Scriptshadow is not dead! Between Labor Day Weekend and preparing for my upcoming vacation (next week), time has been scarce. Speaking of, what are you guys going to do while I’m gone? Maybe you should write a script in a single week. You can then post the results (or a summary of the experience) on the site. I’ll call it the Scriptshadow Is Gone Write A Screenplay In A Week Contest. If you need inspiration, go watch this video. As for today, we’re taking a time machine back to the 80s. Seeing as Michael Douglas cheating on Catherine Zeta-Jones with Matt Damon has led to their divorce, it’s only natural that we take a look at one of his earlier marriage screw-ups, when he cheated on his wife with Glenn Close. The reason I chose this script was because thrillers remain one of the three go-to genres to sell a spec screenplay. They’re lean, high on intensity, take you through a range of emotions, and are relatively inexpensive to make. If I were starting my writing career today with the knowledge I have now, I would write either a comedy, an action script, or a thriller. That’s where the money is. While it didn’t win any Oscars, Fatal Attraction was nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture, best actress, and best adapted screenplay.

1) Thriller titles must be visceral – With straight thrillers, the title should illicit a strong visceral reaction. It must imply the extreme emotional gamut it will run the audience through. The original title for this movie was “Divergent.” I think we can agree that doesn’t have nearly the same punch as “Fatal Attraction.”

2) Start where you need to start – With thrillers, there’s a temptation to start the script with a very “thriller-like” scene, or a “teaser.” Our femme fatale eerily cutting herself in the darkness of her apartment while listening to opera music, for example. But it’s more important to start the script where it needs to in order to set up the story. In order to convey that our main character would seek out an affair, we need to establish that he’s bored with the married family life. So the first scene, then, is about Dan (Michael Douglas) muscling through an evening with the family.

3) Just make sure the scene’s interesting – If you aren’t going to wow us with a teaser (such as the one I mentioned above), remember that you still have to hook the reader right away. For that reason, you want your first scene to convey a sense of purpose, a sense of activity, a sense of forward momentum. Fatal Attraction does not begin with a family sitting at home eating pizza watching a movie, for example. It begins with mom and dad getting ready for a dressy work event. This gives everyone something to do. We are propelling forward towards something. As a reader, I want to find out what that “something” is. Which is why I keep reading.

4) If your main character is going to do something horrible, try to have someone else instigate it – Our hero, Dan, cheats on his beautiful amazing wife and adorable daughter. Ouch. Talk about a tough character to like. If you’re going to have your hero do something as reprehensible as this, make sure it wasn’t his idea. If he instigates it, we’ll hate him. It’s Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) who moves in on Dan here. She’s the one pushing him for lunch. She’s the one who suggests they’re “adults” who can make their own decisions. She’s the one who’s trying to make this happen. I’ve read a lot of scripts where a married or committed man goes out and fucks other women without a second thought. I immediately hated all those characters.

5) Give the wife something to do – Oh boy. If I had a dollar for every time a writer forgot about the wife character, I could buy a new car. Amateur writers write only with the actions of their protagonist and antagonist in mind. Pro writers give ALL OF THEIR CHARACTERS something to do. Fatal Attraction has wife Beth spearheading the big move from the city to the suburbs. She’s visiting potential new houses as well as prepping the sale of this apartment. This ensures that a second storyline is going on underneath the main storyline, which gives the script a more dynamic and realistic feel.

6) Sometimes, the absence of damage is worse than actual damage – Alex boiling the rabbit is one of the most memorable scenes in movie history. But if all you do is fill your thrillers with “boiling rabbit” scenes, they lose their effect. One of the creepier scenes in Fatal Attraction is when Alex picks up Dan’s daughter from school and spends the day with her. She doesn’t do anything to the little girl, dropping her off at Dan’s home unharmed, and yet it’s a horrifying scene.

7) STAKES ALERT – Remember that it’s your job to raise the stakes of your story wherever possible, ESPECIALLY in a thriller. The more there is to lose, the more compelling the situation will be. For example, this movie doesn’t pack the same punch if there’s no child involved. If the writer would’ve only written in a wife, we wouldn’t have been as involved. It’s the fact that he has a daughter, that he has a family, that gives our hero so much to fight for.

8) Don’t get so lost in the point of the scene that you forget the reality of the moment – I see this A LOT with amateur writers and even with good writers. We can get so set on achieving a scene’s purpose, we don’t stop to find the truth in the moment. For example, there’s an early scene in Fatal Attraction’s script where they need to set up the babysitter before the parents leave. This could’ve been a very perfunctory moment. “Okay, there’s the food in the fridge.” “She likes when you read to her.” “We’ll be home by ten.” That sort of thing. However, your job is to stop thinking of the moment as a movie scene, and to find its inner life, its “truth” if you will. So the writers add this nice little exchange where Dan says to the babysitter, teasingly, “And no partying, d’you hear?” The babysitter replies, “But I’ve already sent out the invitations.” Dan responds. “Can I come?” This exchange takes what easily could’ve been a straight boring “get through it” scene, and adds life to it. Make sure you go through all your scenes and find their reality.

9) Look for ways to cleverly intersect storylines – There are typically several storylines going on in every script (here we have the affair, the potential move to the suburbs, his job at the publishing house). It’s your job as a writer to look for fun ways to bring these storylines together. A great example of this occurs in Fatal Attraction. Because they’re moving, they must sell their own place, which means potential buyers coming in to look at it. Who better to be one of those “potential buyers” than… Alex Forrest! Not only that, but the way this scene is written, Dan comes home to find none other than Alex IN HIS HOME talking TO HIS WIFE. It’s a shocking reveal (and one of the most memorable moments in the script). Finding great intersecting moments like these are what really elevate a script.

10) In a thriller, your protagonist and antagonist must square off – In the much publicized original ending for Fatal Attraction, Alex Forrest kills herself and makes it look like Dan murdered her. That ending didn’t test well. Why? It’s hard to say. But a good bet is that when you have a battle like this going on for 110 minutes, the audience wants to see the hero and the villain square off against one another. So that’s exactly what they did with the reshoot. They had Alex come to the home and try to kill Dan’s wife. Dan battles her to defend his family. It was a much bigger and more satisfying ending.

  • Guest

    Glenn Close said she wouldn’t play this role again as written as it’s not a true representation of mental illness (of which she is a huge advocate); but it’s a good 80s thriller…

  • https://twitter.com/cmulliganauthor Chris Mulligan

    Had me sweating this long weekend. No newsletter and a very late post. Killing me!
    I’m game to write a script in a week while you’re gone. Throw out maybe 3 loglines we have to choose from so there’s no cheatsies.

    • fragglewriter

      That would be cool. Like that scrernwriting contest (forgot the name of it).
      A script or a short story and give us 3 loglines and a due date. Carson chooses teh best 5 to spotlight for the week.

  • Mike.H

    Carson, when is your pending vacay? Sure, my idea has been percolating a while…

  • Poe_Serling

    Per Carson:

    “…what are you guys going to do while I’m gone? Maybe you should write a script in a single week… I’ll call it the Scriptshadow Is Gone Write A Screenplay In A Week Contest.”

    I think I mentioned this before that legendary screenwriter Ben Hecht once claimed that he wrote a script in twelve hours. The title of the flick: The Unholy Garden.

    Whether the above story is true or not, one look at the guy’s credited/uncredited script work in Hollywood is beyond impressive.

    Hecht even won the first Academy Award for screenwriting with the picture Underworld. This happened right after he received an invitation from fellow screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz to come out to Los Angeles. “Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots… don’t let this get around.”

    • brenkilco

      Hect sort of cultivated the image of a fallen artist churning out junk for big bucks. And some of the stories about him are tough to credit. Like his doing an entire rewrite of the Gone With the Wind script without ever reading the book, just having Selznick tell him the story. But considering among many other accomplishments that he penned what is arguably the greatest American stage comedy The Front page, he was clearly a much more dedicated writer than he let on. Pauline Kael once said that Hect wrote half the most entertaining films to come out of Hollywood and Jules Furthman wrote the other half. An exaggeration but not much of one.

      Herman Mankiewicz, a somewhat tragic figure, was also an amazingly witty guy. He once said of the young, extremely egotistical Orson Welles There but for the grace of God goes God.

      • Poe_Serling

        Also, it’s interesting to note the ease that Hecht had jumping from one genre to another – Gunga Din (adventure), Nothing Sacred/The Front Page (comedy), Scarface (crime), Kiss of Death (film noir), Notorious (thriller), and even sci-fi with The Thing From Another World (uncredited).

        • brenkilco

          Sometimes too easily. For Gunga Din he actually recycled the basic plot situation of The Front Page.

    • klmn

      I hope there’s room for one more idiot.

      • darren

        lol. Reminds me of that great joke in Point Break where Keanu’s character meets his new partner who questions his moving from Idaho to LA saying “There must be an asshole shortage out here”, to which Keanu quips…. “Not so far…”

    • Auckland Guy

      Thanks for that comment Poe – I’ve now read all about Hecht and Mankiewicz. True legends. And boy did they crank them out.

      This quote from Hecht still has resonance…

      “The factors that laid low so whooping and puissant an empire as the old Hollywood are many. I can think of a score, including the barbarian hordes of Television. But there is one that stands out for me in the post-mortem…. The factor had to do with the basis of movie-making: ‘Who shall be in charge of telling the story.’ …“The answer Hollywood figured out for this question was what doomed it. It figured out that writers were not to be in charge of creating stories. Instead, a curious tribe of inarticulate Pooh-Bahs called Supervisors and , later, Producers were summoned out of literary nowhere and given a thousand scepters. It was like switching the roles of teacher and pupil in the fifth grade. The result is now history. An industry based on writing had to collapse when the writer was given an errand-boy status…”

    • Tor Dollhouse

      Heysa Poe,

      I was thinking that a realistic goal would be to write a “pilot” for a tv show. We could do 15 pages a day Monday through to Thursday and a re-write on Friday. Carson could post 3-5 loglines to choose from. The best script for each logline gets a short review in a single article when he gets back. Who would be interested?

    • Citizen M

      “I wrote Basic Instinct (1992) in a blind frenzy while listening almost non-stop to the Rolling Stones. I didn’t outline the script and I didn’t know my ending until I was almost two-thirds finished. It exploded out of my head – I kept hearing lines of dialogue and had to hurry to keep up with the voices I was hearing. I woke up at four in the morning and wrote lines of dialogue down. I wrote it in two shifts each day – from nine in the morning till one in the afternoon and from three in the afternoon to eight o’clock at night. From the time I began writing till the day my agent sold it at auction: thirteen days.” — Joe Eszterhas, IMDb bio

      • ximan

        Eszterhas was my inspiration growing up. Even as a kid (who should not have even seen Basic Instinct) the first thing I thought after watching the film wasn’t “Wow, Sharon Stone’s vagina!” It was “THAT’S the kind of movie I want to write!”

        My freshman year in college I found out Carolco paid him $3 million for thirteen days of writing, and I was like “THAT’S the kind of money I want to make!” Plus I remember people saying that he wrote outside the studio system, which after living in LA for 5 years, I completely understand. Hollywood just isn’t the type of environment that’s condusive to good, fast writing. Or to much of anything, for that matter.

    • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

      Hecht was amazing.

      Thought this was funny from wikipedia, written by Leyland Hayward (Hecht’s agent):

      “So I went back to Hughes, and told him I’d been able to persuade Hecht to do his script; I told him Ben’s terms, – $1,000 per day – and Howard didn’t blink an eye. He nodded, and said ‘Okay-it’s a deal. But you tell Hecht I want a real tough shoot-‘em up script that’ll knock the audience out of its seats, okay?’

      “So Ben went to work,” added Hayward. Hayward was to receive 10% of Hecht’s fees as his commission. “He was a hell of a fast writer – sometimes too fast. I didn’t even know how fast he could go… At the end of the first day I went back to Ben’s house. There he was, typing away… I said ‘Ben – please slow down.’ Over the next few days, ‘while watching the accumulated pages of Hecht’s script growing higher and higher, ‘I couldn’t slow the guy down!’ sighed Hayward, who only made his commission for each day Hecht worked.

      “I came by his home the next day… ‘I’ve got an idea. I’m going to finish this damn thing tomorrow,’ Ben told me. ‘Ben—for God’s sake!’ I said. ‘Can’t you slow down a little? Hughes isn’t interested in you setting some sort of a speed record for writing!'”

      But it was as if young Hayward had set out to flag down an army tank. Nothing stopped Hecht. On the night of the ninth day, Hayward arrived with his daily payment from Hughes, to find Hecht lounging in a chair, enjoying a highball.

      “Hecht waved at his stack of manuscript. ‘Done’, he announced. ‘Finished the damn thing’.

      “Nine thousand dollars – for the screenplay of Scarface? sighed Hayward. … Hughes was tickled with Ben’s script; he showed it to Howard Hawks. Hawks loved it, and then they picked up this wonderful young actor from New York, Paul Muni, to play the lead. The picture went out and cleaned up – made a bundle for Hughes… And if old Ben really outsmarted himself on that one… he didn’t care. He was on to something else. Ben was always on to something else.”

    • pale yellow

      When I first started writing, I can remember ‘pitching’ a log and synopsis just like I’d finished the script to the InkTip wants(against the rules of course)…and I actually got two people over the time that wanted the script! ACK! I caffeined up and wrote all weekend. So I’ve written two weekend scripts(both SUCK). I do NOT do that anymore. :) Live and learn.

  • Montana Gillis

    This movie scared the crap out of me. Hell, it scared the crap out of every man in America!
    On a side note… good article. As for writing a script in a week, I’ve written scripts that read like they were written in a week. Interesting concept though. We could call it … Ready?

  • Mike

    The original title was actually Diversion, not Divergent. (That would be the upcoming Hunger Games Lite due in 2014). Great article.

  • John Bradley

    These are my favorite articles, I’ve learned so much from them. Thanks a bunch!

  • klmn

    I’ll be finishing a script within a week but there’s no way in hell I’m writing another.

    And btw, aren’t you the guy always blogging about doing 20-30 rewrites?

    • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

      I think he means write a first draft in a week

  • lonestarr357

    Good tips. I’ve got a thriller script kicking around. Just waiting to hear back on the notes.

  • brenkilco

    Mulling these points over but have immediate questions about 1 and 10. I don’t think titles matter much at all. Can think of any number of great thrillers whose titles weren’t visceral in the least: The Third Man, North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train, Three Days of the Condor, Chinatown, Vertigo, Rear Window, Odd Man Out, Charlie Varrick, The Train, Klute etc. etc. etc.

    As to the Protagonist and Antagonist squaring off, not sure. In most cases the Hero must win and the villain must lose but his doesn’t always demand or permit a mano a mano finale. Hitchcock is the bible here, and while Strangers on a Train and Rear Window feature such climactic confrontations many of his other thrillers don’t. In Notorious the villain is vanquished simply by having Cary Grant lock a car door on him. And in Vertigo the villain is never caught at all. In Chinatown the villain gets away with it and in Three Days of the Condor the ostensive villain ends up giving the hero valuable life advise and a lift home. The logic of your story should dictate the climax. In this regard Fatal Attraction is a bad example. While visceral and satisfying in a lowest common denominator way the tacked on ending is also wildly over the top and preposterous.

    • Poe_Serling

      ” I don’t think titles matter much at all. Can think of any number of great thrillers whose titles weren’t visceral in the least…”

      Good point.

      They even spoofed this whole Fatal Attraction/Basic Instinct craze of that era at the beginning of the Kevin Kline film In and Out. Remember the pic opens up at the Oscars with Glenn Close presenting the Best Actor Award.

      Glenn Close:
      This is Cameron’s first nomination and he’s in extremely good company.
      Tonight he joins fellow best actor nominee Paul Newman for “Coot”, Clint
      Eastwood for “Codger”, Michael Douglas for “Primary Urges”…
      (blows him a kiss)
      … and Steven Seagal for “Snowball in Hell”.

      • brenkilco

        Actually, as titles go, I like Snowball in Hell better than Olympus has Fallen.

    • Andrew Mullen

      Vertigo is an incredibly visceral title. I think it’s even more visceral than Psycho or Frenzy.

      Also, it should be pointed out that Carson specifically said “straight thrillers” which would exclude a lot of your examples. Spy thrillers =/= straight thrillers.

      I don’t agree that every straight thriller has to have a title that is visceral, but if you are telling a straight thriller odds are the best title for the story is going to be one that is.

      I’ve gotten griped at a couple times on past Am Fridays for pointing out some titles that could use some adjustment and it was always, “Ugh. Titles don’t matter.” Which I don’t get at all. it’s the very first thing anyone ever sees. Sometimes the ONLY thing they see before making a decision to read.

      • brenkilco

        I have no idea what the definition of “straight thriller” is. If it requires a deranged character with a knife than I suppose a violent on the nose title might be appropriate. I’ll grant that psycho is an immensely visceral title but to me Vertigo sounds more suitable to a swoony romance. I know that doesn’t make it inappropriate To me the best titles are subtly suggestive not obvious or in your face: Shadow of a Doubt. Touch of Evil, Wait Until Dark. That sort.
        I believe Hitchcock disliked the meh title Frenzy. It was sort of a compromise when no one could come up with anything better. All they knew was they couldn’t use the rotten title of the book the movie was based on ” Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicister Square.”

    • Auckland Guy

      I feel like titles are incredibly important. It’s the shop front and a snappy title can hook people in straight away. Once heard it said, ‘why would you spend all that time building a beautiful house, then slap a shabby front door on it’.

      I’ve nearly been put off many a good script/film because of utterly bland or non-descriptive titles which really didn’t do the film justice. Just my opinion but it’s worth putting heaps of thought into titles.

      • brenkilco

        Beautiful house. That reminds me of my favorite sequel title. The follow up to the low budget horror movie House. It was House 2: The Second Story.

      • pale yellow

        For me, when I think of a title, it’s my inspiration for the screenplay. I really love the titles that in two words can tell you what the story is about. High concept ideas…you know the story…the log.. with just the title. Of course not all are that easy, but a good title helps me stay focused. I tend to like shorter titles also. May just be a ‘me’ thing. I dunno.

      • andyjaxfl

        Here’s an interesting link about title changes in quite a few movies.


        I’m of the opinion that the title should tell you at least something about the movie. Take Jack Carter and John Reacher for instance. What does that tell you about those movies? Absolutely nothing to anyone who’s not a fan of the books. Now I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule (take Lincoln for example), but I’d agree that a title is pretty damn important.

        • Auckland Guy

          Thanks for that link. He he… you mean John Carter and Jack Reacher? But point taken, they are completely bland and it’s like they’ve just given up. One of the MANY reasons for John Carter’s failure I believe was simply the title. Totally generic and meaningless to anyone who hadn’t read the books. Two titles that stuck out for me recently as being bland were ‘The World’s End’ and ‘This is the End’. Possibly good movies – given the filmmaking teams behind them I’m sure they were – but the titles did not inspire excitement. Compare that to ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’, ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’, ‘Point Break’, ‘World War Z’, ‘Despicable Me’ etc… evocative titles that give you the flavor of the story straight away.

          • andyjaxfl

            I accidentally watched a 30-minute “Making of” the movie Dracula 2000 a few years ago, and one of the Weinstein’s has a great line in which he says he only bought the script because it has a great title. Granted they rewrote the entire screenplay after the sale, and maybe I’m overreaching on my point, but I think that still says something about a great title versus a bland title.

            I agree on John Carter. I think they changed the title from the original “A Prince of Mars” to “John Carter of Mars” to “John Carter” so people wouldn’t get confused and think it’s a movie about… Mars? Weird…

          • Auckland Guy

            Yes, ‘title drift’ I call that. The public doesn’t care what the naming process was through successive iterations, only the end title arrived at. ‘John Carter’ was what was on the DVD cover and on that little red digital board at your local cinema and I’m afraid for me at least, that screamed, ‘don’t watch me’. Even something like ‘Red Planet Prince’ or ‘Mars Cowboy’ would have been better.

          • GoIrish

            Interesting that you mention Shawshank. I thought one of the theories floating around as to why it performed poorly/so-so at the box office (compared with its post-theatrical run) is because of the title – people couldn’t figure out what it was referring to.

          • Auckland Guy

            Okay, didn’t know that. Maybe then that’s an example of an evocative title but not really telling what the movie’s about, a bit like ‘The Hudsucker Proxy’… very interesting title but not exactly self explanatory. If we can achieve the double, evocative but explanatory, I think we get a great title. It’s worth spending ages on figuring it out I reckon, doing justice to your script.

    • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

      While I totally agree that “the logic of your story should dictate the climax,” in all of the examples you’ve given, the hero and villain do “face off.” No, they may not be a face off in the vein of Rear Window or tons of other films, but the idea is that the hero and villain must have a confrontation. “Square off” is probably too “big” of a term, confrontation is more apt. In all of the above examples, there is a confrontation, it just isn’t necessarily a violent or over the top one.

      One example of no confrontation of hero or villain is of course No Country for Old Men, an amazingly brilliant film, and one in which the logic of the story dictates the climax (or lack thereof if you ask some people). But in a spec script from an unknown writer, an ending like that wouldn’t work. And of course, look at how many people hated that ending in the final film (not me, I loved it).

      • brenkilco

        Of course every movie has to have a resolution, a settling of accounts, otherwise you don’t have a story. So if you’re willing to define confrontation broadly enough I guess you can always find one. The post seemed to be defining “squaring off” pretty narrowly i.e. the protagonist blowing the psycho villainess away. However, I still maintain it’s tough to find any sort of confrontation with the antagonist in the examples I cite. The climactic confrontation in Vertigo is between hero and heroine(for lack of better terms) with the villain, who is really no more than a catalyst, long gone. The penultimate scene of Chinatown is a face to face between hero and villain, but the actual climax involves the Dunaway character and her father with the protagonist basically an onlooker. In Notorious protagonist and antagonist spend the climax working in reluctant concert and though the villain gets his in the end it’s the other villains what do him in. And in Condor while you get a final scene between Redford and Von Sydow the gag is that it’s a world of amoral expediency and suddenly Von Sydow isn’t a villain anymore so there is no need for a confrontation. All great movies and the stories go where they go, just not necessarily to a final squaring off.

        • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

          I don’t disagree with that at all. I was simply saying that there is usually some type of face to face between hero and villain at or near the end of a film. Perhaps even confrontation is too harsh, as that may imply hostility. Thinking back over about the way Carson wrote #10, I’m inclined to agree with you about what he meant, and that it certainly isn’t a “must.” I interpreted it more as a face-to-face. But it seems like you’re probably correct with the narrow definition. I was speaking in a broad sense.

          I’m trying to think if there are any other films where a broadly defined “confrontation” doesn’t happen, aside from No Country for Old Men. Drawing a blank at the moment.

          • brenkilco

            NCFOM is unique. Can’t think of any other movie that creates such a memorable villain only to leave him in limbo. The closest thing I can come up with, meaning a movie where the absence of confrontation is really the kicker, is Rosemary’s Baby. You expect something really horrific is going to happen at the end and instead you get something bizarrely matter of fact. “It’s plain old Lipton’s tea. You drink it.”

          • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

            Rosemary’s Baby is a good example, probably as close as you can get. No Country for Old Men is definitely unique in that none of the three main characters ever share any screen time (exception may be the hotel/street shootout, but that hardly counts), and aside from one phone call, they never speak to each other.

      • Linkthis83

        Matty, why is it that you loved the ending of No Country for Old Men? I’m in the camp who hated it. I hated it because finding movies that have me completely invested in the story is so rare. I was totally engrossed in this film until it went in the direction it did. I think it’s also worth noting that I didn’t know ANYTHING about this film before watching it (so I didn’t have any expectations).

        • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

          I didn’t know anything about it either, had never read or heard of the book. I loved it because it was a perfect expression of the theme. This changing world, where people who once had a place are now struggling to recapture that moment, but they can’t; endangered species trying to escape extinction. They’re destined to find themselves out of place and remain that way. The off-screen death of Moss reinforces that theme. These are ultimately powerless men living a world largely driven by fate and circumstance. Only one of them ends up realizing that though.

          “Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.”

        • Jerry Salvaderi

          I read the book and many other of Cormac McCarthy’s works and the ending definitely makes more sense in the context of the novel. In the movie, it’s easy enough to get caught up in the cat-and-mouse game between Moss and Chigurh that you can overlook the fact that the story is all about the theme (most of McCarthy’s works are light on plot and extremely heavy on imagery and theme) and not who winds up with the briefcase full of money. The finale makes sense because it reinforces the cold, deatched, indiscriminate nature of violence with Moss’ death, and the persistence of evil over virtue with Chigurh making good on his promise in regards to Moss’s wife.

          The Coen’s script is remarkably true to the source material; the kicker is that Cormac McCarthy thinks way outside the box, and that’s as a novelist. There’s a reason why his novels are generally difficult to adapt to the screen.

          • Linkthis83

            I think when it comes down to it, and I hope I’m not over simplifying it, I was invested in the characters and the story that was taking place. When it got to the point that the story was not about these characters is when my ties to the story were severed. I can appreciate what the story is supposed to represent, but I would’ve rather seen the story play out.

            I read McCarthy’s book The Road and I loathed it. I didn’t know what type of stories Cormac wrote. I’ve always described this book where things ALMOST happen, but never really do. Or they don’t fully explore the scenarios he sets up. But all that has to do with my expectations.

          • Jerry Salvaderi

            I wouldn’t say Cormac McCarthy is an “acquired taste,” but a primer of his style is definitely needed before plunging into his work. I would say that All the Pretty Horses is likely the most palatable for those unfamiliar with how he writes (ironically enough, it is probably the best suited for adaptation yet became an awful, awful movie). Blood Meridian is his masterpiece, some of the best writing I have ever read.

            There is often a huge disconnect between what the average reader (or viewer) expects from a story and what McCarthy delivers. No Country for Old Men really isn’t about the characters at all. In fact, the sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones’s character) is the protagonist of the book, and the briefcase chasing serves mainly to illustrate his belief that the emergence of the incredibly violent drug trade across the border is the hallmark of the new way of life pervading his once-sleepy turf, and his struggle to understand it.

            The Road wasn’t my favorite work of his, but I did enjoy it. It’s final paragraph is an absolute masterpiece:

            “Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”

          • Vicky

            Wow, you just made me into a fan of McCarthy! Thanks!!

        • Logline_Villain

          Though you weren’t a fan of the ending, I suspect you still recall said ending more than the finale of most movies you have seen – irony being that undermining your expectation as to how a movie should conclude ultimately makes it more memorable, despite your less-than-enthusiastic view of its merit? Of course, I could be wrong…

          • Linkthis83

            I think most of us remember being wronged when we are truly invested. I don’t think that speaks to its merits, using that perspective.

          • Logline_Villain

            It’s an ending that polarizes people, that’s for sure…

          • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

            Beyond the fact that I think it’s a perfect expression of the theme, I also liked that it subverts your expectations. We kind of expect this showdown between Chigurh and Moss, with possibly Sheriff Bell in there, but it completely side steps that (which is what makes people so mad) and kills a main character off screen. It sort of makes you question your expectations of cinema and why you have those expectations.

            I also loved the very ending. It was one of those endings where right before it cut to black I said “it should end right here” and then it did. I love when that happens, it’s the ultimate satisfaction, ending exactly where you thought it should.

            Only film I’ve seen four times in the theatre. Twice the day it opened. (and at all four showings, at least three people audibly said something to the effect of “what the hell” at the end)

          • Linkthis83

            For me it wasn’t about subverting my expectations. I was on a path. I didn’t think this path was leading me to the greatest place ever, I was just walking on a really great path. Then, that path just stops being a path. It wasn’t about where I was heading, but what was happening along the way. I just wanted to see where this path of greatness ended up. It was like the path chose to stop being a path and didn’t care that I was on it.

            If anything I think it’s reflective of people’s assumptions in life. I don’t disagree with those who liked/loved it. I just got so hooked on that story I felt cheated when I didn’t get to see it play out. That also doesn’t mean if it had played out that the ending would be anymore satisfying or complete. It’s just deflating to have a story you thought you were seeing just kind of stop. I can appreciate it for what it is, but that doesn’t change that it was great to be really involved in a story that didn’t play out.

            In fact, it’s refreshing to see somebody enjoy this movie to the degree you did.

  • Malibo Jackk

    11.) Tap into what every woman would like to see happen
    if a married man cheats on his family.

  • Kay Bryen

    Thought Carson was already in Paris and that he had been “Taken”.

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      There are no more albanians left in Paris, Liam killed them all… ;)

  • Linkthis83

    Tip #8 = The more amateur scripts I’m reading I feel like this happens quite often. It feels like the writer gets to one of these babysitter-type moments and relaxes. The situation is so familiar to all of us that the writer auto-pilots through it.

    The scene may not play a huge role overall in your story, but don’t forget that your characters still have their personalities. These small scenes are opportunities for your characters to reveal snippets of who they are. They may not be soulful insights into who they are, but they will help the audience get to know them.

    • brenkilco

      This establishing stuff is hard. Was watching this newish thriller Erased on Netflix. Very generic and I may not finish it but the introduction of the main character is painful and like every other thriller or action movie you see. The obligatory let’s get to know our protagonist before the action starts. So we see him making breakfast for his grumpy teen daughter and trying to avoid talking about his divorce and discussing household chores and who gives a damn. Show me a writer who can make this sort of stuff interesting and Ill show you a superior writer. Everybody else should at least have the sense to keep it short.

      • Linkthis83

        I think either keeping it short or sprinkling it in while the protag is moving towards the plot is probably best. I’m not sure if that might also be dependent on genre. In your example, it feels like since they know they have to introduce us to the protag, why not just do it all in one scene in order to get to the good stuff.

  • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

    Hughes wrote “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” in six days. Though I think it’s not a very good movie, it isn’t bad considering how quickly it was written and that they basically shot the first draft.

    When I first started writing I wrote a script in two days. I don’t have it any longer, but I’m just guessing that it wasn’t very good…

    Anyway, good article.

  • drifting in space

    Does anyone have a copy of the screenplay?

  • garrett_h

    Another great article.

    Fatal Attraction is on my weekend viewing list. I have a script idea I’ve been working on that is similar, but different.

    As a matter of fact, I’ve been putting off writing it for a while. Life has been getting in the way. But what the heck. I need to get this puppy on paper. And I have some free time next week. So I accept your challenge, Carson Reeves, for the Scriptshadow Is Gone Write A Screenplay In A Week Contest.

    Just not sure I’m gonna post the results here. It said “Write” a script in a week, not “Write And Re-Write” it lol.

  • thedudespeaketh

    “I don’t need no stinkin’ screenplay!”


  • fragglewriter

    I’m following your advice Carson and writing my comedy. Afterwards, a thriller.
    I haven’t seen this movie since I was about 12. yeah, I watched it when I was young and was terrified and entertained at the same time. This movie spawned so many bad knock-offs but my favorite of the bunch is “The Handle that Rocks the Cradle.”
    Writing a script within a week and then reading the results is a good idea. Based on the responses that are posted to this blog, the scripts should be interesting reads.
    I think including the child aspect to a film should be done to add tension and not used as a pawn or tearjerker, unless it’s part of the storyline.

    • guest

      Writing a script within a week and then reading the results is a good idea.
      No, it is not a good idea. The scripts will be crap. I’m not interested in wasting my time on vomit drafts. It’s been said before and I will say it again. The real writing is in the rewriting.

      • drifting in space

        You don’t want to read the first draft of my comedy-action-thriller with a horror twist? You’re missing out.

      • fragglewriter

        True, it would be crap, but I believe those vomits do have bits of shiny candy that are tasty. In oterhwise, sometimes your smallest first comments are much better than an elaborate set piece. IMO

      • Linkthis83

        Then finish it in 4 days and use the remaining time for rewrites. ;)

  • JWF

    I’m up for trying to write a script in a week – got a couple ideas on the back burner i could pull out for it.

  • crazdwritr

    Changing the topic briefly…has everyone seen this. I remember Carson being a fan of the Eden Folly script a while back. Looks like things are happening for the script’s creator.


    • guest

      Eden’s Folly was a great AF submission from what I remember

    • Citizen M


      Eden’s Folly by Ryan Binaco got a [x] worth the read from Carson. It’s been optioned. Another script, “3022” a psychological sci-fi thriller set during a deep space exploration has been “acquired”. Not sure what that means.

  • Midnight Luck

    off subject:

    Does anyone have any insight into either of these Screenwriting Expos and if they are worth checking out?

    Screenwriters World, September 27 – 29 in Los Angeles,
    Story Expo – Friday, Saturday and Sunday, September 6th, 7th and 8th at the Westin LAX Hotel (5400 West Century Blvd., LA, CA 90045).

    I have been slightly intrigued, based on how many players are supposed to be there, but have no idea if a Screenwriting Expo has any value at all.

    would love some thoughts,


    • Malibo Jackk

      Depends on what your goals are.

      The best festival for screenwriters is the Austin Film Festival.
      (The gurus are not invited. Only professional screenwriters
      and amateurs who are serious about screenwriting.)

      • Midnight Luck

        hey thanks for the info.

        Austin is coming up in October? is that right?

        I would love to find a place where actual, interested, screenwriters congregate. Most writing groups and critique things are failures that I have found. Very few screenwriters, very few real writers period, and a lot of Ego thrown around (not that you can get rid of that in a writer environment).

        Thanks again for giving me your thoughts.

        • Malibo Jackk

          Hotels downtown get expensive during the festival — and often sell out.

          (And yeah. It’s better than Paris.)

          • Midnight Luck


            So, if you didn’t enter the Script contest, you would basically just be going to attend the film screenings like at Sundance right? From their site it looks like other than a Pitch session it is just Films and Parties.

            I am hoping to find a place full of Screenwriters. Maybe that is too much to ask for. I guess Screenwriters only feel comfortable online, behind their computer screens. Not that I am saying I am much different.

            I see a Mass of People. And I need to find my dark room……

          • Malibo Jackk

            Yeah, a lot of young amateurs show their films.
            (I usually don’t attend the screenings.)

            But the real focus is on screenwriting. Four days of conferences. A place to learn from professional screenwriters. A chance to meet and talk to them.

            And here’s the important difference — you get real world information.
            What you’re getting from the gurus is theory. And for most amateurs, that’s all they hear — and consequently all they know. (And they assume that what they are being told is the real skinny.)

            Austin doesn’t really have a pitch fest. It’s a pitch competition (More designed to help improve pitching skills.)

            If you’ve written one or two scripts and all you want to do is try and sell them, then Austin is not the place. But if you’re serious about learning the screenwriting craft and learning from professionals, you might want to give it a try.

          • Midnight Luck

            Hey Malibo,

            This is exactly what I am looking for.

            Thanks for giving me the facts about it. Sounds like i definitely should give it a go. I am most interested in learning. I have nothing against trying to sell a script, but it isn’t my focus. I am always digging deeper to learn and hone my skills. I feel the better I get, the more I know, the wider my schooling and learning is, the more likely my work will reflect it.

            Funny, their website doesn’t promote the screenwriting aspect much, so I didn’t realize that was the angle they came from. It seemed that, since I missed the entry deadline, nothing much happened for screenwriters, who hadn’t entered, at the festival.

            Appreciate the heads up, and the info.

  • Todd Walker

    1. Divergent,lol, kind of generic there.
    2. Well, they could’ve called it That Cheating B*stard but that may have given it away,lol.
    4. What about a bad guy who turns to good guy and back to bad guy? (doesn’t necessarily have to be a cheater movie.)
    5. I heard someone say, the great movies are the ones where the supporting characters act as if they are the star. Look at any David Lean movie and you’ll see that.
    8. Well, I wonder how bad a scene it would be if Alex killed the baby sitter?

  • Midnight Luck

    So is that an actual CHALLENGE? or is it only a HYPOTHETICAL from Carson?

    I am up for the challenge or writing a SCRIPT IN A WEEK during the time he is gone. Maybe we can get a date for when he will be back, and all the scripts written during that time can be thrown in the pot for a play-off.

    Of course, have no idea how it could be monitored. Everyone will probably enter the scripts they spent a year on and say “yeah I wrote it in an Alcohol Poisoning weekend, over the course of three days, one of which I dropped Acid and ended up in the ICU. I have no memory of writing it, but it is awesome!” (not unlike all those other “wrote it in a weekend” Hollywood stories).