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Posts Tagged ‘Al Pacino’

In the past week I watched two modern classic films (Deliverance & Scent of a Women) and read the script again for Juno. Though these movies are different in genre and were made in three different decades they have at least one thing in common – they are simple stories.

Four guys go take a boating trip, a prep school kid takes a caretaker job to make a little money over the Thanksgiving weekend, and a teenage girl gets pregnant. Simple.

“The story line idea (of In the Line of Fire) involves a Secret Service agent who survived the Kennedy assassination in Dallas and who must now prevent an assassin from killing the current president. That situation is complicated by the intensity of both the hero and the villain as they conflict over who will prevail. This brief statement summaries the movie. Many films are equally simple when reduced to a sentence or two in this way. Let this be our first lesson: Movie stories are usually simple…..Write simple stories and complex characters.”
Paul Lucey
Story Sense
Page 5

So while Deliverance, Scent of a Woman and Juno are simple stories certainly Burt Renyolds, Al Pacino, and Ellen Page played complex characters. Revisit the scripts of those films written by James Dickey, Bo Goldman, and Diablo Cody to see how they weaved their magic. And don’t confuse simplicity with being simple.

Robert McKee is fond of pointing out the complexity of the simple french toast scene in Kramer Vs. Kramer. While on the surface it’s a scene simply about a father making breakfast for his son. But it’s really a complex scene as the Dustin Hoffman character is in conflict with himself (inner-conflict), his son who is telling him he’s doing it wrong (personal conflict), he’s at conflict with the kitchen (enviroment/extra-personal), and he’s even at conflcit with his wife who isn’t even there but the main reason he is having all these other conflicts.

McKee writes in is book Story, “My advice to most writers is to design relatively simple but complex stories. ‘Relatively simple,’ doesn’t mean simplistic. It means beautifully turned and told stories restrained by these two principles: Do not proliferate characters; Do not not multiply locations. Rather than hopscotching through time, space, and people, discipline yourself to a reasonably contained cast and world, while you concentrate on creating a rich complexity.”

Related Post: Screenwriting & Time
(Notice the time lock on the first three films I mentioned? Deliverance & Scent of a Woman basically take place over a weekend and Juno takes place over the term of her pregnancy.)

Scott W. Smith

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