Great Characters: Jack Torrance (“The Shining”)

June 22nd, 2012 by

Who can forget this face:

None other than Jack Torrance from The Shining. Based on the Stephen King novel with a screenplay by director Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson, Torrance as played by Jack Nicholson is the Protagonist in this story of a writer gone awry. A plot summary from IMDB:

A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil and spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future.

Jack has… issues. A big one is his writer’s block. Well, actually he is writing…

Jack is prone to saying things like this to his wife Wendy (Shelly Duval):

Jack Torrance: Wendy, let me explain something to you. Whenever you come in here and interrupt me, you’re breaking my concentration. You’re distracting me. And it will then take me time to get back to where I was. You understand?

Wendy Torrance: Yeah.

Jack Torrance: Now, we’re going to make a new rule. When you come in here and you hear me typing
Jack Torrance: or whether you DON’T hear me typing, or whatever the FUCK you hear me doing; when I’m in here, it means that I am working, THAT means don’t come in. Now, do you think you can handle that?

Wendy Torrance: Yeah.

Jack Torrance: Good. Now why don’t you start right now and get the fuck out of here? Hm?

Which eventually leads to him saying this:

Wendy Torrance: [crying] Stay away from me.

Jack Torrance: Why?

Wendy Torrance: I just wanna go back to my room!

Jack Torrance: Why?

Wendy Torrance: Well, I’m very confused, and I just need time to think things over!

Jack Torrance: You’ve had your whole FUCKING LIFE to think things over, what good’s a few minutes more gonna do you now?

Wendy Torrance: Please! Don’t hurt me!

Jack Torrance: I’m not gonna hurt you.

Wendy Torrance: Stay away from me!

Jack Torrance: Wendy? Darling? Light, of my life. I’m not gonna hurt ya. You didn’t let me finish my sentence. I said, I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just going to bash your brains in.

[Wendy gasps]

Jack Torrance: Gonna bash ’em right the fuck in! Ha ha ha.

And finally to this:

What’s your take on Jack Torrance?

By the way, you want to see a great trailer? Check this out:

And a special treat: The Making of ‘The Shining’.

[Originally posted March 25, 2011]

Daily Dialogue — June 22, 2012

June 22nd, 2012 by

Vienna: You and McIvers own the whole town and every head of beef within five hundred miles. But that isn’t enough, is it? You’ve got to own everything. You can’t stand to see anyone else live. Well, you’re going to. You’re going to see a whole new town right where you’re standing. A town you don’t own. The railroad’s sending in people by tens, twenties, hundreds, and thousands! You can’t keep them all out! Tell them, Mr. Andrews!

Mr. Andrews: I think you put it rather well.

John McIvers: You’re not buildin’ no depot here.

Mr. Andrews: That’s for Vienna to decide.

Vienna: Vienna decided!

— Vienna (Joan Crawford), Mr. Andrews (Rhys Williams), John McIvers (Ward Bond), Johnny Guitar (1954), screenplay by Philip Yordan, based on a novel by Roy Chanslor

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week is bragging suggested by churnage. Today’s suggestion by Daniel Tavis Sarmento.

Trivia: Although Philip Yordan is credited as a screenwriter on the film, his contribution to the screenplay actually was written by Ben Maddow, whom Yordan fronted for, splitting the fee with the black-listed writer.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Daniel has this comment: “Notice how throwing in the Mr. Andrews character helps give added weight to Vienna’s bragging. He not only praises her, he sets it up for her to deliver that boastful last line.”

How To Read A Screenplay (Part 4): Subplots, Relationships and Character Functions

June 21st, 2012 by

I can’t remember exactly how this subject came up on the blog, but it did, and when I asked whether people would like to explore how to read and analyze a screenplay, the response was quite positive. So here we are with yet another GITS series on screenwriting.

Let me be clear up front: I am not suggesting you have to read scripts precisely this way. Nor am I saying if you choose to use this overall approach that you do so in the order presented. These are not steps so much as they are analytical tools which you can use any way you see fit.

I begin with this supposition: There are multiple layers to any story. The more you dig, the deeper your understanding. Moreover there is a special kind of learning you can experience only by cracking open a story and exploring its many moving parts, a knowledge that settles into your gut where you start to develop an innate sense of what works and what doesn’t. From the standpoint of being a professional screenwriter, when often you are working against a ticking clock, either to assess a story and come up with a take to pitch, or do a writing assignment, having that internal sense of story is critical to your success as it can help you feel your way through the process.

So at the very least, I would encourage you to try out these approaches I will be detailing in this series to see if and how they fit with your own writing sensibilities. Look at each as a different ‘lens’ through which you can examine a story, providing a unique perspective and insight into the overall narrative.

Note: This series is not in any way, shape or form an attempt to train people how to be a professional script reader. They have their own approach and I am almost positive would not have nearly the time to go through as many steps as I’m suggesting here. Rather this is for writers who want to learn their craft better.

Today, Part 4: Subplots, Relationships and Character Functions

It’s impossible to emphasize enough how important subplots are for… well, I suppose every screenplay. At their most basic level of value, they provide a way for the writer to cut away from the Plotline which is hugely important on many fronts including time management and pace. But their significance is multifaceted.

Here’s how I think of subplots: Relationships. If you want to track down subplots in a screenplay, locate all the primary and even key secondary characters, especially the ones who directly connect with the Protagonist, and you’re almost assuredly looking at a subplot.

Continuing with our study script Up, let’s list the various relationships in the story:

Carl – Ellie
Carl – Russell
Carl – Kevin
Carl – Doug
Carl – Muntz
Carl – Real Estate Developer
Muntz – Kevin
Russell – His Father
Russell – Kevin
Kevin – Her Babies
Doug – Alpha and the Other Dogs

The Plotline: Carl getting the house up to Paradise Falls. All the above relationships represent subplots that tie into and impact the Plotline. For example:

* Carl – Ellie: Carl would not have a Want [Conscious Goal] to get the house to Paradise Falls were it not for his promise to Ellie, and of course the love and affection he has for his late wife, as well as the shadow of guilt about never having fulfilled this shared dream.

* Carl – Real Estate Developer: Carl acts on his goal when the Real Estate Developer manages to get Carl set to move into an old folks home, relinquishing the rights to his house and the valuable land on which it sits.

* Carl – Russell: Once airborne, the surprise appearance of Russell enables Carl to get the house to Paradise Falls [Russell steers the house there while Carl is knocked out], but then the boy’s presence creates disruptions in Carl’s plan.

* Russell – Kevin: The first disruption occurs when Russell finds and befriends Kevin, who then follows the pair until he becomes an ad hoc member of the expedition.

* Carl – Kevin: Kevin creates a secondary goal of getting the bird to her babies.

* Carl – Doug: Doug intersects with Carl, Russell and Kevin because he is searching for the bird, then he joins the traveling troop.

* Doug – Alpha [and the Other Dogs]: Alpha intersects with Carl and company because Doug is with Carl and company.

* Carl – Muntz: Carl intersects with Muntz because of all the previously noted connections.

Note how the subplots in Up create a seamless path from Carl’s home in the city to Carl being chased by Muntz, one group [Carl, Russell, Kevin, Doug] vs. the other [Muntz, Alpha, Other Dogs]. So at one level, that is their character function — to create that narrative path.

But there is much more to the function of characters and their relationships as they help take us from the Plotline into the Themeline and the soul of the story. And that leads us to a fascinating way to view the Plotline and subplots: Look at them through the lens of Character Archetypes.

Here is my take on the character archetypes in Up.

Protagonist – Carl
Nemesis – Muntz, Alpha and the Other Dogs, Real Estate Developer
Attractor – Russell, Ellie
Mentor – Doug
Trickster – Kevin

For a deeper analysis of these archetypes, you can go here to a previous GITS post.

With regard to reading and analyzing a screenplay, the point is this: Another tool at your disposal is to identify and break down the story’s subplots:

* Subplots can be intimately connected to the Plotline.

* Subplots are generally tied to individual characters who have unique relationships with the Protagonist and sometimes with each other.

* Subplots are typically shaped the way they are by virtue of their character’s narrative function.

* Subplots can be explored in terms of primary character archetypes.

* Subplots provide sub-themes that amplify and widen the meaning of the story’s central theme.

In sum, subplots open doorways into the soul of a story, a presence that is intimately connected with a dynamic Joseph Campbell said lies at the center of The Hero’s Journey: Transformation, or as I prefer, Metamorphosis. That is the subject of tomorrow’s post in this series.

Reminder: This is just one approach to analyzing a screenplay. Everyone is different and has different needs, either personally or per project. If you resonate with any ideas here, feel free to use. If not, feel free to lose.

For Part 1: The First Pass, go here.

For Part 2: The Scene-By-Scene Breakdown, go here.

For Part 3: Plotline Points and Sequences, go here.

Upcoming posts:

Part 5: Metamorphosis
Part 6: Themes
Part 7: Style and Language

How to Write an Aaron Sorkin Script, by Aaron Sorkin

June 21st, 2012 by

Lots of folks tipped me off to this yesterday, a first-person article in GQ by Aaron Sorkin on how to write and “Aaron Sorkin script”. An excerpt:

A song in a musical works best when a character has to sing— when words won’t do the trick anymore. The same idea applies to a long speech in a play or a movie or on television. You want to force the character out of a conversational pattern. In the pilot of The Newsroom, a new series for HBO, TV news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) emotionally checked out years ago, and now he’s sitting on a college panel, hearing the same shouting match between right and left he’s been hearing forever, and the arguments have become noise. A student asks what makes America the world’s greatest country, and Will dodges the question with glib answers. But the moderator keeps needling him until…snap.

It’s not the greatest country in the world, professor, that’s my answer.

[pause] You’re saying—


Let’s talk about—

Start off easy. First get rid of the two noisemakers.

Fine. [to the liberal panelist] Sharon, the NEA is a loser. Yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paychecks, but he [gesturing to the conservative panelist] gets to hit you with it anytime he wants. It doesn’t cost money, it costs votes. It costs airtime and column inches. You know why people don’t like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fuckin’ smart, how come they lose so GODDAM ALWAYS!

The use of inappropriate language has a purpose—the filter’s off.

And [to the conservative panelist] with a straight face, you’re going to tell students that America’s so starspangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom, Japan has freedom, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom. Two hundred seven sovereign states in the world, like 180 of them have freedom.

Always wanted to know how Sorkin approaches those monologues of his? He’s thinking of them like an aria. For more, you can go here.

“22 story basics from Pixar”: #14-18

June 21st, 2012 by

By now I’m pretty sure nearly everyone has seen this list — “22 storybasics I’ve picked up in my time at Pixar” — aggregated by Emma Coats, a storyboard artist at the studio. As opposed to just printing them out, tacking them up, then forgetting about them, I thought we could break down the list and analyze it this week in the hope that some of these insights might actually stick with us. So each day let’s look at 4-5 of these concepts about narrative.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

I have lots of thoughts about this list, but in lieu of my pontificating, let’s hear from you first. Which ones of these hit home the most with you? Why? What takeaway do you get from these ideas?

Tomorrow: More story basics from Pixar.

Movies You Made: “Lesbian Cops: The Movie”

June 21st, 2012 by

From TheUrbanHobo:

Lesbian Cops: The Movie! is an irreverent (tongue firmly in cheek) web series for those who like Super Troopers, Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys etc.

I am a co-creator/writer/producer/actor in the project. Lots of talented people involved and we just added screenwriter/actress Guinevere Turner (American Psycho and The L Word).

Kevin Smith donated to our Kickstarter campaign as well.

If I’m right, there are 20 episodes aimed toward creating a full-length feature films. Here is “Lesbian Cops: The Movie (Part 1):


Det. Tori Jones: Gena Shaw
Det. Rashida Thompson: Krystal Marshall
Chief William: Thomas Jones
Det. Frank T. Martin: Dane Reade
Officer Casey: Casey Nelson
Virginia Cunderson: Suzanne Quast
Dustin Brown: Shawn G Smith
Written and Directed by Firouz Farhang
Edited by David Aslan
Producer Aaron Burnett
Producer Dane Reade
Producer David Aslan
Production Company Pelican Boss Films
Producer Jessica Mathews

Blip.TV site

Kickstarter site

That’s about as high concept as it comes: They’re lesbians. And they’re cops. Say that with a wise-ass grin on your face so people know it’s a spoof, and you get it.

Tomorrow another movie you made.

The Definitive Spec Script Sales List (1991-2012): 2003

June 21st, 2012 by

Pretty much ever since I sold a spec script in 1987, I have been fascinated by them. The very idea that a writer could conceive a story concept, research, craft and write an original screenplay, then sell it to a Hollywood buyer is in and of itself a remarkable thing. When you consider that each year an estimated 25,000-40,000 stories filter through the studio acquisition system and only about 100 spec scripts sell annually, that makes it even more notable.

I didn’t start tracking all spec script sales until 1991, but then I tried my best to note the details whenever I learned about them. Over the years I often thought about those files and wouldn’t it be great to have a comprehensive list of all spec script sales in Hollywood? Here are some reasons why:

* To create an historical record of these special accomplishments by screenwriters in the movie business.

* To compare what spec scripts sold and got produced to those that never got made.

* To track buying trends in Hollywood [e.g., genre, high-concept].

* To create a resource for contemporary writers to brainstorm new story ideas.

And then this: With spec script sales being as high as they have been the last 18 months, can we consider this a new Golden Age of the Spec Script, or does it pale in comparison to the supposed gilded age back in the early to mid-90s? Is that collective memory true or perhaps incorrect?

I mulled over the possibility of collating all the information about spec sales I had amassed. Unfortunately the documentation takes the form of actual clippings from the Hollywood Reporter and Variety, as well as hard drives on a number of old computers stashed away somewhere, and a variety of other sources.

In step two hearty souls, Black List interns Mikal McLendon and Evelyn Yves who agreed to help assimilate all the data into a comprehensive spec script sales list from 1991-2007 [to go along with my lists from 2008-2012]. It took Mikal and Eveyln months to pull this information together and I thank them profusely for their help [I hope you will, too, in comments].

Here’s what I have planned. I am going to roll out the list of spec script sales each day throughout June per this schedule:

June 4-June 8: Before 1991-1994
June 11-June 15: 1995-1999
June 18-June 22: 2000-2004
June 25-June 29: 2005-2009
June 30-June 31: 2010-2011
July 1: 2012

Please note, when I say ‘Definitive’ in the title, that means two things. First I am engaging in a bit of Hollywood hyperbole. I know there are some spec script sales that we will have missed. Every sale is covered nowadays through the trades and various tracking boards. That type of coverage was not the case back in the 90s. Which leads to the second point:

I want your help!

If you are a screenwriter who sold a spec script and you don’t see it on the list or you spot some details that are wrong or incomplete, please email me with updates.

If you are a studio exec, agent, manager, producer or movie fan who happens to know of a spec script sale that’s not listed, please email me.

Let’s see if we can round out this research project as best we can.

With that lengthy introduction, we take a look at spec script sales in 2003 after the jump. And thanks again to Mikal and Evelyn! (more…)

Spec Script Sale: “Draft Day”

June 21st, 2012 by

Paramount acquires comedy spec script “Draft Day” from writers Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman. From Deadline:

The script revolves around the general manager of the Buffalo Bills as he spends the day of the National Football League draft frantically trying to get the number one pick for his struggling team.

Ivan Reitman attached as director.

Joseph is repped by Gersh. Rothman is repped by CAA and Kaplan-Perrone Entertainment.

By my count, this is the 61st spec script sale of 2012.

There were 45 spec sales by this date last year.

The 61st spec script sale didn’t occur last year until August 21.

Spec script sales are up 26% year-to-date compared to 2011.

Movie Trailer [Teaser]: “Monsters University”

June 21st, 2012 by

IMDB site

Release Date: 21 June 2013 [U.S.]

Update: “The Quest”

June 21st, 2012 by

For those interested in the latest on “Go Into The Story: The Quest,” click continue. (more…)