Scene Description Spotlight: “Unforgiven”


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 Myers
Website: Go Into The Story
Twitter: @GoIntoTheStory

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.