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.



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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.



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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:

INT. MOTEL ROOM - DAYTONA - SPRING BREAK – DAY ?

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

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Danny Boyle’s 15 Golden Rules of Moviemaking

Danny Boyle is an English film director, producer, screenwriter, and theatre director, known for his work on films such as Slumdog Millionaire, Shallow Grave, 28 Days Later..., 127 Hours and Trainspotting

The following is a list of "Golden Rules" he provided to MovieMaker magazine back in May 2013.



1. A director must be a people person

Ninety-five percent of your job is handling personnel. People who’ve never done it imagine that it’s some act, like painting a Picasso from a blank canvas, but it’s not like that. Directing is mostly about handling people’s egos, vulnerabilities and moods. It’s all about trying to bring everybody to a boil at the right moment. You’ve got to make sure everyone is in the same film. It sounds stupidly simple, like ‘Of course they’re in the same film!’ But you see films all the time where people are clearly not in the same film together.

2. Hire talented people

Your main job as a director is to hire talented people and get the space right for them to work in. I have a lot of respect for actors when they’re performing, and I expect people to behave. I don’t want to see people reading newspapers behind the camera or whispering or anything like that.

3. Learn to trust your instincts

Ideally, you make a film up as you go along. I don’t mean that you’re irresponsible and you’ve literally got no idea, but the ideal is that you’ve covered everything—every angle—so that you’re free to do it any of those ways. Even on low-budget films, you have financial responsibilities. Should you fuck it up, you can still fall back on one of those ways of doing it. You’ve got Plan A to go back to, even though you should always make it with Plan B if you can. That way keeps it fresh for the actors, and for you.

4. Film happens in the moment

What’s extraordinary about film is that you make it on the day, and then it’s like that forever more. On that day, the actor may have broken up with his wife the night before, so he’s inevitably going to read a scene differently. He’s going to be a different person.

I come from theater, which is live and changes every night. I thought film was going to be the opposite of that, but it’s not. It changes every time you watch it: Different audiences, different places, different moods that you’re in. The thing is logically fixed, but it still changes all the time. You have to get your head around that.

5. If your last film was a smash hit, don't panic

I had an obsession with the story of 127 Hours, which pre-dated Slumdog Millionaire. But I know—because I’m not an idiot—that the only reason [the studio] allowed us to make it was because Slumdog made buckets of money for them and they felt an obligation of sorts. Not an obligation to let me do whatever I want, but you kind of get a free go on the merry-go-round.

6. Don't be afraid to tell stories about other cultures

You can’t just hijack a culture for your story, but you can benefit from it. If you go into it with the right attitude, you can learn a lot about yourself, as well as about the potential of film in other cultures, which is something we tried to do with Slumdog Millionaire… Most films are still made in America, about Americans, and that’s fine. But things are changing and I think Slumdog was evidence of that. There will be more evidence as we go on.

7. Use your power for good

You have so much power as director that if you’re any good at all, you should be able to use that to the benefit of everyone. You have so much power to shape the movie the way you want it that, if you’re on form and you’ve done your prep right and you’re ready, you should be able to make a decent job of it with the other people.

8. Don't have an ego

Your working process—the way you treat people, your belief in people—will ultimately be reflected in the product itself. The means of production are just as important as what you produce. Not everyone believes that, but I do. I won’t stand for anyone being treated badly by anyone. I don’t like anyone shouting or abusing people or anything like that. You see people sometimes who are waiting for you to be like that, because they’ve had an experience like that in the past, but I’m not a believer in that. The texture of a film is affected very much by the honor with which you make it.

9. Make the test screening process work for you

Test screenings are tough. It makes you nervous, exposing the film, but they’re very important and I’ve learned a great deal from using them. Not so much from the whole process of cards and the discussions afterwards, but the live experience of sitting in an auditorium with an audience that doesn’t know much about the story you’re going to tell them—I find that so valuable. I’ve learned not so much to like it, but to value how important it is. I think you have to, really.

10. Come to the set with a look book

I always have a bible of photographs, images by which I illustrate a film. I don’t mean strict storyboards, I just mean for inspiration for scenes, for images, for ideas, for characters, for costumes, even for props. These images can come from anywhere. They can come from obvious places like great photographers, or they can come from magazine advertisements—anywhere, really. I compile them into a book and I always have it with me and I show it to the actors, the crew, everybody!

11. Even perfect formulas don't always work

As a director your job is to find the pulse of the film through the actors, which is partly linked to their talent and partly to their charisma. Charisma is a bit indefinable, thank God, or else it would be prescribed in the way that you chemically make a new painkiller. In the movies—and this leads to a lot of tragedy and heartache—you can sometimes have the most perfect formula and it still doesn’t work. That’s a reality that we are all victims of sometimes and benefit from at other times. But if you follow your own instincts and make a leap of faith, then you can at least be proud of the way you did it.

12. Take inspiration where you find it

When we were promoting Slumdog Millionaire, we were kind of side-by-side with Darren Aronofsky, who was also with Fox Searchlight and was promoting The Wrestler. I watched it and it was really interesting; Darren just decided that he was going to follow this actor around, and it was wonderful. I thought, ‘I want to make a film like that. I want to see if I can make a film like that.’ It’s a film about one actor. It’s about the monolithic nature of film sometimes, you know? It’s about a dominant performance.

13. Push the pram

I think you should always try to push things as far as you can, really. I call it “pushing the pram.” You know, like a stroller that you push a baby around in? I think you should always push the pram to the edge of the cliff—that’s what people go to the cinema for. This could apply to a romantic comedy; you push anything as far as it will stretch. I think that’s one of your duties as a director… You’ll only ever regret not doing that, not having pushed it. If you do your job well, you’ll be amazed at how far the audience will go with you. They’ll go a long, long way—they’ve already come a long way just to see your movie!

14. Always give 100 percent

You should be working at your absolute maximum, all the time. Whether you’re credited with stuff in the end doesn’t really matter. Focus on pushing yourself as much as you can. I tend not to write, but I love bouncing off of writing; I love having the writers write and then me bouncing off of it. I bounce off writers the same way I bounce off actors.

15. Find your own "esque"

A lesson I learned from A Life Less Ordinary was about changing a tone—I’m not sure you can do that. We changed the tone to a kind of Capra-esque tone, and whenever you do anything more “esque,” you’re in trouble. That would be one of my rules: No “esques.” Don’t try to Coen-esque anything or Capra-esque anything or Tarkovsky-esque anything, because you’ll just get yourself in a lot of trouble. You have to find your own “esque” and then stick to it.



You can read the whole article here.

First posted: 30 August 2013