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Posts Tagged ‘Jennifer Lawrence’

“I’m saying you are stuck in Wichita.”
Del Griffith (John Candy)
Planes, Trains and Automobiles

On Thanksgiving Day 2013 I decided to challenge myself to a movie mash-up. Could I take a classic 26 year old Thanksgiving story (Planes, Trains and Automobiles) and somehow connect it with a movie that is currently number one in the box office this Thanksgiving (Hunger Games: Catching Fire). According to Box Office Mojo Planes had a total gross of just under $50 million—Catching Fire made more than that its opening day and has gone on to make more than $300 million worldwide in the first six days of its theatrical release. 

Granted Planes was released in 1987 so you’d have to adjust those numbers to be an equal comparison, but the truth is that John Hughes written and directed film starring Steve Martin and John Candy was far below the box office winner (Three Men and a Baby) the year it was release. But when was the last time you heard anybody talking about Three Men and a Baby or quoting lines from that movie?

Like every year, 1987 had its share of memorable films that have endured. Some did well at the box office (Fatal Attraction) and others didn’t find their audience until later (The Princess Bride). But what makes Planes, Trains and Automobiles continue to entertain and please audiences today?

“Some movies are obviously great. Others gradually thrust their greatness upon us. When ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ was released in 1987, I enjoyed it immensely, gave it a favorable review and moved on. But the movie continued to live in my memory. Like certain other popular entertainments (‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,’ ‘Casablanca’) it not only contained a universal theme, but also matched it with the right actors and story, so that it shrugged off the other movies of its kind and stood above them in a kind of perfection. This is the only movie our family watches as a custom, most every Thanksgiving….The buried story engine of ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ is not slowly growing friendship or odd-couple hostility (devices a lesser film might have employed), but empathy. It is about understanding how the other guy feels.”
Roger Ebert
Review for Planes, Trains and Automobiles

What Ebert called a “buried story engine” I would call theme and emotion. Here are two of my favorite questions on those subjects:

“I think what makes a film stick to the brain is the theme.”
Screenwriter Bill Martell

“The goal of every screenplay, every movie, every novel, every story of any kind (and ultimately, every work of art) is identical: to elicit emotion.
Michael Hague
Selling Your Story in 60 seconds

Call it “an understanding how the other guy feels” or “empathy,” but 26 years from now people will still be watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I’m not sure the same can be said for Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The studios don’t care about that now, they’re making money. The reviews are good. They’ve done their jobMe? I’ll watch anything with Jennifer Lawrence in it (she had me at Winters Bone), but Catching Fire didn’t warm my bones. I felt like I was watching a middle program in an episodic TV show that was a cross between Survivor, LOST, and The Truman Show. (Please don’t tell me I need to read the books to appreciate the movie. That was never said of The Godfather—or The Wizard of Oz.) 

At first I thought maybe it was just me coming off a long road trip before I saw Catching Fire until I read ScriptShadow’s review of the film.

“The Hunger Games, and movies like it, represents one of the most thankless screenwriting jobs in Hollywood. Sure, you get to write one of the biggest movies of the year, but all the credit will go to the two people who sandwiched you in the process – the author of the original book, and the director who put the movie on the big screen.

To that end, that middle cog, the screenwriter who adapts these huge books, is allowed little to no creativity. His job amounts to that of a translator. Maybe that’s why Catching Fire feels so empty inside. Its two talented screenwriters, Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt, weren’t allowed to do anything but translate. And it’s left this movie without a soul.”
Carson Reeves/ScriptShadow
Movie Review—Catching Fire

Even if you really enjoyed the film (which many of its intended audience did) you have to admit it didn’t have what Arndt calls an “insanely great ending”—the credits just come up and you go, “I guess it’s over.” Just one of the problem of sequels.

BTW—Scriptshadow also had a good post this week on 10 Screenwriting Tips from Thanksgiving favorite: Plane Trains and Automobiles! 

P.S. Films released in 1987 worth going back and watching or re-watching include Empire of the Sun (Christian Bale’s first major film), Wall St. (Michael Douglas won an Oscar for his role created by Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser), Moonstruck, the third Coen Brother film—Raising Arizona, and my personal favorite of that year Broadcast News written and directed by James L. Brooks.

Related Posts:
40 Days of Emotions
Theme: What Your Movie is Really About
Writing from Theme (Tip #20)
Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)
“The Artists” 3— “Hunger Games” 0
Before John Hughes Became John Hughes (And how Planes was inspired by his day job.)

Scott W. Smith

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“I’ve overcome the blow, I’ve learned to take it well…”
Jim Croce/Operator

“Rainy day people all know there’s no sorrow they can’t rise above…”
Gordon Lightfoot/ Rainy Day People

Perhaps the reason I decided to start a post about the movie Silver Linings Playbook with a couple of lines from seventies songs is the movie has a seventies feel. Not disco 70s—Annie Hall 70s.

You know, the kind of movie that centers on great writing and great acting. Movies that transcend entertainment and are about something human. I’m not a tentpole/vampire/contrived comedy kind of guy, so I relish when a film like Silver Linings Playbook comes along. This isn’t a movie review, but a look at the movie from the perspective of the script written by the film’s director David O. Russell. (As of this writing the script can be found at this link by The Weinstein Company.)

STORY/PLOT

The story of Silver Linings Playbook is actually pretty simple. Pat (Bradley Cooper) wants to get back together with his wife. And that happens on page 1 with Pat talking to himself in a psychiatric facility:

PAT: “I blew it. But you also blew it. We can get it back. It’s all gonna be better now. I’m better now and I hope you are, too.”

No big set up of where we are or what happened to Pat, the reader/audience is engaged and playing catch-up. And we also know that Pat is part of the “end-of-the-rope club” which is often a key ingredient in a lead character. So there is a stated goal on page one—get back together with Nikki (who we learn is his estranged wife). Of course, just one of Pat’s problems is he has a court order that prohibits him from coming within 500 feet of his estranged wife.

CHARACTERS
There are two central characters; Pat and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). This is not one of those scripts you read where you’re flipping back and forth trying to keep track of the characters. And keeping with the idea that you should have a really good reason from cutting away from the central character, I believe Pat in the script and in the movie is in every single scene. But there is meat in the supporting roles which is why Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver were attracted to the roles and why both were nominated for Academy Awards (as Bradley and Lawrence were).

There’s no real need for an antagonist role (Officer Keogh may be as close as we get), because both protagonists Pat and Tiffany do a pretty good job of being their own antagonists.

There are a handful of other roles, but essentially the story fits the idea that the audience/reader really can’t get involved in more than seven characters.

CONFLICT
Silver Linings Playbook is full of not only conflict from beginning to end, but the best kind of conflict—meaningful conflict. Pat has inner-conflict with self and his illness, interpersonal with mom, dad, brother ex-wife, friends and Tiffany, and extrapersonal conflcit with neighbors, police, his doctor and people at football game.

STAKES
What’s always at stake for Pat is being sent back to psychiatric facility. But the worst part about that for Pat is that would mean he failed at his goal of getting back together with his wife. And the stakes are even greater than if he has to go back to the hospital losing his freedom and maybe his mind.

PACING
Screenplays are often difficult to read, probably because they are a blueprint to make a movie. But Silver Linings Playbook was a fun and easy read. That was in part due to the pacing. Scene descriptions were kept between 1-3 lines and dialogue was usually kept between one and three sentences.

LENGTH
The script came in at 152 pages which is longer than most tend to be these days, but it is a verbal rather than a visual story so the running time was 2 hours.

TITLE
There have been four films made with the title The Silver Lining (1915, 1921, 1927, 1932) and the expression “every cloud has a silver lining” has been around forever. So the title Silver Linings Playbook takes something familiar and gives it a fresh twist.

REGIONAL
The movie largely takes place in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania—a small working class suburb of Philadelphia.

SETUPS & PAYOFFS
Another writer’s tool used throughout the script/movie to bring a conhesivness to the story.

EMOTIONAL
You don’t have to ever been in a psychiatric facility like Pat, or have the emotional relationship baggage Tiffany has to have an emotional connection to these characters. Everyone has their own emotional baggage and relationship issues and this film taps into what is called the laughter of recognition. What’s happening on screen is a reflection of our friends and family—and ourselevs.

TRANSFORMATION
Last year I pulled a quote where writer/director Garry Marshall talked about himself and audiences being drawn to Cinderella stories, and another quote by writer/director Frank Darabont talking about having an “uplift” and the end of movies. Of course, not all stories are Cinderella stories nor have an uplift, but if you are writing stories for an audience it is important to know that everyone is looking for a silver lining. I didn’t say a “happy ending,” but a silver lining is a plus.

THEME

“I’m gonna take all this negativity and use it for fuel, and I’m going to find a silver lining, that’s what I’m gonna do.”—Pat (Bradley Cooper), Page 14

This is what I believe to be true. This is what I learned in the hospital. You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest, and if you do, if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining.”—Pat, Page 35

There is a handwritten sign “EXCELSIOR” on Pat’s wall at his room at the psychiatric facility that we first read about on page three of the script and becomes a running motifs throughout the script—a rally cry of sorts for Pat. Excelsior is Latin for “ever upward.”

BOX OFFICE
Silver Linings Playbook is not the kind of movie that you would think that would have a long box office run. But despite a limited release in November and a wide release at the end of December it’s still in theaters as we approach the first week of February. Heck, in the traditional Hollywood cycle this movie should already be available on DVD. Instead it was actually third at the box office this weekend. Glad this film is getting good word of mouth reviews. And while it wouldn’t seem the most international movie this little $20 million dollar movie is on its way to breaking $100 million at the global box office.

OSCARS
The film has been nominated for a total of eighth Oscars.

NOVEL
Silver Linings Playbook originated as a novel by Matthew Quick and his real life story of quitting his teaching job and taking off three years to focus on his writing is a post for another day. The date on the screenplay says 2008, the year the book was released. If that’s when the script was written (or even just purchased) that means that it was a four/five-year journey to bring that story to the screen. (And I don’t know how many years it took Quick to write the novel.)

BROKEN WINGS
For those of you who haven’t seen the film I won’t tell you how it ends, just that the film is really about taking a step on the road to redemption believing that broken wings can be mended and silver linings found.

P.S. Didn’t make this connection until after I wrote this post, but singer Jim Croce was born in South Philadelphia and played in many tough bars in Philadelphia before heading to New York City and greater fame. Unfortunately he died at only age 30. His wife Ingrid owns Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar in San Diego. I had a memorable meal there a few years ago while sitting in their outside area and enjoyed watching the people in the historic Gaslamp Quarter walk by.

Related Posts:
Average Length of a Movie Scene (Tip #21)
Writing Actor Bait (Tip #64)
What’s at Stake? (Tip  #9)
“Goal. Stakes. Urgency.” (Tip #60)
40 Days of Emotions
Screenwriting by Numbers (Tip #4)
Writing Beyond the Numbers (Tip #8)
Setups & Payoffs (Tip #57) 

Scott W. Smith

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“Remember the old days, when movies were glorious, magical and mute? Neither do I. But the passing of the silent era from memory into myth is what ‘The Artist,’ Michel Hazanavicius’s dazzling cinematic objet d’art, is all about.”
A.O. Scott
New York Times article The Artist (2011) 

Yesterday I went to see The Artist for the third time in a movie theater. There have only been a few films in my life that have resonated with me enough to see the film three times in the theater. The last film I saw three times in a theater was Seabiscuit back in the summer of ’03.

I love everything about The Artist— Michael Hazanavicus’s writing and direction, the acting, the cinematography, the editing, the music, the sets, the dog, the costumes, etc., etc. All things which I appreciated more and more on repeated viewings. Heck, I just love the era of the 20s & 30s. And I was pleased when The Artist was awarded five Oscars including Best Motion Picture of the Year.

But as they touch on in The Artist— it’s out with the old in with the new.

When I left the theater yesterday I saw a line forming for the midnight showing of The Hunger Games. No, it wasn’t just a line, it looked more like some kind of protest mixed with a Justin Bieber concert. There was a line of teenage girls and tents. Tents—as in camping. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen tents outside a movie theater before. Granted it looked like it might rain little, and who wants to wait six hours in the rain? And my guess is that scene was repeated in theaters across the United States last night.

It will be showing this weekend in a staggering 10,000 theaters. According to The Washington Post, The Hunger Games set the record for advanced ticket sales of a non-sequel film. The midnight showing sold out 1,400 theaters and made $20 million just last night/this morning. I’m going to go way out on a limb and say that it’s going to be the box-office champ this weekend and pull in more than $100 million.

I don’t know the cultural phenomenon behind The Hunger Games other than the books have a diehard following. But I look forward to seeing the film because it  stars Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) and was directed by Gary Ross. (Ross, if you recall, directed Seabiscuit.) He also credited as screenwriter along with Billy Ray and Suzanne Collins (who wrote the book that the movie is based on). Ross has been quoted as saying of his work on The Hunger Games, “I’m as proud of this as anything I’ve ever done in my life.”

So by the end of the weekend it’ll probably be The Artist 3—The Hunger Games 1.

P.S. Just realized that both The Artist and Seabiscuit both deal with the same time period in and around The Great Depression and address issues of loss, obsolescence and redemption. The past was rough, but judging from the previews of The Hunger Games, the future looks worse. (Are there any movies where the future looks positive?)

Related posts:

Writing “The Artist” (Part 1)

Writing “The Artist” (Part 2)

Writing “The Artist” (Part 3)

Seabiscuit Revisted in 2008

It Takes Guts to Be a Screenwriter (Gary Ross)

Writing “Seabiscuit”

Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)

Related Links: Interesting article by Anne Thompson comparing why The Hunger Games killed it at the box office and why John Carter didn’t.

Scott W. Smith

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