Professor Firstdraft’s GOODTIME SCRIPTORIUM

Dispatches from the far reaches of the WGF.

SCREENPLAY 101: 8 1/2

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(Editor’s note: Today’s installment of Screenplay 101 is brought to you by Greg Beal, director of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. If you like what you see, remember that Greg will be at our spring screenwriting symposium, FROM FIRST DRAFT TO FEATURE, on April 12. Click here for more info.)

Where to begin? At the beginning – with one of the most famous opening scenes in film history – a traffic jam in Rome, a man whose face we haven’t seen surrounded by faces, staring at him, and then his car fills with smoke, and he can’t escape, until he manages to climb through a window and begins floating over the cars, godlike, into the clouds, over a beach . . .?

Or at the end – with one of the most famous closing scenes in film history – the man, Guido, a film director, on a beach, a film set, the spaceship scaffolding behind him, just reconciled with his wife, surrounded by his movie’s cast – and then the clown band begins playing Nino Rota’s magical music, and the cast members holding hands, dancing and marching into the night . . .?

Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ (Screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, Brunello Rond. Story by Fellini, Flaiano. #87 of the WGA’s 101 Greatest Screenplays) is the most magisterial of films, without question one of the most influential movies ever made. Or, if the film critic and note giver Daumier is to be believed when he discusses the movie’s scenario with Guido: “You see, a first reading makes plain the lack of a central idea that establishes the problematic of the film or, if you wish, of a philosophical premise . . . and therefore the film becomes a series of absolutely gratuitous episodes. Because of their ambiguous realism, they may even be amusing.”

Or I can briefly discuss the ending that isn’t in the movie – a train sequence featuring Guido and his wife Luisa, copied below. After shooting had ended, the producers asked Fellini to shoot a trailer and so he gathered the entire cast on the beach and shot a great deal of footage. Later one of his collaborators suggested that the train ending was simply too bleak and why not replace it with material shot for the trailer. Fellini considered and then reedited the film – the trailer became the ending – and the train sequence disappeared.

Ah, but what gratuity, and what amusement. 8 ½ has defined what it is to be a filmmaker for all of us, presaging Paul Mazursky’s Alex in Wonderland, Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night, Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz and Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, to mention only a few. Ah, but still, what three pages? – if only they could be dubbed in post: you’ll just have to look below.

(Another Editor’s Note: Heck, here’s all of ’em. These pages are from the continuity script, and include the first few pages as well as the train sequence Greg mentions above.)

8.1.2_37_Opening 8.1.2_38_Opening 8.1.2_39_Opening 8.1.2_221_Ending 8.1.2_222_Ending

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).