The Juno screenplay PDF was passed around Hollywood after the Academy Awards. Everyone was talking about the unique voice, tone, and screenwriter. So what else can you learn from Diablo Cody's screenplay?
There are lots of reasons we want to become writers. Movies that stick out in our mind as the things that pushed us over the edge. But I was a college freshman who had just left his sports medicine track and was trying to get accepted into the film program when a little movie called Juno came out and it was the first time I felt like I had made the right decision.
Sitting in the AMC Painters Crossing, I watched as characters spouted incredible dialogue, made hard choices, led to tears from laughing, and tears from something much deeper.
The movie was like an incredible coming-out party for Diablo Cody. She was the first screenwriter I remember being actually famous. She did Letterman, she won an Academy Award, and she inspired me to sit my butt in a chair and begin to write. Which, if you read me regularly might be a good or bad thing, depending on your feelings toward these columns and my screenplays.
When I'm feeling down, I go back and read Roger Ebert's review of Juno because it's kind of a beautiful tribute to the movie.
Today we're going to look at a few things I love about the script to Juno and talk about how honest writing from theme can lead your career where you want to go.
Before you ask, you're damn right I'm listening to the Juno soundtrack while writing this one.
What is Juno's theme?
In the first lines of the aforementioned Roger Ebert review of Juno, Ebert writes this about the film:
"Jason Reitman's 'Juno' is just about the best movie of the year. It is very smart, very funny and very touching; it begins with the pacing of a screwball comedy and ends as a portrait of characters we have come to love. Strange, how during Juno's hip dialogue and cocky bravado, we begin to understand the young woman inside, and we want to hug her."
Now, he gets into the Diablo Cody accolades later, but the tenements of the statement are why I think the theme of Juno is family.
Think about it, it's not that revolutionary of an idea. Juno wants to give her baby a family as she struggles with the makeup of her own family. Her step-mom seems weird. Her step-sister is definitely strange. Her dad isn't the guy she remembers being with her mom, and her retreat to Paulie Bleeker is mostly a search for unyielding love.
The sex leads to a baby, which Juno knows she can't give a family, so that leads to her search for the perfect one.
We did an entire post where we broke down Craig Mazin's idea about writing from the theme, but it's almost even more clear in Juno.
What are you willing to do for family?
Even the character arcs here are all family related. Juno's stepmom stands up for her. Paulie's family rejects her. The family she thought was perfect falls apart in front of her? But what's the major lesson in the theme?
Family = love.
So once Juno realizes this platitude, she knows who's supposed to get her baby. The person who will love it and give it the family it deserves; Vanessa.
Come on, that's so beautiful.
The exceptional dialogue in Juno
Look, when you mention Juno someone always comes back with "Honest to blog?" and I can see why that grated on some people. Because they have no heart or imagination. The dialogue in Juno pops off the page and provides so many memorable exchanges and Juno movie quotes.
Look at the way the dialogue is sparse and leaves plenty of white space on the page. It sets its tone and never lets up. Even the action lines are indicative of the story's tone. We talk about "voice" here. This is what "voice" looks like. It oozes control over us while we read. We are in Cody's mind and seeing this story through her intentions.
The screenplay doesn't just pop when there is awkward flirting. It completely breaks you down in the fighting scenes as well.
Another thing the screenplay to Juno does so well is work with bookends. It all began with a chair.
And that's how it ends too.
This clever way of telling the story gives us a sense of completion that makes us think the story and chapter have officially closed. While the chair isn't the official last scene of the movie, it does mark the entryway into a new story for Juno. One where she gets to be a kid again.
This time, with a family.
How Juno lit Diablo Cody's career on fire
It's hard to understate how famous Diablo Cody became in 2007 without the real social media influence we see surrounding films today. Here's her Oscar speech, which is inspiring, short, and one of the best.
But how do you get to the Academy Awards from the blogging world?
Diablo Cody became known for her memoir, "Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper," and the blog that preceded it. Cody did an interview with Scott Myers where she talked about how she got into writing:
"I’ve always written for my own edification and for fun but I have this fear of rejection so I spent my entire life being a writer who didn’t get published. For that reason, I’ve never received a rejection letter in my life because that terror would just grip me. I didn’t even write for the school paper. So, when the internet publishing revolution came about it was perfect for me, I could write every day, put it out there and not have to worry about an editor telling me I wasn’t good enough. It was very freeing. I started blogging every day and when I started blogging about stripping and the sex industry, suddenly surprise surprise I got a huge audience! For some reason people on the internet are interested in sex — who knew that?! My blog traffic went through the roof and one day I got an email from this guy who said he was a big fan of my blog and he was also a producer in Hollywood and he said I think you should try writing a movie. The odds of writing a screenplay and having it produced are daunting as it’s a very competitive field and as I’ve said, competition doesn’t appeal to me, nor does rejection. I’m very unambitious and I want to live in a bubble! So I said no but he hounded me for a bit and I just said ‘whatever’, because I had free time on my hands. I hit upon the idea for Juno. It didn’t take me very long. I don’t think writing movies is hard — when I hear people have spent years nursing a single script I can’t imagine what their day looks like! I wrote it and Mason (Novick) the producer said ‘Right — let’s take it out there and see what people think’. It was received very warmly from the beginning and we were very surprised and we continue to be surprised every day. It’s been a very crazy situation."
So I guess start blogging?
Or, just start writing. Get your voice out and onto paper. Then work on it. Find the "you" that makes you feel like an audience would get them most distilled version of that message. Then make that version of you write more and more and more until you're discovered.
Cody turned Juno into several other sales, assignments, and writing for The United States of Tara.
She's since written more, collaborated with Reitman a few times, directed, and continues to be an inspiration to writers all over.
What's next? Read the Scream screenplay!
The Scream script rocked the 90s and reinvented the slasher genre for a new generation. So what lessons can you learn from the movie and screenplay?
Click to learn more!