Update: "Point Blank" search continues

February 10th, 2011 by

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.

Some background on the movie "Alien"

October 26th, 2010 by

For Day 1 of the “7 Days of Screenplays: Horror” challenge, which is posted here, several posters commented on the script’s scene description:

Zampana said…

Surprised this format isn’t used more often – I know Wall-E was written this way, and I wrote a script like this — mine doesn’t count :-)

The Hakk said…

Alien:
staccato.
almost poetic. (p. 110: Expectation fulfilled, nightmare without end)
quick read, reader’s dream.
mood through style.
funny (p.13)

Beth said…

I love how terse the descriptions are… really serves to keep up a quick pace. Fantastic read!

Way back on June 24, 2008, I posted this:

Following up on an interview featured here, another interview with WALL-E writer-director Andrew Stanton. Here’s an interesting note about the approach to scene description Stanton adopted for this script:

“The only thing I did that was a little unconventional, is the manner in which I formatted the script. I was very inspired by Dan O’Bannon’s script for Alien. His description paragraphs were not your typical paragraphs, they were actually small phrases that were all left justified, almost like a haiku, and they created this rhythm of just being in the moment of quiet and visual. And you found yourself reading the descriptions much more than you normally do a script because of that form, instead of just skipping to the dialogue. It really kind of paced you as a reader and gave you the much more visceral feel of what it will be like to watch that movie. So I used that for Wall-E — it really helped.”

Now I could be wrong, but Stanton gives credit to screenwriter Dan O’Bannon for this stylistic approach, but I’m almost positive Stanton is actually talking about the writing style of Walter Hill. Here is an excerpt from P. 1 of O’Bannon’s script for Alien:

FADE IN:

EXTREME CLOSEUPS OF FLICKERING INSTRUMENT PANELS. Readouts and digital
displays pulse eerily with the technology of the distant future.

Wherever we are, it seems to be chill, dark, and sterile. Electronic
machinery chuckles softly to itself.

Abruptly we hear a BEEPING SIGNAL, and the machinery begins to awaken.
Circuits close, lights blink on.

CAMERA ANGLES GRADUALLY WIDEN, revealing more and more of the
machinery, banks of panels, fluttering gauges, until we reveal:

INTERIOR - HYPERSLEEP VAULT

A stainless steel room with no windows, the walls packed with
instrumentation. The lights are dim and the air is frigid.

Occupying most of the floor space are rows of horizontal FREEZER
COMPARTMENTS, looking for all the world like meat lockers.

FOOM! FOOM! FOOM! With explosions of escaping gas, the lids on the
freezers pop open.

Slowly, groggily, six nude men sit up.

Strong visual writing, but the standard approach to scene description — paragraph form. Now here is an excerpt from P. 1 of Walter Hill’s draft:

FADE IN:

SOMETIME IN THE FUTURE:

INT. ENGINE ROOM

Empty, cavernous.

INT. ENGINE CUBICLE

Circular, jammed with instruments.
All of them idle.
Console chairs for two.
Empty.

INT. OILY CORRIDOR - "C" LEVEL

Long, dark.
Empty.
Turbos throbbing.
No other movement.

INT. CORRIDOR - "A" LEVEL

Long, empty.

INT. INFIRMARY - "A" LEVEL

Distressed ivory walls.
All instrumentation at rest.

INT. CORRIDOR TO BRIDGE - "A" LEVEL

Black, empty.

INT. BRIDGE

Vacant.
Two space helmets resting on chairs.
Electrical hum.
Lights on the helmets begin to signal one another.
Moments of silence.
A yellow light goes on.
Data mind bank in b.g.
Electronic hum.
A green light goes on in front of one helmet.
Electronic pulsing sounds.
A red light goes on in front of other helmet.
An electronic conversation ensues.
Reaches a crescendo.
Then silence.
The lights go off, save the yellow.

INT. CORRIDOR TO HYPERSLEEP VAULT

Lights come on.
Seven gowns hang from the curved wall.
Vault door opens.

INT. HYPERSLEEP VAULT

Explosion of escaping gas.
The lid on a freezer pops open.
Slowly, groggily, KANE sits up.
Pale.
Kane rubs the sleep from his eyes.
Stands.
Looks around.
Stretches.
Looks at the other freezer compartments.
Scratches.
Moves off.

Now you tell me which style is “not your typical paragraphs… actually small phrases… all left justified, almost like a haiku.” Moreover, there’s this from Wikipedia:

“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.”

Even Hill describes the writing as “Haiku style,” exactly how Stanton refers to it in the interview above. I actually have a hard copy of the screenplay for Hard Times. Here is some scene description from that script — a back alley brawl:

THE FIGHTERS

Speed's man tries a kick.

Gets knocked backward for his trouble.

Grapple.

Hair pull.

Powerful men but without grace.

Brawlers.

Punch.

Kick.

Punch.

Gouge.

Speed's man takes several shots.

Goes down on his back.

It's not going to be his night.
As far back as 1975 when Hard Times was released, Hill was using this “Haiku” approach to scene description. So it appears Stanton’s reference to O’Bannon is incorrect and his real inspiration for Wall-E, at least stylistically per the writing, is Walter Hill.

There’s also this post, comparing Hill’s and O’Bannon’s versions of the famous alien-bursts-out-of-John-Hurt’s-chest scene.  You can see for yourself in both cases who is responsible for the ‘haiku style’ of writing: Walter Hill. 

This is a great example of what I call Narrative Voice, where the style the writer uses matches up with the genre.  davidmelkevik summed this up nicely in comments:

The pace plus the emptiness of description really helped to capture the sense of loneliness. And reflecting its famous tag-line – “In space no one can hear you scream” – I think the real horror of this script comes not from the monster but the fact they are totally alone to deal with it. 

The style of writing is uniquely suited for this story which is why it works so well.

How They Write a Script: Walter Hill

August 20th, 2010 by

We’ve discussed writer-director Walter Hill previously here and here. Noted for his distinctive approach to writing — he describes it as “haiku style” — Hill has written or directed numerous movies including The Getaway (1972), The Warriors (1979), Alien (1979), uncredited, 48 Hours (1982), and Aliens (1986).

In the book, “Backstory 4, the fourth in a wonderful series featuring interviews with screenwriters from the 1930s through today, Hill has a lengthy interview with some fantastic insights into Hollywood and screenwriting as a craft. I strongly recommend the Backstory book series, interviews conducted and edited by Patrick McGilligan. Here are some excerpts from the interview with Walter Hill.

ON WHERE HIS FILM SENSIBILITIES CAME FROM

“I have no idea. There are the mysteries of the head and heart. I admit to a somewhat juvenile sensibility, with an emphasis on physical heroics. I was asthmatic as a kid, several years of school interrupted. This left me with a lot of time alone — daydreaming, reading, listening to radio serials; I was devoted to comic books. I never liked kid fiction much, read adult novels at a very early age, never much liked kid movies either. I’ve always been a good reader. My father and his father were my great heroes, smart, physical men who worked with their heads and their hands. Both had great mechanical ability, I had none. Being a sick child means that you are fantastically spoiled — which of course I love — and was excellent preparation for Hollywood.”

ON HOW HE LEARNED SCREENWRITING

“The usual story — read a lot of scripts, saw every possible movie. Wrote a lot at night. My big problem was finishing — I must’ve written twenty-five first acts — abandon and move on, abandon and move on. This went on about three years. Funny thing, once I was able to finish a script. I was able to make a living at it right away.”

ON WHERE HE DEVELOPED HIS UNIQUE SCREENWRITING STYLE

“Alex Jacob’s script of Point Blank (1967) was a revelation. He was a friend (wonderful guy, looked like a pirate, funny and crazy). This revelation came about despite a character flaw of mine. I have always had difficulty being complimentary to people whose work I admire, when face-to-face with them. This is not the norm in Hollywood where effusiveness is generally a given. Anyway, a mutual friend told Alex how much I admired Point Blank and John Boorman. Alex then very graciously gave me a copy of the script. This was about the time he was doing The Seven-Ups (1973).

“Anyway, by now I’d been making a living as a screenwriter for maybe two or three years and had gotten to the point where I was dissatisfied with the standard form scripts were written in — they just all seemed to be a kind of subliterary blueprint for shooting a picture and generally had no personal voice. Mine were tighter and terser than the average, but I was still working with the industry template and not too happy about it. Alex’s script just knocked me out (not easy to do); it was both playable and literary. Written in a whole different way than standard format (laconic, elliptical, suggestive rather than explicit, bold in the implied editorial style), I thought Alex’s script was a perfect compliment to the material, hard, tough, and smart — my absolute ideals then. So much of the writing that was generally praised inside the business seemed to me soft and vastly overrated — vastly oversentimental. Then and now, I haven’t changed my opinions about that. But I have changed them about the presentational style.

“Anyway I resolved to try to go in that direction (that Alex had shown), and I worked out my own approach in the next few years. I tried to write in an extremely spare, almost haiku style, both stage directions and dialogue. Some of it was a bit pretentious — but at other times I thought it worked pretty well. I now realize a lot of this was being a young guy who wanted to throw rocks at windows.

Hard Times was the first, and I think maybe the best. Alien (1979) — the first draft, then when David [Giler] and I rewrote it, we left it in that style. The Driver, which I think was the purest script that I ever wrote, and The Warriors. The clean narrative drive of the material and the splash-panel approach to the characters perfectly fit the design I was trying to make work. Of course all this depend on the nature of the material; I don’t think the style would’ve worked at all had I been writing romantic comedies.”

“My scripts have always been a bit terse, both in stage directions and dialogue. I think I’ve loosened up in the dialogue department, but I still try to keep the descriptions fairly minimal, and in some cases purposefully minimalist. I still punctuate to effect, rather than to the proper rules of grammar. I occasionally use onomatopoeias now, a luxury I would certainly never have allowed myself when I was younger. My favorite description of the dilemma of screenwriting comes from David Giler, “Your work is only read by the people who will destroy it.”

ON HIS WRITING PROCESS

“When I’m working alone, the old hard way. Longhand. Fountain pen. Legal pad. Thesaurus at my side. This last item, I’m not ashamed to say, is quite helpful — when you write screenplays, you don’t have a lot of room, and the stage directions can become onerously repetitive if you don’t work at fresh descriptions. Try to show a reader a new way to see it. Unless, of course, you are using repetition as a rhythm device in creating mood — which I guess is a perfect illustration of one of the things I like best about screenwriting : whatever is true, the opposite can also be true. Both at the technical level and at a much larger one — I think it’s best approached as an enigmatic way to make a living.”

ON ACTION MOVIES

“I love comedies, musicals, and thrillers like everybody else, but I confess to believing action pictures are what movies are most essentially all about. It’s the work they do best and uniquely best. I don’t mean action movies are better; in fact, most of them are actually a lot worse than the norm. But the few that really work are sublime. Films like Colorado Territory (1949), White Heat (1949), Ride the High Country, the Seven Samurai (1954), Scarface (1932), Heat (1995), Dirty Harry (1972), (1956), Attack! (1956), The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), or a hundred others I can name… The real power of movies lies in their connection to our unconscious or semiconscious dream life, and action movies are about heroism and death. Will he live or will he die is the ultimate drama, isn’t it?

“Purity is important. Because it’s the essence of what the creative person is most trying to achieve — the ideal. This is where I think screenplays and movies cause terrible frustration; the dramatic form itself is so messy. so much of what we are trying to do is simply to put things in proper order. And this ordering of things is complicated; it’s absolutely not simple. Now, if you’re going to do action films, a certain amount of repetition, which certainly is a kind of straitjacket, is inevitable. You are going to have to deal with gunfights and chases. And usually there are certain other limitations that are a given. If you’re doing Dirty Harry, Eastwood is not going to be shot dead at the end, right? So it becomes a kind of game. The audience knows what the conclusion will be, but you still have to entertain them. So you are always walking on the edge of a precipice — trying to juggle the genre expectations, which can slip into clichés, and your personal need to dance with the idea of taking the familiar and getting a little off-center, getting it to play — putting your fingerprints on it. We have our areas of skill, and we want to continue to explore them, because we feel there’s probably something left to say — the need to, maybe this time, get it right. Lukas Heller always told me that [Robert] Aldrich used to say that the manipulation of idiots [the studio] was part of the job. But you manipulate them to get the opportunity to chase a kind of limited perfection.

“The main thing is to use whatever means are at hand to tell stories that mean something to you on a personal level. And often, again especially in the action field, what is personally interesting to you may be invisible to others. In the end, of course, when reviewing the result, the person you have outsmarted is very often yourself.”

How They Write A Script: Walter Hill

June 25th, 2010 by

We’ve discussed writer-director Walter Hill previously here and here. Noted for his distinctive approach to writing — he describes it as “haiku style” — Hill has written or directed numerous movies including The Getaway (1972), The Warriors (1979), Alien (1979), uncredited, 48 Hours (1982), and Aliens (1986).

In the book, “Backstory 4, the fourth in a wonderful series featuring interviews with screenwriters from the 1930s through the 1990s, Hill has a lengthy interview with some fantastic insights into Hollywood and screenwriting as a craft. I strongly recommend the Backstory book series, interviews conducted and edited by Patrick McGilligan. Here are some excerpts from the interview with Walter Hill.

ON WHERE HIS FILM SENSIBILITIES CAME FROM

“I have no idea. There are the mysteries of the head and heart. I admit to a somewhat juvenile sensibility, with an emphasis on physical heroics. I was asthmatic as a kid, several years of school interrupted. This left me with a lot of time alone — daydreaming, reading, listening to radio serials; I was devoted to comic books. I never liked kid fiction much, read adult novels at a very early age, never much liked kid movies either. I’ve always been a good reader. My father and his father were my great heroes, smart, physical men who worked with their heads and their hands. Both had great mechanical ability, I had none. Being a sick child means that you are fantastically spoiled — which of course I love — and was excellent preparation for Hollywood.”

ON HOW HE LEARNED SCREENWRITING

“The usual story — read a lot of scripts, saw every possible movie. Wrote a lot at night. My big problem was finishing — I must’ve written twenty-five first acts — abandon and move on, abandon and move on. This went on about three years. Funny thing, once I was able to finish a script. I was able to make a living at it right away.”

ON WHERE HE DEVELOPED HIS UNIQUE SCREENWRITING STYLE

“Alex Jacob’s script of Point Blank (1967) was a revelation. He was a friend (wonderful guy, looked like a pirate, funny and crazy). This revelation came about despite a character flaw of mine. I have always had difficulty being complimentary to people whose work I admire, when face-to-face with them. This is not the norm in Hollywood where effusiveness is generally a given. Anyway, a mutual friend told Alex how much I admired Point Blank and John Boorman. Alex then very graciously gave me a copy of the script. This was about the time he was doing The Seven-Ups (1973).

“Anyway, by now I’d been making a living as a screenwriter for maybe two or three years and had gotten to the point where I was dissatisfied with the standard form scripts were written in — they just all seemed to be a kind of subliterary blueprint for shooting a picture and generally had no personal voice. Mine were tighter and terser than the average, but I was still working with the industry template and not too happy about it. Alex’s script just knocked me out (not easy to do); it was both playable and literary. Written in a whole different way than standard format (laconic, elliptical, suggestive rather than explicit, bold in the implied editorial style), I thought Alex’s script was a perfect compliment to the material, hard, tough, and smart — my absolute ideals then. So much of the writing that was generally praised inside the business seemed to me soft and vastly overrated — vastly oversentimental. Then and now, I haven’t changed my opinions about that. But I have changed them about the presentational style.

“Anyway I resolved to try to go in that direction (that Alex had shown), and I worked out my own approach in the next few years. I tried to write in an extremely spare, almost haiku style, both stage directions and dialogue. Some of it was a bit pretentious — but at other times I thought it worked pretty well. I now realize a lot of this was being a young guy who wanted to throw rocks at windows.

Hard Times was the first, and I think maybe the best. Alien (1979) — the first draft, then when David [Giler] and I rewrote it, we left it in that style. The Driver, which I think was the purest script that I ever wrote, and The Warriors. The clean narrative drive of the material and the splash-panel approach to the characters perfectly fit the design I was trying to make work. Of course all this depend on the nature of the material; I don’t think the style would’ve worked at all had I been writing romantic comedies.”

“My scripts have always been a bit terse, both in stage directions and dialogue. I think I’ve loosened up in the dialogue department, but I still try to keep the descriptions fairly minimal, and in some cases purposefully minimalist. I still punctuate to effect, rather than to the proper rules of grammar. I occasionally use onomatopoeias now, a luxury I would certainly never have allowed myself when I was younger. My favorite description of the dilemma of screenwriting comes from David Giler, “Your work is only read by the people who will destroy it.”

ON HIS WRITING PROCESS

“When I’m working alone, the old hard way. Longhand. Fountain pen. Legal pad. Thesaurus at my side. This last item, I’m not ashamed to say, is quite helpful — when you write screenplays, you don’t have a lot of room, and the stage directions can become onerously repetitive if you don’t work at fresh descriptions. Try to show a reader a new way to see it. Unless, of course, you are using repetition as a rhythm device in creating mood — which I guess is a perfect illustration of one of the things I like best about screenwriting : whatever is true, the opposite can also be true. Both at the technical level and at a much larger one — I think it’s best approached as an enigmatic way to make a living.”

ON ACTION MOVIES

“I love comedies, musicals, and thrillers like everybody else, but I confess to believing action pictures are what movies are most essentially all about. It’s the work they do best and uniquely best. I don’t mean action movies are better; in fact, most of them are actually a lot worse than the norm. But the few that really work are sublime. Films like Colorado Territory (1949), White Heat (1949), Ride the High Country, the Seven Samurai (1954), Scarface (1932), Heat (1995), Dirty Harry (1972), (1956), Attack! (1956), The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), or a hundred others I can name… The real power of movies lies in their connection to our unconscious or semiconscious dream life, and action movies are about heroism and death. Will he live or will he die is the ultimate drama, isn’t it?

“Purity is important. Because it’s the essence of what the creative person is most trying to achieve — the ideal. This is where I think screenplays and movies cause terrible frustration; the dramatic form itself is so messy. so much of what we are trying to do is simply to put things in proper order. And this ordering of things is complicated; it’s absolutely not simple. Now, if you’re going to do action films, a certain amount of repetition, which certainly is a kind of straitjacket, is inevitable. You are going to have to deal with gunfights and chases. And usually there are certain other limitations that are a given. If you’re doing Dirty Harry, Eastwood is not going to be shot dead at the end, right? So it becomes a kind of game. The audience knows what the conclusion will be, but you still have to entertain them. So you are always walking on the edge of a precipice — trying to juggle the genre expectations, which can slip into clichés, and your personal need to dance with the idea of taking the familiar and getting a little off-center, getting it to play — putting your fingerprints on it. We have our areas of skill, and we want to continue to explore them, because we feel there’s probably something left to say — the need to, maybe this time, get it right. Lukas Heller always told me that [Robert] Aldrich used to say that the manipulation of idiots [the studio] was part of the job. But you manipulate them to get the opportunity to chase a kind of limited perfection.

“The main thing is to use whatever means are at hand to tell stories that mean something to you on a personal level. And often, again especially in the action field, what is personally interesting to you may be invisible to others. In the end, of course, when reviewing the result, the person you have outsmarted is very often yourself.”

[Originally posted July 25, 2008]

Screenwriting 101 — Walter Hill

December 30th, 2009 by

“When I’m working alone, the old hard way. Longhand. Fountain pen. Legal pad. Thesaurus at my side. This last item, I’m not ashamed to say, is quite helpful — when you write screenplays, you don’t have a lot of room, and the stage directions can become onerously repetitive if you don’t work at fresh descriptions. Try to show a reader a new way to see it. Unless, of course, you are using repetition as a rhythm device in creating mood — which I guess is a perfect illustration of one of the things I like best about screenwriting: whatever is true, the opposite can also be true. Both at the technical level and at a much larger one — I think it’s best approached as an enigmatic way to make a living.”

– Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hrs., Aliens)

Screenwriting 101 — Walter Hill

June 10th, 2009 by

“When I’m working alone, the old hard way. Longhand. Fountain pen. Legal pad. Thesaurus at my side. This last item, I’m not ashamed to say, is quite helpful — when you write screenplays, you don’t have a lot of room, and the stage directions can become onerously repetitive if you don’t work at fresh descriptions. Try to show a reader a new way to see it. Unless, of course, you are using repetition as a rhythm device in creating mood — which I guess is a perfect illustration of one of the things I like best about screenwriting: whatever is true, the opposite can also be true. Both at the technical level and at a much larger one — I think it’s best approached as an enigmatic way to make a living.”

– Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hrs., Aliens)

Daily dialogue — June 10, 2009

June 10th, 2009 by

“The problem in the past has been the man turning us against one another. We have been unable to see the truth, because we have fighting for ten square feet of ground, our turf, our little piece of turf. That’s crap, brothers! The turf is ours by right, because it’s our turn. All we have to do is keep up the general truce. We take over one borough at a time. Secure our territory… secure our turf… because it’s all our turf!”

– Cyrus (Roger Hill), The Warriors (1975), screenplay by David Shaber and Walter Hill, based on the novel by Sol Yurick