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Posts Tagged ‘Jim Mercurio’

“There’s a great scene in Annie Hall when Alvin and Annie—I think they’re at a party and on a balcony—and they have some small talk and every time they small talk a subtitle comes up to say what they’re really saying…this is exactly what subtext is.”
Jim Mercurio
(On the scene below written by Woody Allen)

“There is great pleasure in having and figuring out that what a person is saying is not exactly what they mean. That’s what you have to fight for. The rule is have fun. Make sure if you know what the beat is that you’re trying to hit—the intention of the character, find a clear way to communicate it that actually doesn’t look like it. And that’s where you can have some fun.”
Filmmaker/teacher Jim Mercurio  ()
Complete Screenwriting: From A to Z to A-List DVD course

Related posts:
Writing Subtext (Tip #43)
Visual Subtext (Tip #39
The Making of Woody Allen in 10 Simple Steps
Screenwriting Quote #39 (Woody Allen)

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Think about different ways of telling your story without dialogue…Try to find visual ways to tell your story.”
Jim Mercurio

Dr. Grant: Are you sure the raptors are contained?
Dr. Sattler: Unless they figure out how to open doors.
Jurassic Park, written by Michael Crichton and David Koepp

“In Jurassic Park in the kitchen scene where the velociraptors are chasing the kids, there’s no way the kids should escape velociraptors, but they’ve got home field advantage. Everything about the kitchen is used against the velociraptors. There’s doors and they have claws. There’s stainless steel which has a mirror-like reflection but it’s also slippery. And the tile floor is slippery, too. And there’s a freezer that has a weird handle. So all these things together are how these kids are able to escape the velociraptors. And basically [the kids] have home field advantage, it’s using that location in a clever way.”
Filmmaker/teacher Jim Mercurio  ()
Complete Screenwriting: From A to Z to A-List DVD course

P.S. There are even a few more layers to that classic Spielberg directed scene where the filmmakers used the location and props to add conflict and drama:
1) The first thing the kids do when they enter the kitchen is turn off the lights again using what’s at hand for survival, giving a horror like lighting to the scene. (But the DP used small windows placed on high on the kitchen set to allow light to spill into the kitchen so it’s not pitch dark.)
2)  It’s used against the kids where the ladle falls to the ground altering the velocirapors of their location.
3) The round window in the kitchen door adds drama and a touch of humor when the velociraptor  breathes on the window and then peeks through the window and his own condensation.
4) Once the velociraptors figure out how to use the handle on the door, it’s one of those heavy doors that closes automatically so there is a little push back the raptor as to figure out.
5) The raptors make a loud noise which reverberates through the kitchen full of reflective surfaces and the young boy covers his ears.
6) After the raptor fully enters the kitchen, what’s worse than being hunted by a raptor in a kitchen? Being hunted by two raptors in a kitchen!
7) At one spot it actually looks like another visual humor cue where we see just the raptors claws on the tile floor and it looks to me as if there is a little tap, tap, tap of the claw as if to say, “Now where are those little kids I’d like to eat?”
8) The tail of the raptors is used to push over many pots and pans that crash on top of the kids and then onto the hard floor.
9) The young girl uses the ladle to distract the raptors because they are close to the boy and he is frozen in terror.
10) A door jams in one of the places where the young girl tries to hide.
11) Kitchens tend to have ice, right? The filmmakers use that as well.
12) What the filmmakers didn’t use: A round door handle on the kitchen door which would have prevented the raptors from entering in the first place. Of course, they could have and raptors could have just pounded the door down making for a dramatic entrance. But there was a nice set-up/pay off by playing off the line, “Unless they figure out how to open doors.”

Related posts:
Visual Conflict
Show Don’t Tell (Tip #46)
Show Don’t Tell (Part 2)
Everything I learned in Film School (Tip #1)

Scott W. Smith

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“Here’s the beautiful thing about theme, it’s the underlying message that kind of unifies the story…Even if you don’t write from theme I know the reason why a lot of you are sitting down and putting the time into [screenwriting] is you have a way of looking at the world that you want to communicate to people…Just like dialogue needs to have subtext and not be on the nose, you never want to be on the nose thematically. You don’t want to be didactic, you don’t want to be preachy, it’ll put people to sleep. It’s not what people expect from drama. Drama is about emotion…In Star Wars Luke has to shoot the Death Star, he has to shoot something down a little hole—blow up the Death Star. And he’s got a chose in front of him, he’s got the force—’Use the force, Luke’—or he has a computer. Now the computer technology isn’t just like [basic] computer technology, it’s the technology that built the Death Star—which is pretty powerful stuff. So when he chooses the force and he’s successful, you get this theme; ‘Humans, intuition is more important than technology.'”
Filmmaker/teacher Jim Mercurio  ()
Complete Screenwriting: From A to Z to A-List DVD course

Related Posts:

Writing from Theme
David O. Russell on Characters & Theme
Obligatory Scene=Story’s Theme
Scott Frank on Theme
Shane Black on Theme
Sheldon Turner on Theme
Theme=Story’s Heart and Soul
Michael Arndt on Theme
Sideny Lumet on Theme
More Thoughts on Theme

Scott W. Smith

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“You want to frustrate expectations, but you also want to break clichés in a surprising way. So in Hoosiers instead of benching the good player and putting in the bad player, [the coach] benches the good player and there’s no one to replace him. They play with four players instead of five.”
Filmmaker/teacher Jim Mercurio ()
Complete Screenwriting: From A to Z to A-List DVD course

Below is the Hoosiers scene (written by Angelo Pizzo and directed by David Ansaugh) where  the star basketball player isn’t listening to the coach (talk about frustrating expectations) but to those in the crowd all is good because that player keeps scoring. The coach takes him out of the game, and a few moments later when another player fouls out of the game the coach defies the expectations of everyone else in the building (well, maybe not Dennis Hopper) by not letting the star player back in the game. He deals with the dilemma by chosing to play with four players instead of five.

P.S. So the next time you have a guy run out of bullets, before you have him throw his gun at the person chasing him ask yourself what would Coach Gene Hackman (or screenwriter Pizzo) do to defy/frustrate expectations.

Related posts:
Hoops, Hoosiers, & Hollywood
Postcard #14 (Hickory, Indiana)
Storytellers from Indiana
Movie Cloning (Avoiding Cliches)
Chaplin on Embracing Cliches

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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Citizen Kane is the film that made me want to become a filmmaker.”
Oscar-winning director William Friedkin (The French Connection)

No Trespassing

“I think the opening image is usually about theme. And the question you might ask is what comes next? Character? Setting? Tone? Genre? Well, I don’t think that’s the right question to ask because there’s no perfect answer. I want you to think about your images and your sounds in your opening in order that you’re doing two or three things at once. In Citizen Kane we immediately get the castle, we get Xanadu. But is it just location? No way. We see the animals so it’s like a zoo, and a cage to suggest some kind of prison—and it’s dark. And there’s a NO TRESSPASSING sign at the gate and the camera’s going over that as we come in to discover the rosebud moment. So we know this movie thematically and storywise is going to be about trespassing on someone’s life and kind of digging in. So you see it’s not just about location. A great movie can never spend three minutes on this and three minutes on that, it’s got to being doing all of this at the same time.”
Filmmaker/teacher Jim Mercurio ()
Complete Screenwriting: From A to Z to A-List DVD course

P.S. I’m sure someone has written a nice article about opening movie shots (or at least opening scenes) and how they tie into the theme of the film. If you know of one put it in the comments or shoot me an email at info@scottwsmith.com . And if you have a favorite opening image that ties into the meaning of the film let me know as well. The open images of the movie Witness being about community has been well documented. One could even say there are two communities at odds in that movie. The crooked, violent police community and the pious, anti-violent Amish community. The goal of one community is to kill the Harrison Ford character while the goal of the other community to preserve his life.

Related Post:
‘The Greatest Film Ever Made’
‘Study the Old Masters’—Martin Scorsese
Stagecoach (2.0) The John Ford film that Orson Welles watched 40 times before and/or during the making of Citizen Kane.
Screenwriting Quote #166 (Joseph McBride) McBride manually typed an entire copy of the Citizen Kane script while a student in college.
Screenwriting Quote #38 (Orson Welles) “I want to give the audience a hint of a scene. No more than that…”
Theme=What Your Movie is Really About
Writing from Theme (Tip #20)

Scott W. Smith

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“The choice between good and evil is really no choice at all.”
Robert McKee

Back on the first day of summer I wrote a post called the Screenwriting Summer School where among other things I pulled quotes from The Dialogue Series that was on You Tube. Since the full interviews of that series have disappeared online I think this month I’ll round the summer school (summer lasts longer in Florida—it was 85 degrees today) with some quotes from Jim Mercurio’s Complete Screenwriting: From A to Z to A-List DVD course.

“I believe characters boil down to pretty much one clear dilemma. A dilemma is a choice between two equally good things or two equally bad things. Like in The Godfather, Michael the very good thing: to not be a criminal, to not be in the Mafia, to unlike his family stay outside of it, that’s pretty good right? However you know what’s also good? Saving his family from complete destruction, ‘cause once his father dies Sonny and Fredo aren’t going to do it, right? So he has a choice. You can look at it as a hard choice, I don’t want to be a criminal  but I don’t want my family to die. But either way it’s a choice he doesn’t want to have to make. ”
Filmmaker/ consultant Jim Mercurio ()

 

Related post:
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO (?) “QUESTION:WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, ACUTE GOAL.”
Screenwriting Quote #11 (Eugene Vale) What Mercurio calls Dilemma, I think Vale would call a disturbance.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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