Tuesday 16 December 2014


Saying goodbye and thank you to your hosts is just good manners. So, any reader who stumbled across me over the years, consider this that. ~Duane Dudek
Henry Sheppard
circa 1988
That time has come for me, as it must for all. Over the last ten years I have struggled with declining health. Included on the roster of my enemies have been asthma, diabetes, leukemia and eczema. I have had 24 separate operations for skin cancer, not counting hundreds of applications of nitrogen spray. I cough almost constantly.
   I haven't been able to sleep lying down for months; lying down triggers more coughing. What sleep I do get is taken while sitting upright in an armchair. Or while dozing in front of the computer.
   I stopped going for checkups with the oncologist years ago. If I'm out of remission now, I won't be going through chemotherapy a second time. Once was enough.*

I'm not complaining. I consider I've been blessed. Knowing that my time is coming to an end is a gift. I know so many who died suddenly; no time to put things right before departing.
   Over recent years, I have used the mornings to publish this blog. It's been fun. I've met so many delightful people! Thank you one and all.
   But now I need the mornings for other things.
   When I first learned about the leukemia and the chemotherapy, I prayed for five more years. That passed in September 2012. Everything since has been a bonus.
   When I completed chemotherapy and learned I was in remission, I set myself to do as much as I could, as well as I could, for as long as I could. I tried to be helpful. My apologies for all the things I am leaving incomplete. And my thanks to everyone who befriended me via this blog.

* Ah, such brave words! The reality is that once the discomfort of the symptoms outweighs your horrible memory of the treatment, you buckle under. I started chemotherapy (take 2) in September 2015 and graduated in January 2016. The leukaemia is in remission, but the damage to my bone marrow almost outweighs the gain.

Sunday 14 December 2014

Choir of Silent Monks Sing the Hallelujah Chorus

And it's Merry Christmas from me.

Here we have the South Kitsap High School Vocal Music, Port Orchard, WA - Christmas Concert, in which the the Silent Monks present G.F. Handel's, Hallelujah Chorus.

Saturday 13 December 2014

2014 Movie Mashup

Genrocks, who has provided us with annual movie mashups since 2010, has announced that won't be happening this year.

This one from The Sleepy Skunk is the best I can do. (I like the last one third, 3:56 onwards.) My thanks to Jessica Chan.

For the sentimental among us, here is the 2010 Filmography, the best of them all, and the one that started this off.

Friday 12 December 2014

Sainsbury's Christmas Ad - 2014

Presenting the new Sainsbury’s Christmas advert, which was made in partnership with The Royal British Legion and inspired by real events from 100 years ago. It commemorates the extraordinary events of Christmas Day, 1914, when the guns fell silent and two armies met in no-man’s land, sharing gifts – and even playing football together.

The chocolate bar featured in the ad is on sale now at Sainsbury’s. All profits (50p per bar) will go to The Royal British Legion and will benefit the British armed forces and their families, past and present. 

Thursday 11 December 2014

Monty the Penguin

The new John Lewis Christmas TV advert with Monty The Penguin.

Click here to continue the story: http://www.johnlewis.com/christmas-ad...

The music is ‘Real Love’ performed by Tom Odell, the original song was written by John Lennon. Available to download now: http://smarturl.it/TORealLove?IQid=YT.JL

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Shaun the Sheep The Movie

From Aardman, the creators of Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run, Shaun the Sheep The Movie is coming to cinemas worldwide in 2015! In this new trailer, watch more of Shaun and The Flock’s hilarious adventures in the Big City as they search for the missing Farmer!
When Shaun decides to take the day off and have some fun, he gets a little more action than he bargained for! Shaun’s mischief inadvertently leads to The Farmer being taken away from the farm, to the Big City…
   Join Shaun, Bitzer and The Flock on their hilarious, action-packed, big screen adventure as they make plans to rescue the missing Farmer. A story about how we sometimes forget to appreciate the things we have in life, and the people who love us.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

John August on screenwriting

Screenwriter John August (Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) takes viewers inside his creative process in an exploration of where ideas come from.

Monday 8 December 2014

Jackie Chan - How to Do Action Comedy

Tony Zhou continues to pump them out. This one is simply brilliant.
Some filmmakers can do action. Others can do comedy. But for 40 years, the master of combining them has been Jackie Chan. Let’s see how he does it.
The 9 Principles of Action Comedy
   1. Start with a DISADVANTAGE
   2. Use the ENVIRONMENT
   3. Be CLEAR in your shots
   4. Action & Reaction in the SAME frame
   5. Do as many TAKES as necessary
   6. Let the audience feel the RHYTHM
   7. In editing, TWO good hits = ONE great hit
   8. PAIN is humanizing
   9. Earn your FINISH

Sunday 7 December 2014

Martin Scorsese on 'The Last Waltz'

Martin Scorsese discusses the experimental nature of the film, The Last Waltz. It functioned as a musical tapestry by presenting The Band's music alongside the various strains of American music — from Mississippi Delta blues to the early pop of the Brill Building — that had influenced them.
   While capturing those legendary performances was one thing, compiling all of them into the film was the true challenge.

Editing is the filmmaking itself, and so I've always been involved in the editing from the very, very beginning. It had to be just felt. Sometimes you couldn't really express it in words. It just felt more comfortable or it felt like it flowed better visually, or moved in tone. And it's something I can't define, but it's nerve-wracking and its anxiety-producing—but it's what we like to do.

Saturday 6 December 2014

Lessons of the Wolf

Milad Tangshir is a recent graduate of the University of Turin. This is his graduation thesis, a video essay about Martin Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street.

Friday 5 December 2014

Shane Black on 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'

I play Tetris obsessively with scripts, and realize that I still have nothing resembling a finished draft, because I'm still
stuffing ideas in and hoping that these three things will come together to form one hybrid.
   Kiss Kiss Bang Bang started as a romantic comedy. Then it was a straight comedy. Then I added the detective character, and it became this dark thriller. Then I went back in time to the forties and tried to get some of these old-time detective pulp novels involved, and say everything I had to say about that.

   By the end, it's sort of this mishmash. It's a pulp-style homage, fairy-tale, retro, film-noir, comedy, "kids in the big city," Capra-esque murder tragedy. You know, it's everything stuffed together. For some reason, that one worked—but you can play that game forever and never get anything done.

Shane Black, as quoted in Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories

Thursday 4 December 2014

The Producer Program: Episode 1

NYC Media is part of the New York City Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment. It is the official TV, radio and online network of New York City, informing, educating and entertaining New Yorkers about the City's diverse people and neighborhoods, government, services, attractions and activities.
   Part of their work is a six-episode series called "The Producer's Program," which features a multitude of different Hollywood producers covering different facets of producing. Here's episode 1.
   (Note: There are two irritating ads at the start. Fast forward to about 1 minute 17 to skip.)

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Haven't made it as a writer, yet?

Last June, the estimable Lucy Hay published the following piece of hard-won wisdom on her blog, Bang-2-Write: 25 Reasons Why You Haven't Yet Made It as a Writer.
   Now, I've had complaints in the past that Lucy comes across as angry, as if that should disbar her from expressing any opinion. My own view is that Lucy probably has excellent reasons for feeling frustrated. I know that she rubs up against new writers/wannabe writers all the time. Amongst them are a percentage of rude, arrogant, ignorant, thoughtless, self-centred, small-minded, entitled, or stupid people. (I used to have dealings with a few such in years gone by, but withdrew from the arena. I don't have the patience.)
   My dealings with Lucy, going back to the earliest days of this blog, have been marked by kindness and exceptional generosity on her part. I respect her; I trust her; and I admire her willingness to share.
   So, if you're likely to feel unsettled by anything that follows, it would probably be best if you quietly closed your browser now and went back to playing Solitaire.

Making It As A Writer: 25 Reasons You Haven’t Yet
By Lucy V Hay

So, yet again, I’ve run into various writers on various social media sites, forums, bulletins, etc., telling me how they “can’t” advance because of “[insert reason here]”.
   Look. No one said this writing stuff was going to be easy. First you sweat blood getting the story and characters on the page, then you find you have another journey ahead of you getting it out there! I know. It’s super industrial-flavoured shit. I was peeved too. It’s like getting to the top of Everest, only to discover God or Mother Nature or Fate fancied a change, so put an extension on it like Madonna’s bra. I get it.
    So here are the top “reasons” why some writers apparently “can’t” advance. If none of these apply to you, congratulations. You’re ready for a career in this writing malarkey. Otherwise, read it and weep:

1) You’re writing too little or too much

This is the thing: writers write. We know this. It’s no good just to say it; you gotta do it. And more than that, you have to have shedloads of ideas and be excited about all this, otherwise what’s the point?
    On the flipside: spend all your time writing and all you do is end up procrastinating. Your best writing is done by thinking, but more than that: to be a great writer, you have to live life. Do not be too concerned with what Joe Eszterhas calls “reel life”. 

2) You think it’s about luck

We all need a little luck, it’s true … though the harder we work, the luckier we get. Of course, sometimes we get totally crappy luck and projects upend through no fault of our own. It’s terrible when that happens, but there’s only one thing to do in that situation. Guess what it is? Yeah, you’re right: Keep going

3) You think it’s ‘cos you’re poor

Here are the facts. You don’t need to be rich to have writing talent and you definitely don’t have to be rich to be able make contacts! You just have to be Not Weird.

   Of course this is an issue for some of us, but that is usually not to do with how much money you have in your bank account, but giving yourself a slap! 

4) You think it’s about geography

“There’s no industry where I live!” 

   Dudes. The industry they speak of is an illusion. You know why? Because this is “The Industry”:
People + people = writing, developing & making stuff
   That’s it.
   You can do this anywhere. Also, thanks to the internet, you can do this with anyone. Geography is no boundary. You can do what you want, with whomever you want. (Oooh, Matron.) So why are you complaining? There are more opportunities than ever before! 

5) You think it’s ‘cos you’re not a middle-aged white dude

There’s no question the media is subject to institutional sexism and racism, but
and there’s always a BUT with me (snarf)there’s also something else: the industry follows the money, especially Hollywood.
   So that means if your concept is red hot, they couldn’t care less who you are or where you’re from.
   100% true fact.
   So forget about those two things and write the best genre-busting, money-making screenplay ever. 

6) You see exploitation everywhere

There’s more free advice, resources and help on the internet about screenwriting and filmmaking than ever before. More is being added all the time. Some of it’s bad. But some of it is good, even great! And yes, you have to sort through it all to get the good stuff (OMG what a problem!). But my point is this: if you don’t like paying for seminars, books, services, script reads, etc, then it’s simple—DON’T. Use what is at your disposal and stop whining.

    As for the whole “working for free” argument—can we please put this one to bed, now? Yes, yes, big companies should not expect their writers to work for free. Obviously that is bad. But there is a difference between exploitation and collaboration and if you don’t know what it is, then seriously, you aren’t ready for working with anyone, free or not. 

7) You think it’s about art

I love art. It rocks. But mainstream movies and TV are not art first. They are commerce-led. They have to be. That doesn’t mean writers can’t slip in a nod here and there and make them “arty” – why not? – but ultimately, those production companies making the screenplays have to balance the books. Not because they’re evil capitalists, but generally ‘cos like most people, they have mortgages, childcare and psychiatry bills to pay. Duh.

8) You’re a snob

If I had a quid for every time I saw or heard writers dissing a screenwriter, filmmaker, genre or type of work and insisting they’d never do their creative work that way, it’d be too soon. But what these snobs don’t realise is often their own harsh judgements paralyse them and stop them from progressing, as they overthink everything out of fear of people like them dissing the finished project! Shame.

9) You think it’s “who you know”

Let’s get this straight. If you write a brilliant screenplay, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. It is not who you know. But, yes, it does help to know some people, because the media is all about relationships.

   So make some!
   Again, it’s never been easier, thanks to the internet. Make a team. Make some stuff. Grow together. What have you got to lose? 

10) You think it’s just about your craft

Craft is great and, certainly, screenplays look better on the page, format-wise, than they did ten years ago. But unfortunately, most spec screenplays have the same issues they always did with structure and characterisation. Many new writers believe “craft = good format”. It doesn’t.

   If you learn what craft really means and how to nail structure and character,  you might find yourself catapulted to success. 

11) You think it’s ‘cos you don’t write “the usual”

Yes, the gatekeepers don’t want to find derivative stuff, but equally they don’t want stuff that’s totally wack either. This is never more apparent than with characterisation and story. If you’re going to write an unusual character in a story that’s original and fresh, it needs to be left of the middle, not completely out of left field. It’s all about balance! Le duh

12) You think it’s all “obvious”

Every time I publish an article
especially on screenwriting craftsome Whack-A-Mole pops up somewhere on social media, sneering about how all my points are apparently “obvious”. Yet if that’s the case, how come there’s so many writers out there confused about all this stuff/not doing these things? How come writers can improve on their crafts, their attitudes, their abilities to make contacts by listening to advice from industry pros? I’ll tell youbecause there’s knowing it … and there’s actually doing it. 

 13) You’re writing the wrong thing

This is the thing. There’s a shortage not only of well-written feature length screenplays, but there’s a shortage of feature scriptwriters too. Especially in the UK. Especially genre. Especially women. Especially BAME writers. Plus it’s actually easier to get into feature film writing with a great feature length screenplay, because no one cares if you have credits or not. And TV people will read feature screenplays as samples. In other words: You should be writing feature scripts.
    Yet new writers are writing spec TV projects. Constantly, at the expense of everything else. Why? Because apparently TV runs initiatives, schemes, etc., and “feels welcoming”, was a reason I read on Twitter this week.
    Okay … Let’s work out how many places on said schemes, initiatives, etc., are available in the UK each year. Let’s say 50 (and that’s being generous). How many writers are going for each of those 50 places do you think? 500? At least, I’d wager. Those are astronomical odds.
    Hey, you gotta be in it to win it. I get that. And if you genuinely love TV, then by all means go for it. But if you think that TV is any easier to get into than film, you’re out of your mind! Especially as film is so much easier to get into than TV anyway! 

14) You’re telling industry pros how it is

“There must be loads of great screenplays out there not getting made.”
    There really aren’t. Do you know how I know this? Because I not only read stacks of screenplays every single year, I also talk to other readers, producers, filmmakers and agents. Absolutely everyone I know says this:
    “There are NOT loads of great screenplays out there not getting made.”
    Seriously, get it out of your head that there’s this black hole that sucks up great screenplays. There isn’t. What’s more, this is great news. Why? Because it means that if you come up with a fantastic script it will get made, because we are desperate— yes, desperate—to find them! There are far too many derivative scripts out there, written by writers who either 1) have no clue what they’re writing is derivative, or 2) believe that the industry only makes derivative shite.

15) You think you can’t get read

Here’s another one that drives me batshit crazy: “It’s so hard to get read.”
    Is it? Let’s break this down. There are more contests, initiatives, schemes, listing sites, querying services, script call sites, film festivals, writing festivals, bulletins, Facebook pages, twitter calls, information sites, podcasts, videoblogs and other resources than there have ever been. More are being added all the time. Some are paid-for, sure; but a huuuuuge amount are 100% FREE.

   Now, you’re trying to tell me you can’t get read? Seriously? Because I got read way back when there wasn’t all this stuff, when I didn't have an agent, when I wasn’t @Bang2write and there was hardly anything writing-related on the web. Do you know how I did it? I rang people up from the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook pretending to be “Producer X’s Assistant”.
    Guess how many times I got busted? Zero. I still use many of those email addresses I got, all these years later. (Of course, now I’ve busted myself, sorry! #notsorry).
    My point is, if you want to get read, figure out how to do it. It can be done. You don’t have to sleep your way to the top (though be my guest if that’s your bag), or even do cheeky phone scams, either. 

16) You don’t have a strategy

This is very simple: figure out what you want to do, how you’re going to do it
and by when. Set goals. Revisit them. Your priorities may change and that’s fine; it’s not time wasted. But the scattergun approach does not work (or if it does, you are one lucky sod). 

17) You think it’s a “closed shop”

It comes down to this: it’s not a closed shop. I keep telling you all it’s not, but I keep hearing that it is, probably because people believe in the tired myth of being “plucked from obscurity”.

   NEWSFLASH: no one is plucked from obscurity. 
   If The Industry is a bunch of people working together—and it is—then you have to create some relationships. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it is the only way forward. 

18) You’re not querying

See “No unsolicited submissions” everywhere? Oh boo hoo. Query everyone, regardless. But what is querying? 

19) You’re not making your submissions properly

If you get a script request, send them what they want, the way they ask for it. I can’t stress this enough. If they don’t mention a specific way, send PDF files; your script; and a one page pitch. Make your accompanying email short, to the point and pleasant (i.e., not weird, but not too formal either).
    Oh, and by the way, you need to submit that script ASAP. Don’t make them wait weeks, or even months for it! 

20) You’re crossing your fingers and hoping for the best

So many writers tell me, “This will be the one!” And it’s great that they have so much confidence; they absolutely should, BUT—again, that but (snarf)—but they inevitably find it isn't and then they’re crushed. They’ll come to me later and say, “Why am I not advancing?” And the answer to that is, they’re not doing enough to get themselves out there. So, ask yourselves honestly: Are you doing enough beyond your writing? Do you even know what you’re supposed to be doing beyond writing stuff? 

21) You’re not making your own opportunities

This is the thing. All this is in your own hands … if you can just create those all-important relationships. But to do that, you have to meet people. If you help them, they help you. It’s not rocket science.
    Networking is a stress many writers don’t like or want to do, but it is necessary. If you can’t afford the big events, then go to the ones with nominal charges or those that are free. If you live outside London, set up your own. In other words: Meet people, however you can.

   Also: following writers, agents, producers and filmmakers on Twitter is a great start, but you need to make relationships with them as well. This can be done online, if you can’t make it to real life events. But tread carefully. Remote communication can go hideously wrong very quickly. If you fuck up, apologise. If you get burned, let it go and move on. Don’t crusade "on behalf of all writers" or make weird proclamations. 

22) You really want someone else to do it for you

Every day writers ask me questions and that’s cool, I like helping writers. But too often, I’ll find myself stuck in someone else's view of the industry. You know how it goes:
    “No one wants to help anyone, least of all you.”
    Sounds like me, doesn’t it?
    This is the thing: if you want something, then YOU have to go get it. You have to figure it out. If you can’t be bothered, or are too daunted, or too confused (or whatever), then maybe you didn’t want it that much to begin with. All of us start with nothing. If we want something, we have to create it. It’s gruelling and painful and sometimes even boring (really!), but again: it’s the only thing you can do.

23) You think it’s about paying ALL the bills from writing

Get this. Very few professionals writers are able to pay all their bills/living costs from writing alone (especially in film). Even if they could, they might do something else as well because, frankly, writing/freelancing is a lonely business! Most of us want to get out there and/or do other stuff.
    Being a professional in this business doesn’t necessarily stack up in terms of money. It’s about attitude and it’s about creating a career. 

24) You’re not giving producers or agents what they WANT

What do you mean, you don’t know what they want? It’s never been easier to find out … So find out. 

25) You just don’t know how this shit works!

You have to. Doesn’t matter what it is: structure? Make it your bitch. Genre? Know how it all goes. Budgets? Know what it is low, medium, high. Know what a producer does. Know the differences between PASS or CONSIDER or RECOMMEND. Know which are the good production companies or agents; talk to everyone. Know what deals are being done.

   And, for Christ’s sake, WATCH THE STUFF YOU WANNA MAKE. I’m so tired of talking to people (who apparently love films as much as I do) who say “I haven’t watched that one”! Sure, I get it, going to the cinema is expensive and maybe your local doesn’t get a great selection; ours doesn’t either. It’s also not possible to watch every single film in the known universe. But if you want to write a Thriller, A Horror, A Drama, A Comedy, you should be immersed in what has gone before—or you just won’t look professional.

So, if you’ve not made it yet, this is the reality: Your screenplay is not good enough.
    Of course, “good” is a relative term; yours might be ace and that’s great, but if there is no market for it, then it’s still not good enough. But this is the real point: do you even know if there’s no market for it, or are you just randomly throwing spaghetti at the wall?
    If you want to make a sale and/or get serious attention for your writing via an agent or writer for hire opportunity (or similar), you have to invest in concept. It’s non negotiable. If I sound like I’m repeating myself here, it’s because I am. I’m literally boring myself. But not as much as the writers are boring me with the apparent “reasons” listed in this article as to why they haven’t “made it”.
    It’s hard for everybody, regardless of background, geography, even start in life. I know a guy whose mother was a famous singer/actress back in the day, but she said to him: “You gotta make it on your own, boyo, you’re not riding on my coattails.” So he’s getting out there with his scripts, alone, same as you.
    Yes, she’s harsh, and so am I. But it is out there: you have to wo/man up and get yourself out there regardless, with a great screenplay and a great attitude: “Why not me?” Seriously, why not? If you’ve got the talent and the persistence, it can be done … and I’m assuming you wouldn’t have started if you didn’t think you had the former, so now you gotta focus on the latter!

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Understanding composition

Brisbane man, Andrew Price, discusses one of the most important things you can learn as a Computer Graphic artist: Composition. There's more to it than the rule of thirds.

Monday 1 December 2014

Congratulations: Simon Butters

The Australian Writers’ Guild (AWG) has announced the winners of this year’s John Hinde Awards for Science Fiction for both a produced and unproduced script. The awards are intended to "encourage, reward and foster creativity in the development and showcasing of exceptional science fiction writing for feature film, short film, television, radio and interactive media."

The inaugural winner of the Unproduced category is Min Min, which was written by South Australian screenwriter, Simon Butters.
Min Min is a story of four carefree travellers who speed across the Nullabor Plain to find the perfect surf break but their night time journey is cut terrifyingly short when they are hunted by a strange, deadly light in the sky - the Min Min.
The Min Min Light is a phenomenon known to travelers in the Australian outback. I first learned of it in 1973, when I lived for a time at the town of Boulia in outback Queensland. The Boulia Shire has laid claim to being the "land of the Min Min Light" and the town celebrates the light with a Min Min Encounter Show for tourists.

I spent three months alone, living on the bank of the Burke River just outside Boulia, and I can tell you that the Outback, at night especially, can be a creepy place. I always had a loaded rifle close to hand, though that might have been due to the paranoia commonly experienced by people running marijuana plantations. (Thank God for the Statute of Limitations and a lenient view of youthful indiscretion.

Anyway, I wish Simon all the best with getting the script produced. It's a worthy subject for a "sci-fi thriller with a horror edge" and I look forward to seeing the final product.

Story structure

Darious J. Britt gives us his summary of story structure.

Sunday 30 November 2014

1001 Movies You Must See (Before You Die)

Film editor, Jonathan Keogh started piecing this together in February of 2013. It was finished in 2014. The video contains over 200 more titles that those featured in the book, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, edited by Steven Jay Schneider, because Keogh felt they complemented the video.

Saturday 29 November 2014

Interview with Paul Schattel

Paul Schattel is an American screenwriter, director, producer, editor, lecturer and a trained journalist. He is based in Asheville, North Carolina, where he founded Harrow Beauty Motion Pictures, a boutique video production company. Paul has made three feature films, Sinkhole, Alison, and Quiet River. He has also lectured and taught classes in directing, screenwriting, acting and video editing in university settings across the Southeast, as well as in NYC and Los Angeles.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I was raised in 1970s rural Alabama, in the US. It was a cool place to grow up, actually, but, like anywhere else, it could be troubled. Alabama has a unique sort of low self esteem—it has a problematic past and is often characterized as backwards, and sometimes it really does earn that description. So I have a love/hate relationship with Alabama—so much unrealized potential, so many misguided priorities. I remember reading about sensitive little Kurt Cobain growing up in rural Washington, and identified with him quite a bit. We were about the same age.

What kind of a family did you grow up with?

I had a loving mother, but there was a darkness, a mental illness—paranoid schizophrenia, actually—that kind of took over my family. It's hereditary, and just by genetic luck I seemed to have been passed over. But my mom's side of the family were devastated by it—my aunt was full blown mentally ill; my mother's illness progressed as she got older, and even my brother was afflicted. He died just this year, from a very basic, treatable condition that got much worse because he refused
to see a doctor.
   As a matter of fact, I addressed my family's illness in a script for an upcoming movie—Your Ass Is Grass, which is in development now with True Blood's Carrie Preston. It's about a woman struggling with mental illness who is caught up in a brutal home invasion. And when she impulsively decides to get even, things start getting really dark. But it was my way of addressing the affliction which damaged my family.

Where did you go to school?

I am a product of public school in Alabama in the 1970s. I attended a Catholic high school for two years but then was asked to leave. College was a public school in Alabama—the University of Montevallo. It was kind of like the Athens, Georgia of Alabama—a place where freaks and hippies and artists were welcomed. Most of my lifelong friends came from this place.

When did you first take an interest in storytelling?

Thank you for using that term, rather than the more typical 'writer' or 'director.' Storytellers do their thing across various media, and that's what I do, too. I've always wanted to be a storyteller—I have little elementary school notebooks with drawings and stories in them.
   The very first story I ever wrote was about a fly fisherman who gets swept down a raging river. He almost drowns and then somehow wakes up on the shore, wondering how he was saved. He looks over to briefly catch a Sasquatch disappearing into the trees.

What was your first paying job (in any field)?

First paying job was a dishwasher in an ice cream/fast food parlor in Hoover, Alabama. I quickly moved up to cook and have enjoyed cooking ever since. But then I was fired for goofing off.
   The weirdest job I ever had was as a night cleaning person in a small town KMart in Alabama. Let me tell you, there is no more desolate feeling than eating lunch at 2AM in an KMart employee break room in Jasper, Alabama.

You’ve made three feature films. Which of them taught you the most?

My debut film Sinkhole (2004) taught me the most, just by virtue of being the first. It was also the most ambitious—it was shot on 35mm and tightly plotted and very precise and all that.
   My second film, Alison, was more loose—it had a more non-linear, Gus Van Sant kind of energy, and my third, Quiet River, is a chamber piece—an eco-thriller set in small town North Carolina.
   I like regional films—I think of them almost as literary thrillers, like mystery novels from a prolific writer. All of the films were back door pictures, meaning I made them when a larger budgeted project fell through. I've been chasing bigger budgets for a while but they tend to collapse (or get delayed) before they truly get going. It's been frustrating, which is why I created a Kickstarter project for my fourth feature film, American Breakdown. You can talk about making movies, I've learned, or you can just go ahead and make movies.

Do you include Hitchcock-like cameos of yourself in your films?

Ha! Actually, I am in Sinkhole, but only because we needed another extra onscreen (my back is to the camera). I really dislike being in front of the camera, and have a great respect for those who can do it well. It ain't easy!

Your film Sinkhole has been described as a “rural noir.” We’re more accustomed to noir stories played out in a big city. Does noir work in the countryside? Was this a case of you making your story fit the available resources, rather than the other way round?

Sure, noirs can work anywhere—look at the recent Cold In July, which is also a rural noir—it takes place in East Texas. Or Inherent Vice, which is kind of a beach noir. I do like the countryside—it's my territory. I can own it, so I'm confident there.
   I'm really drawn to darker, rural stuff—bands like The Drive By Truckers and Uncle Tupelo get me going. I like the clash of modern sensibilities against rural structures that may have been in place for decades, which is one reason I now live in Asheville, NC. Ten minutes outside town, down the right road, and you're suddenly decades in the past. You can make stories anywhere. If you've had dance training, for instance, you can make a great film set in that world—look at Black Swan.

You have a Kickstarter campaign running until December 3, aimed at funding another feature film called American Breakdown. Could you tell us a bit about that project?

American Breakdown is a dark comedy about a struggling country musician, who gets stranded in a small Southern town, and how he has to come to terms with both the town's eccentric residents and his own screwed up psyche. I like to call it a 'redneck Woody Allen film' or compare it to something the Coen Brothers might find worth shooting. But you can see the same patterns—small towns, incongruous psychology, identity fluidity and even gender fluidity. It's a mind trip.

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

One: Take your time. There's no rush, and putting out hurried work is certainly not the best way to proceed. Be patient.

Two: Even though it may seem you're working in a void, you're not. The film world is a small town; everyone knows everyone, and you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Three: Study story more than you think you should. I trusted myself and my talents (and did okay with it), but if I had had more preparation and storytelling sophistication, I would have made more of an industry splash. Trusting your talents is

great, but knowing technique is important, too. You can't be a noble savage in film.

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

I really liked John Truby's The Anatomy of Story. It has a pretty neat 22 point breakdown of story considerations that seems to be fairly comprehensive. It's not a blueprint, but more of a methodology of looking that digs deep in a simple way.

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

Most (not all) Kubrick films are mandatory.
Blue Velvet (1986)
Boogie Nights (1997)
Taxi Driver (1976)
Eraserhead (1977)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Wise Blood (1979)
Badlands (1973)
Raising Arizona (1987)
Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)
Repulsion (1965)
So many wonderful movies.

What’s next for Paul Schattel?

I'll move on to American Breakdown, then Your Ass Is Grass. I also have a twisted historical fantasy novel I'm working on—In The Dark All Cats Are Grey. It's about a kid from (guess where) rural Alabama who gets caught up in the early 20th Century boom in spiritualism and then goes down the crazy occultist rabbit hole. It's dark and kinda gothic, and completely unfilmable.

Friday 28 November 2014

Bruce Joel Rubin on 'My Life'

My Life did not have a huge following. I don't know the actual numbers of people who saw the film, but the power of the connection between those who did and me was enormous.
   The reviews were beyond-belief cruel. The studio sends you a packet of all the reviews from your movie across the country, and I started reading those reviews, and one after another was a below-the-belt punch. I was on the floor for
months after that movie came out. I thought it was the biggest failure I had ever been involved in.
    And then, about nine months later, a woman comes up to me at a party, and she says, "My husband died of cancer a year ago, and my son couldn't speak about it. He was twelve. He's now thirteen. I now have cancer, and I have six months to live."
   I'm just kind of reeling as she's saying this.
   She says, "About a week or two after your movie came out, my son and I went to see it. When the movie was over, we went back home, and he was sobbing. He crawled into my lap, and he and I had the dialogue that I needed to have to leave this world. It would not have happened without your movie, so thank you."
   Something happened to me at that moment: I realized I made the movie for her. And it was enough.

Bruce Joel Rubin, as quoted in Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories

Thursday 27 November 2014

"Resonant Chamber" - Animusic.com

Animusic was founded by Wayne Lytle back in 1982, after he envisioned algorithmically synchronized music and animation. Virtual instruments perform with precision timing. It's like records where you can see the music.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Empathy, Neurochemistry, and the Dramatic Arc

The emotionally charged story recounted at the beginning of Dr. Paul Zak's film—of a terminally ill two-year-old named Ben and his father—offers a simple yet remarkable case study in how the human brain responds to effective storytelling.
    As part of his study, Dr. Zak, a founding pioneer in the emerging field of neuroeconomics, closely monitored the neural activity of hundreds of people who viewed Ben's story.
   What he discovered is that even the simplest narrative, if it is highly engaging and follows the classic dramatic arc outlined by the German playwright Gustav Freytag, can evoke powerful empathic responses associated with specific neurochemicals, namely cortisol and oxytocin. Those brain responses, in turn, can translate readily into concrete action—in the case of Dr. Zak's study subjects, generous donations to charity and even monetary gifts to fellow participants.
   By contrast, stories that fail to follow the dramatic arc of rising action/climax/denouement—no matter how outwardly happy or pleasant those stories may be—elicit little if any emotional or chemical response, and correspond to a similar absence of action. Dr. Zak's conclusions hold profound implications for the role of storytelling in a vast range of professional and public milieus.

Monday 24 November 2014

J.J. Abrams: On Filmmaking

J.J. Abrams (Star Trek Into Darkness, Lost, Super 8) fills us in on balancing intimacy with hyperreality, why TV leaves room for surprises and the best advice he's ever been given.

Sunday 23 November 2014

What makes a screenplay "work"

Gordy Hoffman published an interesting article on the Bluecat Screenplay Competition website recently. The thrust of the article is that every successful movie is successful because it taps into some key element of what the mass of people have on their mind at a point in time.
   I'm not sure I agree with all the analysis, but this makes interesting reading nonetheless. The conclusions are all fresh reminders of what we, deep down, already know.

  • Don’t be afraid to give the audience what they want.
  • Have stakes that make the conflict in your story matter.
  • Theme is an essential element to conveying an even tone throughout. 
  • Meet and exceed your audience’s expectations of what a movie can be.

What do the 10 Highest-Earning Original Screenplays have in common?

Of the top thirty-seven highest grossing films of all time (adjusted for inflation), only ten are original screenplays that aren’t sequels, prequels, or Fantasia. Read on to see what they have in common.

10. Independence Day (1996)
box office $564,541,300

What made it work?
Cultural zeitgeist.

Writers will forget sometimes that they products of their environment. With only four years until the new millennium, Independence Day was the doomsday movie that no one realized they wanted. Sure it’s hokey and the science is silly, but at the end of the day that’s how most of the world was in 1996. Don’t be afraid to give the audience what they want. 

9. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969 )
box office $575,046,500

What made it work?
Likable Characters.

The characters of Butch and Sundance are altogether iconic, relatable, and nuanced. When you’re writing your characters, don’t neglect to give each the attention they deserve. Every character should feel like a real person.

8. Ghostbusters (1984)
box office $579,957,500

What made it work?
Genre transcendence.

On its surface, Ghostbusters could be an action movie. Or horror. Or comedy? Sci-fi? Instead Ghostbusters transcended genre completely, telling an original story with clever world building and amazing characters. Without Ghostbusters, who knows if we’d have films like Galaxy Quest or Shawn of The Dead.

7. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
box office $721,493,300

What made it work?
Reverence for the classics.

Raiders of the Lost Ark takes the best of classic films like Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and combines them with the pulp action of the 1930′s serials. The result is a film that is often lauded as the finest ever made. When writing your original spec, be prepared to borrow from the best.

6. The Sting (1973)
box office $726,514,300

What made it work?
Reveals that are surprising yet inevitable.

This is the second George Roy Hill directed film to make this list with Paul Newman and Robert Redford starring. The advice there is to stick with what works. Storywise, The Sting is best known for its complicated yet engaging plot. Following the exploits of two confidence men and their vendetta against a gangster played by Robert Shaw, every scene leaves the audience guessing and wanting more.

5. The Lion King (1994)
box office $726,543,300

What made it work?
Emotional range.

The Lion King would be a completely different movie if it was only a story of animals getting along and singing about the food chain. Thankfully the writers pushed a more ambitious story. With Mufasa’s death, Timon and Pumba’s antics, Nala and Simba’s love story, this little animated movie about lions touched upon very human emotions. Don’t be afraid to use a range of emotions to further your story.

4. Avatar (2009)
box office $792,630,400

What made it work?
A fully realized world the audience has never seen before.

Most great films are a classic story set in a wholly original world (Lord of The Rings). Others are original stories set in a classical world (The Artist). Other films are neither, pushing an incoherent mess (The Room), or a tired by-the-numbers formula (Home Alone 3). People go to movies to be entertained, and in the film making process the screenwriter is the first “at bat.”

3. Titanic (1997)
box office $1,104,116,900

What made it work?
High stakes.

All stories have conflict. What separates good storytelling from bad storytelling are the motivations of the characters. It’s one thing to write a movie about the sinking of the Titanic, it’s a far greater thing to write “Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic” as James Cameron once pitched his movie. Each of the movies on this list have stakes that make the conflict in their story matter. This is a good reason why poorly written action movies can feel boring. If there’s no reason to care about the characters’ wants/needs, what’s the point?

2. E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
box office $1,156,112,800

What made it work?
Universal themes.

E.T. isn’t just a story about an alien trying to get home. It’s also about a boy coping with his parent’s divorce and the inherent loneliness of being a child. Nearly everyone can relate to the fear of being lost and alone as a child, and while many films have tried to emulate E.T., no film has done it better. Theme is an oft-overlooked element of screenwriting, yet essential to conveying an even tone throughout. The more universal your theme is, the more likely your screenplay will have mass appeal.

1. Star Wars (1977)
box office $1,451,674,700

What made it work?
Epic storytelling.

Everything about Star Wars is epic. From the costumes to the periphery characters, the movie makes no apologies for being larger than life. The same can be said for all the movies in this list. They met and exceeded their audience’s expectations of what a movie could be and as a result, became cultural phenomenons.