Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rosie Perez and Mira Sorvino do the right thing

Last night saw the 20th anniversary of "Do the Right Thing" (1989) in New York. I saw the photos of the cast arriving over at jezebel, and was automatically thrown back to one of my favorite moments of this movie: Rosie Perez dancing to the sound of Public Enemy's "fight the power", alongside the opening credits. That’s such a powerful intro: making the connection between protest and dancing.

I love good dancing scenes in movies, and Spike Lee is consistently one of the best directors of dancing/clubbing scenes. Another favorite of mine is Mira Sorvino dancing with John Leguizamo in "Summer of Sam" (1999). Not only does Mira Sorvino look amazing, and dances beautifully - this scene really shows the conflict between them: a woman who wants to act sexy near her husband, and a husband who cheats on her, and doesn't think it's ok for a wife to be sexy. Here are Sorvino and Leguizamo going at it:

There's also a major clubbing scene in "25th Hour" (2002), where all the main characters get together at a club. I'm sad to say I couldn't find a video of Anna Paquin dancing with Rosario Dawson, but here is a picture. I love how Anna Paquin sweats there. Story of my life.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Research and inspiration: Family dramas

And now for a quick study of families in dramas. Indeed, I'm writing a comedy, but I want my screen family to capture the true ingredients and textures of a family. So here are a few films that excel in that department.

1. Ordinary People (Robert Redford, 1980)

This film deals beautifully and sensitively with a family who lost her eldest son and hasn't rehabilitated since: a guilt eaten brother, a mother who can't love her only living son, and a father who desperately tries to keep the family together.

Not that we haven't seen cold, abusive or neglecting mothers at the movies before, but this mother seems to be different. She's not the cliché of a self-absorbed retired from the show-biz mom ("September", "Short Cuts", "Postcards from the Edge"), nor is she a woman who's not satisfied with family life, and decides to look for excitements outside. Beth (Mary Tyler Moore) is a woman who simply can't (or won't) adapt to the tragedy and the changes her family has gone through, and can't find compassion for her son and her husband. She wants a family, but she wants the family she had.

Also, there's something about Donald Satherland as a father that brings me to tears – not only in this movie, but even in "Pride & Prejudice" (my secret is out now).

2. You Can Count on Me (Kenneth Lonergan, 2000)

This is the film that made me love Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo. What's special about "You Can Count on Me" is that it does a defamiliarization of a brother-sister relationship, presenting them like a turbulent lovers' relationship. For Samantha (Linney), reuniting with her brother Terry (Ruffalo) is much more emotional than any other relationship she has with men at the same time (an old flame who asks her to marry him, and a married boss she an affair with). I think it's a brilliant way to tackle a siblings' relationship.

3. The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2005)

Here's another movie with Laura Linney. "The Squid" is rather funny, but in a brutal way. It's about a Brooklyn family, back in the 80'. The parents (Linney and Jeff Daniels), both writers, get a divorce, and their 2 boys get dragged between the two homes, witnessing their parents' weakest and most selfish moments. It's a mocking and painfully realistic portrait of neurotic intellectual parents, and the pain and heartaches they bring on their kids. I love the dialogues, and the absurd and unfortunate situations this family brings on itself.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Research and inspiration: TV families

This is not a list of all the TV shows I love that revolve around families. I chose 4 sitcoms that I both love and feel that are relevant to my screenplay, either in terms of comic voice or subjects they approach.

1. The Royle Family (1998-2000)

This British sitcom takes place in the living room of a working class family in Manchester. They don't have money, all they do is watch TV, talk about their day, mock and insult each other (especially the father). Much like "The Office", it plays on the tension between cruelty and humor – except "The Royle Family" came first.

In each episode, the family sits in front of the TV. Everything happens in front of the TV, whether it's on or off. The dad wears the same t-shirt every day, makes rude remarks and farts. The mother smokes like a chimney. They have a spoiled lazy girl who always comes over with her loser dj fiancée (played by Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash, who also created and wrote the show). In later seasons they are married and have a baby, who the girl does not care about and hardly takes care of. There's also a boy who goes to high school, and a grandma that sometimes comes to visit.

I guess you could say it's reminiscent of "Married with children" (1987-1997), but it's much more raw and nerve racking to watch, and there are never any fantasy leggy girls around. It's just the family.

I get the feeling that not enough people have watched this masterpiece, so here's a taste (taken from the Christmas special).

2. Arrested Development (2003-2006)

Here we have all the ingredients for a family farce: selfishness, apathy, lies, revenge, doing things for spite, not learning from mistakes, never over-sentimental, not to mention great cast. I especially love the Mother's character (Lucille Bluth) played by Jessica Walter.

Things to look out from: I found that watching "Arrested Development" episodes for the first time is pure joy, but if I get to see an episode for the second time, I usually find myself bored. Why is that?

3. Everybody loves Raymond (1996-2005)

As opposed to the other shows I mention here, this one is a proper mainstream, genre-obeying, cheesy sitcom. And yet, I have a thing for it. I guess it's because it's down to earth, and it deals effectively with everyday situations you can imagine a co-worker telling you about (I'm talking about a specific married man I used to work with, a web developer who was constantly joking about marriage life. You'd say to him "Hey, that thing stopped working", and he'd say, grinning, "That's what my wife tells me").

4. Flight of the Conchords (2007-)

Jemaine and Bret are not a proper family, but since they are a band, and they sleep in the same room, there's sufficient intensity and dependency to their relationship to qualify as a family-model. Add to that their relationship with Murray, the band's manager, and you do get a sort of alternative family. Things to watch here: funny brawls, and great dialogue.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Research and inspiration: back to basics

The tricky part about writing this blog is that I don't plan to share my actual idea for the screenplay, at least not for now. I'm sure my anonymous readers will understand. All I can say for now is that I'm writing a comedy about a family, and that it involves some unlikely situations.

I've read 3 books so far:
- "Story" by Robert Mckee
- "Writing the Comedy Film – Make 'Em Laugh" by Stuart Voytilla and Scott Petri
- "Conversations with Wilder" by Cameron Crowe

"Writing the Comedy Film" had me focusing on my film genre: farce. This book isn't as elegantly written as Robert Mckee's "Story", but it does offer some good basic exercises to get you started. Both books tell you to research your genre. Watch over and over films you love. Study them. Watch over and over films you don't love. Study them. Write down a list of comedy films you love; scenes you love; characters you love; directors you love; actors and actresses you love.

So I feel I have to start with setting my territory. In terms of general plot and atmosphere, I chose 4 films that I feel I relate to, and should learn from.

1. Some like it hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)

Reading "Conversations with Wilder", I learned "Some like it hot" is based on the 1951 German film "Fanfaren der Liebe", which is also about 2 out-of-work musicians who dress as women in order to get jobs in an all-girl band. I found this piece of information very encouraging: even Billy Wilder used other people's ideas.

What I love best in "Some like it hot" is how Jack Lemon's character gets caught up in his lie, till the point where the lie takes over. Memorable scenes here are the ball room scene, where Jack (Daphne) has a wild tango with her Millionaire suitor, Osgood Fielding III, and of course – the last scene of the movie, in which Daphne, trapped on a boat with Osgood who's going over their wedding plans, finally tells him he can't marry her, because she's a man, followed by Osgood's famous comeback - "nobody's perfect". This is exactly where I'm going in my script – lies and secrets that evolve into a presence that is much stronger than the truth.

2. The apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)

Wilder and Lemon again. After watching many films in the past couple of months, what stood out for me the most is that comedies used to be much less cheesy than they are today. I'm really aiming for a lack of cheesiness in my script.

I only saw this film for the first time a few months ago. I heard the name, but I didn't even know that it was about a nice guy that lets his bosses use his apartment as an after-work free of charge motel to bring their mistresses to. I love the freshness of the story – a story that is funny on its own, before you get into its details, I love how it's an extreme situation but still believable, and I love Jack Lemon's character – the archetype of a man who can't say no.

3. La Cage aux Folles (Edouard Molinaro, 1978)

I just love this film so much. I didn't see the American version, and I don't know if it's as chic as the original. Again, the story itself, of a gay couple - one of whom owns a drag club, the other performs there – who pretend to be straight to impress their son's fiancee's family, is funny as is. On top of that, the dialogues are exquisite, as are both leading actors. My favorite character here is Albin (played by Michel Serrault) – the extremely vulnerable drag performer, who is almost cast off the family because he can't pass as straight.

Here's a scene in which the two men go to a restaurant, discuss the straight performance they plan to display in front of the fiancee's family, but can't even manage to lift their cups without holding their little finger in the air.

4. There's something about Mary (Farrelly brothers, 1998)

What I love about this film is the great rhythm, and the genuine farce atmosphere: Anything crazy can happen but life/story goes on; every character has a selfish motive; no one is who he seems to be; and opposed to all that there's Mary (Cameron Diaz) - a calm rock of compassion, kindness and inner peace, in the midst of all this commotion. I find that Mary somewhat resembles Suagr (Marilyn Monroe in "Some like it hot"). It has something to do with both characters' friendliness, willingness to accept whomever and whatever happens around them and blonde hair.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Unemployed, with nothing better to do

Back in 2001, I studied film in Tel Aviv University. At the end of the first year, I applied and got accepted to their scriptwriting program. After the first excitement, I realized this will entail a reality of me reading my writings in front of a class of students. I panicked and immediately switched my BA to film theory, philosophy and literature.

Then about a year ago, I got an idea for a movie. I thought it's a great idea, I knew it's never been done, I knew I wanted to write it, but I was working in a crazy job at the time - so I decided I'd wait for the right moment to sit down and write it.

And now here I am – unemployed, with nothing better to do than write that screenplay. Today there's no classroom of students holding me back. Instead, I find I have much more elusive barriers.

So this is me, my journey of writing my very first screenplay, and the distractions I encounter on the way.