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.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mama reincarnated

There's a post I had in mind long before I had this blog, and now that I've mentioned Clyde Barrow it seems like a decent opportunity to write it. What I want to discuss here is the reincarnation of a mother's character who first appeared in "Bonnie and Clyde" (Arthur Penn, 1967) and later in "No country for old men" (Ethan and Joel Coen, 2007). Both of them are mothers of young women who are involved with outlaws.

Bonnie fell in love with Clyde, a bank robber, and became his partner. They formed a gang who not only robbed money but also killed people - so that both Bonnie and Clyde were outlaws.

Llewelyn Moss, Carla Jean's husband, is a hunter who comes across a satchel with two million dollars left behind at the location of a drug deal that went bad. He takes the money, and since the money is not his, Llewelyn now has to run both from merciless hitman Anton Chigurh, a group of Mexicans, and sheriff Ed Tom Bell.

Both mothers make only one major appearance, at a late stage of the film. Both are referred to as "mama". And most importantly, both do not approve of their daughter's man, keep a frown face throughout the scene, and predict bad outcomes.

"You'd best keep runnin' and you know it, Clyde Barrow" (Bonnie and Clyde)

Bonnie's mother (played by Mabel Cavitt) enters the story after Bonnie misses her so much that she runs away from Clyde and the gang. They quickly find her, and Clyde promises her she will see her mother. They arrange for a secret meeting with their families, in a deserted place. It's a poetic dream-like scene. Everybody seems to be enjoying themselves, except for the mother, who stands distant from the group, bothered. Bonnie Notices her mother's worry, she's nervous about it and wishes to calm her. At the end of the scene, when the family is about to leave, Bonnie, her mother and Clyde share this dialogue:
(to Clyde)
Sugar, make mama stay a while yet.

MOTHER know, Clyde, I read about
y'all in the papers and I'm jes'
Now Mrs. Parker, don't y'all
believe what you read in the papers!
That's the law talking there. They
want us to look big so's they'll
look big when they catch us.
--and they can't do that. Why, I'm
even better at runnin' than robbin'
banks--aw shoot, if we done half
the stuff they said we did, we'd be
millionaires, wouldn't we, old
sugar. And I wouldn't risk Bonnie here
just to make money, uncertain as
times are. Why one time I knowed
of a job where we could of make
$2000 easy, but I saw the law
outside and I said to myself, why
Bonnie could get hurt here. So I
just drove right on and let that
money lay.
...Maybe you know the way with her,
then. I'm just an old woman and I
don't know nothin...

We'll be quittin' this just as soon
as the hard times is over, Mother
Parker, I can tell you that. Why
me and Bonnie were just talkin' the
other day and we talked about when
we'd settle down and get us a home,
and Bonnie said, "I couldn't bear
to live morn'n three miles from my
precious mother." Now how'd you
like that, Mother Parker?
Don't believe I would. I surely don't.
(to Bonnie)
You try to live three miles from me
and you won't live long, honey.
(to Clyde)
You'd best keep runnin' and you
know it, Clyde Barrow.
(to Bonnie)
Bye, baby.

"Three years ago I said them very words. No and Good" (No country for old men)

Carla Jean's mother (played by Beth Grant) enters the story shortly before Llewelyn, Carla Jean's husband, is killed. Both of them drive to El Passo Texas to meet up with him. Carla Jean is quiet during most of the ride. Her mother does all the talking, mostly complaining about her son in law, and the situation he got them in. Carla Jean is too worried for her husband's life to care about what her mother says. This is a shorter and lighter scene than that in "Bonnie and Clyde". The mother, like most of the characters in "No country", is a real comedian - especially when she says harsh things. This is the conversation they have at the back seat of a taxi, on their way to El Passo.

And I always seen this is what it would
come to. Three years ago I pre-visioned it.

Carla Jean
It ain't even three years we been married.
Three years ago I said them very words.
No and Good.
Now here we are? Ninety degree heat. I
got the cancer. And look at this. Not
even a home to go to.
(to driver)
We're goin to El Paso Texas. You know
how many people I know in El Paso Texas?

No ma'am.

(She holds up thumb and forefinger curled to make an O.)
That's how many. Ninety degree heat.

The cab is stopped outside the depot. Carla Jean and her mother and the driver are at the trunk struggling over bags.

Carla Jean
I got it Mama.

I didn't see my Prednizone

Carla Jean
I put it in, Mama.

Well I didn't see it.

Carla Jean
Well I put it in. That one. You just
set there. I'll get tickets and a cart
for the bags.

As Carla Jean goes to the station a man emerges from a car pulled up be-
hind. He is a well-dressed Mexican of early middle age.

Do you need help with the bags, madam?

Well thank god there's one gentleman
left in West Texas. Yes thank you. I
am old and I am not well.
Which bus are you taking?

We're going to El Paso don't ask me
why. Discombobulated by a no-account
son-in-law. Thank you. You don't often
see a Mexican in a suit.

You go to El Paso? I know it. Where
are you staying?

Every time I watch that scene from "No country", I immediately think of Bonnie's mother. I love how both films managed to show a character for such a short time, just talking – no real action - and still make it so memorable. By the way, Beth Grant was actually only 58 years old when they filmed that scene, so they did quite a job with her make up. I'll leave you with Faye Dunaway's pretty face:
Dialogues were taken from here and here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Jacques Mesrine/Vincent Cassel

This weekend was dedicated to watching "Death Instinct" and "Public Enemy number 1" (both by Jean-François Richet, 2008), a two-part movie based on the life of French gangster Jacques Mesrine. Above are Jacques Mesrine himself (left) and Vincent Cassel as Jacques Mesrine (right).

I'm always a little agitated before embarking on a movie longer than 120 minutes, and in this case it was two movies longer than 120 minutes, but there wasn't a dull moment. I won't get into details and spoilers, I'll just say it's a breathtaking story, as thrilling and violent as gangster movies get, and excitingly and unbelievably based on a true story.

Mesrine's character is a combination of a cold-hearted gangster, a charming Clyde Barrow (with more than one Bonnie on his side), and a self-acclaimed and self-marketed megalomaniac revolutionary. Some of his actions are inspiring, others are horrifying, but always fearless. What I especially loved about him, and about Vincent Cassel's performance, are the humorous ego-tripping moments in which he indulges in his portrayal by the media (he was titled 'Public Enemy number 1'). I will definitely use it as inspiration for the main character in my screenplay (who's not a criminal in any way, but is an aspiring revolutionary).
Here's Jacques Mesrine in a series of photos taken by Alain Bizos in 1979, a few month before Mesrine's death. See the rest of the photos here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

I wrote this post

I caught "Contempt" (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963) on TV the other night. When it comes to the Truffaut-Godard battle, I will forever be a Truffaut girl. I can appreciate what Godard does, but too often I can't truly enjoy it. At times, though, I can both appreciate and really feel exhilarated, like in the case of "Contempt"'s intro, in which Godard reads the credits, or in fact tells the credits - instead of showing them on screen. Of course the music (by Georges Delerue) plays a big part here too.

By the way, I'm starting to consider changing my blog's layout, so there will be room for bigger youtube players. I had to shrink this one so it won't run over my sidebar. Any thoughts about that, anyone?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Case study: "There's something about Mary"

Just to get started, here's a quick look at the film's main characters:

Mary Jensen (Cameron Diaz) - Miami based, beautiful, kind and compassioned orthopedic surgeon who men tend to fall in love with.
Ted Stroehmann (Ben Stiller) - awkward and naive man who's been in love with Mary since high school.
Pat Healy (Matt Dillon) - sleazy private detective who's sent by Ted to find Mary, falls in love with her and tries to keep her for himself.
Dom "Woogie" Woganowski (Chris Elliott) - Ted's best friend, who later turns out to be Mary's creepy stalker from college.
Tucker (Lee Evans) - Mary's disabled British architect close friend who later turns out to be a pizza delivery boy who fell in love with Mary and created this persona to woo her.

I already mentioned "There's something about Mary" (1998) as a primary inspiration for my screenplay – not in terms of story, but in terms of comic voice. I love this movie's approach to comedy:

- Memorable slapstick scenes: Ted getting his dick caught in his zipper; Mary's hair standing up; Healy trying to wake a dog from a coma.

- Distinct physical characteristics: Ted's hair and braces in high school; Tucker's exaggerated limp; Woogy's face rashes.

- Surprising, exaggerated and unlikely turn of events. I'm not talking here about "crazy" situations like the dog being in a coma, or the dog being on speed. I'm more interested in formalistic exaggerations such as: After Ted's dick is caught in a zipper and Mary's parents try to help him, suddenly a cop enters through the window, joined later by a fireman – just to make the scene more ridiculous; Ted not knowing his married best friend is obsessed with Mary too; Tucker making up that false persona for so long and winning Mary's trust.
About Mary's trust: I remember after watching the movie for the first time, years ago, I noted to myself how comic Mary's character. She might not be a "crazy funny" character, but her reactions to whatever happens around her have a big part in making this movie funny (I've argued before that she's a reincarnation of Sugar from "Some like it hot").

"There's something about Mary" structure analysis:

Like in my previous case study, I watched "There's something about Mary" and broke it down to a list of all the movie's scenes - just actions, not dialogue. Then I started analyzing it.

First, I looked for the movie's "inciting Incident". An inciting incident is basically what gets the story started. It's an event that (usually) happens at the beginning of a movie and (usually) turns the protagonist's world upside down, creating a certain desire, and triggering him to embark on a journey, at the end of which he will hopefully fulfill that desire. Other simple way to describe it, is an event that disrupts the balance in the protagonist's life, forcing him to actively bring the balance back. Every screenwriting manual will tell you it's a crucial part in every (mainstream) movie.

On "Meet the Fockers" there was no inciting Incident, but since it's a sequel, it seems understandable: It relies on the first movie's inciting Incident. On "Meet the parents", the inciting Incident was Gaylord finding out that he needs his girlfriend's dad's approval if he wants to marry her, which makes him abort his planned proposal operation, and go on a "make her dad like me" mission. On the sequel, Gaylord is still on that same mission, only now it's extended: "make her dad like my parents" – and in fact, as I argued, the actual mission is reduced back to the original "make her dad like me".

Examining "Mary", I found that (surprise!) there's no prominent inciting Incident. There's an 18 minutes long setup of Todd and Mary's high school failed romance, and then cut to the present (13 years later): It was actually a memory Ted was telling his shrink. But the shrink wasn't really listening. Ted then tells his best friend that Mary was his only love and that he can't forget her. His friend tells him – why don't you look her up? So Ted goes looking her up.

The only thing resembling an inciting Incident can be found in what Ted tells his shrink. The shrink is out of the room during Ted's entire story about meeting Mary, going to pick her up to the prom, getting his dick caught in his zipper, missing the prom, never seeing Mary again. Ted doesn't notice he's gone, because he sits with his back to the shrink. When the shrink gets back to the room, this is their conversation:

Anyway, it's not something you exactly
forget about, but I guess I must've blocked
it out of my head. Then about a week ago
I'm driving on the highway and I got to
thinking about Mary and suddenly I couldn't
breathe...I couldn't keep up with the flow
of traffic anymore I felt like I was
going to die. I pulled into a rest area,
parked the car, and just started shaking.

You areas are homosexual

So apparently Ted forgot all about Mary until suddenly, one day while driving, he got to thinking about it and got a panic attack. So the panic attack is the inciting Incident - except it's hardly noticeable. It is never shown on screen - it is just told about, and then completely ignored by the shrink. It's the movie's way to show (once again) how naive and clueless Ted is (he has no idea that the shrink left the room), but it's also the movie's way of saying - fuck the inciting Incident. Ted is going to look for Mary. Why now? Because we're filming now.
Now that we've established that, let's look at the entire picture. Here are the main plot's turning points:

What happens: Ted (reportedly) gets a panic attack when he thinks about Mary for the first time in years.
Consequence: This is the inciting Incident, after which Ted is going out on a journey to find Mary and win her love again.

What happens: The private detective tells Ted that Mary is a fat wheelchaired single woman, who has 4 children from 3 different fathers.
Consequence: Ted lets go of his dream of finding Mary.

What happens: Ted's friend tells him he saw Mary a few months earlier, and that she was hot.
Consequence: Ted understands the detective was lying. He decides to continue looking for Mary.

What happens: Ted finds out that Mary got involved with the detective.
Consequence: He will have to compete over Mary's heart.

What happens: After she's already dating Ted, Mary gets an anonymous letter telling her he send that private detective to watch her.
Consequence: Mary loses her trust in Ted. She doesn't want to see him again. How will he get her back?
If we put aside the unconventional lack of proper inciting Incident, the rest of the film's structure is pretty conservative. I'm not sure that I have much to say about it, except that it's easier for me to do these technical exercises than actually work on my screenplay.

I switched my deadlines around so I did one case study after another, instead of mixing them with my writing assignments. So now I'm left with only writing assignments until the end of the month.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"Is this a CD or a movie?"

This indie movie trailer spoof starring Alicia Silverstone and Alanis Morissette is pretty funny. It's also an easy post.

via funny or die

Monday, July 13, 2009

DIY Miuccia

More than a month after seeing Prada's 2010 resort collection, I'm still trying to figure out how I can adopt these beautiful ankle ribbons. Simply taking a piece of fabric and tying it around my ankle brought poor results. Instead of a fancy ribbon shape, the fabric gets deflated and shrivels and the whole thing loses its appeal.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Case study: "Meet the Fockers"

Following the doctor's orders (Robert Mackee), and my own deadlines, I took on myself the exercise of analyzing the structure of "Meet the Fockers". My main purpose here is to study the rhythm of a comedy and see how a movie develops step by step. "Meet the Fockers" is not the most classic choice because it's a sequel – which means that a lot of the setup was actually done in a previous film. The reason I chose this movie after all is that like in my own screenplay, "Meet the Fockers"'s story revolves around the dynamics between a couple and the parents of each side. It isn't on my funniest comedies list, but considering its story and its success, it's certainly a must for my research.

A quick reminder before we dig in: "Meet the Parents" was about a male nurse meeting his girlfriend's parents for the first time, and struggling to get her strict father's approval. "Meet the Fockers", the sequel, sees the same couple when they are already engaged. In order to plan the wedding, their parents meet for the first time: the girl's conservative parents vs. the guy's free minded and spirited parents.

The main characters are Gaylord "Greg" Focker (Ben Stiller); his fiancée Pamela "Pam" Byrnes (Teri Polo); Gaylord's parents: Bernard "Bernie" Focker (Dustin Hoffman) and Rosalind "Roz" Focker (Barbra Streisand); Pam's parents: Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) and Dina Byrnes (Blythe Danner).

"Meet the Fockers" structure analysis:

I timed the movie, wrote down all the scenes, and tried to find the turning points. A turning point is usually defined as a surprising development that ends an act, by radically changing the hero's positioning.

While studying the film, I realized that although the relationship between the two couples of parents take a big part of the story's time and jokes - which gives the impression of an ensemble comedy – it is not truly the center of the movie. The main plot, as in "Meet the Parents", is the relationship between Gaylord and Jack: Gaylord's efforts to make Jack accept him, and Jack's continuous tests that are meant to break Gaylord and prove that he's not worthy of entering Jack's "circle of trust" and marrying Pam.
Here are the main plot's turning points, as I see it:

What happens: Gaylord finds out that Pam's parents had planned for the 4 of them (+ Pam's nephew) to travel in a trailer (instead of by plane), thus arriving earlier than Gaylord has intended, and spending more time with his parents than he wanted.
Consequenc: Gaylord lost control over this weekend, Jack took over.

What happens: Gaylord finds out Pam is pregnant. He panics because he knows her father will hate him for getting her pregnant before they got married. They decide not to tell Jack till after the wedding, and to try to have the wedding earlier than planned. Gaylord panics again because this means he will have to hide something from Jack, thus betraying Jack's "Circle of trust".
Consequence: Till now, this weekend was focused on making sure the parents get along. Now there's a new threat on Jack's and Gaylord's relationship – what will happen when he finds out she's pregnant?

What happens: Jack meets Jorge, the 15 year old son of the Fockers' house keeper, who Gaylord lost his virginity to 15 year earlier. He sees a physical resemblance, and decides Jorge is Gaylord's son.
Consequenc: Jack has a new weapon he can use against Gaylord: the 15 year old son he's been hiding from Pam and her family

What happens: At the engagement party Gaylord's parents organized, just before Gaylord's speech, Jack injects him with a truth drag. Jack does it to make Gaylord confess that Jorge is his son, which he does, but he also announces that Pam is pregnant in front of a room full of party guests.
Consequenc: Jack succeeded in proving that Gaylord betrayed his trust. Not only did he hide a 15 year old child, but he also got Pam pregnant and kept it a secret. Jack gives up on Gaylord and is ready to abort the wedding. He's leaving the next day.

What happens: Jack gets a phone call from a lab, telling him the results for the DNA test he ordered: Gaylord is not Jorge's father.
Consequenc: He realizes his instincts were wrong in this case, and if he was wrong here – maybe he was wrong all along with the way he handled his family. He turns the trailer around and goes back to the Fockers' house.

The conflict between the two couples of parents, as I see it, is only a subplot in "Meet the Fockers". As crazy as it gets, it's only a sidekick in Gaylord's and Jack's relationship. This basically means that the main plot is somewhat hidden in a louder commotion – or at least that's how I see it.
What did I learn here? It mostly gave me a sense of what a list of movie scenes looks like, that is, how a screenplay looks when it's compressed to actions only, without dialogue. I'm sure that studying the scenes order and timing, and the main plot-subplot dynamics, will be helpful later on when I finalize my own scenes list. Also, the more movies I study this way, the bigger the benefit will be. It also got me thinkng about my characters.

Reflecting on the female characters in "Meet the Fockers"

This movie has six main characters: all three male characters are comic, while on the female side only one character is: Roz (Barbra Streisand, Gaylord's mother) is funny, but Pam (Teri Polo, the fieancee) and Dina (her mother) are extremely dry and dull.

This gets me thinking: Must there be a "dull" character in every comedy, as some sort of balance to the "crazy" characters? And if so, must it be a woman?

My conclusion: My leading female characters are all going to be funny and eccentric. No nice and characterless women in my screenplay.


As a young girl I used to hate Ben Stiller because he was the bad guy on "Reality Bites". Living outside of the US, I wasn't aware of the Ben Stiller show, so for me Stiller was simply the guy from "Reality Bites".

When I think of it today, he wasn't the bad guy, he was the uncool guy. Ethan Hawk, the guy with the shitty attitude, who wouldn't shower but would break your heart, he was the cool guy, right? I haven't seen "Reality Bites" for years, but I did see it many times as a teenager, so I think I remember enough of it to know I wouldn't enjoy it today (especially Winona Ryder's mannerism). But I did love the movie back then, and loved Winona and what she wore in it, so had I realized that Stiller directed it, I'm sure that would have changed my attitude towards him.

As I grew up, I realized that Ethan Hawk is not the heart breaker movies told us (girls) he was, and that Ben Stiller is in fact a very uniquely funny guy. Plus, he's been going through a serious makeover lately. This is Ben Stiller looking very dandy at Wimbeldon last week.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Speaking of (stuffed) animals

I just stumbled upon this Moschino couture teddy-bears dress on ebay. $2,999 and it's yours!

You might remember this dress from a W magazine feature taken back in August 2007, titled "into the woods". This is how Doutzen Kroes wore it (Photographed by Marcus Piggott):
To see more pictures from that feature, visit run for the hills.

All this bears and woods atmosphere takes me back to Bjork's Human Behavior video, directed by Michel Gondry. I've actually become allergic to Bjork's music over the years, but I decided to post the video anyway.

Monday, July 6, 2009

An animal I totally identify with

I just read an interview with Claude Lanzmann about his autobiography, "Le lièvre de Patagonie". I don't think the book has been translated yet. The title means "The rabbit from Patagonia". Asked about the title, Lanzmann explained he once drove in Patagonia, when a giant rabbit appeared in front of his car and then disappeared between the bushes at the side of the road.

"That rabbit filled me with joy, seeing his courage to jump in front of the wheels with such strength, energy… it's an animal I totally identify with".

Here is Lanzmann on a visit to Egypt with Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (whom he had an affair with when she was 44 and he was 27). Lanzmann is tall, but not as tall as that giant pyramid behind him. And Simone de Beauvoir looks very chic. She must be wearing something out of Moschino's resort collection. Or is it Bottega Veneta? Here are more pictures from that 1967 journey.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Make it work! July deadlines

So honestly, I've been very lazy with my screenplay, and so far this blog hasn't been helpful in that department. I write about other films, instead of working on my own. Since this blog has a public presence, I feel an obligation to write – just in case someone looks, be it even one person, be it just the possibility of one person. But when it comes to my screenplay, it's just me. No deadlines, no one to check how many pages I wrote this week, no Tim Gunn telling me to make it work.

So I've decided – if I do feel obligated to this blog, I should use that as a force of discipline; my anonymous readers will serve as my Tim Gunn.

At the beginning of each month I will publish my deadlines for the following weeks. If I don't make them - come the next month, I will have to write about it and explain why.

So without further ado, here are July's deadlines.

July 5 - July 18:

1. Study my 2 leading characters (it's a couple).
Write a list of questions I should know about them and answer it. Know everything about their personality (their ambitions, their weaknesses, what makes them laugh, what gets on their nerves, what clothes they wear) and about their relationships (Do they fight with each other? Do they get along with their parents? Their partner's parents? Who are their friends?)

2. Case study: "Meet the fockers"
Watch the movie again and time it. How many scenes? How long are the scenes? How many acts and turning points? Analyze the structure of the strong scenes and the weak scenes. What makes a scene strong and what makes it weak?

July 19 - July 31:

1. Write 12 optional beginnings. Write 12 optional endings
I basically know how my story develops. I have the basic plot, and the major turning points. What's missing is the beginning and the end. 12 is an arbitrary number. I just need to force myself to come up with as many ideas as I can, even if some of them are lousy. I'm sure just by coming up with ideas I will find more questions I have to answer about the story and the characters in order to understand what my beginning and end should be, so this will surely get me somewhere – even if none of these 12 options will end up in the screenplay.

2. Case study: "There's something about Mary"
Same as with "Meet the fockers": time it and analyze it.

I'm happy. I feel like these public deadlines are really gonna make me sit down and write. I'm going to work now. I'll leave you with Tim Gunn.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Research and inspiration: a study of form, content and antagonism

Speaking of dance/music numbers in films: I was watching "Rachel Getting Married" (Jonathan Demme, 2008) lately (since it's about a family, it was on my to-watch list). Many people I know loved this movie. Even those I know who didn't love it, praised the soundtrack; the fact that all of the music numbers are diegestic, that is, the music always originates from the cinematic world: a band rehearsing for the wedding inside the family house, and playing at the event itself.

Watching the movie, I found myself indifferent towards the characters and somewhat antagonistic. Thinking about it later, I realized I especially didn’t enjoy that the dialogues so bluntly tell the audience: "there are things we're talking about that you still can't understand. They're meant to intrigue you. It's a secret for now, you'll understand later". It's always a challenge to manage how much you reveal to the audience and when to reveal it, and I felt that in "Rachel Getting Married" I was too aware of this mechanism being pulled.

What I'm getting at here, is that I didn't experience any intellectual exhilaration just knowing that the music I hear is the music the characters hear. And I guess it annoyed me that that's even an option, to not enjoy the movie, and at the same time marvel at the music.

Which brings me to "the Royal Tenenbaums" (Wes Anderson, 2001) – another family centered movie, hence on my watch list. And another movie that leaves me antagonistic, today even more than when I watched it for the first time. The reason for the antagonism here is the feeling of self Indulgence that's present on every frame; the feeling that the art and costumes replace emotional depth; the fact that some of the people I know who love this film lack emotional depth themselves. But most of all it's the fact that I didn't care what happens next, and was willing to stop the DVD at any minute. I hate the term "love it or hate it" artwork, but I guess it applies on this film, so maybe I love this term after all.

Anyway, Wes Anderson debates are so 1834. This post is just an excuse for me to show clips from "Zatoichi" (Takeshi Kitano, 2003). "Zatoichi" is the story of a blind masseur and former samurai, an old woman who lets him sleep at her house, and 2 geishas (a brother and a sister), who are chasing after the killers of their parents. This is my example for form and content reinforcing one another, instead of annulling. This movie has both emotional depth, and great story and characters, as well as wonderful use of music.

First, let's go back to this scene, in which the soundtrack is a harmony of diegestic sounds (men building a house) and non-diegestic music:

And I'll leave you with the ending scene of "Zatoichi": the mob tap-dance. After you go through the movie's emotional journey, watching this scene can be truly cathartic (Or not, if we learned anything from this post). How beautiful is the bit where the adult brother and sister become young again for a few seconds?