Welcome to June and the series: 30 Days of Screenplays.
Why 30 screenplays in 30 days?
Because whether you are a novice just starting to learn the craft of screenwriting or someone who has been writing for many years, you should be reading scripts.
There is a certain type of knowledge and understanding about screenwriting you can only get from reading scripts, giving you an innate sense of pace, feel, tone, style, how to approach writing scenes, how create flow, and so forth.
So each day this month, I will provide background on and access to a notable movie script.
Today is Day 15 and the featured screenplay is for the movie Casablanca. You may download a PDF of the script here.
Background: Screenplay by Julius J. Epstein & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, based on a play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison
Plot summary: Set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II: An American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.
Tagline: They had a date with fate in Casablanca!
Awards: Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning 3 including Best Writing, Screenplay.
Trivia: The original unproduced play, “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”, was found by Irene Lee, who headed the story department at Warner Bros., on a trip to office of Jack Wilk, story editor for Warner East Coast operations in New York, where the typed script had sat for a year. It arrived at Warner Bros. Studios to be read as a potential film project on the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Voted the #1 screenplay on the WGA 101 list, the irony is that there never was a completed script during production. The script we’re reading for the 40 Days challenge is a “synthesis of extant versions” and a “close analysis of the finished film.”
And yet, it is a wonderful script with great characters, memorable dialogue, and perhaps the most famous romantic triangle ever in a movie.
I look at Casablanca in much the same way as Witness: B-movies where the gods of cinema intervened, transforming them into timeless stories.
Since coming up with the ending of the movie was fraught with so much drama, I thought I’d dig into the Final Struggle to see what we could glean from it.
First, it’s a great example of having a plot with a strong “end point.” As soon as the romantic triangle is established — when Ilsa and Victor Laszlo show up at Rick’s cafe — it is inevitable this core question / conflict will have to be resolved: Who gets the girl? So all throughout Act II and into Act III, no matter what is happening in any given scene, that dramatic tension is present, either close to the surface of the dialogue and action or suppressed due to events, but always present. That’s one of the values of a story having a strong end point.
Next, there are the five primary character archetypes are at work in Casablanca:
Protagonist — Rick Blaine
Nemesis — Major Strasser
Attractor — Ilsa
Mentor — Victor
Trickster — Renault
And the movie neatly ties up the fate of each one because all five are present in the ending sequence.
P — Rick overcomes his cynicism by letting go of Ilsa and thereby re-enters ‘life’
N — He ends up dead, his plot to keep Victor in Casablanca fails
A — Ilsa ends up with the ‘right’ guy
M — Victor escapes to continue to lead the resistance movement
T — In true Trickster fashion, Renault ends up not only watching Rick’s back — “Round up the usual suspects” — but also heading off with Rick to join the resistance, too
The next thing I noticed about the scene are all the plot twists in it:
* Rick orders Renault to give Ilsa and Victor the letters of transit
* Rick explains to Ilsa why he changed his mind
* Rick tells the truth to Laszlo about what happened with he and Ilsa the night before
* Rick shoots Major Strasser
* Renault doesn’t turn in Rick for the shooting of Majro Strasser
* Renault joins Rick in leaving Casablanca
It’s a long sequence and all those twists provide nice pivot points for the reader to keep them on their toes.
Finally, the finale in Casablancais a great example of a sequence with a clear Beginning, Middle, and End:
Beginning: Arrival at the airport with the big plot point — Rick insisting to Renault that Ilsa and Victor use the letters of transit.
Middle: Rick dealing with the couple — convincing Ilsa she has to go with Victor and his ‘confession’ to Victor.
Ending: Rick’s confrontation with Strasser and the plane takes off.
There’s even a nifty denouement: Rick and Renault concocting a plan to head off together to the French Free garrison.
In sum, a most satisfying ending to a great story.
What’s your take on Casablanca? Stop by comments and post your thoughts.
To see all of the posts in the 30 Days of Screenplays series, go here.
This series and use of screenplays is for educational purposes only!