Script To Screen: “It’s A Wonderful Life”

December 19th, 2012 by

A memorable scene from the 1946 movie It’s A Wonderful Life [screenplay Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and Frank Capra, story by Philip Van Doren Stern].

Setup: After experiencing what the world would have been like had he not been born, George Bailey has a change of heart…

               EXT. BRIDGE OVER RIVER – NIGHT

               MEDIUM SHOT

               The same part of the bridge where George was standing before 
               Clarence jumped in. The wind is blowing as it has all through 
               this sequence. George comes running into shot. He is 
               frantically looking for Clarence.

                                     GEORGE
                         Clarence! Clarence! Help me, Clarence. 
                         Get me back. Get me back. I don't 
                         care what happens to me. Only get me 
                         back to my wife and kids. Help me, 
                         Clarence, please!  Please! I want to 
                         live again!

               CLOSEUP

               George leaning on the bridge railing, praying.

                                     GEORGE
                         I want to live again. I want to live 
                         again. Please, God, let me live again.

               George sobs. Suddenly, toward the end of the above, the wind 
               dies down. A soft, gentle snow begins to fall.

               CLOSE SHOT – GEORGE SOBBING AT THE RAILING

               The police car pulls up on the roadway behind him, and Bert 
               comes into scene.

                                     BERT
                         Hey, George! George! You all right?

               George backs away and gets set to hit Bert again.

                                     BERT
                         Hey, what's the matter?

                                     GEORGE
                              (warningly)
                         Now get out of here, Bert, or I'll 
                         hit you again! Get out!

                                     BERT
                         What the Sam Hill you yelling for, 
                         George?

                                     GEORGE
                         Don't... George?

               George talks hopefully – George touches Bert unbelievingly – 
               George's mouth is bleeding again.

                                     GEORGE
                         Bert, do you know me?

                                     BERT
                         Know you? Are you kiddin'? I've been 
                         looking all over town trying to find 
                         you.  I saw your car piled into that 
                         tree down there, and I thought 
                         maybe... Hey, your mouth's bleeding; 
                         are you sure you're all right?

                                     GEORGE
                         What did...

               George touches his lips with his tongue, wipes his mouth 
               with his hand, laughs happily. His rapture knows no bounds.

                                     GEORGE
                              (joyously)
                         My mouth's bleeding, Bert! My mouth's 
                         bleed...
                              (feeling in watch 
                              pocket)
                         Zuzu's petals! Zuzu's... they're...  
                         they're here, Bert! What do you know 
                         about that? Merry Christmas!

               He practically embraces the astonished Bert, then runs at 
               top speed toward town.

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 It’s A Wonderful Life.

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.

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