#ScreenplaySunday: THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS by Ted Tally

Halloween last week got me in a mood, so ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ seemed like the perfect screenplay to review this week! This film won 5 oscars including: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jodie Foster), Best Director (Jonathan Demme), and of course, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published (Ted Tally). The book was published in 1988 (written by Thomas Harris) and the film was released as a Crime, Drama, Thriller, only 3 years later in 1991. I can’t help but think that this film put the ‘thriller’ genre on the map, as a film that is both exciting and entertaining to watch, but also worthy of industry accolades in film making.   This story kept me on the edge of my seat and I couldn’t put it down! Below are my specific thoughts on the screenplay, ENJOY! – Cat


Character weaknesses/strengths: I’m currently reading a book: Creating Unforgettable Characters by Linda Seger, and even she misses this point! There is one very subtle character trick to Clarice, her accent, which she tries to hide and uses when she needs to. I believe little nuances like this is the quality that is missing from most characters written today. I love how these writers created a quality in Clarice that she sees as a weakness, and then included a short little scene where it can become her strength. It also allows the audience to love Clarice because she is smart enough to swallow her pride and use her weakness to her advantage: that’s what heroes do!

The web: I remember in Grade 7 geography (maps), where I learned that nothing is more satisfying than having a bunch of coordinates and lines on a map that all connect to one perfect pinpoint at the end. That’s how I felt reading this screenplay. Every character, every plot line, every little detail in the story connected to that final destination. At the time of reading it, it didn’t make much sense, much like drawing on a map, which seems like it could be a waste of time. But you just can’t beat the satisfaction of knowing that all that crazy goose-chasing, and emotions you feel along the journey, were all worth it!

Music: Everyone knows that the score of a film can really make or break the experience to the audience. However, the details of soundtrack are not often included in the script. I loved how Ted Tally made a very specific note of what music plays in Dr. Lecter’s cell at all times, it really adds a whole new dimension when reading the screenplay. As well, he pays very close attention to sounds from beginning to end when Clarice is in battle. Again, this really heightened by perception of the plot and immersed me in the story that much more.


Flashbacks: Now, the first 3 flashbacks in the film I felt were completely unnecessary simply because Clarice ends up telling us (or Dr. Lecter) the things that happened in them anyway. Flashbacks, to me, should only be used to illustrate something that a character cannot say. It wasn’t until the lambs section that I understood why the writer put flashbacks in. However, I have seen the the scene where Clarice tells Dr. Lecter about the lambs live, where flashbacks are not there to assist the actor, and I found it much more moving, and much more of an acting achievement. No doubt, Jodi Foster did this while filming. Perhaps to honor her performance, the flashbacks should have been scrapped.


My favourite scene is one I probably share with all of you. When Clarice tells Dr. Lecter about the lambs. It’s practically the entire premise of the story, but I love the writing. I love that Clarice is telling an introspective story in the presence of someone else who is feeding off what she’s feeling. Really, this is what acting is all about, allowing people to fill up on everything we, the actors, are going through.

The relationship between Clarice and Dr. Lecter, although platonic, is filled with so much love and respect. It’s quite twisted, but really, quite relatable, which makes it so intriguing. (Well besides the serial killer part. I hope.)



This screenplay totally scared the daylight out of me. I was anxious and excited from beginning to end. At times I felt like I was Clarice, doing detective work right along with her. While reading, the wheels in my head where spinning throughout the entire story, instead of when I’m usually just following plot structure and predicting the ending; that’s how lost in it I became! A huge, BRAVO to Thomas Harris for this terrific story, and Ted Tally for making it suit the screen!

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