Evolution of a Screenplay: The Shining

To understand the complex process that Stephen King’s novel The Shining went

Stephen King conceived The Shining at the Stanley Hotel.

Stephen King conceived The Shining at the Stanley Hotel.

through to become Stanley Kubrick’s  The Shining, we need to go back to the night it began in the mind of the famous horror writer.

King based his first two novels, Carrie, and ‘Salem’s Lot, in small towns in his native Maine. He wanted a change, so he and his wife, Tabitha, traveled. He flipped open an atlas and pointed at Boulder, Colorado. They stayed at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. It was the end of the season and they were the only guests in the hotel. The Stanley was closing down for the season and the Kings had the run of the place.

They stayed in room 217 after hearing it was haunted.

An early attempt at a novel, Darkshine, had stalled. That night, King’s story of a psychic boy came to him again.

They ate dinner in the grand dining room alone. There was only one entrée, which they ate to taped orchestral music. The other chairs were up on the tables. After a nightcap with a bartender named Grady, King had a dream of his son running through the hotel, looking over his shoulder and screaming. He woke up and in the time it took to smoke a cigarette, he had the book in his mind.

The Shining: Stephen King’s Novel

According to Laura Miller’s ‘What Stanley Kubrick Got Wrong About the Shining’, “Jack Torrance, the deranged aspiring writer played by Jack Nicholson in the film, is the most autobiographical of all his (King’s) creations.”

Miller defends Stephen King’s complaints about Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of King’s book.

“That two such different men as King and Kubrick were able to see themselves in this character indicates what a remarkable creation Jack Torrance is.”

It also suggests why King would be particularly sensitive to the manner in which the book was adapted into a screenplay.

“King himself was suffering from alcoholism at the time he wrote the novel, therefore giving a strong autobiographical element to the story. He has expressed disappointment that his novel’s important themes, such as the disintegration of family and the dangers of alcoholism, are less prevalent in the film.”

Jack Nicholson’s famous identification with the character of McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) led King to think audiences would anticipate Jack Torrance going mad. King felt an actor like Jon Voigt, Christopher Reeve, or Michael Moriarty should have played the role, which he saw more as an everyman, whose subsequent madness would be more disturbing

Stanley Kubrick’s Treatment for The Shining

Kubrick made copious notes in his personal copy of ‘The Shining’. He produced an 81-page treatment. The treatment is divided into ten parts, the first nine parts being fairly well delineated. Part Ten, however, is skeletal. It sketches what is to happen during the finale loosely, leaving great gaps.

In Kubrick’s treatment there are repeated acts of physical violence against Danny and Wendy by Jack. These, along with scenes showing Jack’s fight with a student and his dislocating Danny’s shoulder didn’t make it into the film. Here are some of the more significant differences:

  • As in the novel, Jack discovers a large scrapbook that mysteriously appears on his writing table. It provides the history of the hotel. The early images are of its grand opening, but the book begins to paint a lurid picture of the events that have taken place there. Later, he shows the scrapbook to Wendy, telling her he thinks the history of The Overlook Hotel would be a good subject for a book. Then Wendy asks him where he got it and he tells her he picked it up in the lounge. The scrapbook only appears in the background and is never referenced in the film, as was the notion of Jack writing about the history of the Overlook.
  • The lights go out and Jack has to start the diesel generator. He and Wendy go to the basement. He is frustrated by the generator’s complex instructions. They discover some strange things in the basement, including a teddy bear hanging by its neck, belly slashed open. Jack is ultimately unfazed by the experience, which only frightens Wendy more. After Jack gets the generator going, they return to the lobby, Wendy expressing concern over who could make such a horrific display. Jack returns to work, not even caring if the phones work. This scene did not appear in the film.
  • The scene in the ballroom with Lloyd, the bartender, ends when Jack hears the lobby telephone ringing and goes to answer it. A water ring from the bottom of a glass stains the bare bar top. Jack answers the phone. Wendy tells him Danny has become lucid again and told her what happened in room 217. She is afraid to leave her room because she believes there is a homicidal maniac on the loose in the hotel. Jack tells her to stay in her room and goes to investigate. This scene changed from a telephone conversation to one where Wendy approaches Jack at his writing table.
  • Jack goes to room 217. A bloated rotting arm draws back the shower curtain and an old woman rises from the tub. In the film she is beautiful, until Jack embraces and kisses her.
  • The conversation between Jack and Daniel (sic) Grady, waiter, takes place at the bar, instead of inside the red restroom. The dialog in the treatment is very similar, if not the same. But the change in location, that amazing red bathroom, was significant.

The Shining: “How Do You Like It?”

Part Ten of the treatment begins with a variation on what has become one of the most famous scenes in the film. Wendy discovers the radio doesn’t work and goes to the lounge where Jack does his writing to confront him, but he is not there. A thick stack of typewritten pages – Jack’s manuscript – sits on the table next to the typewriter. Wendy grabs a fistful of pages and throws them on the floor. They scatter, float and fall in a hundred different places. She yells for Jack. Then she notices one of the pages on the floor. She moves around the room, taking in the pages and what is written on them: ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY.

When Jack confronts her threateningly, Wendy pushes Jack down the staircase, instead of hitting him with a bat. Then Wendy and Danny drag Jack through the hotel to the kitchen and into the larder.

Later, Wendy searches the kitchen for a padlock and key, but finds the door to the larder open. Jack grabs her around the throat from behind and strikes her head against the larder door. She drives her boning knife backwards into Jack’s belly. She gets away from him.

From Stanley Kubrick’s Treatment for The Shining

“A dying Jack creeps slowly in pursuit of a battered, nearly unconscious Wendy, the details of which are to be worked out, and which will end in Jack’s death.”

From here the treatment deviates from the novel AND the final film.

As Jack dies, Wendy hears the sound of a Snow Cat. She drags herself to the lobby where she finds the doors open, flapping in the wind. There is no sign of a Snow Cat. Suddenly she realizes Danny is alone in their room.

The door is open and Danny is not there.

Dick Hallorann moves along the corridor, casting a terrifying shadow on the wall. He is the fearful figure from Danny’s visions. Grady greets him.

The treatment then describes, in various levels of detail, an ending completely different from the one in the book or the film. Halloran goes crazy with an axe, Danny flees for his life, and Wendy wields her kitchen knife. As she progresses she becomes a ‘maddened demoniacal figure’.

She flings open doors, revealing scenes of the past evils of the hotel. At the conclusion of the chase, Danny sends Hallorann a psychic ‘Stop Dick! Don’t!’, giving Wendy the opening she needs, as Kubrick wrote in the treatment, ‘so that the old lady in Psycho will look like a pushover in comparison.’

Wendy takes Danny from the carnage. Hallorann falls to the floor. The camera moves in on Jack’s writing table, to the white scrapbook that lays open upon it. There is the photograph we all know, showing Jack at the Overlook in 1919. The sound of the Snow Cat starting outside mixes with the sound of a dance band.

A hand enters the frame, closing the scrapbook. The book is picked up, taken from frame. We hear the sound of footsteps fading in the distance.

How Stephen King’s Novel, The Shining, Ended (WITH SPOILERS)

Dick Hallorann rushes back to the Overlook after receiving a psychic distress call from Danny. Hallorann is attacked by topiary animals and then severely injured by Jack. As Jack pursues Danny through the Overlook, the hotel causes him to smash his face beyond recognition. Jack neglected to relieve the pressure on the boiler. Danny informs him that it is about to explode. As Danny, Wendy, and Hallorann flee, Jack rushes to the basement attempting to vent the boiler, which explodes and destroys the Overlook. The injured Hallorann guides Danny and Wendy away from the hotel to safety.

The treatment ends with a tag that appeared following the final scene in the hospital that was lost when Kubrick cut the ending:

“The Overlook Hotel would survive this tragedy, as it had so many others. It is still open each year from May 20th to September 20th. It is closed for the winter.”

The Shining: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson’s Screenplay

According to an interview in the New York Times, author and ‘The Shining’ co-screenwriter Diane Johnson, says Kubrick approached her initially about making a film of her recent novel, ‘The Shadow Knows’.

“Kubrick was thinking of making either the Stephen King or my novel, ‘The Shadow Knows’. And, you know, he ultimately decided on the King.”

Johnson was an interesting choice for a collaborator. She was novelist who had written several novels. ‘The Shadow Knows’ was well reviewed when it came out in 1974. But she had never written a screenplay. Ever.

Kubrick described their collaboration in an interview with Michel Ciment.

“Diane is an American novelist who has published a number of extremely good novels which have received serious and important attention. I was interested in several of her books and in talking to her about them I was surprised to learn that she was giving a course at the University of California at Berkeley on the Gothic novel. When The Shining came up she seemed to be the ideal collaborator, which, indeed, she proved to be.”

Johnson described Kubrick’s approach to engaging a writing partner:

“You know, you get these calls from Kubrick and then he proposes a meeting, and then he proposes you come in and write a script. And, so I did. And I spent, oh, I don’t know, a couple of months . . . I guess eleven weeks all together, so almost three months in London, working everyday with him, and it was . . . I really learned a lot I think about narrative and film-making. It was a great experience.”

“I had already been working on the treatment of the book, prior to her starting, but I hadn’t actually begun the screenplay,” said Kubrick. “With The Shining, the problem was to extract the essential plot and to re-invent the sections of the story that were weak. The characters needed to be developed a bit differently than they were in the novel.”

Kubrick: Adapting Novels, and Why ‘The Shining’ was Different

For Kubrick, this is where great novels become less great films. The point of a novel is the quality of the writing. This doesn’t translate. The film language is based on a different symbology. Also, the author’s insights contribute greatly to the novel.

According to Kubrick, The Shining was different. Its virtue was the plot. He and Johnson didn’t have much trouble adapting it into a screenplay.

“Diane and I talked a lot about the book and then we made an outline of the scenes we thought should be included in the film. This list of scenes was shuffled and reshuffled until we thought it was right, and then we began to write. We did several drafts of the screenplay, which was subsequently revised at different stages before and during shooting.”

The screenplay was revised so often (sometimes twice daily) that Jack Nicholson gave up reading it entirely.

One of the external sources that influenced Kubrick’s choices in adapting ‘The Shining’ was a story by American author Stephen Crane.

“Stephen Crane wrote a story called “The Blue Hotel.” In it you quickly learn that the central character is a paranoid. He gets involved in a poker game, decides someone is cheating him, makes an accusation, starts a fight and gets killed. You think the point of the story is that his death was inevitable because a paranoid poker player would ultimately get involved in a fatal gunfight. But, in the end, you find out that the man he accused was actually cheating him. I think The Shining uses a similar kind of psychological misdirection to forestall the realization that the supernatural events are actually happening.”

The original ending of the film, adds an even stranger layer to this, by making it apparent that, whatever supernatural forces are at work in the hotel, there is a very human presence guarding it.

“To be honest, the end of the book seemed a bit hackneyed to me and not very interesting. I wanted an ending which the audience could not anticipate. In the film, they think Hallorann is going to save Wendy and Danny. When he is killed they fear the worst. Surely, they fear, there is no way now for Wendy and Danny to escape.”

It is interesting to note how Kubrick changed Hallorann in the treatment with a similar twist. We think he’s coming back to save Danny. But he comes back as a devil instead of a rescuing angel.

Kubrick described the maze and how that ending may have orginated.

“The maze ending may have suggested itself from the animal topiary scenes in the novel. I don’t actually remember how the idea first came about.”

The topiary scenes, in which the plants trimmed to look like animals come to life, were deemed too difficult to render on film with the special effects that were available in the late ‘70s.

The Shining’s Original Ending

Slate published the only known fragment of the film’s shooting script (Scripts available on the Internet are ‘Postproduction’ scripts – created after the fact by transcribing the finished film). The article describes what happened following the film’s release:

“Back on May 23, 1980, when The Shining was first released, audiences saw something slightly different from what viewers obsess over today. That’s because the next weekend Stanley Kubrick did an unusual thing: He re-cut the film, removing about two minutes from the ending, even though it was already in release. Those two minutes, like so much at the film’s ghoulish hotel, are now lost to time, unlikely to ever be seen again.”

Overlook manager Stuart Ullman visits Wendy, along with her son Danny, at the hospital where she is recuperating. Ullman tells Wendy that nothing out of the ordinary was found when investigators searched the hotel. He tells her she must have been hallucinating.

“After inviting, Wendy and Danny to come stay with him in Los Angeles, he begins to leave, but remembers that he forgot to give something to Danny, and throws him a yellow ball.”

That yellow ball, or rather the hand that tosses it, is a direct through line to the hand referenced in Kubrick’s treatment, closing the scrapbook, and the footsteps moving away down the corridor. Having tried to turn the amiable Hallorann into a monster in the treatment, it seems like Kubrick and Johnson transferred a little of that darkness to the Overlook’s general manager.

The appearance of the yellow ball at The Overlook led Danny to find the murdered Grady daughters. Ullman appears to be trying to lead Danny somewhere else.

It seems the hotel still wants Danny, and Ullman is intent on getting him for it.

The Shining: The Secret of Room 237 Revealed

According to the website of the Timberline Lodge in Oregon, there was a change made to King’s story that neither Kubrick or Johnston had anything to do with creatively. The Timberline served as the exterior of The Overlook Hotel in the film.

“Kubrick was asked not to depict room #217 (featured in the book) in The Shining, because future guests at the Lodge might be afraid to stay there. So a nonexistent room, #237, was substituted in the film. Curiously and somewhat ironically, room #217 is requested more often than any other room at Timberline.”

 

 

The Day I Became a Writer

WritingMother’s Day, 1986.

Mike Stewart and I are killing time before I head to brunch at my mom’s. Mike and I met working on the newspaper at the local community college. He does the page layouts and design, I take the pictures and write the stories. It’s a good partnership.

We have stopped by his brother’s apartment. They have two young girls, Holly, three, and Allison, two. Allison pushes herself around in a little scooter. Holly is busy at the table. Holly is ALWAYS busy.

Everything in the apartment has a label, written in Crayon, by Holly. She followed the broken guideline in the middle of the label to help her shape the characters. Her parents are doing this to encourage her to read. She is a very smart little toe head in Huggies.

I’ve been here before. Holly’s progress is amazing.

Mike has a Betamax player. He has a Betamax copy of Alan Parker’s film ‘Pink Floyd’s The Wall’. I’ve never seen it. We put it on. It is still the only Betamax videotape I have ever seen.

While we are sitting on the couch watching the movie. I catch little Allison looking at me curiously a couple of times. After a few minutes, she motors across the room. Her strong little legs propel the cart over the carpet. She pulls into the space next to Holly at the table. I catch whispers coming from the two little girls.

“Who is that?” Allison asks Holly. Allison looks over at me.

Holly looks up from her work. I look away quickly.

“Who, him?” I can imagine Holly’s face as she’s saying it. Maybe an eye-roll?

I steal another look.

“Uh, huh.” Allison nods.

“Oh, that’s Steve Deeble.”

I laugh at her matter-of-fact tone.

“He’s a writer.”

I stop laughing. I’m stunned. If I hadn’t already been sitting, I’d have sat.

I started writing screenplays for short films in elementary school. Then I started writing stories. In church school I wrote parables.

I have written press releases that ran in the L.A. Times and other papers. I am freelancing for an advertising agency.

But this is when I see myself as a WRITER.

Curtis Hanson: In Memoriam

Curtis Hanson died last week. He had not been well for some time and rumors In Memoriam Curtis Hansoncirculated he was suffering from the onset of a form of dementia. His last film was, Chasing Mavericks in 2012, but he was unable to finish the film due to ill health. He was replaced by Michael Apted

Hanson was born in Reno, Nevada. In something of a parallel to Stanley Kubrick, Hanson dropped out of high school, finding work as a freelance photographer and editor for Cinema magazine.

Hanson worked on the screenplay for ‘The Dunwich Horror’, based on the short story by H. P. Lovecraft, in 1970.

He began making small-budget films, working up to larger productions. He wrote the screenplay and directed ‘The Bedroom Window’ and directed ‘The River Wild’.

Hanson claimed as influences Alfred Hitchcock and Nicholas Ray. He gravitated towards suspense thrillers.

While I admire the grit of Hanson’s film ‘8 Mile’, his films based on the books of James Ellroy and Michael Chabon were my personal favorites. It was Hanson’s adaptation of Ellroy’s ‘L.A. Confidential’, the third novel in his ‘L.A. Quartet’, where it all came together.

Brian Helgeland met Curtis Hanson during post production on ‘The River Wild’. Helgeland had been trying to convince Warner Brothers to let him make ‘L.A. Confidential’. But Warner Bros. hired Hanson instead of him. Hanson saw promise in Helgeland, who recognizes Hanson took a chance when he brought him aboard the project.

“Curtis started out as a screen writer and had done horror films in his younger days, as I had,” said Helgeland in a recent interview. “In a funny sort of way, Curtis saw a younger version of himself in me.”

“We basically worked on our own dime a lot of it. I did a lot of drafts that I didn’t get paid for, but Curtis was always this cheerleader for the film. Not rah rah, just this kind of grim cheerleader and wouldn’t take no for an answer, so it was kind of, that was his big thing was to just put this thing on his shoulders and not put it down till he got it made.”

Hanson’s belief in the project, and in Hegeland, paid off handsomely. The film is the best adaptation of Ellroy’s work to date. ‘L.A. Confidential’ was a hit at the box office and has had a long life in rentals and streaming. Hanson and Hegeland shared the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for their work on ‘L.A. Confidential’.

And Hanson’s career was made.

After L.A. Confidential, Hanson worked on a screenplay and read scripts looking for his next project. Screenwriter Steve Kloves, (The Fabulous Baker Boys) had written a script based on Michael Chabon’s second novel, Wonder Boys. Hanson loved the characters. They made him laugh. He identified with the Grady Tripp character and the frustration building inside him. The film ‘Wonder Boys’ is a beautifully crafted comedy of errors that completely captures the chaos and hilarity of Chabon’s book.

Hanson continued to make features and, in 2011, he directed Too Big to Fail, based on the 2009 Andrew Ross Sorkin book. It was the last film he was to complete in his lifetime.

Regarding which character in their film Hanson identified with the most, Helgeland said:

“I think ironically, he associated more with Kevin Spacey’s character, [Jack] Vincennes, because Vincennes had sort of existed on the fringes of Hollywood. And not that Curtis was on the fringes of Hollywood, but he wasn’t an A-list go to guy at the time. And I think he had a lot to prove cause he loved Hollywood so much and he loved movies so much. And he knew he had this great movie in him, but…he had to give himself the chance to make it. It wasn’t going to be given to him.”

Curtis Hanson will be missed.

Evolution of a Screenplay: Hitchcock’s ‘Shadow of a Doubt’

typewriter-726965_1280Alfred Hitchcock made over 50 motion pictures, beginning in the silent era and working into the 70s. He is a master filmmaker, and has been lauded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with a special Oscar. He was honored by the American Film Institute. His work has seen a resurgence in popularity through the re-releases of his classics in theaters and on DVD and Blu-Ray. He directed the classic ‘North by Northwest’, ‘Vertigo’, ‘Rear Window’, ‘Psycho’ and ‘The Birds’, among many, many others. But of all his films, Hitchcock most often expressed his appreciation of ‘Shadow of a Doubt’.

Hitchcock had been on perpetual loan-out by David O. Selznick since they had made ‘Rebecca’, He had been working with different producers. His most recent film, ‘Suspicion’, had been produced by Jack Skirball. In 1942, Hitchcock was given a five-page treatment for his consideration by Margaret McDonnell, who worked for Selznick. The story, ’Uncle Charlie’, had been conceived as a novel by McDonnell’s husband, Gordon. He had come across a story in the news and wrote the treatment based on that story.

‘Uncle Charlie’ tells of an average family of four living in the small town of Hanford, in California’s San Joaquin Valley.The father is an employee of the local bank. Mother is involved in her women’s groups – there is great concern about social standing in the family according to McDonnell’s treatment. ‘The Girl’ seems hard, maybe a little edgy. Her ne’er-do-well boyfriend is viewed with concern by the community, who are quick to blame him for a local stick up.

In the treatment, the cold, dispassionate voice of the narrator describes the residents of the town the way Uncle Charlie describes people in the film, though in this case the perspective is that of ‘the girl’s’ boyfriend.

Mother receives a letter from her brother, the near-mythical Uncle Charlie, announcing that he is coming to visit. The children have not met him, only heard countless stories of their idyllic childhood and how wonderful Charlie is. After Uncle Charlie arrives, he meets and bonds with his niece. He showers her with gifts, but he doesn’t care for her boyfriend and tells her so.

You can read Gordon McDonell’s treatment for ‘Uncle Charlie’ here:

http://the.hitchcock.zone/wiki/Uncle_Charlie_by_Gordon_McDonell_(05/May/1942)

Hitchcock saw promise in the story, suggesting it would make an excellent basis for a screenplay. He hired Thornton Wilder, three-time Pulitzer prize-winning author and playwright. Wilder had written ‘Our Town’ and that was the feeling Hitchcock wanted – ‘Our Town’ with a serial killer plopped right down in the middle of it. It would be Hitchcock’s first ‘American’ film. Jack Skirball would produce once again.

Hitchcock, his wife Alma Reville and Wilder began developing the screenplay. The story was moved to Santa Rosa, California. ‘The girl’ in McDonnell’s treatment was fleshed out into Charlotte, whom everyone calls Charlie because of her strong connection to her uncle. The connection is demonstrated by the crossing of the telegraph messages from one Charlie to the other. And it is evident that her affection for Uncle Charlie is reciprocated.

But she is not the only character with such a close connection. The mother, Charlie’s sister, Emma, was developed into a believable counterpart to Charlie’s socio/psychopathology. She is emotional in the way Uncle Charlie cannot be. The scene in which Charlie presents the family members with gifts has a particularly telling moment when Emma opens her gift – framed photographs of their parents she hasn’t seen in many years. She is at once pleased to see them and to receive them but, at the same time, she is upset in the knowledge that Charlie had them, had kept them from her, for so long.

The screenwriters removed the character of the niece’s lowlife boyfriend. ‘Young Charlie’ became a nice girl who is just bored with life in a small town and looking for something to stir things up.

Hitchcock found working with Wilder so pleasant he added an effusive tribute to the screenwriter in the film’s opening credits.

Wilder left the project to join the Army. Writer Sally Benson was brought in to contribute additional dialog. Benson’s collection of short stories, ‘Junior Miss’, had been turned into a play that had just opened on Broadway. Alma and Hitch worked with Benson to finalize the screenplay. Benson was given full (shared) screenwriting credit with Wilder and Reville.

During shooting, actress Teresa Wright felt that the dialog in the scene in the garage in which she and Macdonald Carey begin to explore their relationship didn’t ring true. Actress Patricia Collinge, ‘Emma Newton’ in the film, had been published in the New Yorker and Hitchcock asked her to work with the actress to rewrite the dialog in the scene.

You can read a draft of the screenplay here:

https://issuu.com/lafamiliafilm/docs/shadow-of-a-doubt/1

Evolution of a Screenplay: ‘The Sixth Sense’

typewriter-726965_1280‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999) has one of the most amazing screenplays ever written. If you saw it before anyone spoiled it and experienced the mind-bending shift that screenwriter/director M. Night Shyamalan achieved, you know what I mean. My second viewing of the film gave me such a appreciation for the artistry with which both the screenplay and the film were created, it was almost like watching a totally different movie. In a way it’s become Shyamalan’s undoing, as he is compelled to try and achieve that same level of shock and awe that ‘The Sixth Sense’ delivered.

As I mentioned earlier, screenplays get revised. With each revision, elements are added, character arcs are altered, all with the intention of creating the tightest, most powerful screenplay possible. So powerful was ‘The Sixth Sense’ that the film and its screenplay have entered the realm of popular culture. Who doesn’t know the reference ‘I see dead people’?

Scripts go through many drafts before any film is actually shot. It’s the key to writing a taut script. According to an interview in Scenario magazine (Volume 5, Number 4), Shyamalan had written five drafts of the screenplay before an idea came to him that transformed it into something totally new, leading to a landmark film with powerful performances from the film’s stars. It happened in the sixth draft.

What was it?

Spoiler Alert!

Malcolm, the film’s protagonist, is dead.

Think about that for a minute. In the first five drafts of his screenplay, Shyamalan had not come up with that. Without it the film would be nothing. But what happened in the sixth draft was extraordinary. It took the screenplay and the film through the looking glass.

And this is what I mean by watching it a second time is like seeing a different film. There’s a poignancy to everything that creates a totally different mood.

He felt something in his gut that kept him at this project through five drafts of what would seem to be an uninspiring screenplay. Remember, this wasn’t his first rodeo. He had written and directed two feature films before ‘The Sixth Sense’ (And his day job was writing the screenplay for ‘Stuart Little’). So maybe he had a ‘sixth sense’ about the script that made him keep at it, turning the ideas over in his mind until one popped out that was totally amazing and original. It changed the movie and certainly changed his career.

That wasn’t the only major change during Shyamalan’s writing process on ‘The Sixth Sense’. According to an interview at www.creativescreenwriting.com, Malcolm was originally a crime scene photographer who discovers his son sees the victims of a serial killer.

You can read that interview here:

http://creativescreenwriting.com/m-night-shyamalan-on-screenwriting/

There’s a copy of the screenplay on the website www.screenplay.com.

 

Putting Words in Their Mouths: Three Great Lines of Film Dialog

GroupWithBubblesA single line of dialog does not a screenplay make. But there are certain lines that stay in our minds long after the projector is turned off and the theater floor swept. In some cases those lines become the stuff of popular culture. Here is a list of three of my favorite lines of film dialog.

3. “Have you seen the returns on ‘Gandhi II’?”

David Mamet is a successful playwright, essayist, screenwriter, and director. He has written and directed a number of films, including ‘House of Games’ (1987) and ‘The Spanish Prisoner’.(1997) You know his dialog immediately, the way the spoken words form the warp and weft of the scene. There is no mistaking it.  ‘State and Main’ (2000) is an absurd exploration of what happens to a small East Coast town when a film production moves in and runs roughshod over the locals.

In one scene, two of the film-within-a-film’s crew are seen entering the production office having an exchange around the above, an inside joke-within-a-joke about the priorities and integrity of the film industry.

2. “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Mario Puzo’s novel ‘The Godfather’ was published in 1969. It was an immediate best seller. The screenplay for the film ‘The Godfather’ (1972) was co—written by Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, though they did not write together. Puzo completed a draft of the screenplay and submitted it. Coppola took a copy of Puzo’s novel and went through it with a pair of scissors, cutting it up and pasting it into another book, accompanied by his notes about themes within each scene and whether or not that scene would be included in the film.

The line above is delivered by the character Peter Clemenza (Richard Castellano), as he’s initiating a young man into the ways of the family. Having just executed a mole, Clemenza instructs his new recruit to do the above. There is such humanity in the words, and the way Castellano delivers them.

1. “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

When Stanley Kubrick decided to make a film based on Peter George’s thriller ‘Red Alert’, he originally intended it to be a serious drama. He began working with George on a draft of the screenplay. The more he researched the subject of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) and the ways the U.S. and the Soviet Union were dealing with it, the more he realized the only way to treat the material was as a black comedy.
Kubrick and Terry Southern wrote the screenplay that became ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) In that one line of dialog they brilliantly summed up their theme.

Evolution of a Screenplay: ‘Apocalypse Now’

Last week I wrote about the screenplay for ‘The Birds’.

‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979) was based on three things. The first was the novella ‘Heart of Darkness’, by Joseph Conrad. It tells the story of Marlowe, sent up the Congo River to bring back one of his company’s representatives who terrorizes the surrounding countryside looking for ivory. He is their best producer, but his methods, as our narrator discusses with his manager, are unsound.typewriter-726965_1280

These words are echoed, almost verbatim, in the screenplay written by John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola, which serves as the second basis for the film.

Marlowe later learns that he was recommended by the same people who had recommended Mr. Kurtz, who he is being sent to retrieve.

Milius had been thinking about writing a screenplay about the war in Viet Nam for some time. One of his writing instructors had mentioned Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ and Milius read it. He decided that it would be the perfect basis for his film, about a colonel in Special Forces who violates chain of command by carrying out operations over the border in Cambodia without authorization, using an army of Montagnard villagers willing to do anything he orders.

The narrator of the screenplay is Captain Willard, sent up the Nong River to terminate the command of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz ‘with extreme prejudice’. He travels on a patrol boat with a crew of young men in an absurdist version of the military inspired in large part by Stanley Kubrick’s film ‘Dr. Strangelove’ (1964). As Willard gets closer to his destination, as he delves deeper into the Colonel’s dossier, he discovers how much he has in common with this man he’s being sent to kill.

As in the book, there is a strong connection between the two men. It is symbolized by the river, in what William Faulkner described as the ‘Geologic umbilical’ in ‘Absalom, Absalom!’. And in the Milius/Coppola screenplay, this connection is so strong that the two men bond together for a climatic battle against the Viet Cong.

Wait. What?

That is the film as Milius originally conceived it. Milius wanted to write a war movie as much as he wanted to make a statement about the war. His politics are well-known. He wrote and produced the film ‘Red Dawn’ (1984) about a Soviet invasion of the United States. It was basically an NRA commercial, demonstrating how the invaders would use the registration system to track down and confiscate all firearms.

The early drafts of ‘Apocalypse Now’ have all the major set pieces seen in the final film, but with Milius’ original ending. In some cases scenes appear as written, in others they take place either in different places geographically or in different times within the flow of the film itself. There are some startling changes in terms of key pieces of dialog – and many of those that have become the most quotable in film history – which were originally delivered by other characters. Willard himself utters the now famous ‘Charlie don’t surf’ and ‘Someday…this war is gonna end.’

It is the river itself that is the third basis for the film. The production had been fraught with problems. Actor Harvey Keitel, originally cast to play Captain Willard, was replaced a couple of weeks into shooting. And then Martin Sheen had a heart attack, shutting down production. And then there was a typhoon. They worked when they could. While Sheen was unavailable, the cast and crew shot scenes that would later be edited with shots of Sheen. There are even some long shots of the patrol boat featuring an unidentifiable Keitel used in the final film.

As Coppola describes it, he had no ending. Even though he had started production with the script as written, he hadn’t been happy with that final battle scene. They were going to the location and Marlon Brando would be flying in for a million dollar week. And there was no ending. According to Coppola, by this point he’d shot everything that could be shot in the script. He had taken to leaving the script in his hotel room and bringing his original paperback copy of ‘Heart of Darkness’ to the set every day.

Brando’s monologues were worked out in detail ahead of time with Coppola. But in front of the camera it was all Brando improvising, both solo and with Sheen and, only rarely, Dennis Hopper. It is one of these exchanges where the lines from ‘Heart of Darkness’ occur, when Col. Kurtz tells Willard the generals think his methods are unsound.

It was on the river that Coppola finally came to terms with what had to happen. Willard had to carry out his mission. He had to kill Kurtz. The entire scene where the villagers sacrifice a water buffalo by brutally hacking it to death with machetes was something Coppola’s wife, Eleanor, discovered while visiting a neighboring village (Her excellent documentary, ‘Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse’ (1991) covers this in detail). And this is how Willard came to hack Kurtz to death in one of the most amazing scenes in film history.

Willard is more present in the film because of his narration. This was added after the film was shot. There was narration in the script, which Coppola recorded himself for use in editing, but he wasn’t happy with it. He knew of Michael Herr’s writing from the research Milius had done writing the screenplay (Herr is also one of the screenwriters credited for Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket’ [1987]). Coppola asked Herr to write his own narration, following the script but hewing more towards the film as it had evolved during the production.

Years after the film was released, Coppola approached editor Walter Murch about creating a new version of the film, utilizing footage that had been shot at the time but which, for various reasons, had not been used in the final film. There are a number of smaller changes, including the addition of transitions between the ‘episodes’ of the film.

The main additions are a scene involving the crew of the patrol boat encountering the Playboy Bunnies from the show at a fuel depot, another in which the boat docks at a French rubber plantation, and one in which Willard steals Colonel Kilgore’s (Robert Duvall) surfboard.

It’s an interesting exercise, but I don’t think it is necessarily a better movie. I found the scene in which Willard trades fuel for ‘time with the bunnies’ for the guys objectionable. It’s a scene straight out of the Milius screenplay though, as written, I found it not just objectionable, but totally missing the mark of the film in general.

Interestingly, Milius himself objects to the scene being restored to the film.

“The bunnies were like the Sirens in mythology,” he explained an interview. “Kilgore was the Cyclops, and the bunnies were the Sirens. To show less of them made them more mysterious.”

All three of the added scenes significantly alter our perception of Willard. The downright playfulness he exhibits stealing Kilgore’s board is unlike anything we’ve seen of him before. His sexual encounter with a beautiful French woman at the ghostly plantation and the pimping out of the bunnies shows a man who has needs beyond wanting a mission. The Willard of the original film was closed off. He even refuses the offer of a joint from the rest of the crew and then withdraws from them, literally drawing a curtain between them.

Evolution of a Screenplay: Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’

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Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds’ (1963) is based on a short story/novella by British author Daphne DuMaurier. She also wrote the novels ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Jamaica Inn, both of which Alfred Hitchcock adapted into feature films. But Hitchcock preferred using short stories and novellas as source material for screenplays. He felt that novels were too dense, that too much was lost in order to meet the confines of motion picture storytelling. Short stories and novellas, on the other hand, could be expanded into films.

The short story was set in Cornwall, England, and describes a small coastal community that finds itself under attack from birds. As the survivors escape from the community they discover that all of England has been attacked by birds. The author described her inspiration as watching a farmer plowing his field in her native Cornwall, as seagulls swooped and hovered over him. She imagined them growing increasingly hostile. It is thought by many that the story was a metaphor for the Blitz, experienced by Great Britain during the Second World War.

Hitchcock was fastidious when it came to his screenplays. He wanted to contemporize the story. As it happened, he had a ranch in Scott’s Valley, near Monterey Bay. There was an incident reported in Santa Cruz in which birds aggressively flew into buildings, and streets were covered with their dead carcasses. Marine biologists determined that the incident was caused by amnesic shellfish poisoning. Hitch wasn’t concerned with the reason it happened as much as that it happened.

Evan Hunter was brought in to write the screenplay. Hunter had written for Hitchcock’s television program ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’, as well as writing (as Ed McBain) the 89th Precinct novels. As always, Hitchcock drove the process.

The script was never completely shot. Almost the entire last scene of the movie never made it to film. You can read the script here:

http://www.dailyscript.com/scripts/The_Birds.html

“When I saw the ending, I was shocked,” says Hunter of the advanced screening of ‘The Birds’ he attended.

According to someone involved in the production, the first part of the original final scene was shot. The town of Bodega Bay was dressed with dead chickens and ketchup. Someone went around with a rag soaked in ketchup and threw it at buildings.

It shifted the focus of the bird attacks away from Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) and made it more universal. Throughout the film it seems that the bird attacks are happening wherever Melanie is and nowhere else. But as the car drives away towards San Francisco, it is clear that is not the case.

This is also a closer parallel to the original story by DuMaurier. The bird attacks are occurring across Great Britain which, in reference to the Blitz, might have indicated the way the entire country was affected by the bombing of London.

The loss of that final scene also deprived us of what would have been one of the most intense scenes in Hitchcock’s oeuvre, the final bird attack on the convertible as they try and outrun them on the road out of town. In the draft available at www.dailyscript.com, you can read for yourself the scene that would have rivaled the shower scene in ‘Psycho’ (1960), if Hitch had actually gone through with it.

“I know that sequence would have taken them a month to shoot,” said Hunter, without rancor.

You can watch the interview with Hunter here: