Daily Dialogue — March 11, 2015

March 11th, 2015 by

ILSA: No, Rick. Not tonight.
RICK: Especially tonight.
ILSA: Please don’t.
RICK: Why did you have to come to Casablanca? There are other places.
ILSA: I wouldn’t have come if I’d known you were here. Believe me, Rick, it’s true. I didn’t know.
RICK: It’s funny about your voice, how it hasn’t changed. I can still hear it. “Richard, dear, I’ll go with you anyplace. We’ll get on a train together and never stop.”
ILSA: Don’t, Rick. I can understand how you feel.
RICK: You understand how I feel. How long was it we had, honey?
ILSA: I didn’t count the days.
RICK: Well, I did. Every one of them. Mostly I remember the last one. The wow finish. A guy standing on a station platform in the rain with a comical look on his face because his insides have been kicked out.
ILSA: Can I tell you a story, Rick?
RICK: Does it got a wow finish?
ILSA: I don’t know the finish yet.
RICK: Go on, tell it. Maybe one’ll come to you as you go along.
ILSA: It’s about a girl who had just come to Paris from her home in Oslo. At the house of some friends. She met a man about whom she’d heard her whole life — A very great and courageous man. He opened up for her a whole beautiful world full of knowledge and thoughts and ideals. Everything she knew or ever became was because of him. And she looked up to him and worshiped him with a feeling she supposed was love–
RICK: Yes, that’s very pretty. I heard a story once. As a matter of fact, I’ve heard a lot of stories in my time. They went along with the sound of a tinny piano playing in the parlor downstairs. “Mister, I met a man once when I was a kid,” they’d always begin. I guess neither one of our stories is very funny. Tell me–who was it you left me for? Was it Laszlo–or were there others in between–or aren’t you the kind that tells?

Casablanca (1942), screenplay by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison

The Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Reunion. Today’s suggestion by Will Johnson.

Trivia: Humphrey Bogart’s wife Mayo Methot continually accused him of having an affair with Ingrid Bergman, often confronting him in his dressing room before a shot. Bogart would come onto the set in a rage. In fact, despite the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Bogart and Bergman, they hardly spoke, and the only time they bonded was when the two had lunch with Geraldine Fitzgerald. According to Fitzgerald, “the whole subject at lunch was how they could get out of that movie. They thought the dialogue was ridiculous and the situations were unbelievable… I knew Bogart very well, and I think he wanted to join forces with Bergman, to make sure they both said the same things.” For whatever reasons, Bogart and Bergman rarely spoke after that.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Will notes, “One of the most famous reunions in film, but not a pleasant one.” And think about this: It is a huge coincidence that Ilsa just happens to end up in the very same city as Rick, without knowing he’s there. But as they say in Hollywood, you are allowed one coincidence per movie. Might as well make it a big one!

If you have a good suggestion for this week’s theme, please post in comments.

Video: SNL does “Casablanca”

February 2nd, 2015 by

The ending of the classic movie Casablanca as envisioned by the crew from Saturday Night Live (you have to put up with a 30 second ad, but it’s worth it).

Good ‘what if’ inspiration here: What if Ilsa decided she really needed to get on that plane.

HT to Wendy Cohen for the link.

Daily Dialogue — November 18, 2014

November 18th, 2014 by

Renault: It might be a good idea for you to disappear from Casablanca for a while. There’s a Free French garrison over at Brazzaville. I could be induced to arrange a passage.
Rick: My letter of transit? I could use a trip. But it doesn’t change our bet. You still owe me 10,000 francs.
Renault: That 10,000 francs should pay our expenses.
Rick: “Our” expenses?
Renault: Mm-hm.
Rick: Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Casablanca (1942), screenplay by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch, play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Friendship.

Trivia: Casey Robinson, who re-wrote the romantic scenes between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, was offered screen credit but turned it down because at the time he was only taking credit for scripts he wrote entirely by himself. By declining credit, he did himself out of an Academy Award.

Dialogue On Dialogue: The subplot between Rick and Renault is one of best treats of this film, Renault a classic Trickster figure who in the end turns ally… and proves worthy of their friendship.

If you have a suggestion for this week’s theme, please post in comments.

Daily Dialogue — September 10, 2014

September 10th, 2014 by

RICK: Don’t you sometimes wonder if it’s worth all this? I mean what you’re fighting for?
LASZLO: We might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we’ll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.
RICK: What of it? Then it’ll be out of its misery .

Rick reaches in his jacket for his cigarette case, opens it, and takes out a cigarette.

LASZLO: You know how you sound, Monsieur Blaine? Like a man who’s trying to convince himself of something he doesn’t believe in his heart. Each of us has a destiny, for good or for evil.
RICK: Yes, I get the point.

Rick lights his cigarette.

LASZLO: I wonder if you do. I wonder if you know that you’re trying to escape from yourself and that you’ll never succeed.

Casablanca (1942), screenplay by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Wisdom.

Trivia: The film’s success led to plans for a sequel, which was to be called Brazzaville. Ingrid Bergman was not available, so Geraldine Fitzgerald was considered for Ilsa before the project was killed. It was not until the late 1990s and Michael Walsh’s novel “As Time Goes By” that a true sequel ever came to pass.

Dialogue On Dialogue: At the start of the story, Rick is a cynic. There are two characters who heavily influence the rekindling of the idealism which lies suppressed in his psyche. One is Ilsa, the story’s Attractor, who awakens Rick’s emotional life. The other is Laszlo. He can be seen to be a projection of Rick’s ‘higher self,’ the freedom fighter he used to be… and inspired once again to join the ranks of the good by the wisdom conveyed to him in word and deed by Laszlo.

If you have a suggestion for this week’s theme, please post in comments.

Daily Dialogue — February 15, 2014

February 15th, 2014 by

Ugarte: You despise me, don’t you?
Rick: If I gave you any thought I probably would.


Major Strasser: What is your nationality?
Rick: I’m a drunkard.


Captain Renault: What brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came for the water.
Captain Renault: We’re in a desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.

Casablanca (1942), screenplay by Julius J. Epstein & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week is sarcasm, recommended by blueneumann. Today’s suggestion by @dottiehudson and @sergiobarrejon.

Trivia: It is never revealed why Rick cannot return to America. Julius J. Epstein later said that “My brother (Philip G. Epstein) and I tried very hard to come up with a reason why Rick couldn’t return to America. But nothing seemed right. We finally decided not to give a reason at all.”

Dialogue On Dialogue: Rick uses sarcasm as a defense mechanism, best defense being a good offense. That’s where he starts. But as he goes through Deconstruction, notice how uses sarcasm less and less. Psychologically speaking, that is a sign of him allowing his more idealistic self to emerge, eventually leading to the choices he makes at the end and in effect join the fight.

Daily Dialogue — January 8, 2014

January 8th, 2014 by

Rick: Louie, have your men go with Mr. Laszlo and take care of his luggage.
Renault: Certainly, Rick, anything you say. (to one of his men) Find Mr. Laszlo’s luggage and put it on the plane.
Man: Yes, sir.
Rick: (to Renault) If you don’t mind, you fill in the names. That will make it even more official.
Renault: You think of everything, don’t you?
Rick: The names of Mr. and Mrs. Victor Laszlo.
Ilsa: But why my name, Richard.
Rick: Because you’re getting on that plane.
Ilsa: I don’t understand. What about you?
Rick: I’m staying here with him until the plane gets safely away.
Ilsa: No, Richard. What’s happened to you? Last night…
Rick: Last night we said a great many things. You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I’ve done a lot of it since then, and it all adds up to one thing: you’re getting on that plane with Victor where you belong.

Casablanca (1942), screenplay by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch, play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Explain the mission, suggested by Shaula Evans.

Trivia: To maximize profits from foreign distribution of the film, the studio suggested that any unpleasant characters other than the Nazis should also be from an enemy country, namely Italy. This is why Ugarte, Ferrari, and the dark European pickpocket are Italian.

Dialogue On Dialogue: It’s one of the great scenes in cinema history and in effect it is about Rick explaining the plan to Ilsa. The structural point of the scene: To get Ilsa on the plane and safely away with Laszlo. The emotional point of the scene: For Rick and Ilsa to have a last moment together.

Daily Dialogue — September 11, 2013

September 11th, 2013 by

Ilsa: I wasn’t sure you were the same. Let’s see, the last time we met…
Rick: Was La Belle Aurore.
Ilsa: How nice, you remembered. But of course, that was the day the Germans marched into Paris.
Rick: Not an easy day to forget.
Ilsa: No.
Rick: I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.

Casablanca (1942), screenplay by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch, play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week is reunion, suggested by Laura Deerfield. Today’s suggestion by Ellen Musikant.

Trivia: Casey Robinson, who re-wrote the romantic scenes between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, was offered screen credit but turned it down because at the time he was only taking credit for scripts he wrote entirely by himself. By declining credit, he did himself out of an Academy Award.

Dialogue On Dialogue: This is not only backstory, this is the very first step in Rick’s ‘descent’ into the dark hole of his personal history, a necessary journey for him to take in order to reconnect himself with his idealism and come out the other side back into the fight.

Conscious Goal and Unconscious Goal

August 16th, 2013 by

An interesting discussion arose from this post the other day on the question how to raise the stakes in a plot. I suggested one way was to track a shift that often happens with a Protagonist — from Want to Need — and one of the movie examples I cited in my analysis was Casablanca.

matthewkane noted this in comments:

This is a reason for the romcom trope of one or both of the romantic leads to have no interest in romance until the midpoint. When romance complicates the original goal, it ups the stakes. Though it’s usually good to add another complication at the same time to stretch the rack tighter from both directions.

My response:

Matthew, your point illustrates why I oftentimes think of character work this way: Want and Need can refer to the generalized state of what a Protagonist brings into the story at its beginning. By the end of Act One, they have may have crystallized things into a Conscious Goal, a specific target they have in mind, and an Unstated or Unconscious Goal, a specific psychological end point that emerges from their inner world.

So for example, Rick in Casablanca:

The Want he brings into the story is to be left alone to run his business so he can busy himself with avoiding dealing with the pain of the past (associated with his loss of Ilsa).

Since that way of being has led him to isolationism, the Need he brings into the story is to break out of his cynicism.

In Act One: Enter Ilsa, Victor Laszlo, and the letters of transit. How does this sharpen his Want and Need?

Conscious Goal: Determine what to do with letters of transit.

Unconscious Goal: Confront pain of the past [when Ilsa rejected him] and resolve that relationship.

In dealing with those new narrative elements — letters of transit, Ilsa, Victor — Rick goes on his own psychological journey resulting in the classic ending we all know and love.

I also should note, per the language of Michael Arndt (screenwriter of Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) who says a great ending must answer a philosophical question, Rick confronts an existential choice: Cynicism or Idealism? He opts for the latter, choosing to ‘sacrifice’ his love for Ilsa for the greater good, represented by Victor’s work as a freedom fighter.

Per your observation about romcoms having “no interest in romance until the midpoint,” it’s interesting to note that the Paris flashback sequence doesn’t happen in Casablanca until the middle of the movie (in a commonly available 127 page version of the script, the sequence ends at P. 61). That flashback represents the very first time we’ve seen what the romance between Rick and Ilsa had been, and understand how and why Rick has been so badly hurt on an emotional level when it ended. So even though not a romcom, your point is relevant to Casablanca.

The usual caveats: This is all psychological language which is in a way ‘artificial’ when applied to a story, organic by its very nature. Some writers may benefit from using these tools — Want, Need, Conscious Goal, Unconscious Goal — others may not. Our goal is to create living, breathing characters in a living, breathing story universe. We do what we can do to get there.

But in my teaching, often I find writers benefit from honing in on a Protagonist’s Conscious Goal and Unconscious Goal at the end of Act One as it sharpens their understanding of their story’s structure and the nature of the Protagonist’s metamorphosis.

30 Days of Screenplays, Day 15: “Casablanca”

June 15th, 2013 by

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!

Studies in flashbacks: “Casablanca”

March 4th, 2013 by

I set this discussion into motion here and here. To wit: Hollywood conventional wisdom is that voice-over narration and flashbacks are a no-no, yet some of the greatest movies ever produced use these narrative devices including Fight Club, Goodfellas, The Silence of the Lambs, and Rashomon.

My conclusion: Voice-over narration and flashbacks are not inherently bad, rather they are tainted by how poorly they get executed by inexperienced writers.

Goal: Find five movies in which each is used well, then analyze those movies to come up with – hopefully – guidelines on how best to handle this pair of narrative devices.

Today the first of five movies that use flashbacks: Casablanca, the famous 1942 movie, screenplay by Julius Epstein & Philip Epstein and Howard Koch, play by Murray Burnett and Joan Allison.

Setup: Out of nowhere Ilsa Lund has reappeared in Rick’s life. He gets good and drunk, then remembers key events from his past that broke his heart, a sequence known as the Paris montage. Here is a breakdown of the scenes:

* The Arc de Triomphe
* Rick and Ilsa driving in a car
* An excursion boat on the Seine
* Rick’s Paris apartment
* A Paris cafe
* Newsreel footage: German occupation of France
* Paris cafe: Germans will enter the city soon
* La Belle Aurore: Drinking champagne, Ilsa’s mood is unsettled, plans to meet at the train station
* Gare De Lyon train station: In the rain, Rick receives a note from Ilsa. It reads:

“Richard, I cannot go with you or see you again. You must not ask why. Just believe that I love you. Go, my darling, and God bless you. Ilsa”

Stunned Rick tosses the letter aside as the train pulls away.

Here is part of the sequence:

The entire sequence is 8 pages long in the script. All of it flashbacks. Why does it work? Here are two takeaways:

* The sequence has a beginning, middle and end, a well-structured montage.

* Most importantly the sequence answers a critical question: What the hell happened between Rick and Ilsa?

So if your story needs an extended flashback sequence, make sure it has a strong structure, and serves a necessary and important function in the story. You’re probably in the ballpark if you’re working with a mystery where the answers gets revealed.

Okay, I can hear some of you: “Casablanca is an OLD movie. Maybe flashbacks worked back then, but not in contemporary movies.”

Uh, wrong.

Tomorrow: The Social Network.

And remember, use flashbacks if they are the only and best way to tell your story.