Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘The African Queen’

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
Andy Defresne in The Shawshank Redemption

In light of quoting Secretariat screenwriter Mike Rich this week (Screenwriting Quote #145Mike Rick & Hobby Screenwriting) it would be hard to look at the list of films he’s written and not see that there is a thread of hope and redemption in all of them.

“It’s very, very hard to get a movie made. Quadruple or quintuple that degree of difficulty when your movie is about endless grim horribleness. If there is no spiritual uplift at the end , the reader is going to heave the script into the fireplace and cackle as it burns. Why should the audience suffer along with the character only for it to have been in vain?…Let the reader end on a note of hope or redemption.”
William M. Akers
Your Screenplay Sucks
page 15

The themes of hope and/or redemption aren’t limited to Disney films or more overtly spiritual films. Here is a short list in a mix of genres and old and new films that I’d put in the category;

The Shawshank Redemption
Casablanca
On the Waterfront
Seabiscuit
Juno

The African Queen
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Toy Story

Jaws
Tender Mercies
Field of Dreams
Erin Brockovich
Rocky

Rain Man
The Natural
Tootsie
Saving Private Ryan
An Officer & a Gentleman
Jerry Maguire
Pieces of April

It’s an easy list to come up with because those are some of my favorite films. It’s also a list shows that themes of hope & redemption are often popular with audiences, the Academy and critics. Sure getting a film made is hard, but what are the odds that your film resonates with audiences, the Academy and critics?(There are reasons universal themes are called universal.)

And on one level every screenwriter hopes the script they are working on will be produced and find an audience and will redeem the time spent working on their craft. (Even the edgy, indie, non-mainstream screenwriter working on the most nihilistic script ever written shares the same desire.) May hope & redemption fill your writing career and your life.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

On Screen Writing by Edward Dmytryk is not the most marked-up book on writing that I have, but it is one that I return to again and again. Dmytryk directed the Oscar-winning film Crossfire (1947) as well as the highly regarded films The Young Lions, Raintree County and The Caine Mutiny. In total he directed 56 films and later taught at the University of Texas at Austin and USC. I can’t think of an another filmmaker who has better combined professional and academic credentials than Dmytryk.

Need is undoubtedly the most common, the most useful, the most malleable, and the most easily understood and accepted basis for a story…In The African Queen two completely diverse personalities are forced to ride the length of a dangerous African river in a dilapidated boat—that is the situation. Their need is two-fold; first, to leave the territory, which is occupied by the enemy, and second, to blow up the German gunboat at the end of their journey. The conflict is also two-fold; first that of the diametrically opposed characters, and second, their battles with the perils of the journey, By the end of the film they have conquered the situation, fulfilled their needs, and resolved both their physical and personality conflicts.”
Edward Dmytryk
On Screen Writing
page 20

Just as I finished this post I learned that The African Queen (Commemorative Box Set) will be released for the first time on Blue-Ray March 23, 2010. The 1951 film directed by John Huston and starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart is a classic of classics, and an excellent film/script to study from a filmmaking and screenwriting perspective.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“A good title should be like a good metaphor: It should intrigue without being too baffling or two obvious.”
Walker Percy

I’m staying on the Up in the Air gravy train (gravy plane?)  just a little bit longer. Not only did I love the film but I love the title. It’s a title that has a literal meaning since it’s a film that deals with traveling via airplanes. But it’s also a common phrase in our culture meaning undecided or uncertain.

Up in the Air is a pretty good description of the Up in the Air main character Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney.  A character whose only real purpose appears to collecting frequent flyer miles. Everything else is up in the air.

Many writers talk about starting with a title and build from there and others say they can’t even decide on a title even after they’ve written the script or book.  Can a movie succeed without a great title? Sure, look at Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Looking at the AFI list of top 100 films and you’ll see a mixture of great, good, and bland titles. A title doesn’t make a film, but in a day and age of the importance of the opening weekend, a great title is desired to help attract an audience.

The most common titles seem to focus a main character or being, place or thing, or an event.

Character or being:
Citizen Kane
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
King Kong
Rocky
Forrest Gump
Spartacus
Bonnie and Clyde
The Godfather
Tootsie
Jaws
Psycho
Raging Bull

A place or thing:
Titanic
The African Queen
Bridge on the River Kwai
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
On the Waterfront
Chinatown
Sunset Blvd.
The Maltese Falcon
The Apartment
Casablanca

An event:
High Noon
Apocalypse Now
Star Wars
2001: A Space Odyssey
Saving Private Ryan
Bringing Up Baby
Sophie’s Choice

And while not a hard and fast rule, great titles tend to be short (three words or less). Just look at the above list.  And my favorites of those listed are Jaws and Psycho. Each one a simple word, but both hit you at a gut level.

Titles like Avatar, Batman, The Matrix are easier to discuss around the water cooler.  Even longer titles (especially sequels) tend to get edited around the water cooler and just called  Harry Potter, Narnia, Pirates, Star Wars, Twilight, Spider-Man.

Up in the Air falls into that minority category of a title that’s a little more obtuse, in line with The Last Picture Show, A Streetcar Named Desire, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Silence of the Lambs, or Gone with the Wind. (All of which happened to have been books or plays first which tend to favor a more intellectual audience.) If you go with a metaphor, it doesn’t hurt to have a movie star in the lead role. As I talk up the film Up in the Air, I find myself calling it “The George Clooney Film.”

What are some of your favorite titles (even if they aren’t one of your favorite films)? Or some of your favorite bad titles.
I love the title of the lesser known 50s film Them. And I like titles such as Black Hawk Down, Meet the Parents, Witness, The Hunt for Red October, Collateral and The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly because they all have built in conflict, mystery and intrigue. And the worst titles off the top of my head goes to Ishtar and Valkyrie, neither of which leave me with a visceral reaction.

Of course, the most bland title ever might just be…Movie Titles (tip #32). (But at least it’s twitter friendly.)

Update: I decided to do a Google search to see what others thought were the best and worst movie titles ever and found one blogger who had a post called Top 10 Worst Movie Titles Ever and the writer put Surf Nazis Must Die at #10. That film was written and directed by Peter George who I happened to go to film school with. (I was always a little upset I didn’t get a small role in the film.) If anyone knows where Mr. George is these days tell him I want my watch back. The one that I left at his Hollywood apartment after I crashed on his sofa one night back before he was making top ten lists.

Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

John Huston was born in Nevada, Missouri in 1906 and long before he died 81 years later he was a Hollywood legend. He won two Oscars, one for directing and one for writing The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. He also directed The African Queen, Key Largo, Moby Dick and The Maltese Falcon.

He not only was often a writer on many of the movies he directed but he also was an actor in over 50 movies,  including his classic role as Noah Cross in Chinatown. He was a man who hung out with Bogart, Hemingway and Arthur Miller. He studied art, was a champion boxer and directed his father Walter in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre  and his daughter Anjelica in Prizzi’s Honor —roles that brought both actors Oscar Awards. 

John Huston lived a full life. I actually saw him the year he died at a post production house parking lot in Burbank, but didn’t have the nerve to approach him. But I thought of him today and figured I might be able to find a fitting quote from him and found it in an interview he did when he was seventy five with Joseph Persico for American Heritage.

Persico:  As a young man, you watched your father rehearse Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms, and you met O’Neill. What did you learn from that?

Huston: I learned the shape and substance of a scene, what constitutes a scene, what makes dialogue. Scenes have to have beginnings, a crisis, a climax. And I observed in O’Neill’s dialogue a formula of contradiction where the character says something and contradicts it at the same time. The dramatic heat rises from this irony. And I saw lines on a page take on life. I was instantly fascinated.


Somewhat related post: Screenwriting from Missouri

 

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: