Script To Screen: “Election”

A critical plot point in this fantastic comedy.

From the 1999 movie Election, screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, novel by Tom Perrotta.

Setup: High school teacher Jim McCalister, caught up in a test of wills with student Tracy Flick, has a choice to make about Flick’s potential election.


JIM counts out the last of the ballots, mouthing the numbers
to himself.

I was at the end of my count when it
happened. I'd come up with exactly the
same numbers as Larry: Tracy had won
the election by a single vote, 256 to
257. I was about to announce my tally

JIM looks up and sees

TRACY in the window, her face exploding with joy. She

We move closer to Jim in SLOW-MOTION. What actually occurs
in a split-second is suspended in time

The sight of Tracy at that moment
affected me in a way I can't fully
explain. Part of it was that she was
spying, but mostly it was her face.
Looking at her, you might think she was
a sweet, innocent teenage girl. But she
wasn't sweet. And she wasn't innocent.
She was selfish and cynical and
ambitious and thought nothing of
destroying the lives of others to get to
the top. who knew how high she would
climb in life, how many people would
suffer because of her? I had to stop her

Tracy UNFREEZES and darts out of sight. JIM glances at
Larry. Larry is writing in a notebook.


creeps up from his lap and onto the pile of TRACY VOTES.
His fingers nimbly count two ballots and pull them off the

JIM coughs as beneath his desk he CRUMPLES THE BALLOTS into
a ball and drops them into the wastepaper basket.


(looking up)

I think we've got a problem.

The scene from the movie:

Note: Tom Perrotta has enormous range as a novelist witness the fact he not only wrote “Election,” he also wrote “ The Leftovers”.

I’ll see you in comments for a discussion of this scene from Election.

One of the single best things you can do to learn the craft of screenwriting is to read the script while watching the movie. After all a screenplay is a blueprint to make a movie and it’s that magic of what happens between printed page and final print that can inform how you approach writing scenes. That is the purpose of Script to Screen, a weekly series on GITS where we analyze a memorable movie scene and the script pages that inspired it.

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