Federico Fellini reportedly bet a fellow screenwriter that he couldn’t make a movie that lasted ten seconds.
My friend, you can’t, Fellini said. “It’s not possible.”
Guerra let out a shoulder shrug.
Federico, if you’re up for a wager, say, “Tomorrow, I’ll bring you such a script if you’re willing to part with $12.”
“I could use $12 right now, Tony,” I said.
So they wagered.
$12 was already in Fellini’s pocket, and he was confident that he would win. And he was just about there.
Eventually, Guerra said that he had a panic attack that evening and was unable to prepare a script for ten seconds of film. The challenge appeared insurmountable. The agreement stipulated that the movie had to include a narrative, a climax, and an unexpected ending in order to be considered a complete film. But how did he accomplish everything in ten seconds?
Just as dusk fell did the screenwriter have a lightbulb moment.
Tony, did you bring twelve dollars? After a restless night, Fellini questioned as he observed his friend’s somewhat wrinkled face.
“Federico, take your time. I had the script with me.
Tonino Guerra then extended a piece of paper to his companion.
Federico flipped the page open and began to read:
A female viewer of television. A feed of a rocket launch is shown on the television. The timer is at 10… 9… 8… When we look at her face, we can see a wave of anxiety. As the rocket takes off, she picks up the phone in the closing moments, dials 7…6…5…4…3…2…1, and says into the receiver, “Get here, he’s gone!”
Fellini silently pulled out his wallet after finishing the script and handed his friend $12.
Guerra’s script is a fully developed movie, a true comic drama in the vein of Italian movies from the 1950s and 1960s. The only figure we see on screen is a woman, but there are actually three characters in the movie: she, the husband-carrier who shot to fame, and the contented lover.
The movie’s dynamism and a sense of tension are provided by the countdown before the rocket’s launch. The conclusion is shocking and excellent in every way.
This is the essence of true craftsmanship.