Monday 31 July 2017

Interview with Nora Ephron

Because of her movies and despite no other, more personal, contact, I have long felt affection for Nora Ephron. The news of her death came as a major shock. A heap of interviews with Nora appeared on YouTube after she died. Here's one from Author Magazine.

First posted: 27 October 2013

Saturday 29 July 2017

10 Lessons for Filmmakers

Scott Macaulay is an editor with Filmmaker Magazine, and an independent film producer with many years experience. Ten years ago he created the Independent Film Narrative Lab, still the only film lab focusing entirely on what happens after rough cut—from locking picture to devising a distribution strategy.
A successful career in film is partly based around making mistakes—and then not making those same mistakes again. But first-time filmmakers don’t have prior experience to draw upon, and in today’s hyper-competitive, content-swamped environment, failure is a luxury many of them can’t afford—especially when that failure is made in public, at a festival premiere.

Think of the IFP Narrative Lab as a crash course in best practices—the best process by which to lock picture, to work with sound designers and composers, to make your DCP. And to submit to festivals, work with marketing teams, and develop a social media strategy. And, finally, I hope, to birth a long-term vision of yourself as a creative artist, so that you are able to grow and sustain yourself—creatively and financially—while making work you care about.

Below are ten lessons for filmmakers from this year’s IFP Narrative Lab.

Know the calendar.

Filmmakers don’t need to know all the ins and outs of the business, but they should know enough to know the calendar. That was the message of sales agent/producers representative Josh Braun of Submarine. In his presentation he walked filmmakers through the calendar of film events and festivals that distributors and buyers regularly attend. The ability to close deals depends on knowing when business types are back at their desks. And the ability to get business types to look at your film is knowing when they have the time to do that. In other words, don’t send your film to a sales rep in the lead-up to Cannes or Sundance—unless your film happens to be premiering in one of those festivals.

Each film has its own path.
In addition to presentations and Q&A’s with guest speakers, the Lab has breakout sessions, where the filmmakers split into small groups and discuss their projects specifically with the group leaders. The four films I focused on were all incredibly different, ranging from a doc-fiction hybrid using real people as actors to an anarchic, B-movie styled Latino martial arts comedy. And what I said after the audience-building sessions was that each of these films would have its own path. Some should finesse their cuts as best as they can and then go straight to the festivals. Others should start seeding their press right now, placing preview features in websites and publications read by their target audience so as to solidify their cred early on. Others should explore screening and audience possibilities within the regions of their makings. In other words, one size does not fit all.

Say, “That’s what happened.”

That’s from filmmaker Ira Sachs, who is one of the most hands-on directors around when it comes to the production and distribution of his films. For Keep the Lights On, he created a website chock full of content appealing to all the various niche audiences who might be attracted to his film. But, he told the IFP Lab filmmakers, there comes a time on every project, after the film has made its way through the festival circuit, gotten its reviews and opened in theaters, that he says to himself, “That’s what happened.” In other words, what’s done is done and move on.

“It’s not networking, it’s community building.”
That's another one from Sachs. He told the filmmakers that from the very beginning of his career he’s made a point to develop friendships with fellow filmmakers, producers, agents, managers, actors and financiers. And the community he immersed himself in is the community that has sustained him over the years. The cynical way to look at this type of work is “networking,” he says. But it’s really community-building—a long-term endeavor that brings both tangible and intangible benefits.

Don’t cut for comedy.

This comes from filmmaker Afia Nathaniel, at the Lab with her film Dukhtar:
One of the most fun sessions at the labs were the editing feedback sessions. Every film is different yet in the re-edit it comes down to two important things you initially began with at the writing stage: story and characters. Craig McKay shared some great insights. While commenting about the approach to cutting a comedy he said, “Don’t treat a comedy like a comedy. The moment you do, you’re dead.” It was a short sound bite but one loaded with years of experience – the genre should serve your edit and not let the story or characters become subservient to it. So don’t forget that in your re-edit.
Figure out who makes the deal.
Here’s another one from Braun: 

Before you head to your film festival premiere, decide among your team who will make financial decisions and how they will be made. Often this is decided at the financing stage, but sometimes it’s not. And even when it is nailed down contractually, conflicts can emerge between directors, producers and financiers when, for example, the director realizes that his or her financiers are set to take a deal from a distributor offering a more minimal release but a higher advance. That these conflicts exist and arise is something many teams don’t even begin to understand until late in the game. After all, don’t you just take the highest offer? Well, sometimes, no. 
Braun recommended that filmmakers and their team discuss these issues early on and game out various scenarios in advance. And to be clear with their reps about who among their team has the authority to agree to a deal.

Know your sub-genre.
Ask most filmmakers and they’ll tell you their film is a drama, comedy, horror film, thriller, dramedy, etc., but there are sub-genres. Being able to identify the specific type of story your film is can help in both its final edit and its marketing. After viewing one lab film, editor McKay succinctly said, “It’s a ‘first step movie.’” Meaning, the story dramatizes a character’s “first step” from a situation that is ensnaring her into a new mode of living. Once a film is identified like that, useful reference points more easily appear.

Identify your transmedia form.

A highlight for me at the Labs was listening to Murmur Company's Mike Knowlton’s short presentation on getting started in transmedia. With more and more films having interactive and transmedia components—whether those are primarily marketing-focused or, hopefully, creative extensions of their film’s story worlds—many filmmakers are beginning to plan for more than just their feature films. But just as films have forms, so too do transmedia works. A transmedia extension of a feature film requires a reimagining of the expression of its content, and that reimagining can employ different models. At the Lab, Knowlton identified five predominant models for interactive, online and transmedia production today.
1. Crowdsourced. Examples: Life in a Day, Psych Slumber Party.
2. Real-time Conversations. YouTube Stars.
3. “Design With.” Johnny Cash Project, Star Wars Uncut.
4. Non-linear. Choose Your Own Adventure, Alma.
5. Personalized. Take this Lollipop, Wilderness Downtown.
(If you’re interested in this subject but aren’t making the connections above, Google the pieces cited, check them out, and then figure out how they fit into their respective category models.)

Live during production.
That’s another from Knowlton, who described a model for transmedia production that borrows a page from the iterative design of software. “It’s a radically different model,” he said. “It’s about releasing stuff that’s kind of imperfect, but you want it to be imperfect so you can iterate and make it better. It’s about being live when you’re in beta.”

“Consider how you can create scarcity around your work.”

Finally, here’s one from Jon Reiss, who discussed how, in an age of content abundance and instant access, filmmakers can differentiate and add value to their work by limited its availability. Yes, I know, that’s the opposite problem of most independents who just want someone, anyone to watch their work. But, echoing a topic Lance Weiler has written about here, by making scarcity part of your release plan, you can paradoxically get more people to watch your work. “For instance,” said Reiss, “make events one of a kind experiences that have to be experienced live.” 

 IMDb    Original post    Twitter

First posted: 26 October 2013

Friday 28 July 2017

John Sturges on his filmmaking philosophy

John Sturges was an editor on Gunga Din (1939). After eight years as a film editor, he graduated to being a director. He made Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), The Eagle Has Landed (1976), and some forty others.

Here he is, talking about his film Bad Day at Black Rock, and what he learned from Cary Grant and Spencer Tracy and Alfred Hitchcock, and how he got to be a film director.

 IMDb    Facebook    Wikipedia

Gunga Din (1939)

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Gunfight at The O.K. Corral (1957)

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

The Great Escape (1963)

First posted: 24 October 2013

Thursday 27 July 2017

The Early Years of American Zoetrope

I first came across A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope (2004) as a Special Feature on the 2-Disc edition DVD for THX 1138.

The winner of numerous awards, this one-hour documentary focuses on the creation of Francis Ford Coppola’s landmark San Francisco film company, American Zoetrope. The story is set against the changing landscape of American cinema in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The documentary—which is narrated by Richard Dreyfuss and features interviews with Coppola, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and many others—is now part of the curriculum at several prominent film schools. Everyone interested in cinema should watch this documentary; it has particular lessons for the time in which we are living.

First posted: 12 October 2013

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Book review: "Shakespeare for Screenwriters"

Shakespeare for Screenwriters: Timeless Writing Tips from the Master of Drama was written by Jennie (J.M.) Evenson. It is part of the growing stable of books about filmmaking from Michael Wiese Productions.

Jennie Evenson received a Ph.D. in Renaissance literature from the University of Michigan and an M.F.A. from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. At UCLA, she was awarded top honors at the UCLA Showcase Screenwriting Contest.

As a writer in L.A., she has worked with a variety of studios and production houses, from DreamWorks to Focus Features. An award-winning teacher of Shakespeare, composition, and film, Evenson currently teaches at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.

Hollywood has long been fascinated by Shakespeare. Wikipedia mention well over 400 movies have been made from the famous plays, the earliest being Macbeth in 1898. The MIT Open Course, Shakespeare, Film and Media, says that:
Filmed Shakespeare began in 1899, with Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree performing the death scene from King John for the camera. Sarah Bernhardt, who had played Hamlet a number of times in her long career, filmed the duel scene for the Paris Exposition of 1900. In the era of silent film (1895-1929) several hundred Shakespeare films were made in England, France, Germany and the United States, Even without the spoken word, Shakespeare was popular in the new medium. The first half-century of sound included many of the most highly regarded Shakespeare films, among them -- Laurence Olivier's Hamlet and Henry V, Orson Welles' Othello and Chimes at Midnight, Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, Polanski's Macbeth and Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet.
IMDb list almost 1,000 films on which Shakespeare has been granted a writer credit. Such is the respect in which Shakespeare is held, Mel Gibson turned down a chance to play James Bond in order to play Hamlet (1990) for Franco Zeffirelli.

Quotes from, and references to, Shakespeare appear in endless movies:

Richard Dreyfus:  Now is the winter of our discontent...  The Goodbye Girl (1977)

Michael Caine:  ... made glorious summer by this son of York...  The Actors (2003)

Geoffrey Rush:  ... And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house...  The King's Speech (2010)

Rafe Spall:  ... In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.  Anonymous (2011)
Alan Rickman:  I played Richard the Third... There were five curtain calls.  Galaxy Quest (1999)

Rick Morannis:  The great Blunderman... 
Steve Martin:  I knew him... 
Victoria Tennant:  A fellow of infinite jest...   L.A. Story (1991)

Cary Elwes:  A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!  Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt:  I burn, I pine, I perish!  10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

I first heard of Shakespeare for Screenwriters on Twitter and immediately thought, What a great title!

Other people must have had the same reaction, as it appears to have been rushed into print. I've never seen so many typos in such a small book. (A bit over 100 pages, after padding out with 'Exercises' and 'Key Points to Remember'). Or maybe that's the way the publishing industry is going these days.

The book doesn't have an index (which I consider an epic fail, given modern word processing capacities), just a list of the films referenced, and a summary of the "great" plays of Shakespeare.

The book consists of brief examinations of fourteen of Shakespeare's thirty-eight plays, each with a mention of three or four movies which contain some common element. So King Lear is linked to Ordinary People, Titanic, Life is Beautiful, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Much Ado About Nothing is linked to Annie Hall, There's Something About Mary, and Elf.
And so on. 

There are curious absences from the book. For instance, A Midsummer's Night Dream is linked to Being There, When Harry Met Sally, and Wedding Crashers, but not to L.A. Story, which was based on A Midsummer's Night Dream.

[Digression: Screen Crush have a Now-and-then photo spread about the stars of L.A. Story, here.]

The book is about Shakespeare, but it ignores two thirds of Shakespeare's plays. The fourteen plays referenced are labelled 'The Great Plays.' Presumably Shakespeare had nothing to say to screenwriters in the other twenty-four.

There's no Save-The-Cat-style formula-ising, no structural theory. I found that strange, given Shakespeare's habit of writing plays with five-act structures, a pattern that is decidedly out-of-fashion amongst the modern screenwriting gurus.

It would be easy to write this book off as a lost opportunity, but... I just can't do that. I will be rereading it in the near future. The book is thin, but snappy. I can't get the following line out of my head:

  • Want to make a classic drama? Destroy a family.
Wow! What a solid piece of advice. Ruthless. Very Hollywood. And all true.

Here are a few more quotable lines from the book.
  • Audiences love to watch characters make unexpected choices.
  • Sometimes it's better not to limit your characters to one motivation that remains stable through the course of the story.
  • Give your characters an important decision and then make the arguments for and against it equally.
  • Climaxes should be inevitable (but not predictable).
  • Shakespeare weaves foreshadowing into every act of Romeo and Juliet.
  • Obsessed characters must show that they are different from everyone around them.
  • The perfect balance of... romance and loss is what makes us cry at the end.
  • A good comedy requires at least one accident, coincidence, or ironic twist.
  • A coincidence can do something remarkable—remind the audience that life is unpredictable—in both wonderful and terrible ways
  • Every good comedy has an ironic twist.
  • Nobody wants to watch a happy couple.
  • Watching the characters play together is essential to building a romance.
  • Flawed heroes are the only ones worth caring about.
  • Every character has to want something.
  • If the character is going to change, the audience needs to see exactly how and why it happens.
  • In order to make character arcs work, the changes need to be big.
  • It's the situation, not the dialogue, that generates the big laughs.
  • The more your characters suffer, the better.
  • The true secret to a good hero is a good villain.
  • The villain we don't see coming is far more frightening than than the one we do.
  • Watching the lovers enjoy pure bliss is a necessary part of building a compelling romance.
  • The key to the love story in Romeo and Juliet is that it ends.
  • Only two of Shakespeare's thirty-eight plays have no known source. The rest were stolen.
  • Don't be afraid to cannabalize other people's work, but always make sure you offer your own spin on the story.

Here's an interview with Connie Martinson. As usual, Martinson makes it more about herself than about the person she's interviewing, but you might get something from it.

First posted: 11 October 2013

Sunday 23 July 2017

"Motion Picture" magazine

Over the years there have been many magazines with a focus on Hollywood and the movies. The first of these was "Motion Picture Magazine," a monthly magazine published from 1911 to 1977.

It was founded by Vitagraph studio head J. Stuart Blackton and Eugene V. Brewster.

Early editions included fiction, and information on how to get involved in film production. When the magazine shifted its focus to celebrities, it attracted a larger female readership, and the circulation jumped to 400,000.

In 1941, the magazine merged with "Hollywood Magazine" and "Screen Life."

This is a photo of Charlie Chaplin with his mother, Hannah Chaplin. It was published in Motion Picture magazine in December 1928, a few months after she passed away. The article—Charlie Chaplin's One Great Love—written by Dorothy Donnell, is quite moving. It starts like this:

The other day a little man with black hair, thickly streaked with grey, stood beside a grave. He was as lonely in his sorrow as he was lonely in his struggles and his success.
   It was a small grave, hardly larger than a child's. The woman who was buried there had been tiny of body but great of spirit—until the War, raining death from the skies upon her familiar London streets, had left her bewildered and lost. It was a small grave, but it held the great love of Charlie Chaplin's life.
   With his mother was buried his youth, all his ties with that long-ago life, when as a ragged urchin he strutted through the slums imitating the gait of a pushcart peddler for her amusement. When his two step-brothers Wheeler Dryden and Sidney Chaplin, left home to fend for themselves, Charlie, a child of eight, remained with her in the attic room he was to copy many years later, to the last windy knot hole and broken window pane, in "The Kid." They had gone hungry together and shivered together with the cold; they had laughed together over the funny sights in the streets, and she had praised him when he brought home coppers thrown by theater crowds, waiting at the gallery door, whom he entertained with comic songs and dances.

The article occupies two pages. You can find the first here and the second here.

If you haven't seen the movie, Chaplin (1992), do yourself a favor and grab it now. I've never understood why Robert Downey Jr. didn't receive an Academy Award for his performance. Geraldine Chaplin, the granddaughter of Hannah Chaplin, memorably played the role of her grandmother in the movie. (Compare the two women in these photos.)

Smile is a song based on an instrumental theme used in the soundtrack for the 1936 Charlie Chaplin movie Modern Times. Chaplin composed the music, while John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added the lyrics and title in 1954.

Smile has become a popular standard since its original use in Chaplin's film. Originally sung by Nat King Cole in 1954, the song has been covered by many people, including Cole's daughter, Natalie, Petula Clark and Michael Jackson.

A day without a laugh is a wasted day.
                              ~Charles Chaplin

My (current) favourite is the version by Phyllis Diller, the one she recorded with Thomas Lauderdale and released on the Pink Martini album, "Get Happy." She was 95 years old at the time, and the spirit of what Charlie Chaplin was trying to express sounds throughout the song. Lauderdale was so moved at her death that he placed a copy of the recording he made—in Los Angeles, in Phyllis Diller's house, in her living room—on YouTube.

Many thanks to VP81955 for sharing an enthusiasm for the Tony Bennett recording.

Back issues of this magazine, from 1915 to 1929, are available online here, courtesy of the Media History Digital Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

First posted: 7 October 2013

Saturday 22 July 2017

JJ Abrams: The Mystery Box

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers are invited to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes.

Here J.J. Abrams traces his love for the unseen mystery—a passion that's evident in his films and TV shows, including Cloverfield, Lost and Alias—back to its magical beginnings.

 IMDb    Wikipedia

First posted: 30 September 2013

Friday 21 July 2017

Neorealism vs Mainstream (American) filmmaking

Kogonada is a largely anonymous filmmaker. We know he was born in Seoul, Korea, that he knows plenty about filmmaking, and that's about it.

His offering today is a practical examination of the differences between mainstream (American) filmmaking and neorealism.

In 1953, Vittorio De Sica (director of Bicycle Thieves) made a film in Rome called Stazione Termini
(known in the US as Terminal Station). The film starred Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift. 
Prior to leaving by train for Paris, a married American woman tries to break off her affair with a young Italian in Rome's Stazione Termini.
At the time, Jones was married to David O. Selznick (producer of Gone With The Wind). Selznick was the executive producer of the film. He took control of US distribution, but first he recut the movie and renamed it Indiscretion of an American Wife.

What follows is an examination of the two approaches to filmmaking, sometimes employing a side-by-side display.

E-mail   Twitter    Vimio    Website

First posted: 21 September 2013

Thursday 20 July 2017

Five tips for cleaning up your script

Julie Gray lives and works in Tel Aviv. She is a screenwriter, story consultant, writer's coach, director of a Screenwriting Competition and publisher of the Just Effing Entertain Me blog.

Julie has taught at the Oxford Student Union at Oxford University, The West England University in Bristol, Wilmington University in Delaware and San Francisco University in Quito, Ecuador. She also teaches writing classes at Warner Bros., The Great American Pitchfest, The Creative Screenwriting Expo and the Willamette Writer's Conference in Portland, Oregon.

She is a volunteer at the Afghan Women's Writing Project, she blogs for the Times of Israel, and is working on a memoir.

I'm hoping to set up an interview with Julie down the track. Meantime, here's a simple but valuable piece of advice she posted on her blog recently.

Five Tips for Clean Pages

You know that feeling you get when you receive an email from someone – someone you love and care about, and yet the email is one long, dense block of type? And your shoulders slump a little? Why can’t they just use paragraph breaks? This is going to be a slog.

Script pages that are cluttered and have “too much black” give readers the same feeling. And they frequently get put at the bottom of the pile if not rejected entirely. Which is a crying shame because your story might be GREAT. But your pages are off-putting. Listen, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, real human beings read your scripts. They might have read three other scripts that DAY alone. So you want to make your pages very clean and easy to read.

Here are five ways to clean up those pages.

1. Avoid Camera Directions

Do not use camera directions of any kind. No “tracking shot”, no “angle on”, no “smash cut”. These instructions do not belong in your spec script and definitely muck up your pages. Don’t do it.

2. Limit The Number of Consecutive Action Lines

Try not to write more than five lines of action in one block. If you have more action because you are writing an action scene, simply use a paragraph break. Break up those big blocks of action lines.

3. Avoid Lengthy Dialogue

Avoid dialogue that is more of a monologue and is longer than ten lines. Monologues that take up half a page or even a whole page instantly put a reader off their feed.

4. Keep Sluglines Simple

Simplify your slug lines. Do you need:


No. Many writers include in sluglines what should actually be in the action lines below it. Long detailed sluglines are very off putting.

5. Learn About and Use Mini-Sluglines

Use mini-slug lines. If you are in the same location (one house, many rooms, as one example) instead of slugging every mini-location within your location, you can use a mini-slug which looks like this KITCHEN, or OUTSIDE ON THE DECK. 

Taken from Michael Clayton (2007), by Tony Gilroy

Go through your pages today and look for EVERY opportunity for there to be more white on your page and less black. It’s okay if you have a long sequence or two – but it’s all in how you present it. Simplicity and brevity are your very best pals in screenwriting.

First posted: 15 September 2013

Wednesday 19 July 2017

"Hollywood" magazine

Over the years there have been many magazines with a focus on Hollywood and the movies. One such was "Hollywood," a monthly magazine published from 1911 to at least 1943.

For 5 or 10 cents, you could learn the answers to such pressing questions as:
Can a Woman Love Two Men at the Same Time?
Is Success Ruining Katharine Hepburn?
Are Pretty Girls Safe in Hollywood?

You could also learn about:
Mae West's Personal Beauty Secrets,
How to Hold a Husband in Hollywood
, or  

The Man in Garbo's Past.

This appeared on "The Publisher's Page" in 1934.

January 1934:  Fame and Romance in Hollywood.
It's amazing just how far a few yeast tablets could take a girl in the old days.

Back issues of this magazine, from 1934 to 1943, are available online here, courtesy of the Media History Digital Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

First posted: 9 September 2013

Monday 17 July 2017

Jim Jarmusch’s 5 Golden Rules of Moviemaking

I first noticed Jim Jarmusch as the writer/director responsible for Broken Flowers (2005), with Bill Murray. In that film, a middle-aged man first contemplates, then confronts, his past. Then I noticed how that had become a theme for older actors around that time. Steve Martin made Shopgirl (2005); Jack Nicholson had earlier made About Schmidt (2002); and Dustin Hoffman made Last Chance Harvey (2008). Jim Jarmusch was in his early fifties at the time. So was I. Maybe that's why I noticed.

When I looked him up, I remembered having also watched Stranger Than Paradise (1984) on TV. That's a low-grade B&W film in which a guy breaks out of his boring routine in New York and travels to Florida with his cousin, only to end up back where he started. It's not quite Sullivan's Travels (1941), but still an interesting exercise.

Anyway, I was fascinated to see in MovieMaker magazine five rules for filmmakers, promulgated by Jim Jarmusch. Naturally, the first rule says there are no rules, but read it for yourself.

Rule #1: There are no rules. There are as many ways to make a film as there are potential filmmakers. It’s an open form. Anyway, I would personally never presume to tell anyone else what to do or how to do anything. To me that’s like telling someone else what their religious beliefs should be. Fuck that. That’s against my personal philosophy—more of a code than a set of “rules.” Therefore, disregard the “rules” you are presently reading, and instead consider them to be merely notes to myself. One should make one’s own “notes” because there is no one way to do anything. If anyone tells you there is only one way, their way, get as far away from them as possible, both physically and philosophically.

Rule #2: Don’t let the fuckers get ya. They can either help
you, or not help you, but they can’t stop you. People who finance films, distribute films, promote films and exhibit films are not filmmakers. They are not interested in letting filmmakers define and dictate the way they do their business, so filmmakers should have no interest in allowing them to dictate the way a film is made. Carry a gun if necessary.
    Also, avoid sycophants at all costs. There are always people around who only want to be involved in filmmaking to get rich, get famous, or get laid. Generally, they know as much about filmmaking as George W. Bush knows about hand-to-hand combat.

Rule #3: The production is there to serve the film. The film is not there to serve the production. Unfortunately, in the world of filmmaking this is almost universally backwards. The film is not being made to serve the budget, the schedule, or the resumes of those involved. Filmmakers who don’t understand this should be hung from their ankles and asked why the sky appears to be upside down.

Rule #4: Filmmaking is a collaborative process. You get the chance to work with others whose minds and ideas may be stronger than your own. Make sure they remain focused on their own function and not someone else’s job, or you’ll have
a production assistant who is holding back traffic so the crew can get a shot is no less important than the actors in the scene, the director of photography, the production designer or the director. Hierarchy is for those whose egos are inflated or out of control, or for people in the military. Those with whom you choose to collaborate, if you make good choices, can elevate the quality and content of your film to a much higher plane than any one mind could imagine on its own. If you don’t want to work with other people, go paint a painting or write a book. (And if you want to be a fucking dictator, I guess these days you just have to go into politics...).

Rule #5: Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration 
or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.”

You can read the whole article here.

First posted: 8 September 2013

Sunday 16 July 2017

The Three Stages of Pitch

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

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

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

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

1. The Prep

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

2. The Windup

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

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

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

3. The Concept

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

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

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

First posted: 31 August 2013