Script To Screen: “L.A. Confidential”

August 29th, 2012 by

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.

2 thoughts on “Script To Screen: “L.A. Confidential”

  1. storynotes says:

    Bud’s character definitely carries his berserk button trope from script to screen.

Leave a Reply

Connect with: