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Friday Odds & Ends

Statement of Benefits

Don’t you hate junk mail that tries to trick you into opening the envelope? I got a piece yesterday that said, “Statement of Benefits” in bold on the front of the envelope and the return address was a P.O. Box with no company name. It looked like the statements I get for one of my credit cards.

I opened it up and it was an attempt by the Denver Post to get me to subscribe. In an apparent attempt to legitimize their deception, they stuck with the “Statement of Benefits” theme, using that language to introduce my options to subscribe. The Stated Benefits: I can get the newspaper if I pay them some money.

The Rocky Mountain News just folded and the Post’s first communication with readers after that is a scam. Nice work, PR Department!

Saving Private Ryan

I recently read an early version of the Saving Private Ryan screenplay. It’s easy to find on the web, just google “screenplay” and the name. (There are a ton of screenplays on the web, most as txt files.) I can’t be sure it was authentic but it was very interesting. It was more like a straight war movie without the morality play. For instance, the nerd translator does not betray his fellow soldiers and there was no captured German who was let go only to come back and kill our heroes. Not all the same characters live/die (I won’t reveal who in case you want to read it). But my favorite set piece that does not make it into the finished film is a sequence where the Americans at the bridge steal an 88 from the Germans and then use it in the final battle. I’m not sure how probable it is that a couple of average American soldiers would know how to use an 88 (which has a crew of nine, I believe) but it was cool. The 88 is an infamous German anti-aircraft/anti-tank gun and it’s a great idea to have some Americans swipe one and use it against the Germans.

I think this script might have made a better movie. In the film, I hate that the nerd translator guy turns out to be a weak weasel. Why does the smart guy have to be a weasel? On the other hand, that scene where the American and German struggle to the death in the second floor room might be the most memorable in the movie. And the translator failing his fellow American is very upsetting. So maybe it’s a great and effective scene?

Raiders

Alert reader Wratha told me about a pdf file that’s going around the web. It’s a 126-page transcript of a multi-day story conference that took place between Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan. They were discussing the story for a little flick that came to be called Raiders of the Lost Ark. (The transcript seems authentic, it was shown in the Raiders DVD special features, which I just watched.) After this conference, Kasdan wrote the first draft of the script. Before Lucas even read the script, he hired Kasdan to write The Empire Strikes Back. Raiders and Empire, not too shabby Larry Kasdan!

The story conference was a fascinating bull session between three great movie-making minds. There are some funny parts, like when Lucas struggles to remember the name of the Ark of the Covenant. It’s hard to imagine the term being unfamiliar, but then you remember it was this movie that made the Ark famous.

Most of the major plot points are discussed in the story conference but it’s still impressive the way Kasdan turned them into an incredible script, an exceptional mix of humor and action-adventure. For example, there’s that line at the beginning when Indy jumps on the flying boat, says he hates snakes, and the pilot tells him to get a backbone. When I first saw the movie I thought that line was HILARIOUS. I just watched the film again and laughed again.

The story conference brought up some ideas that fortunately got dropped. When Indy gets on the plane to Asia to track down Marion, the plan was to have everyone but Indy parachute out of the plane — sort of an odd assassination attempt. Then Indy would crash-land the plane and slide down the snowy mountain on a make-shift sled. There was also a trip to Shanghai, a kid sidekick, and a subplot related to finding the headpiece of the Staff of Ra. And at the end, after the Ark had opened and the Nazis had melted, the plan was to have Indy and Marion ride a mine car back into the submarine base, at which point they would be dumped into the water. And maybe have the island blow up. Some of these ideas were incorporated into the second Raiders movie.

What a great opportunity to hear two creative titans discussing one of the best movies ever made. Spielberg has had an illustrious career as a director, of course, and Lucas created Star Wars, the most influential movie of my childhood. Spielberg and Lucas invented the blockbuster, and revolutionized toy tie-ins and that sort of thing. But Lucas also changed the technical side of movie-making forever, kicking it into the 21st century with digital editing, digital effects, and digital sound. It was very interesting to read this piece of movie history, these creative minds in action. I’m working on a screenplay now, in addition to my memoir project, and this story conference transcript is priceless for a wannabe screenwriter like me.

1 Comment

  1. I often imagine my movie script would be something like this, http://www.hulu.com/watch/42956/the-simpsons-homers-script

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