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Posts Tagged ‘Damien Chazelle’

Remember when you held me tight
And you kissed me all through the night

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
Lyrics by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield

La La Land came out in 2016, but just in case you haven’t seen that fine film—MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!

“At the very start [of writing La La Land] I knew roughly where we were headed in terms of the final scene. I knew I wanted to tell a story about a romance that doesn’t last forever. Something that winds up ends up being a finite moment in these people’s lives. And they’re kinda cross like two ships passing in the night. They cross for a moment and that moment is crucial for both of them, but they wind up going their separate directions. And I knew I wanted the tone of the ending to be okay with that. That I didn’t really see it as a tragic ending. I mean I’m certainly very inspired by The Umbrellas of Cherbourg —the French musical from the ’60s—that similarly does not keep the romance going at the end. But where the tone there is a little more tragic. I think here I wanted there to be a real hope to the ending. And also this idea that some dreams come true, some don’t. This wouldn’t be an honest movie if every dream came true.”
La La Land writer/director Damien Chazelle
Interview with James V. Hart
Bulletproof Screenwriting podcast #107

Related post:
Tender Mercies in La La Land
Difficult + Changing Times = Whiplash
Setting the ‘Whiplash’ Tone

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

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I’ll continue my run of posts on Hamilton Monday. But today I want to post a couple videos that Apple just dropped featuring writer/director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash).

A couple of years ago I did a presentation at a college and was asked what camera I was excited about most. I knew they were to hear me say one of the Arri or Red camera but I said the iPhone. I had just shot a multimedia project that included everything from a traditional video camera, a Nikon DSLR, a Go Pro, and an iPhone7+.

I loved the simplicity of shooting stills and videos on the fly with the iPhone. (Plus I was using the DJI OSMO stabilizer and the FilMic Pro app so I was pretty blown away by the imagine.

Judging from the looks in the room back in 2007, I had just made a filmmaking faux pas. But I feel vindicated by what’s transpired over the last three years. Chazelle’s videos are just the latest to get some attention. But one more reminder that it’s the filmmaker with vision that’s more important than the camera used.

Twenty years ago I saw these changes coming when I was doing a shoot in Pennsylvania. The year before I had done a traditional DigiBeta SP shoot hiring a three person crew out of Pittsburgh. But because of budget restrictions I was working as a one-man band on this shoot and had rented a Sony PD-150 for a couple hundred dollars. I remember reading the camera manuel on the flight, and trying to wrap my head around the menu. Most film and videos cameras up until then were pretty straight forward.

But the year before, The Blair Witch Project came out and helped change expectations. There were a whole bunch of indie films that were hitting around then shot on digital video cameras. One of my favorites (that I’ve written about several times over the years) is Pieces of April (2003). That film still holds up well today because of the writing and performances.

When the Panasonic DVX 100 camera out one of my cameraman friends couldn’t stop talking about the 24P film look he was getting out of it. In 2003, I purchased a DVX100 and slowing watched as others adopted a new way of doing things. A few years later the switch to HD footage took over. Around 2009/2010 DSLR cameras became an indie favorite, and in 2015 Sean Baker released Tangerine and really showed the world what could be done with an iPhone,

Inspired by what Baker did, Steven Soderbergh shot Unsane (2018) and High Flying Bird (2019) on an iPhone.. I’m not saying that the iPhone is the greatest camera in the world—and neither Baker or Soderbergh used one on their latest films—but it’s earned a seat at the table.

And film school should be the last place to snub their noses at iPhones. What better way to have students cranking out footage than using an iPhone? Make a one minute film day one. Fail, learn, and then make another film.

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘Whiplash’ is astounding. Believe the hype. My heart was still pounding 10 minutes after the credits rolled.”
Diablo Cody
November 26, 2014 Tweet by @diablocody

Damien Chazelle has a few things in common with Diabo Cody. Both are screenwriter/directors, both have cool names with the initials D.C., and both were 29-years-old when they received their first Oscar nominations for solo credited screenplays with single world titles. (She for Juno and he for Whiplash).

A film critic after interviewing Cody said she was ‘wicked smart,” and Chazelle graduated from Harvard (and his father—a Yale graduate— is a professor a Princeton). We’ll know in a couple of weeks if Chazelle walks away with an Oscar like Cody did seven years ago.

But there is one more similarity that I’d like to point out—they both had a long creative history before their breakthrough Hollywood success. Cody said she’d written everyday (short stories, poems, etc.) since she was 12-years-old, and Chazelle had even an earlier start by making films when he was elementary school age.

“I always wanted to make movies. Basically, there’s nothing else I ever wanted to do. So it just became a matter early on of figuring out how I was gonna do that. You and I were talking last night about some of my early masterpieces with my dad’s shitty camcorder, just making little movies with friends in my house…. I was too young to know how to actually operate the camera, so I would just stage stuff and have my dad shoot it. My dad got sick of that really quickly. He never really liked it to begin with, and he started messing up the shots and at a certain point I realized, as a lot of actors actually often do, that I’d be better off getting behind the camera. So, I was in fourth or fifth grade when I started actually getting behind the camera.”
Damien Chazelle
Issue Magazine interview with Whiplash actor Miles Teller

P.S. While in college Chazelle spent two years making his first feature film Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.

Related posts:
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic
Stephen J. Cannell’s Work Ethic
Screenwriting Quote #87 (Ray Bradbury)
Bob DeRosa’s ‘Shortcuts’
Differentiate Yourself

Scott W. Smith

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Screenwriter Damien Chazelle didn’t really write Whiplash straight out of Harvard University—he’d actually sold a few spec scripts after he graduated with a degree Visual & Environmental Sciences. He’d even had a couple of features produced from his scripts. But it wasn’t until after he tapped into his own experience as competitive jazz ensemble drummer in high school that he became an Oscar-nominated screenwriter.

“[Whiplash] was the most personal thing I’d ever written—the most embarrassing in that sense as well. It sounds very cliche to say this but it was that kind of pouring out on the page sort of thing. And wrote it very quickly and kinda put it in a drawer, and was too embarrassed to show it to anyone for a while because I didn’t like what it said about myself. And then tinkered with it a little bit and finally got up the courage to show it to a few people and then it sort of became, ‘okay, let’s try to actually make this.’ But it started out more as just a, ‘This [other script’s] not working I need to just do something completely different, I’m going to write what happened to me as a drummer.”
Screenwriter Damien Chazelle on his screenplay Whiplash
DP/30 Interview

P.S. The day after the New England Patriots won their fourth Super Bowl it seems fitting to have a Boston/Cambridge related post. If you go back to 2008 post Screenwriting from Massachusetts you’ll find that Chazelle joins of list of at least 20 writers who attended Harvard and had their work end up as movies. 

Other Massachusetts related posts:

‘The Verdict’ Revisited
Tony C
Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski (‘Prisoners’)
Will Simmons’ Road to Hollywood
Mad Men (and Women) Writers
Screenwriter Thomas McCarthy
Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg
Writing ‘Good Will Hunting’
(Yawn)…Another Pulitzer Prize
Screenwriting Quote #3 (Charlie Kaufman)

Scott W. Smith

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“It’s a difficult time in the [film] industry at the moment. There’s a lot of changing over that’s happening, and there are a lot of very bright young people who want to get into it.”
Director John Schlesinger in 1969
Same year Midnight Cowboy was released for which Schlesinger won an Oscar for Best Director
Quote from the video below titled The Secrets of Legendary Film Directors (includes Kurosawa, Bergman and Fellini)

Remember that 1969 is the same year that Easy Rider hit movie theaters.

Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (and the Kenneth Bower doc of the same name) recounts how many of those very bright young people (including Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Peter Bogdanovich, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, and Francis Ford Coppola) changed the film industry–and makes the case for them saving the industry.

Now 45 years later Lucas and Spielberg are the old guard and just last year spoke publicly to film students at USC about the difficult and changing times of the film industry.  Lucas said, “The pathway to get into theaters is really getting smaller and smaller.” And Spielberg went as far as saying there could be an “implosion” or “meltdown” in the film business due to megabudget movies failing at the box-office simultaneously. Steven Soderbergh in his State of Cinema Talk last year added that cinema was under “assault” by studios (with the support of audiences).

In the late ’20 with the advent of sync sound in movies, along with the depression, there was a lot of concern in the movie industry about the changing times and technology. In the late ’40s and early ’50s with the spreading growth of television in homes there was much concern in the film industry about the changing times and technology. In the ’80s it was cable TV and VHS tapes that people feared would keep people away from movie theaters.  Most recently concerns have shifted to the Internet, videos games, and pirating. Changing times have a way of, well, changing. Constantly.

So here we are back to the future—difficult and changing times. And yet, you can still copy and paste Schlesinger’s 1969 words—”there are a lot of very bright young people who want to get into it”—and drop them in 2014.

And Soderbergh understands that some new young filmmakers (and new visions of old filmmakers) are going to emerge and find an audience.

“So whenever I despair I think, OK, somebody out there somewhere, while we’re sitting right here, somebody out there somewhere is making something cool that we’re going to love, and that keeps me going.”
Steven Soderbergh
Keynote address at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival

At that moment somewhere in Teaxs someone was working on something cool. As Soderbergh was giving that talk Richard Linklater was editing his newest film Boyhood that premiered at Sundance Film Festival last week.  Indiewire called the film ‘groundbreaking” and making “cinematic history” because the movie was shot with the same young actors 3 or 4 days a year—over the course of 12 years.

And winning the Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic and the Dramatic Audience Award at Sundance this year was the personal film  Whiplash written and directed by Damien Chazelle. A film that explores dedication to one’s art.  Whiplash’s executive producer Jason Reitman called it,  “Shine meets Full Metal Jacket.”

Whiplash—the word, as in severe head jerk—is a good metaphor for the difficult and changes times following the digital revolution. Changes that have transformed the film industry (if I can still use the word “film” ), but changes that have also brought new opportunities.

Scott W. Smith

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