John Kinnane The work and inspiration of the screenwriter and director

Cover Image - John Kinnane
WordsAlix-Rose Cowie

John Kinnane is the youngest of seven brothers and two sisters. Even before he was born his siblings experimented with their grandparents’ video camera to make short films in their hometown Little Compton, Rhode Island. But unlike many kids, who leave their youthful dreams in the backyard, six of his brothers went on to start a film production company where John, now 18 years old, works as an aspiring screenwriter and director.

While writing their first screenplay together the brothers ran into problems. They wondered whether they were writing too much dialogue or being overly descriptive. To quash their doubts, they researched iconic scenes that were similar to what they wanted to achieve in their own film.

“We would pull up the video clip of the scene as well as the script and attempt to watch and read at the same time,” John says. “We found this process extremely helpful. It was especially inspiring to witness the subtle to major differences made on set by the actors, directors and writers.”

To make things easier, John began making short videos, cutting them in a way that the movie clips played in the top half of the screen while the script scrolled underneath. At first he only sent the videos to his brothers, but after a while he started posting them to Instagram and YouTube, under the name Script to Screen.

The films featured on Script to Screen jump between genres and vary in acclaim. Some have been praised by the critics and made it rain at the box office, while others are more obscure cult classics. Seemingly nothing links them together except that they’re movies people have loved.

Once you get the hang of watching the actors play out the scene and reading the script below simultaneously, it’s an addictive watching experience. It’s fascinating to see how famous movie scenes can differ radically, or subtly, from how they were written initially.

It makes you think about the numerous people from set designers to cinematographers to editors who all shape the outcome of the project.

“I think the reason people enjoy the videos is that it can be very motivating and insightful. They can show how our favorite directors, writers and actors all have their own special style and unique way of telling a story,” John says.

“Also,” he continues, “I think anyone who loves films can appreciate the harsh creative process that is involved in making a film. It shows that these films we all cherish started with some words on paper and finish with some beautiful cinematography, acting and editing.”

He brings up the two-minute dance scene from Pulp Fiction (1994) as an example. “The scene is described in the script in two short sentences: "Mia and Vincent dance to Chuck Berry's You Never Can Tell" and, "They make hand movements as they dance." I find that the most fascinating and inspirational, because something so simple can become the most iconic dance scene in cinematic history.”

In the film encyclopaedia that is John’s mind, it’s hard for him to select his absolute favorite scene. But one that stands out is Robin Williams’ monologue in Good Will Hunting (1997). It’s the first video he ever posted on Script to Screen.

Watching it alongside the script, it becomes clear how a great actor’s breaths, pauses and body language can lift the words off a page and make them live on the screen. “I personally love it when a director gives an actor the freedom to improvise,” John says. “It always makes a scene feel more authentic.

“I love how every script and film is constantly changing,” he continues. “Especially while you're writing it, you'll never really know what the final product will look like.” The arm-hair-raising hypnosis scene from Get Out (2017) is an example of a clip that plays out very differently from the initial script. Writer and director Jordan Peele tweeted, “I change the dialogue up until the last moment on the day. Then I make more trims in the edit bay.”

But there’s also moments when a final scene closely follows the written text. In the cut from Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water (2017) for example, there’s no dialogue at all, but the prompts given to the actors are so beautifully descriptive, you could read the script like a novel.

Even after having watched as many movies as John has, it’s hard for him to say what makes a scene iconic. “For the most part, it just needs to be meaningful to you, the writer, first, and if people catch on to it, that's even better.”