Michael Mann’s densely annotated screenplay from the famous coffee shop scene between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro of ‘Heat,’ courtesy of Empire Magazine via Will McCrabb. On De Niro’s suggestion they didn’t rehearse the scene together so that the unfamiliarity between the two characters would seem more genuine.
Now Pacino and De Niro are two of the greatest actors on the planet, so I knew they would be completely alive to each other—each one reacting off the other’s slightest gesture, the slightest shift of weight. If De Niro’s right foot sitting in that chair slid backward by so much as an inch, or his right shoulder dropped by just a little bit, I knew Al would be reading that. They’d be scanning each other, like an MRI. Both men recognize that their next encounter will mean certain death for one of them. Gaining an edge is why they’ve chosen to meet. So we read the scene a number of times before shooting—not a lot—just looking at it on the page. I didn’t want it memorized. My goal was to get them past the unfamiliarity of it. But of course these two already knew it impeccably. —Michael Mann, The Study of Mann
Michael Mann ran three cameras simultaneously in order to generate a greater level of fluidity between both rivals. Since there were (almost) no rehearsals for the scene, this approach afforded both men a more generous margin for improvisational experimentation.
We shot that scene with three cameras, two over-the-shoulders and one profile shot, but I found when editing that every time we cut to the profile, the scene lost its one-on-one intensity. I’ll often work with multiple cameras, if they’re needed. In this case, I knew ahead of time that Pacino and De Niro were so highly attuned to each other that each take would have its own organic unity. Whatever one said, and the specific way he’d say it, would spark a specific reaction in the other. I needed to shoot in such a way that I could use the same take from both angles. What’s in the finished film is almost all of take 11—because that has an entirely different integrity and tonality from takes 10, or 9, or 8. All of this begins and ends with scene analysis. It doesn’t matter if it’s two people in a room or two opposing forces taking over a street. Action comes from drama, and drama is conflict: What’s the conflict? —Michael Mann, The Study of Mann
Here is a bit of must-see Michael Mann interview treasure: 17-minute BBC documentary, ‘Mann Made: From LA Takedown To Heat,’ consists of an extended interview with Mann, where he recounts the stripped-down version of his 180-page screenplay for ‘Heat,’ in a 1989 made-for-TV quickie called ‘LA Takedown,’ as well as his unhurried workflow. “The amount of time I take between projects is not a method; it’s an irritant,” he says. “I would much prefer to direct two films in three years, or three films in three years, but finding something I want to do next is very difficult.”
Screenwriting 101, the best screenwriting school you can get: Michael Mann’s screenplay for ‘Heat’ (NOTE: For educational purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers.
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