Vulture.com has a terrific annual tradition (it’s now in its second year, so that’s good enough for me): a yearend collection of posts entitled “The Toughest Scene I Wrote,” in which screenwriters from some of the year’s best films discuss their project’s most challenging scene, followed by a script excerpt of that scene. Among this year’s contributing screenwriters are Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”), Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”), John Ridley (“12 Years a Slave”), the Coen brothers (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), Steve Coogan (“Philomena”), Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”), Kelly Marcel (“Saving Mr. Banks”) — and, this week, our very own neighbor Bob Nelson (who longtime Seattleites will remember from “Almost Live!” and who lives on Whidbey Island). He shares a few thoughts about a key scene in “Nebraska,” in which Bruce Dern’s character returns to his childhood home with his family. Nelson trimmed the scene considerably, wanting to find a balance between what was said and not said; later, it would be trimmed just a little bit more:
Alexander [Payne, the director] did his own rewrite, and I think he cut it down even a little bit more than I did. In fact, the part where they discuss the death of Woody’s brother got trimmed back further: In my line, after David asks, “Do you remember that, Dad?” Woody says, “Sure, I was there.” When they shot it, the “sure” was gone, and that turned out to be a great move. I don’t know if it was Bruce Dern or Alexander Payne who dropped the “sure,” but when Woody said it, he was still being dismissive and curmudgeonly. By dropping that word, though, it becomes the first time he’s just spoken to his son naturally, an honest response without any attitude or rebuff. I think that was the right way to go: I had trimmed his response all the way down to four words, and the correct way to do it was three words! That was a lesson for me.