Daily Dialogue — January 23, 2015

January 23rd, 2015 by

“I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!”

The Wizard of Oz (1939), screenplay by Noel Langley & Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf, adaptation by Noel Langley, book by L. Frank Baum

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Threat.

Trivia: In 1898, Dorothy Louise Gage was born to the brother and sister-in-law of Maud Gage Baum, wife of author L. Frank Baum. When little Dorothy died exactly five months later, Maud was heartbroken. Baum was just finishing “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and, to comfort his wife, named his heroine after Dorothy, changing her last name to Gale in his second book. Dorothy Gage was buried in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery in Bloomington, Illinois, where her grave was forgotten until 1996 when it was rediscovered. When Mickey Carroll, one of the last existing Munchkins from the movie, learned of the discovery, he was eager to replace her deteriorated grave marker with a new one created by his own monument company. The new stone was dedicated in 1997 and the children’s section of the cemetery renamed the Dorothy L. Gage Memorial Garden, in the hope that bereaved families would be comforted in thinking of their lost children as being with Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz”.

Dialogue On Dialogue: One of the most memorable lines of threatening dialogue in cinema history.

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

The Year of a Bunch of Totally Solid Movies

January 22nd, 2015 by

An informative look by the Black List’s Terry Huang at the movies of 2014:

It’s a sentiment that has been expressed enough to seem worthy of note:

2014 perhaps wasn’t the best year for movies.

When thinking about this year in comparison to other years and in particular last year, which had both Gravity and 12 Years a Slave, should we feel shortchanged?

Well, first off, we need to distinguish two things when deciding our definition of a “good” year for film.

1. The actual quality of films released. Were there fewer good films released this year? How do the “best of the best” stack up against previous years (Oscar contention)? Was there an abundance of bad films? Was it a year of more mediocre movies?

2. The perception of the quality of films released. This takes into account the same variables above, except we need to add an element of how well publicized, distributed, and/or patronized the good movies were compared to the bad movies. Collectively, were bad movies more present than good ones? Were people simply unaware of the good films?

The Best of the Best

In our collective memory years from now, we’ll probably only remember the greats. So it’s worth exploring, independently of all the junk, the most highly-rated films of the year. This won’t tell us overall the quality of film, but it will tell us if this year produced films that will filter into our future canon.

For this analysis, I’ll be using Metacritic as a proxy for quality of film.

Why use Metacritic over Rotten Tomatoes? Basically, Metacritic answers more granularly “how good” the movie was, not just what percent of critics liked it. It also favors more established, well-regarded critics. There’s a long explanation you can check out, and you can also reference Metacritic’s own explanation of how they calculate the score. I’m not saying it’s better; it just tells you something slightly different.

Why use Metacritic instead of anything else? Well, mostly because it already exists, it broadly tracks movies, and we’ve all heard of it, so we have a common reference point.

Let’s just look at the Metacritic scores of the top 10 films by year, regardless of how widely distributed they were.

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
#1 100 99 96 97 94 99 95 95 100 100
#2 93 98 94 94 94 95 94 94 100 95
#3 92 91 92 92 92 94 90 92 97 95
#4 92 91 92 91 89 92 89 92 97 92
#5 90 90 91 89 89 91 89 90 96 91
#6 89 89 90 86 88 90 88 88 94 91
#7 88 89 89 86 88 90 87 87 94 90
#8 88 89 88 85 87 88 87 87 93 90
#9 87 89 88 85 86 88 87 87 93 89
#10 87 88 88 84 86 88 87 87 92 89
Average 90.6 91.3 90.8 88.9 89.3 91.5 89.3 89.9 95.6 92.2

So looking at the “best of the best,” this year was actually the second highest scoring year in the last 10 years, right behind 2013. That sounds like a pretty strong year for film! 2013 was an exceptionally strong year (the average is 3.4 points higher than 2014). Coming off 2013 probably skews our perspective a little about the quality of 2014.

I’ve been telling people the same thing: We’ve had a couple of years with some superior movies. For 2014, Boyhood, Birdman, Selma, Whiplash, Nightcrawler, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Edge of Tomorrow, Interstellar, The LEGO Movie, Gone Girl, The Fault in Our Stars are movies that easily spring to mind. I’m sure I’ve forgotten several others.

For all you numbers people, check out the rest of Terry’s post here as he really gets granular re the movies of 2014.

Twitter: @terrykhuang.

Check out the Black List blog here.

Interview (Part 4): Alisha Brophy & Scott Miles (2014 Nicholl Winners)

January 22nd, 2015 by

Alisha Brophy and Scott Miles wrote the original screenplay “The United States of Fuckin’ Awesome” which won the duo a 2014 Nicholl Fellowship in screenwriting. Alisha, Scott and I had a great interview which I will be rolling out in 6 installments this week.

Today in Part 4, Alisha and Scott continue their discussion about “The United States of Fuckin’ Awesome” and what it as like to win the Nicholl Fellowship:

Myers:  Let’s talk about tone, because there’s broad and then there’s broad. Were there things you included originally in the script that you felt, “It doesn’t work.” How did you determine the tone? How did you determine what was going to stay in and what had to get cut?

Alisha:  It’s funny because at the Nicholl’s ceremony, the scene that they had the actors read aloud was the brothel scene which was fun. It was a perfect choice. But, a lot of the rest of the script is more action, adventure, and less raunchiness. In fact, most of the raunchier lines are in Act One, establishing this world, and then we go on the fun journey through it.

We don’t try and ever push the raunchiness to just be edgy. Our goal is purely to be funny.

In fact, we cut things that we felt fell a little outside of our comfort zone, including some old‑timey sexual devices that may have be lying around in that brothel scene in earlier drafts. It didn’t add to the humor for us. We also never do…I can’t say it–

Scott:  –Scatological.

Alisha:  We never try and see if we can outgross anyone. Any of the raunchiness is purely for the comedy.

Myers:  The humor, yeah. Part of that, too, is not only the tone, but also you created this screenplay universe, you have certain rules or physics of the universe. There were couple of times, for example, there’s a scene where you’ve got topless working girls. Each set of boobs boasts a colony sash, Miss Delaware, Miss Vermont, all 13 of them. Which is funny. But it stands out because that’s like a 20th century beauty contest thing.

Scott:  We only allowed ourselves a few of those such moments. We obviously are staying away from most of the anachronisms, but stuff like that, we thought, “Well, it’s a really funny joke to us and as long as we give ourselves only a handful of those and they are more subtle and you can argue it either way then let it stay.”

Myers:  We all know about how each scene is supposed to move the plot forward, but you have some moments that just seem to exist simply because they’re entertaining. Like where Ben Franklin’s been counterfeiting money…

Alisha:  Oh, yeah.

Myers:  These three Founding Fathers compare counterfeit bills…”You put yourself on the 100‑dollar bill?” Jefferson’s on the two and Washington’s on the one. I thought that was so clever.

Alisha:  Right.

Myers:  And it doesn’t really add anything to the plot per se. It’s just a moment between these characters strictly to entertain.

Alisha:  That’s the thing. Once the characters were solidified, this is what they would argue about. How can you take these three guys and have a scene where you put them in a strip club, basically, where there’s going to be money thrown around. How do you not go for that kind of joke and that kind of conflict?

Myers:  Let’s talk about this the old adage, “Give them a big ending.” Your script certainly has that. It sounds like that the roots of it go back to the Manic Pixie Dream girl thing.

Scott:  Kind of. Yeah.

Myers:  In some ways the ending might have been there even before you had committed to writing the script.

Scott:  I think we knew we wanted it to be this big thing with fireworks and we’ll bring back all the characters that we’ve seen throughout the movie, have them part of that big finale.

Myers:  How many drafts of the script do you think you wrote before you submitted it to the Nicholl?

Alisha:  Each time we write together, we get more and more outline‑heavy. There were many drafts of the outline before we ever hit pages. It’s a little hard to answer just because our outlines get really, really detailed. They’re almost like a script without dialogue.

Myers:  Double space them, and put the dialogue in, and you got a script.

Alisha:  Yeah.

Myers:  You submit this to the Nicholl. Describe that process and how that all unfolded.

Alisha:  Scott and I had already landed on the Hit List with the script. And we had been a semifinalist with it the year before. The Nicholl is so prestigious and having a friend have won it you see, first hand, how life changing it is.

So, it wasn’t even something we talked about. It was just, “Oh, look. Nicholl deadline is coming up. Let’s throw USofFA back in the mix and see what happens.” You don’t have to win the Nicholl to have it affect your career.

In fact, Manic Pixie Dream Girl placed pretty high in the Nicholl. Just the script placing high and the log line getting passed around town got us our manager, Ashley Berns at Circle of Confusion. So, the Nicholl was already affecting our career long before this win.

Myers:  You’re finalists at this point, right?

Alisha:  Mm‑hmm.

Myers:  That was big news.

Scott:  Right.

Myers:  Then you got the call. What were the circumstances there?

Scott:  I was sitting in traffic when I got the call, which was perfect. Stuck in my car with nowhere to go, having just come off of a really long day at work. Definitely a great place to have such a life‑changing call. I was like, “Maybe, I won’t have to be sticking in this traffic much longer.”

Myers:  How about you, Alisha?

Alisha:  For me, I was at work boxing up a room of books. Los Angeles was in the middle of a heat wave. I was moving heavy boxes of books down a staircase to my car when I got the call.

I was standing outside a coffee shop. I did this crazy, little dance, and made some weird noises… the patrons definitely took note. It was the best feeling. I called my mom, and then called Scott, and then realized that I still have to unload that entire car full of books.

Myers:  Irony!

Alisha:  [laughs]

Myers:  And your experience at the recent Nicholl Award ceremony in Los Angeles?

Scott:  Amazing.

Alisha:  It was the best night of my life.

Myers:  What’s the status of the script at this point?

Alisha:  It’s still available. The way we see this is we don’t see it as a period comedy in earnest.

We see it more as Drunk History or Monty Python, where part of the humor comes from doing it on the cheap, and letting that be part of the joke.

Myers:  Like Monty Python and the Holy Grail?

Scott:  Exactly!

Tomorrow in Part 5, Alisha and Scott answer questions about the craft of screenwriting.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

The duo is repped by Paradigm and Circle of Confusion.

Twitter: @alishabrophy, @scottmiles.

Film: “Great Directors”

January 22nd, 2015 by

From ANISMA FILMS:

Great Directors, directed by Angela Ismailos, features conversations with ten of the world’s greatest living directors: Bernardo Bertolucci, David Lynch, Liliana Cavani, Stephen Frears, Agnes Varda, Ken Loach, Todd Haynes, Catherine Breillat, Richard Linklater and John Sayles. The film documents Ismailos’ voyage of discovering the creative personalities behind the camera. She explores the filmmakers’ artistic evolution and personal identity, the role of politics and history on their work, and the agony and dilemmas in the creative process. It also examines the challenges of being an artist in an age of commercialism and globalization. The film traces the influence of cinematic movements and iconic directors on these directors’ work-from the role of Neo-Realism in Bertolucci’s evolution to the influence of Federico Fellini on David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman on Catherine Breillat and Rainer Werner Fassbinder on Todd Haynes.

HT to Indiewire for the link.

Classic 60s Movie: Fail Safe

January 22nd, 2015 by

January is Classic 60s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Rick Dyke.

Movie Title: Fail-Safe

Year: Released in U.S. – October 7, 1964

Writers: Walter Bernstein (screenplay) , from the novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, Peter George (uncredited)

Poster fail-safe

Lead Actors: Henry Fonda, Larry Hagman, Walter Matthau, Frank Overton, Dan O’Herlihy

Director: Sydney Lumet

Plot Summary: American bombers are sent by mistake to drop nuclear bombs on Moscow due to a technical problem. Can the bombers be stopped in time? Will a nuclear disaster be avoided?

Why I Think This Is A Classic 60s Movie: I remember as a young child, while travelling with my parents, watching an atomic bomb explosion on television in a darkened motel room and asking myself, “ Is this happening right now?” For those of us that lived through parts of the Cold War, we can remember that fear was palpable. While the Cold War was a major theme of the 50’s, it peaked in the early 60’s with the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis, which occurred in October 1962. For those that lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, they can remember the widespread fear that swept this nation, and the world, like a plague. Everyone was afraid that nuclear war was imminent.

Fail-Safe is a classic 60’s movie because it captures that fear, the tangible fear of the Cold War. What makes matters worse is that the situation is totally out of control. There is nothing that anyone can do to stop this tragic event. The story, the directing, the black & white cinematography, the acting, and the editing all contribute to the feeling of fear and the hopelessness of the situation. Even the end of the film, the resolution of the problem, does not leave a sense of relief. It leaves you with a claustrophobic sense of “What have we done?” Many 60’s and early 70’s films do not have happy endings. The situation in our world was too complicated, there were no easy answers and certainly no “Hollywood” happy endings.

The 60’s was about the destruction of the “establishment” and a statement that what we had built in the 50’s and earlier was not working. The real-world events of the early 60’s, like the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations all show the destruction of the establishment. The demise of the old studio system in Hollywood in the late 60’s is another example. Fail-Safe fits perfectly into this era.       

My Favorite Moment In The Movie: I’ll mention two moments:

The US bombers are just reaching Soviet air space and the President has ordered everyone to help the Soviets shoot them down so they won’t drop their nuclear bombs on Moscow. The President instructs the control center to do whatever it takes to help the Soviets shoot down the jets. The Soviets ask if the US missiles on the jets are infrared and radar equipped, a technical secret. The US General instructs someone to answer the question. He does not respond. The Colonel asks someone else. He does not respond. Finally on the third request the question is answered and a way to make the missiles ineffective is communicated. All of a sudden the US bombers are ineffective in defending themselves. Has the soldier betrayed his county or done the right thing? The internal strife and conflict is intense because we are in new territory where the old rules don’t always work. Our foundations are being destroyed.

The bombers are nearing their targets and must check in one more time before completing the mission. At the same time the Russians are using a last-ditch effort to destroy the plane by exploding a wall of warheads near the plane. When the commander checks in, his wife is on the other end trying to convince him that everything is fine, there is no war, and he should not drop his bombs. The commander is silent, fighting the urge to give in, and his wife begins screaming that everything is fine, please answer, while his co-pilot and other crewmen are yelling instructions to avoid the missile attack. The editing here is frantic, just like the voices, as the tension builds. Ultimately the pilot cannot listen to his wife – he is trained to believe it is probably a Soviet ploy, and the plane’s strategy to avoid the missile attack is successful.   The bomber will succeed in dropping their bombs on Moscow. The bomber crew is successful, but we, the viewers, know it only means death and destruction for no reason. Our tragic flaw cannot be avoided. Our doom is out of our control.

My Favorite Dialogue In the Movie: The dialogue in this film is very straightforward. It is a description of the action as well as stating the tough decisions that must be made. The best lines of dialogue are when the characters state their feelings about the situation they are in.

Billy Flynn: That’s policy, Grady. Eliminates the personal factor. Everything’s more complicated now. Reaction time’s faster. You can’t depend on people the same way.
Colonel Jack Grady, USAF: Who do you depend on?
Officer: Alright, gentleman. The sky awaits.
Colonel Jack Grady, USAF: You know something, Billy? I like the personal factor.

General Black: You’re justifying murder.
Professor Groeteschele: Yes, to keep from being murdered!
General Black: You learned too well, professor. Now, there’s no difference between you, and what you want to kill.

Colonel Jack Grady, USAF So I’m taking her in low. When we’re over the target… climbing to 5,000  feet. Bombs are set to go at 5,000 feet . . . . We’ll go with them. Okay?
Airman: What the hell. There’s nothing to go home to anyway.

One of the most dramatic pieces of dialogue is not a word, but a sound – the high-pitched squeal of a phone melting.

Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie: This movie is not subtle. In fact, one criticism against it is that it is too melodramatic. But when you are talking about the unavoidable deaths of millions of people can you, should you, be subtle?

The movie is shot in black and white. The subject matter requires the dramatic abstraction that black and white brings. The movie would not have as dramatic an impact if it were shot in color. It is interesting that Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove is also shot in black and white.

In addition to being in black and white, the lighting is high contrast with strong shadows. Faces are shown in half light and half dark as they are forced into life and death decisions. At an important moment in announcing his decision on how to deal with the situation, which will result in millions of deaths, the president’s face is almost totally obscured in shadow.

The tension builds from the very beginning to the ultimate climax and “resolution.” There is conflict in every scene, from the seeming romantic encounter that turns to conflict at the start, through intellectuals arguing about nuclear war, up to the internal conflict of a President having to make a horrific decision. Close-ups are used to show the tension and conflict of those in this terrible situation. It helps us viewers feel part of the action and feel the strong emotion.

Machines are an important part of the story. There are many close-ups of technical equipment – the fail safe box, the video screen to watch the flight of the bombers. Even telephones loom large and are shown as large as the people using them.

This is a very masculine movie. Women only have very small roles and appear for a short time.

There is no music in this film and no soundtrack was recorded.

The story is told from four different vantage points – the control room overseeing the mission, the President isolated in a bunker, the Pentagon intellectuals arguing about nuclear war, and the bomber crew actually on the mission. Each group sees the situation from their viewpoint and there are differences in how they respond.

Besides the horror of nuclear war, there are many sub-themes: Man vs. machine; Are our machines forcing us to make decisions too fast?; If we use nuclear weapons are we just as bad as our enemy?; and, Is following orders always the right thing to do?

Trivia: This film was released about 9 months after Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb, a film that deals with very similar subject matter. The brilliance and black humor of that film stole the thunder from Fai-Safe. Dr. Strangelove was a box-office hit, while Fail-Safe was considered a relative failure. Both films were released by the same studio, Columbia.

Fail-Safe was a best-selling novel before it was released as a film. The authors of the novel were Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. It was published in series form in three installments in the Saturday Evening Post on October 13, 20, and 27, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Fail-Safe was considered to be very similar to an earlier novel (1958) by Peter George, called Red Alert. Red Alert was the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. Peter George sued the authors of Fail-Safe on a charge of plagiarism and the suit was settled out-of-court.

On April 9, 2000, a live, televised version of Fail-Safe was shown on CBS. It was directed by Stephen Frears, and George Clooney acted in it and was an Executive Producer of the program.

Video Clip of climax scene

Movie Trailer:

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

Twitter: @rickdyke.

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

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

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

For those who have signed up, but have yet to email me your post, please do so ASAP.

Thanks in advance!

For the original post explaining the series, go here.

Movie Trailer: “Big Game”

January 22nd, 2015 by

Written by Jalmari Helander

A young teenager camping in the woods helps rescue the President of the United States when Air Force One is shot down near his campsite.

IMDb

Release Date: 25 March 2015 (Finland)

Script Analysis: “The Artist” – Part 4: Psychological Journey

January 22nd, 2015 by

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Major Plot Points
Wednesday: Sequences
Thursday: Psychological Journey
Friday: Takeaways

Today: Psychological Journey.

The way I look at a script, it is a screenplay universe comprised of two worlds:

External World: Action and Dialogue.
Internal World: Intention and Subtext.

The first is the realm of a story’s Physical Journey, what we see and hear on screen.
The second is the realm of a story’s Psychological Journey, what we intuit and interpret.

The Physical Journey deals with the question: What is the story about?
The Psychological deals with the question: What does the story mean?

The two are inextricably linked. Characters experience something in the External World which impacts their attitude in the Internal World which alters their behavior in the External World which brings them to new knowledge which impacts their attitude which alters their behavior and so on.

Played out over the course of an entire story, we call this dynamic: Metamorphosis (or Transformation).

Joseph Campbell said the whole point of a Hero’s Journey is transformation.

Therefore we cannot consider script structure without embracing the Psychological Journey along with the Physical Journey.

So as we analyze a script, we can ask these questions:

* Which characters go through a metamorphosis?

* Where do they begin and where do they end in the transformation-journey?

* What are the stages in their metamorphosis?

* How do plot points in the External World impact and influence the character’s change in the Internal World?

For Part 1, to read the Scene-By-Scene Breakdown created by Traci Nell Peterson, go here.

For Part 2, to read the Major Plot Points, go here.

For Part 3, to read the Sequences, go here.

Written by Michel Hazanavicius.

IMDb plot summary: A silent movie star meets a young dancer, but the arrival of talking pictures sends their careers in opposite directions.

Writing Exercise: Go through the script or the scene-by-scene breakdown and ask yourself: Which characters go through a metamorphosis? Where do they begin and where do they end in the transformation-journey? What are the stages in their metamorphosis? How do plot points in the External World impact and influence the character’s change in the Internal World?

Tomorrow we wrap up our weekly analysis by considering what takeaways we may have discovered which we can bring to our own writing.

This series started here and we have 24 volunteers to do scene-by-scene breakdowns of contemporary movie scripts. The scripts we have already analyzed are in italics.

American Hustle: Jon Raymond
Argo: Nora Barry
Barney’s Version: John M
Belle: DaniM
Beginners: Ali
Enough Said: Ali
Flight: 14Shari
Frankenwenie: Will King
Frozen: Christina Sekeris
Gone Girl: NateKohler1
Gravity: Matt Duriez
Hanna: John Arends
Lincoln: pgronk
Looper: erikledrew
Moonrise Kingdom: Daniel Bigler
Mud: Alejandro
Paranorman: OhScotty
Prisoners: Melinda Mahaffey Icden
Short Term 12: Carolina Groppa
The Artist: Traci Nell Peterson
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Rob Hoskins
The Social Network: N D
The Way Way Back: Ricky
Wadjda: iamdaniel

If you’d like to participate and do a scene-by-scene breakdown yourself, please indicate which script in comments or email me. We are using scripts available on our site here. Note some of the 2014 scripts now available there including Belle, Birdman, Boyhood, Calvary, Get On Up, Gone Girl, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Kill The Messenger, Locke, St. Vincent, The Boxtrolls, The Fault In Our Stars, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Theory of Everything, and Wild.

For new volunteers and those who have already volunteered, but not sent me a breakdown yet, please do so as soon as possible Thanks!

Circling back to where we started, reading scripts is hugely important. Analyzing them even more so. If you want to work in Hollywood as a writer, you need to develop your critical analytical skills. This is one way to do that.

So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!

I hope to see you in comments about this week’s script: The Artist.

Writing and the Creative Life: Three types of creators

January 22nd, 2015 by

My son Will is a graduate of a five-year dual degree program at Tufts University and the New England Conservatory. He received two Bachelor’s degrees with three majors: Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Music Theory and Music Composition. Obviously a smart young man. So when he expresses his ideas about the world, I listen.

Recently he shared with me a theory he has developed. The basic idea is that there are three types of creators:

1. Perfecter — An artist who takes a current style and maximizes its potential, elevating it to the best it can be (e.g. Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Spielberg, James Cameron, Stephen King, Pixar, etc.)

2. Innovator — An artist who breaks the mold, consistently trying new things or pioneering a new style (e.g. Beethoven, Schoenberg, Kubrick, Picasso, Joyce, Dalí, etc.)

3. Synthesizer — An artist who draws from disparate sources, makes unexpected connections, and creates something both familiar and new (e.g. Ligeti, Stravinsky, David Lynch, Tarantino, Murakami, etc.)

Comparing Steven Spielberg to Stanley Kubrick to Quentin Tarantino. Or Bach to Schoenberg to Stravinsky. Each is considerably different and certainly there are numerous contributing factors as to why that is the case. But this theory is intriguing because it suggests that their differences are influenced in part by the very nature of their creative instincts — specifically what inspired them and what their goals were.

If I am a perfecter, I see what has come before and discern value and beauty there, therefore my goal is to elevate that form to its highest expression.

If I am a synthesizer, I see what has come before and discern connections no one else does, which inspires me to pull them together in unusual ways.

If I’m an innovator, I see what has come before and feel restricted by conventional norms and patterns, so much so that my goal is to blaze new ways of creative expression.

Another fascinating aspect of this theory is that creators can evolve over a lifetime. For example, one may start out trying to perfect a current form of expression, then decide to stretch by incorporating unusual conceits into that conventional form, then eventually punch through the membrane of what is opening the door to what can become.

Obviously these categories have limitations common to any descriptive term, but it occurs to me they can have a benefit for writers by asking this question: What type of creator are you?

And this question: What type of creator may I feel the pull to become?

Perfecter. Synthesizer. Innovator.

Which type of creator are you?

Not surprising that Will came up with this theory as it may describe something of his own metamorphosis as a composer. You may listen to several compositions by Will by going here. In particular, I suggest you listen to “Bright Shadows,” a 6-minute award-winning piece Will wrote performed by the NEC Symphony.

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

[Originally posted January 9, 2014]

Daily Dialogue — January 22, 2015

January 22nd, 2015 by

“I’m going to bring the whole fucking disease corrupt temple down on your head. It’s going to biblical.”

Law Abiding Citizen (2009), written by Kurt Wimmer

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Threat.

Trivia: At one point Frank Darabont was attached to direct and was revising Kurt Wimmer’s original draft until leaving due to “creative differences.” Once F. Gary Gray came on-board to direct, David Ayer, Jordan Roberts and Sheldon Turner each took cracks at the script.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Revenge is a great motivator, perhaps the purest from a cinematic standpoint. Here we see a threat steeped in it.

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

One Reason for Pixar’s Success: Special Subcultures

January 21st, 2015 by

I’m three days into the latest session of Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling and once again, diving into the company’s 14 movies with dozens of writers who have enrolled in the class is proving to be a fantastic experience. For example, here is an excerpt from Lecture 3: Special Subculture, one of 7 lectures I wrote for the class:

Every Pixar movie explores a special subculture. Common or fantastical, limited or endless in scope, each setting provides a particular geographical, logistical, and thematic template within which to tell a story. Here is a list of each Pixar movie subculture:

Toy Story                  A child’s toys

A Bug’s Life               Insect kingdom

Toy Story 2                Collectible toys

Monsters, Inc.             Imaginary monster community

Finding Nemo               Aquatic life

The Incredibles            Real superheroes

Cars                       Automotive environment

Ratatouille                Chefs

Wall-E                     Future humanity

Up                         Adventurers

Toy Story 3                Pre-school toys

Cars 2                     European spy rings

Brave                      Ancient Scotland

Monsters University        Monster college

The subculture of a story helps to narrow and shape the dimensions of the narrative, providing a specific context out of which characters and events emerge, and into which they must fit.

Thus a specific subculture not only provides inspiration, but also guidance into how a writer approaches every idea they derive from brainstorming, every insight they discover from character development, and every possibility they conjure from plotting.

After the lecture posted, a lively discussion has ensued on the online course forums including this analysis of the movie Up by Jonathan Melikidse:

“Adventure is out there!” – The vivid imagination of a child, playing adventurer – idolizing a real life adventurer.

The adventure of marriage with its ups and downs, joy and pain.

The Wilderness Explorer in Russell looking for someone to connect to. Someone who will do things, have adventures with.

The adventure of leaving society, going after lost dreams.

Ellie’s message to Carl, “Thanks for the adventure, now go have a new one.”

The concept of adventure as a metaphor for how we spend our lives and who we spend our lives with is a strong subculture here. There is an adventure in everything you do if you attack it with that ambition. An adventurer looks for new land, things others have never experienced. It is in that paradigm that Carl finally realizes his whole life has been an adventure. Ellie understood this. Russell, perhaps too naive to know the difference, attacked life with the recklessness an adventurer has to have.

Adventure is out there!

One other sub-subculture in Up that was great was the talking dog’s. They had a hierarchy based on the Alpha. Whatever the Alpha said went. But, when the Alpha lost his strong voice and eventually wore the cone of shame, a new leadership was born. Their subculture was based around Obedience. The had their masters. The master commanded their actions.

It was such a great subculture to add because we are ultimately masters of our own will. Carl was a follower with Ellie and he was a follower of Muntz. He turned on Muntz when he saw Muntz’s true nature, just as Dug turned on Muntz and the Alpha. But, he was still under the control of Ellie until she gave him permission to let go.

These subcultures directed the decisions the characters made driving the story to its deserved ending.

Here is my response:

Excellent analysis, Jonathan. It’s funny. The whole adventurer dynamic is so front and center, one can tend to forget how seamlessly it works as one of the story’s key themes. After Ellie’s death and we go through Carl’s ‘Day In The Life’ morning routine where he ends up walking out the door only to sit down on his front porch, he is in effect a life-less individual. His spirit / soul / whatever you want to call is in effect dead. From a meta viewpoint, we can see how Carl needs the adventure he goes on in order to be ‘resurrected’ into a full-life state, one with Russell, who becomes a kind of replacement for Ellie, along with another companion Dug.

What’s also interesting is that adventure – as a key theme in the story – works on multiple levels. There is the Plotline in Up with the whole jungle / Muntz / Kevin set of events. That’s a big story, a sizable adventure. But as Ellie indicates in her final written message to Carl, our seemingly mundane lives – work, household chores, cars getting flat tires, picnics – are also in sum an adventure. So when she writes, “Thanks for the adventure, now go have a new one,” we can read that to mean this, too: It’s okay to embrace Russell as part of your family. You need that. That will be a new adventure for you, just like our married life together was for us.

This is one example of how Pixar not only makes smart choices in terms of the subcultures they explore in their stories… and how those subcultures not only influence the choices they make in terms of character development… they also prove to be the soil out of which a story’s themes emerge.

There’s still time to jump into the Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling class. There’s so much to learn from these master storytellers, the special subculture dynamic just one of 7 lectures. Plus online resources and exclusive interviews about the company as well as a logline workshop, teleconferences, and exciting forum conversations like the one featured above. It’s the only time I offer this class in 2015 and due to the level of activity among participants, I’ll be keeping the site open for an additional week. So it’s not too late to join us! If you’re interested, go here.

And how about the story you’re currently writing? Does it have a special subculture? If so, how deeply have you immersed yourself in it? What sort of impact does the subculture have on your key characters? How can you maximize the entertainment value of that subculture in the scenes you write?

Exploring your story’s subculture is all part of the process. Embrace it as part of your writing adventure!