30 Days of Screenplays, Day 5: “Dallas Buyers Club”

During June, we 2014 version of our annual series: 30 Days of Screenplays.

Why 30 screenplays in 30 days?

Because whether you are a novice just starting to learn the craft of screenwriting or someone who has been writing for many years, you should be reading scripts.

There is a certain type of knowledge and understanding about screenwriting you can only get from reading scripts, giving you an innate sense of pace, feel, tone, style, how to approach writing scenes, how create flow, and so forth.

We did 30 Days of Screenplays in 2013 and you can access each of those posts and discussions here. This time, we’re trying something different: I invited 30 GITS followers to read 1 script each and provide a guest post about it.

Today’s guest columnist: Claudia Blanton.

I jumped on the chance to review Dallas Buyers Club as I am a huge fan of the movie, it’s intriguing cast, and the background it risen from. As a child of the 80′s I remember the fear that the AIDS crisis brought with it, and how the views on this disease was that of initial prejudice. We could go into a deep discussion of the subject matter, and choice of actors to portray the characters – those imagined and based on real people, but that would not be a point to be made here.

With the above in mind, and the fact that I have watched the movie several times, this analysis was a privilege.

Title: Dallas Buyers Club [download a PDF version of the script here].

Year: 2013

Writing Credits: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack

IMDB rating: 8.0

IMDB plot summary: A fight for survival for a homophobic Texas electrician, Ron Woodroof, after being diagnosed with the HIV virus, in 1985. Battling for his rights to use alternative treatments, he takes on the medical establishment, and the FDA, while aiding fellow HIV -positive people to acquire the same treatment, via his Dallas Buyers Club. Assisted by an unlikely alley, Rayon, who is a transsexual woman, he manages to improve his health, and that of others, despite a constant run in with the FDA.

Tagline: Dare To Live

Analysis: The script aimed to make Ron Woodroof as authentic to the 80′s with it’s homophobic views on HIV and AIDS as possible. They succeeded in that endeavor, not sugar coating his outbursts toward the LGBT community, not censoring who he really was. He grows, gradually and gently in a person who find some respect for the people that he views as so foreign and different then him, but not in a sentimental way, and rather via interactions via the members of his Dallas Buyers Club, and most of all because of Rayon. His alienation throughout the story from the life he used to live gives him a taste how it is to be an outsider, one of THEM, rather then a member of a societal group he grew up in.

Rayon is not an actual but a fictional character, created by the writers in a most effective way to bring Ron from the outside in – his way to the people who he seemingly hated, or at least feared, not because of facts, but because, as so many of us, there is a fear of the unknown. Rayon is the humanity, the soft side to Ron, an outsider who like him is trying to survive, despite a death sentence.

It took about 20 years for this script to be turned into a movie – not in this edition, as it is available for us today, so I speculate if it was just the content that made the production until now impossible, or the fact that this is a story told in a very raw form, without the restriction of political correctness. Or maybe it was the controversy of Rayon, the young transgender woman, which even in this time (sadly) would face discrimination.

This is not a script (or movie) for those who get easily offended. But without that rawness, the honesty with what the writers decided to describe the characters, it would not be the high quality script and essentially movie it ended up becoming.

Most Memorable Dialogue: In this scene, Rayon is visiting her Dad:

RAYON’S FATHER: What do you want, Raymond?
RAYON: I’m fine, thanks. And you? Long time no see.
RAYON’S FATHER: I suppose I should thank you for wearing men’s clothes and not embarrassing me.
RAYON (sarcastic) Are you ashamed of me? Because I never realized that.
RAYON’S FATHER: (shaking his head) God help me.
RAYON: He is helping you. I got AIDS.

Most memorable moment: There are many moments I would consider memorable, from the dialogue above, to the hug Rayon and Ron shared, when Rayon handed him her life insurance. But I chose at the end, the scene where Ron made his “friend” apologize to Rayon in the grocery store after insulting her. It showed a real change in Ron, a real care for Rayon, and ultimately the growth he experienced since living his life with this death sentence. NOTE: You can see a video of the director describing this scene while it plays out here.

Thanks, Claudia. To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!

Here is the Week 1 schedule for the series:

Sunday, June 1: The Way Way Back

Monday, June 2: Prisoners

Tuesday, June 3: Jane Eyre

Wednesday, June 4: Spring Breakers

Thursday, June 5: Dallas Buyers Club

Friday, June 6: A Serious Man

Saturday, June 7: Amour

If you click on each of the links above, you will download a free and legal PDF version of the screenplay, posted by movie studios and production companies, so you know they are official drafts.

To see all of this year’s 30 Days of Screenplays, go here.

Writing and the Creative Life: Writing sprint? How about a writing walk!

If you frequent Twitter… and more specifically writers on Twitter… you may well have run across the idea of a writing sprint. I first intersected with the concept via a wonderful TV writer Jane Espenson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, Once Upon a Time). She explains what it’s about in an interview with Raphael Sbarge:

Raphael: You’re a prolific Tweeter, and …what is a “writing sprint”?

Jane: This is a little thing …

Raphael: Because I see you, like, “I’m going into a writing sprint!” And I always think, “What is that?” I guess I want a visual.

Jane: Yeah. It’s so silly. It’s the silliest thing in the world. It’s just a way for me to say, “Hey, I really need to write now. But I’m finding it hard to get started. I’m having too much fun here on Twitter. So what I’m going to do, is I’m going to announce on Twitter that I’m going to go write for an hour. And I won’t be tweeting. And you all know that I promised, right? So you’ll keep me honest.”

Raphael: That’s great! It’s like reverse-engineering the way Twitter actually, oftentimes kind of sucks your day away. In this case, you’re actually using it almost like a timer, right?

Jane: Yeah, exactly.

Raphael: That’s great.

Jane: So I need to do an hour’s worth of work. I think it really helps to do assignments by the time, not by the task. You get more done if you say, “I’m going to work with tremendous focus for an hour,” than you do if you say, “I’ll work until the scene is done.” Because then the scene will take an hour, where if you just say, “I’ll work for an hour,” you may get three scenes done.

But the innovative part of the sprint is that I say, “You guys at home, do the same thing. If you’ve got an hour right now, sit down with me. You’ll get that feeling of community, that feeling that you get when you’re sitting in the reference room at the library, working, and everyone around you is working, too. It’s like, “I’m not alone. There’s someone else out there working, too.” And so people work along at the same time I do, and people have started hosting their own sprints, so it’s them and their followers sprinting.

And I get people every day, saying, “I finished my dissertation.” “I wrote my screenplay.” “I finished my novel because of your sprints.” And it’s made me realize how rare it is these days for anyone to work for an hour without checking their email, sending a tweet, getting a text, getting a call. That an hour of focus has become something people haven’t had in years, and they’re getting huge amounts done. If there’s any spike in productivity this year, and the American economy, I think it will be because of the amazing people who have adopted my little Twitter trick to make myself work, because people are out there working. And I’m so thrilled to see people getting stuff done.

And it works! I discovered the Pomodoro technique which exists in the same solar system as a writing sprint: Set a timer for 30 minutes and just write. Nothing else. While the timer is ticking down, the only thing you do is write.

That’s all great. Writing sprint… Pomodoro… sometimes there’s nothing better at inducing productivity than an intentional ass-in-chair writing session allowing for no distractions.

And then there’s this:

Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, was known for his walking meetings. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has also been seen holding meetings on foot. And perhaps you’ve paced back and forth on occasion to drum up ideas.

A new study by Stanford researchers provides an explanation for this.

Creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter, according to a study co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education.

The study found that walking indoors or outdoors similarly boosted creative inspiration. The act of walking itself, and not the environment, was the main factor. Across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting.

“Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking. We finally may be taking a step, or two, toward discovering why,” Oppezzo and Schwartz wrote in the study published this week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.

Yes, sometimes the best way to be creative is to lift one’s derriere off the chair… and go for a walk.

A person walking indoors – on a treadmill in a room facing a blank wall – or walking outdoors in the fresh air produced twice as many creative responses compared to a person sitting down, one of the experiments found.

“I thought walking outside would blow everything out of the water, but walking on a treadmill in a small, boring room still had strong results, which surprised me,” Oppezzo said.

The study also found that creative juices continued to flow even when a person sat back down shortly after a walk.

I have found this to be true for decades when I go for a run outside. The pattern is always pretty much the same.

The first few minutes, I am actively in touch with the various creaks and aches of my muscles and bones until I get into a running groove.

Then my mind goes to mundane matters like appointments… to-do list… obligations…

Next my mind turns to the script on which I’m working, particularly story problems, mulling them over.

And then… the nothingness of the run. Feet slapping pavement. Rhythmic huff-huff breathing in and out. Arms pumping, left, right, left, right.

Time seems to melt away. In a zone. Mind goes blank.

This can go on for 10… 15… or more minutes. It’s like I’m there… but elsewhere.

Invariably I emerge from the run not only physically uplifted… but whatever story issue I began my run with has presented some solutions.

What if I did this? What if I did that?

The same thing happens when I go for a walk.

A new perspective on a story problem.



Part of it is, I believe, a change of scenery. Just being in an environment different than plunked in front of a computer monitor can engender a new take on things.

Part of it must be about endorphins, blood circulation, oxygen intake and all the rest of what happens when we put a body into motion.

Part of it may be purely spiritual, planting ourselves in Nature, trusting that Answers will appear to our Questions, Clarity out of Chaos.

Whatever it is, while writing sprints can be hugely effective, sometimes that’s precisely what we don’t need.

Rather what we may require is to get off our asses… and engage with reality in a mobile state.

Writing sprint. Writing walk.

Both useful tools in our creative arsenal.

Writing and the Creative Life is a weekly series in which we explore creativity from the practical to the psychological, the latest in brain science to a spiritual take on the subject. Hopefully the more we understand about our creative self, the better we will become as writers. If you have any good reading material in this vein, please post in comments. If you have a particular observation you think readers will benefit from and you would like to explore in a guest post, email me.

Daily Dialogue — June 5, 2104

Harry: How’s the Christmas party going?
Mia: Good. Think I found a venue – friend of mine works there.
Harry: What’s it like?
Mia: Good, good. It’s an art gallery – full of dark corners for doing dark deeds.

Mia spreads her legs suggestively.

Harry: Well, I suppose I should take a look at it.
Mia: You should.

Love Actually (2003), written by Richard Curtis

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Flirting, suggested by Sabina Giado. Today’s suggestion by Aarthi Ramanathan.

Trivia: The word “actually” is spoken twenty-two times by various characters in the film.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Can you say subtext… for the word “it”?

If you have a suggestion for this theme, please post in comments.