Thursday 31 March 2016

The Beauty of the Dinner Scene

Jack Nugent takes a look at how films use the dinner scene to show much more than people eating.

Wednesday 30 March 2016

8 Mistakes Filmmakers Make

Elliot Grove is a Canadian-born film producer who founded the Raindance Film Festival, the British Independent Film Awards, and Raindance.TV. He has produced over 150 short films, and five feature films; he teaches writers and producers in the UK, Europe, Japan and America; and has written three books which have become industry standardsRaindance Writers' Lab, Raindance Producers' Lab Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and 130 Projects to Get You into Filmmaking.

From all that we can deduce that he knows a few things about filmmaking. Here are some of his thoughts on the common mistakes filmmakers make.

As your filmmaking career starts to grow, it's crucial that your actions don't strangle it in its infancy. By avoiding the mistakes that so many filmmakers make you have a far greater chance of succeeding well beyond the first two years of the launch date of your career.

1. Doing Too Much Yourself

Business owners as well as filmmakers fall into this trap, as they attempt to minimise costs. It can mean that you will get bogged down in the day-to-day nitty gritty, keeping you from stepping back and taking a good hard look at the future. Future planning and, with it, the ability to anticipate problems, are two important areas successful filmmakers have to keep control of. Doing too much can mean that the fire-fighting cycle just keeps repeating over and over again.
     Coupled with that is the guilt associated with neglecting family and personal relationships. This often leads to exhaustion and collapse.
     Why not call for extra help before you need it, and not after the cracks have begun to show, and usually, it is too late.

2. You Don't Know What You Don't Know

Most filmmakers start their career because they are really good at something. Some are really good at directing action, others have a flair for working with actors, and others are just good solid all-rounders.
     What many filmmakers forget is that it is a business which involves a host of different skill sets. They forget that filmmaking requires the basic business management skills such as: sourcing new clients and work, marketing and publicity, recruiting new crew and staff, and managing the cash flow questions that any small business has. Add into this the creative mix and you have the potential for a meltdown.
     Running and, more importantly, developing and expanding your movie career is like growing and developing any type of business. It is unlikely that you will have the expertise to do everything needed yourself.
     Successful filmmakers learn to recognise their own skills and knowledge and take action to fill the gaps in their career plan.

3. Quitting The Day Job Too Quickly

A filmmaker or screenwriter's passion in what they are doing is usually so high that they enjoy some initial successes and revenues. They then quit their day jobs and hire premises and staff
only to face psychological and financial ruin when their early successes have been a minor blip on the long hard haul to a successful career.
     Everyone needs money in order to survive. Make sure you are able to cover your monthly expenses before you ditch your day job.
     Done correctly, you might be able to apply for funding or enjoy certain strategic tax benefits depending on your personal profile and the geographical territory you live in.

4. You Haven't Got Anyone To Talk To

Filmmakers have career issues which often require discussion and debate. The difficulty facing most filmmakers is that it's very difficult to find anyone they can relate to.
     Certain legal and technical challenges can be discussed with an accountant or lawyer. But issues of creativity are not the issues you want to discuss with inappropriate people.
     Having no network is potentially very damaging. Discussion with a trusted advisor or friend is where one finds new ideas and perspectives. Having your project and ideas endorsed is also nourishing for one's ego. Lukewarm receptions can indicate that your ideas are not developed enough. A small network of trusted people able to 'get' you, and will listen and discuss ideas with you, is an essential part of a filmmaker's success.

5. Working With The Wrong People

Filmmaking is a passionate business. It is also almost always very last minute. Add on top of that, the chronic fatigue. Under these circumstances it is tempting to hire people for production and other jobs quickly without properly interviewing and checking references. Remember, no matter how good someone is, if there's a difference in values, then the only questions that matter are "When will the row happen?" and "On what subject will it be?"
     Always be asking yourself: how much real experience do they have? Is it relevant to what you need? Are their skills and experience complimentary to yours? Do you have mutual respect? How important will you be to them? Do they know their own limits? What networks and contacts do they bring? Will they let you talk to their previous employers/collaborators to get a feel of how they work?
     As always, don't agree to work with anyone until you feel comfortable. And make sure you have written contracts in place for any creative collaboration.

6. Lack of self awareness

Many filmmakers are afraid of admitting their fears and inadequacies because they don't want to lose the mantra of praise that they want to follow them everywhere. They won't take any criticism from anyone because they don't trust them and because they believe they know better. When confronted they usually nitpick ridiculously fine details and refuse to entertain the creative or practical suggestions from anyone else.
     This makes it very difficult to develop a team and, as the word spreads, they find fewer and fewer people willing to collaborate with them.
     Successful filmmakers are brutally honest about themselves. Get some vital feedback from that special and trusted friend.

7. Staying In The Comfort Zone

Most filmmakers work with the same team members over and over again. There is nothing wrong with this
, exceptwho is challenging and testing you and your ideas?
     It's an easy trap to surround yourself with 'yes' men. Working with people who challenge you may be uncomfortable, but it's a whole lot easier then attending a disastrous screening of your movie because no one around you had the courage to say, "Hang on a minute
what about XYZ?"'
     Hip, innovative filmmakers pick up those cool ideas from outside their conventional thoughts. They learn to accept constructive criticism and learn how to deal with negative criticism. Mixing with others will increase your chances of doing this. The more diverse your contacts (whether by sectors/age/ethnic group/gender), the more you'll also be able to "narrow the angles" on potential incoming problems; someone in your group will have had experience of issues that you haven't
better to learn from others' mistakes than get extra battle scars yourself! 

8. Not Knowing Why You Want To Make Movies 

Filmmakers make movies for many different reasons. It doesn't really matter why you want to make a movie. Some make movies because they want to make money. Others make movies to get a message across. Others make movies because they are attracted by the allure and glamour. Decide what your ambitions are before you head off and attempt a career in filmmaking. Realise that your real reason for making movies will predetermine much of what you try and achieve. 

By avoiding, at least to some degree, these eight common mistakes, your filmmaking career has a much more decent chance of success. Analyse each of these eight areas and take appropriate action.

First posted:  13 July 2012

Sunday 27 March 2016

The Drop Off - Episode 1

You, of course, don't know any people like this, so think of The Drop Off as an educational tour of modern Australian suburbs...

Saturday 26 March 2016

Breaking The Rules - The French New Wave

Lewis Bond takes a look into the influence of the New Wave and how it managed to become the cinematic bridge between the classic and the modern.

Friday 25 March 2016

Composition In Storytelling

Lewis Bond takes us on an exploration of the cinema screen as just another canvas for an artist to create images. Composition is the tool that gives those images structure and purpose.

Press the CC button to see a list of the films.

Thursday 24 March 2016

The Lateral Tracking Shot

Tony Zhou takes us on a survey of the uses of the lateral tracking shot.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Book review: "The Television Plays"

The Collected Works of Paddy Chayefsky: The Television Plays was recommended to me by Brian McDonald. My query related to screenwriting, but rather than suggesting one of those by-the-numbers,-make-a-million-overnight bestsellers, his answer placed the emphasis on story-telling, the "how" of putting an effective story together.

To start with: Who was Paddy Chayefsky (1923-1981)?

Only five people have ever won three Academy Awards for screenwriting. Three of those (Francis Ford Coppola, Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder) shared the credit with at least one other writer. Only two have received three solo Academy Awards for Best Screenplay. One is Paddy Chayefsky—Marty (1955), The Hospital (1971) and Network (1976)
the other, Woody Allen. Chayefsky wrote songs, plays, TV series, and feature films. The Writers Guild of America named their award for television writers in his honour.

The Television Plays contains the full scripts of six one-hour TV dramas written by Paddy Chayefsky between 1952 and 1954. The value of the book doesn't lie in the provision of the screenplays, but rather in the comments and explanation he gives as to his mental processes while working out how to tell a given story.

For example, he was asked to write a one-hour drama (Holiday Song) based on a Reader's Digest story about a chance encounter on a train which led to the reconciliation of a husband and wife, both of whom believed the other to have died in World War II.
The incident is not a good one for dramatic purposes. Despite the fact that it involves bringing together a husband and wife who believed each other dead, there is little emotion involved. There is a certain element of suspense, but suspense is a poor substitute for drama. It would be possible to use this incident as the opening scene of a story and then follow the course of events resulting from the meeting of a long-separated husband and wife. But this isn't what the subway incident is about.
     The incident has only one dramatic meaning, and that is: there is a God. The incident is what I call a third-act incident: it proves something. If in the beginning of the play there was a character who didn't believe in God, then this incident could prove to him that there is a God. Of course, the character would have to be someone who would accept such a symbolic interpretation of the incident; and as a writer it is your job to create such a character.
     You open your script showing a religious (person) who has lost his faith in God, and you end your script with this subway incident which restores his faith to him. What is missing is the story or what I call the urgency. Why is it so urgent (he) regain his faith in God? What terrible consequences will occur if he doesn't? As a writer, you sit down and painfully invent a series of circumstances that will be resolved by this incident on the subway.
Here are a few quotes from the book.
  • Dramatic writing is really nothing more than telling a story, and nobody ever tells a story quite like anyone else.
  • I have only one rule that I consider absolute and arbitrary, and that is: a drama can have only one story. It can have only one leading character. All other stories and all other characters are used in the script only as they facilitate the main story.
  • Dramatic construction is essentially a search for reasons. That is to say, given the second-act-curtain incident, construction consists of finding the reasons why the characters involved in the incident act the way they do. Each incident must be dramatized by at least one scene, and the scenes laid out so that they inevitably grow into the crisis.
  • It's always good to start a dramatization with a crisis if you can get one. For one thing, it promptly tells you what your basic story is and keeps you from getting confused with other story elements.
  • The basic story is always the emotional line of the script. Don't ever make the basic line the social comment of the script. Drama is concerned only with emotion.
  • It is a common illusion that dramatists sit down and preconceive a detailed biography and character study of each character in the script. To a professional writer, this would be a palpable waste of time. A writer usually starts off thinking with a rough feel of the character absorbed from some experience in his own life. 
  • It is inevitable that the preconception of the character will change a thousand times during the course of construction in order to satisfy the demands of the story line.
  • Writing is such a confused business of backing and filling, of suddenly plunging into the third act while you are still pondering the first act.
  • Writing is unfortunately an emotional as well as a mental trade, and the simplest steps in logic are obscured by the writer's own fears and anxieties, most of which he is unaware of.
  • I usually like to start my subplot in the second act.
  • Each story demands its own kind of construction, and each writer must construct his stories as best suits his ways.
  • The Bicycle Thief, an Italian masterpiece, got about as close to an ordinary day in an unemployed man's life as you can get in a movie; but even this picture required a special urgency of incident.
  • There is far more exciting drama in the reasons why a man gets married than in why he murders someone.
  • There are all sorts of actors, many of them highly intelligent or amusing, but as a class they have a poor sense of theater. There are very few actors whose opinion of a script I would trust.

Some more Paddy Chayefsky quotes, this time from the book The Craft of the Screenwriter.
  • If it should occur to you to cut, do so. That’s the first basic rule of cutting. If you’re reading through and stop, something is wrong. Cut it. If something bothers you, then it’s bad. Cut it. If you can cut inside the speech, you’re really cutting most effectively.
  • It’s purifying, it’s refining. Making it precise. Precision is one of the basic elements of poetry. My own rules are very simple. First, cut out all the wisdom; then cut out all the adjectives. I’ve cut some of my favorite stuff. I have no compassion when it comes to cutting. No pity, no sympathy. Some of my dearest and most beloved bits of writing have gone with a very quick slash, slash, slash. Because something was heavy there. Cutting leads to economy, precision, and to a vastly improved script.
  • Names are fun. In Hospital I used a lot of mystery writers. Had a nurse named Christie. A doctor is named Chandler. Sometimes I go to baseball box scores and pick out names. Sometimes I keep characters from one project to another — Arthur Landau, a lawyer, runs through a variety of things.
  • I always write a prose treatment. I write about half the story in prose to keep order among all the elements of the plot so I don’t get stuck when I do the screenplay.
  • My dialogue is precise. And it’s true. I think out the truth of what the people are saying and why they’re saying it. Dialogue comes because I know what I want my characters to say. I envision the scene; I can imagine them up there on the screen; I try to imagine what they would be saying and how they would be saying it. and I keep it in character. And the dialogue comes out of that.
  • The best thing that can happen is for the theme to be nice and clear from the beginning. Doesn’t always happen. You think you have a theme and you then start telling the story. Pretty soon the characters take over and the story takes over and you realize your theme isn’t being executed by the story, so you start changing the theme.

First posted:  9 July 2012

Tuesday 22 March 2016

The Freedom of Flight

In a detailed analysis of specific films, Jack Nugent explores the power of a character achieving the impossible: flight.

Sunday 20 March 2016

Wire Cutters

A chance encounter proves fateful for two robots mining on a desolate planet.

Saturday 19 March 2016

Friday 18 March 2016

The Coen Brothers – Under the Influence

Hail, Caesar! is the latest sardonic work from the Coen brothers, and it joins a long lineage of movies made within Hollywood about Hollywood. One of the most delightful and most peculiar of these films is Jerry Lewis’ anarchic 1961 comedy The Errand Boy.

Thursday 17 March 2016

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Robert Siodmak - a director gets his own way

Robert Siodmak was an American film director, best known for The Spiral Staircase (1945), The Killers (1946) and Criss Cross (1949).
Robert Siodmak
Although he claimed to have been born in Tennessee, Siodmak grew up in Germany. He started his film career by directing non-professional actors in People on Sunday (1930), a film that was partly written by Billy Wilder.

When Hitler came to power in Germany, Siodmak joined Billy Wilder in Paris, where he directed several more movies. In 1940, Siodmak made it onto the last ship leaving France for America, one step ahead of the German occupation of Paris. In the USA, Siodmak worked at Paramount and Universal, where he became a director of A-grade films.

Tony Curtis dances the rhumba with Yvonne DeCarlo in Criss Cross (1949)
I came across the following quote from Siodmak recently in The New Yorker.
I developed a technique to get my own way about scripts. You see, if you refuse scripts too often or argue, straight away you get the reputation of being difficult; so, instead, when I was offered a script which I thought had a basically good idea, however mishandled, I would say, “Yes, fine, of course I’ll do it,” and then sit back while preparations went ahead. Then about a week before shooting was due to begin I’d go to the producer and say, “Look, this is a wonderful script, but there is just one little point…” and suggest a small but vital alteration. This would always be accepted, if only to keep the peace, and then of course other things would have to be altered to fit in with it, and gradually the thing would start coming to pieces at the seams. By the time we started shooting everything would be so confused that I began with no set script at all, and could do as I liked, which was the way I wanted it….
   – Richard Siodmak (1959)
And I wondered what it said about the man's need for control. And how the finely-balanced nature of a screenplay means that a single change can unravel its entire structure.

First posted:  5 July 2012

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Cursing Without Cursing

When you wanna keep it PG, you gotta get creative.

Film List (in order of appearance): 

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Johnny Dangerously (1984)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1992)
Almost Famous (2000)
A Christmas Story (1983)
The Surfs (2011)
Spy Kids (2001)
Serenity (2005)
Star Trek (2009)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Hook (1991)
Three Amigos (1986)
You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man (1939)
Dumb And Dumber (1994)
Elf (2003)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (2005)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
A Bug’s Life (1998)
Misery (1990)
Never Give A Sucker An Even Break (1941)
Splash (1984)
Anchorman (2004)
Cats And Dogs (2001)
Short Circuit (1986)
Monty Python And The Holy Grail (1975)
The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
True Romance (1993)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
The Princess Bride (1987)
The Sandlot (1993)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

Monday 14 March 2016

"Marble Machine" by Wintergatan

"Marble Machine" by Swedish band Wintergatan

Sunday 13 March 2016


They say a picture tells a thousand words. Sometimes its better to keep your mouth shut.

Wednesday 9 March 2016

Common Mistakes Made by Webseries Creators

I was in the process of writing a post about the problems I have observed in web series after web series. And I was planning to complement my ideas with a survey of the many filmmakers I've come across during the last year.

Then I ran across an article written by Yuri Baranovsky, following a stint as a judge at the International Television Festival. I couldn't improve on his work, so...

Things I Beg Web Series Creators to Please Do and/or Not Do - Yuri Baranovsky

As one of the Executive Board Members (EBM) for the ITV Festival, one of my responsibilities is to vote on the winners of specific categories. This year, I was one of the EBMs (what we call ourselves when we meet in our underground castle) to vote on this year’s comedies.
    I don’t get to watch a lot of web shows because, unfortunately, I just don’t have enough time between writing, working and living in underground castles, so watching fifteen or so series in a row was interesting for me.
    The thing I noticed is that many creators tend to make the same mistakes. Which led me to... this:

1. Please stop... the city montage transitions. This is not a necessary element to your series. We don’t need to see cars driving by and people walking on the street. We especially don’t need to see this eight times in a seven minute show. The street montage has been done to death by television for far too long and, if you’ll notice, most series don’t do it anymore. It’s a tired technique and feels slightly off-putting in a new genre. Yes, sometimes it helps a transition, but mostly, it makes your show feel like Dharma and Greg. Stop it, please.

2. Please stop... the drum roll to a scene. You know, that moment when a song finishes and the drummer is like, “I’m going to finish up with a groovy beat, man?” And then you put that drum into your show, usually after a particularly enthralling street montage, and then as the drums hit and end, you cut into the action? Stop doing that. It makes your show feel like a '90s sitcom. I should not feel like I’m watching Saved by the Bell when I’m watching a show in a genre often referred to as “new media.”

3. Please audition your writers. Audition your writers like you theoretically audition your actors or hire your crew. If you’ve never written before and think, “I have a fantastic idea. I’m going to write a full series because ANYONE can write!” then you’re setting yourself up for potential disaster. Or, at least, a bad series.
    Writing is tremendously undervalued in entertainment. I’m not sure how that happened, considering our art was built around brilliant writers (for what is theater, and of course, film, without Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Tony Kushner, Shakespeare and others), but at some point, everyone decided that writing is easy and, hey, they’d love to show you the screenplay they just wrote that’s in the trunk of their car and is formatted in Wordpad.
    Writing is a craft. Writers take years to perfect it and “perfect it” is a strong word, because I think good writers never stop learning to write. Just like most people who make a show don’t say, “And I will be the director of photography!” when they have no idea how to turn on a camera, someone who has never written shouldn’t decide he’s going to write an entire series.
    Love your show, respect it, and find a voice that can bring it to its maximum potential.

4. Please... get a sound guy. Or a microphone. Or just put a lot of time into your sound. This was our problem when we started Break a Leg, and it’s a major issue in many of the series I saw. The problem with bad sound is that it can completely ruin all the other good elements – acting seems worse, writing seems worse, cinematography seems worse, so on and so forth. I completely understand restrictions, but be aware of those restrictions when you’re shooting. If you don’t have a great mic, don’t shoot outside, don’t shoot in echo-ey buildings, find places that optimize your sound. It really goes a long way into strengthening the look and feel of a show.

5. Please... get a funny editor. If you’re doing comedy, you need a funny writer, you need funny actors, and, equally as important (and sometimes more important) you need a funny editor. Many a joke is not only fixed but made in the editing booth. An editor editing comedy must have impeccable timing, they must know how long to wait for each beat, they must know when to cut out to a wide because it’s funnier, and, most importantly, they need to know what’s not funny so they can chop it out of there.
    Having a funny editor is almost as important as having a funny writer – so when you’re hiring one, make sure you see their comedy reel. A slam-bam-sexy-reel might be pretty, but it doesn’t mean he can make you laugh.

6. Please stop... with the long opening intro. I get you want to introduce all of your actors. I think that’s great. I’m a huge proponent of giving everyone due credit. But, can you do it quickly? Unless you’ve got big name actors that will make us go, “Ooh, really?” your intro should quickly explain the story in 15-30 seconds (less, less, less is the mantra) and go on to the far more important part of your story – which... is your story.

7. Please, for the love of all that is good in this world, cut. Writers, cut your scenes, editors, cut them too. Web shows already have the unfortunate problem of being forced to be short (for some strange reason), it doesn’t help when you have a six minute scene in a seven minute episode that takes place in the same location.
    In a screenplay, a scene should be no longer than 3-5 pages. Sometimes, sometimes you can push it to 7, if it’s climactic or you’re Quentin Tarantino and think that every scene should be 25 minutes long and then everyone should die at the end.
    A screenplay, though, is 90-120 pages long. A web show is, at its best, 10 pages long. Create movement, create a sense of story, don’t stick us into one location, and make the same joke over and over again.
    A very wise man once told me to know when to kill my babies. I’m pretty sure he was talking about my dialogue and not my future babies, and it's good advice.
    Much like a good joke, a good comedic scene is told fast, hits hard, and moves on before you can stop smiling.

... and those are the things that I noticed. By all means, don’t feel like you have to listen to me
in the end, I’m another douchebag making stuff and while we’ve had success, it doesn’t mean that you have to listen to anything I say. I have been doing this for a good while now and, having made all of these mistakes myself, I feel like I have at least some kind of advice to offer.
    But I’m still some guy on the Internet.
    What’s more important is that the work is ever growing and ever getting better, and I applaud every single person who picked up a camera and took the step to make something.
    I very much applaud the effort; I think you should all be proud of yourselves. But I think you should be proud of yourselves for a minute or two, and then I think you should watch your project and say, “How do I make this better?” and do that, infinitely, until you’re dead or have gone insane.
    Good luck and good job.

    Blog    Facebook    IMDb    


Yuri Baranovsky is one of the founders of the production company Happy Little Guillotine Films. HLG Films created one of the first web series, Break a Leg. Yuri and his brother Vlad are currently writing a college textbook called Writing for New Media, to be published by Holcomb Hathaway.

First posted:  30 June 2012

Monday 7 March 2016


This short film, released by the Writers Guild Foundation in 1987, honors the craft of screenwriting and the writers behind our favorite lines and cinematic moments. Written and directed by Academy Award winning filmmaker Chuck Workman, it was screened at film festivals and college campuses around the country to inspire writers and celebrate the importance of the written word in entertainment.

Sunday 6 March 2016

Bob Hope and Movie Memories: 1991 Oscars

Bob Hope introduces a look at movie stars' first movie memories. Featuring Mickey Rooney, Jack Lemmon, Jessica Tandy, James Earl Jones, Leonard Nimoy, Burt Reynolds, Gregory Peck, Tom Cruise, Paul Winfield, Anjelica Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Jane Fonda, Don Johnson, Michael York, Shelley Duvall, Melanie Griffith, Patrick Swayne, Cybill Shepherd, President Ronald Reagan, Candice Bergen, Richard Harris, Joanne Woodward, Donald O'Connor, Carol Burnett, Sissy Spacek, Morgan Freeman, Charles Durning, Francis Ford Coppola, Elliott Gould, Walter Matthau, Macaulay Culkin, Chevy Chase, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert Downey Jr., Brenda Fricker, Dan Aykroyd, Hume Cronyn, Andy Garcia, Gene Hackman, Ted Danson, Matt Dillon, George Burns, Roseanne Barr, Spike Lee, Ann-Margret, Michael Douglas, James Stewart, Gerard Depardieu, Kevin Costner, Sally Field, Jeremy Irons and Marlee Matlin.

Saturday 5 March 2016

How to Win an Election

A leading political strategist explains how candidates use the art of storytelling to help swing elections.

Friday 4 March 2016

Vancouver Never Plays Itself

Here's another fascinating video from Tony Zhou, in which he voices his concerns about about how his home town is treated in movies. Now if only we could put one of these together about Adelaide...

Thursday 3 March 2016

Lenny's Garage

Lenny Shiller is a lifelong Brooklyn resident and classic car collector. He has amassed a staggering fifty-eight rare classic cars, while he also owns hundreds of vintage bikes, motorcycles, and memorabilia. Lenny spends his time restoring and maintaining his collection, with the intention one day to pass them on to the next generation. The walls of his 12,000 sq ft garage in Gowanus are stacked with car parts he has collected over the years, the space resembling part working garage, part museum.

Read the New Yorker article about Spielberg filming Bridge of Spies with Lenny Shiller.

Wednesday 2 March 2016

What do movie stars want in a script?

This is a question that gets a run every so often. It usually takes the form of a survey of movie choices made by a handful of super-stars over the previous couple of years. What-kind-of-scripts-did-they-choose, and let's-take-a-guess-at-why.

It's as good a method as any, even if fashions come and go. The screenplays chosen for William Powell and Morna Loy were not the same as those chosen for Rock Hudson and Doris Day, or Meg Ryan and any of her long list of leading men. 

I won't bother you with all the bits and pieces (you can read that on his blog if you want to), but here are his conclusions.
  • You have to ask yourself when writing a script: Is this a role an actor would want to play? I’m not sure we can make any universal conclusions here, but I did pick up on some trends that might help us answer this question.
  • The role has to be challenging in some capacity. True, many of these actors are slapping down product in the middle of the summer where mediocrity reigns supreme, but that doesn’t mean they want neutered down roles. These thespians have gotten to the top of the heap by playing dozens, if not hundreds, of characters. They’re looking for something new and different. Brad Pitt plays a character not only at many different ages in his life, but plays those ages on a reverse timeframe. That’s challenging stuff. Denzel Washington plays a character who rarely speaks, who emotes only with his eyes and his actions. That’s a challenge. DiCaprio operates in a dreamworld where he has imprisoned his wife. Every time he goes into that dreamworld, he’s faced with a sea of conflicting emotions.
  • I think your character needs to be heroic. A lot of these characters are saving other people. I hate to state the obvious, but actors are very egotistical. They want to play God and save others. There’s nothing more heroic than that. Just remember, heroism doesn’t always mean stopping an asteroid from hitting earth. It can mean delivering the last bible across a post-apocalyptic U.S. It can mean committing suicide to have your organs save seven other people. Whether you’re saving a nation or saving others, look for ways to make your characters heroic.
  • Characters should have something going on inside of them, as well as outside. Running around shooting people is fun, but it’s not stretching any acting muscles. You gotta give ’em some toys to play with upstairs. Benjamin Button has an ongoing physical transformation, as well as having to deal with the realities of being different from everyone else. Denzel Washington gets to shred people into sushi, yet must learn to open himself up to others. Tom Cruise gets to fly around on cars, but still must learn to be selfless before he can find happiness. Note how in two of these cases (Cruise and Washington’s) the internal stuff is tied to the character arc, and in Benjamin’s case it’s more of a general internal battle that never arcs. That’s fine. Whether you’re arcing your character, or not, at the very least give them some kind of issue they’re struggling with internally.
  • Look at some of your own favorite actors, the ones you envision playing heroes in your scripts, and break down their last ten roles, like I did here. See if you can find any patterns in their choices. That could be the key to making them say 'yes' to you.

First posted:  28 June 2012

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Shot // Reverse Shot

Tony Zhou has another one out...
How do you film a conversation? Most likely, you’re going to block the actors, set up the camera, and do shot/reverse shot. But where do you put the camera? What lens do you use? And how do you cut back and forth? Today, I consider the Coen brothers — Joel & Ethan — and see how these choices lend a particular feel to their version of shot/reverse shot.