movies

Getting Up and Down with Tin Cup

Tincupmp

It’s always a risk breaking down one of your favorite movies. Especially one that you know is crowd popular but not critic popular; you might see flaws you previously looked past or didn’t notice.  Some ratings and reviews for Tin Cup (1996) might lead you to believe this golf-pun riddled spectacle should be left buried in the bunker in which it first found itself on first release.  And while I accepted the risk in deciding to do this latest post, I’m happy to report I still love it just as much as before.  Let’s take a look now at the attributes of the movie that helps it get up and down to find itself on the short list of top sports movies – or at least top golf films – for most sports fans and movie lovers.

If you are reading a blog post on a 22-year old movie, chances are you’ve seen it. But for the small percentage of you that haven’t, the IMDB synopsis says it simply, “[a] washed up golf pro working at a driving range tries to qualify for the US Open in order to win the heart of his successful rival’s girlfriend.” In reading that you may jump immediately to an incorrect guess about how it all ends – and that’s one of the best aspects of this film, but we’ll get to that later.

Timeless

Given this is an older movie, let’s start with the timelessness of this movie.  The 1996 review from Janet Malsin of the New York Times captured, it’s “bright, stylish, ridiculously alluring.”  While it’s actually the styles in the film which age it, the context and topics of the movie could be in just about any time period.  From a classic love triangle to coming to terms with the hard to swallow implications of our personality – these universal human problems translate not just over time but generations and cultures.

Characters

Tin Cup may be timeless but not because it’s predictable.  As Ebert put, it is “a formula sports comedy with a lot of non-formula human comedy.”   Tin Cup centers around a different kind of sports hero – Roy, who Malsin says has “a talent for enjoying failure in style.”  Besides incredibly good rounds of golf played with garden tools or just a seven iron, Roy has something else that we all want – a set of loveable friends and the happy banter that comes from being together.   Friends that San Francisco Examiner Critic noted they made believable.

The secondary characters give the main story nice support without stealing away too much time and attention. As Ebert also said, “Shelton’s gift is to take the main lines of the story, which are fairly routine, and add side stories that make the movie worth seeing.” And be clear, the casting of these characters is bang on, even if a contributing factor to the cost of making it.

Start to finish, the human nature of the characters is clear. The opening scene establishes straight away that we aren’t always what we’d like to be.  While Roy shares a riddle with his cronies that is solved by breaking gender biased assumptions, he demonstrates that exact bias at the end of the scene. (Side note, while this is comically presented, I can tell you that this irony is more common in the real world than we’d like to think.)

Dialogue

The dialogue is clever and entertaining. Malison and Ebert noted it as “flippant, skillful banter”  and “smart and fresh,” respectively. The playful ping-pong nature is one I love from various writers.  One of my favorite exchanges is the first golf lesson.  What I’m not showing here is the fun back-and-forth between teacher and student and the peanut gallery watching from the shop. Molly is confident in her research but not of her results of applying it.

MOLLY
I’m sure there are excesses and  repetitions here, but I believe in the gathering of knowledge and I figured, well, there must be some truths about the golf swing illustrated by these devices — and that you’d help me sort through it.

And Roy does start to evaluate what he’s starting with, and Molly shows her frustration, cursing, which Roy tries to disarm:

TIN CUP

‘Fuck…’ ‘Shit…’ these are highly technical golf terms

and you’re using them on your first lesson — this is promising.

Then there are the exchanges with Doreen, like the first one to settle a debt, where Roy has offered the deed to his driving range which he has dangled as giving her higher stature in the community, something every strip club owner may be looking for:

DOREEN
What are your labor costs?

(off no response from Tin Cup)

Payroll, Roy. What do you pay your help?

TIN CUP
Let’s see… the tractor kid gets five bucks an hour. Romeo, he gets ten cash

DOREEN

What do you pay yourself?

TIN CUP

Myself?
Doreen nods in a way Tin Cup finds threatening.

DOREEN
To hit golf balls all day… when you’re not breaking for beers or corn dogs or to gather the guys and lay bets on which crow flies off the fence next.

TIN CUP
You’re referring to my managerial salary?

DOREEN
I’m referring to every nickel you snatch out of the till and every bag of beer nuts you lift from the rack, is what I’m referring to.

(beat)
Let’s say it’s worth ten – you still owe me two.

And the loaded exchange when Roy is trying to get Romeo back as his caddy:

ROMEO
You didn’t fall in love with Earl to be your caddie?

TIN CUP
He was a wheezing heart attack waiting to happen — cost me three strokes a side…

(beat)
I carried my bag the last four holes. I love ol’ Earl but I need you.

ROMEO

You don’t love me?

TIN CUP

(exasperated)

I love you, too, God damn it!

ROMEO

As much as Earl?

TIN CUP
I don’t know! Yes, yes, as much as Earl — (beat)

More than Earl!

ROMEO

Am I special?

TIN CUP
If you can remove the sexual connotations

and overlay a golf theme, Romeo — I am your Juliet.

One common critiques of the film is the high number of golf puns all throughout, but these are most notably crimes committed by Roy (but totally in character).

Real Golf

I honestly believe that Tin Cup is by and large successful because the golf feels authentic, the events and coverage seem real.  It’s relatable to anyone who has picked up a club, even though Roy is a golf pro. We’ve been frustrated, gotten the shanks and all have shots we knew we could have (should have) made.  Shelton wrote the script with his golf buddy.  They centered around an actual event and utilized actual pro-golf .  PGA’s own coverage includes a quote from Phincie that “[i]t’s a hole that has stood the test of time, [it’s] a hard hole.” The club location of the filming has also embraced their role and enable fans to as well –

“We have a marble plaque that marks the spot where Roy McAvoy hit the miraculous shot in the movie,” Martin said. “Guys like to take bets and drop a ball from the spot to take their shot at glory. There are a lot of war stories about hole No. 4, especially after golf tournaments. The round/score has been lost on No. 4 many times for players.”

Shulgasser of the SF Examiner also accredits these choices to the film’s success.

Surprising

Somewhere in one of my seminars or books (maybe more than one), the advice to give people what they want in a way they don’t expect it, rings true but can be really hard to do. This is one film that shows how. Malsin applauds it – “Setting out on a “Rocky” trajectory toward the triumph of a little guy from nowhere, Tin Cup actually arrives at a more interesting destination.”  Ebert wrote, it’s got an “ending, which flies in the face of convention and is therefore all the more satisfactory.”  This makes it not just surprising, but more realistic and relatable. It’s true – and while not a predictable finish for the genre, it’s perfect for Roy. The arc for him isn’t to overcome and stop going for it, but to accept and appreciate that he goes for it. And what a beautiful lesson for many of us – acceptance and appreciation.

Summary

What makes Tin Cup a timeless success and sports favorite include traditional aspects – charm, characters, dialogue, and realism. But the delightful surprise in how we love the anti-hero and his ability to win the big moment in a completely nontraditional way ensures this will remain a favorite for so many.

– AR

Learning by Example

People have a variety of methods that they use to familiarize themselves with the unfamiliar. For me, my first step is often seeing how others have done it. Screenwriting has been no different.  I choose to read scripts for movies that I’m fairly familiar with.  Here I will describe the hard copy screenplays in my library (I have dozens more in soft form, more on this later), and what lead me to plucking them out of the script bin for study.

Image

These are listed in no particular order, only categorized with a quick snip of the category and the reason I thought the example was relevant. You’ll see some entered in more than one category.

Timeline
These stories have some interesting aspect to them with regards to the story timeline.  For example, Ocean’s Eleven. If you don’t already know, this is a fun heist story where the audience follows along curiously about how the crew will pull it off given the comprehensive security around their target. After recruiting for all of the different roles, it is revealed that the leader, Danny Ocean, isn’t just in this for the loot – he wants revenge and to win his ex-wife, Tess, back.  After convincing the crew that this won’t jeopardize the operation, the heist gets back underway.   The reason I loved reviewing this script for timing was that  the key part of the movie – the heist itself – takes place over just a few minutes and is done without completely confusing or losing the audience. I thought this was a rather interesting writing challenge.  Similarly, I’m looking at these scripts for timeline challenges:

  • Pulp Fiction – This asynchronous audience-puzzle of a story is a clear example of owning the story timeline and laying out in a clever and entertaining way.
  • The Hangover – A fairly recent story showing how to handle backtracking through a series of events without cheating the audience with an obvious outcome.
  • The Social Network – The story itself is told in a straightforward way in terms of the story timeline, but the audience has knowledge of some of the history here and would be watching for the timeline to jive with their knowledge (or fill in holes, but certainly not conflict). I think that creates an interesting constraint on this script.
  • The Bourne Identity – In this story we take the issue of a dual-past to be uncovered and teased apart all while under immediate time pressure.  Handling these two vectors in one story is challenging.
  • When Harry Met Sally – This story takes place over some 15 years. It was important for the offer to allow the time pass to be believable and not a short cut to the characters’ development.

Romance / Romantic Comedy

Being my primary genre for writing, I picked a few well-loved examples. Most stories have a romance plot or sub-plot, but the light-hearted romance is as difficult to write as a complex song in Major keys.  The first is listed often not just as a popular romance but as the best written movie of all time. I think romantic comedy is especially challenging because there is an audience mandated outcome, yet that outcome must be delivered in an unexpected way.

  • Casablanca – A classic tale. Can you choose to not be with your love for a greater purpose? Are there different types of love?
  • When Harry Met Sally – There are a few questions that might be answered here – Can love grow over time? Is it ever too late to be more than friends? Opposites may attract but can it work long term? Can women and men be ‘just’ friends?
  • You’ve Got Mail – This one is not only in my library because it’s a great romantic comedy but it incorporates modern technology and the challenges not only for the characters in meeting in person but also for the writer to not bore the audience when technology is being used.

Dialogue

What’s great about the Ocean’s Eleven script – and I would love to see the original script to see if this was something carried forward or recaptured –  is that it has an old style dialogue, especially between Danny and Tess.  One of my favorite sections of dialogue is in the restaurant when Danny approaches Tess while she waits for Terry. I started to put a snippet here but I think I’ll wait for a full post on the script for that.  It’s for similar reasons I love Casablanca.  Prime examples of accomplishing the most bang with the fewest words. It’s an art, for sure. When Harry Met Sally also features some simple and effective dialogue. I think they call this efficient dialogue in writing circles.

Character Development

The following are a mix of genres but all present a fantastic exploration into one or more characters. Some even surprise us in the end – for example Ferris, seemingly a teen punk, and may normally be, but in this story a caring friend who just may have saved his friend, Cameron.  Others feature every-day people that help us learn or once-again recognize something about ourselves.

  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – The general study of older characters in later stages of life and relationships – tolerated and forbidden.
  • The Silver Linings Playbook – A ground-breaking appropriate humanization of extreme personalities.
  • Sideways – The joy of finding someone who can look beyond the cover of a person who has a lot to offer and does not even realize it himself.
  • Napoleon Dynamite – Really a time period piece but also the complexity of what seems simple.
  • The Breakfast Club – Everything is relative and deserves perspective. These reps of various walks of life exposed and finding common ground is a beautiful mental watermark for the audience.
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – The child of absent, demanding parents has to be rescued from despair by a trouble-making friend with good intentions if with risky methods.
  • It’s a Wonderful Life – I watch this movie every Thanksgiving. This classic helps us recognize the impact we have had even when we currently feel like a failure or that life is too unfair to bear.

Comedy

I never appreciated good comedies more until I tried to write comic aspects into my script. I’m still trying to address comments that my story needs to be ‘funnier’!

  • Wedding Crashers – Chalk full of several types of comedy, a great example and often quoted movie.
  • This is 40 – A recent addition which has few dramatic lines but the ability to pull in things that suck about being middle-aged (I am well aware at present) without being cliché is fantastic
  • Office Space – Another case of brining things out of the office experience that drive us all nuts in a hilarious way
  • Swingers – Probably primarily a favorite because I know it was early work of Favreau’s, more subtle humor and humor in characters

A few others already mentioned like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Hangover, are good to study for their comedic elements as well.

I hope this has helped trigger some ideas for movies to look study for certain aspects of screenwriting.  Next I will blog some great sources of scripts that I have found.

A.

And so it began…

My interest in screenwriting, is, logically, rooted in the love of the feature film.  I have known the power of a good film since I was young: the emotions it can take you through, the escapism it provides, the characters that become a part of your life.  Knowing I would write this post, I have been trying to think about the first movie memory that I have.  I originally believed it was a movie called Rollercoaster in 1977.  I don’t remember much about the movie, except the thrill of the first person view of riding coasters and the speakers vibrating my seat and the floor of the theater.  I vaguely remember the facade of that theater, which was still standing when I moved away from Colorado Springs in 1989.  Searching the Internet I don’t immediately find an image or name that sounds right, but I will ask around to see if I can find and add that info here.  I also remember, at that same theater, waiting in line with my family for a much more recognizable title – Star Wars.  Rollercoaster was out just a few weeks later, so it must have been Star Wars that was my first memorable theater visit.  And reminiscing brought up many other memories of movies while I was growing up.

The next year, my first memory of a drive-in theater was made.  I recall my sister and I trying to go to sleep in the back seat of a car, while my parents watched FM.  Another vivid memory is that of being introduced to my Dad’s cousin’s awesome theater room – they had an amazing sound system, projector TV and a Laser Disc player.  We watched Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978).

The Shining (1980) can’t be skipped; it was the first scary movie I ever watched and I was brilliant enough to watch it at home, alone, at night, when I was 12.  I don’t think I slept for a week.  That would pretty much be the story for the rest of my life – I can’t do horror flicks. I’m so impressionable, that the little black subway ghosts from Ghost (1990) gave me nightmares for weeks!!  The only movie I’ve brought myself to watch – for reasons that escape me – was the Blair Witch Project (1999).  I can’t even stand previews of scary movies or TV drama.  I have to close my eyes and plug my ears.

Flash forward to 1983, past Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Slap Shot (1977), Caddy Shack (1980), another chapter in the Star Wars story (1980), and ET (1982).  War Games – this movie really captured my attention.  I felt like I was David (I wasn’t even close).  I had my own computer (Vic20) and peripherals (tape disk drive, four-color plotter/printer) that I had saved for and purchased on my own. I had the little programming magazines and would type in programs.  I felt different and smarter than others and knew I loved working with computers.  I still recall going to some career fair and coming home clutching a Broderbund brochure.  Very few movies hold a permanent place in my heart, and this is a big one!

After my Dad finally created his own home theater in our family room, with a big screen TV and a Laser Disc player, anyone that came to our house would be required to sit through a demo of the really loud parts of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – I have the scene with the mailboxes shaking permanently burned into my brain) – and the hockey scene from Strange Brew (1983).  I remember my parents also really loving the Woody Allen film, Sleeper (1973), but I never really understood it, and in fact, I have just never been a big Woody Allen fan.

The Right Stuff (1983), Space Camp and Top Gun (both of 1986) would be the biggest memories after that. My love of the space program was in place from the start of the shuttle program, and was far from dampened by the shuttle tragedy; and, well, how could a 15-year-old girl not fall in love with Maverick and Ice Man. Volleyball, anyone?

Into the 90s, I favored drama and romance flicks.  I would readily purchase VHS tapes, and later DVDs, of movies I wanted to watch over and over again.  I’ll highlight those in an upcoming post. I remember being really moved by Forrest Gump (1994) and other dramas around the time. I also loved the asynchronous Pulp Fiction (1994). By now, I have become fairly partial to romantic comedies.  I love laughing, I love happily-ever-afters, and if I’m going to escape the drama of my own life, I want to laugh and dream of how-it-could-be.

Ocean's Eleven Script
Ocean’s Eleven Script

And while romantic comedies are my favorite genre, it was my fascination with the remake of Ocean’s Eleven (2001) that drew me to screenplays.  A little comic book shop in the Pike Place Market stocks printed copies of screen plays, and one day in 2003, after thumbing through the selections, there was no question that I would purchase the script for Ocean’s Eleven.  I wanted to see how the story weaved together in print.

That is without a doubt when my love affair with scripts began! I loved the format, the focus on dialogue, the scene intros – everything.  Over the next few years that followed, I purchased a half dozen more from that same shop. I found others in book format and many in digital format. In a future post I’ll detail those that I’ve really read and analyzed, as well as what motivated to write one on my own.

– April