Blog Post

Removing Mistakes from a Best Picture Screenplay

Jun 19th, 2020

Cleaning up 15 years of articles and blog posts, I found something interesting in this excerpt from American Beauty:

LESTER sits IN the crowded TRAIN, his head UP against the window. He’s fast asleep.
Both my wife and my daughter think I’m this gigantic loser.
He has a paper CUP OF COFFEE IN one hand, haphazardly holding it against his knee. Slowly, it tips over, spilling onto his pants leg. He remains asleep.
LESTER (V.O.) (cont’d)
And they’re right. I’ve lost something very important. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I know I didn’t always feel this…sedated.

Those familiar with the film recognize that this is NOT how they shot the scene. And it's good they didn't—because it runs counter to the structure of the narrative.

Lester, as written and performed, falls into a Main Character Domain of Universe and consequently, a Main Character Approach of Do-er. The story focuses on Lester's mid-life crisis (the Universe part) and the actions he takes in response to his coming-of-age (the Do-er part). Scenes featuring Lester, especially those focusing solely on his personal issues, need to showcase external conflict and response.

Spilling hot coffee on yourself and absorbing it—as written in the screenplay above—is what a Be-er would do in a Domain of Mind. Be-er's adapt themselves to the environment, rather than work to change the external world (like Lester does in every other scene). To splice this into the final edit would introduce all sorts of complications in terms of Audience Reception and perception of thematic intent.

In short, running counter to the storyform runs counter to character, and if ignored in subsequent drafts, will end up on the cutting room floor.

Assuming a Best Picture Oscar is in the mix.