By Scott Myers
I remember reading the script to Unforgiven (1992) and being struck by two things: It was a clean read and it was a compelling read.
This scene, which takes place in Act Three, is a great example of both.
VIEW on Little Bill in the crowded bar and he is shouting to make himself heard over the din. LITTLE BILL Alright, I'm gonna say just one more time so it's all clear an' then don't ask me no more. The place is packed with tired, dusty men and they are not really jubilant so much as they are excited by the hysteria of events. LITTLE BILL (continuing) Now each of you that posse'd today has got one drink comin' off the county budget... THIRSTY Yahoo. LITTLE BILL ...an' whoever rode yesterday, gets one drink for that... PADDY Yippee. EGGS I told yuh two, I... LITTLE BILL Hold it hold it. After them two, it's outta your own pocket... hear me, Skinny? ...an' we're pullin' out early tomorrow an' chase these fellas clear to Texas so I wouldn't spend much of your own money. There is a general whoop and hubbub as Little Bill turns back to his conversation at the bar with Charley, Fatty, Clyde, Andy and WW Beauchamp. LITTLE BILL Now if we divide up into four parties an' hit all the farms an' trails in a circle, we're bound to find some one who seen them skunks an'... Little Bill is suddenly conscious of his own loud voice in a sudden silence that has swept the bar like a brushfire and turning he sees what everybody is staring at. Munny, with his ten-gauge shotgun leveled from the shoulder, is standing thirty feet away in the doorway. Taking a couple of sideways steps to get the door from behind his back and sweeping the twin barrels in an ominous arc, he surveys the scene. MUNNY (a little drunk) Which fucker owns this shithole? Nobody says a thing. Skinny stares pop-eyed from behind the bar and the sweat starts on his forehead and Little Bill is thinking coolly and everybody else is swallowing hard and looking at the shotgun. MUNNY (to Fatty) You there, fat man, speak up. Fatty gulps and then Skinny screws up his courage and steps from behind the bar and gives it every bit of dignity his fear will permit. SKINNY I... I own this establishment. I bought it from Greely for a thous... MUNNY (to the men round Skinny) Better step clear, boys. And Skinny looks from side to side as people step away from him and he wants to say something desperately, he wants to live, he wants... LITTLE BILL Hold on, mist... BAH-WHOOM! Munny fires and smoke belches and... Skinny is blown back against the wall and falls to the floor a bloody mess and... Little Bill is reaching for the Spencer which is leaning against the bar near his leg but he freezes because... Munny has turned the shotgun on him and Munny sees Ned's Spencer there and his eyes show how he feels about it. For a moment while the smoke clears the bar is silent and there are nervous glances cast at the bloody body of Skinny but Little Bill keeps his eyes on Munny. LITTLE BILL Well sir... You are a cowardly sonofabitch because you have just shot down an unarmed man. It has become a very formal moment and there are, figuratively speaking, only two people in the room, Munny and Little Bill... and WW Beauchamp is watching them, scared to death, but this is it, what all those Easterners dreamed about, the showdown in the saloon. MUNNY (the shotgun pointed right at Little Bill) He should have armed himself if he was gonna decorate his saloon with the body of my friend. LITTLE BILL I guess you are Three-Fingered Jack out of Missouri, killer of women and children. MUNNY (a little drunkenly) I have done that... killed women and children... I have killed most everything that walks or crawls an' now I have come to kill you, Little Bill, for what you done to Ned. (to the others) Now step aside. boys. And as the deputies nervously move aside Little Bill helps to isolate himself by stepping forward boldly. LITTLE BILL He's got one barrel left, gentlemen. After he has used it, pull your pistols and shoot him down like the cowardly, drunken scoundrel he is. Little Bill looks back at Munny bravely and... Munny looks down the barrel at Little Bill and after a tense moment he pulls the trigger. CLICK. The hammer falls but it is a misfire and what happens next happens in maybe five seconds as all hell breaks loose. LITTLE BILL (drawing) Misfire! Kill the sonofabitch! And Little Bill aims carefully and... Munny hurls the shotgun at him and... BLAM!... Little Bill fires wildly as the shotgun hits him and... Clyde has his pistol out and is pointing it at Munny and... Munny is pulling the pistol from his own belt and he drops to one knee and... BLAM!... Clyde fires and misses and... Little Bill is about to squeeze the trigger when... BLAM!... Munny shoots him and... BLAM!... Little Bill shoots just as he is hit in the chest and... BLAM! BLAM!... Fatty fires wildly and... Munny is aiming too and BLAM!... Clyde gets it in the face and... BLAM!... BLAM!... Fatty isn't even aiming while... Andy aims carefully, he can kill Munny but... Munny turns and points his weapon at Andy and... Instead of firing Andy panics and tries to turn his body sideways to ward off the blow and... BLAM!... Munny fires and... Andy gets it high in the rib cage and... Charley turns and runs for the back and... BLAM! BLAM!... Fatty is backing up and firing from the hip and then he turns to run and... Munny aims deliberately from one knee and BLAM!... Fatty goes down, shot in the back... And suddenly... there is a terrible silence that is broken only by the awful, dying groans of Clyde and the coughing of the bystanders hiding behind tables and chairs in the thick black smoke and... Munny is still down on one knee pointing his pistol and looking through the thick smoke for someone to shoot but it seems there are no threats left. MUNNY Every asshole that doesn't want to get shot best clear out the back quick. And they scramble over each other dashing toward the Billiard Room and Munny stands up and looks around and he looks at Clyde who is groaning, his face covered with blood and everyone else, Little Bill, Andy and Fatty are still, and then Fatty seems to move and Munny levels his pistol and what happens is WW crawls out from half-under Fatty and WW is covered with blood and he is shaking like a leaf.
Feels like the transcript of someone telling the story orally.
And how about some of the descriptors:
There is a general whoop and hubbub... a sudden silence that has swept the bar like a brushfire... Skinny stares pop-eyed from behind the bar... and his eyes show how he feels about it...
A real ‘folksy’ feel in the language. And to really drive home the narrative voice:
but this is it, what all those Easterners dreamed about, the showdown in the saloon.
“Those Easterners” — as compared to the narrator who is not from the East. All of that adds to the compelling nature of the story.
Each line in the shoot-out suggesting a camera shot, you can just see the action right there on the page.
Here is the movie version of the scene:
Unforgiven, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for screenwriter David Webb Peoples, is a great example of a writer using scene description to the story’s benefit: The ‘folksy’ narrative voice in synch with the movie’s Western genre and a clean read with strong bursts of imagematic writing.
Scott Meyers will be speaking at this year’s London Screenwriter’s Festival! Buy your ticket today and come to his session on Killer Scene Descriptions: Using Screenplay Style to Express YOUR Writer’s Voice.