Monday, April 28, 2008

Screenwriting News & Links! 4/28/08

Check out Evan’s D-bomb-dropping diatribe about WGA’s latest debacle of an e-mail in which they release (and openly condemn) the names of the few writers who went financial core during the strike. Verrone's just an angry little troll. Look at him! He's a troll! Here’s August’s reaction: “Clearly, de-mythologizing was not the goal here. If anything, it’s a call to unsheath swords once again, this time to fight enemies among us. As the archives will show, I supported the strike strongly, both in miles walked and moments blogged. But guys? It’s over. And trying to reignite the flames of guild fury over 28 names is ridiculous. It makes the guild look as crazy as the AMPTP tried to portray us.” (Uhh, maybe our leaders ARE crazy?) Here’s Lee Goldberg: “…tarring-and-feathering the writers who went financial core, and suggesting that we not hire them, is wrong. The boards of the WGA West and East should be ashamed of endorsing this wrong-headed action and supporting this offensive letter.” And here’s Craig Mazin: “What an embarrassing and sad day for our union. This letter isn’t something that will destroy us. It’s just a stain. An ugly, unnecessary stain.” Damn troll.

Beyond that, all is quite on the screenwriting front. TOO quite. It’s downright SPOOKY. We need to liven things up! Shall we have another blog-a-thon? Any suggestions? Maybe a scene-a-thon?



Unk on the protagonist’s call to action dilemma
“You may or may not have heard about this… Most of us have heard about the Protagonist’s “call to action” which is followed by “refusal of the call.” And I personally believe in the Protagonist’s call to action — refusal of the call but what about right before the call to action? Remember the inciting incident? Remember how it totally kicks the Protagonist off that balance beam we call his or her ordinary world? Well right after we make him or her lose their balance and take that fall, they’re stunned. They weren’t expecting this to happen to them. Their ordinary world is now disrupted to the point that they’ve got to stand back and take a breath… They don’t know what the fuck to do… Time to regroup.”

Danny Stack’s Tips on Going to Cannes
“1. Be Clear What You're Going For
Treat it completely like a work trip. Ask yourself why you want to be there and what you want to get out of the Festival, and then stick exclusively to that.”

Kristen Olson says “Horse Twaddle”
“Screenwriting is a performative act; that is to say that it is a matter of performance, and not of intent. There are a lot of screenwriters that think of themselves as artists. What becomes important to them as a product of this belief is focusing on artistic sensibilities and inspiration. Horse twaddle. Whether you’re a screenwriter cannot be decided by whether you write a screenplay, sell a screenplay, or loftily pursue the elevation of the art. Being a screenwriter is about one thing, and that’s what you’ve got to prioritize over absolutely everything else: communicating with the audience.”

Matt Zoller Seitz on My Blueberry Nights
“In place of a
Syd Field-approved three act story, My Blueberry Nights offers a series of moments (some pivotal, others fleeting) in the lives of various, tangentially unrelated characters. The moments are threaded together via the experiences of a New York coffee shop waitress named Elizabeth (Norah Jones), who tries to get over a breakup by living and working in other cities, witnessing and/or participating in other characters' dramas. But Elizabeth's experiences less a dramatic through-line than an emotional echo chamber: a means for Wong to simultaneously explore one character's self-reckoning and a second character's reaction to it. (Every other character seems to have lived more, and suffered more, than Elisabeth has.)”

Bill on Juicy Scenes & Pacing
“Suspense is the anticipation of an action - so we need to know what the action is, then use one of many techniques to stretch out the anticipation of that event... without allowing the audience to forget the event. Horror also uses dread (covered on the horror CD) which is the anticipation of an unspecific event. We know that there is a killer outside, but don’t know which door or window they will attack through... and now you stretch out the anticipation without allowing the audience to forget the killer or monster or ghost or whatever.”

MaryAn on Writing the Wrong Story
“I frequently talk to writers who admit to submitting: (1) tribute stories (2) partially fleshed out ideas (3) genres they're uncomfortable writing. All three are mistakes. They think it's an even trade off if the idea is commercial or high concept. I disagree. A poorly executed good idea is not better than a well executed mediocre one. Okay, yes, commercial and high concept ideas are more likely to be produced but poor writing will get tossed in the can. Oh, and here's a tip. Producers don't care who your story memorializes if it's not a good one.”

"Look at him standing there," writes
David Carr in the New York Times, "a great big movie star in a great big movie, the Iron Man with nary a trace of human frailty. A scant five years ago the only time you saw Robert Downey Jr getting big play in your newspaper came when he was on a perp walk." Slide show: "The Faces of Robert Downey Jr."

"With its dusty Humvees, violent Afghan battlefields, and worries about the munitions business, the upcoming
Iron Man is a film set firmly in 2008," writes Andrew Stuttaford in the New York Sun. "That'll do, I suppose, but what was wrong with 1963? If there's any tale that deserves the chance to return to the sheen, swank, and soul of its Rat Pack, space-age, pay-any-price-bear-any-burden origins, it's Iron Man's." (Yeah, it’s just like a critic to bitch about a film not being in, good God, 1963. Ugh… Try to catch up with the rest of the world, will ya, Andrew? –MM) "Finally, someone's found a sure-fire way to make money with a modern Middle East war movie," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Just send a Marvel superhero into the fray to kick some insurgent butt. The powerhouse comicbook-inspired actioner Iron Man isn't principally about this fantasy, but it won't hurt at least American audiences' enjoyment of this expansively entertaining special effects extravaganza." Also, Anne Thompson: "[I]f Iron Man delivers on the prognostications, the first summer blockbuster of 2008 will see several participants emerge with new cachet." (Thanks to GreenCine.)

Diablo Cody Recommends Self-Publishing to Aspiring Writers
“The Oscar winning screenwriter of
Juno, Diablo Cody, began her writing career on the blogosphere and by self-publishing her book, Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper. I located an interview she did on NPR. An aspiring screenwriter called in and asked what advice she had for young writers, and in a refreshing change of pace from the typical ‘Go out and take your licks,’ type of answer, she actually recommended that young writers self-publish. You can listen to the entire interview here: Diablo Cody Pens Sweet, Sassy 'Juno'

Michel Shane and Anthony Romano working on Lifeboat 13
“Michel Shane and Anthony Romano (I Robot, Catch Me if You Can) are at work developing Lifeboat 13. The film is based on the WWII story of the four chaplains who gave their lives following the 1943 sinking of the Dorchester. Variety reports the two have picked up the rights to the screenplay by Michael Justiz and Steven Sikes – which was based on a story by Justiz, Sikes and David Fox. The screenplay was inspired by the tale of a rabbi, a Catholic priest and two Protestant ministers, as well as an African-American Coast Guardsman, who gave their life jackets to others as the Dorchester sunk off the Greenland coast in 36-degree waters. The shipped was attacked and torpedoed by a U-boat.”

The Nazi Plot That’s Haunting Tom Cruise and United Artists
“When United Artists said this month that it would again delay the release of
Valkyrie, in which Tom Cruise plays a German officer who tries to kill Hitler, the Web went into obituary mode. One Hollywood Internet site,, flatly declared, 'Valkyrie is dead.' Another,, said that the revival of United Artists had effectively died with it. Meanwhile, Roger Friedman, a widely read Web reporter with a column on, had some career advice for Mr. Cruise: ‘He needs another ‘Jerry Maguire’-like romantic comedy, and he needs it now.’”

Film Camp hosts new screenwriting program
"This year’s Summer Camp hosted by the award-winning Cape May Film Academy, will start a new program this year focusing on screenwriting. The week-long program, running from June 23-27, will result in participants learning more about plot, character, dialogue, and setting—all from Cape May’s favorite Hollywood screenwriter. Last year, nearly two-dozen students participated in the program, which led to the creation of films that were screened at the Cape May Film Festival last November."

Jeff Goldsmith’s podcast interview with David Chase of the Sopranos

This Spec's a Keeper
MGM won a bidding war and shelled out $2 million for Jay Scherick and David Ronn's (Norbit) comedy spec The Zookeeper, and has hired Walt Becker (Wild Hogs) to direct.

Comic Art Sells a Thousand Scripts
"Crunch these numbers: 22 announced films from graphic novels or comics in six weeks. Want some screenwriting advice? Add drawings to your script. And then put your dialogue in bubbles. If recent studio acquisitions are any evidence, then the fastest way to get a movie deal these days may just be to turn your next Big Idea into a graphic novel. In a faddish frenzy, no fewer than 22 film projects born of graphic novels or comics have been announced in the last six weeks. 'It's accelerating because right now it's fashion,' says Frank Miller, who created the graphic novels behind Sin City and 300, and whose early-'80s series Ronin, about a reincarnated samurai battling evil in a futuristic New York, is being adapted by Joby Harold (Awake) for Warner Bros. 'I think we can expect it to calm down. Comic books have always been this vast mountain range that gets strip-mined and left behind.'"

The Southwestern Writer’s Collection
“The collection’s archive houses the papers and artifacts of regional writers, filmmakers, musicians, and photographers. Robert Duvall’s
Lonesome Dove costumes and Willie Nelson song lyrics jotted on restaurant napkins are among the treasures in its temperature-controlled vault, as are the collection’s newest gems: Cormac McCarthy’s manuscripts and working papers. At the entrance stands political cartoonist Pat Oliphant’s larger-than-life, full-body bronze sculpture of Glen Rose writer John Graves...”

Robert Towne & that Shampoo Script
As the critic and teacher Elaine Lennon points out in a 2005 piece for Senses of Cinema, the true complexity of Shampoo's script stems from the same element the film has been derided for — its superficially silly comic spirit. Lennon suggests that the many influences detectable in Shampoo include ancient Greek tragedy, the restoration comedies of 17th- and early 18th-century England, and the plays of Molière. All of the above construct poignant social critiques while providing comic relief. Indeed, Shampoo uses the sexuality that permeates its turbulent and intricately woven Beverly Hills microcosm to farcically comment on the United States of the late 1960s. George (Beatty), the restless hairdresser with a soft spot for his customers, his girlfriend Jill (Goldie Hawn), his ex-girlfriend and lover Jackie (Julie Christie), his other lover Felicia (Lee Grant), and Felicia's husband and Jackie's sugar daddy Lester (Jack Warden) not only share the same lovers, they share the same anxiety — a feeling produced by an ever-changing, unstable society. To put it differently, their sexual misbehavior is a manifestation of the fluidity and uncertainty of their lives.

David Mamet talks Redbelt
“Fight films are sad. There is nobility in effort, in discipline and, if not in suffering, in trying to live through suffering and endeavor to find its meaning. Redbelt, generically, is a fight film. The martial art film is about opposing strength to strength: two humans compete, and we are allowed to root for the underdog and enjoy his final victory. But the fight film is a celebration of submission, which is to say, of loss. As such, it finds itself on the outskirts of my beloved genre of film noir. The punchline of drama is ‘Isn’t life like that. ...’ But its elder brother, tragedy, is the struggle of good against evil, of man against the gods. In tragedy, good, and the gods, are proclaimed winners; in film noir, which is tragedy manqué, the gods still win, but good’s triumph gets an asterisk.”

Video - 1 Hour of Screenwriting - with hungry cats & crying baby

James Wolcott, Daisy Kenyon "is a fascinating chamber drama shot in deep-volumed noirish black and white (every room looks like a cove), with dialogue that tears through sentimentality with sharp little teeth and a clutch of tough, wary, ultra-observant performances by Joan Crawford, Dana Andrews (even more prickly with postwar dissatisfaction than in The Best Years of Our Lives), and a deceptively easy-going Henry Fonda.... If you haven't seen Daisy Kenyon (and you probably haven't, being so buried under the backlog of all your Wire and Battlestar Galactica DVDs), you really must give it a dark whirl." (Thanks to GreenCine.)

Budd Schulberg received a lifetime achievement award from WGA.

The Blob Screenwriter Passed Away.

Editor recalls a lost Jack Nicholson script
“JACK NICHOLSON once wrote a screenplay about a struggling Hollywood actor trying to raise the cash for his girlfriend's abortion - but the project was cast aside for its risque plot. And now no one can find the script - because the movie executive who passed on the raw screenplay in the early 1960s is now dead, and he never made a copy of Nicholson's. Universal ' former story editor Michael Ludmer has brought the lost script to the attention of the Los Angeles Times newspaper, insisting Nicholson's screenplay, titled To Hold A Mirror, will 'make a fine movie even today'. Ludmer says, 'It was a story editor's dream come true - riveting, thoughtful and, above all, entertaining.' Nicholson, then a little-known B-movie star, had planned on directing and starring in the film, but Universal boss Julian Ludwig refused to greenlight the project because he feared it would be an X-rated movie. Contacted by the Times, Nicholson's longtime agent, Sandy Breisler, had no recollection of the script.”

Attack of the horror movie remakes
“Smell that? It's the decay of original ideas… ‘The executive mind-set of most studios is that they feel much more comfortable with pre-defined material,’ says Joe Cardone, who penned Prom Night as well as scripts for upcoming remakes of The Stepfather and See No Evil. ‘Our approach is that we try to find some really interesting hook that I can play with that's relatively fresh within the confines of the cliché.’ These remakes have preexisting brand recognition, relatively low budgets and a reliable youthful audience for the studio to bank on. And even if the work is less than gratifying, the writer-filmmaker benefits from the greater likelihood that these lower-risk scripts will be greenlighted as well as from the income provided by an ever-regenerating genre. (And look at The Ruins, an original premise that opened to disappointing box office.)”

'Corner Gas' snags screenwriting award

"Shot over 18 months, [
Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts] follows the influential modern composer Philip Glass through a little more than a year in his life with a casual honesty and deftly shifting distance that flatter the viewer by not kowtowing to its subject." Bruce Bennett talks with director Scott Hicks for the New York Sun. "Glass's status as one of America's most venerated and mocked highbrows matches gracefully with his peripatetic cultural and spiritual life; he may not define himself exclusively as a Buddhist, but his frequent self-targeted laughter and robust playfulness at physical-meditation sessions are so clearly engrained, not affected, that he often seems like a jolly, music-consumed monk," writes Bill Weber in Slant. (Thanks to GreenCine.)

'Children of Men' Screenwriter Takes On 'Timecrimes' Remake
“The biggest pitfall here, as I see it, is that the original film is so simple, almost personal. That's part of its charm. The time travel is a matter of hours, not eons, and the main crisis implicates two guys, not the entire universe (though there are hints of possible larger implications). I hope that Sexton doesn't try to translate the epic scope of Children of Men -- more epic, as I understand it, than the P.D. James novel on which it was based -- to this very different project. Sexton is also attached to the beleaguered
Logan's Run remake, but who knows what's going on with that one.”

Ian Fleming's war spying helped inspire James Bond
“He may not have cheated death, seduced women at will and killed countless baddies, but James Bond creator Ian Fleming's experience of the shadowy world of wartime espionage helped inspire his bestselling novels. ‘For Your Eyes Only’ is the first major exhibition devoted to the British author and coincides with the centenary of his birth. It opens at London's Imperial War Museum on Thursday and runs until March 1, 2009.”

Barry Schwartz, 28, sells 'Parents Weekend'
“Screenwriter Barry Schwartz has sold his original script Parents Weekend to Arnold Kopelson, Oscar-winning producer of Platoon, The Fugitive and Se7en, for low-six figures against mid-six figures. Schwartz describes his R-rated comedy as ‘a life-event milestone movie, like Meet the Parents or Knocked Up,’ that takes place during the 48 hours when ‘the kids and the parents get to see each other as independent people for the first time ever.’”

Moriarty from Aint It Cool News is
writing a script with Scott Swan called Bat Out of Hell, which is said to be a new spin on a classic monster. The story takes place on a red eye flight from LA to NYC.

Spielberg Adapting Ghost in the Shell into Live-Action 3D
“After 19 years since its debut in 1989, DreamWorks has finally secured the rights to adapt the Japanese manga and anime series Ghost in the Shell into a 3D live-action feature film. Both Universal and Sony were also chasing the rights, but Steven Spielberg himself took a personal interest in it and made sure it ended up in the hands of his company - DreamWorks. Spielberg says that Ghost in the Shell is one of his favorite stories and is ‘a genre that has arrived and we enthusiastically welcome it to DreamWorks.’ This plays off of the
announcement from February that Akira, one of the other heralded Japanese anime properties, is being adapted by Warner Brothers as well. Street Kings screenwriter Jamie Moss has been hired to write the adaptation…”

Great White Snark counts down the Five Most Ridiculous Legal Disputes Involving LucasFilm. George Lucas sued Who knew?

Buzz Sugar wonders if the Farrelly Brothers should make more movies? The Answer is no.

The Movie Blog has a theory that Obi-Wan Kenobi was a Clone.

Rotten Tomatoes take a look at the 20 Greatest Fight Scenes of all time.

Not much going on in the world of screenwriting, so here are a few more links courtesy of
CS Daily:

Winter's Wonderland
Columbia has paid low-six for first-time writer Paul Fruchbom's spec Winter's Discontent, a comedy about an old man who moves into a nursing home after his wife's passing with intentions to enjoy the bachelor life.

Furiously Out of Ideas
Fox 2000 is set to remake the 1978 Brian DePalma horror film The Fury, with first-time writers Brian McGreevy and Lee Shipman to pen the script.

Sniper Rifles Not Allowed
Phoenix Pictures has bought Javier Rodriguez's spec The Heretic, a Renaissance-era thriller about a priest-turned-hitman hired to assassinate Martin Luther.

Stewie Griffin: The Unpaid Story
Creator Seth MacFarlane and 15 of his Family Guy writers have sued 20th Century Fox for breach of contract and deceit stemming from extra work they all did on the DVD release Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story.

Kingdom of the Numb Skulls?
The L.A. Times looks into the deal made between Paramount and Indiana Jones kingpins Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford. It's low risk for the studio and could be a predecessor of how blockbuster budgets are handled in the future.

Speaking Softly
Ethan Coen (the one who didn't say anything at the Oscars) is debuting three one-act plays that he wrote without his brother. Plus, he actually speaks about them to the press. Get it while it lasts.

Fan Rant: PG-13 Horror Sucks and I Can Prove It
“Over the past 24 years, the PG-13 has become a sacred target for fiscally-minded filmmakers -- especially where horror movies are concerned. Now don't get me wrong: There are tons of "soft" horror movies that are perfectly entertaining, but I'm of the opinion that if you want to make something really scary, then that movie will most likely end up in the "R" territory. Graphic violence, serious tension, unpleasant themes and big-boy scares will pretty much always result in an R rating when all is said and done. Except when the goal from the very beginning is to craft a ‘PG-13 horror product’ that will sell a lot of tickets for three days even though everyone knows it's freaking terrible.”


On the Contest Circuit:

Phoenix Film Festival Announces Screenplay Challenge Results

Santa Fe Screenwriting Conference Starts May 27th

A Feeding Frenzy Announces 2008 Contest Winners


And finally

William Goldman on Screenwriting (in 1984):

(Hat-tip to
Michael Geffner.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Breathing Room in Films

I really enjoyed a recent post on Emerson’s scanners in which he talked about an interview of Ramin Bahrani, the director of Man Push Cart and Chop Shop. I, too, completely agree with Bahrani on the kinds of movies he says he values:

“Film is really 24 frames a second in the present, and I realize when you leave certain gaps, it allows space for the viewer to enter the film. That requires a viewer who wants to be engaged, who wants to have an emotional connection to a film, which should not be confused with films that elicit emotions like weeping and whatnot. You watch a certain movie, and the director puts you in a headlock through ways of dramaturgy, music, camera moves and excessive acting. It hits certain synapses in your brain and makes you cry, then you leave, and the next day you're having a hamburger and you don't really remember what the film was. Despite that those are the kinds of films that get lots of accolades and attention, it doesn't attract me as a person nor as an artist. I'm more interested in the ones — because of your participation — [that] seep into you, and two months later, are still a part of you. I don't know if I've accomplished this, but it's what I'm striving for.”

That’s exactly how I feel. Emerson added:

“What he describes -- that space that allows the viewer to enter the film -- is a quality I particularly treasured when going through No Country for Old Men with the audience at the Conference on World Affairs last week. Although the first time you see it you're aware of pulse-pounding tension, suspense and unforseen eruptions of violence, the movie is really full of breathing room. Long wordless sequences encourage you to get inside the heads of the characters and see things through their eyes, to experience what they're thinking and feeling moment by moment: the opening sequence (which I played once without sound so we could simply look at the progression of images, then see and how they play off of Ed Tom's voiceover); Lleweylyn following the trail of blood to the two trees in the desert; Llewelyn methodically assembling the tools he will need to place the satchel in the vent; Chigurh tending to his wounds in the motel bathroom...”

I would agree with that as well, although I’d hate for anyone to turn off the dialogue in any of my films so that they may feel like they’re getting inside the heads of my characters or so they may experience what the characters are thinking and feeling. You should be able to do that just as well with the dialogue. I’m not belittling what Emerson did. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that kind of exercise, per say. It’s always great to study the visuals. But when it comes to dialogue, the problem, I think, is that too many films and scripts are filled with words that are on-the-nose. Characters that are saying exactly what they’re thinking and feeling defeats the purpose of the visuals and puts the audience in the awkward position of being just observers rather than active participants in the story. Hence the need for
subtext in dialogue, which is more difficult to write, but the payoffs are magnificent. When you realize the characters in a film you’re watching are saying one thing and meaning something else in order to accomplish X, Y, or Z, you get sucked into the film without even realizing it, because you’re asking yourself questions about the characters, about the conflict, about their motives, etc. In the recent subtext example from Gilda, you knew that Johnny and Gilda had a past and absolutely hated each other while they were behaving so politely to each other in front of Ballin and not saying one word about their true feelings. That, to me, is essential to encouraging audience participation. Subtext is the greatest trick of screenwriting.

This also brings to mind Hemingway's ICEBERG PRINCIPLE. In his famous
Paris Review interview, Hemingway said:

“If it is any use to know it, I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn't show. If a writer omits something because he does not know it then there is a hole in the story.”

How this applies to screenwriting and films is obvious, I think. All the audience can see and hear is what appears within a frame, which is the tip of the iceberg. But for the audience to lose themselves within the story within the frame, the whole of the story has to be lying underneath. In other words, by NOT explaining everything verbally, by allowing the actors to reveal the interior dialogue of the characters, which may be at odds with the words they're speaking (hence, subtext) you suck the reader (and the audience) more into your world. When 3:10 to Yuma came out, I recall having a discussion with someone, Mickey Lee, Joshua James, maybe, I don't remember, about Elmore Leonard's earlier western novels. Leonard didn't have chatty heroes with compelling motivations to define their actions. They were men who were who they were and they did their jobs. Period. That was it. I know Leonard has in the past
complained about how some of the best westerns in cinema history, which were adaptations of his own frickin’ books, were fouled up because the movies didn't allow his heroes’ bravery to stay quite as mysterious as he wrote it. I think, generally, there's wisdom in that. The filmmakers that give you breathing room and make you want to revisit their films and characters again and again are the ones that don’t verbally explain everything. Thus, I've argued repeatedly to writers for less backstory and more mystery.

Obviously, I have a thing for mystery.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Film Noir & The Subtext of Gilda

Why is it so hard to define film noir? I'll tell you exactly what it is:

It’s the bad girl of cinema.


I finished a rather good book:
Film Noir, by Andrew Spicer. If you’re ever contemplating a noir for your next script, then forget about the screenwriting how-to clap-trap. Turn to the film scholars. Study the GENRE. That’s more crucial than anything a guru will ever tell you.

And Spicer’s book will give you just the right foundation to what is arguably the most argued about, indefinable genre in film history. Spicer covers the classical period, as well as the modern and postmodern neo-noirs. I didn’t agree with everything he wrote. Noir is so indefinable that sometimes people tend to put too many films under the noir banner, particularly when it comes to the thrillers of the ‘90’s. However, Spicer covers all the common themes, narrative strategies, and character types in noirs. Did you know that there were not only the infamous femme fatales, but also homme fatals, the deadly male counterpart? We’re talking bad, bad boys like Cary Grant in Suspicion, Robert Taylor in Undercurrent or Bogart in The Two Mrs Carrolls.

But they're not as much fun as the femme fatales. From the book:

“The figure of the deadly female – femme fatale/spider woman/vamp – emerged as a central figure in the nineteenth century and became one of the most persistent incarnations of modern femininity, the woman who ‘never really is what she seems to be’ and is therefore, in a patriarchal culture, ungovernable and threatening. The femme fatale was a frequent character in the 1940s film noirs, but all but vanishes in the 1950s, another indication of noir’s shift in direction. Rita Hayworth as The Lady from Shanghai (1948) – film noir’s most enigmatic example – embodies the Orientalism that Mary Ann Doane notes as part of a type whose appearance ‘marks the confluence of modernity, urbanization, Freudian psychoanalysis and new technologies of production and reproduction (photography, the cinema)’. As overpoweringly desirable, duplicitous and sexually insatiable, the femme fatale has been interpreted as a symptom of male anxieties about women, a creature who threatens to castrate and devour her male victim. Janey Place sees the figure as the male protagonist’s Doppelgänger which emerges at night to destroy him: ‘The sexual, dangerous woman lives in this darkness, and she is the psychological expression of his own internal fears of sexuality, and his need to control and repress it’. Her appearance is always explicitly sexual with long dark or blonde hair worn loose, long, sensuous legs, heavy make-up, jewellery that sparkles, and revealing costumes. Noir’s femme fatale as prefigured in Murnau’s Sunrise (1927), is the ‘woman of the city’, incarnating the sexual pleasures of modern urban life. As Molly Haskell observes, as an American copy of a European original, noir’s femme fatale is ‘allied not with the dark forces of nature, but with the green forces of capitalist economy’. She represents an explicit challenge to the postwar consensus that women should be fulfilled by the roles of wife and mother.”

Great, great fun.
Check it out.


After reading a brief chapter on Gilda, I just HAD to watch it and was pleasantly surprised to discover one can view it instantly on Netflix. Instant gratification! Woo hoo! Spicer wrote that Rita Hayworth’s Gilda did not technically fall under the femme fatale character (true) but that she falls under the category of good-bad girl. I wholly disagree. She’s no good-bad girl. She’s the bad-very bad girl. Hehehe

In any case, I’d like to share my carelessly slapped together transcripts of two scenes from Gilda, because the subtext was SO much fun. It was reminiscent of MaryAn Batchellor’s
subtext example from Raiders. Let me set this up: down-n-out Johnny Farrell is taken-in by casino owner Ballin Mundson. Over time, Johnny moves up in the ranks to run Ballin’s casino. Ballin goes away for a trip and returns married to Gilda. This is the scene where Ballin introduces Johnny to Gilda. Ballin is desperate for everyone to get along and become one, big, happy family. The glory of this dialogue comes from how Johnny and Gilda obviously know each other, obviously have a past, and obviously have a raging hatred for each other. But they never say it.

Johnny and Ballin walk toward the Master Bedroom. Gilda can be heard singing in the distance.

Ballin: Quite a surprise to hear a woman singing in my house, eh, Johnny?

Johnny cocks his head, revealing a faint familiarity to her voice.

Johnny: That’s quite a… quite a surprise.

They enter the bedroom.

Ballin: Gilda. Are you decent?

She flings her hair back.

Gilda: Me?

Johnny and Gilda immediately stare at each other. Gilda covers herself a bit more.

Gilda: Sure, I’m decent.
Ballin: Gilda, this is Johnny Farrell. Johnny, this is Gilda.

The two eye each other. Gilda turns off the radio, strolls up to Johnny holding a cigarette.

Gilda: So this is Johnny Farrell. I’ve heard a lot about you, Johnny Farrell.
Johnny: Really? Now I haven’t heard a word about you.
Gilda: (tisk, tisk sounds) Why Ballin…
Ballin: I wanted to keep it a surprise.
Gilda: Was it a surprise, Mr. Farrell?
Ballin: It certainly was. You should’ve seen his face.
Gilda: Did you tell him what I’m doing here, Ballin?
Ballin: No, I wanted to save that as a surprise, too.
Gilda: Hang on to your hat, Mr. Farrell.
Ballin: Gilda is my wife, Johnny.

Johnny says nothing, stares at Gilda.

Gilda: Mrs. Ballin Mundson, Mr. Farrell. Is that all right?
Johnny: Congratulations.

She doesn’t like it, takes a drag.

Ballin: Oh, you don’t congratulate the bride, Johnny. You congratulate the husband.
Johnny: Really? Well, what are you supposed to say to the bride?
Ballin: You wish her “good luck.”
Johnny: Good luck.
Gilda: Thank you, Mr. Farrell. My husband tells me you’re a great believer in luck.
Ballin: We make our own luck, Johnny and I.
Gilda: I’ll have to try that sometime. I’ll have to try it right now. Tell him to come to dinner tonight with us, Ballin.
Ballin: It’s an order. Come along, Johnny. We ought to let Gilda get dressed. Look your best, my beautiful. This will be the casino’s first glimpse of you.

Ballin kisses her, and all the while, Gilda stares at Johnny.

Gilda: I’ll look my very best, Ballin. (glares at Johnny) I want all the hired help to approve of me. Glad to have met you, Mr. Farrell.
Ballin: His name’s Johnny, Gilda.
Gilda: Oh, I’m sorry. Johnny’s such a hard name to remember and so easy to forget. (closes her eyes) Johnny… (opens her eyes) There. See you later, Mr. Farrell.
Johnny: That’s right, Mrs. Munson.

He smiles and leaves.


And this is the dinner scene.

They talk about a third friend. It’s actually Ballin’s cane, which transforms into a knife. Ballin had used it to save Johnny in the beginning of the film when he took him in. They later toasted to the “three of us,” meaning Johnny, Ballin, and Ballin’s cane. Everything else in this scene is pretty self-explanatory. I especially love the “let’s hate her” bit in the end revealing the subtext of Gilda’s self-loathing.

Ballin finds Johnny and they stroll to the table together where Gilda is already seated.

Ballin: I found him, Gilda. Very elusive chap, our Johnny. Sit down, Johnny.
Gilda: Good evening, Mr. Farrell. You’re looking very beautiful.
Johnny: Good evening, Mrs. Mundson.
Ballin: Can’t you return the compliment, Johnny?
Johnny: (robotically) You’re looking very beautiful.
Gilda: Why, thank you. If there’s anything I love, it’s a spontaneous, impulsive compliment like that. And because you’re so nice, I’m going to show you something. (opens her purse, pulls out a beautiful sparkling, diamond-studded jewelry) My husband gave it to me for a coming home present. (flings it in his face). Isn’t it cute?
Ballin: Fifty thousand pesos and it’s “cute.” Isn’t she fabulous, Johnny?
Johnny: Fabulous. (starts to take a drink.)
Ballin: Wait, Johnny. Let’s drink to us. To the three of us.
Gilda: To the three of us.

Johnny puts his glass down.

Ballin: What’s the matter, Johnny?
Johnny: I get confused.
Ballin: Confused? Why?
Johnny: Well, just a few weeks ago, we drank a toast to the three of us.
Gilda: Well, who was the third one then? Should I be jealous?
Ballin: Hardly, darling. Just a friend of mine.
Gilda: Is it a him or a her?
Ballin: That’s a very interesting question. What do you think, Johnny?
Johnny: A her.
Gilda: Ohhh…
Ballin: Why that conclusion?
Johnny: (looks at Gilda) Because it looks like one thing and then right in front of your eyes, it becomes another thing.

Ballin looks at the two of them, slightly suspicious.

Ballin: Well, you haven’t much faith in the stability of women then have you, Johnny?
Johnny: That’s right.
Ballin: One wonders who the one was that brought our Johnny to this pretty pass? Doesn’t one, Gilda?
Gilda: One does. Let’s hate her. Shall we, Ballin?
Ballin: Let’s. Shall we, Johnny?
Johnny: Let’s. Now that, I’ll drink to.

They all drink. Gilda struggles with her drink, as if she can’t quite swallow it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Formula Freaks

When I posted The Nature of Today’s Storytelling Debate, Miriam commented, “I agree that the ‘rules’ aren't hard and fast, and should be more of a jumping-off point than a map to follow slavishly. It's just that articles like this have a way of encouraging new writers to skip learning the basics and go straight to writing their 200 page epic narrated in voice over by a character who stays in one room.”

She’s right, as always, and I should begin with the caveat that I believe all aspiring screenwriters should go through the same learning curve. They should master the basics first. Bergman, Fellini, Godard, Altman all spent years working mainstream and mastering stories in the classical form before they dared venture into alternative types of storytelling, like the non-plot (and good luck getting that financed nowadays). But there’s wisdom in that. Newbies should, before they step onto the world stage, have quite a few scripts under their belt in which they’ve experientially gone through the process and really learned how to effectively compose a 3-act story as well as a rising conflict and sympathetic protagonists with goals and obstacles in their way and arcs in the end, all that crap. (Sites like Zoetrope and TriggerStreet are great for giving you endless feedback along the way.) These are the basics everyone should master. When you read a script from an aspiring screenwriter you want to get the sense that writer has really mastered the basics cold.

And I’d say that’s generally what the industry wants to see, too.

However, I have two thoughts:

1) Even though my audience is, I think, mostly comprised of aspiring screenwriters does not mean that I’m obligated to spend my days doing nothing but reinforcing the basics so as not to confuse them. Hey, this is my blog. I’m going to exhaustively explore the craft and consider all those things no one else has taken the time to thoroughly study, like
subtext and visual storytelling. And if I feel inclined, I will explore higher levels of craftsmanship even if it means it goes against basic "principles." And I will be the devoted contrarian, too. I will absolutely challenge contemporary thinking about the craft. If not, what’s the point of being anonymous and having a blog? I should “go there” when no one else is willing or able to “go there.” However, all newbies should know that they must master the basics first. Just because certain “principles” might be wrong does not mean the industry will embrace you if you break those “principles.” Not until well after you’re established will you find any opportunities to break the rules and explore higher levels of craftsmanship.

2) On the flip side of all this, let me say that it’s one thing to look for basics in scripts submitted by unproduced writers, and it’s quite another to say that every single story - EVERY SINGLE STORY IN EVERY GENRE - must follow the same formula. That’s completely absurd. It’s madness! It never fails to surprise me in my travels through this biz and encounters with people who, despite the first impression of being obviously intelligent, educated, well-spoken, and established within the industry, actually believe that every single story must have a sympathetic protag with a clear goal and a character arc and an antagonist to stand in the way. Are you kidding me?

Let’s take, for example, the perfectly acceptable genre of
satire (which was, by the way, never discussed in Robert McKee’s Story). Ebert sometimes spoke of this art form periodically in his reviews by saying that “satire is what closes Saturday night,” but I tell you that satire is, in fact, the highest form of comedy writing in existence. You cannot make comedy more brilliant than satire. (In fact, John Gassner said this repeatedly in his book, Masters of the Drama.) But, you see, the whole point of satire is to ridicule the protagonist. And you can't do that if the protagonist is sympathetic with a goal. Why else do you think we had Adolph Hitler as the protagonist in Chaplin’s The Great Dictator? That’s a beautiful film and a stirring condemnation of not only Hitler but also fascism, antisemitism, and the Nazis, whom Chaplin beautifully excoriates as “machine men with machine minds and machine hearts.”

For some writers I know, satire is what they love and it’s what they're good at and it's how they wish to express themselves. And yet, they get slammed again and again by idiot readers, consultants, analysts – those who actually provide coverage on scripts – because the writer “failed to offer a sympathetic protagonist with clearly defined goals that the audience can root for.” And while these talented writers struggle to get discovered, a beautiful art form tragically lies six feet under and relegated to cable news shows because our industry's infested with A) consultants who are nothing short of intellectually dishonest frauds, and B) thoughtless readers wholly ignorant of the genres they’re supposed to be covering and who spend their days looking for the exact same formula within every story. They don’t THINK about the unique parameters of a given genre.

There should be a name for these people – Formula Freaks.

They’re freaks. That’s all they are. They’re intellectual degenerates.

How about another example? Everyone hates the “passive protagonist,” right? However, in classical film noirs there was (throughout the 1940s, mainly) a class of protags you might characterize as the “male victim.” I’m talking guys like Walter Neff of Double Indemnity and Frank Chambers of The Postman Always Rings Twice. These guys were weak, passive protags who allowed themselves to be manipulated by the femme fatales and they blindly went along with some very evil schemes. You see, there was a point to the passive protag. It was the man’s passivity and weakness that got him into trouble in the first place, and in the end, he pays the price for it. It's like an exploitation of the worst fears in some men and a moral tale of what happens to the weak, emasculated American man.

If a writer wanted to compose a film noir today in the classical construction (with a femme fatale exploiting a weak male), are you really going to condemn that writer for having a passive protag?

9 times out of 10, they would, because the Formula Freaks don’t THINK about what it means to tell a story differently. They have a little chart in which they put check marks next to questions about sympathetic protags, arcs, and goals. They’re freaks.

Let me ask a few more questions to all you Formula Freaks out there: if every protagonist had to be sympathetic with a goal we can root for, then tell me, did you root for Citizen Kane to abandon his principles, betray his wife, and basically, lose everything? Did you root for Michael Corleone to order the execution of his own brother? Did you root for Anakin to switch over to the dark side? Did you root for Scarlett O'Hara to steal Ashley away from Melanie? Or better yet, steal her own sister's fiance so she can marry into a part ownership of his store and thus, get the tax money she needed to save Tara? Can you imagine the abomination of storytelling had a Gone with the Wind adaptation twisted Scarlett O’Hara into a sympathetic protagonist with a goal the audience can root for? Are you kidding me? Had they actually done that, I believe the fans would’ve been in such an uproar that Atlanta might’ve burned for a second time. Not every story (or great film that has made mountains of money) can so easily fit into McKee's narrow, simplistic formula. People WILL watch characters that are totally unlike them and even unsympathetic if they're entertained and/or fascinated by them. The sheer record of cinema history bears this out.

This all boils down to one very simple truth:



This industry that reads thousands and thousands of scripts and judges all writers according to the same narrow McKee-like principles involving “sympathy” and “arcs” is a total fucking sham. Is it any wonder most films are the same shit? All you readers and consultants should get off your lazy asses and start THINKING about what it means for a writer to a tell a story differently and work within the parameters of what that writer was actually trying to accomplish.


If you please, let me switch gears.

Consider this
rave review by Manohla Dargis of Paranoid Park:

The Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr has been instrumental in Mr. Van Sant’s recent artistic renaissance — evident in his newfound love of hypnotically long and gliding camera moves — though his tenure in the mainstream has left its mark too, as demonstrated by his rejection of straight narrative. As in three-act, character-driven, commercially honed narrative in which boys will be boys of a certain type and girls will be girls right alongside them.

The boy in “Paranoid Park,” Alex (the newcomer Gabe Nevins), lives and skates in Portland, Ore., where one evening he is implicated in the brutal death of a security guard. In adapting the young-adult novel by Blake Nelson, Mr. Van Sant has retained much of the story — a man dies, Alex writes it all down — but has reshuffled the original’s chain of events to create an elliptical narrative that continually folds back on itself. Shortly after the film opens, you see Alex writing the words Paranoid Park in a notebook, a gesture that appears to set off a flurry of seemingly disconnected visuals — boys leaping through the air in slow motion, clouds racing across the sky in fast — that piece together only later.

With his on-and-off narration and pencil, Alex is effectively shaping this story, but in his own singular voice. (“I’m writing this a little out of order. Sorry. I didn’t do so well in creative writing.”) Although you regularly hear that voice — at times in Alex’s surprisingly childish, unmodulated recitation, at times in dialogue with other characters — you mostly experience it visually, as if you were watching a still-evolving film unwinding in the boy’s head. Mr. Van Sant isn’t simply trying to take us inside another person’s consciousness; he’s also exploring the byways, dead ends, pitfalls and turning points in the geography of conscience, which makes the recurrent image of the skate park — with its perilous ledges, its soaring ramps and fleetingly liberated bodies — extraordinarily powerful.

Mr. Van Sant’s use of different film speeds and jump cuts, and his tendency to underscore his own storytelling — he regularly, almost compulsively repeats certain images and lines — reinforces rather than undermines the story’s realism. With its soft, smudged colors and caressing lighting, “Paranoid Park” looks like a dream — the cinematographers are Christopher Doyle and Rain Kathy Li — but the story is truer than most kitchen-sink dramas. This isn’t the canned realism of the tidy psychological exegesis; this is realism that accepts the mystery and ambiguity of human existence. It is the realism that André Bazin sees in the world of Roberto Rossellini: a world of “pure acts, unimportant in themselves,” that prepare the way “for the sudden dazzling revelation of their meaning.”

Let me switch gears again.

Consider this fabulous article by Kathrny Millard (who I’m sure would be thrilled to be quoted in a post called “Formula Freaks”). It's called
Writing for the Screen: Beyond the Gospel of Story:

In a recent review of Tarnation (Cauoette 2003), writer Helen Garner speculates on the limited range of narrative strategies explored within contemporary cinema: “I have often wondered why cinema so rarely makes full use of what it can do better than any other art form except perhaps music; recreate the mind's random movements, its swooping back and forth in time, its fleeting connections and smashes, its lightening recoveries” (Garner 2006). For American screenwriting theorist, Howard Rodman, the over-emphasis on utilitarian screenplays, aimed primarily at attracting actors on the route to production finance, has contributed to a lack of life in contemporary screenplays. The complexity, beauty and messiness of life has been edited out of the picture, he complains: “The screenplay needs to be freed from utility. It needs to forget its planned itinerary – to open itself up to the beauty and terror glimpsed at the periphery of one’s vision” (Rodman 2006: 1).

I would argue that the processes of filmmakers from Chaplin and the Lumiere Brothers, to Wenders, Wong and Van Sant, all offer new possibilities for revitalising cinematic scriptwriting. The pre-planned, conflict-driven Story, evangelised in texts and seminars around the globe, points towards a narrow and overly prescriptive conception of cinema. Much can be learnt about the possibilities of cinema by examining how filmmakers have written, revised, rewritten and refined cinematic texts in the process of shooting, designing, editing and post producing their films. Studying scripts and their structures can only get us so far; examining instead how filmmakers have worked with images, and the traces that they and their collaborators have left of those journeys, returns us to the possibilities of cinema. After all, inherent in the caméra-stylo advocated by Alexander Astuc, was the idea that a more fluid way of writing with the camera would allow filmmakers to explore new philosophies, new world views.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ollie Johnston

As you may have heard, Mr. Ollie Johnston, the last remaining survivor of Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” the nine original animators who helped build and define for all ages the glorious cinematic art form of animation, passed away Monday. Ollie contributed to so many classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Song of the South, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, Sword in the Stone, Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Robin Hood, The Rescuers and The Fox and the Hound.

The write-up by the Associated Press was rather shoddy, I thought, and so I want to share Disney’s press release on this legend, because the parallels to screenwriting are obvious. Additionally, in the second paragraph, I loved what
John Lasseter had to say about what he learned from Ollie, which should be burned into our minds and stamped upon our hearts as the golden rule of screenwriting...

“Behind every great animated character is a great animator and in the case of some of Disney's best-loved creations, it was Johnston who served as the actor with the pencil. Some examples include Thumper's riotous recitation (in Bambi) about "eating greens" or Pinocchio's nose growing as he lies to the Blue Fairy, and the musical antics of Mowgli and Baloo as they sang "The Bear Necessities" in The Jungle Book. Johnston had his hand in all of these and worked on such other favorites as Brer Rabbit, Mr. Smee, the fairies in Sleeping Beauty, the centaurettes in Fantasia, Prince John and Sir Hiss (Robin Hood), Orville the albatross (Rescuers) and more than a few of the 101 Dalmatians.

“John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and a longtime friend to Johnston, added, ‘Ollie had such a huge heart and it came through in all of his animation, which is why his work is some of the best ever done. Aside from being one of the greatest animators of all time, he and Frank (Thomas) were so incredibly giving and spent so much time creating the bible of animation,
Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, which has had such a huge impact on so many animators over the years. Ollie was a great teacher and mentor to all of us. His door at the Studio was always open to young animators, and I can't imagine what animation would be like today without him passing on all of the knowledge and principles that the 'nine old men' and Walt Disney developed. He taught me to always be aware of what a character is thinking, and we continue to make sure that every character we create at Pixar and Disney has a thought process and emotion that makes them come alive.’”

Always, always be aware of what a character is thinking. Seems so obvious, right? And yet so absolutely crucial to the craft.

You can go here for
part 2 and part 3 of the videos about Ollie. Very, very cool. You learn that Ollie would never let his characters take one step that would betray their emotional logic. You can go here to view his official website where, at the top, is a simple question: "What is the character thinking and why does he feel that way?"

Monday, April 14, 2008

Screenwriting News & Links! 4/14/08

Hey guys,

Our good friend
Unk is in a funk.

Ya know, this can happen to any writer. It’s something we all should openly acknowledge and address. This is not to say that Unk’s situation is anywhere near as severe as some of the famous writers I’m about to list, but we know that the poets, Robert Lowell, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell and Theodore Roethke were all diagnosed as manic-depressive. Of the famous writers, Philip K. Dick comes to mind, of course. Anne Rice suffered from severe depression due to a long-term illness and the death of her husband. And there’s Hemingway and Fitzgerald, naturally. In a letter to Fitzgerald, Hemingway wrote, “Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously.” Do you really have to be in pain to write well? I don’t know.

I mentioned this before, but there’s an interesting article here about
creativity and the troubled mind. Personally, I think we have to at least keep in check the usual elements that can lead to or worsen an already existing funk - isolation, introspection, lack of physical exercise, irregular hours, less than perfect diet, and lack of exposure to sunlight (sounds strange but it’s true). When I’m struggling to find something to say in my blog, it usually means that my mental output is way out of balance with my much needed input from books and films, which never fails to inspire me. And ya know, this business can repeatedly get you down. It’s full of many, many lows before you find the highs you’ve been searching for. But be of good cheer. You’re amongst friends.

By the way, funk is also great music.



New Screenplays:

Two drafts of the The Fisher King:
a January 20, 1989 revised draft and a June 31, 1990 revised draft script by Richard LaGravenese hosted by: Daily Script. (Hat-tip to SimplyScripts.)


Apparently, Michael Chabon’s Spider-Man 2 draft is available
here. But, to me, it looks like a crappy fake. Film Stew was a tad skeptical: “Although one would assume that an author's publisher would be certain of an author document's authenticity, so far, those who have taken the time to peruse the document are more than a little Spidey skeptical. ‘That honestly cannot be real, can it?’ comments Jonathan. Adds Alex: ‘That is either fake, or Chabon doesn’t know how to write a screenplay, or someone just inexplicably deleted all of the action (and by action I mean description of what’s going on on screen).’”


Here are the
first 3 pages of Oliver Stone’s W. And here’s Risky Biz reporting: “Even before a single talent deal was signed or locations scouted, Oliver Stone's W was hotter than a Texas afternoon in July. Conservative pundits were ready to pounce on the provocateur for what they said was agenda-driven filmmaking, while Stone and his partners said they were simply telling the story of the Bush White House without varnish or sugar-coating. As Stephen Galloway and Matthew Belloni report in THR today, both turn out to be right -- sort of. According to four Bush scholars who read a draft of the script, the tale has elements that are unquestionably accurate (like when George Jr. comes home drunk and nearly gets into a fistfight with his father) and elements that are just plain made-up (like when the president and his advisers discuss high-level policy in a casual, even frat-house, sort of manner).”

And here’s
p2p’s take on the matter: “The newspaper sent copies of an October 17, 2007, screenplay to four Bush biographers for their comments, it says, pointing out someone, ‘close to the film’ says the script has since gone through at least two drafts. Reactions were mixed, says the story, going on the biographers said specific scenes are, ‘largely based in fact but noted that the screenplay contains inaccurate and over-the-top caricatures of Bush and his inner circle’. Stone, ‘declined comment for this report,’ and screenwriter Stanley Weiser, who wrote W said, ‘I have no comment other than the fact that I have read 17 books on Bush.’”

See more of
First Showing’s side-by-side photo comparisons.


Mystery Man in the News:

Alanis kicks off her new tour with a mystery man in tow
Well, she’s uhh… no comment.

FBI searches for identity of mystery man with 32 aliases
Puh-lease. They’ll never find me.

Bulldogs wary of mystery man
I’ve got a mean bite, ya know.

Tara parties with mystery man
I was just holding her up.

Mystery man keeps his cool, helps save mobile home on fire
Hey, it's my one good deed.


James Cameron on 3-D
“Godard got it exactly backwards. Cinema is not truth 24 times a second, it is lies 24 times a second. Actors are pretending to be people they’re not, in situations and settings which are completely illusory. Day for night, dry for wet, Vancouver for New York, potato shavings for snow. The building is a thin-walled set, the sunlight is a xenon, and the traffic noise is supplied by the sound designers. It’s all illusion, but the prize goes to those who make the fantasy the most real, the most visceral, the most involving. This sensation of truthfulness is vastly enhanced by the stereoscopic illusion… On ‘Avatar,’ I have not consciously composed my shots differently for 3-D. I am just using the same style I always do. In fact, after the first couple of weeks, I stopped looking at the shots in 3-D while I was working, even though the digital cameras allow real-time stereo viewing.” John August had
this to say: “Of course, most directors aren’t James Cameron, who helped invent the technology and can trust his instinct on all of this. But we should trust someone’s instincts, because the result is paralysis. One of pitfalls of adding new technology to film production is that the director moves further and further from the action (and the actors) to a Den of Experts, often in a dark tent, who make decisions around monitors. In most cases, you’re better served by having a d.p. you trust.”

Mike Le’s Script Notes

Tips learned from a Red Planet workshop
2. Always Dig Deeper Than the Writer Next to You
Be better than the rest. Go further, dig deeper, find the emotions that they don't want to explore.
3. Get Your Hooks in Early
The first ten pages are crucial. Fact of life, get over it. Audiences spend less time deciding if they want to tune in or not.”

I ask myself "Do you want to be a Hollywood screenwriter? Do you dream of the big script sale? Do you fantasize your words dripping off the lips of Charlize Theron and Al Pacino?" Well, how the flying fuck at a rolling Dunkin Donut do you expect to even get within five-hundred light years of that goal unless you keep writing? You think by staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page is going to get it done for you? You think reading self-help-guru books telling you what NOT to do is going to empower you to deliver a blockbuster box office smash right out of the gate on your first draft of your first script? Your second? Your third?

Alan’s wonderful write-up on Ted Cassidy
“When it comes to character actors, Cassidy was an interesting guy because it’s quite difficult to imagine him not in character. Try to find an image of Cassidy online and you’ll come up with
this guy and this thing. Indeed, Cassidy’s towering stature helped typecast him in imposing, frightening roles, and his deep voice lent itself well to voiceover work, which he provided for many different projects throughout his career. A college football and basketball star as well as a news radio reporter, Cassidy began his film career in 1960 doing voiceover work, and in ‘64 landed his signature role of Lurch on The Addams Family. Playing the part of Star Trek’s centuries-old, female voice-impersonating android Ruk came a few years later, and Cassidy would enjoy several more roles in his career though his association with Gene Roddenberry.”

William Coleman on
the 3-Act Structure of Star Wars
“The screenwriting books give different criteria depending on which movie they’re analyzing at the minute — which, of course, tends to make the idea useless. You might want more than one definition, but you’d need to be clear about them ahead of time. Many people seem to feel that you have 3-act structure if you have two big, impressive scenes, called ‘turning points’ — let’s say, approximately on pages 30 and 75 in a 105-page screenplay — and so these turning points accordingly divide the movie into three segments, or ‘acts.’ This is the version that I call ‘The Snowman Theory’ of screenplay structure: all you need are three balls of snow, and you just stack them up. (I suppose I’ve fallen into sarcasm again.) Even if you subscribe to this idea, you’d have to see that we’d rightfully be more interested in the snow balls (the acts) than in what’s between them (the turning points).”

Julie Gray on Gerunds
“So it seems there is a bit of a disagreement over whether gerunds should be used in action lines of screenplays. I've always liked the word gerund in and of itself. It makes me laugh for some reason. I don't know why, really. Any way, just as a refresher a gerund is typically when you take a verb and add ‘-ing’ to the end. The result is that you take something finite like ‘walk’ or ‘walks’ and make in non-finite such as ‘walking’. An example of this would be that ‘walk’ or ‘to walk’ means to place one foot in front of the other and move. That's it, nothing more. Move forward on feet. Whereas ‘walking’ is usually modified by adverbs or a preposition of some sort such as ‘walking down the street’ or ‘walking slowly’. So how does this translate to screenwriting?”

The hottest women not on TV
“When Creative Artists Agency makes the rounds in Hollywood, pitching the screenwriting talent of Tassie Cameron, they like to market the Toronto native as ‘the girl who writes like a guy.’ But rather than take offence at a comment some might construe as sexist, Cameron finds the whole thing highly amusing. ‘Hey, I like guys,’ cracks the 38-year-old. ‘I listen to men. And if you look at what I've done, certainly a lot of it is very male-centric cop stuff,’ says Cameron, whose TV credits include Would Be Kings, The Robber Bride and The Eleventh Hour. ‘I guess when I write, I channel my inner Hunter Thompson and go to town.’”

Andrew Anthony profiles Salman Rushdie.

The nominated finalists and winners of this year's
Pulitzer Prizes have been announced, and there are a few that may be of interest to cinefolk. The Boston Globe's Mark Feeney has won the criticism award "for his penetrating and versatile command of the visual arts, from film and photography to painting." The finalists are the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday "for her perceptive movie reviews and essays, reflecting solid research and an easy, engaging style, and Inga Saffron of the Philadelphia Inquirer for her forceful critiques that illuminate the vital interplay between architecture and the life of her city."

Life sentence for man who beheaded screenwriter
See also
Corey Mitchell’s post.

Bridget Jones Diary Screenwriter Attacked
“The screenwriter who adapted the BRIDGET JONES books for the cinema is recovering after he was attacked by a fellow dog owner while walking his pet pooch. Andrew Davies, who is also responsible for the BBC's film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice, was at a park in Abbey Fields, Warwickshire, England when two aggressive Staffordshire bull terriers ran at his adult mongrel Daisy. Davies tried to defend his dog by kicking in one of the unruly canines' direction - but then their owner launched into a vicious attack on the 71-year-old, punching him in the eye and knocking him to the ground. He says, ‘I drove one of them (the dogs) off. I shouted, 'Go on! Get out of it!' and sort of aimed a kick at it, which was never really meant to connect, and didn't. The dog got the message and went off. ‘But the owner shouted, 'Don't you f***king touch my dog!' and ran up and headbutted me and punched me in the eye. ‘It knocked me clean off my feet. He was a big guy and I am quite little.’ Warwickshire police have confirmed they are investigating the incident.’”

'Outcast' writer pens winning debut
“Her first draft finished, Jones's agent began shopping the screenplay when two strange things happened simultaneously - a producer was really keen to get the story in front of cameras and the soon-to-be-well-known author started having second thoughts. ‘I had been optioned several times, but this felt very different,’ she says. ‘The screenplay had a strong life to it and as time went on, I didn't feel that I had told it fully.’”

"So far,
Rebecca Miller has written and directed Personal Velocity (originally her collection of short stories) and The Ballad of Jack and Rose," writes Olivia Laing. "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is already in pre-production, with Robin Wright Penn signed up for the title role. Like The Ballad of Jack and Rose, this delicate, dreamy novel tells the story of an outsider for whom the ties of blood and marriage are both trap and salvation. As the wife of Daniel Day-Lewis and the daughter of Arthur Miller, it's no doubt a paradox with which Miller is exquisitely familiar." (Thanks to GreenCine.)

Meet…screenwriter Frances Marion
“She was the highest paid screenwriter of either gender at that time. In 1940 she retired from films but taught screenwriting at the University of California - Los Angeles. How did she become so highly respected..? Marion wrote across genre and gender lines. She could write ‘four-hankerchief tearjerkers’ like ‘Stella Dallas’ and ‘The Champ,’ and high drama, like her Oscar-winner ‘The Big House.’ She successfully transition from silent movies to the ‘talkies’ because she wrote scripts that were always conscious of the camera. She often wrote scenes with no dialogue, relying on the actors' expressive faces and actions to relay the story. She was also extremely adept when it came to translating a book to film. She tried her hand at directing at various times throughout her career, but never garnered the recognition and acclaim her writing received.”

Cody Goes to College
“Chances are the $40,000 Diablo Cody pocketed for her Tuesday, April 8th speaking engagement at the University of Florida is more than she was paid to write Juno. During an on-stage, Inside the Actors Studio-style Q&A with journalism professor Mike Foley, the stripper turned star screenwriter was her usual, open self. ‘Honestly, if I had any idea that the name Diablo would one day be engraved on an Oscar, I would never have chosen it,’ the woman born Brooke insisted, revealing
per a report in the Independent Florida Alligator that some of her other youthful adopted names included Bon Bon and Roxanne. And though she used to refer to herself as ‘The Princess of Snark’ Cody insisted she has now adopted a less cynical attitude that translates into having something nice now to say about anybody. When one of the 800 or so audience members in attendance challenged her to do just that about one particular person, Cody replied to much laughter, ‘Paris Hilton loves animals.’”

Jason Reitman Turns Down Justice League
Reitman: “Good, FINE… You know, I mean. I had to sign something, they send me the script and it comes on this spy paper which can’t be Xeroxed... They have a time when I have to have the script back to them and the script is fine … What am I going to do with Justice League of America? So Basically I’ll make a movie that is not as good as X-Men, then I’ll be ‘the guy who made a movie not as good as X-Men.’ Where just like you talking about, going to smaller stations, if I make another small movie, and it’s really good, it performs well… Right now I’m thought of as a particular type of director. I’ve got an oscar nomination. I’ve made two indie films that play film festivals that are considered thoughtful. I want to stay in that world, I like making those type of films.”

Haggis’ Bond script “polished” by new writer
page 3 of a RottenTomatoes article on Quantum of Solace: “Nevertheless, Forster did hire another writer, newcomer Joshua Zetumer, to polish Haggis' draft. ‘He's a very young writer and he only wrote two or three scripts. And I read a script of his that I was very fond of and Barbara and Michael liked it,’ the director explained. ‘There were a couple of polishes and changes that I wanted to do and I felt that he was very well suited and I thought that he would be good for it and that's why I hired him.’”

Paul talks about his own treatment contract
“Sony has now officially hired me to do the treatment for the movie (for those who don’t know what a treatment is, it’s explained in the previous post). I pitched my treatment/vision of the Pooch Café movie to Sony along with a number (not sure what the number was) of other experienced Hollywood screenwriters. Sony told me that after reading my pitch they were sitting around relaying to each their favorite parts and laughing, which they felt was a strong indication that I was on to something and at which point they decided I might be the best candidate for the job. The contract I’ve signed is for a complete treatment, with two rounds of revisions. Sony has made me aware that despite the fact that I’ve already submitted a working treatment that this will be no walk in the park. Meetings are being held this and next week and I’m to prepare myself for a barrage of notes and comments.”

Kushner Speaks "Fiction That's True"
Angels in America author Tony Kushner opened the Tanner Lectures on Human Values last night with a rapid-fire monologue by a character named Tony Kushner—a neurotic writer completely unprepared to give a speech ‘at—you should pardon the expression—Harvard…’ ‘Plays are really more about arguing than storytelling, more about combat than plot, more about dialectics than narrative,’ he said.”

Roger Ebert may have bid farewell to broadcasting, but it is his "print corpus that will sustain Mr Ebert's reputation as one of the few authentic giants in a field in which self-importance frequently overshadows accomplishment," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "His writing may lack the polemical dazzle and theoretical muscle of Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, whose names must dutifully be invoked in any consideration of American film criticism. In their heyday those two were warriors, system-builders and intellectual adventurers on a grand scale. But the plain-spoken Midwestern clarity of Mr Ebert's prose and his genial, conversational presence on the page may, in the end, make him a more useful and reliable companion for the dedicated moviegoer." (Thanks to GreenCine.)

Confiscated screenplay leads to legal wrangling
“Omar Khadr's Guantanamo Bay saga took a turn for the surreal yesterday, as the detained Canadian's captors and defence lawyers argued over whether Mr. Khadr is entitled to a copy of the Lord of the Rings screenplay.”

"Sometime in the late 1960s, I asked
Jean Renoir what he thought of Ernst Lubitsch," writes Peter Bogdanovich in the New York Observer. Now if that sentence alone isn't catnip for cinephiles... Anyway: "He raised his eyebrows and said, enthusiastically, 'Lubitsch!? But he invented the modern Hollywood.' By 'modern Hollywood,' Renoir meant American movies from about 1924 to the start of the 60s. Before Lubitsch's arrival to California from Germany in 1922 (to make a Mary Pickford vehicle called Rosita), Hollywood films were under the overwhelming influence of DW Griffith... [Lubitsch] brought European sophistication, candor in sexuality and an oblique style that made audiences complicit with the characters and situations." And since "Lubitsch is always fun and often as good as it gets," Bogdanovich has been watching a lot of his work on DVD; he takes us on tour, title by title. (Thanks to GreenCine.)

"Recently we lost two American actors who embodied widely different styles, and their passing is a reminder that the very presence of an actor can suggest everything about a film," writes
Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. Adds John Patterson: "With the deaths of conservative Charlton Heston and liberal Richard Widmark within a week of each other (and with blacklisted director Jules Dassin sneaking less noisily off-stage midway between their two splashier exits), it feels as if the 1950s, that most lushly American of decades, are finally slipping over the horizon like the last sliver of land glimpsed from the stern of an ocean liner." (Thanks to GreenCine.)


On the Contest Circuit:

ReelHeART Announces Screenplay Finalists Announce Spec Scriptacular Semifinalists

Acclaim Fim and TV Extends Deadline Announces People's Pilot Semfinalists

HSI Announces Monthly Contest Winner



Mazin looks back at the Writer’s Strike
Sales and Rental Residuals The deal works well here. It’s not as good of a deal on New Media as we got in 2001, when Wells and McLean somehow managed to pull the 1.2% for internet rentals out of a hat without striking. That rate, which is the gold standard for residuals, is really the only significant rate right now if you’re a theatrical writer. A lot of people, including me, were convinced that internet rentals were a non-business, and the majority of the residual load would end up in internet sales. Wrongo. Turns out the companies are rather jittery about selling movies outright on the web, because they’re freaked (justifiably) about piracy. They prefer to rent them via, say, iTunes. The Wells/McLean 1.2% on rentals is going to be lining our pockets for some time, so I salute them.”

WGA: Disney Kept Writers During Strike
“The Writers Guild of America filed arbitration claims against Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, alleging two daytime soap operas kept replacement writers hired during the union's 100-day strike, Bloomberg News reports. ‘All My Children’ and ‘Days of Our Lives’ failed to rehire writers who joined the walkout, violating a Feb. 11 agreement, the guild's New York chapter said today in an e- mailed statement.”


And finally…


Hat-tip to