Don’t waste opportunities to say something

Today’s example of cinematic storytelling comes directly from Film Crit Hulk. The CAPS LOCK below is intentional, it’s the way the Film Crit Hulk writes his essays. His writing is absolutely brilliant! If you haven’t heard about him, I recommend to visit his wordpress blog. Anyway, here is a sample of his writing, which comes from his masterpiece Screenwriting 101 Vol. 2 of 2.


Chinatown (1974)
Chinatown (1974)
Chinatown (1974)
Chinatown (1974)

 

IN ROBERT TOWNE’S INCREDIBLE SCRIPT FOR CHINATOWN (THOUGH HE ISN’T AFRAID TO GO ON FOR BIG WALLS OF TEXT… IT WAS A DIFFERENT ERA) THERE IS THIS REALLY NEAT LITTLE DETAIL THAT EXEMPLIFIES SOMETHING THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN ENOUGH IN SCREENWRITING.

JAKE GITTES IS A PRIVATE DETECTIVE WHO HAS JUST INFORMED ONE OF HIS CLIENTS THAT, YES, HIS WIFE IS CHEATING ON HIM. TO CONSOLE THE POOR CHAP JAKE DOES THE FOLLOWING:

“Gittes reaches into his desk and pulls out a shot glass, quickly selects a cheaper bottle of bourbon from several fifths of more expensive whiskeys.”

THE IMPLICATION OF THIS MAY SEEM OBVIOUS, THAT GITTES IS “CHEAP” OR SOMETHING, BUT THE FACT THAT HE HAS THEM ALL LINED UP AND READY TO GO IN HIS OFFICE SAYS SOMETHING ELSE… IT IMPLIES THAT JAKE KNOWS THE CLIENTWON’T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE.

WHAT MAY SEEM LIKE A SMALL DETAIL IN THE SCRIPT IS ACTUALLY A DETAIL THAT CAN BE SUSSED OUT TO SEVERAL OTHER IMPLICATIONS. IT’S A BRILLIANT LITTLE GESTURE OF WHICH TOWNE IS A MASTER. REALLY, HULK READ A SHIT TON OF SCRIPTS AND THESE OPPORTUNITIES ARE RARELY EXPLORED. SO HULK WANT YOU TO EMBRACE THE KIND OF HIGH-DEGREE STORYTELLING EVIDENT IN THESE TINY DETAILS. EMBRACE THE HIGH STANDARD. ALWAYS TRY TO ALWAYS SAY SOMETHING. EVEN TRY TO SAY MULTIPLE THINGS AT ONCE.

EVERY DETAIL IN YOUR SCRIPT CAN MATTER IF YOU REALLY WANT IT TO. DON’T WASTE OPPORTUNITIES TO SAY SOMETHING!


I want you the read the last sentence again!!

ALWAYS TRY TO ALWAYS SAY SOMETHING. EVEN TRY TO SAY MULTIPLE THINGS AT ONCE.

Saying multiple things at once…does it sound familiar? I hope so! 🙂

Links

Screenwriting 101 Vol. 2 of 2
THE COMPLETE FILM CRIT HULK ARCHIVE
Chinatown Screenplay – First Page PDF

Poetry and Symmetry of Storytelling in Toy Story 3

I’ve watched recently Toy Story 3, but this time with audio commentary by director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla Anderson. This blog post was inspired by their commentary and draws heavily from it.

With movies, it’s all about setting it up and paying it off consistently, to create this poetry and symmetry of storytelling.

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially to someone who you’ve known for a long time, some you’ve loved or just deeply cared about.

There is a scene, when Woody is leaving the toys. It gets very emotional, because they have been together for so many years. They get into argument. Both sides have to say things and they are not very nice. It’s a messy break up, because when Buzz extends his hand to Woody, he refuses to shake it.

Toy Story 3 (2010)
Toy Story 3 (2010)

Later in the movie, there is a scene, where the toys are taken to the dump. It’s the biggest fear of a toy. It’s not like getting thrown away or being outgrown by a kid, because that’s not the end of a toy. But heading into inferno of incinerator, that’s the ultimate end.

The toys are trying to climb up the trash, but they very quickly realize, that this is not an option. They are falling into the incinerator and slowly sliding toward their doom. There is no way out, no option, this place is inescapable.

So there is this wonderful and extremely emotional moment, when all toys come together as a family. Buzz reaches out to Woody and this time, he accepts his hand without hesitation. This moment intentionally mirrors the earlier scene, where Woody refused to shake Buzz’s hand. They all hold hands, they bond as a family, close their eyes and face together their doom.

Toy Story 3 (2010)
Toy Story 3 (2010)

It’s extremely emotional, because now we have this “family reunion” to contrast the messy break up in the earlier scene. This is what Darla Anderson meant by “setting it up and paying it off”.

The incinerator scene is extremely emotional even if you only look at the still frames above. It’s not just about creating the symmetry of storytelling (setting it up and paying it off). It works so well, because there are additional layers of meaning.

The toys realized in this scene, that the most important thing is that they have each other… is there anything more important?

Voice over in American Beauty

American Beauty. Movie that I truly love, for a great screenplay, acting performances, cinematography, directing, music or maybe because I used to fantasize about a girl the same way Lester does about Angela. Anyway, there are many reasons and something tells me, that this movie will be covered the most often on this blog.

This article was inspired by the absolutely brilliant Film Crit Hulk, specifically by his article Screenwriting 101 Vol. 2 of 2  (point 43. Voice Over). Just read it, it’s amazing!

Always show, don’t tell

Screenwriters have a rule which says: “Always show, don’t tell.” And there is a very good reason for that (“to show” is always more engaging and cinematic than “to tell”).

Well, the problem with V.O. (voice over) is that it always tells and never shows. So you (screenwriter) have to be very careful where to use it and if at all. If it is used wrongly, it feels like a cheap shortcut to explain something to the audience. And most of the time, the audience doesn’t buy it, because it feels wrong, like something that doesn’t belong to the movie at all.

On the other hand, there are movies, where the V.O. is used in a very cinematic way. By that I mean: The V.O. is well thought-out and incorporated already in the screenplay, rather than added later in the editing process to fix some problem.

Also, it is important to realize, that with V.O., you are telling the story from this person’s perspective. And that’s exactly the case in American Beauty.

American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty (1999)

The movie opens with Lester’s V.O. and it also ends this way (with his voice over). Therefore, the story is told through his perspective.

Lester’s V.O.

My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood. This is my street. This is my life. I am 42 years old and in less than a year, I’ll be dead. 

[…]

And I can’t feel anything but gratitude, for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry, you will someday.

The V.O. starts, when the camera is flying high above the suburb, where Lester lives and next time (last time), when we’ll hear Lester’s V.O. is when he dies (and when camera is flying again high above the suburb, but this time, the camera is flying out – backwards).

The point here is that we can hear the V.O. only when he is dead. In other words, the use of Lester’s V.O. is consistent and well thought-out, and it makes perfect sense.

Actually, there is a lot of things in American Beauty that make perfect sense and I’m really looking forward to write and comment (Hi Andrew! 🙂 ) about them in the future!

P.S. In the original screenplay written by Alan Ball, the V.O. begins after Lester wakes up, goes to a window and peers through it. The words are also slightly different. The same is true for the V.O. at the end, it also differs slightly (it starts when Lester is shot, but then we were supposed to see Lester flying above clouds like Superman).

(The original screenplay differs actually A LOT from the final movie.)


Links

Screenwriting 101 Vol. 2 of 2 (point 43. Voice Over)

Mendes’ influence on American Beauty

Analysis of “American Beauty” – Part 1 of Several