The 1997 movie L.A. Confidential won two Academy Awards including Best Adapted Screenplay, written by Brian Helgeland & Curtis Hanson, based on a novel by James Ellroy.
Setup: A scene from Act One of the movie that sets the tone of police violence.
INT. PRECINCT HOUSE - MUSTER ROOM - NIGHT A large impromptu bar has been set-up. The party is in full swing, the floor packed with nightwatch blues. A PHONOGRAPH SPEWS DIRTY CHRISTMAS CAROLS. Stensland pours eggnog and Old Crow into the water cooler as Bud elbows his way in with another case. STENSLAND Hey, partner. Grab a cup. BUD I got to write my report first. PASSING COP #1 Hear about Helenowski and Brown? They got into a helluva scrap with six taco benders at some bar. Helenowski lost six pints of blood. Brown's in a coma. PASSING COP #2 We ought to teach Paco and his friends a lesson. More cops vocie their agreement. Bottles are passed. Only Bud doesn't seem as caught-up as the rest. INT. PRECINCT HOUSE - NARCO PEN - NIGHT Jack Vincennes at his desk. Holding the Fleur-de-Lis card, Jack dials the number. A corkboard on the wall is posted with press clippings. "Dope Crusader Wounded in Shootout." "Actor Mitchum Seized in Marijuana Shack Raid." That one includes a shot of Jack ushering Mitchum into jail. WOMAN (V.O.) (over phone, like silk) Whatever you desire. JACK Hi... I'd like to get a delivery to Beverly Hills. WOMAN (V.O.) (over phone) I don't think I know you. CLICK. The line goes dead. Jack redials. WOMAN (V.O.) (over phone) Whatever you desire. JACK Look, a friend of mine gave me this number. I just -- The line goes dead again. Jack dials a new number. OPERATOR (V.O.) (filtered) Pacific Coast Bell. JACK This is Sgt. Vincennes. Requesting a name and address on a phone number. Hollywood zero-one- two-three-nine. OPERATOR (V.O.) (filtered) Please hold the line... No such number is assigned. JACK I just called it. OPERATOR (V.O.) No, Sergeant. I checked twice. JACK (realizes, hangs up) A bootleg... INT. MUSTER ROOM - NIGHT Exley surveys the carousing rowdies. Raising his voice... EXLEY All right, men. You've had your fun. Time to break it up. The party continues undiminished. From across the room, Stensland eyes Exley with disdain. STENSLAND Fucking Exley. Guy's got a pole so far up his ass, every time he farts the flag waves. WATCH COMMANDER'S OFFICE The command not really his, Exley reads a report, ignores the party, though his window looks into the thick of it. Suddenly a ripple goes through the room. The men begin to push out through a rear door. Exley stands, stops a COP. EXLEY What's going on? COP They got the spics who japped Helenowski and Brown. Helenowski lost an eye and Brown's got brain damage. EXLEY I have the report right here. They're home with bruises and muscle pulls -- Oh shit... Exley starts out after them. INT. CELL BLOCK - NIGHT Stensland in the lead. Pulling out a blackjack, he enters Cell #4, begins wailing on one of the Mexicans -- Dinardo. STENSLAND For ours, Pancho. And you're getting off easy. Cheered on by drunks in the tank and his fellow officers, Stensland goes wild. He's joined by Lentz, Crumley and Tristano. Shaking his head, Jack Vincennes moves away. INT. SQUAD ROOM - NIGHT Bud types his report with one finger. Jack looks in. JACK White, you better get a lease on Stens before he kills someone. INT. CELL BLOCK - NIGHT Followed by Jack, Bud forces his way through the crowd. The men who see it's him quickly clear a path. Swigging from a pint of gin, Stensland works skinny GARCIA. Head saps. The kid drops to his knees drooling blood. Bud grabs Stensland, hauls him off of Garcia who looks up. GARCIA Fuck you, pendejo. BUD Yeah yeah... GARCIA And fuck your mother too. Bud sees red. Letting go of Stensland, Bud White picks up Garcia by the neck. There are cheers, "Attaboys" and "Holy Fucks" as Bud bangs Garcia's head on the ceiling. EXLEY (arriving) Stop, Officer! That's an order! Cops block Exley's way. As Bud looks over, Garcia kicks him in the balls. A dangling shot. Bud keels into the bars, Garcia stumbles out of the cell, smack into Jack. Jack looks down aghast at blood on his cashmere blazer, then puts Garcia down with a left-right. Exley pulls a pad of paper and pen form his pocket. EXLEY You're going in my report! All of you! Exley has just started taking names when Bud grabs him by the scruff of the neck and hauls him off balance into... HALL As Exley struggles, a cop opens the door to the store room. Bud slings Exley inside, then slams the door tight. Exley is locked in. As Bud moves off, we hear POUNDING. EXLEY (V.O.) Let me out! That's an order! CELL BLOCK The Herald Reporter and photographer enter unchaperoned and unnoticed. Stensland swings like a madman. That's when a flashbulb goes off. Freezing everyone in black and white. DISSOLVE TO: INT. CHIEF'S OFFICE - DAY The CHIEF sits behind a desk in a four-star uniform. Dudley Smith sits to his left, D.A. Ellis Loew to his right. Seen earlier at the Mickey Cohen press conference, Loew is the only civilian. Bud White stands across from them. There to be judged. CHIEF Officer White, you've refused to cooperate with Internal Affairs. But you should know this is bigger than a police board. Indictments may be handed down. Quite frankly, we need police witnesses to offset the damage done to the Department's image. Will you testify? Bud glances to a gray tinted mirror, then to the Chief. BUD No, sir. I won't.
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 gripping scene from L.A. Confidential.
One of the 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.