Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Script Magazine: January Issue - TOC

Win, Place & Showbiz: Handicapping the Writing Awards for 2008
by Bob Verini with additional reporting by Ray Morton
It’s an awards-season tradition: Bob Verini talks to the writers in contention for Best Adapted and Best Original Screenplay nominations. This year’s field is one of the most diverse in recent memory -- as far-reaching as Australia, as quiet as a revolution, as big-budget as a government bailout, as cute as post-apocalyptic robot love. Check out the odds on this year’s contenders.

Writers on Writing: Changeling
by J. Michael Straczynski
From the time he was a young scrap-diver, J. Michael Straczynski has been both methodical and meticulous about his creations. Reconstructing a true-crime tale from 1920s’ Los Angeles was no exception. Here, he recalls the process that brought his spec to Clint Eastwood, and Changeling to theaters.

Script to Screen: The Wrestler
by David S. Cohen
Former Onion editor Robert Siegel fought his instincts when stepping into the screenwriting fray. After a few comedy misfires, Siegel decided to go with his tastes -- Easy Rider/Raging Bull-type tales -- and found his voice. Now, he skips the laughs for the tragic character study The Wrestler.

Writers on Writing: Slumdog Millionaire
by Simon Beaufoy
Heretofore known best for his full-frontal comedy The Full Monty and last year’s comedy of manners Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Oscar®-nominee Simon Beaufoy headed for the slums of Mumbai to find out what he didn’t know. Hereafter known best for his affecting adaptation of Vikas Swarup’s Q & A, Beaufoy reflects on what he learned.

Scene Fix: Piano Red
by Jenna Milly
Psychological thrillers have to hit all the right notes. In this issue, Oscar®-nominees Bruce Evans & Raynold Gideon (Stand by Me) and American Psycho scribe Guinevere Turner give Bahiyyah Abdullah’s spec Piano Red a tune-up.

Interview: Peter Morgan on Frost/Nixon
by Ray Morton
At the end of an American president’s reign, Peter Morgan examines the after-effects of the abuse of power on a nation, personified in the 1977 David Frost-Richard Nixon battle of wits.

Small Screen: Burn Notice
by Aaron Ginsburg
Matt Nix, creator of Burn Notice, offered Script’s Aaron Ginsburg an up-close look at his Miami-set spy series. Ginsburg jumped at the
chance. Neither expected such explosive results.

The Case Against Character Arcs
by Mystery Man
One of the principles of structure, drilled into your brain by well-meaning gurus, promotes a discernible character arc for the protagonist of your script. Here, Mystery Man debunks the character-arc caveat.

Film School Confidential
by Mike Notzon
To be or not to be ... a film school enrollee, that is. Are screenwriters served in attending formal programs, and if so, how? AFI grads Jonathan Levine and Brad Ingelsby make their cases.

New Media: Videogame Writers Sound Off
by Robert Gustafson & Alec McNayr
Halo 3 outgrossed Spider-Man 3 in 2007, harkening a shift in the balance of entertainment-industry power. Learn how the growing videogame medium is
spawning opportunities for screenwriters.

Independents: Investing in Screenplays
by William Martell
As the spec market continues to contract and the studios scale back, William Martell dissects the nine elements that make your screenplay a great investment for a producer.

Good Examples: Best of the Best
by Ray Morton
Does anything tie the canon of Best Screenplay winners together? Ray Morton takes a closer look at nine classic films and points to the elements that make them the best of the best.

Hall of Fame Honoree: Stephen J. Cannell
by Ray Morton
A prolific career in television, fierce determination, and an unwavering work ethic: all three are characteristics possessed by 2008’s Final Draft, Inc. Hall of Fame Honoree.

- Bill
Classes On CD On Sale!


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Emotional Openings & Narnia completely rewritten tip from 2001.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Mom's home cooking.

DVD: RED RIVER - When I was young I was *not* a fan of Westerns and definitely *not* a fan of John Wayne movies. The Westerns I could watch were the Leone spaghetti westerns - those were cool. But somewhere along the line I bumped into two John Wayne films that were completely unlike any other John Wayne films and opened the door to classic westerns for me: THE SEARCHES and RED RIVER. In both films, John Wayne does not play John Wayne and the stories are the kind of thing John Wayne wouldn’t be caught dead in... though, there he is.

RED RIVER is basically MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY on a cattle drive, with John Wayne as an obsessed, nasty, mean, and probably out of his mind Dunson with Montgomery Clift playing the protégée turned mutinous Matt. But the real stars of the show are about 1,000 head of cattle. The movie is about a cattle drive, and you get to see actors on horseback driving a herd. There are shots where you see at least a thousand steers interacting with the stars, and one kick ass shot that 360s around John Wayne on horseback showing steers for as far as the eye can see. Almost every shot in the film has a thousand steers in the background - if not the foreground with the actors. And there’s another great shot from inside Walter Brennan’s chuckwagon as they ford a raging river (for real) behind and ahead and surrounded by cattle. No special effects, no cardboard cows or CGI - this film is filled with real cattle.

One of the great things in the Borden Chase and Charles Schnee script is the bracelet - a “twitch” that helps tell the emotional side of the story visually. In the opening scene Wayne is tagging along with a wagon train and decides to veer off and claim some land in Texas as his ranch. There is a beautiful young woman n the wagon train that Wayne is in love with, and they have a romantic parting scene - which doesn’t seem like something from a John Wayne movie, because it’s actually romantic and tender. He gives her this bracelet that he wears - his grandmother’s - as kind of an engagement ring. He loves her, and once he’s settled and his ranch is built and up and tunning, he will send for her.

Wayne and his pal Brennan ride away, and later they see smoke on the horizon. The wagon train has been attacked by Indians. They are in Comanche country ( the Comanches needed a better PR person - in old westerns, their tribe is always the one doing the attacking and wagon burning and raping and killing). Later they are attacked by Comanches, and Wayne kills one who was wearing his grandmother’s bracelet. Without a word, Wayne takes it off the dead Indian and puts it on... and you *know* he is mourning the woman he loved, and you *know* that she is dead, and you *know* that he will never be the same.

After that they meet a kid who survived the attack, who has been wandering around with a cow. Wayne & Brennan’s cow was killed in the attack - they only have a bull. So they take in the kid, mostly for his cow, and a couple decades later that kid is Montgomery Clift and their ranch has 10,000 head of cattle on it. Oh, and the kid is wearing Wayne’s grandmother’s bracelet. The kid has become his adopted son more or less. The bracelet symbolizes love - and also lost love. And if you just keep your eyes on it throughout the film, it tells a story.

Wayne now has gray hair - which just goes to show you how this is not a John Wayne movie, because if you see the movies he was making in the 60s and 70s there wasn’t a gray hair on his head. He was John Wayne - he didn’t age. There’s a depression in Texas - post Civil War - and the only place to sell cattle is up north in Missouri. So Wayne sets out to brand his cattle and drive them north. Now here’s another place where this is not a John Wayne movie - when they are branding cattle, they have picked up some cattle belonging to other ranchers... and Wayne has them brand it all with his brand. He’s going to steal the other guys cattle. Even when he’s confronted by the other ranchers - he still brands the cattle with his brand. He is not an honest guy.

One of the great things about movies made in the Golden Age (1930s & 1940s) are the supporting characters - I mentioned this last year at this time when I watched CAPTAIN BLOOD again. There are all of these cowboys, secondary characters, but each of them has a real character and distinctive character traits. There are all kinds of great gags in the film designed to show the characters of these minor characters. They have an Indian on the crew who always wins at poker because they can’t tell when he’s bluffing - his face never changes expression. Walter Brennan loses his false teeth to him in a poker game, and this deal is made that the Indian will loan Brennan his teeth for meals, but afterwards they must be immediately returned. From this point on, every time there is a meal scene in the film it is followed by Brennan returning the teeth... sometimes just in the background of a shot. There is a character named Dave who has a wife he’s always talking about. Dave’s life is defined by his marriage - and when all of the cowboys are talking about what they will do with their money once they get paid (a great scene for showing the difference between all of these secondary characters) Dave’s dream is to buy his wife a pair of fancy red shoes. They live in a shack in the middle of nowhere, but he thinks his wife would love to own a fancy pair of shoes. There is another cowboy with a sweet tooth who is always licking his finger and sticking it in the sack of sugar on the chuckwagon... and that guy’s sweet tooth not only extends to other aspects of his character, it creates a plot event later in the film. The great thing about these little things that make each of the cowboys into individuals is that we feel like we know them, and care about them, and when things happen on the cattle drive to them we can relate. It’s like we are on that cattle drive with them.

So Wayne and Clift and Brennan and their cowboys (including a young John Ireland hired as a gunslinger) take their cattle north... and one thing after another goes wrong and we get all of these supporting characters we care about dealing with some pretty dangerous situations... and our three lead guys having to figure out what to resolve these problems. But as time goes on, it becomes apparent that John Wayne has maybe lost his mind. He isn’t sleeping. He doesn’t ever want to stop and set camp for the night... and that guy who steals sugar? Well, there comes a point where Wayne starts to tie him to a wagon wheel and whip him. When cowboys - these guys we know and love - talk back to Wayne, well, in one scene he pulls his gun and kills three of them. Not exactly what you expect in a John Wayne movie. Eventually this reaches a breaking point when they are told by a traveling cowboy that there is a railroad in Abilene that heads north to Missouri, and they don’t need to drive the cattle through the dangers of Comanche country. The cowboys, including Clift and Brennan, think this is great news. Wayne thinks it’s BS, and still wants to go to Missouri. He has a plan, and he’s gonna stick with it even if it’s proven to be the wrong plan again and again. There is a mutiny, and Wayne wants to shoot everybody... but Clift steps in. Not be a good son and help Wayne deal with these unruly cowboys, but to disarm Wayne and tie him up and maybe leave him to die in the middle of nowhere while they drive the herd to the railroad. This is a full on mutiny, and Wayne vows he will track them all down and kill them... including his best friend Brennan and his adopted son Clift. Wayne is an asshole in this film - the villain - and you can’t help but hate him.

On the way to the railroad, they come across a wagon train full of gamblers and hookers under siege by those PR deprived Comanches and Clift fights them off and rescues a hooker with spunk played by Joanne Dru and falls in love with her and gives her the bracelet... and later in the film Wayne will catch up with the rescues wagon train and spot the bracelet on the hooker and have an interesting conversation with her - both love the same man, Clift (who was Gay in real life), but Wayne hates him now. Plans on killing him the first chance he gets.

One of the things I forgot to mention was the great cussing in this film. They have this gag they do again and again where a character says something completely unprintable that the censors will cut... but someone cuts off the sentence just as it gets to the dirty word. So we get the whole sentence minus the dirty word - and know *exactly* what the character was going to say, but no dirty word for the censors to cut. This film was directed by Howard Hawks, and he did the same thing in THE BIG SLEEP when Agnes says, “He gives me a pain right in the a–“ and is cut off before she can say “ass”. You fill in the word in your mind, but there’s nothing for the censor to cut.

The whole thing is leading to this big show down between Wayne and Clift, and here’s where it suddenly becomes a movie starring John Wayne - because that showdown is over way too soon and Wayne manages to redeem himself. The film has the shortest Act 3 of any film from the period, and it makes you wonder if there was more in the script but they just truncated it to make Wayne come out okay in the end.

If you don’t like John Wayne movies, this is one to try out. He plays completely against type and for most of the movie is the villain. You also get to see 1,000 head of cattle upstaging the stars in many scenes... and you’ll find out whether Brennan ever gets his false teeth back.

- Bill


rorybaldwin said...

Hey Bill happy New Year. Just to let you know I spotted Steel Sharks was on Moview4Men here in the UK this Friday night. I'd send you a link but the site seems to have gone down!

crossword said...

Happy New Year, Mr. M!

PS. Great article in this month's issue. :)

Stella Louise said...


You need to break your posts up. Too much awesome info in one long post. Makes my eyes glaze over...

eXTReMe Tracker