Creating a mythology



Hey guys,

This is just a reminder that THIS FRIDAY, we'll be having our tension blog-a-thon right here. Don't miss it!



THE TOPIC: Tension & Suspense

WHEN: October 3 - 6

An earlier article about our current
Screenwriting State of Emergency seems to have struck a nerve. So I thought it’d be fun if we, as a community, had a discourse on the topic of tension and/or suspense. Simply post on your blog (the weekend of October 3 - 6) an article about your favorite examples of tension and/or suspense in films. (This must be from a script that has been turned into a film.)

What were the factors that made the tension/suspense so great?

What’s to be learned from those scenes?

OR - feel free to bitch and moan about a film or a scene that lacked tension and explain how it could've been better!

To all of my TriggerStreet friends and anyone else who does not have a blog - if you'd like to contribute, you are very welcome to do so by
emailing me your article, and I will post it right here.

To help you get started, there is a free online book (.pdf) called
The Elements of Suspense, which examines Hitchcock films. also examines countless Thriller and Suspense Films. Here’s David Bordwell with some Theories on Suspense. Of course, it doesn’t have to be about suspense films. I’ll be happy with an article about a scene filled with great tension, albeit sexual or antagonistic.

And finally, if you guys could announce this on your blogs so word gets out, I would greatly appreciate it.



Batman: Year One, Part Three

Hey guys,

Please accept my very sincere apology for my delay in posting this article. I have another question I’d like to pose to my readers.

Let’s consider the reasons why Bruce Wayne chose a bat as his symbol, and I’m going to share three ideas:

1) First, the story that we’re all familiar with in Nolan’s first film, that is, young Bruce having fallen into a well and been scared to death by all those bats that flew out and he chose to inflict the same kind of fear onto the criminals that he felt when he encountered those bats.

2) The following comes from the Year One script we’ve been discussing. Let me just set this up by saying that Bruce’s signet ring was given to him by his father the night he was murdered. This is what was in the box that Little Al gave him in the previous article, which he considered his inheritance. The ring is also what made him choose to become a vigilante crime-fighter. Here’s how he chose the bat symbol.


BRUCE enters a large, dirty GARAGE where young men dismantle expensive SPORTS CARS.

November 2. Dear Father, you always
told me, if a job is difficult,
then I'm using the wrong tools.
Today I test that theory.

All eyes fall on the tall stranger as he flings open his long OVERCOAT.

He's wearing the brightly colored SPORTS GEAR under his coat and the CATCHER'S MASK under his wide-brimmed hat.

Put these on.

He tosses a pile of HANDCUFFS on a work bench.

The thieves, STUNNED for a moment, break out laughing.

They attack with the tools of their trade — BUTANE TORCHES, CUTTERS, HAMMERS.

BRUCE takes a terrible beating but he gives back at least twice what he's getting.

Until an UNDER-BOSS pulls out a GUN.

BRUCE SLAMS a handful of GLASS VIALS into the gunman's chest.

WHITE PHOSPHOROUS EXPLOSIONS blinds the would be shooter, burns his clothes and face.

OK, that's enough fun for now.

BRUCE throws another handful of VIALS at the criminals —


— the men instantly fall to their hands and knees vomiting as BRUCE makes his exit.


BRUCE'S catcher's mask FLIES through the air and SHATTERS against stone WALL.

Too much protection, just slowed me

The chest protector slips into a dumpster.



DEEP CUTS on his back ooze blood, they're stitched up only as far around as he can reach.

I have the tools but not the
methodology. Something is still
missing. Father. I need an edge,
an advantage —


Under the words SPECIAL REPORT —

Criminals are a superstitious and
cowardly lot. It's obvious this
vigilante is trying to scare and
intimidate them with violence.

That's Right BRIAN, the vigilante
marks his victims with a wound
shaped lake a BAT. An obvious
reference to the occult.

They show victims with MARKS ON THEIR FACES.

BRUCE looks at his father's SIGNET RING and picks something (a piece of flesh?) out of it with the SEWING NEEDLE.

The TV shows a scared MUGGER in Gotham Prison's Hospital.

I make a few MISTAKES and I get
THIS? I get MARKED! People won't
even TALK to me! I been MARKED by
the BAT!

But you know, JANE, not everyone
thinks the vigilante is the bad guy
here. A lot of Gotham's common
citizens are happy to see those
people get what they deserve.

Thanks for that report, BRIAN. Up
next, THE BAT-MAN Vigilante: Friend
or Foe?

Yes Father. Now I see. Thank you.
Your loving son, Bruce.

BRUCE looks over at the pile of supplies left over from his shopping spree.


He's missing all his front teeth.

3) The image below comes from the Batman: Year One comic book. (Click to enlarge.) As Bruce is trying to figure out his own crime-fighting methodology, a bat crashes through a window and lands on the bust of his father’s head.

Which one would you prefer?

One of the questions you have to ask yourself when you’re making important decisions like this in a script is – “what is the most emotionally compelling approach for the audience?” How does this make the audience feel? For any decision you make, I’d suggest you always come up with three possibilities, and then consider which solution is the most emotionally compelling for a movie. For any scenario there are always multiple solutions, and you have to think them through before getting attached to any one idea.

And in this scenario, my answer would have to be Number 1.

In the script, as well as the comic book, the inciting incident that makes Bruce choose to become Batman is too incidental. In the Nolan film, his reason was an integral part of his character and personal history. It was also a way of showcasing his arc, that he conquered his fears when he stood in the batcave and allowed himself to be surrounded by those bats. Then, he used the bats as “backup.”

These decisions are essential when you’re building a mythology for a world that you’re creating. This springs the inevitable question:

What does it mean to build a

I talked about this in Part Three of my Hitman script review, which no one reads anymore because it was a bad movie that could’ve been great, but I’d like to cover this again because it is important.

We’re reminded
by James Bonnet that the old classic mythologies were never created overnight from the imaginative minds of writers like Homer, Sophocles, or Aesop. Those stories were oral traditions passed down over hundreds of years long before these guys put pen to paper and added their own poetic stamp. Case in point – the Trojan War probably began as a true event and in its endless retelling it evolved into this extraordinary tale involving gods, supernatural wonders, and thrilling heroics. And these stories became so beloved that they live on today as classic myths (or legends).

The word mythology means “an exposition of myths.” It’s
defined as “a body of myths, as that of a particular people or that relating to a particular person,” or a “collection of myths.” The Oxford English Dictionary goes even further to make a distinction between stories that include supernatural elements and stories that take on a mythology of their own due to their extreme popularity:

1a. A traditional story, typically involving supernatural beings or forces or creatures , which embodies and provides an explanation,
aetiology, or justification for something such as the early history of a society, a religious belief or ritual, or a natural phenomenon, citing the Westminster Review of 1830 as the first English attestation.
1b. As a mass noun: such stories collectively or as a genre. (1840)

2a. A widespread but untrue or erroneous story or belief. (1849)
2b. A person or thing held in awe or generally referred to with near reverential admiration on the basis of popularly repeated stories (whether real or fictitious). (1853)
2c. A popular conception of a person or thing which exaggerates or idealizes the truth. (1928)

Okay, let’s talk about myth. If you’re total obsessive writer-addict like me and you’ll actually take the time to study the word myth, unfortunately, you’ll probably get just as confused I did because myth is frequently used interchangeably with legend or fairytales. They all seem to be different shades of grey, different sides to the same general literary box. If push comes to shove, you could probably make distinctions this way:

myths - sacred stories concerning the distant past, particularly the creation of the world, and generally focussed on the gods or other supernatural elements.

legends - stories about the (usually more recent) past, which generally include, or are based on, some historical events and a real individual but the story’s exaggerated.

folktales/fairytales - stories whose tellers acknowledge them to be fictitious, and which lack any definite historical setting. They often include animal characters. I don’t know why.

The key here is that if a franchise (or any story) becomes extremely popular in the public mind, it will fall under the OED definition of 2a, 2b, and 2c, that is, “a person or thing held in awe or generally referred to with near reverential admiration on the basis of popularly repeated stories.” Only THEN will people speak of the mythology of your bigger-than-life characters and stories. For example:

A) There was
mythology behind The Godfather - The Succession Myth, which “chronicles the passage of power from generation to generation. A typical ancient example is the Theogony of Hesiod, a contemporary of Homer: Ouranos, the Sky God, was castrated by his son Kronos; Kronos, in turn, was overthrown by his youngest son Zeus, who became king of the gods. This story, with its Oedipal associations, describes the basic facts of family descent and competition.”

B) Ebert spoke of mythology in
Goodfellas: “What finally got to me after seeing this film - what makes it a great film - is that I understood Henry Hill's feelings. Just as his wife Karen grew so completely absorbed by the Mafia inner life that its values became her own, so did the film weave a seductive spell. It is almost possible to think, sometimes, of the characters as really being good fellows. Their camaraderie is so strong, their loyalty so unquestioned. But the laughter is strained and forced at times, and sometimes it's an effort to enjoy the party, and eventually, the whole mythology comes crashing down, and then the guilt - the real guilt, the guilt a Catholic like Scorsese understands intimately - is not that they did sinful things, but that they want to do them again.”

C) Of James Bond, Ebert wrote in his
Diamonds Are Forever review: “The cultists like the early James Bond movies best, but I dunno. They may have been more tightly directed films, but they didn't understand the Bond mythos as fully as Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever. We see different movies for different reasons, and Diamonds Are Forever is great at doing the things we see a James Bond movie for.” Even if your story flops, that does not mean it didn’t have any mythology. It just won’t be generally accepted as mythology unless it becomes extremely popular in the public mind.

So… if you’re trying to create a popular franchise or story, how do you carefully construct the mythology (before the public catches on)?

Here are 3 considerations:

1) Comparative Mythology – take a page from Joseph Campbell whose contention was that the myths of almost every society are fundamentally similar retellings of a few archetypal stories and see what other elements you can add to your story. In fact, Ted Friedman, in an article called
Star Wars and the Dialectics of Myth illustrated how Lucas followed point-by-point Campbell’s model from his book, Hero Has a Thousand Faces. This isn’t just comparing other films of the same genre, it’s the incorporation of other elements and structures from literature, history, culture, and religions. Mario Puzo had constructed the script for Superman: The Movie as a mythologic story based on a Greek tragedy, a structure that naturally lends itself to comparisons and deep mythology. While he denied it then (due to death threats), Richard Donner freely admits now that the beginning of Superman wasn’t simply about the birth of Superman. This was God sending His Son to earth and they did it with such class with Brando saying, “You will travel far, my little Kal-El, but I will never leave you. Even in the face of my death the richness of my life shall be yours. All that I have learned, everything I feel, all of this and more I have bequeathed to you my son. You shall carry me inside you all your days. You will make my strength your own, see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father the father becomes the son…” They were willing to make some parallels to Jesus to add to the mystique of his mythology but they weren’t about to go overboard with those analogies either. Finally, I should mention that Thomas Bulfinch's extensive mythology books, Age of Chivalry, Age of Fable, and Legends of Charlemagne, are available online for free thanks to Project Gutenberg.

2) Character Depth – One can’t design popularity. However, I think your characters must have
depth to ensure a sustained public interest over the long haul. There has to be different sides to your protagonist, yet definable overall characteristics (even perhaps the archetypes of mythical constructs), while also possessing strengths and weaknesses, inner conflicts, and dare I say – charisma? Consider our Character Development Sheets. When you’re writing a franchise-starter, I think that more important than plot is character. The public has to connect to your character, first and foremost, and be willing to spend time with him/her again and again. And here, I question their attempts at mythology. To take the route that Agent 47 is almost super-human and bred from the world’s deadliest criminals takes a huge risk of putting him at an even greater emotional distance from the audience. How are they going to connect to that? Why not have him an orphan or that he lost his family to the world’s worst criminals? At least this way, we’d feel something about him along the lines of sympathy that might make us care. There’s also something to be said about nurturing a little mystery in your protagonist, too, and not explaining every single thing about that person. I’ll throw in another page from Donner’s Superman playbook - he had a sign hung in his production office while filming that said “verisimilitude,” which is the state or quality of something that exhibits the appearance of truth or reality.

3) The Mysterious Third Element
Pamela Jaye Smith wrote about considering the Mythic Themes, Mythic Statements, Mythic Psychology, and Mythic Symbols and Imagery in your stories. And there is, of course, that spiritual element. My friend Jennifer van Sijll, author of Cinematic Storytelling, shared with me an article she wrote called Nature as Mythic Storyteller. It’s great. She shows how the active participation of nature in the plot lends a story to mythic qualities. Here’s one example: “In Jane Campion’s film, The Piano, the protagonist lets the ocean itself decide her fate. Ada (Holly Hunter) steps into a loop of rope she knows will hurl her into the ocean. When the ocean throws her back up, Ada accepts nature’s decision that she must live. Ada simply assumes that nature is active in the world and that it is more knowing than she. She now has its blessing.”


The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structures for Writers
By Christopher Vogler

Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them
By Hans Beidermann

Cinematic Storytelling
By Jennifer van Sijll

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Year One – Part Two

Okay, this is a continuation of our look at the Aronofsky / Miller collaboration of Batman: Year One.

Guys, I’d like to try something different.

Instead of lecturing, as I am want to do, I’m going to open the floor. I’d like to ask all of my BRILLIANT readers out there to tell me if there’s anything wrong with the two scenes below and how would you fix them, that is, if they need to be fixed at all.

To set up this first scene, a young Bruce Wayne (we don’t know how young, they never gave an age) almost got into a fight with Chi-Chi, a pimp who was roughing up one of his prostitutes named Selina. Just as Bruce is about to unleash hell, Selina mouths out “let it go,” and Bruce obediently walks away. We don’t know why yet, but he is living in an apartment above Al’s Garage, which is right across the street from the theater where these prostitutes work.

[One thing I'll mention - we never saw nor will see "BIG AL."]



YOUNG BRUCE KICKS open the door—

FLINGS groceries everywhere—

PUNCHES the plaster wall—

September 17. Father, it takes
everything I have just to contain
this fury. I can feel it in my
chest. It wants to ESCAPE. I'm
AFRAID of what I might do.

LITTLE AL is in the doorway.

What the hell's going in here. You

I'm fine.

BRUCE tries to push past LITTLE AL and out of the garage. But LITTLE AL grabs his wrist.


What do YOU want?

Don't you give me lip, boy. I know
what you're going through. You
can't hide it from me.

You don't know ANYTHING.

Come on. I've got something for

LITTLE AL pushes aside a work bench, digs out a key and opens a dirty, disused door.

Your father's office?

LITTLE AL says nothing. The two men go inside—


It's like a tomb. Dusty, unused and preserved. LITTLE AL sits at the desk and starts opening drawers.

(without looking)
Sit down Bruce.

BRUCE sits on a dusty chair.

LITTLE AL finds what he's looking for, shoe-box. He turns to BRUCE

You know, Bruce, BIG AL worked HARD
to put me through med school. He
dreamed of giving me more than that
garage. But he NEVER said a WORD
after the war.

He understood what happens to a man
who's SEEN too much of this world's
evil. Do you know what I'm talking
about Bruce.

BRUCE nods.

When we found you out in the scrap
pile you were scared, more of a
wild animal than a boy, really. And
you had something with you, do you
remember that?

BRUCE says 'Yes' with his eyes.

You wouldn't let it go... Took BIG
AL three months to even get a look
at it. You cried for weeks when he
took it from you. He said you
weren't ready to have it. You
called it your INHERITANCE.

LITTLE AL puts a hand on BRUCE's shoulder.

When BIG AL was up in that
hospital, he asked me watch over
you, made me promise, and I have.
You're like my boy, Bruce.

LITTLE AL gives BRUCE's shoulder a squeeze.

But now you're scaring me. There's
something going on in your head,
and while I can't say I know
exactly what it is, I can tell you
this: A man has got to know who he
is before he can confront his

LITTLE AL open the shoe box and removes a smaller WOODEN BOX with a heavy brass latch

Maybe your INHERITANCE can help you
figure it out.

To set up this scene is to give away one of my complaints but we never saw this incident Gordon’s complaining about. Not to fear, though, because I have plenty of other complaints, too.



GORDON bursts in, interrupting. It's becoming a pattern with these two.

What's up Jim. You look terrible.

(paces the room)
My office was ransacked. They were
at my apartment too. Broke the
locks, tossed the place. They tried
to make it look like burglars but I
think it was Flass and his crew
looking for my file.

I'm not surprised, after that news
story, you're likely to be public
enemy number one to those guys. In
fact, that file MAY be only thing
keeping you alive at this point.

Great, because they FOUND it and
they TOOK it.

Here sit down, have some coffee.
You got to get out of town,
disappear for a while.

Right, I'll go up to a cabin in the
woods and die of multiple,
accidental hunting gunshot wounds
to the back.

Jesus, calm down Jim. Just take it
easy. There has to be something you
can do.

Nope. It's business as usual for
me. I play the good soldier, stay
low and hunt for my BAT-MAN.

They don't want you to catch the
vigilante, they would give you some
manpower if they did. And when you
capture the guy, they're going to
crucify you on the news. This guy's
becoming a saint to some people.

He's a terrorist, Harvey. A
far he'll take his personal war on

Yeah, it's really scary to think
how far a guy will go to rid this
town of crime.

DENT meant that as a JAB but GORDON missed it.

So what are your thoughts about these two scenes?

Part Three on Friday.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Script Review – Batman: Year One


First, there was the
Batman: Year One comic book, which has made multiple lists of Greatest Batman graphic novels. You can read a detailed synopsis of the graphic novel here.

So then we had Darren Aronofsky on the scene, still hot following Requiem for a Dream, in a collaboration with Frank Miller, creator of the graphic novel. They collaborated once before on an adaptation of Miller’s graphic novel,
Ronin, which never got off the ground. Aronofsky was quoted in Entertainment Weekly as saying, “I'd want to bring an independent guerrilla flavor to Batman.” In David Hughes’ book, Tales from Development Hell, Aronofsky later claimed that the film wasn't greenlighted because Warner Brothers found it to be too violent and that an R-rated Batman film wouldn't appeal to children. Then the director came up with the idea of making two separate films, one based on Aronofsky/Miller's Year One that wouldn't require a big budget and the second, a family friendly affair. This was rejected.

Then there was the proposal by the Wachowski brothers, who couldn’t commit due to their involvement with the Matrix sequels. You can read their proposal in its entirety
here. The folks at Warner Brothers then turned back to Aronofsky and asked if he would be willing to write/direct the film based on their proposal. He turned down the offer and the studio took on more pitches and proposals, which included Scott Rosenberg, whose proposal Aronofsky also rejected because it was “too faithful to the source material.” Joss Whedon pitched to the WB and later said, “I came up with an idea that I really loved, which was an origin story. After I finished pitching it, they looked at me like I was a video fishbowl. I came out of there thinking, ‘How many more lessons do I need that the machine doesn't care about the creative process?’ When I got back to my office and found that Firefly was canceled, I thought, ‘Okay, maybe one more lesson.’”

There was also lots of chatter about Batman – The Frightening, which can be read
here. It’s a fake. This was a sequel, not a prequel, and credited to Rafael Yglesias and Terry Hayes who denied writing it. Interesting ideas, though. From a script review by Scott Taylor:

The script opens with a daring escape from Arkham Asylum, with a complete conveyance of the unnamed patient's drug-induced confusion and hell-bent desire for freedom. Just as his escape seems thwarted, the Batwing comes to his rescue and we realize that the masked man is Bruce Wayne himself. When Wayne returns to his family mansion to convalesce, the script takes on a flashback form as he recalls the details on how he came to be in Arkham; Batman became involved in an investigation of Doctor Jonathan Crane (a.k.a. the Scarecrow), which ultimately caused the death of his good friend and Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon. It was a dose of the Scarecrow's perception-altering gas and the guilt (and public blame) of Gordon's death that led to his commitment. Once the audience is brought up to date, Wayne vows to disown his nocturnal persona as an act of attrition, but eventually begins struggling with his demons and dons his mask again when he realizes that his incarceration was all part of Crane's design to poison the city…


When I first announced that I’d be doing this review, I mentioned that I’d compare Miller’s original draft, which I said is available online and Aronofsky’s third final draft which is not available online. Well, the two drafts I read, which came from a close reliable friend, were so similar that the differences could only be described as a minor rearranging of the furniture in the same house. So they both must be late drafts. The undated draft
that’s available online I think is one of the last drafts of their collaboration. I could be wrong, but the first draft, if we are to believe this review from Ain’t it Cool, is radically different:

Like I said Aronofsky seems to make sure DRUGS have a major role in each of his films.The opening lets us into this Herion-Under world smuggling on gothams harbor..A huge warehouse..Were The Penguin (Roman replacement) is made into a drug smuggling Mob boss..That talks bird jive. And yep we get to see some Herion pumping action..As the penguin shows Some of his goons what will happen if they turn on him.He attaches a thug to a table and injects tons of herion into him...dadada sceen plays out way to long..And then BAM! COPS BURST IN..Jim gordon and all..Smack smack.. Machine guns..Car chase..You keep expecting batman to show up but he never does.


Bruce wayne Takes an old school Girlfriend (yet he has been gone from gotham for sometime) Out on a night to some Gay disco club.. Then we sit through 30 pages of Bruce Wayne doing this and that.Suddenly relizing he is a BAT!..In this film he is driving with some blonde Bimbo in his Corvette and a bat slams into the windsheild causing an accident.He has some Flash backs (that play more like drug trips) and he looks at the girl after he saves her from the exploding car..He says "I've got a job to do"


Then BAM! We flash onto a sceen where Bruce wayne is dressed in a Black outfit..Fighting some thugs..Then he does the whole they are not afraid of me..I must be a Bat thing and makes an outfit..And converts his Stingray Corvette into a Batmobile. The black Alfred..hmmm..Well When Aronofsky said "Year One will be something Cool and Differnt" Is this what he meant?..A jive talken brotha..Well I'm no racest..But SPAWN is BLACK and ALFRED is WHITE! Batman walks out in the outfit and asks alfred "How do I look?" Alfred " Slammen!"

I did not read this script. I don’t know what he’s talking about. But this may have been a first draft, because Gordon cheating on his wife was in the Frank Miller graphic novel. Plus, Aronofsky had no desire at all to be faithful to the source. So, there may be truth to their review. Thus, I’m only going to review the final version of the Aronofsky / Miller collaboration, which is similar to the one
that’s available online.


This just made me appreciate David S. Goyer and the Nolan brothers that much more. The pages of The Dark Knight, which I
wrote about, just flew by. But reading this script was a tedious, laborious undertaking. This felt like a newbie script on TriggerStreet.

Here’s a summary again
from Wikipedia:

After the death of his parents, young Bruce Wayne remains lost on the street and is eventually taken in by Big Al, owner of an auto repair shop with his son Little Al. Driven by a desire for vengeance towards a manifest destiny of which he is only dimly aware, young Bruce toils day and night in the shop, watching the comings and goings of hookers, pimps, and corrupt police officers across the street to a cathouse. We are then introduced to detective James Gordon as he struggles with the corruption he finds endemic among Gotham City police officers of all ranks.

Bruce's first act as a vigilante is to confront a dirty cop named Campbell as he accosts "mistress Selina" in the cathouse, but Campbell ends up dead and Bruce narrowly escapes being blamed. Realizing that he needs to operate with more methodology, he initially dons a cape and hockey mask. However, Bruce soon evolves a more stylized "costume" with both form and function, acquires a variety of makeshift gadgets and weapons, and reconfigures a black Lincoln Continental into a makeshift "bat-mobile." In his new disguise as "The Bat-Man," Bruce Wayne wages war on criminals from street level to the highest echelons, working his way up to Police Commissioner Loeb and Mayor Noone, even as the executors of the Wayne estate search for their missing heir. In the end, Bruce accepts his dual destiny as heir to the Wayne fortune and the city's savior, and Gordon comes to accept that, while he may not agree with "The Bat-Man"'s methods, he can't argue with the results.

The first element that drove me crazy throughout this script was the corny exaggeration in the action lines.

His EYES pop open WIDE



Or -

One of the assailants becomes impatient and SHOVES BRUCE.

There is no delay in cause and effect. The shove sparks an almost ORGASMIC release of RAW, PENT UP VIOLENCE from BRUCE.


Uh huh.

First, the capped words are annoying, which we talked about in great detail in the comments of
the Dark Knight post. Second, the extreme exaggeration in the descriptions of the actions makes the two scenes feel as if the writer’s overselling the moment when it probably won’t come across to an audience the way that it’s written in the script.

I’ve also heard it said repeatedly in the business that comic books are storyboards of movies on paper. I’m in the minority on this, but I’ve never quite bought into this argument for a variety of reasons, the biggest one being the handling of exposition. In comic books, they always explain everything, and I mean everything, including motivation, backstories, and feelings, through dialogue or narration. Motivations and feelings can be easily read by watching an actor act. But since comic books are usually intended for younger audiences, motivations and feelings, sometimes internal dialogue, are carefully written out in dialogue. Subtleties and subtext plays better on film than in comic books. You don’t need to be beaten over the head with motivation that’s already obvious through action. And what makes comic book adaptations so weak, to me at least, is the fact that they frequently break the show, don’t tell principle of screenwriting.

Consider this from Year One (click to enlarge):

All of the words on this page would be totally unnecessary in a script. You gotta show, don’t tell. And this gimmick of having a young Bruce writing letters to his dead father in which he explains all of his inner emotions and desires and questions is weak screenwriting.

Here are some similar moments from the Year One script…

September 17. Father, it takes
everything I have just to contain
this fury. I can feel it in my
chest. It wants to ESCAPE. I'm
AFRAID of what I might do.

Here’s probably the worst one:


The TV NEWS plays in the back ground as BRUCE applies a fake scar onto his cheek.

November 8. Dear Father, the pimp
knew my face. A distracting scar
will hopefully mask my identity.

BRUCE puts on the overcoat and wide-brimmed, concealing hat.

Tonight I begin your revenge. I
will rid this city of its cancer. I
will draw the scum to me and make
them pay.

BRUCE hold up his FIST and on it —

Father, tonight I am declaring war!
Your loving son, Bruce.


Not only that, we later get voice overs from Batman himself:

There are seven working defenses
from this position. Three of them
disarm with minimal contact. Three
of them kill. The other just HURTS!


There is only one man I am looking
for tonight. He's the GENERAL!


The enemy is everywhere, even HERE.
These so called policemen nurture
the cancer, they breed it in men
like ESTRADA and turn it lose on my
streets. It looks like ESTRADA is
only another soldier. The real
generals live in there.

And as if all of those voice overs weren’t bad enough, then we get voice overs from GORDON! Are you kidding me?

Corruption Log, day six. Despite
the mayor's advice, I am finding it
harder and harder to remain a quiet

Part Two on Wednesday.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Will Return on Monday!

Hey guys,

MM needs to take a brief mental holiday and will return on Monday when I will post (much to our good friend David Alan’s relief) my script review of both Frank Miller’s first draft and Darren Aronofsky’s final draft rewrite of Batman: Year One. Aronofsky’s riding high now with his new film, The Wrestler. What would the world have been like had he taken the reigns of Batman? Get the answer on Monday!

Here's a fabulous article I must recommend:

The Use of Color in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Of course, in the first case -- and most importantly -- the film's color schemes present to the viewer a mnemonic method for arranging the film's non-linear narrative within an intelligible order. The most immediate clue for maintaining this arrangement over the discourse of the film is to note the color of Clementine's hair at any given point. In the chronology of the couple's relationship (given in non-linearity as Joel recounts his rapidly vanishing memories), Clementine's hair color moves from green (her first time meeting Joel on the Montauk beach), to red (happy times with Joel, including the instances of her "leading" Joel around in his memory to attempt to salvage memories of her), to orange (relationship stasis and breakup), and finally, to blue (post-breakup and re-falling in love with Joel).

Also -

Notably absent within the film’s general color palette, however, is the color red. This seems a rather pointed omission, for “red” is both cognitively and culturally associated with love, romance, passion, and such qualities of a sensual nature. In what few instances, then, may the viewer notice the use of the color red –- that color so traditionally bound to notions of love and romance? Here, Gondry seems to be playing with the viewer’s expectations, forcing the viewer to search for “red” within a cinematography overwhelmingly dominated by steely blue and gray tones (the sky, the ocean, the trainyard) -- colors typically deemed “cold” and “unemotional.”

Several critical conclusions concerning the color red (and the lack of it) may then be drawn by the viewer. With the exception of Clementine’s hair, Gondry places other instances of red rather subtly within the film. The ostensible under-representation of red is perhaps most conspicuous on Valentine’s Day, as Joel awaits the train to take him to work: Only a few individuals can be seen holding red Valentine’s Day gifts, while the rest of the frame is overwhelmingly dominated, again, by steely gray/blue tones. As Joel sits on the beach with his journal later that day, however, the viewer notices a sign placed in the sand to his side. In red is written the warning, “For Safety, Swim In A Designated Area.” The color red, in addition to matters of romance, is also associated with “danger” and “warning.” Gondry, surely, must appreciate the semiotic play of this actual physical object –- the warning sign itself -- as signifier, insofar as it signifies the “dangerous waters” of love and heartbreak. The beachfront sign, then, remains doubly encoded: In an immediate sense, it states a direct warning against the literal dangers of swimming in unsafe tidal waters; at the same time, however, the posted sign becomes an extension of aquatic associations of love (for example, the adages that “there are plenty more fish in the sea,” or “if you want to learn to swim, you have to jump into the water”), and offers a well-placed caveat against the crossing of an oceanic/romantic bar.

In fact, this article comes from a new issue of
The Acidemic Journal of Film & Media, which is mostly devoted to Eternal Sunshine.

Please get the word out about the
new Blog-a-thon!

See you on Monday!


Friday, September 12, 2008

A New Screenwriting Blog-a-Thon!

THE TOPIC: Tension & Suspense

WHEN: October 3 - 6

An earlier article about our current
Screenwriting State of Emergency seems to have struck a nerve. So I thought it’d be fun if we, as a community, had a discourse on the topic of tension and/or suspense. Simply post on your blog (the weekend of October 3 - 6) an article about your favorite examples of tension and/or suspense in films. (This must be from a script that has been turned into a film.)

What were the factors that made the tension/suspense so great?

What’s to be learned from those scenes?

OR - feel free to bitch and moan about a film or a scene that lacked tension and explain how it could've been better!

To all of my TriggerStreet friends and anyone else who does not have a blog - if you'd like to contribute, you are very welcome to do so by
emailing me your article, and I will post it right here.

To help you get started, there is a free online book (.pdf) called
The Elements of Suspense, which examines Hitchcock films. also examines countless Thriller and Suspense Films. Here’s David Bordwell with some Theories on Suspense. Of course, it doesn’t have to be about suspense films. I’ll be happy with an article about a scene filled with great tension, albeit sexual or antagonistic.

And finally, if you guys could announce this on your blogs so word gets out, I would greatly appreciate it.



Tuesday, September 09, 2008

On Breaking Structure

I dedicate this post to Nik, one of my readers, who lives all the way out there in Albania. He requested an article on stories that move in reverse, like Memento and Irreversible. I love this topic! (But, if you don’t mind, I’d like to talk about non-linear structures, too.)

First, let me be clear about one thing, and that is, all new, aspiring writers must master the three act structure first. That’s the most basic building block of screenwriting. At every team practice, Michael Jordan always, always, always returned to the basics – the free throw. And that’s the three act structure for us screenwriters. It’s not enough to have seen lots of three act films and have the knowledge of how a three act structure works. You need the experience of shaping stories within a three act structure, of building tension, of molding that rising climax, and creating satisfying payoffs. That’s not easy. And I think all aspiring screenwriters should have at least 10-20 scripts under their belt and received feedback on all those scripts and been validated about how well they handled their stories before stepping onto the world stage. You gotta be damn good. Plus, so much of a career is assignment work and most of those assignments will be three act structures. You need that experience writing three acts so you can deliver great scripts, which is what you’re getting paid to do.

It doesn’t matter what the concept is with your first 20 stories. What matters is your experience, how well you handled characters and structure, and what you learned from feedback about your own weaknesses. Bergman, Fellini, Godard, Altman all spent YEARS working mainstream and mastering stories in the classical form before they ventured into alternative storytelling. There’s wisdom in that.

With that said, once you have three acts down cold, I say play with structure. So much fun! But you must have a solid reason to tell a story using a different structure. I recently watched La Vie en Rose, which had a non-linear structure. We flowed seamlessly from her middle years to her childhood to her later years without much connection (that I could determine on a first viewing). The transitions were great. The individual scenes were great. The placement of the emotional highs and lows in the narrative was wonderful, and the performance by Marion Cotillard was just a tour de force. Her performance in and of itself is worth the time to watch the film. But what about that damn structure? I recall reading
a review by one of my favorite critics, James Berardinelli, who had this to say:

The film presents Piaf's life via a broken chronology, leaping back and forth across time without apparent rhyme or reason. The movie dips into nearly every phase of her life, which lasted from 1915 until 1963, showing her in one scene as a dying woman who looks 20 years older than she is and in the next as a young girl during post-World War I France. La Vie en Rose's blatant disregard of linear progression is similar in some ways to Todd Haynes' approach to Bob Dylan in I'm Not There, but there's a key difference. Oliver Dahan may choose to present Piaf's life in a fragmented fashion, but everything is ultimately connected (and, except for the childhood scenes, there is a single actress playing the lead character). Haynes essentially made six short films and jumbled them together. The end result is more satisfying in La Vie en Rose, although there are still difficulties becoming immersed in a storyline that jumps around so much, especially when there's no clear purpose for presenting Piaf's life in this fashion.

That last sentence just hits the nail on the head. That’s the reason this film is sitting at 75%
on Rotten Tomatoes and failed to reach the height of greatness because there was no definite reason to the non-linear structure, which was uneven at times and existed just for the sake of highlighting sections of her life. They did this, I think, to make a story that would’ve been episodic (if told in chronological order) more digestible. But perhaps if there had been a direct causal relationship between the different sections of her life, that one section, say, with a heartbreak, was the reason why, later in her life, she did X, Y, and Z, it might’ve made more sense. In the final sequence of Rose, Edith was lying in her bed talking about her memories, how her mind is making her relive moments she didn’t want to see. I wondered if this whole film was a collection of her memories as it was flooding back to her the final night of her life, but no, that was meant just for the final sequence. A framing device like that might’ve helped, kind of like Point Blank, in the sense that the film is all of her final thoughts before she dies. (In Point Blank, Lee Marvin is double-crossed and the entire film is what takes place in his mind moments before his death as he imagines taking revenge on his betrayers. Great film.)

Oh, in Annie Hall, Allen’s non-linear structure punctuated a point he was making about Annie and Alvy, that is, they were fated to always be searching for a love that lasts but never find it. THAT was the reason for his non-linear structure and it worked.

How about Sex and Lucia? I went to see this movie for the structure. It’s true! Yes, the sex was nice, as was Lucia, played by the very pretty Paz Vega. But here’s the thing. The film starts with the beginning. Then, it gives you the ending and ends in the middle. Imagine that! Without getting too deep into the story, they presented a conflict, gave us a tragic ending as it was imagined by the writer living with Lucia as he was writing his book, and then they ended it in the middle where the characters were given the opportunity to choose. Nobody got it. Maybe people were too distracted by the sex and nudity to notice the story. I don’t know. I thought it was pretty damn clever.

So what about films that go in reverse?

In Memento, the backwards structure helped us to understand the condition of the protagonist. We didn’t know what the hell was going on anymore than he did. Tell me, though, if the last thing Leonard remembered was his wife dying, then how does he remember the fact that he has short-term memory loss? How does that happen?

But I want to talk about Irreversible. I cannot in good conscience recommend this film. It opens with angry men looking to take revenge on another man, and we’re witness to a tragedy that is so realistic and so brutal, it is one of the few times I had to close my eyes as I watched a film. It made me ill. But then we move backwards in time and we’re made to see the reason for their anger, that is, the rape of Alex, played by Monica Bellucci, in one of the longest, most brutal rapes scenes ever portrayed on film. This, too, made me ill. But in all that time we watch this rape scene, we realize that the angry man who sought revenge on behalf of his violated lover, actually killed the wrong man. Then, we’re made to see all the different events that led up to the rape. We’re forced to contemplate all those mistakes along the way, because this could’ve been avoided. If only he treated her better and wasn’t such an ass! It is about cause and effect. It also forces us to appreciate more the good moments in life, as we saw in the warm, loving ending. Ebert makes
five points about the film that are worth noting. But the most important one is this:

The fact is, the reverse chronology makes Irreversible a film that structurally argues against rape and violence, while ordinary chronology would lead us down a seductive narrative path toward a shocking, exploitative payoff. By placing the ugliness at the beginning, Gaspar Noe forces us to think seriously about the sexual violence involved. The movie does not end with rape as its climax and send us out of the theater as if something had been communicated. It starts with it, and asks us to sit there for another hour and process our thoughts. It is therefore moral - at a structural level.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Visual Storytelling - Kieslowski’s “Blue”

Hey guys!

I’m the only screenwriting blogger who is CRAZY enough to follow-up a popular
article about The Dark Knight with Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Bleu, the first in his Three Colors Trilogy. Only 6 people will give a shit, I’m sure, but if you’re one of the six, baby, this article’s for you.

Even if you’re not familiar with Bleu (or Blue), you’ll love the stirring tribute to the film in the vid above. Much of what I’m about to write can be seen in the video. Here’s the thing. Kieslowski truly was a genius. And one of the great annoyances about screenwriting gurus today is how they say endlessly to “show, don’t tell,” but they never tell you HOW. Hence my series on the
Art of Visual Storytelling. Hence my article on Cinematic Storytelling and my praise of Jennifer van Sijll’s brilliant book of the same title. And hence the need to talk about Kieslowski, because he was THE MASTER of “show, don’t tell!”

Revisiting Bleu again last weekend, I was so blown away by the visuals that when I watched the film yet again with Anne Insdorf’s commentary, I had to pull out my phone and start taking notes. When I first saw the film, I thought, “wow, that was kind of weird.” But now I think that the film wasn’t weird at all but that the problem was me because I had for so many years a weak visual vocabulary, thanks to Hollywood spoon feeding me most of my life with dumbed-down shit.

There’s a great article about Kieslowski
in Salon. They wrote, “In 1995, the Los Angeles Times asked Krzysztof Kieslowski how movies should participate in culture, and this was his reply: ‘Film is often just business -- I understand that and it's not something I concern myself with. But if film aspires to be part of culture, it should do the things great literature, music and art do: elevate the spirit, help us understand ourselves and the world around us and give people the feeling they are not alone…’” I love it! They went on to write, “The richly textured trilogy capped Kieslowski's extraordinary career, taking on the deepest and most complex moral subjects with grace and panache, but always at ground level. Ostensibly it was derived from the French Revolution themes of liberty, equality and fraternity, and their corresponding colors in the French flag. But the films are deeply personal and in many ways Polish; they restore those lofty concepts, without diminishing them, to humble human proportions.”

Blue is the story of a woman, Julie (Juliette Binoche), whose husband and daughter die in a car accident. Her reaction is to escape - to run away from her past, from her friends, from her life, and from her pain. Did you see the moment in the video where she scraped her knuckles along a rock wall? She really was scraping her hand across that wall. In any case, in one scene, Julie sees one of her servants in the kitchen and asks her why she’s crying. “Because you’re not,” is the reply. Then she sells everything. “I don't want any belongings, any memories,” she says. “No friends, no love. Those are all traps.” She moves away and lives in a quiet apartment. Interesting that you sympathize with her situation but you can’t connect with her because she’s made herself so emotionally closed off to everyone around her. She’s a character in a sympathetic situation but she’s not a sympathetic character. So you find yourself rooting for her to change, to face her pain and reconnect with the world again, because you know that her story is really about the rehabilitation of a human spirit after a painful tragedy.

Simple story, right?

With Kieslowski, every aspect of the film was used to support the telling of the story. I recall the commentator saying repeatedly that Kieslowski would pare down the dialogue, pare down the dialogue, and pare down the dialogue, until only the most essential words are spoken and everything else is communicated through visuals. This brings to mind what Ebert
said of the film: “Binoche has a face that is well-suited to this kind of role. Because she can convince you that she is thinking and feeling, she doesn't need to ‘do’ things in an obvious way… Here, too, her feelings are a mystery that her face will help us to solve. The film has been directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski, born in Poland, now working in France, and, in the opinion of some, the best active European filmmaker (he made "The Double Life of Veronique" two years ago). He trusts the human face, and watching his film, I remembered a conversation I had with Ingmar Bergman many years ago, in which he said there were many moments in films that could only be dealt with by a closeup of a face - the right face - and that too many directors tried instead to use dialogue or action.”

He trusts the human face to convey feelings and information!

And how does one write that?

Very carefully.


Consider how Kieslowski uses music to help tell the story. He doesn’t just have the brilliant composer, Zbigniew Preisner, design a soundtrack to play alongside the story to force the audience to feel a certain way during a scene. Instead, Kieslowski makes Julie’s former husband a famous composer who was working on his final assignment, the theme to the reunification of Europe, which can be heard in the vid above. This music is what brings Julie back to life. She first denies the music exists, rejects what bits he had composed because it was a source of pain in her life. Later, she works with a man to finish the music, which paralleled her own reunification with the people in her life. There are times when she hears the music and it haunts her. She can’t deny it or escape it. She has to face it, just as she has to face her own pain. Julie went from passive escapist to active contributor.

You might notice in the picture above, which is taken from the film that most of the music sheet is blurry. This isn’t without meaning. Many shots in the film were from her point of view and her left eye was damaged in the car accident. You may recall in the video the shot of the feather swaying with Julie’s breath and the blurry hand behind it reaching out to her. That’s what she saw. Did you see the closeup of the doctor’s reflection in Julie’s eye? That was no special effects. That was a real reflection using a very special camera. We could see the doctor better in the reflection in Julie’s eye than Julie could see him. Later, in the end, we’ll see a reflection of Julie’s naked back in the eye of her lover. He finally SEES her in a moment of emotional honestly.

There were a number of moments where you’d also see extreme closeups of specific objects, like the shadows over Julie’s coffee cup on a table in a coffee shop. Wonderful! It’s very European in the sense that they create visual poetry out of everyday banalities. On the one hand, it’s beautiful to see and on the other hand, it makes audiences appreciate everyday experiences that much more. It enriches their lives. Kieslowski does that, but here, it’s a crucial element of the story. You may have noticed beginning at 2:56 in the video a shot of a sugar cube above a cup of coffee soaking in the coffee before it gets plopped into the cup. I believe it’s followed by another moment where we’re shown Julie's reflection on an upside-down spoon dangling in the neck of a water bottle. Beautiful, right? It’s also crucial to the story.

The spoon and sugar cube represented her own self-obsorption. It was her focusing on something obscure to shut out the world, to escape from it. She’s trying to put a lid on her world and her immediate environment. She’s shutting out all the things she doesn’t accept. And in that scene in the coffee shop, she’s rejected the man who loved her, and she’s trying to ignore the music the flute player outside is playing because it’s similar to her husband’s last piece of music, which she denies and avoids. But then she finally drops the cube into the coffee and goes out to address the issue of music with the musician.


At times, like right in the middle of a conversation, the film would suddenly go black and all we’d hear is music. Then we’d return to Julie’s face. You might think, “What the hell was that all about?” It was Julie’s blackouts, her being lost in her own memories.

Throughout the film, you’d see blue lights reflected on her face, particularly the glass crystals she carried with her, which she ripped from the blue chandelier that hung in her daughter’s bedroom. That was the only thing from her past she could not let go. The light on her face signified the ghosts of her past, the presence of memory.

Twice you’d see what might first seem to be inexplicable shots of bungee jumpers. But if you think about it, it’s not without meaning. It shows how far we can fall and come back up again.

The opening shot, pictured above, and the closeup of a car’s tire just sucks you into the tragedy that is to about to befall the protagonist.

The motif with windows - when Julie visits her mother, we see them talk through a window filled with other reflections that illustrated visually the dislocation of their relationship. Glass that separates us also connects us as when the nurse looks in on Julie when she tried and failed to commit suicide. Yet, glass invites us in but keeps us out as when Julie visits her mother a second time and decides not to go in.

The mice represented her first dealings with the pains in her life. Her getting the cat was one of the first transitions in her character arc.

Interesting that when Julie visits Lucille, who works in a sex shop, and has a conversation with her, Kieslowski chooses to not use the old school shot / reverse-shot technique. Instead, he chooses to have his camera pan back and forth to reveal the flesh on display in the background between them because the flesh has come between them in their relationship. However, when they both lean forward, Kieslowski illustrates that they both have moved past what’s come between them. Later, when Julie talks to her husband’s mistress, it’s a shot / reverse-shot because the characters are not as close.

The pool was a place of escape, yet incomplete mourning.

Other reading: the
Krzysztof Kieslowski blog-a-thon and Roger Ebert’s How To Read a Movie.