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.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Make it work! September deadlines

I'm beginning to question my deadlines method. In other words – I'm not making it work. I'm trying to figure out how to make the necessary leap in my story's structure. I have a rather established structure, but it's not complete, and it's hardly developed since I started this blog.

I know that I'm good in editing and arranging material, so I'm pretty sure that when I'll have my structure, the writing process will become easier. But at this stage, when I'm still working on the story itself, I'm stuck. It’s not yet playing with material – it's coming up with the material.

What I did find is that talking about the story with someone (my boyfriend, to be exact) is much easier than thinking about it in my head. Sometimes he'll have good ideas, and other times just saying something aloud helps me get it to the next level. It's as if until I don't say it aloud, I can't think what happens next, or as a result of it, or what will make it better. Once I said it, I automatically come up with new ideas.

So I guess my major mission for September is to have as many script conversations with my boyfriend, and force myself to finish working on my movie structure.

As in the previous make-it-work posts, I'm leaving you with a Tim Gunn video. This time, you get to see the inside of his closet:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It must have been awkward

I finished reading "Screenplay". As Field suggests, I copied 10 pages of a script ("There's something about Mary"), as an exercise to help me get used to writing in proper screenplay form. I think I'll do it more than once. It's not only helpful, it's also fun. I enjoy technical exercises. It's much easier to copy a few pages of script than to write biographies for my leading characters. The thing is, I know how the characters behave today, but I'm not sure how I should go about inventing their history, inventing major events in their childhood etc.

As I'm writing this, I suddenly realize that the key for my characters' past is their parents. I mean, their parents also star in the movie, so I already know what kind of people their parents are. So what I should do, given the leading characters' behavior and their parents' characteristics, is imagine what kind of (funny) situations could have happened between them while they were growing up. So hopefully this will get me somewhere. And if this doesn't help, maybe going over awkwardfamilyphotos will serve as inspiration:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lara Stone vs. Liv Ullmann: The eyebrows effect

I was watching "Scenes from a marriage" (Ingmar Bergman, 1973) a while ago, and during its 167 minutes I kept thinking that Liv Ullmann reminds me of Lara Stone – or should I say vice versa. There's a prominent vulnerability in Liv Ullmann's eyes and eyebrows combination, that sometimes makes it seem like she's about to cry even when she's not. Lara Stone's bleached eyebrows create a similar effect. Anyway, Lara Stone has just gone brunette for Vogue Paris, so this Liv/Lara adventure is over, at least for now.

Here's Liv Ullmann:

Here's Lara Stone:

And here's Lara Stone as a bruntte:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Home is where the road is

Following John Hughes' death, I decided to watch "Planes, trains and automobiles" (1987) for the first time. Though the movie's strong 80's vibe holds it from being a timeless piece, I did enjoy it. I especially enjoyed:

- Steve Martin and John Candy

- The opening scene, in which Page (Steve Martin) sits in an office meeting, anxious to leave so he can catch his plane, while his boss takes his time to conclude the meeting. This scene has almost no dialogue, mainly face gestures, and it's remarkably funny.

- The bromance atmosphere, which is so dominant in comedies nowadays. When Page and Dell find themselves sharing a hotel room (and a bed) for the night, they keep making sure there's nothing gay about it. The climax is the moment when they wake up in each other's arms, and jump out of bed, terrified (watch video below). Of course today it's ok for guys to say "I love you" in comedies ("Wedding crashers", "Superbad", "I love you, man").

- The moment when Page understands that Del (John Candy) has nowhere to go to for Thanksgiving. After he hated him throughout the entire movie, you really get the feeling that now he loves him. And in terms of transformations, it's nice that the film offers a minor change, not drastic. Page is not a whole new person when the movie ends, but he did learn to enjoy the presence of someone different, and to accept that things don’t always go as planned.

A day after watching "Planes", "Something Wild" (Jonathan Demme, 1986) was on TV, and I sat down and watched it. I remembered watching it as a young girl, and had a vague recollection of what it was about. I remembered the sex scene at the beginning (the bob haircut and the handcuffs are too iconic to forget). I also remembered the scene where Lulu (Melanie Griffith) leaves the restaurant without paying, forcing Charlie (Jeff Daniels), who has no money either, to run out without paying. However, I did not remember the radical shift in the middle of the movie, when it stops being a comedy and becomes a dark drama, thriller almost.

What's interesting, though, is the similarity between the movies. Both "Planes" and "Something Wild" are road movies, in which one of the main characters has no home to return to (either physically or emotionally). In both movies, the character keeps her "no home" situation a secret, and the secret is revealed towards the end of the film.

Del (John Candy) doesn't tell Page (Steve Martin) that his beloved wife had been dead for 8 years. Page finds it out by himself only at the end of the movie, by adding up all the small clues that were dropped along the way.

Charlie (Jeff Daniels) doesn't tell Lulu (Melanie Griffith) that his wife left him a few months earlier. Lulu's husband, who just got out of jail and tries to get Lulu back to him, tells her the truth about Charlie.

So I guess that in both movies, the primary idea is you can only truly dedicate yourself to a road trip if you have nothing (no one) to lose. In "Planes, trains and automobiles", Del craves Page's company because he's lonely, and his loneliness explains why, unlike Page, he only wants the trip back home to be longer. In "Something Wild", we first think Charlie joins Lulu to escape his boring family life, but it turns he's lost his wife and kids to another man. Hence, he joins Lulu because he has no family.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Don't tell Syd

I'm currently reading Syd Field's book, "Screenplay". Like I already wrote, among the many examples he brings up, Field returns quite often to scenes from "Lord of the rings". He also gives examples from other movies I either haven't seen, or I saw yet I don’t care for. When I come across these paragraphs (and sometimes full pages), I find myself in a dilemma. I want to skip them, but I feel bad. Thinking about it, I found that the bad feeling is in fact a combination of two sub-feelings:

- I might miss something. Yes, it looks boring, but maybe it's worth the effort, maybe there's some magical moment of revelation hiding in there.

- I'm cheating. My nerdy soul won't let me say I read the book knowing that I skipped a few pages in the middle.

When I was reading "Writing the comedy film" (Stuart Voytilla and Scott Petri), I did allow myself to skip some chapters. A big part of the book is dedicated to different comedy genres. I decided it was ok for me to read only about genres that are relevant for my screenplay (ensemble comedy, farce) or genres that interest me (fish out of water, romantic comedy), and skip other genres (sports comedy, military comedy).

But in Syd Field's case, it's different. It's not that easy to let go. The book's subtitle is "the foundations of screenwriting". Can I really allow myself to miss a foundation? Finally, I decided - yes. It's ok. I can read the chapter titled "plot points" and skip the three pages about "Matrix". I can read the "sequence" chapter and skip the two pages about "Seabiscuit". And I'll sleep well.

And another thing: Syd is quite strict about his screenplay paradigm. On one hand, he says there are no rules. On the other hand, he says you should use 14 cards to write the first act. If you only have 12-13 cards that usually means your first act is too thin, and if you have 15-16 cards then your first act is too long. That's pressure right there. I mean, his whole approach to the first act is very helpful – stressing how important it is, looking at it as if it was an independent story with a beginning, middle and an end – but when it comes to having exactly 14 cards, that's a bit too much for me. He also says you should have 14 cards for the first half of act II, 14 for the second half of act II, and another 14 for act III. He mentions films that used less or more than that, but he definitely gives you the impression that you won't be able to pull that off yourself. I have to say I like Robert Mckee's looser approach to the cards: No numbers. Just write all your scenes on cards and shift them around till you're happy with the order.

Anyway, yesterday I went out and bought a stack of cards. I feel like soon I'll be able to fill them.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Writing tips, courtesy of Stuart Beattie

I'm happy to join filmforthesoul's COUNTING DOWN THE ZEROS project. For the year 2004, I wrote a piece about "Collateral" (Michael Mann). You can click here to read it.

While working on my piece, I found this rather long conversation with screenwriter Stuart Beattie, who wrote "Collateral". I'm not a fan of all his films, nor have I seen all of them, but I did find the interview very interesting, screenwriting-wise. Beattie was born in Sydney, Australia. He moved to Los Angeles at 21, first to study and later to work as a screenwriter, and he has lived there since. He wrote the first draft for "Collateral" when he was 19, in 1991. The movie was shot 13 years (and a few drafts) later. Here are some points he brings up:

About screenwriting

He usually thinks about a story for at least 6 months, refining the idea, and then it takes him 6-7 weeks to actually write it. The more he thinks about it before setting it on paper, it gets easier and quicker for him to write it.

When asked what he had learned throughout years of writing scripts and reading scripts, Beattie mentioned these two squeals:
- Starting a scene as late as possible and ending it as early as possible.
- Writing cinematic dialogues – short and light.

About Collateral

Beattie recorded a commentary for the "Collateral" DVD but it was edited out

He discusses the procedure of making scenes believable. The interviewer asks specifically about the credibility of scenes such as Max taking Vincent to visit his mother in the hospital. I personally had no problem with that scene's likeliness – I found that Vincent's back seat philosophical outbursts need much more explanation than that scene (and I think I managed to explain them, too).

About Hollywood

He explains about the writers' credits arbitration procedure in Hollywood, which involves sending all the different movie drafts to three anonymous readers who decide which writer deserves which credit. He also mentions no one is ever happy with the final decision.

For beginning writers, he recommends submitting your screenplay to screenwriting competitions as a way to get your name out there.

When asked if he ever feared that by letting others read his scripts, his ideas might get stolen, he simply answered no: you can't control that anyway, so there's no point worrying about that. A screenwriter's strategy, he says, should be to always have more than one script he's working on, more than one he's trying to sell, because you can't bet all your money on only one specific screenplay. That's too much pressure.

Read the full interview with Stuart Beattie at

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Going to the movies

"This is a working city, where people go to their jobs and raise their kids and live their lives. In Hollywood, I’d be hanging around with a lot of people who don’t have to pay when they go to the movies".

The late John Hughes explains why he chose to live and shoot films in Chicago and not move to Los Angeles. Via

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Beginnings and endings: The graduate

I'm launching this series of "Beginnings and endings" posts with Mike Nichols' 1967 classic, "The graduate". Based on a novel by Charles Webb and written for the screen by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry, "The graduate" has a great opening, and a tremendously iconic ending. (By the way, this post turned out to be very long. my apologies).

The beginning of "The Graduate"

What I like about this beginning is that it dives directly into the story – it's not the common "short story that precedes the actual story" kind of beginning, that's meant mainly to establish the characters and context of the story (Like the high-school sequence in "Something about Mary", or the beginning of "Tootsie" that shows Dustin Hoffman's life before he starts impersonating as a woman). In "The graduate", the characters and the context are established as the story happens. I realize that not every story can begin this way, but I enjoy stories that do.

The first twenty minutes of "The graduate" take place in three different locations: airport, Ben's parents' house, the Robinsons' house. Interestingly enough, all following scenes are built "by the book" (Robert Mckee's book) in terms of conflict: the different characters in each scene have conflicting desires, which means that every scene has a conflict or several conflicts in it:

0:00:00 - 0:02:40 , Opening credits
Ben is at the airport, back home after he graduated college.

0:02:40 - 0:04:07 , Ben tries to avoid his parents' party
Ben sits in his old room at his parents' house. There's a party celebrating his coming home from college. All the guests are Ben's parents' friends and he doesn't want to get out of the room and face them. He feels bothered and confused about his future. His parents make him get out of the room.

0:04:04 - 0:06:15, Ben runs away from his parents' party
Ben joins the party. Different guests congratulate him for the different awards he got in college. They ask about his plans for the future. He's embarrassed. He tries to avoid them. Eventually he runs back to his room.

0:06:15 - 0:08:26, First encounter with Mrs. Robinson
Ben is alone in his room. Mrs. Robinson enters, says she's looking for the bathroom. He tells her where to find them it she stays in the room. After a short conversation in which Ben asks her to leave him alone, she asks him to drive her home because her husband left earlier with their car. Ben unwillingly agrees to take her home.

0:08:26 - 0:12:50, Mrs. Robinson starts seducing Ben
Ben and Mrs. Robinson arrive at her house. She demands he will accompany her inside because she's afraid to enter a dark empty house. He unwillingly agrees. They enter the living room .He wants to leave, she demands he stays till her husband comes home. She pours him a drink, puts on music and tells him she was an alcoholic. Ben panics, accuses her of seducing him, he wants to leave. She tells him to relax, denying any seduction attempt. She offers to show him her daughter's (Elaine) portrait.

0:12:50 - 0:15:57, Mrs. Robinson officially seduces Ben
They're up at Elaine's room. Ben admires the portrait. Mrs. Robinson asks him to unzip her dress because she wants to go to bed. He unwillingly agrees. After opening her zipper he starts heading towards the door. Mrs. Robinson is left with only a bra and a slip on. She asks what is he afraid of, still claiming she is not seducing him. He says if anyone walked in on them, they might get the wrong idea. She walks towards him, asking if he's trying to say that he wants her to seduce him. He says goodbye, walks out of the room and starts getting down the stairs. She asks him to bring up her purse from the living room before he leaves. He unwillingly agrees. He's back upstairs with her purse, in Elaine's room. Mrs. Robinson enters the room naked, blocking the door. He panics. She says she's available to him anytime if he wants to sleep with her, and that she finds him very attractive. He feels nervous and uncomfortable. There's a sound of a car stopping outside the house. Ben understands her husband has come back home, he pushes her from the door, and runs downstairs.

0:15:57 - 0:20:00, Mr. Robinson comes home
Ben is in the living room, holding the drink Mrs. Robinson poured him earlier. Mr. Robinson enters the house. Ben quickly explains he's there because Mrs. Robinson asked him to drive her home, and to wait for him to arrive. Mr. Robinson thanks him. Ben starts to leave, explains he is concerned about his future. Mr. Robinson insists he stays for a drink. He unwillingly stays. Mr. Robinson tells Ben he should take things easier, have a few flings this summer. Mrs. Robinson joins them (dressed). Ben starts leaving. Mr. Robinson asks his wife if she agrees with him that Ben should have some flings this summer. She says yes. They escort him out of the house. Mr. Robinson tells Ben that Elaine is supposed to come for a visit from Berkley, and suggests Ben will call her. Mrs. Robinson reminds Ben to think about her offer. Ben enters his car.

Actions and dialogues

I like that the films starts right at the crucial night of the inciting incident (Mrs. Robinson's act of seduction), and that the dialogues and situations give all the needed information about the characters without drawing attention to it. The opposite would be, for example, the beginning of "The Royal Tenenbaums", where a voice over tells the family history before the actual story begins.

Here are a few examples for dialogues and action that demonstrate character in "The Graduate":
When Ben's father asks him to join the party, he says "these are all our good friends, Ben", which tells us that his parents see him as an extension of themselves, rather than an autonomic entity. Their friends, as they see it, are his friends.

When Mrs. Robinson visits Ben's room and attempts having a conversation with him, she notices he is bothered. She asks him "Is it a girl?", while looking to her left. As a respond, Ben looks at the same direction as she did, searching to see what it is she's looking at: "Is what a girl?". Ben is not only stressed, but he's obviously not squealed enough in conversation nor in flirtation, to understand her.

Seeing his panic and embarrassment during the entire interaction with Mrs. Robinson, the climax being when she enters the room naked, you understand he is basically an inexperienced and clumsy nerd, calculated (what will people think) rather than passionate (young men tend to be horny, so I hear).

The ending of "The Graduate"

The end of the film finds Ben much more assertive. If at the start he had no idea what he wanted (in terms of career), now he knows what he wants – he wants Elaine (he doesn't care about his future career anymore).

He drives to Berkley and asks her to marry him. She almost agrees , though she already agreed to marry another guy. Then Mrs. Robinson (who forbade Ben to see her daughter) tells Elaine that Ben raped her. Elaine believes her and tells Ben she never wants to see him again. Her parents arrange for a quick wedding with that other guy she planned to marry, in order to get Ben out of her life. When Ben finds out about the wedding he drives up to the church to stop it. When he runs out of gas, he starts running. When he get there and realizes they are already married, he still doesn't give up, banging on the church windows, calling "Elaine!". To her parents' and husband's surprise, she answers by crying back "Ben!". She runs towards him, while her parents try to block her and block Ben from reaching her. They manage to escape and run together from the church after leaving everybody else locked in it. They stop the first bus they see and get on it.

A quick search on YouTube shows just how popular this ending scene is. In part, I guess, because it answers Francois Trufaut's advice (as brought by Robert Mckee) - end with memorable images, that incorporate the movie's story and message. The church and the bus scenes both answer that.

"The Graduate" also offers a good example of Sid Field's argument (mentioned previously here), that the beginning and the end should reflect one another. There are a few themes that appear both at the beginning and the end of the film.

The theme of motion and transportation, that demonstrates Ben's transformation: from a naïve and lost young man, to a decisive man who goes publicly against his family and after his own desire.

The movie begins with a shot of Ben sitting in a plane, a face in the crowd (close up of his face, followed by a long shot of him surrounded by other indifferent passengers), traveling back home after graduating college. After landing in L.A., alongside the movie credits ad Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of silence", we see Ben riding the airport's automatic sidewalk for 2 minutes. This opening sequence shows Ben as someone who's being led automatically rather than initiating any action.

At the end, Ben is driving a car, then running, and finally boarding a bus to an unknown destination – all of the above are actions he initiates for himself, not designed by anyone else.

The theme of aquarium and glass: Ben sitting next to the fish aquarium in his room at the beginning vs. Ben hitting the church glass walls at the end, and looking back from the bus window. At the beginning he's clinging to his fishes, avoiding life, while at the end it's his life (or the life he doesn't want) that he's looking at through the glass after defying them.

Mike Nichols' terror

At the very final shot of the movie, Ben and Elaine sit on the back seats of the bus, all the other passengers staring at them with astonishment. Ben and Elaine first laugh, then smile, then just sit there with serious, almost concerned, faces.

When Mike Nichols was a guest at the actors studio, he spoke about the movie's final scene, stating the significant role the unconscious has in making films. Nichols says he actually wanted Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross to laugh all the way till the end of that bus scene, only he had been obnoxious to them that day, yelling at them to laugh (since they stopped traffic for that scene they didn't have time for many takes). As a result, Hoffman and Ross were so afraid of Nichols that they couldn’t manage to maintain the laugh, and so laughter was replaced by terror. When he saw the footage the day after, Nichols understood that this is what the end was really supposed to be like, realizing he unconsciously made them do that.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Make it work! August deadlines

I'll begin with a quick summery of July's deadlines: I studied "Meet the Fockers" and "There's something about Mary". I started but haven’t finished both my characters mission, and my "beginnings and endings" mission. but I now know that there's still work left for me to do in order to be able to finish them. Mainly: I realized I can't understand my leading characters without diving into some serious research. And if I don't have my characters, how can I know my beginning and end? I won't elaborate on the research details because I'm maintaining a story ambiguity policy. I can only say that the research will involve searching for reading material, and then reading that material.

My missions for August are:

1. Start serious research in order to deepen my leading characters' study.

2. Finish reading "Screenplay" by Sid Field, start reading "The writer's journey" by Christopher Vogler.

3. Study "La cage aux folles". I already mentioned this movie as a major inspiration. This time I want to study its structure, as I did in my previous case studies. I guess this means also watching the American version, "The Birdcage", for the first time.

I'd like to continue my tradition, and seal each deadlines post with a Tim Gunn video. So this time it's Santino, from seasom 2 of "Project Runway", doing an imitation of Tim Gunn (he's actually throwing in some Nine Inch Nails lyircs). Season 2 was a good one.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A writer's greatest leap of imagination

I'm currently reading Syd Field's "Screenplay: the foundations of screenwriting".

It has interesting parts, for example when he discusses
Robert Town's original ending for "Chinatown" (Evelyn kills her father, she goes to jail, her sister/daughter is safe), and the process, led by Roman Polanski's different vision of the story, that brought to the actual, much darker, ending of the film (Evelyn dies, her father gets away with his crimes and regains control over his daughter/granddaughter).

On the other hand, Field keeps referring to "Lord of the Rings" in his examples, which I can't relate to at all.

I just read the "Endings and beginnings" chapter. Field argues that the first 10 minutes of a film are the most important ones – especially in terms of creating engagement so that your script gets read at all and not tossed aside. He also says that the ending should be a reflection of the beginning, and vice versa. In "Story" (which I read a few months ago), Robert McKee argues that the most important part of a movie is its end: it should be a satisfying and meaningful climax; a memorable image that captures the entire story (he quotes Francois Truffaut on that one); the writer's greatest leap of imagination. I guess they both know what they're talking about.

In retrospect, after having read other books, I see that some of McKee's strength comes from using expressions like "leap of imagination" - expressions that respect the readers (potential writers), and can truly inspire. That, and his massive eyebrows. You have to respect a man with such glorious eyebrows.

Since I'm still battling to find my own ending and beginning, I decided to do a series of posts about movie beginnings and endings that I love. I'll try to look both at my genre, comedies, and at films generally. Coming soon to a blog near you.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


I'm entering the last week of my July deadlines - studying my leading characters, thinking of beginnings and endings. My goal is not to solve both missions completely by the end of the month – they require much more time than that. My goal is to spend enough time tackling them in ways that will get me deeper inside my story.

Both missions are related. Understanding how my movie ends implies understanding whether my characters succeed or fail in achieving their goals, and also implies understanding what kind of change my characters go through, or whether they change at all.

It's conventional for a leading character to go through a certain change or transformation, to learn something about him/herself. But what does that mean exactly?

Does it have to be that redemption type change that Melvin (Jack Nicholson) goes through in "As good as it gets"? A misogynic lonely man with a bad OCD case who's ready to let go of his habits for the chance of loving and being loved? There are also the Dustin Hoffman cases: The chauvinist actor who finds sensitivity after experiencing the everyday life of women by pretending to be one in "Tootsie"; Or the man acquiring fatherhood squeals, and fighting for his right to be a full-time father in "Kramer vs. Kramer". And then there's Jack (Robert de Niro) in "Meet the Fockers", who learns that in order to make peace with his family he must let go of his obsession to control them.
As opposed to the examples above, my characters are not the "problematic" types you automatically accept to be transformed by the end of the movie. Must transformation be so obvious, so easy to put in words? Do Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis experience a transformation in "Some like it hot"? Clearly, they go through a significant experience pretending to be women - but is it so easy to sum up their transformation in words?

This sends me browsing through film history, looking for characters who don't change. One of the strongest examples is Trevor (Tim Roth) in "Made in Britain" (Alan Clarke, 1982) – the teenage skinhead who ridicules the authorities' attempts to make him a better, civilized man. On the other hand, there's Nola Darling in "She's gotta have it" (Spike Lee, 1986), who almost changes but at the end chooses to stay true to herself and not to commit to one man. Nihilism, feminism. These two characters win by not changing. They choose not to change though society tells them to, and they are happy with their choice – even if for Trevor this choice means a life of going in and out of prisons, even if for Nola it means forever being referred to as "freak".
And then there are Woody Allen's characters in "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan". Both movies are love stories in which the woman, his love interest, is the one going through changes, maturing, and he stays pretty much the same. He doesn't want to change. He wants to change them, educate them – but doesn’t want them to go through any autonomic changes. Both movie endings are melancholic. He had the girl, and the girl moved on.

I feel that in this specific screenplay I'm writing, a comedy, I'm more drawn to characters who refuse change. Doesn't change make comedies less funny, more didactic?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

J'adore: Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri

If I were a curator of a film festival, one of the first things I'd do is dedicate a soiree to this French duo. Jaoui (born 1964) and Bacri (born 1951) started working together in the theatre, and continued to co-write and co-star in four films: "Same old song", or in French "On connait la chanson" (directed by Alain Resnais, 1997), and later three films that Jaoui directed herself: "The taste of others" (2000), "Look at Me" (2004) and "Let's talk about the rain" (2008).

In this interview with the couple, Bacri talks about their writing process: "When we get an idea, we start exploring the theme; we start out with characters we need, then we'll say, 'OK, now we need someone who such-and-such...', 'Yes, but we also need someone who...', 'Yes, but then what about someone else who...', and we end up with five or six interlocking stories. That's why it's so hard to sum these films up."
Jaoui and Bacri specialize in ensemble comedies, filled with smart dialogues and bitter-comic moments, some of them are almost as cruel as the cruelest moments in "Extras" (Ricky Gervais' TV series about two movie extras who lack any tact and consistently get humiliated by others. See video below). Such is "Look at me", that tells the story of a successful and egocentric writer (played by Bacri) who prefers his angelic young daughter from his second marriage over his older fat daughter from his first marriage. Like in Ricky Gervais' merciless world, in "Look at me" the egocentric father doesn’t change his ways - he stays egocentric and insensitive till the end.

"Same old song", homage to Dennis Potter's work, was very popular for its use of old French chansons. But I personally think that Jaoui and Bacri's best collaboration so far is "The taste of others", mainly because it demonstrated a perfect combination of humor and emotions. The main character in "The taste of others" is an over-confident, married factory owner (Bacris, in the picture below) who has to take English lessons to present himself better in business meetings. His teacher is a theatre actress (Anne Alvaro) whom he gradually falls in love with. In her company, and her intellectual-bohemian friends' company, he feels ignorant and incompetent for the first time in his life. It's a beautiful story, and both characters – the factory owner and the actress – go through funny, surprising and touching metamorphosis.

Jean-Pierre Bacri, to my opinion, is one of the strongest comedians of the past two decades. And what's so fascinating about him is that he co-writes his parts – which means he truly enjoys playing either the loser ("The taste of others", "Let's talk about the rain") or the obnoxious guy ("Same old song", "Look at Me"). I only recently found out that Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri are married. This revelation filled with me with joy, that was only replaced a couple of weeks later with the deep disappointment of finding out that they'd already separated. In any case, I thought it's extremely funny that she directs her husband playing such unflattering characters. It's also interesting that they always co-star in their films, but never as a couple - always as other actors' partners.

I watched "Let's talk about the rain" (their latest collaboration) for the first time a few days ago, for the purpose of writing this post – and was quite disappointed. There are many funny/cute moments, but the story itself is much weaker than it was in "The taste of others" and in "Look at Me". Disappointed as I was, I'm still anxious to watch Jaoui's future films.

In this scene from "The taste of others", the main character reads to his English teacher an exercise he wrote, in which he confesses for the first time about his feelings for her. She doesn't like him at all, there for she chooses to ignore the gesture, and go over his grammar mistakes.

And here is a scene from "Extras". In each episode there's a guest star, playing supposedly as himself, but actually displaying an ugly/mean/egocentric/perverted grotesque character that makes fun of show biz people. In this episode it's Clive Owen, who's being very nasty towards female extra Maggie.