Timecode: 23:25 – 26:47
I don’t think you’re fit to handle the defense.
You don’t even know me. Ordinarily it takes someone hours to discover I’m not fit to handle a defense.
(JO just stares at him)
Oh come on, that was damn funny.
If a genie had granted me three wishes as a 12-year-old, it would’ve taken me all of 20 seconds to rattle off my choices:
1) I wish the Giants would finally win the World Series.
2) I wish I could see Kathy Ireland naked.
3) I wish I could be Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men.
Well, I still haven’t seen Kathy Ireland naked (and honestly, I think I’d pass if given the chance now). And it ended up being another 18 years before the Giants finally won the big one. But for one magical evening in the Fall of 2005, Wish #3 was granted — for a few minutes, anyway.
I have only one person to thank for that, and no, it wasn’t a genie. It was my friend and USC film school classmate, Katie Wood¹. The scene we shot together (in which I play Kaffee) just happens to be the A Few Good Minutes we’ve arrived at in this week’s breakdown. So, it seemed only appropriate to invite my once (and future?) director to take the reigns this week and evaluate our performance. Take it away, Katie!
* * *
One of the first classes that Mike and I took in the USC MFA writing program was “Directing the Actor” taught by the inimitable (and Academy Award-nominated) Nina Foch. If her long career and trunk full of stories about Hollywood’s Golden Age² weren’t enough to intimidate us, her no-bullshit teaching style took care of the rest. At 81, not only had she seen it all, she saw through it all. Like Jo Galloway, she didn’t let people skate by in some fast-food, slick-ass, Persian bazaar manner.
So, needless to say, anxiety was running high leading into our final project. The task at hand was to direct a scene (from an existing film) within certain limitations: the scene had to be between two characters, and there was no editing allowed. In other words, the entire scene had to be shot in one, continuous take. (You know, like this…but the student film version).
Leading up to the exercise, we learned how to break down scenes like a director, by stating the intention behind every line of dialogue. And while this may sound like a pedantic exercise that would suck all the joy out of a scene, it’s actually really fucking fun! Here’s an excerpt from my breakdown of our AFGM scene:
Kaffee’s intention is almost always some form of “to show you my dimples.” He’s a charming SOB, after all, and it’s gotten him far in life. In fact, it’s gotten him all the way to JoAnne Galloway: the first person who doesn’t find it particularly cute. Okay, she finds it a little cute, but that just makes him that much more irritating. And for Kaffee, the next best thing to charming someone is irritating them. So, it’s a perfect match, really. I mean, just look at these two going back and forth with one another:
Now, all I had to do was capture that same dynamic with two actors not named Tom Cruise and Demi Moore. Luckily, being in LA, we had easy access to professional(-ish) actors. I mean, they’re everywhere! And they’ll work for free! They don’t even treat you like you’re some idiot kid, either (even though you are some idiot kid!)
But then I remembered that Mike’s favorite movie was AFGM, and I knew that I wanted him to play the part. Why? Well, for one thing, he already knew the dialogue! Plus, he owned softball gear! And he has dimples! I mean, who better to play Kaffee?³
Jo was tougher find. My apologies to the actress, whose name I can’t remember, but she was the only one who could get through Jo’s monologue without stumbling and sound like she had at least some idea of what the words meant. Sorkin really isn’t for the faint of heart. But, in the words of LeVar Burton, don’t take my word for it… Watch for yourself:
Trying our hand at the scene made it that much clearer how perfect the real thing is/was.
There are a few advantages that a Hollywood production has over a student film. Aside from money and talent, there are also Naval uniforms. Of course Jo wouldn’t confront Kaffee out of uniform. Dress whites are the perfect physical representation of Jo’s character. Crisp, spotless, professional (if not severe). The contrast with Kaffee is striking. He’s relaxed and joking and can’t even stop hitting balls to talk to a superior officer. Of course, Kaffee is also in uniform: his softball uniform. He’s dressed for a game, which sums him up perfectly, too.
My choice to set the scene at night was due mostly to scheduling conflicts, but it couldn’t be more wrong. Rather than catching Kaffee shirking his duties, it seems like Jo has stalked him during his off-hours. Our attempt at a classic Sorkin walk-and-talk was somewhat hindered by the length of the sidewalk, lack of a steady cam, and the speed at which I can walk backwards. At the time I was quite pleased with the staging, i.e. which character was leading and which was following. But in the original, every choice speaks perfectly to who the characters are, not just who has the upper hand in the conversation.
Watching the original again, I was especially taken by the way Kaffee doesn’t even take a break from hitting balls when being questioned by a superior officer, though he does miss the ball the first time she questions his work ethic.
Taking on this scene made me appreciate the level of skill of everyone involved in the Reiner/Cruise/Moore version. But I think we did a decent job for some idiot kids.
Now, given that whole preamble I gave you about our no-nonsene instructor, I know you’re dying to know: what did Nina think? Well, her critique of the scene ended up being a simple, “You did the job”, which for her, was a glowing fucking review. And the rest of the class was so impressed that I’d made the grade with her, they bought me drinks at the bar later. And really, isn’t that the goal of any great artist?
* * *
¹“She’s a good woman.” (c) John Norwood, circa ’05
²Most of these stories were about how full of shit most of Hollywood’s greatest actors were. Except Bogie. He was all right.
³Thanks, Katie! Check is in the mail.