BU Film School

Monday, August 29, 2005

FT 540/FT 553 Reading: Network

Screenplay info
Written by: Paddy Chayefsky
IMDB link: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0074958/

Synopsis/my notes
TV production speak, TV news speak, TV business speak, political speak, legalese.

Story about Howard Beale, who had been mandarin of TV. Fortunes declined. Fired, effective in two weeks.

Max, Howard out drinking. Howard -- going to kill myself on air. Max -- would get hell of a rating, spawn spin-off shows. "The Death Hour."

Montage of a typical newsday. Howard typing copy, checking reference book, run-down meeting for daily broadcast (lots of TV jargon), getting made up. Howard drinking the whole time.

Ready to start Howard's part of broadcast. More jargon. People in control room involved in own conversations, not paying attention to content of news. Howard announces he'll kill himself on air in one week's time. Only PA, audio man notice, tell others, who go from disbelief to outrage. Try to get Howard off set. Director, others follow orders mindlessly, put Howard back on even as people are trying to drag him off, then finally black things out.

PR crisis. Hackett to Howard -- you're off the air as of now. Stockholders' meeting tomorrow, need to distance ourselves before announcement of restructuring plan. Has surprises for Max, who says to keep hands off his news division. Max -- Howard, stay at my place.

Next day, Max watching screening. Diana, Herron there. Herron presents footage. First, interview with Laureen Hobbs, Communist (political language). Max gets call -- Howard's left house. Ecumenical Liberation Army footage of bank robbery. Howard calls -- wants another shot, go out with dignity. Max notices Diana's beauty.

Diana, Herron head to programming department. Diana summons staff, presents idea of building show around ELA footage. East Coast staff skeptical. None of them had read concept analysis report. Diana chides them, says she wants angry shows. "I don't want conventional programming on this network. I want counterculture. I want anti-establishment." Asks Herron to set up meet with Laureen Hobbs.

Stockholders' meeting. Hacket talking (language of business), submitting proposal for restructuring. Plan includes reducing news division from independent division to a department accountable to network. Max furious, tries to confront board chairman Ruddy, who fobs him off until next morning's regular meeting.

Almost time for evening news. Max enters control room. Howard -- just ran out of bullshit. Max -- leave him on. "Bullshit is all the reasons we give for living ..." "He's saying life is bullshit, and it is, so what're you screaming about?"

Ruddy's office. Ruddy to Max -- colosally stupid prank. Max -- who's running this network, you or CCA? Ruddy -- if you'd been patient, would have worked things out. Now Max's position untenable. Expects resignation on desk next morning.

Beale downstairs talking to reporters. Diana watching, oblivious to lover.

Next morning. Diana picks up morning papers, looks at overnight ratings. Staffer enters with four series outlines, all same-old same-old. Diana -- all these world news, but front page has Howard Beale.

Diana and Hackett. Diana -- put Beale back on, great ratings. "I can turn that show into the biggest smash in television." "... we're talking about putting a manifestly irresponsible man on national televison." Needs to cover all the angles, will get back to her.

Executives' lunch. Chaney raises objections, Hackett bats each of them away. "We're not a respectable network. We're a whorehouse network, and we have to take whatever we can get."

Max emptying desk. Howard shows him old photo, gets him reminiscing. Eventually news staffers gathered to listen to Max's anecdotes. Bob McDonough -- here's something funny, they want to put Howard back on. McDonough says he'll resign and so will everyone else, but Howard objects. "What's wrong with being an angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisies of our times?" Max says grab it.

Ruddy goes to see Max. Will give Hackett his head about the Beale thing, but is preparing for showdown and will need friends. Asks Max to rescind resignation, Max agrees.

Narrator -- Beale's novelty starting to wear off, ratings dropping. Max watches end of news, turns it off. Diana comes in -- proposes adding soothsayer (who predicted relationship with craggy, middle-aged man). Also proposes that they take on writers for Howard, would like to program show. "All I'm saying is, if you're going to hustle, at least do it right." Will get show one way or another, wanted to avoid network hassle.

Max laughs at her, wonders what her scam is. Diana -- visit was courtesy, had schoolgirl crush. Max invites her out to dinner. "Schmuck. What are you getting into."

Max and Diana at dinner. Diana -- lousy lay, inept at everything except her work. Max married 25 years. Diana -- what kind of script could we make out of this? She's not Hackett's girl. "Frank's a corporation man, body and soul." Better go to her place.

Beale asleep, wakened, listens to voice.

Max to Harry: killing angry-man thing, going back to straight news as of tonight.

Howard talks about hearing voice. "Why me?" "Because you're on television, dummy." Tell people the truth.

Max to Howard -- you're off the air, you need psychiatrist. Howard says not breakdown, is imbued with special spirit. Faints, taken back to Max's house.

Rain and thunder. Howard wakes, leaves house. Louise discovers in morning, wakes Max.

Hackett -- what do you mean, you don't know where he is? He's a hit! Max -- Howard's insane, needs care and treatment. Hackett gave Diana the show. Ruddy had heart attack, Hackett now in charge, Max fired. Max vows to make lot of noise, Hackett says need all publicity we can get.

Raining, night. Howard arrives at studio, drenched. Has to make his witness. News -- price of oil going up. Howard -- everybody knows things are bad, just want to retreat into own little world. "Well, I'm not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad." Get up (he does, camera following), open window, yell, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Diana -- are they yelling? Yelling in Baton Rouge. Struck the motherlode! Max, wife and daughter watching. Daughter opens window -- can hear shouts. In movie, people looked herky-jerky, machine-like.

Diana out west for meetings. Talks to Hobbs and lawyers (more jargon). Diana -- doesn't give damn about political content. Hobbs objects to ELA, who're not endorsed by Communists. Diana -- offering 30-50 million a shot, an hour-long show in which can put whatever propaganda you want. Hobbs goes to ELA hideout -- going to make TV star out of Ahmed Khan.

Network News Hour -- "mad as hell" transformed from cry of anger into cheer. Soothsayer, skeleton in closet, Vox Populi, orchestra, applause. Howard -- Ruddy died today, woe, network now in hands of CCA. "Television is not the truth!" "This is mass madness, you maniacs!" People eat, drink, dress, think like the tube. Max says turn sets off, faints, people applaud.

Hackett giving annual report to CCA board. Lots of business speak. Can project profit for network, may become key profit-maker for CCA. Jensen approves, Hackett happy.

Ruddy's funeral. Max, Diana there. Max not fine. Both had wanted to call the other, but held off. "I need to get involved very much."

Diana away romantic weekend for Max. Talks TV business the entire time, even during (very brief) sex, and immediately afterwards.

Max, Louise having scene about Diana. Pressed, he admits he loves Diana. Louise angry, demands more respect. "I'm your wife, damn it." Diana not capable of love. "She's the television generation." Diana has come up with scenarios, all of which end happily (prodigal husband returns to wife), except for Anna K. adaptation.

Mao Tse Tung Hour premieres, gets 47 share. Meeting on contract, lots of legal jargon and business jargon, with smattering of political jargon. Conflict between Hobbs, ELA. "Man, give her the fucking overhead clause."

Affiliates' meeting. Diana getting kudos. Hackett summoned to phone in lobby. TV on in lobby, Beale starting to talk about CCA/Arab deal. His talk intercut with Hackett on phone. Howard -- send telegrams to White House in protest.

Postmortem with Hackett, Diana, other network folks. CCA needs Saudi $$ bad. Lots of telegrams already. Hackett depressed. "Now I'm a man without a corporation!" Wants to kill Howard. Diana argues in his defense (#1 show). Phone for Hackett -- Jensen wants to meet Howard personally.

Hackett brings Howard to Jensen's office. Jensen takes Howard to conference room. Wants to sell something to him. Seats Howard, turns off light, stands at the end of the table, preaches. "The world is a business, Mr. Beale." Great use of language.

Howard goes on air "to preach the corporate cosmology of Arthur Jensen." "It's the single, solitary human being who's finished."

Ratings are dropping. Diana yells at Howard's agent on the phone. Max comes home late. Diana -- could help me if you wanted. They argue -- his morbid mood, her on phone all the time. Max -- turning into one of Diana's scripts. "I'm real. You can't switch to another station." Wants her to love him. She doesn't know how.

Laureen in Diana's office, raging, wants out of 8:00 spot behind Howard. Diana trying to find replacement. She, others watch clip of hellfire prophet, no good. Diana -- can't find replacement, should fire Howard. Hackett -- Jensen wants him on, but will try to talk him out of it.

Diana lets herself into apartment, Max there asleep. She packs his things. Going to "cancel the show". She apologizes for ugly scenes. He takes it calmly, will try to go back to wife. More concerned aobut her. She says she doesn't need him, goes into the kitchen to try to make cup of something, but cup and saucer shakes in her hand. Shouts that she doesn't need him. "You need me badly. I'm your last contact with human reality ... You are television incarnate, Diana." Television destroys everything it touches.

Meeting with Hackett, Diana et al. Jensen wants Howard kept on. Diana goes through ratings. Lots of business talk. What do we do? Kill him. Diana -- how about assassination? Mao Tse Tung will carry out as one of their episodes.

Show starting. Howard comes out, shot. TV screens -- Howard, news reports, commercials.

Class notes (from 7/20/04)
Another lunatic set upon the world.

Chayefsky began in Golden Age of TV (no ads). All drama, comedy done live. Rehearsals short and intense, text meant everything. Directors who survived trial by fire were extraordinary, knew they were only as good as script, had very strong story sense. Lumet came out of this tradition.

In TV then, majority of shots were close-ups and medium shots. TV had intimacy that film didn't. TV part of the family. Intimate close-up, in living room, bedroom, etc. Question of scale and clarity of image.

Chayefsky born and bred in NYC. Wanted to do theater, but started in TV (easier). "Marty" introduced Ernest Borgnine.) Adorable realistic love story. "The Bachelor Party" -- values of 50's, Greenwich Village. Chafeysky progressive, questioning everything. "The Tenth Man" -- retelling of tale about dybbuk who possesses a bride-to-be, takes prayer of ten men (minyan) to cast dybbuk out, tenth man falls in love.

After bad experience with Hospital, Chayefsky asked for and got agreement that no one could touch a word of his script. (Unlike in theater, where the playwright rules, in film the screenwriter has no say at all usually.) Producer at UA wanted to get rid of TV talk, but Chayefsky refused. Language was the point. Talk of shares, etc. dehumanized experience. As was about to sign contract, one UA person asked again for removal of TV talk, Chayefsky tore up contract, went with MGM instead.

One fault, scene with Max's wife (what's left for her?). All of a sudden, film becomes serious, speech doesn't belong in satire. Great comic scene with Max and Diana on weekend getaway -- can't take Diana's character seriously.

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