Great Scene: “Life of Brian”

October 20th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today: The 1979 movie Life of Brian, written by Graham Chapman & John Cleese & Terry Gilliam & Eric Idle & Terry Jones & Michael Palin. IMDB plot summary:

Brian is born on the original Christmas, in the stable next door. He spends his life being mistaken for a messiah.

Brian (Graham Chapman) attempts to escape a crowd of devotees who believe that he is the Messiah.

Given my background in theological studies and my adoration of the Monty Python troupe, I found Life of Brian to be both provocative and extremely funny. This scene encapsulates just about every theme and dynamic in the movie: mistaken identity, Brian denying his divinity, believers so desperate for hope their ‘faith’ trumps all logic, along with lots of inanity. The debate between Brian and the crowed reaches a peak with this exchange:

Brian: I’m not the Messiah! Will you please listen? I am not the Messiah, do you understand? Honestly!
Girl: Only the true Messiah denies His divinity.
Brian: What? Well, what sort of chance does that give me? All right! I am the Messiah!
Followers: He is! He is the Messiah!
Brian: Now, fuck off!

[silence]

Arthur: How shall we fuck off, O Lord?

The use of the F-word is the ultimate expression of Brian’s frustration. It’s also quite a shock to think that a Messiah would use such foul language. All that is funny enough. But then the topper: The believers are so cocksure they have found a Savior, they are willing to embrace the profanity as part of a possible path to follow Brian.

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “Back to the Future”

October 19th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today: The 1985 movie Back to the Future, written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, Jr. IMDB plot summary:

A young man is accidentally sent 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his friend, Dr. Emmett Brown, and must make sure his high-school-age parents unite in order to save his own existence.

Discovering himself to have traveled back in time to 1955, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) stops into a diner for something to drink.

Background:

* The inspiration for the film largely stems from Bob Gale discovering his father’s high school yearbook and wondering whether he would have been friends with his father as a teenager. Gale also said that if he had the chance to go back in time he would really go back and see if they would have been friends.

* In the original script, Doc Brown and Marty sell bootleg videos in order to fund the time machine.

* In the first scene at the diner, Marty asks for a Pepsi Free. This refers to a brand of Pepsi that was the company’s first caffeine free cola. Ironically, in the same scene, Marty asks for a Tab, which was actually a diet cola brand produced by Pepsi’s rival Coca-Cola.

* The script was rejected 40 times before it was finally green-lit.

There a number of great scenes in Back to the Future, but this one stands out because of the way it handles several subplots:

* Marty and George (Crispin Glover): This is where Marty is ‘introduced’ to his father.

* Marty and Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson): This is where Marty first ‘meets’ his uncle Biff.

* George and Biff: We see how the bullying dynamic between the pair as evidenced in 1985 has its roots in 1955.

* Goldie Wilson (Donald Fullilove): When Marty blurts out, “You’re going to be mayor,” that sets into motion this character’s eventual election to city-wide office. This also sets into motion the dynamic that what Marty says and does in 1955 will have an impact on the future.

It’s a testament to the writers that they managed to handle all of these subplots intersecting in this one scene and do so seamlessly. It is a skill manifest in multiple scenes as Back to the Future is perhaps the single best example of how to use subplots to great effect.

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “Full Metal Jacket”

October 18th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today’s scene suggested by Bretton Zinger: The 1987 movie Full Metal Jacket, screenplay by Stanley Kubrick & Michael Herr & Gustav Hasford. IMDB plot summary:

A pragmatic U.S. Marine observes the dehumanizing effects the U.S.-Vietnam War has on his fellow recruits from their brutal boot camp training to the bloody street fighting in Hue.

On night patrol, Private J.T. ‘Joker’ David (Matthew Modine) hears a strange sound coming from the barrack’s head.

Background:

* Gustav Hasford began working on “The Short Timers” (the book on which this film is based) while serving in Vietnam, and based many of the characters (and names) on soldiers he served with.

* Michael Herr, a very close friend of Stanley Kubrick, helped write much of the screenplay, particularly the part set in Vietnam. His contributions to the script are based largely on his own experiences as a reporter covering the war. Like Joker and Rafterman he was essentially freelance and allowed to travel anywhere in the country. Additionally, the scene where Joker and Rafterman watch the crazed gunner in the chopper machine-gun civilians is taken directly from “Dispatches”, Herr’s memoir of his experiences.

* The 7.62mm full metal jacket round that Pvt. Pyle refers to was the standard infantry round leading up to the Vietnam War. It was used in the M-14 infantry rifle that was designed during WWII and manufactured up until the Vietnam war era. Although the M-14 was used in the Vietnam War the M-16 had replaced it as the standard rifle. The M-16 uses a 5.56mm round.

The transformation of Private Leonard ‘Gomer Pyle’ Lawrence from innocent oaf to demented killing machine reaches its apex in this incredibly tense scene, made all the more powerful by the inevitability of the violence we have anticipated throughout the movie’s first act.

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “Apocalypse Now”

October 17th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today: The 1979 movie Apocalypse Now, written by John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola. IMDB plot summary:

During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard is sent on a dangerous mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade colonel who has set himself up as a god among a local tribe.

We meet Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) in a most dramatic way: Drunk in a hotel room.

Background: The scene at the beginning with Captain Willard alone in his hotel room was completely unscripted. Martin Sheen told the shooting crew to just let the cameras roll. Sheen was actually drunk in the scene and punched the mirror which was real glass, cutting his thumb. Sheen also began sobbing and tried to attack Francis Ford Coppola. The crew was so disturbed by his actions that they wanted to stop shooting, but Coppola wanted to keep the cameras going.

Here is Sheen talking about the scene:

Of the scene, Sheen says, “We had to establish a very, very dangerous character, trained to kill people up close and personal… with his hands.”

The scene certainly conveys Willard as a dangerous individual. And the blood on his hands is a portent of things to come.

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “As Good As It Gets”

October 16th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today: The 1997 movie As Good As It Gets, screenplay by Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks, story by Mark Andrus. IMDB plot summary: A single mother/waitress, a misanthropic author, and a gay artist form an unlikely friendship after the artist is in an accident.

Simon (Greg Kinnear), who was savagely beaten in a home burglary and is wearing a cast, is spending the night in a hotel suite with Carol (Helen Hunt) on a trip to Baltimore with Melvin (Jack Nicholson). Helen prepares to take a bath…

Several people requested As Good As It Gets and it would be easy to select almost any of the scenes featuring Jack Nicholson. However I chose this one because it is one of those scenes James L. Brooks excels at: A shift in a character’s perspective in the tiniest of moments.

Since his assault, Simon’s life has spiraled downward, depositing him in a dark funk, both personally and creatively. The trip to Baltimore, ostensibly to visit his estranged parents to borrow money, is as it turns out precisely what Simon needs — and not his parents’ financial help. He bonds with Carol and she with him. Because he is gay, she feels safe leaving the door open preparing for her bath… and that sets the table.

Beginning: Simon lies in bed, watching Carol seated on the edge of the bath tub.
Turn: He becomes enlivened and gathers his sketch pad and pencil.

“I have to draw you.”

Middle: Carol thinks he’s crazy, but as he describes her fine features, she softens.
Turn: She doesn’t close the door or resist.

“You’re why cavemen chiseled on walls.”

End: Carol actually lowers the towel to reveal her back all the way down to her buttocks.

A short scene, a little over 2 minutes long, but it propels Simon out of his creative funk. Indeed the excerpt above ends before we see Simon, enthused about what he’s drawing, rip off his cast, both literally and symbolically breaking free from the ‘prison’ in which he’s been living since the violence perpetrated against him.

A tiny moment. A big shift in a character’s perspective.

Takeaway: Look for moments around which to wrap scenes. Sometimes the most important steps in a character’s metamorphosis happen there.

How about you? What’s your take on this scene? Why does it work so well? What takeaways are there for us?

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “Cast Away”

October 15th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today’s movie is a suggestion by Jon: The 2000 movie Cast Away, written by William Broyles Jr. IMDB plot summary:

A FedEx executive must transform himself physically and emotionally to survive a crash landing on a deserted island.

Chuck (Tom Hanks) has just gotten done seeing Kelly (Helen Hunt) for the first time since his return to civilization. She gives him the keys to his car. They head outside into the rain.

Here is the dialogue in the scene after Chuck meets with Kelly:

We both had done the math. Kelly added it all up and… knew she had to let me go. I added it up, and knew that I had… lost her. ‘cos I was never gonna get off that island. I was gonna die there, totally alone. I was gonna get sick, or get injured or something. The only choice I had, the only thing I could control was when, and how, and where it was going to happen. So… I made a rope and I went up to the summit, to hang myself. I had to test it, you know? Of course. You know me. And the weight of the log, snapped the limb of the tree, so I-I – , I couldn’t even kill myself the way I wanted to. I had power over nothing. And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I’m back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass… And I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly. But I’m so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?

Hollywood has had a long tradition of a type of ending: Give ‘em what they expect… then give ‘em what they want. The ending of Cast Away provides a double twist. The first scene above — between Chuck and Kelly — plays out, at least at first, in the traditional manner:

Give ‘em what they expect: Chuck will drive away and leave Kelly behind. In other words, Boy doesn’t get Girl.

Give ‘em what they want: Kelly races out in the rain to tell Chuck she loves him. Ah, so Boy does get Girl. They even sell this to the point of having her get into his car. She smiles. He smiles. This is going to be a Happy Ending. This is what the audience wants!

But then… no. She has to go home. So as Chuck drives Kelly back up the driveway toward her house, we’re back to Boy doesn’t get Girl. The first twist on the give ‘em what they expect, then give ‘em what they want pattern.

Then the second scene where Chuck delivers the monologue cited above, basically explaining how he processed finding then losing Kelly. That last line — “Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?” — is not only an acknowledgement of the wisdom he learned from his time on the island, it also sets the stage for the second twist. From IMDB:

He drives to Texas with the FedEx package decorated with wings in his Jeep. He attempts to deliver it but no one is there. He leaves it at the door with a note stating that the parcel saved his life. He drives south and at a four-way intersection and gets out of his car to look at a map. A friendly, pretty woman in an old pick-up truck stops and asks him if he is lost. He confesses he hasn’t made up his mind where he was going. She tells him where the four roads lead, and that north, the direction Chuck had just come from, leads to a whole lot of nothingness. She drives north and as she pulls away, Chuck is surprised to see the same pair of wings that were on the package on the tail gate of her truck. Chuck walks to the center of the intersection and looks in each direction for a few seconds. He then turns north and his gaze lingers in the direction the woman drove.

Look what the tide brings in: A pretty woman in an old pick-up truck who may be what Destiny has in store for Chuck. So maybe good ol’ Chuck is going to get the Girl after all… and the audience can at least imagine a Happy Ending, giving us what we want.

Takeaway: We can play around with conventions. Explore twists that provide a fresh take on what audiences expect. Better to have an emotionally resonant ending rather than something that comes off as too pat.

How about you? What’s your take on this scene? Why does it work so well? What takeaways are there for us?

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.

If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “On the Waterfront”

October 14th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today: The 1954 movie On the Waterfront, screenplay by Budd Schulberg. IMDB plot summary:

An ex-prize fighter turned longshoreman struggles to stand up to his corrupt union bosses.

A worker Kayo (Pat Henning) has been purposefully killed on the orders of Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) in a supposed dock accident. Father Barry (Karl Malden) stands over the dead body while Terry (Marlon Brando) and the other workers look on.

Some background:

* On the Waterfront (1954) is widely known to be an act of expiation on the part of Elia Kazan for naming names to HUAC during the Joseph McCarthy witch-hunts of the 1950s. What is less widely reported is that Kazan intended it as a direct attack at his former close friend Arthur Miller who had been openly critical of Kazan’s actions. Specifically, it was a direct response to Miller’s play The Crucible.

* Arthur Miller was approached by Elia Kazan to write the screenplay, and did so, but later pulled it when the FBI and studio bosses required him to make the gangsters Communists.

* The idea for the film began with an expose series written for The New York Sun by reporter Malcolm Johnson. The 24 articles won him a Pulitzer Prize and were reinforced by the 1948 murder of a New York dock hiring boss which woke America to the killings, graft and extortion that were endemic on the New York waterfront. Budd Schulberg was captivated by the subject matter, devoting years of his life to absorbing everything he could about the milieu. He became a regular fixture on the waterfront, hanging out in West Side Manhattan and Long Island bars, interviewing longshore-union leaders and getting to know the outspoken priests from St Xavier’s in Hell’s Kitchen.

The scene has obvious religious overtones: The victim a martyr; Johnny Friendly a Pontius Pilate type deciding who would live and who would die; Father Barry a lone prophet crying in the wilderness. But he speaks the truth and the workers know it. Although nothing changes immediately, the murder and Barry’s speech stick with Terry eventually causing him to act.

Two takeaways: First, if a scene calls for a monologue, consider making the character delivering a truth-teller. There is power in the truth and that can create a desire on the part of a script reader to embrace a long recitation. Second, notice how Father Barry’s speech is interrupted twice by items thrown at him, one a piece of fruit, one a can which hits him on the forehead drawing blood. The contrast between his words and those actions — that visual element — heightens the impact of the moment.

From a historical perspective, it’s interesting to parallel this story to High Noon, both attempts on the part of the filmmakers to interpret and justify their respective actions during the House on Un-American Activities Committee, both those who named names of supposed Communist sympathizers, such as Schulberg and Kazan, and those who refused and suffered as result including Carl Foreman, screenwriter of High Noon, who was blacklisted.

How about you? What’s your take on this scene? Why does it work so well? What takeaways are there for us?

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.

Thanks for the suggestion, James! If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “Schindler’s List”

October 13th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today’s suggestion by James Schramm: The 1993 movie Schindler’s List, screenplay by Steve Zaillian, novel by Thomas Keneally. IMDB plot summary:

In Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis.

Out for a ride on their horses, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) and his wife Emilie Schindler (Caroline Goodall) stop on a bluff, peering down at the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto.

Some background:

* After the book’s author Thomas Keneally wrote a miniseries-length script, Kurt Luedtke was hired by Steven Spielberg to write the screenplay, but he gave up after four years’ work.

* At Steven Spielberg’s request, Aaron Sorkin did a “dialogue wash” on the excessively wordy script.

* The Krakow ghetto “liquidation” scene was only a page of action in the script, but Steven Spielberg turned it into 20 pages and 20 minutes of screen action “based on living witness testimony”. For example, the scene in which the young man escapes capture by German soldiers by telling them he was ordered to clear the luggage from the street was taken directly from a survivor’s story.

* The girl in the red dress was a real girl named Roma Ligocka. Unlike her film counterpart, she survived the war, and wrote a memoir titled “The Girl in the Red Coat: A Memoir”.

Great scenes often involve events that twist the plot in a significant and new direction. That is the case here with Schindler. Up to this point in the story, he had viewed indentured Jews merely as factory workers and a means for him to line his pockets with profits. That all changes because of this scene.

What is fascinating about the scene is how it manages to capture both the breadth of the unfolding horror almost exclusively from a distance, reflecting Schindler’s vantage point, and combined with the specificity of the atrocities, the latter driven home by the appearance of the Girl in the Red Coat.

Schindler spots her. Tracks her. Cannot keep his eyes off her. Imagine the scene without her. Would the impact on Schindler have been so powerful? My guess is it was the experience of watching this little girl where empathy about the fate of the Jews really settled into Schindler’s consciousness. The enormity of the violence he witnessed from the hilltop was almost too much to imagine. The fate of that little girl was something he could identify with: one human soul to another.

Of course from a narrative standpoint, this scene with the Girl in the Red Coat is a setup for a gut-wrenching payoff:

I would imagine that the image of the deceased child, clearly someone Schindler remembers (just look at his expression when he sees her body pass by), provides a powerful incentive for Schindler to do whatever he can to save as many Jews as he can.

If one sign of a great scene is how memorable it is… the saga of the Girl in the Red Coat certainly passes that test.

How about you? What’s your take on this scene? Why does it work so well? What takeaways are there for us?

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.

Thanks for the suggestion, James! If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “The Player”

October 12th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today’s suggestion by Jon: The 1992 movie The Player, screenplay by Michael Tolkin, based on his novel. IMDB plot summary:

A Hollywood studio executive is being sent death threats by a writer whose script he rejected – but which one?

Jon actually suggested the long one-take scene introduction to the movie, but I couldn’t find it anywhere online. However toward the end of the opening credit sequence, there is a great scene in two parts where writers pitch potential movie projects to the Protagonist Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins).

Background:

* During the sessions where movies are pitched, one will always suggest certain actors for certain roles. For the female lead Julia Roberts is always mentioned, as well as Bruce Willis for the male lead. In the final scene of the in-movie movie you actually see Bruce Willis saving Julia Roberts.

* There is actually another scene featuring a movie pitch to Griffin Mill: The Graduate: Part II, a cameo by Buck Henry (as himself). Buck Henry co-wrote the screenplay for The Graduate.

* Writer Michael Tolkin actually had a film company ring him up and try to option Habeus Corpus, the blatantly ludicrous film that is pitched within the movie by Richard E. Grant’s character.

Why is this a great scene? Because anyone who has worked in the movie business can relate to the whole vibe in the room. Here are a few choice lines.

Pitch #1

Writer 1: Goldie [Hawn] goes to Africa. She’s found by this tribe.
Write 2: Of small people.
Writer 1: She’s found and they worship her.
Griffin: It’s like The Gods Must Be Crazy except the coke bottle is an actress.
Write 1: Right. It’s Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman.

Pitch #2

Griffin: So it’s a psychic, political, thriller comedy with a heart.
Writer: With a heart, not unlike Ghost meets Manchurian Candidate.

Yes, since the movie is rather a satire of Hollywood, both of these pitches are ‘pushed out’ in terms of reality, however conversations in studio and producer offices can get this absurd. In this sense, the scenes work, not only because they’re funny, they also pass the verisimilitude sniff test.

As to the This Movie meet That Movie schtick. That may have been really popular in the 80s and 90s, but nowadays it’s not something a writer would lead with, instead have it in your back pocket for subsequent discussions.

How about you? What’s your take on this scene? Why does it work so well? What takeaways are there for us?

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.

Thanks for the suggestion, Bretton! If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “Die Hard”

October 11th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today: The 1988 movie Die Hard, screenplay by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza, novel by Roderick Thorp. IMDB plot summary:

John McClane, officer of the NYPD, tries to save wife Holly Gennaro and several others, taken hostage by German terrorist Hans Gruber during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.

McClane (Bruce Willis) happens upon a stranger: It’s Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), the story’s arch villain.

Some background:

* The scene in which Gruber and McClane meet was inserted into the script after Alan Rickman (Hans Gruber) was found to be proficient at mimicking American accents. The filmmakers had been looking for a way to have the two characters meet prior to the climax and capitalized on Rickman’s talent.

* The character of Hans Gruber is rumored to be based on author Roderick Thorp’s father, a known tyrant amongst friends and family.

* Much of the script was improvised due to the constant screenplay tweaks that were being made during filming.

* In the original script, the action took place over three days, but John McTiernan was inspired to have it take place over a single night by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This scene is great for a lot of reasons, but I want to focus on just one: Twists. In a little over 4 minutes, there are numerous twists — surprises, shifts, reveals and so forth. Let’s track them using the time clock in the scene embedded above:

0:16: Gruber jumps to the ground only to discover he is standing next to McClane. Oops!

0:26: Gruber puts on his ‘scared hostage’ act. Clever boy!

1:15: Gruber tries to get his pistol, which he has stashed in a wall, but McClane stops him. Sorry, Hans!

Note: There is actually a cutaway at 1:25, but the video puts together the two parts of the scene.

2:25: McClane introduces himself by name and tests Gruber by asking his name. Busted! What’s cool is that there just happens to be a roster of employee names on the wall. So when Gruber answers, “Clay. Bill Clay,” at 2:32, the camera pushes into the roster revealing “Clay Wm 29″. A clever and observant Bad Guy!

2:50: McClane hands over a pistol to Gruber, a gun into which McClane has just inserted a ammo clip. Holy shit!

3:15: Gruber drops the act and mutters something in German on his CB radio. McClane, why’d you give this bastard the gun?!?!

3:40: Gruber demands that McClane put down the gun and turn over the detonators, but McClane starts walking toward Gruber who has the pistol trained on McClane. Crazy New York cop!

4:06: Gruber pulls the trigger. Click. Click. The gun is empty. Damn you, McClane! You are one smart mofo!

4:12: McClane grabs the pistol and says, “You think I’m fucking stupid, Hans,” when the elevator dings. Ruuuuunnnn!

I count 9 twists in a four minute scene. Surprises. Revelations. And a flip-flopping of who seems to be in the position of power. And, of course, like all good action scenes, it ends by seamlessly moving into the beginning of the next scene: A shootout and chase.

How about you? What’s your take on this scene? Why does it work so well? What takeaways are there for us?

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.

Thanks for the suggestion, Bretton! If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!