Script To Screen: “Blood Simple”

September 19th, 2012 by

The Coen brothers first feature-length film Blood Simple (1984) is arguably one of their best.

Setup: Ray has been having an affair with Abby which hasn’t made her husband Julian too happy. But the tables get reversed as Ray has set about to dispatch Julian.

               EXT. OPEN FIELD

               FULL SHOT  RAY'S CAR

               Sudden quiet at the cut. We are looking at Ray's car in 
               profile, parked in the middle of a deserted field. From 
               offscreen we hear the sound of a shovel biting into earth.

               We track laterally down the car, along the beam of its 
               headlights, to finally frame Ray as he climbs out of the 
               shallow grave he has just finished digging.

               He plants the shovel and walks back to the car.

               VERY WIDE SHOT

               The grave in the middle background; the car's headlights 
               beyond it.

               Ray is dragging Marty toward the grave. He dumps him in.

               HIGH SHOT  THE GRAVE

               As Marty thumps to the bottom, face up.

               CLOSE SHOT  RAY

               As he bends over to pick up the shovel, dripping sweat. We 
               hear the shovel biting into earth.

               HIGH SHOT  THE GRAVE

               Ray, in the foreground, pitches the first shovelful of earth 
               onto Marty. Marty moves slightly.

               LOW SHOT  RAY

               As he pauses, looking down into the grave. He stoops down 
               and resumes shoveling, bobbing in and out of frame as he 
               hurls dirt into the grave.

               BACK TO HIGH SHOT

               As Ray shovels, Marty is moving under the loose dirt. A faint, 
               inarticulate noise comes from the grave.

               Almost imperceptibly, Marty's right arm starts to rise.

               LOW SHOT  FROM INSIDE THE GRAVE

               Ray stands on the lip of the grave, hunched over his shovel, 
               crisply illuminated by the headlights. In the shadowy 
               foreground Marty's arm rises, extended toward Ray. He is 
               clutching Abby's gun in his splint-fingered hand.

               CLOSE SHOT  RAY

               As he straightens up and stands motionless, expressionless, 
               watching Marty, making no attempt to get out of the way.

               HIGH SHOT  MARTY

               The gun extended into the foreground. His index finger 
               splinted, he slides his middle finger over the trigger of 
               the gun.

               LOW SHOT  RAY

               Watching.

               HIGH SHOT  MARTY

               The gun trembling in the foreground. His knuckle whitens 
               over the trigger.

               The trigger releases and we hear the dull click of an empty 
               chamber.

               LOW SHOT  RAY

               Staring blankly down at Marty.

               SIDE SHOT

               Of Marty's gun hand as Ray slowly sinks down on the lip of 
               the grave, bracing himself with the shovel. His hand reaches 
               for Marty's. Marty squeezes off two more empty chambers. 
               Ray's hand slowly closes over the barrel of the gun.

               As he pulls, the gun slides from Marty's fingers.

               CLOSE SHOT  THE BLADE OF THE SHOVEL

               Biting into the earth.

               MED SHOT  RAY

               Furiously shoveling dirt into the grave.

               HIGH SHOT  THE GRAVE

               Marty barely visible under the dirt.

               MED SHOT  RAY

               Shoveling, panting.

               HIGH SHOT  THE GRAVE

               Half full.

               MED SHOT  RAY

               Working furiously. His breath comes in short gasps.

               HIGH SHOT  THE GRAVE

               It is filled. Ray is packing down the earth, slamming the 
               shovel furiously against the bare patch of earth.

               CLOSE SHOT  THE BLADE OF THE SHOVEL

               Being slammed down against the earth. Again and again.

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 scene from Blood Simple.

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.

One thought on “Script To Screen: “Blood Simple”

  1. SabinaGiado says:

    Arguably one of the most frightening things I’ve ever seen. My worst nightmare for sure.

    I noticed the guttural screams are not in the screenplay. Really spine-chilling.

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