Ben Mizzi
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Selma - Scriptnotes

One of my biggest weaknesses in writing has been focusing in on how a scene actually functions. In so many ways a scene should be a microcosm of the three act structure, of an entire film. So for this analysis of Selma, I’ve tried to go through each scene, show it’s length, and detail the SETUP, REVERSAL and PAYOFF of each.

Script is provided for educational purposes only. Copyright respective of owner.


#1 - Stairwell - (2)
SETUP: Kids in the stairwell of church
PAYOFF: Children are killed

#2 Grand Hotel - (2)
SETUP: King corrects his dress - frustrated that he’s away from the cause
REVERSAL: Coretta eases his concern - “not a crime to be away.
PAYOFF: they dream about perfect ‘phone-less’ house together

#3 Oslo University - (1)
SETUP: Intro to King’s award
REVERSAL: (not sure if this is a reversal) King acknowledges the murder of the children in Church.
PAYOFF: We shall overcome

#4 Small Courthouse Lobby - (2)
SETUP: Annie Lee Cooper fills out voting enrolment form
REVERSAL: Registrar tests her - looks like it’s going her way. “Name 67 judges”. She can’t.
PAYOFF: Registrar DENIES enrolment.

#5 Washington DC - (1)
SETUP: King and advisors trying to identify negotiation points - poverty program.
REVERSAL: Attack the surveillance issue.
PAYOFF: King wants to stay focused on vote. “Maybe won’t need to go full-scale”

#6 White House - (4.5)
SETUP: Johnson wants the Civil rights issues solved - for King to do what he wants!
REVERSAL: King arrives. Johnson flatters him - he’s very delicate in his language. Wants King not Malcolm X to run the show.
REVERSAL: King brings up Voting Rights.
REVERSAL: Johnson tries to make it a focus of poverty eradication
REVERSAL: Cannot wait! Murder of thousands, inc. church. Whites are protected by whites.
REVERSAL: Literacy question for blacks in Alabama - not in cursive writing.
REVERSAL: Johnson understands, but it’s not a priority just yet...
PAYOFF: Having left, King declares “Selma it is”

#7 U.S. Highway - (1)
SETUP: King travelling with entourage - “Big Speech doc?”
REVERSAL: Need to see what’s what.
PAYOFF: They enter Selma.

#8 Edmund Pettus Bridge - (0.25)
SETUP: The Edmund Pettus Bridge
REVERSAL: Why’d they give Pettus a bridge?
PAYOFF: “Decent looking place to die”

#9 Hotel Albert - (1.5)
SETUP: Whites Only signs in the hotel
REVERSAL: Things seem to be rather civilised

#10 Hotel Room - (2)
SETUP: King in pain from punch. “That white boy can hit”
REVERSAL: King argues w locals about response to attack. We have to play a bigger game here.
REVERSAL: Barker and Boyton debate about responsibility to protect King.
PAYOFF: Staying at hotel is a calculated act of desegregation.

#11 King Residence - (1)
SETUP: King playing dodgeball w his children
REVERSAL: Bunny hit w ball by Dex
PAYOFF: King makes Dex apologise

#12 King Residence - (1)
SETUP: Coretta receives threats on phone.
REVERSAL: Talking about Selma campaign. King jokes “It’s as good a place to die...”.
REVERSAL: Coretta upset by remark. She goes to bed.
PAYOFF: King calls Halie to sing to him.

#13 Selma Residence - (1)
SETUP: Arrive at house
REVERSAL: Crowd eager to support you tomorrow
PAYOFF: I don’t want to put them in harms way.

#14 Jackson Residence - (1.75)
SETUP: Breakfast is cooking and more supporters are introduced.
REVERSAL: We might be in town a little longer than expected.
PAYOFF: The men all eat breakfast

#15 Jackson Residence - Night - (1)
SETUP: Everyone is asleep, save King who writes.
REVERSAL: King uneasy with news of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee
PAYOFF: They’re full of spirit - It’ll sort out.

#16 Brown Chapel - (2)
SETUP: King at the pulpit - protesting injustices.
REVERSAL: We see various supporters, inc. Annie Lee Cooper in congregation
PAYOFF: “Give us the Vote!”

#17 Brown Chapel - Later - (0.5)
SETUP: After mass, King challenged by white Photographer.
REVERSAL: “Are you truly non-violent if you’re provoking violence?”
PAYOFF: “The onus for their behaviour rests with them, not us”

#18 Brown Chapel Meeting Room - (2)
SETUP: Strategy meeting in progress - Is SNCC with or against?
REVERSAL: You want us but you’re giving nothing in return
REVERSAL: You haven’t succeeded yet...
REVERSAL: Simple tactics - set up confrontation and wait for adversary to make a mistake. There was no drama in Albany.
REVERSAL: You mean there were no cameras.
REVERSAL: Exactly - we have to raise white consciousness
PAYOFF: Good that Sheriff Jim Clarke is aggressive.

#19 Selma Streets - 0.75 page
SETUP: Protestors marching through streets
REVERSAL: Clarke controls the courthouse.
PAYOFF: We have a focused place to attack!


#20 Courthouse - (3)
SETUP: Police expecting the protestors. Standoff exists.
REVERSAL: Disperse!
REVERSAL: Segregation is illegal now.
REVERSAL: Volunteer Arrestees sit w hands over their heads
REVERSAL: Old Cager having trouble sitting - family tries to assist.
REVERSAL: Clarke shoves Cager - who falls onto Annie. REVERSAL: Police start to use force against the crowd. Attempting to provoke
REVERSAL: Jimmie balls fist/ As Annie Lee strikes Clarke! 
REVERSAL: Police wrestle Annie to the ground. Police strike Annie on head.
PAYOFF: On King who witnesses - This is drama. And he asked for it.

#21 White House - (1)
SETUP: President Johnson sees newspapers w photos of Selma
REVERSAL: Sees himself on TV supporting civil rights
REVERSAL: Governor George Wallace - protesting King
PAYOFF: Johnson slams table in frustration

#22 Oval Office - (1.5)
SETUP: J. Edgar Hoover speaks w President Johnson
REVERSAL: Johnson supports King’s non-violent agitations
PAYOFF: Hoover offers to weaken King’s family relationships - Johnson unsure.

#23 Selma Jail - (2)
SETUP: Several Marchers are in jail - cold inside thanks to open door.
REVERSAL: King asks “What’s the prize? What is equality?” - his faith in the cause is challenged.
REVERSAL: Abernathy assures King in the value of holding the course.
REVERSAL: King “They are going to ruin me”
PAYOFF: Abernathy “Who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?”

#24 Brown Chapel - (2)
SETUP: Something is wrong! National Guard might be coming
REVERSAL: Malcolm X arrives
PAYOFF: Bring Coretta here.

#25 Amelia Boynton Residence - (0.25)
SETUP: Coretta traveling
REVERSAL: What’s going on?
PAYOFF: We need your help

#26 Car - (2)
SETUP: Nash is driving - Coretta knows it must be serious!
REVERSAL: You do more (for the cause) than you know.
REVERSAL: Nash details her anger about their situation and cause
PAYOFF: Coretta is glad things are happening now.

#27 Brown Chapel Meeting Room (1.75)
SETUP: Malcolm X is apologetic - supporting King
REVERSAL: Coretta finds it hard to believe him
REVERSAL: X is not the enemy - he’s changed.
PAYOFF: But X’s presence is a veiled threat to the cause - will show Sheriff the alternative to King.

#28 Selma Jail Cell - (2)
SETUP: Coretta w King - Do we believe X?
REVERSAL: Coretta is sensitive to X’s remarks - she believes he’s changed
REVERSAL: King does not.
REVERSAL: “You don’t sound like yourself”, “You sound enamoured”
PAYOFF: King is tired.

#29 Capitol Building - (2)
SETUP: George Wallace furious that X is in his state. How did it happen?
REVERSAL: Johnson’s gonna get jumpy.
REVERSAL: “He's got to start giving them nigras access to the courthouse.”
REVERSAL: LINGO - “You need dominance in Selma”
PAYOFF: There’s a night march we can attack - fewer cameras.

#30 Street - (0.5)
SETUP: STATE TROOPERS have penned a group of JOURNALISTS and PHOTOGRAPHERS against the wall. 
REVERSAL: Streetlights switch off PAYOFF: Troopers beat Journalists and break cameras

#31 Mack’s Cafe - (0.5)
SETUP: Police are attacking black marchers
REVERSAL: Jimmy drags Cager into cafe to hide
REVERSAL: Police enter and find them hiding
PAYOFF: After a fight, they shoot and kill Jimmy

#32 Morgue - (1.5)
SETUP: King walks through the Morgue
REVERSAL: Sees the dead Jimmy and Grandfather
PAYOFF: Any reserve, any distance King has held to prevent himself from becoming fully entrenched in Selma and its people vanishes. He’s in it now. 

#33 Brown’s Chapel - (1.5)
SETUP: King gives eulogy at Jimmy’s funeral
REVERSAL: Sermon challenges the apathy of whites - they’re as responsible now too
PAYOFF: King tells congregation “We are going back to Washington to demand change”

#34 Jackson Home - (2.5)
SETUP: King supporters debate list of demands to take to LBJ
REVERSAL: King tells them to get specific on their demands
PAYOFF: But they cannot agree on them.

#35 White House - (0.25)
SETUP: King has arrived at White House
REVERSAL: Johnson is furious. “No one invites themselves to the
White House!”
PAYOFF: I ain’t seeing him! I’m done talking to King! 

#36 Oval Office - (2.5)
SETUP: Johnson with King - What’s your next plan
REVERSAL: March from Selma to Montgomery
REVERSAL: It was always your plan to provoke. The march is too far! Too unsafe.
REVERSAL: King tells Johnson to legislate an stop the march.
REVERSAL: Johnson will not. He’s playing politics.
REVERSAL: Do you want Wallace to be President?
REVERSAL: If blacks can vote, he never will be. But if you won’t help, King will have to attack him publicly.
REVERSAL: Johnson “Meet me half way?”
PAYOFF: King cannot. We didn’t come here for compromise.

#37 White House Sitting Room (1.5)
SETUP: Lee White asks Andrew about their plans.
REVERSAL: Asks Andrew to postpone protest - threats on King’s life.
PAYOFF: There are always threats.

#38 Oval Office (0.5)
SETUP: How’d it go Mr. President?
REVERSAL: Johnson is troubled.
PAYOFF: Get me Hoover.

#39 King Residence (2.8)
SETUP: Coretta hears sex sounds on phone. Voice threatens King’s character.
REVERSAL: “That’s not me, Coretta.” “I know”
REVERSAL: Coretta talks about her fears of death. Asks King if he loves her.
REVERSAL: Anyone else?

#40 King Home (1.5)
SETUP: Need to put march back a day.
REVERSAL: Good. But the march will go ahead without you. SNCC boys ready to go.
REVERSAL: King understands.
PAYOFF: Hangs up call, listens again to threat recording.

#41 Wallace Press Conference (0.25)
SETUP: Wallace reads statement to press
REVERSAL: There will be no march.
PAYOFF: March will not be tolerated.

#42 Brown Chapel Meeting Room (2)
SETUP: Wallace speech continues on TV as black leaders watch.
REVERSAL: You won’t be Governor long.
REVERSAL: Forman doubts the march. Will do more for King and the SCLC than Selma. Debate continues amongst supporters as to King’s benefit in the situation.
REVERSAL: Forman kicks Lewis out of SNCC.
PAYOFF: Men draw straws for leader of march.


#43 Montage of Preparations (0.75)
SETUP: Everyone gets ready for the march.

#44 Pettus Bridge - Selma Side (0.5)
SETUP: Black marchers walk towards Bridge
REVERSAL: White Onlookers taunt them
PAYOFF: The bridge comes into focus - as a voice over narrates…

#45 Pettus Bridge - Montgomery Side (0.25)
SETUP: State troopers don’t move - they’re ready.
REVERSAL: Marchers crest over bridge.

#46 Pettus Bridge - Selma Side (0.25)
REVERSAL: Lewis and Williams see…

#47 Pettus Bridge - Montgomery Side (0.75)
SETUP: Mounted police come into view, along w white protestors
REVERSAL: The police have barbed wire clubs

#48 Pettus Bridge (2.25)
SETUP: Marchers are nervous.  “Can you swim?” “No”
REVERSAL: Police begin to attack marchers
PAYOFF: Marchers flee…

#49 Telephone Booth (0.25)
SETUP: Journalist who narrates is seen
REVERSAL: Reading report into phone
PAYOFF: Which is going to the media.

#50 Brown Chapel (0.25)
SETUP: Marchers have set up base at the church.

#51 Car (0.25)
SETUP: Car speeding, driving footage to lab.
REVERSAL: Don’t get us killed
PAYOFF: This is gold!

#52 King Residence (0.25)
SETUP: Coretta hands King his hat
REVERSAL: They understand where he needs to be
PAYOFF: He leaves.

#53 Brown Chapel (1.25)
SETUP: Church is a triage for injured
REVERSAL: Angry Marchers are eager to get guns… to retaliate
PAYOFF: That will only trigger increased retaliation

#54 Amelia Boynton Residence (2)
SETUP: King and collaborators are told to turn on TV
REVERSAL: We see the news report
PAYOFF: Seventy Million people are watching

#55 Various Locations (0.25)
SETUP: We see some of the 70 million who watch
REVERSAL: They are stressed by these images
PAYOFF: Some whites are moved to action.

#56 Jackson Residence (0.25)
SETUP: News report cuts away
REVERSAL: We have 70 million people witnessing
PAYOFF: We’re going back to the bridge

#57 Press Conference (0.5)
SETUP: King addresses media
REVERSAL: He invites any one, black OR white, who disagrees with their treatment to come and join their march
PAYOFF: We need you to stand with us!

#58 Reeb Home (0.25)
SETUP: White Preacher is packing
REVERSAL: Wife; “What are you doing?” “Packing”
PAYOFF: I’ll pack, you book a flight.

#59 Luizzo Home (0.5)
SETUP: Viola Luizzo is booking flight
REVERSAL: All flights are full
PAYOFF: I’ll take the car

#60 Jackson Residence (0.25)
SETUP: Greek Orthodox Archbishop arrives
REVERSAL: You came!
PAYOFF: You’re not alone.

#61 Jackson Residence (1.3)
SETUP: King Investigating what Archbishop brought
REVERSAL: You might need a heavier coat… Feels like home… Greece? Connecticut!
REVERSAL: Seriousness overcomes jovial attitude - don’t take anything from whites here for granted
PAYOFF: Archbishop reminds King “Don’t allow darkness to envelope your soul”

#62 White House (1.5)
SETUP: Johnson disdain at White House Picketers
REVERSAL: WHITE: “King has won. Give him federal protections and then you’re back in control”
REVERSAL: “Of what, another civil war?”
REVERSAL: Johnson demands that King better not march…
REVERSAL: Wallace’s already being supported closer to Presidency
PAYOFF: Johnson knows what he has to do.

#63 Capitol Building (0.2)
SETUP: Wallace in conference room
REVERSAL: If they try this case, they win
PAYOFF: We’ve lost before we’ve begun

#64 Judge’s Chambers (0.25)
SETUP: Black Attorney before white Jurist
REVERSAL: You’re asking me to overturn Governor’s mandate?
PAYOFF: You’ll need a proper proceeding

#65 Montgomery Airstrip (0.25)
SETUP: Catholic Nuns arrive
REVERSAL: News narrates they’re some of many
PAYOFF: White’s ridicule Nuns

#66 Judge’s Chambers (0.25)
SETUP: You’ll have day in court…
REVERSAL: On Thursday. No march Tuesday.
PAYOFF: Judge orders them to cancel tomorrow’s march.

#67 Jackson Residence (2.25)
SETUP: King and Co. challenge Asst. Attorney General
REVERSAL: Please work with me…
REVERSAL: For what? Your answer is not what we want.
REVERSAL: Martin, there are threats…
REVERSAL: President Johnson could stop this at any moment.
REVERSAL: This situation is more complex…
REVERSAL: You could urge police *against* violence
REVERSAL: Please, Martin, reconsider
PAYOFF: We won’t stop until the vote.

#68 Brown Chapel (0.25)
SETUP: White supporters talk to media
REVERSAL: I’m from Boston…
PAYOFF: This is wrong

#69 Brown Chapel Steps (0.25)
SETUP: Anything?
REVERSAL: No word.
PAYOFF: King tells media that Johnson is delaying. We must stand up.


#70 Pettus Bridge (1.75)
SETUP: Blacks AND Whites march together along bridge
REVERSAL: Attorney General tells King there’s a partial deal
REVERSAL: King refuses to stop.
REVERSAL: Police are confronting them…
REVERSAL: “Troopers, withdraw”
REVERSAL: King is worried - is this a trap?
REVERSAL: King takes a knee.
PAYOFF: King about-faces and walks away.

#71 Selma Woods (0.1)
SETUP: Whites are gathered
REVERSAL: Angry they didn’t see any action

#72 Selma Housing Project (0.1)
SETUP: Blacks are gathered
REVERSAL: Angry they didn’t make progress.

#73 Selma Diner (0.2)
SETUP: White Clergy are in diner
REVERSAL: Perplexed that they travelled
PAYOFF: And didn’t make progress

#74 Brown Chapel (0.25)
SETUP: King and Co. approach Church
REVERSAL: Protestors mock King
PAYOFF: Supporters shield King from crowd

#75 Brown Chapel Sanctuary (1.25)
SETUP: King under attack by collaborators
REVERSAL: They could have sealed us off. Ambushed us.
REVERSAL: They only did it because there were white supporters with us!
REVERSAL: It’s done.
REVERSAL: It was the wrong fucking call!
PAYOFF: King “I’d rather people angry at me, than dead”

#76 King/ Jackson Homes (0.75)
SETUP: King is on porch, writing Coretta a letter
REVERSAL: Tells Coretta how much he wants to be with her
PAYOFF: “I will try more than ever to make my life one you can be proud of”

#77 Selma Diner (1)
SETUP: Klansmen approach James Reeb and companions
REVERSAL: “We don’t want any trouble.”
REVERSAL: “You came here stirring trouble”
PAYOFF: Klansmen beat them and leave them for dead. “Now you know what being a nigger round these parts is like”

#78 Jackson Residence (1)
SETUP: Rush into house, to tell King that white Priest has been hurt.
REVERSAL: How hurt? Dead.
REVERSAL: Local whites got him.
PAYOFF: Phone, now!


#78 Jackson Residence/ White House (3)
SETUP: King on phone to Johnson. Can’t stop them.
REVERSAL: And if I could, I wouldn’t.
REVERSAL: You had protestors inside the White House! We’re getting close, but King is pushing too hard!
REVERSAL: You control your inaction, sir.
REVERSAL: Glad to hear you called Rev. Reeb - only wish you could have done the same for Jimmy.
REVERSAL: Don’t attack me with your guilt! You agitated this!
REVERSAL: Why has it taken so long for the bill to front Congress?
REVERSAL: Johnson claims it needs care - to pass first time through.
REVERSAL: King open to conceding, but needs guarantee safety.
REVERSAL: Which Johnson cannot.
REVERSAL: King takes a softer tact. I am but a preacher… You’re the President.
REVERSAL: You must act, sir.
PAYOFF: “I am an anguished man.” “I know how that feels Mr President”

#79 Selma Street (3.5)
SETUP: King drives privately with Lewis.
REVERSAL: King apologises for the rift in Lewis’ group.
REVERSAL: King tells Lewis he’s more ambitious than he was.
REVERSAL: King cancels the walk tomorrow. I can’t risk it.
REVERSAL: But… the people are ready.
REVERSAL: What are we walking towards? We want the vote, not a march. This cannot go on forever.
REVERSAL: Lewis recounts an earlier march, where they were physically attacked.
REVERSAL: But even beaten, Lewis was desperate to hear King speak. Needed it.
REVERSAL: What did I say?
PAYOFF: You said; “Fear not. We’ve come too far to turn back”

#80 Wallace’s Office (0.25)
SETUP: Wallace reads paper - exploding.
PAYOFF: He’s desperate and furious

#81 White House/ Federal Courtroom (3.25)
SETUP: Wallace in Oval Office/ Federal Court Case underway.
REVERSAL: Johnson tells Wallace to talk
REVERSAL: Witnesses testify in court
REVERSAL: Johnson “You have to get to the cause of the fever”. This is your responsibility.
REVERSAL: I disagree… people want it to stay that way.
REVERSAL: “You spent your life working for the poor. Why this?”
REVERSAL: “You can never satisfy them”
REVERSAL: Johnson invites Wallace to tell White House protestors his beliefs, to their face
REVERSAL: Do you agree blacks have the right to vote?
REVERSAL: Then why not?
REVERSAL: I don’t have the power… They debate finer points of policy.
REVERSAL: Johnson wants to talk about legacy
REVERSAL: Wallace argues that you shouldn’t care what they think.
PAYOFF: “I’ll be damned if history puts me in the same place with the likes of you.” 

#82 Federal Court (0.5)
SETUP: Coretta arrives
REVERSAL: King greets her
PAYOFF: They are united - it’s a first step.

#83 Federal Courtroom (2)
SETUP: King on the stand. Questioned about direct violation of order
REVERSAL: We new this court would agree.
REVERSAL: King felt that his absence from march would have exacerbated racial tensions in Selma.
REVERSAL: Judge acknowledges threats and intimidations present.
REVERSAL: Grants the right to demonstrate in march.
PAYOFF: All good to be allowed, but action must still occur.

#84 White House (0.5)
SETUP: Johnson reads news
REVERSAL: Even more are going to Selma to protest
PAYOFF: Johnson needs a good speech.

#85 Johnson Speech [intercut] (4.5)
SETUP: Johnson gives his big speech, on TV
REVERSAL: We see all the affected parties listening on, in various states of support or frustration.
PAYOFF: We… shall… overcome. 
PAYOFF: Coretta and King feel proud

#86 Edmund Pettus Bridge (1.5)
SETUP: Protestors getting ready for the march
REVERSAL: Police operations clear the bridge and route of bombs and threats
PAYOFF: Performers are bound for Selma.

#87 Brown Chapel (0.5)
SETUP: Doar warns King of verified threat. Please reconsider
REVERSAL: If Wallace accepts us, there’s no need for a speech
PAYOFF: I cannot hide from the fear.

#88 Edmud Pettus Bridge (1.5)
SETUP: Bridge is still. Tension remains.
REVERSAL: King, Coretta and followers all walk together across bridge.
PAYOFF: “Who is Edmud Pettus?” “Old Confederate General” 
PAYOFF: They cross the bridge.

#89 Open Field (0.5)
SETUP: Marchers are celebrating in an open field
REVERSAL: Performers entertain the marchers
PAYOFF: Coretta sings.

#90 Wallace’s Office (0.25)
SETUP: Wallace at window, upset.
REVERSAL: Looks like an army
PAYOFF: An army of voters

#91 Capitol Building (4)
SETUP: King prepares to speak
REVERSAL: Threats from white resistance abounds
REVERSAL: King nervous.
REVERSAL: Assured by Coretta.
PAYOFF: King gives speech - which is intercut with reactions and subtitles about individuals’ futures.