We're going to break down another scene this week, and it's one of my favorites in cinema history. It comes from the ending of City Lights by Charlie Chaplin, which I think is the greatest romantic comedy ever made.
It's a touching film from 1931 and I would make it mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to learn to tell a story.
The scene we're going to be breaking down comes from the very end of the film, so if you haven't seen it, I don't want to spoil it for you. Go watch the film. You can rent it for $3.99 in HD on Amazon or for free on Hulu with a free trial or plus subscription. You should just buy the Blu-ray, though. You're going to want to revisit it.
For those of you familiar with the movie, or for those of you who are going to ignore my pleas to watch it and go ahead with this post anyway, I'm going to set this clip up a bit before you watch it. City Lights tells the story of Chaplin's Tramp and how he falls in love with a blind flower …
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid might be one of the most meticulously well-written movies ever made. William Goldman scripts are almost always something special. He's a master of creating something that's interesting, every scene has a kinetic energy to it that keeps you moving. He's a talented prose novelist as well. His novel of The Princess Bride might be even better than the screenplay and the film.
But today I want to talk about a scene in particular for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:
This scene comes early in the movie and we're still working to understand the relationship between Butch and Sundance, as well as Butch and his gang.
Goldman does something amazing as he's able to mix humor, character building, excitement, suspense, and an advancement of the story into the scene. There are so many building blocks at play here, and because the scene is so entertaining we hardly notice.
And the dialogue is so sharp I can't even stand it.
I have twenty or thirty notebooks and journals filled up with snippets about writing, my plans for stories, bits of dialogue, interesting ideas, plotlines, scraps of short stories, and a dozen other things. I carry one with me at all times and it takes me a couple of months to fill one up.
One of the things I've kept in one of my notebooks was a collection of writing tips and rules that I've collected over the years in my travels. From teachers, from books, from wherever. Most of my career has been spent screenwriting, so a lot of these are most applicable to that, but I wanted to present them so they might be of use to you as well.
I've never stopped collecting these over the years and I never will.
To start the list are Kurt Vonnegut's eight rules of writing. They are the first in my notebook and, I think, the most useful. I'll add a star to those I think are applicable most to screenwriting. Some of these aren't applicable to everyone in every situation, but…