Thursday, October 16, 2008

Things Wot Like I've Learnt a Lot

This coming Sunday's UK DVD Review is probably going to be about comparing Grosse Pointe Blank with what's being called its spiritual sequel: War, Inc.

As I understand it, a spiritual sequel is a sequel in all ways bar any financial or legal ones. And yes, if you watch this new DVD you cannot doubt that its DNA is in Grosse Pointe. Unless you haven't seen the earlier film, in which case you can doubt all you like, doubt with gusto. But I do very strongly recommend that you watch Grosse Pointe Blank recommend you watch it; not so much so that we can discuss and debate, but just so that you can have a good time and not spend your money on War, Inc.

Ooops, given away a bit of the review there.

But for reasons I may jabber on about in the show, I've spent a lot of time analysing and comparing the two films. And I don't want to share any of that with you.

Except this. Because this is about the writing of the earlier, better film. It's something that won't come up in the podcast, but it's something that I've often kept in mind when writing. First, let me explain that this is the story of a hitman going home for his ten year high school reunion and that the film came out in 1997, now let me quote you from the revised first draft of the screenplay, by Tom Jankiewicz, DV deVincentis & SK Boatman & John Cusack:


Martin and Debi enter and pause to take in the entire scene... Alumni are dancing.

ARLENE: Welcome back! I'm Arlene Oslott-Joseph.
MARTIN: I'm Martin Blank.
DEBI: Debi Newberry.

Debi heads off into the gym, smiling back as she strands Martin. Arlene rises. They have little to say. Martin wasn't part of her crowd.

ARLENE: Marty, you haven't changed a bit!
MARTIN: Don't say that.

Arlene gives him a NAMETAG. As a special torture, the tags have YEARBOOK PHOTOS. Martin looks at the name tag uncomfortably.

ARLENE: We had pictures put on, that way everybody knows who everybody was!

I don't like this segment. Part of it is unquestionably because it's not what's in the film and, by whatever mysterious process it is, things that were not in the final cut always read poorer than things that were. Mind you, oftentimes that's why they were cut.

I don't have a later draft of the script so I can't compare the stage directions but if you'll allow me, I'll write my own sufficient that you can see what's going on. Here's how that same scene played out in the final film.


Enter Martin and Debi.

ARLENE: Welcome back Pointers! It's Arlene Oslott-Joseph!
MARTIN: How are you?
ARLENE: I'm good...

Awkward pause: she doesn't recognise them.

MARTIN: Martin. Blank.
ARLENE: Oh, Martin Blank, yes. [PICKS UP HIS PICTURE NAMETAG] My, you haven't changed a bit.
MARTIN: Don't say that!

Awkward pause: she does recognise Debi.

ARLENE: Hi, Debi, just love your show.
DEBI: Oh, thanks, well, you're our demographic.
MARTIN: You got married, Arlene.
ARLENE: Yes I did, and three children. It's really neat.
ARLENE: I had the yearbook pictures put on so everybody knows who everybody was!
MARTIN: Special torture!

Lots going on there that wasn't before, some of which you're not going to get from reading a segment, but what was a flat scene has some life and blood in it.

And most important of all, it takes that "special torture" line and puts it where we can see it.

The very first script I wrote got this comment from Alan Plater (hey, if you're going to ask advice, start from the top): he said that he had laughed aloud at the stage directions but the audience never sees those. When I managed to move the gags into dialogue, he called it a great step for writerkind.

Some day I should get a copy of War, Inc and see if they ignored his advice as much as it seems.



Fenny said...

Hope you don't mind. I plugged your SN review on my LJ. It's good ;-)

William Gallagher said...

Thank you!