Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Blog Talk 2 – MM Responds to Emily!

Emily, my dear, I knew you’d cheer me up! I admit, I haven’t seen In Bruges yet, although I wanted to. It’s in my Netflix queue!

So how about we end the blog talk with some happy thoughts? What were the highlights of the year for you?

I’d say that, for me, 2008 (despite all the bad films that were released) represented the most growth for me personally as a writer. Sure, it was great to start writing for
Script Magazine, but reading The History of Sex in American Film by Jody Pennington in preparation for my two-part series on “Sex and Screenwriting,” completely changed my perspective on sex in films. Most in the biz, I’ll bet, still think that a sex scene exists only for prurient interests, but I’m telling you, it can be so crucial to a story. I can truly see that a sex scene is only as good as its characters. That was the most eye-opening experience of the year for me. And the research was fun.

Plus, you got a first look at me!


Of the projects I can discuss, I completed
a trilogy of scripts on TriggerStreet. I thought it might be fun to try an experiment that would be a series of shorts along the lines of Paris, Je T’aime. So for the first experiment, I gave twenty writers 6 pages each to write anything they’d want to write about Love. They’d send the pages to me, and I’d put it all together into one screenplay. Then we did a script on Hate and most recently, Fear, which I’ll be blogging about in the coming weeks. BTW - all three scripts have shorts written by me.

I look back at all the articles I’ve written this year on my blog, and I don’t know how I found the time. I must’ve been crazy.

Unquestionably, the most popular article was
50 Flaws of Indy IV. But, ya know, every flaw in the finished film was a joy of discovery in Frank Darabont’s draft. That is the script I loved most this year. He made me love Indiana Jones and his brand of action all over again. I loved the way he handled Marion Ravenwood, and I love – LOVE – that moment when, after Indy got fired from the college, he gets drunk, stumbles into the school museum, and looks at his artifacts he collected over the years while chatting to the statue of Marcus Brody. He comes across the display of the gold fertility goddess from the opening scene in Raiders. It sits on a pedestal. Lying next to it, his famous leather satchel. So he decides he’s going to take back all the artifacts he collected beginning with the gold fertility goddess. He takes a stanchion and crashes through the protective glass, a loud crash. He drunkenly turns around, puts a finger to his lips and shushes Marcus Brody’s statue. He grabs his satchel, puts it on. He almost grabs the fertility goddess when he notices that it’s sitting on a pressure-sensitive pad wired to an alarm. He pulls out a handkerchief, pours sand onto it from an ashtray, and they recreate that moment from Raiders. Love it! Of course, the alarm goes off. A guard shows up and gives Indy hell about it and says, “What would your father say?” Indy replies, “You’re not gonna tell him, are you?” Hehehe… That’s my favorite scene of the entire year. I could write a huge article about that script. Oh, sorry, I already did that. Well, I could write it again. I loved it that much. Against so many odds, Darabont’s draft was a screenwriting triumph.

Most of the scripts I read this year remain in my mind as a foggy blur of mediocrity, but I must say, the script that remains so vivid to me was Tarantino’s
Inglorious Basterds. This story definitely has quite a few flaws. The Basterds just sort of stumble into this mission, were mere secondary caricatures in a story about a French girl, and one of my readers, S.Warren said it best when he commented, “At no point do they ever get in above their heads and, when they do, it's due to their own incompetence and lack of planning.” Exactly. However, I loved the way QT was consciously exploiting tension and suspense. I still believe, and I KNOW when I’m right about something, that the biggest problem with pro and amateur screenwriting today is lack of tension. That’s what made IB so memorable. You want to get noticed as a screenwriter? Write a suspense story that actually has suspense! God, they’ll think you’re a damn genius!

So it’s really true. The Dark Knight
kicked ass. The four things I loved most about that film – giving so many characters inner conflicts, the handling of tension, the philosophical treatment for how Joker justified why he was doing what he was doing, and their magician’s approach to scenes, like the pencil trick. What’s he talking about? How is he going to make the pencil disappear? Then, payoff. Or that scene in the Pool Hall where Gambol was told they have the Joker’s dead body. You know perfectly well the Joker’s not dead, but you keep watching because you have questions. Who’s in the bag? What’s the trick? How is the Joker going to act? What’s going to happen?

Watching the films of
Jean-Pierre Melville, Akira Kurosawa, and studying Hitchcock affected me so much that I will truly never write screenplays the same again.

Finally, the highlight of blogging for me since I began in 2006 came when, just before Thanksgiving, I posted an article about screenwriter
John Michael Hayes who passed away recently. He's one of my favorite screenwriters! I love that man. So I had a lot to say about him.

Well, his son, Garrett Michael Hayes, posted a comment saying, "I've read a great number of the recent [John Michael Hayes] obits and online mentions. Thus far, yours comes closest to capturing a sense of his life. Thank you. Garrett Michael Hayes". Then he mentioned me
on his website. (He hosts a radio talk show in Georgia. Apparently, he's a Libertarian and once ran for governor.) Anyway, he listed his favorite articles about his father and added, "And here is probably my personal favorite: The author is right in more ways than he knows..." Then his sister (and daughter of JMH), Meredyth Hayes Badreau, left a comment and said, “My brother Garrett didn't tell me about your article. I just found it and I thought it was lovely. Truly. It made my heart full today to read this and I thank you.”

Man, blogging doesn’t get better than that.

What a year. Here’s looking forward to whatever may come in 2009!


DS said...

Come on, man, I love your blog but give it up on the Darabont draft of Indy 4. That draft had its fair share of issues; they were just different issues from the Koepp draft. The opening was painfully slow (heck, the entire first thirty minutes was nothing at all like an Indy movie) there were too many villains, the snake scene was awful, and I'll even go so far as to say that I *hated* the very scene you quote in your post above, with Indy stumbling around his museum drunk. So wrong in so many ways.

Mystery Man said...

DS - No way, man, that scene was right in every way for an Indy IV film! Hehehe... And I agree about the snake scene, but I love the idea behind it - Koepp tries to change him. But here, the more things change, the more they stay the same. It's a better idea. So, tell me, what's the best script you read this year?


Christian M. Howell said...

Yeah, it's been a helluva year for me also. I didn't think I could outdo my 2007 reading, but I did.

I did get a response from Billy Mernit on my blog though.

I think my next big post will be about sex in cinema. Or at least why I don't think that the actual sex act is EVER cinematic or useful even.

It ought to be really interesting. Anyway, best wishes for the New Year.

Mystery Man said...

Christian - LOVE IT! Let me know when it's posted! I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

MM, you have missed a masterpiece. I'm talking about IN BRUGES. That is a movie you watch many times and you never get bored with it. It has great scrip and great directing. Colin Farrell's best role to date and much more.

I'd love to read your thoughts after you've watched it.

Mystery Man said...

Bwaah ha ha ha! Okay, now I'm really looking forward to it. I'll be getting it not this week but next week. I've got articles lined up until the end of the year just about, so I might try to find another spot to squeeze another article.


James Hull said...

I too have no idea how you find all the time to write such long and in-depth posts - but I really appreciate all the hard work you put into it.

Here's to my favorite new blog of the year!

Kevin said...

Kiss ass.

Kidding. Seconded.

Hugo Fuchs said...

Ignoring the scripts, as well as specific aspects of the movie, for a moment; the fundamental problem with Indian Jones and the Crystal Skull was the story. In all previous movies, the story was driven by the supernatural. This one was devolved into aliens.

Poor choice.

There's the basic trust that you have to establish with the audience. This is important. If you betray that belief in the audience, then you are doomed to the wrath of fans.

Laura Deerfield said...

Yes, there was a lot of schlock.
But there were enough gems that I feel like it's a good year for movies.

There was The Reader, and In Bruges.

Haven't seen Milk yet, but that seems promising - as does Benjamin Button... and, surprisingly, a Mickey Rourke film: The Wrestler

Hollywood managed to combine the Hollywood big budget formula with good storytelling not once, but *twice* - and that seems monumental to me:
Dark Knight and Iron Man

and finally, Slumdog Millionaire is proof enough that great storytelling in the medium of film is still very much alive - and gets recognized when it does happen.

But then, I'm kind of an optimist.

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