Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Blog Talk with Unk - A Look Back on 2007

Hey guys,

Inspired by
Slate’s Movie Club, I thought it’d be fun to try an experiment and periodically have talks with other bloggers. So I invited the Unknown Screenwriter, the man who inspired me to start a blog in the first place, to have a little blog talk with me. Woo hoo! So here’s what we’ll do. I’ll write a few general thoughts, and then Unk will respond with whatever he feels inspired to write about, and we’ll go back and forth for a total of two articles each.

(Unk, take your time with the response. There’s no rush. And, guys, please feel free to comment on anything we’ve said.)



My first question to you, Unk, is how did you feel about 2007 in terms of screenwriting in general and the movies that were released?

Have you seen this vid of the Best Films of ’07? It’s great!

I still haven’t seen all the big films, but I’d say the year was above average. To me, it was interesting in all the ways that the “quality” films broke widely held screenwriting rules. I really fell in love with The Lives of Others, which starts with an unsympathetic – no, diabolical – protagonist who completely changes over the course of Act Two, and in the end, he sacrifices everything to protect an innocent man he was spying on. There Will Be Blood has another diabolical protag, a man named Daniel Plainview whose downfall begs for a comparison to Citizen Kane. And the actor who embodied Plainview will probably win an Oscar. I do love me a bad boy protag... And love it or hate it, No Country For Old Men will surely be nominated for Best Film, and these guys killed off the protag in a scene that took place off screen.

I don’t even think you can give a name to the structure of Atonement, a big story divided into two halves. And you can’t blame Christopher Hampton for taking that approach, either. He was told to take the four-part structure of the book (i.e. three parts story and one part big-ass epilogue) and do it all without voice over. It was interesting what Christopher Hampton said in a Creative Screenwriting interview (Nov/Dec issue), that he viewed it as “a two act affair, with the second half subdivided into three acts.” Now that’s a cool idea for a structure. He said, “I’m a great opponent of all those conventions because I think you feel them in your bones. So often in movies, you think, ‘Oh, I see, this is page 33 where…’ One of the most important things you have to do is strive for originality. Break the rules and try to experiment because the possibilities are infinite. They can’t be restricted to ‘Write a screenplay just like Casablanca.’ Casablanca is wonderful, but who wants to see 3000 Casablancas?” Exactly. I love you, Christopher Hampton.

I loved all the pregnancy films last year, particularly Knocked Up and Juno. A friend of mine wrote something funny in an e-mail to me: “I think it's interesting that in 2007 we were treated to 3 ‘she's having a baby’ movies - movies that all start with a pregnancy test. Waitress, Knocked Up and Juno. And each movie ends up in a different configuration. Waitress: keep baby, ditch guy; Juno: ditch baby, keep guy; Knocked Up: keep baby, keep guy. Each movie was great, way better than most movies in this genre… I should have written the one that was ditch baby, ditch guy. Call it, ‘Free at Last.’ Just kidding.”


Do you think Diablo Cody is worthy of all this attention she’s getting? I think so. I loved what Mickey Lee said in one of the comments sections: “she’s not a stripper who turned into a writer, she’s a writer who stripped.” While Juno was certainly a highlight of the year, it’s not worthy of any Oscars. It was good but not that good. Her dialogue was GREAT fun, but at times the hipster lingo felt a tad over-cooked and forced. Some of the plotting felt a little under-developed, too. When Pauly Bleeker talked about how she dumped him and broke his heart, I didn’t recall seeing that scene and kinda wished we had because it would have shown a different side to Juno that could’ve given her some more depth. Also, her script, as it was written, could’ve been more cleaned up and professional, too. But all in all, I really loved Juno.

Following Ingmar Bergman’s death, I re-watched all of his films, and it really impressed upon me how much depth his characters have. They all manipulate, put on airs, and yet, there are always secrets and different sides to them, which I love to see. I think my favorite Bergman film has changed from Cries & Whispers to The Virgin Spring. Really powerful stuff.

Away from Her was just the observance of a disease with little in the way of plot but it was incredibly effective and beautifully shot.

Zodiac was interesting but it was so exposition-heavy that I don’t think the pay-off in the end was worth all the time and intense focus needed to stay on top of all that exposition.

Michael Clayton was overrated with a ridiculous flashback structure.

Most Hilarious Break-Out Performance: Bono as “Dr. Robert” in Across the Universe.

Sweetest Movie with the Most Minimal Dialogue: Once.

New 2007 Screenwriting Phrase: Narrative Interruptus. From
Ebert’s review of Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. “Here [Sidney Lumet] takes a story that is, after all, pretty straightforward, and tells it in an ingenious style we might call narrative interruptus. The brilliant debut screenplay by Kelly Masterson takes us up to a certain point, then flashes back to before that point, then catches us up again, then doubles back, so that it meticulously reconstructs how spectacularly and inevitably this perfect crime went wrong.”

Most Overrated Screenwriter That’s a Threat To My Happiness in 127 Days and Counting: David Koepp. This man cannot stop whining about how he hopes to God
he didn’t screw up or how he’s going to get his ass handed to him for writing Indy IV. Ya know, I understand that the world’s a rough place and someone somewhere will rip you apart for what you’ve written. But, when you’ve been given a big paycheck (and giant residuals) from what may be the biggest film of 2008, as well as the chance to work again with Spielberg, you need to take the hits like a man. Grow a bloody spine, will ya?

A Screenwriter Who's Already Convinced He Would've Done a Better Job Than David Koepp: Mystery Man.

Screenwriter Least Likely to Drive Mystery Man Home After a Party:
Roger Avery.

A Screenwriter Who Used the Ol' "Marry Me So I Don't Get Deported" Ploy: Simon Monjak.

Sucker for the Ol' "Marry Me So I Don't Get Deported" Ploy: Brittany Murphy.

Screenwriter Who Will Never Get Laid Ever Again: Tad Safran.

Best New Drink of 2007: Striking Writer Martini.

Favorite 2007 Screenwriting Article: 4 Tips that Annoy Me

Worst Screenwriting Article: How to Write a Screenplay in Two Weeks! “So you want to write a screenplay. It's not as daunting as it may appear. Follow these simple steps and you'll churn out a masterpiece in just two weeks... Difficulty: Moderate”

Year’s Worst Film that I Can’t Wait to See: Youth Without Youth.

Most Bizarre Script of 2007:
White Jazz by Matthew Michael Carnahan & Joe Carnahan based on the novel by James Ellroy. All the action lines are written in FIRST PERSON. What does that mean?

A Bad Film I’m Glad They Made Because It Drove Unk Crazy: Smokin’ Aces.

Movies from 2007 I Will NEVER EVER See: Hostel Part II, Good Luck Chuck, I Know Who Killed Me, Norbit, Epic Movie, The Number 23, and Who’s Your Caddy?

Completely False:
Lindsay Lohan Dating Mystery Man

No Comment:
Jennifer Aniston and Mystery Man Stay Locked in Cottage

Blog Highlight: after
criticizing a Creative Screenwriting article, the new Publisher, Bill Donovan, sent me an email titled “You feisty” and asked if I wanted to write for them. We talked about it. He said, “I have to ask our new editor, Amy Dawes, whom I just hired and whose turf I stepped on in writing to you, if and how she thinks this would work. I would also want to have a writing agreement. We (our lawyer, probably Amy, and me, but no one else) would have to know who you are --and be contractually sworn to secrecy, of course.” I guess they decided against it. But I know what my first article would’ve been – a passionate case against character arcs. Yeah, baby! Hehehe… That would’ve gotten people talking!

And finally, a personal note: my 2007 was spent obsessing about a screenplay I wrote (that I do not wish to name because I’m going to send it off to some pro-readers who read the blog). When I obsess about a story, it’s 24/7 until it’s done. You, Unk, know what script I’m talking about. It’s a story everyone knows, a name recognizable around the world, and it took a really unique approach to make it work and hopefully exciting for those who are also likewise obsessed about this particular subject. I posted it on TriggerStreet for one month only so friends could give me some feedback. It was downloaded 200 times and received a “Recommend” and “excellent” ratings in all categories (although toward the end, the ratings shifted to “Consider” and “good”). I fear that when this gets sold, people will finally learn my name and my days as Mystery Man are numbered. This may be my last year as Mystery Man, although sometimes sales can take a couple of years, and God knows what the chaos will be like once the strike is over. So maybe I’ll get one or two more years of blogging. However, when it sells, I’ll announce the “Mystery Man Revelation Tour,” and as I’ve always promised, I’m going to visit friends in their cities with a stop in Arizona, I think. Isn’t that where you live, Unk?

So, my last question to you is how much do you enjoy your anonymity? Is it a warm, protective blanket or a lonely, prison cell? How would your life change if your anonymity got stripped from you? Ya know, everything changes when people know who you are…



Peeved said...

Dude! Juno spoilers!! Haven't seen it yet. Ruined.

GimmeABreak said...

Mim and I have decided to pretend that MM's real identity is Jeff Bridges.

(and when your script sells will you forgive me for arguing with you about it?) hehe

terraling said...

Not sure what to make of the narrative interruptus - I worry that it is going to be done to death now that it is receiving such attention (and acclaim).

Having heard about the script of Before the Devil.. before seeing the film I was tuned in to this aspect of it, and I thought it didn't really add an awful lot to the picture. Unlike Memento, say, where chopping up the timeline is fundamental to the movie, in BTDKYD it was more of a stylistic choice about presentation, there was nothing about the story per se that required it. I don't think it would have been a very different film if it had simply used the common device of showing the key event - the robbery - at the outset and then going back to tell the story leading up to it.

I've no problems with it in BTDKYD, it works quite nicely, but I do worry it will become overused in new scripts. I even thought about restructuring the story of a project I'm working on to 'jazz it up' but concluded it was a fairly linear story that with lots of intrigue that would benefit from being told relatively straight.

bob said...

MM- We'll still love you even after you're no longer mysterious, he he. I would have liked to see that article debunking character arcs!! It's one of my favorite topics too!!

Mystery Man said...

Peeved - Dude - You haven't seen Juno yet? What's up with that? Will remember to give spoiler warning next time.

Pat - Really? That's interesting. No comment. Hehehe...

Terraling - I shared that b/c I liked that name, and I don't think you should use this technique just for the sake of using it but only if the story really cried out to be told this way. It's always what's best for the story. Additionally, this technique is really nothing new. Hampton employed this same technique (on a smaller scale) in "Atonement" where we saw an event from two different perspectives for very important reasons. Tarantino applied this trick in both "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie Brown," and there are many more examples. On the one hand, I think aspiring writers need to master the three act structure first. They need to not just know it academically but they must have a lot of experience writing the three act so that they'll be prepared for assignment work. On the other hand, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is another great example of how new writers "break-in" by playing around with structure. That's the bigger point, to me, about Kelly Masterson and her wonderful script.

Bob - I love you, too, man. I'm just giving away the love today! Hehehe... Yeah, it's on my list of articles to write. Some day.


Emily Blake said...

I second the objection to lack of spoiler warning. I haven't seen No Country yet. Ruined.

Christina said...

I saw Youth Without Youth. It's such a mess that I can't even ruin it for you! There was a good film in there, but he didn't get it. I hope he tries again soon because I do believe he has one great film left to make. Sidney Lumet did it at what? 82 or 83?

Joshua said...

You left out -

BEST SCREENWRITING BLOG WAR, 2007 . . . had to be something over at AW, right?

Mystery Man said...

Emily - my apologies.

Christina - Yes! He can still do it! I have faith in ya, Francis.

Josh - I'm thinking 2008 just might be the year of the screenwriting blogs...


Jason said...

Does this mean that when your identity is revealed you'll stop with the exceptional blogging? I sure hope not. I only get to stop in here once every couple of weeks, but every time I do I learn a lot.

Thanks MM!

Jason Usry

Mystery Man said...

Jason - Yeah, it just might. You live in Savannah, don't you? That's on my list of places to visit on the tour.


Jason said...

Yep. In Savannah. Glad it's on the tour! First round's on me! :)

Christian M. Howell said...

Wow, no more MM. At least I'm one of the fortunate to know what script you're talking about.

It was a good read. Should be picked up. Don't forget NYC.

Unk said...


I must have missed it.

Too bad -- I like wars.


purpletrex said...

To all those that have not seen No country for old men, or Juno, whining about "spoilers," wahhhhhhh! You suck and you should have seen them by now.

You should have long since seen each movie. I had to drive 90 miles to see No Country for old men, and I work almost 60 hours a week. So what is your excuse?

Furthermore, the last part of NCFOM is totally unconventional and won't be what you expect, even if you know what happens to the protag. With Juno, you know she is not going to have an abortion and to be quite honest, her relationship with the father of the baby (George Michael, lol) was to me very shallow and contrived.