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Posts Tagged ‘Helen Hunt’

“What Sandy [Alexander] Mackendrick did for myself and my classmates was he was the first cold water we were hit with and he prepared us how to face the business.”
CalArts film student

“Storytelling without dialogue. It’s the purest form of cinematic storytelling.”
Oscar-winning writer/director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E)
(And CalArts Grad)

“One of the tasks of the director as he transfers a screenplay to the medium of the moving-image-with-sound is almost to forget what the characters are saying and reimagine their behavior as being mute, so that all thoughts, feelings and impulses are conveyed to the audience through sound and vision—without speech. There is a curious paradox here, for when a scene has been reconstituted in this fashion the director is often able to reincorporate elements of the original dialogue in ways that make it vastly more effective. Moreover, when a script has been conceived in genuinely cinematic terms, its sparse dialogue is likely to be free of the task of exposition and will consequently be much more expressive.”
Alexander Mackendrick
On Film-making
page 6

A great example of feelings and emotions conveyed without dialogue is in Cast Away (2000) written by William Broyles Jr. and directed by Robert Zemeckis. At a big holiday family dinner, Chuck (Tom Hanks) looks down at his pager and then glances across the table at his girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt) and her expression says it all, like—”You’re not going out of town on Christmas?”

It’s a quick moment and a simple one, but one that is so core to the story. Of course, Hanks is later cast away on an island following a plane crash, but there’s a sense that he is casting away the relationship with his girlfriend for his job commitments. The moment is captured in six quick shots without a single spoken word. I couldn’t find the scene online, but it’s a great example of what Mackendrick said about conveying “thoughts, feelings and impulses” without dialogue.

Related posts:
Show, Don’t Tell (Tip #46)
Show, Don’t Tell (Part 2)
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO (?)  “IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.”
“Storytelling without Dialogue” (Tip #82) 

Scott W. Smith

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“Subtext is what the character is really saying beneath and between the lines. Often characters don’t understand themselves. They’re often not direct and don’t say what they mean. We might say that subtext is all about underlying drives and meanings that are not apparent to the character, but that are apparent to the audience or reader.”
Linda Seger
Creating Unforgettable Characters
page 148

“If two characters say  ‘I love you’ and mean it, the scene is over. In other words, a story must have a subtext. Subtext is what lies beneath the text. It can be the underlying meaning of a story, the subconscious motives of a character, or what is really going on moment by moment in the scene.”
Linda Stuart
Getting Your Script Through the Hollywood Maze
Page 90

By adding the prefix sub (under, below) to a word changes the meaning of the root word.  A submarine is able to go under the water—sometimes deep under water. Writing good subtext in a screenplay is writing dialogue and scenes that are beneath the surface. Sometimes deep below the surface. Sometimes it takes multiple viewings of a film for you to catch the subtext.

I first heard the term subtext in an acting class years ago. Actors love to play the subtext of a scene. You can give an actor a line like, “I’m going to miss you,” and they can play it ten different ways.

A very simple example of subtext is in the movie Juno when Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) are contemplating what color they’re going to paint their nursery for the baby they are adopting. At the end of the page and a half scene Mark says, “I think it’s too early to paint. That’s what I think.” On the surface he seems to me saying, “Let’s wait until we know if it’s a boy or a girl and then decide on the color.”

But it’s really two short sentences packed with subtext. And as you read the Diablo Cody script. or watch the movie, the story unfolds a little more and you know exactly what was really going through Mark’s mind.

Sometimes, like in that case from Juno, the subtext isn’t recognized until later in the film. And sometimes the subtext is instantly recognized by the audience like the 70s guilty pleasure Smokey and the Bandit when Burt Reynolds says, “I only take my hat off for one thing….”

One of my favorite scene of subtext is in Cast Away, written by William Broyles, Jr. (Technically it’s two or three scenes, but one just spills over from the house to the garage to the jeep.) It’s toward the end of the movie when Tom Hanks has returned after years of being stranded on an island and is going to meet his old love (Helen Hunt).  Like most people she believed he was killed in the plane crash and is now married with children.

It’s a tender scene that in the script goes on for six pages as they talk about everything but their relationship; The weather, her kids, the Tennessee Titans almost winning the Super Bowl, where the search parties looked for him—everything but their relationship. Finally Hank’s says, “I should have never got on that plane.” That revelation is too powerful for Hunt to deal with so she changes the subject to take him to the garage where she still has his old jeep.

He says, “You kept the car? She says, “I kept everything.” The scene plays on and no one is talking about the elephant in the room; they still love each other. At one point they pause and look into each other’s eyes and it’s subtext without any text. Finally, Hunt says “Right back. You said you’d be right back.” They open up and proclaim their love for each other which is all the more agonizing because she has another family she is committed to. Great writing full of conflict, and full of subtext.

Scott W. Smith

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Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play.
Now I need a place to hide away.
Yesterday (Written by Lennon/McCartney, performed by The Beatles)

So you can wipe off that grin, I know where you’ve been
It’s all been a pack of lies
In the Air Tonight
Phil Collins

This week I’ve been touching on Oscar-nominated screenwriters leading up to the Academy Awards Sunday. And while (500) Days of Summer didn’t get an Oscar nomination I wanted to give it a special mention. Last night it did win the best screenplay at Independent Spirit Awards. (Only films made for $20 million or less are eligible.) Congrats to screenwriter Scott Neustader and Michael Weber for the win.

I wasn’t one of the people who saw (500) Days of Summer multiple times, but I did enjoy the fresh angle on the romantic comedy genre. I remember someone telling me when I was a teenager that when some people break up with someone they’re dating they turn to drinking and waste away, and some people write a hit song about the break up. No one told me I could write a screenplay about it.

That would have come in handy when I was a senior in college and my girlfriend of a several years told me (after three margaritas) that she had been seeing someone else. But when Scott Nuestader was frustrated with the dating relationships in his life he did write a screenplay about it. Less as a calling card and more as therapy. And Michael Weber was there as his friend to help him through that time–and to help him write what would become their first produced screenplay, (500) Days of Summer.

“The truth is this: the script wasn’t written to be made. It was barely written to be read. We wrote this thing because I was downhearted and needed somewhere to channel my exasperation with relationships. Months later, when I finally decided to let it be seen, I expected to be mocked, jeered, taken by the shoulders and violently shook while someone screamed ‘snap out of it, man’ in my face. I never thought people would relate to it. I never thought someone would buy it, and I certainly never thought it would be filmed. so, yeah, I’m pretty darn surprised.
Scott Nuestader
Interview with A.D. Amorsi

“At the time I was trying to be there for him as a friend, first and foremost, but then soon after I was like, ‘You know, we should be writing that down. I think that’s happened to a lot of people.’ It’s interesting for me in that I feel like I felt for him, what he was going through at the time and have since personally gone through some of that afterwards. So my relationship to it has changed in that way which has been interesting. We always like when people come up to us and they can sort of relate to it or some girl messed them up. We feel for them but it’s also kind of awesome because we know that they’re going to get it.”
Michael Weber
Interview with Dave Gonzales

You may not write a hit song or an award-winning screenplay if you write about your big break-up…but it doesn’t hurt to try. I think the message at the end of the movie (500) Days of Summer is these things have a way of working themselves out in time. That’s certainly true in my case. Three months after my big college break-up I met the women who would become my wife.

But love relationships in general are ripe for screenwriters because they have built-in conflict. Perhaps down the road I’ll look at great break-up scenes. That scene between Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt near the end of Cast Away jumps to mind. What are some of your favorite movie break-up scenes?

Scott W. Smith



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