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“I like to think about sequences. I really believe less in a three-act structure and much more in sequences that are sort of eight-to-12 pages. Roughly about ten-minutes that work almost like chapters in a story. Nobody is better at building a story this way than Steven Spielberg… The sequences have their own beginning, middle, and end that are satisfying—it really pulls you along.”
Director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind)
Masterclass

Related post:

Sequence Writing (Tip #105)

A look at Chris Soth’s sequence version called the “mini-movie method”—mixed with a little Blake Snyder

Scott W. Smith

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“Is there a thematic narrative question that’s being asked? And is it answered? Because without that it’s not very fulfilling storytelling.”
Director Ron Howard
(On one of the questions he asks when considering a screenplay.)

The screenplay for the 1984 film Splash received an Acadamy Award nomination (Bruce Jay Friedman, Lowell Ganz, Brian Grazer, Babaloo Mandel).  Splash director Ron Howard, fresh off directing Solo: A Star Wars Story, explains an angle he brought to the fish out of water story that he directed early in his career.

Splash is an example of basically a 30s romantic comedy. It makes all the boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, all the obstacles—they’re right out of the screwball comedies. Which I always adored. Even in the 80s when we made Splash it was already too tired to do it in a literal way, yet adding the fantasy element of her being a mermaid it made all of that okay. So sort of the traditional idea, the sort of quaint idea, was suddenly fresh, visual, funnier, and more interesting. Along the way, I also came up with this other theme that love is not perfect. I actually got the John Candy character to say that line. And it became really important to me. It was the idea that you’re going to have that initial rush of romance and excitement and then may discover there’s some complications, there’s some problems—yet what are you going to do with that love? Is that going to be the thing that chases you away or are you going to accept it?”
Oscar-winning director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind)
Masterclass

It’s hard to hear John Candy say, “Nobody said love’s perfect” and miss the echo of the line “Well, nobody’s perfect” from the end of the 1959 movie Some Like It Hot. And to show what’s old is new again, check out the video below to show the connection between Splash and the 2018 Best Picture Oscar-winner The Shape of Water. 

I don’t think we’ve seen the last of literal fish out of water stories. A couple of years ago there was a reboot of Splash in development with Channing Tatum and Jillian Bell attached with this twist—Tatum as the mermaid.

Related posts:

Writing from Theme 
More Thoughts on Theme
Michael Arndt on Theme
Diablo Cody on Theme
Scott Frank on Theme
Sidney Lumet on Theme

 

Scott W. Smith

 

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My advice is always that your path to success is to do the things that you’re the best at. And I think a lot of time the things that you’re the best at are the things that you have the most passion for. And I think those are the two areas I would always recommend people focus on. I think that it’s more likely that a fantastic amazing stunt coordinator is going to get hired to direct a big movie than someone who has made another big movie really badly. Like I just don’t think that – it’s an industry where you get over-rewarded for things that you do really well. And I think that those are the things that you need to focus on.

I think it was Guillermo del Toro said that all of the things that are flaws about you when you start doing well just become your voice. And when you’re not doing well they’re all the things people point out as problems.
Indie Producer Keith Calder
Interview with John August on Scriptnotes. Ep. 343

P.S. On a similar note writer/director Francis Ford Coppola said the things that they criticize you for early in your career are what you get honors for later in your career.

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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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