Friday, October 17, 2003


So, that's how you decide it's time to wrap -- when the last entry is dated a month ago.

There's a tonne of solid research info in this blog on the subject of how to write meaningful, authentic scenes of romance and sex -- so much so that I'm keeping it around as an archive, at least until year's end.

However, I'm all out of canny remarks to make on current examples.

Of course, I loved Lost in Translation. I'm in awe of how Bill Murray's character discovers that he can still connect with a member of the opposite sex on an emotional, yet not necessarily sexual level, and as a result recovers respect for the life he's let go shallow. Freakin' brilliant subtlety, with powerful misdirection, unexpected dialogue and acres of subtext.

But how many offensively one-dimensional couples do I need to see in Hollywood Homicide, Once Upon a Time in Mexico and other drivel before something that remarkable appears?

So...lest I sound like a broken record bemoaning the same old sloppy, lazy tack that finds girls and boys falling in love with each other's dimples (see Intolerable Cruelty), this is it for me on this subject.

Check out, print out and learn from the stuff
I've gathered. And start writing better romance scenes, all you battle-scarred warriors of love.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The O.C.'s sex scenes 

Just when I thought I'd run out of contemporary filmic examples to analyse on this subject, along comes The O.C. Fox's update on Dawson's Creek via Peyton Place.

Yowzer, there are at least three sex scenes per episode, not to mention the plethora of sultry glances, stolen moments and bitchy double-crosses between those who want to bed each other, those who like gossipping about it and those who have yet to get a life.

It's all so damn juvenile. So this is what sex on TV has become, an endless re-run of high school, where people get mistaken impressions and go off on ridiculous tangents, where they yearn like sick puppies and then do the nasty with whoever is left over?

I had high hopes for this one, because the adult actors are quite good, a couple of the teen actors are too, and there are more than a few smart-alecky lines. But yeesh ... can they possibly sustain all this heaving, sighing, barracuda-like circling and downcast moments of shame for more than one season? I've tired of it, and was hoping for a bit of a plot to fill in the spaces between the romps in the sack.

Anyway, I'll be paying more attention, to see if given all this writerly opportunity to flex their love-writing muscles, something honest and touching does emerge.

Meanwhile, here's the link to the episode descriptions, which actually read like the writers' outlines. So, far too exhaustively detailed, but interesting from a craft point of view.

Thursday, September 04, 2003


Yikes! I knew there wasn't a lot written on this subject when I decided to blog about how writers can best craft sexy and romantic movie scenes. But the pickings are pretty darn slim after three months' research -- and made all the leaner by the lack of decent filmic scenes to celebrate/dissect.

So, looks like I'll be going for quick hits from unlikely sources. Here's the latest: from a web site on writing Harlequin romances. The writing isn't that elegant but the idea seems sound.

"Spontaneity and urgency are all so important. If the characters have a chance to stop and think when they're given a golden opportunity to explore their attraction ... then you haven't created that once-in-a-lifetime, out-of-control chemistry that ultimately leads to forever love."

Spontaneity and urgency. Do some on-paper mind-mapping on that and see what emerges, methinks.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003


Not a lot of time for blogging this week (or last), but always the wish in the back of my mind to get back at the script.

To keep the brain oiled, some links to a couple of thoughtful, thoroughly different ideas on movie romances. The first one is Roger Ebert's brainy review about the brainy romance Possession. I especially love his point that it's easy for people to fall into each others' arms, harder to fall into another's brain.

Two, a list of cliches to repel. Some old-hat, some still fresh.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003


Left the conclusion of a cut-rate screening of Le Divorce behind some teenage girls today and, as usual, gleaned something about how to write sexy scenes through judicious eavesdropping.

Now, granted, the movie's main plot doesn't revolve around the main character and that's gotta be a handicap, even though it worked quite nicely in Diane Johnson's sparkling novel.(It should be noted that the author is a former two-time Pulitzer nominee and screenwriter. She co-wrote with Stanley Kubrick, the script for The Shining -- I kid you not.)

But as the young women pointed out, the whole damn movie was toooooo slooooooow.

I'd read the reviews and was only there for the widescreen shots of my favourite city -- Paris -- mais, vraiment, elles sont le raison.

In a movie about love among the world's most renowned lovers, the script failed to make the romance sizzle. And as the 15 year-old girls noted, the scenes of male-female interaction were stupefyingly dull, bereft as the were of lightning quick repartee, conversational darts and dances and speedy reversals of romantic fortune.

So, today's note is: sexy scenes, like sexy partners must not plod lest they put one to sleep. Go for quite a bit of tapdance and twirl -- here more than anywhere else.

And by all means, throw in snappy dialogue, even if it's a contemplative scene with few words spoken. Let's have those neural synapses working hard. Nothing gets stale more quickly than a love interest with connect-the-dots thoughts.

Monday, August 25, 2003


Actor Edward Norton, in an interview in which he talks about why he made his directorial debut with Keeping the Faith, says that Fight Club was a movie about all the things we do wrong, whereas romantic comedies are about things we do right.

Which made me wonder -- are the best sexy and romantic scenes somehow about what we as human beings get right? The smart, funny, touching, positive things we manage to blurt out or accomplish, that somehow endear us to the other person, and to the audience?

And aren't the most winning of such scenes the ones in which we manage to do something right in the midst of, or despite, a whole lot of blundering?

It makes me wonder. I'm going to keep that in mind during the next great sexy scenes I watch. I'm planning a jag of Preston Sturges and Billy Widler comedies. I'll be back at ya.

Friday, August 22, 2003


I know that sounds counter-intuitive. But it's true.

I didn't come up with this all by myself. I was sitting here thinking why so very, very many contemporary romantic comedies are duds -- Maid in Manhattan, America's Sweethearts, While You Were Sleeping, Serendipity, Kate and Leopold, Notting Hill , yadda, yadda, yadda -- and wondering what separates them from the very few I love. Or even the ones that are half okay, mainly because of their outrageously cute leading men, leading ladies.

Reading a review of the rereleased Bull Durham, by online scribbler Jared Sapolin I caught a sentence about how very sad the heroine is in that film.

So. Great romances have at their heart, a person who is melancholy and veers sharply away from enacting the high jump once they find love. And I'm talking a lot melancholy. Not that faux I'm-a-single mom-with a-middling-bad-job-but-great-kid that J-Lo plays in Maid in Manhattan.

Great stories are about great transformations. And what could be more transforming than borderline suicidal to deliriously happy? Great romances go from wildy unhappy to wildly happy. Even if the change is happening to a high school grad (The Sure Thing) who has only the limited vision of a 18-year-old male on the concept of wildly unhappy.

Find the sad. That's the basis for a great romance.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003


I'm just making a wild stab-in-the-dark guess here, but I'll bet very few truly significant love stories occurred when guy met girl and fell in love at first sight.

In fact, isn't that phrase verboten in the regular guy's big book of legal vernacular? Don't their teeth clamp down over their tongues preventing a male body unit from making decipherable sounds if they so much as think the thought?

And yet, here we have another fairly admirable movie that does a lot of things right, persisting in that ridiculous cliche. I speak of Kevin Costner's Open Range. Granted, writer Craig Storper seems to have intentionally stuck in every oats and saddle stereotype known to stir up dust in a coulee. But the movie is charming because he then tries to illuminate the rarely discussed truths that are glossed over in most standard westerns, such as the townsfolk gathering after a fifteen-minute gunfight to humanely put down wounded horses.

So, what's with the scene in which Costner's Charley Waite says "I'm in love with you. I've loved you since the first moment I set eyes on you?" No you didn't bucko. You might have lusted after her, but even a chewed up, lonesome and socially inept cowpoke circa 1882 knows that wasn't love making his lower forty twitch.

Furthermore, by forcing the conventional romantic trappings into this film, Storper undercut the sturdiness of a theme in which a damaged loner wrestles with a bad past. Instead of having him -- presto-chango -- become someone intent on being a good husband, it would have been far more believable and touching if his now repaired soul might simply entertain the possibility. A little subtlety never hurt anyone's theme.

And finally, less or nothing at all would have worked just fine in dealing with Charley's idiotic dialogue in the double ending scenes. He promises to bestow on Annette Bening a thousand kisses. The line was clunky enough the first time and rightly deserving of the mocking hoots it received the second time he said it, a mere 90 seconds later.

It's clear why the director left it in. The scene also contains a funny line by Robert Duvall's character, that no doubt, Costner hated to lose. Bad call. Better to kill that baby and strengthen the integrity of the ending and the movie.

See? You thought these romance scenes were just there to reel in the chick audience, didn't you\? When in fact, they can buttress a whole lot of good stuff. Or cause it to crack.

Monday, August 18, 2003


Re: Gastroenteritis

A severe bout of gas is neither sexy or romantic. Worse still, it's damn near impossible for the actor to convey without smell-oh-rama effects. It becomes a gag-reflex inducer when groaning sounds are heard through a plywood bathroom door as the OOLAA (Object of Lead Actor's Affection) overhears.

What on earth was Marc Lawrence, writer of Two Weeks Notice thinking??? (Besides his bold move to throw a well-justified apostrophe to the, um, wind, that is?) You've Got Mail meets American Pie? You've Got Cow Pies? Omigod.

Addendum to Memo: Do not insert potty humor as a fail-safe when the real problem is a main character bereft of a dramatic goal. Final memo: Men who can't choose a suit from a closet of thousands are not romantic. They're runaways from the retardation research project. Red flag! Alarm bell symphony!

Please God, let my next script find its way to Sandra Bullock. Apparently her production company, Fortis Films, is in dire need of a star-vehicle for her.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003


Inspired by my screenwriting pal, Jason, who admits to a crazy urge to see Gigli, simply because he wants to know if a movie can be as bad as all those critics claim it to be, I splurged $1.75 at the second run theatre to see Alex and Emma, with much the same goal. Could I learn anything from this turkey?

Well, yeah, way more than you think.

There are two things wrong with this script and they have nothing to do with the slight but maleable premise (novelist with writer's block and a huge debt hires a stenographer to help him write his book to deadline) or the central distinguishing conceit (two stories are told in parallel here -- that of the novelist and that of the 1920s hero of the book.)

Nor does the movie nosedive because of the actors. Despite my disklike of Luke Wilson, he plays an egocentric, graceless writer competently, and Kate Hudson has moments of slight eyebrow twitches in which she delivers the weighty range of a younger Jody Foster -- really.

Nope, this thing dies first because neither of the parallel storylines is given any conflct (we are never in the slightest doubt that Alex won't get his book written).

Secondly, and most importantly, this is a movie utterly devoid of subtext. The poor actors are hung out to dry. Everyone says exactly what they mean, even when they're hinting at something in their past. There is nothing for the actor to dig for. And coupled with zilch in the way of conflict, it's a one-dimensional soap opera, if that's not an oxymoron.

Now think about this for a minute. No conflict and no subtext. Had the writer (or rewriter, or whoever decided this script was a lock) attacked either one of those problems with more vigor, the other problem would have naturally been addressed, too. Give the characters subtext and you have to dream up conflict for them to be stewing about. Give them deeper, more complex conflict and you have to figure out how to impart it on numerous and varying levels -- voila, subtext.

Lesson, here? Just because it's an admittedly slight romantic comedy does not in any way absolve the writer from scratching below the five-paragraph character bio for more on the whys and wherefores.

This was a perfectly sound idea that could have been a contendah...and now it's just a squandered opportunity, no matter how good it feels to Jeremy Leven to have another big-screen credit.

All those screenwriting teachers and dialogue coaches are right. Don't overlook the subtext. Nobody really says and does exactly what they mean all the time. Do you?

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