Screen

HOW WOULD LUBITSCH DO IT?

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INT. DRISCOLL’S OFFICE – EVENING

It’s a big office, and dark, which makes it feel even larger, cavernous. The theme from Dr. Who (Delia Derbyshire’s 1963 version) reverberates in the space, buzzing up your spine like a telegraph signal.

Driscoll’s desk is the focal point of the room: a C-shaped cross section of a giant redwood. Driscoll reclines in a vintage Eames management chair at the centre of it. Even if it’s just you and him in the room, you’ll never get too close to him.

He’s watching the wood grained computer monitor in front of him. Information scrolls across half a dozen open windows on the monitor, and he’s is drinking it all in. There’s nothing happening at this moment that he doesn’t know about.

Where his silk smoking jacket falls open across his broad chest, you can just see the periphery of a livid Yakuza-style tattoo that no doubt stretches across his back to the tops of his thighs. As your imagination races along its intricate lines ­- He glances up, notices you, and immediately adopts a Walt Disney demeanor.

DRISCOLL

Oh, hello there.

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He taps a hidden key and the monitor retreats smoothly into the desk, somewhere between the heartwood and a dark annual ring marking an 1847 forest fire. No seams visible.

DRISCOLL

Sorry about the format of the article this month. I’ve just finished a new screenplay, and I’m sort of stuck in this mode. Cigarette?

He produces a soft pack of Landon brand cigarettes. He extracts one with his teeth and lights it.

DRISCOLL

No? Well, if you change your mind. They’re fictional, so I buy them
by the carton.

He regards you through a neat tendril of smoke that Cormac McCarthy would probably describe better.

DRISCOLL

John Milius told me an old joke once (and I’m paraphrasing here not because my famed eidetic memory has failed me, but rather for effect):  An Arab prince comes to Hollywood. He checks in to the most decadent hotel available, taking over an entire floor of suites. Come dinnertime, he buys out all the tables at the city’s most posh restaurant. Dinner concluded, he hires a limousine – a gallons-to-the-mile model, built long, not stretched. He has the driver take him to the hottest nightclub in the city. They park out front, across two lanes of traffic. He asks the driver to go in and bring him the most expensive whore in the place. The driver disappears inside.

While speaking, Driscoll has smoked his cigarette down to the filter. He absently drops it to the floor and crushes it out beneath a slipper-clad foot. The smell of singed leather reaches you.

DRISCOLL

The Roomba will get it. Now, where was I? Ah, yes. The prince asks the driver to bring him the most expensive whore in the place. The driver comes back with a screenwriter.

He smiles, ruefully.

DRISCOLL

Is it cheating to let Milius’ do the bulk of the writing for me this article? Perhaps, but even with my extensive staff –

At this, banks of overhead lights ignite with the heavy, rolling sound of breakers being thrown, a blinding halogen avalanche. They illuminate row upon row of desks, stretching to the vanishing point. At each desk sits a pale, bookish writer, nervously pecking away at a manual typewriter. It’s a Kafka nightmare, a Welles wet dream.

DRISCOLL

Even with my extensive staff, I sometimes find myself stretched thin. The joke comes from perhaps the best book I’ve ever read about screenwriting, issue number 138 of the Paris Review. If that’s your sort of thing, and your presence suggests it might be, I recommend hunting down a copy at your local used bookshop. Or, since you’re here already, you could use one of the internets.

In answer to your unasked question, he responds:

DRISCOLL

Syd Fields’ Screenplay? I’m familiar. Syd and I agree that structure is important, if not on the idea of spending 246 pages selling the reader a book they’ve already bought. Here’s something much more concise, which comes from a more reliable source.

He taps a hidden switch somewhere in the recesses of his desk. You have to quickly step aside as a compact RAPID PROTOTYPING MACHINE emerges from the floor at your feet. The scent of SELECTIVE LASER SINTERING overwhelms the smell of Driscoll’s burnt slipper soles, and within moments, a PLAQUE emerges from the machine. On it are emblazoned the following words:

Billy Wilder’s tips for screenwriting

  1. The audience is fickle.
  2. Grab ’em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
  3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  4. Know where you’re going.
  5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
  7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
  8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
  9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then—that’s it. Don’t hang around.

DRISCOLL

Don’t hang around. Solid advice, that. Oh yes, Command+s,  Ian Driscoll is blah, blah, blah, all that.

As if on cue, the lights GO OUT and you are left in the
dark, with nothing but the dying strains of the Dr. Who theme for company.

 

5 replies »

  1. Dear Ian,
    I can only assume from the number of times I spit out my drink while reading this that 1) I am a slow learner and 2) you wrote this specifically to make me laugh hysterically. I am in your debt, Sir.

    Like

  2. Thanks. It all would have been better in 12 point Courier, but even the mighty Movable Type Publishing Platform has its limits.
    Seriously, though, that issue of the Paris Review is pretty great. It includes interviews with Billy Wilder, Richard Price, John Gregory Dunne, as well as a q-and-multiple-a with a bunch of other screenwriters (the least illuminating and least funny of which is, unsurprisingly, Winston Groom, who wrote the novel Forest Gump – desperate iconoclasm ain’t charming).
    I might like Syd Field more if he’d ever applied his theories in any meaningful way himself. At least Robert McKee wrote for Kojak.

    Like

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