Ever since we moved here I have been going to our new library. Reading on the back porch, I’ve been devouring novels and lately I’ve also, been checking the DVD collection for movies I have missed. In the “Notes” margin of my annual calendars, right around March when the Oscars roll out, I note some movie titles that I know Rick would like or I’d like to see. I do the same when I check out those movies and watch the trailers before the movie. I have to write down titles or else I’ll forget.
I’ve watched a few over the summer — no time this past month — and again I did something I enjoy doing, I googled the screenplays of several that received Oscar nods. Amazingly, they are almost all out there with just a simple click of the mouse. I can read a whole screenplay in about 30 minutes, longer if I search a memorable line or look for lines and conversation I didn’t completely catch during the film.
You may remember 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 that I discovered 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. I wrote about this in September and October of 2012.
So I continue my search to pinpoint what exactly happened on page 17 and here is what I found on page 17 of the following more recent movie scripts than the classics I visited in 2012.From August: Osage County, I found the scene where Vi’s sister, Mattie Fae, opens the curtains and pulls up the shades in Vi and Beverly’s home. She and her husband Charlie come to support Vi upon Beverly’s, Vi’s husband’s, disappearance. Charlie, Vi’s brother-in-law says “You can’t tell if it’s night or day.” Ivy, Vi and Beverly’s daughter, responds with “I think that’s the purpose.” The rest of the movie is one futile attempt after another to air out the house and open lines of communication among family members. Under the blazing sun a wide open array of family emotions sizzle throughout the film. Screenwriter Tracy Letts. Another movie I watched was Philomena with Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. Based on a true story, Martin Sixsmith an English journalist has just lost his government job. At a party he his approached by the daughter of Philomena Lee to write about and help her find the son she gave up for adoption fifty years ago. Initially he rejects the idea as he is contemplating writing about Russian history. According to him “human interest stories are for vulnerable, weak-minded, ignorant people.” Realizing no one really wants to read about Russian history, he has a change of heart. The very next scene on page 17 after his caustic remarks at the party, we see Martin apologize to Philomena’s daughter for behaving so badly, explaining he had been in a bad mood. Meeting for lunch, Martin, Philomena and her daughter discuss starting the project Philomena’s daughter had proposed. Screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope. Another film I have wanted to see and I found at our library was The Butler with Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, an Afro-American employee of the White House hired during the Eisenhower administration and served until the Reagan years when he resigned. I instinctively knew that the meeting between Freddie the head of the White House service staff where he offers Cecil Gaines a position to join the White House staff had to occur on p. 17. Sure enough I found Freddie meeting with Cecil offering him the job on p. 17. Screenwriter Danny Strong.
Is there a defining moment in a film that stands out to you?