One thing about these screenwriting courses: It’s sure given me a new appreciation of movies. This hasn’t, as film/video teachers so often promise, ruined them for me. Alan studied music when he was young, and I just listened to it. Of course he hears music entirely differently than I do, and sees shapes and forms within it that I never will. Same with movies.
One thing that’s interesting about the class is the handouts — the teacher’s a working scriptwriter with access to early script drafts of familiar movies, and we study them every week. “The Truman Show,” for instance, started out with Truman a dull, overweight crybaby who lives in New York City. His obsession with the girl who gave him his first kiss leads him to hire prostitutes to wear her sweater while they have sex. If you remember the final product, in which Truman is of normal weight, smarter, not given to tears and living in the creepy Cleaveresque town of Seahaven, where there are no prostitutes, it’s possible to have hope for one’s own script. You see that as long as you’re willing to write the thing again, there’s always hope.
But lately we’re talking about pace. It’s amazing, when you break it down, to see how fast screen stories move, even if they don’t seem to, and how relentlessly a writer has to flog the story along from the very first page. Last night we watched the first act of “The Graduate” — that is: the party, the “Mrs. Robinson you’re trying to seduce me” stuff and the scuba-gear-in-the-pool scene — with our newer eyes, and boy, does it crackle. Not a wasted line. Hell, not a wasted word.
So then I came home, and guess what was starting on cable? “The Fugitive.” I’d seen it before, and thought it was a top-drawer action movie, but watching it again, it’s so much more. It’s a textbook case in how to craft that rarest of birds, the action movie with a brain. Every scene raises the stakes. Every location is significant. Every line is true to its speaker’s character. Every scene has a beginning, middle and end that flows logically into the next. And, of course, it has Tommy Lee Jones, with whom it’s hard to go very far wrong.
“The Fugitive,” in fact, is a great example of a movie greater than the sum of its parts — great direction of great actors speaking great lines from a great script, and presto: Greatness.
alex said on February 17, 2004 at 10:16 pm
Say it again, girl�Tommy Lee Jones. I’d watch a movie with him in it, even without great writing. And there are a multitude of those out there.
deb said on February 17, 2004 at 10:54 pm
oh, god, yes. i could listen to that drawl of his all day long and not get tired of it.
Colleen said on February 17, 2004 at 11:35 pm
‘nother TLJ fan. I just swoon to hear him say “darlin'”
jcb said on February 18, 2004 at 1:27 am
My brother and I used to watch the television version of The Fugitive at 2 am when we worked overnights at WXIA. If you ask me, you can’t do better than David Janssen, the constantly frustrated Barry Morse as Lt. Gerard (“Kiiiiimmmmblllleeee!!!”) and of course William Conrad (TV’s “Cannon”) as the Narrator. One of the early ones had almost an entire episode narrated in the second person: “If you’re a fugitive, every streetcorner holds menace. Turn left here…no, not that way!” If it were Saturday Night Live, Janssen would have strangled Conrad at the end of the episode.
Nance said on February 18, 2004 at 7:44 am
“It ain’t over ’til the big dawg howls!” — TLJ
tommy fan said on February 18, 2004 at 12:43 pm
Does anyone remember TLJ from a soap…I think it was One Life to Live. anyone….anyone….
ashley said on February 19, 2004 at 11:33 pm
He almost makes those acrid SBC commercials watchable. Maybe he’ll go to Japan and start doing whiskey commercials.