SCREENPLAY 101: FIELD OF DREAMS

Were you the kid always picked last for sports teams? The one who groans when the suggestion of playing a friendly game of basketball or baseball arises? If that’s you, don’t let the baseball theme deter you from watching number 88 on WGA’s List of 101 Greatest Screenplays: FIELD OF DREAMS.

FIELD OF DREAMS, screenplay by Phil Alden Robinson, is an adaptation of the book SHOELESS JOE by W.P. Kinsella that delves into the historical 1920 Black Sox Scandal wherein the Cincinnati Red Sox were accused of intentionally losing the World Series in exchange for money.

But this history is merely back-story pivoting forward a beautiful, cathartic story about second chances and parental relationships long gone.

In these pages dated Sept. 8, 1987 we see Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella spouting something along the lines of ‘I-hear-voices-in-my-head’. But don’t worry; it’s not that kind of movie. The voice say ‘If you build it, he will come’, which becomes the message that carries us through Ray’s transformation.

And here we can feel that switch inside Ray where he begins to accept those words, solidifying themselves as more than just maddening mumbles coming from some unknown origin. Just listen to this: This is serious. Ray shakes his head and repeats the words to himself… And he thinks about these words…

This is no longer skepticism. This is a realization.

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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).

 

 

Screenplay 101: SIDEWAYS

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.

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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).

Screenplay 101: THE VERDICT

Inciting Incident 101 – We all know the term – it’s that certain plot point that occurs early on in the story which changes the trajectory for the main character. In other words, it’s what gets the story going.

In this scene from THE VERDICT (Screenplay by David Mamet, based on the novel by Barry Reed, and #91 on the WGA 101 list), Mickey confronts Frank Galvin (in the script you’ll notice his name is Joe Galvin) about his drinking, and tells him that he’s through looking out for him. This situation forces Frank to make a choice to either stop drinking and work on the legal case that Mickey brought to him, or keep drinking and continue on his downhill spiral. And even though it might be easier for a severe alcoholic to simply continue drinking, this latter choice would end the sole remaining friendship Frank has left.

This scene is also a great example of “raising the stakes”, and it’s done with just one word change. Note how in the script Mickey says “I get this people to trust you – they’re coming here tomorrow by the way”, but in the final film, the word tomorrow is changed to noon, which raises the stakes for Frank because it is now late morning and he has to pick up his office, which he just trashed, and get it ready for the client, who is due in a matter of hours, instead of the next day.

Finally, the dialogue in this Nov. 23, 1983 draft serves as only a blueprint for the final film. If you watch the movie, you may note the dialogue was refined.  It just sounds better. This could either be that this was earlier draft of the script, or it could be a credit to the two great actors in the scene.

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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).

SCREENPLAY 101: PSYCHO

I was tempted to post these pages with no commentary – partly because it’s the shower scene from PSYCHO – which really requires no introduction – and partly because I’m terribly, terribly lazy.

But good sense won out, and here we are at number 92 on the list: PSYCHO. Screenplay by Joseph Stefano, based on the novel by Robert Bloch.

We’ve all read screenplays that function as little more than instruction manuals for directors and actors. Those are the ones we tend to put down after the first few pages. PSYCHO is the diametric opposite of that: A script that not only truly works as literature, but pierces its way into the reader’s brain on a purely visceral level. Some scripts you read and appreciate; PSYCHO is just a good read.

And with all due respect to Hitch, the iconography of the shower scene in the finished film is rivaled by the deeply terrifying way it appears on the page. I dare you to read this at 2:30am, away from all the comfort of your TVs and tablets and phone screens, when everyone else has gone to bed, and not freak out just a little.

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A woman, her face contorted with madness, her head wild with hair, as if she were wearing a fright-wig. I’m so jaded by decades of horror movies that I root for the Blair Witch, and reading those words pretty much ensures I won’t get any sleep tonight. I’ll be tucking the covers under my feet, too.

Oh, and here’s a nice postscript: Our archive also has the Olympia typewriter that Bloch used to write the original novel. It weighs about a thousand pounds. Here it is:

Bloch Typewriter in archive

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).

Screenplay 101: DO THE RIGHT THING

DO THE RIGHT THING wasn’t Spike Lee’s first movie – it was preceded by the almost-as-excellent SCHOOL DAZE and SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, as well as some student work – but it’s Spike’s only appearance on the WGA 101 list, and an incisive, entertaining slice of racial tensions in immediately-post-Reagan America.

These pages, from a March 1, 1988 draft,  detail the film’s inciting incident – a conflict between Buggin’ Out (played by Giancarlo Esposito – yes, that Giancarlo Esposito) and pizzeria owner Sal Fragione (played by Danny Aiello). The two drag Mookie (played by Lee) into it, setting the stage for Mookie’s internal conflict throughout the film.

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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).

Screenplay 101: PATTON

Today’s WGA 101 script is 1970′s PATTON - Screen Story and Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North. Based on “A Soldier’s Story” by Omar H. Bradley and “Patton: Ordeal and Triumph” by Ladislas Farago. These pages are from the Feb. 1, 1969 draft.

And do you really need to ask which scene we picked?

PATTON
At ease, men. I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.

The first three pages of the script are nothing but character description and one long, long, long speech. But it’s a great speech, right? So if you’re starting your own script with a huge monologue, ask yourself: Is it as good as the one in PATTON?

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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).

Screenplay 101: HANNAH AND HER SISTERS

If you’re my age, 1986 was probably one of the better movie years of your youth. ’86 was the year of STAR TREK IV, TOP GUN, ALIENS, STAND BY ME, FERRIS BEULLER’S DAY OFF, BACK TO SCHOOL, PLATOON… the list goes on. Oh yeah, and THE COLOR OF MONEY! AN AMERICAN TAIL! POLICE ACADEMY 3! Fine, maybe I’m getting a little carried away. Still, though. You get the point.

But only one movie on the WGA’s list of the 101 best screenplays is on the list – number 95 on the list, HANNAH AND HER SISTERS by Woody Allen.

Today’s installment is the first two pages of the script (from an undated draft), which feature Elliot (Michael Caine) waxing sorta-poetic about the object of his desire, Lee (Barbara Hershey), before being interrupted by – surprise! – his wife, Hannah (Mia Farrow).

It’s a great scene, since the script (aided by Caine’s unforgettably desperate performance) wraps us up so completely in Elliot’s unrequited (for now, at least) obsession with Lee that the sudden appearance of Hannah is a shock. And in the first two pages, we’re immersed headfirst in the emotional conflict of the film. What’s held back, at least for these opening two pages, is the relationship between Lee and Hannah – which I won’t spoil for those of you who haven’t seen the movie.

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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).

Life is Crazy!

Hi guys — we’re in the process of making a ton of updates to our website. Oh yeah, and we’re also moving to a new web host. So we won’t have a new Screenplay 101 post up today. Sorry! What can we say? We’re understaffed.

But we’ll be back next week with HANNAH AND HER SISTERS and PATTON. So sit tight!

Screenplay 101: THE HUSTLER

Today’s whistle stop on our year-long journey through the WGA’s 101 best screenplays of all time is 1961′s THE HUSTLER, written by Sidney Carroll & Robert Rossen (who also directed). It’s based on the novel by Walter Tevis, and it’s number 96 on the WGA 101 list. The page here is from the August 1960 draft.

Here we see Fast Eddie’s speech to Sarah, a girl he’s met in his travels as an itinerant pool hustler. Sarah tells Eddie she loves him, but he can’t say it back. He sure loves pool, though:

It’s such a great feeling when you’re right and you know you’re right, like all of a sudden you got oil in your arm and the cue stick is part of your arm. It’s got nerves when you’re right. That piece of wood’s got nerves in it. You can feel the tip when it hits the cue… you can feel the roll of the balls… you know they’re going to drop in. Clean smack in the center of the pocket, right in the heart.

Sarah is so moved by Eddie’s speech that she admits her feelings to Eddie. But ironically, the very passion that attracts her is what prevents him from loving her back. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what comes of Eddie’s inability to form the kind of human connection that Sarah longs for. I won’t spoil it for you.

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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).

Screenplay 101: THE GRAPES OF WRATH

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).

Today’s hardscrabble installment is THE GRAPES OF WRATH by Nunnally Johnson, based on the classic novel and National Book Award winner of the same name by John Steinbeck.

In these pages – the last two of the script – we see Tom Joad’s famous “I’ll be there” speech. Note Johnson’s use of dialect, which parallels Steinbeck’s own.

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