Scream by Kevin Williamson
Unknown Draft. No Date. 105 pages
Scream brought self-aware horror onto the scene with panache. The people yelling “No, don’t go in the basement alone!” were no longer confined to the theater, they were actual characters in the film. It’s a hip, punchy, scary movie filled with memorable characters that kept audiences coming back for more (3 more, at last count).
Considering how close this script mimics the final film, I’m guessing it was the shooting script (or cleaned up after the fact to closely match it). A couple missing scenes and several changed lines of dialogue were all that I could find between this and the released film.
So why read a slasher film from the mid 90s? Putting aside the whole “redefining the genre” bit, it really is an effective film. Short, mixing slasher horror seamlessly with comedic moments and even managing some social commentary along the way. I’m writing an action/comedy at the moment, with a straight up horror script in the works, so now seemed like as good a time as any to read this one. I was after the short bursts of action/description between the dialogue heavy chunks. I wanted to see how to construct something effective, scary, and yet punchy short.
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Lethal Weapon 2 by Jeffrey Boam
Unknown Revision Script. April 1989 (with draft pages dating back to December 1988). 121 pages
The successful followup to the action comedy blockbuster that redefined the genre. Or, for those having trouble remembering all the sequels to movies from the 80s: Mel Gibson fights South Africans and an exploding toilet. See, that jogged your memory.
The script for this film used to be online, but was removed (likely at Warner Bros’ request). So everyone online links back to the same broken page. Not be deterred, I located a physical copy of the script from a friendly library. This had the added benefit of being remarkably close to what we see in the finished film. The scenes are numbered and the sequences underlined (“Opening Chase” for example), so I’m betting this was the shooting script (or revised after the fact to closely match the finished film).
I sought out this particular script because 1) it’s a fun movie, 2) it’s a different writer’s take on someone else’s characters (although two other writer’s are credited for the story) and 3) I’m also writing an action comedy. What works? What doesn’t? How do they balance the comedy and the action? Does every action sequence serve a narrative purpose? How do the characters evolve from the previous film in the series? How different is this film while keeping some of the stuff that made it so popular in the first outting? That’s the mindset I went in with.
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The Matrix by Lana & Lilly Wachowski
Numbered Shooting Script. 133 pages. Dated March 1998
The action spectacular that needs no introduction (but let’s give it one anyway, just to be polite). A genre mashup that combines the color-shifted visual stylings of the Wachowskis and the gravity bending action sequences of a great anime. The reluctant hero, the thumping soundtrack, the bullet-time effect; The Matrix redefined action movies as we exited the 20th century. For anyone that wants to write action, reading this was a no-brainer. So, what do we get?
The PDF I read claims to be the shooting script. Comparing it to the final product, I believe it. The dialogue, the action, everything lines up perfectly with the theatrical release (of course, it could have been cleaned up after the fact). Only one plotline was cut as far as I could tell (which we’ll get to later). Since the Wachowskis were writing AND directing the film, this isn’t a huge surprise. They had a clear vision and it shows on the page.
Right off the bat, the vivid descriptions stand out. Letters on a screen are “shimmering like green electric rivers.”
What green electric rivers might look like.
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When Harry Met Sally by Nora Ephron (with Rob Reiner & Andrew Scheinman)
120 pages. Dated August, 1988
These “reviews” are coming from the perspective of a beginning screenwriter. The stories and characters are still important, but I will mostly be focusing on the flow and the structure. Spoilers will be marked as such.
The Queen of modern romantic comedies. New York, quick dialogue, faked orgasms. It has everything. When Harry Met Sally was written by Nora Ephron. Nora penned another great comedy close to my heart: My Blue Heaven two years later in 1990. She’s probably better known for rounding out the Meg Ryan trilogy with Sleepless In Seattle & You’ve Got Mail (which she also directed).
The version of the script I am reviewing was dated form August of 1988. Since the movie was released the next Summer, this is almost certainly a production draft. Especially since, if IMDB is to be believed, several of the lines that are in this script were suggested by stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. Also, director Rob Reiner and producer Andrew Scheinman are credited on this version. That’s another dead giveaway. Let’s dig in.
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Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang by Shane Black
(formerly titled You’ll Never Die In This Town Again)
126 pages. Dated November 21, 2003
These won’t be reviews in the traditional sense of the word. I won’t be giving scripts star ratings or grades or anything of the sort. For one, I’m clearly not qualified to be doing that. Secondly, that isn’t what I think is educational about reading screenplays. I’m reading screenplays because I want to write screenplays. I want to see how others do it, how they build characters, how the action unfolds, how the formatting works (or doesn’t). That’s my goal.
So, in these “reviews” I will be coming at it from the perspective of a beginning screenwriter. The stories and characters are still important, but I will mostly be focusing on the flow and the structure. Spoilers will be marked as such.
Shane Black sold his first script when he was just 22. It was a small arthouse film called Lethal Weapon. It starred some Australian guy. You probably haven’t seen it. Anyway, he went on to write (and sell) quite a few other action scripts over the next decade. He quickly earned a reputation for writing action mixed with witty dialogue that played with the genre’s conventions. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang was his directorial debut after a long hiatus in screenwriting. Ok, here we go.
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