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Posts Tagged ‘Scorsese’

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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“There’s no such thing as a totally new concept, just reworking old ones to make them current and fresh.”
Adam Levenberg
The Starter Screenplay

We’ll start the new year by looking at an old trend in the movie business—Similiarities between films.

It’s not hard to look at Roger Corman’s Piranha (1978) and see how it was influenced by JAWS (1975). But it’s also not hard to see how JAWS was influenced by the classic 1954 film Creature from the Black Lagoon. I’d like to think that a then eight year old Steven Spielberg saw Creature from the Black Lagoon when it first came out and thought, “Gee, when I grow up I think it would be fun to work at Universal Studios.”

—The creature and the shark both kill people
—The creature and the shark strand a boat that threatens all aboard
—Both stories have an element of greed on the part of the humans
—Both have quirky boat captains
—Both have scientists
—Similar music to announce impending danger of creature/shark (Da-Dum)
—Both are Universal Pictures
—The creature and the shark are killed at the end

I’m sure there are a few other similarities. Just as there are similarities between Creature and King Kong (1933), Beauty and the Beast (1946), Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931). Of course Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein was published in 1818. And if we went back in time we have tales of creatures by the Greeks and Romans, and even in the Garden of Eden we have the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve.

To use Blake Snyder’s phrase, “monster in the house” stories have been with us a long time. (Even if the house is technically a lagoon or a small beach town.) Overall I think we put too much emphasis on the similarities of film instead of their differences. Earlier this week I watched Creature from the Black Lagoon and JAWS and found they each stand on their own.

I once had a teacher say that if you gave ten writers the basic concept of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and had them write a script you would have ten original stories. Heck, Scorsese has made a career out of lifting chunks of 1930s gangster films and giving them his own imprint.

So don’t be discouraged when people read your script and say, “Oh, it’s just like….” They’re just seeing patterns that are in every film. Last week I saw The Black Swan and I thought, “Oh, it’s The Wrestler meets The Fight Club.” Then I saw Mark Walhberg in The Fighter and even though it’s based on a true story, I still thought, “It’s part Rocky (1976) and part Fat City (1972).” Your originality will come from your own unique background.

And speaking of  Creature from the Black Lagoon, I saw where screenwriter Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) is remaking the film. Turns out that Ross’ father, Arthur A. Ross, was one of the screenwriters on the original film. The elder Ross was nominated for an Oscar for the 1980 film Brubaker which was just eight years before Gary received his first Oscar nomination for Big—shared with co-writer Anne Spielberg, who happens to be Steven’s sister. (One big happy family, right?)

And lastly, I can’t help but point out that the actress (Julie Adams) who the creature from the Black Lagoon was attracted to, in real life was born in Waterloo, Iowa. (Just a few miles from where I type this post in Cedar Falls, Iowa.)



P.S. If you’re a filmmaker near the Florida panhandle, the exterior shots for Creature from the Black Lagoon were shot in Wakulla Springs State Park. I’m not sure what the requirements are to shoot there, but it’s as untouched today as it was when then filmed Creature. Crystal clear water and beautiful natural light.

© 2011 Scott W. Smith


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The movie The Greatest Story Every Told is not considered a great movie. Nor is it the greatest movie made on the life of Christ. Nor is it the biggest box office maker on the life of Christ. Nor is it the most viewed film on the life of Christ. But you have to agree it’s the boldest title ever given a film.

Easter Sunday seems like a fitting time to look at Christ in the movies.

From Christ as a character first appearing on film in 1898 in The Passion Play of Oberammergau, to D.W. Griffith’s epic Birth of a Nation in 1915, to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in 2004, to three films in ’09 that feature Christ there doesn’t seem to be any limit to the fascination over Jesus Christ. He has been the subject of many a film and has attracted some of top filmmakers including Scorsese, Pasolini, Zeffirelli, Goddard and George Stevens.

While there are 44 films with James Bond as a character, there are according to IMDB 276 films featuring Christ. (Though I should mention The Devil/Satan/Lucifer/etc. is featured 497 film and TV programs.) Here’s just a partial list of films with a Christ character: 

The Last Temptation of Christ
Jesus of Nazareth
The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ Superstar
Godspell
The Gospel of John
The Miracles of Christ
The Miracle Maker
Hail Mary
Ben Hur
The King of Kings
The Robe
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Jesus of Montreal
The Book of Life
Intolerance
The Passion of the Christ
Jesus (2000)
Jesus (1979)

That 1979 film version of Jesus according to the New York Times is the most viewed motion picture of all time. It’s estimated to have been viewed more than 5 billion times. Though the actual number who have seen the film is debated, but there isn’t any debate on it being the most viewed film ever. This is largely do the the efforts of The JESUS Film project, a Christian organization who has not only translated the film into over 300 languages but has teams of people that take the film into churches, cities, towns, and villages around the world showing the film everyday.

The film was written by Barnet Bain (based on the Gospel of Luke), directed by John Krish and Peter Sykes, and stars Brian Decon. Not exactly household names so something else must be drawing all those viewers. 

From a storytelling perspective, even if you don’t believe in the resurrection of Christ (or the existence of a historical Christ) you have to look at all the movies (and books, songs, videos, and TV programs) that have flowed from this figure and think there must be something to this being the greatest story ever told.   

 

Scott W. Smith

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