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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Crichton’

“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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“It is not easy to cut through a head with a hacksaw.”
                                           Michael Crichton 
                                           Travels 
                                           Writer/producer/director and former medical student 

“Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.”
                                           Jurassic Park
                                           Novel & Screenplay by Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton died last week and he always seemed to me someone interested in what it meant to live.

The first movie I ever saw of his was Westworld when it first came out in the theaters when I was a youngster. Yul Brynner was stunning as a robot-gunslinger who malfunctions. I haven’t seen that film since it was first released, but after Jurassic Park came out I did recognize similar themes before I even connected them both to the mind of writer Michael Crichton. 

On one level both deal with amusement parks gone wild when the technology man has created back fires and lives become endangered. 

Crichton was a different kind of writer. Taller than average standing 6′ 7″ as well as being smarter and more talented than most of us.  He graduated from Harvard Medical School and was still a student there when he wrote his first best selling novel, The Andromeda Strain. According to his website he also “taught courses in anthropology at Cambridge University and writing at MIT.”

Anthropology is is the study of humanity. That is a deep field of study and one that is naturally connected to screenwriting. Movies allow us to explore ourselves and our surroundings, as well as other people in other cultures. They allow us to see how others react in a given circumstance and in turn we ask what we would do. 

One reason why The Shawshank Redemption is so highly revered is because while most people won’t spend time in prison they can relate to the situation–their own personal prisons. (Perhaps at home or work.) They can identify with a character or two–the good and the bad. Over and over again people write and talk about that movie giving them hope or helping them get through a difficult situation.

Knowing how humans interact is why President-elect Barack Obama says that The Godfather I & II are his favorite films even though Italian is not a part of his multi-cultural background.  He said it’s for the theme of family respect and honor.  I bet somewhere there is a class somewhere called Anthropology 101; The Godfather.

Crichton’s medical background explains why he knows “It is not easy to cut through a head with a hacksaw” as he wrote in his opening line in his book Travels. Of all of his writings that is the one I return to most. He traveled for the experience not for something to write about. But years later felt drawn to convey his thoughts:

If you’re a writer, the assimilation of important experiences almost obliges you to write about them. Writing is how you make the experiences your own, how you explore what it means to you, how you came to possess it, and ultimately release it.

Thirteen of his books became movies and as the creator of the long running TV show ER he won an Emmy, a Peabody, and a Writer’s Guild of America Award. Of course, Crichton had a Midwest connection being born in Chicago and co-writing the screenplay for Twister filmed partly here in Iowa.

Crichton was an insightful writer and long before it he was diagnosed with cancer he wrote an article for Redbook Magazine in 1991 called Happiness that’s worth a few minutes of your time.

Jurassic Park director Steven Spielberg had this to say about Crichton is friend of 40 years:

“He was the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the Earth. Michael was a gentle soul who reserved his flamboyant side for his novels. There is no one in the wings that will ever take his place.” 

Michael,  thanks for the thoughts, words and provocations. 

 

copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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