It seems like fairly common knowledge that one of the main elements for a successful story is to create sympathy for your main character. Sympathy connects the audience to the main character; thus we end up rooting for them. In SIDEWAYS - Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Rex Pickett, and number 90 on the WGA101 list - the sympathy for the main character is built in a unique and striking way. This scene appears at page 18 in the script, and up to this point, Miles, our protagonist, has proven to be irresponsible (he didn’t move his car for the construction workers even though he was asked to), selfish (he leaves a message for his friend telling him he is on his way to pick him up yet he still takes his time to get ready and even stops for coffee), and arrogant (he cuts his friend down for not knowing much about wine).
And then, Miles steals money from his elderly mother - on the eve of her birthday, no less. At this point, we should hate this character. But then, something interesting happens within this sequence, and we are hit with an emotionally heart-wrenching moment.
The short montage of the photos on Miles' mother’s dresser, which guide us through Miles' early promise (promise which ultimately led to failure), immediately gives the character the permission to be all of those nasty things – self-centered, arrogant, etc. – and the sympathy meter quickly jumps from idle to full throttle. Like magic, we suddenly care for this guy.
We invite you to revisit this scene in the script, shown here in our undated draft – a scene that most people who have seen SIDEWAYS might not even remember – and try, just try, not shed a tear as you read.
Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).