Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Great Voice Over Debate

Yes, Robert McKee is a god. His work is full of power and majesty and inspiration. I love him for his contribution to the great discussion on the craft of storytelling.

However, McKee is a flawed greek god who has his problems. He was
wrong about Characters Arcs. Plus, he made all the newbie screenwriters hysterical about voice overs. What was it McKee said in Adaptation? “…and GOD HELP YOU if you use voice over in your work!” Of course, the brilliance of that moment is that McKee says those words right after we hear Kaufman say to us (in a voice over), “It is my weakness, my ultimate lack of conviction that brings me here. Easy answers. Rules to short-cut yourself to success...”

Hehehe… I love that scene.

In his book, Story, McKee went so far as to say, “the trend toward using this telling narration throughout a film threatens the future of our art. More and more films by some of the finest directors from Hollywood and Europe indulge in this indolent practice.”

Let it also be said that McKee’s all-time favorite movie,
Casablanca, his great exemplar for screenplays, opens with a voice over that was, let’s face it, completely unnecessary. Everything the narrator tells us about all the people waiting and waiting in Casablanca for exit visas to America can be easily discerned through the STORY.

Generally speaking, I am opposed to voice overs. They should be avoided if possible. You gotta show, don’t tell. I am ALL for that. Pass the clipboard and sign me up. Yet, there are still plenty of great films out there in which voice overs were used quite masterfully. Can you name a movie in which there was an effective use of voice overs?

I offer you six:

  • A Christmas Story
  • Adaptation
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Goodfellas
  • Fight Club
  • Thank You For Smoking

Monday, October 30, 2006

A Monday Shout-Out

First, let the Revolution continue! Our dear friend, Ross Mahler, is starting a study on Plot Twists. And he is looking for your favorite twists and theories behind what makes twists work.

Second, MaryAn Batchellor is looking for suggestions for her
Death of a Protagonist study.

Third, reviewers on TriggerStreet almost never celebrate another writer’s attempt at a great movie monologue. More often than not, that poor writer will be criticized for writing dialogue that’s “too long.” But one of my favorite film bloggers on the web,
Edward Copeland, offered his Top 5 Movie Monologues over at the House Next Door. Bless you, Copeland, for that beautiful piece. Number 1, of course, was President Merkin Muffley’s phone call to Dmitri Kissoff. A sensational choice.

Also, don’t miss
Colin’s Movie Monologue Page in which you can read all of those brilliant monologues. (Then try to imagine how much space those monologues would take up on the page.)

If you have not experienced the world of
Girish Shambu, you’re robbing yourself of an awe-inspiring education that you will treasure the rest of your life. As much as I hate to send away any of my readers, I dare you to study his entire blog from September 2004 all the way to the present and tell me that your life and your view of cinema hasn’t been FOREVER CHANGED for the better. His latest post, Archiveology: Five Hungry Men, is “an homage to five voracious cinephiles whose curiosity, open-mindedness, energy, intelligence and appetite I find truly inspirational. Reading them is like catching a bug that galvanizes me: to watch more, read more, think more, write more.” I love you, Girish. I really do.

Is it even possible to stop loving
Billy Mernit? In his two pieces, The Listening Writer and Playtime, Billy writes more beautifully about music than music writers.

I’ve got to give it up to Unk yet again for his great posts on script analysts
here and here.

Please allow me to introduce you to Christina Ferguson’s blog,
Development Hell. I loved her recent post on Death of a Pet Project.

I loved That Little Round-Headed Boy’s
40 Reasons why I love “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”.

And finally (I have to quit), you cannot miss
the interview of Christiane Kubrick, widow of Stanley, who set the record straight once and for all. My favorite quote: “He abandoned many projects — sometimes after one or two years — because he suddenly ran out of excitement. He hated himself for doing so but, like a poker player, you can’t play a bad hand simply because other people are winning.”

Friday, October 27, 2006

Create A Character Weekend!

This gem of a photo comes to us from the photographer, Killbunnie23, who just might kill me if she knew what I was doing. But hey, we’re artists creating characters and it is to her credit as a brilliant photographer that I am using her photo for our own personal gain.

Hehehe… I love ya, honey, whoever you are.

Okay, guys, 3 things, and I can’t WAIT to hear them:

  1. What's her name?
  2. Why on earth is she dressed like that?
  3. What are her character contradictions?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Scriptwriter’s Life

I remember Stephen King saying in his book, On Writing, that he would write in the morning, get his errands done in the afternoon, and read at night. Must be nice. A screenwriter’s life, however, is vastly more complicated. For many years, I personally felt that success in mastering the craft occured only after the long haul of dedicating yourself in doing these 7 things:

1. Write like crazy.
2. Read screenplays, movie websites, and books like crazy.
3. Review other scripts like crazy.
4. Watch movies like crazy.
5. Network like crazy.
6. Have an open, crazy dialogue with other writers and filmmakers about the craft.
7. Get out and experience a wonderful, crazy life.

However, I was recently contacted by the wonderful Tim Claque, a writer / director from the United Kingdom. He shared with me his brilliant chart (above), which really broadens even my own thinking about many aspects that make up a screenwriter’s life. Admittedly, I was concerned he might be some traveling salesman with a workshop or a book to sell, but he isn’t. In fact, after about the second or third email from him, it occurred to me that he is actually part of
The Revolution. He’s just an artist (like us) who’s willing to engage other artists in the arena of ideas. And this is just a chart he created for himself so that he can keep a balance in his own life in the areas of knowledge and experience as a screenwriter.

He told me, “The idea for the diagram came from some corporate work I was doing. I was writing a script for a bank. And as part of my research I spent a week or two observing the lives of financial salesmen. What was interesting was that they divided their sales lives up in a similar way. They spent only about a third of their development time on their actual sales skills. The other two thirds were on 'other' things. Things like keeping in touch with the business news, getting better at admin, researching new sales ideas, meeting colleagues and meeting competitors - so many things. Well that's what the top people did anyway. You can see the parallels and from that the Scriptwriter's Life took form. It’s easy to see those parallels in hindsight but initially it took me a while to get there. Overall I guess the message I took away from it is - don't just get your head down. Keep your head up and observe the world. Its key for a salesman to understand people and understand the world. But for a scriptwriter is even more important.”

He said that the “diagram is a work in progress and will always be changing following comments from fellow writers. It’s not about fads or the fashionable trends… Eventually, the aim is to create a CD-ROM that has interviews, examples, and advice on it for these areas to bring it all to life. This would be a funded CD-ROM and therefore, free to all writers, as well.”

I asked him what he gets out of his own chart. He said, “When I look at the diagram I use it for reflection. I try to find the thing that I've done the least of recently. Today I realised I've had my head down in rewrites and editing for a long time. My red circle - which is about building up MY character - has been forgotten about. The danger if that continues would be I would lose touch with new ideas and become stale. So I spent part of today reading Oliver Stone's recent BAFTA lecture and watching the film ‘Oldboy’ which has passed me by first time but I knew I wanted to watch. It's important to realise that most writers do most of this stuff most of the time. The diagram allows you to just explore your boundaries a little more. It challenges you to just do that bit more variety and be more fully rounded as a writer AND a person. For me that would represent the next time I feel I need to develop, I shouldn't watch another film - because that's what I did last time. I should do something else ‘red.’ Get to the art gallery, check out the box figures more thoroughly, read a script.”

And to that I say, “amen.” Good job, Tim.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Character Depth – Lois Lane

Taken from my Goodbye, Lois post - still one of my favorites. I've said it before and I'll say it again: A Superman movie is only as good as its Lois Lane. Period.

If Superman is supposed to be some weird allusion to Christ, then Lois Lane was his Mary Magdalene (and Donner inadvertently reinforced the theories of Dan Brown, oddly enough). No matter. Lois was the reformed dirty girl who became Superman’s most faithful follower. She was clever. She was witty. She was feisty. She was vulnerable. She had street smarts. She was one of us. She was all of us. She had to roll around in the muck and write about it while dreaming of a better life and winning the Pulitzer, which we all knew she would never get because her articles were the stuff of cheap scandal rags with tawdry titles like “I Spent the Night with Superman.” She was the girl who was fanatic about making freshly squeezed orange juice while smoking a cigarette. She was the girl who would go to Paris and crawl underneath an elevator inside the biggest phallic symbol in the world and be rescued right before the load was shot into space and exploded. She was the girl who could look Super-Jesus in the eye and ask him about his “bodily functions” and “what color underwear am I wearing?” She was innocence lost and reborn again because she believed in Superman. And she invited him to look at her, to really look at her intimately and dare to tell her that her underwear was “pink,” because… she loved him more than anyone else in the world.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Monday Shout-Out

I loved Roger Ebert’s review of Marie Antoinette. He wrote, “Coppola has been criticized in some circles for her use of a contemporary pop overlay -- hit songs, incongruous dialogue, jarring intrusions of the Now upon the Then. But no one ever lives as Then; it is always Now. Many characters in historical films seem somehow aware that they are living in the past. Marie seems to think she is a teenager living in the present, which of course she is -- and the contemporary pop references invite the audience to share her present with ours. Forman's Amadeus had a little of that, with its purple wigs.”

Marie Antoinette was a great movie. Watching it was like eating handfuls of dark Giradelli chocolate. The picture above is the opening shot, which would qualify as another superb example for Jim Emerson’s Opening Shots Project. In that image, you see everything you need to know about Marie Antoinette and what her movie is going to be about. Question – Was it essential to see her get beheaded? I don’t think so. It would have been too out of line with the rest of the movie, which took place almost entirely within her bored, cocooned existence in Versailles. Instead, Coppola connected the closing shot with the opening shot, which was the pitch-perfect way to go. Side note: when Marie Antoinette finally consummated her marriage to Louis XVI, everyone in my theater applauded.

For me, this has been the year of applauding audiences. They applauded when Samuel L. Jackson muttered the now famous obscenity-riddled line in
Snakes on a Plane. They applauded when Marie Antoinette finally got laid, and they applauded during that hilarious closing shot of The Departed. Despite rumors of its demise, a love of movies is still alive and well in 2006, thank you very much.

Speaking of
The Departed, I loved that movie. There was a scene that handled exposition so brilliantly - Leo's interview. Leo's family background is actually quite crucial to the story. But it was disseminated in the film through that interview and so it was also about A) whether Leo would get the job, B) a mind-game in which Wahlberg and Sheen tried to convince him he's nothing and no one so he'll accept the assignment they want to give him, C) it was thrown in his face while he was being verbally beaten down by Wahlberg so that Leo would always know who's in control, and D) it was also about how well Leo would handle the pressure. This scene also ran tangent with other scenes taking place at the same time, so these moments were given to us in brief doses.

I could just hear the screenwriting music in Bill Monahan's head as I watched that movie - quick set up, quick set up, quick set up, PAY OFF, quick set up, quick set up, IMPORTANT SET UP SLOW DOWN, quick set up, quick set up, PAY OFF. And then the end was just PAY OFF, PAY OFF, PAY OFF. And quick set up #2 was meant for PAY OFF #10. Just great. And the dialogue was so layered, full of manipulation, evasion, subtext, mind-games, the works.

However, was The Departed a Scorsese masterpiece? Don’t think so. Jim Emerson had a couple of posts on his site on why it’s not a masterpiece
here and here. It must also be noted that Emerson wrote a sensational piece for MSN Movies about all of Scorsese’s morally conflicted characters called Goodfellas and Badfellas. Just great.

Next, that
angry Terence Davies interview in the Guardian in which he said, “You're up against people who know nothing, who have done a media degree or, worst of all, have done the Robert McKee lectures.” Why is that worst of all? “Because they've done a great deal of damage. Who can turn round and say it's good to have a climax on page six? Who said so? Robert McKee, and his theories are based on Casablanca, which was being written as it was being shot. So you're up against that level of philistinism. It beggars belief.” Hehehe

This shout-out’s been long overdue. MaryAn Batchellor has a great post highlighting the best of her blog on her
One Year Anniversary. She also did a great study on exposition: Properly Exposing, Exposition ABC’s, and Over Exposure.

I loved Matt Spira’s recent posts
on the Asian Film Market.

Don’t miss Dennis Cozzalio’s entertaining
Robert Aldrich blog-a-thon.

Unk's got a new site and his new post I get it, but I don't get it was great fun. He also has a cool new forum.

Is your head spinning yet?

And finally a shout-out to myself, if you don’t mind. I recently posted on TriggerStreet (for fun for myself) a script that was all about practicing the fine art of subtext in dialogue. I incorporated as many examples from our study as I could and gave everyone who participated a little shout-out in one scene. It’s called
The Gigolo & The Vicious Vixen.


Friday, October 20, 2006

It's Create A Character Weekend!

Okay, guys, three things:
  1. What's his name?

  2. What's going on in this picture?

  3. What are his character contradictions?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

On Character Arcs

A portion from my review of Bob Thielke’s Father Max:

Let's first talk about the central figure of this story, Father Maxsmillian Kolbe. It could be argued that there was not much of a character arc in Father Kolbe. These events certainly sharpened his character and deepened his faith, but did he actually learn or change? Not really. It could be argued that all tests of faith are steps of growth for any individual, but, of course, what we're talking about here is the cinematic, 3-act structure, inner-problem-in-Act-One-that-is-realized-and-fixed-in-Act-Three, kind of character arc. Was there any here? Another question: is it essential that in EVERY story, the lead character MUST have a character arc? Even McKee wrote that by the end of every story, a character must change whether for the better or for the worse. Is it even quantifiable how Kolbe changed in this movie? Is this not instead a story about Kolbe's affect on everyone around him?

Consider this: Charlie Kaufman famously argued against character arcs in his great movie, "Adaptation." I absolutely agree with him. Character arcs are good in many stories, but they are not essential in every story. Especially franchise films. And action films. And comedies. Since when did James Bond ever have a character arc? Or Inspector Clouseau? Or Indiana Jones? Or Atticus Finch? Even in the classics with, say, Bogart, we watched him play Sam Spade, a man who knew who he was and whose true character at its core never changed. Yet, we were fascinated by him. We wanted to be like him. And we watched him play the game with all of those other tricky characters and wondered what he was really doing. We even got worried at times if he was himself a bad character. We asked ourselves, "Sam Spade is supposed to be good, so why is he acting this way? Is he really bad?" But then, in the end, when Bogart came out on top, as he always did, we discovered that he was, in fact, two steps ahead of everyone including the audience, and although he may have played games with the other characters, he never abandoned his own true character. Those endings were not only about Bogart beating the bad guys, but it was also about clarifying his true character, which was still good.

We have a similar setup in "Father Max" and there's NOTHING wrong with that. Instead of having a man in the lead role who needs to learn, we have a man who knows who he is. So we ask ourselves, "Is this really his true character? Will he stay true to himself? In the face of these overwhelming and horrific circumstances, will he lose his faith and abandon what he believes?" Bob wrote in his Production Notes that "although this is a story about a religious man, this is not a story about religion." I agree. One does not have to believe the things Kolbe believes in order to be inspired by the way he, time and again, shows love to others and stays true to his character. This was a man who expressed a belief in showing absolute love to everyone, even his enemies, and in the end when he was imprisoned in one of the most notorious labor camps in Germany, Kolbe gave his life away to save another man, which was, in essence, a huge statement of True Character, because he really was willing to die for what he believes. At its core, this is a story about love, about a man with strong beliefs on love, and he is put into a position that forces him to decide how far he is actually willing to go to show love to others. Of course, he chooses to go all the way and he makes the ultimate sacrifice to save another human being who was not even part of his faith. "No greater love hath any man than this, that a man would lay down his life for his friends."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Breakdown - Frailty

(Another great job, Miriam! Thanks so much!)


I chose this movie because it doesn't break down exactly according to the Snyder beat sheet. All of the beats hit in the right places except the B-story, which is a wrap-around and interwoven with the main story.

This film uses the opening credits to set the tone, but I haven't included them in my timed scenes. Brian Tyler's excellent score creates an undercurrent of tension as news clippings and crime scene photos of the God's Hand killer form a montage behind the titles.

1- 0:30 – Establishing shot of the FBI headquarters. Includes the ambulance. Agent Doyle enters the building. 00:30

2- 2:20 – Credits conclude as Doyle asks about the man in his office. When he arrives, the man introduces himself as Fenton Meeks. He asks about the picture of Doyle's mother and says he has information about the God's Hand killer. Doyle doesn't believe him and Meeks says, "Sometimes the truth defies reason." Theme stated. 02:50

3- 1:08 – Flashback of intercut phone conversation between Fenton and his brother, Adam, earlier in the evening. Scene ends on "Adam's "suicide." 03:58

4- 2:41 – Doyle checks Meeks' story with Becky in the sheriff's office. She confirms that he took the ambulance and his brother's body. Meeks begins his story, which is told in flashback. 06:39

5- 1:40 – 1979: Fenton and Adam, children, get off the bus and walk home through the rose garden while adult Fenton narrates. The short history of the family is given. The music over this scene is very dark and ominous, which is in stark contrast to the bucolic images of a sunny Texas town. 08:19

6- 2:49 – Dad comes home, they eat dinner, and go to bed. It's all so normal. 11:08

7- 3:34 – Dad wakes them up in the middle of the night to tell them an angel visited him and told him they are all now God's Hands and their mission is to destroy demons. This is very clearly what Snyder calls the Catalyst and Hauge calls the opportunity. 14:42

8- 1:41 – The next day Fenton can almost believe it was a dream until Dad reminds him not to tell anybody about their new mission. "We won't, Dad" Adam calls happily as he races into school. 16:23

9- 4:59 – Series of scenes: Dad finds his tools. Dad and Fenton discuss the next step. Fenton advances the theory that Dad is crazy. 21:22

10- 1:38 - Adam comes in with his own list. Dad has to explain the difference between destroying demons and killing people. 23:00

11- 2:06 – Dad doesn't come home from work. Fenton tells Adam that Dad's crazy and asks him to run away. 25:06

12- 3:41 – Dad brings home the first demon. Fenton begs him not to kill her. Dad says if he could spare Fenton, he would. 28:47

13- 0:59 – Back to Agent Doyle and adult "Fenton." Doyle asks if it really happened. 29:46

14- 1:05 – Dad lays hands on, reveals, then kills the first demon. 30:51

15- 2:16 – They bury the demon in the rose garden. Fenton threatens to tell. Dad says if he does, someone will die. The angel was clear on that. 34:07

16- 1:26 – Back to FBI. Meeks tells Doyle the God's Hand killer probably put all of the bodies in the rose garden. 35:33

17- 1:05 – Doyle makes Meeks put on cuffs. When they get in the car, Meeks avoids touching Doyle. 36:38

18- 1:43 – In the car, Doyle accuses Meeks of hiding something. Meeks asks again about Doyle's mother. Doyle says his mother was murdered and they never caught the killer. 38:21

19- 2:09 – Back to 1979: a little taste of normalcy until they come home to find a new van in the driveway. 40:30

20- 0:29 – They come in to find Dad looking up the address of the next demon. 40:59

21- 1:43 – They find the demon and wait for him. Fenton doesn't want to do his part. 42:42

22- 0:31 – Dad knocks out the demon and Fenton freezes up. 43:13

23- 0:58 – They destroy the second demon. Dad tells him, "You can't escape God's wrath." 44:11

24- 1:25 – In the rose garden, Fenton tells Adam that Dad kills people. Adam says he sees it when Dad touches them. 45:36

25- 0:30 – Dad comes in to wake Fenton up. He's pissed. 46:06

26- 1:12 – Dad says the angel visited him. Fenton can't see the truth because he doesn't have faith. 47:18

27- 2:42 – Dad makes Fenton dig a hole and tells him to pray. Fenton digs, but he doesn't pray. He hates God. 50:00

28- 2:15 – Dad finds out Fenton didn't use gloves and says he's proud of him. 52:15

29- 1:55 – Fenton finishes what he calls the Dungeon. 54:10

30- 1:11 – They get another demon, but Fenton runs from his duty. 55:21

31- 0:50 – Fenton tells the sheriff and insists on showing him. 56:11

32- 0:55 – Dad invites the sheriff inside. 57:06

33- 1:34 – Fenton wants Dad to take the sheriff into the cellar/Dungeon. Dad says, "If it has to be done, it has to be done." He asks Fenton, "Does it have to be done?" 58:40

34- 2:16 – Dad kills the sheriff and throws up. As the sheriff dies, Dad says, "May God welcome you and keep you." 60:56

35- 1:05 – Dad tells Fenton he was forced to commit murder because of him. Dad almost kills Fenton, but Adam stops him. 62:01

36- 3:40 – Dad tells Fenton the angel said Fenton is a demon. He can't kill him, so he locks him in the cellar/Dungeon. 65:41

37- 2:04 – Adam brings water for Fenton to drink through the knothole. He tells Fenton he'll be in there a week. 67:45

38- 0:20 – Back to Doyle and Meeks, who says it was dark in the hole. 68:05

39- 1:58 – Back in the cellar/Dungeon, Fenton goes beyond fear, beyond insanity, and sees God. 70:03

40- 0:58 – Fenton tells Dad he saw God. Adam says, "No fair. All I get to see is demons and Fenton gets to see God." "Yes, but look what a price he paid," Dad says. 71:01

41- 3:01 – Fenton says he's ready to help Dad. The demon nearly gets them, but Fenton distracts him long enough for Dad to knock him out. 74:02

42- 3:11 – As they prepare to kill the demon, Dad says, "I've been waiting for this moment ever since this all started." Fenton replies, "I'm ready to do my duty." You gotta love the irony of this dialogue. Then Fenton kills Dad. 77:13

43- 2:05 – In the car, Meeks winds up the story. Doyle asks if Adam ever told. 79:18

44- 0:30 – Doyle and Meeks walk through the rose garden. Doyle asks about the promise (mentioned in an earlier scene). 79:48

45- 0:51 – Back to the kids one more time. As they bury Dad in the rose garden, Fenton tells Adam, "Promise me if you ever destroy me, you'll bury me in the rose garden." Adam says, "I promise to God." 80:39

46- 1:20 – Doyle is confused until Meeks reveals he is Adam Meeks, not Fenton Meeks. 81:59

47- 3:02 – Scene #3 replays, only this time Adam, the real Adam, kills Fenton with Dad's tools. Fenton was the real God's Hand serial killer all along. 85:01

48- 3:34 – Intercut between the rose garden and flashback of Doyle's mother's death. Doyle is the one who murdered his mother. Adam says, "I've always believed." All those people really were demons posing as humans. 88:46

49- 1:52 – At FBI headquarters, the surveillance tapes are blurred and the other agents can't remember what "Fenton" looked like. God has blinded them. 90:38

50- 3:22 – The agent who spent the most time with Meeks visits Adam to tell him about his brother's death and murder spree. Adam is the sheriff of the small town where he lives. His wife is Becky, who answered the phone and told Doyle the story about the stolen ambulance. Adam and Becky tell each other, "God's will has been served." "Praise God." 94:00

There are 50 major scenes that average 1 minute and 53 seconds in length. Only one is over 4 minutes long and twelve are less than a minute long. This is a very fast-paced movie.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Character Depth - Riddick

From Piers Beckley:

Riddick from Pitch Black is a killer - but when he has the opportunity to murder Fry, he just takes a lock of hair as a souvenir. To Johns, he's an implacable enemy. To Jack, he's a surrogate father. But it's his relationship with Fry that's the heart of his character. At the end, he and Fry have made it to safety - all they have to do is get in the shuttle and take off. Or they could go back into the monster-filled dark and attempt to save the people they left behind. Riddick's not interested and doesn't see why Fry should be either. He offers her the chance to escape, to leave the others behind, to become like him. He's offering her freedom and safety and all she has to do is take his hand and walk away. But instead, she refuses to leave, and Riddick becomes like her instead, a man who would die for others if necessary. Riddick says he wouldn't know how to rejoin the human race - but faced with Fry's example, he does.

Character Depth - Josey Wales

From Gamears (Carl):

Josey Wales (from The Outlaw Josey Wales) begins the story as a farmer, out in the field, struggling to bring life from the earth. When his family is slain by renegade Union Soldiers, Josey takes up a gun and seeks revenge. This is where the two faces of Josey are born. On one hand, he's a hardened killer. In his revenge, he kills without mercy or compassion, even those who are not directly responsible for the death of his family. On the other hand, he is a loyal friend with true compassion for his allies, as shown in his above-and-beyond treatment of his young compatriot, Jamie. He shows heroic selflessness by putting his life on the line for those around him and then drawing his gun and slaying handfuls of men in the blink of an eye. Josey makes a real turn of character when he becomes the defender of a band of rag-tag settlers. He refuses to help them yet ends up saving them. In turn, they end up saving him – spiritually. When Josey joins them in restoring a homestead that once belonged to a settler's son - he ends up restoring his soul. Josey crystallizes this revelation when he approaches Ten Bears, the chief of a local Comanche tribe and speaks words that always put a lump in my throat: "I'm just giving you life and you're giving me life. And I'm saying that men can live together without butchering one another." Ten Bears replies (in part): "There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men." Josey goes back to try and live in peace, but the sins of his past come back in the form of bounty hunters and former Union Army man-hunters. The irony strikes hot when Josey realizes that if he wants peace, he'll have to go to war. He doesn't get off the hook easy, and the ending even leaves his finality in question as his blood drips onto his boot. Josey delivers a line just before the final battle that, for me, sums up the philosophy of the character and a central theme of the story, when he says: "Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you're not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. 'Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That's just the way it is."

Friday, October 13, 2006

It's Create a Character Weekend!

Do you remember that scene in Wonder Boys when Professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) was in the Hi-Hat Club with James Leer (Tobey Maquire) and Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.)?

They noticed a funny-looking guy across the hall and played a game in which they tried to imagine his life's story. They drummed up the name “Vernon Hardapple” and a tale about him being a jockey who fell off his horse, which is how he got his scar, and now he’s addicted to pain killers, can't piss standing up, and lives with his Mom who blames him for his brother's death.

So let’s play.

3 things I’d like to know about the man above:

  1. What's his name?

  2. What's his life like?

  3. What are his character contradictions?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Character Depth Articles - Keep 'em coming!

Guys, we're just getting started on our Character Depth Study! I've received a couple of emails asking me if it's too late to submit a character. Not at all! Please keep the submissions coming via email!

(Go here for above for details about what to submit.)

We still have quite a few characters coming including my own on breakdown of Michael Corleone!


Character Depth - Melvin Udall

From Pat (GimmeABreak):

He's a misanthropic romance novelist (there's complexity for you) who writes poetically about a love he's never known. He's a bully who delights in heaping abuse on everyone unfortunate enough to encounter him yet is impressed when someone has the guts to push back. He avoids touching other people but deliberately obstructs his favorite waitress so that she has to touch him to pass. He speaks rudely and crudely to people but whispers sweet nothings to a dog: "Don't be like me, don't you be like me. You stay just the way you are because you are a perfect man." He's afraid of many things but mostly afraid of others seeing his fear. He rejects first so that he won't have to suffer rejection. He's Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets. (An aside - while everyone loved Jack Nicholsen in this, I thought he was too much. The SP has many subtleties that didn't come across well or at all. This role needed someone that's usually seen as a nice guy - Michael Caine, Kevin Spacey or, stretching the age a little, Paul Newman).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Shhh… It’s a SECRET!

Shh... Don't tell anyone this.

We screenwriters cannot (and SHOULD NOT and WILL NOT) allow ourselves the LUXURY of (GASP!) discussing insights about the craft. With anyone.


So let's just keep this between us, okay?

(Because I honestly don't know what'll happen to me if I tell you this.)

Are you ready? This is my secret:

I fucking love Secondary Headings.


And do you know what else? I can't believe HOW GOOD IT FEELS to tell someone! I love READING them. I love WRITING them. I love ALL THE POSSIBILITIES they bring to the screenwriting table! It’s my MOST FAVORITE device in a screenplay! THREE CHEERS FOR SECONDARY HEADINGS! HOORAY! HOORAY! HOORAY!


Pardon me while I have a quick smoke.

But ya know, amateurs and pros alike hardly ever use them, which I cannot fathom. I do not see how any truly devoted craftsman can live without Secondary Headings. They are nothing less than your golden ticket to freedom in screenwriting.

So let's take a look at them. As I’m sure you know very well, STUPID BORING Master Scene Headings usually look like this:


Trottier is pretty strict about how Master Scene Headings should look. It’s INT. or EXT., LOCATION, only ONE DASH, and then DAY or NIGHT (or CONTINUOUS or SAME or LATER). There are very few liberties you can take with Master Scene Headings. You can, at times, have two dashes in the event of a FLASHBACK SEQUENCE, but that’s about it.

To me, Master Scene Headings have always felt so confining and full of limitations with the way they force you to be stuck in one location until you move on to the next Master Scene Heading. Does that not feel completely wrong to you guys? All the great movies I’ve seen are FULL of movement. Thus, I love so very much Secondary Headings, which is a perfectly groovy and acceptable industry standard technique.

If you have different scenes taking place in the same building (or general location), all you need are Secondary Headings. For example, if you have, say, early in your script, one big talkative 6-page scene with 5 characters in a kitchen, you’re running a huge risk of losing the reader and the audience. However, you could (through Secondary Headings) break up that monster conversation into short vignettes that take place in, say, the Family Room, Master Bedroom, Back Patio, and Garage. Plus, in the process of breaking up that long talk, you can eliminate all the non-essential lines in that one scene and shrink those 5-pages down to maybe 2 good, tight pages full of movement.

Spacing wise, you should treat Secondary Headings as you would Master Scene Headings. They're painless, too, because all you have to type is the location:


Jack the Ripper grabs a steak knife.


Mystery Man foxtrots with Mystery Woman.

Or (praise the movies gods) Secondary Headings can also be prepositional phrases:


Mystery Man foxtrots with Mystery Woman.

Secondary Headings can also offer movement:

Jack the Ripper tip-toes into the


and hides behind a statue of David.

Question - using today’s industry standard format, how would you handle multiple conversations taking place in different locations at the same party? Like, for example, the wedding reception at the beginning of The Godfather? Secondary Headings, of course - BY THE BUFFET TABLE, ON THE STAGE, IN THE PARKING LOT, etc.

How would you handle long tracking shots like the great ones we’ve seen in Stanley Kubrick’s films? Secondary Headings. (I love long tracking shots. There was always a point to Kubrick’s tracking shots, too, you know. Kubrick was, in essence, marrying his characters to their environment and saying, “Hey, look, these characters are products of their environment” or “They are being horribly affected by this environment.”)

How would you handle the dogfight sequence at the end of Top Gun? EXT. BLUE SKY – DAY and then fill it with Secondary Headings - INSIDE MAVERICK'S TOMCAT, JUST ABOVE THE WATER, INSIDE MIG TWO, etc.

Are you seeing the possibilities? Because great movies are EXCITING and full of movement and (to me) Secondary Headings is just one of many keys to great craftsmanship.

More examples:

The Other Side by Mickey Lee – The opening sequence took place inside a Television Studio. With the use of Secondary Headings, Mickey Lee cut seamlessly between the DRESSING ROOM, the SET, and the CONTROL BOOTH, and all the while, he established his characters, built tension, and got his story rolling along in great style.

The White Pyramid by Ross Mahler – Ross offers a wonderful sequence about 30 pages into his story that takes place at the far end of the Great Wall of China at Lao Long Tou in which the hero, Chance, dives into the ocean where the dragon's snout meets the sea and he searches for a stone with a serpent carved on it. With Secondary Headings, Ross cut between Chance UNDERWATER and his friend Benny standing at the END OF THE DRAGON'S SNOUT. Very cinematic.

The Mine by Matt Spira & Russell Totten – This story takes place primarily in mines underneath No Man’s Land during WWI. However, in one of the early sequences, Matt and his partner Russell take our mind's eye sweeping across No Man's Land in the Ypres Salient and thanks to Secondary Headings, we spend time IN THE GERMAN TRENCHES and IN THE BRITISH TRENCHES. It was exciting.

Of course, like everything, there can be pitfalls to Secondary Headings. One can have too much movement, movement that makes no sense, too many quick scenes in a row, etc. It’s a technique that, like everything else, has to be mastered. But, ohh, how fun it is when an artist masters the form and delivers a truly great cinematic experience.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Character Depth - Axel Foley

From Nicolle C. Jones:

Axel Foley from Beverly Hills Cop - Axel is pretty static as heroes go and is quickly established as a cool customer with anti-authority tendencies. That doesn’t noticeably change. He ends the movie much the same way as he began, but he influences the people around him - Billy, Taggert, Bogamil, and this makes Axel an incredibly strong character, the gravity of the script. The essence of Axel is that he’s a cop who acts like a con. He has nothing in common with the white bread cops of privilege, and he’s not going to toe the line. His loyalty is to the childhood friend who has been murdered. The incongruity speaks about where he comes from and how he operates with a little social commentary thrown in for good measure. It’s a familiar archetype and it may be edging a little too close to the loose cannon cop cliché, but what really sells it is how Axel relates to pervasively evil Victor Maitland. He doesn’t charge right in swearing oaths, he just simply stays cool. The most direct anger you see from Axel is with his fellow cops. Hell, he slugs Taggert flat out. With Maitland he bides his time, digs for evidence and just makes himself a constant nuisance. By the end, he’s got a few more friends who are the wiser for having met him, but he’s still Axel - smart, witty, and loyal throughout which is damned endearing.

Character Depth - Tom Reagan

This one comes to us from Russell Totten:

“What heart?” declares Tom Reagan as he shoots Bernie dead at the end of Miller’s Crossing. And indeed, you could ask the same question. We follow him through the movie, being as flippant as possible to all the characters with very little variation. Yet his complexity emerges from the “what ifs” and the way he deals with them. He’s happy for the bookie to break his legs for his debts; he’s happy to tell Johnny Casper “I told you so”; he’s happy to tell his boss, Leo, that he’s sleeping with Verna. Originally, he doesn’t kill Bernie in the woods, but then he didn’t think he was going to have to do it himself, suggesting he was happy for it to happen. So, why did he let him go? Later he tells Verna it’s not easy, but he contradicts himself blowing Bernie away in cold blood. We do get a few hints as to what might be happening inside Tom. Verna is perhaps one possible doorway: he tells her he loves her, and she does raise the question of his jealousy. But then, to turn it all upside down, he kills her brother and makes a joke at his funeral. Another possibility could be him throwing up in the woods when The Dane is searching for Bernie’s body; perhaps he IS scared when he realizes the risk he took isn’t going to pay off. So, is Tom Reagan a complex character? Arguably, yes, but really he’s a man who calculates the odds and plays the game, even if there’s a risk. Then there’s the element of luck, which he rides gloriously throughout the film. All of which leads us to the essence of his character: he is a gambler, nothing more.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Character Depth - Graham Dalton

This gem comes to us from Christina Ferguson:

One of my favorite movie characters of all time is Graham Dalton from
Sex, Lies and Videotape. He's an honest pathological liar. An impotent man obsessed with sex. A man who is able to know the female subjects he videotapes more intimately than their husbands, without touching them. He comes to town to obtain some measure of closure on a relationship he destroyed ten years earlier and ends up inspiring a naive woman to leave her deceitful husband, his former friend. In doing so, he redeems himself. All of this - while in dire need of a simple haircut.

“Characters as Individuals”

From my recent review of Rose Gibbs’ wonderful script Regular Army:

“..I have always loved studying cultures and beliefs and personalities and psychology, but yet, the human resource groups who teach these classes annoy me to no end because they do little to broaden anyone's horizon and do more to foster narrow, racist thinking with all the ways that they categorize, generalize, label, and stereotype entire groups of people. Human beings never ever fit easily into limited, compartmentalized categories. Life and truth and movies are, in fact, complicated and multi-faceted. Within any large group of people, you are going to find such a vast and unquantifiable range of personalities, beliefs, opinions, styles, etc, that it almost feels wrong to lump them all together. The only thing that connects them just happens to be that ONE THING. When it comes to everything else, frankly, all bets are off, because one cannot say that entire groups of people have certain behavioral tendencies because that's simply not true. There is not a single person I know, and I know a lot of people, who, when you really get to know them, would easily fit into the common perception of a particular group that that person might be associated with. Everyone I know is an exception. What does that mean? It means that they are, like everyone else in the world, unique individuals. More often than not, great movies are about AMAZING characters who DEFY tradition, BREAK barriers, and WOW us by their UNIQUENESS. Am I wrong...?

“Now, I do believe that you can THROUGH STORY make statements about classes, professions, etc, and illuminate problems within ethnic, cultural, political, and social groups, but you cannot ever construct A CHARACTER that's intended to represent an ENTIRE GROUP. That kind of thinking has got to go. Besides, you can tell when you're watching a bad movie that that studio has been thinking along the lines of 'here's a typical X-kind of person,' and I believe that engenders more resentment in those groups than it does appreciation. In any case, writers have to treat every character as an individual, not a stereotype. Okay, so you have a character that's gay. That's not enough. Who is this person? How can you create depth in this character through inner conflicts and believable contradictions? What is this individual's personality like? Religious, political, philosophical perceptions? Fashion? Education? Family? Integrity? Attitude? Where would that person's personality fall under the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicators? Or the DISC pattern? What's their temperament like? Does that character have any neuroses? Insecurities? What is that person's relationship like to all of the other characters and how do those relationships SERVE your overall story? How are you going to handle the Cast Design so that we get to see ALL the different sides of this particular character? You have figure this out. And you have to make sure that all of those factors have a place in your story, because it's not enough to have a character that's 'just gay.' That character has to have depth and serve a STORYTELLING FUNCTION. And on these points, I must say that Rose Gibbs is to be absolutely commended, because she so very clearly treats all of her characters as unique individuals.”

Friday, October 06, 2006

Mahler’s Script-Beat Calculator

Our good friend, Ross Mahler, who is an extraordinary computer expert (and author of the blog Shares Dream World), has built a soon-to-be-famous screenwriting tool:

Here’s how it works. You type the number of pages in your script and Mahler’s Calculator will give you a guide (within a typical 3-act structure) of the page numbers by which the various “beats” in your story should be taking place.

So if, say, you have a 110-page script, this is the breakdown you would get.

Opening Image: pg 1
Establish Theme: pgs 1 – 5
Setup: pgs 1 – 10
Inciting Incident: 12
Debate - Half Commitment: pgs 12 – 25
Turn to Act II: 25
Subplot intro by: pg 30
Fun - Games - Puzzles: pgs 30 – 55
Tentpole - Midpoint - Reversal: pg 55
Enemy Closes In: pgs 55 – 75
Low Point: pg 75
Darkest Decision: pgs 75 – 85
Turn to Act III: pg 85
Finale - Confrontation: pgs 85 – 107
Aftermath: pgs 107 – 110
Final Image: pg 110

Hehehe… How cool is that?

Ross modeled his calculator after
Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet.

I asked him “How did you arrive at the page number for the Inciting Incident?”

“I've always thought of this page as the page that it should happen by (as in no later than). It could, of course, occur earlier, if little character set up is required. But if you look at most movies, the opening minutes is showing the character in their status quo, then comes the inciting incident that upsets it. A few examples from some of your subtext films...

Raiders -- gov't officials want him to go after the ark
Groundhog Day - Phil has to go to Punksatawnee (sp?)
History of Violence -- the bad guys show up at the diner”

“What did you mean by ‘Fun - Games - Puzzles?’”

“Fun and Games is an awkward term, but I've always taken it to mean the part after the inciting incident, perhaps when a character is half-committed to the quest, but before things get really serious and the stakes are raised. For example:

Raiders -- trying to gather the clues (but before Marion supposedly dies)
Groundhog Day -- Dealing with the comical/ludicrous aspects of a never-ending day, before things look hopeless and he wants to kill himself.
History of Violence -- when Tom tries to deal with the attention and not get in too much trouble (but before he has to kill anyone or deal with the reality of his past with his wife)

“What did you mean by ‘Tentpole - Midpoint - Reversal?’”

“To me, this is that point where the goal shifts (or shifts in meaning). For example:

Raiders -- the goal doesn't shift, but when Marion dies(?), beating the Nazi's becomes personal
Groundhog Day -- when love and meaningfulness become the goal (instead of just getting to Feb. 3)
History of Violence -- when Tom realizes he'll have to confront his past to make it go away (can't just make it go away)”

What are your thoughts? Suggestions?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Breakdown - The Skeleton Key

Great job, Miriam! (Click here for a complete list.)

The Skeleton Key

1- 1:27 – Caroline reads "Treasure Island" to Mr. Talcott as he dies. Outside the breeze stirs the Spanish moss and the music plays a soft counterpart to the peace and sadness of his passing. 01:27

2- 0:40 – She packs up Mr. Talcott's stuff. There are several close shots of his things as she examines them. She handles them with love and care, and then finds out his family doesn't want them. 02:07

3- 0:22 – She takes the box out back to the dumpster, but can't bear to add his box to the other boxes in there. The dumpster is full of the personal effects of dead people. 02:29

4- 0:38 – In the tram on the way home, Caroline looks through the want ads and circles one. 03:07

5- 1:04 – She goes clubbing with her best friend, Jill. Jill can't understand why Caroline cares so much about a stranger's stuff. She asks if this work is changing Caroline. Caroline replies, "I'm twenty-five years old. What's wrong with a little change?" Not only is this creepy foreshadowing, it's also the theme of the story. 04:11

6- 2:07 – This is kind of a montage sequence. It starts with shots of Caroline dancing at the club intercut with shots of her driving out of town and gradually leaves the town behind. In this series of shots, we see that she has adopted some of Mr. Talcott's things for her own. She passes two women on the road, one of whom has blind, white eyes (the bayou woman), and finally arrives at the oak alley to the house where she will be working. A big sign warns, "KEEP OUT." The music over this sequence is Death Letter, an ominous song. When she parks in front of the house, her car is the only bright spot of color. 06:18

7- 3:08 – This sequence begins indoors and ends outdoors. Caroline enters the house and walks through the big main hall from the front door to the back door. In the backyard she finds Ben in a wheelchair and Violet cutting his hair. Luke Marshall, the family lawyer, introduces himself. When Caroline meets her, Violet gives Luke a look of displeasure and walks away without saying anything. Caroline decides to leave. 09:26

8- 1:13 – Luke follows Caroline to her car and asks her to stay. In this scene I see Caroline as wanting to be convinced. She asks Luke what he would tell Violet. He says, "She could look all she wants, but I doubt she'd find any better than you." 10:39

9- 0:31 – Jill helps Caroline pack up her car. She's worried that Violet and Ben will suck Caroline into their elderly ways. If she only knew. [color=red]11:10[/color]

10- 0:19 – Caroline finds some good rock music on her car radio as she drives out of town. The tone and her mood are upbeat. Mr. Talcott's key ring dangles from her ignition. 11:29

11- 1:49 – Things get weird at the gas station. Caroline pumps gas, then looks for somebody so she can pay. There is a line of brick dust laid down across the door of the station and inside she sees alligator heads and hanging charms made from raccoon penis bones. She finds another door and hears strange music and chanting. She knocks and the bayou woman with the blind white eyes appears. Then a man with a knife comes up behind her. He's shucking and eating oysters. He tells her the price of gas and she pays. By the time she leaves, she's completely unnerved. 13:18

12- 2:26 – As Caroline unpacks, she discovers there are no mirrors in the house. She goes to see Ben and he grabs her arm. He seems to be asking for something, but he can't talk. Violet comes in and says he has to have his remedies. Then she says to Caroline, "You're scrawnier than I'd hoped. Prettier though. I bet you're all marked up, aren't you?" Why would Violet care if Caroline has any tattoos? 12:44

13- 1:08 – Violet shows Caroline the house. She and Ben have lived there since '62 when they bought the place from a brother and sister. There is an old picture of the brother and sister from when they were children. When Caroline picks it up another picture falls from behind it. It shows the children again, but with two black servants. On the back somebody has written "Papa Justify and Mama Cecile." 16:52

14- 1:08 – Violet gives Caroline the Skeleton Key and tells her to stay out of the attic. Caroline asks about the mirrors and Violet says she and Ben put them away because they don't like to see how old and wrinkled they're getting. 18:00

15- 0:49 – The tour continues. Violet informs Caroline that she likes to smoke and asks about Caroline's family. For the first time we hear that her father died last year after a short illness. Violet says, "You think too much about the time you have left, you don't spend it living." 18:49

16- 1:01 – Caroline bathes Ben and brings him downstairs and out into the garden. Violet and Caroline do some verbal sparring about gardens. Violet is very prickly. Then she asks Caroline to "do her a blessing" and run up to the attic and get her trillium seed packs. 19:50

17- 2:21 – This is definitely the Break Into Two scene. It starts with that cool, creepy shot of Caroline through the keyhole of the attic and elevates the mood of creepiness with several jarring camera angles. She goes into the attic and finds the seeds, but hears a rattling sound. This scene also has no music. It's all natural sound. When she investigates the sound, she finds a locked door blocked by a rack full of stuff. The sound is the doorknob hitting a metal can. Her key won't work and while she is looking at it, the door that leads into the attic slams shut. BOO. 22:11

18- 1:28 – Caroline grabs up the seeds and hurries out, only to run into Violet, who asks, "What took you?" This character has a very distinct voice and her dialogue is brilliantly written. Caroline says she thought the key opened every door and Violet asks, "What key?" Caroline asks what Ben was doing up in the attic when he had his stroke and Violet says Caroline will have to ask him. Yeah, right. 23:39

19- 0:42 – Caroline takes a shower and is startled by a shadow that passes behind her little mirror. I thought this was just included because Kate Hudson is H-A-W-T, but the director says he wanted to show her vulnerability and also her youthfulness. 24:21

20- 1:45 – This scene is shot with all natural sound too. Caroline wakes in the middle of the night. It's raining and she hears a weird knocking sound. She checks on Ben and his bed is empty. She checks a few rooms, then realizes that his door was locked because she had to use the SKELETON KEY to get in. She goes back to his room and sees water under the window, which is open. 26:06

21- 1:02 – Ben is out on the roof in the pouring rain. The knocking sound Caroline heard was his left foot dragging across the corrugated roof. Caroline tells him to wait there and he crawls faster, then loses his hold and rolls off. Caroline hurries down to meet Violet outside. Violet cries out, "What did they make you do?" She sends Caroline for Ben's wheelchair. 27:08

22- 0:49 – Caroline goes back to Ben's room for the wheelchair and finds a sheet smeared with mud. She picks it up to see "HELP ME" scrawled across it with dirt from the flowers on the sill. She bundles it up and takes the wheelchair outside. When she lifts Ben to put him in it, he grabs her shoulders and looks beseechingly into her eyes. John Hurt played this role almost entirely without dialogue and did a really fantastic job. 27:57

23- 0:59 – The next morning Caroline retraces Ben's journey to see if she can find where he was going. She finds a boat pulled up at the edge of the swamp. She hears a voice and turns to find Luke, who can't believe what Ben managed to do. "You cannot be serious," he says. 28:56

24- 2:03 – Caroline takes Luke up to her bedroom. He lingers at the doorway and says he's a gentleman, but eventually comes in. She shows him the sheet, but the message has disappeared. He asks about her father and she explains how she wanted to take care of him, but he was gone before she knew he was sick. She asks Luke if he thinks Ben could be asking for help. The sexual tension between them grows. 30:59

25- 0:42 – And of course Violet comes in and catches them. Luke assures her she is the only girl for him and she says, "Remove your perspirations." On the way out, he slips Caroline his card. 31:41

26- 3:54 – Caroline sneaks back to the attic and uses her hairpin to fish a bit of metal out of the keyhole. She compares it to her SKELETON KEY and it looks like one of the teeth. So who has a broken key? She goes into the room and sees all manner of strange things: a baboon's head, organs in jars, a straw doll with its eyes and mouth sewn shut, and pictures. There are pictures of Justify and Cecile and the family. There is a book of spells. And there are old phonograph records. Caroline takes one that is called The Conjure of Sacrifice. 35:35

27- 1:19 – Violet comes into the attic and Caroline has to hide. Violet looks around for a moment, and then leaves. Caroline realizes she has hidden behind a sheeted mirror. She pulls the sheets down to discover that this is where all the mirrors are. A close-up of an eye through a keyhole reveals that somebody is watching. 36:54

28- 1:28 – Caroline goes back to Jill's to listen to the Conjure of Sacrifice. 38:22

It is time, Lord
From the dry dust
Out of these chains
From the Devil's house

It is time, Lord
To take me
From the dry dust
Break me
From these chains
Bring me
From the Devil's house

Take me out of darkness
Walk me out of blindness
Lift me out of sadness
Save me from my damned-ness

Please, Lord

It is time, Lord

29- 1:03 – Jill tells Caroline it's a hoodoo room and explains how hoodoo is different from voodoo. Voodoo is a religion. Hoodoo is magic, but it can only hurt you if you believe. 39:25

30- 0:50 – Jill shows Caroline a Laundromat that supposedly has a hoodoo store in the back, but won't go in. She doesn't believe, but she doesn't mess with that stuff. 40:15

31- 1:08 – Caroline is worried for Ben. She returns, tucks him, and sneaks off to the attic. 41:23

32- 1:09 – The next morning Violet takes fresh flowers to Ben and drops them all on the floor. There is a mirror in the room. She goes to Caroline in a rage and tells her, "I told you no mirrors." Caroline says, "Tell me about the room or I'm leaving." 42:32

33- 3:59 – Violet begins by lighting a cigarillo and saying, "You're not from the South. You won't understand." The dialogue in this scene has the cadence and tone of a handed-down story. Violet says, "The way I heard it," near the beginning and later on says, "as the story goes." Most of it is flashback that switches back and forth between color and black and white. The director used a hand-cranked camera to get an old-fashioned feel.

Violet and Ben bought the house from the brother and sister, Martin and Grace, whose family used to own the house. When they were still children, they had two servants, Justify and Cecile. Justify was famous throughout the bayou as a 2-headed doctor: a conjure-man. He hit a straight lick with a crooked stick. One night the owner threw a big party and at the end of the evening they wanted to say good-bye to the children. They found them up in the attic with Justify and Cecile, who were in some sort of trance. They were shaking and their eyes were rolled back in their heads. The owner, his family, and his guests figured they were trying to hex the children and took them outside, where they lynched them and set them on fire. 46:31

34- 1:57 – Back to Violet, who explains that she and Ben can see the servants in the mirrors, or at least their ghosts. She says something about brick dust, but Caroline cuts her off. This is very clearly the midpoint where Caroline re-commits to her goal of helping Ben. 48:28

35- 0:51 – Caroline finds a whole drawer full of brick dust. 49:19

36- 1:46 – An accident in the bath leads to Caroline showing Ben her mirror. Ben has some kind of fit and Caroline gets him calmed down. He can see the ghosts too. 51:05

37- 2:59 – Caroline returns to the city and visits the hoodoo shop. She finds out that laying down a line of brick dust will keep your enemies from crossing to harm you. She also gets hoodoo cures for Ben. 54:04

38- 0:48 – She shows them to Jill, who says, "he's not your dad." Caroline says if she's not involved, then she's abandoning him. 54:52

39- 4:50 – Caroline sets up the spell she got from the hoodoo shop. The chant repeats a line about water running down to wash away his affliction and Caroline wets his head and arms with water as she says it. He starts to speak and manages to warn her to get out and tell her that Violet is trying to harm him before Violet breaks into the locked room (with her SKELETON KEY) and puts a stop to it. 59:42

40- 2:01 – Caroline has a bad dream. She hears once again the Conjure of Sacrifice and dreams that her eyes and lips are being sewn shut, just like the straw doll in the attic. Was it part of the dream that somebody cut her hair? Was it her imagination that somebody shut the door on their way out just as she woke up? 61:43

41- 0:34 – Caroline starts to pack, but then sees Ben staring into space on the porch. Instead of leaving, she goes up to the attic with her camera. 62:17

42- 0:45 – She shows pictures of what's in the hoodoo room to Luke, who isn't impressed. Caroline wants to know why the last girl quit. 63:02

43- 0:50 – Luke takes Caroline to meet the black girl who had the job just before her. This girl was impressed and got out as soon as she could. She says the rich brother and sister who owned the house before Violet and Ben both died of strokes right after they sold the place. Caroline says she doesn't believe and the girl tells her to leave the house before she does. 63:52

44- 2:30 – Luke drives her home, but as they pass the gas station, she tells him to pull over. In the house out back they find the bayou woman, who tells them about Justify and the Conjure of Sacrifice. It kept you from dying: not forever, but just for a while, by taking the years that a younger person had left (I did not figure it out at this point) She says folks say that Justify died before he could use it. 66:22

45- 0:45 – Caroline wants to go right in and take Ben, but Luke convinces her to wait and get proof. 67:07

46- 1:25 – As Iko plays on a record, Violet chops up a chicken while Caroline lays down a line of brick dust. Each of them has her own way of conjuring, I guess. 68:32

47- 1:46 – Caroline tries to get Violet to come into her room, but when Violet moves her foot forward it seems to stop of its own accord. She won't come in. "You're a funny one, Caroline," she says. She invites Caroline to supper. It's her famous gumbo (with dead chickens in it). 70:21

48- 0:33 – Caroline pours out Ben's remedies and tells him they are leaving tonight. It's raining outside. Then she drugs a whole jar full of sugar cubes with a hypodermic needle. 70:54

49- 3:03 – At dinner, Violet admonishes Caroline to eat her gumbo. Caroline asks Violet if she wouldn't like some sugar in her iced tea. She set the sugar cubes out special. Violet says she doesn't feel like sweet tea tonight. A huge flash of lightning knocks the power out. "Fiddlesticks," says Violet and goes to get two big red candles. Caroline pours the rest of the drug directly into the tea. When Violet comes back and sips her tea, Caroline asks what she did to Ben. "He's not safe in this house," she says. Violet gets woozy from the drug, but before she passes out, she says, "keep him in this house," and tries to draw a circle with chalk around her. Caroline snatches the spell out of her hands. 73:57

50- 2:24 – Caroline gathers evidence. She finds that Violet has hidden the record in her room, and also finds the sheet with "HELP ME" on it in mud. She then finds a clump of her own hair tied around with string. She puts Ben in the car and tries to leave, but the gate is chained shut. 76:21

51- 2:00 – Violet wakes up and starts sing-songing "Caroline" in her southern accent, which is a truly scary sound. She gets the shotgun and a flashlight and takes a couple of shots at Caroline. Caroline hides Ben in the garden shed and escapes in the boat. As she pulls away into the swamp, Violet calls out, "You've no idea how strong I am, Caroline." 78:21

52- 0:55 – Caroline rows through the swamp in a scene that looks like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. 79:16

53- 2:27 – She goes to Luke, who gets a call from Violet and leaves the room while he talks to her. While he takes the call, Caroline sees introductory law books and realizes that he's got Iko playing on the phonograph, just like Violet had. Then she finds Justify's three-headed snake ring with the ruby eyes and the missing SKELETON KEY with the broken tooth. Just as she realizes that he's in league with Violet, he grabs her from behind and strangles her until she passes out. 81:43

54- 1:03 – She wakes up in the passenger seat of his car. The world is so different, he says. "It's like being born, or dying. Of course I wouldn't know. Hush, hush, darling. I know it's hard." He drags her into the house and calls up in a jolly voice, "We're home." 82:46

55- 1:34 – Caroline finally realizes that it's her they want to sacrifice. Violet goes to find Ben. "Don't scratch her up any more than she already is," she tells Luke. Once alone with Luke, Caroline gets into her bedroom (where she laid the brick dust down) by asking for a picture of her father. 84:20

56- 0:50 – Violet finds Ben in the garden shed and Caroline gets outside. 85:10

57- 1:11 – The double-team her outside, so she goes inside and lays brick dust down at all the doors. 86:21

58- 0:47 – Violet gets in on the second floor (did she climb up?). She and Caroline wrestle and Caroline throws her over the railing and down the stairs. Luke sees Violet lying there and has hysterics. 87:08

59- 1:22 – Caroline calls 911 and then Jill. "It's all real," she tells Jill. Violet rides up in the elevator and cuts the phone cord. "You can't get away, Caroline." 88:30

60- 2:18 – Caroline escapes up to the attic to find hundreds of candles lit to form a circle. She gets chalk, sulfur, and a candle out of the conjure room and uses the spell she took from Violet to lay down a circle of supreme protection. The film switches from black and white to color just like the party. Violet shows up and says, "Why, child, I believe you broke my legs" like she's happy about it (WTF?). Caroline says that Violet can't hurt her. Violet asks, "Who exactly gave you that spell?" She says they've been waiting for Caroline to believe. 90:48

61- 1:16 – Luke comes up in the elevator and puts on both the ring and the record of Conjure of Sacrifice. Violet gets behind a mirror so Caroline can only see her own reflection. Luke chants, "The flesh, the coil, the frail, the weak" as the record plays. Caroline looks in the mirror and sees a younger Violet, then Grace, and finally Mama Cecile. Then everything shakes and Violet screams and pushes the mirror at Caroline. It shatters as it knocks Caroline over and all the candles go out. 92:04

62- 2:56 – "Caroline" gets up, takes a cigarillo from "Violet's" pack and lights it. "Luke" asks, "Are you all right, Cecile?" "I'm fine now, Justify," she replies. They discuss how much harder Caroline was than the lawyer. "Violet" comes around and grunts incoherently, just like "Ben." "Caroline" tells her the thing folks don't understand about sacrifice is it's really more of a trade. 95:00

63- 2:39 – Jill shows up as "Violet" and "Ben" are loaded into a stretcher. She reminds "Caroline" of her panicked call. "Oh fiddlesticks," "Caroline" says. She asks Jill to ride to the hospital with the old folks. "Luke" tells Jill those two old people really loved her. "Don't you know?" he says, "They left her the house." 97:39

There are 63 major scenes that average 1 minute and 33 seconds in length. Only five of them are over 3 minutes long and twenty-one of them are less than a minute long. The total length of the film itself, not counting ending credits, is 97 minutes and 39 seconds.

Music plays a big part in setting the tone for this movie, and in some scenes the director opted to go with natural sound, which was very effective.

Character Depth – Lorraine Will

Aww… from Miriam:

A Love Song for Bobby Long is full of interesting characters with layers of contrasting personality. Bobby, Lawson, and Pursline are all interesting, but the most fully realized character in this movie is somebody who never appears on screen, in pictures, or in voice-over – Lorraine Will. Talk about contrasts. Lorraine emerges as a vibrant life-force even though she is dead before the movie starts. She emerges out of an old playbill, a suitcase full of books, a few dresses handed down to Pursy, a handful of letters that she never mailed, and some sheet music. The rest of her character is drawn from the memories of those who knew and loved her.

Pursy seems to think that her mother was a bed-hopper, and certainly any woman who is an addict, and who hangs out with men who are also addicts could be seen as just a pass-around gal. But they all speak about Lorraine with something close to reverence. They bashfully drop their eyes in the presence of her daughter or hand her a flower for remembrance. Lorraine might have slept with them all, or she may have kept some of them at friend's length, but she managed to make all of them feel as if they had shared something intimate with her.

Lorraine was a desperately troubled woman. She couldn't reconcile any one facet of her personality with the rest. She was an addict and a singer. She was a poet and a musician. And she was mother to a child she barely knew and who barely knew her. She couldn't keep her own life together, but she was the glue that held a group of men together. Everybody has both a devil and an angel within, and the angel doesn't shine unless the devil is there like a shadow to cast some depth.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Character Depth - Barry Egan

This one comes to us from Carl (Gamears):

Barry Egan (Punch-Drunk Love) a quirky, socially inept guy wants nothing more than to go on with his life selling plungers, wearing a bright blue suit, and avoiding his family. He has no plans to do anything else with his life, yet he collects Healthy Choice coupons to accrue frequent-flyer miles. He's a man who punctuates his timid nature and little white lies with huge fits of uncontrolled rage. He even answers questions with the words: "Yeah, no...". He's encapsulated himself without the benefit of a time-release formula. That is, until Lena comes around. She is the antithesis to Barry's incessant sisters. She doesn't judge him, she doesn't pressure him and slowly, Barry's white lies are laid bare before her. He runs from her, while running toward her, until finally, finding himself able to be honest with this one woman, he finds the strength he needs to be honest with everyone around him, which in turn gives him power over his own life.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Character Depth – Hans Gruber

Thanks to the great Mickey Lee.

He can talk about industrialization and mens’ fashion all day, having purchased two John Phillips suits from the same place Arafat shops. He was expelled from a German terrorist organization, but still manages to read up on his brothers-in-arms in Time magazine. And he has an American accent so convincing, he "ought to be on f**king TV." He is Hans Gruber, chief villain of the movie
Die Hard and the mold from which dozens of Hollywood villains have been stamped. Cold, calculating, classically educated and elegant, Gruber can quote Alexander one minute and shoot a Japanese CEO between the eyes the next; all while denigrating a bankrupt American culture that produces Rambo, Roy Rogers and John McClane. But the expensive suits, education and guns are a mask for one glaring contradiction: for all his refinement, Hans Gruber is just a simple thief.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Character Depth - Antonio Salieri

This one comes to us from Ross Mahler (rmahler on TriggerStreet and is also an active participant in the revolution with his own blog Shares Dream World).

One of the first things that came to my mind, when you mentioned a study of character depth, was Antonio Salieri from Amadeus. Using Vogler the priest as a sounding board, we learn of Salieri’s contradictory nature in regard to his faith. He wavers between worshipping God and battling with him when he cannot fathom why the almighty would choose the obscene Mozart to be his instrument. When Salieri interacts with Katherina Cavalieri, the opera singer he adores (and later loses to Mozart), we get to see the impotence he feels when compared to Wolfgang. In his dealings with Mozart, we see Salieri’s astonishment at the man’s gifts, mixed with his jealousy and contempt for the same man. He both adores his idol and plans his demise. He commissions and then plots to steal Mozart’s requiem and pass it off as his own work, just to achieve Mozart’s level of fame – a project that ultimately destroys both men. He delights in his accomplishments, not unlike Shakespeare’s gloating Richard III, but at the same time, Salieri is so ravaged by guilt that he attempts to take his own life. In the end, he calls himself the patron saint of mediocrity. He simultaneously wrestles with his own inadequacies, guilt, faith, and ultimately with his own choice to live in infamy just so that he can achieve some small measure of immortality, like Mozart.

Character Depth - Paul Edgecomb

Thanks so much to Matt Spira (mspira on TriggerStreet and active participant of the revolution with his own great blog, the Happy Existentialist).

One of my favorite characters of all time is Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) from The Green Mile. The character does such a good job of capturing the essence of true leadership in all the small details. The contradiction comes from the contrast of him being such a decent man doing what is truly a brutal job. The choices he makes aren't simple, but at the same time reflect the clarity of having been fully thought through. He is as tough as nails in a polite package. He firmly asserts his authority over "Wild Bill" and Percy, is gentle with John Coffey and Eduard Delacroix , all while keeping in mind his overall responsibility.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Subtext - Apocalypse Now Redux

While you guys are thinking about your favorite characters for our new character depth study, here’s some subtext food-for-thought. (I knew that as soon as I posted a celebration of our subtext study, I would think of another great scene. In fact, I thought of 4. I will post the others when I get a chance. Sigh...)

This is really about the fine art of not preaching to the audience.

Redux was genuinely fascinating. (As we all know, this adaptation to Heart of Darkness was, of course, penned by John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola. They also brought in Michael Herr to write Willard's voice overs. You can get the script

My only complaint about the new version was with the French Plantation sequence. The dinner scene was masterfully filmed (and I loved how Coppola made the beautiful Aurore Clément stand out by not having her say anything). However, all of the political statements made by the various members of the Marais family over the course of that dinner felt flat to me because it was all so completely on-the-nose. Apocalypse Now was many things but it was NEVER straightforward verbally with the statements it was trying to make about the war.

There was a scene, though, that Coppola added, which I thought was really brilliant with its use of subtext. After Willard finds Kurtz, he is thrown into a metal box called a “Conex Container.” He bakes inside this box for a time and wakes to find a group of children looking at him through the holes of the container. (If you look closely, you can see Kurtz peering through one of the holes, too, as if he is one of the children.) In any case, Kurtz opens the doors, sits down on the steps, and has some discourse with Willard about the war.

Amateurs would’ve faltered here. Amateurs would’ve forced Kurtz into giving a grandiose speech about the absurdity of the Vietnam war. Not Coppola. He uses subtext to great effect here. Instead, Kurtz says nothing about what he really thinks. He simply reads an article, a REAL article that was published in Time magazine, which had said, in effect, that the Americans were WINNING THE WAR.

In the Redux Commentary, Coppola said, “In a way, you know, cinema is more like poetry than literature. It’s all about expressing things and saying things that you don’t say and trying to say it in another way – to use metaphor, or simile, or allegory or any of these other poetic techniques where you express one thing by, in fact, showing something quite different – and the audience puts it together. Cinema is at its best when it expresses things without really expressing them.”

To that, I say, “Amen.”



Willard is passed out, lying on the floor of a metal CONEX CONTAINER. It is hot. Some CHILDREN are peeking in at him.

The two front doors of the container are opened. Light floods in. Kurtz is standing there with the children. He holds a bunch of magazine articles.

He sits down on a dirt step, surrounded by children.

He looks down at a magazine article and begins to read it to Willard.

"Time magazine. The weekly news
magazine. September 22, 1967,
volume ninety, number twelve. The
War on the Horizon. The American
people may find it hard to believe
that the U.S. is winning the war
in Vietnam. Nevertheless, one of
the most exhaustive inquiries into
the status of the conflict yet
compiled, offers considerable
evidence that the weight of U.S.
power, two and a half years after
the bug buildup began, is beginning
to make itself felt. White House
officials maintain the impact of
that strength may bring the enemy
to the point where he could simply
be unable to continue fighting."
(to Willard)
Is this familiar?

Willard reacts.

"Because Lyndon Johnson fears that
the U.S. public is in no mood to
accept its optimistic conclusions,
he may never permit the report to
be released in full. Even so, he
is sufficiently impressed with the
findings, and sufficiently anxious
to make their conclusions known,
to permit experts who have been
working on it to talk about it in
general terms." No date, Time
Magazine. "Sir Robert Thompson,
who led the victory over the
Communists guerrillas in Malay,
and who is now a RAND Corporation
consultant, recently returned to
Vietnam to sound out the situation
for President Nixon. He told the
president last week that things
felt much better, and smelled much
better over there."

He looks over at Willard.

(to Willard)
How do they smell to you, soldier?

Willard doesn't answer. Kurtz rises. The children are laughing and giggling. Kurtz drops the magazine articles in Willard's lap.

You'll be free. You'll be under
guard. Read these at your leisure.
Don't lose them. Don't try to
escape, you'll be shot. We can
talk of these things later.

Kurtz turns and exits, closing one of the doors, leaving the other open. Willard watches him go. The children stay, looking at him, laughing and giggling. Willard slowly and painfully pulls himself to his feet. He stands there a moment looking at the children, then collapses to the floor.