Go Into The Story Week In Review: September 22-September 28, 2014

September 28th, 2014 by

Links to the week’s most notable posts:

“12 Things I Learned at Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School”

An Argument Against Screenplay Formulas (5 part series)

“BLACK LIST LIVE!” returns with “The Seekers of Perpetual Love”

Classic 70s Movie: Apocalypse Now

Classic 70s Movie: Carrie

Classic 70s Movie: Jaws

Classic 70s Movie: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Classic 70s Movie: Shampoo

Classic 70s Movie: Star Wars

Classic 70s Movie: Taxi Driver

Daily Dialogue Theme for Next Week: Politics

Declare Your Independents: Volume 31

Great Character: Donnie Darko (Donnie Darko)

Interview (Audio): James Schamus

Interview (Audio): Emma Thompson

Interview (Video): Richard Wenk

Interview (Written): Jill Soloway

Is this the model for a “next-generation film studio”?

Monologue as ‘sales pitch’

October is Great Scenes Month

On Writing: Rumer Godden

Quest Writing Workshop: Santa Monica, December 10-13, 2014

Reader Question: Should writers be concerned about projects that have similar concepts to theirs?

Reader Question: What does a “bidding war” mean and how does that happen?

Saturday Hot Links

Screenwriting 101: Rajiv Joseph

Screenwriting News (September 22-September 28, 2014)

Script To Screen: Batman

Six Book Trip To 2nd Annual Black List Screenwriters Lab

Spec Script Sale: “In the Land of Imagined Things”

Spec Script Sale: “The Eden Project”

The Business of Screenwriting: The crazed life of a studio executive

Twitter Rant: Justin Marks on script page count

Update: Matthew Hickman, Black List/Cassian Elwes Independent Screenwriting Fellowship winner

Writing and the Creative Life: Writing as Pilgrimage

“Conversations With Wilder”: Part 12

September 28th, 2014 by

Billy Wilder is my all-time favorite filmmaker. Consider just some of his movies: Double Indemnity (1944), Sunset Blvd. (1950), Ace in the Hole (1951), Stalag 17 (1953), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), an oeuvre that demonstrates an incredible range in a filmmaking career that went from 1929 to 1981.

One of the best books on filmmaking and storytelling is “Conversations With Wilder” in which Cameron Crowe, a fantastic filmmaker in his own right (Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) sat down with Wilder for multiple hours and they talked movies.

Every Sunday for the next several months, I’m going to post excerpts from the book, add a few thoughts, and invite your comments. I trust this will be a good learning experience for each of us. And while we’re at it, why don’t we watch some Wilder movies to remind ourselves what a great writer and director he was.

Today’s excerpt comes from P. 66-67 in which Wilder follows up on what I covered in the previous post about writing comedy:

BW: Like, for instance, one of the big laughs in Some Like It Hot. There was a scene that played about three or four minutes. That’s very long. That was the scene where Mr. Tony Curtis climbs up the back of the hotel, goes in the room, and there is Jack Lemmon with the maracas. He’s still singing the tune [from his evening with Joe E. Brown], and the maracas were very important. They were very important because I could time the jokes there. In other words, I say something, you say something, now I needed some kind of an action that helped time the joke. For instance, Tony Curtis comes up. He says, “Well, what’s new here?” [Does Lemmon:] “Well, you’ll be surprised, a little new here, I’m engaged.” Ya-dup-pap-pap-pap [shaking imaginary maracas]. Now I knew, when I cut back, I knew how long the laugh was gonna be…then I put in the other straight line, then comes another joke. But I timed it so that not one straight is lost. Because sometimes you have a straight line and the straight gets the laugh. So now you’re really dead, because they will not hear the payoff. They laughed over the straight line. And then they hear the top of the next joke already, without hearing the preparation. The rhythm is off. You have to be very, very careful.

For two years, I made a living doing what could charitably be called a ‘stand-up comedy act’. At least some people thought I was funny or else the clubs wouldn’t have kept hiring me. I learned many valuable lessons during that stint and one was about the critical importance of timing when it comes to humor. The rhythm of straight line – punch line, pauses between bits, the length of bits and not letting them play too long, callbacks and when to use them, and on and on. So much of comedy is about timing.

One problem with a movie, as Wilder notes, is because it’s not live, you can’t adjust pauses from audience to audience, you have to lock the picture and hope for the best your timing is such that it allows for the laughter of the crowd to play out just long enough before having a character say the next straight line. What Wilder discusses here in Some Like It Hot, using the maracas (“very important”) as “some kind of action that helped time the joke,” is something writers need to consider.

Here are the scenes in question. First, Jack Lemmon’s character (Daphne) dances the night away doing the tango with Joe E. Brown (Osgood Fielding III):

Next the scene Wilder discusses:

Let’s break down the dialogue between Lemmon and Tony Curtis (Josephine), noting the use of the maracas as a device to provide the audience time to laugh at each punch line:

Josephine: What happened?
Daphne: I'm engaged.
Josephine: Congratulations. Who's the lucky girl?
Daphne: I am.

Maracas!

Josephine: What?
Daphne: Osgood proposed to me. We're planning a June wedding.

Maracas!

Josephine: What are you talking about? You can't marry Osgood.
Daphne: Do you think he's too old for me?
Josephine: Jerry, you can't be serious.
Daphne: Why not? He keeps marryin' girls all the time.

Maracas!

Josephine: But... you're not a girl. You're a guy. And why would 
a guy wanna marry a guy?
Daphne: Security.

Maracas!

Josephine: Jerry, lie down. You're not well.
Daphe: Would you stop treatin' me like a child. I'm not stupid. 
I know there's a problem.
Josphine: I'll say there is.
Daphne: His mother. We need her approval. But I'm not worried
because I don't smoke.

Maracas!

Josephine: Jerry, there's another problem.
Daphne: Like what?
Josephine: Like your honeymoon.
Daphne: We've been discussing that. He wants to go to the Riviera, 
but I kinda lean towards Niagara Falls.

Maracas!

Jospehine with the straight lines. Daphne with the punch lines. And a break after each joke for Daphne to shake the maracas, creating the timing the scene needs to work with a movie audience.

If we reverse engineer the creative process whereby Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. “Izzy” Diamond came up with these bits, remember the whole dancing with Osgood thing came about because Joe (Josephine) prevailed upon Jerry (Daphne) to go out with the millionaire so Joe could have access to Osgood’s yacht in order to try to woo Sugar (Marilyn Monroe).

So a date. What would be funny in a visual way? Dancing. What type of dancing would offer the most opportunities for humor? The tango, a la the bit about the rose clamped between Daphne, then Osgood’s teeth. But they needed an object for Jerry to use in the follow-up scene with Joe to help “time the joke”. Maracas are from Latin America like the tango. How about that?

Done!

I should note, the maracas not only help with comedic timing, they’re also visual, playing to the cinematic nature of movies.

So much of writing comedy is about surfacing bits with potential for humor we can mine with the characters for an extended period of time. The tango bit in Some Like It Hot is a great example, plus reminding us of the importance of timing and visual storytelling.

Next week: More Some Like It Hot and “Conversations with Wilder. If you have any observations or thoughts, please head to comments.

For the entire series, go here.

Screenwriting News (September 22-September 28, 2014)

September 28th, 2014 by

Adam Brooks adapting “No Baggage” for New Line Cinema.

Charles Cumming adapting drama mystery “The Tracking of a Russian Spy” for The Picture Company.

Jason Filardi sells children’s book adaptation pitch “Floors” to Walt Disney Pictures.

Joe Henderson sells fantasy spec script “In the Land of Imagined Things” to Walt Disney Pictures.

William Monahan adapting New Yorker article “The Throwaways” for Paramount Pictures.

Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber adaptation of novel “The Rosie Project” lands Phil Lord and Christopher Miller to direct for Sony Pictures.

Bernard rose writing-directing remake of “Frankenstein” for Eclectic Pictures, Bad Badger, and Summerstorm Entertainment.

Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt iPhone horror game “The Drowning” for Radar Pictures.

Josh Singer adapting drama bio “First Man” for Universal Pictures.

Ian Stokell and Lesley Paterson adapting remake of “All Quiet on the Western Front” for Radar Pictures.

Classic 70s Movie: “Carrie”

September 28th, 2014 by

September is Classic 70s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Lyn Wheaton.

Movie Title: Carrie

Year: 1976

Writers: Screenplay: Lawrence D. Cohen, Novel by: Stephen King

Poster Carrie

Lead Actors: Carrie – Sissy Spacek, Margaret White – Piper Laurie, Sue Snell – Amy Irving, Tommy Ross – William Katt, Billy Nolan – John Travolta, Chris Hargensen – Nancy Allen

Director: Brian De Palma

IMDB Plot Summary: A young, abused and timid 17-year-old girl discovers she has telekinesis, and gets pushed to the limit on the night of her school’s prom by a humiliating prank.

Why I Think This Is A Classic 70s Movie: This movie provides a fascinating look into the cultural differences of the 70s, which now seem so long ago, as well as timeless similarities, common in today’s society. The all too familiar high school setting provides an expansive window for this comparison.

In my opinion, Carrie is more a psychological thriller than horror story. Regardless of how overblown in some aspects, this movie takes an honest look at bullying and groupthink, from both the victim and the bully’s perspective. The victim is granted a superpower, giving her the confidence one may not normally have, to shift that power dynamic.

When we meet the protagonist, she is showering after gym class and experiences her first period. This scene was unconventional for the 70s, a time where any talk of menstruation, in public, was vulgar. Despite the modesty of the times, Carrie is extremely sheltered and abused, by her fanatically religious mother, who goes door-to-door during the day, while Carrie is in school. Back then these zealots seemed aberrant nowadays they are making a comeback, in the form of mainstream movements.

The symbolism, so obvious, adds macabre humor to the movie while allowing the audience to speculate. The dinner table scene between Carrie and her mother, with a mural of the last supper as a backdrop, is an example of such imagery. Carrie tells her mother she wants to go to the prom, she wants be normal. The mother becomes more unhinged, perverting sex with views so severely skewed, we are left to wonder exactly what she had done that caused her to be so radically repentant and nutty. She calls her daughter the Devil’s child because of her powers, while the mother treads a fine line between dogmatism and being the Devil herself.

My Favorite Moment In The Movie: I have several favorite moments, based on the reasons highlighted above, that make this movie a 70s classic, for me:

>While Margaret White is ‘spreading the word’, she visits the Snell’s pleasant, “normal” suburban home, in a black cape. Mrs. Snell, a Doctor’s wife is watching the soap operas and having a midday cocktail.

>In true 70s fashion the gym teacher smokes while having a discussion with the principal. I’m sure this had no significance other than providing the ashtray, which falls victim to Carrie’s wrath. That was simply the way things were back then, and why I liked it so much now.

>Chris seeks revenge on Carrie, and in another of my favorite moments, because it is so true to the time period, we see Chris and her boyfriend, Billy (John Travolta) driving around, partying, in muscle cars. Billy’s friend tosses him a beer from the open window of his moving car and Billy catches it, while driving along side him. This depiction replicated things just as they were, at least for me, and I think for many of us that came of age in the 70s. The scene where Chris coerces Billy sexually, to get even with Carrie, is hilarious.

My Favorite Dialogue In the Movie: The stern lecture given by the Gym teacher to the popular girls for what they have done to Carrie, and the scene where the English teacher publicly ridicules Tommy’s poem, are moments so true to the decade and show how much times have changed. In this era, there was a clear delineation of power between adults and kids. The adults cared only about being respected and obeyed, which is in direct opposition to current day.

Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie: This script is a good study in hitting the formulaic beats of a 3-act screenplay. The beats to me, are easy to see and I have highlighted a few below. I also like the ‘Man in a hole’ gone wrong – at the risk of being a “spoiler” I will simply say, there are no tidy outcomes in this film. The symbolism, too, is considerable and hard to miss.

The inciting incident: The period, the blood, so religiously symbolic – causes Carrie to freak out and attract the attention, yet again, of the popular girls. They gang up on her and the gym teacher comes to her rescue. Here we first witness her telekinetic power as her anger builds. This moment sets the story in motion and in doing so, says so much.

Pacing: Carrie is dismissed from school. As she approaches the diabolically creepy house in which she resides, with her deranged bible-clinging mother, you can almost feel the cold air coming off the screen. The scene inside the house is high tension. Sissy Spacek plays the wounded child to perfection. The tension does not subside until we move to the next scene; a high school English class, where Tommy, the adorable football player, has written a poem and is being taunted by the teacher. The pacing in the film is consistent, moving in and out of extreme tension, to carefree, realistic, high school antics.

Character Arc: While the teacher is mocking Tommy’s poem, Carrie speaks up and says she really likes it. This begins Carrie’s transformation.

Up to this point we have seen Carrie deliberately exploring her superpower. When Tommy first asks Carrie to the prom, we see the broken character begin changing.

The major dramatic question: Will she or won’t she, say yes, to Tommy? At first, naturally distrusting, she flees. He persists and after much deliberation, she decides she wants to go.

The initial catharsis of the protagonist: Carrie, with her telekinesis starts feeling empowered and stands up to her mother. At this point a power shift takes place. This date with Tommy is the catalyst in which the character will never go back to being anyone’s victim again.

In or out of the hole, to what degree? The prom does not go as planned, but that is not the end. In my opinion, the end could have been better, I didn’t like it when I first saw the film in the 70s and still don’t, but I will let you decide for yourself. Good movie for Halloween viewing.

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

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!

Interview [Vidoe]: Richard Wenk (“The Equalizer”)

September 28th, 2014 by

Interview with Richard Wenk whose screenwriting credits include 16 Blocks, The Mechanic, The Expendables 2 and The Equalizer.

Daily Dialogue — September 28, 2014

September 28th, 2014 by

“Who are you?”

High Plains Drifter (1973), written by Ernest Tidyman

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Vengeance, suggested by Jon Raymond.

Trivia: The Bible verse on the wall of the church is Isaiah 53:3-4 which reads, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”

Dialogue On Dialogue: He is The Stranger. Originally the script had the character as the dead marshal’s brother, but Clint Eastwood excised that to make the character more mythic in nature.

Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Politics

September 27th, 2014 by

The Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Politics.

All the President's Men

“Nothing’s riding on this except
the first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press,
and maybe the future of the country.”

Lots of great angles with this theme. Political intrigue like The Manchurian Candidate. Political romance like The American President. Political comedy like Dave. Political drama like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

I welcome… nay, encourage your participation. You not only get your name in bright lights… okay, little black letters… on the blog for a day, you also receive my undying gratitude, and an additional 5% net profit points on the sale of your next spec script… which as we all know translates into zero dollars.

The usual drill:

* Copy/paste dialogue from IMDB Quotes or some other transcript source.

* Copy/paste the URL of an accompanying video from YouTube or some other video source.

I’d also ask you to think about why the dialogue is notable. Is there anything about the dialogue which provides some takeaway re screenwriting?

Here is our lineup for upcoming Daily Dialogue themes:
October 6-October 12: Punishment
October 13-October 19: Wedding Vows [Shari]
October 20-October 26: Overreacting
October 27-November 2: Madness
November 3-November 9: Seduction [Markham Cook]
November 10-November 16: Embarrassing Moment
November 17-November 23: Friendship
November 24-November 30: Proposal [Aamir Mirza]
December 1-December 7: Leadership
December 8-December 14: Quitting
December 15-December 21: Negotiation [Michael Waters]

Check this out: The GITS Daily Dialogue Topic Index! You can read about Liz and Allie, two sisters who are big fans of the blog, and were inspired to create the index. A great resource for writers looking for inspiration for their own dialogue writing. You can be a part of this proud tradition with your ideas for weekly themes and Daily Dialogue suggestions.

Please post your ideas for this week’s theme — Politics — in comments. Thanks!

If you have any ideas for Daily Dialogue themes, feel free to post as well. Thanks for your suggestions!

Interview [Audio]: James Schamus

September 27th, 2014 by

BAFTA (The British Academy for Film and Television Arts) has for several years hosted an annual series of screenwriter lectures. I have featured pretty much all of them here. Recently James Schamus, whose writing credits include Eat Drink Man Woman, The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hulk, gave a presentation with some rather controversial comments about the craft of screenwriting. Here is the audio:

For this year’s BAFTA Screenwriter Lecture series, go here.

Saturday Hot Links

September 27th, 2014 by

Time for the 153rd installment of Saturday Hot Links.

Today: The All Hail Withnail & I, The Finest Cult Film Ever!

Yes! Withnail & I is coming back! Restored print! Re-released! Happy, happy, joy, joy!

The little known story of how The Shawshank Redemption became one of the most beloved movies of all-time.

Related: Stephen King thought The Shawshank Redemption script was “too talky”.

Professors on food stamps: The shocking true story of academia in 2014.

14 genre features that dominated Fantastic Fest.

Related: 5 reasons Fantastic Fest deserves your respect.

4 other notable White House security breaches.

Former Warner Bros. head Jeff Robinov’s new company Studio 8 to make movies with budgets between $45-100M.

The secret emotional lives of 5 punctuation points.

5 tips from Tina Fey on becoming a movie star.

15 reasons you need an otter as your best friend [photos].

What’s behind Hollywood’s renewed interest in political movies.

Summer of 2014 was the hottest on record (temperature, not box office).

There are just so many things wrong with the NYT’s Shonda Rhimes article.

Related: Shonda Rhimes responds.

Producer Ted Hope explains how superhero movies define America to viewers abroad [video].

What it’s like to survive a plane crash.

Emma Thompson on her writing process: A yoga mat, a vacuum cleaner and lots of crying.

All poems are about death.

15 memorable ABC Movies of the Week.

After 9 years, The Edge finally gets permission to build 5 mansions in Malibu.

11 book sequels you probably didn’t know existed.

Watch Emma Watson’s inspiring U.N. speech on feminism [video].

7 ways to beat procrastination.

TV is viewed as holding more promise for screenwriters than movies.

The origins of 10 nicknames.

11 creative film interpretations you probably hadn’t considered.

8 fascinating secret societies and Bohemian clubs.

5 reasons Groot (Guardians of the Galaxy) is the greatest hero of the 21st century [video].

Watch Steven Spielberg’s niece get eliminated on “The Voice” (Israel) [video].

7 jobs your inner child would love.

The 100 guy movies everyone should see.

How do you rhyme in sign language.

Alaska TV news reporter quits on-air to run marijuana business [video].

Apple sets record with first weekend iPhone 6 sales.

What would happen if everyone jumped at once.

Did you know The Laugh Factory in L.A. has an in-house psychologist to help keep comedians sane.

Why safety is bad for children.

“Men In Blazers”: How producer Michael Davies became a TV soccer commentator.

California’s drought is considered to be “epic”.

University of Baltimore announces a course based on Marvel movies.

Does solar energy have a battery problem.

We are near the end of civilization as we know it.

Save the world… by changing how you pee?

Mark Gordon to receive Producers Guild “Norman Lear” Award.

Meet the college women who are starting a revolution against campus sexual assault.

The story behind the 21 year rift between Bill Murray and Harold Ramis.

Three 16 year-old girls win Google’s science competition.

See the 22 Jump Street end credits gallery.

14 wonderfully odd American newspaper names.

5 ways Larry Ellison has made his mark on Hollywood (so far).

7 sentences that sound crazy but are still grammatical.

Steven Soderbergh created a black-and-white version of Raiders of the Lost Ark, new soundtrack, no dialogue [video].

12 toys from the 1980s that didn’t take off.

Why there are 23.4M people watching “The Big Bang Theory”.

Humanity’s most famous mixtape is now 11 billion miles from Earth.

The 25 best French films distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

The 100 most important cat pictures of all time.

10 celebrities who spied on the side.

The case for delayed adulthood.

The 100 best “Simpsons” episodes to stream.

Should you hope to die at 75? Absolutely not.

“True Detective: Season 2″ leads announced: Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn.

U.N. backed study: Film industry perpetuates gender discrimination.

How do you filter content in the age of abundance.

20 things you might not know about Pulp Fiction.

Who’s smarter: New Yorkers or Los Angelenos [video].

10 forgotten inventors who created film as we know it.

Why the Rockefellers are betting on renewable energy.

Why the Hollywood sign disappeared for a day.

Who discovered coffee.

The top 10 saddest robot deaths in movies and TV [video].

KLM uses a beagle to deliver lost items to passengers [video].

The best documentaries of 2014 so far.

Writers selected for the first Amtrak residency program.

15 great F. Scott Fitzgerald quotes.

Related: James Franco “SNL” documentary finally getting released.

12 famous actors who were completely cut from movies.

10 of the worst key changes in music.

Filmmakers to get FAA OK for drones to hit skies.

What happens when we all live to 100.

10 female directors who deserve more attention in Hollywood.

If you are a college football fan, you should check out this site.

This is how Kirsten Dunst feels about selfies [video].

Great Writers Guild Foundation event on October 14: Simon Kinberg interviewed by John August.

How did Robert Zemeckis film the opening to Back to the Future.

14 projects up for San Francisco Film Society grants.

Ridley Scott says the alien from Alien movies is gone forever.

Russian politicians propose boycott of American films.

The complete series of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” to be re-released on DVD.

A map of everyone Liam Neeson has killed in movies.

Unleash your lady rage with this supercut [video].

If The Fault in Our Stars were honest, it’d be called Cancer F*cking Sucks [video].

Great review of screenwriter Arash Amel’s comic book “Butterfly”.

Guardian interview with John Cusack: “Hollywood is a whorehouse and people go mad.”

Watch Batman’s parents keep dying in supercut [video].

5 great web series you should be watching now.

Will this be the whitest Oscars in decades.

Ridley Scott says Blade Runner 2 script is done.

Disney animated movie timeline: Chronological order based on historical setting.

Finally the Bitter Script Reader: There’s no one right way to get to the destination.

Screenwriting Master Class tip of the week: You don’t have to spend a dime to learn the craft of screenwriting. You don’t have to buy any books or DVDs. You don’t have to attend seminars or classes. You don’t have to pay attention to gurus or teachers.

You can learn what you need to know by immersing yourself in the work: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages.

What Screenwriting Master Class offers is this:

* Solid screenwriting theory grounded in decades of experience working as writers in Hollywood.

* Guidance in putting that theory into practice on your story.

* A structured supportive environment in which to prep your story, write a first draft, and rewrite it.

* Craft classes to help prepare you for life as a professional screenwriter.

* Analysis of the business side of the craft.

All of this and more can speed your learning process and allow you to avoid making mistakes which can hinder your progress.

Yes, you can learn the craft entirely on your own. However if you are consider seeking professional guidance, check out Screenwriting Master Class.

For more information, go here.

We look forward to the opportunity to work with you!

Classic 70s Movie: “Apocalypse Now”

September 27th, 2014 by

September is Classic 70s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Rahul Prasad.

Movie Title: Apocalypse Now

Year: 1979

Writers: Written by John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola, based on Joseph Conrad’s book “Heart of Darkness”

Poster Apocalypse Now

Lead Actors: Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Marlon Brando

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

IMDB Plot Summary: During the U.S.-Viet Nam War, Captain Willard is sent on a dangerous mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade colonel who has set himself up as a god among a local tribe.

Why I Think This Is A Classic 70s Movie: Whoa! What a loaded question this is! And half a page? I could write page after page why I think this is a classic movie period! Not just a 70s classic. I don’t think you could try and encapsulate why this is such a classic without knowing about or watching the documentary “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse”.

The journey of the production is as riveting as the movie itself. Indeed, the mere fact that Coppola was able to find a movie, let alone a classic, out of the troubled production (sets destroyed by typhoons that struck the Phillipines, Sheen suffering a heart attack, money running out which meant Coppola nearly went bankrupt and Brando turning up on set overweight and not having learnt his lines with production being shut down for a week as Coppola and Brando discussed ways around filming his character). As Coppola himself admitted, “There were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money and little by little went insane”.

The movie itself deals with Willard’s journey upriver through the jungle and him being witness to the slow descent into madness of all those around him. His reason for taking on the mission to terminate Col. Kurtz has as much to do about him trying to escape the madness and his own insanity than it has to do with him being a soldier. As he reads the dossier on Kurtz he understands that Kurtz and him are alike and much the same. However he also knows that if he descends into the evilness around him, he will never escape. Having barely recovered from a breakdown at the start of the movie when we meet him, Willard sees Kurtz as his evil mirror image and feels he has to kill him to cleanse his soul and return home with some semblance of a normal man (having failed to do so from his previous tour of Vietnam).

Coppola bravely and very wisely depicts the excesses of the Americans throughout the movie. Without trying to understand their enemy, the US Army and the soldiers wreak havoc and destruction wherever they go evidenced by the all out helicopter gunship attack on a enemy village replete with Wagner blasting out from speakers as they approach led by the fearless and surf-loving leader, Lt. Col. Kilgore (an electric and mesmerizing performance by Robert Duvall). Indeed, these scenes in the first act of death and destruction are gorgeously filmed by Vittorio Storaro and exquisitely mounted and elaborate set-pieces (the napalm air-strikes) convey the epic proportions of the scale of devastation left in the wake of the US involvement in Vietnam.

The film explores themes of isolation and loneliness and attempts by the US Army and soldiers to make themselves feel at home (surfing waves, sitting by a fire playing guitar and drinking beer and eating comfort food, lusting after and fighting with each other to get at Playboy playmates at a concert). To cope the men around Willard turn to drugs, booze and masking their faces and indulging in increasingly erratic and reckless behavior.

Coppola also explores the theme of power and its misuse in a lawless world where smaller acts of crime (Kurtz’s murder of South Vietnamese double agents) are punishable but larger acts of violence are rubber-stamped as important victories in the fight for freedom. Overall, Apocalypse Now explores the darkness within us all and is a cautionary tale of the spiraling nature of the descent into evil accompanied by insanity that we can so easily succumb to and once caught within the vortex find so hard to escape from.

My Favorite Moment In The Movie: The whole helicopter gunship assault sequence. From the Wagner music score blasting from the speakers, to Kilgore wanting Lance (Sam Bottoms) to surf the six foot peak waves as the village around him is being bombed followed by the Napalm air-strike sequence is nothing short of surreal in the most spectacular way. Gorgeously filmed and shot, it comes at you within the first 20 minutes of the start of the movie and immediately gives you an insight into the madness, insanity and the hopelessness of that situation.

My Favorite Dialogue In the Movie:

Kilgore: Smell that? You smell that?
Lance: What?
Kilgore: Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that.
[kneels]
Kilgore: I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn’t find one of ‘em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like
[sniffing, pondering]
Kilgore: victory. Someday this war’s gonna end…

Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie: While it may seem to be just a war movie, Apocalypse Now is much more than that. Themes of abuse of power, loneliness and isolation in foreign lands, descent into evil, journey into the mouth of madness, the greed and excess of man, wanton death and destruction and disregard for human life and liberties in the name of justice and freedom are all explored within this film. Apocalypse Now also heavily informs us that the worst dangers and evil lurk not around us but within us and once we have descended into the darkness it is virtually impossible for us to find our way out with our sanity intact. The heavy toll that war inflicts on us not just physically but also on our soul is explored through Willard’s journey to find Col. Kurtz (he’s trying to find himself) and terminate him (again, he is trying to kill his demons so he can go back home with some semblance of normalcy so he can survive a new jungle).

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

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!