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Posts Tagged ‘Dorothy’

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
                                                        Dorothy

“Digital downloads! Internet video-on-demand! This is the future!”
                                                        Phil Alden Robinson
                                                        Director/screenwriter of Field of Dreams

 

In the last couple days I’ve written about webisode and Internet and the opportunities it is bringing screenwriters and filmmakers. But last night I had the antithesis of watching a two-minute web story alone on a 15″ laptop screen. I had a shared experience of watching The Wizard of Oz on the big screen with more  than 1,000 people accompanied live by a full orchestra.

It was quite an experience. Something even audiences 70 years ago when the movie was released didn’t get to experience. The Midwest premiere of Oz with Orchestra was performed by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony under the direction of conductor Jason Weinberger. 

But as popular and magical an evening as it was, watching movies with live orchestras is not going to be a regular movie going experience if for no other reason as it is cost prohibitive. So here we are back in the land of the Internet.

Back in 2003 one place made the proclamation about watching movies online “someday all movies will be watched this way.”  Now there are several places like Netflicks and iTunes where you can legally download movies free or for a price. And who knows how many places there are to illeagally download movies? In fact, before the much anticipated film  X-Men Origins: Wolverine release next week it has been estimated that over 2 million people have already watched an  illegal download of the movie.

 I don’t know what all of this means for the movie industry so I thought I’d see what the Wizard of Hollywood had to say about all of this. Here’s what  Steven Spielberg told Katie Couric on the NBC Today Show back in 1999, “I think that the Internet is going to effect the most profound change on the entertainment industries combined. And we’re all gonna be tuning into the most popular Internet show in the world, which will be coming from some place in Des Moines.”

I hope he’s wrong. I hope that Internet show is coming from Cedar Falls, Iowa. (And I hope it’s being produced by River Run Productions.)

Oh, you don’t think Spielberg is the Wizard of Hollywood? Let’s go back a couple years ago when George Lucas according to Vanity Fair said in effect that the secret to the future is a large quantity of small, web-distributed movies; and the habit of moviegoing will be a thing of the past.

I wouldn’t bet against Spielberg and Lucas. But however inventive films are viewed in the future, scripts still need to be written the old fashioned way — word by word.

Oz trivia: Did you know that not only Dorothy had Midwest roots but so did the actress who played here? Judy Garland was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Minnesota and her childhood home is now the Judy Garland Museum.  The Minnesota town also is in its fourth decade of having a Judy Garland Festival each June. 

And if you’d like a different experience to watching the film that AFI has ranked as the number one fantasy movie, I’ve heard the The Wizard of Oz actually syncs up pretty good to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon if you begin the CD on the third lion roar at the start. Really, who discovers these things? 

 

Scott W. Smith

 

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

“There’s no place like home.”
Dorothy
The Wizard of Oz

There are many ways to attack writing your story and if you read enough of how writers ply their trade you will find quality writers who come from all kinds of angles; plot, character, situation. Another angle  is writing from theme. And even those who don’t start with theme have one emerge somewhere in the process.

Talking about theme can can get a little tricky but I like to say that it is not your story, but is what your story is really about. (Some also call this the controlling idea.) The story of Oliver Stone’s Scarface is a Cuban emigrant who rises from tent city to become a drug lord in Miami.  The theme of Scarface is the old standard crime doesn’t pay, or you could say, a life of excess and ruthless ambition will destroy you. Theme wise, Tony Montana (Al Pacino) is in the same family as Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Variations of theme can pop up anywhere in the story. At the beginning of another Stone film Wall St., the first words out of Bud Fox’s (Charlie Sheen) mouth when he’s asked how he’s doing is, “Any better and it’d be a sin.” Bud Fox does much better and it’s not only a sin but he has to go to prison.

Stone uses the wiser, older Lou (Hal Holbrook) to be the voice of reason as he tells Bud, “that’s the problem with money — it makes you do things you don’t want to do.” Another time he tells Bud, “Enjoy it while it last — cause it never does.” (That film takes place in ’85 but they would have been fitting words for all of us in ’05, and probably will be twenty years from now. Good themes are timeless and universal.)

Again the theme of Wall St. is crime doesn’t pay, or a life of excess will destroy you, or even “the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.” (Anyone working on a script for the Bernie Madoff story?)  The big difference between Scarface and Wall St. is Bud Fox doesn’t get killed at the end like Tony Montana. No, it’s more hopeful and Bud seems to have learned his lesson.

Speaking of hope … The Shawshank Redemption is all about hope and screenwriter & director Frank Darabont finds many ways to express that theme. On page 63 of the script Andy says while in prison “…there’s a small place inside of us they never lock away, and that place is called hope.”  Then there’s the most often quoted line from the film,”Get busy living, or get busy dying.” (Usually meant to get busy living.)

Some writers post the theme on the wall where they write to as a way to keep them centered and focused. On the front page of The Shawshank Redemption script are the words, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies…” — words that echo throughout the film. Words that stick with us long after we leave the theater.

The theme of hope is one of the major reasons people watch The Shawshank Redemption again and again. We may not ever have been in a state prison but we can identify with the situation as we all at times know what it’s like to live in our own personal prisons or at least know what it’s like to almost lose hope in difficult situations.

Theme pops up at the end of Braveheart as the last word that William Wallace (Mel Gibson) yells is “Freedom!” Or as the screenplay says, “FREEEEE-DOMMMMMM!” Throughout the film the fleshed out theme “Live free or die” is clear and that resonates here in the United States of America. (Heck,”Live Free or Die” is even the official motto of New Hampshire.)

Paul Schrader has said he wrote Taxi Driver by recognizing “a rip in the moral fabric of society” and used the metaphor of a taxi driver to represent loneliness.

Of course the danger with theme is writers can become heavy handed with it and audiences don’t like being beaten over the head with it. Films work best not as an intellectual exercise but as an emotional experience. (At least that’s traditionally been true in American cinema.) Audiences want to be sweep away by your story. They want to discover the theme not have it handed to them.

Theme is powerful stuff. So remember as you write, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Related posts: More Thoughts on Theme

Scott W. Smith


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