Movies You Made: “Resignation”

April 16th, 2014 by

Last month, I ran a series called Movies You Made, comprised of 31 original films submitted to me by a diverse group of filmmakers from all over the world. You can find links to all of the movies and trailers by going here.

A few filmmakers subsequently contacted me, therefore every so often I will feature another Movie You Made.

Today: Resignation.

Production notes from co-writer-director Joshua Caldwell:

With Resignation I wanted to explore the character of a superhero in a way that I hadn’t seen before – at least in the movies. I wanted to go far beyond the origin story and put a new twist on it: a story not of discovery but of re-discovery.

Having turned his back on his crime fighting past, something for which he’s lost so much, our hero has been wandering the earth, working as a combat photojournalist, and taking pictures of the worst humanity has to offer, when he’s confronted by a crisis

On it’s surface, the film is about the ethics of journalism — the balance between reporting on the story and being a part of it. Inspired by the world of Witness (the HBO documentary series about combat photojournalists), we wanted to ground our film in that dilemma – save the life or take the shot?

However, on a much deeper level, the conversation is about playing god. A superhero, with super powers, is in a god-like position, able to save those who might have otherwise perished. Wanted or not, that responsibility has been thrust on him.

Our character is one who has been weighed down by such a responsibility and consequently, turned in his cape. He wants to be human, to live amongst us. In doing so, must contend with the fact that he possesses the ability to correct a situation and yet chooses to do nothing.

In this way, Resignation presents a complex, multi-layered, yet digestible portrait of a superhero struggling with the reality of our modern world.

Cast:
Victor Brown, Charlie Hopkins

Director: Joshua Caldwell
Writers (s): Thomas Lemmer, Alex LeMay, Joshua Caldwell
Produced by: Alex LeMay, Thomas Lemmer, Joshua Caldwell
Executive Producers: John Benis, Josh Lamb, Alex LeMay
Director of Photography: Paul Niccolls
Costume Designer: Amanda Riley
Production Designer: Matthew Trotter
Music by: Kevin Riepl
Editors: Thomas Lemmer, Evan Alexander
VFX Supervisor: Josh Sedillo

Here is the 8 minute movie Resignation:

For what Joshua calls a “full immersive experience,” go here.

Go here to read a first-hand Dispatch From The Front Line by Joshua from back in 2011.

Movie Trailer: “X-Men: Days of Future Passed”

April 16th, 2014 by

Screenplay by Simon Kinberg, story by Jane Goldman & Simon Kinberg & Matthew Vaughn

The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants.

IMDB

Release Date: 23 May 2014 (USA)

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 16

April 16th, 2014 by

This is the fifth year in a row I’ve run this series in April.

Today: What is it like to be the lone survivor of a catastrophe?

I’m sure most of you remember the horrible tragedy of the Yarnell Hill fire which overran and killed 19 Arizona firefighters on June 30, 2013. Those firefighters were part of a proud group of men and women known as the Arizona Hotshots. Turns out, one of that group survived: Only Surviving Arizona Hotshot Firefighter Was The Team’s Lookout.

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — The lone survivor on an elite Arizona firefighting crew was serving as a lookout and relaying key information to his colleagues when a raging wildfire trapped and killed them, officials said Tuesday.

Brendan McDonough, 21, was in his third season with the 20-member, Prescott-based Granite Mountain Hotshots.

He was assigned to be a “heads-up on the hillside” for the team on that fateful afternoon two days ago, said Wade Ward, a Prescott Fire Department spokesman who relayed McDonough’s story at an afternoon news conference.

Ward said McDonough “did exactly what he was supposed to” when conditions changed as his team fought the mountain blaze near the town of Yarnell, about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix.

He notified the other Hotshots that the weather was changing rapidly and told them the fire had switched direction because of the wind. He also told them he was leaving the area and to contact him on the radio if they needed anything, Ward said.

Here is a short documentary about the event including comments from McDonough:

What caught my attention about this story was the survivor. I imagined myself in a similar circumstance where I had somehow managed to live while my peers had perished. How would I make sense of that? How could I make sense of that? How would it affect my life? How would it affect the local community? There would be everything in my life. Then everything in my life after the tragedy. I can see how it might give a person a bifurcated sense of self, who I am now compared to who I was back then.

Then there’s this: survivor’s guilt. One definition I found: “A mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not.”

Even if logic dictates I may have done everything right, my feelings tell me I have done something wrong.

In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy meets with Red one last time before he decides to act on his long-planned escape. During that conversation, Andy says this:

				ANDY 
		My wife used to say I'm a hard man 
		to know. Like a closed book. 
		Complained about it all the time. 
			(pause) 
		She was beautiful. I loved her. But 
		I guess I couldn't show it enough. 
			(softly) 
		I killed her, Red. 

	Andy finally glances to Red, seeking a reaction. Silence. 

				ANDY 
		I didn't pull the trigger. But I 
		drove her away. That's why she 
		died. Because of me, the way I am.


This moment is very much like confession in the Catholic church, Andy finally admitting a truth with which he’s lived for years: He feels guilty about the death of his wife and his own survival.

In The Silence of the Lambs, when Lecter compels Clarice finally to share her deepest secrets to him — again much like a confessional with Lecter serving as the priest — she talks about witnessing the spring slaughter of the lambs on her uncle’s farm and how she reacted:

                                     CLARICE
                         I took one lamb. And I ran away, as 
                         fast as I could...

               IN FLASHBACK

               a vast Montana plain, and crossing this, a tiny figure - the 
               little Clarice, holding a lamb in her arms.

                                     DR. LECTER (V.O.)
                         Where were you going?

                                     CLARICE (V.O.)
                         I don't know. I had no food or water. 
                         It was very cold. I thought - if I 
                         can even save just one... but he got 
                         so heavy. So heavy...

               The tiny figure stops, and after a few moments sinks to the 
               ground, hunched over in despair.

Of course, the lamb represents her father, thus we see that she suffers from survivor guilt: If only she could have done something to save her father’s life. It’s totally illogical, of course, Clarice was only eleven years old when he died as he attempted to stop a robbery. But sometimes guilt does not dwell in the realm of logic, it resides somewhere deeper in our psyche. Lecter recognizes this. He asks Clarice, “What happened to your lamb?” Her response: “They killed him.” On some level, we can take this to mean her father, which is why Lecter says the following to sum up Clarice’s confession:

                                     DR. LECTER
                         You think if you can save poor 
                         Catherine, you could make them stop,
                         don't you? You think if Catherine
                         lives, you won't wake up in the dark
                         ever again to that awful screaming 
                         of the lambs.

Here is that amazing scene:

We are talking two profoundly great movies: The Shawshank Redemption and The Silence of the Lambs, and both Protagonists suffer from survivor’s guilt.

Thus where this process leads me is to start with the idea of a survivor. Someone who does not feel right or good about that fact.

What could that situation be? What could that tragedy have been? What event can the universe bring his/her way to jolt them out of their state of Disunity and compel them into a journey where they have to confront their deepest fears, likely tied to their guilt, and see where that takes them? If it’s an uplifting story, perhaps like Andy and Clarice, they do something redemptive. If it’s a tragedy heaped on a tragedy, we are looking at the study of a character’s dissolution and disintegration. Or perhaps a salvific tragedy where the character dies in order to save someone else.

I just know this: This is a complex psychological arena, one from which a compelling Protagonist can emerge.

There you go: My sixteenth story idea for the month. And it’s yours. Free!

What would you do with it?

Each day this month, I invite you to join me in comments to do some brainstorming. Gender bend, genre bend, what if. Take each day’s story idea and see what it can become when we play around with it. These are all valuable skills for a writer to develop.

See you in comments (hit Reply to join the conversation). And come back tomorrow for another Story Idea Each Day For A Month.

Script To Screen: “Milk”

April 16th, 2014 by

One of the most memorable scenes in the powerful 2008 movie Milk, written by Dustin Lance Black.

Plot Summary: The story of Harvey Milk, and his struggles as an American gay activist who fought for gay rights and became California’s first openly gay elected official.

Setting: Dan White has asked to meet in private with Harvey Milk.

INT. CITY HALL / DAN WHITE'S OFFICE - CONTINUOUS
Harvey walks in first. Dan stays between Harvey and the door. 
Dan closes it. Harvey smiles, sensing something is off.

Dan draws his revolver. Harvey raises his hand. Dan fires. 
The bullet rips through Harvey's hand and down his arm.

HARVEY MILK 
Oh no... N--

Dan fires again, silencing Harvey's cry for help.

Harvey turns away. Another bullet rips into his chest, and he 
falls to his knees, now facing the window. He staggers toward 
it. The moment is extended as we see Harvey’s POV of the 
Opera House outside the window, and the Castro beyond it.

Close on Dan, Harvey still alive. The moment almost peaceful. 
Dan puts his revolver to the back of Harvey's head. He fires. 
And just like that, Harvey falls.

A startled Dan fires once more, and walks out of the office.

Here is the scene from the movie:

A few tiny changes:

* Harvey says “No” before the first bullet is fired.

* He doesn’t say, “Oh, no,” but rather “No,” which compresses the time in which he realizes what’s happening.

* There are four gun shots, but the first three happen with Harvey facing White.

* Harvey doesn’t “stagger” toward the window, rather ends up there by his body’s reaction to being shot.

Some interesting directing and editorial choices:

* Once White closes the door, camera stays on Harvey. It’s an interesting choice. In the script, we’ve already seen White preparing his gun. Plus we know – historically – what happened, so it’s as if Van Sant (director) decided it was more important to play to Harvey’s take on what was transpiring, rather than cut to White producing his gun.

* There is only one CU of White after he closes the door: After he fires the first shot, almost as if he has a moment’s hesitation: Can I go through with this?

The moment that really hits home for me is :26-53 where Harvey kneels at the window, his gaze eventually focusing on the Opera House. It mirrors an image evoked on the very first page of the script in which in the chaos of the shooting, this happens:

Cleve shuts it out. He looks out the second story window to 
see what Harvey must have last laid eyes upon: the SF Opera 
House, and beyond it, the neighborhood that has become 
their home, The Castro.

It also recalls a scene from Harvey’s youth at the New York Opera House [P. 3] and a scene from just before the assassination in which Harvey enjoys an opera in San Francisco [P. 107].

So in his dying moments, Harvey gets to see a place of significance to him — the Opera House — and the neighborhood behind it — the Castro — both symbolic of this place he has come to call home.

And those last shots, the very conceit of that, is all in Black’s script.

What else do you see in comparing the scripted version of the scene to the movie version?

To download a free, legal PDF of the script for Milk, go here.

One of the single best things you can do to learn the craft of screenwriting is to read the script while watching the movie. After all a screenplay is a blueprint to make a movie and it’s that magic of what happens between printed page and final print that can inform how you approach writing scenes. That is the purpose of Script to Screen, a weekly series on GITS where we analyze a memorable movie scene and the script pages that inspired it.

Daily Dialogue — April 16, 2014

April 16th, 2014 by

“I… am the Waffler. With my griddle of justice, I BASH the enemy in the head, or I burn them like so! I also have some truth syrup, which is low in fat.”

Mystery Men (1999), written by Neil Cuthbert, created by Bob Burden

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Job Interview, suggested by blueneumann.

Trivia: The Mystery Men were the supporting cast of an underground superhero comic book called the Flaming Carrot. Mr. Furious and the Shoveler were the only ones from the comic to make it into the movie. Captain Amazing was created as a replacement for the Flaming Carrot, who was felt to be too bizarre to bring to the silver screen.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Not everyday you get to see a job interview… for a superhero gig.

Question: How far can a writer go with the "similar but different" approach?

April 15th, 2014 by

A reader question from The_High_Dweller:

I got one for ya… We’re always talking about “Similar But Different” here, right?

And we’ve even had suggestions on how to go about coming up with something that’s similar but different… Check out successful movies from the past and actually take their logline and change the genre, genders, setting, etc.

So I’m wondering how far is too far to take that suggestion??

Like take your script, K-9, for instance… What if someone changed the main character to a woman, the dog to a Dalmatian, and the career to a fire(wo)man, and the setting to say… Texas.

(I’m not thinking of doing this, by the way.)

And with those changes, having steered far enough away from your concept, could they actually use your story as a guideline and create similar conflict, scenes, characters, plot points, etc. as your story?

… I guess it sounds like I’m almost asking “Is it okay to just plagiarize?” But my point is: how far is too far and how far is safe?

I’d like to take the “similar but different” approach with a contained thriller. But I haven’t tried this genre before. So I like the advice of taking a successful film and creating something similar, yet different. But I wouldn’t want to use someone else’s script as my guide and end up with something TOO close to that already-successful and well-known script/film.

To frame my response, I went back to a lecture I penned for an online screenwriting course way back in 2002:

The mantra of the studios’ film divisions can best be summed up in this manner – what they want to buy, develop, and produce are screenplays which are “similar but different.”

Why? There is a two-part answer. The first part goes back to the familiar subject – marketing. Because the simple fact is that after script purchase, years of development hell and rewrites, actors and directors falling in and out of deals, battles over budget, months of preproduction, production, post-production, none of it matters one whit unless the studios can sell the movie.And in an increasingly noisy world with consumers bombarded by advertisers on all sides, the task of getting the message out is becoming harder and harder.

That’s where similar comes in. If the movie’s concept or storyline has a familiar ring to it, so the marketing theory goes, then the consumer is more likely to remember the advertisement. And if they remember the ad, then the odds increase exponentially that the consumer will be motivated to get off their fanny, drive to the local Cineplex, and actually buy a movie ticket than if they do not remember the ad.

The different component should be obvious – the story can’t be exactly the same as something else, it has to be spun just enough to make the consumer think they’ll be viewing something actually worth seeing, even if what’s on the screen turns out to be a nauseating copycat of another movie – of course, by then, they already have your money.

And then these observations from another lecture in that same screenwriting class about the idea of recycling plots:

What do I mean by recycling plots?Just what it says: Take old stories, and use them again.Tweak ‘em, shake ‘em, rattle ‘em around a bit, then put them down on paper, make the movie, and voila – a new theatrical release is born.

This is not a recent phenomenon, indeed, it is as old as Hollywood itself. I read an account from one veteran screenwriter who confessed that he had written the same exact plot for seven different movies, back in the 30s and 40s.One time, it was a western, another time it was a pirate’s tale, another time it was a gangster movie, and so on. One plot. Seven movies.

This approach is not restricted to Hollywood either.In the field of storytelling and creative expression, the old adage is most certainly true: There is nothing new under the sun. But don’t listen to me; hear what these experts have to say on the subject.

“Every writer has certain subjects that they write about again and again.Most people’s books are just variations on certain themes.” – Christopher Isherwood

“I think one writes and rewrites the same book.I lead a character from book to book, I continue along with the same ideas.Only the angle of vision, the method, the lighting change.” – Truman Capote

“Mostly, we authors must repeat ourselves – that’s the truth.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Need more proof? See if you recognize these movies from their plot descriptions:

“A man who wins a lottery takes a vacation with the girl who gave him half her ticket.”

Has to be It Could Happen To You, the 1994 romantic-comedy starring Nicholas Cage and Bridget Fonda, right?

Wrong. This is the log-line to a French movie, Bonne Chance, released way back in 1935.

“A shopgirl finds an abandoned baby and is thought to be its mother.”

Sounds like the 1987 comedy BABY BOOM, starring Diane Keaton and Sam Shepherd.

Nope. It’s the one-line description of a 1939 RKO release, Bachelor Mother, starring Ginger Rogers.

“In order to stay in America, a European refugee arranges a strictly platonic marriage with an American.”

That’s got to be the 1990 romantic-comedy Green Card, starring Gerard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell.

Sorry. That is the high-concept behind the 1941 MGM movie Come Live With Me.

With that as background, one thing should be abundantly clear re your question: Recycling story concepts and plot elements isn’t just acceptable in Hwood, it’s in its very lifeblood. Think of it this way: There’s a very thin line between homage and recycling.

Re your question specifically, you zero in on the key consideration: When is a story too similar to a preexisting one? I don’t think there’s any specific guideline. The best bet for a writer is to go with their gut, akin to what former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of obscenity in movies, “I know when I see it.”

You mention K-9. This might be instructive. After we sold the script, we were the proverbial “flavor-of-the-week,” which meant our agents set up meetings for us all over town. One of those meetings was at Disney with a studio executive (now a major movie producer). We walk in, introduce ourselves, start what we think will be another typical schmooze session to start the meeting when the exec says of our script, “Yeah, we thought about suing you guys.”

Gulp. Turns out Disney had this script lying around in development hell called Turner & Hootch. Here’s its IMDB logline: A detective must adopt the dog of a dead man to help him find the murderer.

The movie’s tagline: “The Oddest Couple Ever Unleashed!”

Here is the IMDB logline for K-9: To stop an elusive criminal, a maverick detective enlists the aid of a police dog who’s an unusually intelligent smart alec.

The movie’s tagline: “Meet the two toughest cops in town. One’s just a little smarter than the other.”

Okay, let’s compare the movies.

Similar:

* Buddy comedies

* Human and dog partnership

* Cop partners with dog to solve a crime mystery

* At first, the human and the dog don’t get along, but over time they bond

Different:

* Jerry Lee (K-9) is a police dog; Hooch is a ‘civilian’

* Scott (Tom Hanks in T&H) is a neatnik and Hooch messes up Scott’s well organized life; Dooley (Jim Belushi in K-9) is having romance issues with his girlfriend (Mel Harris) and the dog messes the couple

More similar than different, right? Evidently not because Disney didn’t sue. [It also happened to be the case that neither I had ever heard of T&H, let alone read it]. Instead based upon the sale of K-9 and in a classic case of Hollywood-think, figuring that if Universal Pictures saw something in a cop and dog movie, Disney dusted off Turner & Hootch and thus began a race between the two studios: Competing cop and dog movies.

But that’s another story.

My answer to your question is there is no answer. It’s a case by case thing. Story Idea A may be too similar to a preexisting movie, while Story Idea B may be different enough.

One easy way to avoid this dilemma: Come up with really different story concepts. I’ll bet when Kyle Killen came up with the idea for “The Beaver” — a dark comedy where one of the story’s main characters, a hand puppet, comes alive — he wasn’t worried about anybody copying him or a studio exec saying, “Eh, too similar.”

So to sum up, it’s perfectly acceptable in Hwood to troll in the ‘similar but different’ waters. You do have to be careful not to be too similar, however there is no specific guideline to steer you in that regard, you just have to go with your gut.

And the best solution: Come up with unique, different story ideas. Especially ones you’re passionate about. Then write the hell out of them.

[Originally posted February 21, 2010]

Interview: Elijah Bynum (2013 Black List) – Part 2

April 15th, 2014 by

The Black List is a pretty exclusive club, especially so for those writers who manage to land two scripts on the List in a single year. That’s what Elijah Bynum did in 2013 when two of his original screenplays — “Mississippi Mud” and “Hot Summer Nights”. I sought out Elijah to see what sort of creative mind could manage that feat. He was kind enough to give me an hour of his time in what turned out to be a great conversation about storytelling and the craft of screenwriting.

Today in Part 2, Elijah and I start to analyze “Mississippi Mud”:

Scott:  Let’s jump into these two scripts of yours. First “Mississippi Mud.” Plot summary:

“In the middle of major financial problems, a down on his luck southerner’s life begins to unravel when he accidentally runs over and kills a runaway girl.”

What was the inspiration for this idea?

Elijah:  Well, it was a number of things. First of all, just naturally the way I approach story, I always have a question I want to explore. I never want to answer the question. I want to raise the question and present both sides of the argument and let the audience drawn their own conclusion.

In this case, it was one of those cosmic or philosophical conundrums that I think all human beings deal with. At least I know I deal with it. It’s the question of does everything happen for a reason or is life completely random? Not exactly a novel idea, I know, but fascinating nonetheless. I don’t think there will ever be an answer to as long as I’m alive. So I wasn’t going to dare try to answer it.

In addition to wrestling with that over arcing question I also like to dig for the human story. I ask myself, what are the human truths or the elemental human experience that we’re tapping into? In the case of “Mississippi Mud” that was desperation. Desperation is the narrative through line for every character.

So I had those two ideas bouncing around in my head for awhile but couldn’t find a way to explore them. Then one day it all crashed together.

I was flipping through a magazine during a cross country flight and I stumbled across an article.  It was about a guy who was tending one of those gigantic 500 acre orange groves down in central Florida. He was an elderly man. The story has it he had a stroke or a heart attack or something and he fell off his tractor where he stayed for 18 hours.

The question entered my mind… If tragedy happens in the middle of nowhere, how does the universe sort itself out?

Right away I had this image of a man hitting a human being in his car.

Somehow I came up with all the other pieces and crafted what turned out to be “Mississippi Mud.”

Scott:  It sounds like what you’re talking about in terms of these really philosophical questions ‑‑ does everything happen for a reason or is it just random? What are the elemental experiences of human life? In this case, desperation. You’re starting off with a kind of thematic perspective. Is that fair to say?

Elijah:  Yeah. I see how it could sound overbearing but it’s actually quite comforting. I imagine it’s how old hunters felt during  dark and cold expeditions knowing they had a warm bowl of soup and a loving wife to come home to. I’m only half kidding.

Once you know what your theme is—once you know what you’re trying to say and what is grounding your story—you can come back to it whenever you’re stuck.  Every scene you write, every character you write, every word of dialogue you write, you’re able to go back to that theme.

It’s much better than finishing your first draft and realizing it’s simply not working and trying to reverse engineer a theme. I always think it’s easier from the onset. You know where everyone’s coming from, what’s driving everyone and what the story is saying.

Scott:  It reminds me of that quote I have on the blog from Francis Ford Coppola, who says, “When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was. The core in one word. In the Godfather, it was ‘succession.’ The Conversation, it was ‘privacy.’ In Apocalypse Now, it was ‘morality.’”

And you have “desperation” going on for these characters, right?

Elijah:  Yeah. That’s a great quote. Coppola actually stole that from me but who’s counting? Not to leapfrog, but “Hot Summer Nights” is about that burning primal desire to belong and the depths we’ll go to achieve it. I had a happy childhood so I really don’t know why I have this dark cynical mind when it comes to writing, but I always think “Okay, what’s the fundamental human condition at play here and what happens when it all goes south?”

That’s what really draws me to characters. What happens when we’re pushed up into the wall and we’re faced with this decision? What is the darker path that we might go down?

Scott:  I definitely want to get into that because if these two scripts are reflective of your overall creative sensibilities, that definitely shines through. There’s a darkness to them. Even the humor there is rather dark.

But let’s dig into “Mississippi Mud” in terms of characters so we can get a frame of reference. Some of the key characters, the main ones are Chase and Riley, a young married couple. They’re suffering financial distress. She’s six month’s pregnant. How would you describe this couple?

Elijah:  I was very careful when I was writing this not to make them too “likable”.

There’s this book, and I’m sure you’ve heard of it. I’m sure most screenwriters have heard of it. It’s called “Save the Cat.” The big premise there is have your character do something within the first five pages or so that make the audience like them and make us connect with them and sympathize with them.

If we can do that, then we’ll follow them to the edge of the earth. I was thinking about that. I was like, “Well, there’s a difference between sympathizing with someone and making them likable.” Here we have this couple, they’ve been struggling for years, they’ve never had a lot of money, they’ve never been in one profession for long, their house is being foreclosed, they have a child on the way and life just won’t quit being unforgiving.

At the same time, they’re not the most honorable and likeable human beings in the world. I really wanted to make that clear because I didn’t want it to be too neat and too clean. I didn’t want it to be like “look at these wonderful people and look at this terrible thing that’s happening for them, feel bad for them, damnit, feel bad”.

That’s really how I approached them. As far as who they are and what they represent, I always think it’s fun to take a societal norm or a cliché and flip it upside down and see what happens when you have the domineering wife and the more submissive husband.

Scott:  They get involved in a rather labyrinthine journey because there’s several other moving parts in terms of characters and their subplots. There’s this little girl, the runaway girl, and then there’s a big event which happens, which we’ve already seen in the plot summary so it’s not giving away anything, but basically Chase runs her over.

We are introduced to the father of this runaway girl, a character named Luther. There’s also a banker named Webb who Chase and Riley have gone to. Basically, he’s told him there’s nothing he can do for them, their house is going to be foreclosed on. Then you have a policeman named Sawyer and his partner who are trying to track down this missing girl.

How did that specific alignment of characters emerge in your creative process?

Elijah:  That’s a great question.  Building out your cast of characters is always a different process. Webb initially, after the first draft, he only had one scene and it was the second scene of the movie when Chase and Riley go into the bank and find out their house is being foreclosed. That was it. He was a plot contrivance. Poor guy.

I’ve always been fascinated with chaos theory, with the butterfly effect and the idea that we’re all, as human beings, interconnected somehow. And I think that’s even more prominent in a small town such as the one in “Mississippi Mud” so I felt Webb deserved a more integral role.

I think whenever you have a runaway girl it’s essential to show how her parents are being affected. So that’s how we get Luther. What would they do if their girl had run away? They would call the police. So that’s how we get Sawyer. I think a lot of it became logical in that way. I’m not sure if that answers your question, but that’s what I can remember my process being.

Scott:  I’d like to follow up on that Webb character because he’s actually quite an interesting figure and there’s a significant plot twist involving him. What I hear you saying is you had him in mind essentially to function as the voice of authority vis‑a‑vis the financial situation that Chase and Riley are at, but then over time that character emerged into a pretty substantial player in the plot.

Can you break that down, go into your memory a bit and see how that works? To me, that’s the most wonderful stuff about the story process, when you have a character that arrives for one scene and then all of a sudden they evolve.

Elijah:  Again, going back to what the anchor of the script was, and in this case it was desperation, as desperate as Chase and Riley were, who were our main characters, Webb was just as, if not even more, desperate. It was playing with those levels of desperation. Of course, Luther, the runaway girl’s father, the runaway girl’s mother, and even the cops were desperate on their own level. It was looking at the spectrum of desperation of these characters.

I realized had potential to be the most desperate character in this whole story and even though he’s not our protagonist we can show that morally he’s willing to descend even further than Chase and Riley were. Of course they killed the runaway girl and decided to cover it up, which is horrible in and of itself but Webb was willing to take it even a step further.

Again, it was going back to that question of how far will human beings and mankind go when they’re desperate and pushed up against the wall and all hope seems to be lost. He was just sitting there asking to be utilized and I hadn’t realized it until after the first draft.  When it hit me it hit me pretty hard. It was one of those moments when the clouds open up and little angels sing down at you. Those are always fun.

I remember changing the story very quickly. It was over the course of one night and I was able to write in all of the changes that you’re alluding to that became part of his much bigger story.

Tomorrow in Part 3, Elijah discusses how he managed to write dialogue set in the South when he has rarely visited the region and why he set the story for “Hot Summer Nights” in 1991.

To read Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Elijah is repped at Verve and Kaplan / Perrone.

Twitter: @BynumElijah.

Ten Career Lessons From An Oscar-Winning Producer

April 15th, 2014 by

I had a lengthy conversation yesterday with a Hollywood movie producer. Always interesting to see how their minds operate. I often talk about how we, as writers, should be able to put on our ‘producer’s hat’ in order to see our stories through their eyes. But what does that actually mean? How to think like a producer if you don’t work with them on a regular basis?

One thing you can do is read up on them. A number of movie producers have written books. Among the more notable:

* “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” Robert Evans

* “Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story,” Peter Guber

* “A Pound of Flesh: Perilous Tales of How to Produce Movies in Hollywood,” Art Linson

* “Hello, He Lied — and Other Tales from the Hollywood Trenches,” Lynda Obst

Then you can look for articles like this one: “Ten Career Lessons From An Oscar-Winning Producer”. That would be Jeremy Thomas, producer of such movies as The Last Emperor and Sexy Beast.

Here are a few of Thomas’ lessons:

Follow your heart.

“I’m a filmmaker, a film lover, historian, archivist. All those years of filmmaking, it was the same thing going on every time: ‘This could be something, I like it.’ People find this fact amazing. ‘But what about the market?’ Couldn’t give a shit. The market will be there next year. I want my films to be successful but it’s not in the hard drive in selecting what I’m doing. It’s one of the components of the process, but it’s all based on your taste. I can’t think of another way of judging what project to do. When you decide to make a film with somebody, you want to make it with that person. Support it 1000 per cent in that vision. That’s how you make a film.”

Ignore the critics.

“When I heard Crash had been banned in Westminster, I almost cut myself shaving. As a producer, you’re confused and amazed when that happens and you’re quickly protecting yourself, your film, your colleagues and your ideology. 80 per cent of my films are badly received when they first open, but that applies to many of my favourite films by Kubrick, Nic Roeg, Peckinpah, Orson Welles. Most of your favourite films are excoriated on opening by the critics but slowly [become recognised] over the decades. I’ve had a drubbing of my recent films. Don Hemingway wasn’t appreciated here, but it will be back. How can you not appreciate Jude Law’s performance? But you should read the reviews for Bad Timing, Naked Lunch and Crash. (Evening Standard’s) Alexander Walker described Crash as ‘a movie beyond the bounds of depravity.’”

Always persist.

“I loved the story of the Kon-Tiki expedition as a boy growing up in the ‘50s – it was a big story of six men on a raft across the Pacific – and I’d wanted to make it but (expedition leader) Thor Heyerdahl didn’t want to do it. A lot of people had tried to make it and he didn’t want to, even though his wife was keen. I made four trips to Tenerife to try to persuade him to give us the rights. It was a long courtship. I played The Last Emperor card – showing him that and other films [I’d made] – and finally he submitted. Maybe it was a certain time of his life and he was reflecting. Unfortunately, he died before it came out. Are there are other passion projects I’d like to do? There are lots of things, but I’m not going to tell you what they are. I haven’t tried South America as a continent and I’d like to make a film there.”

Come to think of it, those are solid lessons for writers, too.

Good producers are gold. If they get your material and get you, they can be your champion, fighting on your behalf. This producer I spoke with yesterday is doing precisely that with an interesting, but challenging project. Why? Because he is passionate about it and respects what the writer has done with the story. He can also see a “back of the napkin strategy” for getting it made.

Next time you sit down to assess a story idea to see if it’s worth writing, take some time to put on your producer’s hat. Look at it through their eyes. Does what you see in the story feel like it would fly with what they might see? If so, you very well may have a winning combination.

For the rest of the article with Jeremy Thomas, go here.

Go here to read my interview with movie producer Ted Hope.

Go here to read my interview with movie producer Mynette Louie.

If any of you have other resources featuring interviews with movie producers, please click Reply and post in comments. Thanks!

Movie Trailer: “Gone Girl”

April 15th, 2014 by

Screenplay by Gillian Flynn, based on her novel

A woman mysteriously disappears on the day of her wedding anniversary. Based on the novel, “Gone Girl.”

IMDB

Release Date: 3 October 2014 (USA)

A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 15

April 15th, 2014 by

This is the fourth year in a row I’ve run this series in April. Last week I provided a daily explanation about why you should make it a habit to be generating story ideas. This week, I’ll give you some tips on how to come up with stories.

Tip: Public domain

Laws vary from country to country, but if a person, event, book is considered to be in the public domain, then from a writer’s perspective, it is free content, you don’t need to secure any rights.

You want to adapt “Romeo and Juliet” into a contemporary gang shoot-em-up love story, you can do that.

You want to turn Abraham Lincoln into a vampire hunter, you can do that.

Straight adaptation, genre bend, gender bend, whatever you want to do, you can do it with a public domain entity. Plus the added benefit: Pre-awareness.

Today’s story: Woman hits multimillion scratchcard jackpot 4 times.

She’s been dubbed the ‘luckiest woman in the world’ — and with good reason.

Imagine every grain of sand on the planet and then multiply the total by 18. Those are the odds-to-one that Joan Ginther has beaten by winning a multi-million-pound lottery not once, not twice, but four times.

But some people are wondering if luck ever came into her success at all.

The 63-year-old American won all her jackpots in the Texas Lottery’s high stakes scratchcard games. The cards cost between £12 and £31, and there are three $10 million (£6.2 million) winners among every issue of three million scratchcards.

She bought three of her winning cards from the same petrol station in the dusty border town of Bishop (population: 3,300), where she grew up with her doctor father. The fourth winning card was bought in the neighbouring town of Kingsville.

Her latest £6.2 million win took her lottery haul to almost £13 million. The winning streak started with a £3.3 million scoop in 1993. In 2006, she won £1.4 million, and two years later she struck gold again with £2 million.

The homely-looking winner is coy about her success, declining to explain why she thinks she’s been so fortunate.

As for the Texas Lottery Commission, its spokesman says ‘she’s obviously been born under a lucky star’, stressing he did not believe there had been foul play. But others connected to the gambling industry beg to differ.

—-

More tellingly, she is a professional statistician, a former maths professor with a PhD from elite Stanford University.

And this is where the peculiar nature of scratchcards comes into play.

Lottery companies love us to think that scratchcards — by far their most lucrative earner — are a random game. But, of course, they aren’t, if only for the simple fact that the companies need to control the number of winners.

They are the lottery ticket with the worse chance of winning because a computer-generated algorithm — set of instructions — is used to determine where to distribute the jackpot-winning numbers within each run of scratchcards they print, ensuring they are scattered around the region.

Called a pseudo-random number generator, it produces a series of apparently random numbers, which are, in fact — as Ginther may have discovered — a predictable sequence.

Work out the sequence, say experts, and a pattern in the numbers is revealed.

—-

Was she secretly working on a whole new — and rather more lucrative — set of numbers? Whatever the case — and Ginther has offered no explanation about her winning streak — she would not be the first maths wizard to get rich at the expense of the gambling industry.

Okay, I’m going to try really hard to stay away from my default comedy mode. How about this: It’s 21 meets Twister? An action crime thriller.

Imagine one of those multi-state Mega Lottery deals. The jackpot has grown to a record $200M. Entire country in a fever pitch. Meanwhile there are two teams of ‘scratch trackers,’ who like tornado trackers try and figure out where the next winning lottery tickets will be sold. Each has their own algorithms. Each has their own team of drivers, surveillance, front men/women, and leaders. This is how they make their money: Figuring out which gas station, convenience store and market will likely sell the winning ticket.

They are rivals. They know each other. They stalk each other. A certain amount of respect and loathing between them.

They also have this in common: A genius math person on their team. Let’s say Team Cadillac has Joanna. Team Mercedes has Ricky. Socially awkward. Seemingly only interested in the math involved in the chase, the money a secondary consideration.

I say seemingly because what if Joanna and Ricky have grown to admire each other through the calculations they see at work in their rival’s forecasting the winning ticket sales locations. Sometimes he has outwitted her. Sometimes she has bested him. That has led to them surreptitiously interfacing with each other on some super secret sophisticated internet network. And over time, they have fallen in love, even though they have never met.

Plus they are tired at being made fun of by the others, their contributions minimized, their mental acuity taken for granted. What if they conspired to string their respective crews, nabbed a huge payout, bought an tropical island somewhere, and lived together blissfully for the rest of their lives?

So instead of this being a story about the big chase to see who will win the $200M jackpot, what if that happens at the end of Act One? Only it’s Joanna and Ricky who shock their respective teams, sneaking away to the true winning location, meeting there, getting the winning ticket, and off they go.

Now it’s a chase movie. The two rival teams, both royally pissed and out for blood, joining forces to find Joanna and Ricky. Throw in some law enforcement types who now believe they evidence of illegal gambling activities also in hot pursuit. And here are two relative innocents and young lovers, using only their super-genius minds to try to outwit those following them… all the while carrying the winning ticket worth $200M.

There you go: My fifteenth story idea for the month. And it’s yours. Free!

What would you do with it?

Each day this month, I invite you to join me in comments to do some brainstorming. Gender bend, genre bend, what if. Take each day’s story idea and see what it can become when we play around with it. These are all valuable skills for a writer to develop.

See you in comments (hit Reply to join the conversation). And come back tomorrow for another Story Idea Each Day For A Month.