Friday 30 December 2016

Charlie Chaplin - Mysteries & Scandals

An episode of Mysteries & Scandals, the story of Charlie Chaplin.

Woops! That one's gone missing. Try this one instead.

Thursday 29 December 2016

Book review: "Ink Spots"

Brian McDonald is the author of Invisible Ink, and The Golden Theme. He is an award winning screenwriter who has taught his craft at several major studios, including Pixar, Disney and Industrial Light & Magic. His award-winning short film White Face has been shown all over the USA.

I had the privilege of conducting an interview with Brian back in January, 2012. If you haven't read that, you should. 

Since 2005, Brian has been writing one of the best blogs in the business: The Invisible Ink Blog. He started that as a way of helping get his first book, Invisible Ink, published. The international success of Invisible Ink has now led to the publication of Ink Spots


Ink Spots is a compilation of the best posts from Brian's blog. It's a small book, divided into three sections. The first deals with things he has learned over the years, the second with the craft of screenwriting, and the third is a collection of observations about classic films.  

I have provided a few sample quotes from each section, to give you a taste of the book.

Things I Have Learned

There are a dozen posts here, many of them regarding the How of learning or thinking generally, or of learning about screenwriting specifically. There are anecdotes, especially of mistakes made and lessons learned.

  • If you have a Batman story and you can turn it into a Superman story, it isn't a very good Batman story.
  • Understand that plot and character are linked.
  • Don't be afraid to be bad at this for a while.
  • I have never understood why people think it takes great craftsmanship to confuse and/or bore people.
  • The truth is that it is very hard to make yourself understood.
  • My friend Pat Hazell talks about talking to writers starting out who are obsessed with getting an agent. His response is always, "What do you have for them to sell?" It's amazing how often they have nothing.
  • If you think this business is a way to get rich quick, you are in for a world of heartbreak.
  • Some of the longest films I have ever seen are short films.
  • I am constantly amazed when talking to younger film students that they have seen almost no classic cinema.
  • People who study physics still study Newton and Einstein. Those who came before still have something to teach us.

Thoughts on Craft

There are another twenty-six posts in this section.
  • It's amazing what happens when you rid yourself of the burden of being original.
  • "Where do we get screenplays?" may sound like an innocent question, but what it really says is that the person is unwilling to put any effort into learning their craft—not even the effort it takes to type "screenplay" into a search engine.
  • If you want to sell something for a million dollars, you have to do a million dollars worth of work.
  • If you want to write screenplays, you have to read screenplays.
  • The primary job of a storyteller is to tell the story clearly.
  • Almost all stories have a lesson at their core—sometimes a small lesson, sometimes profound, but almost always a lesson.
  • No first act equals no emotional involvement.
  • This idea of being clear often frightens my students. They don't want to point out the obvious. But what is obvious to them may not be so obvious to the audience.
  • A professional magician friend of mine confirmed my observation that scientists and skeptics are the easiest to fool.
  • The so-called reluctant hero is a hero, while the fearless hero is a cartoon.
  • A character who has fear but confronts it will feel more real to an audience, even if that character is actually a cartoon. Look at Finding Nemo.

Movies I Like

This section contains a dozen posts about classic films. Paper Moon (1973), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Sunset Boulevard (1950), It's A Wonderful Life (1946), The Apartment (1960), Tootsie (1982), 12 Angry Men (1957), Norma Rae (1979), Jaws (1975), and Planet of the Apes (1968). Brian McDonald discusses those things that separate classics from the rest.
  • Films today don't make you feel as much as they make you think. We seem to have made a collective decision that thinking is better than feeling. But sometimes the emotion of a situation is the truth of a situation.
  • As a rule, films that make us think are respected while those that make us feel are beloved.
  • Selflessness has been the mark of a hero as long as human beings have told stories.
  • What makes (Billy Wilder) so good? No fat. Everything matters. He is always advancing plot, character, or theme—sometimes all three.
  • Many modern-day filmmakers are trying hard to be noticed. The shots are there to be noticed. The characters are there to be noticed. The editing is there to be noticed.
  • You are not the master of your story but a slave to it. You must do what it needs, not what you want.
  • The audience could see that Yoda was a puppet, but they were so interested in this unusual character that they allowed themselves to be "fooled" into believing he was a living, breathing being.
  • In recent years, we have spent a lot of effort trying to make creatures look more real. Maybe they do, but they don't feel more real. No one cries when they die.
  • No matter how much better technology gets, it will not improve on good story-craft. Make your characters live on the page and they will live on the screen.
  • If you call yourself a student of film and don't make yourself familiar with Charlie Chaplin's work, you are doing yourself a disservice.

Ink Spots is a thinking book. It's all about what makes for great screenwriting and great films. If you're looking for sensational anecdotes and explosive Hollywood gossip, you'll be disappointed.

If you haven't read any of Brian McDonald's previous writings, I'd suggest you start with Invisible Ink. If you know that book, and have been writing for a while, Ink Spots is the kind of refresher that will return you to your own writing reinvigorated and with a sharper focus.

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First posted: 24 December 2012

Wednesday 28 December 2016

Carrie Fisher: 1956-2016

Carrie Frances Fisher, daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, was an American actress, screenwriter, author, producer, and speaker. She was best known for playing Princess Leia in the Star Wars films.

With her mother, 1971.

Broadway stage debut, in Irene, also with her mother, 1973.

In the movie Shampoo, 1975.

With Paul Simon, in 1977.

With her trusty blaster, 1977.

With Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford, in 1977.

Blues Brothers, 1980.

When Harry Met Sally, 1989.

With her mother, 2007.

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, 2015.

Tuesday 27 December 2016

Martin Scorsese on Framing

"Sometimes when it all comes together ... you become the film you’re making." - Martin Scorsese in 1990, as told to T.J. English.

In this episode we have a previously unheard conversation with Martin Scorsese on how he's framed his movies and his life. The early foray into making a movie as a kid, toying with becoming a priest, and where his parents fit into all this.

Monday 26 December 2016

Editing In Storytelling

Lewis Bond examines the skill of editing film.

Sunday 25 December 2016

Silent Night by Chewbacca

Merry Wookie Christmas! 


Aer Lingus have been bringing people home for Christmas since 1936. This year, they wanted to make Christmas extra special for families across the world, who couldn’t make it home to see their loved ones. Taking to social media, they quietly sought out five families for a very festive homecoming.

From San Francisco, they brought Tracey, her husband and two boys to Glasnevin to surprise Joan and Tony and reunite with their grandchildren. James’s family in Dundalk have not enjoyed Christmas dinner in their home since he emigrated to New York as they didn’t want to leave his seat empty. And they brought Brendan home to his family in Lusk to regain his title as the most boisterous family member on Christmas Day.

Saturday 24 December 2016

Christmas with love from Mrs Claus

Here is Marks and Spencer 2016 Christmas TV Advert: a modern twist on the much-loved character Mrs Claus.

Friday 23 December 2016

Thursday 22 December 2016

The Greatest Gift

Sainsbury’s 2016 Christmas advert – a joyous Christmas musical created in stop frame animation featuring vocals by James Corden. It tells the story of Dave, a hard-working and devoted Dad, who realises that the greatest gift he can give people this Christmas is his time.

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Unforgettable... Peter Sellers

I've been immersed in Brian McDonald's latest book, Ink Spots A theme Brian repeats in the book put me in mind of this 1974 interview. In it, Peter Sellers, the late, great, demented Peter Sellers, is talking to Michael Parkinson.

The principle Brian has been drumming into me (no pun intended) has been about the need to set up a story properly. He complains that a lot of modern "action" films skip over the boring stuff, where an audience can get to meet and like a protagonist, and jumps straight to the car chases, explosions and mass killings, where all the fun can be found.

Brian compares this to doing a magic trick without bothering to set it up first, or telling the punchline of a joke without setting it up first.

Brian does magic tricks; so does Peter Sellers, and Woody Allen, and Terry Rossio, and many other writers. If you want to write a thriller, learn some magic tricks first; they will help you with the skill of misdirecting an audience.
In the nine minute clip that follows, Sellers complains about the Churchill Centenary (Winston Churchill, 1874-1965), then in full swing in Britain; does a magic trick with a red scarf; then talks about why he quit being a drummer. That's the story I wanted to show you here. He starts with, "Well, it's a very dreary business being a drummer, or any musician doing gigs, really, around the country."

Listen carefully to the story that follows.

Unforgettable... that's what you are.

Okay, you want to hear the rest of the interview. It's a classic, so enjoy.

First posted: 23 December 2012

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Come Together

A new (Christmas) film directed by Wes Anderson, and starring Adrien Brody.

Monday 19 December 2016

Coming Home for Christmas

Throughout their 70 years, Heathrow have specialised in reconnecting people with their loved ones, especially at this time of year, because coming home for Christmas is the best gift of all. Among the millions of seasonal passengers, there are some extra-special arrivals that have made it home in time for the big day...

Sunday 18 December 2016

Christmas in Moscow

Волшебное Рождество в Москве 2016.

Saturday 17 December 2016

Bruno Mars Carpool Karaoke

Okay, I know, everyone's done this one, but, hey! James Corden and Bruno Mars drive through Los Angeles singing his hits, including tracks from the new album "24K Magic," and chat about everything from Elvis to poker.

And before I forget, here's a link to Bruno's latest touring details:

Here's the one you really wanted to watch.

And here's the one my wife wants to watch. (Dancers, you know, they can't resist a smooth move.)

Friday 16 December 2016

Thursday 15 December 2016

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: The White House episode.

Wednesday 14 December 2016

The original animated "Superman"

Max Fleischer was the founder of Fleischer Studios, and a major pioneer in both the creative and technical development of animated films. His first invention, in 1915, was the Rotoscope. He filmed his brother, dressed in a clown suit, then drew, frame by frame, over the filmed action, creating more life-like movement. Coming home from their day job and working nights in Max's living room, it took the brothers a year to produce one minute of film, but the look of animated cartoons had changed forever.

The Rotoscope was only one of the more than 15 patents Max Fleischer held on his inventions, many of which significantly advanced the technology of early film and animation. He was a true pioneer in the film industry.

Fleischer's 'Bouncing Ball' sing-along Song Car-Tunes series began in 1924. These were the first sound cartoons ever made, preceding Disney and others by four years. They featured popular entertainers of the day, including Rudy Vallee, Cab Calloway, The Mills Brothers, Louis Armstrong, and Ethel Merman.

By 1929 the studio name officially became Fleischer Studios. This coincided with the start of the Great Depression, a time when people sought escape from their problems by going to the movie houses.

Betty Boop, Fleischer's most famous creation, was born during this time. Betty first appeared in Dizzy Dishes in 1930. Her flirtatious persona was inspired by the flapper look, and the most famous female stars of the day (including Mae West).

By 1932, Betty was the star of her own series. She had become the first animated screen siren, and the unrivaled star of Fleischer Studios.

In addition to animating their own characters, Fleischer Studios animated and brought to life two other famous characters created by others that had previously existed only in comic strips—Popeye the Sailor (1933) and Superman (1941).

The Superman films are known for their visually stunning animation. The first in the series, Superman, was nominated for the 1941 Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons. Here it is:

First posted: 19 December 2012

Tuesday 13 December 2016

Monday 12 December 2016

The Problem with Action Movies Today

Chris Stuckmann describes some of his problems with action movie filmmaking today, and provides some possible solutions to fixing them.

Sunday 11 December 2016

A craft that has to be learned - Billy Wilder

Everybody wants to be a screenwriter. They all sit and look at movies and after they've seen so damn many of them, in the theatres, or on TV, or on videotape, and they think, 'This is easy—I can write a film!'
    This applies to your cook. Your dentist. Your garage mechanic—they all say, 'Hey, I've got a great idea for a picture,' and they come to me and they say, 'I've seen movies all my life, and how would this be, here's an idea. And I say, 'It would be bad, it would be corny, you've seen it up there on a screen before, it wouldn't work, trust me! ... But they don't.
    What causes such arrogance? Their lack of respect for the craft. People do not realize—writing a film is very difficult. They do not realize that you must serve your internship, that you must develop a feel for it. And, additionally, you have to learn the mechanics! It is a craft that has to be learned!'  ~Billy Wilder, 1972

Friday 9 December 2016

Mae West: And The Men Who Knew Her

Born in a working-class section of Brooklyn, she became a show-business giant, a personality so distinctive she transformed forever the way women and sex would be presented on stage, in films, radio, TV and cabarets around the world.

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Callie Khouri on screenwriting

Callie Khouri was raised in Texas and Kentucky by her doctor father and mother. She went to university to study landscape architecture, but switched to drama. She moved to Los Angeles in 1982 to study at the Strasburg Institute, then worked for a commercials production company as a receptionist before taking a position with them as a music video production assistant. While working at the office, she began work on what would eventually become Thelma & Louise (1991), writing the script in longhand at home and then retyping it on the job.

Here's her story of how she came to write Thelma & Louise.

First posted:  16 December 2012

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Designing Dialogue

What is the purpose of dialogue in movies? It may accomplish more than you expect.

Monday 5 December 2016

Raiders of The Lost Ark's Boulder Scene

It’s one of the most iconic and engaging opening sequences in movie history, firmly establishing Indiana Jones, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg as blockbuster forces to be reckoned with.

Indiana Jones wouldn’t occupy his place in our collective consciousness were it not for this scene. The soundtrack, cinematography, production design and special effects all came together in a spectacular sequence that established an enduring character in cinematic history. This video takes you though the scene’s backstory, telling you about the contributions of Spielberg, Lucas, and the film’s entire creative team.

Sunday 4 December 2016

Suzanne Verdal - Leonard Cohen's Muse

Suzanne Verdal inspired Leonard Cohen's song "Suzanne". Here is her story.

Saturday 3 December 2016

What makes something "Kafkaesque"?

The term Kafkaesque has entered the vernacular to describe unnecessarily complicated and frustrating experiences, especially with bureaucracy. But does standing in a long line to fill out confusing paperwork really capture the richness of Kafka’s vision? Beyond the word’s casual use, what makes something "Kafkaesque"? Noah Tavlin explains.

Friday 2 December 2016

Thursday 1 December 2016

Francis Ford Coppola on Solitude

"Death is on the back of everyone’s minds whether they want to admit it or not." ~Francis Ford Coppola