About Schmidt: The Silent Opening Sequence From Page to Screen
After I attended the 13 Principles of Dialogue lecture at the GAPF, I decided to have a look at ‘About Schmidt‘ opening sequence, that Richard Walter cited as an example of how silence can be a strong ally and help reveal elements about your characters.
Because I found the exercise of comparing what was on the page to what ended up on-screen interesting and helpful, below is the opening scene as written and the same scene in the locked movie. Alexander Payne wrote the screenplay adaptation and directed the movie.
[These extracts are used to illustrate an educational point. Please don’t sue me, but contact me, I can take it out if it prevents anyone from making millions.]
Notice that the first line ends up being a 20 seconds long sequence, whereas the scene where we first see Schmidt is even more minimalist than in the script. In 7 cuts and 5 “cold” shots, Payne sets up his character. I don’t know why the off-screen “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” line was cut, but its absence adds to the heaviness of the scene (in a good way) and doesn’t prevent us from understanding that it is Nicholson’s last day.
Walter added in his lecture that not only do we learn that Schmidt is retiring but also that he is a meticulous person (organized and clean office) and a guy who will stick to his duties; even for his last day, he waits until 5pm sharp to leave while he could have easily skipped the last hours.
For a movie titled ‘About Schmidt’, that’s a good way to start right on the subject.