In anticipation of the upcoming cinematic release of The Road, Cormac McCarthy’s been giving some interviews. There’s a particularly enlightening interview with McCarthy in the Wall Street Journal of all places.
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The camera rises up over a rise behind the man and boy walking down the road. The shot shows a landscape of gray and brown spotted with blackened misshapen lumps. The two figures seem insignifcantly small set against the desolated vista.
Camera snaps to a side shot of the boy standing next to his father as they take in the scene, the song playing is “Dead Reckoning” from Smokin’ Aces, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pa33P9A5iHs:
Father: (tragic/beaten) Take my hand. I don’t think you should see this.
Son: (questioning/curious) What you put in your head is there forever?
Father: (resigned) Yes.
Son: (comforting) It’s okay Papa, they’re already there.
Father: (features gray and sunken, exhausted) I don’t want you to look.
Son: (shrugging) They’ll still be there.
Camera stays steady, showing the bow from the side and his father rising above him, both looking off screen. Now the camera slews around to show over the boy’s shoulder. The landscape is barren and charred, boxes, bags, old plastic suitcases, all turned to black tar and ash. There a gnarled, blackened hand reaches up from the offal as if beseeching heaven for aid. Then the boy blinks and the screen turns black as if the camera were his eyes, and when they open again he is looking at his father.
Son: (questioning/perplexed) Why don’t we just go on Papa?
Father: (relieved) Yes, okay.
Son: They were trying to get away, weren’t they Papa?
Father: (crushed) Yes, they were.
Camera snaps to black as the boy blinks in indifference again. When the image returns the camera is viewing through the eyes of the father. His eyes rise from the upturned face of the boy and turn to the scene of devastation as the music crescendos. The world is no longer black and empty, it is full of writhing, running and screaming people, all on fire, all dying. The world is all fire and pain, with no hope of escape.
The eyes blink once more, the music fades and the camera snaps to black. End scene.
This is from a section on p.190-191 in my edition.
(Scene adapted from page 138 in the book.)
Point of view shot as man walks down stairs into bunker. Camera pans to show cots along the wall, mattress pads rolled up. Cut to man’s face, smiling. The man turns his head to look at the boy. Point of view shot as he looks at boy. Cut to boy’s point of view as man walks further down and sits.
Oh my God.
What is it Papa?
Come down. Oh my God. come down.
Ext: Bushes Outside of House
The camera zooms in to the man and the boy hiding from the men and women among bushes outside of a house. There is dead silence except for the voices of the strangers nearby. Snow still lingers on the ground and it is the middle of the afternoon. It is cold and wet outside. The man and the boy are covered in leaves from crawling through the brush. The camera zooms in to the man shoving the revolver into the terrified boy’s hand. Meanwhile, the boy is shaking and crying. The man then holds the boy and tries to calm him.
Man: If they find you, you are going to have to do it. Do you understand?
The boy continues to cry and shake from fear.
Man: No crying. Do you hear me? You know how to do it. You put it in your mouth and point it up. Do it quick and hard. Do you understand?
The boy stops crying, although he is still terrified of being discovered.
Boy: I think so.
Man: No Do you understand?
Boy: Yes I do Papa.
Man: (Looks very closely at the small frightened boy) No you don’t
Boy: I don’t know what to do, Papa. I don’t know what to do. Where will you be?
The man thinks for a moment and then draws a deep breath.
Man: It’s okay. I won’t leave you. I can’t leave you.
EXT. CROSSROADS- MAN AND BOY
Camera goes with boy
Boy kneels on grass with a cup of water.
CLOSE UP SHOT OF MAN
Wheezing, squeezes boy’s hand.
CUTAWAY TO BOY
Tears are streaming down boys face.
You’re going to be okay Papa. You have to.
CUTAWAY TO MAN
CAMERA ZOOMS IN ON MAN
No, I’m not. Keep the gun with you at all times.
You need to find the good guys but you can’t take any chances.
No chances. Do you hear?
2 SHOT SCENE
Still clutching Man’s hand.
I want to be with you.
You can’t. You have to carry the fire.
I don’t know how to.
Yes you do.
CAMERA ZOOMS IN ON BOY’S FACE
Boy’s face is filthy, tears continue to fall from his eyes.
Is it real? The fire?
CUTAWAY TO MAN’S FACE
CAMERA ZOOMS IN ON MAN’S FACE
Yes it is.
CAMERA ZOOMS OUT
Camera angles at high angle
I picked the first scene of the novel, starting with the dream portion and working from there.
Scene begins in a dank, eerie cave. Camera, in first-person point of view, pans over the jagged surfaces of its interior while soft dripping noises echo in the background. This goes on for three beats, uninterrupted. The camera turns to the boy, who looks into it for a beat, then turns and walks away, pulling on the man’s hand as he goes.
The camera goes to third person point of view as it follows the boy and man stumble through the rocky passageway. Footsteps splash in scattered pools in the cave floor. After 10 to 15 beats the passage begins to widen and a faint, wavering, silver light glows from the opposite side. They pause, then pass into the chamber. They stop with their backs to the camera, then the camera cuts off and shows what they’re looking at: a giant, black lake. As the camera pans across the rooms, we see the walls of the room give off a faint luminescence that is swallowed by the murkiness of the lake. The camera cuts back to the boy and the man, who are solemnly taking everything in.
Soft footsteps are heard off camera and the two characters turn to see what it is. The camera cuts to the opposite side of the lake, where a white creature is approaching the water to drink. AS it takes in water we see its eyes are large, flawless orbs without pupils. Its skin is silver yet thin and translucent; a closer shot reveals that veins, throbbing organs, muscles, bones, and the like can be seen. After a few beats it pauses and looks up, realizing that the man and the boy are watching. It stares into the camera, growling, then lopes away.
The camera cuts to the man in real life, who bolts upright from the dream, gasping for air. He coughs, then gropes around for the boy among the folds of the blankets under their tarp- made tent. After a second of patting the blankets he moves a layer over, revealing the boy, still asleep, laying perfectly still on his side with his arms tucked in for warmth. The camera cuts back at the man, who solemnly stares down at the boy. The camera fades, focused on the boy.
(adapted fr. The Road, pgs. 84-85)
EXT: HOUSE PORCH (NIGHT)
VERY WIDE SHOT. A single-family house with a wraparound porch, ordinary-looking in the darkness except for the unmistakable absence of vertical banister rods, an eerie lack of pattern. Rails intact, there is a sense that the rods are mere decoration and have nothing to do with keeping a rail up. A sound like a thin twig snapped in half is heard, nothing more. A small fire burns to the right of the entryway. Vivid against black, orange flames quiver in meager intensity, their height hardly meeting the window frame’s bottom sill. It is these low flames alone that makes two figures visible in the darkness. Hooded, THE BOY leans into the left-most corner of the doorframe, presumably a cozy position against the force of random evening wind gusts. Drowning in an oversized red sweatshirt, THE BOY stands with his arms crossed, holding his middle. THE BOY hovers over THE MAN. In a half-squat, his legs unsteady as he kindles the fire, THE MAN is viewed in profile.
THE BOY’S POV: THE MAN’s flame-lit eyes wander over the flames, preoccupied with more than the task at hand: turning over cornmeal cakes the size of half-dollars, imperfect shapes like hand-broken chunks of a crumbly cookie. Again, silent except for an occasional wet sniffle from someone’s runny nose.
MEDIUM SHOT. Both figures seen from behind THE MAN. There is a considerable distance from the doorframe to the fire.
OVER-THE-SHOULDER SHOT. As if surprised to see him, THE MAN turns his head towards THE BOY and puts his prodding spoon down into a pile of looted silverware. He rises, uncrumpling from his squat position. We notice for the first time the irony of his outfit. He’s wearing what we understand to be a rummage find – a crisp button-down shirt, grime-free except for black smears near the cuff area. It is only the top layer of clothing. THE MAN is bloated with layers.
Stay put, okay? Don’t eat yet.
MEDIUM SHOT. THE BOY, thin, is not compelled to move as THE MAN walks through the narrow doorframe space. We see THE MAN’s back disappear into the house. Through a light drizzle, THE BOY’s eyes squint curiously forward at a point invisible to us.
VERY WIDE SHOT. THE BOY’S POV: The house across the street, larger than the one THE BOY occupies and with no porch. Tall trees loom above the roof and continue indefinitely backward into dense woods.
A flash of white – the body of THE OTHER BOY swaddled in what looks like bedsheets – suddenly turns from facing the house belonging to THE BOY and THE MAN. THE OTHER BOY, reacting to his discovery by THE BOY, runs into the woods behind the house.
CLOSE UP OF FACE.
VERY WIDE SHOT. THE BOY is at full sprint towards us. Excess fabric from the sweatshirt sleeves whips back, resembling wings as THE BOY hurtles forward, passing the corner of the frame.
(repeating, only louder this time)
THE BOY’S POV: The driveway of the opposite house is wet like the road. Footprints are impossible to detect in the dark. The cream-colored house glows. Light drizzle has transformed into a steady rain.
FRANTIC CAMERA PAN OF THE WOODS AHEAD. Standing in the driveway, THE BOY walks a few uncertain steps in no direction. It is unclear if this is a sign of numbing paralysis or of the return of his senses.
WIDE SHOT FROM ABOVE, AS IF FROM THE WINDOWS OF THE OPPOSITE HOUSE.
(face wet with tears, mouth in a deep pout, calling out)
Come back. I won’t hurt you.
Sound of rubber sneakers hitting wet pavement.
(gruff and barely audible through the rain)
What are you doing? I told you to stay put.
A sudden emergence, THE MAN scoops THE BOY up in his arms. Both figures exit the frame. An empty driveway remains. Sound of steady rain.
There’s a little boy, Papa. There’s a little boy.
VERY WIDE SHOT. THE MAN rushes THE BOY to the lighted house. Paranoid, he looks far ahead to the left and behind while crossing the road.
I just wanted to see him, Papa. I want to see him.
VERY WIDE SHOT. The opposite house is blank and undisturbed. There is the possibility that THE OTHER BOY does not exist.
MEDIUM CLOSE UP. THE BOY and THE MAN rush up the house steps. THE BOY’s arms are rigid above his head as if in shock, his fingers oddly contorted. His eyes, filled with tears, stare at the opposite house. There is no attempt to grip his father’s neck.
(gently putting THE BOY down onto a scrap of tarp near the fire)
There’s no one to see. There’s no one, okay? We’ve got to go.
CLOSE UP OF FACE. THE MAN, his face shadowed, busies himself with collecting the leftover cornmeal cakes.
(suddenly angry although choked up himself)
Do you want to die? Is that what you want?
I don’t care. I don’t care.
MEDIUM SHOT FROM BELOW. THE MAN wipes grit from his eyebrow, blinks too long, finally opens his eyes, stops the movement of his hands and turns into the light of the fire.
MEDIUM SHOT. THE MAN sits down next to THE BOY, lifts his weightless body and cradles his head. THE BOY burrows into THE MAN’S shoulder. THE BOY’s arms are limp at his sides.
I’m sorry. Don’t say that. You musn’t say that.
WIDE SHOT. We see the back of THE MAN from the distant end of the porch. Sound of rain breaking on an aluminum gutter and THE BOY’s muffled sobs. Through the black void in the banister, faint is the road to the overpass.
EXT. WALKING ON DOWN SLOPE IN A MOUNTAIN – LATE AFTERNOON
A man and a boy are walking down a slope mountain with a slow heavy pace through a watershed. Their numb feet wrapped up in rags that are drenched with chilly water. Everything around them is gray and there are no traces of green anywhere. The man is dragging behind him the cart that contains some of the provisions like rotten food to survive while in the rough road going south. The cart gets stuck. He looks up at the sound of sharp crack above them. Then, the man leaves the stuck cart and reaches the boy’s hand.
The boy extends his hand to the man, and the man abruptly grabs the boy by his hips. Suddenly, both rolled forward into the mountain steep slope. When they stopped rolling down, the boy is on top of the man. The man’s face reflects the boy’s fears as he looks into the boy’s eyes.
Don’t be scared. I am here to take care of you. Nothing is going a happen.
(presses his right cheek into the man’s chest)
What was that daddy?
Sorry that I had to do this my boy. But that sound … and it is nothing more, than falling trees…
But there are too many and it feels like falling on us.
(whispers in the boy’s ears)
Trust me. I promise you. They won’t fall on us. Just take a look the road above us.
Yea dad! You’re right! There is lots of dead tress in the road up there and we already passed that and now we are down here.
You see… that when I tell you that everything will be alright is true! Do you believe in me? Do you trust me?
I trust you daddy and I love you daddy. Give me your hand, stand up and let’s get to that place over there…that looks so flat and so cool.
Thanks my big boy. You’re becoming my little man. Wait for me here. Don’t move! I need to go back there to get our stuff.
(The man starts going back the road toward the pick of the mountain)
Be careful daddy!… I love you daddy!!!
I picked the middle paragraph on page 83 where the man and boy are watching the rain inside the truck.
Starts with dog howling, nothing visual. This brings all attention to the howling dog. Then it would open with the camera showing a light gray smog, symbolizing the start of morning. Focuses on gray slices of rain slowly dropping from the sky, watching until it goes faster and faster. Then the camera pans out and the audience sees the rain “dancing” in the road, in wavy sheets. Off to the side of this shot, is the car under the overpass. The camera makes a smooth pan under the overpass and looks on the roof of the car. The camera then focuses and zooms in on the rain drops hitting the windowshield, then focuses behind the windowshield where it shows the man and the boy looking out at the rain.
The next shot would be inside the car, maybe coming from the seat’s angle, so the view is looking up at the man and boy. This would create a more cramped feeling. The car would be old, dirty. They would be sitting against each other, any extra cloth like blankets or jackets they have at the time shaped into a nest around them. The boy’s big eyes in his starved face would be equal to the man’s shoulder, with a scraggly beard on the top of the boy’s head. At a profile angle, their eyes would be facing the window. Then the camera would refocus on the window, showing the rain slowing down. It would show the blankets on the floor of the seat, look back through the window, and then be back outside following the man and the boy walking up the road towards the houses. It would go completely gray, as they walked out of sight, then black like the beginning. There would be a pause where if this was filmed seamlessly, the audience would recognize the dog howl was missing.
Pick one scene (and this includes dialogue) and re-imagine it as a movie. And then either:
Rewrite it as a scene from a screenplay
- or -
Storyboard it, visually
In either case, highlight what the audience would see and hear. Describe the lighting, camera angles, shot sequence, set design, sound, etc. that would preserve the atmosphere and ambiance of the novel.
The scene you transpose to the screen does not need to be a long scene or an “exciting” scene. Ten lines of dialogue might be enough, or a few second of an encounter on the road.