Script To Screen: “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

July 22nd, 2015 by

The Coen brothers’ interpretation of “The Odyssey,” the wonderful 2000 movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? [written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, epic poem by Homer].

Setup: Three escaped convicts — Everett, Pete, and Delmar — are on the run when…

               We can faintly hear a high, unearthly singing. Barely human, 
               the sound seems to agitate Pete. He looks desperately out 
               the window.

               His hinging point-of-view shows, down the declivity from the 
               road and half hidden by trees, three women washing clothes 
               in the river.

               Pete's reaction is enormous. He jams a fist into his mouth, 
               eyes widening. He yanks the fist out and screams:

                                     PETE
                         PULL OVER!

               Everett, startled, does so.

               EXT.

               Before the car has even come to a stop Pete's door flies 
               open and he is stumbling down the bank to the river.

               Everett and Delmar follow more casually, Everett chuckling.

                                     EVERETT
                         I guess o' Pete's got the itch.

               AT THE RIVER

               The unearthly singing, full volume here, comes from the three 
               women, beautiful but marked by an otherworldly langor as 
               they dunk clothes in the stream and beat them against rocks.

               Pete is all awkward smiles and deep, burning eyes:

                                     PETE
                         Howdy do, ladies. Name of Pete!

               Strangely, the three laundresses do not answer, though they 
               do smile at him as they continue to sing.

               Pete tries again as he reaches into their laundry basket:

                                     PETE
                         Maybe I could help you with the, uh-

               He realizes he is holding ladies' undergarments.

                                     PETE
                         Ahem. I, uh...

               He drops them back in the basket.

                                     PETE
                         I don't believe I've, uh, heard that 
                         song before...

               Everett and Delmar have arrived; Everett is loud and jovial:

                                     EVERETT
                         Aintcha gonna innerduce us, Pete?

               Pete's eyes stay glued on the women as he hisses out of the 
               corner of his mouth:

                                     PETE
                         Don't know their names. I seen 'em 
                         first!

               Everett laughs lightly.

                                     EVERETT
                         Ladies, you'll have to pardon my 
                         friend here; Pete is dirt-ignorant 
                         and unschooled in the social arts. 
                         My name on the other hand is Ulysses 
                         Everett McGill and you ladies are 
                         about the three prettiest water lilies 
                         it's ever been my privilege to admire.

               None of the women respond but, as all continue to sing, one 
               brings a jug marked with three Xes to Everett.

                                     EVERETT
                         Why, thank you dear, that's very, 
                         uh...

               He takes a swig.

                                     EVERETTE
                         Mm. Corn licker, I guess, uh, the 
                         preferred local uh...

               He passes the jug to Pete as the woman runs her fingers 
               through his hair.

               The other two women are approaching to likewise tousle Pete 
               and Delmar.

               Delmar's woman caresses his face and, by squeezing his cheeks, 
               smushes his mouth into a pucker.

                                     DELMAR
                         Pleased to meet you, ma'am.

               The singing continues. The stream gurgles. Somewhere, in the 
               distance, flies lazily buzz.

                                     PETE
                         Damn!

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 O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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.

[Originally posted December 28, 2011]

Script To Screen: “The Lost Boys”

April 15th, 2015 by

A pivotal scene from the 1987 movie The Lost Boys, screenplay by Janice Fischer & James Jeremias and Jeffrey Boam, story by Janice Fischer & James Jeremias.

IMDb plot summary: After moving to a new town, two brothers are convinced that the area is frequented by vampires.

In this scene, Michael, who has been hanging around with David and crew, is put to the test.

       70        EXT. RAILROAD TRESTLE - NIGHT                            70

                 The trestle spans a deep gorge, obscured IN fog.  The boys
                 arrive on their motorbikes.

                                         DAVID
                           Perfect time.

                 They climb from their motorbikes as David walks onto the
                 trestle.

                                         MICHAEL
                           What's going' on?

                                         DAVID
                                  (smiling)
                           What's goin' on, Marko?

                                         MARKO
                           I dunno.  What's goin' on, Paul?

                                         PAUL
                           Who wants to know?

                                         DAVID
                           Michael wants to know.

                 The Lost Boys laugh.  Michael looks irritated.  He watches
                 as Paul, Marko and Dwayne climb below the trestle, hold
                 on with their hands and allow their bodies to dangle over
                 the fog-shrouded gorge.

                                         DAVID
                           Now you, Michael.

                 Michael hesitates.

                                         DAVID
                           Do it, Michael.  Now!

                 Michael summons his courage and climbs down.  David
                 follows him.

       71        ANGLE BENEATH THE TRESTLE                                71

                 All five boys hanging on.  The fog billowing up beneath
                 them.  Michael starts to look down.  Then, a RUMBLING is
                 heard in the distance.  Michael notices the look of
                 excitement in the eyes of the other boys.

                 A PASSENGER TRAIN is approaching.  It's WHISTLE BLOWS.
                 The trestle begins to shake.  A look of terror comes into
                 Michael's expression.

                                         DAVID
                           Hang on!!

                 The train THUNDERS across the trestle overhead, only a
                 foot or two above them.

                 The ROAR and the NOISE are tremendous.  The heat.  The
                 smoke.  The dust.

                 The boys grimace and hold on for dear life.  Then,
                 Michael reacts in horror as:

                 PAUL

                 releases his grip and falls, disappearing into the fog
                 below.

                 Then:  Marko falls.  Followed by Dwayne.  Only David and
                 Michael remain.  David shouts over the DIN of the passing
                 train.

                                         DAVID
                           Let go, Michael!  Let go!

                 Michael can't believe what he's hearing.  He's scared out
                 of his wits.

                                         DAVID
                           Do it!

                 David lets go with one hand, clings on with the other.

                                         DAVID
                           Do it, Michael!!!

                 David lets go.  He drops from sight; vanishing into the
                 fog below.

                 MICHAEL

                 Sweat streaming down his face.  The final car of the
                 train passes overhead and the noise begins to fade.
                 Then Michael hears:  laughter from the fog below.

                                         LOST BOYS
                           Drop, Michael.  Let go!  It's
                           safe!  Come on!  Don't be such a
                           baby!

                 They WHISTLE and CAT CALL and do everything they can to
                 goad him on.  All the while invisible in the darkness
                 below.

                 Michael lets go.  He drops into the fog.

                 His eyes widen with fright -- but -- for a moment he is
                 buoyant -- suspended in mid-air -- floating!

                 And then... he drops.  With a WHOOSH.  Like dead weight.
                 The wind RUSHING around his ears.  He loses consciousness.

                 DAVID

                 catches him in his arms.

                                         DAVID
                           Almost.

       72        INT. MICHAEL'S BEDROOM - DAY                             72

                 The shakes are drawn and the room is dark.

Here is the scene from the movie:

Lots of differences, most of them small, but the focus on the changes seems to be about heightened the mystery of the Lost Boys and that Michael is now a part of them, i.e., has become a vampire. Note:

* Instead of climbing down to hang on the underside of the bridge, the Boys plummet into the fog, only to be revealed as hanging on.

* David keeps repeating to Michael, “You’re one of us now” and invites Michael to let go and fall into the sky below.

* Interestingly the movie cuts the catcall lines from the fog below, opting instead for generic laughter on the part of the Boys.

The whole train thing is a great visual bit, a perfect distillation of the whole juvenile delinquent dynamic present in the story and the vampire theme, here reinforced by the image of them hanging down, then presumably flying in the fog.

What other changes do you note between script and screen?

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.

Script To Screen: “Kill Bill: Vol. 1″

March 25th, 2015 by

An action scene from early in the 2003 movie Kill Bill: Vol. 1, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.

IMDb plot summary: The Bride wakens from a four-year coma. The child she carried in her womb is gone. Now she must wreak vengeance on the team of assassins who betrayed her – a team she was once part of.

The scene from the script:

EXT. RESIDENTIAL PASADENA STREET - DAY

The front door opens and an attractive black HOUSEWIFE the
same age as The Bride stands in the doorway.
The Housewife's face shows immediate recognition of the
blonde on her doorstep.

The BRIDE
on the porch; we do a quick Shaw-Brothers-style Zoom into her
eyes.

FLASHBACK - SPAGHETTI WESTERN STYLE
(That means our Heroine is remembering something, and we see
it with an orange filter.) We're back inside the wedding
chapel. The Bride is taking the beating of her life by four
people in black suits. A black woman PUNCHES HER in the
face... WE see it's the black housewife, five years earlier.

The BRIDE ON THE PORCH
We Zoom quick out of her eyes to CU, a VENGEANCE THEME PLAYS
LOUD ON THE SOUNDTRACK.		(Whenever we hear this theme
throughout the picture, we'll quickly learn what accompanies
it is The Bride goin Krakatoa all over whoever's ass happens
to be in front of her at that moment.) As the Vengeance Theme
plays, a Vein in The Bride's forehead begins to pulsate. When
the Vengeance Theme stops, The Bride ATTACKS The Housewife.

INT. HOUSEWIFE'S NICE HOME - DAY

The white woman and the black woman FLY into the center of
the living room, CRASHING onto her coffe table in front of
the sofa.

These two wildcats go at each other savagely, TUMBLING OVER
the couch, clawing and scratching all the way, landing
together on the plush carpet.

The HOUSEWIFE
KICKS The Bride, sending her CRASHING backwards into the
small table where the phone, a note pad		(for messages), and
the mail is kept.

The Housewife scrambles up on her feet, but is caught by a
FLYING TACKLE from behind by The Bride that sends them both
into........

An ornamental iron and tempered-glass bookcase that has
framed family photos, display toys, some African art, and a
collection of painted commemorative plates depicting the
negro experience in the American military. Starting with a
plate featuring Cripis Atkins in the revolutionary war, negro
troops in union blue during the civil war, Buffalo soldiers
fighting Indians, the Jim Crow troops of the first world war,
the colored troops of world war two, Korea, Vietnam, and
finally Colin Powell....The Bride and The Housewife CRASH
THROUGH all this reducing everything to rubble.

They land hard on the floor covered in broken glass, locked
in grapple, each trying to get the best of the other one,...
When The Housewife HEADBUTTS The Bride in the nose.

The HOUSEWIFE
hops off The Bride, runs into the kitchen, opens a drawer and
comes out with a HUGE MOTHERFUCKIN BUTCHER KNIFE.

The BRIDE
rises from the floor, and WHIPS OUT a KNIFE in a sheath
hanging from her belt known as a SOG.		(A SOG is a long,
double-edged knife that's as sharp as a razor, and is what
Navy Seals use to kill humans with.)

The Bride backs up into the mess of the now totally
demolished living room.

The two woman stalk each other, each holding her blade, each
looking like they know how to use it, each waiting for the
other to make a mistake so they can plunge their blade deep
into the other one.

Blood and sweat dript off of the faces of the two women
locked in life and death combat......

....When The back kitchen door opens, and a FOUR-YEAR-OLD
LITTLE GIRL, carrying a lunch box steps inside.

			FOUR-YEAR-OLD GIRL
	Mommy, I'm home!

The two warrior women whose eyes reflect only combat
concentration, suddenly switch upon hearing the four-year
old's voice. The Housewife's eyes flash a look of pleading to
the eyes of The Bride.

The Bride seems to answer back; "Okay."

The Black woman and the white woman hide their edged weapons
behind their backs, as the Four-Year-Old Little Girl walks
into the newly destroyed living room.

The Housewife switches to her mommy voice.

			THE HOUSEWIFE
	Hey baby, how was school?

Here is the scene from the movie:

What did you notice in the translation from script to screen? Differences? Interesting use of language to convey eventual visuals?

One of the 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.

Script To Screen: “Joe Versus the Volcano”

March 18th, 2015 by

A key scene toward the beginning of the 1990 movie Joe Versus the Volcano, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley.

IMDb plot summary: When a hypochondriac learns that he is dying, he accepts an offer to throw himself in a volcano at a tropical island, and along the way there, learns to truly live.

In this scene, we see Joe’s response at work after he’s learned he has a terminal illness.

INT. ADVERTISING DEPARTMENT - DAY			

Joe comes in.  Dede is typing away.  Mr. Waturi is on the
phone.  Joe hangs up his coat.  He misses with the hat
again because of Dede's typing.  He leans over and
switches the typewriter off.  Then he picks up his hat,
dusts it off and throws it in the garbage can.

			  WATURI
		  (on phone)
	No.  No.  You were wrong.  He
	was wrong.  Who said that?  I
	didn't say that.  If I had
	said that, I would've been
	wrong.  I would've been wrong,
	Harry, isn't that right?

Mr. Waturi's attention is split between his call and Joe,
who is walking around the office like a tourist.

			  WATURI
	Listen, let me call you back,
	I've got something here, okay?
	And don't tell him anything
	till we finish our
	conversation, okay?

Mr. Waturi hangs up the phone.  Joe is looking at the
coffee set-up.

			  WATURI
	Joe?

			  JOE
	Yeah?

			  WATURI
	You were at lunch three hours.

			  JOE
	About that.

Joe wanders away, into his office.  Waturi looks after.

INT. JOE'S OFFICE - DAY

Joe is staring at the big wheel valve sporting the sign
that says Main Drain.  Mr. Waturi comes in as Joe moves
forward and, with great effort, rotates the wheel to its
opposite extreme.  This scares Waturi.

			  WATURI
	Joe, what are you doing?

			  JOE
	I'm opening, or closing, the
	main drain.

Nothing happens.

			  WATURI
	You shouldn't be touching
	that.

			  JOE
	Nothing happened.  Do you know
	how long I've been wondering
	what would happen if I did
	that?

			  WATURI
	What's the matter with you?

			  JOE
	Brain cloud.

			  WATURI
	What?

			  JOE
	Never mind.  Listen, Mr.
	Waturi. Frank.  I quit.
			
Joe starts to take some stuff out of his desk.  He looks
at his lamp, gets the cord, plugs it in, and turns it on.

			  WATURI
	You mean, today?

			  JOE
	That's right.

			  WATURI
	That's great.  Well, don't
	come looking for a reference.

			  JOE
	Okay, I won't.

			  WATURI
	You blew this job.

Joe takes in the little room.

			  JOE
	I've been here for four and a
	half years.  The work I did I
	probably could've done in
	five, six months. That leaves
	four years leftover.

He's been filling up a shopping bag with stuff from his
desk:  three books (Romeo and Juliet, Robinson Crusoe and
The Odyssey), an old ukulele and his lamp.  Now he's
finished.  He walks out of the room without even looking
at Waturi.  Waturi goes after him as he exits.

INT. ADVERTISING DEPARTMENT - DAY

Joe is walking towards the front door.  Waturi follows
him in.  Joe stops at Dede's desk. She's typing.  He
looks at her.  She stops typing.

			  JOE
	Four years.  If I had them
	now. Like gold in my hand.
	Here.  This is for you.
		  (gives Dede the lamp)
	'Bye-bye, Dede.

			  DEDE
	You're going?

			  WATURI
	Well, if you're leaving,
	leave.	You'll get your check.  
        And, I promise you, you'll be 
        easy to replace.

			  JOE
	I should say something.

			  WATURI
	What are you talking about?

			  JOE
	This life.  Life?  What a
	joke. This situation   This
	room.

			  WATURI
	Joe, maybe you should just...

			  JOE
	You look terrible, Mr. Waturi.
	You look like a bag of shit
	stuffed inna cheap suit.  Not
	that anyone would look good
	under these zombie lights.  I
	can feel them sucking the
	juice outta my eyeballs. Three
	hundred bucks a week, that's
	the news.  For three hundred
	bucks a week I've lived in
	this sink. This used rubber.

			  WATURI
	Watch it, mister!  There's a
	woman here!

			  JOE
	Don't you think I know that,
	Frank? Don't you think I'm
	aware there's a woman here?  I
	can taste her on my tongue.  I
	can smell her.  When I'm
	twenty feet away, I can hear
	the fabric of her dress when
	she moves in her chair.  Not
	that I've done anything about
	it.  I've gone all day, every
	day, not doing, not saying,
	not taking the chance for
	three hundred bucks a week,
	and Frank the coffee stinks
	it's like arsenic, the lights
	give me a headache if the
	lights don't give you a
	headache you must be dead,
	let's arrange the funeral.

			  WATURI
	You better get outta here
	right now!  I'm telling you!

			  JOE
	You're telling me nothing.

			  WATURI
	I'm telling you!

			  JOE
	And why, I ask myself, why
	have I put up with you?  I
	can't imagine but I know.
	Fear.  Yellow freakin' fear.
	I've been too chicken shit
	afraid to live my life so I
	sold it to you for three
	hundred freakin' dollars a
	week! You're lucky I don't
	kill you! You're lucky I don't
	rip your freakin' throat out!
	But I'm not going to and maybe
	you're not so lucky at that.
	'Cause I'm gonna leave you
	here, Mister Wa-a-Waturi, and
	what could be worse than that?

Joe opens the door and leaves.  Mr. Waturi and Dede are
frozen.  The door reopens and Joe comes halfway back in.

			  JOE
	Dede?

			  DEDE
	Yeah?

			  JOE
	How 'bout dinner tonight?

			  DEDE
	Yeah, uh, okay.

Joe smiles for the first time since we've met him, and
closes the door again.

			  DEDE
	Wow.  What a change.

Here is the scene from the movie:

Two things of note. First, the actors recite the dialogue almost word for word. Perhaps this is because they’re not only dealing with a script written by an Academy Award winning screenwriter (Moonstruck), but also a playwright. And there is a proud tradition in theater: Don’t screw with the writer’s dialogue.

Second, one thing Tom Hanks does do in the scene is improvise with the fake arm. None of that is in the script.

My guess: The prop was just sitting there and Hanks, being a talented improvisational actor, discussed it with Shanley, and they did a few takes with Hanks playing around with the arm. It adds a nice bit of fun and also reveals character, showing how much further Hanks’ character is willing to go to express ridicule toward his boss and his job.

Any Joe Versus the Volcano fans out there? Not the greatest movie in the world, but some really wonderful scenes. Plus Meg Ryan plays three different roles. And Hanks delivers his usual exceptional performance.

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.

Script To Screen: “Jaws”

March 11th, 2015 by

It’s the movie that forever changed the movie business, the first true blockbuster of the modern era: Jaws (1975), screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, novel by Benchley.

IMDb plot summary: When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.

The scene: One of the most memorable opening incidents in movie history.

               EXT. BEACH – NIGHT – SHARK'S POINT OF VIEW – RISING OUT OF 
               THE WATER, LOOKING AT

               It is a pleasant, moonlit, windless night in mid-June. We 
               see a long straight stretch of white beach. Behind the low 
               dunes are the dark shapes of large expensive houses. Hear a 
               number of voices singing. It sounds like an eastern 
               university's alma mater, no longer distorted.

               EXT. BEACH – NIGHT – ANOTHER ANGLE

               Around a blazing bonfire, a group of young men and women, 
               beer cans (or maybe a keg) in evidence, as well as the bota 
               Spanish leather wine-bag much in favor by beach and ski-bum 
               types.

               The group is swapping sentimental alma maters, weepily singing 
               eastern Ivy League anthems -– Dartmouth, Cornell, Harvard, 
               Penn, etc. Two young people break away from the others. They

               are Tom Cassidy and Chrissie. Behind them, there is 
               considerable necking activity; Tom and Chrissie are more 
               serious.

               TOM

               Makes a clumsy attempt at snaring Chrissie, cups her from 
               behind. She squirms playfully out of his grasp. We discover 
               he's not especially sober.

                                     TOM
                         Hey! Hey hey! I'm with you, right?

               EXT. ANOTHER PART OF THE BEACH – NIGHT

               Tom and Chrissie are separated from the others, silhouetted 
               against the fire, she pauses and looks at the ocean, he is 
               plodding along in the sand, winded.

               Chrissie runs down the slope of the dune towards the water, 
               leaving Tom reeling atop the dune. As she runs, she is 
               shedding her clothes. Tom is trying to trail her by her 
               clothes, like Hansel following bread crumbs through the woods.

               But Chrissie is way ahead of him.

                                     CHRISSIE
                         C'mon!

               She runs headlong into the inviting sea, plunges cleanly 
               into the water with a light "Whoops!" as the cold water sweeps 
               over her.

               Behind all this, we continue to hear the sentimental, beery 
               chorus of alma maters.

               Then we see it -- a gentle bulge in the water, a ripple that 
               passes her a dozen feet away. A pressure wave lifts her up, 
               then eases her down again, like a smooth, sudden swell.

                                     CHRISSIE
                         Tommy? Don't dunk me...

               She looks around for him, finds him still on the beach, his 
               feet tangled in his pants, which have dropped around his 
               ankles. She starts to swim back in to him.

               EXT. CHRISSIE IN THE WATER

               Her expression freezes. The water-bulge is racing towards 
               her. The first bump jolts her upright, out of the water to 
               her hips. She reaches under water to touch her leg. Whatever 
               she feels makes her open her mouth to scream, but she is 
               slammed again, hard, whipped into an arc of about eight feet, 
               up and down, submerging her down to her open mouth, choking 
               off any scream she might try to make. Another jolt to her 
               body, driving her under so that only her hair swirls on the 
               surface. Then it too is sucked below in a final and terrible 
               jerking motion. HOLD on the eddies and swirls until we're 
               sure it's all over.

               EXT. CLOSE ON TOM ON BEACH

               In his shorts, laughing to himself, turning in slow stoned 
               circles, held prisoner by his windbreaker which seems to 
               have him in an armlock, as he struggles to free his arm from 
               a tight sleeve. As he turns, we hear the alma maters in the 
               background, from the fire.

Here is the scene from the movie:

There’s a lot more dialogue in the film version than the script, presumably largely improvised on set. Interesting to note in an earlier draft, there was no scripted dialogue in this scene. Also compare the shark attack scene from an earlier draft to the one attributed to the final draft, excerpted above:

	Her expression freezes.  The water-lump is racing for her.
	It bolts her upright, out of the water to her hips, then slams
	her hard, whipping her in an upward arc of eight feet before
	she is jerked down to her open mouth.  Another jolt to her
	floating hair.  One hand claws the air, fingers trying to
	breathe, then it, too, is sucked below in a final and terrible
	jerking motion.  HOLD on the churning froth of a baby whirl-
	pool until we are sure it is over.

Close, but less in the way of description. Compared to the movie version which has a bunch more action and lots of poor Chrissie’s screams and pleas for help — again probably improvised on set — Spielberg upped the action, taking what is detailed in one paragraph into an entire minute of the unseen shark’s attack.

There’s also an additional cut to Tommy on the beach during the middle of the shark attack, which adds to the tension — Why doesn’t he hear her?!!! — and contributes some dramatic irony.

By the way, the alternate title of the script: “Stillness in the Water”.

Do you remember the first time you saw Jaws?

One of the 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.

Script To Screen: “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”

March 4th, 2015 by

The 1998 movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a great indie feature. Written and directed by Guy Ritchie, the movie veers wonderfully between humor and drama.

Here is a key early scene in the script:

BOXING GYM - NIGHT

Stakes have increased dramatically. There is a pause as Frazer looks at 
his cards.

EDDY
Twenty thousand open.

PHIL
OK. My Doctor would beat me to a heart attack if he knew what was going 
on here. I fold.

HATCHET
Got some cards there, boy? Thirty thousand. Back to you already Eddy?

Hatchet looks impatiently at the door.

EDDY
Fifty grand.

Hatchet scours Ed's forehead. It is still dry.

HATCHET
Eighty grand.

BOXING GYM CHANGING ROOM - NIGHT

Barry, who is trying as hard as he can to see Ed's cards, frustratedly 
zooms in and out; eventually Ed raises them just
enough; Barry jibs, hey bingo he sees Ed's cards!

Ed's got nothing but a pair of sixes. Barry excitedly starts tapping 
away.

INT. BOXING GYM - MGHT

EDDY
One hundred grand.

FRAZER
Hold on fellas, I know . . .

HATCHER (interrupts j
I know you're not in, which means nobody cares what you know. Two 
hundred and fifty.

Hatchet and EDDY minutely study each other's hairlines, waiting for a 
nervous droplet to appear. Sweat breaks; a drop on Ed's forehead, fills 
frame. Slowly we follow a droplet's journey coursing down Eddy's brow 
Eventually this is met by a large unblinking eye, at this point the 
pause is broken.

EDDY
That is quite a raise, one hundred and fifty on my hundred.

HATCHET
Yes . . . and is there something else you want to say? EDDY

As you know, this puts us in an awkward position. I don't have enough 
to continue.

Pause.

CROUPIER
We will have to see both your cards if no one loans EDDY the money to 
continue. It's a loan or we see both your cards.

Silence follows. A lot of nose scratching and examining of imaginary 
dirty ftngernails spreads contagiously throughout the remaining 
company.

It doesn't look . . .

HATCHET
(interrupts)
I will.

EDDY
You will what?

HATCHET
I will loan you the money.

Silence. The sweat bead reaches the bottom of Ed's chin, trembles for a 
second, then unattaches itself. Very slowly it falls. We follow its 
long silent journey. Eventually it is greeted by the back of Ed's 
cards. It explodes dramatically in sound and vision, symbolizing this 
worrying news.

EDDY
I think I would rather just turn them over.

HATCHET
I am not interested in what you would rather; I want to keep going. I 
am also offering you the money, so we don't have to turn them over 
because you can borrow.

EDDY
I need two hundred and fifty grand.

HATCHET
No, you need five hundred grand to see me.

Ed's face is now awash, busily blistering with sweat.

EDDY
That's if I want to see you.

HATCHET
Well, you're going to have a problem carrying on, aintcha.

The pause is painful.

CRUOPIER
You can still fold.

EDDY doesn't like the sound of this. There is sympathy in her voice. 
Harry looks sharply through narrowed eyes at the croupier; the croupier 
pleads with Eddy.

EDDY
I'll see ya.

HATCHET
For half a million?

EDDY
Unless you are going to accept twenty quid.

HATCHET
And still got a sense of humour. That's not monkey nuts son; you can 
still fold.
(Pause)
OK, before I loan you this, I expect, if you lose of course, my money 
back within a week, Crystal? That's Sunday, OK?

These last few words echo in the distance of Ed's mind (and ours). He 
is committed, but has now left the world of the conscious. Hatchet 
turns over the first card; it's a seven. EDDY
ushers him on; another seven, it looks as though he will have three; 
then the third: it's a four. There is an anti-climatic silence. After a 
loud pause . . .

CROUPIER
Is that it?

FRAZER
He was bluffing!

Hatchet looks content and rather nonchalant.

HATCHET
Let's see your fucking cards.

Nobody is impressed by Hatchet's cards; all eyes fall on EDDY 
expectantly We crash in to Ed's pupils with a loud swoosh. They 
contract to the size of pinheads. His world has changed for ever.

Here is the scene from the movie:

How does the movie differ from the script? There are subtle changes. What do you think?

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.

Script To Screen: “Fight Club”

February 25th, 2015 by

The ending to the 1999 movie Fight Club, screenplay by Jim Uhls, novel by Chuck Palahniuk.

IMDb plot summary: An insomniac office worker looking for a way to change his life crosses paths with a devil-may-care soap maker and they form an underground fight club that evolves into something much, much more…

SPOILER ALERT: Jack (Edward Norton) has realized that Tyler (Brad Pitt) is a projection of his own psyche which leads him to the choice he makes in this scene.

Here is the scene from an early version of the script:

INT. LARGE SOCIAL ROOM

With floor-to-ceiling windows showing a view of the city.  There are a
HUNDRED DUFFEL BAGS lining the floor, along the walls.

Tyler leaps onto Jack seizes the gun.  Jack holds onto Tyler.  Tyler
shoves the gun barrel into Jack's mouth.

TYLER
Okay -- let's kill you -- let's kill both of us.  Be a martyr for the
cause.

Tyler pushes Jack against a glass wall.  Jack, exhausted, is losing his
spirit.

JACK (V.O.)
I think this is about where we came in.

TYLER
Two minutes.

Jack collapses to the floor.  Tyler moves down with him, keeping the
gun in Jack's mouth.  He sits on Jack.

JACK
Either way -- the building blows us up or you pull the trigger -- it'll
finally be over.

TYLER
This building isn't going to blow up.  It's the observation room. 
Pay-per-view.  So, what are you going to do?  You don't even have the
guts to make a decision.

Jack looks into his eyes for a moment, then reaches up and PULLS THE
TRIGGER.  *GO TO SLOW MOTION* AS -- KABLAM! his cheeks INFLATE with gas
from the gun.  His eyes bulge, BLOOD flies out backwards from his head.
SMOKE wafts out of his mouth.

RESUME NORMAL SPEED as Tyler gapes at Jack, then reaches behind his
head and feels -- there's a HOLE BLOWN OUT THE BACK.  Tyler's eyes
glaze over and he falls backwards, plopping on the floor, DEAD, with a
grin on his face.

A throng of Space Monkeys -- two of whom drag Marla -- RUSHES into the
room.  They see Jack, ALONE, holding a gun, bleeding profusely from the
side of his face, where he's SHOT A HOLE through HIS CHEEK.  He stares
at the empty floor in front of him with his weird, little smile.

TALL SPACE MONKEY
ARE YOU ALL RIGHT, SIR?!!

The two Space Monkeys who hold Marla press forward through the crowd. 
One of them puts a GUN to her head.  He COCKS it.

TALL SPACE MONKEY
ARE YOU ALL RIGHT, SIR?!!

Jack takes in the sight of Marla and the gun at her head.  He cracks a
Tyler-esque grin.

JACK
Everything's fine.  Give me the girl.

The Monkeys release Marla.  She moves next to Jack, now becoming more
shocked by his bloody state.  Jack grabs her arm.  She digs through her
purse and pulls out a wad of tissue paper.  She puts them into his
mouth to plug the hole.

MARLA
What the fuck is going on?!

Jack cracks his weird, little smile; his eyes are wide and
half-insane-looking.  He winks at Marla and squeezes her hand.

JACK
Tyler's dead.

The Space Monkeys all grab their duffel bags and file out of the room,
saluting Jack as they go.

Now, Jack and Marla are completely alone.  He struggles to get to his
feet.  She helps him.  They look out the window.

MASSIVE EXPLOSION -- a building a quarter of a mile away.  It's
destruction is completely visible from here.  The glass walls RATTLE
LOUDLY from the shock wave.  They both stare out the window.

JACK
Listen, you met me at a really weird time in my life ...

Marla looks at Jack, then looks back out the window.  He reaches for
her hand.  She takes his hand.

They are SILHOUETTED against BRIGHT FLASHES as ANOTHER BUILDING
EXPLODES and COLLAPSES.  ANOTHER BUILDING EXPLODES.  And ANOTHER
BUILDING.  And ANOTHER BUILDING.

The FILM SLOWS DOWN, then ADVANCES ONE FRAME at a TIME -- SHOWING the
SPROCKET HOLES on the SIDES.  It's CAUGHT in the mechanism of the
projector's GATE.  EACH FRAME is the EXPLODING BUILDINGS -- then, *ONE
FRAME is a PENIS*.  Then, EXPLODING BUILDINGS again.  SPEED UP the
frames, LOSE the sprocket holes, RESUME NORMAL SPEED.

FADE OUT

And here is the scene from a later version of the script:

    Jack holds his head, walks around, at his wit's end.

                             JACK
                 Why... why... why... ?

                             TYLER
                 Why what?

                             JACK
                 Why can't I get rid of you?  Why
                 can't I just wish you away?

                             TYLER
                 You need me.

                             JACK
                 No, no, I don't.
                       (pause)
                 I thank you, I really do.  Thank you,
                 but I don't need you anymore.

                             TYLER
                 Look, I can be selfish, I know that.
                       (pause)
                 I'm not blind to my own failings...

                             JACK
                 Noooo, please...

     Jack backs up against a window, numb and weary.

                             TYLER
                 From now on, we'll share Marla.
                 We've been spending too much time
                 apart...

                             JACK
                 ... no, no, no...

                             TYLER
                 No more running off without you.
                 From here on out, we do it together.

                             JACK
                 Why are you doing this?!

                             TYLER
                 I'm doing this for us.

                             JACK
                 Please understand... I've gotten all
                 I can from this, Tyler.

                             TYLER
                       (sullen)
                 If I leave, you will be right back
                 where I found you...

                             JACK
                 I swear on my life, I won't...

                             TYLER
                 You will.  You know you will.

     Jack stares at Tyler, tears welling up, hangs his head.  He
     looks at the gun in his hand...

                             TYLER
                 Can you live with that?

     Jack stares at the gun a long time... then...

     Jack brings the gun up, PUTS THE GUN IN HIS MOUTH.

     Tyler cocks his head.

                             TYLER
                 What are you doing?

                             JACK
                 What have you left for me?

                             TYLER
                 Why do you want to do that? Why do
                 you want to put that gun in your
                 mouth?

                             JACK
                 Not my mouth.  Our mouth.

     Tyler is calm.

                             TYLER
                 This is interesting.

     Tyler smiles in appreciation, slowly walks forward, stands
     very close to Jack.

                             TYLER
                 Why are you going with this, Ikea-
                 boy?

                             JACK
                 It's the only way to get rid of you...

     Jack COCKS the hammer on the gun.

                             TYLER
                 I can see you feel very strongly.  I
                 feel strongly too.
                       (pause)
                 Hey, you and me.
                       (pause)
                 Friends again?

     Their eyes are locked, unblinking.  Long silence.

                             JACK
                 Do something for me.

                             TYLER
                 What?

                             JACK
                 Appreciate something.

                             TYLER
                 What?

                             JACK
                 Look at me...

                             TYLER
                 What?

                             JACK
                 My eyes are open.

     EXTREME SLOW MOTION:

     Jack's finger squeezes the trigger...

     KABLAM! -- Jack's cheeks INFLATE with gas.  His eyes bulge.
     BLOOD flies out from his head.  The WINDOW behind him
     SHATTERS.  SMOKE wafts out of his mouth and tear ducts.

     RESUME NORMAL SPEED as the GLASS FALLS behind Jack...

     Tyler stands, in gunsmoke, eyes glazed, sniffs the air...

                             TYLER
                 What's that smell... ?

     Jack slumps to the floor... Tyler falls...

     Tyler hits the ground.  The back of TYLER'S HEAD is BLOWN
     OPEN, revealing blood, skull and brain.

     Suddenly, a GROUP of SPACE MONKEYS burst into the room,
     moving forward to Jack.  TYLER'S BODY IS GONE.

                             TALL SPACE MONKEY
                 Are you all right, sir... ?!

     Jack quakes, holding the side of his head; a ragged hole
     blown in his CHEEK.  He's bleeding hard, but he's alive.

                             JACK
                 I'm okay...

     Jack looks to the Space Monkeys, trying to get his eyes to
     see.  TWO SPACE MONKEYS enter with Marla.  One holds a gun
     to Marla as she struggles.

                             SHORT SPACE MONKEY
                 Are you sure?  You look terrible,
                 sir!  What's happened?

                             JACK
                 Everything's fine.

                             ANOTHER SPACE MONKEY
                 Sir, you look really awful!  Do you
                 need medical assistance?

     Jack sees Marla, tries to get to his feet, falls...

                             JACK
                 Bring the girl to me.  The rest of
                 you get out.  Now!

     The Monkeys bring Marla, releasing her, saluting.

                             MARLA
                 What happened... ?

                             JACK
                 Don't ask.

     Marla crouches, takes out wadded TISSUES and tries to apply.
     them to Jack's wound.  Space Monkeys are leaving, hesitantly.

                             JACK
                 Get to the rendezvous point.  Move it!

     Jack and Marla are left alone.

                             MARLA
                 My God, you're shot...

                             JACK
                 Yes.

     Jack tries to got up.  Marla helps him.

                             MARLA
                 Who did this to you?

                             JACK
                 I did, I think.  But, I'm okay... I'm
                 fine...

     MASSIVE EXPLOSION... the glass walls rattle...

     Jack and Marla look -- OUT THE WINDOWS: a BUILDING EXPLODES;
     collapsing upon itself.  Then, ANOTHER BUILDING IMPLODES
     into a massive cloud of dust.  Jack and Marla are
     silhouetted against the SKYLINE.  Jack looks to Marla,
     reaches to take her hand.

                             JACK
                 I'm sorry... you met me at a very
                 strange time in my life.

     Marla looks at him.  ANOTHER BUILDING IMPLODES and COLLAPSES
     inward... and ANOTHER BUILDING... and ANOTHER...

     The FILM SLOWS, then ADVANCES ONE FRAME at a TIME -- SHOWING
     SPROCKET HOLES on the SIDES.  EACH FRAME is an IMPLODING
     BUILDING -- then, ONE FRAME IS A PENIS.  Then, the IMPLODING
     BUILDING again.  SPEED UP the frames, LOSE the sprocket
     holes, RESUME NORMAL SPEED...

                                                     FADE TO BLACK:

Here is the scene – in 2 parts and without Space Monkeys – from the movie.

Notice the significant increase in dialogue from the early draft to the later one. Then in the movie, a few alterations, but mostly trimmed dialogue. And one interesting twist: The moment Jack realizes that if Tyler has the gun in his hand… that actually means that Jack is holding the gun… which in the movie is how the gun ‘moves’ from Tyler to Jack.

What other changes do you notice?

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.

Script To Screen: “Jackie Brown”

February 18th, 2015 by

A scene from the 1997 movie Jackie Brown, written by Quentin Tarantino, based on an Elmore Leonard novel.

IMDb plot summary: The middle age stewardess Jackie Brown smuggles money from Mexico to Los Angeles for the arms dealer Ordell Robbie. When she gets caught by the agents Ray Nicolette and Mark Dargus with ten thousand dollars and cocaine in her purse, they propose a deal to her to help them to arrest Ordell in exchange of her freedom. Meanwhile Ordell asks the fifty-six year-old Max Cherry, who runs a bail bond business, to release Jackie Brown with the intention of eliminating her. Jackie suspects of Ordell’s intention and plots a complicate confidence game with Max to steal half a million dollar from Ordell.

Here Jackie gets the jump on Ordell.

CU GUN IN CROTCH					

JACKIE: What do you think it is?
ORDELL: I think it's a gun pressing against my dick.
JACKIE: You thought right.. Now take your hands from around my throat,
nigga.

Ordell flashes his hustler's smile and lets go.

END OF SPLIT SCREEN

Jackie turns Ordell around, gun firmly in his back, and pushes him
against the wall.

ORDELL: What the hell you doin'?
JACKIE: Shut your ass up and grab the wall!

Jackie has Ordell against the wall and is frisking him the way a cop
would.  She finds the .22 pistol in his pocket

ORDELL: Now, baby, that's got nothin' to do with you.  I just carry that.
You been listenin' to them cops too much.
JACKIE: The cops didn't try and strangle my ass.
ORDELL: Damn, Jackie, I was just playin' with you.
JACKIE: Well, I ain't playin with you. I'm gonna unload both these
motherfuckers, you don't do what I tell you. Understand what I'm saying?
ORDELL: Baby, I ain't come here - -

She shoves both guns in Ordell's back.

JACKIE: I said, you understand what I'm saying
ORDELL: I understand woman, damn!
JACKIE: Go sit over in that chair.

Ordell moves over to a chair across from the couch. Ordell still tries
bullshit..

ORDELL: I'm tellin' you, those cops been fuckin' wit your mind. They turn
black against black, that's how they do.
JACKIE: Shut your raggedy ass up and sit down.

Ordell sits.

JACKIE: (CONT'D) Put both hands behind our head.

Ordell does..

ORDELL: This shits gettin silly now..

Jackie turns the halogen lamp to light.

JACKIE: I gotta tell you to shut up one more time, I'm gonna shut you up.

Jackie sits down on the couch, holding a gun in each hand, both pointed
dead at Ordell.

A coffee table lays between them.

Ordell, hands behind his head, continues to mumble..

ORDELL: I just came here to talk.
JACKIE: Way I see it, me and you only got one thing to talk about.  What
you willing to do for me?

Ordell looks at her a moment and says;

ORDELL: Well, I can get you a good lawyer--

Jackie shakes her head "no!"

JACKIE: Let's get realistic, baby.  Sooner or later they're gonna get
around to offering me a plea deal, and you know that.  That's why you
came here to kill me.

ORDELL: --Baby, I didn't--

JACKIE: --It's okay.  I forgive you. Now, let's say if I tell on you, I
walk. And if I don't, I go to jail.

Ordell, very interested

ORDELL: Yeah?
JACKIE: One hundred thousand put in an escrow account in my name, if I'm
convicted up to a year, or put on probation.  If I have to do more than
a year, you pay another hundred thousand.

Ordell just takes in what the woman said.

ORDELL: I got a problem..
JACKIE: All your money's in Mexico.

Ordell has to smile at the woman.

ORDELL: Yeah.
JACKIE: I been thinkin about that, too, and I got me a idea.

Here is the movie version of the scene:

It’s great to see what Pam Grier and Samuel L. Jackson do with Tarantino’s dialogue. One thing: Grier adds a few choice MF-bombs to underscore how damn serious she is.

One of the 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.

Script To Screen: “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”

February 11th, 2015 by

A scene from the wonderful 1986 comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, written and directed by John Hughes.

IMDb plot summary: A high school wise guy is determined to have a day off from school, despite what the principal thinks of that.

In this scene, Ferris revels in the fact he just conned his parents into letting him stay home from school, breaking the forth wall and letting us into his private thoughts.

 10  INT. BEDROOM                                                 10

     Ferris yanks open the drapes. The pall of the sickroom
     disappears in the brilliant glow of morning sunlight.

                              FERRIS
               Incredible! One of the worst performances
               of my career and they never doubted it
               for a second.
                          (looks out the window)
               What a beautiful day!

     He turns from the window.

                              FERRIS
               Parents always fall for the clammy hands.
               It's physical evidence of illness. It's
               a good, non-specific symptom. Parents are
               generally pretty hip to the fever scams.
               And to make them work you have to go a hundred
               and one, hundred and two. You get a nervous
               mother and you end up in a doctor's office
               and that's worse than school.

     He flips on his stereo and fills the room with the MTV
     broadcast. A NEW SONG begins.

                              FERRIS
               Fake a stomach cramp and when you're
               doubled over, moaning and wailing, just
               lick your palms. It's a little stupid
               and childish but then so if high school.
               Right?

     He equalizes the sound a little.

                              FERRIS
               This is my ninth sick day with semester.
               If I go for ten, I'm probably going to
               have to barf up a lung. So, I absolutely
               must make this one count.

     He exits into the hallway.

 11  INT. BATHROOM                                                11

     Ferris walks into the bathroom. It's littered with Jean's
     debris. He turns on the shower water.

                              FERRIS
               I don't care if you're fifty five
               or seven, everybody needs a day off
               now and then. It's a beautiful day.
               How can I be expected to handle
               high school?

     He bends down OUT OF FRAME as he loses his briefs. He pops
     up.

                              FERRIS
               I do actually have a test. That wasn't
               bullshit.

     He steps into the shower. Through the pebbled glass of the
     shower door we see Ferris' outline.

                              FERRIS
               That I care about it was.

 12  INT. BATHROOM. SHOWER STALL.                                 12

     Inside the shower. Ferris' hair is standing straight up.
     It's moulded into a fin with shampoo.

                              FERRIS
               It's on European socialism. I mean,
               really. What's the point? I'm not
               European. I don't plan to be European.
               So, who gives a shit if they're socialists?
               They could be fascist anarchists and it
               still wouldn't change the fact that I
               don't own a car.

     He turns the shower head around and uses it like a
     microphone.

                              FERRIS
                          (sings)
               WELL SHAKE IT UP, BABY,
               TWIST AND SHOUT...

 13  INT. HALLWAY. LATER                                          13

     Ferris comes out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around
     his waist. He's drying his hair with another of a different
     color.

                              FERRIS
               Not that I condone fascism. Or
               and "isms". "Isms", in my opinion
               are not good. A person should not
               believe in an "ism". He should
               believe in himself. John Lennon
               said it on his first solo album.
               "I don't believe in Beatles, I
               just believe in me." A good point
               there. After all, he was the Walrus.

     He opens a linen closet and tosses the towel in it.

                              FERRIS
               I could be the Walrus and I'd still
               have to bum rides off people.

Here is the movie version of the scene:

Such terrific stuff, the dialogue followed almost to a tee from script to screen. One notable exception: The song Ferris sings in the shower is not The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” but “Danke Schoen”. If you’re not familiar with Wayne Newton’s interpretation of the song, check it out:

Perhaps the change was made because Hughes already had in mind this scene:

Here are the lyrics of “Danke Schoen”. Any deeper meaning to Ferris singing this song – twice?

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Thank you for all the joy and pain
Picture show, second balcony, was the place we’d meet
Second seat, go dutch treat, you were sweet

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Save those lies, darling don’t explain
I recall Central Park in fall
How you tore your dress, what a mess, I confess
That’s not all

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Thank you for walks down Lover’s Lane
I can see, hearts carved on a tree
Letters intertwined, for all time
Yours and mine, that was fine

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Thank you for seeing me again
Though we go on our separate ways
Still the memory stays, for always
My heart says, “Danke schoen”

Danke schoen, oh darling, danke schoen
I said, thank you for seeing me again
Though we go on our separate ways
Still the memory stays, for always
My heart says, “Danke schoen”

Danke schoen
Auf wiedersehen
Danke schoen

Perhaps he’s acknowledging that the three friends will inevitably go their separate ways and he’s saying “thanks and goodbye”. Could add heft to the live-in-the-moment spirit of “Twist and Shout”. Or maybe it speaks to Ferris being an incurable romantic. In any event, the dialogue in the shower scene is great, dabbling with the intellectual, then veering back to a more pressing adolescent concern: Transportation.

What are your thoughts about this scene from the movie? Or generally about the movie itself? I invite you to comments to share your observations.

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.

Script To Screen: “A Few Good Men”

February 4th, 2015 by

A scene from the 1992 movie A Few Good Men, screenplay by Aaron Sorkin based on his play.

IMDb plot summary: Neo military lawyer Kaffee defends Marines accused of murder; they contend they were acting under orders.

This is directly after the famous “You can’t handle the truth” outburst.

		ROSS looks at KAFFEE, then JESSEP, then nods his head "yes"
		to RANDOLPH.

						RANDOLPH
				The Sergeant at Arms will take the jury to
				an ante-room where you'll wait until
				further instruction.

		The SERGEANT AT ARMS begins leading the JURORS out of the
		room.

						JESSEP
				What the hell's going on?

		No one will say anything until the jurors are out of the room.

						JESSEP
						(continuing; to
						captain)
				Captain, what the hell's going on?  I did
				my job.  I'd do it again.  Now I'm getting
				on a plane and going back to my base.

						RANDOLPH
				M.P.'s, guard the prisoner.

		The M.P.Is are tentative.  They've never heard a marine
		colonel referred to as "the prisoner" before.  They sure as
		hell have never been asked to guard one.

						ROSS
				Guard the prisoner.

						JESSEP
				What the hell-

						ROSS
				Colonel Jessep, you have the right to
				remain silent.  Any statement you do make
				can be used against you in a trial by
				court-martial or other judicial or
				administrative proceeding.  You have the
				right ...

		ROSS continues reading JESSEP his rights, over--

						JESSEP
				I'm being charged with a crime? I'm--
				that's what this is--
						(to Ross)
				Marine!
						(Ross keeps going)
				Marine!!
						(Ross is doing his
						job.)
				I'm being charged with a crime?  I'm-
				that's what's happening?  This--I'm-this
				is funny, you know that, this is--

		And JESSEP lunges at KAFFEE, and KAFFEE would be dead but for
		the three M.P.'s who've leapt in to restrain JESSEP.  SAM and
		JO have come to their feet and stand behind KAFFEE.

						JESSEP
						(continuing; to
						Kaffee)
				I'm gonna tear your eyes right outta your
				head and piss in your dead skull.  You
				fucked with the wrong marine.

		ROSS is done reading JESSEP his rights.

						ROSS
				Colonel Jessep, do you understand those
				rights as I have just read then to you?

						JESSEP
				I saved lives. That boy was--there was
				a weak link.  I saved lives, you hear me?

		The courtroom is silent from Jessep's outburst. Jessep shakes
		his head.

						JESSEP
						(continuing)
				You fuckin' people.
						(beat)
				You have no idea how to defend a nation.

						JESSEP
						(continuing; to
						KAFFEE)
				All you did was weaken a country today,
				Kaffee. That's all you did.  You put
				people in danger.  Sweet dreams, son.

						KAFFEE
				Don't call me son.
						(beat)
				I'm a lawyer, and an officer of the United
				States Navy.  And you're under arrest you
				sonofabitch.

		KAFFEE stays on JESSEP a moment longer, then remembers--

						KAFFEE
						(continuing)
				The witness is excused.

		The M.P.'s start leading JESSEP out, and KAFFEE notices
		DAWSON.  And DOWNEY.  And ROSS. who are watching a man in a
		marine colonels uniform be led away in handcuffs...KAFFEE
		takes a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes some sweat
		from his hands.

Here is the movie version of the scene:

There’s one cut of significance, this side of dialogue by Jessep: “I saved lives. That boy was–there was a weak link. I saved lives, you hear me?” Probably because it is repetitive of content that has come before. And it gets right to Jessep’s line: “You fuckin’ people,” which is a better direct response to Ross’s question.

There is a beat described in scene description that is missing from the movie:

The M.P.Is are tentative.  They've never heard a marine
colonel referred to as "the prisoner" before.  They sure as
hell have never been asked to guard one.

I note this to make a point. Sorkin is known for his dialogue. But if you read his scripts, he also uses lots of commentary in scene description to convey the inner thoughts and feelings of characters. Yes, another example of a professional writer breaking the so-called rule against writing unfilmables.

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.