I recently had the pleasure of interviewing veteran screenwriting Tom Mankiewicz. Tom had a lot of great things to say about the art and craft of screenwriting (to read the complete interview, follow these links: Part 1 and Part 2). During the course of our conversation, Tom mentioned one of his favorite examples of effective screenwriting from scenarist A.B. Guthrie, Jr. I found it intriguing and since Tom was kind enough to share it with me, I thought I would share it with you:
"When I start teaching, the first excerpt from the first movie I run is... the beginning of Shane. Shane rides to this little nester's cottage. Little Brandon De Wilde out there and the deer (is) eating his garden and he's got this rifle and he's going 'bang, bang, bang.' And Shane pulls up and he gets off the horse... and he takes some water and (Van Hefflin, playing Brandon De Wilde's father) says 'Where you heading, mister?' and he says nothing. (Then) Brandon De Wilde sees a deer coming back into the garden and he cocks the little toy rifle and Shane... pulls his gun and everybody freezes. And you see the regret in his eyes and Van Heflin says 'A little touchy, aren't you mister?' And Shane puts the gun back. And I say 'To all you writers - now you don't have to write the scene "What do you do for a living, Shane?" You know he's a gunfighter, everybody knows he's a gunfighter. It's happened in one-and-a-half seconds. And also so dramatically because a little boy had a gun pointing right at his head. And then you see the regret in Shane's face, so you know he's a nice man. He didn't mean it. I said, 'Look what you can do – that's writing! Now you don't have to have that three or four page scene.' – "Well, I didn't want to be a gunfighter, but..." He just is – we all know that now. And more importantly, so does everybody else in the cast that's around there. They all know he's a gunfighter. Done, y'know? That's wonderful writing. Wonderful screenwriting."