Wednesday, November 26, 2008

John Michael Hayes, Lucky Bastard

Above is a picture of Alfred Hitchcock, Grace Kelly, and John Michael Hayes on the set of To Catch a Thief.

What a lucky bastard.

For the record and for those newbies who may not know, John Michael Hayes
passed away recently. He is the one screenwriter who has worked more often with Alfred Hitchcock than any other screenwriter, having written the scripts for Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry, and The Man Who Knew Too Much.

After reading Steven DeRosa’s
Writing with Hitchcock earlier this year, which chronicled the rise and fall of John Michael’s working relationship with Hitch, I have been on a John Michael Hayes kick ever since. I consumed his screenplays. The Man Who Knew Too Much can be read here. Rear Window can be found here. I’ve also been watching his films. I bought the restored Rear Window just so I could see the John Michael Hayes interview (and also hear the film commentary by John Fawell, which was great). I started watching many of his post-Hitchcock films, too, most recently Nevada Smith, which was good.

There would be no doubt in anyone’s mind after studying Hayes’ work how well Hayes’ style and sensibilities meshed with Hitchcock’s. He was perfect for Hitch, and they met each other at just the right time in both of their careers. It’s little known that Hitch was actually struggling at the time when Hayes came along. Their historic collaboration transformed both of their lives and careers. Of course, make no mistake about it. The auteur theory applies to Hitchcock. Those are all HIS films, and Hayes helped conceive Hitchcock’s vision of those films. However, the contribution of Hayes is not to be dismissed, particularly when it came to characters and dialogue. There are very good reasons why Hayes worked with Hitch more than any other screenwriter, because he brought a lightheartedness to some very dark concepts, which is so welcome and enriching to those films. It was GREAT FUN! Plus, at the end of every John Michael Hayes story, there was always hope. Hayes has become a model for me in those respects.

I don’t know where I’d place him in the pantheon of all-time great screenwriters, but he holds a very special place in my heart.

Here’s another image. He was a good-looking guy! It saddens me greatly how a human life is glanced over in obits in the media, like when they say, as they did
in the Times Online, “John Michael Hayes was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1919. He began as a newspaper reporter before serving in the US Army during the Second World War. He moved to California where he worked in radio before turning to Hollywood in the early 1950s…”

That is not the story of John Michael Hayes. His time in Hollywood writing for the radio was actually cut short due to a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis, which kept him bed-ridden for months back in Massachusetts. Plus, his family didn’t support his writing career. But as soon as John could walk again, he snuck out of his family’s home (while they were away at the movies), left a note, and hitchhiked his way across the country from Worcester, Massachusetts, all the way to Hollywood, California, while hopping on two canes and with only $15 in his pocket. Seriously, he just left. He didn’t tell his family he was going either because he knew they would’ve discouraged him.

THAT is how much he wanted to be a writer.

Yeah, all you aspiring writers out there think you have it so rough? Tell me you want to be a writer as badly as John Michael Hayes. Tell me you would’ve done what John Michael Hayes did.

Let me quote two paragraphs from
Writing with Hitchcock:

Within a day and a half, Hayes arrived at Zanesville, Ohio, where he spent 75 cents on a telegram informing his parents that he was okay. He continued, nonstop, until he reached Flagstaff, Arizona, where he boarded a bus during a thunderstorm. Hayes finally arrived in Los Angeles with $4.50 remaining and checked into the Mark Twain Hotel for the night, planning to go the following morning to CBS, where he had worked previously. En route to CBS the next day, Hayes passed the NBC radio studios, where there was a line of people waiting to get into one of the popular quiz shows, Double or Nothing. Hayes decided to stay and see the show. While he waited on line, one of the show’s assistants saw him on canes and let him inside the studio ahead of everyone else. When he got inside, he was asked if he would like to be a contestant. Hayes said yes. The questions they asked were about English literature, and he won $640.

Hayes remembered, ‘I went down the block to deposit my money in a bank. Next door was CBS. I went in, pressed the elevator button, and ran into Ernie Martin, a friend who had since become a Broadway producer. Ernie looked me up and down and said he needed a writer for a new show with Lucille Ball and he hired me.’ The show for which Hayes was assigned on the spot was My Favorite Husband. Specializing in comedy and suspense, Hayes turned out expert scripts for many diverse series, including Amos ‘n’ Andy, The Story of Dr. Kildare, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, Sweeney and March, Alias Jane Doe, Nightbeat, and Richard Diamond, Private Detector.

Can you believe that? And then he married a hot blonde model!

I can’t find where I read it, but I do recall someone calculating that John Michael Hayes wrote roughly 1,500 scripts for a wide variety of half hour radio shows before he turned to screenwriting. Even then, he STILL struggled with screenwriting, because he relied so much on dialogue for everything. Hitchcock had to retrain him on his methods of
pure cinema and visual storytelling.

To all you vain newbies out there who have read one book and written maybe two scripts and you think you’re so great – come talk to me when you've written 1,500 scripts with characters and dialogue. Just consider how much experience he had before he wrote all that great dialogue we know and love in his films with Hitchcock.

Chris Wehner reprinted
an interview with Hayes. I have always loved this story about his first meeting with Hitch, which is told in greater depth and clarity in Writing with Hitchcock, but it’s still funny here:

I was given a copy of the Woolrich story by my agent, and was told to meet with Hitchcock later that week for dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel. My job was simple: Read the Woolrich piece, and be prepared to discuss it in great detail and length. It was not unlike preparing for the most important book report of one's life.

The meeting itself was a near fiasco. It felt much more like a personal test of endurance than anything resembling a story conference. Hitchcock arrived late and, with time to sit and worry over his arrival, I had a couple of drinks, which I wasn't entirely used to. Upon his arrival, we had a feast for the ages, along with copious amounts of alcohol.

Plied by the liquor, I rambled on for much too long about Hitchcock's prior films. And I wasn't entirely complimentary. Hitchcock appeared to listen, but once the meal itself was finished he abruptly left. And we had never even spoken about Rear Window at all. Later, after returning home, my wife asked how the meeting went. I told her we'd better start packing our bags, as I felt quite strongly that my opportunity with Hitchcock had vanished along with any future career I had envisioned in the industry.

Amazingly, upon reporting for work on Monday, I was told that Hitchcock immensely enjoyed our dinner and that I was to be hired immediately.


Now get this. I have to share this, which is why I always think of Hayes as a lucky bastard. Once he got the writing assignment for Rear Window, he got to spend 5 days with Grace Kelly just to get to know her and get a feel for her range so that he could shape her character for the film. Can you believe that? 5 days with Grace Kelly! Not to mention that Hitch was already upset with her because during the last film, Dial M for Murder, she “slept with the writer.”

So you can imagine what I’m thinking, right? I've already admitted that I have spent time with
Style and Mystery. Stick around with these guys long enough and they will tell you that any pick-up artist doing everything right only needs... seven hours.

That bastard, John Michael Hayes, had 5 days to spend with Grace Kelly.

Man, they don't make films like this anymore.

Now I’m not suggesting that anything happened. She may very well have still been involved with that “writer” from Dial M and Hayes by all accounts was quite happily married with that hot blonde all the way up to her death in 1989. And she was just as breathtakingly beautiful.

But that bastard got to spend 5 days with Grace Kelly.

I’m just saying, if that was me, Kelly would’ve had second thoughts about that Prince and the world might’ve been a different place.


There’s another story I must share while they filmed To Catch a Thief:

On one of their days off, Hayes accompanied Kelly and Grant’s wife Betsy Drake on a tour of Monaco, and the writer taught Kelly how to play roulette. She won some money, after which the trio went to lunch and continued their sightseeing, ending up outside the Grimaldi museum. Kelly was delighted by what she could see of the gardens, the gates to which were locked. Hayes remembered, ‘Grace said, ‘I wonder if we could find some way to get in.’ So I said, ‘Well, I’ll see if somebody can get to the Prince, or his public relations man, and get you a tour of the garden while you’re here.’ But we finished the location photography before a tour could be arranged.’ The following year, when Grace Kelly returned to the Riviera, she was a sensation at the Cannes Film Festival. This time she did meet Prince Rainier, who gave her a personal tour of his gardens. Within a year’s time, she had retired from the screen to become Princess Grace of Monaco. Years afterward, Hayes remembered, ‘Later, when she invited my wife and myself to the palace, Grace said, ‘Now I can show you the garden.’

BTW - Check out all the Life Magazine pics of Grace Kelly.

When John Michael was hired to write To Catch a Thief, Hitch asked him, “Have you ever been to the Riviera?” No, was the response, and Hitch sent Hayes and his wife to the Riviera for two weeks to do “research” on the new script.

That lucky damn bastard.

It is quite a shame about his break-up with Hitch. I don’t have anything to add to the matter except to say that I side wholly and completely with Hayes. That was about Hitch’s ego and nothing else.

I agree with what was said
in the Times: There were losses on both sides. Hayes departed for more lucrative but less distinguished films while Hitchcock rarely again enjoyed the luxury of having brilliant scripts promptly delivered. On later films, such as Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969), where the scripts had run into trouble, Hitchcock’s personal assistant, Peggy Robertson, suggested calling in Hayes. Not one to swallow his pride, Hitchcock ignored her advice.

Steven Derosa has a bio available of
John Michael Hayes in pdf. Interestingly, there is a wonderful link found here where Derosa shares a cut third act scene from an early draft of To Catch a Thief, which Hayes loved but couldn’t sell Hitch on the idea.

There was also an interview with him in
Backstory 3: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 60s where Patrick McGilligan asked Hayes about the widely rumored sequel to Rear Window. I loved his response:

I was offered an absolutely monumental sum of money by the man who owns the rights... That money would help me in my old age... I don’t know. Some pictures have a magic that’s almost indefinable. Grace is gone. Hitch is gone. Jimmy’s too frail. Wendell Corey’s gone. Raymond Burr is dead. We couldn’t recapture that kind of innocence. What could it possibly be?

But I’ve done a story, just in case.


I do love John Michael Hayes. May he rest in peace.

his official website.

And also, in honor of Hayes, I reposted my article below on the
Exposition of Rear Window.

Thank you, John, for everything you've taught me this year.


Archives: The Exposition of Rear Window

Hey guys,

In light of the recent death of John Michael Hayes, I thought I'd share again this article about the development of Rear Window. There is so much more that could be said that this piece feels too short to give the film any justice, such as the way that all the couples in the courtyard represented different aspects of the conflict between L.B. Jeffries and Lisa Fremont or the ways that Jeffries or Lisa reacted to those other people in the courtyard was a revelation of character. (Lisa understands Miss Torso, but she related to Miss Lonelyhearts.)

In any case, I hope you enjoy it.



One can always point to the obvious strengths of a great film. What a sensational twist! Look at the way they handled
exposition! Subtext! Visual storytelling! Look! Truffaut was right! She wasn’t simply showing the wedding ring to Stewart simply because it was the crucial piece of evidence needed to indict Thorwald! She finally PROVED herself to him! That was her PROPOSAL! Wasn't that brilliant?

Studying the strengths of great films always seemed to be a kind of elusive game to me because successful moments in one story does not necessarily equate into successful moments in a different story. You can't live off someone else's successes. You have to use your imagination and create great moments in the context of your own story. I also get kind of fearful about being too knowledgeable about films because I’m afraid I’ll borrow too liberally from the past when I should be creating something new we haven’t seen before. Failure, on the other hand… failure holds universal truths. Flat characters. Lack of tension. Telling instead of showing. You always learn more from failure than success. You take those failures with you when you sit down to write. Because half the battle of screenwriting is avoiding mistakes, and believe me, there’s an infinite field of landmines ahead of you.

However, there’s much to be learned from studying the development of great films. When you see how a story began, read the choppy ideas in its infancy stages, and then study the decisions the filmmakers made about the story to make it truly great, that’s where you find your lessons. Steven DeRosa has a great chapter on Rear Window in his book,
Writing with Hitchcock.

Consider this.

Rear Window started out as a short story by Cornell Woolrich published in Dime Detective in 1942. There was no love story. A man was stuck in his single bedroom with an unscreened bay window and not unlike the film, watched the nameless “rear window dwellers” and suspected a salesman named Thorwald of murdering his invalid wife.

First, the studio had a 13-page treatment written by playwright and director Joshua Logan. To brutally simply things, Logan provided a backbone to the film, although the details were kind of weak. Jeff was a sportswriter who enjoyed playing amateur sleuth when he had the time. He broke his leg by, uhh, slipping down stairs. He had a girlfriend by the name of Trink who was struggling as an actress. He didn't think she'd ever make it, which was the source of their conflict, and he couldn't commit to a relationship. In that pivotal scene where she’s caught inside Thorwald's apartment, she "acts" her way out convincing Jeff she's a great actress and thus, they get married.

When Hitch and his new writer, John Michael Hayes, got onboard, they made a number of significant, yet fascinating changes. They wanted to make Jeff’s occupation more EXCITING and the reason for his broken leg more DRAMATIC. Thus, they made him a photographer who was wounded in the line of duty. They also wanted a more plausible way for these two characters to meet. So he wasn’t just a photographer, but a foreign correspondent who had to do a fashion shoot and that’s how they met. I’ve said that characters come first. But when you have a great concept like Rear Window, I see nothing wrong with designing characters that fit perfectly into that concept.

Question – how much dialogue do you think would be required to establish all of this information about Jeff’s background, accident, and relationship to his girlfriend? Answer - NONE.

This was all established wordlessly in the opening shot that pans across Jeff’s apartment. Here’s Miriam from her
film breakdown: The camera comes back inside the apartment to show the thermometer at 90° and Jeff asleep in his wheelchair. The camera runs down his left leg to take in the full cast and then around his apartment to show his smashed camera, the amazing shot that broke both the camera and his leg, and finally his girlfriend on the cover of a magazine: Lisa (played by Grace Kelly), who is both beautiful and smart.

Isn’t that amazing? It’s debatable to me whether the scene that followed, the conversation Jeff has with his editor, was truly essential to the story. We didn’t need it. In any case, this opening sequence really should be the crowning achievement in film on the art of exposition. How many amateurs write master scene headings and then action lines to describe the look of a room when the materials inside the room has very little to do with the story? But here, the visuals were used to convey essential information to the audience.

Here’s John Michael:

“So that’s how one thing – to break his leg in an interesting way – led to his occupation, and led to something that would get him together with Lisa. That’s how it grew. But there was more you could do with it. He had a telescopic lens we could use later with the picture of the flowers going up and down in the garden. He had flashbulbs to fend off the villain. Out of this grew a whole lot of interesting things.”

The addition of Stella was a masterful creation on the part of Hayes, because this character was the hard-bitten realist. If she buys this story, even the most cynical viewer in the audience will buy it.

Let’s talk about the couple’s story. As you know, their different lifestyles became the source of their conflict. She was fascinated with him, and he was naturally interested in her. It was a twist suggested by Hitch that the woman chases after the man for a change. But Jeff figures models are frivolous and there wasn’t a chance for him. He’s a poor safari guy, and she’s wined and dined by wealthy men. And so, over the course of this mystery, it was really about this couple being tested and her proving herself to him in a deeper way. It was certainly deeper than what we encountered in Logan’s treatment. This was more than a struggling actress proving her skills to the man she loves. Here, she has to prove that she is much more as a person than how he views her, which was a woman only interested in a new dress, lobster dinner, and latest scandal. When she's caught in Thorwald's apartment and wiggles her finger to Stewart to indicate that she had the big piece of incriminating evidence, that is, Mrs. Thorwald's wedding ring, there was ALSO the implication, as Truffaut pointed out, that since she just proved herself to Stewart, this was her proposal to him. The two plots came together so perfectly in that one moment.

Of course, at this moment Stewart realizes how wrong he was, how great she is, how he can't live without her, which was taken out of Hayes’ real-life experience with his wife following a car accident. In any case, at that moment of Stewart’s revelation about Grace Kelly, the tables are immediately turned, the watcher becomes the watched, and his onetime dream of freeing himself from Kelly even at the prospect of "welcoming trouble," becomes his own real nightmare. It’s a story ROOTED IN THE CHARACTERS, who they are, what they do, with obstacles created for them, and a conflict that escalates and gets resolved within the context of the murder mystery.

There was also a bit of a problem with the disposal of Thorwald’s wife, because in an early treatment, Thorwald dumps his wife’s head in the newly poured concrete foundation at a construction site. This meant that Grace Kelly would have to follow Thorwald to the location, which we won’t see, be in a danger, which we won’t see, and then recount this whole adventure in a long-winded piece of verbal exposition. It was far better to have Thorwald bury her head in the garden.

The ending was a bit of a problem in Hayes’ first draft, too. Let me quote Derosa from his book:
“Thorwald is shot and killed by Coyne, which is consistent with the story and treatment. There is also an attempt to wrap up the stories of the surrounding windows neatly. Stella advises Miss Lonely Hearts, ‘Just throw away those pills, honey. If this face could trap a man, yours could get there.’ The newlyweds are observed. ‘H-a-a-r-r-e-e,’ calls the bride in a desirous tone, playing on the audience’s expectations of a honeymoon couple. ‘Start without me,’ calls the young groom, as the camera reveals they have been playing a game of chess. Miss Torso compliments the Songwriter for his lovely tune, and he invites her up to his apartment. Finally, the first draft ends with Coyne, Lisa, and Jeff. Coyne reveals, ‘You were right. There was something in that garden. And I just got a signal. It’s in Thorwald’s icebox now.’ Jeff replies dryly, ‘That reminds me. Two heads are better than one.” Ho hum.

Consider how they ended it with another long, single take that mirrored the opening shot. Here’s
Miriam again, “The final scene wraps up all the stories with the same kind of pan shot that started the movie. Miss Lonelyheart helps Mr. Songwriter paint his apartment and tells him his music has been an inspiration to her. Mrs. Balcony-sleeper teaches her new puppy to ride down in the basket. And Miss Torso welcomes home her dumpy boyfriend with a hug and a kiss. The first thing he wants is a good meal. Inside Jeff's apartment, we find that the temperature has dropped and that he now has two casts: one on each leg. [The ‘new’ Lisa is wearing jeans and a cotton shirt] reading a book about life on the road in a foreign land, but when she sees that he's asleep, she sneaks out her fashion magazine.”

Monday, November 24, 2008

MM’s Unsympathetic Protag Survey

Hey guys,

My next article for
Script, which is due mid-December for the March/April issue, is all about unsympathetic protagonists.

And I’d like to ask my brilliant readers out there to share with me their favorite unsympathetic protags. I’m already planning to write about Scrooge (A Christmas Carol), Salieri (Amadeus), Phil Connors (Groundhog Day), Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (The Lives of Others), Michael Corleone (maybe from The Godfather), Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood), and one of my favs, the
Diabolical Don G.

I tried to highlight the biggies that everyone would recognize.

But how many other unsympathetic protags can you think of?


Sunday, November 23, 2008

1939 Alfred Hitchcock Lecture

Hello, my friends,

I have read so much about this lecture but never the lecture itself. Well, I’m very proud to share with you the transcript of the lecture Hitch gave in March, 1939, at Radio City Music Hall, which was organized by The Museum of Modern Art and Columbia University.

(Hat-tip to the
Alfred Hitchcock Wiki.)

I’m posting this for my own personal benefit more than anything else, so that I may refer back to it if I ever need to.

In any case, happy reading!



I have some notes here that are mixed up with a letter from my mother, and I am trying to sort them out. First of all, before we go into melodrama and suspense, about which Mr. Abbott asked me to speak to you, I wish to talk about the method one invariably uses in designing a motion picture script.

When I am given a subject, probably a book, play, or an original, I like to see it on one sheet of foolscap. That is to say, have the story, in its barest bones, just laid out on a sheet of foolscap paper. You might call it the steelwork, or just the barest bones, as I said before. Now you do not have to write down very much, maybe just that a man meets a woman at a certain place, and something else happens. In the briefest possible way, this thing should be laid out on a piece of paper.

From that, of course, we start to build the treatment of that story -- the characterizations, the narrative, and even the detail, until we have probably a hundred pages of complete narrative without dialogue. But I do not mean narrative in the abstract, the practical side of what is going to appear on the screen. I always try to avoid having in the treatment anything that is not really visual. In dialogue we indicate it by saying, for instance, that the man goes to the sideboard, pours himself out a drink, and tells the woman that something or other is going to happen to him. We indicate it in the treatment, and this is very full and practically the complete film on paper, in terms of action and movement.

The particular reason why I prefer to do that is because I don't like to kid myself. I do not like to let myself think that there is more in it than there really is, because I believe that one should build up. That is why I prefer to start with the broad narrative, and then from that, develop into this full treatment -- but purely cinematic treatment. You must not go into anything like a short story, or anything descriptive, like "with half-strangled cries" and that sort of thing. You just want the actual movement or action, and then indicate the dialogue.

Dialogue is the next phase, and that depends on how much time one has. Once the story line is decided upon and one has a dialogue writer in, one usually deals with it sequence by sequence. After the first sequence, we call the dialogue writer in and hand it to him. While he has the first sequence, we start the first sequence in treatment, and build up as we go along. Finally we have a whole pile of material which is treatment, and a whole pile of material which is dialogue.

From the stage we go into the shooting script by assembling the dialogue and the treatment. We keep building it even further, and adding to it. We do not do this in a mechanical way, but put up as many ideas as we possibly can. Finally we have a shooting script of the whole thing. Then we cast it, shoot it, and finally it is shown.

A member of the audience sees that film, and probably after seeing it goes home and tells his wife about it. She wants to know what it was like, so he tells her that it was about a man who met a girl -- and whatever he tells his wife is what you should have had on the piece of paper in the very beginning. That is the complete cycle that I like to aim for, as far as possible, and that is the process one works on in designing a motion picture script.

Now to talk about melodrama, you know, of course, that melodrama was the original mainstay of motion pictures material, on account of its obvious physical action and physical situation. After all, the words "motion pictures" means action and movement. Melodrama lends itself very much -- perhaps more than before the talkies came in; more than anything else, I mean.

You know we had the early chase films, and we had those French pictures where a man used to run around Paris. He was on a bicycle and knocked people over as he went along. Are there any of these films in the museum?

Of course, in those days, and even up to the coming of the talking picture, the characters were pretty well cardboard figures. One advantage that the talking picture has given us is that it allowed us to delineate character a little more, through the medium of dialogue. The talking picture has given us more character, and obviously, in the long run, that is what we are going to rely upon.

There has been a tendency, I feel, in the past, in this development of character, to rely upon the dialogue, only, to do it. We have lost what has been -- to me, at least -- the biggest enjoyment in motion pictures, and that is action and movement. What I am trying to aim for is a combination of these two elements, character and action.

The difficulty is, I feel, that the two rhythms are entirely different things; I mean the rhythm and pace of action and the rhythm and pace of dialogue. The problem is to try and blend these two things together. I am still trying it, and I have not entirely solved the problem, but eventually, I imagine, it will be solved. The field of the future motion picture story has obviously got to come from character, and where the difficulty comes is that character controls the situation.

That is the one thing that disturbs me a little. You see modern novels, psychological novels, with frank characterizations and very good psychology, but there has been a tendency, with the novel and with a lot of stage plays, to abandon story. They don't tell enough story or plot. For a motion picture, we do need quite an amount of story.

Now the reason we need a lot of story is this: a film takes an hour and twenty minutes to play, and an audience can stand about an hour. After an hour, it starts to get tired, so it needs the injection of some dope. One might also say there should be a slogan, "Keep them awake at the movies!"

That dope, as one might call it, is action, movement, and excitement; but more than that, keeping the audience occupied mentally. People think, for example, that pace is fast action, quick cutting, people running around, or whatever you will, and it is not really that at all. I think that pace in a film is made entirely by keeping the mind of the spectator occupied. You don't need to have quick cutting, you don't need to have quick playing, but you do need a very full story and the changing of one situation to another. You need the changing of one incident to another, so that all the time the audience's mind is occupied.

Now so long as you can sustain that and not let up, then you have pace. That is why suspense is such a valuable thing, because it keeps the mind of the audience going. Later on I will tell you how I think the audience should participate in those things.

In trying to design a melodrama with these elements of character, action, and movement, of course it does present a pretty big problem, and one has to adopt various methods. One method I have used in the past -- I did it with The Man Who Knew Too Much -- was to select some backgrounds or events that would lend themselves to a colorful, melodramatic motion picture. Of course, this is quite the wrong thing to do, but here is an idea: select the background first, then the action. It might be a race or it might be anything at all. Sometimes I select a dozen different events, and shape them into a plot. Finally -- and this is just the opposite to what is usually done -- select your character to motivate the whole of the above.

Under the present circumstance, people figure out a character or group of characters, and they allow them to motivate the story, the background, and everything else. Now you see, you are liable, unless you get a very colorful character, like an engine driver, a ship's captain or a diver, to be led into very dull backgrounds.

For example, if you take a society woman, she will obviously lead you into a drawing room, into a lot of talk, you see, and there you are! You might choose many characters of that nature, and it is inevitable, if you follow the regular method. I am not advocating that this should be everybody's method, it is only a feeling I have, myself, because I want to get certain things, you see.

Sometimes you cannot get the characters you want to take you into these places, so you say, "All right, I will have the society woman." The next thing is, of course, what to do with her. You might say, "I would like to have her in a ship's stokehole." Your job becomes very hard, indeed! You have to be really inventive to get a society woman into a ship's stokehole, to get a situation that will lead that way, and a character who, by reason of the situation, would find herself in a ship's stokehole.

Of course, I'd bet a lot of you would say, "It is too much trouble. Let's put her in a yacht's stokehole. A society woman is bound to go there." That, of course, is radical and you must not do it, because the moment you do, you are weakening and not being inventive.

If you can summon up enough courage to select your background and your incidents, you will find you really have something to work out. In The Man Who Knew Too Much, I said, "I would like to do a film that starts in the winter sporting season. I would like to come to the East End of London. I would like to go to a chapel and to a symphony concert at the Albert Hall in London."

That is a very interesting thing, you know. You create this terrific problem, and then say, "How the devil am I going to get all those things into it?" So you start off, and eventually you may have to abandon one or two events, as it might be impossible to get some of the characters into a symphony concert, or whatever it is. You say, "Well, can't Stokowski have his hair cut?" or something like that, and you try and blend the characters in the best way you can -- appear to be quite natural that all the events have taken place in those settings because it was necessary for them to do so.

Now in the shape of this thing, it is inevitable that you must design your incidents and your story shape to mount up. I always think the film shape is very much like the short story. Once it starts, you haven't time to let up. You must go right through, and your film must end on its highest note. It must never go over the curve. Once you have reached your high spot, then the film is stopped.

Now one of the things that is going to help you hold all these things together and provide you with that shape is the suspense. Suspense, I feel, is a very important factor in nearly all motion pictures. It can be arrived at in so many different ways. To me, there is no argument that a surprise lasting about ten seconds, however painful, is not half as good as suspense for about six or seven reels.

I think that nearly all stories can do with suspense. Even a love story can have it. We used to feel that suspense was saving someone from the scaffold, or something like that, but there is also the suspense of whether the man will get the girl. I really feel that suspense has to do largely with the audience's own desires or wishes.

There, though, we have another subject -- audience identification, and it is so great that I don't think I have time to deal with it here. I might say that it is a very, very important point. For example, you probably get more suspense out of an audience worrying about a known figure than some unknown person. It is quite possible that an audience will have convulsions at the thought of Clark Gable being shot or killed, but if it is some unknown actor, they will say, "Who the hell is he, anyway?" That is one important aspect of suspense.

Then there is the other thing, and that is where suspense is in a title. Take a film like Mutiny on the Bounty. Suppose it had not had the word "mutiny" in the title, but that it was called The Good Ship Bounty. You would have told the audience nothing. With its real title, however, the audience in the cinema is waiting from the moment the picture starts, wondering when the mutiny is going to start.

That applies again and again with titles. A lot of people are very unconscious of that fact. They do not realize how much suspense the audience is enjoying through a thing like that.

But to revert to the actual writing of suspense, of course in the old days, as I said, it was the race to the scaffold. Griffith did it, you know, in Orphans of the Storm, The Knife, and that sort of thing, but I feel that today we can have two types of suspense. We can have suspense like the old chase, which I would call objective suspense, and then there is a subjective suspense, which is letting the audience experience it through the mind or eyes of one of the characters. Now that is a very different thing.

You see, I am a great believer in making the audience suffer, by which I mean that instead of doing it, say as Griffith used to do it, by cutting to the galloping feet of the horse and then going to the scaffold -- instead of showing both sides, I like to show only one side. In the French Revolution, probably someone said to Danton, "Will you please hurry on your horse," but never show him getting on the horse. Let the audience worry whether the horse has even started, you see. That is making the audience play its part.

The old way used to be that the audience was presented with just an objective view of this galloping horse, and they just said they hoped the horse got there in time. I think it should go further than that. Not only "I hope he gets there in time," but "I hope he has started off," you see. That is a more intensive development. Of course, that is simply dealing with the treatment of what is the convention of suspense, but to get to suspense for a film as a whole, as I have said, a title can give it.

And then there is a thing which one might term the springboard situation. In the first reel of a film you establish a given situation. You might take a sympathetic character who gets himself into some sort of trouble, whatever it might be. The rest of the film, then, is, "Will he get himself out of that situation?" I always call that the springboard situation.

For example, this film that Mr. Abbott mentioned, The Lodger, was based on Jack the Ripper. I took the trouble to spread a description of this man over London. I did it by every known means of disseminating news. The fact that he only went for fair-haired girls was broadcast, or that he wore a black cloak or carried a bag. I spent a whole reel on stuff like that. By the end of the reel you were shown a house where the gas went out, and just as the man was putting a shilling into the meter, there was a knock at the door. The housewife opened the door, and just then the gas came up with a full flood of light on this figure. Now that is what I call the springboard situation. You then knew that Jack the Ripper was in a London boarding house. In the rest of the film, you see, you were bound to hold on to that.

I have always been, as far as possible, a great believer in that sort of thing, such as you had in the Chain Gang picture, where a man escapes and you wonder what happens to him. Galsworthy's Escape is another example. They are what I call springboard situations, where suspense starts practically in the first reel. I have always found that, generally speaking, what I would call letting the audience into the secret as early as possible. Lay all the facts out, as much as you can, unless you are dealing with a mystery element. I have just finished a film, Jamaica Inn, with Charles Laughton, and apropos of this, I came upon a very queer problem. I don't know how many of you have read the book, but there was a character in it who was a village parson. He was in a village where wrecking took place -- the luring of ships on to the rocks by a gang of wreckers. Their headquarters were at this Jamaica inn, and the innkeeper was the head of the gang, but he was under the thumb or control of a shadow described in the book.

Actually, of course, it was this parson character who emerged for the last third of the story, and there he took an active part in the film. He had big acting scenes with the girl in the story, and he really took command of the whole picture, he was that strong. But for two-thirds of the picture, he had to appear just as an innocuous figure.

The problem there was, as I saw it, when I came in on this thing, that one would have to have a very important actor to play this character, because of what he had to do in the last third of the picture. The question was, how could one possibly have an important actor playing in an apparently unimportant part in the first two-thirds, when the characters are talking about a mysterious and influential figure?

Well, as you know, in the "who-done-it" story, the murderer turns out to be none other than the butler or the maid! Now this was a sort of "who-done-it" story, but with that difference, that the part was so strong a prominent actor had to be cast for it, because he took possession of the whole film at the end. The question was that you had neither suspense nor surprise. You certainly had one moment of surprise, though, when Laughton turned out to be whatever it was. A good phrase, that, don't you think?

Naturally, then, the story had to be changed. It is one occasion when journalists say, "Those film people have ruined another good story by changing it around." But one can really hold one's head up here, and say that it has been done with every possible reasoning. We had to let the audience into the secret about that figure and change the whole middle of the story, so that you saw this figure behind the scenes and how he manipulated the wreckers. We had to invent new situations. We couldn't just show what he did and how he did it, but had to have new situations, showing him up against it, investigations going on by the detectives of the period -- if they had them in 1820. The entire middle had to be changed, so that it became a suspense story instead of a surprise story.

How am I doing? Don't you want to ask questions? I sound bored, with nobody interrupting me.

Around Blogosphere – 11/22/08

Craig Mazin rips apart the new Writers Store Catalog. For example, the script binding kit (pictured above), for a low-low $39.95!

Script Binding Kit - $39.95

Not a bad little package for someone looking to mail out a bunch of scripts. You get three hole punch paper, some nice linen script covers, good old Acco brads, a script binding mallet, and some–

Wait, what?

A script binding mallet? What’s that for, to beat yourself in the face once you realize no one’s buying your 184 page space opera?

I swear to God, just when this thing was looking reasonable, they have to throw in a mallet. I have survived for 15 years in the screen trade without ever malleting a single draft.

Must have been dumb luck.


Alex Epstein
on Bad Language
I think the issue is gratuitous bad language. Where the f-bomb replaces character, you're failing.

Mike Le’s very funny
Top Ten List.

Danny Stack’s 3 Steps of the Professional Screenwriter:
Step 1:
Step 2: Writing
Step 3: Networking

FAQ with Lucy
Is format, spelling and grammar really that important?
Personally, I always think it's better to be safe than sorry - never let Nazi readers out there reject you for not "looking right" on the page or carelessness with spelling and grammar.

Julie’s fabulous
The Charmin Effect
Soft character arcs, soft
premise and soft structure.

Alexandra on
The Great Climax in Jaws
Peter Benchley, the author and co-screenwriter, was talking about the ending of the film. He said that from the beginning of production Spielberg had been ragging on him about the ending – he said it was too much of a downer. For one thing, the visual wasn’t right – if you’ll recall the book, once Sheriff Brody has killed the shark (NOT by blowing it up), the creature spirals slowly down to the bottom of the sea. Spielberg found that emotionally unsatisfying. He wanted something bigger, something exciting, something that would have audiences on their feet and cheering. He proposed the oxygen tank – that Brody would first shove a tank of compressed air into the shark’s mouth, and then fire at it until he hit the tank and the shark went up in a gigantic explosion. Benchley argued that it was completely absurd – no one would ever believe that could happen. Spielberg countered that he had taken the audience on the journey all this time – we were with the characters every step of the way. The audience would trust him if he did it right.

Above is the hilarious vid of Ian McKellan explaining ot Ricky Gervais the art of 'pretending'. (Hat tip to
Dix! Thanks!)

Craig gets critical
about Rachel Getting Married
Advertised as a cheery comedy, Rachel Getting Married is actually a dour hodgepodge of the worst tendencies of "independent filmmaking" that White's always railing on about. The screenplay by Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney) is her first, and it's filled with rookie mistakes: the enunciating of every emotion; the random acquaintance that the main character just happens to bump into who inadvertently spills the beans in front of the others; and, of course, The Tragedy From The Past that casts a pall over the proceedings. All shot by Demme with hand-held camerawork so jittery you half-expect Jason Bourne to crash the party. In the immeasurably lighter and more unassuming Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mike Newell was able to make the audience feel like a guest at the titular events without relying on cheap devices. It's time to give this visual style a rest.

Emily Blake
on Pitch Q
Anyway, if you have a good script this is how it works. You film a pitch of your script - if you don't have the equipment to do it yourself, Pitch Q has a place in town - and you upload it onto the website. Producers are able to browse the pitches and find what they're looking for. So here is why I recommend the site, especially for people out of town who have no access to industry parties: In the eight months this site has existed, six writers who've uploaded pitches have either had their scripts optioned or landed assignment jobs. And when you think about the odds, that's pretty damn impressive.

James Henry’s
Top Ten Best Lines in Steel Magnolias
7. "Janice Van Meter got hit with a baseball. It was fabulous."

Thanks to Maggie, you can get
your blog analyzed for free.
Enter your blog's address in this page and it analyzes the writer. Hmm! I tried a few and it seemed to be pretty well on target.

Here’s what it had to say about me:

The logical and analytical type. They are especially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.


I’ve added
Film Studies for Free to my Writer’s Resource sidebar. This is simply the most awe-inspiring film website out there.

SUPERB: Matthew Flanagan on
the Cinema of Slowness
In defiant opposition to the quickening of pace in mainstream American cinema, a distinctive narrative form devoted to stillness and contemplation has emerged in the work of a growing number of filmmakers over the last two decades. Most widely exhibited on the festival circuit, this “cinema of slowness” (as categorised by Michel Ciment in 2003) has begun to signify a unique type of reflective art where form and temporality are never less than emphatically present, and a diminution of pace serves to displace the dominant momentum of narrative causality. The most distinctive active practitioners of such a style might be thought to comprise, in loose chronological order, Philippe Garrel, Chantal Akerman, Theo Angelopoulos, Abbas Kiarostami, Béla Tarr, Aleksandr Sokurov, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Tsai Ming-liang, Sharunas Bartas, Pedro Costa, Jia Zhang-ke, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lisandro Alonso, Carlos Reygadas, Gus Van Sant and Albert Serra.

The formal characteristics shared by these filmmakers are immediately identifiable, if not quite fully inclusive: the employment of (often extremely) long takes, de-centred and understated modes of storytelling, and a pronounced emphasis on quietude and the everyday. In light of the current prevalence of these stylistic tropes, it is perhaps time to consider their reciprocal employment as pertaining not to an abstract notion of “slowness” but a unique formal and structural design: an aesthetic of slow. The work of the directors listed above constitutes a cinema which compels us to retreat from a culture of speed, modify our expectations of filmic narration and physically attune to a more deliberate rhythm. Liberated from the abundance of abrupt images and visual signifiers that comprise a sizeable amount of mass-market cinema, we are free to indulge in a relaxed form of panoramic perception; during long takes we are invited to let our eyes wander within the parameters of the frame, observing details that would remain veiled or merely implied by a swifter form of narration. In terms of storytelling, the familiar hegemony of drama, consequence and psychological motivation is consistently relaxed, reaching a point at which everything (content, performance, rhythm) becomes equivalent in representation.

(Hat-tip to
Girish for this link. He runs a brilliant blog.)

Chris Fujiwara
on Jerry Lewis
Taking his curtain call (in character as goofy Professor Kelp) in The Nutty Professor (1963), Lewis stumbles and falls into the camera lens. Lewis's understanding of film is such that the lens is never merely a point in space, an abstract function that organizes images, or a metaphor for consciousness grasping the world. The lens is a physical thing, part of the great big mess of material existence. In The Family Jewels (1965), the photographer Julius (Lewis) repeatedly presses his finger onto the lens of his camera, to show his niece (Donna Butterworth) where she should look ("You'll have a face full of fingers," he even remarks). In The Bellboy (1960), Stanley (Lewis), realizing on entering a room that he is surrounded with female models in negligees, crosses to the foreground and prudishly covers the camera lens with the palm of his hand. In the ball sequence in One More Time (1970), the eruption of a long-suppressed sneeze causes Charlie (Sammy Davis Jr.) to lurch forward, Kelp-like, into the camera lens. The cut shows a reverse field where already—in the instant of the cut—the exaggerated force of Charlie's sneeze has toppled a group of party guests, who slowly start picking themselves up from the floor, like the animated suits of armor in a magnificent gag in The Errand Boy (1961).

In all these scenes, Lewis is concerned with two fundamental questions of cinema: How to see? and What should be seen? He uncovers the logic that makes seeing aggression, the logic of the look that topples the object (like Kelp's out-of-focus look in the bowling alley in The Nutty Professor, when he mistakes a group of people for bowling pins) or of the object that topples the look (Herbert [Lewis] witnessing the infidelity of his beloved Fay in the graduation-day sequence of 1961's The Ladies Man). The look confronting its object (taking or mistaking it, or being taken by it) is one of the basic structures of Lewis's work, from which he forms spiraling long-term patterns of conflict, avoidance, and reversal, welcoming or ignoring contradiction, violating the premises of a scene or even a whole film in search of new experimental truths (as in the classic hat scene in The Ladies Man, the nightmarish Copa scene in 1964's The Patsy, or throughout the breathtaking entirety of 1970's Which Way to the Front?).

FABULOUS: David Bordwell
on the Films of the 80’s
So you can make a good case that the 1980s gave America a burst of first-rate films and remarkable new talent. At all levels, from ambitious prestige items to dazzling genre pictures, the decade is nothing to be sneezed at. The maw of home video had to be fed, so the demand was for product of all sorts. Videotape rental expanded specialty niches and cult markets. Filmmakers could finance projects through video and foreign presales, and investors took chances at many levels. The era saw a revival of ambitious independent films, which played alongside program pictures, Oscar bait, and summer blockbusters. Romantic comedy, action movies, and science fiction enjoyed a strong run. And many of the people we still consider genuine movie stars—Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Glenn Close, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, and Tom Cruise—are ineluctably creatures of the 80’s.

A to Z Film list

Friday, November 21, 2008

“Ikiru” broke my heart.

Hey guys,

With every new batch of DVDs I get from Netflix, I always have one from
Akira Kurosawa. I’ve seen all of his big classics already (and any good screenwriter should be able to easily list those titles). One of these days, I’m going to post an article announcing that I’ve seen EVERY SINGLE Kurosawa film available on DVD. Why shouldn’t I? He’s the greatest filmmaker to ever walk the earth. No human being has ever delivered more cinematic masterpieces than Kurosawa.


He died in 1998, sadly.

But I finally got to see Ikiru! This film completely broke my heart. It’s the story of a man who worked in Public Affairs for the government in post-war Japan and he learns that he has terminal cancer. He realizes he has squandered his life on meaningless red tape. He has no close family or friendships to lean on. And he resolves to use his remaining time to build a children's playground on a piece of land that had become toxic to a neighborhood, and he battles the government bureaucracy to get it done. (It makes me tear-up just explaining it.)

This brings to mind a quote
from writer Stanley Elkin: “I would never write about someone who is not at the end of his rope.”

It’s 2 and a half hours. It’s a stunning picture.
Criterion Collection is the only way to go. In 1960, Time Magazine wrote: “The great strength of the picture is the total seriousness and importance of what Kurosawa has to say: to live is to love; the rest is cancer.” Ebert wrote: “I think this is one of the few movies that might actually be able to inspire someone to lead their life a little differently.”

The protagonist, Watanabe, was played by Takashi Shimura, who many of you may recognize from Seven Samurai and other Kurosawa films. He’s a member of Kurosawa’s regular repertoire of actors, and the more films I see with Shimura, the more I’m impressed by his range. He may very well be one of the greatest actors who ever lived. And this character, this poor man, was at the end of his rope with a simple goal of accomplishing something meaningful and he faced a formidable opponent that we all know so well - government bureaucracy, which has many faces and not one single antagonist.

A few random thoughts:

- Consider how, in the Public Affairs office, all the stacks of papers illustrated how isolated and disconnected the people were.

- The party scenes illustrated loss of individualism.

- Wantanabe’s new hat signified a change in spirit.

- Wantanabe speaks so damn infrequently that when he does actually talk, you cling to every single word he mutters.

- We know his pain not because he verbalizes it but because Shimura shows us through brilliant acting. We can see it on his face.

- Notice at his home the cluttered goods of his son and wife (both materialistic) contrasted with Watanabe's sparse room.

- Consider HOW Wantanabe was told he had cancer. In the lobby, a man describes to Wantanabe his symptoms and explains how the doctor won’t tell him what he really has. (At the time, little was known about cancer and it was believed that if the patient knows that he/she has cancer, it’ll exacerbate the condition and they’ll die sooner. Thus, they wouldn’t actually give them the real diagnosis.) So anyway, this guy basically tells him, “if they say ‘it’s an ulcer, don’t worry’ - it’s cancer. If they say you can eat anything you want, that means you have less than a year.” When the doctor speaks the very words that were predicted, Wantanabe simply bows his head for what feels like an eternity and had me in tears. He then turns away from the room, so that only we can see him, and he looks so utterly forlorn.

- Also from
Ebert: “In a scene that never fails to shake me, Watanabe goes home and cries himself to sleep under his blanket, while the camera pans up to a commendation he was awarded after 25 years at his post. It is not so bad that he must die. What is worse is that he has never lived. ‘I just can't die -- I don't know what I've been living for all these years,’ he says to the stranger in the bar. He never drinks, but now he is drinking: ‘This expensive sake is a protest against my life up to now.’”

- He spends time with a young girl, Toyo, which was a great scandal in his household. This was not a romantic relationship so much as Wantanabe was attracted to her love of life, and she WAS full of life. But I was also impressed by how they fully fleshed out Toyo’s character. She wasn’t some virginal exemplification of womanhood, but she was youthful, loving, full of life, and also a bit selfish, immature, and in a situation with a man dying of cancer, all of which was way beyond her comprehension or ability to deal with it.

- When they had the argument outside of Toyo’s manufacturing plant, notice how the vibrating glass adds to the tension.

- Consider the meaning of the visual symbol of the rabbit that Toyo gave Watanabe. Oh, to build something of value…

Now for something visual. Here’s a trailer:

Okay, let’s talk structure. Kurosawa worked with multiple writers. He liked to let them compete with each other in order to come up with the best ideas for his films. And this break in structure was suggested by
Hideo Oguni who is still alive and still writing screenplays.

An hour and a half into the film, Wantanabe decides to build the park. In the very next scene, he’s dead. We’re at a Japanese-style memorial service. About a dozen men are in a room and at the end is Wantanabe’s photo surrounded by flowers and candles. We learn that the park has been built. The men debate if Wantanabe’s really to be praised for creating this park, because the Park Department actually built the park. And as all the men debate these issues, we discover through flashbacks just how Wantanabe did it. This is a very unusual structure, but it works, because this helps Kurosawa jump to the good parts of a storyline that would’ve been too complicated and difficult to tell in a linear fashion. By changing the perspective, by showing these events through the eyes of his co-workers and family, Kurosawa actually creates depth that he could not in a straight narrative. It also helped him to rise above cliché and sentimentality to create a genuinely moving masterpiece of cinema.

A few thoughts about this structure:

- The fact that Kurosawa took Wantanabe away from us so suddenly makes us want to see Wantanabe that much more, which set up the very moving ending. It turns everything into a sort of mystery. We wonder if he built the park. We wonder how he died. We wonder if he was happy or if the death was suicide. And we’re shown how his accomplishment has impacted the lives of those who knew him.

- Ebert makes another poignant point that is very true about this structure: “We who have followed Watanabe on his last journey are now brought forcibly back to the land of the living, to cynicism and gossip. Mentally, we urge the survivors to think differently, to arrive at our conclusions. And that is how Kurosawa achieves his final effect: He makes us not witnesses to Watanabe's decision, but evangelists for it.”

- Shan Jayaweera, for Senses of Cinema, had
this to say: “In having his colleagues figure out for themselves the circumstances of his death one can really appreciate his final deeds and the fact that he did finally break out of his existence to enjoy his remaining months. But this one fact doesn't take away from the film's bleak outlook on humanity, and the really sad thing is that regardless of the different time and culture it is as poignant and relevant for an audience watching it in Melbourne today. It is a deliberately slow-paced film, and enjoyably so. If you stick with it you are in for a truly great cinematic experience but also a lot of personal soul-searching. You have been warned.”

- The point of the flashbacks was not to advance plot but to make us FEEL. We are moved by Wantanabe’s dogged determination and willpower and strength of character that got the job of building a park done. We are moved by his overly polite, super-subservient, and hyper-deferential interaction with others in government, which was done in long takes so that we could FEEL the power of his will.

- At times, you wonder, “why doesn’t he tell them he has cancer?” As you contemplate why he doesn’t tell them, you understand his wisdom and how he got the job done.

- Kurosawa always finds the most compelling approach to every scene. He allows for so many
vertical moments in his storytelling. He lets every emotional moment play out fully for the audience to truly experience and FEEL before moving the plot forward. I’m thinking of the moment when, after the pompous bureaucrats practically congratulated themselves for building the park, the poor women from the neighborhood came into the memorial and burned incense and cried in gratitude to Wantanabe, which must’ve lasted at least one full minute, maybe longer. So moving. And Kurosawa cuts to close-ups of the faces of the men in the room, of their reaction to this touching moment that they are witnessing. Kurosawa proves that the most compelling image one can place on the screen is the human face. In fact, in the context of a compelling moment, one could argue that the more eccentric the face, the more interesting the shot.

Consider Kurosawa’s faces:

- Consider how Kurasawa doesn’t preach to us about living life to the fullest. He uses one song to convey that message, which was sung only twice. He allows the emotions of the story to impress upon you the meaning of the story without having to explain it.

- As we go through one flashback after another, one heightened emotional moment after another, and you start crying, you wonder how he’s going to top all that we’ve seen before with his ending. And he does top it in a scene that’s one of the greatest closings in the history of cinema. He tells us in advance the image that we’re going to see, that is, Wantanabe in his new park in the snow, dead, and then we’re surprised to see him alive in the park before he dies. And he’s in a swing. He’s swinging back and forth as it snows, and he’s happy. HE’S HAPPY! We spent all that time watching him in agony over his stomach cancer for two and a half hours and now HE’S HAPPY! And he’s singing that song of his… and it just broke my heart.

Life is brief, fall in love, maidens.
Before the crimson bloom fades from your lips.
Before the tides of passion cool within you.
For those of you who know no tomorrow.

Life is brief, fall in love, maidens.
Before your raven tresses begin to fade.
Before the flames in your hearts flicker and die.
For those to whom today will never return.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Screenwriting News & Links! 11/19/08


New Screenplays:

Warner Brothers has up-and-running their
For Your Consideration page, as does Disney. Between them, 3 new scripts are available:

(Interesting to note that the action lines are all stacked. It’s called action stacking, which is perfectly acceptable, albeit rare.)

Dark Knight

Gran Torino


Eagle Eye - March 28, 2008 draft script by John Glenn and Travis Wright, J. R. Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, J. J. Abrams, and Hillary Seitz. (Did I get them all? Sheesh.)

[As always, hat-tip to the great


Economy Takes its Toll on Hollywood
"Every single source of capital has suffered a seismic shock that we haven't seen in our lifetimes," said Nigel Sinclair, co-principal of film producer Spitfire Pictures. "That's going to lead to a broad squeeze throughout the studio system." The industry's woes are reflected in recent financial announcements. NBC Universal is cutting $500 million from its budget in 2009 and likely trimming staff. Viacom's third-quarter earnings dropped 37% as its cable networks saw an ad revenue dip in the U.S., and chairman Sumner Redstone and his holding firm National Amusements are under pressure from nervous creditors amid a global credit crunch and declining stock prices. Disney's recently announced quarterly earnings dropped 13% from last year, citing a sudden and significant decline in TV ad and theme parks trends. "Studios are taking a much harder look at the bottom line," said analyst Larry Gerbrandt of Media Valuation Partners in Beverly Hills. "When they contract, they contract across the board, and that includes production." For movies, the days of easy money are officially over.

Industrywide cutbacks hit holiday bashes

Roger Ebert on Screenwriters Getting the Nobel
Q: This is a theoretical question. Would you support an accomplished screenwriter being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature? Say, for example, Woody Allen? As film has become the dominant art form of our time, I've thought such an award would be justified. -- Sandy Bates, Ann Arbor, Mich.
A: Absolutely. They give the prize to dramatists, after all. The first screenwriting Nobel should have gone to Ingmar Bergman. Allen would agree. I also advocate extending the Pulitzers to film. I proposed this in an op-ed in the New York Times, which was vociferously cheered by those who had absolutely nothing to do with the Pulitzers.

Berardinelli sounds off on MPAA
Support the film. Tell your friends about it. Don't let Slumdog Millionaire fall into the category of an obscure art-house feature because its MPAA classification indicates it's not appropriate for anyone under the age of 17. That's bullshit.

Four WGA Staffers Arrested for Protesting American Idol

Melissa Rosenberg to write next three Twilight sequels

Interview with Twilight author, Stephenie Meyer
MTV: Would you ever write a proper screenplay?
Meyer: I don't think I could do that unless Hollywood is ready for a 14-hour experience. [Laughs.] I tried once to write a short story, and it was horrible. I don't think in short terms; I have to explore every tiny detail of things. I really admire people who can come in and streamline [a screenplay] and get all the information across, but simply, that's not my talent. I can't imagine doing that, although my ideas are very visual. I'd [need] a partner who knew how to do it.

Yes, girl, you would.

Interview with Twilight screenwriter, Melissa Rosenberg
LL: Were there things you wrote that didn't make it in that you're anxious to see on the DVD?
MR: You know it's funny, but not really. There were scenes when we started, when the screenplay was 110 to 115 pages, but for budget we cut it down so we'd have fewer production days. There were some scenes along the way that got cut where I was thinking "I can't do without that!" But then I saw the film and I had to be reminded that the scenes weren't there because I didn't really miss them. It's a fairly tight edit.

Joan Didion Writing Screenplay for Film about Katharine Graham
HBO Films signed journalist Joan Didion for an untitled film project about the life of Watergate-era Washington Post publisher, Katharine Graham. If the project gets off the ground, the company hopes to sign Laura Linney (who scored an Emmy for John Adams) to play Graham and Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer) to direct.

Motion Picture Academy Honors Screenwriting Talents
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored six screenwriting prospects at a prestigious dinner in L.A. Thursday night, and the man who wrote one of George Clooney's best-known flicks was the evening's keynote speaker! Frank Scott, the Oscar nominated scribe behind Clooney and J. Lo's 'Out of Sight,' spoke at the dinner honoring the six winners of the 23rd Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, presented by the Academy. Movie legend Eva Marie Saint ('North by Northwest,' 'On the Waterfront') served as one of the competition's judges.

On the Centennial Collection of Sunset Blvd

Smallville Scribes Hired to Ruin Live-Action Robotech Movie
Warner Brothers has hired new screenwriters for their big screen live-action adaptation of Robotech. Smallville scribes Alfred Gough and Miles Millar have come on board to rewrite Lawrence Kasdan’s previous draft. This is not good news. Gough and Millar were the team behind The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Herbie Fully Loaded, Made Men, Showtime, and the Shanghai Noon franchise (you remember, the Jackie Chan/Owen Wilson western comedy films?). To be fair, they got a story credit on Spider-Man 2... And to think, Warner Bros gave those two guys the job of rewriting a script penned by the the screenwriting legend responsible for both Raiders of the Lost Ark and Empire Strikes Back. It’s mind-boggling. The Hollywood Reporter claims that Warner Bros made the move in hopes that it will “bring action and geek cred to the table.”

(Hey guys, Kasdan is capable of screwing up. Dreamcatchers, anyone? And I was disappointed by
his treatment of Clash of the Titans.)

Batman Sues Batman
The mayor of the Turkish city of Batman has sued Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros., wanting royalties from the mega-successful The Dark Knight. Green Lantern, Nova Scotia was unavailable for comment.

Sopranos Continues to Sleep With the Fishes
David Chase tells The L.A. Times he still has no plans for a movie version of the show, nor any desire to further explain the show's controversial ending.

McQuarrie Adapting Monster of Florence and The Champions
Oscar winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie has picked up two more projects to work on next. He will adapt both Douglas Preston's bestseller The Monster of Florence with producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen (American Beauty, Milk) as well as The Champions, a British TV series from the late 1960s with Guillermo del Toro producing and writing as well. The Monster of Florence tells of a writer's experience investigating a heinous crime that had occurred years earlier on his property. The Champions followed the adventures of a team of secret government agents who are rescued from a Himalayan plane crash by an advanced civilization and given superhuman abilities. Both sound like very interesting ideas and I'm glad to see McQuarrie writing again after winning that Oscar for The Usual Suspects in 1996.

Screenwriting Course Kit transports afterschool programs to Hollywood
The Silver Screen fantasies that nearly every 'tween' and young teen harbors will undoubtedly come to life with the newest product from a highly regarded producer of classroom-ready educational materials for afterschool programs and schools. Being a Screenwriter: Generating Ideas for a Screenplay, the latest Course Kit from Community Learning LLC, delivers a full dose of movie magic for students in grades 6 through 8, according to Michael DeBritz, founder and president of the Scotia, New York-based firm. "Students discover through Being a Screenwriter just how much fun writing can be," DeBritz said.

Bridget Moynahan’s New Mystery Man
What can I say? I’m a cad.

Plus, I do love a cute writer
Julie James jokes that after she stops writing for the night, she envisions her characters frozen and waiting for her to return to the story. She says it's almost like they're saying, "Julie, you've got to get back to us. What's going on next?" James likes the idea of "creating this story that kind of starts in your head and then all of a sudden you have these characters who become very much like real people, and it just seems like it's something that you have to get out onto the page."

Not true!
Cindy McCain has Alleged Affair with Mystery Man

Huntsman Takes Aim at Mystery Man at Credit Suisse
Hey, I had to move my money to the Bahamas. Hello?

Fearne Cotton’s new Mystery Man
So very sorry, but I look SO much better than him.

Oprah's mystery man has been revealed!
I only give her ideas for her show.

Nicola Roberts snapped with mystery man
She’s a lovely girl. She really is.

Mystery man was a champ
Still is, baby. Still is.

David O. Russell to tackle The Grackle
As a change of pace, Russell didn’t write the screenplay for the movie. The script was written by a pair of first time writers named Mike Arnold and Chris Poole. Normally, I would be concerned about a writer as brilliant as Russell directing someone else’s script, but this screenplay apparently caused a huge bidding war when it was completed two years ago. So, there must be something to make the script stand out from the pack…

Hey Mike Arnold and Chris Poole – You better learn how to fight. In case you’ve forgotten, O. Russell has been in a fistfight with Clooney and was notorious for his tantrums during Huckabees


A super battle over Watchmen
It's taken more than 20 years and any number of false starts to bring Watchmen this far along: Forsaken film adaptations include versions from directors Terry Gilliam (Brazil), Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum) and screenwriter David Hayter (X-Men), with countless script revisions along the way. Joaquin Phoenix was once considered for Crudup's starring part as Dr. Manhattan, the all-powerful but tortured soul at the center of the Watchmen story. Early screenplay costs and abandoned preproduction fees total close to $10 million, and no fewer than four studios have worked on the movie over the decades, including 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount and Universal.

Steve Urkel Becomes a Screenwriter!
The Hollywood Reporter posts that White has written a romantic comedy called Did You Get My Text, which Joel Zwick (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) will direct. The film follows a young man who somehow "starts a relationship with a girl on his friend's phone, turning their courtship into a comedy of technological errors." Just how does that happen, anyway? And by comedy of errors, I imagine that means this poor girl finally thinks the young man's friend is into her? Oh dear. Right now, there's no word on cast, but we'll probably hear more about the players soon enough.

Above is a happy vid, a tribute to the gorgeous Jean Seberg who, on November 13, would have turned 70. Below’s from
an article.

Fans of old-time flicks recall Seberg as the beautiful yet unpredictable presence in such diverse productions as The Mouse That Roared, Lilith, Paint Your Wagon and Airport. And those devoted to stories of Hollywood tragedies will recall the horrendous FBI smear campaign against Seberg that resulted in her having miscarriage that ultimately wrecked her physical and emotional health (she committed suicide in 1979). Filmmaker Garry McGee’s new biography
Jean Seberg – Breathless (published by BearManor Media) presents a complex and often tragic portrait of an extraordinary woman whose great talent, intelligence and sincerity was never truly appreciated in her lifetime. Film Threat discussed the Seberg mystique with McGee...

See also: Jean Seberg’s
Wikipedia entry.

Jenny Lumet was recently honored for her Rachel Getting Married script at the 2008 Behind the Camera Awards.

Star Wars: A New Heap, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Death Star by John Powers.

Rushdie and Mehta bringing it back home for movie
Canadian director Deepa Mehta is collaborating with Salman Rushdie on a big-screen adaptation of the author's 1981 historical novel "Midnight's Children."

Exclusive: We’ve Seen Steve Carell’s Beaver Screenplay

Alexandra Sokoloff is “a visual whore,”
part 1 and part 2.

John Milius’ bold prediction
This week in San Bernardino, CA, Oscar nominated screenwriter John Milius made a bold prediction while speaking to students at the local Cal State campus. And that is that his current screenplay in progress, about the life of famed conqueror Genghis Khan, will be the best of his long career.

Mendes: Preacher movie has no script
Sam Mendes has revealed that his big screen adaptation of comic book series Preacher has no script. The American Beauty director refuted reports that the project is well underway, telling Empire: "Basically, they should have written, 'Mendes in development with Preacher'. "What I'm doing is, I've got to find a script. I've just got to get it written."

Peter Morgan profile
He considered bungee jumping and mountain climbing, he said not long ago from his home in London. But he chose something even riskier. He wrote a play about the landmark 1977 television interviews that David Frost conducted with Richard M. Nixon. Relying on the accounts of participants and fictionalizing here and there for effect, he made sure to write it, he said, “in a way that breaks every single rule of screenwriting.”

Morgan Confirms He’s Writing Wanted 2, Hints At Sequel Going Global


My good deed for today. Here’s James Ricardo’s e-mail.


Just wanted you to know that our new comedy "Opie Gets Laid" is coming soon to DVD from Universal/Vivendi. Here's the trailer and movie info:


James Ricardo


On the Contest Circuit:

One in Ten Screenplay Contest Announces Winner

ScreamFest Announces Contest Winners

HSI Announces October Contest Winner

Expo Contest Announces Semifinalists and Quarterfinalists

Academy Announces Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship Winners for 2008

One in Ten Competition Announces Finalists

20/20 Competition Anounces Contest Winners


And Finally

Marty Scorsese’s favorite films!