Books: Which Lie Did I Tell? by William Goldman

Finally took this off my shelf and read it, and it was lovely, but what I want to focus on here is the last part of the book in which Bill gives us his first draft (or parts of it anyway) of The Big A. If you haven't read it, what follows won't make any sense to you. But if you're serious about screenwriting, go find a copy of this book (Half Price Books usually has at least one) and read it and then come back and compare your answers to mine.

Let's start with the characters of Echo and Climber. Okay, let's just start with their names for Christ's sake. You've got two people with these bizarre nicknames (and no way for the audience to even know they're nicknames anyway because the dialogue doesn't reveal it, it's all in the description, ugh). One bizarre nickname, I could live with that (though I hate "Climber" and the reason for Echo's name is just dumb). Two is overkill. Drop one or both, or at least reduce one to an average nickname, like Bobbie for Roberta or whatever.

Next up: their romance. Is there any? I'm not feeling the love between these two, despite all the pat set-up. She's beautiful, he saves her, cue the swooning. Except I'm not swooning. I'm not seeing or feeling the chemistry here, and trying to give me the story of their lives together as a credit sequence more or less reduces whatever romance they supposedly have to a handful of pictures that I have no interest in.

And then there's the double rescue. He saves her, she saves him . . . Barf. Just no. If he falls in love with her the moment he sees her, and she falls for him when he rescues her, why have another rescue at all? What a waste of time. If it's meant to show Echo as a capable woman, well, whatever. Because everything that follows makes us dislike her. She's a rich bitch. She comes off as cold. I don't see Audrey Hepburn here so much as January Jones.

I'm boggled that Bill calls it a romantic comedy. Once the kids enter the picture, this feels to me like a Disney family flick. Capers and hijinks and such.

The opening rescue sequence . . . At first I thought we were in a 50s black-and-white film. I honestly thought it was a period piece of some kind. That scene needs to change or be cut or something. I don't have a ready answer for it, but in the book Tony Gilroy does a great job of creating a new opening, and I'd probably go with something like what he suggests.

And now we get to the boy's name. Shirley. Has to be short for Sherlock if you're going to keep it. Has to be. And not just because I love Sherlock Holmes, but because his father is a detective for Christ's sake, and he's not going to name his boy Shirley without a fucking good reason. One good reason: greatest detective of all time. Right? Otherwise, you gotta change this name.

Love the kids doing the double life thing. Don't know if I'd have it all come apart quite the way Bill has it, the bodega bit, and I feel like using the doubles for the various outings is a tad much. But I love the idea of all this, and how it goes south and Climber (Jesus, change that name) gets sidelined in the custody battle.

Okay, but then comes the second kidnapping. Which is too much for one movie, another reason to drop the opening. And I don't think it should be one of the kids who gets taken. I think it should be Trip.

Ha! Got you there, didn't I?

But hear me out. I think Echo has to call Climber and beg him to take the case. Her fiancé has been kidnapped. And Climber has no reason to want to help her of course, but she says she'll let him start seeing the kids again, more, longer, whatever it takes to get him to help.

And then, during the last act, of course Echo and Climber fall in love all over again. They find Trip just in time for Echo to kick him to the curb.

And it turns out the kids were the ones to do it (maybe with the help of their grandfather?). Because the motive was, of course, to get their parents back together.

As the script stands now (or did in 2000, when this book came out), I don't see enough between Echo and Climber to believe—to even want—them getting back together. Because I just didn't have time from what I saw/read to invest myself in a relationship between them. But if I'm given it as Tony Gilroy suggests, if it's a done deal at the start that they were once together and are now apart, then the kidnapping at the end can be used to rebuild what we as an audience know once existed. I mean, there will need to be pavers—those little tidbits throughout that show there was love there once and might be lingering feelings even now. But the real asphalt will get laid in that last act.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on The Big A. But overall Which Lie Did I Tell? is a great read, even without the exercise of the final chapter. Even if you're not a would-be screenwriter, the anecdotes are amusing. And I'm just glad to see that I'm not the only screenwriter who sometimes goes a bit "black" (as in large pockets of description or narration); look at the bit of Lehman's North by Northwest script, and damn, even I don't go that far.

I like that Bill Goldman and I like the same poems. "Richard Cory" did it for me, too, back in my school days. And I don't know if Bill only used the poem or if he likes it, but "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is another one I love. Though I like "Once by the Pacific" more.

Another random connection: my mother's nickname is Sunny. Short for Sundance. Because of that movie. I grew up thinking her name was actually Sunny until I heard her parents (my grandparents) call her Annette. (Turns out Annette is only her middle name, either; like good Catholics, they gave her the first name Mary.) I don't know, just thought it was interesting. As Bill would say, "Aside over."

Now I'll probably work backward and go find Adventures in the Screen Trade. It was probably required reading for one or more of my film classes, though truthfully we used to be handed a lot of photocopies, so probably we only had to read one chapter or something. And I probably have that handout somewhere; I'm not seeing the book on my shelf (I organize my shelves by subject and author; my first job was in a library). So a trip to HPB is probably in order.

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