I have a confession to make. I haven’t read a novel in a while. I’m busy and my time is absorbed in reading all those student compositions. So to alleviate the guilt and since I was already on the internet (reading your posts and the compositions my students submit in their dropbox), I googled some screenplays of some memorable movies. Amazingly, they are almost all out there with just a simple click of the mouse. A few are available for purchase. I can read a whole screenplay in about 30 minutes, longer if I search a memorable line or just reflect on the fact “I didn’t catch that when I watched the movie.”
Then (remember…because I was already on the internet) I googled some articles and posts about screenplay writing. I have discovered that screenplays are about 120 pages in length. Each page represents about a minute on the screen. It was in article after article about screenplay writing I discovered that one of the most important pages a screenwriter must finesse is page 17–also, translated as the 17th minute of the movie. On page 17 the author must establish the point of no return, the moment when everything that was status quo changes and the action has to move forward.
So I did a little investigation and here is what I found on page 17 of the following movie scripts.
1. I went to a movie listed among the top movies ever made, a movie that for its time won numerous Academy Awards, Citizen Kane.On p. 17, Thatcher reveals that Mrs. Kane gave him charge of her son Charles Foster Kane. A child handed over to a businessman, leaving his home forever, bound for a city he doesn’t know, sent off by his mother, now that is a defining moment. Nothing would be the same for Charles Foster Kane from that moment on. Screenwriters: Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles
2. On p. 17 of Gone With the Wind, we get a sense of Scarlett O’Hara’s spirited nature (“Flame in Scarlett’s eyes.”) We watch Scarlett and Rhett Butler dance the night away and on the same page, he presents her with a bonnet from Paris. In these two scenes we see Scarlett may not be destined to the life as a widow. Screenwriter: Sidney Howard based on the book by Margaret Mitchell
3. At moment 17 of The Godfatherwe see Kay speaking with Michael at a wedding. Curious about some men talking among themselves, Michael explains they are going to ask his father for a favor. According to him, “they better get it right” and he informs Kay that no “Sicilian will refuse a request made on his daughter’s wedding day.” Hence the wedding scene is a point of no return, the moment in time when the audience/reader awaits the nature of the strange men’s request. Screenwriters: Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola
4. In the violent and action-filled movie and among my husband’s favorites,Gran Torino, this is what I read on p. 17. “Tao looks at the sub-machine gun cradled by the Hmong gangbanger in the back seat. Smokie takes this all in. He looks down the street and sees that in a half block, Tao will have to pass a group of Latino gangbanger types.” Every member in the audience has to hold their breath knowing and wondering at what moment will the bullets of that sub-machine gun meet those gang members? How will Tao penetrate that line of hoods? No, the neighborhood is not peaceful at all. Screenwriter: Nick Schenk
5. In one of my favorite chick flicks of all time You’ve Got Mail Kathleen reveals to Christina on p. 17 that she’s developing a relationship with someone online via e-mail. There is mention of cybersex to which the horrified Kathleen insists it’s not like that. The tension and anticipation of what will come of this online relationship is laid out here on this page, in this single moment of the film. Screenwriters: Nora and Delia Ephron based on the play Parfumerie by Miklós László
Are you wondering if your favorite script, lines, scenes are out there to be read, not viewed? Click away and find out. What is on p. 17? For scrolling scripts, the ones that aren’t paged, you will need to copy and paste into Word to find p. 17.