Saturday 31 August 2013

The Three Stages of Pitch

One of the toughest things for many screenwriters to come to grips with is the Pitch Meeting. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio were so bad at meetings that Steven Spielberg told them, "It's a good thing you guys write better than you pitch."

Lynda Obst, who produced films such as The Fisher King (1991), Sleepless in Seattle (1994), Someone Like You (2001), The Invention of Lying (2009), had the same problem when she started in Hollywood.

In her book, Hello, He Lied, and Other Tales from the Hollywood Trenches, Lynda says that when she first came to town, she wrote notes for herself, as she came to grips with this unusual social event.

Pitch is transactional theater. The quality of its performance is an important factor in its outcome. Regardless of the nature of the story we pitch—historical drama, cartoon adventure, police procedural, inspirational coming of age, brainless comedy, classic remake—there is a customary structure to both its content and its performance. Each pitch has three stages.

1. The Prep

Before the segue into the pitch, the producer has to prep the room. We do this by talking about the spouse, the boy/girlfriend or lack thereof, Gymboree, yoga, diets, the playoffs (if it's the right season; any playoff will do), or whether some mogul is going to buy Sony or MCA or Disney or anywhere at all. Gossip is currency in prepping the room. Charm rules.

2. The Windup

The job of the windup is to warm up the room. No self-respecting producer should ever rely on the writer for personality and ease. (Notable exceptions are some comedy writers, who are like standup comedians. This brings to mind the perennial question: If the pitch is funny will the script necessarily be funny? Hard-learned answer: No.)

First of all, the writer is likely to be only person in the room more nervous than the producer. Second, his talent is often in inverse proportion to his ability to pitch—read: schmooze. Consider the almost axiomatic observation: Good writers pitch badly and bad writers pitch well. The exceptions—the good writers who pitch well—are a function of gifted personality. They're charming. They are often the most highly paid, more often future directors.

A tip: Writers for whom solutions come too quickly are suspect. The writer should know that the solution to a story point is supposed to be harder than that.

3. The Concept

Then the wired producer must meet his optimal challenge, the mark of a truly gifted pitcher: He must present the concept whole—the miniaturization of the idea. It must be succinct. This is the famous high concept. Its seminal influence is the TV Guide log line.  The most common (and banal) form of the high concept idea is the hybrid: as in "Pretty Woman meets Friday the Thirteenth" (a great-looking whore is dismembered by a horrific, hockey-mask wearing creep). It requires virtually no imagination. By combining the names of past hits, one forms genetically engineered new movie ideas—sort of.

The appeal of these ideas is that they appear to reduce the risk level for the buyer. And they don't take deep concentration to grasp. No limb jumping here. Just by referencing these past hits, we share their patina of success.

Before the meeting the producer should have prepared the writer to be able to tell the story without going into excruciating detail.
Members of the pitching party should have resolved among themselves any major plot disputes. This sounds obvious, but I can't tell you how many pitch meetings I've seen go awry through internal debate. Like an escalating marital rift, these meetings dangle perilously on the precipice of collapse unless grand synthesis is quickly found. This is your job (producer). Subtle theoretical issues can remain tactically open as these minor snags often invite debate from the buyer, intriguing and involving him.


Friday 30 August 2013

Danny Boyle’s 15 Golden Rules of Moviemaking

Danny Boyle is an English film director, producer, screenwriter, and theatre director, known for his work on films such as Slumdog Millionaire, Shallow Grave, 28 Days Later..., 127 Hours and Trainspotting

The following is a list of "Golden Rules" he provided to MovieMaker magazine back in May 2013.


1. A director must be a people person

Ninety-five percent of your job is handling personnel. People who’ve never done it imagine that it’s some act, like painting a Picasso from a blank canvas, but it’s not like that. Directing is mostly about handling people’s egos, vulnerabilities and moods. It’s all about trying to bring everybody to a boil at the right moment. You’ve got to make sure everyone is in the same film. It sounds stupidly simple, like ‘Of course they’re in the same film!’ But you see films all the time where people are clearly not in the same film together.

2. Hire talented people

Your main job as a director is to hire talented people and get the space right for them to work in. I have a lot of respect for actors when they’re performing, and I expect people to behave. I don’t want to see people reading newspapers behind the camera or whispering or anything like that.

3. Learn to trust your instincts

Ideally, you make a film up as you go along. I don’t mean that you’re irresponsible and you’ve literally got no idea, but the ideal is that you’ve covered everything—every angle—so that you’re free to do it any of those ways. Even on low-budget films, you have financial responsibilities. Should you fuck it up, you can still fall back on one of those ways of doing it. You’ve got Plan A to go back to, even though you should always make it with Plan B if you can. That way keeps it fresh for the actors, and for you.

4. Film happens in the moment

What’s extraordinary about film is that you make it on the day, and then it’s like that forever more. On that day, the actor may have broken up with his wife the night before, so he’s inevitably going to read a scene differently. He’s going to be a different person.

I come from theater, which is live and changes every night. I thought film was going to be the opposite of that, but it’s not. It changes every time you watch it: Different audiences, different places, different moods that you’re in. The thing is logically fixed, but it still changes all the time. You have to get your head around that.

5. If your last film was a smash hit, dom't panic

I had an obsession with the story of 127 Hours, which pre-dated Slumdog Millionaire. But I know—because I’m not an idiot—that the only reason [the studio] allowed us to make it was because Slumdog made buckets of money for them and they felt an obligation of sorts. Not an obligation to let me do whatever I want, but you kind of get a free go on the merry-go-round.

6. Don't be afraid to tell stories about other cultures

You can’t just hijack a culture for your story, but you can benefit from it. If you go into it with the right attitude, you can learn a lot about yourself, as well as about the potential of film in other cultures, which is something we tried to do with Slumdog Millionaire… Most films are still made in America, about Americans, and that’s fine. But things are changing and I think Slumdog was evidence of that. There will be more evidence as we go on.

7. Use your power for good

You have so much power as director that if you’re any good at all, you should be able to use that to the benefit of everyone. You have so much power to shape the movie the way you want it that, if you’re on form and you’ve done your prep right and you’re ready, you should be able to make a decent job of it with the other people.

8. Don't have an ego

Your working process—the way you treat people, your belief in people—will ultimately be reflected in the product itself. The means of production are just as important as what you produce. Not everyone believes that, but I do. I won’t stand for anyone being treated badly by anyone. I don’t like anyone shouting or abusing people or anything like that. You see people sometimes who are waiting for you to be like that, because they’ve had an experience like that in the past, but I’m not a believer in that. The texture of a film is affected very much by the honor with which you make it.

9. Make the test screening process work for you

Test screenings are tough. It makes you nervous, exposing the film, but they’re very important and I’ve learned a great deal from using them. Not so much from the whole process of cards and the discussions afterwards, but the live experience of sitting in an auditorium with an audience that doesn’t know much about the story you’re going to tell them—I find that so valuable. I’ve learned not so much to like it, but to value how important it is. I think you have to, really.

10. Come to the set with a look book

I always have a bible of photographs, images by which I illustrate a film. I don’t mean strict storyboards, I just mean for inspiration for scenes, for images, for ideas, for characters, for costumes, even for props. These images can come from anywhere. They can come from obvious places like great photographers, or they can come from magazine advertisements—anywhere, really. I compile them into a book and I always have it with me and I show it to the actors, the crew, everybody!

11. Even perfect formulas don't always work

As a director your job is to find the pulse of the film through the actors, which is partly linked to their talent and partly to their charisma. Charisma is a bit indefinable, thank God, or else it would be prescribed in the way that you chemically make a new painkiller. In the movies—and this leads to a lot of tragedy and heartache—you can sometimes have the most perfect formula and it still doesn’t work. That’s a reality that we are all victims of sometimes and benefit from at other times. But if you follow your own instincts and make a leap of faith, then you can at least be proud of the way you did it.

12. Take inspiration where you find it

When we were promoting Slumdog Millionaire, we were kind of side-by-side with Darren Aronofsky, who was also with Fox Searchlight and was promoting The Wrestler. I watched it and it was really interesting; Darren just decided that he was going to follow this actor around, and it was wonderful. I thought, ‘I want to make a film like that. I want to see if I can make a film like that.’ It’s a film about one actor. It’s about the monolithic nature of film sometimes, you know? It’s about a dominant performance.

13. Push the pram

I think you should always try to push things as far as you can, really. I call it “pushing the pram.” You know, like a stroller that you push a baby around in? I think you should always push the pram to the edge of the cliff—that’s what people go to the cinema for. This could apply to a romantic comedy; you push anything as far as it will stretch. I think that’s one of your duties as a director… You’ll only ever regret not doing that, not having pushed it. If you do your job well, you’ll be amazed at how far the audience will go with you. They’ll go a long, long way—they’ve already come a long way just to see your movie!

14. Always give 100 percent

You should be working at your absolute maximum, all the time. Whether you’re credited with stuff in the end doesn’t really matter. Focus on pushing yourself as much as you can. I tend not to write, but I love bouncing off of writing; I love having the writers write and then me bouncing off of it. I bounce off writers the same way I bounce off actors.
15. Find your own "esque"

A lesson I learned from A Life Less Ordinary was about changing a tone—I’m not sure you can do that. We changed the tone to a kind of Capra-esque tone, and whenever you do anything more “esque,” you’re in trouble. That would be one of my rules: No “esques.” Don’t try to Coen-esque anything or Capra-esque anything or Tarkovsky-esque anything, because you’ll just get yourself in a lot of trouble. You have to find your own “esque” and then stick to it.

You can read the whole article here.

Thursday 29 August 2013

Billy Wilder

I'm not going to tell you the story of Billy Wilder. You should recognise the name, at the very least. If not, you can't call yourself a student of film. On the other hand, you have some delightful homework in front of you.

Here is an interview, split into three parts, followed by a four part documentary.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4
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Wednesday 28 August 2013

The Origins of Screenplay Formatting

Part of the journey to becoming a full-time screenwriter is the process of learning how to format a screenplay. These rules aren't the arbitrary nuisances some people think. They exist for a reason.

In this short video, John Hess of Filmmaker IQ tells us how the present situation arose.

Trace the roots of how the screenplay evolved from the earliest moving pictures, through the golden age of Hollywood and into the post-studio era.

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Tuesday 27 August 2013

Saul Bass posters

Saul Bass (1920-1996) was an acclaimed graphic designer, who designed film titles and film posters. Film.Com recently published a collection of "every significant movie poster Saul Bass ever designed." 

And, no, he didn't design the West Side Story poster, though he is often falsely credited with that one.

Such Good Friends (1971)
See the full collection here.

Monday 26 August 2013

40th anniversary of Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon"

I first encountered Pink Floyd when I purchased a translucent pink LP at the Ivanhoe Record Shop in Melbourne in 1972. It was a bootleg recording of their Blackhills Garden Party, Hyde Park Concert of 1968, but I didn't know that at the time. The sounds of Let There Be More Light, Set The Controls For The Heart Of the Sun, Saucerful Of Secrets and Interstellar Overdrive, mixed with the sound of London buses in the background. Amazing.
By the time 1973 rolled around, I was living in Sydney and owned every LP they had released. I'd had the long-expected new Pink Floyd album on order for months before it finally arrived. The Dark Side of the Moon. The album topped the charts on its release, and remained in the charts for 741 weeks from 1973 to 1988. With an estimated 50 million copies sold it is the band's most commercially successful work and is frequently ranked as one of the greatest albums of all time.

And here we are in 2013, at the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon

To celebrate, BBC Radio 2 commissioned a new drama from legendary playwright Sir Tom Stoppard. He's created a fantastical story about fear, philosophy and madness, which is woven together with the original music. If you're in the UK, you can hear this story in full on Bank Holiday Monday 26 August 2013, 10pm, on BBC Radio 2, or if living elsewhere, at

The show features Bill Nighy, Rufus Sewell and Adrian Scarborough, with the lead roles played by Iwan Rheon (Misfits) and Amaka Okafor (The Garbage King).

The visuals have been created by Aardman Animations of Wallace and Gromit fame.

Meanwhile, here's an animated trailer:

Sunday 25 August 2013

6 Lies of Film Distribution

Jerome Courshon is an award-winning writer/producer, whose first movie was the critically acclaimed indie God, Sex & Apple Pie, released by Warner Bros. His challenging journey to get to the proverbial finish line was profiled in the Los Angeles Times and documented on several major film sites. After acquiring enormous experience and knowledge from playing "the game" of getting distribution for his own movie, he began assisting colleagues on their movies—with some of them achieving distribution in as little as four months by applying his information.

One of the major Achilles’ heels for film producers and directors is the distribution game. Once you’ve made your movie, what do you do? How do you play the game? What strategies do you employ? Is there even a strategy?

Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is there are indeed strategies to use and employ. The bad news is that most filmmakers don’t know what they are, and flounder around trying to figure them out. What’s even worse is too many filmmakers throwing in the towel and just dumping their film online, hoping it “hits” somehow.

In this article, I’m going to debunk some prevalent lies (or “myths”) about achieving distribution. This will give you some insight into the game, should you be looking for distribution now or preparing for your production.

Myth #1: I’m a director, a filmmaker, a creative person. Telling stories is my thing and if I make a good movie, I don’t have to worry about the business stuff or the marketing because someone else will do that.

Truth #1: There are of course some people who get lucky and either have a producing partner who does all the business & marketing (and is good at it), or they have the money to hire the right people to do everything.

However for most this isn’t the case, especially if one’s film career is in the early stages. You need to become a businessperson once your movie or documentary is done. At least until it’s sold (or until you’re done selling if you’re DIY’ing it). 


Because distribution is business, and distributors don’t care if you’ve made the greatest indie film/art film/documentary of the past 20 years. What they care about is if it will make them money. (And your audience, if you’re DIY’ing your film, needs to believe they’ll be sufficiently entertained and/or enlightened before they’ll buy a DVD or pay to watch it online.) The more you can become a “salesperson” and marketing maven, the more success you will have on your quest for distribution or sales.

Yes, I know this part isn’t nearly as sexy and fun as making movies and can be downright boring at times. But what Orson Welles famously said about the film business is still true today: “It's about 2% moviemaking and 98% hustling.”

Myth #2: Distributors are calling me and they’re excited to see my movie! I’ll send it to them and if they like it, they’ll acquire it!

Truth #2: All major distributors track the movies that have been listed in the trades under their production columns. If you were in those columns, you’re going to be phoned. Do not send them a rough cut. Do not send them a final cut. Do not send them the movie. If you do, you will not get a theatrical distribution deal, if this is what you are aiming for.

You must “unveil” your movie in the right place at the right time, such as a top film festival, to get the theatrical buyers to really want your feature. Movies do not get picked up for theatrical releases that have been sent on a DVD to a distributor. So when they call asking to see a screener, you’ll say “It’s not ready, but I appreciate your call. Check back with me in a month or two.” (And you’ll do this every time they call, until you’re ready for the grand unveiling.)

Myth #3: My movie was selected for the Sundance Film Festival! Woohooo! All I have to do is show up and I will get a deal!

Truth #3: Okay, you won the lottery and got a slot at one of the top three film festivals (Sundance, Toronto, Cannes) for your movie premiere. Guess what? Your work hasn’t even begun yet. You now must assemble a team of people: a PR firm, an agent from one of the top agencies in Los Angeles, an attorney, and possibly a producer’s rep. (But beware…most producer’s reps are useless.)

You will have to work, strategize and position your movie, before it premieres, as a very desirable movie that distributors must have. You have one shot at the top festivals for a theatrical deal, so don’t piss it away. Unfortunately, most filmmakers don’t know or understand this. They get a slot at Sundance or Toronto, don’t assemble a team or promote their film properly, and then come away without a deal and are entirely lost as to their next step.

Myth #4: I was rejected by the top festivals, so now I’m submitting and getting accepted by the next tier of festivals. This is cool. All I have to do is show up to my screenings and I’m treated like a rock star. Distribution, here I come!

Truth #4: Yeah, okay, if this is you, at least you’re having fun. But you’re not going to get distribution this way. There is a real purpose to the festival circuit beyond the top festivals that most people, even Hollywood veterans, simply do not understand. The obvious purpose is, of course, exposure. But there is actually a MORE important purpose: Building a Pedigree.

What is a Pedigree?

It is an accumulation of press coverage, interviews, quotes from critics, and awards if you can get them, which says you have a winning movie on your hands. Once you methodically build this pedigree, which takes some work on the festival circuit, you are then ready to parlay this into a distribution deal (or healthy sales). It’s a simple concept that most do not grasp; yet it is extremely powerful and effective for independent films that don’t get into the top festivals. There is real psychology involved in the “art” of selling a movie or documentary. Ignore at your own risk. However, if you learn this “art,” you will have success.

Myth #5: I’ve submitted my movie to the 15 home video companies out there. I’ve even talked to producer friends and looked at industry reference books for whom to submit to. If these 15 companies say ‘No,’ I’m out of luck for a home video deal.

Truth #5: This truth right here may be worth serious dollars to you. There are literally over 100 home video companies in the marketplace, all operating under their own labels. On top of that are additional companies that pick up movies and programming that have output deals with these distributors. So if you think you’ve exhausted your search for a home video deal and have only contacted a handful of companies, you’ve simply just begun.

And don’t buy the occasional diatribe out there that DVD is dead. It’s not. It is still the largest revenue generating segment of the entire film industry. Last year alone, it generated $16-17 billion in revenues. That’s billion with a ‘B.’

Myth #6: I’m going to bypass traditional distribution altogether, sell my movie on the internet myself and make a ton of money from DVD sales and digital streaming (VOD).

Truth #6: Not likely. For every 5000 movies being made every year, there are less than 20 who make serious money this way. WHY? It’s hard work. It takes time (a lot of it), it takes specific strategies, and you become the de facto distributor for a good year, if not longer. Which isn’t an exciting proposition for most filmmakers, who’ve already been on a lengthy and arduous journey of making their film.

However, some who go this route do it very successfully. They’re either great at marketing already, or great learners. And they’re very committed to achieving success, so they really do what it takes to win. Also, the budget of your movie can dictate if this route is viable for you. If you’ve made a $10,000 movie, it’s not that difficult to recoup this amount, with some decent work. But if your budget was $1 million, good luck making your money back using only the internet. You’ll either need traditional distribution, or a hybrid approach of both traditional and non-traditional.

So these are a few of the popular and misleading myths out there, and the truth about them. With 5000 (or more) movies being made every single year, that’s a lot of producers and directors working with often erroneous information. Not to mention an overwhelming number of movies vying for a limited number of distribution slots. These two factors combined can make for a daunting journey filled with frustration and failure.

The silver lining however, is that with the right knowledge, coupled with dedicated and diligent work, anyone with a decent film can achieve success. Anyone. But it does take the right knowledge. You do not have to have star names in your movie to get a deal or have success, and your movie does not have to be phenomenal. If it’s at least decent, you do have a real shot.


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Saturday 24 August 2013

'Never go to a meeting without a strategy'

It's a cliche that Hollywood is a place of endless meetings. Woody Allen satirised the practice in Annie Hall (1977).

          A Hollywood Christmas party is in session, complete with
      music, milling people, circulating waiters holding out
      trays of drinks.  It's all very casual.  French doors run
      the entire width of one wall; they are opened to the back
      lawn, guests move from the room to outside and back in.
      It is crowded; bits of conversation and clinking glasses
      can be heard.  Two men, California-tanned, stand by the
      French doors talking.

                      1ST MAN
          Well, you take a meeting with him,
          I'll take a meeting with you if
          you'll take a meeting with Freddy.

                      2ND MAN
          I took a meeting with Freddy. Freddy
          took a meeting with Charlie. You
          take a meeting with him.

                      1ST MAN
          All the good meetings are taken.

"All the good meetings are taken."


Lynda Obst, who produced films such as The Fisher King (1991), Sleepless in Seattle (1994), Someone Like You (2001) and The Invention of Lying (2009), had a problem with meetings when she started work in Hollywood.

She talks about the lessons she learned in her book, Hello, He Lied, and Other Tales from the Hollywood Trenches.
I got it. If I didn't know what we wanted to accomplish, we couldn't accomplish anything. If we weren't there to score, we couldn't win. I never forgot this lesson. It goes like this: You are a salesman, so bring your sample case. A meeting is either won or lost, so you need a strategy. A strategy implements a plan or an agenda.
     Strategies are devised by intersecting your agenda with that of the other person at the meeting (i.e., "Let's talk about you. When can you help me with my agenda?"). If you have no strategy and just attend a meeting blindly, you lose your edge because you can count on the fact that your lunch date has a strategy.
     Every chance encounter is a meeting, and each meeting is part of a larger series of actions that, when taken together, accumulate into an overall agenda. Agendas can shift, change or adapt, particularly with a new job. But one must always have one. Each move either furthers or obstructs an agenda. Think of it as a board game.
     Sometimes meetings, because they are held in such delightful places, can be mistaken for high teas at which people forget what they're doing and start thinking they're merely having drinks with a couple of well-dressed people with great haircuts. But the truth is that each these well-manicured charmers is, in fact, ruthlessly pursuing his or her agenda. If he is a studio executive, he wants big summer pictures. A producer wants his scripts to be that summer hit. The most wide-ranging fishing expedition of a meeting has its agenda, even if it's only information gathering, friendship building, or propagandizing.
     At lunch with an agent, a producer's strategy would be to win her over and make her aware of his projects. Or simply to go fishing for new hot properties. This is called "tracking," and people are paid to do it. When he has her rapt attention, it's critical that he doesn't bore her to death.

The following is a sample lunch conversation between a producer and a reluctant literary agent.

Producer: So how was your New Year's? ... Aspen?
  (It's never boring if he talks about her.)
Agent: Hawaii. I was sick the whole time.
  (Shut down—or an opening?)
Producer: How hideous! Did you get a lot of reading done?
  (Lead the dance.)
Agent: Had to. When I finally felt better, it was pouring.
Producer: What you need is a great big auction over your new favorite script.
Agent: I did read a really terrific new writer over vacation.
Producer: You know how I love to work with new writers! Why don't you slip it to me early...

  (A descendant of "sock it to me," slipping a spec is giving a time advantage to
   one buyer with plausible denial to the rest of the buyers. As in, "I have no idea
   how she got it!" A gift.)

... and I'll make your first bid.
  (He can't really guarantee this but why should he? He hasn't read it!)
Agent: Great idea!

The producer wins. If the script is any good. ______________________________________________________________

Now let's look at a sample conversation between a producer and a preening studio exec over Chinese chicken salad.

Producer: Congratulations on this weekend! Twelve million! You guys creamed 'em.
  (Locker room talk.)
Exec: It was my picture, you know.
  (This is true whether it is or not.)
Producer: Of course. Everyone knows.
  (Flattery will get her everywhere.)
... Your stock must be pretty high this morning.
  (Hoist them on their own petards.)
Exec: I guess so.
  (Fake humility. A new standard.)
... I'd sure love to bring in a big spec this week.
Producer: You could sell anything this week!
Exec: You think so?
  (This is her setup. She goes in for the kill. Now.)
Producer: I'm getting a terrific script slipped that no one has seen. Spielberg is tracking it, but I think I have it exclusively.
  (Spielberg tracks everything, so this lie is borderline safe.)
Exec: I heard about it! I definitely want it.
  (He's salivating now, despite the chicken salad.)
... When can I get my hands on it?
Producer: Friday. It's yours.
  (After she gets her hands on it.)
... In fact, Darren...
  (his chief competitor)
... has been asking around about it, but I'd rather give it to you. You're my main man.
  (Bonding, flirting, joking—depending on gender relations.)
Exec: And you're mine. Even though you're a chick!

The producer wins again. If the script is any good.

And the moral of the story? Writer, you never go to a meeting without a strategy.

Friday 23 August 2013

Ian Fleming interviews Raymond Chandler - 1958

1957, as summarized by Robert De Niro in Analyze This:

                      MANETTA (V.O.)
          1957 was a big year.  The Russians put
          that Sputnik into outer space, the Dodgers
          played their last game at Ebbets Field,
          'that guy' shot Frank Costello in the head,
          and missed, and the Gallo brothers whacked
          Albert Anastasia in that barber shop in the
          Park Sheraton Hotel.  It was total chaos.
          With Anastasia gone, Vito Genovese figures
          he's king shit, but Carlo Gambino and 'Joe
          Bananas' both want to be boss of all bosses.
          So they call a meeting -- a big meeting.

... the Gallo brothers whacked Albert Anastasia in that barber shop...
Welcome to 1958. For those who don't remember, this is how things were back then. Crackly analogue radio, dignified public speaking voices, and learned people chatting about matters of cultural import, such as contemporary literature. Like the time Ian Fleming interviewed Raymond Chandler at the BBC. They weren't talking long before Fleming wanted to know how the hit on Albert Anastasia had been organized. That's what passed for current affairs back then.

The actual interview starts at 5:45, but the intro is worth listening to.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Professor Spike Lee's Essential Film List

Film lists: everyone's got one. Favorite films, best films, greatest films, essential films, and films To See Before You Die.

In my early days of catching up with quality cinema, I followed The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made. I'm past the halfway mark, and still going.

I'd post their list here, except it's much too long. You can find it online.

Meanwhile, Professor Spike Lee (yes, he's been a professor at NYU Graduate Film School for the past 15 years) has released his own list of "essential" films. It's the one he hands out at the start of semester at NYU. This is part of his Kickstarter campaign. You get to nominate the films he's left out that you think should be on the list, which is a clever way of engaging a future audience.

Here's the video of Spike telling you all that, followed by the list in accessible alpha order, with the spelling corrected, and linked to IMDb.

There are 86 films on Spike Lee's Essential Film List:
A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Ace in the Hole (1951)
An American in Paris (1951)
Apocalypto (2006)
Bad Lieutenant (1992)
Badlands (1973)
Battle of Algiers (1966)
Black Orpheus (1959)
Black Rain (1989)
Blue Collar (1978)
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Boyz n the Hood (1991)
Breathless (1960)
Casablanca (1942)
Chinatown (1974)
City of God (2002)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Cooley High (1975)
Day for Night (1973)
Days of Heaven (1978)
Dead End (1937)
Dirty Pretty Things (2002)
District 9 (2009)
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Empire of the Sun (1987)
Fat City (1972)
Home of the Brave (1949)
Hoop Dreams (1984)
I Am Cuba (1964)
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Is Paris Burning? (1966)
Killer of Sheep (1977)
Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
La Dolce Vita (1960)
La Strada (1954)
Last Tango in Paris (1972)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Los Olivados (1950)
Lust for Life (1956)
Mad Max (1979)
Marathon Man (1969)
M*A*S*H (1970)
Mean Streets (1973)
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Miracle in Milan (1951)
Night of the Hunter (1955)
North by Northwest (1959)
On The Waterfront (1954)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Paisan (1946)
Paths of Glory (1957)
Patton (1970)
Raging Bull (1980)
Raising Arizona (1987)
Ran (1985)
Rashomon (1950)
Rear Window (1954)
Rome, Open City (1945)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Spartacus (1960)
Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
The 400 Blows (1959)
The Bicycle Thief (1948)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
The Conformist (1970)
The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather: Part II (1974)
The Last Detail (1973)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Red Shoes (1948)
The Road Warrior (1981)
The Train (1964)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Thief (1981)
To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Touch of Evil (1958)
Vertigo (1958)
West Side Story (1961)
White Heat (1940)
Yojimbo (1961)
Zelig (1983)

Wednesday 21 August 2013

13 Golden Rules from Steve Buscemi

We've noted our affection for Steve Buscemi before on this blog

The following is a list of "Golden Rules" provided by him to MovieMaker magazine and first published by them back in 2006.

Note: The following “rules” are from the unbalanced mind of a relatively novice moviemaker.

1. Ask yourself, “Am I sure I want to make this movie?” Then ask yourself, “Why?” A good follow up question is, “Am I insane?”

2. The script is everything—a living thing that needs to breathe, to be fed and to grow. Take care of your script; don’t let anybody mess with it.

3. As Abel Ferrara once said, “A script ain’t a movie.” Okay, so maybe the script isn’t everything. But it’s a good start.

4. It’s not a bad idea to make a short film before you attempt a feature. But don’t think of it as your “calling card film.” It can of course become that, but it should be your first film, first. Make the film you want to make—not the film you think financiers will be impressed with.

5. Be aware: Finding financing for your feature can be a potentially soul-crushing endeavor. You may find yourself in a sterile room, pitching your film to a humorless executive and desperately blurting out stupid things like, “Well, you know, it’s kinda like Leaving Las Vegas meets Barfly.”

6. No two movies should ever meet each other.

7. Okay, no shit, as I am writing this, I get a call from my agent saying there is a “situation” brewing that could possibly undo the financing of the current film I am slated to direct—a remake of the Theo van Gogh film, Interview. We already lost the original Dutch financing a few weeks ago and I’m scheduled to start shooting in a couple of weeks. This also happened two years ago with my previous film, Lonesome Jim. We lost our studio deal in the eleventh hour. Luckily, InDigEnt, a New York-based, Mini-DV movie company, came to our rescue. The budget dropped from $3 million to $500,000 and our shooting schedule of 30 days was reduced to 17, but we were able to make the film we wanted to make. Financing never comes easy. Trees Lounge took a good five years to find its way and my second film, Animal Factory, based on the great Eddie Bunker book, took three years. What? You never heard of the film Animal Factory?

Trees Lounge (1996)

8. Try to get a good distribution deal.

9. Number 9 makes me think of John Lennon. If there’s one business that’s perhaps more challenging and insane than the movies, it’s the music industry. And yet there’s all this inspiring work from artists like Lennon, Joe Strummer, Nina Simone, Thelonious Monk and countless others. It’s true in film, as well. I know John Cassavetes didn’t have it easy. Buster Keaton? It’s the love for his work that kept him going, not the opening weekend box office receipts. Whenever I get down, I think of the great ones and their struggles against all odds, fighting an uphill battle against commerce and mediocrity, and it gives me strength.

10. Find the back issue of MovieMaker that lists the rules (or non-rules) of Jim Jarmusch. He rules. He’s never made a film he didn’t put his complete heart and soul into—and he’s able to make his living at making movies! I admire any director who makes his living solely from directing. I’m fortunate enough to earn a decent wage by occasionally playing psychopaths in other people’s movies, allowing me the luxury of not having to depend on the movies I direct to put food on the table. I especially admire independent directors like Tom DiCillo and Alexandre Rockwell, who never stop trying to create their own way.

11. Let people do their jobs. Phil Parmet, my friend and cinematographer, told me that once. If you give your crew the responsibility and opportunity to do their best, and you appreciate their efforts, your film will only benefit from their collaboration. Hire the best people to fulfill your film’s needs, then trust them to do their jobs.

12. If the scene you are about to shoot is troublesome, take the time you need to figure it out. This may mean clearing the set of the crew and producers so that it’s just you and the actors. Sometimes the organic instincts of the actors can solve a problem in blocking or problematic writing. But not always. In any case, allow yourself to be surprised by your actors.

13. Actually, I have no rule number 13; it’s just my lucky number. I guess if I had to come up with a rule number 13 it would be: Break a leg. And don’t be superstitious.


You can read the whole article here.

Elmore Leonard: 1925-2013

Elmore Leonard, 87, passed away last night. He was born in New Orleans, but spent most of his life in Detroit. He wrote 45 novels, many of which were made into movies. His books were, he said, "about people, with guns, in dire situations."

Leonard served in construction during World War II. After the war, he worked at an advertising agency, but got bored. So he started writing Westerns in his free time. He quit advertising to write full-time in 1961 and eventually moved into crime writing.

I always start with the characters. I get to page 300 and I start thinking about the ending.

The first part moves along O.K., and then I have to think about the second part, because the second part keeps it going. And then you've got to get to some new things, say around page 250. There is always those surprises near the end.
The first of his crime novels, Big Bounce, was rejected 84 times before it was published as a paperback in 1969.

He didn't have a best-seller until his 60th year, and few critics took him seriously before the 1990s.

“You asking me,” Catlett said, “do I know how to write down words on a piece of paper? That’s what you do, man, you put down one word after the other as it comes in your head. It isn’t like having to learn how to play the piano, like you have to learn notes. You already learned in school how to write, didn’t you? I hope so. You have the idea and you put down what you want to say. Then you get someone to add in the commas and shit where they belong, if you aren’t positive yourself. Maybe fix up the spelling where you have some tricky words. There people do that for you. Some, I’ve even seen scripts where I know words weren’t spelled right and there was hardly any commas in it. So I don’t think it’s too important. You come to the last page you write in ‘Fade out’ and that’s the end, you’re done.” ~Elmore Leonard, Get Shorty

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Interview with Daniel Martin Eckhart

Daniel Martin Eckhart is a classically trained actor who lives on a farm in Switzerland. After following an unusual employment path, he studied scriptwriting in New York. Although Daniel didn't win a Nicholl Fellowship, in four attempts he managed to be a semi finalist, a quarter finalist, and twice finished in the top ten. He has worked with some of Germany’s best TV networks, producers, directors and actors, and has created top-rated TV movies. He has a passion for dark thrillers, crime stories and comic books.

St. Gallen Cathedral
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in St. Gallen, Switzerland, a small town near the Austrian border.

What kind of a family did you grow up with?

Good family, average in most ways. My mom was the center, my dad was a salesman and on the road most of the time. My elder brother was the rebel and I was the one who watched his fights with authority, saw what worked and what didn't, and hence coasted most of the time.

When did you first take an interest in films/stories?

First time I saw moving images, i.e. for as long as I can remember. I was in love with film long before I realized people like me could be part of that magical world, could actually make the magic on screen happen.   

As a young kid my favorites were Swashbucklers [The Crimson Pirate (1952), Prince Valiant (1954), Ivanhoe (1952, The Three Musketeers (1948), The Black Swan (1942), etc.]; Westerns [Rio Bravo (1959), The Cowboys (1972), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), The Searchers (1956), etc.]. And, I admit it, Musicals [Singing In The Rain (1952), On The Town (1949), Brigadoon (1954), Easter Parade (1948), etc.].

As a teenager, I added Film Noir and Spaghetti Westerns to the mix.

You have a remarkable employment history. Give us a quick summation of your jobs and countries of residence.

Here goes, countries of residence in order—Switzerland, Vatican, United States, Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, United States, Switzerland. Spent the first bit of my life in security (Army, United Nations), then studied acting in New York where I discovered screenwriting.

I’m curious to know: How/why did you land a job as the Pope’s bodyguard?

Joining the Pope's Swiss Guard works about the same as it does for any other job—you apply—then you either qualify or you don't. Qualifications are a bit unusual—you need to have a minimum height, you need to be Catholic, you need to be single, you need to be a graduated professional in some field, you need to have completed basic military training in Switzerland, and you need to prove that you don't have a criminal record, and the priest from your parish needs to give you a letter of recommendation. Somehow, I got in.

What was your first paying job in the screenwriting business?

That's a long story! In short, a foreign investment banker in Switzerland was totally in love with Switzerland's independence wars (around 1300)—he wanted to turn it into a Braveheart-style blockbuster and hired me to write it. When I was done with the treatment, he was arrested by Switzerland financial authorities for some sort of wheeler-dealing. I was paid but, needless to say, the film was never made. Still, a fun and most unusual first paid gig!

Who was the screenwriting teacher who had the biggest influence on you?

I had just finished acting school in New York, read a bunch of how-to books on screenwriting, and figured a semester at NYU might not hurt. It didn't. The course was run by Dina Harris and she was the first professional who read a scene of mine and who implored me to continue writing. That single short moment with her was worth that whole semester (aside from all the good writing I got done then).

Have you had a mentor or are you a self-directed screenwriter?

No, no mentor. In fact, I'm kind of solitary that way. I like to write my scripts on my own, also don't like collaborating with other writers on a script. I tried that once and ended up rewriting everything they had written! Usually, my first draft is my own, my time and I'm very protective of this time. The second draft is between me and my wife—my best and toughest critic. From then on scripts are sent to the collaboration partners at networks or production companies and as of the third draft I'm no longer protective—in fact, I love working with them to turn the script into something that will end up being filmed. The reason I enjoy collaboration is because I view the later drafts as something completely different from the first draft (which remains in pristine condition on my shelf.) I feel like Gollum about these—those many first drafts are "my preciousses".

What are three things you wish someone had told you about filmmaking when you were starting out?

I honestly can't say I had a lack of information and/or insights. I read the books, I read a ton of scripts, I analyzed them all, I did the competitions, I hustled to get a lit agent. I think I ticked pretty much all the right boxes while steering clear of the bullshit that stops you from actually writing.

If you had to suggest just one screenwriting book to a newbie writer back in Adelaide, which one would it be?

Let me say that most well-known screenwriting how-to books have bits that are valuable. I read a half dozen and found the things they all had in common—that's the gold. Where they differ it's usually a guru's grandstanding that will do nothing but make you feel inadequate as a beginning writer. 

If I had to recommend a book, I'd recommend a screenplay—read Die Hard. I'm not kidding—one of the best, tightest scripts ever. Read it, watch the movie, analyze it again and again. It is brilliant in many ways and you'll learn more from this single screenplay than you would from a ton of how-to books.
[ I endorse Daniel's comments about Die Hard. The tricky part for most newbie screenwriters is knowing where to put your hands on a copy. One option is to fork out $25 to Script Fly. You used to be able to purchase it from Amazon.Com, but it seems to be out of print. Another way is to download a copy from the internet—except all the usual suppliers have removed their copies. That usually means the lawyers have been busy threatening people. You can read the screenplay at The Internet Movie Screenplay Database. Or you can ask your own informal network; someone should have a PDF copy they're willing to send you. ]

What has been the most memorable moment in your career(s) to date?  

First time I saw my name in the credits. I had officially become a creating part of that magical world I had lived in as a child.

What are your ten favourite (favourite, not ‘best’) movies of all time?

This will be an odd list! Here goes:
The Ninth Configuration (1980)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Hair (1979)
Double Indemnity (1944)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
The Killer (1989)
The Vanishing (1988)
The Changeling (1980)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The Big Sleep (1946)

What’s next for Daniel Martin Eckhart?

For the first time in years I'm NOT taking an assignment but will instead focus on a spec I've wanted to write for a long time. I can tell you one thing, if all goes well Jeremy Irons will play the male lead.

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