Movie Trailer: “Ned Rifle”

September 16th, 2014 by

Written by Hal Hartley

NED RIFLE is the third and final chapter of Hal Hartley’s tragicomic epic begun with HENRY FOOL (1997, TIFF) and continued with FAY GRIM (2007). At once a saga concerning the Grim family of Queens and how their lives are turned upside down by the arrival of the self-proclaimed genius Henry Fool, the trilogy is also an illustration of America’s grappling with ideas, art, politics, and religion over the course of 20 years. In this swiftly paced and expansive conclusion, Henry and Fay’s son Ned sets out to find and kill his father for destroying his mother’s life. But his aims are frustrated by the troublesome, sexy and hilarious Susan, whose connection to Henry predates even his arrival in the lives of the Grim family.


Classic 70s Movie: “Young Frankenstein”

September 16th, 2014 by

September is Classic 70s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Barbara Thomas.

Movie Title: Young Frankenstein

Year: 1974

Writers: Gene Wilder & Mel Brooks, based on the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Poster Young Frankenstein

Lead Actors: Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr, Chloris Leachman, Gene Hackman

Director: Mel Brooks

IMDB plot summary: A young neurosurgeon (Gene Wilder) inherits the castle of his grandfather, the famous Dr. Victor von Frankenstein. In the castle he finds a funny hunchback called Igor, a pretty lab assistant named Inga and the old housekeeper, Frau Blucher (neigh!). Young Frankenstein believes that the work of his grandfather is only crap, but when he discovers the book where the mad doctor described his reanimation experiment, he suddenly changes his mind…

Why I think This is a Classic 70′s Movie: Parody films have been around as long as films have been around, but in the seventies, they became a legitimate (and profitable) genre. The best parodies don’t just spoof a particular style or genre, they stand on their own as funny, engaging stories. And that’s what we have here. Young Frankenstein parodies Universal’s old Frankenstein films not just in plot and tone, but by using period props, music, credit sequences, scene transitions, and its shot in black and white. But you can show it to a teenager today – who has no idea what it’s supposed to be parodying – and they will still laugh.

This film has humor, heart, stellar cast at their peak, co-writers Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks bringing out the best in each other, and even a snazzy song and dance number!

A clip from a feature on the making of Young Frankenstein:

My Favorite Moment in the Movie: I first saw this film as a child, via what I’m pretty sure was pirated HBO. I can still remember lying on the floor (because in those days televisions were giant pieces of furniture that sat on the floor) and watching Inga and Frederick find the secret entrance to Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. “Put. The. Candle. Back.”

As an adult, my favorite scene is the Creature’s and Elizabeth’s honeymoon, especially Madeline Khan’s throwaway line about the hamper for poo-poo undies.

My Favorite Dialogue in the Movie:

Inga: Werewolf!
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Werewolf?
Igor: There.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: What?
Igor: There, wolf. There, castle.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Why are you talking that way?
Igor: I thought you wanted to.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No, I don’t want to.
Igor: [shrugs] Suit yourself. I’m easy.

Key Things You Should Look For In the Movie: The many ad-libbed moments: Igor’s constantly moving hump, Frederick Frankenstein’s tossed dart hitting an off screen cat, the Monster’s strangled chorus of “Puttin on the Ritz” and the Blind Man’s punchline “I was gonna make espresso”, Frau Blucher’s “Ovaltine?”

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

You may visits Barbara’s blog featuring some of her short films here.

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

Thanks to all of you for your participation in this project, creating a resource for writers, movies we should all watch to help learn the craft of screenwriting!

Screenwriting 101: Scott Rothman

September 16th, 2014 by

“One of the big lessons I learned, when I wrote that script that got me into NYU. It wasn’t this great script, but it was definitely better than anything I had done prior. I had made a terrible movie with one of my really good friends in San Francisco a while ago. It was so much fun making a movie, but the script was terrible. I didn’t know it was terrible until we started shooting it and I saw it come to life. I knew I didn’t care enough about it, and no one else was going to care anything about it either, because of that. I think that was the first big jump my writing took, and I think why I was able to finally write something that was halfway decent, was like, ‘It needs to matter.’ It needs to matter to you. You’re not just doing this to entertain yourself, or to show that you can do it. It’s got to be much bigger than that. It needs a reason to exist and a reason for other people to rally behind it.”

– Scott Rothman (GITS interview, April 12, 2014)

Daily Dialogue — September 16, 2014

September 16th, 2014 by

“I tried so hard to make it go away. I thought that I could do it for you and for the kids. I can’t… I just… I can’t.”

Far From Heaven (2002), written by Todd Haynes

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Adultery.

Trivia: This was the last feature film to have an original score by Elmer Bernstein.

Dialogue On Dialogue: In movies, it seems like the act of adultery almost always comes to light. That can happen in a number of ways. In Far From Heaven, the revelation comes in the form of a confession. I suspect the more common manner is the affair being discovered. Anyone have any suggestions for those type of movie moments?

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

Reader Question: Given the odds against success, how do you keep motivated?

September 15th, 2014 by

Question from 14shari:

The road from unpaid screenwriter to paid screenwriter is long, winding and unpredictable. It’s not certain that you’ll ever be one. How can one keep yourself motivated?

Shari, what you say is true. The odds against success as a screenwriter or TV writer are long. Plus it may take many years before achieving even a modicum of financial success.

In the face of that, how to keep motivated? Let me propose three perspectives, each with a different tone. The first positive reinforcement. The second negative reinforcement. The third a plain simple truth.

Positive Reinforcement: Every year, writers break into the business. That’s a fact. Whether they write a spec script or original TV pilot, or make a short or feature-length film, they create a story that lands in front of the right people, and now they find themselves on the inside, not outside looking in. The numbers might not be huge, but at least several hundred writers per year manage to do it. If you want living proof, you need look no further than me: A complete Hollywood outsider with no formal training who wrote a spec script, sold it for a bunch of money, and saw it produced as a major studio motion picture along with a TV pilot and two sequels. The possibility of breaking in should be a strong motivational reminder.

Negative Reinforcement: If you aren’t writing, someone else is. Let’s face it: Being a screenwriter or TV writer is a competition. When we are not researching story, developing characters, generating concepts, reading scripts, watching movies, writing pages, and all the rest involved with honing our craft… other writers out there who are. That thought alone has been motivation enough to get my ass onto chair to write many, many times. Not a pleasant thought, but a persuasive image nonetheless.

Plain Simple Truth: I’m reminded of a story told to me that involves musician David Grisman, whose claim to fame is creating what is known as “Dawg” music, a mixture of bluegress (Grisman plays mandolin) and jazz. I should note for context, “Dawg” is Grisman’s nickname given to him by none other than Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead. As the story goes, a friend is talking with Grisman backstage at a music festival. Grisman patiently listens to his friend who is having some sort of life crisis. Should he do this, should he do that. On and on the friend goes until Grisman plants his hands firmly on the guy’s shoulders, looks him square in the face, then says this: “Do it. Or don’t do it. But you know. You… know.” Then walks away, happily strumming his mandolin.

The plain simple truth is you are either going to do this thing called ‘writing’… or not. Only the deepest part of your Creative Self and time will determine how that plays out. Every time you commit yourself to writing another story, another feature script, another original TV pilot, you are doing it.

You may choose not to do it. There is no shame in that. Chasing creative ambitions given the competition and odds against success is a crazy passion, and for some people, it’s just not worth it. In that case, I would choose to believe there is some other path for them to pursue.

So should you take up this new writing project or not? Should you do that scene-by-scene breakdown of the next movie you have on your list to watch or not? Should you do that sit-down session with the character in your story who has been so hard to get to know or not? Should you take yet another pass at revising this script or not?

Do it. Or don’t do it. But you know. You… know.

There you go, Shari. Three perspectives. Hopefully one to fit any mood you find yourself in. And for a little musical inspiration, here is David Grisman on “The Tonight Show” in 1979 with the David Grisman Quintet and the great jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli. Check out Johnny Carson’s reaction at the end of their song.

How about you, readers? How do you keep yourself motivated to write? I welcome your thoughts in comments!

An Argument Against Screenplay Formulas (Part 1): They are selling you a lie

September 15th, 2014 by

When I first broke into the business in 1987, there were just a handful of books about screenwriting. Now it’s become this “thing”. You can’t walk into a Barnes & Noble in some remote outpost like Minot, North Dakota and avoid slamming into a whole section of titles related to The Craft. Or more often than not selling The Fantasy. You know… this!

There is a burgeoning cottage industry of ‘screenwriting gurus’ selling what some call The Hope Machine. The Hollywood mansion. Tesla Roadster. Movie premieres. Write a script… strike it rich!

How to get there? If you’ve spent any amount of time clicking through the online screenwriting universe, you doubtless have seen ads with messages like these:

The secret to a million dollar spec script! How to write a screenplay that agents will want and studios will buy! Your bulletproof path to screenwriting success!

What many of these folks are selling — and that is their bottom line, to get you to buy their product — is a screenplay formula. To convince you they have some unique insight into screenplay structure that can somehow magically translate into a script Hollywood would feel compelled to acquire.

The assumption is that there is some right way to write a script. Their way.

I am here to tell you this: They are selling you a lie.

The truth? There is no ‘right’ way to write a script. Every story is different. Every writer is different.

Worse, the increased presence of these progenitors of screenplay formulas is having a negative effect, both with individual writers as they strive to learn the ins and outs of screenwriting, and the perception and practice of the craft of screenwriting in Hollywood.

As a screenwriter, teacher, and blogger, I intersect with hundreds of aspiring writers every year, and they convey to me two general complaints over and over again.

The first: Confusion. They have bought this book or that DVD, attended this weekend seminar or that webinar, dutifully devouring the wisdom of multiple screenwriting gurus, each with their own formula. And where the writer ends up is profoundly perplexed about how to write because the result is a confusing muddle of beat sheets, paradigms, sequences, and language systems.

The second: Critiqued. They have used the formula of this guru or that, and written one or more screenplays, but after getting them reviewed by pro script readers or entered into screenplay competitions, the response has been tepid. Maybe the screenplay formula they relied upon helped them craft a plot that falls into what is generally perceived to be a conventional narrative structure, but there is no life or unique voice to the story.

And that right there is the main problem: There can be no such thing as a bulletproof ‘screenplay formula’ because a good story feels organic. There is a vitality and life to it, unfolding in the moment scene to scene with surprising twists and turns.

Instead of thinking about Story as a sort of paint-by-numbers formula, I argue we are best served by starting here: Characters.

After all it’s their story, their story universe. They have been living it 24/7/365. Nobody knows who they are better than them. Furthermore they want us to tell their story. The story’s structure will emerge naturally by immersing ourselves in the lives of our characters, the arc of their personal destinies manifesting itself in the form of scenes and plot points.

In my view, strong character work is the single biggest antidote to the stultifying effects of formula-based writing. However characters are unpredictable and, therefore, harder to package into a marketable commodity. The people who sell the idea of ‘screenplay formula’ seem to prefer trafficking in widgets.

This beat goes here. That beat goes there.

Much easier to sell.

Hell, there are outfits around who promote story structure software.

Think about that.

Story. Structure. Software.

As if we can reduce Story to binary code.

Friends, this is a slippery slope that for most writers leads nowhere but to the expenditure of lots of money, a fundamentally shallow approach to screenwriting, and a slush pile of rejected scripts.

So this week, a series examining the very idea of ‘screenplay formula’ and why it is such a harmful concept.

Bottom line: Learn conventional wisdom. Understand generally accepted principles. But please, do yourself a big favor: Reject screenplay formulas.

They are not helping you nor the overall state of the screenwriting craft.

Tomorrow: Formulas lead to formulaic writing.

Movie Science: “Guardians of the Galaxy”

September 15th, 2014 by

Via FilmmakerIQ and Screen Junkies.

Twitter Rant: Eric Heisserer on Minimalist Screenwriting Style

September 15th, 2014 by

Eric Heisserer (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Final Destination 5, The Thing, Hours, Story of Your Life) is probably the Hollywood screenwriter most willing to go online and provide a Twitter rant on a specific subject related to the craft. Writer Tim Wainwright hosts a blog and has been posting Eric’s rants there for the last year or so.

After several GITS readers asked me about archiving screenwriting Twitter rants so they wouldn’t get lost down the online rabbit hole, I reached out to both Eric and Tim about hosting some of Eric’s previous rants here. They both thought that was a swell idea.

Today: Eric’s February 2014 Twitter rant on “Minimalist Screenwriting Style”:

All right my Twitter buddies, I wanna talk about a certain style of screenwriting. It will likely lead to today’s challenge.

I’ve seen a rise in a certain style of writing in the past few months. Half of the scripts I’ve seen use the “haiku” narrative style. By that I mean the extremely terse Walter Hill form of writing. Soft returns, loads of white space.

First off: Yay! Congrats to all of you swinging for this minimalist style. It’s incredibly hard to pull off. So let’s talk about pitfalls.

The Walter Hill minimalist style isn’t merely a matter of omission. You can’t simply cut out a ton of action and format the rest as a poem. Every choice must be a conscious one. We need to know who the characters are in a scene. What things look like. Details. Don’t be vague.

I’ve read scripts recently where the only description was character action, i.e. “Joe runs.” This is too minimal; non-cinematic.

Likewise, there should be reason why and when you choose a soft return. Usually that choice should be directorial in motive. Suggest a new shot with the new line. Or a movement within the shot to catch a detail. Make it a cinematic choice.

So the Tuesday Challenge is this: Try out the minimalist style for five pages with these constraints: 1) With each new location/room, pick three details in the location to describe at the head of the scene. Shine a light on three sensory tidbits (at least 2 visual). 2) When you introduce a character pick three words to describe them. Make 1 physical, 1 psychological, 1 metaphoric.

The Walter Hill style isn’t about omitting descriptive detail, but rather paring it down to poetics. Find the most powerful word and use it.

Do not write it like a kid in a dark room with a flashlight, waving it around and making light saber noises. Point it at the dead body.

The link to Tim’s blog post for this rant is here.

Eric has put together a book that arose from his Twitter exchanges: “150 Screenwriting Challenges” which is available for Kindle here.

Each day this week, I will be posting one of Eric’s Twitter rants via Tim’s blog.

You may see all of the Screenwriting Twitter Rants archived on the site here.

Thanks, Eric, for taking the time to share your insights with the online screenwriting community.

Thanks, Tim, for making the effort to aggregate Eric’s Twitter rants.

Movie Trailer: “Young Ones”

September 15th, 2014 by

Written by Jake Paltrow

Set in the future when water is hard to find a teenage boy sets out to protect his family and survive.


Release Date: 17 October 2014 (USA)

Classic 70s Movie: “All the President’s Men”

September 15th, 2014 by

September is Classic 70s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Arnaud Talaia.

Title: All the President’s Men

Year: 1976

Writers: Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward ( authors of the book) / William Goldman (screenwriter)

Poster All the President's Men

Lead Actors: Robert Redford & Dustin Hoffman

Director: Alan J. Pakula

IMDB Plot Summary: Reporters Woodward and Bernstein uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to President Nixon’s resignation.

Why I think this a classic 70s Movie: Watergate anyone? The biggest political scandal of the last century (relax now, W, I said, the LAST century : no need to lose the paintbrush…) happened right at the beginning of the 70s and this movie comes out 4 years after the Washington Posts white knights got on their horses and only 2 years after Nixon’s resignation.

Let’s join our hands for a minute, close our eyes and for those of you who had been born, let us remember the 70s. Do you feel the craving for it, the melancholy maybe?

This was the time when serious reporters did actually have some space to play investigative. This was a time when the press could call itself “the 4th power” in its own right. A time when bombs exploded on paper making real casualties amongst bad people with far too much power (for the kids reading : “paper” was kind of the same as an ipad except you had to move up the page in front of your eyes to be able to scroll down).

In fact, the very first image of the movie lets the viewer know that words are nothing less than a weapon, as a type writer crashes letters on a page with an amplified sound which would have had Bullit run for safety in ever tighter pants.

Sure, those reporters did have to pass their story through the unforgiving strander of their boss and their editorial board but that’s exactly the beauty of it! The whole movie is almost entirely about fact checking.

That’s it. Just that. The reputation of the Newspaper was on the line. And, as journalism ethic and wisdom would have it, the fountain of truth has to have many sources.

Easy you might say… And somewhere you’re right. Internet had yet to be invented. Reporters had some time to put in investigation. They were not yet in concurrence with bloggers and, come to think of it, I’m quite sure they had a salary too.

Ah, the good old days!

That is if you could bear the never ending white noise of 50 type writers and parkinson inducing phone dialers which you can accurately hear during 3/4 of the movie.

No wonder personal computers and touch pad phones were invented around that time !

All in all, “All the President’s Men” is a great piece about the anti-room of the 70′s History, adapted from the book of the very two men who uncovered the story of a President eavesdropping on his opponent and playing dirty tricks ( bad, bad President!). It’s a movie about professionalism, collaboration and free press. And it’s still a great watch!

My favorite moment in the movie:

Redford and Hoffman…

I mean, really : how good does that sound??

There’s a scene where the two reporters meet at Redford’s place to exchange notes. Hoffman plays the itchy caffeinated journalist who has been charming a witness into talking all night. He empties his pockets of napkins and wrinkled pieces of paper on which he wrote down information. Redford types feverishly on the typewriter.

The dialogue is flooding so easily, the alchemy between those two monsters is so sparkling that it hurts!

At one point, Hoffman and Redford face each other and the camera focuses back and forth on one actor at a time. Then suddenly, Hoffman gets a cookies jar and throws one crispy disk to Redford who catches it, adding matter of factly “I don’t want a cookie” and carries on with his line of dialogue.

If this was scripted, I wonder how many dead cookies find a last residency at the foot of the wall behind Redford. And if this was not scripted, well, these guys just showed what any playful actor can bring to the natural feeling of a scene. Loved this detail!

My favorite dialogue in the Movie: Bernstein and Woodward are bringing the news to their boss ( Ben Bradlee) that their lives could very well be in jeopardy. They take him outside his house for fear of being taped.

At that point of the story, the tension has gone up one more inch, yet the reporters don’t lose their cool and the character played by Hoffman shows he’s all the more ready to crack his wit into the wind!

Irony is best served cold in hot circumstances…

Bradlee: Surveillance? Who’s doing it?
Woodward: It’s been done. People’s lives are in danger. Maybe even ours.
Bradlee: What happened to that justice source of yours?
Bernstein: Well, I guess I made the instruction too complicated because he thought I said “hang up” when I said “hang on”…
Bradlee: Oh, Jesus.

Key things you should look for when you watch this movie: Pakula has been known for being a master at filming paranoia thrillers and this film takes the lead.

One scene plays specifically with our nerves when “Deep Throat”, the CIA secret informant disappears in a David Copperfield kind of way, leaving Redford all alone in a dark dark underground park house. As he walks back on the rain soaked and deserted street, he starts running anxiously. We start fearing for his life when he suddenly flips towards the camera, checking to see if he’s being followed. He’s paranoid and we get the jumps!

That was the moment I promised myself I’ll never stalk Redford ever again.

How about you?

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

You may follow Arnaud on Twitter: @bubblybull.

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

Thanks to all of you for your participation in this project, creating a resource for writers, movies we should all watch to help learn the craft of screenwriting!