Locke script and two smoking barrels

Spoilers ahead.

Scriptic Clues is intended as an educational site, not a collection of reviews. Like a good student, I’m going to expect that you’ve come prepared; all of my analyses will assume that you’ve seen the film already. If you haven’t, or the film isn’t fresh in your memory, I strongly recommend you go and watch it first to get the most out of this site.

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Why I chose this script

As I mentioned in my post about Warrior, I’m a big fan of Tom Hardy’s work. So when I heard about Locke, a feature film that would focus solely on him driving and talking, I thought it stood a good chance of being pure genius. The movie didn’t disappoint, and it was a captivating watch from start to finish despite its narrow focus. So I had to pick up the Locke script to see how Steven Knight pulled this trick off.

Seeing a script for what it is

Something funny happened after I finished reading the Locke script. I had a moment of realization that turned my perspective on its head. To explain the change, let me first show you something.

When I read scripts for this site I take notes and, amongst other things, categorize my notes by sentiment into ‘Positive’, ‘Neutral’ and ‘Negative’. Here’s a chart of what that looks like for a script that I had some real problems with:

Locke image 1

Here’s a script that I am an unabashed fan of:

Locke image 2

Now, here’s the same chart for the Locke script:

Locke image 3

At this point, you could be forgiven for thinking I am going to tell you the Locke script is terrible. But, like I said, upon further reflection, I had a change of heart.

You see, I read the Locke script like any other screenplay – a written description of a movie that played in the writer’s (Steven Knight) head. But that’s not what it is. It’s actually director Steven Knight’s personal production notes, which just so happens to be printed in 12 point courier.

By far the biggest portion of negative notes I took on the Locke script were to do with facts not being in evidence. This covers all cases where something is included in the script, usually in the scene description, which cannot be recorded on film. A couple of examples from the Locke script:

Ivan is now confronting the crisis in his head. On the site he was in a familiar place but now he is on a journey and must necessarily begin to consider the destination and the place he is leaving.

And:

IVAN LOCKE

I have no choice.

DONAL (OOV)

Is it a bereavement?

Ivan never lies. Silence. A long pause.

Side note: OOV is used here instead of OS, this belies Knight’s time in the UK filmmaking industry. It seems that writers in the UK are switching to OS to denote a character speaking off-screen, so just use that.

I touched on this point in my post about Warrior, it’s what I like to call the writer/director prerogative. It’s the freedom to include reminders on how to direct a scene in the script. In that same post I left a cautionary note, saying that as writers we shouldn’t do too much of it. If you want to know how much is too much, pick up a copy of the Locke script. This is my favorite example:

IVAN LOCKE

Donal, are you drinking something? What are you drinking?

DONAL (OOV)

Bottle of fizzy pop.

Ivan reacts inside.

Not only are we not told what Locke’s reaction is (something Knight does a lot in this script), we’re also told explicitly that it can’t be seen – it’s internal.

One day you might be in a position to demand the right to direct your own work. A position where your name carries such weight that the fact you’ve written anything is more important than its quality. But as you are reading this blog, I’m guessing today is not that day. Until it comes along, please don’t follow Steven Knight’s example of directing on the page.

My change of heart was to realize that the Locke script isn’t bad, it’s simply written by someone who plays by a different set of rules to you and me.

Chewing your actors’ food for them

This point is actually part of the writer/director prerogative, but it’s not something I’ve mentioned in previous posts so I want to separate it out here.

We rely on the craft of numerous individuals when it comes time to transfer our vision from paper to celluloid (or bits and bytes, these days). That craft isn’t all behind the camera, it’s important to remember the actors’ contribution too. When you’re responsible for what those actors must say, as we are, it’s easy to also start writing how it should be said. But doing that too much is a mistake, I believe.

Typically you see this in the form of emphasis in dialogue lines. This is an example from the Locke script which I think is too heavy-handed with emphasis:

IVAN LOCKE (CONT’D)

You listen to me you fucking piece of worthless shit. I want you to watch…

A pause. His face harder and harder…

IVAN LOCKE (CONT’D)

In fact I’d like to take a fucking shovel and dig you up out of the fucking ground and make you watch me tonight.

He stares into the mirror.

IVAN LOCKE (CONT’D)

I’d pull open your eyes and kick the mud and worms and shit out your ears. Just for the duration of this fucking journey. Because it’s me driving not you.

I think this is a bad habit for us, as writers, to get into for a few reasons. One, if the dialogue line (and its role in the context of the script) is clear, any actor worth their salt is going to know where the emphasis goes. Two, actors and directors can (between them) come up with readings that can surprise us in positive ways and they should be allowed to do so. Three, it’s disrespectful to the craft of acting; we don’t tell a DP where all the lights go in a scene and we should give actors their dues too.

By all means, use emphasis if a non-natural reading is required (though a parenthetical could be called for if your character is saying one thing but means another) or to highlight a line that a reader might otherwise skim over. Just beware that, like so many things, emphasis is subject to diminishing returns.

A character in a box

I try and steer clear of talking too much about the structure of stories on this site. I don’t think I can teach anyone what makes a good story, or what makes a story good. But there’s something I want to point out about the group of stories that Locke falls into. It’s the group of character-in-a-box stories that Gravity falls into, even though the box is pretty damn big in the latter case.

The medium of film is one of pictures and words and doesn’t lend itself well to portraying the machinations of the human mind as well as, say, a novel does. In a lot of cases, filmmakers who create a story like this end up having to contrive some kind of communication quirk that allows the protagonist to air their inner demons.

In Gravity it was a series of things (talking to Houston in case someone was listening, followed by the ham radio operator, finished with Bullock’s character simply talking to herself). In Locke it was the specter of Ivan Locke’s (Hardy) father on the backseat of his BMW.

I wouldn’t dream of saying “Don’t write stories like this,” but I do have one request. These contrivances seem almost unavoidable, so please do everyone a favor and make sure that yours is at least in line with something your character would do.

Much is made, in the Locke script, of Ivan’s practicality and levelheadedness. So much so, that when he confesses infidelity to his wife, he almost immediately follows it up with:

IVAN LOCKE

Katrina…

KATRINA (OOV)

That didn’t happen. I’m not believing it…

IVAN LOCKE

Katrina, I want to move to a practical next step…

KATRINA (OOV)

I’m here in the dark in our bedroom and nothing looks the same…

A man like this talking to his dead father in the rear view mirror as he drives along is quite incongruous. Was there no better way to handle this exposition? One example might have been to have his wife press him for more details on his decision to go to Bethan. It might’ve detracted from the realism of their interactions, but on the whole I think it would’ve still been the more credible of the two options.

In summation

Established writers (especially ones who direct their own work) play by a different set of rules than those of us starting out. We can still learn from their scripts, but there’s a lot we shouldn’t seek to emulate. Actors are crafts-men and women who deserve our respect just as much as anyone else on the crew so we should take care when telling them how to do their job on the page. If you’re writing a character-in-a-box story and have contrived some way for your character to speak their mind, make sure it fits in with their personality.

Tell me your thoughts about this post. Be kind & Play nice.

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