Sheridan at myPDFscripts.com and I continue our quest: To find a copy of the original Alexander Jacobs script for Point Blank. Today Sheridan has the definitive post about the script including this interview excerpt from Jacobs:
There is an interview with Alexander Jacobs available in Film Quaterly, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Winter 1968 – Winter 1969), pp. 2-14, in which he answers this question (I’ve placed the interesting clues in bold):
How did the script for Point Blank come to be written?
There were three main versions of the script. The first I did during my first stay in Hollywood, in four weeks, and that consisted of writing the script once and then rewriting it completely. I only had four weeks because I was working on a picture in England. John gave me the script that the Newhouses had written, which was a craftsmanlike piece of work but very old-fashioned. And the idea was to make a thriller that was enterprising. What I argued from the beginning was we couldn’t make an Asphalt Jungle, we couldn’t make a Harper, we couldn’t make a Sweet Smell of Success. I thought all those days were over-television had scraped them clean.
We had to do something completely fresh. We wanted to make a film that was a half reel ahead of the audience, that was the whole idea. We made a vow that we’d have no people getting in and out of cars, no shots of car doors opening and closing, unless there was a really important reason. And then I wrote a second version which consisted mainly of long letters from me in England to John in Hollywood, plus long telephone conversations on casting and all sorts of things, and of course letters from John, which were amalgamated into a second-draft script.
And then I went out to San Francisco on the shooting of the picture the first two weeks. The ending and the beginning of the film take place in San Francisco and that’s where we shot. I then wrote a lot more stuff including a completely new ending and a new beginning, some of which was done in script form, some of which was in discussion, and some of which was literally dictated to a girl and rushed out to location as they were shooting. This included the whole idea of using the sightseeing boat as a means of linking the past and the present. I wrote a new ending which wasn’t used. I don’t really agree with the ending in the film at the moment — I think it’s evasive — but that’s the one that was finally shot.
Why are we so rabid about finding this particular draft of Point Blank? Because of this and this. This first is a post I did analyzing the connection between the writing style Andrew Stanton used in the script Wall-E and Walter Hill’s draft of Alien. The second is a post Sheridan did about Walter Hill’s writing style. Here is an example of that style, the end of Alien:INT. NARCISSUS Ripley watching the final destiny of her ship and crew mates. A very long moment. Then, behind her, the lethal hand emerges from deep shadow. The Alien has been in the shuttle-craft all along. The cat yowls. Ripley whirls. Finding herself facing the Creature. Ripley's first thought is for the flamethrower. It lies on the deck next to the Alien. Next she glances around for a place to hide. Her eye falls on a small locker containing a pressure suit. The door standing open. She begins to edge toward the compartment. The Creature stands. Comes for her. Ripley dives for the open door. Hurls herself inside. Slams it shut. INT. LOCKER A clear glass panel in the door. The Alien puts its head up to the window. Peers in at Ripley. Their faces only two inches apart. The Alien looking at Ripley almost in curiosity. The moaning of the cat distracts it. INT. NARCISSUS The Alien moves to the pressurized cat box. Bends down and peers inside. The cat yowls louder as his container is lifted. INT. LOCKER Ripley knocks on the glass. Trying to distract the Creature from the cat. The Alien's face is instantly back at the window. Getting no more interference from her, the Creature returns to the cat box. Ripley looks around. Sees the pressure suit. Quickly begins to pull it on. INT. NARCISSUS The Alien picks up the cat box. Shakes it. The cat moans. INT. LOCKER Ripley is halfway into a pressure suit. INT. NARCISSUS The Creature throws the cat box down. Very hard. Picks it up again. Hammers it against the wall. Then jams it into a crevice. Begins to pound the container into the opening. The cat now beyond all hysteria. INT. LOCKER Ripley pulls on the helmet, latches it into place. Turns the oxygen valve. With a hiss, the suit fills itself. A rack on the wall contains a long metal rod. Ripley peels off the rubber tip. Revealing a sharp metal point. INT. SPACE SUIT LOCKER Ripley inhales. Kicks the door open. INT. NARCISSUS The Creature rises. Faces the locker. Catches the steel shaft through its midriff. The Alien clutches at the spear. Yellow acid begins to flow from the wound. Before the fluid can touch the floor... Ripley reaches back and pulls the switch. Blows the rear hatch. The atmosphere in the shuttle immediately sucked into space. The bleeding creature along with it. Ripley grabs a strut to keep from being pulled out. The Alien shoots past her. Grab's Ripley's ankle with an appendage. EXT. NARCISSUS Ripley now hanging halfway out of the shuttle-craft. The Alien clinging to her leg. She kicks at it with her free foot. The Creature holds fast. INT. NARCISSUS Ripley looks for any salvation. Grabs the hatch level. Yanks it. The hatch slams shut, closing Ripley safely inside. EXT. NARCISSUS The Alien still outside the shuttle-craft. Within the vacuum of space. The top of its appendage mashed into the closed hatch. INT. NARCISSUS Acid starts to foam along the base of the hatch. Eats away at the metal. Ripley stumbles forward to the controls. Pushes the ram jet lever. EXT. NARCISSUS - OUTER SPACE The Creature struggling. Jet exhaust located at the rear of the craft. The engines belch flame for a few seconds. Then shut off. Incinerating, the Alien tumbles slowly away into space. INT. NARCISSUS Ripley hurries to the rear hatch. Peers through the glass. EXT. OUTER SPACE The burned mass of the Alien drifts slowly away. Writhing, smoking. Tumbling into the distance. Pieces dropping off. The shape bloats, then bursts. Spray of particles in all directions. Then smoldering fragments dwindle into infinity.
Hill calls it a “haiku style” of writing and he credits the inspiration for it to Alexander Jacobs:
“Hill read Alex Jacob’s screenplay for the Lee Marvin film, Point Blank and considered it a ‘revelation’ in terms of style and format.He decided to tailor his own scripts in that manner, as he described it, ‘extremely spare, almost Haiku style. Both stage directions and dialogue.’ Hill wrote Hard Times, the first draft of Alien, The Drive, and The Warriors in this style.”
From Wall-E back to Alien back to Point Blank. Hence Sheridan and my desire to obtain a copy of the Jacobs’ draft that influenced Hill.
So if any kind soul has a copy and would share it with us — strictly for educational purposes!!! — that would help to fill in a significant part of this mystery. Because it appears that screenplay description, especially action writing, is headed more and more toward this haiku-style.
UPDATE: In comments John asked the following:
So I’d be curious to hear the take of a seasoned studio reader who has encountered this style in a new spec of an original story, yet to be produced. While upholding its allegiance to the Prime Directive — an uber-fast read — does this style also sell the story?
Would any script readers out there care to comment on your reaction to scripts that employ a version of the haiku style of writing?
UPDATE 2: Billy Mernit, author of “Writing the Romantic Comedy,” host of the excellent screenwriting blog Living the Romantic Comedy, and writer/composer/teacher/consultant, weighs in on scene description in comments:
The actual “one line at a time” haiku of it all is ultimately so much less important than the substantive idea and content inherent in this style. Let’s call it LIM (Less Is More).
I really don’t care if the format’s fricked with, and the “Haiku format”could even become a distraction (i.e. the stunt nature of the thing). What I’m applauding and encouraging – and fellow studio readers will back me up on this – is narrative that’s lean but pungent, spare but visually evocative… cannily compact while straight and to the point.
You know what readers love above all else? White space. So if you can reduce your narrative to LIM essentials, with style (i.e. a knowing, personable, distinctive POV’ed voice on the page) and present it in the shortest paragraphs possible… we will be mightily inclined to pay careful attention to your every word.
“Narrative that’s lean but pungent, spare but visually evocative.”
“You know what readers love above all else? White space… with style (i.e., a knowing, personable, distinctive POV’ed voice on the page.”
Friends, I would highly advise you print those out and pin those up somewhere nearby at your writing station. And the timing of Billy’s comments couldn’t be more… well… timely because I’m literally today just now finishing up a lecture on style that makes precisely both of those points. I feel a quote coming on!
Billy has been on a bit of a hiatus from his blog, but now he’s back. Not sure what his schedule will be, but hopefully you can look for his insightful posts on a weekly basis as before.