Daily Dialogue — October 15, 2014

October 15th, 2014 by

Rachel: You are just so full of grace, and I promise before God and these beautiful people that I will love you fiercely and sweetly. And I look forward to sharing this great life with you. Thank you for marrying me.
Sidney: All that I ever wanted was to just hear music, and when I met you, I heard you. And, Rachel, you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. Thank you for marrying me.

Rachel Getting Married (2008), written by Jenny Lumet

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Wedding Vows.

Trivia: Jenny Lumet spent about 7 weeks writing the script. It was her first to be made into a film, even though it was the writer’s 5th screenplay.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Sidney’s vow is particularly noteworthy. There is a whole musical theme to this movie. There is no soundtrack, all of the songs — and there are a lot — are provided by musicians live on screen.

If you have any suggestions for this week’s theme, please post in comments… and thanks!

Scene Description Spotlight: “Rachel Getting Married”

August 7th, 2013 by

Since I started this series of weekly posts, spotlighting good examples of scene description, much of the focus has been on action. But how to write about a moment where nothing much is happening visually (External World), but so much is going on emotionally (Internal World). There’s a great example of this from a movie I really liked Rachel Getting Married (2008) with a fine screenplay by Jenny Lumet (personally I thought it deserved a WGA nomination for Best Original Screenplay) and excellent direction by Jonathan Demme. Here’s a summary of the plot:

Kym is released from rehab for a few days so she can go home to attend her sister Rachel’s wedding. The home environment is always challenging for a recovering addict, no less so when the visit if only for a few days. While the sisters feel genuine affection for one another, there is tension in their relationship. Rachel feels that her father dotes on Kym far too much and Kym is upset to learn that Rachel has selected a friend to be her maid of honor. Their father is genuinely concerned about Kym’s well-being but doesn’t see the stress the relationship is causing. Both women also have to deal with their selfish mother who is clearly more concerned with her own well-being ahead of that of her children. Underlying the family’s dynamic is a tragedy that occurred many years previously and for which Kym is held by some to be responsible.

The tragedy is the death of Kym’s younger brother Ethan, just a child, killed in a car crash when Kym, while high, drove off a bridge. In this scene, set in the house of Rachel’s parents, Paul (Bill Irwin) and Carol (Anna Deavere Smith) Buchman, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) has just finished complaining to her father about the likelihood of Kym (Anne Hathaway) ruining Rachel’s impending wedding. Then a group of wedding guests bursts inside, led by Rachel’s fiance Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe). For the record, Paul is famous for how masterfully he loads the dishwasher:

RACHEL
Sometimes I don't want her. It's my
fucking wedding, don't you get it?
I want my table to be perfect.

Paul kisses her on the forehead.

PAUL
Stop it. She's your sister.

They look at each other.

The screen door swings open as Emma, Carol, Sidney, Kieran,
and Norman Sklear carry the lunch plates to the kitchen. Kym
follows, carrying the salt shaker.

PAUL
Okay. Dishes? I'm going to load the
dishwasher.

SIDNEY
Paul! Paul, listen. I've been
thinking about it. I did some
preliminary sketches, I'd love to
show them to you...

KIERAN
(to Carol)
He's not kidding.

SIDNEY
And I think if you move the salad
bowls to the upper tier you can get
about 10% more stuff in the
dishwasher.

CAROL
Hee hee hee.

Paul gives him a look. Sidney starts humming PAUL'S
DISHWASHER THEME.

PAUL
Sidney, you're a nice young man.
You make a lot of money and the
world is your oyster. But you don't
know shit about loading a
dishwasher.

SIDNEY
Sir, with all due respect, the
mantle has passed.

Paul takes a moment to size Sidney up then spins on his heel
to the dishwasher.

TIME CUT--

Sidney has his sleeves up and starts to load.

KYM
What's the time limit?

CAROL
Two minutes.

SIDNEY
Are you comfortable with that, sir?
I could spot you thirty seconds.

PAUL
You young people should all go fuck
yourselves.

KYM
Dad!

CAROL
Ha!

SIDNEY
You see Paul, I think your problem
lies in lid placement. Inverting the lids
and stacking them in the upper level is
really for amateurs. It's passe.

PAUL
Rachel, you're out of the will.

SIDNEY
Observe.

With a flourish, Sidney presents a beautifully stacked
dishwasher. Paul pats his shoulder somberly.

PAUL
Clean out this machine please, boy.
So I can break out the whup-ass.

Screaming all around. Kym jumps up and down with her arms on
Rachel's shoulders. Rachel glances at her sister, laughing.

SIDNEY/KIERAN
(delightedly)
He's breakin' out the whup ass!

A SWEET MONTAGE.

Paul is loading the dishwasher like a champ.

Carol and Emma are smiling and giggling.

Kieran has his eye on the clock.

Sidney trash talks from the sidelines.

SIDNEY
You know one of the early signs of
senile dementia is an obsessive
need to organize.

PAUL
Rachel, go fetch me my dart gun.

SIDNEY
I find it touching but ultimately
sad when the warriors of yesteryear
are reluctant to lay down their
plastic containers from Zabar's and
retire gracefully

PAUL
Kieran, how's my time?

KIERAN
You have twenty-five seconds.

PAUL
I need more dishes. You amateur!

SIDNEY
What? No way!

PAUL
Somebody give me some dishes!

Kym yanks open a cupboard and passes a handful of dishes to
Paul. He begins to load them.

CLOSE ON PAUL

He has a bowl in his hands. We see the bowl is a plastic
child's bowl with Engines and Cabooses all over it. Paul
turns the bowl around in his hands like a steering wheel.

It dawns on Kym that she's handed her father Ethan's bowl.
She is stricken.

Paul looks to Carol. He seems bewildered. The kitchen falls
silent and Carol takes Ethan's bowl and places it in the
sink, out of sigh. She leads Paul gently out of the kitchen.

CLOSE ON KYM --

CLOSE ON RACHEL --

She turns and leaves the kitchen. Sidney follows her. Emma
and Norman Sklear step out onto the porch.

Kieran takes the Ethan bowl from the sink and puts it quietly
back in the cupboard and shuts the door. Kym doesn't know
what to do.

Check out the ‘room’ Lumet gives the characters and the moment with her scene description at the end of this scene. Simple sentences, but with power (“She is stricken”) and leaving much room for interpretation what a character can be feeling (“He seems bewildered”). And then that last paragraph: “Kieran takes the Ethan bowl from the sink and puts it quietly back in the cupboard and shuts the door. Kym doesn’t know what to do.”

By putting Ethan’s bowl back into the cupboard, Kieran tries to shut the Pandora’s box Kym has opened, but everything about the scene suggests that can’t happen – which looms over and under the final description: Kym doesn’t know what to do.

Powerful moment. But notice how it’s all set up with this description in the middle of the scene:

Kym jumps up and down with her arms on
Rachel's shoulders. Rachel glances at her sister, laughing.

After Rachel’s concern about Kym ruining the wedding, this wonderful and human moment. Two sisters reveling as part of a family. Perhaps a turning point for the better, yes? Wrong! It turns out to be a turning point for the worse. So what Lumet does is (A) create a switch – this is not a happy scene, this is a painful moment – and (B) by elevating our expectations, the low we experience through the characters’ reactions at the scene’s end is that much lower.

This is a great example of how to write a powerful scene with emotions roiling all in, around, and through its ending, but not overwriting it, rather using restrained description to allow the moment to breathe.

Here is an interview with Anne Hathaway about her role as Kym in Rachel Getting Married.


Jenny Lumet will be joining fellow screenwriters Brian Koppelman, Billy Ray, Kiwi Smith, and myself at the upcoming Black List Screenwriters Lab in Las Vegas from September 30-October 5th.

[Originally posted February 11, 2010]

Daily Dialogue — February 14, 2013

February 14th, 2013 by

“Hello. I’m Shiva the destroyer and your harbinger of doom for the evening. I want to thank you all for coming and welcome you even though I haven’t seen most of you since my latest stretch in the Big House… You all look fabulous. During the twenty minutes I was not in the hole for making a shiv out of my toothbrush, I actually did participate in the infamous 12 Step program. 12 Steps. Step-ball-change, step-ball-change. I’m still waiting for the change part. But as they say, relapse is an almost always inevitable component of recovery, God knows I’ve got high marks in that mode! Anyhoo, as more of you know than are likely to admit, one of the actual steps is about making amends. So I spent a lot of time calling up people who barely remembered me – who barely remembered anything – and apologizing to them for bouncing a check or passing out in the bathtub and flooding their house, or otherwise involving them in sordid activities they were desperately trying to forget. I had to call this one girl who was, I think, fourteen, but I couldn’t talk to her because her Mom took out a restraining order. Anyway, I did a lot of apologizing to people who were practically strangers so I very much want to take this opportunity to not only congratulate my extraordinary sister, the future explorer in matters of the mind, thank you very much, and her adorable, impending husband on the occasion of their unprecedented nuptials.. but also to apologize to my extraordinary sister, the future explorer in matters of the mind, for… Everything! And I really mean that, Rachel. I’ve been a nightmare and you’ve been a saint. I’m so damned glad I’m here with you and Sidney and his family and ours, and I am so happy for you guys, I really am. So, I am hereby raising my seltzer in celebration of my laudatory sister and herewith making amends. Sidney, you are robbing our dysfunctional family of one of it’s most vital ingredients, and it’s only member still willing to lend me money. Enjoy Hawaii. La Chaim.”

Rachel Getting Married (2008), written by Jenny Lumet

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week is wedding toasts, suggested by Shaula Evans. Today’s suggestion by Saint 716.

Trivia: Jenny Lumet spent about 7 weeks writing the script. It was her first to be made into a film, even though it was the writer’s 5th screenplay.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary from Saint 716: “This is a good one for the difference between the script and the completed film.

There are a lot of ad-libbed toasts mixed in with scripted speeches. It’s interesting to observe the difference between them. The scripted scenes are intentionally used for overarching character dynamics whereas the unscripted toasts fill in the mood of the scene. It would be pretty flat without both.

There are some scenes you can write, some dialog you can really make happen and then there are times where the magic comes in the moment, when the camera is on. But we can write the mood, we can craft the tone. It’s our job to present more than just dialog, our job to create a scene which impacts our characters.”

Scene Description Spotlight: “Rachel Getting Married”

September 1st, 2012 by

Since I started this series of weekly Thursday posts, spotlighting good examples of scene description, much of the focus has been on action. But how to write about a moment where nothing much is happening visually (External World), but so much is going on emotionally (Internal World). There’s a great example of this from a movie I really liked Rachel Getting Married (2008) with a fine screenplay by Jenny Lumet (personally I thought it deserved a WGA nomination for Best Original Screenplay) and excellent direction by Jonathan Demme. Here’s a summary of the plot:

Kym is released from rehab for a few days so she can go home to attend her sister Rachel’s wedding. The home environment is always challenging for a recovering addict, no less so when the visit if only for a few days. While the sisters feel genuine affection for one another, there is tension in their relationship. Rachel feels that her father dotes on Kym far too much and Kym is upset to learn that Rachel has selected a friend to be her maid of honor. Their father is genuinely concerned about Kym’s well-being but doesn’t see the stress the relationship is causing. Both women also have to deal with their selfish mother who is clearly more concerned with her own well-being ahead of that of her children. Underlying the family’s dynamic is a tragedy that occurred many years previously and for which Kym is held by some to be responsible.

The tragedy is the death of Kym’s younger brother Ethan, just a child, killed in a car crash when Kym, while high, drove off a bridge. In this scene, set in the house of Rachel’s parents, Paul (Bill Irwin) and Carol (Anna Deavere Smith) Buchman, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) has just finished complaining to her father about the likelihood of Kym (Anne Hathaway) ruining Rachel’s impending wedding. Then a group of wedding guests bursts inside, led by Rachel’s fiance Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe). For the record, Paul is famous for how masterfully he loads the dishwasher:

RACHEL
Sometimes I don't want her. It's my
fucking wedding, don't you get it?
I want my table to be perfect.

Paul kisses her on the forehead.

PAUL
Stop it. She's your sister.

They look at each other.

The screen door swings open as Emma, Carol, Sidney, Kieran,
and Norman Sklear carry the lunch plates to the kitchen. Kym
follows, carrying the salt shaker.

PAUL
Okay. Dishes? I'm going to load the
dishwasher.

SIDNEY
Paul! Paul, listen. I've been
thinking about it. I did some
preliminary sketches, I'd love to
show them to you...

KIERAN
(to Carol)
He's not kidding.

SIDNEY
And I think if you move the salad
bowls to the upper tier you can get
about 10% more stuff in the
dishwasher.

CAROL
Hee hee hee.

Paul gives him a look. Sidney starts humming PAUL'S
DISHWASHER THEME.

PAUL
Sidney, you're a nice young man.
You make a lot of money and the
world is your oyster. But you don't
know shit about loading a
dishwasher.

SIDNEY
Sir, with all due respect, the
mantle has passed.

Paul takes a moment to size Sidney up then spins on his heel
to the dishwasher.

TIME CUT--

Sidney has his sleeves up and starts to load.

KYM
What's the time limit?

CAROL
Two minutes.

SIDNEY
Are you comfortable with that, sir?
I could spot you thirty seconds.

PAUL
You young people should all go fuck
yourselves.

KYM
Dad!

CAROL
Ha!

SIDNEY
You see Paul, I think your problem
lies in lid placement. Inverting the lids
and stacking them in the upper level is
really for amateurs. It's passe.

PAUL
Rachel, you're out of the will.

SIDNEY
Observe.

With a flourish, Sidney presents a beautifully stacked
dishwasher. Paul pats his shoulder somberly.

PAUL
Clean out this machine please, boy.
So I can break out the whup-ass.

Screaming all around. Kym jumps up and down with her arms on
Rachel's shoulders. Rachel glances at her sister, laughing.

SIDNEY/KIERAN
(delightedly)
He's breakin' out the whup ass!

A SWEET MONTAGE.

Paul is loading the dishwasher like a champ.

Carol and Emma are smiling and giggling.

Kieran has his eye on the clock.

Sidney trash talks from the sidelines.

SIDNEY
You know one of the early signs of
senile dementia is an obsessive
need to organize.

PAUL
Rachel, go fetch me my dart gun.

SIDNEY
I find it touching but ultimately
sad when the warriors of yesteryear
are reluctant to lay down their
plastic containers from Zabar's and
retire gracefully

PAUL
Kieran, how's my time?

KIERAN
You have twenty-five seconds.

PAUL
I need more dishes. You amateur!

SIDNEY
What? No way!

PAUL
Somebody give me some dishes!

Kym yanks open a cupboard and passes a handful of dishes to
Paul. He begins to load them.

CLOSE ON PAUL

He has a bowl in his hands. We see the bowl is a plastic
child's bowl with Engines and Cabooses all over it. Paul
turns the bowl around in his hands like a steering wheel.

It dawns on Kym that she's handed her father Ethan's bowl.
She is stricken.

Paul looks to Carol. He seems bewildered. The kitchen falls
silent and Carol takes Ethan's bowl and places it in the
sink, out of sigh. She leads Paul gently out of the kitchen.

CLOSE ON KYM --

CLOSE ON RACHEL --

She turns and leaves the kitchen. Sidney follows her. Emma
and Norman Sklear step out onto the porch.

Kieran takes the Ethan bowl from the sink and puts it quietly
back in the cupboard and shuts the door. Kym doesn't know
what to do.

Check out the ‘room’ Lumet gives the characters and the moment with her scene description at the end of this scene. Simple sentences, but with power (“She is stricken”) and leaving much room for interpretation what a character can be feeling (“He seems bewildered”). And then that last paragraph: “Kieran takes the Ethan bowl from the sink and puts it quietly back in the cupboard and shuts the door. Kym doesn’t know what to do.”

By putting Ethan’s bowl back into the cupboard, Kieran tries to shut the Pandora’s box Kym has opened, but everything about the scene suggests that can’t happen – which looms over and under the final description: Kym doesn’t know what to do.

Powerful moment. But notice how it’s all set up with this description in the middle of the scene:

Kym jumps up and down with her arms on
Rachel's shoulders. Rachel glances at 
her sister, laughing.

After Rachel’s concern about Kym ruining the wedding, this wonderful and human moment. Two sisters reveling as part of a family. Perhaps a turning point for the better, yes? Wrong! It turns out to be a turning point for the worse. So what Lumet does is (A) create a switch – this is not a happy scene, this is a painful moment – and (B) by elevating our expectations, the low we experience through the characters’ reactions at the scene’s end is that much lower.

This is a great example of how to write a powerful scene with emotions roiling all in, around, and through its ending, but not overwriting it, rather using restrained description to allow the moment to breathe.

Here is an interview with Anne Hathaway about her role as Kym in Rachel Getting Married.

[Originally posted February 11, 2010]

Daily Dialogue — November 24, 2011

November 24th, 2011 by

“Hello. Relax, it’s seltzer. Hello. I’m Shiva the destroyer and your harbinger of doom for this evening. I would like to thank you all for coming and welcome you. Even though I haven’t seen most of you since my latest stretch in the big house. But you all look fabulous. So during the 20 minutes or so that I was not in the hole for making a shiv out of my toothbrush, I actually did participate in the infamous 12-step program. Twelve steps. Step-ball-change. Step-ball-change. Still waiting for the change part. So… But, you know, as they say, the relapse is an almost inevitable part of recovery. So I get high marks in that mode. Anywho. I… Well, as more of you know than are likely to admit, one of the steps, actual steps, is about making amends. So, I did a lot of apologizing to people. Some of whom barely remembered me, most of whom barely remembered anything. And I apologized for, you know, like, bouncing a check, or passing out in their bathtub or flooding their house and, you know, just basically for involving them in sordid activities that they were desperately trying to forget. I had to call this one girl who was, I think, fourteen, but she couldn’t come to the phone actually because her mom had taken out a restraining order, but… But anyway… So I spent a lot of time… The point is, I spent a lot of time apologizing to people who were pretty much perfect strangers. So, I would very much like to take this opportunity to not only congratulate my extraordinary sister, the future explorer in matters of the mind, thank you very much, and her adorable, impending husband on the occasion of their unprecedented nuptials, but also, to apologize to said
extraordinary sister, future explorer in matters of the mind, for what? I don’t know. Everything. And I really mean
that, Rach. You’ve… I’ve been a nightmare, you’ve been and I’m really just so damn glad to be here with you and Sidney’s family and our family and just… Everyone’s together and I’m just… It’s really great. So I am hereby raising my seltzer
to my laudatory sister and herewith making amends. Sidney, you are robbing our dysfunctional family of one of its most
vital ingredients, and its only member still willing to lend me money. So, boo on you. That’s not true. Anyway, enjoy Hawaii.”

– Kym (Anne Hathaway), Rachel Getting Married (2008), written by Jenny Lumet

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week is toasts.

Trivia: Jenny Lumet spent about 7 weeks writing the script. It was her first to be made into a film, even though it was the writer’s 5th screenplay.

Dialogue On Dialogue: This is part of the scene is like watching a slow train wreck, excruciatingly painful to watch. You can’t help but feel badly for everyone involved including Kym who is desperately trying to say something, but clueless how to say it. In effect, this is a set-up for her later AA monologue.