Well-written screenplay action?
June 2, 2010 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Can you point me to some feature film scripts that have well-described action sequences?

I'd like to read some screenplays to get a better feel on how (or how much) to choreograph action sequences on the page. Can you suggest some scripts that have well-written action?

Please note that I'm not just looking for scripts of movies that have good action sequences I'm concerned chiefly with what is found on the page. I'm more interested in the mechanics of things like fist fights and one-on-one gunfights than massive battle scenes.

posted by Bookhouse to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know offhand, but keep in mind the vast vast difference between a writer's draft and a shooting script.

Writers are usually discouraged from "directing from the page," so you'll probably get a lot more simple stuff like "They struggle, Johnson hits O'Malley with the wrench and knocks him out." And of course the writer has no way to know the exact location that will be chosen, possible stunts, effects budget, etc. etc. etc.

Whereas a shooting scripts needs to have more precise choreography, camera angles, precise descriptions of props, etc. The old saw they tell you in Film 100 about "A script is a blueprint for a movie" isn't exactly true. A SHOOTING script is a blueprint for a movie. A writer's draft is more like a movie in book form- it's there to tell the story on paper.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:27 PM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

(I think the scripts they publish to sell tend to be shooting scripts, but you can often find writer's drafts online at the various script sites.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:29 PM on June 2, 2010

Best answer: The Princess Bride, by William Goldman. I just read it now and it was like watching the scene. Room for imagination/expertise at appropriate times, but plenty of rollicking blocking and dialog throughout. Truly one of the great sword fights on screen, and very well-written. (You can search the page for 'six fingered' and start reading from the first instance.) (Also, one totally unrelated tip Goldman gives in the disc commentary is to watch out for phrasings like 'You will not find her common now." The last bit is hard to say and tends to come out sounding like 'common ow'.)
posted by carsonb at 1:54 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, I should have said that I was more interested in writer's versions when possible.
posted by Bookhouse at 2:02 PM on June 2, 2010

Best answer: Hey Bookhouse-- Off the top of my head, I remember the following having well written action on the page:

The Long Kiss Goodnight by Shane Black
Exit Zero by Kurt Wimmer (unproduced)
Panic Room by David Koepp
Bad Moon Rising by Scott Rosenberg (unproduced)

I've heard the following are good but haven't read yet:
Con Air by Scott Rosenberg
Salt by Kurt Wimmer
The Last Boy Scout by Shane Black
Star Trek by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman

I might think of more as the day progresses. MeFi mail me if you need the scanned PDFs of any of these.
posted by sharkfu at 2:07 PM on June 2, 2010

Most of what I've seen in screenplays tends to be along the lines of "They fight."

I'm assuming here that you're asking this question in order to more effectively describe a pretty completely imaginatively fleshed-out action scene in your own screenplay... You might consider going about it in a different direction, and just look for well-written descriptions of action scenes generally. David Bordwell's film-crit writing on Hong Kong Cinema would be a great place to start, but you might just as well take any action sequence that grabs you from a book as an example of how to do this...

That is to say, your question might not be about screenwriting best-practices but instead about form and technique in describing action in writing. I'm not sure whether this approach will help you...
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 2:25 PM on June 2, 2010

Your tolerance for the Trek script may depend on your tolerance for the Lost script style; if you don't like things like:

And just as Ayel realizes he’s fucked,
Nero somehow activates the staff in a way we have not seen -- AND THE BLADES APPEAR ON THE OTHER END -- THE END NOW FACING AYEL -- AND JUST AS AYEL’S EYES GO WIDE -- NERO THRUSTS THE BLADES INTO AYEL -- WHO FALLS TO THE FLOOR, DEAD! Nero’s hard face turns to the rest of his crew.

in your scripts, you probably won't dig the Trek screenplay at all (or, at least, the one I've seen, which is 11/05/07's yellow copy).
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:52 PM on June 2, 2010

As an aside, my favorite example of this kind of thing is something my old cinematography prof used to use. In reference to Gone With The Wind:

Atlanta burns.
posted by The Mysterious Mr. F at 3:26 PM on June 2, 2010

Best answer: Scott over at gointothestory.com recently listed scripts he and some others felt best exemplified storytelling in a specific genre. His list was Alien, Aliens, Butch Cassidy, Die Hard, Fight Club, Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, Raiders, Robocop, Salt, Star Trek, the first two Terminators, Bourne Identity, Dark Knight, Matrix, and the Last Boy Scout. That's as good a place to start as any, I suppose. I'm not a huge fan of Wimmer, and Kurtzman & Orci don't get a lot of love among writing nerds for reasons fairytale of LA mentioned. Both Alien and Aliens are pretty great. Bourne Identity has a lot of punch. Last Boy Scout will teach you a lot about descriptive style (although stay away from Shane Black's cheekiness, which is seen as a detriment these days). I'd start with those four scripts.

All of the scripts on his list can be found in the mediafire library here, in the Action folder.

The old joke about Atlanta burns is mostly apocryphal, and it's always referenced by production people to show off how important they are to the process, and how the script is "just a template," far less vital to the finished movie than they are, which I, of course, think is bullshit. While yes, that line does appear in the script, that script was written while the movie was in pre-production. The Atlanta fire sequence was already in the process of being storyboarded. The writers, Sidney Howard the first among them, had no need to describe the scene. Considering how pissed Selznick was about the script's length, Howard probably wanted to save pages anywhere he could.

My primary piece of advice: write vertically, by which I mean write so that the reader's eye follows the words down the page, rather than across. Less is more. Love your white space. Don't over-describe. Find rhythm on the page. Avoid long sentences. Avoid parantheticals. Brisk, fast, staccato.
posted by incessant at 4:06 PM on June 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: David Koepp's Panic Room
Coen Brothers' To the White Sea (the script is mostly silent so it's 80 pages of dialogue-less "action")
posted by dobbs at 4:07 PM on June 2, 2010

Best answer: Oh and No Country for Old Men is a wonder of "action". Beautiful and clean.
posted by dobbs at 4:07 PM on June 2, 2010

Best answer: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (pdf link) by Shane Black. Fantastic.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:38 PM on June 3, 2010

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