Movie Trailer: “Unfinished Business”

January 29th, 2015 by

Written by Steve Conrad

A hard-working small business owner and his two associates travel to Europe to close the most important deal of their lives. But what began as a routine business trip goes off the rails in every imaginable – and unimaginable – way, including unplanned stops at a massive sex fetish event and a global economic summit.


Release Date: 6 March 2015 (USA)

Classic 60s Movie: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

January 29th, 2015 by

January is Classic 60s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Jack McDonald.

Movie Title: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Year: 1966

Writer: Ernest Lehman (screenplay), Edward Albee (stage play)

Poster Virginia Woolf

Lead Actors: Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, George Segal and Sandy Denny

Director: Mike Nichols

IMDb Plot Summary: A bitter aging couple with the help of alcohol, use a young couple to fuel anguish and emotional pain towards each other.

Why I Think This is a Classic ‘60s Movie: I don’t think anyone would dispute the classic status and enduring nature of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The film’s place in the canon is so secure, it would be more to the point if we asked why everyone regards it as a classic not just of the 60’s, but of film history in its entirety. There may not be another film that delves so thoroughly into the guts of a relationship, or provides a more thrilling and harrowing view of bonds of affection that have been twisted and soured – a voyeuristic experience, of course, but also a mirror to the ways in which we’re able to hurt and be hurt most by those we love.

Of course, we also have the towering, career-defining performances of Burton and Taylor (each icons in their own right and halves of an iconic, highly public couple) as well as the remarkable assurance of a singularly talented young man named Mike Nichols, directing his first feature in a body of work that would define an era. It also marks one of the first high-profile credits of cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who would go on to lens a number of key New Hollywood films in addition to his notable directorial one-off, Medium Cool.

And then there is the source material, which goes far beyond the highbrow battle-of-the-sexes that many perceive it to be. The script explores the nature of narrative in our lives and relationships, the games we all play that see us creating stories and characters for ourselves in a half-conscious, half-automatic attempt to find meaning and control.

My Favorite Moment in the Movie: It’s nearly impossible to separate one individual moment from the whole of Who’s Afraid… because the arc of the script has such cumulative power. It’s tempting to simply cite the heavy quiet of its final moments, in which we reflect on how to continue in the face of such total emotional devastation. In fact, each of the small handful of quiet moments are used for maximum effect by Mike Nichols, whose background in stage performance with Elaine May and the Compass Players must have made him especially attuned to the formal movements and pacing of Albee’s script. In each, the audience is invited to catch their breath and take stock along with the characters as the verbal sparring stops and Alex North’s gentle score comes in.

My Favorite Dialogue in the Movie: Again, a difficult call – the dialogue is the film’s centerpiece, and is generally regarded as some of the best ever written. Obvious highlights include any number of George and Martha’s barbed exchanges –

Honey: Oh, I don’t know, a little brandy maybe. “Never mix, never worry!”
George: Martha? Rubbing alcohol for you?
Martha: Sure! “Never mix, never worry!”


Martha: I swear, if you even existed, I’d divorce you.

But one of the most memorable and loaded lines comes not from a back-and-forth but from within a maudlin monologue George gives about the futility of human endeavor: “You bring things to the saddest of all points, to the point where there is something to lose.” Taken on its own terms, that individual line speaks to an issue at the heart of the film’s conflict – it’s dangerous to care for people, dangerous to invest our hopes and dreams in these fragile, vulnerable human relationships, because only then, once one cares, can one be truly hurt.

Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie: Mike Nichols’ and Haskell Wexler’s use of the camera is subtly radical. The black and white photography belies the adventurousness of the shot selection and the ways in which the camera moves and follows the characters.

That said, the meat of the thing is in the performances and the tremendous, powerful script. Much ink has been spent on the intellectual and emotional power struggles contained in this film and how they relate to gender. While there’s much to discuss on that front, (it’s hard not to get a wry kick out of how Taylor sells “I am the Earth Mother and you are all flops”), a less-explored undercurrent is the vital strain of themes relating to class and status.

Martha is the daughter of the president of the university at which George works as an associate professor, a fact neither of them can escape. Both members of the couple frequently allude to George’s squandered promise and hopes of advancement. A reflection of the younger George’s aspirations is seen in Nick (George Segal), who also made what could be viewed as a strategic matrimonial choice in his marriage to Honey (Sandy Denny), daughter of a family made wealthy by religious evangelism.

Martha is obviously attracted to the youthful, athletic Nick, and George views him as both a symbolic and practical threat. He bullies the younger man with demonstrations of his intellect designed to go over his head, but rarely does more than underline his own inefficacy, his preference for talking over doing. He also refers to Nick and Honey’s home in the “Plain (both meanings) States,” attaching an additional set of expectations to their geographical background.

Every character is oppressed by sets of expectations outside of themselves: George by the expectation of professional and creative success and status, Martha by society’s expectations of her as a woman and a wife, and the younger couple by the expectation to settle into a life of domesticity – one that could so easily curdle into the spectacle to which they spend the evening bearing witness.

Thanks, Jack! To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!

We already have a set of classic 70s movies, 80s Movies and 90s Movies. This month, we’re working on 60s Movies.

We have 31 volunteers. I have put in bold those who have already sent their guest post to me.

Ipsita Barik – Rosemary’s Baby
Ipsita Barik – Bonnie and Clyde
Mike Dobbins – The Sound of Music
Brandnewusedcar – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Markham Cook – Jules et Jim
Steve Cook – The Blue Max
JasperLamarCrab – 2001: A Space Odyssey
N D – Lonely are the Brave
Drew Dorenfest – Easy Rider
Rick Dyke – Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Rick Dyke – Fail Safe
Felicity Flesher – The Music Man
PaulG – Lawrence of Arabia
D.L. Gill – Zulu
Jeff Guenther – Cool Hand Luke
Kate Hagen – Repulsion
John Henderson – Night of the Living Dead
John Henderson – The Odd Couple
John Hörnschemeyer – The Graduate
Zach Jansen – They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Will King – The Pink Panther
William Leitch – If…
Lisaisfunny – Blow Up
Jack McDonald – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Nick – Lonely are the Brave
Daryl Powell – The Apartment
jprichard – Persona
Ally Shina – The Jungle Book
Mark Twain – The Loved One
Liz Warner – The Manchurian Candidate
Michael Waters – Dr. No

For those who have signed up, but have yet to email me your post, please do so ASAP. This is the last week for the series.

Thanks in advance!

For the original post explaining the series, go here.

Writing and the Creative Life: Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling (Part 5)

January 29th, 2015 by

In Part 1, we looked at a Harvard Business Review article about the influence of stories on the brain, how much of it apparently boils down to the reaction of a chemical called Oxytocin.

In Part 2,  we considered additional chemical reactions in the brain related to storytelling: Cortisol during tense moments, Oxytocin which promotes a sense of connection to what is happening in the story, and Dopamine which makes us feel more hopeful and optimistic. So a new way of thinking about Three Act Structure:

Empathy [Oxytocin]: Establish a point of emotional resonance with characters.
Tension [Cortisol]: Create a dilemma that arouses disunity.
Release [Dopamine]: Resolve the dilemma that brings about unity.

In Part 3, we explored another HBR article and came away with three important questions to ask as part of the story-crafting process:

* Who is my audience?

* How can I make the script reader feel like the hero?

* How can I imbue my story with conflict?

In Part 4, we explored a pattern common to stories: “By reminding people of the status quo and then revealing the path to a better way, they set up a conflict that needs to be resolved.”

This dynamic tension between What Is and What Could Be can be visualized this way:

HBR Story Structure

This interplay between events in the External world and reactions in the Internal World of a Story Universe — the Physical Journey and Psychological Journey — are the basis for the Protagonist’s metamorphosis. But why does this appeal to the human brain?

We explore that in the last part of this series with this excerpt from the Harvard Business Review article cited in Part 1:

We know that people are substantially more motivated by their organization’s transcendent purpose (how it improves lives) than by its transactional purpose (how it sells goods and services).  Transcendent purpose is effectively communicated through stories – for example, by describing the pitiable situations of actual, named customers and how their problems were solved by your efforts. Make your people empathize with the pain the customer experienced and they will also feel the pleasure of its resolution – all the more if some heroics went in to reducing suffering or struggle, or producing joy.

As a writer, we can look at Transactional Purpose as the story’s Plotline, the domain of the External World where the narrative’s events take place. Those events equal transactions.

We can look at Transcendent Purpose as the story’s Themeline, the domain of the Internal World where characters experience psychological and emotional change. Tied to the destiny of each character, it can be a negative change, a positive change, or anything in between, but that transformation speaks to the transcendent nature of the narrative as it plays out on a personal level for each individual involved.

Joseph Campbell said that the whole point of the Hero’s Journey is transformation, suggesting this narrative dynamic resonates with humans at a universal level, and I think this idea of Transcendent Purpose goes to the heart of why that is the case: We like to be engaged and entertained by what transpires in the plot, but more important we want to find meaning in the characters’ experiences, and see change manifest in their lives. From the same Harvard Business Review article:

Many of us know from Joseph Campbell’s work that enduring stories tend to share a dramatic arc in which a character struggles and eventually finds heretofore unknown abilities and uses these to triumph over adversity; my work shows that the brain is highly attracted to this story style.

This series has explored ways in which good stories connect with and impact our brains. From narrative elements that induce chemical reactions to story dynamics that engender a sense of empathy, tension, and release to metamorphosis arcs which create visions of what could be in the lives of characters and by extension our own lives.

As writers, we can use these storytelling principles to engage a reader’s brain and beyond that, their psyche.

For the rest of the article, go here.

For Part 1 of this series, go here.

Part 2, go here.

Part 3, go here.

Part 4, go here.

Writing and the Creative Life is an ongoing series in which we explore creativity from the practical to the psychological, the latest in brain science to a spiritual take on the subject. Hopefully the more we understand about our creative self, the better we will become as writers. If you have any good reading material in this vein, please post in comments. If you have a particular observation you think readers will benefit from and you would like to explore in a guest post, email me.

Daily Dialogue — January 29, 2015

January 29th, 2015 by

HIGGINS: We have games. That’s all. We play games. What if? How many men? What would it take? Is there a cheaper way to destabilize a regime? That’s what we’re paid to do.
TURNER: Walk on. Go on. So, Atwood just took the games too seriously. He was really going to do it, wasn’t he?
HIGGINS: A renegade operation. Atwood knew 5412 would never authorize it, there was no way. Not with the heat on the company.
TURNER: And what if there hadn’t be any heat? Suppose I hadn’t stumbled on their plan? Say nobody had.
HIGGINS: Different ballgame. Fact is, there was nothing wrong with the plan. Oh, the plan was all right. The plan would’ve worked.
TURNER: Boy, what is it with you people? You think not getting caught on a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?
HIGGINS: No. It’s simple economics. Today it’s oil, right? In ten or fifteen years– food, plutonium, and maybe even sooner. Now, what do you think the people are going to want us to do then?
TURNER: Ask them.
HIGGINS: Not now. Then. Ask them when they’re running out. Ask them when there’s no heat in their homes and they’re cold. Ask them when their engines stop. Ask them when people who have never known hunger start going hungry. You want to know something? They won’t want us to ask them. They’ll want us to get it for them.
TURNER: Boy, have you found a home. Seven people killed, Higgins.
HIGGINS: The company didn’t order it.
TURNER: Atwood did. Atwood did. And who the hell is Atwood? He’s you. He’s all you guys. Seven people killed, and you play fucking games!
HIGGINS: Right. And the other side does, too.

Three Days of the Condor (1975), screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel, novel by James Grady

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Espionage. Today’s suggestion by Will King.

Trivia: After this spy film actor Robert Redford appeared in such other espionage movies as Sneakers (1992) and Spy Game (2001) and such other political dramas as Lions for Lambs (2007) and All the President’s Men (1976).

Dialogue On Dialogue: To The Powers That Be, it’s all just games. And the people are the pawns.

If you have a suggestion for this week’s theme, please post in comments.

Twitter Rant: Geoff LaTulippe on Studio Script Development Process

January 28th, 2015 by

Last night screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe (Going the Distance) did a Twitter blast about what a screenplay can and often does go through in the Hollywood development process. Reprinted here by permission:

Because here’s the thing: you can’t take ANYTHING away from an in-development draft of a script, and I’m going to give you reasons why.

First of all, even though you might think you have “Draft four” of the script or “Draft twelve” of the script, you never really know.

Why? Here’s the first question: is it a draft for producers or is it a draft for the studio? Those can be and often are two different things.

When you’re doing drafts for producers, how you work on those drafts depends on the writer’s process and the producers’ demands.

So what might be one draft on the studio level could be five, six, twelve smaller or microdrafts for producers.

So let’s say you’ve written and sold a script with XYZ producers. Before it’s gone out, you’ve already done a few drafts.

When you finally get it into a place that you’re ready to take it out and it sells, THIS is, for all intents and purposes, Draft One.

OK, so now the studio has it! Big shit! They give you some notes (often extensive at this point), you powwow with the producers, and go!

You write that draft. You turn it into producers. They have notes. You do some tweaks. Then there are more notes, and some changing ideas.

In this phase, you might rewrite scenes or sections of the script JUST TO FIGURE OUT WHAT WORKS BEST. Pure experimentation sometimes.

Eventually – two, five, nine smaller drafts later – you now have something to turn into the studio again! YES! This draft…is Draft Two.

Meanwhile, it might be Draft Seven or Draft Twenty-six, but no: it’s fucking Draft Two.

You do several more microdrafts, and hand it back into the studio. This is now Draft Three. You’re closer to production than ever!

This is when you’re replaced with another writer, a near-100% probability if you’re working on a comedy or a tentpole.

No, seriously – you’ve done great work, but they want to go in a different direction, or bring in a new voice, or…WAIT!

Did a director come onto the project before this? An actor? Another producer? Sorry: before you’re fired, you have to address their notes!

So OK: now you’re working with producers, the studio, and a director and/or an actor(s) and/or more producers! That’s Draft Four!!!!

Have I mentioned yet how eternally lucky you are to be the only writer on the project in Draft Four (Draft 46?)? You’re a fucking unicorn.

OK: notes addressed. Draft Four turned in. Old producers, director, actors, new producers taken into account. Whew. NOW you’re fired.

So off your script goes to another writer or, more than likely, a couple more writers (again, especially in comedy/tentpoles).

There are so many fucking cooks now. SO MANY COOKS. Dare I say…Too Many Cooks? (Toooooooooooo many co-hoooks…)

But here’s the thing: while all those other writers are addressing more and more notes, YOUR NAME IS STILL ON THE SCRIPT.

Sometimes – SOMETIMES – there will be a little note at the bottom that’s like “Current revisions by Writer B”. Sure, why not?

But your name is still under “Written by”. Guess what? It’s now Draft Five. DRAFT. FIVE.


If they do, start multiplying in-between drafts exponentially. Start multiplying studio drafts by one.

I haven’t even gone over all the things that can or do happen in the midst of all this that affects the writing. There is MUCH more.

But hopefully you get the point now. Producer draft? Studio draft? From which writer? For which producers, director(s) or actor(s)?

Was this the official Studio Draft Four? Or are you reading Producer Draft Twenty-Six, where you were trying out that thing that DIDNT work?

Now: soak ALL of that in, and try to tell me if you can REALLY get any sense of what the finished film is going to be. Can you?

You can? GREAT! Because now we’re going to talk about constant on-set revisions and reshoots!!!!!!!!!

Just kidding. We’re not going to talk about those. That would be overkill. I think you get the point.

And it’s not just unfinished – it’s still in a nascent state. You’re trying everything, good bad or ugly, to find the story’s right shape.

That can take a long, long, long time. And most of the time it never even gets to a point where you can shoot it.

Hell, most of the time, it gets so overdeveloped that it’s not WORTH shooting. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try. Because some make it.

GHOSTBUSTERS is happening, and it’s happening with a kick-ass cast. But that script ain’t NEAR finished, whatever version is out there.

So if you see someone claiming a script sucks or a script is great or it’s just running in place, it doesn’t matter. It’s in-between.

It can go from any level to and other level of quality, and then it can go in the complete opposite direction once it’s filmed.

So take any script reviews – even those from “finished” scripts – with a MASSIVE grain of salt. People who “get” movies know this process.

BTW, all that shit I just described? I think I speak for most writers when I say we’d go through it infinitely if we had to.

Because screenwriting for a living is, seriously, the coolest fucking thing on the planet, and even with the headaches, we’re lucky as shit.

For context, today there was one of those classic Hollywood non-announcement announcements about the probably cast for the upcoming reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise. Then this:

Hence Geoff’s rant. Takeaways:

* If the thought of someone rewriting your story gives you virtual shingles, you probably want to focus on writing novels or plays. Because in Hollywood, everybody gets rewritten.

* If you think “Writing is rewriting” is a cute little phrase emerging from the Land of Hyperbole, wrong. What Geoff described is what writers expect going into every project. Unless the project’s director is Clint Eastwood and he intones, “We’ll shoot it as written.”

* Don’t critique scripts in development. Don’t support sites that engage in this type of activity. I have heard from writers who have told me a project of theirs has been deep-sixed by some negative buzz online about a script in development. Sadly many people who work in development are Weather Vanes, they blow with the virtual wind. It doesn’t take much for them to lose confidence in a project if some derisive comments emerge online about the script. As Geoff points out, they are works in progress, not reflective of the final product.

You should follow Geoff on Twitter: @DrGMLaTulippe.

For my May 2014 interview with Geoff, go here.

For all of the Screenwriting Twitter Rants, go here.

Interview (Part 3): Ava DuVernay

January 28th, 2015 by

It is criminal that Ava DuVernay was not nominated for a Best Director Oscar for her work on the remarkable movie Selma. I am running an interview I conducted with Ava eighteen months ago just as she was about to take on the Selma project.

In addition to making history as the first African-American woman to win the Best Director Prize at Sundance, DuVernay was honored with the 2013 John Cassavetes Spirit Award and the Tribeca Film Institute’s Affinity Award for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere.

In 2010, she wrote, produced and directed her first narrative feature, I Will Follow. Released theatrically in 2011, the family drama was hailed by critic Roger Ebert as “… one of the best films I’ve seen about the loss of a loved one.”

I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak recently with Ava for what turned out to be a terrific conversation about her background, movies, and independent cinema.

Today in Part 3 of our interview, Ava provides background and insight into the first film she wrote and directed I Will Follow.

Scott: Let’s talk about I Will Follow, your debut feature‑length narrative film, in 2011. Here’s the movie’s log line, from IMDB: “It chronicles a day in the life of a grieving woman, Maye, and the 12 visitors who help her move forward.” What was the genesis of that story?

Ava: Personal story, as a lot of first films are. Based on my Aunt Denise, who I told you about, and her passing. We lived together in the last couple years of her life and I was her primary caregiver. The film was trying to deconstruct that in some ways. The story took the form of the aftermath of the passing of a loved one and what we do to move on. We had a very limited budget. It was self‑financed from my bank account. I had $50,000 and I had to make it all in for that amount. The first rule of low‑budget filmmaking is, don’t move. I had to think of something that was all in one location. This idea of a post‑grief story fit really nicely into the one location that was so meaningful for me, at the time, which was the house we lived in together. That’s how it started.

Scott: That was exactly the next question I had for you, about the value of shooting a movie in one location, and whether that was more driven by you as producer, knowing you can minimize costs that way, or whether that was driven by you as screenwriter, about how interesting to tell a story in a contained environment. Or maybe it was just a nice marriage of both.

Ava: No, definitely it was all dictated by and driven by low budget, ultra‑low budget, and wanting to tell a story that was set in one location. That was how it started. I knew I wanted to move from documentary filmmaking into making my first narrative feature. I knew I didn’t have enough money to make Middle of Nowhere, which was the script I’d written first. I knew I could do a one‑location film for about 50 and a skeleton crew. I started asking friends for one‑location ideas. I got, “Do a black 12 Angry Men. Do a black Breakfast Club. Do a black…” Every one-location film that’s ever been done, but black, was what was suggested to me. (laughs) I was this close to thinking of a black Breakfast Club script, when my mother said, “Always do something that means something to you. Don’t make a film just to make a film.”

I had to think, “What do I want to say?” I was getting through the loss of my loved one. It was right there. I was like, “Wow, it was that house.” That’s when I had actually been in one location, felt immobile and felt all the things I wanted to share about that time in my life. Getting to that point came from the question, “How do I make a one‑location movie and that was all predicated on budget.”

Scott: That’s such a great object lesson. Here you are kicking around all of these different possibilities, but that advice your Mom gave, make it’s something you really care about, something with emotional resonance. That’s hugely important.

Ava: Yeah. Massive advice. Could have easily just got caught up in the, “I’m going to make a movie!” I think that happens. I see that happening to colleagues. Doing something that you don’t really even care about, just to be making something. Or just to be making money, or whatever. I find things are best when I listen to Mom. I do better when I listen to her. (laughs)

Scott: The central conceit of the story I Will Follow is Maye dealing with the death of her aunt, Amanda, who Maye had been taking care of during her last days. As I was reading the script, I was reminded how, several years back when I was writing a story about someone facing their own death, I emailed a friend who’s a poet. I said, “Could you give me a poem dealing with the subject of death for inspiration?” He emailed me back and simply wrote, “Scott, all poems are about death.”

I’m just curious, when you think about it, whether metaphorical or literal, stories do tend to have some sort of connection with the death of dreams or actual, physical death. I was curious what your experience was and what you discovered about that subject matter, mortality, grief, regret, when you were making I Will Follow?

Ava: The screenplay process for that film was definitely re‑living of it. What I learned from that is there is another season, beyond the moment of despair. In taking myself back to those dark days, shortly after her death and then being on the set of a film about those days, I knew that I was a different person from the time when the actual events occurred. I had been changed by it, I was in a different season. That was a lesson that’s helped me, in the years after. When it’s dark, it’s just a season. When it’s sunny, it’s just a season. And the knowledge that another one will come is, I’ve found, very important. This is a fabulous season for me, right now. As we went through Gotham Awards and Spirit Awards and Oscar buzz and all that stuff, just the recognition that that, too, is a season, makes everything sweeter and more meaningful. That was the big lesson of I Will Follow and I’m really glad I had it.

Scott: One of the smartest decisions I thought you made in I Will Follow is you created that ticking clock, where the landlord says, “You’ve got to be out of that house by 9AM the next day.” So throughout this story, you’ve got this constant time pressure. Do you remember how you hit on that idea?

Ava: I don’t remember, actually. A ticking clock is a good thing, narratively. [laughs] I picked that up somewhere. I remember, in writing that film, I was really nervous about it getting boring in the one place. I know that I was looking for narrative techniques to keep it fresh. One of the things was to put a ticking clock. Another thing was to have variation of character. She’s in the same place, but you’re always getting fresh faces and voices coming in and out. I do remember deliberately trying to figure out the tools to keep a one location situation feeling fresh. That was just probably something I stumbled upon. I don’t remember exactly. But it’s such a part of the narrative. That’s the story. “You’ve got to move.” The end of the story will be, “You’re done with this move.” There’s no action happening. The action is the move. The dark night of the soul, or whatever, is when you can’t find the dolly to move. (laughs) I don’t know what it was. I just remember the move was the plot, in a lot of ways. That was the spine of what we were driving towards. Once I figured that part out, the nuances of the characters and their relationships to each other…I felt more free to let that be what it was as opposed to trying to get action out of the relationship.

Scott: It’s interesting. Maye has got to go through all these physical objects that have emotional or symbolic meaning, because they remind her of Amanda. The story is like a testament to the power of talismans, these objects that have meaning. In a sense, by clearing them all away and cleaning out the house, she’s symbolically closing one chapter of her life and moving on.

Ava: Absolutely. I just moved into a new place a few months ago. Definitely a move is always a big change of season, but certainly when you’re packing up a life, which is something that a lot of people haven’t experienced. It’s tough. You’re looking at these things that are left behind. That’s all you have left, these things. I still, in this new place, was just yesterday looking at a box of her stuff that I can’t get rid of. Where do I put that? I can’t give that away. I’ll never use it, but it’s her stuff. That just goes into my garage again. [laughs] Three garages later. All of that’s in that screenplay. It was a real big form of therapy for me, I think.

Tomorrow in Part 4, Ava delves into her movie Middle of Nowhere.

For Part 1, go here.

For Part 2, go here.

Ava is repped by Paradigm.

Twitter: @AVAETC

[Originally posted June 11, 2013]

To listen to Ava interviewed on “Fresh Air” (Jan. 10, 2015), go here.

“Boyhood: 12 Moments That Seize You”

January 28th, 2015 by

I don’t know how I stumbled upon this article, but I really like it. From the website Write Out of L.A., Robin Write has posted an excellent take on one of my favorite movies of 2014 Boyhood.

From the opening frame of Mason staring up into the sky, through twelve years, to Mason being away from home and family with his potential new friends, Boyhood depicts parts of life. Moments we kind of often take for granted. Or remember differently to someone else. Moments you do not often see in cinema, but are around you all time. And always have been. Richard Linklater poignantly captures these significant life events of all shapes and sizes in the magnificent Boyhood. I’m sure you have all seen it by now, and all have your favorite scenes that touched you. Here are 12 (of course, twelve, but could easily have been forty) smaller moments in the film that lingered with me.

Here are three of the moments Robin selected:


When Mason’s mom hears he has not handed in many of his homework assignments, his response is that the teacher did not ask for them. It is an instant signal that our protagonist is merely a small boy at this point. And that children are likely more logical than we give them credit for.


The final scene with mom when she breaks down is the one most folks talk about (and likely Oscar nomination clip), but much earlier in the movie when they are finally rid of Bill, mom bursts into tears when she can’t answer her daughter’s concerns. You truly feel for a mother who is heartbroken that she does not have the answers right now.


Mason gets some male-bonding time with his dad as they go camping. They talk generally about kissing girls, Star Wars, and peeing on camp fires. The real magic of this sequence is how comfortable they appear to be as they catch up on the parts of their respective lives they may have missed thus far.

Boyhood is a marvel for a myriad of reasons, but Robin has zeroed in on the single biggest narrative dynamic: Moments. The final scene in the movie involves college freshman Mason out in the raw beauty of West Texas with some newly found friends.

One of them, Nicole, says this: “You know how everyone’s always saying, ‘Seize the moment’? I don’t know, I’m kinda thinkin’ it’s the other way around. You know, like, the moment seizes us.”

To which Mason responds: “Yeah, I know. It’s constant, the moments, it’s just… it’s like always right now, you know.”

And that is in some way the central theme of the movie, not only about human experience, but the way in which Boyhood tells its story. It drops into Mason and his family’s existence moment to moment. But unlike a movie that transpires over many years like Forrest Gump which focuses on big moments — winning college football games, meeting Presidents, Vietnam, Watergate — Boyhood does precisely the opposite. It highlights ordinary moments. That’s one of the beauties of the movie, how it takes us into these seemingly mundane slices of life and explores the emotional life flowing through them.

Author Anne Beattie has one of my favorite quotes: “People forget years and remember moments.” I think that applies to writing stories… watching movies… and living life.

Boyhood reminds us of that.

For the rest of Robin’s post to see his nine other favorite moments from the movie, go here.

Twitter: @WriteoutofLA.

Set Pieces, Part 3: Stakes

January 28th, 2015 by

A series this week on set pieces: A scene or set of scenes with a big idea, feel and/or scope to them, oftentimes associated with major plot points, and always about entertainment.

Part 3: Stakes.

Will Andy escape Shawshank prison?

Will Clarice prevail over Buffalo Bill?

Will Luke Skywalker successfully fire proton torpedoes into the tiny opening in the Death Star?

Stakes. The best set pieces have them. With these examples above, the stakes are huge. They can also be smaller and yet emotionally meaningful.

Will Gil’s son make the catch that wins the ball game?

Will Lester quit his job?

Will Fran leave Sheldrake for Baxter?

Takeaway: When you are working with a set piece, determine what stakes might be involved with it.

For Part 1: Spin the plot, go here.

For Part 2: Emotional Meaning, go here.

Tomorrow: More on set pieces.

What other set pieces can you think of that have stakes, big or small?

[Originally posted October 12, 2012]

Movie Trailer: “The Rewrite”

January 28th, 2015 by

Written by Marc Lawrence

An Oscar-winning writer in a slump leaves Hollywood to teach screenwriting at a college on the East Coast, where he falls for a single mom taking classes there.


Classic 60’s Movies: Rosemary’s Baby

January 28th, 2015 by

January is Classic 60s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Ipsita Barik.

Movie Title: Rosemary’s Baby

Year: 1968

Writers: Roman Polanski (screenplay), Ira Levin (novel)

Poster Rosemarys Baby

Lead Actors: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans

Director: Roman Polanski

IMDB Plot Summary: A young couple move into a new apartment, only to be surrounded by peculiar neighbors and occurrences. When the wife becomes mysteriously pregnant, paranoia over the safety of her unborn child begins controlling her life.

Why I Think This Is A Classic 60s Movie: It’s a cult classic cutting across the decades. Roman Polanski navigates through the story in an extremely cautious style, aware of the dangers of rushing through, even one moment. . It builds upon the suspense, slowly canvasses through the thrills, punctuated with streaks of dark comedy and based on a strong sense of embedded horror. The story based on Ira Levin’s novel Rosemary’s Baby, adapted for the screenplay by Polanski himself, is probably one of his best works. Is it horror, a dark comedy, a thriller, suspense? The genius of the movie is that it refuses a fixed label and blends different forms of storytelling.

Rosemary’s Baby opens on the very predictable ground of a family moving into a new house. New homes have secrets. Interestingly the couple is forewarned about these, right in the beginning, during a dinner and of course they deem them to be mere stories and Rosemary comments, “but Hutch, all house have a past.” The movie is replete with these small dark messages, undoubtedly placed for both Rosemary and the viewers. One of the best moments in the movie is when Rosemary while exploring the new apartment, approaches the previous occupant’s desk and casts upon a partially visible note – “am no longer able to associate myself.” She looks up, a bit taken aback, but pushes the disturbance into the background. She does the same with the hidden closet. Once revealed that the closet held nothing except a vacuum cleaner and towels, she wonders aloud, “why bother hiding a vacuum cleaner and towels?” The caretaker replied,” I guess we will never know.” Interestingly it is probably amongst the few things that appear crystal clear by the end, in a movie that never quite explains things clearly. After visiting the Cassavetes for the first time, she remarks in a conversation with her husband, Guy, “I wonder why have they removed the pictures. There are nails in the wall and blank spaces, and yet no pictures. And the one that’s there doesn’t quite fit.” In hindsight it seems to be a comment on the Cassavetes, ‘a couple appearing to be kind and generous and yet harboring a marked sinister streak.’

Rosemary is a complex character. While she appears to be quite docile and largely a content and happy homemaker, she is observant, opinionated, inquisitive and quite the fighter when the going gets tough. She questions Guy on the fact that he had sex with her when she had apparently been torpid and benumbed (drugged by the witch’s coven, the previous night). But she doesn’t push it. She never does. It is the same when Guy throws away the book, Hutch leaves for her, she questions Guy, saying it was wrong of him to rid of something that was hers and was a gift and yet never quite asserts herself. All her nagging questions and doubts, as we progress through the story, are never prodded or pursued. She never crushes or disowns them, and yet she pushes them into the dark, though she knows and realizes, the darkness is getting bolder and starker every day. We see the pattern related to her concerns and doubts regarding wearing Terry’s locket, consuming Minnie’s concocted drink, her pregnancy related pain and troubles, or her drastic weight loss. She seems to be constantly questioning and prodding and yet, never pursuing. When Terry allegedly commits suicide, Rosemary questions the incident, based on her understanding that Terry had been a visibly happy person. And then she falls into agreement with the general notion, that Terry who had been found on the streets quite doped and was sheltered by the Cassavetes, killed herself affected by the drugs and depression. Many contend that Rosemary is a pushover. But is she?? I don’t think so. To me she is normal, quite like all of us. Don’t we all venture into the dark lands, raising questions and doubts, and never quite exploring them, quite content with them remaining unanswered.

Another scene that unravels the viewers more than Rosemary is when she visits Dr Hill, around the end of the movie, trying to protect her baby from the clutches of the witches’ coven. As she narrates her part of the reality to a half bemused and half skeptical, Dr Hill, what wraps around the audience are the gestures. Rosemary twitches, appears ashen and white, stammers, repeats lines, giggles, intertwines her fingers, gapes and sweats, we all know it’s the gestures that are going to trap her, and not her narrative that much.

For me one of the most terrifying moments in the movie is when Dr Hill, coaxes her to the inner room, urging her to rest, while he apparently took care of the matter. Rosemary nods in agreement, reclining with a sense of assurance, while the audience immediately knows that she is going to be ripped apart, stunned that Rosemary doesn’t realize it!

While the visibly horrifying scenes, include the moments when Rosemary catches her image on the surface of the toaster, eating a piece of raw liver quite ravenously, or the time when she is escorted out of Dr Hill’s office, and made to sit between Dr Sabastien and Guy, the very men she was attempting to flee! Or when Rosemary realizes that the terrifying dream sequence within which she is a part of the coven’s rituals and then the ultimate rape, is actually the reality, screaming aloud “this is no dream … this is for real!!” For that matter one of the highlights in the movie is when Rosemary attempts to solve the anagram!

The Anagram

It’s the subtle scenes though, which send the heart racing, such as when Rosemary and Guy, cuddling in their bed, are distracted by a low steady chanting hum from the neighboring apartment or the time when Rosemary fleeing from the elevator, struggles to open the door to her apartment, with the background music (Krzysztof Komeda) matching the exact sense of trepidation, or when Rosemary repeats the name of the blinded actor, quietly and in wonderment – “Bagumart ”.
Polanski knows what the mind fears and where the heart whispers a silent prayer! The scene when Rosemary locks herself inside the apartment, and calls up her friend Alice, for help, the camera shows two men tiptoeing across the living room, behind her. It leaves us gasping. The time when Minnie gifts Rosemary, Terry’s good luck charm, and the camera focuses on Rosemary’s hands, the pause followed by hesitant movement, and then the unsure, visibly stricken face, and her small protestation, before succumbing to Minnie, who is definitely the more overpowering of the characters.

Terry’s locket

My Favorite Moment In The Film: All of them witches! Goes much beyond the book she receives from Hutch. In one of the most startling scenes in the movie, quite unnerving and definitely and astutely horrifying, Rosemary in the phone booth, calling Dr Hill, realizes all of a sudden that it wasn’t only the Cassavetes and Guy, that she was trying to escape – that indeed all of them, including her doctor, were involved in the plot. She repeats the book’s name, with a giggle, the horror surprisingly cascading to the highest levels. Though she looks visibly shaken by the revelation, a sense of calm subsides on her, as the picture clears of the fog. Her doubts asserting themselves, and she emerging stronger. And yet it was probably the most damning moment in the movie, we know she is trapped in the most intricate web that she has probably woven around herself.

My Favorite Dialogue In The Movie:

Rosemary – “It has an undertaste — a chalky undertaste.”

Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie: Of course, the endless analysis of Rosemary’s fears being akin to those common to new mothers, or that of urban alienation, the anxieties of adulthood, questioning organized religion, marital rape, contraceptives, reproductive choices, the struggle between naturopathy and allopathy or for that matter the Pope!!
Some crucial phone conversations happen behind the walls, the person hidden from the camera, the viewer’s focus entirely on the conversation, some of them chilling to the core, including the conversation about Bagumart’s blinding.

The brilliant dream sequences.
The solving of the anagram and the phone booth scene.
The Music by Krzysztof Komeda and the Cinematography by William A Fraker.

Thanks, Ipsita! To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!

We already have a set of classic 70s movies, 80s Movies and 90s Movies. This month, we’re working on 60s Movies.

We have 31 volunteers. I have put in bold those who have already sent their guest post to me.

Ipsita Barik – Rosemary’s Baby
Ipsita Barik – Bonnie and Clyde
Mike Dobbins – The Sound of Music
Brandnewusedcar – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Markham Cook – Jules et Jim
Steve Cook – The Blue Max
JasperLamarCrab – 2001: A Space Odyssey
N D – Lonely are the Brave
Drew Dorenfest – Easy Rider
Rick Dyke – Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Rick Dyke – Fail Safe
Felicity Flesher – The Music Man
PaulG – Lawrence of Arabia
D.L. Gill – Zulu
Jeff Guenther – Cool Hand Luke
Kate Hagen – Repulsion
John Henderson – Night of the Living Dead
John Henderson – The Odd Couple
John Hörnschemeyer – The Graduate
Zach Jansen – They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Will King – The Pink Panther
William Leitch – If…
Lisaisfunny – Blow Up
Jack McDonald – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Nick – Lonely are the Brave
Daryl Powell – The Apartment
jprichard – Persona
Ally Shina – The Jungle Book
Mark Twain – The Loved One
Liz Warner – The Manchurian Candidate
Michael Waters – Dr. No

For those who have signed up, but have yet to email me your post, please do so ASAP. This is the last week for the series.

Thanks in advance!

For the original post explaining the series, go here.