Thursday, March 08, 2007

Screenwriting 101(2) - The 1st 10 Minutes

Alongside the analysis of Thelma and Louise in regards to the 3 Act Structure, we looked at the importance of the first 10 minutes/pages of a screenplay in getting the reader's attention and really bringing together all the necessary elements of what the film is about, its tone, and the direction its taking.

We looked at the first 10 minutes of Thelma and Louise, pausing the film everytime we had a point to raise, an observation to make:

We see Louise first. She's a waitress (a little older than the others) but she's dependable, a working girl, who can multi-task. Whilst serving coffee her mothering side comes through as she chastises two girls about smoking. "Ruins your sex drive" In the next clip she herself is instantly lighting up.

She phones her friend Thelma, and immediately identifies her as "little housewife". Through their conversation we see their relationship as Louise is the mother/guy and Louise the daughter/girl. Louise is derogative towards Thelma's husband and urging her to tell him that they're both going away for a two day break.

Thelma, by contrast, is a failing housewife - a bit of a slob - her house is decked out in cookery books, post it notes, and a whole host of crap. She is literally drowning in domesticity. She's a child, or at least immature, and that comes through in her mannerisms, speech and actions. She rushes around ineffectually, and we hear that she is afraid to tell her husband, Darryl, that she's going away.

That fear isn't serious fear, and we know, as Darryl arrives, that he's a buffoon of a character, thinks highly of himself, and is easily pissed off at Thelma if she gets in his way. He thinks he has Thelma pegged, though he's too full of himself and getting his own way to truly understand. She is manipulative (a little foreshadowing for her persona change later) and tests the water with Darryl about asking him if she can go away. When he shoots his mouth off at her, she decides not to ask him at all. When he says he'll be home late, she makes the statement that it's funny how he sells so many carpets late on a Friday, when everyone would rather be going home that buying carpets - her insinuation is that he's playing the field. He, however, doesn't get it and again shoots his mouth off at her - we have her motivation now. She is in a loveless marriage.

Darryl leaves and Thelma calls Louise back at the diner. She has decided not to tell Darryl, but will leave him a message. A waiter picks up the call and tries a momentary wooing - every male in this film is trying to chat up Thelma. Louise comes second. Whilst talking to Louise, Thelma keeps flitting in and out of the fridge. She has a chocolate bar in there which she keeps snacking on and putting back. She's compulsive, scatty, sassy and lacks willpower. She wants the chocolate (for breakfast?) and yet a voice in her head (probably Darryl's) keeps telling her to put it back. So, after every bite she puts it back and shuts the door - willpower! But, as she's leaving, she goes back and takes it with her. She can make up her own mind.

We then have a montage of Thelma and Louise getting their bags packed - Louise is methodical, planning, clean and practical. Her items are bagged up, everything is tidy, her house is pristine and everything in its place (she is controlling and obsessive compulsive). We then have her call Jimmy on the phone. He's out and she gets his answer phone. In retalliation she puts down the photo of him on her dresser -This sets up that she has a boyfriend. We know now she isn't single. Also, their relationship is separate; she assumed he'd be there, and though she feels that attachment (she called him to tell him she was off), her putting the photo down reasserts to herself that she can't rely on him, and only on her self. Has he let her down? This contradicts Thelma's relationship and also relates back to Louise's smoking and her comment to the girls about smoking ruining sexual drives.

And of course, Thelma's manner of packing involves every bag in the house and throwing all her clothes, higgledy-piggledy into them - no structure or order. She hasn't a clue about what she'll need. Then she takes the gun, holding it like a rat's tail, and dumps it in one of the bags - it's hers, it was in her drawer, and she feels she'll need it, but she doesn't know how to handle it (has never handled it).

Note: Chekov's rule on guns

Chekhov's gun. If you put a gun onstage in Act I, Chekhov once wrote, you must
use it by Act III. A Chekhov's gun is a fictional element (threat, character,
mystery, prize, challenge) introduced early and with fanfare and in which the
author expects the reader to invest. That investment must pay off with
deployment later in the story even if the Chekhov's gun then disappears offstage
for a long interval. (CSFW: David Smith)
Louise collects Thelma, and they pack the bags into the trunk, with Louise catching herself wanting to do it all for Thelma. Thelma scattily advises Louise about psycho-killers, and they take a photo of themselves before getting in.
We get a brief exposition of where they're going to a lodge of Louise's friend; he's separating from his wife, she gets the lodge in the settlement so he's allowing all his friends to use it - setting up a theme of divorce and separation - Louise responds to Thelma's comments about not telling Darryl by saying: "You get what you settle for. " which foreshadows how the two are escaping.
Thelma dumps the gun on Louise, and though Louise is shocked, she takes it. Thelma again reasserts - psychokillers. Thelma then puts her feet on the dashboard and her dress billows up (Marilyn Monroe style), which Louise tells her to stop because of the kind of attention it will bring - another foreshadowing that Thelma's actions (though not neccessarily self aware) are going to lead to something.
Thelma badgers Louise to let them stop somewhere for food, and though Louise finally agrees, the point is that this is all because of Thelma's inability to keep her willpower in check - beyond the 10 minute mark we'll see her drinking excessively, picking up a man she's doesn't know, dancing with him, and then letting him take her outside, where he tries to rape her. (Ooh'er, responsibility?!)
So, they stop off at a truckstop, The Silver Bullet (apt name - though it was the real name of the place before the filmakers arrived). Tons of men and tons of trucks. The trucks appear throughout the story. The road is laden with them, man's world. Here are two women trying to escape men, to emasculate men and take control of their own lives, and yet men are all about them, and here they are, 10 minutes in, going into the most male area possible.
That is a hell of a lot to pack into the first 10 minutes/pages of a screenplay, but it gives us characters, location, time, tone, genre, foreshadowing... so much stuff.

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