Friday 30 September 2016

Lou Reed on Guns & Ammo

Here we bring you a rarely heard interview Lou Reed recorded in 1987. It's vintage Lou. Salty and sweet. Earnest and cocky. Grouchy and kind of endearing. Reed (and his legendary band The Velvet Underground) were those musicians who never got the extensive accolades or awards--nor the riches many of their contemporaries found. Yet he never seemed to waver in his search for the perfect sound and his quest "to elevate the rock and roll song and take it where it hadn't been taken before." Here we present some interview outtakes that give a taste for this iconic American musician.

In this animated film Lou Reed talks about chasing off nosy college kids on his porch with his shotgun, how he dreamed about writing the great American novel while at Syracuse University, "how savage the reaction against" The Velvet Underground was, the intention of taking books and putting them into songs, writing rock and roll you could grow old with, not thinking The Doors or The Beatles were up to the level of his band, and how he hoped to elevate the rock and roll song to where it hadn't been before.

Thursday 29 September 2016

Top 10 Movie Twists of All Time

Who doesn’t love a surprise? That’s why we’re taking time to talk about the biggest surprise endings in movie history (spoilers abound).

Wednesday 28 September 2016

"Making a Living as a Screenwriter," John Truby

John Truby is a leading teacher of screenwriting. His book, The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller, is a bestseller.

Here he talks about what it takes to break into the ranks of professional screenwriting in Hollywood. It's a sobering and realistic picture of the world of US movie-making since 2008, one every wannabe screenwriter should take a long, hard look at.


 First posted:18 November 2012

Tuesday 27 September 2016

The Art of Symmetry

A short montage celebrating the cinematography techniques of Sherlock (BBC tv series) and their use of symmetry.

Friday 23 September 2016

Ray Bradbury on Madmen

"Nobody else is going to give a damn what you're doing, so you need a few other people like yourself." - Ray Bradbury as told to two college kids on road trip in 1972.

In the autumn of 2012, Lisa Potts rediscovered -- literally, behind her dresser -- a taped cassette of a long-lost interview with author Ray Bradbury that she made as a college student journalist back in 1972.

The recording was made in a car plying the Los Angeles freeways between Bradbury's home in West L.A. and Chapman College in Orange County. Potts and a fellow student named Chadd Coates were taking Bradbury to present a lecture. Bradbury had a lot of advice for Lisa and Chadd.

On tape we get to hear Bradbury telling the students about the keys to friendship, why he was afraid of himself and would never drive, his keys to writing and telling a story, why Mars was the center of his fascination, what's the secret to love, and why he called himself "a madman".

Wednesday 21 September 2016

Theme, a dilemma

Alan Watt
For many people, Theme is the most puzzling element in screenwriting. The following article was published by Alan Watt in The Huffington Post, a year ago, under the title How to Make the Three-Act Structure Work for Your Book.
Although this article was written for novelists, there is plenty here for screenwriters to think about. 
Alan Watt is a novelist, a playwright, a teacher, a publisher,
and currently executive producer of a film being made from his novel Diamond Dogs. I'm hoping to have an interview with him ready for the start of the new year.

Many novelists resist the idea of three-act structure because they understandably fear it will limit their creativity and lead to formulaic writing. This misconception is sometimes the result of structure's being taught by story analysts whose gifts lean more toward an ability to deconstruct the anatomy of an existing work, than in exploring the nature of what the author was attempting to express.

This can leave the student with a keen understanding of how a particular story was "assembled," while struggling with how to translate the lesson into completing his or her own work. Although one might eventually begin to grasp the inner workings of structure by staring at the various lifeless parts of a work of art, there is perhaps a more direct approach.

Story structure actually has little to do with plot. In fact, the "structure" that's being alluded to is actually the underlying theme. But what is a theme exactly, and how does working with one help you structure your story?

Here's how:

Many books on writing speak of there being a dramatic problem at the heart of a story. In fact, there isn't one. There's a dilemma.

Here's the difference: Problems are solved, while dilemmas are resolved through a shift in perception.

The purpose of story is to reveal a transformation -- to show, through conflict and complication, the world in a new way. Einstein stated, "One cannot solve a problem at the same level of consciousness that created the problem." What he's describing is a dilemma.

For example: Jimmy Stewart must leave Bedford Falls in order to have a wonderful life. King Lear must find a worthy heir by determining who loves him most. Initially, these appear to be problems, but as the story progresses, we begin to see that solving one problem only leads to another, until eventually, the protagonist wakes up to the reality of his situation and realizes the fundamental flaw in his thinking, thus necessitating a shift in perception. (Note: transformation does not mean a happy ending.)

Every character in your story has a relationship to this central dilemma, whether you're aware of it or not. This is not accidental. It is theme. You don't have to hope that you're doing it right. Working with story structure is not about "getting it right." It is about making your story as clear and specific as it can be. Focusing on your characters' desire or goal will lead you directly to the dilemma at the heart of your story.

If all that happens in your story is that your protagonist achieves his goal, your reader will be disappointed. The reader's interest lies not in the hero getting what he wants, but in getting what he needs. The dilemma lies in the protagonist's attempts to square these two opposing ideas. Jimmy Stewart needs to understand that he already has a wonderful life. Lear needs to understand that truth does not lie in flattery.

Writers tend to get stuck when they try to figure out their story. Just as your protagonist is struggling with a dilemma, so are you. This is because the desire to write is the desire to evolve. At some point in the story (usually the end of Act Two), your protagonist discovers that what he is confronting is impossible to achieve, thus necessitating a surrender. And because on some level you are the hero of your story, through the act of writing, you are going to experience a death of this old identity. It's only through this dark night of the soul that your protagonist begins to reframe his relationship to his goal, thus making it possible to achieve it, if it still belongs in his life.

What's so thrilling about inquiring into the dilemma is that it invites your imagination to stretch. When you read a well-told story and wonder, "How did the author come up with that?" the answer is probably that she made herself available to a process that led her characters to places she might not have otherwise ventured.

Working with structure allows the writer to see his story from a wider perspective. Sometimes you'll write a scene, only to realize that the situation doesn't belong in your story, but if you inquire into the nature of the conflict, i.e., the dilemma, you may discover that what was essential finds its way in.

The three-act structure is not limiting, though it does demand that you be rigorous with your ideas, because story structure holds your ideas accountable to universal truths. This means that anything you imagine can be contained by structure if you're willing to distill your ideas to their nature. Story structure keeps you connected to your theme by placing your focus squarely on your character's primal desires, and in doing so, plot naturally emerges.

First posted: 15 November 2012

Saturday 17 September 2016

50 Facts You Didn't Know About Breaking Bad

Wow! Can't believe its been almost 3 years since Breaking Bad ended! Not sure if anyone still has interest enough in the show to watch this video, but I sure enjoyed making it.

Wednesday 14 September 2016

10 Rules for Writing 'Groundhog Day'

Groundhog Day: a phrase employed every day by millions of people in the confident expectation that you'll know exactly what they're talking about.

I wish I'd written the screenplay for that movie, but I didn't. It was written by Danny Rubin, who later felt the need to write a book explaining how it all happened. Naturally, the book's called How To Write Groundhog Day.

It's only available on Kindle at present, for around $10, depending on exchange rates, etc.

The book contains the story behind the film, and lists Danny Rubin's Top 10 rules for writers. Here are those rules, in case you're planning on rewriting Groundhog Day.

The comfort of rules can be very important to a writer’s motivation because telling them the truth (there are no rules and nobody knows anything) is for most people not useful and a little intimidating.

Here’s my list. It’s designed for screenwriters writing screenplays, but all kinds of dramatic fiction and nonfiction can be invigorated by the same rules. Or not. Equally.

1. Writers write. And rewrite.

Everybody’s got a great idea for a screenplay. “All I need is someone to write it down for me,” says my neighbor, my barber, my UPS guy. Nope. Coming up with great ideas is part of the job, and I certainly spend a portion of my “writing” time on the sofa and in the shower; but most ideas tend to look fully formed and perfect until you actually try to write them down.

If you are a writer, you are actually writing things down. And then we rewrite. Getting to the end of a 120-page feature film is huge, and I often print it out and spend the rest of the day just picking it up and feeling its heft. I did that! Yes I did! But getting to the end is not the same as finishing. Most writing takes place after the initial basecoat is laid down.

2. Show it, don’t tell it.

Anybody can create a character who opens his mouth and tells us everything that’s on his mind, and some people can even make those words funny or poetic or heartbreaking. But movies are first and foremost a visual medium, and the strongest screenplays take advantage of that. What can a character do to show us how they feel or what they are thinking about? What scenes can you create and in what order can you arrange them in order to show us a routine or an intention or a memory? Dialogue is most amazing and powerful in a movie when it is not forced to carry the burden of exposition. Concentrate on showing and the telling will take care of itself.

3. Write what you know.

This rule is very true and very stupid. I’m guessing that you have never been to the moon, but does that mean you should avoid writing about it? Maybe from the depth of your ignorance you find something within yourself, something you do know, e.g. your understanding of isolation and loneliness; your understanding of fear, or stubborn will, or patriotism, or trust in technology. You won’t know what truths about yourself or what commonalities with others you may discover until you have gone somewhere completely foreign to you.

It is easier and sometimes more fun to write from familiarity. You know details about the people and the lifestyle that no outsider would know. This is great. But to write fantasies, or science fiction, for example, is to create worlds that nobody can know. Yet we often find our greatest truths in these kinds of explorations. Write what you know? How can you not?

4. Economize. Less is more. Small is large.

The best screenplays are not loaded down with redundancies, but instead are elegant structures characterized by efficiency and economy. Why give a speech when a nod will do? Every aspect of a screenplay is available for simplification, from the twists and turns in plot to the number of characters and scenes to the lines of dialogue. Good screenplays gain power from their simple efficiency. Clever multiple agendas, plotlines, and parallel meanings, for example, may be intellectually satisfying but can often clog the emotional impact of a story. Our ambitions tend toward the large, but know that dramatic success tends to rest with the small. Sometimes the tapping of a finger or the raising of an eyebrow can be more devastating than an explosion.

5. Know your structure.

Most screenwriting courses rest heavily on the teaching of structure. It is vitally important for a screenplay to have a clear, understandable, well-realized structure in order to stand, just as with a building or a bridge. The exact nature of that structure for a screenplay is debatable, and I do think that the growing tendency to teach to structure has led to greater homogenization of screenplays. Still, if you don’t know who your protagonist is or what they want or why they can’t get it or why we care, then you will never be able to fix what’s not working in your script.

6. Raise the stakes.

Whether a story we are watching is vital to us may depend on how vital it is to the characters. If the consequences to Johnny of losing his football are nil (“Don’t worry, Johnny; just take another football out of the game closet”), then watching a story about Johnny losing his football will be of little interest to us.

You don’t have to put a gun to person’s head in order to make the stakes life and death. It can be a spiritual death. Getting a pimple on the morning of the prom can be life and death for a teenager. Whatever your stakes are, try raising them and see what happens.

7. Action happens on the screen.

As the screenwriter, you are the storyteller. Not the characters in your story. You. If you hear your characters begin to tell a story (“You won’t believe what happened in school today…” or “I just had the most amazing day…” or “I was just robbed!”), consider for a moment that the story they are telling might be more interesting to watch than watching somebody telling us that story. You are a dramatist, so dramatize.

8. Make it believable.

We have two processes in pursuing dramatic fiction. One is to tell the truth. The other is to lie. On the one hand the entire enterprise is a lie, a fiction, something that doesn’t exist but is made to represent something that does. On the other hand it is all a pursuit of truth, of what is real and resonant and relatable. Otherwise we don’t understand what it has to do with us, and as a result we don’t engage.

So it doesn’t have to be true, but it does have to feel true. It has to be believable. Like a good lie. Even if you know a true story, something truly extraordinary and fantastic, and use that for the basis of your screenplay you could still lose your audience if the story isn’t believable. The fact that it really happened is irrelevant. Managing the viewer’s ability to believe is part of the screenwriter’s job.

9. Eat your ego.

Sometimes, particularly in the creation of the first draft, the writer can follow his/her talent, integrity, and style in creating a very personal work.

But somewhere you will come up against it. Somewhere your uniqueness will be challenged and you will be faced with a choice—stick to your guns or eat your ego.

If you always stick to your guns, you will encounter a world of pain. For one thing, your characters may naturally want to go somewhere you didn’t intend. They may be proving a point (e.g. that people are good) even when the whole point of your story was supposed to show your worldview (that people are despicable). Can you adjust your worldview to the one presented by your characters? Do you believe your children when they tell you that you are wrong?

And remember that film is a collaborative medium. You will encounter many people with many agendas, and your job may be to incorporate ideas that are not your own, to make tonal shifts that do not feel like “you,” or to make story choices that insult your intelligence. Can you do that? Always giving up your ego is called being a hack. Never giving up your ego is called being unemployed.

Figuring out when to stick to your guns is part of being a writer. But don’t forget, sometimes eating your ego is the only way to see the greatness in other people.

10. Character will save your life.

When encountering a story issue that is keeping you from moving forward, the tendency is to look to plot for your solutions. How can he have a crowbar with him when he gets to the warehouse? How could she know about the baby at this point in the story? How did the car get from the impound lot to the airport? This kind of logistical thinking can drive you crazy and will often lead to some very convoluted plotting in order to get the result you want.

Or you could tinker with your character. What skills do they have? What happened in their background that might make them prepared for the challenge you’ve given them? What are they willing to do? Character in our leaders, our family members, and ourselves is where we find answers and inspiration. Remember this resource in your screenwriting as well.


Danny Rubin is the Briggs-Copeland Lecturer on Screenwriting at Harvard University.

First posted:9 November 2012

Saturday 10 September 2016

How Spielberg Constructs A Battle Scene

How do you create the realistic feel of a D-Day landing?

Wednesday 7 September 2016

One year on... Anne Flournoy

Anne Flournoy is the writer/director/producer/ editor of The Louise Log, a 44 episode series of internet shorts detailing the life of a New York City wife and mother. The webseries ran for over five years.

interviewed Anne last year. She had agreed to conduct a twelve month follow-up interview, when Hurricane Sandy blew into Manhattan. The power went off and stayed off for days. During that time Anne remained in touch by texting on the smart phone she was able to keep charged by walking eighteen blocks to a coffee shop where she could access electricity. 

What follows is a mix of some notes typed during the blackout and texts she sent. As you'll see, and to my everlasting amazement, Anne was determined to keep her part of our agreement.

I want to preface this light-hearted post, written in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, by saying that I'm only talking about my extremely limited experience in parts of Manhattan. I haven't seen a television since the storm hit, but know from Twitter that there are people in parts of Brooklyn, Queens, especially Staten Island, and possibly even Manhattan, whose situations are actually dire and make what I call our 'have-not' situation look like the lap of luxury.

12:47pm 1 November 2013

Thanks Henry! Am on it. It s dark and cold w/o power but mercifully there's power 18 blocks away and wifi cafes where u can find an outlet not much further. We're lucky to b dry. Counting my blessings on that front. Thank u for this opportunity and should have something within 48 hours. Best, Anne
This just in from a cold, dark apartment in a blacked-out neighborhood which feels more like the John Carpenter movie Escape From New York than Louise's Greenwich Village.

Since Hurricane Sandy, Manhattan (known to people in the other boroughs as 'the city') has become two cities: the 'haves', who are above 30th Street where there is power, business as usual, and the worst traffic jams I've ever seen, and the 'have-nots' who are 'downtown' (roughly) below 30th Street.

Downtown, there are no street lights or traffic lights, there are few cars and only occasional bands of people with, or without, flashlights. The only businesses open are the occasional 'candy stores' selling newspapers from a darkened storefront and a few mirthless bars lit by tea candles.

Because the subways are down, the city put free buses on the streets to try and help people get around. The buses were taken off the downtown routes at night because the 'roving bands' in the streets were too hard to see in the dark. 

The place feels scary. Once safe inside, it also feels great. Time seems to move more slowly. I haven't slept for eight hours, or more, in years.

10:44am 2 November 2012
Henry I 'm not going to have it ready in 12 hours as l'd hoped. Sorry. Everything is taking longer and this hiking around with the refugee bag: the laptop, power strip, flashlight (extra batteries) , sandwich - you get the picture -- it's kinda fun but my back is in revolt. Furthermore l've succumbed more often than l'd like to admit to the temptation of *social media* once l hit wifi. This has cut into my productivity rather seriously.
But now l m humbled and will really
Knuckle down.

We're lucky to have a dry apartment (in a dry building), running water, a working gas stove for cooking and even a fireplace. So in spite of the vacated 5-story, single-family house across the garden that's been running a very loud generator day and night, (a house, I might add, which has a functional wifi, but with a secret password) I have nothing to complain about. I'm able-bodied and can lug my laptop, power strip, flashlight with spare batteries, and a sandwich out of the dead zone and up a mile to a store with free wifi. That's where the fun begins: jockeying for twelve square inches of standing room and an outlet in someone else's power strip, I balance my laptop and phone on the corner of a display and get back to work. I'm one of the fortunate.

The last year...
But to get to the progress report about The Louise Log, my number one priority since we shot Season 2 (in the late summer of 2010) has been to crank out the best episodes possible, generally one a month. In the past year we released ten, eight new and two remastered ones. Giving the audience something new every month seemed like the best thing to do. And actually the most I could do. By the time I needed a break, I really needed one.

And, it seemed like time to bask in the glories of the past year: Eve Ensler, playwright of The Vagina Monologues, saw and raved about the series ("brave, funny, real, deep and original"). The Independent named me "One of Ten Filmmakers To Watch in 2012", some blogs, including a National Public Radio blog, wrote wonderful things about The Louise Log: "brilliantly funny", "hilarious comedy" and "it could be a web sensation".

It was time for a break.

Or so I thought. Unfortunately, I thought wrong. Stepping off the treadmill allowed me to wake up to reality: as of this past May, 72 hours of video are reportedly uploaded to YouTube every minute. And oh, as you already know, every star in Hollywood is making or planning on making a web series. Well it does sound like a lot of competition but A) I'm very competitive and B) I have an old pet theory: "the cream will rise".

I went to some conferences of bloggers and 'vloggers'. I listened to smart and not-so-smart people and I had the wind taken out of my sails. Generally, the people on the panels, the 'comers' everyone wants to talk to, are the ones who have a high Alexa ranking, lots of followers, and lots of other websites linking to their blogs. Some of these people are brilliant. Some of them are hacks.

When one successful blogger heard me say that, to reach our audience, "I post on Facebook and Twitter—sporadically," her face started twitching involuntarily. Another put it to me bluntly: "Success on the internet is like winning the lottery. Otherwise it's all about promotion." I guess I'd been banking on the lottery option because, under my marketing guidance, The Louise Log has been living under a rock. It was becoming clear that, in this digital world, cream does not necessarily rise. All of this put me in a really bad mood, as I got back to the work of editing episode #34, a fun episode which hardly felt fun.

After uploading it, I couldn't bear to dive back in to edit #35. My heart was broken. My ego was enraged. How could I have spent FIVE YEARS virtually abandoning the promotion of my life's work? How could I continue to sit on the sidelines watching others get recognized and have their work become self-sustaining? On the other hand, how could we have made this very personal and quirky series on very little money without doing it in this completely single-minded way?

The year to come...
In spite of misgivings that we owe it to the actors and to our loyal fans to continue releasing episodes, I'm following my heart. For the immediate future, with our skeletal crew, we can either produce episodes or we can promote episodes. We can't do it all at once. The solution is that we're not posting any more episodes until we've done everything we can to get word about The Louise Log out to the world.

I've taken detailed notes from Jon Reiss' excellent book Think Outside the Box Office. I'm working with Jacki Schklar of Funny Not Slutty on facebook ads. My niece @NatalieGrillon (MBA) is giving me marching orders on how to put tactics and objectives under the overarching goal of making The Louise Log the GIRLS of the online world. And we're posting on Facebook and Twitter a lot more often than 'sporadically'.

I expected to feel frustrated and blocked doing this kind of work. Instead, I'm like a lion on the hunt. The biggest problem is finding balance in doing the social media and not having entire days swallowed up by the distractions of social media. (I would be grateful for suggestions on how others handle this...) 

I'm scared out of my wits about starting a weekly vlog in which I'll talk to the camera about the process of making the series. But as with the production and post-production phases, I'm going to give this marketing and promotion my all.

If you're interested in helping, there's a list of suggestions at the very end of this: ( If you know of anyone who might want to be an intern/"Producer of Marketing and Distribution", whether they're in New York or far away, please get in touch. Thank you in advance!
Facebook    IMDb    Interview    Twitter    Website    Wikipedia    YouTube

First posted: 7 November 2012

Sunday 4 September 2016

The Tracers

There's no telling how many guns they have in America—and when one gets used in a crime, no way for the cops to connect it to its owner. The only place the police can turn for help is a Kafkaesque agency in West Virginia, where, thanks to the gun lobby, computers are illegal and detective work is absurdly antiquated. On purpose. Thing is, the geniuses who work there are quietly inventing ways to do the impossible.