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« Four Random Thoughts on "Vice"| Main| After the Coven Comes the Blood »
Thursday
Jan 03 2019

Blueprints: Five Expertly Written Scenes of 2018

by Jorge Molina

A screenplay has to accomplish many things to be successful: establish the characters,create and maintain tension,introduce the plotlines and carry them smoothly and compellingly,grasp the audience's attention and hold it for two plus hours.A good script does it all.A great script makes it all look easy and seamless.

We previously sang the praises of5 original screenplaysand5 adaptations.This week,we're getting more specific with 5 scenes.While each of the following stories were successfully told overall as one cohesive movie,their writing stood out for making a particular element of screenwriting shine;each unique to the story they were trying to tell.

Tension and Emotional Stakes –Crazy Rich Asians

Every movie should slowly build up to a moment in which all confrontation and tension is ready to explode.Where the stakes for the protagonist are endangered.Where they could lose it all.While these moments are more easily exemplified by,say,overblown superhero battles,Crazy Rich Asianspacked all of this emotional punch into a game of mahjong.

After Nick (Henry Golding) has proposed to Rachel (Constance Wu),she asks to meet her mother-in-law Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) to clear the air that has been burdening them for most of their journey.What follows is a power struggle that British monarchs can only dream of.Words are spoken,tiles are mixed,secrets are revealed.Eleanor realizes she has her power only because Rachel allowed her to.She has reclaimed her stakes.The single revealed of a held tile blows things up louder than an alien portal.

Writing for a Performer –Hereditary

As a writer,sometimes it's hard to remember that a screenplay is not the final form of the writing.It's just a first step.The text will then be taken and interpreted by dozens of other people and departments.The words will be spoken by someone else,who will hopefully infuse them with meaning and elevate them.Ari Aster wrote an amazingly tense family dinner as a centerpiece ofHereditary.But Toni Collette elevates it to something soul-crushing.

The now famous "I am yourmother!"monologue looks fairly straight-forward on the script.A block of words from a grieving mother to her pained son.But Collette takes every word and instills pain and anger and resentment into them in highly specific ways.She breathes into the pauses between sentences.She makes them explode.These emotions were quietly seeping underneath the pages,but it took a great actress to make them come to life.

Use of Specific Language –Eighth Grade

We want characters in movies to feel and sound real.We want to believe that they are,in fact,living in the world that the film has placed us in.And the way they speak is incredibly important for that;that's where accents and slang come into play.They help us situate ourselves in a time and place.So when Bo Burnham decided to write the story of a tween eighth grade girl struggling with social anxiety in today's world,the way she spoke was essential.

Fortunately,Burnham seems to have done his homework,perhaps with the help of now Golden Globe-nominee Elsie Fisher.In Kayla's opening video monologue,she tries to deliver an impassioned speech about how to be yourself.The speech is plagued by "likes"and "ums"and pauses and patterns that could only belong to a 14-year-old girl.Every single one is on the script.

Set the Mood –A Quiet Place

Most audience members are not going to read the screenplay of a film (except if,say,you're writing a column about them).They ideally are all going to experience it visually,on a theater or other device.However,some writers want to help visualize the story better right from the page,especially on movies that rely on mood more,like horror or sci-fi.A Quiet Placeis a movie where a constant sense of dread and suspense in the environment is essential.

For that,the writers break basically every screenwriting rule conceived,and make the script as visually interesting as possible to better immerse the reader in this dystopia.Font type,font sizes,use of images and legends,different indents.These stylistic choices try to emulate the experience of watching the movie as much as a blank page will allow.And we commend the effort.

Description of Characters –A Simple Favor

There are many ways to show what a character is like: the way they talk,what their actions are,their body language,who they surround themselves with.But we sometimes underestimate the value of clothing to project not only the personality,but also the intentions and emotional states.Not the writers ofA Simple Favor.

Through detailed descriptions of their outfits (which the costume designers followed closely and delivered some astonishing work),the writer conveys the core difference between the two protagonists: the approachable and subdued quirk of Stephanie (Anna Kendrick),and the unattainable glamour and mystery of Emily (Blake Lively).More was said about Blake Lively from her pantsuits than a thousand monologues could have.

What are some of your favorite scenes from this year?

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Reader Comments (4)

The scene inFirst Reformedwhere Ethan Hawke's character,after being composed and restrained for the majority of the movie,finally loses his temper (I've tried to annotate it the best I could):

Esther:
I'm worried about you.

Ernst:
Leave me alone.

Esther:
I just want to try...

Ernst:
I know what you want!All right?And I cannot bear your concern,your constant hovering,your neediness.You're a constant reminder of my own personal inadequacies and failings.You want something that never was and never will be.

Esther:
Don't make me do this,'cause I...

Ernst:
Esther.Esther.Esther.Pull yourself together.Okay?Look at yourself.

Esther:
You don't take care of yourself...

Ernst:
I despise you.I despise what you bring out in me.Your concerns are petty.You are a stumbling block.

January 3,2019 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

I would be curious to read the screenplay to "Thunder Road".Since it's a writer/director/performer,and the movie has such extensive monologues that really rely on specific physical bits and pauses,I don't know how much was on the page and what was from Jim Cummings' internal processes and in-the-moment touches.It doesn't feel improvised,I just don't know how some of that would get translated into words (and then back to performance).

January 3,2019 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

Jorge,great work on putting this together so thoughtfully,thank you.Really smart way to show how different elements of writing can contribute so powerfully.I personally think Crazy Rich Asians is a shit sandwich on crap toast from a writing perspective,but you make a very good observation in how everything builds to the mahjong game.That's smartly engineered by the writers,even if everything getting us there is so lame.Grateful to you for your smart analysis!

January 3,2019 | Unregistered CommenterEricB

Just wanted to say this is a great piece.

January 4,2019 | Unregistered CommenterShane

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