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Posts Tagged ‘movie’

“Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”
Squire Bill Widener
(Often wrongly attributed to Theodore Roosevelt)

[It’s a Wonderful Life] dealt with the sweeping problem, ‘What would happen if any individual had not been born?’  How would the world be if you’d not been born? Because the Jimmy Stewart character was just anybody from a small town, a very normal guy. He wasn’t anything in particular. Just a small town guy who tried to do the best he could with what he had. Now he was dissatisfied all the time. Dissatisfied with his lot. Dissatisfied with his place. Had ambition to do great things. Yet, had he not lived his particular little world would have been a worse place to live in. Now, this is a theme that I think is universal, and I think is one of the greatest themes I’ve ever encountered. I’d never seen it tackled head-on. What would happen to the world had some individual not been born? Now this is the ultimate in individuality. ‘Cause that individual is you, you, you, you, you, you. It was not Napoleon. One people, one little people. [Jimmy Stewart’s character] couln’t go to the war. Considered himself a complete failure. And found out he was worth much more dead than alive because he had a small little equity in a life insurance [policy].And he tries to bring that off [by attempting suicide]. And somebody comes along and says, no don’t do that, you’re pretty important to people, you know. So he gets a chance to see what his world would have been like had he not been born. Then he wants to live. Wants to live very badly. I think that’s a great tale. I don’t give a damn when you tell that story, I think it’s a great story.”
Three time Oscar-winning director Frank Capra 
(And director of It’s a Wonderful Life)
1971 Interview

Today happens to be my birthday and Capra’s words seem a fitting birthday post. (And I hope it’s encouraging to those of you especially going through a rough time.) And for the younger filmmakers out there who’ve perhaps never seen a Frank Capra film, I’m old enough to say, “Stay off the lawn, and go home and watch some Frank Capra films.”

H/T to Scott Myers at Go Into the Story for posting that Capra video a few days ago. I’d never seen it before. And my birthday gift to you—if you like film history and are unaware of this resource—check out the Cinephilia & Beyond  website because it’s outstanding. (And it comes from an unlikely place—Croatia. Consider supporting their work as well.)

P.S. Speaking of unlikely places, I think the official motto of Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikey Places should be; “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” (For what it’s worth, Capra’s journey began in Bisacquino, Sicily, Italy.)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“Screenwriting’s one unbreakable rule: Don’t be boring.”
Richard Walter
Essentials of Screenwriting

“One of the essential components of drama is tension…Drama, so said drama critic William Archer, is almost always the effect of ‘anticipation mingled with uncertainty.’”
Writer/Director Alexander Mackendrick (1912-1994)

There are many challenges involved when discussing current films from a screenwriting and filmmaking perspective. There’s the danger of giving away spoilers, it’s not a film that everyone has seen, it’s not an award winner, it hasn’t stood the test of time, there aren’t writer and director commentaries to glean information from, and it hasn’t yet been explored about in books.

So I won’t say much about Eye in the Sky—except that it’s one great example of superior filmmaking. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that it’s one of my favorite films of this decade.

I won’t say any more about it until a few months down the line, but kudos to screenwriter Guy Hibbert, director Gavin Hood, the producers, actors, and production team for hitting a grand slam. For creating that rare movie that is compelling, engaging, and thought provoking—even after you’ve left the theater.

I can’t remember ever feeling more like I was a hidden character in the film, wondering what the right decision in that situation would be. And Helen Muran and Aaron Paul—brilliant.

So while I won’t give away any spoilers on the film, I will provide 10 links to past posts that are buttons that I think the movie hits in terms of screenwriting, filmmaking & life.

Conflict-Conflict-Conflict
Tension=Attention
The Major or Central Dramatic Question
The Bomb Under the Table
What’s Changed?
40 Days of Emotion
What’s at Stake?
Earn Your Ending
Happy, Sad, Ironic & Ambiguous Endings
Screenwriting from Hell

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“I’m very lucky that I had a movie that allows me to do something as enormous as staging what at that point was the largest sporting event in American history. And at the same time investigate small emotional moments like when Howard loses his son.”  
Seabiscuit writer/director Gary Ross

ScriptSea

Recently I re-watched Seabiscuit (2003) again and found a great interview on the DVD extras where the director/screenwriter Gary Ross explains how he broke down an auto accident scene which becomes a “pivoital point” in the movie.

The movie set-up is about moving forward into the future. Americans at this time have moved into the age of the automobile. A young boy (around age 12) decides to have an adventure and take his father’s car down river to go fishing. The following quotes are all from Gary Ross and the sections in italic are from his notes:

“What I like to do when I develop a shooting plan for the movie is sort of take the early parts of the prep to do it privately.  And at that point I’m sort of pretending that someone else wrote the script and I’m interpreting it. The shooting plan can encompass a lot of things—it can be the way I see the lighting. It can be performance notes. It can be blocking notes. It isn’t just as dry and clinical as a shot list. When I make these notes I’m still connected to the emotional intentions”

(Sc#67.) SERIES OF INSERTS. Fishing pole insert. Rafters. INSERT loading the tackle box. Showing his purpose now- pleasing his father. Getting ready. (All the material that will be scattered across the river bottom later…

“I understand that I’m using these inserts to set up something for later on.”

Last insert is the key in the ignition. His hand fights with the gear shift. It should probably be up shift to emphasize his shortness, craning over the dashboard. 

SeabiscuitCar

(Sc#74.) Whizzing by on the road. His car one way. The Logging truck the other. Yeah. That would work great. 

“(Laughing) I don’t know that it will work great, but I’m sort of talking to myself saying, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea. Keep going with that.'”

Let’s not show the collision. Let’s allow that to stay in the imagination. Let’s show perspective—into Howard’s perspective at that moment. Getting a phone call [about his son being killed in an accident]. The moment of the accident is not as important as the news of the accident.

SeabiscuitRunning copy

Howard racing toward the camera. The world has gone quiet now.

“I think it’s important to say what you’re going to do with sound before you shoot something. Because the sound and picture are so completely fused. Sometimes the loudest things are a distant or silent scream…Those things obviously turn into a shot list, which is more dry or clinical, but when you have both things they enhance one another. One is almost the emotional roadmap to be able to read the other.

I did find a online version of the clip here but was not able to embed it into this post. Great to watch to understand the whole context. Consider it a solid free five-minute film school lesson that shows the intentionality of an Academy Award-nominated movie and screenplay.

And yet one more reminder of the importance of emotions in filmmaking.

Related posts:
Seabiscuit Revisited in 2008
Writing ‘Seabiscuit’ On writer who also wrote Unbroken.
Shelter from the Storm (‘Unbroken’)
Big’ Emotions (Another Gary Ross written screenplay.)
The Creature from… (Ross’ father—Arthur A. Ross—was also a screenwriter.)
‘It Take Guts To Be a Screenwriter’ (Gary Ross quote.)
40 Days of Emotions
Writing ‘The Godfather’ (Part 3) Includes a video showing the shooting book Coppola put together to shoot The Godfather. 

Scott W. Smith

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It’s my job to be cleaning up this mess 
And that’s enough reason to go for me
It’s My Job/Mac McAnally

“I kind of like the ring of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” I’m thinking about naming everything after Lee Daniels.”
Danny Strong screenwriter of Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Huffington Post article by Christopher Rosen

Following yesterday’s post about Ashton Kutcher’s quote on work, it seems fitting to give a shout-out to Lee Daniels’ The Butler which hits theaters today. Forest Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines, a character based somewhat on Eugene Allen who worked at the White house for eight presidential terms between 1952—1986. The original seed for the movie was inspired by the Wil Haygood 2008 Washington Post article A Butler Well Served by This White House and the screenplay written by two-time Primetime Emmy winner Danny Strong (Game Change).

“I knew pretty early that if we stuck to the absolute truth there would be no movie, because butlers are pretty tight-lipped. I didn’t know how to tell the story. Then I started researching, reading memoirs of people who worked at the White House. I interviewed butlers, house men, engineers, former chief ushers, family members of the first family. Through the course of these interviews, I realized I could create a composite character through which I could utilize different stories from different people. And that’s basically how the Gaines family came to be….There were two big breakthroughs. It was a story that took place over many administrations. As soon as I realized that this was going to be a story about the Civil Rights movement, and that was going to be the spine of the film, that was the first breakthrough. In all these administrations, there will be a common theme going on as we travel through the eras. And then the second breakthrough was [creating] a son who was a Civil Rights activist so that we could actually be in the center of the action while those events were happening. That created this really great triangle of the butler trying to get his son out of the Civil Rights movement and the presidents dealing with the crises that his son is in the middle of as the butler is serving those presidents. It made the story emotional even when the butler wasn’t speaking in the White House, and it created what I thought would be a very interesting generational story between father and son. It keeps everything personal and emotional as opposed to a history lesson.”
Screenwriter Danny Strong (Lee Daniels’ The Butler)
Fact, Fiction, and ‘The Butler’: A Q&A with Danny Strong by Jay Fernandez

Strong says other books that were helpful in giving a glimpse to working in the White House and of the times were My 21 Years in the White House by Alonzo Fields, Upstairs at the White House by J. B. West, Walking With the Wind by John Lewis,  How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life by Peter Robinson, Kennedy by Ted Sorense, and The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro.

Look for the Lee Daniels’ directed film and screenwriter Strong (and maybe Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey) to pop up again when Oscars are announced next year.

P.S. Love to hear writers talk about characters, theme, and emotions because I think those are the keys of the best writers in command of their craft. Oh, and speaking of great writers and work—Strong became friends with Quentin Tarantino when Tarantino worked as a video clerk at Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, CA.  More on that Monday.

Related Posts:
Writing from Theme (Tip #20)
40 Days of Emotions
Filmmaking Quote #10 (Lee Daniels)
Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting (Tip #7)

Scott W. Smith 

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