I just took on a challenge by one of my law/film professors (who is the son of a particular Oscar-winning composer, who I will not name because I don't want to be a name-dropper, but come on, that's exciting) to write a screenplay based solely on the title Butt Ugly. So, this chapter in the 20 Years program is very much appropriate to me now.
So, at around the age of 11, I use to have a very heavy habit of reading scripts. Deliberately scripts from the Top 250 of IMDb, but then it expanded to scripts from beyond the popularity list. Many movies I have probably read the script before I've even seen the movie. And as such, it turned me onto the formatting for movie screenplays. Part of my self-teaching of the screenwriting format would be to have an early draft of a script opened up on my computer, like Saving Private Ryan, and install every change from the final cut of the film to the script in painstaking format, trying to word it and format it in a seamless appearance.
Eventually, that got me to writing my own scripts and I can recall the first couple full screenplays I wrote (most of them are juvenile, but I still have some love for them) - The Justice Force, Disturbing the Peace, Defending the Gear, Dude Isn't That Illegal?. It was a great feeling to wrap up a screenplay I would be excited about for a while. Now, it's just habit to be writing something...
Now, most of these choices, I have not read the script for. I'm just basing it on the movie's dialogue and the actions the progression and characters. But I'd like to dedicate this post to the fine craft of screenwriting for all to enjoy, one that gets little respect, one that I heard John Landis in a recent Q&A I attended call out as a "bastard" form, and one that I also read being the most important part of the screenwriting.
Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009) - Tarantino's scripts have a habit of being leaked. I'd say he's excited to tell the story. I remember really really getting excited about the bar scene and looking forward to its depiction in the movie. I was not disappointed.
"Ten-hut! My name is Lt. Aldo Raine and I'm puttin' together a special team; and I need me eight soldiers. Eight Jewish-American soldiers. Now, y'all might've of heard rumors about the armada happening soon. Well, we'll be leaving a little earlier. We're gonna be dropped into France, dressed as civilians. And once we're in enemy territory, as a bushwackin' guerrilla army, we're gonna be doing one thing and one thing only … killing Nazis. Now, I don't know about y'all, but I sure as hell didn't come down from the goddamn Smoky Mountains, cross five thousand miles of water, fight my way through half of Sicily and jump out of a fuckin' air-o-plane to teach the Nazis lessons in humanity. Nazi ain't got no humanity. They're the foot soldiers of a Jew-hatin', mass murderin' maniac, and they need to be dee-stroyed. That's why any and every sumbitch we find wearin' a Nazi uniform, they're gonna die. Now, I am the direct descendant of the mountain man Jim Bridger, and that means I got a little Injun in me. And our battle plan will be that of an Apache resistance. We will be cruel to the Germans, and through our cruelty they will know who we are. And they will find the evidence of our cruelty in the disemboweled, dismembered and disfigured bodies of their brothers we leave behind us, and the Germans won't be able to help themselves but to imagine the cruelty their brothers endured at our hands, and our boot heels, and the edge of our knives. And the Germans will be sickened by us, and the Germans will talk about us, and the Germans will fear us. And when the Germans close their eyes at night and they're tortured by their subconscious for the evil that they've done, it will be with thoughts of us that they are tortured with. Sound good? That's what I like to hear. But I got a word of warning for all you would-be-warriors: when you join my command, you take on debit, a debit you owe me personally. Each and every man under my command owes me one hundred Nazi scalps. And I want my scalps! And all y'all will get me one hundred Nazi scalps taken from the heads of one hundred dead Nazis, or you will die tryin'!"
Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994) - Tarantino's classic. You love it. You know you fucking love it. It's the coolest script ever written.
"I'm givin' you that money so I don't have to kill your ass. You read the Bible, Ringo? Well, there's this passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee." I been saying that shit for years. And if you heard it, that meant your ass. I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was some cold-blooded shit to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this morning made me think twice. See, now I'm thinking, maybe it means you're the evil man, and I'm the righteous man, and Mr. 9 millimeter here, he's the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could mean you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd and it's the world that's evil and selfish. I'd like that. But that shit ain't the truth. The truth is, you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm trying, Ringo. I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd."
Brick (Rian Johnson, 2005) - I had read this script and approached Rian Johnson himself for the blessings to make my own adaptation of the script (albeit a couple of personal and directorial changes - particularly in the lead character, Brendan Frye, turning him from an ambiguous mysterious protagonist to a real holier-than-thou son of a bitch - there was a backstory almost completely excised from the movie that would have given leverage to that persona and I wanted to add a bit more of it so it didn't seem to come out of my ass). He gave his blessings, but unfortunately the project went through 2 full years of flopping around and then I just gave up with it. It was a dark period in my life, especially considering how I related with the main plot, it was almost a wish fulfillment fantasy for me to make this film as closure.
But that's besides the point, it was also a really great script with such lovely flourishes to the old works of Dashiell Hammett, Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler and Humphrey Bogart. It's a real treat of a picture.
I'll never say never on making it (I have one particular potential cast member who insists I jump back on it one day), but I've gotten over the incident that gave me such a passionate feeling for the project and I need to find more reliable people to work with first.
"So what's the word with Em?"
"Can't raise her?"
"No, I can't."
Chinatown (Robert Towne, 1974) - Largely considered one of the best screenplays ever written, with good reason... the mystery in this film is impeccable, the content is shocking, it kept me at the edge of my seat, the characterizations are three-dimensional and there's always something new to reveal at the end of each scene...
I also have to say it is one of the most realistic endings I've encountered in a movie. Albeit it sucks to feel that way about such an ending.
"The District Attorney gives his men advice like that?"
The Third Man (Graham Greene, 1949) - Every bit of praise I gave Chinatown, The Third Man deserves tenfold. I really think it's a bitter script than Chinatown could ever be and they both are easily about the same thing - the true requiem of humanity when power is acquired.
The Third Man only gets its edge for being extremely novel.
True Grit (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2010) - Sure, it's basically ripping the book from its pages, but it fits so well as a Coen Brothers script, you can hardly notice it.
The Godfather (Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) - It's the great American movie, of course the script's going to be an epic in itself.
"I believe in America. America has made my fortune. And I raised my daughter in the American fashion. I gave her freedom, but I taught her never to dishonor her family. She found a boyfriend, not an Italian. She went to the movies with him. She stayed out late. I didn't protest. Two months ago he took her for a drive, with another boy friend. They made her drink whiskey and then they tried to take advantage of her. She resisted. She kept her honor. So they beat her. Like an animal. When I went to the hospital her nose was broken. Her jaw was shattered, held together by wire. She couldn't even weep because of the pain. But I wept. Why did I weep? She was the light of my life. A beautiful girl. Now she will never be beautiful again. Sorry... I went to the police, like a good American. These two boys were brought to trial. The judge sentenced them to three years in prison, and suspended the sentence. Suspended sentence! They went free that very day! I stood in the courtroom like a fool, and those two bastards, they smiled at me. Then I said to my wife, "For justice, we must go to Don Corleone.""
The Godfather, Part II (Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) - If you have to ask... you'll never know...
"There was this kid I grew up with; he was younger than me. Sorta looked up to me, you know. We did our first work together, worked our way out of the street. Things were good, we made the most of it. During Prohibition, we ran molasses into Canada... made a fortune, your father, too. As much as anyone, I loved him and trusted him. Later on he had an idea to build a city out of a desert stop-over for GI's on the way to the West Coast. That kid's name was Moe Greene, and the city he invented was Las Vegas. This was a great man, a man of vision and guts. And there isn't even a plaque, or a signpost or a statue of him in that town! Someone put a bullet through his eye. No one knows who gave the order. When I heard it, I wasn't angry; I knew Moe, I knew he was head-strong, talking loud, saying stupid things. So when he turned up dead, I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we've chosen; I didn't ask who gave the order, because it had nothing to do with business!"
Network (Paddy Chayefsky, 1976) - Is there anything that suggests this movie is not one of the smarter, prophetic films ever made? Nevermind the fact that it hates my Arab origins (which I don't think is unintentional on the part of Chayefsky), this script really is telling of the newscasting business and we'd be crying if we weren't busy gasping and laughing at the things in this movie. It's a bizarre world, but it's the one we live in.
"I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth. Banks are going bust. Shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be.
We know things are bad — worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.'
Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get MAD! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot — I don't want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say: 'I'm a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!'
So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!
I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!...You've got to say, I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first, get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"
The Social Network (Aaron Sorkin, 2010) - Dat wit tho. It's sharp and full of flavor. That movie owes 70 percent of its effect to the script.
The Big Lebowski (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1998) - The purest of the Coen Brothers tales, rich in allegory, adaptation, mystery and quirk. A true timeless classic of a cinematic story.
Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima, 1961) - Really hits the Hammett fanboy in me and Sanjuro is just a badass to read about. I'd actually love to just stand up and act out his scenes as I read, trying to sound just as cool.
"You're all tough, then?"
"What? Kill me if you can!"
"A gambler is not frightened of the blade."
"No help for fools."
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Age & Scarpelli, Sergio Leone and Luciano Vincenzoni, 1966) - A thrill ride of a story to follow. It's a movie that's all story, but it's also a story that's a fucking movie! To not be able to turn an audience on its head in such a race is an injustice to entertainment.
"You think you're better than I am? Where we came from, if one did not want to die of poverty, one became a priest or a bandit! You chose your way, I chose mine. Mine was harder. You talk of our mother and father. You remember when you left to become a priest? I stayed behind! I must have been ten, twelve. I don't remember which, but I stayed. I tried, but it was no good. Now I am going to tell you something. You became a priest because you were... too much of a coward to do what I do!"
Kagemusha (Akira Kurosawa and Masato Ide, 1980) - Probably Kurosawa's most fantastic tale, his least Western. It really brings out the artist in him.
"I know it is difficult. I was for a long time the lord's double. It was torture. It is not easy to suppress yourself to become another. Often I wanted to be myself and free. But now I think this was selfish of me. The shadow of a man can never desert that man. I was my brother's shadow. Now that I have lost him, it is as though I am nothing."
The Magnificent Seven (William Roberts, 1960) - I prefer The Magnificent Seven over the amazing classic Seven Samurai and that's for three reasons: It removes the filler that wouldn't work if Kurosawa wasn't at the helm; unlike a certain Leone picture, it stands on its own and doesn't rip off the story; and nostalgia... But the first two factors really showcase my love for its script.
"We took it anyway."
Casablanca (Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, 1942) - Suspenseful, romantic, patriotic and wonderful in every dimension that paper allows for it to be. Then came the wonder of the movie itself.
"It's a combination of all three."
Crank (Neveldine/Taylor, 2006) - You can already picture the chaos as you read the script, the complete sheer nonsense that it just leaks out and spills all over its pages. And it's really fun. I had to see the movie the moment I finished reading the damn thing.
Oh and it's a ticking time bomb that's going to kill in the end, even on paper.
"Hey doll. Looks like I let you down again. You were right about me ... funny, you really have time to reflect on things when you know you're going to die... seems like all my life I've just been going, going, going ... I wish I'd taken more time to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, but well, I guess it's too late now... you were the greatest, baby."
Iron Man (Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, 2008) - To put it shortly, it is everything I want a superhero film to be. An origin story that gets through the origin effectively but impactfully, a primarily character-driven piece and extremely relevant yet timeless. Let alone the Tony Stark wit that helps sugarcoat his extreme flaws as a person. And the Avengers touches that makes the film comic book in style.
"You've been called the Da Vinci of our time. What do you say to that?"
"Absolutely ridiculous. I don't paint."
"And what do you say to your other nickname, the Merchant of Death?"
"That's not bad. Let me guess... Berkeley?"
"Well, Ms. Brown. It's an imperfect world, but it's the only one we got. I guarantee you the day weapons are no longer needed to keep the peace, I'll start making bricks and beams for baby hospitals."
"Rehearse that much?"
"Every night in front of the mirror before bedtime."
"I can see that."
"I'd like to show you firsthand."
"All I'm looking for is a straight answer."
"OK, here's a straight answer. My old man had a philosophy: peace means having a bigger stick than the other guy."
"That's a great line, coming from a guy selling the sticks."
"My father helped defeat Nazis. He worked on the Manhattan Project. A lot of people, including your professors at Brown, would call that being a hero."
"And a lot of people would also call that war-profiteering."
"Tell me, do you plan to report on the millions we've saved by advancing medical technology or kept from starvation with our intelli-crops? All those breakthroughs, military funding, honey."
"Have you ever lost an hour of sleep in your life?"
"I'm be prepared to lose a few with you."
Barton Fink (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1991) - My favorite screenplay of all time and its about screenplays itself. And it's poetic in a huge sense, a purgatory, a genrebending twist that you could read as a horror, a comedy, a drama. It's what a script should be before it becomes a picture... limitless.
"Mister Fink, they have not invented a genre of picture that Bill Mayhew has not, at one time or other, been invited to essay. Yes, I have taken my stab at the rasslin' form, as I have stabbed at so many others, and with as little success. I gather that you are a freshman here, eager for an upperclassman's counsel. However, just at the moment, I have drinking to do. Why don't you stop by my bungalow, which is number fifteen, later on this afternoon, and we will discuss rasslin' scenarios and other things lit'rary."
Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi, 1990) - I think it's very hard not to be attracted to such a film with such an engaging tale. It's the one bad guy you don't feel any damn shame for rooting for that Henry Hill... he makes this gangster business seem fun... well, until he gets disillusioned with it. And Tommy sounds just as psychotic even without the Joe Pesci touch.
"You know, we always called each other good fellas. Like you said to, uh, somebody, :You're gonna like this guy. He's all right. He's a good fella. He's one of us.: You understand? We were good fellas. Wiseguys. But Jimmy and I could never be made because we had Irish blood. It didn't even matter that my mother was Sicilian. To become a member of a crew you've got to be one hundred per cent Italian so they can trace all your relatives back to the old country. See, it's the highest honor they can give you. It means you belong to a family and crew. It means that nobody can fuck around with you. It also means you could fuck around with anybody just as long as they aren't also a member. It's like a license to steal. It's a license to do anything. As far as Jimmy was concerned with Tommy being made, it was like we were all being made. We would now have one of our own as a member."
with a tip of the hat to Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Batman Begins, Ed Wood, The Shawshank Redemption, The French Connection, Young Frankenstein, All the President's Men, The Thing, The Terminator, Unforgiven, Syriana and Black Swan.