4 Screenwriting Secrets in Fargo

4 Screenwriting Secrets in Fargo


[FLAMENCO GUITAR CHORD] Ethan and Joel Coen are renowned as
brilliant filmmakers but they also happen to be master screenwriters. So today we’re going to uncover some
of the screenwriting secrets in their 1996 masterpiece Fargo, #32 on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays. Here are 4 screenwriting secrets
in the movie Fargo. [MUSIC] When there’s a bit of a complex plot, good screenwriters usually establish
the rules of the game early on in the story. This allows the audience to follow
the rest of the story without confusion. In the Fargo screenplay, the Coen brothers set this up masterfully. We first have the scene where Jerry Lundegaard meets with Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud. Carl: The new vehicle plus $40,000. You want your own wife kidnapped? Jerry: Yeah. Carl: You pay the ransom , $80,000. You give us half the ransom, $40,000.
You keep half. It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul.
It doesn’t make any sense. Jerry: I just need the money. The thing is: my wife is wealthy. Her dad is real well off. Carl: So why don’t you just ask him
for the money? Gaear: Or your fucking wife, ya know. Jerry: They don’t know I need it. And even if they did, I wouldn’t get it. Then we have the early conversation
between Jerry and his father-in-law Wade. Jerry: Wade, have you had a chance to think about that deal I was talking about,
those 40 acres there in Wayzata? I mean, a parking lot. Wade: Well, $750,000 is a lot. And finally, Jerry receives this phone call: Jerry: It’s okay. The loans are in place.
I already got the — Yeah, the $320,000 you got last month. Reilly: We have an audit here. I just have to know
these vehicles you’re financing really exist. So now that the rules of the game
have been established, what’s the next thing that happens? Jean Lundergaard is kidnapped and the story takes off. [MUSIC] In screenwriting, we’re always taught the phrase: “Show, don’t tell.” What this really means is to respect the audience and let them be involved in formulating
the story experience. Ethan and Joel Coen are
masters at this. Look at how we gain insight
into Marge and Norm’s relationship. Marge: Hi, it’s Marge. [CLEARS THROAT] Marge: Thanks, hon. Time to shove off. Norm: Love ya, Margie. Marge: Love ya, hon. Marge: You got Arby’s all over me. [MUZAK] Marge: Well… I’m turning in, Norm. And look at how they cleverly develop
Marge’s tryst with Mike Yanagita: [ON PHONE] Mike Yanagita, remember me? Yeah, I’m down in the Twin Cities. Marge: Think I’ll take a drive down there then. Officer: Oh yeah? Twin Cities. Marge: Would you happen to know a good place
for lunch in the downtown area? [PIANO PLAYS] And when it comes to Norm’s contest
for the postal service, do they ever outright explain what’s
going on? Jerry: Nope. Lou: Heya, Norm. How’s the painting going? Norm: Not too bad, you know. Found out the Hauptmanns are
entering a painting this year. Marge: Aw, hon. You’re better than them. Norm: They announced it. Marge: So? Norm: Three-cent stamp. Marge: Your mallard? They also let the audience put two and two together when it comes to acts of violence. Carl: The fuck happened to her? Gaear: She started
shrieking, ya know. [WOOD CHIPPER GRINDS] The audience is also allowed to discern
a character’s intentions. For example: When Jerry discovers Wade’s dead body: Once Carl has the money, we figure out his new scheme: Carl: Well I got the money. There’s forty for you. Forty for me. Here, we know exactly what Jerry is up to
because of this: [ON PHONE] Reilly: I just need on these financing documents you sent us, I can’t read the serial numbers here. Jerry: Why don’t I just fax you over a copy? Reilly: No, fax is no good. That’s what I have, and I can’t read the darn thing. Respect the audience and let them participate and they will thank you for giving them a great experience. [MUSIC] When it comes to making a rich story world that is both believable and realistic, the devil is in the details. The Coen brothers use very specific, not generic, terminology to make their story come to life. The most obvious case is when it comes
to places in Minnesota. Jerry: 40 acres there in Wayzata? Marge: So where you girls from? Woman 1: Chaska. Woman 2: Le Sueur. But I went to high school in White Bear Lake. Go Bears. Marge: That right there would be
a violation of your parole. Would end you up back in Stillwater. Marge: You’re living in Edina then? Mike: It’s actually Eden Prairie.
That school district. Jerry: If Stan calls, you just tell him I went to Embers. Cop: White Bear Lake? Mr. Mohra: Yeah, well at Ecklund and Swedlin’s,
that’s closer to Moose Lake. Another way to be specific with details
is when it comes to the characters. For example: the people in Minnesota sure do
love their hockey. Jerry: Whatchu watching there? Wade: Gophers. Notice how he doesn’t say something weak and generic like: “the hockey game”. Jerry: You going to the Gophers on Sunday? Salesman: Oh, you betcha. Jerry: You wouldn’t have an extra ticket? Salesman: You kidding? Jean: We don’t want you going out for hockey. Scotty: Aw, man! Mike Yanagita is an old classmate of
Marge’s. So how is it expertly and quickly established
that they go way back? He doesn’t use her married name. [ON PHONE] Mike: Is this Marge? Marge: Yeah. Mike: Margie Olmstead? He uses this dorky nickname: You went and married Norm son-of-a-Gunderson. And they talk about another classmate: I was married to Linda Cooksey. You remember Linda?
She was a year behind us. Marge: Oh, yeah. Here are some other quick
examples: When Wade talks about money: If I wanted bank interest on $750,000
I’d go to Midwest Federal. Talk to old Bill Diehl. He’s at Norstar. When Jerry tries to hide things from Scotty: Jerry: If Lorraine calls, or Sylvia, you just say mom’s down in Florida
with Pearl and Marty. And finally: The characters speak in realistic terms
when it comes to objects. Norm doesn’t say “bait” or “worms”. Norm: What are those? Nightcrawlers? Aw, thanks, hon. Notice how the people talk about automobiles: Jerry: It’s out in the lot there.
Brand new burnt umber Ciera. Marge: Hon? Norm: Yeah? Marge: Prowler needs a jump. Mr. Anderson, is this your burgundy ’98 out here? So remember: be specific, not generic, and your story will come to life. [MUSIC] They say you reveal true character in
the actions you take. In this movie we have Jerry Lundegaard
and Carl Showalter. Neither gets the respect they want from others. Carl: You ever been to Minneapolis? Gaear: Nope. Carl: Find that work interesting, do you? Prostitute: What are you talking about? Attendant: Well, I’m sorry sir.
We still gotta charge you the four dollars. Jerry: This could work out real good
for me and Jean and Scotty. Jean and Scotty never have to worry. Customer: You’re a bald-faced liar. Wade: With all due respect, Jerry, I don’t want you mucking this up. Jerry: What the heck do ya mean? However, Carl seems to be the shadow version of Jerry. He does what Jerry is unable to do. For example: Gaear doesn’t talk much to Carl, so here’s his reaction: Carl: Would it kill you to say something? Shep Proudfoot says very little to Jerry, but here’s how he reacts: Jerry: An alternate number, or what have you? Shep: Nope. Jerry: Okay! Real good then. When Carl gets interrupted, he responds in anger. [ON PHONE] Carl: We need more money — Jerry: This was supposed to be
a no-rough-stuff type deal. Carl: Don’t ever interrupt me, Jerry!
Just shut the fuck up! And what does Jerry do? Jerry: No, see — Wade: There’s a million dollars here. Jerry: No, see — Wade: Look, Jerry, you’re not selling me a damn car! When things don’t go Carl’s way, these are his reactions: Attendant: Well, I’m sorry, sir.
We still gotta charge you the four dollars. Carl: I guess you think you’re like an authority figure? That stupid fucking uniform, huh buddy? Wade: No Jean, no money! Carl: Is this a fucking joke here? [GUNSHOT] Meanwhile, Jerry remains powerless. However, both ways lead to their respective downfall. Jerry: Okay. I’ll do a damn lot count. You’re darn tootin’. Marge: Oh, for Pete’s sake. He’s fleeing the interview.
He’s fleeing the interview! [SCREAMS] Carl: I’m taking the Ciera. Gaear: We split that. Carl: I’m taking that fucking car!
That fucker’s mine. [SCREAMS] So what are your thoughts? Anything you’d like to add? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below. If you like Script Sleuth and the work we’re doing, please support us on Patreon to get special patron-only benefits. And if you haven’t done so already be sure to subscribe for upcoming videos. Thank you so much for watching. [MUSIC] you

5 thoughts on “4 Screenwriting Secrets in Fargo”

  1. What do you think? Let us know if you'd like to add anything! (And don't forget to subscribe and hit the bell to be alerted for upcoming videos.)

  2. Good insight. I always loved Fargo, and never realized the amount of detail in the script. The dialogue seemed so real and authentic.

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