<–Back to Part I
What initially caught my eye about this page of text from Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather, with hand-written notes by Francis Ford Coppola, was that this is the scene in The Godfather that I have mentioned for years to my students and clients and one that I highlight in my book, Story Maps: How to Write a GREAT Screenplay:
From “Scene Work” in Chapter XII: The Scene List:
At the Midpoint of The Godfather, when Michael Corleone finds the hidden gun in the bathroom of the Italian restaurant, we expect him to come out of the room blasting, just as he was told to do (recall Sonny’s infamous line: “I don’t want my little brother coming out of that bathroom with just his dick in his hands.”). But Michael doesn’t do that. He sits down at the table with Sollozzo and Captain McCluskey, his targets, and he waits. This increases tension and completely subverts our expectations for this payoff, so when he finally pulls the gun, it’s happened in a way we didn’t expect and it’s a very satisfying release to the tension of the scene. That’s good writing.
And there it is at the top of Coppola’s page: “Important: the audience knows he is not following Clemenza’s instructions.”
So, in case you ever wondered if this classic scene from one our greatest American films was first blocked out on set, you now know that it was meticulously planned in the script, long before they were rolling cameras on Al Pacino as Michael Corleone at Louis restaurant.
In closing, I’ll leave you with the words I was just telling Francis over a nice Chianti at his Napa winery…Get it right on the page, first…save yourself millions later. He laughed loudly, then we ate a mountain of linguini with clams. I didn’t have the guts to tell him that his wine is over-priced.
Here’s the scene (graphic violence):
Good Luck and Happy Writing!
P.S. Our buddies at Screenplay How To also have some thoughts on Coppola’s Godfather notes: Link.