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Posts Tagged ‘Lee A. Matthias’

It looks like 2011 is going to be the year of the clones. Not in terms of movies in the theaters (because that’s always the case), but in terms of my exploring the topic from a screenwriting perspective.

“You don’t get to be a Hollywood hitmeister like (Michael) Bay — 200 Zillion Tickets Sold! — without indulging in formulas, and the characters Star Warshero Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation) play in The Island bear a striking resemblance to the hyperactive narcs of Bad Boys, the tireless Earth-savers of Armageddon, and the dashing flyboys and selfless nurse of Pearl Harbor. Bay watchers know the king of the big-budget directors has been in the cloning game for a decade now, and that he knows a good thing when he repeats it.”
Bill Gallo
Send in the Clones
SF Weekly July, 20, 2005

And though Gallo’s quote from a critic’s perspective is meant in the pejorative sense, for the screenwriter inside you it is should make you sit up and take notice. Time and time again it’s been said that getting a feature produced and released into theaters takes a minor miracle. (Getting people to see the film and then to win awards takes a major miracle.) So it’s worth it to at least take a look at what kind of films are being made because most screenwriters would rather be writing movies rather than just scripts that are left unproduced.

Again don’t be turned off by the word clone. Don’t think of it as a mere copy, but as containing similar DNA. If it’s good enough for Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Scorsese, etc.—maybe there’s something to it. Yes, of course, there are bad clones (Pasadise two years after Blue Lagoon*) but keep in mind that Castway was a modern retelling of Robinson Crusoe and (as Lee A. Matthias points out) Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet was updated into West Side Story.

In fact, there were 13 Oscar nominations between Castaway and West Side Story. Take what you want and make it your own. And just for the record Robinson Crusoe was first published in 1719 and Romeo and Juliet circa 1560. With reports of similar stories of both being told even before those authors were born. The quest for love and survival are as primal and universal as you can get.

*Of course, I haven’t seen it since in came out in 1980, but Blue Lagoon starring Brooke Shields was probably just a retelling from a youth perspective of Robinson Crusoe. Toss in the TV shows LOST and Gilligan’s Island and you can see the stranded on an island concept is never going away. Here’s a trailer you may have never seen from a movie called Horrors of Spider Island about “eight beautiful girls” and one man stranded on an island (Hmmmmm):

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

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I didn’t intend to spend several days exploring movie cloning, but it’s turned into quite a rabbit hole of information. On top of the words that I listed in part 1 that explain why some movies remind you of other movies (remake, update, homage, rip-off, mash-up, inspired by, parallels, movie mapping, story patterns, story echo, influences, plagiarism) some additional words have popped up—imitation, riff,  and paean. (Paean: A fervent expression of praise.) Writer Lee A. Matthias at The Last Reveal calls it “Lateral Screenwriting.”

Now on the comment section of Movie Cloning (Part 2) a point was made that the word cloning “makes it sound like copying and that reduced creativity is involved.”  But I’m not talking about hitting Apple—C on a script. And I wrestled with using the word cloning, but went with it because it seemed fresh. Another reason is I associate the concept of DNA with cloning.

Perhaps a scientist can fill us in (in layman’s terms) on how cloning is really an “umbrella term.” Not all cloning is the same. My understanding is that not all cloning is reproductive cloning (a duplicate copy). Nor is there anything easy about it. (And, for the record, scientists do very creative work.)

I think “DNA Cloning” is what I had in mind when linking two films that have similar characteristics. With the example of “Avatar” and “Dances with Wolves” I don’t think there was anything easy about James Cameron’s 15 year journey to get “Avatar” made. But I do think it’s clear that “Avatar” and “Dances with Wolves” do share the same DNA—and that was by design.

Cameron used structural DNA from “Dances” and that helped greatly with some of the heavy lifting on “Avatar,” but there was still a lot of work to be done.

It’s not really even possible to perfectly clone a film unless you had the exact same actors, locations, etc. The 1998 version of Psycho where Gus Van Sant matched Hitchcock’s 1960 version shot for shot is as close as I can think of as a film that was trying to literally clone another film. (I wondered if someone had edited the famous shower scene together from both versions and of course they have uploaded it to You Tube: Psycho Re-Imagined. (I think it was Sydney Pollack who said something to the effect that Hitchcock had his own style because he kept making the same film.)

And if you think all of this talk is beneath you as a writer, listen to the screenwriting advice from a Hollywood agent:

“Deliver a world or a setting that we’ve never seen before, or that we haven’t seen in a while (remember approximately 50% of the movie going audience is between 14 & 24. If a concept was used 10+ years ago, odds are they haven’t seen it). “War of the Worlds” = “Independence Day”=”War of the Worlds”. “Kelly’s Heroes” = “Three Kings”. “Taming of the Shrew”=”10 Things I Hate About You,” “Disturbia” = “Rear Window.” Are these exact matches? No! But are they delivering, or repackaging if you will, concepts that the earlier films/plays successfully sold to the consumer. Yes!”
Bruce Bartlett
Bartlett Screenwriting Tips Blog

Bartlett, by the way. was the first agent I ever talked to. Back in 1996 he read a script of mine called First Comes Marriage.* (In a follow-up phone call he said he was looking for something edgier like Swingers.) He’s a partner at Above the Line Agency in Beverly Hills. (You can submit queries to them online.) His partner, Rima Greer, has written an informative book called The Read , Low Down, Dirty Truth About Hollywood Agenting.

But as for movie cloning, can you really watch the 2010 film Date Movie and not at least think of Hitchcock’s 1959 film North by Northwest? Of course you can, and that’s Bartlett’s point. People just want to watch Steve Carell & Tina Fey and laugh—which is why it made $98 million domestic.  But people who write and are up on film history know otherwise. In fact, I just Googled, “Date Night is North by Northwest” and found a post by Allen Palmer titled, Did you catch Hitchcock in Date Night? He can fill you in on the similarities of the two films.

Ever wonder how Walt Disney and his team of animators were able to crank out so many great films? Maybe it had something to do with using the same DNA. (Again, I saw this connection on Kal Bashir’s website.)

Winnie the Pooh

The Jungle Book

Just one more reminder that there’s nothing new under the sun.

*As a side note, First Comes Marriage, a script I completed in 1995 involved a couple getting married the day they met. It was simply an original idea that I had never seen or read  before (or had ever heard of happening in real life) but I thought it could happen and would be interesting to explore. While never produced, the basic concept was similar to the hit TV show Dharma & Greg (1997-2002), and in the 2008 film What Happens in Vegas.

Scott W. Smith

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