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Posts Tagged ‘Christopher McQuarrie’

”What Tom [Cruise] and I have learned to do over the course of three [Mission: Impossible] movies is we’re constantly striving to make a silent film. We’re pushing harder and harder with each film to make ways where the dialogue doesn’t matter . . . I’m extremely suspicious of dialogue and consider dialogue to be a last resort rather than a first wave of storytelling.”
Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Mission: Impossible—Fallout)
The Inside Pitch Facebook live interview with Christopher Lockhart

P.S. Of course, one wouldn’t expect Aaron Sorkin to agree with McQuarrie. But here are a couple screenwriters who are in the striving to make a silent film camp.

“The perfect movie doesn’t have any dialogue. So you should always be striving to make a silent movie.”
David Mamet
On Film Directing 

“Storytelling without dialogue. It’s the purest form of cinematic storytelling. It’s the most inclusive approach you can take. It confirmed something I really had a hunch on, is that the audience actually wants to work for their meal.”
—Two time Oscar-winning writer/director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E)
TED talk The Clues to a Great Story

Related posts:
Emotionally Silent Dialogue
Storytelling Without Dialogue

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“What I’ve learned to do, probably really in just the last couple of films is to regard music and dialogue as very much one in the same. Dialogue is just as musical as music is a language. And by thinking of dialogue in musical terms, thinking of dialogue in terms of something that  conveys an emotion rather than information. It has changed they way that I write scenes. When I find myself writing something that is purely informational, if I can’t inject it with something like conflict, humor, tension, suspense, drama—especially conflict—then I know that what I’m doing is writing is information. And information is the death of  emotion. The biggest lesson I learned between Rouge Nation and Fallout was how to articulate that.  Somebody asked me about writing exposition and what was the secret to writing exposition and without thinking I said that ‘information is the death of emotion.’” Thinking about dialogue as a delivery device for emotion. That’s not to say it’s a character expressing emotions. There’s nothing less emotional than watching a character experience an emotion. What you want is the audience experiencing emotion through that character. That really changed the way I wrote dialogue. They way that I wrote exposition.”
—Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie  (Top Gun: Maverick)
The Inside Pitch interview with Christopher Lockhart 
(starting at the 1:55:02 mark)

P.S. Starting on August 1, I’m going to begin a string of posts on Hamilton which is a prime example of blending music and dialogue in what I found to be an emotional story.  If you haven’t seen the play or the taped version on Disney+ at least get the 10 day free subscription to check it out.  I look forward to exploring what Lin-Manuel Miranda created what is the best production I’ve seen this year.

Related posts:
40 Days of Emotions
‘Exposition is BORING unless…’
Mysterious Minimal Exposition from ‘A Quiet Place’ and ’Sicario’
Cary Grant & Exposition (Tip # 38)
Screenwriting & Exposition (Tip #10)
Cody on Expo
10 Solid Exposition Examples 
Dialogue as Music (Aaron Sorkin)
‘I’m in the feelings business’—Brian Grazer 
Emotion—Emotion—Emotion

Scott W. Smith 

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Christopher Lockhart’s two hour interview with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie— that was originally shown on the private Facebook group The Inside Pitch— is now on YouTube.

Here are two filmmaking lessons from the Mission: Impossible writer/director McQuarrie (the second which he said took him 25 years to articulate):

LESSON 1

“I didn’t understand lens on my first film, and I never had one discussion about lens on the film. I do not know a single shot  in my first film—what lens it was shot on. I can guess it now because I’ve developed an eye for what lens are. Once you’ve determined who the audience is, the next most important conversation to have is about what is the lens? On my first film I never discussed the lens once. On Mission: Impossible Fallout, I had 3,000 setups in that movie. I had more setups than two Harry Potter movies combined. There was not one setup on that movie where the first conversation we had didn’t have the lens. We talked about the lens every single time. And what you need to think of when you think of lens. You can look up focal length. You can look up the rule of thirds. You can look up lighting. You can read all that stuff—all those books are so tedious and so boring, and I don’t understand them. And they’re really, really hard. Here’s what you need to do: when you look at a lens, look at the number on the focal length on the lens. Whether it’s an 18mm lens right up to, say, a 150 mm lens. The number on the lens signifies the amount of intimacy that that lens provides. And the more intimacy you want to put into the scene, or a line or a moment, the higher that number goes. And the more you want to stand back from the action the lower the number goes. . . understanding that principle when I was 20-years-old would have gotten me where I am a lot faster.”

LESSON 2:

“The other thing I want you to do is I want all of you to go out and take photographs. And I want you to do it with you phone. And what I want you to do when you’re taking the photograph is I want you to think about three things and only three things; lens, light, and location. And when you take a photograph and look at it and go ‘Why don’t I like this photograph?’ It is because one of three things, or all three of those things, are not in sync. And remember that you can almost always alter one of those three things. You can either change the light, you can change the location, or you can change the lens. On most iPhones now you can sort of pretend to change a lens. What we don’t understand when we’re first starting out, and what most people don’t tell us, they don’t make us aware of those things. They don’t make us aware of light. And so what happens is we look at the picture and we can’t understand why when we’re taking the picture that it doesn’t look like what our eye sees.. . . . So what you want to do is stop looking at the world through your eyes, and start looking at the world through the lens. If you don’t tell the lens what you want to see exactly, the lens will show you what it sees approximately  . . .  The first lesson in photography is just an awareness of those three things: lens, light, and location.”

Here’s an example of that from a photo I took last week with my iPhone. (Straight out of the camera with zero post production.)
Lens: I used the 2x (telephoto) on my iPhone 7 Plus to compress the tree in the foreground and the sunrise in the background.
Light: I knew the sunrise was at 6:41 so I had to be in position in my kayak before then. I also knew that the small sensor on the iPhone doesn’t actually handle the blinding sun well so I wanted to capture the sun just before it breaks the horizon. And because the camera want to expose for the tree in the foreground instead of the bright background, I had to use the slider to bring the exposure down. This would silhouette the tree which was the effect I wanted.
Location: Since I started kayaking four months ago I was familiar with the best places to shoot the sunrise. This cypress tree is my favorite location because I knew where I could position myself to get the best composition of the rising sun and the tree with Spanish moss to make it visually interesting. I was fortunate to get the clouds as they add extra visual interest. Perhaps the trickiest part was positioning myself on a kayak to be at the right place just before the sun shined through. There was less than 30 seconds to get the shot I wanted to get where the lens, light, and location came though.  The only thing that would have made it better was if I would of had Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) kayaking in the frame between the tree and the horizon. If Tom ever wants to make the two and a half hour trip from Clearwater to Orlando I’m up for a reshoot. (Seaplanes can land on the lake.) I’d even break out my Nikon for that.

IMG_5767

Light, Lens, Location

Related posts:
I did go to film school so I’m not bored by all the technical aspects of cinematography. Here are some posts I’ve written about the subject over the years:
Wide, Normal, and Telephoto Lens Explained & Other Cinematography Resources 
The Five C’s of Cinematography
Cinematography for Directors
Cinematic Storytelling
Master Shots 
Film Directing Shot by Shot
Film Directing, Cinematic Motion
Oscar Winning Cinematography ( 1927-2016)
Cinematography (Overview)
Cinematographer Allen Daviau (1942—2020)
Cinematography Cheats #1 (Jerry Maguire)
‘It’s all about emotions’ Cinematographer Jamusz Kamunski
10 Cinematography Tips (Roger Deakins)

Scott W. Smith 

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“Here’s how you become a screenwriter: Get yourself a pencil and a piece of paper—you don‘t need a computer, you don’t need Final Draft— and write interior [INT] and then chose any location you want. And then decide whether it’s night or day.  You’re a screenwriter. There’s no such thing as an aspiring screenwriter or an inspiring filmmaker. You’re either creating or you’re not creating. I haven’t made it. And I’m making two Mission: Impossible movies and I’m producing Top Gun. I have’t made it—I’m making it. I’m in the process of making it to where I still dream of being, and you will be, too.”
Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Mission: Impossible—Fallout)
The Inside Pitch Facebook live interview with Christopher Lockhart
7/11/2020

A quick look online shows you can buy 100 sheets of paper for just over two dollars and pencils cost around twenty cents each. So that’s how I came up with three dollars. Now if you want to get fancy like Jerry Seinfeld and use a yellow legal pad and a pen that can push you to around the $10 mark. But the good news is, no massive student loan is required for either. (I believe Quentin Tarantino also uses a yellow legal pad to write his scripts.)

One of the themes that has emerged in writing a screenwriting blog for the past 12 years is screenwriters come from everywhere. And there are many contradictory views on screenwriting and filmmaking. What I’ve tried to do is curate many of those views and present them in a way that I hope will resonate with others and help them create. (And I hope to have news this month on how I’ve boiled the 3,000 posts over the years into a greatest hits of sorts into a 250 page book.)

McQuarrie’s advice reminds me of the story I once heard where William Faulkner was giving a talk to writers and asked them why they where there instead of writing.

Of course, if it was as easy as just write we’d all be walking around with Academy Awards and Nobel Prizes like McQuarrie and Faulkner. But McQuarrie didn’t say, “Here’s how you become an Academy Award winning screenwriter….”

So sharpen your pencils and get busy creating something today.

Related post:
The Myth of ‘Breaking In’

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

 

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“Any writer that’s listening to me right now, you’ll gain a lot more knowledge by studying editing than you will by studying screenwriting. Screenwriting is something inside of you, it’s what you’re going to do. It’s going to be dictated by so many other things. Watch how movies are built. That’s where it really comes together.  Watch how movies evolve through the process of editing.”
—Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible—Fallout)
The Inside Pitch Facebook live interview with Christopher Lockhart
7/11/2020

Of course, the catch—22 is how can you watch a movie be edited unless you”re working on the movie? Here are to three places to start:
1) Read the post: How Great movies are Made (and Why ‘The Godfather’ was Once a Pile of Spaghetti in the Edit Room) 

2) Watch this video featuring Water Murch who was ADR supervisor on The Godfather.

3) Watch The Godfather once again.

4) Buy these books on editing:
In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing by Walter Murch

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Film Editing by Michael Ondaatje

P.S. If you know if some resources showing how a movie evolves in the editing process send that info my way. If I recall correctly, the original script for Annie Hall and the finished film are one of the best examples of being radically different creations. A movie salvaged in the editing. It went on to win four Oscar awards including Best Picture and Best Writing.

Scott W. Smith 

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“Prep is the movie you want to make. Production is the movie you think you’re making. And post is the movie you made.”
—Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible—Fallout)
The Inside Pitch Facebook live interview with Christopher Lockhart
7/11/2020

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Today’s post actually uses more than twice as many letters in the title than in the definition of story according to one Oscar-winner:

“Story’s an emotional journey. That’s all it is.”
Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Mission: Impossible—Fallout)
The Inside Pitch Facebook live interview with Christopher Lockhart
7/11/2020

Since McQuarrie has made seven films with Tom Cruise (including Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, and the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick) it’s worth repeating this  simplified version of story:

“Story’s an emotional journey. That’s all it is.”
—Christopher McQuarrie

Related post:
40 Days of Emotions
Emotion—Emotion—Emotion
Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie 
‘Move Me’ (advice from Christopher Lockhart)

Scott W. Smith

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“When we shoot these films, I don’t move my lips very much. I keep my mouth kind of closed so that when I see the film before we finish it, I can change the dialogue and make it better.”
Marlon Brando during ADR session for The Godfather (via editor Walter Murch)

“There’s a movie you think you’re making, and there’s a movie you made. The movie’s made three times; once on paper, once on film, and once on the AVID [the edit]. And it’s only then that you know what movie you made. And you go back and you do some pickups and some reshoots and shape the dialogue. And if you don’t believe me that this happens on every movie, go home tonight and put on The Godfather and listen to it with headphones, so you can hear all the ADR [Automated Dialogue Replacement] very clearly in that movie. And you realize that movie is a pile of spaghetti in the editing room—it made no sense. If you take out the ADR the movie completely falls apart. I’m not saying it’s not a great movie, but that’s how great movies are made.”
Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible — Fallout)
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

Here are some videos that explain the how and why ADR is used.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“I think every writer harbors—secretly or not-so-secretly—delusions of grandeur. Still, when you’re starting out, it’s hard to imagine how you’ll ever ‘succeed.'”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt 

“There are two kinds of people in this world, winners and losers.”
Quasi-motivational speaker Richard Hoover (Greg  Kinnear), Little Miss Sunshine

Screenwriter Michael Arndt is a textbook example of everything I’ve been writing about on this blog for the past two and a half years. Like Diablo Cody his first produced screenplay (Little Miss Sunshine) not only became a sleeper hit, but it won him an Oscar for best original screenplay. A pretty good start, huh? Except that’s not the start.

Rewind a few years and you’ll find that he’s a New York University film school grad (steeped in the films of Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, and Woody Allen) who spent 10 years working in the film business as an assistant and a script reader. Times that weren’t always fun, but his time as a reader served him well.

“I had read enough mediocre scripts and was determined not to inflict another one on the world.”
Michael Arndt

According to an article by Anne Thompson in The Hollywood Reporter, Arndt quit his job in 1999 and with $25,000. in savings took time to just focus on writing screenplays. And lots of them.

Thompson writes; “(Arndt) holed up in his cheap Brooklyn apartment and knocked out six stories. Six of them didn’t sing. The seventh did. ‘It was the most simple story,’ Arndt says. ‘That’s a mistake a lot of scripts make: Their plots are too complicated, so you don’t have time for characters.’ So he kept working on it, writing it over and over and over, 100 drafts, until it was as good as he could get it.”

That script was Little Miss Sunshine. The script created buzz as soon as it was sent out, but it would still take five years to get it produced and released.

“I read a lot of comedy screenplays and the reason why most of them don’t work is they’re not about anything. If your story isn’t about anything, or your character just wants a pretty girl and the bag of money then—it’s not going to add up to anything…I wanted Little Miss Sunshine to actually have a real climax at the end.”
Michael Arndt

I’m not sure what other writing opportunities the success of Little Miss Sunshine brought Arndt after 2006, but you may be surprised to learn that to date Little Miss Sunshine is his sole feature credited film that has been released. Of course, that will all change next month when Toy Story 3 is released. That’s right, the small indie, philosophical screenwriter who wrote what one reviewer called “a cultural look at the emptiness of America,” follows his Oscar success with a big budget Disney franchise film.

Remember what screenwriter Christopher (The Usual Suspects) McQuarrie said; “(Winning an Oscar) doesn’t make the studios want to make your movie any more than before. It just means they want you to make their movies.”

I’m personally excited to see what Arndt comes up with for Woody and the gang. One thing that I know he came away with on Toy Story 3 is a boat load of money. And let’s be honest, doesn’t every screenwriter want an Oscar and a boat load of money? (In addition to writing satisfactory screenplays that are turned into artistic films, of course.)

So let’s review Arndt’s 10 not so easy steps to becoming a successful screenwriter:
1) Film degree from NYU
2) Toil in the industry at various non-writing/non-production jobs for 10 years
3) Save money
4) Quit job
5) Write six screenplays in less than a year
6) Write one more that you finally think is “the one” in three days
7) Write 100 drafts of “the one” over the next year
8)Send it out
9)Sell it ($150,000) and wait five years for it to get made and become a sensation
10) Collect Oscar

Losers are people who are so afraid of not winning, they don’t even try.” Grandpa Hooper (Alan  Arkin) Little Miss Sunshine

Pop quiz:  What do these comedies all have in common?: The Wedding Crashers, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Groundhog Day, Tootsie, The Apartment, Modern Times.
(Ding, ding) Correct, they are all about something.

Related Posts:
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)
Insanely Great Endings

Scott W. Smith

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“The main thing in writing a movie is to have a good ending.”
Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects)

For five bucks I recently bought The Usual Suspects DVD. You can buy the book of the screenplay on Amazon for another five bucks. Considering the Writers Guild of America’s 101 Greatest Screenplays list placed The Usual Suspects at #35 there are worse ways to spend ten dollars. (Or to save money see if your local library has the movie and track down an online version of the script.) Both the movie and the screenplay are a worthwhile investment of your time.

It doesn’t appear that The Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie set out to be an Academy Award winning screenwriter—or even a screenwriter— and perhaps that’s his secret. According to Wikipedia, after high school he spent time hitchhiking around Australia and also worked there as an assistant teacher at a boarding school. He returned to the United States where he worked for a detective agency for four years. He was in the process of joining the New York Police Department when high school classmate Bryan Singer called with an opportunity to write Public Access.

Public Access won the 1993 Sundance Film Festival’s grand jury prize. Two years later the $400,000. film The Usual Suspects was released and would go on to win McQuarrie an Academy Award. Since then he’s done rewrites on various Hollywood films including X-Men, wrote Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise, and wrote and directed The Way of the Gun starring Benicio del Toro. More recently he is writing or has written Wolverine 2 and a retelling of the Jack and the Beanstock fairy tale in a script called Jack the Giant Killer (which will be directed by Singer).

For independent film fans who don’t understand how McQuarrie went from Sundance and The Usual Suspects to working on Hollywood blockbusters, a German war film and then a fairy tale— maybe this will help;

“(Winning an Oscar) doesn’t make the studios want to make your movie any more than before. It just means they want you to make their movies. I found that rather than sacrificing the story, I was sacrificing something else. At every meeting I was taking less money and less back end, and giving up casting, just so I could have control of the story. And they said no. For a long time I resented those people, and saw them as fearful and ignorant, but in reality, all they’re doing is trying to reduce risk. It was the same thing I was doing: they’re trying to protect money and I’m trying to protect the story. The place that I’ve come to after all of this is, there are stories I want to make that will have to remain in a budget under $25 million, depending on what actors I can cast. And then there are those stories that the studios want to make, and that’s how you make your living. Is that selling out? Well, you’ve got to eat.”
Christopher McQuarrie
Interview with Cynthia Fuchs

At some point McQuarrie decided to move to Seattle (where I believe he still resides) and is on the Advisory Board of The Film School. An interesting sidenote is McQuarrie not only went to high school with director Bryan Singer, but also actor and filmmaker Ethan Hawke.

Sometimes it’s fun to make connections like this; In 2002, I was in Berlin for a couple days doing a shoot which happened to be the same year McQuarrie was on a tour in Berlin when he stumbled upon the idea of doing what became Valkyrie. Of course, the connection doesn’t mean anything, but it keeps the synapses firing. And creativity is all out connections. (Where Do Ideas Come From? A+B=C)

At some point before his screenwriting breakthrough McQuarrie also worked as a bodyguard for a jewelry dealer in downtown LA. That info not only provided him with a key event in The Usual Suspects, but is also where he saw a bulletin board that was made in Skokie, Illinois which provided McQuarrie with the impetus for the entire film. (Don’t Quit Your Day Job)

And for what it’s worth, Skokie is no stranger to Hollywood. The Chicago suburb over the years has provided shooting locations to many memorable films, including Blue Brothers, Risky Business, The Breakfast Club, Home Alone 3, and Sixteen Candles.

Scott W. Smith

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