Script To Screen: “The Godfather”

October 19th, 2011 by

The famous horse head scene in The Godfather (written by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo, based on Puzo’s novel).

Setup: After refuting Mafia consigliere Tom Hagen’s ‘request’ to select Johnny Fontane for an upcoming movie, Hollywood producer Jack Woltz sleeps in his mansion.

INT DAY: WOLTZ'S BEDROOM (SUMMER 1945)

It is large, dominated by a huge bed, in which a man,
presumably WOLTZ, is sleeping.  Soft light bathes the room
from the large windows.  We move closer to him until we see
his face, and recognize JACK WOLTZ.  He turns uncomfortably;
mutters, feels something strange in his bedsheets.  Something
wet.

He wakens, feels the sheets with displeasure; they are wet.
He looks at his hand; the wetness is blood.  He is
frightened, pulls aside the covers, and sees fresh blood on
his sheets and pajamas.  He grunts, pulls the puddle of
blood in his bed.  He feels his own body frantically,
moving, down, following the blood, until he is face to face
with the great severed head of Khartoum lying at the foot of
his bed.  Just blood from the hacked neck.  White reedy
tendons show.  He struggles up to his elbows in the puddle
of blood to see more clearly.  Froth covers the muzzle, and
the enormous eyes of the animal are yellowed and covered
with blood.

WOLTZ tries to scream; but cannot.  No sound comes out.
Then, finally and suddenly an ear-splitting scream of pure
terror escapes from WOLTZ, who is rocking on his hands and
knees in an uncontrolled fit, blood all over him.

Here is the scene from the movie:

Questions to ask to analyze the scene:

* What elements in the movie scene are the same as the script?

* What elements in the movie scene are different than the script?

* Regarding the differences, put yourself in the mindset of the filmmakers and speculate: Why did they make the changes they did?

* How did the changes improve the scene?

* Alternatively are there elements in the script, not present in the movie, that are better than the final version of the scene?

* Note each camera shot in the movie version. Which of them does the script suggest via sluglines or scene description?

* How does the script convey a sense of the scene’s tone, feel, and pace through scene description and dialogue?

* What ‘magic’ exists in the movie that is not indicated in the words of the script? How do you suppose that magic emerged?

I’ll see you in comments for a discussion of this terrific scene from The Godfather.

One of the single best things you can do to learn the craft of screenwriting is to read the script while watching the movie. After all a screenplay is a blueprint to make a movie and it’s that magic of what happens between printed page and final print that can inform how you approach writing scenes. That is the purpose of Script to Screen, a weekly series on GITS where we analyze a memorable movie scene and the script pages that inspired it.

5 thoughts on “Script To Screen: “The Godfather”

  1. Oh man, this is one of those scenes that stays with you for a long time. I remember seeing this when I was really young and it scared the bejeezus out of me. It’s still frightening!

    The only real difference from script to screen is the “WOLTZ tries to scream; but cannot. No sound comes out.” He starts screaming immediately after seeing the head. I think it might have been better as scripted. It would have been nice to see Woltz’s reaction first and then hear the scream.

    Makes me wanna buy this.

    1. Scott says:

      Teddy, that severed horse head pillow is a scream riot! That is DEFINITELY going into this week’s Saturday Hot Link with a HT to you!

  2. Lena says:

    A big difference seems to be on the level of detail of the dead horse…the actual scene doesn’t show tendons, or frothy mouths or eyes covered with blood (at least not that we can see). It seemed more appropriate to make that choice, since the scene isn’t about how gruesome the horse is — it’s about the fact that there is a bloody, dead prize horse head in his bed.

    1. Scott says:

      Lena, I’ve noticed in this Script To Screen series sometimes the scene description seems to be more about the mood and atmosphere of the scene than what actually gets translated onto film. It’s as if the writer wants to make absolutely sure that they get the desired psychological and emotional response they want out of the scene and go deeply into the moment via description to convey that in the script.

  3. In the book, and in later versions of the movie there’s a scene where a young child actress is given a pony for her birthday, but it’s implied that Woltz is sleeping with the young girl.

    The point is that Woltz was going to be difficult to intimidate or blackmail, and that the horse was the only thing that Woltz truly loved and valued, and the only way to get to him.

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