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Posts Tagged ‘David Fincher’

“The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.”
Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt)

I’m breaking the first two rules of Fight Club today by talking about Fight Club. But it’s okay because it’s really Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk talking about where he got the original idea for his novel Fight Club. (I had never read or heard this account until a few days ago when I watched the movie version and listened to the commentary by Palahniuk and Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls.)

“I had gone on a vacation hiking and camping. I’d gotten into a really big fight with some people over noise at night in the woods. Some people who just had to camp right next to our camp—just had to bring some huge radio some 3,000 feet up the Pacific Crest Trail and have some big blow out party in the middle of the night. And I came back to work at the end of my vacation with my face just bashed—like Jack in the urinal next to his boss. My face was so awful, so trashed that nobody would acknowledge it, because to acknowledge it somehow they would have to find out something about my private life they just didn’t want to know. So for three months as my face slowly changed color and started coming back to white people would look at my chest, and they would talk to my Adam’s apple, and they would say, ‘So, how was your weekend? Did you do anything interesting?’ And I’d be looking at them with two huge black eyes and say, ‘No. How about you/’It just seemed so ludicrous that I thought if you looked bad enough no one would ever dare ask you what you did with your free time, and that was the genesis of Fight Club.”
Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk

The irony, of course, is people often go hiking and camping to disconnect from their everyday worlds and reconnect with nature and have a peaceful experience—unplugged from the everyday noise. Yet if Palahniuk has a peaceful hiking and camping experience he doesn’t end up getting in a fight and perhaps Fight Club never gets written.

P.S. A few days ago Jeff Goldsmith  (@yogoldsmith) tweeted this; “So @chuckpalahniuk told me he’s working with David Fincher & @trent_reznor to do a rock opera – an enhanced version of the film!”

P.P.S. Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls taught a class on CreativeLive called The Screenwriters Toolkit that is currently on sale for $41. I haven’t watched the class, but in general I love what the CreativeLive team produces. And since people often complain about the lack of teaching material by working screenwriters of well done produced films this would seem a good opportunity to fill that void.

Scott W. Smith

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“What I like is that the secret to the mystery that [Jack Nicholson’s character J.J. Gettes is] eventually going to uncover is right in front of his eyes almost at the very beginning. And like Oedipus you have the mystery in front of you. (He was the killer and he didn’t know it.) In a sense all detective movies are surrogate retellings of the Oedipus tale. That from the very beginning you know the hands that you look at all the time are a reminder of the killer, but he doesn’t realize it until the end.”
Screenwriter Robert Towne on the Chinatown commentary with David Fincher
26:30 mark

The above comment is a little cryptic if you aren’t familiar with both Chinatown and Greek mythology. But since Robert Towne won an Oscar (Best screenplay, Original Screenplay) for writing Chinatown I thought it was worth posting since the quote “all detective movies are surrogate retellings of the Oedipus tale” was something I’d never heard anyone say, and a reminder—as Arthur Miller was fond of saying—that there is gold to draw from in the theater of ancient Greece.

Related post: Writing ‘Chinatown’

Scott W. Smith

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“People have a great need to have their emotions expressed and affirmed by stories.”
Dona Cooper

Writing Great Screenplays for Film and TV, written by Dona Cooper, was first published back in 1994. But it wasn’t until I flipped through it last night that I really connected with her chapter on emotions.

They say when you re-read a book years after the first read through that the book hasn’t changed but you have.  That is definitely the case for me in part because last year I wrote the longest thread ever on this blog around one topic: Emotions. Beginning with Filmmaking Quote #25 (David Fincher) where he said, “Directors make things that you are supposed to get an emotional hit off of.  You’re supposed to feel something,” and ending with 40 Days of Emotions, which concluded by a great quote by Karl Iglesias, “Emotion is your screenplay’s lifeblood.”

So this time around, I was better primed when I came upon these words:

“Audiences like stories because stories give them emotional experiences they often can’t have in real life. Just like riding a real roller coaster gives people an opportunity to enjoy experiences that are more exciting than their everyday lives, a captivating story roller coaster provokes the same sense of exhilaration that makes audiences feel truly alive.

Yet most stories are entirely fictional and even those based on fact are still somewhat artificial, so why should a fictionalized story event have such emotional impact on audiences? How can emotions provoked by such an artificial medium be so compelling?

The reason is that people think in stories. Dreams, worries, gossip, religion, myth, and science are all stories that humans have created to give some sense of order and meaning to their lives that they can’t always find in everyday experiences…. In order to be emotionally involving, the pieces of the story eventually have to become personally meaningful, and the more direct the connection, the more power the story has.” 
Dona Cooper (Former AFI instructor now at UNC School of the Arts)
AFI’s Writing Great Screenplays for Film and TV
Pages 14-15

Scott W. Smith

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“Dating you is like dating a StairMaster.”
Erica Albright (Rooney Mara)
The Social Network

INT. COLLEGE BAR — NIGHT

Two young people sitting at a table talking and drinking beer.

MALE: I can’t believe it’s three minutes shorter than American Pie.

FEMALE: The movie?

MALE: The song.

FEMALE: What are you talking about?

MALE: The opening scene in the movie is five and a half minutes long, and the song is eight and a half minutes long.

FEMALE: What movie?

MALE: The Social Network.

FEMALE: Your point?

MALE: Eight thirty-three.

FEMALE: Eight thirty-three what?

MALE: Technically that’s how long the song is. Eight minutes and thirty-three seconds.

FEMALE: No one cares.

MALE: It’s one of the most popular songs ever.

FEMALE: No one cares that it’s eight minutes and thirty-three seconds long.

MALE: Do you want to order some food?

FEMALE: No.

MALE: Movie scenes are usually only between one and three minutes long.

FEMALE: Listen to me—No one cares.

MALE: Screenwriters care.

FEMALE You’re obsessed with screenwriting. You have screenwriting OCD. You need help.

MALE: Screenwriting leads to a better life.

FEMALE: Really? Name one screenwriter who’s happy?

MALE: I didn’t say they were happy.

FEMALE: Can we talk about something besides screenwriting?

MALE: Did you know that they did ninety-nine takes of that opening scene in The Social Network?

FEMALE: How is that even possible?

MALE: They shot it over two nights.

FEMALE: Two actors, ninety-nine takes? That’s crazy. Wait. I thought we weren’t talking about screenwriting.

MALE: We’re not. We’re talking about directing.

FEMALE: You are insane.

MALE: You should be a little more supportive. If I get in I’ll be taking you to parties and you’ll be meeting people you don’t normally get to meet.

FEMALE: You’d do that for me?

MALE: Of course. We’re dating.

FEMALE: Well I have news for you, we’re not.

MALE: Not what?

FEMALE: Dating. Bye, bye Mr. American Pie.

She’s gone. He’s left there with his beer. Alone—without a friend in the world.

The End

Director David Fincher not only did 99 takes of the opening scene in The Social Network, according to the movie’s screenwriter Aaron Sorkin he didn’t even yell “print” until the 30th take. Think of that— 99 takes of a scene that on paper is slightly over eight pages. Imagine what it took for actors Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara to pull off that scene from a sheer energy level.  (But I’m guessing that was the point, exhaustion and exasperation. You could hear one the actors saying to Fincher, “Acting for you is like working with a StairMaster.”)

Of course, they were shooting digitally on the Red Camera so there really was’t anything to “print,” but terminology tends to have a long shelf life in the film industry. (Like it will be the “film industry” long after film technically disappears.)

Fincher and director of photography Jeff Croneweth not only shot digitally, but they shot that opening scene with multiple cameras. It’s doubtful that in the history of cinema that there ever was a single scene shot on film with multiple cameras for 99 takes. The film costs alone would be outrageous. (But I’ll have to go back and check the records on Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate.)

But that opening scene of The Social Network is brilliant. It’s a simple scene that is full of complexity. It reveals character, theme, and meaningful conflict, and sets the tone for the entire movie. I think that as soon as they finished editing that movie that they should have sent it directly to the Smithsonian.

We’ll see what the Academy thinks tonight at the Oscar awards.

Related posts:
Aaron Sorkin on Theme, Intention & Obstacles

Movie Cloning (Aaron Sorkin)

Writing “The Social Network (part 1)

Writing “The Social Network: (part 2)

Screenwriting Quote #42 (Aaron Sorkin)

Scott W. Smith

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Now that it’s 15 years old, I think it’s safe to say that Se7en is a modern-day classic. When Se7en director David Fincher first started to read the Se7en script he didn’t get too far because the set-up was too common. It was the old detective/young detective scenario. But his agent encouraged Fincher to continue reading the script and he soon discovered what set the story a part and knew he had to make the film.

One key element that made Se7en usual (other than the ending) was the use of the seven deadly sins as an integral part of the story:

Gluttony
Greed
Lust
Envy
Sloth
Wrath
Pride

On the Se7en DVD commentary, screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker says;

“I don’t think I ever really had the seven deadly sins preached to me, just an awareness of what they were. I don’t know when I thought about it I could have sat there and named them for you even. I mean I was stupid, I thought—seven deadly sins—you could look them up in the Bible. But they weren’t in the Bible. I had to do the research to find out about St. Thomas Aquinas and them being used as a teaching tool. I love the fact that I think now more people can name them than maybe used to be able to because Brad Pitt was in a movie about them.

Researching the seven deadly sins it was like, I didn’t sit down and read all of the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas because that stuff would just go flying over my head. Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is a perfect example. In order to make a character like Somerset, who is kind of hyper intelligent on the intelligent scale you just have to have the tip of the iceberg intelligence to imply that the iceberg that lies underneath is Somerset.”

What that means is that personally in his writing Walker did not have to go as deep as he implied the character Somerset appeared to go. You don’t need to be as smart as a character like Somerset to write a character like Somerset. And when writing and directing the scene to show Somerset’s intelligence the filmmakers only needed one scene in the library to convey his attention to detail, research methods, and intelligence. (And Fincher and Walker basically conveyed that info without any words, just visuals and Bach music.)

And even that one scene can be boiled down to one five second clip that shows Somerset writing a note to Mills (Brad Pitt) that reads:

Mills:

You may want to check
the following books RE:

7 Deadly Sins:
Divine Purgatory
The Canterbury tales
The Parsons Tale
Dictionary of Catholicism

So when you have expo you need to convey in a script, remember you usually only need to show the “tip of the iceberg.”

Another good example of “tip of the iceberg” writing is in Good Will Hunting where we just need to see one quick scene to show Matt Damon reading a book with other books around him to know that he is smart and a voracious reader.

Can you think of other movies that revealed character by just showing the “tip of the iceberg”—or a scene that implied there was a lot more beyond the surface?

Scott W. Smith

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safetylast-1

Does anybody really know what time it is?
                                                             Robert Lamm/Chicago

Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By
                                                             Humphrey Bogart
                                                             Casablanca 


Did you know that Three Days of the Condor was based on Six Days of the Condor?

That is the movie Three Days of the Condor was based on the novel Six Days of the Condor.

Why do you think the screenwriters Lorenzo Semple and David Rayfiel compressed the novel by James Grady? I haven’t read any comments by the writers, Robert Redford who was the star, or by director Syndey Pollack on why that was done, but I have a pretty good hunch.

Movies do not handle long passages of time well. More often than not films will compress time for the sake of moving the story forward and keeping your interest.

Screenwriters and producers often talk of a time-lock on a film. A specific set of time the story is set when something must happen by. (“If you don’t get the heck out of Dodge by sunset there will be hell to pay.”) It sets the parameters for the story. Here are some films that have a time-lock:
High Noon
Speed
48 Hours
Apollo 13

Lew Hunter in his book Screenwriting 434 says when you use a time-lock “you inject an urgency into your story that can give it additional drive to heighten audience involvement and anxiety.” Of course, the more organic to the story the better.

Some movie deal with time by placing them in a single day, in just a night, or even in real time in the length of the film:

American Graffiti
The Breakfast Club
Halloween
Phone Booth 
Before Sunrise
Rope 
Timecode 
Russian Ark 

In a talk I heard John Updike give at the University of Iowa earlier this year he spoke about the limitations that film has in showing the passing of time. When he’s writing a novel he can take a person from a baby to old age and it’s no problem for the reader, but in movies it doesn’t work as well. He explained that if your main character is a child for the first 30 minutes of the film they have a certain amount invested in that person and to switch to another person is a jolt.

This may be one of the problems Updike is having in bringing the story of Olympic wrestler/famed college coach Dan Gable to to screen. Gable had a great high school, college career before winning a gold medal in the Olympics. Then he went on to win 10 national championships as a head coach at the University of Iowa before retiring. Then he came back as an assistant coach last year to help Iowa win another national championship.

How do you show that in an hour and a half or two hour movie? And even if you found a way, can you really have the same person play Gable as a 15-year-old high school freshman and Gable as a 63-year-old coach? See the problem there? 

Maybe the digital world will help this in the future and it will be interesting to see the effect on Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button where he plays an man born in his eighties and ages backwards. If anyone can pull that off it’s David Fincher & Eric Roth. (Didn’t that once happen on a Star Trek episode?) But it’s still Brad Pitt we are investing in.

Of course there are other exceptions, and generally Hollywood has found some creative ways to deal with the passing of time when needed. For instance, in Forrest Gump we are introduced to Forrest (Tom Hanks) as an adult in the opening scene and while we see Forrest as a child the majority of the film is as an adult. We are invested in Tom Hanks.

In The Natural they chose to have Robert Redford play both the thirtysomething Roy Hobbs as well as the teenage Roy Hobbs. They used soft lighting, shadows (and Redford’s youthful look) to create believability for the audience. 

The remarkable TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman won eight primetime Emmys including two for actress Cicely Tyson. Tyson playing a 110-year old woman reflecting on her life was amazing, and aided greatly by makeup and costume design (that both also won Emmys) as well as a whole creative team that brought the Ernest J. Gaines novel to life. (Leonard Maltin called it “One of TV’s all-time best,” so it’s worth renting of you’ve never seen it.)

One major problem with the passing of time is the amount of money it takes to create different eras. Think of the expense of the cars alone cover the time period of a story set in the 40s, 60s, 80s. Sure it’s been done, but if you are starting out it may be best to avoid that hurdle. (A short time frame also favors lower budget films since you have less continuity issues to worry about. Always good especially if you don’t have a script supervisor.) 

In my post Screenwriting by Numbers (tip #4) I point out some averages related to running time in movies such as most movies tend to be between 90-120 minutes in length and most scenes tend to run between 1-3 minutes long. And if all of this seems cold and artificial let me once again to the great quote by design guru Milton Glazer; “Limitation stimulates the imagination.”

 

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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