Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Written, directed and produced by Bruce Branit and Jeremy Hunt, a pair of "self taught" visual effects artists, "405" is STILL a classic and an inspiration to aspiring filmmakers the world over.

Observe the mind-blowing special effects and consider the fact that this film cost them absolutely NOTHING to make. Zip. Nada. $0. They just used a simple digital video camera, an everyday home computer, and the following software:

LightWave 3D by Newtek for all of the 3D animation (the plane, the car, the environment).
Digital Fusion by Eyeon Software for compositing the CG and the live action footage together.
Adobe Photoshop used extensively for creating maps for 3D objects.
Adobe Premiere to edit the entire piece.
Illusion to create some of the smoke effects.

They shot all the footage on a weekend. The post production and visual effects were done in the late night hours after work (and on weekends). All in all, the entire production took about 3 1/2 months.

You can visit their website

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Copy Shop

This film is amazing.

You might THINK you're watching a film, and in a way you are, but you're really not. What you are, in fact, seeing is nearly 18,000 photocopied digital frames that were animated and filmed using a simple little 35mm camera.

Written, directed, produced, and edited by Virgil Widrich, this is "the story of a man who copies himself until he fills up the entire world."

"Copy Shop" has won 35 international awards and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2001.

Some analysis from their

Identity and the Cinema

Cinema enables the viewer to adopt an "alter-ago" for a while, safe in the knowledge that, no matter what happens, the film will be over at some point. This alter-ego can "slip into" one or more of the characters on the screen. In movies, identification is usually achieved by using "subjective shots" so that the viewer sees what the character "sees", thus merging with the character. A sequence of this kind usually looks like this:

A) Objective shot: The character looks past the camera
B) Subjective shot: The camera shows what the character sees
C) Objective shot: The character reacts to what he/she has seen

"Copy Shop" takes this a step further: the viewer is identified with a character, who then proceeds to lose his own identity.

1. Objective = Subjective

In the cinema, one important rule must be adhered to so that the viewer registers the change from an objective to a subjective angle, at least subconsciously: the difference between objective and subjective angles is that the one watching must never be directly visible in a subjective shot. In "Copy Shop" this rule is deliberately broken. The same shot is used first as an objective angle, and again later as a subjective angle, i.e. the same perspective can be perceived by different observers.

For example:

- At the beginning of the story "we" (objective shot) see Alfred Kager wake up and go into the bathroom.

- In a later scene "we" (objective shot) see Alfred Kager standing in the bathroom looking into the bedroom. "We" see what Alfred Kager "sees", and for this exactly the same shot is used as was used at the beginning: a doppelgänger, who looks like Alfred Kager, is lying in bed (subjective shot), wakes up and goes into the bathroom.

- In a still later scene, when there are already three Alfred Kagers, the objective view of Kager standing in the bathroom and looking, which has already been seen, becomes the subjective view of Kager observing a doppelgänger standing in the bathroom, who is in turn watching, in a kind of subordinate subjective shot, as a further doppelgänger lies in bed, wakes up and goes into the bathroom.

The first two thirds of the film give the viewer time to come to grips with the game. As long as the viewer knows who is "who", it is also perfectly clear to him/her which of the identical characters is the real Alfred Kager. It is not until the final third that the film gathers speed to such a degree that the identifications become confused.

2. The frame as a copy of the original

"Copy Shop" shows a protagonist fighting for his originality as an individual. But in "Copy Shop" not even the frames are originals; they are only copies. This is done not only to express the fact that the cinema copy is the usual kind of copy for movie theatres, but also that the frames are really and truly "copies" in the literal sense of the word. The technical realization of "Copy Shop" involved the transfer of every single frame from the digital video tape into the computer once the shooting had been finished, from where the frames were printed out on a black and white laser printer and then filmed again with a 35mm animation camera. Thus video becomes paper, paper becomes film and the story of "Copy Shop" is brought to life again "copy by copy".

3. Cinema as a copier

"Copy Shop" is about a copy centre, in other words about the duplication of single pictures which are whisked through machines (in this case copiers) at ever increasing speed. The speed of this duplication, which rises to 24 frames a second in the course of the story, represents an acoustic and optical correlation to the related process of a film projector’s operation. Kager, the hero of "Copy Shop", fights not only against his doppelgängers, but above all against the pictures that they copy and thus against the film in which he is forever entrapped.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Trinket-Maker

Hey guys,

I'm in the mood to do something radically different this week to jazz up my own creative juices (and hopefully yours, too). I'm going to post a collection of sensational short films (some Oscar-nominated, others personal favorites).

I'd like start with a favorite, The Trinket-Maker, directed by Paul Daley and winner of the 2003 "Best Short Film" in the Aspens Shortsfest.

This is the story of Wendell whose "home in the clouds is unusual and beautiful, as are the fascinating objects he creates, but his is a lonely existence. When a chance encounter seems to offer him an earthier alternative, Wendell is faced with a dilemma. Should he dare put his feet on the ground?"

Clicking "play film" will take you to the AtomFilms website, but this 8-minute short is worth your time if you can spare it.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Writers are Filmmakers

Hey guys,

I just want to share on this Oscar Sunday an article that ran recently in the L.A. Times which covered a
roundtable discussion amongst the screenwriters who've been nominated for Oscars.

Here are some highlights:

Did any of you either lose things from your screenplay that you really wished had stayed in the final film or keep things that you really fought for?

DEL TORO: One of the reasons why financing collapsed on "Pan's Labyrinth" so many times is because the movie opened with a 10-year-old girl dying of a shot in the gut. And I kept telling people: By the time the movie's over it is my hope that people realize it's about rebirth. I said, "That's the journey, that's the trip in the movie." And they really were set against that.

YAMASHITA: They weren't so big to the story, but things like, "You know where you have the boat coming in from the mainland? Can you make that a small, light plane?" There were a lot of things that they had to cut out from a budgetary point of view.

ARNDT: The producers were always trying to make the script shorter. And it got to the point where there was this one line — it was Alan Arkin saying, "Dwayne? That's your name, right? Dwayne?" — it had been taken out and I wanted to put it back in. They said, "Well, you can put it back in if you take out an equal number of syllables somewhere else." I think I added in 11 syllables and took out nine.

MORGAN: Does that constitute a draft? Is it billable?

ARRIAGA: What was that, a haiku? [Laughter]

MORGAN: We had a moment afterward, in the cutting room, where people concerned with the marketing of the film saw the film and said, "Well, it's a hell of a movie. And right now, hers [Helen Mirren's] is a good performance, but it's not an Oscar performance. So, Pete, would you write an argument, or a scene where she's angry, in the first act?" I said to Stephen [Frears], "I don't think that's the problem. I think the problem is, there isn't enough Tony Blair." Which made them slowly begin to weep, because Tony Blair — no international audience. "More Helen, more Helen, more Helen…." I explained to Stephen why, and Stephen put his foot down, and we shot four extra days of Tony Blair. The net effect was that by putting in counterpoints, his part feels no bigger, but her part feels enormous, without shooting a single extra frame of Helen Mirren.

ARNDT: I just want to jump in and say that everything that got added to the original script of "Little Miss Sunshine" was an improvement. There was nothing that I was forced to put in that I didn't think was better, and there was nothing taken out that I wanted to be in there.

YAMASHITA: Clint Eastwood, I have to say, I wish all directors were like him because he just said, "Go with the first draft." And don't you wish more directors were like him, where they actually trust the writer?

DEL TORO: You know that it is part of our craft to deal with compromising. I think that the craft of dealing with the compromise should be in theory a joined effort between the director and the writer, always.

MORGAN: I couldn't agree more. Writers are filmmakers! Why does everyone call a director a filmmaker and a writer a writer? Writers are filmmakers.

Friday, February 23, 2007

It's Create a Character Weekend! Yeah!

This one comes to us from the great Michael Lewis article in Slate Magazine called Monster: Have I Screwed Up My Daughters Forever?

Belles Lettres

I also want to mention that Entertainment Weekly has a nice article about Iris Yamashita and "how she went from an unknown to writing the screenplay for Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima -- and an Oscar nom -- as her first big Hollywood gig."

After the outline, it only took her a month and a half.

A Cut Above

Those of you who have seen Pan's Labryinth will surely recall the scene where Captain Vidal, whose mouth had been sliced open like the Joker's, stands in front of a mirror and performs some self-surgery. So what was the point of that scene? Entertainment Weekly has a great new article called A Cut Above which dissected that scene in an interview with Director Guillermo del Toro.

Here are some highlights:

It's ironic that Vidal uses the same mirror we see him using to shave his whiskers earlier in the movie.
I actually made that exact point on the DVD commentary. It's the same mirror and the same blade that used to make him, if you want, beautiful, and now it shows him as ugly. In my mind, it echoes the evil stepmother in Snow White, asking the mirror, Who's the fairest one of all? Mirrors are fairy-tale elements, and I thought it would be very nice for this mirror to tell him, You're not the fairest of them all any more.

What made you follow the needle-and-thread bit with another shot of Vidal downing the alcohol and then bleeding through his cheek, which really freaks out audiences?
Because it defines him. You and I, if we accidentally forgot about a wound in our mouth and took a swig of alcohol, we would spit it out, scream, yell God damn it, run around, and of course not touch the stuff again. But this guy is so macho, so unstoppable, so into this strange sadomasochism, that he goes for another one. That effect was very neat. What we did was we put a very translucent, narrow little tube over his ear, down his cheek, and behind the gauze that covers the wound. We then pumped through it a mixture of alcohol, and we had a little bit of powdered blood hidden in the gauze. When the alcohol touched the powdered blood, it made this mess that was both yellow and red, which is for some reason extremely disgusting.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Page 123 Book Meme

I was tagged by the always wonderful Christina Ferguson. (SO sorry for my delay - I was distracted by this egomaniac named Napoleon.) In any case, here's what I'm supposed to do:

1) Find the nearest book
2) Open to page 123
3) Type lines 6-8 of said book
4) Tag three others

Nearest book:

20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias

On page 123, the lines 6-8 are:

3. The riddle challenges the reader to solve it before the protagonist does.
4. The answer to your riddle should always be in plain view without being obvious.

Okay, three others: Carl, Miriam, and Matt.

John Milius Interview

As I'm sure many of you know, this is the guy who gave us Dirty Harry, Conan, Jeremiah Johnson, and Apocalypse Now.

What's the point of the interview?

A screenplay ought to look like a damn screenplay.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

In Defense of "Stray"

Hey guys,

I seriously debated whether I should post this or not. Here I am, the new Reviewer of the Month on TriggerStreet, and suddenly I'm posting a free-will review challenging ScriptShark's coverage of Stray, a Screenplay of the Month nominee.

So why share this review with my friends in the Scribosphere who probably haven't even read her story? Because, as writers, we are so accustomed to receiving criticism, that many times we just accept it, and it's unusual to read a writer defending the work of another writer. It's also a good reminder that not all pro coverage "gets" what you're doing. (A good sign is when they can't even get the names of your characters right.) Additionally, there's nothing wrong with a healthy, constructive, spirited debate about your story, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with you defending your work so long as those creative decisions can be clearly articulated.

And finally, I share this review because the world should know that
Nena Eskridge, the girl who gave us the Chinatown Subtext, wrote a GREAT script called Stray, and she deserves to be read.

Hope you enjoy the review. It's definitely... spirited.



ScriptShark's Coverage was Completely Misguided

Hey ScriptShark, you guys aren't afraid of a little debate, are you?

Every month, I go through the same thing. "Hey, MM, what's your take on ScriptShark's coverage of my script? I'm a little confused." Join the club. For the most part, I do agree with you guys and I respect your opinions very much and I genuinely appreciate your contribution to TriggerStreet. Not only that, friends and I have found humor with your occassional dip into the land of absurdity. To this day, Rose and I still get a chuckle over some comments you guys made in your coverage of her "Regular Army" script. I especially loved this one: "The reason BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN worked was because it was based on a popular short story and was clearly set as a romantic epic not too much unlike GONE WITH THE WIND." Hehehe... What? What makes you people think that BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is even remotely similar to GONE WITH THE WIND? Did I somehow miss the scene where Ennis Del Mar dressed up as Scarlett O'Hara? Or did I miss Rhett Butler's gay subtext?

But this time, I must say that your coverage of "Stray" is not humorous. It is, in fact, disheartening and upsetting because it is so completely misguided. What's worse, Nena Eskridge was on the receiving end of this poor treatment, and she is a wildly talented writer with a GREAT script. She put a lot of time and a lot of thought and a lot of work into her script, and she deserved better than this.

How about we start with this quote: "While the first act is something of a mixed bag, the parts dealing with the Jennifer/Greg/Susan triangle definitely capture the audience’s interest. Still Jennifer seems to switch back and forth from calculating acts like stealing Susan’s panties for a scheme, to overt attempts to kill her by knocking a shelf over on her."

May I ask a question?

Who's "Susan?" You mentioned her twice.

There is no "Susan" in the script.

May I ask another question? How much thought did you REALLY put into this coverage? The fact that you gave her "Needs Work" ratings right down the line in almost all the categories leads me to believe not much thought at all. The first line of the comments says "STRAY is a subtly creepy thriller about a mentally unbalanced woman who becomes obsessed with a man to the point that she ruins his relationship with his girlfriend and tricks him into falling for her." That's not it at all. That statement tells me that you did not grasp even the basic premise of her story. This was not about cheap, perverted thrills watching some psycho ruin a guy's life. Yes, at times, this story can be oddly entertaining in a black comedy sort of way, but there was, in fact, a POINT to her story. Nena tells you exactly what her story's about: "A tortured child grows up knowing little about the simple pleasures of family, yet wants for nothing more. Her desperate need calls for desperate actions." This is a character study. This is about a runaway victim's battle to get normalcy into her life, something she has never experienced. And while she's fighting for normalcy, she is also locked in her own cycle and pattern of violence, not unlike Aileen Carol Wuornos whose father was ALSO coincidentally a psychopathic child molester. But Jennifer WANTS to break free from her past and her way of life. What did she tell Marvin? "I want to live like a normal person for a change. See how it feels. Thought maybe I could do that with you." THAT is what her story is about. And this inner conflict she's going through actually makes her a character with depth and sympathy and you guys should have given her "excellent" or "solid" ratings in all categories of "character."

Nena also makes it very clear that Jennifer is a victim of an abusive past. And for you guys to write her off as "a mental case" is not only unprofessional and insensitive to the hard work Nena put into her character but also offensive to victims of abuse. I can expect language like that from young, inexperienced TriggerStreet reviewers but not ScriptShark. I really expected you guys to uphold a higher standard of professionalism. And frankly, to dismiss the main protagonist as "a mental case" says more about how much you failed to understand Jennifer as a character than anything else. And it's also reflected in your across-the-board "Needs Work" ratings.

You said in the coverage that this story should instead "Examine how this sort of trauma either destroys a person, or how they eventually overcome it." You guys ought to judge a story on what it is and what it is trying to be and not dismiss it over all the things it is NOT. Yes, there are many ways of handling this kind of story. Just because you thought of other ways to approach this story doesn't necessarily mean that Nena's approach was WRONG. You guys have to ask yourself, "What is the author trying to accomplish in this story?" And I don't believe that thought ever once crossed your minds. Because Nena is, in fact, making a very clear statement about victims and about them being locked in cycles and patterns of behavior. You guys felt that the ending was "weightless," and yes, it's unconventional, but it's a good ending because she is MAKING A POINT, which you guys should've recognized. You should have seen what point she was trying to make and asked yourselves "Was this the best way to make this point?" So what happens in the end? Jennifer finds herself right back where she started. Her violent past finally caught up with her. And THAT is the point. Nena is, in fact, making a connection between the opening and closing scenes for the sole purpose of making a STATEMENT about Jennifer's cycle of violence. And I don't believe anyone on this site told her to do that, either. That's pretty crafty screenwriting, if you ask me. Connecting the opening and closing shots is a common practice in movies, which you guys should know very well, and you should have seen what Nena was trying to accomplish and started from THAT POINT in your coverage.

Let me ask the question - is there anything wrong with Nena making this kind of statement about victims in her story? Absolutely not. The fact that you guys didn't understand her as a character and the statements that are being made validates the telling of this tale all the more. And this is also why there is no character arc in Jennifer and FOR GOOD REASON. You guys should've seen this and put an "X" under "N/A" for the "Protagonist clearly changes / has an arc" category.

There was nothing wrong with the Marvin scenes.

What was the point of the Marvin scenes? Can anyone tell me? Come on! You guys at ScriptShark are professionals. You should be able to tell me. What's the point? I can tell you what it ISN'T - what you wrote in your coverage: "the screenplay tipping its hand a bit early. Once we’ve seen Jennifer kill Marvin, we’ve seen the worst that she’s capable of. Since so much of her scheme to hook Greg is careful and methodical, the tension is somewhat deflated because we’ve been shown just how psychotic she is. Without the Marvin segments, there would still remain some ambiguity as to if Jennifer is really a psycho or if Sarah is just being paranoid." That's not the point at all. This story is NOT about the slow revelation of whether or not Jennifer is "a psycho." The Marvin scenes were about establishing Jennifer's desire to find normalcy, the impulsive wrong ways she goes about trying to get it, and it also establishes her cycle of violence, which is absolutely essential to this story. She's capable of anything. But she's fighting to be normal. That is her inner struggle. I thought that her setting up shop and living in his house after killing Marvin was a master stroke on Nena's part because you know very well she won't get away with it and that no matter how much she tries to live a normal life, trouble is coming one way or another. She will eventually be found out living in his house. But wait, as another twist, in one of many in the story, she actually does get away with it.

Nena handled the Greg/Jennifer/SARAH love triangle just fine.

You guys wrote, "Still Jennifer seems to switch back and forth from calculating acts like stealing Susan’s panties for a scheme, to overt attempts to kill her by knocking a shelf over on her. The acts like the shelf falling would be more effective if there was doubt in the audience’s mind as to if it was a simple accident or a deliberate act." You guys act as if Jennifer's erratic behavior was without a point. We just established Jennifer's inner struggle, what she wants and her battles with her own cycle of violence, right? What Nena's doing with this set up is to put Jennifer into a position where she's forced to FACE her inner conflict and decide HOW she's going to handle life's daily struggles. The question throughout Act Two is not "who did it," but it's "what will Jennifer do? How far will she go? Will she really change and settle down into a normal life?" THAT was the point, guys. You wrote that "What if Jennifer is sly enough to befriend Sarah and plays on Sarah’s sympathies in order to get invited into their home?" This isn't about showcasing how cunning Jennifer can be and how complex we can twist this triangle scenario into creating more tension. Additionally, this isn't about how evil we can make Jennifer, either. This is about putting Jennifer, the victim of abuse who has a pattern of destructive behavior, into situations where she is forced to FACE her inner conflict and make decisions.

And as I wrote, this is about Jennifer's violent past catching up with her - literally and figuratively.

And you better believe that a character like Jennifer Davis has star appeal, especially young female actresses with squeaky clean Disney-like images who are looking to do something edgy.

I could go on, but I should stop here.

Let me just say that this isn't about who won "Screenplay of the Month." I haven't had the opportunity to read the other scripts, although I would have loved reading them. For all I know, "Queerly Beloved" may very well be the best of the three scripts. But I can say with absolute conviction, you didn't give Nena the fair, thoughtful coverage she deserved.

ScriptShark, I think you owe Nena an apology if for no other reason than the "mental case" comment, but I think she deserves all the available opportunities you have to offer new screenwriters.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Indiana Jones & The Wacky Rumors

Let the rumors fly!

JoBlo kicked off a new season of Indy IV rumors by saying that Spielberg offered a role in the new film to Clint Eastwood.

I don't believe it.

Then came the rumor (found
here) that Harrison Ford was told his whip would have to be computer generated because of new safety regulations. Ford reportedly said that the rule was "ridiculous" and he'd pull out of the film if he couldn't "wield his whip." (Hey, guys, here's your chance to save yourselves!)

Another rumor - both Aint It Cool News and Latino Review have reported that the SON of Indiana Jones will be played by Shia LaBeouf. Ugh. For God's sake, Harrison SAID, "Hey, there's only one son in these movies and I'll always be Sean Connery's little boy."

But that was in 2002. Sigh...

You can, however, believe this rumor: Janusz Kaminski, the man who has lensed all of Steven Spielberg's films since Schindler's List in 1993, confirmed that his next project as DP will of course be Indy IV. Not only that, he will be lensing the film "all over the world," which includes "jungle locales." Woo hoo!

Let's start a rumor of our own with a damn good theory.

A friend sent me
this link where a fan posted his theory on Indy IV. And ya know, I remember having a conversation with a close friend of mine years ago about this very same artifact. It's still a good theory. Follow me here. In every movie, Indy always went after an object from a different religion, right? In the first film, it was Judaism with Ark of the Covenant. The second film was Hinduism with the Sankara Stones, and the third film was Christianity with the Holy Grail. And thus, the fourth movie may involve an Islamic artifact. Perhaps The Black Stone?

According to Wikipedia, The Black Stone "
is one of the cornerstones of the Kaaba, the ancient stone building towards which all Muslims pray. The Kaaba is located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where it is surrounded by the enormous Masjid al-Haram, the Grand Mosque. The Black Stone is comparatively small, being roughly 30 cm (12 in.) in diameter. However, it can be recognized instantly by the large silver band surrounding it. When pilgrims circle the Kaaba as part of the ritual of the Hajj, many of them try, if possible, to stop and kiss the Black Stone. The Stone is actually broken into several pieces, damage which occurred when it was stolen in 930. Qarmatian warriors sacked Mecca and carried the Black Stone away to their base in Bahrain. It was returned twenty-two years later. In the process, the Black Stone was cracked. It is now held together by the silver band, which is fastened by silver nails to the Stone."

I like this theory and I'll tell you why. As many of you know, I spent over a decade chronicling all the
sordid rumors of Indy IV. From about '94-'97 we heard rumors about Indy going after an artifact from the Garden of Eden. Spielberg SAID it "had to do with Adam and Eve." The title "Indiana Jones and the Garden of Life" was being tossed around Paramount. So tell me. What possible artifact could be obtained from the Garden of Eden? The apple? Fig leaves? Tree of Life? No. It's something different.

Many Muslims believe that the Black Stone fell from Heaven at the time of Adam and Eve, and that it was once pure and dazzling white but turned black because of all the sins it absorbed. Some Muslims also believe that at the Last Judgement (
Qiyamah), the Black Stone will speak for those who kissed it. "Allah will bring it forth on the Day of Resurrection, and it will have two eyes with which it will see and a tongue with which it will speak, and it will testify in favour of those who touched it in sincerity." Hey, this hot little item contains all the elements you need for an Indiana Jones adventure - mysterious powers, and better yet, the promise of salvation or eternal damnation.

Of course, it may not be the Black Stone. The
Topkap Palace, which is located in Turkey right by the beautiful Bosphorus waters, has a Chamber of Sacred Relics full of Islamic items like the Gold Chest containing the Holy Mantle of Muhammad, the Swords of Muhammad, and the Lock of Kaaba.

Everyone is clearly nervous about this movie. (Lucas admitted that they're going to "take a hit from the critics and fans." Koepp said "I'm going to get my ass handed to me.") I wonder - are they nervous because the storyline will involve Muslim beliefs? Is this really an appropriate time to be going after an Islamic artifact? Would these same Muslims who rioted over cartoons in Norway be equally upset over a comic-bookish action adventure film that they might view as dishonoring their beliefs?

Because let's face it, the artifacts really don't mean much in these films. It's just an excuse to have really cool special effects. The story is always about the people going after those artifacts.

And it's also about bugs and snakes.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Create a Character Weekend!

This comes to us from the wonderful world of Todd White. I just love his character portraits. He calls this one the "Cabernet Firecracker."


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Chinatown Analysis

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Youth Without Youth

Did you guys know that Francis Ford Coppola has a new movie coming out toward the latter half of this year called Youth Without Youth? It's written, produced, and directed by Mr. Coppola himself, marking his return to personal filmmaking.

His screenplay was adapted from the Youth Without Youth novella by Romanian author Mircea Eliade. The film stars Tim Roth as "Dominic Matei, a professor whose life changes after a cataclysmic incident during the dark years prior to World War II. Becoming a fugitive, he is pursued through far-flung locations including Romania, Switzerland, Malta and India."

Before starting principal photography in October '05, Coppola wrote a few entries in his diary on
the official film site. His words, frankly, hit a little too close to home...


I've been thinking about what seems to be a repeating pattern: artists who distinguish themselves when they are young, and then never can quite reach those levels again. There are many examples, especially in literature, the theater, and of course in film. I think of some of the greats I've admired in my own life: Tennessee Williams, who wrote THE GLASS MENAGERIE and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE when he was in his thirties and then was tormented by critics as well as himself for failing to match those achievements later in life; Norman Mailer, who was twenty-five when he wrote THE NAKED AND THE DEAD, and kept working, reaching ever upward and not quite making it; Joseph Heller, who wrote CATCH-22 in 1961 and never topped it; J. D. Salinger, who wrote his two great books and stories early on and then nothing; and many others, including poets and playwrights who took their own lives rather than face the fact that their creative summits seemed to have passed. Many artists arrive at what seems to be the peaks of their careers when they are quite young, and though they try hard, find that in the eyes of critics, their readers or audiences, and perhaps even themselves -they never match or outdo the work of their youth. Even the great Fellini tormented himself over what he felt were a series of failures beginning with GUILETTA DEGLI SPIRITTI. But there have been exceptions, of course - few but great. Think of Shakespeare, who continually seemed to be able to reinvent himself; and Akira Kurosawa, who made magnificent films throughout his long life despite great periods of depression. Braque never was able to outdo the work of his younger self, but his colleague Picasso did. And when Giuseppe Verdi was eighty years old and considered at the end of a beloved career, he astonished all with the great work FALSTAFF. Why is this? What are the reasons? Is it only that genius at the level of Shakespeare, Verdi, Kurosawa and Picasso is as rare and precious as it would seem, or are there other factors as well?

You can read the rest here.

By the way, Happy Valentine's Day. Hehehe...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

“The Reverse Arc”

I saw Barefoot in the Park the other night. It was okay. But something interesting happened in the Third Act that might be worth sharing.

We reach the point of the story where the characters have fully arc'd. Jane Fonda had felt that Robert Redford was “a stuffed shirt” who never allows himself to get drunk and go crazy, and Redford thinks Fonda’s nonsensical for walking barefoot in Central Park when it’s 17 degrees. They were separated and headed for divorce. And thus, we find ourselves full circle in Act Three with Redford drunk and barefoot in Central Park, and Jane, the free spirit, is behaving like any level-headed “stuffed shirt” by trying to keep Redford from going insane.

Now, had this been a contemporary film, the movie would have ended in Central Park with the celebration of their character arcs.

But Barefoot continued.

We found ourselves back in the apartment. Fonda and Redford discovered that they didn’t like the changes they were seeing in each other and they just want that same person they fell in love with when they got married. And in the end, they went right back to being the way they were. Clever. (Then again, this may have been common in Rom Coms back then.) But I don't believe that I've ever read about this type of character arc before. So I think I’ll call it “The Reverse Arc.” It’s where a character changes and then changes right back.

And it serves a purpose, I think.

It’s as if Neil Simon is saying, “If you’re going to put everything in your marriage on the line in order to change the other person, be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.”

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Kubrick's "Napoleon" - Final Thoughts

“Poetics in Cinema.”

Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon is a sweeping epic told in broad strokes and poetic symbolism. He has us following Napoleon’s life from his birth all the way up to his death. He starts with a few pages on his childhood. He moves on to Napoleon’s quick rise to military power and then on to become head of an empire that ruled over much of Europe. And then we witness his stunning, heart-wrenching downfall. In fact, he loses everything that is precious to him. And in Act Three, Napoleon mounts his final comeback. He regains his power, which lasts quite briefly, and then we see the entire world move against him and crush him.

I’m reminded of a recent (and wonderful) post by
Girish about Poetic Films. He quotes Maya Deren who made a distinction between drama that’s “horizontal” and “vertical,” and by that she means that the narrative is “horizontal” and the lyric is “vertical.” To quote her,

In Shakespeare, you have the drama moving forward on a ‘horizontal’ plane of development, of one circumstance—action—leading to another, and this delineates the character. Every once in a while, however, he arrives at a point of action where he wants to illuminate the meaning to this moment of drama, and, at that moment, he builds a pyramid or investigates it ‘vertically,’ if you will, so that you have a ‘horizontal’ development with periodic ‘vertical’ investigations, which are the poems, which are the monologues… You can have operas where the ‘horizontal’ development is virtually unimportant—the plots are very silly, but they serve as an excuse for stringing together a number of arias that are essentially lyric statements.

You can really see in this script the distinction between that which is “horizontal” and “vertical,” because in order to cover all of the important events in Napoleon’s life, you have to fly down that horizontal plane at lightning speed in order to squeeze it all in before you reach page 150. And thus, you cannot help but notice those moments when Stanley shifts gears in the narrative and chooses to slow down to be “vertical,” to spend just a few pages to highlight the meaning of a dramatic moment.

The first “vertical” moment that comes to mind has to be the sequence involving Napoleon’s marriage to Josephine (found in Part III). We’ve been flying through pages about his quick rise to power and his preparations for the Italian campaign, which we know will send him into worldwide fame and headlong to becoming the next Emperor of France. But we stop for this very important love affair. We hear Napoleon’s many poetic love letters to Josephine. “Sweet and incomparable Josephine, what is this bizarre effect you have upon my heart?” “By what magic have you captivated all my faculties, concentrated in yourself all my existence? It is a kind of death, my darling, since there is no survival for me except in you.”

And while we hear Napoleon pour his heart out, we watch Josephine have an affair with Captain Hippolyte Charles.

And that sequence was not just about establishing their marriage and her betrayal and how much Napoleon loved Josephine. It was also about how much he overwhelmed her with the kind of love that suffocates a human being, which in this case drove Josephine into the arms of another man. (Of course, she was indifferent to him since the beginning, but his behavior certainly didn't help matters either.) In any case, that sequence also showed a believable contradiction in the main protagonist, which gave him depth - that is, the arrogant, powerful, confident Napoleon was also the insecure, needy, emotionally reckless Napoleon who naively wanted to be loved as overwhelmingly as he loved Josephine. We see that he completely gave himself over to her with an almost childlike honesty without realizing the consequences of his behavior, a stark contrast to the genius who meticulously calculated (and won) every battle. And by making us hear his voluminous words of love while at the same time showing us Josephine’s betrayal, we are practically forced to feel the sting of her infidelity just as Napoleon felt it, and we sympathize with him.

How many scenes does it take to establish the fact that they got married and she had an affair and Napoleon’s heart was broken? Those are just facts. To be a little “vertical” in this sequence, to hear his words of love found within those many volumes of letters, to know how he pushed her away, and to see the affair and its affect on him, is to understand the meaning of those events and to feel for the characters.

I don’t believe anyone has taken the time to comment on the poetic techniques of Kubrick’s Napoleon. I’m reminded of something Francis Ford Coppola said in his commentary of Apocalypse Now Redux: “In a way, you know, cinema is more like poetry than literature. It’s all about expressing things and saying things that you don’t say and trying to say it in another way – to use metaphor, or simile, or allegory or any of these other poetic techniques where you express one thing by, in fact, showing something quite different – and the audience puts it together. Cinema is at its best when it expresses things without really expressing them.” And that’s exactly what Stanley does here.

Time and again, in scene after scene, Stanley uses his own style of poetic cinema in which he shows us one thing on the screen but he makes us hear something quite different that undercuts the meaning of what we are seeing. A few examples that come to mind:

  • In the sequence above between Napoleon and Josephine, we hear Napoleon’s endless love for Josephine, but we see the painful reality of their marriage.

  • As we see the happy wedding of Napoleon and Josephine, we hear in voice over Josephine reveal her true feelings of lukewarm indifference to Napoleon.

  • During the Italian campaign, we hear the Narrator tell us about all the glories and victories of Napoleon while we see French troops pillage small Italian towns and take away food and livestock from poor farmers.

  • We hear Napoleon tell his party guests about how “authority's main job is to keep man from being at his worst,” but we see Napoleon behaving at his worst by conspiring to have an affair with another woman right in front of Josephine.

  • We hear Josephine read her statement declaring how she feels pleasure giving Napoleon “the greatest proof of attachment and devotedness that was ever given on earth,” that is, a divorce, but yet, we also see her sobbing uncontrollably.

In one of the last scenes in which we see Napoleon in Tuileries Palace, Stanley shifts poetic gears once again. We see Napoleon sitting at a large table eating alone, and we hear the Narrator tell us that all of the allies had refused to have any diplomatic dealings with Napoleon. You see, in a stark contrast to all of the previous scenes in which we saw one thing but heard something different, this is one of the only scenes in which we see and hear something that has the very same meaning – that is, Napoleon is completely and hopelessly alone.

That, to me, is poetic cinema.


Saturday, February 10, 2007

Stanley Kubrick: A Tribute

"Napoleon" Production Notes


Production Notes

November 22, 1968



180 minutes.


1.3 minutes average per day.


150 days, allowing 10 days lost to travel.


July 1 - September 1, 1969



30 Battles and marches - Yugoslavia
40 Location exteriors - Yugoslavia
40 Location interiors - Italy
30 Front projection - Yugoslavia
10 Lost to travel


Fifteen sequences which will approximately average 12 minutes per sequence, giving 180 minutes finished length.


The four principle categories of cost which represent the largest proportion of any spectacle film are:

1. Large numbers of extras.
2. Large numbers of military uniforms.
3. Large numbers of expensive sets.
4. Over-priced movie stars.

I intend that, for 'Napoleon', these four categories be handled in a financially advantageous manner, which will result in substantial savings to the budget, allowing the film to be produced for a much lower cost than I had first envisaged, without any loss of quality, size or substance.


The daily cost of a costumed extra in England is $19.20, in Spain $14.28, in Italy $24 and France $24.30.

We have received bids from Romania to provide up to a maximum of 30,000 troops at $2 per man, though it is unlikely that we will ever exceed 15,000 men on the largest days.

We have also received a bid from Yugoslavia to provide up to the same numbers at $5 per man. Both prices also apply to lesser numbers.

I have personally met with representatives of both countries and they are all extremely anxious to have an important film made largely in their country.

They are also very, very interested in getting dollars, and can give us very generous deals for their services and man-power that they can pay for with their own currency, and which have little relationship to the dollar equivalent they receive. They have almost the same freedom to trade, in this respect, as they would if they were swapping monopoly money for dollars.

Effective guarantees of their performance on this, or any other deal made with a Socialist country, can be obtained through the Cyrus Eaton Organization, who have worked with us in arranging the Romanian contact. They guaranteed performance on the "Fixer," filmed in Hungary, and regularly preform this function for important business deals of every type between East and West.


Both countries have offered to make military uniforms and costumes for us at a very reasonable rate, about $40 for a first-line military uniform, compared with about $200 for a normal European costumier.

But, in this area, the most significant break-through has come through a New York firm, who can produce a printed uniform on a Dupont, fireproof, drip-dry, paper fabric, which has a 300-pound breaking strength, even when wet, for $1-$4 depending on the detailing.

We have done film tests on the $4 uniform and, from a distance of 30 yards or further away, it looks marvelous. Naturally, in a large crowd scene, these cheap uniforms will be seen from a much further distance than 30 yards.

I should point out that renting uniforms for this film is not a viable proposition, because the numbers available are totally inadequate, and for a long, rough usage, it is cheaper to make them.


Building and decorating a large number of Palatial sets for Emperors and Kings would be a formidable expense indeed, somewhere, I should say, between $3 - $6 million.

Fortunately, this will not be necessary to do. A number of authentic Palaces and Villas of the period are available for shooting in France and Italy. There is even one in Sweden, built and decorated by Bernadotte and Desiree. These locations can be rented for a daily fee of between $350 - $750, and in most cases are completely furnished, requiring only the most minor work on our part before shooting.

In addition to this, I intend to exploit, to the fullest, the Front Projection techniques I developed during the production of '2001.' I have several new ideas for enhancing its usefulness and making operations even more economical.


I think sufficient proof must now exist that over-priced movie stars do little besides leaving an insufficient amount of money to make the film properly, or cause an unnecessarily high picture cost. A recent 'Variety' study, published during the past year, showed the domestic grosses of the last four films by a group of top stars were not sufficient to return even the star's salary, computed at a recoupment rate of 2.5 to 1.

On the other hand, films like 'Dr. Zhivago', '2001', 'The Graduate' and many others show that people go to see good films that they enjoy, and that the main impetus of going to the movies is word-of-mouth recommendations from friends.

As was discussed in our first meetings about 'Napoleon', my intention is to use great actors and new faces, and more sensibly put emphasis on the power of the story, the spectacle of the film, and my own ability to make a film of more than routine interest.

I have not completed my casting survey, but I expect to have this done shortly. I will then send you a list of actors' names, broken down by parts.

I would like to give you some idea, however, of my general thinking about some of the more important characters in the story.

Napoleon was 27 when he took command of the Army of Italy, and 30 when he became First Consul. He was 35 when he was proclaimed Emperor, 45 at Waterloo, and 51 when he died.

I want an actor between 30-35 who has the good looks of the younger Napoleon and who can be aged and made-up for the middle-aged Napoleon.

He should be able to convey the restless energy, the ruthlessness, and the inflexible will of Bonaparte, but, at the same time, the tremendous charm which every contemporary memorist attributes to him.

Josephine should be five to six years older than Napoleon, beautiful and elegant.

The most important supporting characters will probably be Talleyrand and Fouche, and there are untold numbers of actors who can play parts like these.

There are excellent younger parts for Napoleon's aides, staff officers, and Marshals: Junot, Marmont, Ney, Berthier, Murat, Eugene, Caulaincourt. These parts should be played with virile, fit, military types; again, there is considerable choice.

Important younger women will be Maria Walewska, Hortense Beauharnais, Marie-Louise and Napoleon's sister, Pauline. All of these women will be attractive and should lend luster to the cast.

Napoleon's mother is very important, and again a great deal of choice exists.

Czar Alexander, Francis Joseph of Austria, Kutusov, Wellington, Blucher, all of these represent important supporting roles.


A great deal of preliminary preparation has already taken place and I would like to briefly outline what this has been.

1. A picture file of approximately 15,000 Napoleonic subjects has been collected, cataloged and indexed, on IBM aperture cards. The retrieval system is based on subject classification, but a special visual signaling method allows cross indexing to any degree of complexity.

2. David Walker, who is a leading costume designer in England, has been preparing research and making sketches. Because of the very provocative, see-through dresses and bare bosoms of the Directoire period, the film will have some very notable costumes.

3. Military uniform prototypes of the different nations involved have been manufactured and these will serve as quality control comparisons in the subsequent mass production of uniforms of all grades.

4. Extensive location research photography has taken place in France and Italy, covering the possible interior locations in which we might wish to work. A team is now in Yugoslavia doing the same thing, and another team is about to leave for Romania.

5. The services of Professor Felix Markham have been engaged as principal historical advisor, and the rights to his biography of Napoleon have been purchased.

Professor Markham has devoted some 30 years of work to the period, and is one of the outstanding living Napoleonic scholars writing in English.

The rights to his book also establish a known work on which to legally base the screenplay, and should help to avoid the usual claims from the endless number of people who have written Napoleonic books.

6. A master biographical file on the principal 50 characters in the story has been prepared by graduate history students of Oxford University. They have taken the highlights of each person's life, putting a single event and its date on a single 3 x 5 index card. These cards have all been integrated in a date order file with special signals indicating the names of the characters. The system allows you to instantly determine what any of the 50 people were doing on any given date.

7. A library of approximately 500 Napoleonic books has been set up, cataloged and indexed and is available for my own use and anyone else on the production. These books contain the key memoirs and the principal biographies available in English.

8. A Production Designer and Art Director have been engaged, as well as the necessary Production staff and Location research staff.

9. Research has been done in locating an extremely fast lens, which will cover a 70 mm format. This will allow shooting to continue on exterior locations beyond the normal hour where the light becomes photographically inadequate.

Fast lenses are also vital in shooting interior locations with only the natural daylight coming from the windows.

We have found an F.95 50 mm lens, made by the Perkin Elmer Co. who specialize in making lenses for the Aero Space Industry. This lens is two full stops faster than the fastest lens presently available for 65 mm cameras and should even allow interiors to be shot by candlelight. Despite the extremely high speed of this lens, the resolution is very good.

Research has also been carried out to find means of increasing the speed of color film by special laboratory techniques.

A small laboratory which can be installed at the studio in Borehamwood, can accomplish this. I believe that a feasibility study on this subject is being done by the MGM studio in Borehamwood. Personally, I am convinced it is not only economically feasible for the studio to invest in this, but there will also be very significant advantages that go beyond the profit and loss statement of the lab, because it will be capable of doing many other things, particularly in the area of special effects, which are not currently possible by using the conventional laboratory facilities available in England.

S. Kubrick

Paths of Glory

I cannot think of one legitimate reason for incorporating Paths of Glory into our study of Napoleon beyond the fact that I really love these scenes, that I love the tension that builds in the long tracking shot of the first scene which then explodes into battle, and I especially love the second clip, which I honestly believe is one of the top ten greatest scenes in cinema history.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Kubrick's "Napoleon" - Part VIII

"Elba, St. Helena, & Beyond."

In the final 20 pages of the script, we see four sequences:
  1. Napoleon’s banishment to the island of Elba.
  2. His return to power.
  3. The world unites against him and defeats him.
  4. He is banished finally to St. Helena where he dies.
The Narrator explains how Napoleon was stripped of his throne and given the “token sovereignty of the tiny island of Elba, with the title of Emperor, a yearly income of 2 million francs, an army of 700, and a navy of 3 ships.”

In a scene designed to be a giant contrast to Napoleon's glory days where he was given grand, triumphal receptions in Italy and France with enthusiastic crowds, banners, flags, and the works, here, we witness Napoleon’s humiliation. Stanley describes it as “a comic opera parody of former grandeur.” Napoleon marches in a pathetic procession with a few city officials down “the main street of Elba.” He’s cheered by the local population. A band of twenty fiddlers -- no brass, no percussion -- marches along playing the Elban national anthem.

We’re treated to a scene in Malmaison involving Josephine and Tsar Alexander I. They have become romantically involved. Alexander promises to keep her financially secure for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, that would be very short lived, as the Narrator tells us that Josephine would die two weeks later of pneumonia.

Back in Elba, Napoleon is devastated by the news of her death. Nobody cared to write him and tell him. He had to read about it in the papers. And now, with his son so very far away, he cries that he has lost everything that is precious to him.

We learn that “Marie-Louise would prove to be a little more than a dull, commonplace, sensual girl, accustomed to obey the dictates of her father, who easily dissuaded her from joining Napoleon, and carefully chose instead as her aide-de-camp, the gallant and dashing General Neipperg, who soon became her lover. They would have two children together before Napoleon's death... Napoleon would never see his son again, and the child would grow up in gilded isolation, melancholy, ignored by his mother, in chronic ill-health and haunted by the legend of this father. He would die at the age of 22.”

Politically, the circumstances were ripe for Napoleon’s comeback. The army and the people of France were ready to rise up against Louis XVIII, a king marked by clumsiness and disdain and who proved that the Bourbon dynasty had learned nothing and forgotten everything.

Napoleon sets sail to France with his 700 men. On a road, he is stopped by a regiment of government troops led by General Cannet. He intends to arrest Napoleon. This is a sequence that I really love. A nervous aide rides up to Napoleon and says, “General Cannet presents his compliments to the Emperor, and requests that he lay down his arms and surrender himself and his men.”

Napoleon replies, “Thank you, Colonel. Please present my compliments to General Cannet, and tell him that I shall come presently and bring the answer myself.”

General Cannet sees Napoleon riding toward him. He tells his troops, “Bonaparte is on his way to attempt to illegally reestablish himself over the legitimate government of our King, Louis XVIII. It is our responsibility, as loyal soldiers of France, to prevent him from doing this, by whatever means are necessary.”

The men quietly dissent.

Napoleon rides up and greets the troops. “Hello, men of the 5th -- do you recognize your Emperor?”

The troops cheer and scream.

“I recognize you -- we are old friends. I know you from Friedland and Borodino. And, you there, Sergeant Monestier, how are you?”

More cheers.

“My good friends, I am told that Marshal Ney has promised the King to bring me back to Paris in an iron cage. I have sent word to my old friend, Marshal Ney, that he can make that a wooden box, if he is able to manage it, but I certainly must refuse an iron cage -- I'm not as young as I used to be, and I can't accept such drafty accommodations!”

Laughter and cheers from the ranks.

“Men of the 5th, your general has invited me to surrender myself and my men, but I come to make you an offer -- Men of the 5th, will you join me?”

Thunderous cheers from the ranks. The men rush forward to Napoleon. Some fling themselves at his feet, kissing his coat and his hands. Napoleon's eyes fill with tears.

And in a great transition, a stark contrast to the previous victorious scene, Napoleon is back in Tuileries Dining Room sitting at a large table – eating alone. In fact, this visual statement illustrates what we hear the Narrator tell us, that all of the allies had quickly patched up their differences and they had all refused to have any diplomatic dealings with Napoleon. They declared him a criminal beyond the protection of the law. All throughout Stanley’s script, we were given scene after scene of seeing one thing but hearing something different, which had undercut the meaning of what we were seeing. However, here, we are given a scene in which we see and hear something that has the same meaning – that Napoleon is utterly alone.

He is bitter and gloomy. A valet enters and tells Napoleon that Madame Avrillon has arrived. She was shown to his bedroom. Napoleon says very coldly, “Please ask her to get undressed, and tell her I'll be along as soon as I can.”

With an animated map and about six pages of battles scenes, we see the world’s armies led by Blucher and Wellington mobilize and descend upon France and Napoleon. We’re given scene after scene illustrating how close Napoleon came to winning certain battles but lost due to calculated tactical errors. Napoleon would become painfully ill. He would rest the decisions of the war on the shoulders of Marshal Ney, whose incompetence would prove to be his undoing. He would “make tactical blunder after blunder, while gallantly rushing around the battlefield like a young subaltern.”

And we would witness the decimation of the French Army.

When the returning monarchy reacquires France’s throne, Ney would be shot for treason for joining Napoleon.

On the deck of a ship, a depressed Napoleon stares at the cliffs of St. Helena, which is a mass of bare volcanic granite rising steeply out of the sea. Napoleon had surrendered to the English, his lifelong enemies. The Narrator tells us “he was sent as a prisoner to the tiny island of St. Helena, in the South Atlantic, a thousand miles from the nearest land. He would live out the last five years of his life there, amid the petty squabbles of his own entourage, and his captors.”

“His house was a hastily rebuilt collection of buildings originally constructed as cattle-sheds. His four constricted rooms were infested with rats. His food and wine, and opened mail were subjects of continuous dispute.”

“His final illness would, until the very end, be dismissed by English doctors as a diplomatic disease.”

In his bedroom, Count Bertrand, “a figure of despair in this dimly-lit room,” keeps a lonely death-watch.

Napoleon stirs.

“Who is there?”

“Bertrand, sire.”

“I have just had the most vivid... dream... about Josephine.”

“Yes, sire?”

“She was sitting there... and it was as if I had last seen her only the night before... She hadn't changed -- she was still the same – still completely devoted to me... and she told me we were going to see each other again and, never again, leave each other... She has promised me. Did you see her?”

“No, sire... I was asleep.”

“I wanted to kiss her, but she didn't want to kiss me... She slipped away, the moment I wanted to take her in my arms.”

And he dies.

Cut to his grave site.

His grave is unmarked. The Narrator tells us, “Napoleon died on May 5, 1821. Hudson Lowe insisted the inscription on the tomb should read ‘Napoleon Bonaparte.’ Montholon and Bertrand refused anything but the Imperial title – ‘Napoleon.’ In the end, it was left nameless.”

And in the final shot, we’re in the bedroom of his mother, Letizia. She is dressed in black. She sits alone, “a study of gloom and lament.”

We move “to an open portmanteau. It is filled with very old children's things -- faded toys, torn picture books, wooden soldiers and the Teddy bear Napoleon slept with as a child.”

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Kubrick's "Napoleon" - Part VII

“The Defeat”


“The Thousand Mile March into Oblivion.”

Despite the pleading of the French diplomat, Tsar Alexander completely reneges on his treaty with Napoleon, who we see in the next scene cheerfully asking Barbier, “I would like to have all the books that are best worth consulting, on the topography of Russia…”

He enters Austria first and visits the royal family, the last time he would ever do so as emperor. This is also one of the last occurrences in which Stanley uses that clever technique of showing us one thing but making us hear words that undercut what we are seeing. As we SEE Napoleon embrace warmly the Emperor of Austria and his wife and King Frederich Wilhelm, we HEAR the narrator tell us that they sent letters declaring their secret allegiance to Russia.

Napoleon leads his “Grand Army” of 400,000 into the heart of Russia. He calculated all the probabilities and he had concluded that in every scenario he would win. The Russians are so outnumbered, they don’t even bother to fight. They simply retreat.

Napoleon's horse collapses. He stands to his feet and tells his entourage, “Well, this is an ill-omen, indeed. Caesar would probably turn back.” There is uneasy laughter.

Napoleon continues leading his army into Moscow… where they find it deserted. “…not a chimney sends up smoke, not a man appears on the battlements or at the gates. All is silence.”

Napoleon says, “It was all very well for Alexander to do more damage to his country than I could possibly do, but he could not destroy Moscow. This is the prize that will end the war. You will see. We will have peace offerings from him within a few days.”

Alexander is, indeed, ready to surrender the city.

But another man steps in, the Mayor of Moscow, Rostopchin. He has very different ideas.

Early one morning, while sleeping inside the Kremlin palace, Napoleon wakes to some strange light in his bedroom. He leaps out of bed and rushes to the window.

All of Moscow is in flames.

Incendiaries, under the orders of the Russian Secret Police, run through the streets and set fires to buildings. There are skirmishes between looting French soldiers and the Russian Secret Police. Napoleon says to Duroc, “to start a fire like this in five hours -- how is it possible? It would take a carefully organized plan, tons of combustibles and hundreds of people.”

He is told, “There are hundreds of agents, all over the city. The combustibles seem to have been carefully placed beforehand, and all the fire-engines have been removed from the city.”

A Russian General plants an idea in the ear of Alexander – lead Napoleon on to believe that they WILL sign a peace treaty until winter comes and then hide. Napoleon will be forced to retreat with nothing. “Can he afford to stay away from Paris for what will amount to a year by the time he commences his campaign again in the spring? Will he then be willing to remain, completely out of touch with Paris -- for a year? The French are like women. You cannot stay away from them for too long… Can Napoleon afford to abandon Moscow without signing even the preliminaries of a peace treaty with you?”

Napoleon does, indeed, wait. The narrator tells us, that “lulled by events and by realities he could not face, Napoleon seemed to fall into a dream in Moscow.”

He watches a theatrical performance in a Kremlin salon. He spends time discussing the merits of some new verses he had received. Or he discusses the regulations for the Comedie Francaise in Paris which took him three evenings to prepare.

They eventually withdraw from Moscow.

As the Russian cavalry moves through the debris scattered along the roads -- dead men and horses, overturned wagons containing the booty taken from Moscow, gold candlesticks, porcelain vases, paintings, beautifully bound books, silverware, priceless furniture, etc, the Narrator tells us: “It was not until October 20, that Napoleon withdrew the Grand Army from Moscow to begin their thousand mile march into oblivion.”

They were almost completely wiped out by the devastating winter weather. The narrator tells us that “by November 5, the temperature was down to 30-degrees of frost, and 30,000 French horses were dead. They were not bred to endure such cold and, not being properly shod for ice, had no chance to survive in these conditions.”

A French trooper soothes and strokes his dying horse, gives him a bit of sugar, and then he shoots him. The shot draws the attention of some ragged soldiers who rush up for a meal. They are kept at bay by the angry trooper and his pistol.

A dozen French soldiers sit around a small fire cooking bits of horse-flesh and a saucepan full of blood while four or five others fire at a small party of Cossacks to keep them at a distance. The men who are cooking could care less about the fighting.

In a Russian village, we see a posting house crammed with so many officers and men and horses that when a fire breaks out, no one can get out. They all die. The noise and flames attract other men who have been huddled outside in the open. Since they can do nothing, they crowd as close as they can to the flames to warm themselves or cook bits of horse flesh on the points of their swords.

Following their return to Paris, we learn that France has been invaded by all of the combined forces of England, Russia, Prussia, and Austria. There are broad cinematic strokes illustrating the loss to France, such as a shot of a mass of French refugees walking away from their burning village. French townspeople gather around a courier reading war dispatches. And we also see Napoleon in his office in Tulieres burning private papers and playing with his 3-year old son. Outside, he kisses Marie-Louise and son for the last time. They leave in a carriage with an escort in tow. He will never see them again.

And in blow after blow, despite his brilliance strategies, which really bedeviled his enemies, he would lose Paris. A treaty would be signed without his knowledge or approval. Napoleon would lose everything.

And in a visual stroke that's pointedly similar to the first appearance of Tsar Alexander I, Napoleon would sit down by the side of the road and hold his head.

The Narrator would tell us:

“In defeat, Napoleon would be punished by the Kings of Europe, according to a standard which they would not have applied to each other. He might marry the niece of Marie Antoinette, and call himself an Emperor, but that did not make him one.”

Friday, February 02, 2007

It's Create A Character Weekend!

Hehehe... As a character, I love this guy. What does he do for a living? Why is he smiling? How much money does he have? Is he dangerous?

The Politics of Page Numbers

From a recent review of mine on TriggerStreet...

Generally, I agree with what Dave Trottier tells newbies about keeping page numbers down to a minimum (100-110 pages) and I'd tell anyone to follow his advice.

Yet, there are other thoughts to consider.

If you get an agent who knows a studio exec and sends your script to that person, he/she will more than likely give it over to the readers first. Frankly, I don't think there's anything wrong with that because some of them are really intelligent people and they will likely have a better understanding than the executive about how good/bad the script is. Anyway, the readers HAVE to read that script (whether it's 100 or 120 pages) and submit their coverage. If your script were to become a SOM nom (Screenplay of the Month Nomination on
TriggerStreet), Scriptshark will HAVE to read it whether it's 100 or 120 pages. Panels of judges who choose winning scripts for contests HAVE to read those specs whether they're 100 or 120 pages.

The point is that the script doesn't really have to have a certain page number, the script has to be across-the-board outstanding.

If you truly are a master craftsman and the execution of your story is truly superb, they won't hold the page numbers against you. At least, I don't believe so.

However, let's say this gets sold (which in today's world, an expensive period piece like this one isn't going to happen unless it's pre-packaged with an attached director and name actor). In any case, depending upon the studio you're dealing with, there are people whose sole job is to save the studio money. And they are there to try to cut what they can to save a couple extra million dollars. And that is why you hear screenwriters get so bitter when they put all that love and labor into their baby and it gets hacked up to save money.

In fact, under the
We, The Screenwriter post, we see three interviews of screenwriters. In the second trailer, a screenwriter talks about how a producer told him, "You probably won't get as much money with 111 pages. It should be 100 pages." And the writer bitches, "Where is this arbitration coming from? What 11 pages are you going to cut? What limb are you going to chop off my body?" And I just want to tell him, "Dude, he's a producer. What he's talking about has nothing to do with page numbers. Had you only turned in 100 pages, that same prick would've said, 'Well, you only turned in 100 pages, so there's not much of a story here, and you probably won't get as much money.' Dude, he's NEGOTIATING. He's simply jockeying into position to offer you less so he can SAVE MONEY. That's it. Just be strong, man."

We're not blind to the ways of human beings in our stories, how can we be so blind about the people we're dealing with? Because I would've just smiled and told the producer, "I guess we'll see, won't we?"

The point is this. I don't think a script HAS to be absolutely perfect with NO FAT at all going in to a potential sale. I think that having SOME fat actually helps because people will point it out and trim the script down and save money and they will feel like they have DONE THEIR JOBS. Now don't misquote me. There's a difference between being SLOW in the narrative vs. having a few minor expendable parts. I think you should come to the table with a plan, READY TO NEGOTIATE, and already have in mind what the weaknesses are in the script and ideas about where you want to trim the pages (but you never tell them that, you always resist.) And when push comes to shove, you AGREE to trim the script, which makes you look like someone that they can actually work with but isn't a pushover either. The important thing is to have an outstanding foundation to a great movie. However, money will change things and which actors come onboard to play which parts changes things, and you have to have the skills to adapt to that changing environment and still know how to keep the script in great shape.

So, on the one hand, what we do on TriggerStreet means little. On the other hand, what we do here means EVERYTHING because it's about pushing you toward greater heights of skill and craftsmanship, which you absolutely must have to stay afloat.

So what does this mean for you? It means you should be a writer with a plan. Get the script under 120 pages and have ideas about how to get it down to 110 pages. Know what your expendable parts are and when you are pushed to make cuts, you resist like hell and then you finally say, "Let's compromise. What if we did this?"

But as I said, it really depends upon who you're dealing with.