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When I first saw A Quiet Place the films Alien, The Birds, and Them came to mind. But later shades of a strange mix of films have also popped into my mind like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (monster in the house) and  Spielberg’s TV movie Duel. But what I didn’t think about was what Michael Phillips and Adam Kempenaar talked about on the Filmspotting podcast. Here’s an abridged version of their 25-minute conversation on A Quiet Place:

Michael Phillips: Why do I keep thinking of Shane and High Noon when I think about this rugged frontier clan fending off the hostiles in A Quiet Place? Is this some sort of bizarre hybrid of a western and a monster movie in a survivalist anthem?

Adam Kempenaar: I didn’t really think about westerns and High Noon. Though, of course, you get this idea in maybe like Rio Bravo where they’re sort of trapped in a certain spot and, yes, you do have the villains on the outside and you’re trying to survive.

Michael: [It is] in a peculiar way a western—with critters in it. It’s a bizarre hybrid of genres, but it seems to be really hitting people’s appetite very well.  And I can see why. 

Adam: It is about this idea of life of going on. The fact that you’ve got this family who are trying to live as relatively a normal life as they can. There is this sense of purpose. They’re still having school, [the mother is] still teaching her son how to divide properly because there’s this hope, there’s this thought that maybe someday math will matter again. And maybe it won’t be in a larger societal context. Maybe it will just be in the context of you trying to stay alive. The fact that they’re teaching them to fish and provide for yourself—depsite the hopelessness and the despair it would also be our instincts as human beings to do what we would normally do. Or try to make it as normal and to survive and have that sense of hope as opposed to letting everything overwhelm you.

Michael: This film for better or for worse is a completely sincere, unironic embrace of family values. And it’s the most family-values friendly horror film— I guess if you want to call it that—how do you characterize this thing?

Adam: I don’t know.

Michael: It’s running two or three genres at once.  I think the reason it was a huge success opening weekend and I suspect will continue to do well is it really is kind of a red state, blue state crossover. 

Note: A Quiet Place, after a month in theaters, continues to do well.  According to Box Office Mojo it came in third last night. And not only in red and blue or purple states—but overseas as well (whatever color that’s supposed to be) crossing the $250 million mark at the worldwide box office. Perhaps part of the crossover genius of A Quiet Place is you take two micro-budget indie filmmakers (Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) with a heart for Hollywood films, mix that with an actor known for his comedic chops on The Office (John Krasinski) and have him do a pass on the script and direct the movie, and then toss in big-budget Hollywood action director  of Armageddon and Transformers (Michael Bay) and have him produce the film and you’re bound to have something interesting.

Scott W. Smith

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Just as Sean Baker talked about the unusual influence of The Littel Rascals on his indie film The Florida Project, screenwriter Scott Beck talks about the unusual influence of the origins of the monster movie A Quiet Place. 

It started with Charlie Chaplin—and I’m 100% serious. In college, we were watching a lot of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton [movies]. And one of our favorites is a French filmmaker named Jacques Tati. And the thing about Jacques Tati is he was working in an era of when there was sound so his films may be dialogue free, but he’s using sound in ways that’s extremely comical or enlighting, or would tell something about who the character is. [So we thought] what if we combine that with our love of Alien, and of Jaws, and these incredible genre films that were not only rich in being terrifying but also really rich in character, too.
Scott Beck (who co-wrote A Quiet Place with Bryan Woods and John Krasinski)
Q&A at WGA Theater/ video posted on The Inside Pitch Facebook group

You may not have the benefit of ever going to the University of Iowa to study the films of Jacques Tati like Scott Beck and Bryan Woods did, but through the magic of the Internet you can get a taste of Tati’s work and influence here.

P.S. For a deeper dive, check out The Complete Jacques Tati DVD/Blu-Ray from The Criterion Collection.  

Related posts:

Mr. Silent Movie
Silent Clowns
Harold Loyd vs. Buster Keaton
Writing ‘The Artist’ (Part 1)
The Journalistic and Cinematic Roots of The Florida Project
Show Don’t Tell
Show Don’t Tell (part 2) with a Charlie Chaplin example

Scott W. Smith

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“I think one of the best things you can do as a filmmaker (or an artist in general) is to define what you love.”
Ted Hope

The above quote and list below of “32 Qualities of a Better Film” came from a Facebook post @tedhope.fanpage earlier this month. Click here to see how Ted Hope unpacks this list in more detail.

1. Ambition

2. Originality

3. Innovation

4. Integrity To The Concept

5. Discipline

6. Truthfulness

7. Joy Of Doing

8. Singularity

9. Communication Of Themes

10. Clarity of Intent

11. Synthesis of Style & Themes

12. Application Of Techniques

13. Reality Of Actors

14. Pleasure

15. A Good Story Well Told

16. Accomplishment Within The Means

17. Awareness & Appreciation Of The World

18. Acknowledgement Of The Limits Of Feature Film Form

19. Consideration Of Effects Of Representation

20. Recognition Of Film History

21. Subversive To The Status Quo

22. Provocation Of The Audience

23. Respect For The Audience

24. Confidence In The Filmmaking

25. Restraint

26. Awareness Or Avoidance Of Pretension

27. Access To The Subconscious

28. Differentiation Among Characters & Environments

29. Leaving Some Things Unexplained

30. Emotional Use Of Technique

31. Depth Of Character / Depth of Characters

32. Impassioned Point Of View

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I’m reading through Ted Hope’s book Hope for Film, From the Frontline of the Independent Cinema Revolutions (the Kindle version which I recommend) and came along this passage that he calls “My formula for the perfect Sundance Film.” I hope you find it helpful. (From pages 78-79.)

 

1. The protagonist: Center the story around an everyday person, someone the audience can identify with (not a wealthy or an evil type).

2. The plot: The protagonist needs to go through a serious arc, suffer hardship, and then come to some understanding that the audience didn’t expect.

3. Be bold: Show risk-taking in the filmmaking. Make it feel like it may all fall apart, but then save it at the last moment: People should say, “It’s bold.”

4. Be disciplined: If you can’t be bold, be disciplined. If it doesn’t fit the form, cut it out.

5. Own your aesthetic: Embrace, even flaunt, your aesthetic and the limits of your aesthetic. Don’t be ashamed of your limitations. Own your choices.

6. Engage bigger issues: The story has to be bigger than the movie itself and should deal with issues of either class conflict, gender conflict, sexual conflict, or other political issues. How do you comment on the world at large while still examining the minute and particular?

7. Cast: You need to cast a few stars or soon-to-be stars, so it should be an ensemble piece that covers generational conflict. You have the old-name actor you’re bringing back and the up-and-comer whom no one had seen yet, along with actors who can move from TV into feature films.

8. Shock value: It needs some moment of audacity, the kind of thing that people will talk about and that might even shock the uninitiated.

9. The right mix: Have a sense of humor about great tragedy— or find the tragedy in the hilarious. Embrace the cocktail; make it at least feel fresh.

10. Leave them wanting more: Shorter is better; 90 minutes is the new 120 (today, 80 is the new 90). No one ever says, “I wish it had been longer” when they leave the theater.

 

 

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The work I did with [writer/director Nicole Holofcener] on the Walking and Talking script would set the template for my standard development process with dozens of filmmakers later. In large part, it starts with a series of questions: How do you find the theme? What do you want the big takeaway from the movie to be for the audience? What do you want them to remember intellectually, and what do you want them to feel emotionally? At a certain point, Nicole came up with this image in her mind: The character Amelia (played in the film by Keener) is holding her friend Laura (played by Heche), who is getting married and starting a new way of life, afloat in the water. That, to me, was a baptismal moment of surrender and passage. It was about loving someone so much that you let her go. And that was the big takeaway of the movie in a single visual and heartfelt instant. But it was a process to get there. Once we found this telling scene, and once the theme of love as loss emerged, we had to make sure that the theme emerged elsewhere in the script.
Producer Ted Hope (The Ice Storm)
Hope for Film (with Anthony Kaufman
pp 65-66

Related posts:
Writing from Theme
Sheldon Turner on Theme
John Carpenter on Theme 
Diablo Cody on Theme 
Ryan Coogler on the Theme of Black Panther 

Scott W. Smith

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As an independent-film producer and an avid fan of ambitious and diverse work in all forms— and as a citizen of the world— I am always excited to keep up with the changing times. But nothing has prepared me for the onslaught of the last few years. 

…The Internet has transformed the business of the arts and how we connect with each other, well beyond our imagination. If Hollywood suits and corporate media higher-ups once determined the majority of our choices (simply by limiting them), we— the audience— are now the curators and the programmers, recommending films and other cultural pleasures to our friends, exchanging playlists, and sharing our opinions on social networks. We can now reach out online and mobilize others to vote both with their feet and their dollars, to act not on impulse, but on the knowledge and experience that comes with a highly connected, digital universe.

…Low-cost digital cameras as well as distribution avenues like YouTube and iTunes are available to nearly everyone, and you can be exposed to the history of cinema or music or just about any art form at any time you want— all for free, or virtually so. So why aren’t we making better creative work? And why can’t we come up with better ways to support the work and help it progress? We can. And by doing it together, we can build it better. With fewer barriers, fewer rules, and fewer conventions, filmmakers— and creators of all sorts— are freer to focus on developing new art forms, expanding beyond current modes, and discovering new ways of accessing and sharing content. We are on the verge of opening up which stories can be told, how they are told, and to whom and where we deliver them. Our ability to interact with films in different environments and in new social multi-user ways keeps changing. Cinema is not a single form or experience, but almost as varied as the artists who create it.

…Independence is the only choice when you’re not necessarily interested in a mass audience, and for the first time ever, we can effectively work outside that structure and specifically address the niches. We are right around the corner of an incredible blossoming of a new and vibrant cinema.
Film producer Ted Hope (in 2014) shortly before becoming the head of Motion Picture Production at Amazon
Hope for Film: From the Frontline of the Independent Cinema Revolutions (pp. 22-24).

Related posts:

In light of today’s post it was fun to revisit two posts that I wrote ten years ago. I was writing in 2008 about a shift in the kinds of ways filmmakers were making films—including SMS Sugarman (2008) by South African filmmaker Aryan Kaganof.

New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 1)
New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 2) 
Cocaine Cowboys & the Future of Film (A post I wrote in November 2009 after watching my first film online.)

Scott W. Smith

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When I make my new film, I’m not just competing against Poultrygeist. I’m not just competing against the new Mel Gibson movie. I’m competing against the whole history of cinema. You sit here in your home and say, ‘Well, next on my Netflix queue I have this Kurosawa film, this Fritz Lang film, the fourth season of South Park , and I have Slither by James Gunn.’ I have all these things I want to watch. I’m competing against the history of cinema. So why are you going to watch my movie tonight instead of those? I need to give you the access. I have to give you the ramp trail to get you to the wheel and make you content to keep running around. Okay, so that’s not the best metaphor…

As a new filmmaker, you have to recognize, that’s your job. You have to build the ramp to get us to watch the movie. You have to get us to say, ‘Kurosawa may be one of the greatest filmmakers ever, but tonight I’m going to watch Joe Blow’s $20,000 debut film.’ And that can happen; you can win that nightly battle.
Longtime indie producer Ted Hope (and now head of production at Amazon Studios) in 2010 
Sell Your own Damn Movie! by Lloyd Kaufman with Sara Antill
(via Masteringfilm.com)

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