Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More Cinematic Storytelling!


Hey guys,

The four examples from last week just weren’t enough for me. So I’d like to share three more examples, except this time, they’re written by aspiring screenwriters, a few people who I think represent the next generation of cinematic storytellers.

Some day, guys, some day, a professional in the biz will say to you, “when I was reading your script, I could totally picture this on the screen.” And you will thank your old friend Mystery Man for all those damn articles about visual storytelling. Hehehe

Hope you enjoy them.

-MM

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First, a scene from a script that marked my
100th TriggerStreet review. It’s written by our longtime friend Mickey Lee Bukowski. If you were to mix a little bit of James Bond and Indiana Jones and throw this new character into a 1944 a British commando team battling the Nazis, you’ll get a big script called Operation: Atomic Blitz and a protagonist by the name of Garrett Davies. Great, great fun. It’s entertaining how Mickey Lee plays with action genre expectations while also giving us the hero’s arc in the protagonist IN AN ACTION MOVIE, which is unusual (and welcome), especially in a franchise-starter.

In this scene, the commando team is storming a German castle. (A little background, the castle is still partially in ruins from an earlier scene, which is why there are lots scaffolding. There’s also a little ribbing about Garrett having once tried to steal the Crown Jewels. He was a bad thief given a second chance by joining this commando team.) I love the way Mickey cuts back and forth between the smoking guard on the main platform and Garrett on the scaffolding.

And the gag is priceless.



EXT. GRAND TOWER BASE - NIGHT

Rubble from the original grand tower litters the beach. The Partisans take cover behind the larger stones.

The tower itself is a nest of scaffolding growing up from the beach all the way to the very top of the castle. Guards walk the upper platforms.

Garrett, Johanna, Hamlet and Ophelia crouch behind a large stone.

GARRETT
You sure you want to do this?

JOHANNA
Who else is going to disable the
bomb?

HAMLET
Don’t bother arguing with women,
Garrett. You just end up married
to them.

Ophelia gives him a look.

GARRETT
Cover me, Hamlet.

Ophelia unzips a bag, pulls out a huge sniper rifle. Lines up the sights, pulls back the bolt, readies to aim.

HAMLET
And now you know why I don’t argue.

Garrett nods, waits for the spotlight to pass, darts across the beach to the

SCAFFOLDING

Garrett climbs the lower scaffolds with cat-like agility. He leaps silently from one platform to the next.

MAIN PLATFORM

A SMOKING GUARD walks back and forth, stops to enjoy the beach. Hears something. Looks down the side to check. Sees nothing.

SCAFFOLDING

Garrett looks up -- too high to climb. He takes a grapple and rope from his shoulder. Balances it. Looks up at the next platform. Swings the grapple, lets it loose.

It catches. Garrett gives it a tug. Not stable. Curious, he tugs it again. Tries to climb, but it’s not secure.

MAIN PLATFORM

Smoking Guard struggles to stand, the grapple tied around his neck. The rope inches him toward the platform edge.

SCAFFOLDING

Garrett yanks harder and harder on the rope.

Seconds later, Smoking Guard topples off the platform, screaming.

The rope catches around a beam, acts as a pulley sending Garrett up to the Main Platform. Garrett catches onto the ledge, lets go of the rope.

Smoking Guard plummets to his death, hits all the scaffolding on the way down.

German Guards on the upper platforms look over to see their comrade fall to his doom.

Spotlights zero in on the scaffolding. An ALARM sounds.

ON THE BEACH

Hamlet and Johanna share a look.

HAMLET
The Crown Jewels, eh?

He stands, signals his Partisans.

HAMLET
(in Danish)
Take them down!

Gunfire erupts between the Partisans and the Guards on the scaffolding…

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Second, a scene taken from the
completely visual screenplay written by another longtime friend, Bob Thielke. This writer found himself so inspired by Jennifer van Sijll's book, Cinematic Storytelling that he wrote for himself, just as a creative exercise, a nearly dialogue-free screenplay just to practice the art of telling a story through visuals. The result is a script called 99 Luft Balloons. It’s a story about a couple separated by a big ugly wall and the protagonist, Albert Schaff, dresses like a clown and floats over the wall with a bunch of balloons to be with the one he loves. It’s really moving, actually.

In this scene, toward the end of Act 2, Albert’s at the job office (where he’s paid to be a clown for parties) and he just realized that the balloons won’t work. He goes to tell them he doesn't want to be a clown anymore. At the beginning of the scene, he's small and in the background (feeling diminished) until he realizes that they need him to do the birthday party for the chancellor's kid. He sees this as his possible escape and he moves up to the desk and towers over the poor little clerk who is now the diminished one.

This is brings to mind the scene in Citizen Kane, which I wrote about
here, where Kane, having just learned from his guardian, Thatcher, that the crash of ’29 wiped out his estate, paces along the Z-Axis and walks from the foreground to the background and back to the foreground again. Orson Welles communicated visually without one word of dialogue that Kane had returned to a state of boyhood. Great!

Ironically enough, in Bob’s script, which was virtually dialogue-free, this is one of the few scenes that actually has dialogue.

Anyway, hope you enjoy it:



INT. MINISTRY OF LABOR – DAY

Albert sits in his usual chair at the far end of the office, submissive look on his face.

The Clerk sits down and taps his pencil repeatedly.

CLERK
Now you’re telling me you don’t
want to be a clown? You are the
most difficult person I’ve ever had
to deal with.

Albert hangs his head in shame.

CLERK
Your skills for office work are
negligible, you’re too frail for
manual labor, and you show no
aptitude for technical skills.

Shrinking down in his chair, Albert looks away, feeling even smaller.

CLERK
But, I do have some interesting
news, if you’d care to hear.

Albert straightens up as his curiosity is piqued.

CLERK
I don’t know how you did it, but
the Chancellor wants to hire you to
entertain at his son’s birthday in
two months.

Albert is duly impressed.

CLERK
There will be at least one hundred
children there.

Albert, oblivious to the world, adds digits using his figures.

CLERK
You realize what an honor this is.
But you also realize that if you
turn this down or mess this up,
we’ll both be in huge trouble. I
for one don’t care to visit Siberia
anytime soon.

ALBERT
They’ve got to have balloons, huge
balloons.

CLERK
What?

ALBERT
The children. They’ll want to have
balloons.

CLERK
What concern is that of mine?

ALBERT
If they don’t have balloons, they
won’t be happy. If they’re not
happy, I can’t imagine the
Chancellor will be happy either.

The clerk comes to attention and scrambles to find a pencil.

CLERK
What’s a party without balloons?
How big do you want them?


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And finally, here’s a scene from a script that’s still in the works by our good friend
Pat (GimmeABreak) who has participated in almost every study on our blog. When I posted the Write the Shots article, Pat shared a scene from her script and I just loved it. This captures exactly what we mean by writing the shots. Good job, Pat.


INT. CELLAR – NIGHT

It's black.

Sounds of stilettos on a concrete floor.

A yellowed florescent light sputters to life.

Jack struggles against the chains that have him pinned to the wall.

The black leather hood lies next to a rubber mallet on a nearby rickety old table. A piece of duct tape covers his mouth.

LACY (O.S.)
How's it feel, asswipe?

Lacy, clad in the same scanty ensemble as earlier, approaches Jack.

In one hand, a

BIG FUCKIN' KNIFE, dripping with blood.

In the other, a Dove ice cream bar.

Jack, eyes wide, stares at the knife in horror.

LACY
Recognize this? One of your
favorites, I believe.

She slices the buttons from his shirt with the tip of the very sharp blade as Jack, petrified, watches the last one fall in slow motion.

She spreads his shirt open with the knife tip to reveal the location where most of the hair from his head has migrated.

She gives him the once-over.

LACY
You're such a liar. Furry AND
flabby. Yuck.

She tickles the tip of one of his nipples with the sharp edge of the knife. He flinches and issues a muffled cry as the blade scrapes the sensitive flesh.

Lacy giggles, teases the Dove bar with her tongue and jerks the knife upward with a quick flick of her wrist. Behind the gag, Jack screams.

LACY
I'd say payback's a bitch but I
think you used that one. In
Gruesome Twosome, I think. Or was
it Hammered? I forget. They all
just kind of melt into one.

She sets the ice cream bar on the table (where it sizzles like a steak on a grill), grabs a handful of chest hair and, wielding the knife like a straight razor, dry-shaves the patch. Jack's cries become louder and more high-pitched.

Jack watches with fear as a

FEMALE HAND

retrieves the mallet from the table. His fear becomes terror when he follows the hand up the

ARM

Across the

SHOULDER AND NECK

to

KITTY'S FACE.

She stares at Jack, licks the back of her free hand and, in a sweeping motion, wipes it across her forehead and back across her hair before looking at Lacy with a nod.

Lacy positions the tip of the knife just so in the bare patch on Tom's chest.

Kitty aims the mallet at the end of the knife handle.

As though she were Hank Aaron setting up for a series-winning home run, she raises the mallet like a baseball bat.

LACY
Well, girlfriend, let's see if
there's anything worth keeping in
this fat tub of goo.

The mallet smashes the knife handle with bone-crushing force to the sounds of:


EXT. KITTY'S APARTMENT - DAY

METAL GARBAGE CANS being tossed to the sidewalk of the house next door.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Screenwriting News & Links! 2/25/08

video

My apologies to Evan Astrowski (pictured above). My sincere, heartfelt apologies to Evan. I don’t know how Blogger chooses the preview pic. Rest assured, dear readers, that Evan’s a smart guy, respected by all, and any news video that includes him is most certainly worthy of your time. Hehehe

Anyway, above is the latest episode of Dana Brunetti’s
TriggerStreet TV, which covers industry news, trends, and topics.

If you missed it, I recently posted
Examples of Cinematic Storytelling and I drink your critics! I drink it up!.

-MM

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CS Daily's Words of Wisdom:

"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."
C.S. Lewis

"Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self."
Cyril Connolly

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Lohan sweeps Razzies
I Know Who Killed Me tops year's worst. (Too bad they didn't have worst photo-shoot category. Ugh..)

Here's where you can get your Oscar round-up.

Eight Decades of Oscar Winning Screenplays
“If you’re a screenwriter, or even remotely interested in screenwriting, watching the films that have won an Oscar in a writing category, and reading the screenplays would be beneficial. Watching these films and reading the screenplays is a study in screenwriting mastery. It’s also a good idea to read the books on which the adapted screenplays are based. I reviewed all the winners over the past eighty years and put together a list showcasing my favorite screenplays from each decade.”

Are Oscars Worth All This Fuss?
“Like anyone else I’m glad when my favorites win and dismayed when they fall short. So I am not against the Oscars, any more than I’m dismissive of the Salesman of the Year or the Employee of the Month, or opposed to lavish annual trade association conventions for actuaries or ophthalmologists. But I am nonetheless bothered by the disproportionate importance that the Academy Awards have taken on, and by the distorting influence they exercise over the way we make, market and see movies in this country. The Oscars themselves may be harmless fun, but the idea that they matter is as dangerous as it is ridiculous.”

Oscar-nominated writers went deep in portrayals
“Character is destiny. Score one for Heraclitus, whose succinct aphorism seems especially apt in describing screenwriters' path to the Oscars this year. While taut plotting and visual ingenuity were certainly in abundance in this year's crop of nominated screenplays, it is the writers' compassionate, three-dimensional depictions of the flawed and fearsome, the courageous and resourceful, the bereft and bruised, that most beckoned for reward. It may seem a facile thing to say, for what story doesn't live or die on the relatable nature of its characters and their actions? But at a time when a battered world cries out for an understanding of humans' most troubling motivations, these deep investigations into the jagged and tender parts of us resonated in the collective psyche with perfect pitch.”

25 biggest Oscar snubs ever

John August on Writing Shorts
“The hero’s fundamental problem/challenge/obstacle needs to occur by the time you get to the 1/3rd mark. So, if your short is meant to be three minutes long, the big event needs to happen on page one. If it’s a 10-minute short, it happens around page three. It’s not that you’re worried about your reader getting bored before then — if you can’t entertain us for three pages, there’s a problem — but rather that if you delay any longer, your story is going to feel lopsided: too much setup for what was accomplished.” (Is it any coincidence this posted shortly after we finished our script full of 20 love shorts?)

Unk on Zhura
“Got an email today from Zhura.com asking me to take a tour of their new online screenwriting tool… I was on it for maybe less than 10 minutes and it’s actually not too bad. Fast and easy to navigate through.” (Yeah, I got that same e-mail from Jennifer. She was nice. It’s a free web-based screenwriting software. I haven’t seen any free screenwriting software that yet makes the cut in terms of professionalism. I’m curious to see how this one does.)


Danny Stack on Critics
“Professional critics. What are they for? What do they do? Seriously, I’m asking, because I’m getting a little bit fed up with them. As far as I can see, most criticism nowadays isn’t about the actual creative content that the writer is supposedly assessing. No. It seems it’s more to do with making the journalist look good with his smug and witty remarks, and being scathing or dismissive of whatever material it may be (TV show/film). They offer no insight or valid argument, and instead simply pass breezy judgement (or biting remarks about the leading celebrity) as they get on to the next preview. More worryingly, a lot of these so-called critics show no core understanding of the medium they’re reviewing, which leads to ill-informed remarks...”

Bill Martel wants your writing questions

Josh James is published! Woo hoo!
“My short play A GAY THING is featured in the newly published ‘Open: 24 Hours.” (See also his article on Rapping On Writing - On Character, Ya Gotta Have Soul).

Kevin Lehane on
10 Ways to Get Over Writers Block and Movie Endings.

Emily asks
What's a screenplay for, anyway?
“There's that old "blueprint" theory. It's a blueprint. It's a document for building your movie with all the pieces listed in clinical description so all the construction workers can follow along and do their part correctly under the watchful eye of the contractor. If the blueprint is off, the house will fall unless the contractor does some quick calculations on the spot to fix it. And if a construction worker decides to ignore the blue print he might create a cool new breakfast nook or an unstable support and the whole thing could come crashing down.”

“Here's a meaty Hitchcock website: Ken Mogg's 'The MacGuffin'. Mogg is the author of The Alfred Hitchcock Story.” (Thanks to Girish.)

For Scott Rudin, there will be quality
“The producer makes only movies he believes in, and it's paid off this year with two best picture contenders... 'I look for a voice,' says Scott Rudin, on the Brooklyn set of his new project, The Reader.”

Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab
Looks like the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab application is now online.

David Mamet is 'the greatest American playwright of his generation,' declares Jeremy McCarter, but Ira Nadel's David Mamet: A Life in the Theatre isn't the biography we need: 'The definitive biography will need to cut more finely, separating not just successes from failure but success from success. Mamet has written a scathing play about sexual politics, Oleanna; the screenplay for a brilliant and (I'd wager) timeless political satire, Wag the Dog; and an uproarious courtroom farce, Romance. But these all pale next to American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross.' What's more, 'the definitive Mamet biography will above all need to give a full accounting of his voice. Mamet, according to [Gregory] Mosher, 'worked the iambic pentameter out of the vernacular of the underclass.' For all the comparisons to [Harold] Pinter, there is nothing like Mamet's profane poetry in modern drama.'” (Thanks to GreenCine.)

Mike Myers Tackling New Secret Life of Walter Mitty Screenplay
“Mark Waters' planned remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was derailed a few years ago, but the director is still interested in bringing it to the screen -- and he isn't alone.” (See also Mike Myers is Daydreaming in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty)

Sutter apologizes for 'Punisher: War Zone' comments
“Screenwriter Kurt Sutter has taken another pass at wrapping up his involvement with Punisher: War Zone.”

An interview with screenwriter Susannah Grant.
“Susannah Grant received an Oscar nomination for her screenplay for her inspirational story - Erin Brockovich.”

"
Fatih Akin, whose Head-On (2004) is one of the great films of the decade, returns to scour the same vexed ground of exile and migration in The Edge of Heaven,' writes Anthony Quinn in the Independent. 'His obsession with the relationship between Germany and Turkey (his roots lie in both) is becoming as intense as Sam Peckinpah's with the US and Mexico, only with less blood and whisky.' 'This is an intriguing, complex, beautifully acted and directed piece of work, partly a realist drama of elaborate coincidences, near-misses and near-hits, further tangled with shifts in the timeline - and partly an almost dreamlike meditation with visual symmetries and narrative rhymes,/ writes Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian.” (Thanks to GreenCine.)

Fitzgerald stories optioned
Jerry Rapp adapting for the screen

Mandate nabs Brosh McKenna script
'Prada' scribe sells untitled romantic comedy

Favorite Screenwriting Device No. 42 - The Sympathetic Listener
“Brands in There Will be Blood and Evans in The Assassination seem to come out of the same drawer in the screenwriter’s cabinet of tricks, the one marked, 'Sympathetic Listeners.'”

"At its best - and queasiest -
The Counterfeiters asks disturbing questions more commonly found in the survivor literature of Primo Levi or Bruno Bettelheim than at the movies," writes Ella Taylor in the Voice. "Without resorting to the crassly relativist reversals in Paul Verhoeven's idiotic Black Book (treacherous resisters! sensitive Nazis! who knew?), [director and co-writer Stefan] Ruzowitzky quietly asks what counts as moral behavior under fascism, and whether or not one's first duty is to survive." "Nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, The Counterfeiters manages to be devastating without a hint of sentimentality," writes Raphaela Weissman in the New York Press. "Ruzowitzky's straightforward approach to this unusual story and cinematographer Benedict Neunfels's documentary-style immediacy transcend the now well-worn Holocaust genre, bringing another side of the tragedy into unflinching focus." (Thanks to GreenCine.)

Toy Story 3 Plot Revealed
“Woody the cowboy and his toy-box friends are dumped in a day-care center after their owner, Andy, leaves for college.”

Britain gets creative
Government unveils new strategy


Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are to Be Entirely Reshot
“Yet I’m hearing that just such a massive reshoot is what is on the table right now. And it’s not because of technical issues, unless you want to consider the lead kid actor and the script technical issues. Sources tell me that the suits at Legendary and Warner Bros are not happy with Max Records, the actor playing Max, the mischievous boy who is crowned King of the Wild Things. Worse than that, they don’t like the film’s tone and want to go back to the script drawing board, possibly losing the Spike Jonze/Dave Eggers script when they do it. Apparently the film is too weird and ‘too scary,’ and the character of Max is being seen as not likable.”

Horror Film Writer Sells Screenplay Rights on eBay
“A horror film called Turn Me on Deadgirl has went on sale via the non -traditional path of eBay for the starting price of $1.00.”

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On the Contest Circuit:


Two hundred word screenwriting competition!
“And, speaking of short literary efforts, after the phenomenal success of the six word story I’m sure that many of you will be keen to write a three-minute short film synopsis for Jameson whiskey’s new screenwriting competition.”

2008 British Short Screenplay Competition Seeking Entries

Monterey Screenplay Competition Announces 2007 Winners

BlueCat Lab Announces Feature Finalists

IFFF Announces Finalists

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Strike Related:

How Much is Streaming Worth?
“With the strike settled, the WGA won residuals for content streamed over the Internet beyond an "initial streaming window" of 17 days (24 days for first-year shows). But how much is this still-new revenue stream worth? More important, how much will it be worth in the future?”

Let's Make a WGA Deal!
“Jonathan Handel at Digital Media Law has an excellent summary of the WGA contract terms here. Critics and advocates of the deal will find much to digest. And certainly worth a careful read in anticipation of the start of negotiations by AFTRA and SAG.”

Hollywood and the internet: There will be blood
“Sixty years have not done much to alter Tinseltown's instincts. As it prepares for its 80th Academy Awards this weekend, Hollywood is facing another new medium—the internet. Instead of using the web to get films to people, studios are still in the cabbage-rolling business: they use the web mostly as a medium to show dross, and just a handful of decent films. Yet, if the studios hope that by ignoring the web, Tinseltown can put off change, they are surely wrong (see article). Hollywood needs to confront the web—by embracing it.”

Lawyer's steady hand guided Hollywood writers deal

WGA Strike Estimated to Have Sponged Up $2.5 Billion

The 2008 Writer's Strike Explained

Writers Guild Deal: Details

WGA Deal: Details

Post-Strike: A Discreet Hiccup After Settling

COVER STORY: The End of the Strike ... and the Road Ahead

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And finally


Blonde Ambition is
the number one movie in the Ukraine, where it took $253,008 in its opening weekend beating out Definitely, Maybe, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Oscar-nominated Atonement.”

Friday, February 22, 2008

I drink your critics! I drink it up!


I need to get this off my chest. I have a question for anyone who can answer it: What the hell is so wrong about There Will Be Blood?

Because I find the reaction from the critics perfectly maddening.


Let’s start with this quote from Roger Ebert’s review:

There Will Be Blood is the kind of film that is easily called great. I am not sure of its greatness. It was filmed in the same area of Texas used by No Country for Old Men, and that is a great film, and a perfect one. But There Will Be Blood is not perfect, and in its imperfections (its unbending characters, its lack of women or any reflection of ordinary society, its ending, its relentlessness) we may see its reach exceeding its grasp. Which is not a dishonorable thing.”

I need to tackle this one-by-one.

On the word “perfect.”

Here’s a crazy notion - films will never be perfect. They will forever remain fallible creations that are just as human as their creators. And that, to me, has always been the beauty of this art form. So why the hell would a world-renowned, Pulitzer-prize winning critic call a film – any film - “perfect?” That might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen Ebert publish. You critics do realize that
Movie Mistakes has listed 7 continuity errors in No Country For Old Men? That’s the most basic level of craftsmanship, is it not? Of course, the greatest films have continuity errors. Citizen Kane is listed as having 13. Godfather has 55. Does that make them any less great? Not at all. They’re all human films. But Ebert should’ve known better than to call any film, much less No Country, “perfect.” That’s absurd. (And ironically enough, Movie Mistakes has yet to find one single mistake in There Will Be Blood. Not one. The only complaint they posted is that oil periodically splashed onto the camera lense. Big deal. I’m sure there are mistakes, although I’ve seen it twice and have not noticed any.)


On “it’s unbending characters.”

When did the characters ever “bend” in No Country? Can anyone tell me that? Let me quote
Anthony Lane: “The movie charts no moral shift in Chigurh, or indeed in the men around him; all of them are set in stone from the beginning...” Exactly. Never once did Chigurh or Moss ever waver in their single-minded pursuits. (While you can’t say that Bell was “unwavering,” he consistently wavered until the very end.) Doesn’t all of this mean that the characters of No Country were flat and weak in their construction? They’re great characters, but in the debate about the best film in the land, they don’t measure up. It’s not essential to me that a character has an arc, but in great films, they ought to have depth. And critics should criticize weak characters. Stephen Hunter of the The Washington Post may be the only one who did his job. He wrote, “You can't say it cuts to the chase. There was never anything to cut from to the chase. It's all chase, which means that it offers almost zero in character development. Each figure is given, a la standard thriller operating procedure, a single moral or psychological attribute and then acts in accordance to that principle and nothing else, without doubts, contradictions or ambivalence. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), the laconic vet who finds the stash, is pure Stubbornness. His main pursuer, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem in Robert Wagner's haircut from "Prince Valiant"), is Death, without a pale horse. Subsidiary chaser Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson) is Pride, or possibly Folly. Tommy Lee Jones appears in the role of Melancholy Wisdom; he's a lawman also trying to find Llewelyn but not very hard. He'd much rather address the camera and soliloquize on the sorry state of affairs of mankind, though if he says anything memorable, I missed it.”

Why would the critics heap so much praise onto a film with weak characters? I just don’t understand this. While Chigurh and Moss were one-note instruments in their pursuit of money, Daniel Plainview was a full orchestra whose pursuit of money sent him headlong into madness. Ebert pinned the right “unbending” criticism onto the wrong movie. And I would argue that Plainview did a hell of a lot of bending. He bent every time he negotiated. He made concessions to Eli when he bought the Sunday ranch. He made concessions to Bandey in order to get the pipeline through his land. He made an unspoken concession to H.W. and sent him off to a special school to get help, and thus, gave up his most valued prop to earn contracts. And when Daniel was forced to confess in the midst of his baptism that he had abandoned his child, he immediately bent again and had H.W. brought back home. And he bent even more to pay a teacher to stay with him.

On it’s “lack of women.”

This was a complaint that Manohla Dargis
leveled against the film, too, which I never understood. Who the hell says that every great film must have lead female characters? Or male characters, for that matter? Blood, as we know, was primarily about the rise and fall of Daniel Plainview, but the subplots centered around relationships between fathers and sons and brothers. What’s wrong with that? Who said that you can’t write a story that’s only about fathers and sons and brothers? Why can’t critics judge a film for what it is and not what it isn’t? Why can’t they look at it on its own terms and not complain about the absence of, say, female characters, who were never part of the story in the first place? I read the script before seeing the film and my only (very minor) complaint about Blood are the ways in which so many other sides of Daniel were cut. He was an even richer character on the page than in the film. For instance, you’d learn that he was impotent, which, if you really think about it, explained an awful lot.


On “any reflection of ordinary society.”

Is he honestly suggesting that where he felt Blood faltered in this area, the Coens succeeded? Is he mad? Can anyone rationally say that the world the Coens created in No Country was ordinary? What the hell does that mean, anyway? As far as I’m concerned, Anderson succeeded quite well at verisimilitude – the appearance of truth.

On “it’s relentlessness.”

I may be in the minority here, but I didn’t exactly find Blood all that relentless. I found No Country wholly relentless. In fact, I don’t know why Chigurh’s Terminator-like relentlessness wasn’t a bigger complaint amongst critics. Wasn’t that implausible to some? I recall Ebert’s
review of No Country having a complaint about the transponder. I’m almost certain he had a spoiler warning and a logic question about that transponder and how Chigurh kept finding Moss. I took Ebert’s thoughts with me into the theater when I first saw the film. And now, as I want to reread those questions again, they are no longer in the review. I had no idea that Ebert revises his reviews after he publishes them. Isn’t that cheating? Maybe he got complaints.


On “it’s ending.”

I’m wildly confused on what is exactly Ebert’s complaint about the ending. Earlier in the review, he wrote, “It has scenes of terror and poignancy, scenes of ruthless chicanery, scenes awesome for their scope, moments echoing with whispers and an ending that in some peculiar way this material demands, because it could not conclude on an appropriate note -- there has been nothing appropriate about it. Those who hate the ending, and there may be many, might be asked to dictate a different one. Something bittersweet, perhaps? Grandly tragic? Only madness can supply a termination for this story.” And that’s exactly what Anderson gave us. Plainview was, as they say, non compos mentis. And the ending accomplished exactly what, as Ebert said, “this material demands.” And yet, the ending is a complaint.

It’s confounding to me that critics like Ebert and even
James Berardinelli would criticize the ending of Blood and call it “poorly focused,” and yet, they’d give a pass to the ending of No Country, an ending where a character talks about a dream that had no bearing whatsoever on the story. In the novel, this dream was nothing more than McCarthy hinting at what would be his next novel, “The Road,” “a post-apocalyptic novel about a father carrying the fire to keep his son alive in a world of desolation.” This is okay? At least the ending Anderson gives us was wholly rooted in his story.


Timothy Noah published an article in Slate called
What’s Wrong With There Will Be Blood. I thought, “Finally, I’ll get some answers!” But there was not one word that I agreed with, not his complaints about the lack of “grand political themes” that he felt should have played out more (since when is the greatness of a film measured by its political themes?); its failure to answer the question “How does the world we live in work?” (this is a character study, not an economics class); how it’s “promisingly broad canvas shrinks” (the canvas was never broad but focused squarely on Daniel from beginning to end); that Plainview’s corruption was less defined as Joe Ross in the book (the reasons for Plainview’s corruption couldn’t have been more obvious); or finally, Noah’s belief that Plainview’s “evil” was “innate.” That’s not true. Plainview certainly wasn’t evil in the beginning so how did he wind up that way? It was not innate and Anderson never presented it that way.

But here’s the kicker:

Kathleen Murphy and Jim Emerson had a
Greatness Debate about Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in There Will Be Blood. Kathleen beautifully reinforced my belief that people will embrace characters that are not sympathetic so long as they fascinate: “When I call Paul Thomas Anderson's movie something ‘new,’ I mean that he's working a kind of storytelling that doesn't really invite you in, but compels you to feel in your blood an awful process that is, as one reviewer aptly put it, both ‘sickening and elating.’ The unregenerate energy, call it a peculiarly American incubus, that has chosen to possess Daniel Plainview for a time finally leaves him empty and broken – ‘finished’ -- and moves on, seeking another vehicle for the dark, voracious appetite that is manifest destiny.”


But then she really fights passionately for Day-Lewis. She writes, “But Jim, Day-Lewis' performance is necessarily operatic, over-the-top, designed to be a ‘goddamn helluva show.’ His Daniel Plainview isn't small, and he is an authentic American monster. He's blood-kin to Ahab, whose obsession with a white whale mirrors Plainview's hunger for the oil that runs in the earth's veins. Day-Lewis takes this black-hearted creature inside him, and lets him burn his way out. This takes courage, or a kind of madness, a willingness to act out on the grand scale. Isn't your argument for the craftiness and calculation of his creation precisely the criticism -- all art, not heart -- that's been leveled against the Coens'
No Country for Old Men, a film we both admire? You say, ‘Here is a moral tale of one greedy and misanthropic bastard, a moral gnat played with grand flapping flourishes by a big actor.’ I believe Day-Lewis plays the hell out of a ‘greedy and misanthropic bastard,’ never once stepping outside his character to invite sympathy or empathy. What's ‘moral’ got to do with it? Plainview embodies D.H. Lawrence's description of the ‘black, masterless’ men who invaded the New World: ‘The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.’ The thrumming I hear in the very ground and air of TWBB grows out of Lawrence's insight that, from its founding, ‘America [was] tense with latent violence and resistance.’ We're talking metaphysics here, the stuff that made this country, dream and nightmare.”

And how does Jim Emerson respond? He says, “I have to tell you, Kathleen, when it comes to watching Day-Lewis, I fully acknowledge one fundamental reality over which I have very little conscious or rational control: I do not like him, Sam I Am. I do not like him in a hat, I do not like him with a bat. That response is almost autonomic.”

That might qualify as the most intellectually vapid statement any “critic” has ever said about an esteemed actor like Daniel Day-Lewis. It is offensive to my sensibilities that a man who fancies himself as a fill-in for Roger Ebert will totally dismiss a performance simply because he doesn’t like the actor. I say strip this man of his credentials and find another fill-in for Ebert, because Emerson clearly lacks the capacity to be objective about the true merits of a performance. This kind of automatic, knee-jerk dismissal of a celebrated actor is nothing short of intellectual dishonesty and it’s about as childish as the Dr. Seuss rhymes he used to back up his point.



But, to his credit, he gave one example:

“The movie's (black) heart is the speech Plainview gives to his presumed long-lost brother Henry, about how little use he has for people and how much he hates them. It's a breakthrough moment for Plainview, as he allows Henry into his confidence and his business: ‘I can't keep doing this on my own ... with these ... people.’ And then he laughs, dryly and too loud. It's too, too much: first the contemptuously pregnant pause, then the overemphasis on his disgust with the word ‘people,’ and finally that gilding-the-lily laugh. All Day-Lewis leaves out is the dastardly Snidely Whiplash twirl of his mustache… Day-Lewis shoves me right out of the movie. The emotional void, the disgust, the bitterness -- they're all qualities Plainview also exhibits, but he's a better salesman. If Plainview is trying to bond with his brother over whiskey and misanthropy, or to test Henry to see if he shares Daniel's all-consuming envy and entitlement (‘If it's in me, it's in you’), the oilman and the actor are overselling it egregiously. And that's the fatal miscalculation of this film and this performance: Day-Lewis isn't content to play this character; he stands apart from Plainview, judging him and telling us how we should feel about him, every step of the way. Plainview himself sucks the air out of any room he inhabits (even when he's outdoors), but I feel like Day-Lewis goes him one further, strutting and fretting to upstage his own character.”

I find the last few sentences wholly without merit. Day-Lewis undeniably embodied the man Daniel Plainview heart and soul. And I find any interpretation of Emerson’s about Day-Lewis’ performance in Blood to be worthless because, by his own admission, he doesn’t like the actor. But I do have a few of thoughts about this scene. I’ll grant Jim and Timothy Noah, who also complained about this moment, that it’s a weak scene. But the problem is not Day-Lewis. He played that scene as well as it could possibly be played. The problem is this weak on-the-nose writing, which usually transforms into bad acting even by great actors, and this is a great lesson learned for many aspiring writers. But is this weak scene truly fatal for the film?

When you compare this speech to Sheriff Bell’s dream, I’ll take “I hate most people” any day.


I’m finished.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Examples of Cinematic Storytelling

Hey guys,

During my two-week hiatus (and inspired by Billy’s
The Movie on the Page), I went through a few screenplays to find great examples of writing the shots. And I have four to share.

Hope you enjoy them.

-MM

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First, the opening scene from Hampton Fancher’s
Blade Runner. He never used “we see” or camera angles, but his writing clearly implies with the Secondary Heading of “THE EYE” that the scene opens with an extreme close-up of an eye, which is essential to the story. His descriptions help visualize (without taking you out of the story by using technical jargon) that the camera would pan back to reveal that the eye is just an image on a screen. As we pan and see more of the mechanism, we’d learn an important detail by seeing the VOIGHT-KAMPFF words. The camera would keep panning back to reveal the desk and then pan around or perhaps cut to Leon. We’d first see his nametag and the folded, pudgy hands in his lap before we move up to his face. I love the way he carefully leads your mind's eye around the room through his simple descriptions. He goes from the extreme close-up of the eye to the mechanism on the table and over to Leon. Then there’s a cut to Holden, the man facing him, which reads like a medium shot. It’s not until after that cut that we’re even given a description of the room.

How many aspiring writers would start with just a general description of the room and try to use dialogue to get out the VOIGHT-KAMPFF information as well as the names of the two characters in the room? This is such a great, writing-the-shots example of cinematic storytelling. It’s the way Fancher is thinking like a filmmaker that’s impressive to me. [The result in the finished film (if you can ever call Blade Runner a “finished film”) is slightly different. The shots are all there, as described in the script, but Ridley Scott would open the film with a shot of the city and an approaching vehicle that’s flying toward the Tyrell building so that you could see Holden pacing in a window as he waits for Leon to show up. Then he cuts to the interior of the room. Leon walks in, and for some reason, Ridley uses a VOICE OVER to introduce him. A computerized female voice says something like: “Next subject: Kowalski, Leon.” Ugh, makes me cringe every time. Ridley should’ve listened to his screenwriter. It was far better on the page.]


INT. TYRELL CORPORATION LOCKER ROOM - DAY

THE EYE

It's magnified and deeply revealed. Flecks of green and yellow in a field of milky blue. Icy filaments surround the undulating center.

The eye is brown in a tiny screen. On the metallic surface below, the words VOIGHT-KAMPFF are finely etched. There's a touch-light panel across the top and on the side of the screen, a dial that registers fluctuations of the iris.

The instrument is no bigger than a music box and sits on a table between two men. The man talking is big, looks like an over-stuffed kid. "LEON" it says on his breast pocket. He's dressed in a warehouseman's uniform and his pudgy hands are folded expectantly in his lap. Despite the obvious heat, he looks very cool.

The man facing him is lean, hollow cheeked and dressed in gray. Detached and efficient, he looks like a cop or an accountant. His name is HOLDEN and he's all business, except for the sweat on his face.

The room is large and humid. Rows of salvaged junk are stacked neatly against the walls. Two large fans whir above their heads.

LEON
Okay if I talk?

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Second, here’s a scene written by Alex Proyas (with the help of David S. Goyer and Lem Dobbs) from their
Dark City screenplay, which became a four-star film, one of Ebert’s Great Movies. In fact, he once went through the movie shot-by-shot with film students in Hawaii. It took him four days. He wrote, “Proyas likes deep-focus compositions. Many interior spaces are long and narrow. Exteriors look down one street to the vanishing point, and then the camera pans to look down another street, equally long. The lighting is low-key and moody. The color scheme depends on blacks, browns, shadows and the pallor of the Strangers; warmer colors exist in human faces, in neon signs and on the billboard for Shell Beach. ‘I am simply grateful for this shot,’ I said in Hawaii more than once. ‘It is as well-done as it can possibly be.’ Many other great films give you the same feeling -- that their makers were carried far beyond the actual requirements of their work into the passion of creating something wonderful.”

Alex Proyas is a writer-director so this scene has some camera angles in it, which we would not write. It’s just as easy to say “SLEEPING EYES – between waves of light…” than “ANGLE ON SLEEPING EYES.” They both mean the same thing. Also, you could just as easily say “WALKER” instead of “TIGHT ON WALKER.” Instead of “P.O.V.”, you could write “He looks” and write “AROUND THE ROOM” as a
Secondary Heading to imply a pan. In any case, I love the way he’s thinking visually here and begins this scene by moving the camera around the room, first with the glass syringe on the floor, over to the clothes on a chair, to the puddles of water, and up the tub to the sleeping eyes of Jonathan Walker. You can easily visualize the editing in this scene, too - where one shot ends and the next one begins.


INT. BATHROOM - NIGHT

SHADOWS DANCE - in and out of darkness. A hooded light-bulb swings IN SLOW MOTION from the ceiling, its dim light REVEALS:

A GLASS SYRINGE - broken on the floor.

Clothes on a chair...

Puddles of water on the floor...

ANGLE ON SLEEPING EYES - Between waves of light they snap open and dart about in confusion.

ON JONATHAN WALKER as he sits up. Water splashes. He's in a tub of long-cold water. His neck aches like he's been sleeping forever.

TIGHT ON WALKER - he's in his early thirties, dark featured.

HIS P.O.V. - looking around the room. Everything's strange, unfamiliar.

He stands, steps from the tub.

ANGLE - THE SWINGING LIGHT BULB. Walker's hand ENTERS FRAME, stops the bulb mid swing.

ON HIS REFLECTION in a cracked wall mirror. He moves to the mirror and looks at himself. A line of blood runs across his face, from a point between his eyes. He wipes it away, and notices a tiny pin-prick wound on his forehead.

WALKER'S P.O.V. PUSHES TOWARDS a circular window. The glass is cracked, covered in grime. His hand wipes it, this only smears the dirt, but the window is unlatched and swings open with a creak.

It's dark out there.

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Here’s a sequence from Robert Towne’s
Chinatown, a script that really deserves no introduction. This is my favorite sequence in this script in terms of screenwriting techniques. Reading this for the first time was such a revelation to me. I love the way Towne uses Secondary Headings to cut back and forth between Gittes and Mulwray. In the hands of lesser writers, this sequence could have been a bear to read and follow. With a pro like Robert Towne, it’s simple, seamless, and visual. As far as I’m concerned, there was no other way to write this sequence.


L.A. RIVERBED - LONG SHOT

It's virtually empty. Sun blazes off it's ugly concrete banks. Where the banks are earthen, they are parched and choked with weeds.

After a moment, Mulwray's car pulls INTO VIEW on a flood control road about fifteen feet above the riverbed. Mulwray gets out of the car. He looks around.

WITH GITTES

holding a pair of binoculars, downstream and just above the flood control road -- using some dried mustard weeds for cover. he watches while Mulwray makes his way down to the center of the riverbed.

There Mulwray stops, tuns slowly, appears to be looking at the bottom of the riverbed, or -- at nothing at all.

GITTES

trains the binoculars on him. Sun glints off Mulwray's glasses.

BELOW GITTES

There's the SOUND of something like champagne corks popping. Then a small Mexican boy atop a swayback horse rides it into the riverbed, and into Gitte's view.

MULWRAY

himself stops, stands still when he hears the sound. Power lines and the sun are overhead, the trickle of brackish water at his feet.

He moves swiftly downstream in the direction of the sound, toward Gittes.

GITTES

moves a little further back as Mulwray rounds the bend in the river and comes face to face with the Mexican boy on the muddy banks. Mulwray says something to the boy.

The boy doesn't answer at first. Mulwray points to the ground. The boy gestures. Mulwray frowns. He kneels down in the mud and stares at it. He seems to be concentrating on it.

After a moment, he rises, thanks the boy and heads swiftly back upstream -- scrambling up the bank to his car.

There he reaches through the window and pulls out a roll of blueprints or something like them - he spreads them on the hood of his car and begins to scribble some notes, looking downstream from time to time.

The power lines overhead HUM.

He stops, listens to them -- then rolls up the plans and gets back in the car. He drives off.

GITTES

Hurries to get back to his car. He gets in and gets right back out. The steamy leather burns him. He takes a towel from the back seat and carefully places it on the front one. He gets in and takes off.


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And finally, here’s the opening scene from
The Long Kiss Goodnight by Shane Black. A number of elements I love about this scene. He has the camera panning from the windowpane over to the bed and to the eyes of the sleeping little girl who wakes up. It’s dark. The mother by the bed is just a vague shape. After a little dialogue, she turns on the nightlight, which brings a surprising visual revelation. And then we’re back to the mother by the bed and then back to same windowpane where we began. Perfect.

My man, Shane Black - I love his work.


A WINDOWPANE

Assaulted from without by SNOWFLAKES. Wind tossed.

INSIDE, a bed, dappled with moon shadow. A LITTLE GIRL, fast asleep. The wind whistles and sighs outside. She DREAMS... Eyelids closed, eyes roving beneath... then suddenly they SNAP open. A stifled cry. She thrashes for her STUFFED BEAR, as a soft voice says:

VOICE
Shhhhh.

And there's MOM, kneeling beside her. Vague shape in the dimness. The full moon throws light across one sparkling eye.

LITTLE GIRL
Mommy, the men on the mountain...!

MOM
Shhhh. Gone, all gone now.
(strokes her hair)
I'm here. Mommy's always here and no
one can ever hurt you. Safe now...
safe and warm... snug as a bug in a
rug.
(beat)
I'll sit with you, think you can
sleep?

LITTLE GIRL
Turn on the nightlight.

The mother nods. Passes her left hand gently over the girl's forehead.

MOM
Close your eyes now. I love you.

The child subsides, breathing steady. Eyes closed. The mother rises. Regards her through the dimness. Slowly turns, heads for the door. Flicks on a Winnie the Pooh NIGHTLIGHT --

Her entire right forearm is slicked with blood. More blood on her Czech-made MP-5 machine gun.

She staggers just a little... barely noticeable. Passes out on the light. Into darkness. Sits beside her daughter's bed. The child sleeps peacefully. Outside snow slithers at the glass.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Screenwriting News & Links! 2/17/08

video

Above is the latest episode of Dana Brunetti’s TriggerStreet TV, which covers industry news, trends, and topics. Dana, as many of you know, is one of the founders of TriggerStreet and producer of four films coming out this year, including 21 with Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, and Jim Sturgess. It opens March 28.

No more Best Of articles! I’ll be back with a vengeance this week - new articles, reviews, insights, and I’m sure, controversy! Woo hoo!

-MM

--------------------------------------

New Screenplays:

Pineapple Express - November 28, 2006 unspecified draft script by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (story by Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg).

Domino - September 8, 2004 draft script by Richard Kelly.

(Thanks to
SimplyScripts.)

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Bob’s I Can Do It Better blog-a-thon in TWO WEEKS!
1. Please choose a well-known movie, book, painting, sculpture, speech, song, performance, or other manifestation of human artistic expression.
2. Describe how it fails to attain perfection.
3. Describe your remedy.
4. Publish the article on your blog between February 28th and March 2nd..
.

A year for hot movie scripts
“Nevertheless, the quality of this year's Oscar-nominated movies gives him reasons to believe. ‘Good movies still get made, even with the profit ratio of the blockbusters that demand nothing more of you than your money. And with technology changing and access to movies widening, there'll be even more ways for writers like me to tell stories without being hampered by studios.’”

10 Universities Offering Free Writing Courses Online

New Ideas Always Look Wrong at First
“Here's an essay on what successful new ideas in software seem to have in common. Headline:
good new ideas often look wrong.: ‘I like to find (a) simple solutions (b) to overlooked problems (c) that actually need to be solved, and (d) deliver them as informally as possible, (e) starting with a very crude version 1, then (f) iterating rapidly.’ These point all apply to screenwriting…”

Outstanding:
Philip K. Dick link explosion
For example, there’s
"How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later" and "If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others." Loved it!


3 leaked pages of Diablo’s Quotey
You’ll also find notes written on the pages by “yours truly.” Now I’m disappointed that my copy of Jennifer’s Body didn’t have her notes…

Juno wasn’t Canadian enough
“Swinging a little late on the pitch here, but the fact that Juno, the sharp delightful little dramedy that's all the buzz right now, wasn't eligible for Genie nominations is still nagging at me. As the Toronto Star's Peter Howell points out in
this article...it was shot in Canada, it was directed by a Canadian (Jason Reitman), and the two main leads (Ellen Page and Michael Cera) were Canadian. Yet because it was financed by Fox Searchlight out of the U.S., it didn't qualify. It wasn't Canadian enough.”

Presence and Absence: Towards a Working Conception of Screen Characters
“It seems a little silly to speak of characters in films as if they possessed a full-bodied existence of their own. Unlike their counterparts in the novel (think of Anna Karenina, Isabel Archer, Leopold Bloom), the film character can never consist of more than a few defining quirks, a seemingly coherent (but ultimately simplistic) psychology and above all the presence of the actor. When we speak of a great performance by Marlon Brando, Robert DeNiro or Jack Nicholson (to name three of the more celebrated actors of the last fifty years), it is really this presence, so strongly pronounced in these unusually telegenic men, that are we referring to. In the most interesting work of the trio (Brando in Last Tango in Paris, De Niro in Taxi Driver and Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces), it is the commitment of the actors, the expression of a few unique personality traits and the ability to suggest a kind of deep-seated damage in the characters' psyches that accounts for any notion of "depth" we may read in the performances. To suggest that these creations transcend their essence as screen characters and partake of the same full-bodied existence as the best characters from literature is to (in one sense) overestimate the possibilities of the cinematic medium. Yet focusing so emphatically on character to the detriment of film's other capacities is to underestimate these possibilities as well.”

Great moments in 2007 screenwriting
“There's so much sparkling dialogue in the movies nominated for best adapted screenplay and best original screenplay that the Academy could have doubled the number of nominations and still had plenty of worthy candidates left over. Here's a sampling of some of the best.” (As far as I’m concerned, the best line of ’07 was “I drink your milkshake!” Hehehe… I love that line.)


I drink your Oscar promo
“The milkshake analogy isn’t all that bizarre. Daniel chooses a metaphor for drainage that he thinks Eli can understand. Beyond that, the milkshake speech is a way of emphasizing Daniel’s delight, not just in making a fortune in the oil business, but in doing so by paying little, or in this case no, money to those whose land he exploits. Stealing someone’s milkshake is a petty form of theft, so Daniel is able to trivialize the removal of oil that Eli has been counting on as his last chance for financial and spiritual salvation. The taunting also allows Daniel to revenge himself for the parallel earlier scene in the church where Eli had forced him repeatedly to confess how he had betrayed his own son. In this final portion of the film, Daniel no longer has any need to put on a friendly face, to pretend to have empathy…”

Mark’s Conversation with Mills
“Mamet's great for character - his dialogue can become great when it is delivered from the mouth of an accomplished performer - the slightest hesitation and it comes across like they're chewing on a plank of wood - and when that happens it reflects not just on the performer, who bears the brunt of the immediate audience reaction, but also inevitably on the writer because it makes their words sound stiff and hollow. Mamet can write poetry when he wants to and is not above writing dreck when he can get away with it - cast his shit with the best performers and he sings - why? It's not because of the famous Mamet dialogue - it's because he depicts human beings acting badly with each other and we love to watch that so long as we aren't directly in the line of fire. Emotional gladiatorial games. The intellectual exercises of Mamet's work hinge not on mind-fucks but on emotional manipulation - emotional sleight of hand - look over there - feel this - oh, by the way, I just stole your wallet, stole your heart and dropped your pants.”

Screenwriter turned Novelist turned Screenwriter
"So it's good for my career in Hollywood that I also have a career as a novelist."

Do you outline?
“I recently heard Diablo Cody talking about the way she wrote her award-winning screenplay Juno. (Check it out while it’s still available for
free download at Fox Searchlight.) Here’s someone who very deliberately projects a public image of being the intuitive, artistic type. But when pressed, she revealed that about halfway through her first draft, she decided to compile a bulleted list of scenes in order to avoid getting lost. She found this extremely helpful.”

'Passion' Screenwriter Sues Mel Gibson
“Fitzgerald's suit couldn't be any worse-timed for the director, landing on the cusp of a bold new era for the most downtrodden and exploited peg of Hollywood's rigid above-the-line caste system. It's disputes like this that can plant seeds of simmering resentment, eventually exploding on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway as an officer waves away the potent agave fumes that accompany Gibson's hate-fueled accusations of, ‘Are you a screenwriter? Fucking screenwriters... The screenwriters are responsible for all the strikes in the world.’”


Alan Rants about the Indy Trailer
“There are far too many computer-generated effects in this trailer. I know that’s the way it’s got to be, but what happened to Frank Marshall and the others crowing about how they were going to do this the old-fashioned way, with Big Macho Practical Stunts and effects?” Amen. The moving four columns toward the end of the trailer and the gang sinking into the sand felt more like it came out of Tomb Raider than Indiana Jones. I would also add that he’s got too big of a team with him and that car chase sequence looked very fake. And Marion and her son tagging along through the temples feels like overkill. There’s also been some discussion about the
differences between the American and International trailers with side-by-side comparisons like pictured above.

Dead Head Fred wins WGA's first Video Game Writing Award

Critic takes aim at Jumper screenwriters
“Jumper would be lame simply on the basis of its under-written characters and slack attitude toward the hero's adventures (the action scenes may be as sleek and colorful as car commercials, but they're so pedestrian in their staging and cutting that I found myself focusing on the travelogue cityscapes instead of watching the characters, which made me wonder if this movie was funded by international tourism boards), but the lazy regard for David's moral crisis, or lack thereof, is pitiful. While Spiderman has to wrap his addled teenage head around the notion that with great power comes great responsibility, David wonders how best he can lie to his girlfriend about himself and keep her in his back pocket; even after she learns the truth, his primary concern is finding the way to keep her in his orbit with the bare minimum of embarrassed apology. I haven't been so disgusted with the hero of a mainstream Hollywood offering since Russell Crowe had to struggle between choosing his high-income job as an investment broker and making a lot of money off of his winery and chateau. In other words, these people are wondering what selfish bit of wish fulfillment they want ‘right now.’”

Haggis In the Valley
“When Paul Haggis talks about his latest movie, In The Valley Of Elah, he's keen to cite the three Oscar winners in the cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron and Susan Sarandon. The writer-director has likewise basked in Academy Award glory as the writer and director of 2004's Crash. Still, he says, ‘I think it's odd to judge films. It made me personally uncomfortable with Crash being called the best film of the year when there were many great films that year.’ In The Valley Of Elah is arguably a better movie than Crash…”


Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to Pay Tribute to Heath Ledger in Dr. Parnassus
“In the film, Ledger’s character reportedly falls through a 'magical mirror' into an alternate reality, and thus the caveat of these three actors’ interpretations is further supported.”

Pacino does Bond?
“The folks over at
AICN recently threw out quite the dizzying rumor that Pacino will be playing the big boss behind the events in the first film, which is who Bond is looking for in the second film, not only to find out who's the puppeteer of the first film's events but to get a little revenge for his lost love.”

Interview with Dr. Linda Seger
Story Structure – Learn the 3-Act structure well. Later, you can work with non-traditional structures (such as Crash) but don’t start there.”

Wendy Ide's ten greatest screenwriters
Quentin Tarantino: Tarantino gets a lot of stick but there’s no arguing with the fact that his densely layered brand of wordy, cine-literate screenwriting spawned innumerable imitators...”

Sir Tom Stoppard on writing Shakespeare in Love
“I like the early stage of screenwriting, the first and second drafts. I am an optimist: each time I think it will go perfectly and every time I will write a script that everyone loves. It never quite works out like that; there is always a slight disappointment. Many people have asked me to adapt my own plays for film. But one seems to fall between two equally awkward stools: you film the play and end up not satisfied with the film, or to make the film you leave out two thirds of the play, so why make it as a film in the first place?”

14 Great Movies About Writers
“With the WGA strike finally ending, we celebrate the scribe tribe's return by saluting screenwriter characters in movies, from Sunset Boulevard to Leaving Las Vegas to Hannah and Her Sisters and more…”


Screenwriter Takes Name Off Punisher: War Zone, Cites Difference in Vision
“My pitch, my vision, for the Punisher franchise was something much different. I tried to rip Frank Castle from the comic book world and place him in the real streets of NYC. Castle is the only superhero without powers. He’s a tortured, highly skilled soldier with a really bad anger problem. I always felt we should see Frank in some place uber-real and gritty. I threw away the first draft written by Nick Santora and did a page one rewrite. I changed the locations, the characters, the story. I dropped Frank in a real New York City with real villians, real cops, real relationships. To me, the Punisher deserved more than the usual comic book redress. It shouldn’t just follow the feature superhero formula. Apparently, I was the only one who shared that vision.” (According to
this article, he was getting death threats.)

The Science of Fairy Tales
“In the story, Ariel loses her voice because of a curse. However, a less skilled sorceress could use a different method to silence a
singing mermaid. Scientists have figured out a way to bend sound waves around an object and, can even prevent the escape of all sounds created inside a given area (important for keeping a transformed, singing mermaid from being heard). Recently, Steve Cummer, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University announced that it is theoretically possible to create such a sound shield. Building on research demonstrating how light waves can be bent around an object to make it appear invisible, Cummer and his collaborators used mathematical analysis to show how to do the same thing with sound. They established that it is possible to create a material that bends sound waves around walls, pillars, or any enclosed area, where the sound waves emerge as if nothing had been in their way. It would be like someone in the bedroom being able to hear what someone in the living room said, but as if there were no wall between them.” (See also Top 10 Beasts and Dragons: How Reality Made Myth, The Surprising Realities of Mythical Creatures, and The Science of Sea Monsters.)

Michael Bay has Already Written Transformers 2
“I’ve been writing Transformers 2. We’ve got our characters all designed. I always write all my scripts, my movies anyway so at least I’ve got something to give the writers. It’s like a template. We have a really good outline so I worked on that,” Bay told
Rotten Tomatoes. “We had to because I want to make my date. I’m not going to let the strike take me down.” (You can get a first look here.)

Screenwriter awards go to “Juno,” “No Country”

Strike 20 years ago led Hollywood writer April Smith down new path

Frustrated indies seek web distrib'n

Experts on the acceptance speech

'Star Trek' pushed back to 2009

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On the Contest Circuit:


ScriptapaloozaTV Announces Contest Winners

Adrienne Shelly Wins ASA's Discover Screenwriting Award

Movie Script Contest Winner Secures Agency Representation and Writing Assignment

Kairos Announces Contest Winners

IFFF Announces Semifinalists

Acclaim Film & TV Announces Winners

Acclaim Film & TV Announces Winners

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Strike Related:


Actors Threaten to Take Up Strike Cause
“The Writers Guild strike was over for less than 24 hours before Screen Actors Guild members seized headlines and began publicly positioning for their contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.”

Marc Norman’s Happy Ending for Writers
“If history is written by the winners, let me gloat. I'm one of 10,000-plus members of the Writers Guild of America, and we're about to ratify a new three-year contract that was concluded last week. We're an odd union, the WGA, composed of rich uncles and poor cousins, the uncles being the A-list screenwriters and TV show-runners, the cousins folks scraping by writing for low-budget reality shows and soaps, and it takes a significant issue to weld us together. When our contract came up for renewal in July, for the first time in decades, we had one -- everybody wanted contract language that would give us a cut of revenue when our work is broadcast on the brave new media world of the Internet. We got what we wanted.”

Writers suck at math: the WGA strike, by the numbers

Strike Notes from a Screenwriter
“Our strike is a victory against negatives. We successfully resisted the studios on rollbacks. And the union remained united, solid and militant in the face of the media conglomerates' obvious intent to break or enfeeble the Writers Guild of America, west and east. The strike the conglomerates' film studios provoked had the unintended consequence of strengthening our union and uniting the membership as never before. By staying out, we staked our claim to future income via DVD residuals, internet, streaming etc. And established a beachhead in the new technology. Nobody knows if this will turn out to be a bonanza or a bust.”

The WGA's New Deal: Tallying the Pros and Cons

Writers return to cloudy field

Jeff Zucker Rumored To Be Seeking Damages From WGA For Pooping On His Golden Globe Parade

WGA Says 'Deal Isn't Perfect'
“Even though the end result isn't exactly what striking Writers Guild of America wanted, Hollywood writers are going back to work Wednesday following a three-month-long strike. ‘This deal isn't perfect,’ WGA West president Patric Verrone told reporters. ‘We wish we could have gotten more. We deserve more.’”

Blame it on Ego: Why the Writer’s Strike Took So Long to Settle

Roger Wolfson: How the WGA Won: A Behind the Scenes Look

Welcome back WGA. Here's your pink slips.

WGA deal: Plenty to think about

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And finally

Jerry O'Connell's Wild WGA Party Makes News