Sunday, 11 June 2017

Selling a spec script: 1933-2013

Vanity Fair has released the best write-up about the history of movie spec script sales I've ever seen. Written by Margaret Heidenry, the article is titled When the Spec Script was King.
Once derided as “schmucks with Underwoods,” screenwriters saw their stock soar to seven-figure heights with the advent of the frenzied “spec”-script market. That bubble burst in 2008, but will the schmucks rise again?
Most of the information contained in the article is available elsewhere—in interviews or biographies, such as Joe Eszterhas's book Hollywood Animal—but this article can serve as a primer for an era.

I've met so many wannabe screenwriters with dreams of a-million-dollar-sale-just-around-the-corner, people who will never make it, that it's heart-breaking. If you're interested in pursuing a career writing spec scripts, or even hope to sell one, just one, before you die, do yourself a favor and read this article.

First posted: 12 March 2013

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Book review: 'Writing the Romantic Comedy'

The book, Writing the Romantic Comedy, by Billy Mernit, has been around since 2000. I started reading it several times in the last eighteen months, but always got stuck on page 5, where he talks about structure. He throws up three-act theory, then justifies it with the following words:
"Funny thing about threes. Maybe it's hardwired into our DNA, but three seems to be the magic number (as in morning, noon and night, the Holy Trinity, etc.)"
That's absurd and it stopped me cold every time. What about four: the four seasons, the four points of the compass, the four Gospels, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Or five: the five fingers, five toes, five basic tastes? Or seven: the seven days of the week, seven hills of Rome, seven Wonders of the ancient world? These are no more arbitrary or irrelevant than his two choices.

The sound you could hear about that time was me grinding my teeth, followed by a 'thump' as the book hit the shelves.

What eventually got me past page 5, and my growing prejudice, was a single visit to Billy's blog, Living the Romantic Comedy. There I found a sincere interest in the subject of romcoms and confessions of his real-life struggle with the elements that make up one of humanity's greatest preoccupations. So I returned to his book. The thing that really won me over was his analysis of Annie Hall, but that's another subject. He talks about Theme a lot and that's all good reading.

Here are a few quotes to give you a taste of the book itself.

Romantic comedy protagonists tend to be emotionally incomplete.

Every genre has its subtext. Thrillers are about creating cathartic confrontations with our fears; action adventures are usually enactments of mythic heroism. In romantic comedies, the real subject matter is the power of love.

In a romantic comedy, crisis provokes the protagonist into comprehending the value of love.

What a protagonist learns by falling in love determines the outcome of a romantic comedy.

One could restate the paradigm for a three-act structure in a romantic comedy as follows:
   Conflict:  Love challenges the characters.
   Crisis:  The characters must accept or deny love.
   Resolution:  Love transforms the characters.

There's a common misconception that characters need to be sympathetic. Not necessarily. Godfather Don Corleone is a monster. We don't sympathize with his methods and his murderous morality. But we're fascinated by his power and passion, and we identify with his devotion to his family.

A character who's getting in his own way is a character who has more than one side to him. He's got an inner conflict that's fueling his outer conflicts. He's got, in a word, complexity.

There's one no-no, a cultural bias so powerful that it remains unbroken in our genre: he can't be in it only for the sex.

The only written-in-stone rule that applies to female protagonists: she can't be in it only for the money.

Typical of romantic comedy heroines from the earliest days of the genre: they were women who dominated, or at least held their own with, men whom they pursued.

What's universal comes out of what's most personal.

A screenwriter's resistance to getting into "personal stuff" is absurd. It's got to be personal, if anyone's going to care about your story, and theme is the arena where your personal experience, attitudes, and insights come into play.

The theme issue in screenwriting is probably the trickiest one of all. ... What's it about? ... Theme, premise, point—whatever you call it. ... Something to learn. A point of view. A meaning.

Your characters are embodiments of thematic concerns; they're the ones arguing the sides of your possible truth.

A good theme is a flexible, ever growing entity and, unlike fortune cookie slogans, is so much an organic part of the whole that it can't be patly extracted.

The romantic comedy generally breaks the traditional three-act structure into seven essential beats: the setup (a chemical equation), the catalyst (cute meet), the first turning point (a sexy complication), the midpoint (hook), the second turning point (the swivel), the climax (dark moment), and resolution (joyful defeat).

The hidden challenge of every romantic comedy lies in getting its audience to believe that these two people absolutely must end up together.

Romance writers can't shy away from the big emotions their characters inevitably experience. One of the reasons people come to these movies is to share those feelings.

Writing the Romantic Comedy. It's a good book. Recommended.

First posted: 25 February 2013

Friday, 9 June 2017

Script Development Strategies - Linda Aronson

Years ago, Linda Aronson taught a course at the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS). One component of the course was a list of Development Strategies that Linda created to assist students find the best version of their stories. The Development Strategies were incorporated in Linda's book, Screenwriting Updated, and subsequently reproduced widely. In 2010, Linda published an expanded version of the book, called The 21st Century Screenplay. The following is a list gleaned from that book.
    Next time you're about to start formulating a new story, try reading through this list and apply the strategies. Think of it as twenty-five steps to a complete story. I consider the Strategies to be distilled practical commonsense, from a professional writer who has decades of writing-to-a-deadline under her belt. You need a method in order to consistently pump out quality work. I suspect most professional writers do this intuitively. Linda Aronson started with an academic background and couldn't help analyzing her own approach, for the benefit of others.
    If you find this information helpful, buy the book. It is an "atlas" (as Christopher Vogler describes it) of information about screenwriting.

1. Define the task at hand.

2. Brainstorm the best 'real but unusual' remedy.

3. Solve the genre equation.

4. Find non-narrative triggers.

5. Create a simple narrative sentence.

6. Create an advanced narrative sentence.

7. Make sure the disturbance happens soon and involves real change.

8. Distinguish the idea from a story.

9. Differentiate the action line and the relationship line.

10. Create a relationship road.

11. Peg the relationship line to the action.

12. Identify the protagonist.

13. Identify the antagonist.

14. Find out what the plot tells you about characters.

15. Get into character.

16. Create a character arc.

17. Insert a misleading plan.

18. Find the first-act turning point scene (surprise/obstacle).

19. Devise second-act complications via the first-act turning point.

20. Second-act turning point, Part 1: Protagonist's worst possible moment.

21. Second-act turning point, Part 2: Decision to fight back.

22. Check that the relationship line is moving.

23. Find the climax and first-act turning point.

24. Come to a resolution and ending.

25. Use symbolism and myth.

First posted: 24 February 2013

Thursday, 8 June 2017

The making of the shower scene from 'Psycho'

I've been reading Hitchcock, by François Truffaut, which records the substance of a series of interviews between the French director and his English hero. It's an interesting book and loaded with quotable passages. One that seems topical relates to the shower scene in the 1960 movie Psycho.

Here are some quotes from Alfred Hitchcock, relating to Psycho in general and the shower scene in particular:

It's tremendously satisfying for us to be able to use the cinematic art to achieve something of a mass emotion. It wasn't a message that stirred the audiences, nor was it a great performance or their enjoyment of the novel. They were aroused by pure film.

That's why I take pride in the fact that Psycho, more than any of my other pictures, is a film that belongs to filmmakers.

The construction of the story and the way in which it was told caused audiences all around the world to react and become emotional.

The picture cost eight hundred thousand dollars. It was an experiment in this sense: Could I make a feature film under the same conditions as a television show? I used a complete television unit to shoot it very quickly. The only place where I digressed was when I slowed down the murder scene, the cleaning-up scene, and the other scenes that indicated anything that required time. All of the rest was handled in the same way that they do it in [1950s] television.

You have to design your film just as Shakespeare did his plays—for an audience.

It took us seven days to shoot the [stabbing of Janet Leigh] scene, and there were seventy camera setups for forty-five seconds of footage. I used a naked model who stood in for Janet Leigh. We only showed Miss Leigh's hands, shoulders, and head. All the rest was the stand-in.

And if, like me, you were curious as to who it was who actually does the stabbing in that scene, Truffaut had this to say:

Hitchcock informed me that the attacker was a young woman wearing a wig. He added that the scene was shot twice because, although the only lighting was placed behind the woman, the reverberation of the white bathroom walls was so strong that it revealed her face too clearly. That is why her face was blackened in the second take, so as to create the impression of a dark and unidentifiable silhouette on the screen.
The complete scene runs for just over three minutes. Here it is:

First posted:16 February 2013

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Formulas for hit films

Roger Ebert called Pulp Fiction “the most influential” movie of the 1990s, “so well-written in a scruffy, fanzine way that you want to rub noses in it—the noses of those zombie writers who take ‘screenwriting’ classes that teach them the formulas for ‘hit films.’ ”


Taken from: 

Vanity Fair, Cinema Tarantino: The Making of Pulp Fiction.

This is a long article, but worth the time if you're interested in the history of Quentin Tarantino or the making of Pulp Fiction. It has lots of odd little cinematic and screenwriting tidbits. 

First posted: 15 February 2013

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The old switcheroo

Last year I read a book called The Studio, by John Gregory Dunne, a favourite novelist of mine, but also a screenwriter with over thirty years experience of Hollywood. In 1967, Richard Zanuck gave Dunne "free access" to Twentieth Century Fox for a year, while he researched his book. The result is a wonderfully written description of how the biggest movie studio in town was run. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in Hollywood history

One result of reading that book was that I bought a copy of The Devil's Candy, on Dunne's recommendation. This was written by Julie Salamon in 1991 and is the result of Brian De Palma agreeing to allow Salamon unlimited access to the film production of Tom Wolfe's book, The Bonfire of the Vanities. (I recommend both those books, as well.)

Tom Hanks reigns over the Trading floor in Bonfire of the Vanities.
The Devil's Candy exceeds William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade in making the point that, in Hollywood, Nobody Knows Anything. The studio decided that Bonfire, a book about a bunch of unlikeable characters, could be rescued by casting Mr. Likeable himself, Tom Hanks, as the protagonist. Hanks had just become a star, courtesy of Big (1988). De Palma was appointed director, on the back of his success with The Untouchables (1987). Melanie Griffith had just had a big success with Working Girl (1988), so she got to play the mistress role. Bruce Willis had just become a movie star, courtesy of Die Hard (1988), so he was cast in the pivotal role of the alcoholic English journalist. Morgan Freeman had just been nominated for an Academy Award for Driving Miss Daisy (1989), so he was cast in the role of the white Jewish judge. Kim Cattrall won the role of the wife because she looked the part.

With a cast like that, what could possibly go wrong? Well, pretty much everything. The film cost almost $50million, but was a critical and commercial flop, taking about $15million at the box office.

Richard Gere talks business on his private jet in Arbitrage.

So what, I hear you ask. Well, last night I watched Arbitrage (2012), in which Richard Gere plays a rich Wall Street dude, with a wife and a mistress, who needs a particular deal, worth hundreds of millions, to go through in order to save his financial bacon. While sweating on the deal, he is involved in a car accident with his mistress. She dies and Gere tries to cover his tracks, but falls under the suspicion of a persistent cop.

And I thought to myself, here it is, the old switcheroo! Bonfire of the Vanities as a thriller, rather than a comedy. In Bonfire, Tom Hanks plays a rich Wall Street dude, with a wife and a mistress, who needs a particular deal, worth hundreds of millions, to go through in order to save his financial bacon. While sweating on the deal, he is involved in a car accident with his mistress. A local citizen is injured and Hanks tries to cover his tracks, but falls under the suspicion of a persistent cop.

The old switcheroo, as a device for creating story ideas, has been around a long time. Take a story you understand and feel comfortable with, and rearrange the elements in some way, then write your own version. Turn a comedy into a thriller. Move the country story into the city. Or the other way round. Make the white hero black, or turn the male protagonist into a woman. There are endless examples.

Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson in Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man.
The first time I noticed the technique was with Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991). Two close friends, who ride motorcycles (rather than horses), sense that their time has just about passed. They rob an armoured car in order to save a friend's business, find themselves pursued by an implacable superposse, jump off a twenty story building into a swimming pool (rather than off a cliff into a river), and finish up in a shootout which has a happy ending, in contrast to the original: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).

Robert Redford and Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

One film which makes no effort to hide its origins is Throw Momma From the Train (1987). Not only is it modeled on Strangers on a Train (1951), with the story reversed from a thriller to a comedy, but it references the film and includes footage of it.

Farley Granger and Robert Walker meet over a book in Strangers on a Train.
Danny De Vito and Billy Crystal both write books in Throw Momma from the Train.
There are endless examples of the old switcheroo, from TV as well as the movies.

If the opposition has The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971), a successful TV show about dumb country folk moving in amongst the rich people in Los Angeles, you could always do a switcheroo and write a show where rich people move from Manhattan to live amongst the dumb country people. You could call it Green Acres (1965-1971).

The old switcheroo, you can use it, too. 

Oh, and don't be afraid to borrow from American Gothic, the most famous American painting of the twentieth century, as the source for your cover graphic.

First posted: 13 February 2013

Monday, 5 June 2017

"First Step In Writing A Screenplay," Richard Walter

Richard Walter is an author, educator, screenwriter, commentator, consultant and chairman of the University of California, Los Angeles graduate program in screenwriting.

He has written numerous feature assignments for the major studios and has sold material to all three networks. He has also written many informational, educational, and corporate films. Walter lectures on screenwriting throughout the world, and has toured The People’s Republic of China, the Middle East, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico, Spain, Hong Kong, Vancouver and Toronto. He also lectures all over the United States.

Here he is talking about where ideas come from.

First posted: 10 February 2013

Sunday, 4 June 2017

What's that gun?

If they get caught in an argument about which actor starred in what film, most people go to IMDb, the Internet Movie Database.

But if they get caught in an argument about which gun was used in what movie, where should they go? The answer, as I learned recently, is the Internet Movie Firearms Database (IMFDb).

The first film I looked up was Jackie Brown, with Samuel L. Jackson playing Ordell Robbie, the gun dealer with the problem of repatriating his $500,000 in cash.

Australians, generally, don't own guns. I've never owned one. Apart from firing a .22 on a farm way back when I was a kid, I only ever handled firearms when I was working as a civilian for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in the late 1990s. Which is part of the appeal of Jackie Brown for me.

Chick Cindy presents a Steyr AUG on video in Jackie Brown,
as Sammy Jackson explains his gun business to Robert De Niro.
The ADF uses a modified version of the Steyr AUG, called the F88 Austeyr. I found it light, easy to use and remarkably accurate (considering I'm blind as a bat without glasses). The built-in telescopic sight helped.

The only other weapon I fired that day was a Browning 9mm handgun, the Mark III, which is the general issue pistol for the ADF. The commercial version of that gun appears in dozens of movies, most notably The Usual Suspects, where almost everyone takes a turn at firing one.

In a memorable moment in The Usual Suspects, Stephen Baldwin fires two Browning Mark IIIs.
I don't want to own a gun, but that day at the RAAF firing range at Edinburgh Air Force Base, I discovered they can be fun. Many Australians crticise Americans for their failure to ban guns, as Australia did after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, but Australia has never had a gun culture. Our equivalent problem is alcohol. Just watch those same people squirm if someone tries to extend the system of prohibition already in place in the Northern Territory.

First posted:  6 February 2013

Friday, 2 June 2017

Tricks of the Trade, by Nick Kazan

Nick Kazan has had thirty years experience in the business of screenwriting. He wrote Frances, At Close Range, Patty Hearst, Reversal of Fortune, Mobsters, among others, and adapted the Roald Dahl classic, Matilda, with his wife. 

In this video he offers insight into how he started as a screenwriter, his particular approach to the craft, and what it takes to develop screenwriting muscles.

First posted: 3 February 2013

Thursday, 1 June 2017

The Truth About Independent Filmmaking

One thing I don't hear a lot of in the world of filmmaking is... the truth. The blunt truth. 

I hear a lot of sugar-coating, evasion, half-truth, prevarication, equivocation, and polite misrepresentation. I've largely despaired of giving feedback on screenplays. It's rare that a writer wants to hear what I truly think. They expect me to be their mother and tell them they're wonderful. Usually the worse the screenplay, the higher the unreal expectations. The more the loud protestation that they want to hear the truth, the greater the injury when it arrives. So I was delighted to read the following simple list published last year by Elliot Grove of Raindance: 10 Dirty Secrets of Independent Film

It put me in mind of the comment made by Kris Young, at UCLA, about teaching wannabe screenwriters:
Teaching newcomers to screenwriting, I try not to dwell too much on the negative aspects. I guess it’s like telling new soldiers, You’re all gonna get killed.”   
There's nothing new here, nothing that Elliot hasn't already said in a bunch of other places, but it did me good to hear it again. So, make sure you've added Raindance to your list of blogs, get yourself a cup of coffee, and luxuriate in a short sharp dose of the truth. 

1. There is no such thing as independent film

The film industry is all run by the conglomerates and studios who hatch small boutique companies to trade on the name ‘independent’. These production companies are run by the same moguls as their bigger budget Hollywood counterparts. In this corporate realm, moguls offer actors scale work on the promise that the cool films and directors they work with will enhance their careers. The producers of these lower budget films are offered elusive back end deals based on the success of the distribution process. Of course any profit is gobbled up by expenses.

2. It’s who you know, not what you know.

A good political mind is a far better asset to a budding filmmaker than anything else. Get really good at building relationships with the people that will matter to your career; distributors, sales agents and journalists. While you are at it, find out who the hot new PR’s are, and budget their fees into your monthly budget.

3. Casting counts.

Forget talent. Low budget films are bought and sold depending on the cast. Develop your relationships with new and established talent. Prove to them that you are the ‘Next Hot Thing.’ Demonstrate your skills working with actors by taking gigs in fringe theatre and by directing award winning short films. 

    If pursuing talent is not your game, remember that you can always play the genre card and make either a horror or science fiction movie, where the concepts are generally so strong you won’t need cast.

4. Originality is shunned.

The film industry is very conservative. Remember that your original idea might just terrify a studio executive at a production or distribution company. Find the basic message of your movie and learn how to tone it down so the suits can swallow it. If you want to slip in some controversy, great, but don’t flag this during the pitch or you won’t get through the front door.

5. Want to get into a film festival

All festivals get thousands of submissions. And who are you? You are unknown, untried and untested. The major festivals rely on a handful of their trusted advisers to recommend the films that will make them look good and guarantee good press and box office. It is these people you need to get to know and schmooze. It’s a fact of life. It’s the way it is. Develop a strategy for dealing with it.

6. Awards are meaningless.

We’ve had filmmakers in the past say they have won an award at Raindance. When confronted with the reality of the fact they didn’t win an award at Raindance, they say things like ‘But you sent me an invoice for the submission fees. I thought that was an award.’ Still, an award with the olive branches on the poster for your film give it pedigree.

7. No one cares about orphans.

Until you get a mentor or champion for your film, no one is going to care about you or your film. Until you get such a person, your film is an orphan. Despite what they say, no one in the industry gives a toss about orphans. There are so many of them. Don’t you be one.

8. Looks count.

The trick is to give your film a look, a style and presence that makes it stand out from all the other newbies clamouring for attention.

9. The industry loves new talent.

Oh no they don’t. The industry is petrified by new talent. Everyone inside the film industry is worried that someone smarter, brighter, more capable, younger (and cheaper!) will come along and snatch their job. The film industry shuns new talent.

10. The Truth.

There is no such thing as the film industry. It is a total misnomer to describe a collective of a dozen or more industries loosely linked by film. There are the camera manufacturers, the equipment rental houses, the labs and post-production suites, the unions and guilds, the lawyers and accountants, the distributors and exhibitors (both on and off line) and, of course, the film festivals. None of these sub industries trust or even like each other. And they all pretty much hate filmmakers. 

Everyone in the film industry lies. They lie about what they really think about your work. They lie about when they are going to pay you. They lie about you to their friends and colleagues. It is a pretty unpleasant and nasty business. 

How do you survive? By being honourable and truthful. Everyone, even the crusty owner of a lab, will respect that. And respect gets you an awful long way in the film industry.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Everything I've learnt about making films - Nigel Cole

I first became aware of Nigel Cole when I saw Saving Grace (2000). My wife, who has never touched dope in her life, loves that movie. I don't know why. During my misspent youth, I encountered more than my share of green cigarettes, though I —naturally—have never inhaled.

Next up was Calendar Girls (2003), another oddly appealing movie, which has lingered on our Favourites list ever since. The hard-working director followed that with a series of films, including Made in Dagenham (2010).

Then he capped it all last year, with this, on Twitter.

And, as good as his word, he did. Here is the substance of those tweets, in order.

1. The script is everything. You can ruin it, but no amount of great acting, clever camera work or editing will make it better than the script.

2. Watching a film is like being hypnotised into a dream like state. Everything fake or false in the film shouts wake up! at the audience.

3. There are 2 parts to a film. The ending and everything else. Beginnings are easy. Any scene is a great opening scene. The ending is hard.

4. If you cast the wrong actor there is very little you can do. If you can’t find the right actor rewrite the part for an actor you love.

5. Every scene needs to move the story along in some way. If it doesn’t you’ll cut it after the first preview.

6. Shooting a film is all about compromise. Knowing where you can’t compromise is what makes you different from other directors.

7. Most actors want to be great. So they try and do great acting. Tell them to stop it.

8. A hundred minutes is a long time to keep audiences interested. The second act really needs to get interesting.

9. The small parts make a big difference. Give them character—there is no such thing as a receptionist or policeman. They are people.

10. Don’t get stuck on an approach to a scene. There’s little point in doing 27 takes of the same thing. If it isn’t working change something.

11. Characters don’t have to be nice to be likeable. Nice is boring. But they do have to be entertaining.

12. Never ask the actors to improvise sex scenes. It’s very embarrassing for them. You need to tell them what to do. Move by move.

13. Try to give an actor just one note at a time. It’s impossible to lose yourself in a scene if you are trying to remember a dozen notes.

14. Never have a character talk to themselves. Always looks fake. Find an action that reveals the character’s thought process.

15. It’s tempting to do lots of angles of the scenes you love and skimp on the duller ones. Wrong. It’s the dodgy scenes that need options.

16. All storytelling is a balance between subtlety and clarity. How do you be clear without being obvious? Solve that and you’re on your way.

17. You can start a story with a chance event or coincidence but by act 2 it all has to be driven by the choices the characters are making.

18. Movement is the forgotten art of film. Move your actors in a way that illuminates the scene rather than placing them to suit the camera.

19. Pace is the hardest thing to judge on set. But in the cutting room it’s almost always too slow. Make sure you do a quicker take.

20. Don’t just shoot the dialogue. Ask yourself what the characters are seeing, show the audience the world through your character’s eyes.

21. Storyboards are useful for action and SFX. Useless for everything else. Watch the scene with an open mind—then decide how to shoot it.

22. Continuity is over rated. It’s only a problem five percent of the time. The trouble is knowing which five percent.

23. Get out from behind the monitor on set. It’s an easy place to hide but go and watch the scene with your own eyes. The actors will love it.

24. Rushes are hard to watch—a time consuming, demoralising, insomnia producing, backwards looking nightmare. But you’ve got to do it.

25. Be specific. Don’t be vague. Make your mind up, say something, make choices. Decide specifically what you are saying at each moment.

26. Rehearsals before the shoot starts are a chance to get all the talking done. There’s so little time on set.

27. No one ever noticed the shoes a character is wearing in a film. But the actors and wardrobe people care very much about shoes.

28. On set, shoot the rehearsal. Everyone will complain but it will probably be the best performance and minor technical issues won’t matter.

29. All film is horrible until you put music on it. Most directors watch rushes with music in b.g and slap it all over the cut from day one.

30. Stay away from the snack table (in the USA known as craft services). Directing a film is bad enough for your health as it is.

31. Finished films are never as good as the rushes and never as bad as the first assembly.

32. Never do a joke on top of another joke. One joke at a time.

33. Crossing the line is an easy concept to grasp (google it) but I’ve seen cameramen with thirty years experience get confused by it.

34. However long the shoot you’ll wish you had more time. Cut the script before you start. Try not to shoot scenes you didn’t need.

35. Practice telling your story on friends, strangers—everybody. Only when people tell you that you have a great story will you be ready.

36. Some actors get better the more takes they have and some get worse. When planning coverage shoot the ones that get worse first.

37. Just because the crew are laughing doesn’t mean it’s funny.

38. In script meetings most people’s notes are about logic. I don’t believe this character would do that. I don’t believe that would happen.

39. You are going to be with your editor 18 hours a day for several months, crammed together in a small room. Choose someone you like.

40. To get a job a director must persuade the producer that they will do a better job than their previous work suggests they will.

41. Most actors are good at saying the lines as if for the first time. Looking as if you are hearing lines for the first time is harder.

42. Test screenings are vital, watching with an audience tells you what’s wrong with the cut. But ignore focus groups, they will confuse you.

43. You are going to hate the poster. But there’s nothing you can do about it.

44. The best moments happen by accident. Create an atmosphere where they will happen. Here’s an example from Brando.

45. Story is mystery. Withholding information is more important than giving it. Make the audience ask questions. Create suspense.

46. Ask yourself what the purpose of the scene is. Why haven’t you cut it? Make sure that is what you shoot.

47. Extras get a lot of stick. But they can bring a scene alive for the actors if you motivate them properly.

48. Crews work harder when there is naked actor on set. Everyone gets busy so they are not caught looking.

49. A prop that looks fake can kill a scene. Suitcases must look heavy for fucks sake.

50. Have something to say.

    IMDb    Twitter    Wikipedia   

First posted: 1 February 2013

Monday, 29 May 2017

Screenwriting lesson from Ted Griffin

Ted Griffin is an L.A.-based screenwriter who wrote Ocean's Eleven, Matchstick Men, Rumour Has It..., Killers, and Tower Heist.

He broke into Hollywood in the late 1990s, selling a series of spec scripts that have so far gone unproduced, including Mobile in 1997, and Solace and Beached in 1998. These landed him an early rewrite assignment for a comedy called Domestic Partners, which has also gone unproduced.

Here he is, talking about his career.

     Facebook    IMDb    Wikipedia   

First posted: 27 January 2013

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Coming your way...

A few movie posters from Cannes 2017.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

"All I Do Is Think Of You"

Chico was the eldest of the Marx Brothers, but the youngest of them when he died (age 74) in 1961. 

Chico was a talented pianist. He originally started playing with only his right hand and fake playing with his left. As a young boy, he gained jobs playing piano to earn money for the Marx family. Sometimes he worked playing in two places at the same time. He would acquire the first job with his piano-playing skills, work for a few nights, and then substitute Harpo on one of the jobs. (During their boyhood, Chico and Harpo looked so much alike that they were often mistaken for each other.)

Groucho Marx stated that his brother got the name Chico because he was a "Chicken-chaser" (early slang for chasing women). He also said that Chico never practiced the pieces he played. Instead, before performances he soaked his fingers in hot water. He was known for 'shooting' the keys of the piano. He played passages with his thumb up and index finger straight, like a gun, as part of the act. 

For a while in the 1930s and 1940s, Chico led a big band. Singer Mel Tormé began his professional career singing with the Chico Marx Orchestra.

Here he plays "All I Do Is Think Of You" in A Night at the Opera (1935), for a group of delighted children. 

[Watch how the Hollywood power game was being played, even by children, back in 1935. At the start of this piece, a small boy takes his place next to the piano. A much larger kid makes his way over, then muscles in, displacing the little kid.]

First posted: 25 January 2013

Friday, 26 May 2017

Hitchcock cameos

I've been reading Hitchcock: The definitive study of Alfred Hitchcock by François Truffaut, first published in 1967, a fascinating book, about which I will have more to say down the road.

While talking about The Lodger (1927), Truffaut raises the question of "personal appearances" and asks Hitchcock why he made them. Hitchcock answers:

"It was strictly utilitarian; we had to fill the screen. Later on it became a superstition and eventually a gag. But by now it's a rather troublesome gag, and I'm very careful to show up in the first five minutes so as to let the people look at the rest of the movie with no further distraction."
My favourite cameo, from North by Northwest. Alfred Hitchcock tries to catch a bus on Madison Avenue between 44th Street and 45th Street. Long before he ever went to the USA, Hitchcock's hobby was the study of Manhattan. He'd memorised every train timetable, as well as the location of all the major stores.
There are numerous lists of those personal appearances around. Some have him appearing in 36 films, most have 37, some (Wikipedia) have 40. The disputed films include Number 17, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Sabotage and Rebecca. (Why people argue over the Rebecca entry mystifies me, as the Hitchcock|Truffaut book contains a large photo of the moment. The earlier films have the problem of blurry B&W.) Here's my list:
  • The Lodger (1927) - At a desk in a newsroom and later in the crowd watching an arrest.
  • Easy Virtue (1928) - Walking past a tennis court, carrying a walking stick.
  • Blackmail (1929) - Being hassled by a small boy on a train.
  • Murder! (1930) - Walking past the house where the murder was committed.
  • The 39 Steps (1935) - Walking past and tossing litter, while the stars catch a bus.
  • Young and Innocent (1937) - Outside the courthouse, holding a camera.
  • The Lady Vanishes (1938) - In Victoria Station, smoking a cigarette.
  • Rebecca (1940) - Walking near the phone booth, just after George Sanders makes a call.
  • Foreign Correspondent (1940) - After Joel McCrea leaves his hotel, he's wearing a coat and hat, and reading a newspaper.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) - Passing Robert Montgomery in front of his building.
  • Suspicion (1941) - Mailing a letter at the village postbox. And walking a horse across the screen at a hunt-meet.
  • Saboteur (1942) - Standing in front of Cut Rate Drugs in New York as the saboteur’s car stops.
  • Shadow of A Doubt (1943) - On the train to Santa Rosa, playing cards.
  • Lifeboat (1944) - In the “before” and “after” pictures in the newspaper ad for weight reduction.
  • Spellbound (1945) - Coming out of an elevator, carrying a violin case and smoking a cigarette.
  • Notorious (1946) - Drinking champagne.
  • The Paradine Case (1947) - Leaving the train, carrying a cello.
  • Rope (1948) - On a neon sign.
  • Under Capricorn (1949) - In the town square during a parade, wearing a blue coat and brown hat, in the first five minutes. Ten minutes later, he is one of three men on the steps of Government House.
  • Stage Fright (1950) - Turning to look at Jane Wyman in her disguise as Marlene Dietrich’s maid.
  • Strangers on A Train (1951) - Boarding a train with a double bass, early in the film.
  • I Confess (1953) - Crossing the top of a staircase after the opening credits.
  • Dial M for Murder (1954) - On the left side of the class-reunion photo.
  • Rear Window (1954) - Winding the clock in the songwriter’s apartment.
  • To Catch A Thief (1955) - Sitting to the left of Cary Grant on a bus.
  • The Trouble With Harry (1955) - Walking past the parked limousine of an old man who is looking at paintings.
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) - Watching acrobats (his back to the camera) just before the murder.
  • The Wrong Man (1956) - Narrating the film’s prologue.
  • Vertigo (1958) - In a gray suit walking in the street.
  • North By Northwest (1959) - Missing a bus during the opening credits.
  • Psycho (1960) - Through Janet Leigh’s window as she returns to her office. He is wearing a cowboy hat.
  • The Birds (1963) - Leaving the pet shop with two white terriers.
  • Marnie (1964) - Entering from the left of the hotel corridor after Tippi Hedren passes by.
  • Torn Curtain (1966) - Sitting in the Hotel d’Angleterre lobby with a baby.
  • Topaz (1969) - Being pushed in a wheelchair.
  • Frenzy (1972) - In the centre of a crowd, wearing a bowler hat, three minutes into the film.
  • Family Plot (1976) - In silhouette through the door of the Registrar of Births and Deaths.
The following video assembles every cameo appearance listed above into a single clip.

First posted: 22 January 2013