A scene from the 1980 comedy Airplane [written by Jim Abrahams & David Zucker & Jerry Zucker].
Setup: The flight crew has been taken down by food poisoning. Fortunately there is ex-pilot Ted Striker on board. Unfortunately he is psychologically scarred as a pilot from an event in the past…
INT. PASSENGER CABIN - ANOTHER AREA - NIGHT Striker is sitting next to a MAN FROM INDIA in a business suit and turban. STRIKER You see, the day we left the village it was raining, so we had to take a special jeep to the main road... The Indian is dousing himself with a can of gasoline. In b.g. Randy is talking to passengers. STRIKER In fact, we were lucky to even get a jeep since just the day before the only one we had broke down -- it had a bad axle... The Indian lights a match to immolate himself. Randy approaches. RANDY Excuse me, sir. There's been a little problem in the cockpit and I was wondering... STRIKER The cockpit? What is it? RANDY It's the little room at the front of the plane where the pilots sit. But that's not important right now. The first officer is ill and the Captain would like someone with flying experience to help him with the radio. Do you know anything about planes? The Indian holds the match, awaiting the outcome. STRIKER Well, I flew in the war, but that was a long time ago. I wouldn't know anything about it. RANDY Would you go up, please? He has a moment of indecision. The Indian encourages Striker with an adamant nod. Striker gets up to leave. The Indian, relieved, blows out the match. INT. PASSENGER CABIN - ANOTHER AREA - NIGHT Jack is sitting across the aisle from a 65-year-old conservatively dressed SPINSTER. He pulls a flask from his coat pocket and takes a swig. She eyes him disapprovingly. JACK Would ya like a little whiskey, ma'am? SPINSTER (insulted) Certainly not. She inserts a two inch straw in her nose and snorts a couple lines of cocaine off a piece of glass. INT. COCKPIT - NIGHT Striker enters. STRIKER (to Rumack and Randy) The stewardess said... STRIKER'S POV Empty pilot's seat and inflated automatic pilot. STRIKER Both pilots! DR. RUMACK Can you fly this airplane and land it? STRIKER Surely you can't be serious. DR. RUMACK I am serious, and don't call me Shirley! What flying experience have you had? STRIKER Well, I flew single-engine fighters in the Air Force, but this plane has four engines. It's an entirely different kind of flying...all together!!! RANDY/RUMACK (all together) It's an entirely different kind of flying. STRIKER Besides, I haven't touched any kind of plane in six years. DR. RUMACK Mister Striker. I know nothing about flying. All I know is this: you're the only person on this plane who can possibly fly it. You're the only chance we've got. DRAMATIC MUSIC as Striker turns to face the controls. STRIKER'S POV CAMERA PANS controls. CAMERA KEEPS PANNING and PANNING as WE SEE more and more controls ad absurdum.
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 Airplane.
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.