January 17, 2024 - Holiday day yesterday, and craft notes


I didn’t write yesterday–instead Steve and I had a holiday day”: we kayaked to the marina nearby and had a coffee and sausage roll (and shared a caramel slice), then kayaked back. Had a swim in the sea. A mean game of ping pong. Read. It was amazing.

Read a really interesting article from the New Yorker just now: How A Script Doctor Found His Own Voice, about the writer Scott Frank.

Some takeaways:

On character:

The two qualities that Frank finds most appealing in a character are competence—at robbing banks, playing chess, being an astronaut—and a sense of humor.

On exposition:

One conundrum of screenwriting is how to smuggle into the mouths of your characters the necessary information that a novel can just tell the reader. Frank tries to avoid disquisitions, and if he can’t avoid them he injects an element of surprise. The exposition in his scripts is often imparted by an eccentric minor character, in an unusual milieu: in Dead Again,” Robin Williams, in a bloody butcher’s apron, talks to Branagh and Thompson about reincarnation, upon which the plot hinges; in Minority Report,” Tom Cruise sneaks into a greenhouse, where a comically brusque botanist divulges secrets about the police state they live in. To hold the interest of a jaded audience, nothing is more important than unpredictability—a promise that if you look away you might miss something.

More on character, outlines:

Character always comes first for Frank, however. He avoids outlines, preferring to navigate his scripts without G.P.S. Ideally, his characters will become so fully realized that they’ll grab the wheel and steer the narrative in unexpected directions. By forging story to fit character, rather than the other way around, Frank often ends up surprised himself.

On feeling invested in character, plus structure:

He subscribes to a Billy Wilder adage: If you have a problem in the third act, the real problem is in the first act.” Often, studio executives will have mandated cuts to the script’s first sections, because they want the movie to get to the point, but the abbreviated opening means that the audience never becomes attached to the characters enough to be concerned about their fates. At the end of such a movie, Frank observed, viewers understand how they’re supposed to feel—but they don’t feel it.”

The Queen’s Gambit, but also sports movies vs concepts of mastery and brilliance:

Several notable filmmakers had tried and failed to turn the novel into a feature film, including Bernardo Bertolucci and the actor Heath Ledger, who, before his death, in 2008, had planned to make The Queen’s Gambit” his directorial début. The problem with doing it as a feature, Frank decided, was that at that length it would inevitably turn into a Karate Kid”-style sports movie. He was less interested in whether the protagonist, Beth Harmon, would win the big tournament than he was in a theme that he had first explored in Little Man Tate,” and had grappled with in his own life: the hazards of mastery, the costs of brilliance.

Reading vs watching:

In 1993, when Paul Thomas Anderson was writing his first feature, Hard Eight,” he attended the lab. Stop watching movies and start reading,” Frank told him, recommending a list of books, including Red Harvest.” It was the best advice I could have gotten,” Anderson told me.