November 5, 2007
Yesterday, for fun and edification, I watched the entire commentary track of Pirates of the Carribean and got some good info and insights. Probably the strongest piece of advice came from one of the screenplay writers who said he has five rules:
1. No book ends
2. No books ends
3. Never kill a dog
4. Save the kiss until the end
I can't remember the fifth, or if he even gave one, but I cringed, because I've been so enamored of our bookended story (as I understand it, a bookend is a story that ends where it started). He said it like this is one of those eye rolling moments among pros, when they see a novice script.
One of the other writers said you want your protagonist to do something at the end that they never would have done in Act I, but because of Act I and II, they do it.
At the end of the second act, it is as low as the protagonist can go. There is no way he can achieve his goals and if you have a great villain (they had a magnificent Geoffrey Rush) it makes the triumph all that much more sweet. A worthy adversary.
Another resonating piece of info is they conjured up Sergio Leone who, they claimed, treated his main Western characters as Greek Gods coming together to battle it out. They interact with mortals ("Gods walking among mortals"), but they are on another plain. That's an interesting way to look at Mickey vs. The Kid.
They wrote a three page monologue for the chief pirate, Barbosa (Rush), everything they wanted him to say, and then they rehearsed and cut it down to just the main points, and they cut entire paragraphs out, by utilizing an uplifted eyebrow, a
grunt or something unsaid. Pretty amazing, it took several days to get this right.
Other odds and ends: "In all good stories there is a moment when you think the hero is dead."
• They spent much time on the rhythm of the dialogue, and Johnny Depp supposedly improvised but kept the rhythm they wanted. (Yeah, right)
• A genre picture has special expectations. An audience expects, wants and loves certain types of scenes and you had better deliver.
• "A boring ride is a flat ride. You need really high peaks and low valleys for your story."
• "in the end, several stories and ideas should wrap up at once." [I personally think they had too many, and it went on too long]
• "Their protagonist (Will: Orlando Bloom) changed from an outlaw to an outlaw with a cause."
• The best villains have contradictions and are vulnerable, there is almost something to them that if circumstances were different they might turn out okay.
All that said, I believe Pirates is wayyyyy over written. The plot about the Inca or Aztec gold being cursed was good, but then the aspect of the gold pieces having to be put back with the blood of each pirate somehow on the gold pieces, and Will's father being one of the pirates, and it's his blood they need to lift the curse, but Elizabeth (Kiera Knightley) claims to be a Turner, and they think it's her blood they need, but when they cut her hand and put it on the coin and drop it in the chest they are still cursed skeletons. And it keeps twisting in on itself until it's mush.
I watched it twice, and then one of the screenwriters explained it at the end, and it is still too much byzantine information to comfortably grasp. While the credits are rolling one of the writers tells the back story timeline, going back eight years, and it's just ridiculously complicated. Overwritten to the enth degree. But then so are so many movies today. These kids come out of film school (one of the writers said he was ten when he was smitten by Raiders of The Lost Arc) and a good, clean story is not enough. They've got to lard it up, to show off (3:10 To Yuma). And they can defend it on paper, but it doesn't necessarily translate to a satisfying story on screen.
Still, the damn Pirates franchise is a cottage industry and we should be so lucky. Here's the two things that spoke the loudest to me:
• Audiences are dying for something fun and original.
• The tensions between the characters are the key.
Meanwhile, here's another scratchboard (something I actually know a little bit about):
This is a Tarahumara cheiftain high in the Sierra Madres, welcoming a pair of visitors. Once again, it's dark and murky, and the cloud behind him looks a bit like the Columbia Pictures logo, but he doesn't look much like Lana Turner in a toga, does he? One thing's for certain, you've never seen a guy like that in a movie.
Last night, Kathy and I watched the 1944 classic Double Indemnity which, of course, is bookended. Ha.
"Imagination continually frustrates tradition; that is it's function."
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