The last Sunday in January found Gil ensconced on the sofa in Natalie’s apartment, a pile of typed scripts beside him and another one in his hands. He was slowly, methodically, and intently reading it page by agonizing page while an uncharacteristically subdued and nervous Natalie sat in a chair on the other side of the room. She would try to read the latest copy of Variety for about ten minutes then get up and pace about, looking for all the world like an expectant father in a hospital waiting room.
Gil however, intent on his reading, seemed not to notice her restlessness. Finally after about an hour he put the script down in his lap and looked up at her.
Noticing this Natalie quickly resumed her seat on the chair and said, “Well, what you do think? I mean, really, be completely honest. You aren’t going to hurt my feelings. I know they’re probably not very good, that’s why they’ve all been rejected many times over. So just tell me what you think they need.”
“Well,” said Gil. He hesitated for a few moments and then said, “The first problem is probably your title. I mean, Rosens Are Red? It is about the Rosenbergs’ arrest and execution, but the title might put people off a bit.”
Natalie shrugged. “Okay,” she said. “I thought the title was kind of clever in a cute sort of way, but I don’t mind changing it.”
“I think however,” Gil continued, “getting to the main problem, I’m reading this with, I hope, a director’s eye and a director’s point of view.” Here he smiled. “Even though I don’t have as yet much experience along these lines.”
Natalie broke in quickly. “That’s okay,” she said again. “I trust your sensibilities. We’ve talked enough about movies that that I feel you probably know what you’re talking about.”
Emboldened Gil continued. “Well, I think your main problem is, I mean, didn’t you say you wrote a novel?” Natalie nodded her head. “Well, I think you’re still thinking like a novelist. I mean, you’ve got some pretty good dialogue, but the whole thing is too static, too claustrophobic to make a good visual movie as it stands now.”
“So what do you think I should do about it?” Natalie asked. She was totally serious now and her voice was genuine and honest. She bore no traces of the irreverent wisecracking woman that Gil had met at the party.
“I think,” Gil said, “that the thing doesn’t have to be rewritten so much as expanded upon. You’re obviously taking this story from history, so there’s no question that it’s a good story. I mean, you hardly have many plot choices here, do you?” Without waiting for an answer he went on. “Basically I have about two suggestions. First, most of your dialogue is pretty good. A little stilted and formal maybe, but it basically gets the job done. Of course, when it goes through the filming process, they’re going to be changes made anyway, that’s inevitable. But getting back to my original point, while the dialogue to my mind is okay, many of the characters seem to be doing what we in the business” (here he gave a slight chuckle) “call speechifying. In other words, they say too much at once. What you need is a little more back and forth. There are two ways, again, to my mind to break it up. One is when a character starts making a speech, have the other people in the room make comments or suggestions at certain points. The second way is called business. Have the character who’s making the speech break off and do something physical. Light a cigarette. Get a drink. Pace the room. Maybe look out the window, something to keep this from being, again, what we in the business call a talking-head scene.”
“That sounds to me like pretty good advice,” she agreed. I think maybe I can do that. The problem is, I always get so caught up in the message I’m trying to deliver that maybe I don’t think enough about how that message is going to look on the screen.”
“Sure,” said Gil. “Just think about the so-called ‘message movies’ that you’ve seen. They’ve sure been enough of them in the last ten years or so. Just think about how their characters do it.”
Natalie nodded her head appreciatively. “Okay, that’s number one. You said there were two things?”
“Yeah,” he said, “I kind of mentioned it when I said ‘claustrophobic’. What I meant was, you have to do more of what we call opening it up. Not only is too much of your film just talking, your scenes are mostly set in small rooms and go on for too long. You need more action and you need more exterior stuff. You’ve got to give the directors and the cinematographers something to work with.”
They went on talking in this manner for another hour or so, segueing into discussions about films they had both seen and various methods used by the directors and the cinematographers that made these films both effective in terms of the message and most importantly entertaining to a general audience. Finally Natalie looked at her watch and said, “Wow, you’ve been such a great help and I got so interested I totally lost track of the time. It’s nearly six and I haven’t even though about cooking anything.”
Gil, like the dutiful boyfriend he had become, picked up his cue immediately. “How about we go out for dinner somewhere, Natalie? Your choice, I’m buying.”
“That would be great,” said Natalie, getting up. “There’s a great little café just down the street on Hollywood where we can get good basic food for not too much money.” She held out her arm. “Care to stroll down there with me?”
Gil replaced the script carefully on the pile, stood up, and offered her his arm. They left her apartment arm in arm.