Sunday, April 1, 2012

J.K. Rowling Holds Press Conference on New Book Series

Hi kids!

So, the other day, I heard that J.K. Rowling was working on a new book, and I could only imagine what it must be like to try to create anything under the shadow of Harry Potter.

This is my take on her first press conference to discuss her new book. (This is satire, obviously.)


A books and authors convention. A large conference hall is
jam-packed, standing room only.

A woman approaches the podium, and the place goes nuts. You'd
think she was Elvis.

She's better than Elvis. She's JK ROWLING.

          Thank you. Thank you very much.
          Thank you. Thank you. Thanks so
          much. Thank you.

The applause roars on.

                  ROWLING (CONT'D)
          Thanks ever so much. Thank you.
          Wow. Thank you very much. Please.
          That's-- thank you. If you could
          all... thank you.

No dent in the applause-o-meter.

                  ROWLING (CONT'D)
          My goodness. Thank you. All right
          now. I-- if everyone could just...
          thanks so much. Thank you. I...
          Perhaps we could sit?

The applause fades out to a polite murmur. Random shouts of
"We love you!" and "You changed my life!"

                  ROWLING (CONT'D)
          Yes. All right. Thanks very much
          for that. I've always felt very
          fortunate in my fans. It has been a
          tremendous source of joy and
          strength for me, to know that so
          many of you have been so deeply
          touched by my work.

Burst of applause. It goes on for a bit. She rides it out.

                  ROWLING (CONT'D)
          Thank you. And now, as it were, I'm
          beginning a new chapter in my work.
          I don't want to give too much away,
          but I hope that many of you will be
          joining me on this new journey, as
          you joined me on our adventures
          with a certain boy wizard.

Sustained applause. She grin-and-bears it.

                  ROWLING (CONT'D)
          Thank you very much. Now, I know
          this new story may not be for all
          of you. Honestly, it's been quite
          tempting just to stay in Harry's
          world forever, continuing to build
          on what, I feel at least, to be a
          complete story. But at the same
          time, I feel that, as a writer, I
          owe it to myself to grow beyond
          that. I owe it to all of you to
          grow beyond that, and to give you a
          chance to grow with me, into new
          worlds and new experiences.

No reaction from the crowd. She moves on.

                  ROWLING (CONT'D)
          And while the magic of the
          wizarding world has provided a
          thrilling canvas for my writing, I
          also believe that there are other
          types of magic out there that are
          just as thrilling. The simple magic
          that can exist between two people,
          in the form of love, or duty, or
          sacrifice. And it's this simple
          magic, this everyday wonder, that I
          hope to explore in my next work.

Nothing from the audience. Good? Bad?

                  ROWLING (CONT'D)
          Right. Um. So, again, I don't want
          to give too much away, but if any
          of you have questions, I'd be happy
          - oh my! Quite a few of you. Great.
          You, there in the... In the cloak.
          No, next to you. Yes. You. Can we
          get him a microphone?

          So, does Harry not appear in the
          first book of this new series?

          No.. Harry doesn't appear in any
          book of the series, actually. He's
          not in it.

          He's just in the background, then?

          No, I -- I'm sorry. This isn't a
          Harry Potter story. It's going to
          be a completely new thing. Yes, the
          gentleman with the beard here, up
          front. Go ahead.

          You spoke of this simpler form of
          magic, as in the love between two


          Is this the Amortentia potion?

          Um... no. It isn't. That potion--
          this is an entirely new world, with
          new characters. There's no magic in
          it, in the sense of the Harry
          Potter stories. How about someone
          else, someone in just a T-shirt or
          something. Yes, you, lovely.

          So does Voldemort come to this new
          world, because he knows they don't
          have the magic to fight back?

          Christ, no. No no no. There is no
          Voldemort in this story. This has
          nothing to do with Harry Potter, or
          any Harry Potter characters, or
          anything in the Harry Potter world
          or books or stories, or video
          games, or movies, or comic books.
          None of it. This is a completely
          new thing that I'm trying to write.
          It's completely new. Do you
          understand? A completely new thing.
              (gathers herself)
          Okay. Now, you, the young lady
          here. Go ahead.

                  YOUNG LADY
          Is Hermione in it?

          I don't-- did you not hear me, just
          now? No, Hermione is not in it. No
          one from Harry Potter is in it.

                  YOUNG LADY
          But there will be at least one
          strong female character?

          Yes. Yes! Absolutely. In fact, the
          female lead in this story is
          brilliant. She absolutely is.
          Strong, independent, compassionate.
          She goes to tremendous depths on
          her journey. I really think you'll
          find a lot to love in her. I do.

                  YOUNG LADY
          Is she top of her wizarding class?

          No, no, she's -- there is no
          wizarding in this book. There's no
          magic, no Hogwarts--
              (1000 hands go up)
          --no OTHER wizarding schools--
              (hands all go down)
          She's just a simple, ordinary girl
          in an extraordinary circumstance.

                  YOUNG LADY
          So she doesn't know she's a wizard?

          She is not a wizard.

                  YOUNG LADY
          So she's a muggle?

          Good christ, there are no wizards
          in this story. There is no magic.
          Do you get that?

                  YOUNG LADY
          So everyone's a muggle?

          No, there are no muggles, either.
          That word doesn't exist in this
          world. Magic doesn't exist, so
          there's no difference between
          anyone, based on magic. Okay?
          None of that is in this world. None
          of it. No magic. No Harry. No
          wizards. None of it. Yes, you, in
          the vest.

          Can Luke Skywalker be in it?

          ... I'm sorry?

          I just think it would be awesome if
          Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter
          could fight each other.

          No. That's not... I'm not writing
          that... Please, are there any other

All hands go up.

                  ROWLING (CONT'D)
          I am not answering a question about
          who would win in a fight between
          Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter.

Most of the hands go down.

                  ROWLING (CONT'D)
          All right, you, in the sweater.

          After you finish this new series,
          do you think you'll ever go back
          and revisit Harry Potter?

The audience falls dead silent. Rowling takes a deep breath.

          ... I bloody well suppose I have
          to, don't I?

The crowd explodes to its feet, cheering.

Rowing gives them a weak wave of thanks, and slumps away,

                  ROWLING (O.C.) (CONT'D)
          Someone get me a bloody drink!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

ScriptWalk Fight Scenes: The Matrix

Trinity from The Matrix.
Image courtesy
Hey all,

A little backstory: I spend a fair amount of time on different screenwriting message boards, and there's one question I've seen several different times:

How do you write a fight scene?

I mean, not "you" as in me. The hypothetical "you." How does one write a fight scene, as it were. Quite.

Anyway, this is one of those tricky grey areas that no one seems to have a good answer for. Some people say you should basically write "They fight." and move onto the next scene. Other recommend nothing less than an exact blow-by-blow.

So I thought it might be fun this week to ScriptWalk through a few different famous fight scenes: take a look at the script, and then see how it translates to the finished product.

First up, The Matrix.

The Matrix: Trinity's Escape

I have a special place in my heart for The Matrix, because it was the last movie that I ever went into without any preconceived notions about what to expect. I had never heard of the movie. I had no idea what it was. It could have been about spreadsheets for all I knew.

The Matrix changed fight scenes. Hell, it changed action scenes. It's hard to remember now, but there had been almost nothing even close to the way The Matrix messed with time and space within a fight scene. And it all started, without warning, during Trinity's escape from the cops in the first few minutes.

The setup, if you haven't seen the movie in a while: several cops have shown up to arrest Trinity, whom we've just barely laid eyes on. A team of Agents arrives, and the lead Agent (Smith) reprimands the cops for going in without them.

   I sent two units.  They're 
   bringing her down now.

   No, Lieutenant, your men are dead.

First, let's look at the fight scene in an early version of the script, from April 1996. (Sourced from


 The Big Cop flicks out his cuffs, the other cops holding 
 a bead.  They've done this a hundred times, they know 
 they've got her, until the Big Cop reaches with the cuff 
 and Trinity moves --

 It almost doesn't register, so smooth and fast, inhumanly 

 The eye blinks and Trinity's palm. snaps up and the nose 
 explodes, blood erupting.  The cop is dead before he
 begins to fall.

 And Trinity is moving again --

 Seizing a wrist, misdirecting a gun, as a startled cop 

 A head explodes.

 In blind panic, another airs his gun, the barrel, a fixed 
 black hole --

 And FIRES --

 Trinity twists out of the way, the bullet missing as she 
 reverses into a roundhouse kick, knocking the gun away.

 The cop begins to scream when a jump kick crushes his 
 windpipe, killing the scream as he falls to the ground.

 She looks at the four bodies.


Pretty straightforward, as far as a fight scene goes. We get a good feel for the sequence of actions, we learn that Trinity is inhumanly quick, and she takes out the cops, mercilessly, and in short order.

But this could be a scene out of almost any action movie. Punches, kicks, twisting arms and misdirected guns -- sounds like the sort of thing Jason Bourne does for breakfast (though a bit more gory). It doesn't really feel like the famous scene we know and love -- yet.

So, let's take a look at a later draft of the same scene (June 1997, sourced from


 The Big Cop flicks out his cuffs, the other cops holding a
 bead.  They've done this a hundred times, they know
 they've got her, until the Big Cop reaches with the cuffs
 and Trinity moves --

 It almost doesn't register, so smooth and fast, inhumanly

 The eye blinks and Trinity's palm snaps up and his nose
 explodes, blood erupting.  Her leg kicks with the force of
 a wrecking ball and he flies back, a two-hundred-fifty
 pound sack of limp meat and bone that slams into the cop
 farthest from her.

 Trinity moves again, BULLETS RAKING the WALLS, flashlights
 sweeping with panic as the remaining cops try to stop a
 leather-clad ghost.

 A GUN still in the cop's hand is snatched, twisted and
 FIRED.  There is a final violent exchange of GUNFIRE and
 when it's over, Trinity is the only one standing.

 A flashlight rocks slowly to a stop.


Interesting. In a way, there's less detail here about Trinity's actual movement. The first version mentions specific moves, like roundhouse kick and jump kick. This second version leaves some of those details up to the imagination, but it does a much better job showing how inhumanly powerful Trinity is, compared to the cops.

She's no longer just twisting, punching and kicking: she's hitting with the force of a wrecking ball, and sending a 250-pound man across the room, taking out two cops with a single kick. She evades a barrage of bullets like a leather-clad ghost.

This version of Trinity isn't just "inhumanly" fast; she seems decidedly superhuman.

But... but... what about all the cool stuff? The bullet-time jump-kick and the running up the wall and the "she kicks high" no-look smackdown of the guy behind her? That must all be in the shooting script, right?

Nope. You can check it out for yourself over at -- the shooting script version of the scene looks pretty much identical to the June '97 version.

There's a lot missing from the final scene:

So where did all that stuff come in? Clearly, during the pre-production, filming, and editing of The Matrix, a lot of the visual style was designed, developed, and implemented.There was fight choreography, special effects work, foley work. Lots of stuff, and it all went into shaping this scene, as well as all of the other action scenes in the film.

But the important thing was that the feel of the scene was established in the script. In the first version, Trinity is an ass-kicker. In the later versions, she's superhuman, ghostlike, and impossible to hit. It's hard to imagine the first version of the script being translated into the scene above, but the later version comes much closer.

Of course, the Wachowski Brothers had the advantage of writing the script and overseeing its realization into the finished film. Most screenwriters don't have that level of control. But from this example, we can see the importance of conveying the visceral feel of a fight scene.

We may not need the exact choreography, but we need to know, at least in the broad strokes, what makes our own fight scenes feel different from every other rock 'em-sock 'em scene in every other movie.

(Special note about It's a brilliant site that anyone interested in screenplays should have bookmarked in their favorites. Check it out!)

Friday, January 13, 2012

ScriptWalk: Jaws, part 3 (Quint!)

This is the third and final portion of my ScriptWalk for Jaws.

I could probably write about Jaws forever, really, but you guys would all get bored and start throwing your shoes at me. And shoes hurt.

Part one covered Chief Brody. Part two was Matt Hooper. So in this final chapter, I'm going to take a look at the changes that were made to the script that involved everyone's favorite shark hunter, Quint.

Quint has some really excellent, show-stopping scenes in Jaws. Two of my favorites are his initial intro scene, and the famous Indianapolis scene.

Meet Quint

First off, his intro scene. Which was not originally intended to be his intro scene. In fact, Quint's original intro scene was cut from the final film, but here it is, thanks to the magic of the intertubes:

Yup. In both versions of the script, Quint heads into a music store to buy some #12 piano wire and decides to take a little time out of his busy day to torment a small child. There's a little tweaking between drafts, but it's pretty much the same scene.

It's not a bad scene; short, effective, funny, and a pretty good primer for Quint's general crustiness. But it feels a little extraneous to the plot, and the movie is certainly tighter without it. Had it been left in, this scene would have taken place shortly before the attack on Alex Kintner.

Now, let's take a look at Quint's introduction in the final film, which takes place after the shark eats Alex. The town council is in a panic; half the townspeople are afraid of the shark, but the other half is afraid of the business they'll lose if the mayor closes the beaches. Meanwhile, Alex Kintner's mother has offered a $3000 reward to whoever can catch the shark that ate her kid:

Jesus Christ, what a scene. The world grinds to a screeching halt while Quint makes his offer to the townspeople. It's a fantastic speech, peppered with some great bits of foreshadowing (emphasis mine):

       (after taking
       a deep breath)
      You all know me.  You know what I
      do for a living.  I'll go out and
      get this bird for you.  He's a bad
      one and it's not like goin' down
      the pond chasing blue-gills and
      tommy-cods.  This is a fish that
      can swallow a man whole.  A little
      shakin', a little tenderizing and
      down ya' go.

Quint is, of course, describing his own death in the jaws (ahem) of the shark:

A little shakin', a little tenderizing...

So, this scene works great on a couple levels. It's a very memorable introduction to the character of Quint, it nicely outlines the dilemma facing the town, and it foreshadows some of the action ahead. Most notably, Quint describes his own death in his very first scene. Trippy.

The speech is mostly there in the later (Gottlieb) version of the script, with a few things missing:


  He has just run his large, coarse fingernails over the black-
  board.  He is a large, rough man, a professional fisherman
  marked by daily physical toil,  About 45 or 50, it's hard to
  tell where the scars leave off and the wrinkles begin.  There
  is a bit of the showman in him, as well as a bit of killer-

       (after taking
       a deep breath)
      You all know me.  You know what I
      do for a living.  I'll go out and
      get this bird for you.  He's a bad
      one and it's not like goin' down
      the pond chasing blue-gills and
      tommy-cods.  This is a fish that
      can swallow a man whole.  A little
      shakin', a little tenderizing and
      down ya' go.
       (a look to Vaughn)
      You gotta get this fellow and get
      him quick.  If you do, it'll bring
      a lot of tourist business just to
      see him and you've got your busi-
      ness back on a paying basis.
      A shark of that size is no pleasure
      and I value my neck at a hell of a
      lot more'n 3,000 bucks.
       (a deadly look)
      I'll find him for three.  But I'll
      kill him for ten.
  Crowd reaction.
       (he rises up)
      The bastard is costing you more'n
      that every day.  Do you wanna stay
      alive and annee up the ten or play
      it cheap and be on welfare next
       (a final moment)
      I'm gonna kill this thing...just a
      matter of whether I do it now -- or
      at the end of summer.

      Thank you very much, Mr. Quint,
      the Selectmen will take your offer
      under advisement.

The lines about Quint not wanting any mates must have been added later, as was "For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing." Which really just caps the whole thing off nicely, doesn't it? In the film, Quint then gets up and walks about, followed by his... friend? Associate? Assistant? Gimp? The weird guy with the dog, whoever he is.

Now let's take a look at this speech in the original version of the script, to see how much it changed.

Oh, wait, we can't do that, because in the original version of this scene, Quint isn't even there.

Seriously. Imagine that scene again, but instead of Quint, it's the weird little gimp guy, whose name is apparently Salvatore (in this version, anyway. Looks like it's Herschel in the other version). Salvatore shows up at the meeting and delivers the offer from Quint.

Honest. It's right here:

  Vaughn opens the door to the Bureau of Records.  About two
  dozen children sit around, twisting multi-colored Kleenex
  into artificial flowers for the big parade.  Vaughn turns
  his face into a condescending grin.

      Could the big people have a grownup
      meeting in here, please, children.

      Get lost.

  A voice from behind Vaughn draws him away.  It is a small
  but muscular black man named Salvatore.

      Mr. Vaughn?

  He steps out of the shadows, hat in hand.

      Mister Quint sent me down from

      What for?

      Well...he out catchin' them things
      every day practily.  Price's right,
      he come catch yours here.

      What's he get?

      Ten thousand and a color TV.

      How much?

      Twenty-seven inch.  Japanese one.

  Vaughn studies the little blinking man, ready to laugh.

      Mister Quint's services are not
      required, thanks.
       (stopping a secretary)
      Is there an empty office anywhere
      in this goddam building?

      Weights and Measures nobody ever

  Vaughn starts away and the crowd follows.

      I'd haul it in myself before I'd
      pay anything to that
      wanna hear what he did to three
      friends of mine on a Saint Valentine's
      Day sporting charter?

Well. That was a little different huh? Assuming they'd kept the music store scene, I wonder if you'd even remember who Quint was while Salvatore was talking about him?

The Indianapolis

Of course, the intro scene isn't the only amazing Quint speech in the film.

As the sun sets on their first full day of shark-chasing, Quint, Brody, and Hooper sit in the galley, comparing tattoos and then... aw hell, who am I kidding? Here's the scene:

Again, a show-stopper. This scene was about as true a group effort as you can get in screenwriting, with Benchley, Gottlieb, John Milius, and Robert Shaw all taking a crack at the famous monologue. In the end, it was Shaw's version that resonated, and the result is what you see in the film.

Let's go back to the early script, Benchley's version, to see how this scene started out:

  Hooper shrugs.  Quint hands him the bottle.  Hooper cocks
  his head, noticing a scar patch on Quint's right forearm.

      How'd you get that one?

  Quint, staring out to sea, doesn't seem to hear Hooper.
  The signal light disappears.

      Down again.

      The scar on your arm.

      Had a tattoo there.

      Changed your mind about somebody?

       (shaking his head)
      It said 'U.S.S. Indianapolis.'

 191 CLOSE - HOOPER        191

  His face falls as he hears this.  Quint looks at him ironi-

      Guess you experts know about that.

  Once again Quint turns his eyes to the sea.

      You were on her?  June '45?

       (flat and quiet)
      On her and torpedoed right off her.
      Into the drink with 900 other clowns
      ...Started with 900 anyway...floating
      in that big warm Pacific.
       (the light surfaces again)
      Must have been like a dinner bell
      in there...Explosions, and half
      the guys bleeding.  Soon as the
      sharks came homing in on us, we
      went by the Manual, of course...
      Kept trying to float in groups...
      doin' what if said, splash at 'em,
      yell at 'em, hit 'em on the nose,
      they won't bother you...all that.
      They tore apart about a hundred
      men, the first night.  And pretty
      soon, when they stepped it up, and
      you'd feel 'em bump you, and guys'd
      get pulled down a couple of yards
      away, and it got to two days...and
      three...Well, some fellas couldn't
      take it no more, just peeled off
      their life-jackets, got it over with
      ...We were in the water 110 hours.
      Sharks averaged six men an hour.
       (nails Hooper
       a hard look)
      They're all experts.
       (spits in the ocean)

       (weakened by the story)
      Jesus, Quint!  You can't blame ---

  Hooper is interrupted by the boom and banshee cries of
  a distant whale. 

A short little speech, with just the seeds of the monologue we'll see later. Quint seems the most angry at Hooper, of all people, for being a shark expert when the "experts" who wrote his old Navy survival manual clearly had no idea what they were talking about.

Spielberg knew that this needed to be a big scene, and Gottlieb certainly expanded on Benchley's version. Here's what we see in Gottlieb's version of the speech:

189 CLOSE ON QUINT         189

      Yeah.  The U.S.S. Indianapolis.
      June 29th, 1945, three and a half
      minutes past midnight, two torpedoes
      from a Japanese submarine slammed
      into our side.  Two or three.  We
      was still under sealed orders after
      deliverin' the bomb...the Hiroshima
      bomb...we was goin' back across the
      Pacific from Tinian to Leyte.  Damn
      near eleven hundred men went over
      the side.  The life boats was lashed
      down so tight to make the bomb run
      we couldn't cut a single one adrift.
      Not one.  And there was no rafts.

      That vessel sank in twelve minutes.
      Yes, that's all she took.

      We didn't see the first shark till
      we'd been in the water about an hour.
      A thirteen-footer near enough.  A
      blue.  You measure that by judgin'
      the dorsal to the tail.  What we
      didn't know...of course the Captain
      knew...I guess some officers knew
      ...was the bomb mission had been so
      secret, no distress signals was sent.
      What the men didn't know was that
      they wouldn't even list us as over-
      due for a week.  Well, I didn't know
      that -- I wasn't an officer -- just
      as well perhaps.

      So some of us were dead already --
      in the water -- just hangin' limp
      in our lifejackets.  And several
      already bleedin'.  And the three
      hundred or so laying on the bottom
      of the ocean.

      As the light went, the sharks came
      crusin'.  We formed tight groups --
      somewhat like squares in an old
      battle -- You know what I mean --
      so that when one come close, the man
      nearest would yell and shout and
      pound the water and sometimes it
      worked and the fish turned away, but
      other times that shark would seem to
      look right at a man -- right into
      his eyes -- and in spite of all
      shoutin' and poundin' you'd hear
      that terrible high screamin' and
      the ocean would go red, then churn
      up as they ripped him.  Then we'd
      reform our little squares.

      By the first dawn the sharks had
      taken more than a hundred.  Hard
      for me to count but more than a
      hundred.  I don't know how many
      sharks.  Maybe a thousand.  I do
      know they averaged six men an hour.
      All kinds -- blues, makos, tigers.
      All kinds.

      In the middle of the second day, some
      of us started to go crazy from the
      thirst.  One fella cried out he
      saw a river, another claimed he saw
      a waterfall, some started to drink
      the ocean and choked on it, and
      some left our little groups --
      our little squares -- and swam off
      alone lookin' for islands and the
      sharks always took them right away.
      It was mainly the young fellas that
      did that -- the older ones stayed
      where they was.

      That second day -- my life jacket
      rubbed me raw and that was more
      blood in the water.  Oh my.

      On Thursday morning I bumped up
      against a friend of mine -- Herbie
      Robinson from Cleveland -- a bosun's
      mate -- it seemed he was asleep but
      when I reached over to waken him,
      he bobbed in the water and I saw
      his body upend because he'd been
      bitten in half beneath the waist.

      Well Chief, so it went on -- bombers
      high overhead but nobody noticin'
      us.  Yes -- suicides, sharks, and
      all this goin' crazy and dyin' of

      Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a
      Lockheed Ventura swung around and
      came in low.  Yes.  He did that.
      Yes, that pilot saw us.

      And early evenin', a big fat PBY
      come down out of the sky and began
      the pickup.  That was when I was
      most frightened of all -- while I
      was waitin' for my turn.  Just two
      and a half hours short of five days
      and five nights when they got to
      me and took me up.

      Eleven hundred of us went into that
      ocean -- three hundred and sixteen
      got out.  Yeah.  Nineteen hundred
      and forty five.  June the 29th.
      Anyway, we delivered the bomb. 

There's a lot of stuff here that we'll see in the final version. But the spirit of the speech still isn't quite there yet. Part of that is the way Shaw delivers it: he grins through almost the entire speech, like he was telling some big lark of a story. "A funny thing happened on the way back from delivering the bomb..."

But the speech itself is much more intense in the final version. The description of the shark itself is chilling, and it doesn't find its way into the speech until Shaw's version: And the idea was, the shark nearest man and then he'd start poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he's got... lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be livin'. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high pitch screamin' and the ocean turns red and spite of all the poundin' and the hollerin' they all come in and rip you to pieces.

Another detail that doesn't come up until Shaw's version is this: You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a lifejacket again

A single line, almost thrown away at the end of the speech, but it sums up Quint's entire philosophy, and hangs a bright red light on the fact that Quint is on a suicide mission, and he knows it. He's going to kill this shark or die trying. No rescue. No lifejacket. (Which probably explains why his first mate refuses to go out on this hunt with him, earlier in the movie. He knows that Quint has a deathwish.) 

Quint was always intended to be an Ahab-like character. Early drafts of the film even have him watching the film version of Moby Dick, just to drive the point home:

 136 INT. MOVIE HOUSE       136

 137 FULL SCREEN        137

  Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab in an outpouring of classic
  Melville.  The white whale explodes through the waves and
  crushes sixteen harpooners.  A single sandpapery laugh
  accompanies each special effect.

 138 ANGLE - MOVIE HOUSE       138

  Quint sits in the center aisle, popcorn and ju-ju-bees
  stuffing his face.  The splayed projection beams dance
  around his head as he roars with amusement.  People are
  getting up and moving away from him.  He is watching with
  delight, slapping his thigh, thumping the seat-back with
  his feet.

 139 FULL MOVIE SCREEN       139

  We watch as Ahab gets tangled in the line and dragged under
  by the whale.  Quint can be heard OVER.

What is this, Cape Fear?

Anyway, despite the intention of making Quint a modern-day Ahab, the movie never really pulls this off until the Indianapolis scene was perfected. Watching that scene, you really get the feeling that Quint is not exactly... y'know... sane. Which makes it mush more plausible when he goes nuts and smashes the radio to pieces with a bat when Brody tries to call for help.

In the earlier drafts, Quint seems motivated by money and a dislike of sharks. By the time Shaw gets done with him, we can see that Quint is obsessed with killing this shark as a form of revenge against all sharks, everywhere.

Character Spectrum

Okay, I'm almost done, and if you're still with me, you deserve a medal. I just wanted to say one more thing about the characters of Jaws.

It's interesting to line these characters up and see how they represent the different forces at work on Brody, who is action-oriented, but almost neutral.

Mayor Vaughn: Denial, Inaction, Blindness.

Matt Hooper: Curiosity, Clarity, Vision

Brody: Action, but held back by self-doubt.

Quint: Madness, Obsession.

At the start of the movie, Brody leaps into action to close the beaches, but it easily sucked back into inaction by Mayor Vaughn. It's not until Matt Hooper arrives that Brody is able to see through the blindness affecting the town and start taking more proactive steps; cutting open the tiger shark, getting a beach patrol set up.

But it's not until Brody teams up with Quint that he gains a killer instinct. Remember, Brody left NYC because of the violence:

I'm telling ya, the crime rate in New York will kill ya. There's so many problems, you never feel like your accomplishing anything. Violence, rip-offs, muggings, kids can't leave the house, you gotta walk `em to school. But in Amity, one man can make a difference. In twenty five years, there's never been a shooting or murder in this town. 

Brody is passive, both in his willingness to go along with Mayor Vaughn's blindness, and in his distaste for violence.

Just as Hooper is essential to making Brody see, Quint is essential to waking up Brody's violent side. But Quint is too far in this direction; and Brody and Hooper both almost pay the price for teaming up with him. In the end, Quint's obsessive, violent hatred destroys his own ship and gets him killed.

But Brody uses symbolic tools from both Quint (the rifle, or violence) and Hooper (the scuba tank, or exploration/knowledge) to destroy the shark. He internalizes Hooper's drive to see more with Quint's bloodthirsty nature, and with those aspects of himself back in balance, is able to kill the shark.

The first time, anyway. Let's not get into the sequels. 

(Quint image from Empire Online.)

Monday, January 9, 2012

ScriptWalk: Jaws, Part 2

Welcome to the second part of my ScriptWalk through Jaws.

The basic idea of ScriptWalk is simple; I compare two versions of the script, or a version of the script to the finished film, to take a look at how scenes change during the revision or filming process.

In the last post, I compared an early draft of the introduction of Martin Brody to a later draft, to show how the later draft had improved upon the first, both in terms of introducing the character and introducing some visual and narrative themes that would drive the rest of the movie.

I promised to tackle another character introduction this time, and for anyone that was hoping I was going to tackle Quint, I apologize. This post will be about Matt Hooper. We'll save Quint (and the famous Indianapolis scene) for part three.

Enter Matt Hooper

By the time we meet Matt Hooper, things in Amity are pretty bad. Despite Chief Brody's desire to shut down the beach after the film's opening shark attack, he's caved to pressure from the mayor, the town elders, and the local businesses to keep the beaches open.

Spoiler alert: This is a mistake. It doesn't take long for the shark to make a return trip to Amity's all-you-can-eat buffet and chow down on his next victim, young Alex Kintner. (I guess technically Pippet the dog was the next victim, but you get the idea.)

Shortly after the attack, we meet young Matt Hooper, a shark expert brought in by a phone call from Chief Brody. Hooper arrives in the midst of the circus that erupts following the offer of a $3000 reward for the capture of the shark. People have come from all over the east coast to try their hand at shark hunting. It's chaos.

I originally wrote a long (very long) piece covering Hooper's actual introduction scene, but then realized that maybe it was little much. The scene that intros Hooper is a long one, given that it takes place in the middle of the shark-hunting frenzy. If you're interested in reading my take on the way this scene evolved from the early draft to the revised draft, and again to the final film, I've put it all into a separate "bonus" entry. I think it's interesting stuff, but probably only if you're a hardcore script nerd. 

On the other hand, there's a nice short Hooper scene that works as a great, concise demonstration of how much a scene can change and improve through revision. You probably know it as the autopsy scene, or the "This was no boat accident!" scene.

If you've seen Jaws, well, ever, you probably know this scene; it's short, intense, and memorable. But in case you need a refresher, the folks over at Turner Classic Movies have the clip:

Now, let's take a look at the original version of the script for that scene:

 90 INTERIOR - MORGUE - DAY       90

  Hooper is measuring the bite marks on the Day-Glow raft with
  his dial calibrators.

      I'll look at her now if you don't


  Hooper scribbles notes, then mumbles something inaudible
  into his pocket cassette recorder.  Coroner Santos looks
  to Brody, plaintively.

      That was a different sort of acci-
      dent.  As I told you ---

       (guilty, angry)
      Let him.

  The coroner hesitates, then walks to the ice chest and slides
  open the drawer.

 92 CLOSE - HOOPER        92

  At first his face registers shock.  Then, with forced composure,
  Hooper steadies his hands and begins to take pictures with his

      I've heard the boat-propeller story
      several times.  And the nocturnal
      hatchet-murder story, the dashed-
      upon-the-razor-coral story --
       (to Brody)
      The little boy was never found?

  Brody nods, looking down at his feet.

      They're very successful creatures,
      sharks.  Eighty million year's
      antiquity for the species of the
      Great White.  The family goes as far
      back as three-hundred million.  Plenty
      of time to get good at what they do.

  An attendant flies into the room, joyfully out of wind.

      They called from the dock, Mr. Brody!
      They got it!

 93 CLOSE - HOOPER        93

  He appears stunned.

 94 CLOSE - BRODY        94

  enjoying a lightheadedness he hasn't felt in weeks.

      Want to see? 

Wow. The original script barely resembles the finished product. There's an autopsy, sure, but instead of the emotional jolt we get in the film, we get... a lecture about shark history. The scene drops with a dull thud, and then reverses into some weird feel-good aw-shucks moment with Chief Brody eager to play show-and-tell. Want to see?

We've already seen the finished version of the scene, but let's take a quick look at the revised script, just for comparison's sake:

90 INT. - MORGUE - DAY       90

  The Amity Morgue is also the Amity Funeral Home, a Victorian
  house that normally serves as the community's mortuary.  The
  Coroner, a professional small-town GP, is standing by as
  Hooper is speaking into a sophisticated cassette recorder
  with a headpiece that leaves his hands free for measurement
  with a calibrator or calipers.

      Let's show Mr. Hooper our accident.

  With a shrug, the Coroner slides open the drawer.

 91 CLOSE ON HOOPER        91

  He is looking down as the drawer slides past him, still
  matter-of-fact, turning on his recorder.

      Victim One, identified as Christine
      Watkins, female caucasian....

  The sheet has just been lifted, and Hooper stares down at the
  lump on the slab.  He stops, turns off his recorder as
  emotions wage war with his senses.  Rationality wins, and
  he turns on the recorder again.

      ...height and weight may only be
      estimated from partial remains.
      Torso severed in mid-thorax,
      eviscerated with no major organs
      remaining.  May I have a drink of
      water?  Right arm severed above
      the elbow with massive tissue loss
      from upper musculature.  Portions
      of denuded bone remaining.
       (tense, to Brody)
      -- did you notify the coast guard?

      No, it was local jurisdiction.

      Left arm, head, shoulders, sternum
      and portions of ribcage intact.
       (to Brody)
      Please don't smoke.  With minor
      post-mortem lacerations and abrasions.
      Bite marks indicate typical non-
      frenzy feeding pattern of large
      squali, possibly carchaninus lonimanus,
      or isurus glaucas.  Gross tissue
      loss and post-mortem erosion of bite
      surfaces prevent detailed analysis;
      however, teeth and jaws of the
      attacking squali must be considered
      above average for these waters.
       (to Brody again)
      -- Did you go out in a boat and
      look around?

      No, we just checked the beach....

       (turns off the recorder)
      It wasn't an 'accident,' it wasn't
      a boat propeller, or a coral reef,
      or Jack the Ripper.  It was a shark.
      It was a shark. 

This script is almost word-for-word what we get in the finished version. Dreyfuss' delivery really sells the scene, but it's all there on paper. Instead of a fact-spouting automaton, Matt Hooper comes across as a real person; shocked, angry, accusatory.

While the first version has Hooper tossing clever facts at Brody, the revised version demonstrates his expertise in a much more organic way, by having him dictating his notes with a clear mastery of human anatomy and shark attack patterns. Hooper's grisly description of the wounds is made a little less sensationalistic by the technical jargon, and we get the sense that this is also something he's doing to give himself a small pocket of rational thought in which to work while examining body remains that could fit in your average briefcase.

It's no wonder. Take a moment to think about what Hooper is saying, and you realize that the shark ate pretty much all of Christine Watkins save for her throat, shoulders, skull, and a forearm. Hooper was expecting a possible shark attack victim, but what he's seeing is an absolute horror, and he can't believe that these people just shrugged it off and left the beaches open.

Interestingly, the revised scene takes one of Hooper's original lines and turns it on its head:

      I've heard the boat-propeller story
      several times.  And the nocturnal
      hatchet-murder story, the dashed-
      upon-the-razor-coral story --

Is turned into:

       (turns off the recorder)
      It wasn't an 'accident,' it wasn't
      a boat propeller, or a coral reef,
      or Jack the Ripper.  It was a shark.
      It was a shark. 

In the original, Hooper is just relating all the different theories he's heard to explain away attacks like this. In the revision, he is chastising Brody and the coroner for their willful blindness, which is brought home even more strongly by Dreyfuss' performance in the scene.

Finally, instead of the goofy, upbeat "We got 'em boss!" ending of the original scene, the revised scene smash cuts straight from Hooper saying the word "shark" to a shot of the gruesome dead shark carcass on the docks, with its mouth being pried open by the victorious fishermen. From the word shark to an image of a shark, and from one autopsy to another, we get a nice little bit of unity of theme in the revised script that's not in the original.

So, you can see how drastically the revised script changed this autopsy scene. I think it's safe to say that the original wouldn't be nearly as memorable, and certainly nowhere near as quotable as the final product.

I wanted to wrap up part two of the Jaws ScriptWalk with a little more about the role of Matt Hooper in the story, and why the revisions to the script were so critical to making the film work overall.

I Once Was Blind, But Now I See

In part one, I talked a little about the theme of blindness that's established in the revised version of the Martin Brody introduction scene. Maybe even more than the shark itself, blindness is what puts Amity in real danger.

Blindness is personified in the character of Mayor Vaughn, who literally refuses to believe that there's a dangerous shark in the waters, and likewise refuses to take any precautions to keep the town and its visitors safe.

Now, the obvious dynamic would be to have Chief Brody in opposition to Mayor Vaughn. But he's not. In fact, Brody lets Vaughn talk him out of closing the beaches. Brody is willing to ignore the danger to the town, and even to his own family, after Vaughn pressures him to change the autopsy report to a boat accident and keep the beaches open for business. Brody, on the edge of doing the right thing, gives in and adopts Vaughn's blindness.

Martin Brody, on his own, cannot overcome the town's collective blindness. He needs Matt Hooper for that, because Hooper symbolizes clarity of vision.

There are several clues throughout the movie that support this idea. Hooper is very vision-oriented. Here's how he's described when he first appears on the movie screen (emphasis mine.)

 72 CLOSE ON BOAT        72

  Matt Hooper, a bearded, bespectacled young man with an intent
  look, is maneuvering the vessel peering through his windscreen
  at the ragtag collection of seafaring loonies all around him.

During the autopsy, Hooper demands to know if  Brody went out into the water and "looked around." He also angrily asks Brody not to smoke in the room; Hooper may be demanding clarity of vision from Brody by preventing him from "blowing smoke." A stretch? Maybe. But this quick little throw-away line was put in on purpose.

We get more clues throughout the film that Hooper symbolizes vision. During a confrontation with Mayor Vaughn, he tells the mayor to look at the shark that has been spray-painted onto a tourist billboard:

Mr. Vaughn, what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, ah, an eating machine. It's really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks. And that's all. Now why don't you take a long close look at this sign. Those proportions are correct.

Want more? Hooper is always pushing Brody to examine things he'd rather ignore. He convinces Brody to cut open the tiger shark to see if it's the one that ate Alex Kintner. He practically drags Brody out on the water at night to look for the real shark. Hooper's boat is equipped with powerful lights, as well as underwater cameras and sonar equipment. When they find the wreckage of the Ben Gardner's boat, Hooper gears up to take a look without a moment's hesitation.

All of this is added in the revisions. In fact, in the original draft, Hooper tells Brody that he thinks the shark has moved on, only to find out later that he was completely wrong. There's no shark autopsy. Hooper is absent during the billboard scene. Hooper discovers Ben Gardner's boat by accident, without Brody.

When comparing the two drafts, the changes to Matt Hooper's character might be the most significant in the entire script. His personality and his role in the story are completely rewritten in Gottlieb's version; Hooper's insistence on seeing more and digging deeper is largely responsible for keeping Brody and the action moving forward from scene to scene. The original script has an almost haphazard series of events that lead to the ultimate hunt for the shark. The revised version changes this to a methodical, logical progression, thanks in large part to the presence of Matt Hooper.

In the next part of the Jaws ScriptWalk, I'll tackle the character of Quint. By comparing just a few scenes, we'll see how Gottlieb's draft changes the character of Quint in a way that also drives the story in a significant way, especially toward the end of the second act. I also want to take a few key characters and line them up along a kind of emotional spectrum. It'll make more sense when you see it.

Again, if you want to see more about Matt Hooper's introductory scene, and how it changed from early draft to revised draft to final film, check out my bonus comparison here. Otherwise, I'll see you next time!

Y'know... I hope.

(Photo cribbed from All That Comes With It, though I'm guessing the copyright is owned by Universal.)