Thursday, May 31, 2007

Who and What Do You Read?

*I posted this at Small Pond, but included it here to hopefully ensure that it will have some kind of life*

I've never been much of a critical reader. I'd read something, enjoy it (or not), and then let it go. Occasionally going back and reading it again. But never with an eye on what's going on below the surface. What choices the writer is making, how the words are leading the reader, or informing the characters. This is no different than watching a film and dissecting the mechanical/technical aspects of the mise-en-scene, editing, or acting. If you're going to call yourself a writer (which I still don't; getting closer but not yet), you should be reading scripts and tearing them apart and seeing how they work. Like you would with a clock.

I've amassed a little stockpile of published scripts and text files over the years. I read a few of them, but I only started to read them with that critical eye I keep mentioning. Making notes in the margins, all that jazz. I'm curious to see if anybody else is doing the same thing, and if so, what you're reading?

I'm working my way through Requiem for a Dream at the moment. It's interesting to see how things changed from the page to the screen. For example, in the script the scene when Harry decides to get his ma a TV takes place in an arcade, they're playing skeeball. In the finished film, he and Marion are at the beach (presumably not far from the boardwalk and an arcade). The scene plays the same on the page, but placing it on the beach makes it a little more tranquil, whereas if it was in the arcade, there would be a lot of noise and lights and such. Chaos slowly builds as the film progresses, culminating in one of the most visceral third acts in cinema, so putting them in the chaotic environment of the arcade for a relatively simple scene could have thrown a kink in the overall feeling of the film.

On tap for future reading is a couple Tarantino scripts (Death Proof & his original version of Natural Born Killers), a few of Harmony Korine's, maybe a Paul Schrader (probably Taxi Driver), and most definitely some Coen brothers (Miller's Crossing being the most likely candidate). Mark Protosevich's unproduced adaptation of I Am Legend is probably next. It's supposed to be one of the great unproduced scripts around.


TDO said...

Okay, so I tried to post, but only typed in my screenname (in the wrong field), so I deleted it. Anyway.

I come from an academic background, so I read a little bit of everything. I originally began with poetry, but since I've begun writing screenplays.

In general, I think it's important for you to read everything you can. Anything and everything that's interesting.

As for scripts specifically, I read them a lot to learn the format. Generally, I read the script, then try to watch the movie within the next day or two to see how certain shots were compared to the script, and what subtle differences the editing and pacing brings out.

I haven't read any in a few months, but my favorite one so far has been AMERICAN SPLENDOR. WALK THE LINE, was also a great tool. The good news is, there are a lot of scripts online and free to download or print off.

If people are interested, I think it'd be fun to study a script. To have a group read it, then meet up and discuss how it works, and how it doesn't. (Even my favorite movies have scenes and/or lines of dialogue I just can't stand).

AARD7ARK said...

I used to read a lot of scripts, but then realized that I wasn't getting out of them what I thought I should be getting out of them. Also, most scripts that are available are the final "reader's" script - with everything typeset correctly and most all of the typo's removed. What these scripts DON'T show is the process from one draft to another, which would be more valuable than just reading the final draft. Why? Simply because most people don't edit their stuff; they're too darn pleased with themselves (and too close to the material as, "writer") to edit it objectively.

Which is what makes me cringe so much about the Boise film community: everyone seems to think they know how to write. Hey, we've all seen the craptastic "home movie" that the film's maker thought was awesome when really the acting was terrible - most actors in this town don't do their homework (and mostly because their directors don't ask them too...). Same thing goes for the writing in this town: everyone thinks they know how a script works, but let's face the fact that, if everyone could write, we'd all be making tons of cash doing it. Ugh. This feeling is so pervasive that even though I have a bit of a reputation as a script guy, people still try to revise my third and fourth drafts of scripts with their first draft ideas. 9 times out of 10? My script goes from "good" to "whatever" - usually because they don't understand why I've crafted a script a certain way.

Anyway, that's a tangent. What you CAN get from a good script is the pacing of a story in cinematic terms; I find that isn't such a bad thing to know. Insofar as reading scripts anymore, though... mmm... nope. Curiously, I've quit doing it (and didn't even realize it).

But, as TDO pointed out, it IS important to read (DEVOUR) as much as possible, and that means getting out of your comfort zone (i.e. read something else than the genre you like). For example, in the last month I've read a young adult fantasy novel, Stephen King's The Dark Tower book seven, Farenheit 451 (again) and am currently wading through Atlas Shrugged and Ten Days That Shook The World.