Walter Hill just mentioned recently how much Alexander Jacobs’ script for John Boorman’s 1967 classic ‘Point Blank’influenced him.
In an interview for Patrick McGilligan in Backstory 4, Walter Hill talked about the “revelation” of reading Alex Jacobs’ script for John Boorman’s 1967 classic Point Blank. Hill had been laboring as a screenwriter, but was never comfortable with the template most Hollywood scripts required of him, which he said was “a sub-literary blueprint for shooting a picture and generally had no personal voice.” Hill admired Point Blank greatly, but on the page, Jacob’s work showed him a new way of writing: “Laconic, elliptical, suggestive rather than explicit, bold in the implied editorial style.” And from that example, Hill’s own writing—and later, directing—took on what he calls an almost “haiku-like” economy. At Hill’s best, his work as writer and director is as tight as a clenched fist, with not a word wasted in the dialogue and a simplicity of expression that extends from character development to the diamond-tight action sequences on which he built his reputation. —Walter Hill 101: The Auteur
WH: Alex Jacobs’ script of Point Blank (1967) was a revelation. He was a friend (wonderful guy, looked like a pirate, funny and crazy). This revelation came about despite a character flaw of mine. I have always had difficulty being complimentary to people whose work I admire, when face-to-face with them. This is not the norm in Hollywood where effusiveness is generally a given. Anyway, a mutual friend told Alex how much I admired Point Blank and John Boorman. Alex then very graciously gave me a copy of the script. This was about the time he was doing The Seven-Ups (1973). Anyway, by now I’d been making a living as a screenwriter for maybe two or three years and had gotten to the point where I was dissatisfied with the standard form scripts were written in — they just all seemed to be a kind of subliterary blueprint for shooting a picture and generally had no personal voice. Mine were tighter and terser than the average, but I was still working with the industry template and not too happy about it. Alex’s script just knocked me out (not easy to do); it was both playable and literary. Written in a whole different way than standard format (laconic, elliptical, suggestive rather than explicit, bold in the implied editorial style), I thought Alex’s script was a perfect compliment to the material, hard, tough, and smart — my absolute ideals then. So much of the writing that was generally praised inside the business seemed to me soft and vastly overrated — vastly oversentimental. Then and now, I haven’t changed my opinions about that. But I have changed them about the presentational style.
Anyway I resolved to try to go in that direction (that Alex had shown), and I worked out my own approach in the next few years. I tried to write in an extremely spare, almost haiku style, both stage directions and dialogue. Some of it was a bit pretentious — but at other times I thought it worked pretty well. I now realize a lot of this was being a young guy who wanted to throw rocks at windows. “Hard Times was the first, and I think maybe the best. Alien (1979) — the first draft, then when David [Giler] and I rewrote it, we left it in that style. The Driver, which I think was the purest script that I ever wrote, and The Warriors. The clean narrative drive of the material and the splash-panel approach to the characters perfectly fit the design I was trying to make work. Of course all this depend on the nature of the material; I don’t think the style would’ve worked at all had I been writing romantic comedies. My scripts have always been a bit terse, both in stage directions and dialogue. I think I’ve loosened up in the dialogue department, but I still try to keep the descriptions fairly minimal, and in some cases purposefully minimalist. I still punctuate to effect, rather than to the proper rules of grammar. I occasionally use onomatopoeias now, a luxury I would certainly never have allowed myself when I was younger. My favorite description of the dilemma of screenwriting comes from David Giler, “Your work is only read by the people who will destroy it.” —Walter Hill
Read, learn, and absorb: Alexander Jacobs’ screenplay of ‘Point Blank’ [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
There is an interview with Alexander Jacobs available in Film Quaterly, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Winter 1968 – Winter 1969), pp. 2-14
How did the script for Point Blank come to be written?
Alexander Jacobs: There were three main versions of the script. The first I did during my first stay in Hollywood, in four weeks, and that consisted of writing the script once and then rewriting it completely. I only had four weeks because I was working on a picture in England. John gave me the script that the Newhouses had written, which was a craftsmanlike piece of work but very old-fashioned. And the idea was to make a thriller that was enterprising. What I argued from the beginning was we couldn’t make an Asphalt Jungle, we couldn’t make a Harper, we couldn’t make a Sweet Smell of Success. I thought all those days were over-television had scraped them clean.
We had to do something completely fresh. We wanted to make a film that was a half reel ahead of the audience, that was the whole idea. We made a vow that we’d have no people getting in and out of cars, no shots of car doors opening and closing, unless there was a really important reason. And then I wrote a second version which consisted mainly of long letters from me in England to John in Hollywood, plus long telephone conversations on casting and all sorts of things, and of course letters from John, which were amalgamated into a second-draft script.
And then I went out to San Francisco on the shooting of the picture the first two weeks. The ending and the beginning of the film take place in San Francisco and that’s where we shot. I then wrote a lot more stuff including a completely new ending and a new beginning, some of which was done in script form, some of which was in discussion, and some of which was literally dictated to a girl and rushed out to location as they were shooting. This included the whole idea of using the sightseeing boat as a means of linking the past and the present. I wrote a new ending which wasn’t used. I don’t really agree with the ending in the film at the moment — I think it’s evasive — but that’s the one that was finally shot. —Point Blank search continues