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Film Script Analysis

post #1 of 556
Thread Starter 
"You're watching it wrong!" Don't you hate when smug critics tell you that, like they know something you don't about how to look at a movie?

But what if they're right? Maybe you need a primer on some basic (or advanced) mechanics of screenwriting in order to better understand/appreciate a flick.

This thread is for breaking down the scripts of movies that exist and we've all seen. We're not here to talk about your current project that you're 40% of the way through and stuck on something. No, there's already a thread for that.

What I want to get into here is a deeper discussion about the nuts and bolts of successful movies and help you guys better understand how they're constructed.

So let's get started. I'll throw out the first film school question. There's no wrong answer. What's the difference between plot and character?
post #2 of 556

Plot: The basic structure of a story.  Ideally it should have a beginning, middle, and end.

 

Character:  The cast of the story.  Ideally they should have distinct personalities and motivations.

post #3 of 556
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bradito View Post
What's the difference between plot and character?

 

The way I've always understood the difference is thus:

 

Plot: what happens in the story.

 

Character: who makes it happen (or should).

post #4 of 556

Plot: the story that you're trying to tell.

Character(s): what you're using to tell the story.

post #5 of 556

In terms of story, character-driven versus plot-driven would be decisions affecting the conflict versus outside forces.

 

At the very basic level, take Jaws. The shark's actions are entirely controlled by the author. It's a plot device to push the plot forward. But the character-driven aspect is the Mayor allowing the beaches to stay open and Brody acquiescing, and later Brody forcing the issue of the Mayor hiring Quint.

post #6 of 556

Akira Kurosawa once said,  “With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can’t possibly make a good film."

 

Here's a question for y'all, which script was let down the most by its film makers? 

post #7 of 556
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bartleby_Scriven View Post

In terms of story, character-driven versus plot-driven would be decisions affecting the conflict versus outside forces.

I wholeheartedly agree with what I think is an implicit point here, that plot and character are both elements of story. So are theme, tone, author, and intended audience, as I see it. Remove any of these from the analysis and you remove context.
post #8 of 556
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jmurdoch View Post
 

Here's a question for y'all, which script was let down the most by its film makers? 

 

By all accounts, SOLDIER was supposed to be an amazing script before it got turned into a routine B-movie.

post #9 of 556
Quote:
Originally Posted by Reasor View Post


I wholeheartedly agree with what I think is an implicit point here, that plot and character are both elements of story. So are theme, tone, author, and intended audience, as I see it.


Yeah, I've always used "story" to encompass everything. I think most people confuse plot and story. Plot is the events of the story, but the way the plot is told is one aspect of the story.

post #10 of 556
Thread Starter 
I love my new thread.
post #11 of 556

I haven't seen it in a while but I enjoyed Tootsie. I have heard, however, that its screenplay is studied in film schools.

 

Exactly what is it about the script that gets the focus in class?

 

Further question, what other screenplays are cited as the most-studied?

post #12 of 556
Thread Starter 
"Tootsie" comes up in a lot of screenwriting books. It's a tight script.

We studied "Erin Brockovich." It has an unusually long first act, like 41 pages.
post #13 of 556

I've heard raves on the script for GALAXY QUEST.  Considering the finished film, I'm not surprised.

post #14 of 556
Thread Starter 
We watched "Galaxy Quest" when I was an undergrad.
post #15 of 556

Good Scripts, Bad Scripts by Thomas Pope has some great examinations of, well, good and bad scripts and why they are what they are.  In fact, the chapters on the bad scripts are almost more enlightening than the ones on the good ones.  The breakdowns of The Bonfire of the Vanities and The Last Action Hero are particularly good reads.

post #16 of 556
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bartleby_Scriven View Post
 

At the very basic level, take Jaws. The shark's actions are entirely controlled by the author. It's a plot device to push the plot forward. But the character-driven aspect is the Mayor allowing the beaches to stay open and Brody acquiescing, and later Brody forcing the issue of the Mayor hiring Quint.

 

Could the shark be considered a character?

 

I was thinking of it being that instead of a plot device, but characters can be plot devices and vice versa.

 

Great thread, BTW. I don't feel like I know enough to contribute much, but hope others can. The architecture of story and plot fascinate me, and I love learning more about it.

post #17 of 556
We studied Andrei Tarkovsky's "Ivan's Childhood". I'm not sure how many times I've seen it, stopped counting after third go.
post #18 of 556
Thread Starter 
My professor hated "Life or Something Like It" so much, he screened it for the class with his scene-by-scene analysis of why it's a bad script. I thought it was enlightening/hilarious.

Basically, don't have your protag slip into a coma and turn the love interest into your new protag at the midpoint.
post #19 of 556

I recently watched "Runaway Train" from 1985, which is based on a story and script by Kurosawa. A Cannon film with Eric Roberts doing a goofy Southern accent and Jon Voight playing a growly convict, and they were both nominated for Oscars. I'm 95 percent certain it was because of the quality of the script.

 

I read Good Scripts, Bad Scripts long ago and loved it . . .and I've forgotten most of it, save for the chapter on Last Action Hero, which really goes into why much of it doesn't work.

 

We've talked before (in fact, we're talking about it right now) about how Interstellar's script prevents it from achieving greatness. I would also submit John Carter, which was one rewrite (and, er, replacing the lead) from being really, really good. I still chuckle thinking about how that movie has 3 different openings.

post #20 of 556
Quote:
Originally Posted by MichaelM View Post
 

 

Could the shark be considered a character?

 

I was thinking of it being that instead of a plot device, but characters can be plot devices and vice versa.

 

Great thread, BTW. I don't feel like I know enough to contribute much, but hope others can. The architecture of story and plot fascinate me, and I love learning more about it.


No, the shark is just a force of nature. It shows up at the whims of the plot without rhyme or reason, like an earthquake or tornado.

post #21 of 556

I thought BTTF was considered the gold standard for efficient screenwriting.  It doesn't have a strong character arc for its protagonist, but there is not really a wasted breath in terms of constantly delivering set-ups and pay-offs.

 

Here's a weird corollary example to that:  I think Shaun Of The Dead's script is in a strange way too "good" for its own good.  Everything is so tight, so purposeful, so perfectly cyclical that when the third act revisits every single beat from the first, each gag is individually clever but the connections between those dominoes are so direct and impossible-to-miss that the whole starts to feel less organic.  Scripted.  Which is an odd accusation to level at a script, but there you go.

post #22 of 556
I taught a course for BA screenwriting students last spring. We watched "Groundhog Day" twice (second time was for breaking down the sequences and acts) and studied Danny Rubin's screenplay. That film's a prime example of the finished film being much better than the script.
post #23 of 556
Quote:
Originally Posted by Schwartz View Post

 

Here's a weird corollary example to that:  I think Shaun Of The Dead's script is in a strange way too "good" for its own good.  Everything is so tight, so purposeful, so perfectly cyclical that when the third act revisits every single beat from the first, each gag is individually clever but the connections between those dominoes are so direct and impossible-to-miss that the whole starts to feel less organic.  Scripted.  Which is an odd accusation to level at a script, but there you go.

Hot Fuzz is super-tight as well, so precise as to be almost airless (although I love it). World's End is a little bit looser, which may be why it feels strange compared to the other two, at least for me.

post #24 of 556
Thread Starter 
What's different about Groundhog Day's script?
post #25 of 556

Good thread.

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by Bartleby_Scriven View Post
 

In terms of story, character-driven versus plot-driven would be decisions affecting the conflict versus outside forces.

 

At the very basic level, take Jaws. The shark's actions are entirely controlled by the author. It's a plot device to push the plot forward. But the character-driven aspect is the Mayor allowing the beaches to stay open and Brody acquiescing, and later Brody forcing the issue of the Mayor hiring Quint.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by MichaelM View Post
 

 

Could the shark be considered a character?

 

I was thinking of it being that instead of a plot device, but characters can be plot devices and vice versa.

 

Great thread, BTW. I don't feel like I know enough to contribute much, but hope others can. The architecture of story and plot fascinate me, and I love learning more about it.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bartleby_Scriven View Post
 


No, the shark is just a force of nature. It shows up at the whims of the plot without rhyme or reason, like an earthquake or tornado.

 

I kind of agree with this about Jaws. But is the shark in The Shallows a character? It has motivations and responds to the other character in the movie. I know we all commented that the shark was kind of an asshole when that thread was doing it's thing. :)

post #26 of 556
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bradito View Post

What's different about Groundhog Day's script?

Putting on my sigmundfreud-hat, the film was made by a humanist with a great sense of humor. The screenplay was made by a nihilist who hates women.
post #27 of 556
Schwartz may be my archnemesis, but he's on to something here. A script can be so structured that the movie doesn't really breathe.

The best screenplays aren't really the ones they use to teach screenwriting. They're the ones that read more like blueprints than a finished product in and of themselves.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I just reread the script for Kubrick's NAPOLEON. It's pretty fucking incredible.
post #28 of 556

Many screenplays I've read have been very dry and, yeah, are basically there to be filled in by the director. But some screenwriters have a real way with words.

 

Example, Shane Black:

 


I think I first read this passage from The Last Boyscout here on the CHUD boards, but I can't remember who posted it originally.

post #29 of 556
My favorite screenwriter to read for pleasure is Orson Welles. He's a vital, elegant writer with a lot of personality.
post #30 of 556
Thread Starter 
Tarantino's descriptions are very conversational. I think a lot of writers get bogged down in over-describing the wallpaper.
post #31 of 556
My arbitrary list of favorite screenplays:

THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (Welles)
LOLITA (Nabokov's unused draft)
NAPOLEON (Kubrick)
TO CATCH A THIEF (Hayes)
TREASURE (De Palma)
post #32 of 556
Quote:
Originally Posted by Agentsands77 View Post

Schwartz may be my archnemesis, but he's on to something here. A script can be so structured that the movie doesn't really breathe.

The best screenplays aren't really the ones they use to teach screenwriting. They're the ones that read more like blueprints than a finished product in and of themselves.
 

 

I've always thought of you as more a shadowy reflection of what I could become, if I had One Bad Day that ruined my ability to meet a movie on its own terms.  In any case, you're right that screenplays are a tough thing to judge on their own merits; they are not supposed to be complete works that stand on their own.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangy View Post
 

Hot Fuzz is super-tight as well, so precise as to be almost airless (although I love it). World's End is a little bit looser, which may be why it feels strange compared to the other two, at least for me.

 

Hot Fuzz is if anything, even more of a clockwork construction than Shaun.   But I think it fits better in that context, which is more about being a high-concept parody than an observational character piece.  Shaun's life is so defined by low-key mundanity that it rings faintly false when it requires such elaborate, writerly machinations to jar him out of it.  

 

Still a great movie, mind you.  Just that none of Wright's feature work really resonates with me on an emotional level (which is a function of his screenwriting, I think), so I judge them mainly as gag delivery systems and I think it's not as good as Fuzz or Scott Pilgrim in that regard.

post #33 of 556
Quote:
Originally Posted by Schwartz View Post

I've always thought of you as more a shadowy reflection of what I could become, if I had One Bad Day that ruined my ability to meet a movie on its own terms.
I resent that! I meet every movie on its own terms!

(Except for Tolkien adaptations.)
Quote:
Originally Posted by Schwartz View Post

Hot Fuzz is if anything, even more of a clockwork construction than Shaun.   But I think it fits better in that context, which is more about being a high-concept parody than an observational character piece.  Shaun's life is so defined by low-key mundanity that it rings faintly false when it requires such elaborate, writerly machinations to jar him out of it.  

Still a great movie, mind you.  Just that none of Wright's feature work really resonates with me on an emotional level (which is a function of his screenwriting, I think), so I judge them mainly as gag delivery systems and I think it's not as good as Fuzz or Scott Pilgrim in that regard.
I totally agree with ya on this.
post #34 of 556
Thread Starter 
Schwartz, who I don't consider my nemesis, is right about BTTF being a good movie for teaching setups and payoffs.

This is why it's always concerning when they start filming a movie without Act III locked in. It's more than just beating the bad guy. A satisfying conclusion ties up all the loose ends.
post #35 of 556

They can always just stick a big portal in the sky and have the good guys close it.

post #36 of 556

I could read Coen Brothers dialogue all day long - http://www.coenbrothers.net/scripts/millerscrossing.pdf 

post #37 of 556
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MichaelM View Post

They can always just stick a big portal in the sky and have the good guys close it.

But is the portal a character or a force of nature?
post #38 of 556

I looked at that Good Scripts Bad Scripts except on Amazon.  Intriguing, might actually buy it, though I certainly don't need extra books right now.  He's attacking The Abyss because the bad guy dies at the end of the second act and the story then switches to dealing with the aliens, who of course are a new element to the story.  I'm trying to see how that's specifically a bad thing, though.  Yes it's a change to the narrative I suppose, but the hand off is fairly smooth - Coffee dies after he releases the bomb, and the Aliens properly arrive after Bud has defused it.  One transitions neatly to the other.  Given that the theme of the movie is about hate and fear vs respect and awe, the change there makes sense.

post #39 of 556
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bradito View Post

But is the portal a character or a force of nature?

 

It's the protagonist.

post #40 of 556
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jones View Post
 

I looked at that Good Scripts Bad Scripts except on Amazon.  Intriguing, might actually buy it, though I certainly don't need extra books right now.  He's attacking The Abyss because the bad guy dies at the end of the second act and the story then switches to dealing with the aliens, who of course are a new element to the story.  I'm trying to see how that's specifically a bad thing, though.  Yes it's a change to the narrative I suppose, but the hand off is fairly smooth - Coffee dies after he releases the bomb, and the Aliens properly arrive after Bud has defused it.  One transitions neatly to the other.  Given that the theme of the movie is about hate and fear vs respect and awe, the change there makes sense.

As I recall, the book also looks at movies which break out of their expected structure, and why they are successful doing it. (at least, in that guy's opinion. all this stuff is subjective as hell.)

post #41 of 556
Thread Starter 
You can bump off or vanquish your antagonist at the end of Act II and still have to deal with the fallout in Act III. Star Trek II and TDK do this. So The Abyss can get away with it, too.
post #42 of 556
I always viewed the Abyss aliens as an epilogue. Framed as that, the sequence didn't seem jarring to me, even though I thought it was a break from three act structure. Storytelling takes more than one shape, even within a single medium.
post #43 of 556
Thread Starter 
Are the aliens a character or a force of -- ?
post #44 of 556

They're a force of water.

post #45 of 556

I'd be curious to read what they would think of TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., considering what happens at the end of Act 2.  I have to think that violates a lot of screenwriting rules, yet it works beautifully for the story being told and with the themes being explored.

post #46 of 556

On a purely practical note, I had to read PTA's Inherent Vice script when I watched the movie a second time just to grasp exactly what was going on, or at least what the hell everybody was mumbling about. It's all there on the page, but since I haven't read Pynchon's novel, that first viewing left me baffled, even as the filmmaking mesmerized me (before I ultimately got antsy and annoyed). 

 

Die Hard belongs on the Perfect Script list as well. So many different elements and character moments, yet the pacing glides along. It's so light on its glass-bloodied feet.

post #47 of 556

hey guys

 

kung fu panda has a sneaky good script!  (the commentary track on that one is really quite nice)

 

oh yeh oh yeh oh yeh

 

 

TOOTSIE, as mentioned above, is a great screenplay.  But it's also one of those that is sneakily amazing because it also allows the film to not feel like screenwriting 101 where the structure (as well as set-up and payoff element) feels so ENGINEERED. 

post #48 of 556
Thread Starter 
Animated movies can have tight scripts, since they actually hammer it all out before they get cracking on the animating.
post #49 of 556

In terms of knowing your ending, I recall that the production of Toy Story 2 (which was tumultuous, I'm told by those who worked at Pixar back then) actually went back and 're-wrote' the first act once they had the ending mostly locked down.  It allowed them to put more fun set-ups to pay off for the finale.

post #50 of 556
Thread Starter 
Didn't they go from making a one-hour DTV movie to a 90-minute feature?
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