Many screenwriters talk about the difficulty of facing the blank page as they start page one of their screenplays. The desire to get the opening of the screenplay right can overwhelm, even paralyze. Yet, as the screenplay finally begins and takes shape, the first page is not necessarily the most difficult page. In reality, the challenge tends to come later, not when the audience is introduced to the movie, its characters and its world, but rather when the story truly launches into what will compel the audience to stay engaged for the next 90 minutes or more. Thanks to Kyle Buchanan at Vulture (and Movies Editor for New York Magazine), we have a series of screenwriters from some of the most acclaimed films of 2012 describing in their own words what were the toughest scenes to write in their own screenplays.
To date, Buchanan has collected stories from five screenwriters about their screenplays that made waves in 2012: Chris Terrio (Argo), Rian Johnson (Looper), William Nicholson (Les Misérables), John Gatins (Flight), and Lucy Alibar (Beasts of the Southern Wild). Based on the articles' introductions, we can expect more of these stories over the next several days and weeks, so stay tuned to Buchanan's series on Vulture.
Looking at the five screenplays discussed so far, one common thread has emerged. Arguably, in each of the five screenplays listed above, the toughest scenes to write for each of the screenwriters are the scenes that essentially set their heroes' stories in motion:
- Argo: Tony Mendez shoots down all of the State Department's hostage rescue plans and unwittingly takes over the mission (without a plan).
- Looper: Joe confronts Old Joe in the diner to find out what Old Joe wants (and to not discuss the specifics of time travel).
- Les Misérables: A new scene added to the original musical, reintroducing the changed Valjean to Javert, setting off their renewed tête-à-tête while also covering plot holes.
- Flight: Whip meets Nicole in the hospital fire stairwell, and Gaunt Young Man brings them together and sends them off on their shared emotional journey.
- Beasts of the Southern Wild: Hushpuppy lashes out at Wink and punches him in the heart, starting a cataclysmic shift in her world.
Another challenge common to the scenes in Argo, Looper and Flight is they are dialogue-heavy scenes, and in the cases of Argo and Looper, the scenes require a lot of exposition to unfold without feeling like exposition at all. Mapping out the essential beats of the scenes and carefully using the dialogue to hit each of those beats at the right times and the right tones is ultimately what makes these scenes work on the page. If the screenwriters don't get these scenes just right, they risk losing their audiences, and they make it much more challenging for their collaborators - the actors, the directors, the editors - to make the movie work.
Make sure you check out Buchanan's entire series at Vulture to hear each of these screenwriters describe their challenges in their own words, as well as read the actual scenes they discuss from their screenplays. You can find links to all of these screenplays in their entirety for legal download (except Argo) at the posts below:
[via Go Into The Story]
[Screenplay photo by Flickr user Joe in DC (CC)]