Exclusive: Analyzing a Scene From August

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On July 11, First Look Studios will release director Austin Chick’s drama August, starring Josh Hartnett, Adam Scott, David Bowie, Naomie Harris and Rip Torn. ComingSoon.net has your exclusive first look at a new clip from the film, along with the original script for the scene and an analysis of the scene by Chick and screenwriter Howard A. Rodman.

August is the story of two brothers, Tom and Joshua Sterling (Hartnett and Scott) whose Internet start-up, Landshark, is as hot as a New York City summer – only this is the summer of 2001, their company is in lock up, its stock price is plunging and, in a few weeks, the world will change forever. For now Tom continues the hedonistic life of an Internet star, the kind of guy we might have seen profiled on 60 Minutes II: he dates multiple women, drives a bitchin’ ’69 Camaro convertible and hangs out at a new club called Bungalow 8. But, like an emo version of Patrick Bateman, it somehow never seems to matter that Tom is not quite able to explain what his company actually does.

WATCH THE CLIP (Includes Explicit Language)

THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT

Featured Cast:

Josh Hartnett – Tom
Rip Torn – David
Caroline Lagerfelt – Nancy

35 INT. STERLING APARTMENT – LATER – NIGHT 35

At the table. The food is simple, tasty. The music—Miles Davis, on vinyl–is lovely, too.

TOM
–and they asked me to speak at
eSymposium. To give the keynote.
Which is cool, because it’s
probably the most important–

DAVID
But what do you actually do, Tom?

TOM
(chewing:)
Excuse me?

DAVID
What do you do?

Nancy looks sharply at her husband, but it only eggs him on.

DAVID
You. Landshark. What do you do?

NANCY
David-

DAVID
I’m serious, Nance. I was there
last Friday-

TOM
Where was I?

DAVID
How do I know “where was I.” I was
dropping something off for Joshua.
And you know what I saw?

(turning to his wife:)

You know what I saw?

(beat)

Oreos.

(beat)

I’m sorry, Tom, you know me, I see it, I say it.
And what I saw was a whole bunch of kids, bright young kids.
They sit around all day, and when they get tired of sitting,
which is more often then not, they go to the kitchen.
Eat some Oreos. Am I right, Tom?

Then they go back to their desks, cute little desks, the ones from Ikea,
am I right, and play solitaire on the computer.
Correct me, Tom, if I’m wrong.
And then, soon enough, they get hungry again.


He pantomimes stuffing a cookie in his mouth, and chewing.

DAVID
Now it’s a long day, I’ll give you that.
Ten in the morning ’til ten at night, seven days a week.
But I’m sorry–Why would anyone give you a million dollars,
just to watch you sit around and eat Oreos?

TOM
Dad, add some zeroes. Okay? Add
two of them. That’s what we’re
talking about here.


David smiles slightly, shakes his head, returning to his food.

TOM
Just because you take your own
failure, and call it success, don’t
take my success and call it-

NANCY
Tom-

TOM
I’m not finished, ma.

He turns toward Nancy.

TOM
I’m sorry ma. But he just doesn’t-

NANCY
Tom, I don’t like-

TOM
Shut up!

(beat)

I was saying something and I wasn’t finished!


The record, at the end of its groove, goes thwip, thwip, thwip. Thirty-three and a third times a minute.

TOM
Do you want to know what I was
saying? Do you want to f*cking
know what I was saying? This is
what I was saying:

(low; intimate)
He just doesn’t get it.

A moment. Then:

TOM
What did you want? Change the world, right?
Stop the war? Poetry must be made by all?
Don’t f*cking deny it. I’ve seen the bookshelves.
I grew up with them. Cinderblocks, two by fours,
and five copies of Soul on Ice.

(beat)
Well, you wanted to change the
world, and what’d you settle for–

(beat)
Tenure?

ON NANCY frozen by this last remark

TOM
You wanted to change the world. Well, we’re changing it.
Tiananmen Square, that was the fax machine, right?
Well imagine what we’ll get, now that we have the web.
(beat)
Your guy, the guy you taught that seminar about,
what’s his face, McLuhan: global village, right? We made it!
We’re making it everyday! While you puff up, all proud, all smug—
All satisfied, you know? And then it’s like,
tell the maid to dust the Godard posters—

NANCY
(quietly:)
I’m leaving now.

TOM
No, Ma. I’ll go.

He turns his face, so they can’t see it…

TOM
I’ll go.


…and walks out the door. David sips his wine and continues to eat.

ANALYSIS OF THE SCENE

AUSTIN CHICK: This scene remained virtually unchanged between the time I first read Howard’s script and final print. It is one of the scenes that made me want to get involved with this project. The character of David, Tom’s father, is so clearly drawn here that he jumps right off the page. You know exactly who this guy is and despite their combative relationship you can see that Tom is his son and the kind of history they have.

When I read it I felt like I’d been in that household before — listening to those same conversations — and Howard managed to frame the clash of old and new, of ’60s political ideology vs. Tom’s Gen X materialism — all these conflicting belief systems are rolled together and fueled by clashing father and son egos.

This is the first scene in which Tom is asked “What do you do, Tom?” — a question that a lot of people had at that time (and still have today) about the kids involved with e-commerce.

What I love about Tom’s response is that he doesn’t respond at all. He doesn’t answer the question. Instead he turns it around and says “You just don’t get it” and proceeds to point out all the hypocrisy in his parent’s lifestyle. He arms himself with ideological rhetoric (the web is democratizing the globe by making information available to everyone) that has as its basis 60s ideology – an ideology we quickly realize his parents once preached.

As viewers with the benefit of hindsight, we know that Tom’s rhetoric is empty. Having lived through that time we know that most of those early companies either died out quickly or became grossly commercialized. It’s only later that we come to realize Tom knows this too.

HOWARD A. RODMAN: Tom is a bright boy, a visionary, a charmer, an opportunist, a swine. He’s gotten very far on his charm, on his bravado, on his refusal to admit the possibility of failure—and now the very qualities which so well served him on his way up are proving disastrous on the way down. It can be said of Tom, to quote Samuel Fuller, that there’s “something decent inside of him trying to crawl out”—but at the same time, he’s a very long way from sainthood. He reviles what he sees as his parents’ liberalism and dated 60s idealism. But—and this is at the heart of this scene—his father’s approval is far more important to him that he would ever admit, even to himself.

Tom’s father David is a writer and activist (or, as Tom would see it, a writer and former activist), now living a quieter life in a small Greenwich Village floor-through. In some ways, he never gave up his hopes of changing the world: he just transferred those hopes to his sons, as an inspiration, but also as a set of marching orders. He’s blind to the fact that Tom wants to make the world a better place, even more blind to the fact that the internet might be a grand force for democracy on a scale he himself could never have dreamed of.

Nancy is David’s wife, Joshua and Tom’s mother—and has never quite figured out how to define herself outside of that matrix. She identifies with Joshua, who in her eyes is, like herself, quiet, unassuming, underappreciated. She has a bit more sympathy for Tom than David does, but mostly, just desperately wants them Not To Fight—a goal always frustratingly just beyond her reach. She sees her job in the family as keeper of the peace. What she can be blind to: that peace is not always resolution, and that some family conflicts are not just ugly, but necessary.

In this scene—the key three-hander with Tom, David, Nancy— we get to watch all of these tensions, which until now have been subterranean, come one by one to the surface. And then: erupt.

It’s the emotional core of the film. It’s a hard scene, an uncomfortable scene. And the glory of the scene as Austin shoots it is that actors move toward, rather than away from, those difficult emotions.

One of the things that immediately held us about Austin’s direction in “XX/XY” was his ability to create a setting in which actors could do their best and bravest work. And because of Austin’s ability with actors, Torn has a fire in the belly that ranks with his best work; Lagerfelt invests Nancy with a quiet complexity; and, perhaps most crucially, Hartnett here is more raw, more exposed, than we often see him.

The scene as written was designed to show the audience the generational misunderstanding between father and son; to open up a window on Tom’s vulnerability; to limn the family dynamics from which Tom and Joshua’s tense bond was forged; and, most crucially, to let us see the pain beneath Tom’s bravado. In Austin’s hands, we get to see all these layers and then some. As a screenwriter, it’s a joy to see these elements clash and coalesce. The scene is in some ways just as I’d imagined it; and in many more ways, far richer than I could ever have imagined.

Look for our full interview with director Austin Chick sometime next month.

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