Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘North by Northwest’

The photo that’s been at the top of this blog all these years is a quintessential farm shot I took one morning outside of Decorah, Iowa where I was shooting a short film.  The anchor in the shot is the barn and silo in the left part of the photo.

That’s classic Iowa. And I hadn’t thought about that photo in years until today when I read this quote about the silo used in A Quiet Place. 

“Where we grew up [in Iowa] was a healthy mixture of city life and farm life. We lived in the city, but you would hear about grain silos being one of the most dangerous things you can fall into. It’s basically like drowning, but in dry grain. It was terrifying to drive by them on country roads. Early in the writing process we said, ‘That has to be part of the setpieces.’”
Screenwriter Scott Beck (A Quiet Place)
Filmmaker Magazine interview with Matt Mulcahey 

Here’s a clip where the young actors Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jope discuss shooting that scene inside a silo surrounded by corn.

Here’s what part of that scene looked like on the page of the original screenplay.

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 11.49.08 PM.png

That silo scene reminds me a little of the Mt. Rushmore scene in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. 

P.S. You want to know an odd connection between North By Northwest and A Quiet Place. Cary Grant, who starred in North By Northwest, died in Davenport, Iowa.  Where did A Quiet Place screenwriters  (Beck and Bryan Woods) grow up and begin making movies? Davenport/Bettendorf, Iowa. (Part of what’s known as the Quad Cities.) Check out my 2010 post Cary Grant and T. Bone…”somewhere in Iowa.” I don’t just make this stuff up. Check out Cary Grant’s IMDB page and see where he died. Then look up Bryan Woods IMDB page and see where he was born.

It’s a small, small world.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Hitchcock loved The Hurt Locker? As in Alfred Hitchcock? Really? Hasn’t he been dead for like 30 years? Yes, I guess I should have said that “Hitchcock would have loved The Hurt Locker”—but that’s a long title, and less interesting. So why do I think the master of suspense and a psychological thrillers would have appreciated the film that picked up the best picture Oscar Sunday?

Well, in part because The Hurt Locker was suspenseful and psychological. But there are three other reasons that come to mind of why I think director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal tapped into the Hitchcock creative mindset as filmmakers.

1) Hitchcock said that the difference between shock and suspense was the difference between having a bomb suddenly going off surprising the audience (shock) and the audience seeing that there is a bomb under a table with a timer ticking down (suspense). The later being able to hold your attention for a long time no matter what the conversation is above the table. Bigelow and her editors knew they didn’t need to rush certain scenes and used the built in suspense to their advantage.

2) Little dialogue/strong visuals—Hitchcock came from the world of silent films and believed you only used words when the visuals didn’t tell the story. (Watch Psycho, North by Northwest, Vertigo, and The Birds to see excellent examples.) Bigelow studied painting before she became a filmmaker and The Hurt Locker is strong on visuals. Hitchcock embraced simplicity at times sometimes using little or no sound effects. Sometimes pulling the effects and music altogether for a dramatic effect. I’ve only seen The Hurt Locker once so far but I seem to recall the music and effects track being spartan at times. I’m sure much effort went into the sound design of The Hurt Locker but it didn’t overpower the track and at times seemed to be just actor Jeremy Renner breathing in his protective suit.

3) Hitchcock didn’t care about reality. There have been a few articles about how some bomb experts in Iraq don’t feel like the film was realistic. One used the words “grossly exaggerated.” Bigelow wasn’t making a documentary. She was making a movie. And movies as I learned in film school are “heightened  reality.” Some cops never shoot their gun in their whole career, but that tends not to make for good drama. Hitchcock didn’t worry about reality and I’ll let him explain his reasoning, after all he’s the guy who had a chase scene on top of Mount Rushmore, a killing inside the UN building, as well as many other “grossly exaggerated” situations;

“To insist that a storyteller stick to the facts is just as ridiculous as to demand of a representative painter that he show objects accurately…We should have total freedom to do as we like, just so long as it’s not dull. A critic who talks to me about plausibility is a dull fellow…I don’t want to film a ‘slice of life’ because people can get that at home, in the street, or even in front of the movie theater. They don’t have to pay money to see a slice of life. And I avoid out-and-out fantasy because people should be able to identify with the characters. Making a film means, first of all, to tell a story. That story should never be banal. It must be dramatic and human. What is drama, after all, but life with the dull bits cut out.”
Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock: The Definitive Study of Alfred Hitchcock by Truffaut

Of course, the military leadership has to go on record saying that they aren’t looking for lone-ranger, hotshot cowboys on their bomb squads. And they probably don’t. But I image they realize  this will do a little for recruiting what the cocky, hotshot pilot Tom Cruise and Top Gun did back for Navy recruiting in the 80s. Bigalow and Boal have made rock stars of guys that risk their life to defuse bombs. (I read one reviewer who went as far as to say the movie felt like an Army recruitment film.) The movie hasn’t been seen any where near as much as Top Gun and flying a jet plane seems a little more glamorous, but I think that bomb disposal experts should be sending thank you notes to Bigelow and Boals because they have brought dignity and awareness to a job most Americans knew little about.

And if any bomb disposal experts in Iraq or Afghanistan read this, thank you for what you’re doing. I hope you come home safely soon.

And congrats to Bigelow and the whole Hurt Locker crew on the Oscar wins.

Related post: Pandora vs. Baghdad

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

A couple weeks ago two young guys appoached me for some help on a commercial they were producing and when they pitched me the idea it sounded more like a mini-series than a :30 spot. I gave them a much simpler idea and they shot it the next day and all was right in the world.

Screenwriters often fall into the same trap that these guys did. Their stories get too complicated. They want to have too many characters. Their characters speak too much.  I like simplicity, and I think audiences do too. That’s why I like this simple quote:

“A good movie is almost always a very simple story.”
Alex Epstein
Crafty Screenwriting
Page 36

Yes, there are exceptions. But think about these movies; Rain Man, North by Northwest, Rocky, Jaws, Juno, Cast Away, Sunset Blvd., Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz.  The kind of movies that people return to again and again. One thing they have in common is they are simple stories that tap into basic human needs and desires; survival, significance, understanding, solving a problem, and connecting with others in the human race.

So if your story is lost in your screenplay it may be because you’ve gotten lost in making the story too complicated. You are either trying to say too much, go in too many directions, or simply haven’t connected the beginning of your story with the end. Look at what sets your story in motion (your inciting incident or hook) and then look at how your story ends and see if there is a connection.

I now declare the new KISS principle: Keep it simple screenwriter. (Though I should add Paul Lucey’s quote on the subject; “Write simple stories and complex characters.”)

By the way, Alex Epstein has a blog called Complications Ensure: The Craftt TV and Screenwriting Blog.

Related post: Simplicity in Screenwriting (tip 27)

Read Full Post »

It’s been 50 years since the release of the great Alfred Hitchcock film North by Northwest and Warner Bros. just released a Blue-ray 50th Annivesary Edition of the film. Here’s part of one review of the new release.

“During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Hitchcock went on one of the greatest winning streaks in cinema history, cranking out Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds in quick succession. Of these, North by Northwest—with all the director’s trademarks in place—is arguably the most iconically Hitchcockian, and has also served as the template for numerous espionage thrillers to come, its influence easily seen in the James Bond films and even the Bourne trilogy.”
Casey Broadwater
North by Northwest Blu-ray Review

Broadwater also points out a comment that Hitchcock was reported to have told screenwriter Ernest Lehman during the making of North by Northwest; “You know, we’re not making a movie we’re constructing an organ, the kind of organ that you see in the theatre. And we press this chord and now the audience laughs, we press that chord and they gasp, and we press these notes and they chuckle. Someday we won’t have to make a movie, we’ll just attach them to electrodes and play the various emotions for them to experience in the theatre.”

Read Full Post »

Did you know that before screenwriter Ernest Lehman wrote North by Northwest that he actually went to South Dakota to research climbing Mount Rushmore? It all started with a suggestion by Alfred Hitchcock who told him,  “I always wanted to do a chase across the faces of Mount Rushmore.”

So Lehman took a train to Rapid City and hired a forest ranger to help him climb to the top just to see the view. But Lehman didn’t make it as he realized the danger involved and gave the ranger a Polaroid camera to take some pictures for him instead.

And just as Leham had trouble climbing to the top of Mount Rushmore he also had trouble writing the script for North by Northwest. Though he was over forty at the time and had over ten film and TV writing credits including the feature The Sweet Smell of Success Lehman later admitted;

“The truth is, even with all my experience, I really didn’t know how to write the script. I’d never written a movie like that before, but gradually I eked it out — or, at least, the first sixty-five pages — and then Hitch went off to make Vertigo. So I’d sit there in my lonely office, and many times I’d go home at night having written less than half a page, completely discouraged. And several times I tried to quit while he was away, but my agent wouldn’t let me, saying, “You’ve already quit The Wreck of the Mary Deare, you can’t quit this one too.” So I was kind of trapped into doing it…wondering, “How can I get out of this?” And the only way I could get out of it was to write my way out of it. And I think that, despite the unpleasantness of having to work under those conditions, I wound up at the top of my form as a writer, and, later, Hitch was at the top of his form when he directed the picture. In a sense, it’s unlike any picture he ever made. And it seems to have legs…It’s just incredible what endurance it has. It’s kind of timeless.”
Ernest Lehman
Creative Screenwriting Journal

His endurance paid off on North by Northwest and he received an Academy Award nominations. And in 2001 he received his an Honorary Oscar for his body of work that included West Side Story, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Sabrina, Hello Dolly!, The King and I, Black Sunday, Somebody Up There Likes Me, and The Sound of Music.

Mountain climbing and screenwriting—both are a tricky business that require endurance.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: