Screenplay by: Phil Alden Robinson
Kevin Costner stars in this nostalgic fantasy about America’s favorite pastime – baseball – and one man’s journey to reconcile his fractured relationship with his deceased father. Screenwriter Phil Alden Robinson adapted the screenplay based on Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, but was successfully able to incorporate the 5 major rules for a screenplay into the first 10 pages. Let’s examine them.
Robinson introduces the main character, Ray Kinsella, by having the character introduce himself, through a montage of photos. On its surface the film is about a farmer from Iowa who builds a baseball field so that the members of the 1919 Black Sox baseball team can come back and play; but really it is a film about a man who is given a chance to connect with his father who died estranged from his son.
Robinson establishes this in a clever way by having the first line be about Ray’s father, as Ray is giving us the details of his life.
MONTAGE OF PHOTOS
My father’s name was John Kinsella.
A faded, sepia shot of a dirty little kid on a farm.
It’s an Irish name. He was born in
North Dakota, in 1896…
Young man in doughboy uniform.
…and never saw a big city until he
came back from France in 1918.
Chicago. Tenement. Comiskey Park. Ballgames.
He settled in Chicago, where he quickly
learned to live and die with the White
Sox. Died a little when they lost the
1919 World Series…
Newspaper headlines. Photo of Shoeless Joe Jackson.
…died a lot the following summer when
eight members of the team were accused
of throwing that Series.
Dad (a catcher) playing ball. At work. Weeding.
He played in the minors for a year or
two, but nothing ever came of it. Moved
to Brooklyn in ’35, married Mom in ’38,
and was already an old man working at
the Naval Yards when I was born in 1949.
The tone/genre of this screenplay is established by two things. First, Ray mentions baseball several times in his narration. On page 9, he experiences a vision that confirms that this will be a movie where baseball will dominate the narrative.
Second, Ray punctuates his opening narration by telling us that he heard The Voice.
But until I heard The Voice … I’d never
done a crazy thing in my whole life.
Here, the screenplay establishes the fantasy story line. The reader is invited to suspend disbelief as the screenplay story line enters the realm of the supernatural. Sports and fantasy. These are the genres that are thrown at us like a 90 mph fastball in the Field of Dreams screenplay.
WORLD OF THE STORY
The world of this story is Iowa. Middle of the country. Simple folks. Simple life. Robinson does a good job of painting a picture for us by describing things we would ordinarily see on a country farm. This is also when Ray receives his call to adventure.
THE CORNFIELD – DUSK
It is dusk on a spring evening. The sky is a robin’s-egg blue, and the wind is soft as a day-old chick. Ray Kinsella is working in the cornfield when a voice — like that of a public address announcer — speaks to him.
‘If you build it, he will come.’
Ray jerks his head in all directions to see where this voice is coming from, but again, he sees nothing unusual — just the furrowed fields and a few hundred feet away, the massive old farmhouse with a sagging veranda on three sides. On the north veranda is a wooden porch swing where Annie and Karin sit, sipping lemonade and dreaming.
This description of the opening scene underscores the importance of contrast in writing a screenplay. Using farm metaphors to describe a lazy spring evening, Robinson creates a world of calm. This is what makes The Voice, and Ray’s reaction to it, seem so unsettling and interesting. It is like a thrown rock that plunges deep into an otherwise still pond. Ray’s world is flipped upside down and he’ll have to figure out how to organize the chaos in this otherwise peaceful world around him.
After the inciting incident happens on page 2, (the Voice tells him to build something), the next seven pages deal with Ray trying to discern the meaning behind the message. It isn’t until page 10 that Ray experiences a vision in the cornfield that makes clear what the Voice is actually telling him to build.
All right, who are you, and what the
hell do you want from me?!?
All he hears is a faraway echo.
‘If you build it, he will come.’
This is serious. Ray shakes his head and repeats the words to himself.
If you build it…
As he thinks about these words, /some unexplained impulse causes Ray to turn his head deliberately toward a portion of the cornfield between him and the house.
A BASEBALL FIELD
For the briefest of moments, the dreamlike image of a baseball field at night, illuminated by floodlights, flares in over the lawn. Standing on the edge of the field, is the figure of a man with his back to us. Before we can see anything else, the image disappears.
Ray’s eyes widen.
…he will come
THE MAN AND THE FIELD
The dream image flares in again, this time closer to the man. He stands in the middle distance, silhouetted by the lights, and we see he is wearing a uniform of some kind. He starts to turn slowly towards us, but before we can see his face, the image disappears.
The substance of the dramatic situation bleeds into the pages after page 10, but the overall gist is covered before that. We know that Ray will have to build something and that he will face enormous odds. He is a simple farmer with an incredulous, but supportive wife. This is what the character will wrestle with for the rest of the screenplay.
The first 10 pages also allude to Ray’s struggle. The dramatic situation will not only involve Ray’s reactions to the Voice as the plot moves in a linear fashion, but also Ray’s struggle to understand the significance of what is happening to him.
The theme of Field of Dreams is clearly baseball, given the emphasis the screenplay puts on it in the first 10 pages. However, family is also suggested, as we first hear Ray tell us about his father, and later, we see Ray spending time with his family. The first three scenes after Ray’s unnerving encounter with The Voice in the cornfield show Ray’s domestic life. Robinson avoids the usual obligatory scenes and instead weaves Ray’s dramatic situation (his call to adventure) into his interactions with his wife, Annie, and his daughter, Karin.
Ray enters, looks at his wife ·skeptically and joins his wife and daughter setting the table.
Was there like a sound truck on the
highway, or something?
Kids with a radio?
Nope. You really hearing voices?
The next scene shows a more intimate setting, Ray in bed with Annie.
RAY AND ANNIE’S BEDROOM – NIGHT
They are snuggled together, asleep. All is quiet. Then:
‘If you build it, he will come.’
Ray’s eyes pop open. He looks at Annie, who does not stir. Without moving, he looks around the room. There is no one there. ·very quietly, he crosses to the window and looks out. He whispers out toward the cornfield:
Build what? For who?
Behind him, Annie stirs.
It’s okay, honey, I’m just.. talking to the cornfield.
He sighs and goes back to bed. Annie cuddles up to him. Her eyes are closed, but Ray’s eyes remain open. He is puzzled and concerned.
The next scene shows Ray talking to Karin. He is disturbed by what she is watching on television because it is eerily similar to what he is experiencing.
A scene from the 1950 movie Harvey, in which James Stewart insists he is conversing with an invisible rabbit.
RAY AND ANNIE’S KITCHEN – MORNING
Little Karin is watching Harvey while she eats her breakfast. Ray enters, looking like he had very little sleep, and promptly turn the TV set off.
Why’d you do that? It was funny.
Trust me, Karin, it’s not funny. The
man is sick. He’s very sick.
Annie enters, putting on her coat.
In sum, the screenplay for Field of Dreams succeeds in using the 5 major rules for a screenplay in its first 10 pages. This success can be measured in the flawless way the reader is absorbed into the world of Iowan farm country and how quickly the main character becomes interesting with his unusual call to adventure.
Written by Anthony Faust