Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Demme’

“One of the questions you get asked when you’re a professional filmmaker is, ‘I want to be a director, how do I do it?’ And the only real answer to that question is ‘make a film.’ Twenty years ago, even ten years ago it was harder to do that. But with the advancement of digital technology with the fact that, yeah, I can shoot a whole movie that can be on television and in theaters on a camera you can buy at Walgreens.”
Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs)
From the video below produced for the Cinema Studies program at Oberlin College

Just because screenwriters William Goldman and Mark Boal took the metaphorical train from Oberlin, Ohio to the Oscars doesn’t mean they are the only ones from the school in Hollywood. Turns out that there’s an Oberlin Express that has produced numerous people working in film and television.

Actor/writer Eric Bogosian (Talk Radio)
Screenwriter Peter Buchman (Che, Parts One and Two)
Director Julie Taymor (Frieda) She’s a Emmy and Tony-winner and has also received an Oscar nomination.
Writer/Director James Burrows co-creator of Cheers
Writer/Producer Nick Wauters (The Vampire Diaries, The Event)
The great writer Thornton Wilder (Our Town) attended before transferring to Yale.
Writer/director Lena Dunham (Girls)

“I was hell bent on going [to Oberlin College]. I had visited Oberlin on a beautiful spring day when I was a junior and found it magical.”
Lena Dunham 

Dunham graduated from Oberlin in 2008 with a degree in creative writing. She began writing short films while in college and the year after she graduated created (writer, director, producer, costar) the web series Delusional Downtown Divas and made the indie film Tiny Furniture which was released in 2010. Somewhere along the way she got on Judd Apatow’s radar and Dunham had a small role in his film This is 40 and in 2012 Apatow began producing the HBO show Girls—which Dunham created and is one of the main actors.

Now to come full circle back to Jonathan Demme. An education at Oberlin College will cost you a little more than that camera you can buy at Walgreens. (Does Walgreens even sell video cameras? Maybe he meant Wal Mart.) But Demme didn’t answer the question how do I become a director by saying you had to go to film school, he didn’t say you had to drop $100,000-$200,000 on an undergraduate program. (Or double that getting a master’s degree.) He said get a cheap camera and make a film.

BTW—Back in the ’80s I was at a talk Demme gave at AFI as part of their Directors on Directing program, and he essentially said the same thing. It’s just back then you did need a small army of people and a chunk of money for film. Below is the trailer for the documentary I’m Carolyn Parker (2011) where Demme was producer, director, and cameraman. Along with a small team of people Demme spent five years documenting one woman’s story in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Related post:
Oberlin to Oscars
“Unstoppable” Wesleyan University (Another non-USC/UCLA/NYU school with quite a track record in Hollywood)

Scott W. Smith

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The Silence of the Lambs is the most authentically terrifying movie since Psycho.
Robin Wood
Film Reference

“Do we seek out things to covet? … No. We begin by coveting what we see every day.”
Hannibal Lecter

It’s hard to believe that The Silence of the Lambs (1991) was released almost 20 years ago.  A few days ago I watched the five time Oscar-winner for the first time in at least a decade and it hasn’t lost any sparkle—or creepiness.  The movie is based on the best-selling book of the same name by Thomas Harris.  Harris’ roots are in the deep south, born in Jackson, Tennessee and raised in the small town of Rich, Mississippi. In 1988, his book The Silence of the Lambs won the Bram Stroker Award (Novel) presented by the Horror Writers Association.

So the story had a lot going for it when screenwriter Ted Tally set out to turn the 352-page novel into a 126-page screenplay. When Tally was finished he had crafted a well-tuned script and walked away win an Oscar for best adapted screenplay.

“The first thing I do is break down the book scene by scene. That’s my method of working, the way I approach a screenplay adaptation. When I have all that broken down, I’ll try to establish and define the line of events; this event happens, then this event, then this and this happens, all the time trying to keep the integrity of the novel, or source material.

What’s important for me is finding what sticks out in my mind. That’s when I’ll put those scenes down on cards, one by one, just getting the story line down, concentrating on the needs of the adaptation.

Adapting The Silence of the Lambs, for example, I knew this had to be Clarice Starling’s (Jodie Foster’s) story. Even though the book goes inside Hannibal Lecter’s mind, inside Crawford’s (Scott Glenn’s) mind, inside Jame Gumb’s mind, the book basically follows the character of Clarice.

So, this had to be Clarice’s movie. Anything she’s not in, any scene that may be extraneous to furthering Clarice’s story, had to be cut, if possible. If it’s not cut, then it has to be kept to an absolute minimum. This story is her journey. Approaching it this way meant automatically reducing the book.

But keeping a determined focus on Clarice meant losing a lot of wonderful things that were in the book. Jack Crawford’s dying wife, for example. I bitterly tried to hang on to that in the first couple of drafts, but by the third draft I realized it wouldn’t work; so, it had to go. I had to be ruthless in terms of what I kept and what I didn’t keep.”
Screenwriter  Ted Tally
Ted Tally —On Adaptation/ Syd Field.com

Anthony Hopkins, who won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Hannibal the Cannibal, holds the record in the Best Actor category for shortest on screen time (under 17 minutes). Hopkins’ acting lesson: “How do you play Hannibal Lecter? Well just don’t move. Scare people by being still.”

Though Hopkins was an understudy to Sir Laurence Olivier at the Royal National Theater in London it may have been his unbringing that help shaped his role as Lecter. On IMDB Hopkins is quoted as saying, “My own father was a tough man. He was a pretty red hot guy but he was also cold. He was also slightly disappointed in me because I was not a good kid as a school boy, you know. But I learned from it, I liked that coldness, because it was harsh. And he taught me to be tough. So I know how to be tough. I know how to be strong. I know how to be ruthless. It’s part of my nature. I wouldn’t be an actor if I wasn’t.”

The Silence of the Lambs also won an Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director (Jonathan Demme), and Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jodie Foster) making it the last film to pull off an Oscar sweep in the top five categories. The seeds of which were planted all those years ago when Thomas Harris was reading Hemingway as a youngster in the fertile literary land of the Mississippi. It probably didn’t hurt that he earned an English degree at Baylor University and worked as a crime reporter in Texas and New York.

Scott W. Smith

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