Saturday, February 20, 2010

That je ne sais quoi

I was curious to see "Away we go" (Sam Mendes, 2009) because it deals with some of the materials my story deals with, mainly with the "young couple vs. everyone else" theme.

I found the film boring, the characters dull, and the overall story problematic, but it took me some time to figure out why.

My first thesis was that the movie suffers from genre confusion. To me, it seemed like the two main characters live in a drama, while many of the supporting characters (especially the guy's parents, and Maggie Gyllenhaal's character) live in a comedy. It could be funny if it was intentional, but it seems to be accidental.

Then I watched "The puffy chair", and it hit me.

"Away we go" is about a couple expecting its first baby. They decide to move to a new city and build a home for their future family. So they go on a trip to decide where they want to move to, checking out different locations, different lifestyles, and at the end of the movie they choose their new home.

"The puffy chair" (Jay Duplass, 2005) is a road trip movie. It's about a guy who was planning to buy a puffy chair he found on EBAY, and drive it to his parents' house as a present for his dad's birthday. He was planning to go on his trip alone, but his girlfriend and later his brother both join him. Change of plans: instead of the trip being about him getting a present for his dad, it becomes about his relationship with his girlfriend and with his brother.

That's what's missing on "Away we go". So trivial, yet it makes all the difference - going on a trip, not knowing what its outcome will be.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Latest developments

I started writing. I find out that when I have a scene where I know exactly what I want, where I feel I have all the essentials ingredients, it's really fun to write it. But I also realized that there is still something big I have to solve if I want to go on writing. I tried to understand what it was that was missing, or unclear. Most of all I felt like I have a bunch of strong main scenes, but nothing strong enough yet to connect them. The main story is very tight, but there is still something loose hovering above it.

What I first realized was that the supporting characters are clearer to me than the two main characters. This led me to a more important realization: my two main characters (a couple) share the same dramatic need. The reason they are weak is that they are not distinct and separated enough. So I decided this dramatic need, which is actually the heart of the story, will belong only to the woman, and that I will find a different need for the man. He will still take part in whatever she's up to (because the story is basically them vs. everybody else), but this won't be the thing that defines him. He will have his own thing.

So now I have two heroes with two different dramatic needs. I already know what the guy's thing is, but I do have a little more work on his character.

Talking about male characters:

Talking about female characters:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reading "Woody Allen on Woody Allen"

I was planning to read Christopher Vogler's "The Writer's Journey", but it seemed a bit heavy, so I decided to hold it, and turn to a lighter reading material. So Im currently reading this book of conversations Stig Bjorkman had with Woody Allen. They discuss each film chronologically, but also go over general questions and ideas.

I watched "Interiors" for the first time after reading the chapter about it in the book. I loved it. In the book, Allen says he's very intrigued by female relationships, be it sisters or friends. He also mentions how much he admires and respects Diane Keaton, stating if she loves a new film he's made, he doesn't care what anybody else thinks.

This remindes me that a friend back in film school used to tell me I reminded him of Annie Hall. I'm just saying.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Christoph Waltz / Rob Brydon

I finally saw "Inglourious Basterds". I won't write a review here, but I will say that I loved it, and that it made my heart beat like no other film ever did. It actually went BOOM - BOOM - BOOM throughout the last act.

While watching the movie, the brilliant Christoph Waltz (Col. Hans Landa) kept reminding me of Rob Brydon, one of my favorite current British comedians. I'm not sure what Brydon is up to these days (the last time I saw him was as a guest on "Little Britain"), but I do know that watching his TV shows "Human Remains" and "Marion and Geoff" somewhere around 2001 was really an eye-opener.

Both shows were mockumentaries. "Human Remains", starring Brydon and Julia Davis, featured 6 episodes, 30 minutes long. Each episode focused on a different couple, usually an unhappy one. "Marion and Geoff" had 17 episodes, 9 minutes long, and always had Brydon as a loser, driving his car, talking about his ex wife Marion and her new husband Geoff, with whom his kids live.

These shows didn't invent the genre of course, but I think it was my first encounter with a mockumentary that wasn't only funny, but also very dark and cruel. Needless to say, this was a few years before Ricky Gervais came along.

So here are a few videos, to honor this talented and funny man (mind you, some of the accents are hard to follow):

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Saved by the beet

Two and a half weeks into my new diet, I'm glad to say that I'm feeling a lot better. In the last 5-6 days I've been much more energetic, and didn’t feel the need to sleep during the day (which I did throughout most of the summer). I was so energetic I started cleaning the apartment, throwing away old stuff, and reorganizing the stuff I don't want to through away.

Not only that, but I also had a comeback dream to the nightmares I've had in my bad week. Back then, I dreamt every night that I'm in physical danger and I'm helpless – there's no way to escape, or even convince anyone that I'm in danger. It was usually conspiracy-movie-type situations. Well a few days ago I dreamt someone was trying to enter my house and hurt me, and I overcame him! I sprayed some stuff on him and he ran away! Always go for the spray when you're in danger.

About the diet itself - I find that the hardest thing about it isn't what I can or can't eat or drink, but the social meaning of it. If I can't drink coffee and can't drink alcohol, and can't really eat outside, this basically means going out with friends is quite difficult. Sure I can sit with them and drink water or carrot juice, but it's not the same.

When this month is over I'm supposed to receive an updated diet for the following month. I'm mostly curious to see how long this energetic phase will last. I hope it's here to stay, but I'm also used to experience the migraines and fatigue in cycles, so I'm trying to be realistic about it. In the meantime, I plan to dedicate this long weekend of Yom Kipur to my script.

Be good, eat healthy stuff.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Case study: La Cage Aux Folles vs.The Birdcage

I've mentioned my love for "La Cage Aux Folles" (Edouard Molinaro, 1978) before. Written originally as a play by Jean Poiret, and later adapted to the screen by Poiret, Molinaro, Marcello Danon and Francis Veber, this movie is definitely one of my all time favorite comedies.

Before writing this case study, I watched the American version of the film for the first time (Mike Nichols, 1996). What a sad and interesting experience that was. Sad - to see such a great story translate into such a (I thought) mediocre film. Interesting - to try and understand what it is exactly that makes it mediocre. I guess for someone who hadn't seen the French movie, the American one might be hilarious, but for me, a devoted fan of the French version, it wasn't. I guess it's s little like watching the American version of "The Office" after adoring the British one.

The plot (you can skip this if you've watched the movie)

The American "Birdcage" is very similar to the French in terms of story, with some adjustments to the American society of course, and a few original scenes that were written especially for it. So here is the basic plot of both films:

The son of a gay couple (owner of a drag shows club and his life partner, the main performer) is set to get married with the daughter of a member of the government's conservative party. The son has no relationship with his birth mother. The fiancée, scared of her conservative father, lies to him and says the boy's father is a diplomat (cultural attaché) and his mother is a house wife. The girl's parents decide to drive up and meet the boy's parents. The boy asks his father, just for that night, to pretend that he's a diplomat, remove any signs of him being gay from the house, and get rid of his partner for the day. While the media is following every step of the girl's father, whose party just gone through a major scandal, the girl's family enters the boy's parents' house. And the mess continues.

What makes the French movie so much better:

First difference that comes to mind is the beautiful soundtrack by Ennio Morricone (the American movie begins and ends with the cheesy "we are family"). Here's one of Morricone's beatiful melodies:

In both films, the boy's adopting father is an insecure, neurotic, high maintenance type of gal. One of his main comic features is a hysteric high-pitch scream that comes out of his mouth once in a while. But while the American character seems to scream only when he encounters an alarming or surprising situation, the French one does it as a general attitude. He screams when he's scared or alarmed, but also out of joy and enthusiasm. Watch the magnificent Michel Serrault (sorry, no subtitles on this one, but that's a scene where he enters the dinner with the girl's parents dressed as a woman, pretending to be the boy's mother, even though the boy and his father asked him not to take part in the dinner):

In the French film, when the boy tells his father he's marrying a girl, the father immediately calls her a "whore", then asks him what’s the whore's name. The next day, the father tells his partner that the boy will marry a girl, and he too replies by calling her a whore. In the American film, both fathers are also upset by the news of the marriage, by they don’t use the word "whore". It might sound like a small detail, but to me it definitely sets a different comic mood.

In the French film, it is well established that both the girl and her mother are afraid of the father. In the American version, set in a different year, most of the time it seems like deep inside, the girl (Calista Flockhart) doesn’t really care what her father thinks, and has an ironic approach towards her parents – which makes the whole encounter between the families a bit less dramatic.

Both movies end the same way: two mothers arrive to the dinner in which the parents of the boy and the girl meet for the first time, both of them claim they are the boy's mother. The first mother to arrive is the father's male companion, dressed as a woman, playing the part of a woman. The second mother to arrive is the boy's actual mother, whom he hasn't seen since he was a baby. At this point the girl's father asks: how many mothers does he have?

In the French version, it's his father who removes the wig from his partner's head, and says: he has two fathers. Us. In the American version it's the boy himself who removes the wig, saying: I have two fathers.

For me, the French resolution is more natural – the main characters are the two fathers, they didn't want to lie in the first place, so it makes sense that the father reveals the truth. In the American version, the boy becomes a character who has gone through some change during the day, coming to terms with his family, deciding not to lie anymore. It seems a bit forced and out of context, not to say educational.

A word about female characters

The only thing I don’t like about "La Cage Aux Folles" is the pour female characters. There are two couples of parents in the story. The two gay fathers are funny. The girl's father (at least in the French version) is hilarious. And only the girl's mother has hardly any comic depth. They could have played with her dreams of a wedding with a diplomat's son, make her more pathetic, but they chose to make her anemic.

I had the same issue with "Meet the Fockers", that has more female characters in it to begin with. And I want to declare here again, that I will try as hard as I can to make the female characters in my movie just as bold, funny and pathetic as the male ones.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Guilty and weak

I wasn't sure what to write here in the last couple of weeks. I guess it's because I can't make myself sit down and write my screenplay. I feel bad about not writing the screenplay, I feel bad generally, so I lose interest in the blog. It's the first time I'm trying to write a screenplay. I have no experience in planning such a long story/text, so I've been mostly avoiding doing it. My plan was to use this summer for writing, and I feel that I have failed at that.

Other than that, I've been tired and weak all summer, which I thought might have something to do with the Tel Aviv heat, or with the no-job situation (you're at home, there's no obligation to do anything, so why would you do anything?). Along with the weakness, I've been suffering from occasional headaches. Headaches and migraines are not new to me, but in the last 4-5 months came a new phenomenon: a headache that lasts a few days. You wake up with the headache, you go to sleep with it, and you wake up with it again. It doesn’t matter how many headache/migraine pills I take, or how many naps I take – it just stays there, until one day it disappears. I found it alarming, so I went to the doctor. The doctor took some tests and said there's nothing wrong with me. So I decided to go to a nutritionist, who also does iris Diagnosis. She was much more understanding than the doctor. She looked at my blood tests, looks at my pupils, and said the comforting words: "of course you're tired".

So now I'm on a new diet, which is supposed to make me feel better. There's a green powder I'm supposed to drink every day, and there are many things I shouldn't eat or drink (alcohol, milk, coffee, sugar, wheat, few vegetables, and most of the fruits that I love). I will say, though, that the nutritionist told me that in fact I should digress from the menu from time to time, because (her words) I'm a perfectionist and I should learn to fight my perfectionism.

It's been 6 days since I started the new diet. I was actuallly very weak these last 3-4 days, and had one of those long headaches again, which I still have, but hopefully will be gone by tomorrow. To make it even more interesting, every night in the last few days I had at least one dream in which I'm in phisical danger - in most of them I forced myself to wake up because the dream was too scary or stressing to handle.

Speaking of perfectionism, I had a minor revelation today. I understood that the biggest mission ahead of me is not to write the greatest screenplay I can, but first to write a screenplay at all. Once I've written my first full screenplay, I can worry about making it perfect, or making my future screenplays perfect. Hopefully I can execute that.