Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Screenplay: Moonstruck

Tuesday posts are for my "Take" on films I've viewed, and also for screenplays I've read.  Observing what works (and what doesn't) helps me hone my screenwriting skills.

Reading Moonstruck (1987) by John Patrick Shanley was, for me, both fascinating and irritating.  I found the characters remarkable, deep, distinct, and real.  The formatting and Shanley's overuse of weak verbs took away from the story.

The book I purchased has the formatting more like a play rather than a screenplay, so that took some getting used to.  Shanley was a playwright, so perhaps it was easier for him to stick with that style of writing, although according to his "introduction" he studied screenwriting over and over, and mentioned that it was difficult to get used to the new way of formatting.  So maybe it was the book publisher who chose to go with the formatting of a play.  Either way, for me, trying to read and learn from a screenplay, the formatting drove me bonkers.

Weak verbs scatter across the pages.  "Loretta is driving..."  "Johnny is sitting..." "Ronny is walking..."  Why not Loretta drives... Johnny sits... Ronny walks.  Yet, this is an award-winning writer--so there must be a reason to overlook the irritants.

And there is: his characters are superb.  Each one stands out.  Each one has his or her own voice.  Each one seems alive.  Shanley makes the characters distinct with seemingly little dialogue.  Their lines are short, sweet, and crisp--to the point.  He knows his characters inside and out, and by the end of the story, the reader/viewer knows them well too.

When I finished reading the screenplay, I felt as though I had eavesdropped and spied on the interactions of a real family.  And I wanted more!

What works:  Strong characters with crisp dialogue.

What didn't work:  The formatting, and weak verbs.

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