Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Hard Look at the script of Indiana Jones

Finally--a chance to sit down and write my conclusions about the script of Indiana Jones! As a reminder of my intent, I've decided that one way to learn about writing is to take a look at scripts of movies that I have recently watched. The idea is that I can learn from seeing how the writers used words to tell their story.

I (not-so) recently watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, a rip-roaring adventure that holds up surprisingly well to the test of time. I was on the edge of my seat, laughing out loud at the gags. A lot of modern movies don't do that to me. Indy definitely earns his role as an action hero icon in my book.

When I went and took a look a the script, there were four things which I noticed.

1) Pacing: Fast, fast, fast! The pacing is so fast as to verge on the ludicrous, with the main hero being whisked from one deadly crisis to another. The funny thing is, I didn't even notice the oddity of this while watching the movie, instead, I was on the edge of my seat! Suspension of disbelief at it's finest. Before any one problem is completely solved, another bogeymonster is already looming.

2) Non-verbal action: A professor once advised me to leave everything out of a script except dialogue.

Bullshit. Indiana Jones was filled with paragraphs of description of the action. Maybe that works for stage productions, but in film, a lot of the action is non-verbal. Apparently I can feel free to write in descriptions of the action. Most movie scripts probably wouldn't even make sense without it.

3) Style and format: Scriptwriting follows a very particular format, with action described in left-aligned paragraph style, names centered, and spoken words deeply indented beneath the centered name of the speaker.

Is there any easier way to meet that style? Formatting all of that by hand seems like a huge f*ing pain in the ass.

4) Improvisation: the final product often had subtle, but important differences from the original script. The Director apparently has a lot of creative freedom to change specific lines, add in jokes and gags, and sometimes even change whole scenes. In the case of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, I found these changes to be universally additive, staying true to the spirit, while adding valuable content. In fact, some of the best jokes in the whole movie were not in the original script. But I would hazard a guess that directorial edits are not always this good.

5) I'll give you a fifth as a bonus: Funny. The tense and life-threatening scenes were liberally sprinkled with humor, often yo-yoing the reader from tense fear to ludicrous laughter at a moment's notice. This, clearly, is the area I need to improve.

I'm not sure if I'll keep reading movie scripts, but I definitely found this interesting. I still think that the best way to get produced in film would be to write something really excellent in novel or comic format. Anyway, I have far enough to go even to get there.

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