I've talked about Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian on this blog before, not only for my love of the novel, but because there have been several attempts to adapt it into a film (most recently by James Franco)--something that many in the industry feel is an impossibility to do well, given the novel's immense violent nature. In fact, Ridley Scott, who once tried to get the project off the ground, famously said that "It would have been rated double-X."
A few years ago, William Monahan (who won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for The Departed), was given the chance to adapt the novel. I've long wanted to read his draft, and thanks to a nice redditor, was finally able to get my hands on it.
Monahan's first act was written extraordinarily well. I fell into the story as quickly as I did the first time I read the novel. Although no one could match McCarthy's vivid description of mid-1800's Texas, Mexico, and California, Monahan does a serviceable job to say the least, especially with the limited amount of space he had to work with. The Kid's travels down to Texas, the Glanton gang's move into Mexico, the initial battles with the Apaches--it's done well.
Then the Judge is established, and it's clear where Monahan diverges from the book--to the detriment of the story. The master-craftsman McCarthy brilliantly layered the Judge within the multitude of members of the Glanton Gang, The character is slowly established, and it's not until deep into the novel that we realize his true significance, not only to this story, but to the world as a whole.
Monahan was restricted by time, so he hacked out most of the other character's dialogue. He gave the Judge much more prominent of a place in the story--right from his establishment. This ruins the whole character, and frankly, does immense damage to the story as well.
However, with the exception of this unfortunate fact, the Monahan script is relatively strong, specifically in the first act, and first-half of the second. The end of the second act and the entire third act do need some work. But, this is a very workable script, much to my amazement.
Monahan changes the ending (one of the greatest endings in fictional history, in my opinion), and absolutely crashes and burns with it. One has to wonder what the hell he was thinking. It's bizarre that he would even attempt to alter such a brilliant end to an amazing story. But he does. Probably an ego thing, but when you're adapting arguably the world's greatest living writer, don't fuck up the ending. Is that too much to ask?
I think with a bunch of work, which would definitely include the removal of (perhaps) 70% of the Judge's dialogue, and with the beefing up of some of the side characters (such as Toadvine and the Delawares), this script could be made to work to the level of our high expectations attached to McCarthy adaptations. Above all, that ridiculously bad ending would have to be changed back to McCarthy's original intention. (The greatest scene in the whole book is removed for some reason).
So, overall, I was impressed with Monahan's attempt. This is truly a near-impossible project. He took a hard shot, and it ended up being decent. In fact, the first third of the screenplay is pretty incredible. As it stands, however, I'd hate to see this script shot. The magic of who the Judge character is would have to be added back in, and that addition would certainly be made through substantial subtraction.
2015 was a year of decent progress for me. In February, I started this blog, and have been posting relatively frequently to it. In July, I finally released my thesis novel, The Wicked Trees, on Kindle. Throughout the summer I made progress on my unnamed horror script. I also got about 25% through the first draft of my next novel, a medieval fantasy story, which I plan on turning into a series. I've rewritten those first few chapters numerous times and I like where it's going.
Later in the year I finally purchased a stellar writing rig, a MacBook Air, and became pretty proficient with Scrivener, which wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I've switched shifts at work, so now I have my mornings open to write, and gain about an hour or so every day because of an easier commute time. I should gain a lot more energy throughout the upcoming months as I'm getting good sleep for the first time in years.
My first project of 2016 is to build myself a better writing space. I'm getting rid of my breakfast nook that takes up too much of my kitchen and am replacing it with a small wooden table and chairs. It's a nice sunny spot in the morning to get away from the living room TV and Xbox. I might even try to squeeze in a little desk next to it. I'll see. The main objective is to have a small, distraction free space, where I can spend a couple of hours every morning with my laptop, before I go into work. I think I'm going to purchase an Amazon Echo to fill my writing space with music when I'm in the mood for it.
My plan is to get my thesis novel out on paperback sometime this Spring. It'll be nice to finally move on from that project, which I felt turned out pretty damn well.
I want to make significant progress on my fantasy novel during 2016. If I could get the first draft nearly completed, that would be great, but I'm not going to rush it.
I also want to make a decision as to which direction to take my horror script. I think it's satisfyingly scary as is, but I want to add something to make it more iconic. I've been tossing around ideas in my head for months. I'd really like to take a couple weeks here and there and push it further towards a final draft.
I'd also like to take a couple short writing trips in 2016. I've always wanted to go to the Austin Film Festival, so maybe this is the year I'll finally go. Perhaps I'll attend a writing conference or just go somewhere and hole myself up for a few days and focus on my novel while in a different environment.
Anyway, 2016 is here, and I'm excited about it.
Don't read on if you haven't seen the movie yet. Come back after you have.
Seriously, don't read it.
******* MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW ********
I had a tremendous amount of hope for Star Wars: The Force Awakens for about a minute. When Michael Arndt was hired as the scribe, I really thought this would be a fantastic film. Arndt is known for two things: ridiculously well fleshed-out & developed characters, and well-written emotional scenes. When Arndt was dropped from the project, a split rumored to be over a disagreement with the direction of the story and the time needed for it to be written, my hope was gone. JJ and Lawrence Kasdan reportedly finished the first draft of the script in only six weeks.
Once the movie premiered in Hollywood, the tweets from people who watched it were very positive. The reviews came out, and they were rather good. Everyone I knew who saw it ranged from liking it, to loving it. So I almost had a bit of hope again.
Unfortunately, I had to work Thursday through Monday, swing-shift, with a couple of long shifts in there, so I could not see the movie until Tuesday. Several people kept yapping to me about the film, even though I told them not to. One coworker even told me that he had heard that a much-loved character dies at the end (and gave me two options as to who it might be). I instantly knew it was Han Solo. Disney was not going to repeatedly pay him $25M a pop when they could get away with paying the other actors a few million per picture (and when they could put anyone in a Wookie or droid costume). The movie was ruined for me before I ever stepped into the theatre. The psychology of people who ruin narratives for other people is something else, and will be talked about in a future discussion.
I sat down in the luxury lounge chair and reclined back with a diet coke and a Sam Adams on my table. The film started, and like every other Star Wars movie, I was immediately sucked in by the prologue roll. Unlike every other Star Wars movie, I was immediately kicked back out during the first scene.
It was instantly apparent that this film was not going to be well blocked or well shot. Every, and I mean every single fucking shot of the whole damn movie, should have been shot at a shorter focal length (wider angle). This is a space epic, not a damn soap opera. The set and costumes in the first scene looked so fake that I almost cried. Never before had storm trooper armor looked like cheap plastic. Like the rest of the movie, the first scene felt entirely too small in scale. Some of the framing looked so amateurish I wanted to yell at the screen. And I completely missed the fact that Finn was an actual Stormtrooper. I thought he had somehow just stolen the cheap, plastic, armor.
Compare the first scene of Force Awakens with New Hope. In New Hope, we're at the edge of our seat the whole time because it's so well shot and written. It's full of tension. Darth Vader is immediately established in a powerful way. The droids are well established as well. The scene is a true inciting incident that pushes the story forward in an unabashed way. The opening scene of Force Awakens does nothing well. Absolutely nothing.
The rest of the first half of the movie is a series of ridiculous coincidences, poorly constructed scenes, and almost no serious development of our two new main characters, Rey and Finn (who are well cast).
Rey is tough. We eventually learn that she is strong with the Force. But who the hell is she? She's waiting for her family to come back. Is she Skywalker's daughter? If so, that doesn't have to be revealed, but we need to know something about her. We need an establishing point, and an arc. Otherwise she's boring, just like all of the characters in episodes 1, 2, & 3, who were all grossly underdeveloped.
Finn. Well, turns out he was an actual Stormtrooper. He's running from it. But what else? Who is he? He flirts with Rey. Okay. What else is he? What is his arc? What are his multi-dimensions?
Compare this to how Han and Leia were established in New Hope. You knew in very short order who the hell they were as human beings. You knew their strengths, their weaknesses. You believed what came out of their mouths because it fit the characters that were developed. You believed the tension between them because you knew who the fuck they were. And best of all—they had arcs.
Remember this Obi-Wan line from New Hope?: "Mos Eisley Spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious." First off, Obi-Wan was terrifically established in short order (as was Luke) in the first act of New Hope. Not only that, this one epic line of dialogue establishes Mos Eisley better than a dozen scenes ever could. What line in the first half of Force Awakens even compares to that? Not only are the characters not well developed, the environments aren't either. What the hell is Jakku? It's a cheap clone of Tatooine. Tatooine represented a far-away, safe, mostly rural place away from the macro-conflict of the universe, where Luke could grow up to become Luke Skywalker at the start of his arc. Once again, what the hell is Jakku? Well, it's a place where Rey and Finn can steal (coincidentally) the Millennium Falcon, so it can be bounced off of stuff in very CG-looking scenes. Weak.
Even when Rey and Finn finally meet Han and Chewie, the scene isn't amped up emotionally like it should have been. In that scene, Han is written like a caricature of himself. The conversations with the bandits that want Solo really don't do anything. Han is already established. We're not learning anything new there. And the coincidence of the monsters being able to be released between Solo and his attackers—that's just plain dumb.
The interactions between Rey and Solo finally gives us some insight as to who she is. She knows the mechanics of the Falcon on the same level as Solo. Because he's been so well established, that's actually telling us something about her. But where Solo is so satisfyingly flawed as a human being (and as a protagonist), she doesn't seem to be at all. This the mark of an amateur writer (I'm guilty of doing this as well).
Han, Chewie, Rey, and Finn, fly down to planet Takodana (why would you name a planet Taco Dana? That sounds like cheap restaurant), another underwhelming location. They meet Maz Kanata, who for my money steals the show. Kanata is efficiently established, intriguing, and most importantly of all, helps to finally give us some interest in Rey. The vision scene with Rey and Luke's light saber is the best scene in the film, and from that point on, the movie actually looks and feels much better crafted.
I loved seeing Leia again, and seeing her connection to Han. It was well acted and very moving. Then the movie switches to the reveal of yet another spherical bad-guy mega-weapon that must be destroyed by a design flaw. Holy shit. They even have a war room that looks straight out of New Hope. The same fucking X-Wing fighters are going to destroy it after Han and crew sneak into it to drop its shields.
This isn't an homage to New Hope; this is downright fictional theft.
Somehow, Han, Chewie, and Finn, sneak into the enemy base. Han meets his evil son and attempts to convince him to come with him. Then the murder. It's emotional, but not nearly as emotional as it should be. Why? Because Han's son hasn't been well established. None of the bad guys are. We know how they look (menacing). We know they have anger problems. That's about it. A tremendous opportunity comes up short.
So then the day is saved (imagine that). Rey flies off to find Luke. We end with drone shots of Rey handing Luke his light saber. Nice ending, especially because we think she may be his daughter. But...
...imagine what this could have been if Arndt was kept on as the screenwriter. Imagine what it could have been if he had been given time to develop these new characters and worlds, and if this project wasn't rushed by Disney. It could have been spectacular.
That being said, I realize that I'm in the minority. I'm not calling The Force Awakens a bad movie. The first half was horrible. The second half was actually darn good. I'm just really disappointed because it could have been fantastic. If Arndt had been given free reign to write, and if Fincher or Nolan had been hired to direct, this movie could have been absolutely amazing.
When it comes to stories, I'm hard to please. I wanted more. Fortunately, I may be the only one.
****** END OF SPOILERS ******
Did I mention that I loved the opening prologue roll?
Part of me wishes that before a movie started in a theatre, that a slide would go up that would state the film's budget, and the number of days of principal photography. It would help people appreciate the true differences between films. That doesn't happen though, so people judge each film as if they're made with the same resources. To some degree, that's unfair.
Last night, I went to see The Visit, in one of those new, fancy theaters, with the reserved, reclining seats (in Marquette, MI, of all places). Going into it, I knew that M. Night Shyamalan shot this film for only $5M. I also knew that it was a very specific genre film: a house-horror tale, which is very common: due to a limited budget, shoot 85% of a horror film in or around a house. My next film will be similar, if I can get it off the ground. Because of the limiting factors, these films are extremely difficult to pull off.
If you compare The Visit to The Sixth Sense (which was made for $40M in 1999 dollars) or Signs (which was made for $72M in 2002 dollars), you're probably going to come away a bit disappointed. But, if you compare The Visit to $5M movies (in current dollars), you'll get a more realistic expectation of how good this movie is.
The Visit does a good job of mixing horror and comedy in a limited space. The young actors (Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould) are superbly cast. There's an inherent danger in building a story around young people, because it's much harder to find young people who can act well (given their limited experience) than older people who can. The film also does a fine job with pacing, building up the intrigue and suspense as the story unfolds.
Is The Visit a masterpiece? No. Is it a pretty darn good movie done on a low budget that could possible signal a rebound of M Night's career? Absolutely.
I didn't hate many of the later M Night films as much as other people did. Aside from the ending, I liked The Village. Besides M Night's performance, I liked Lady in the Water. And, despite its problems, I liked The Happening a lot more than most people did. (I didn't see The Last Airbender or After Earth, and have no intention of ever seeing them.)
What I think The Visit does, is give M Night a couple more chances. That's a good thing. He tends to blow endings. He tends to ruin movies by casting himself in them. Yet, when he's connecting, he's still one of the best writer/directors around. He has a very distinct voice as an artist, and I want him to have a lot more opportunities to make films. He's only 45 years old, after all.
I'd recommend going to see The Visit, or at least streaming it when it comes to Netflix. Keep in mind that the whole film cost $5M, or 1/8th the budget of a horror movie like Final Destination 5. Hopefully, M Night gets four times the $5M budget for his next one.
A couple of days ago I flew from LAX to MQT to start two weeks of vacation in the rural Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I was born. While at airports and in planes, I like to observe human behavior for future character creation tips. I ran into a couple of dandies on this trip.
First off, I really like small behaviors that can go a long way in defining who a person is, especially non-verbal behaviors. The more we learn who the characters are, the more satisfying the narrative is going to be.
Second off, there're two types of assholes. Asshole Type 1 is a person who realizes they're an asshole, and just doesn't care. Asshole Type 2 is a person who just doesn't realize that they're being an asshole. Both have intriguing aspects. I think each has their benefit to a story given the narrative situation.
When I entered the Delta terminal at LAX, it was crowded as all can be, as it always is. Since the check-in and security process went amazingly quick, I had a couple of hours to kill. I thought I'd sit down and have breakfast. However, every seat at every bar and restaurant was taken (the terminal is rather small for such a huge airport).
So I decided to grab a cup of coffee and to sit down and write for a bit. They now have a/c posts (of course not enough of them) where multiple people can plug in multiple devices. Not wanting to kill any battery juice before I took off, I searched for a seat near a post. There was not one.
What got me though, is that many of the people sitting next to the posts, had nothing plugged in. There were ample seats away from the posts, yet they chose to sit near the posts, seemingly to a/c block those who needed a charge. I'm assuming that the majority of these people were Type 2 assholes, not aware of what they were doing. Instantly, I can read a ton into what kind of people (or characters) they are.
I board the plane. I sit down and wait through a minor mechanical problem. The plane takes off. Instantly, the lady in front of me reclines her chair all the way back. For the duration of the flight, she's the only person that I can see that has her chair reclined back, and it's not to take a nap. She just wanted more room—at my expense. There went four hours of potential writing time because I no longer had enough room to open a laptop.
I'm guessing she's a Type 1 asshole. She's a person that just doesn't give a fuck. She'll gladly take some of what is mine in order to have more for herself.
On the second leg of the flight, I board a much smaller plane, and have a window seat. Same exact thing happens. The only person on the entire plane to lean their seat back is sitting in front of me. On this plane, however, the amount of legroom is unconscionably small. The seat drops back into my face. It was the most claustrophobic experience I've had since being shoved into an MRI tube.
I loudly discuss with the person next to me how little space I have. The man in front of me doesn't care. He's clearly a Type 1 asshole. What a villain. I plotted my revenge, but the flight was so short I didn't have ample time to carry it out.
Next time you want to efficiently establish that someone is a Type 1 asshole, have them get on a small plane and drop the seat back into the lap of the person who's sitting behind them. Small behaviors like this speak volumes about who the person is—most likely in many facets of their life.
Here's a picture of me trying to read on that second flight, with my book above the headrest of the asshole who sat in front of me, because that was the only space available:
I've had my MacBook Air for a few days. I downloaded the newest version of Scrivener. I set up all my Chrome tabs with my dictionaries/thesauruses/grammar sites/etc. I've tweaked the rig (including hiding the annoying dock on the bottom), I transferred over the novel I'm currently writing, and actually spent several hours putting words on the virtual paper.
So far, I'm completely understanding why novelists are shifting towards Scrivener on MacBook Airs. First off, the Mac Scrivener version is much more complete than the Windows version. I've not encountered any bugs as of yet, either.
The MacBook Air has many things going for it. Even though it's not very powerful—for writing it's got plenty of power. I'm really beginning to love the keyboard (it's comfortable during fast-typing). The thing boots up in a breeze. The power cord connects with a magnet and is so easy to remove. The battery will last a full day of writing. The whole thing is damn light; it's a dream to carry around.
I'm glad I went with the 13-inch screen (vs. the 11 inch). Once I launched Scrivener and did the divided screen (so you can see two parts of the novel at the same time), I realized that the bigger screen was the way to go. The rig is still extremely portable. (Remember, only the bigger version has the SD card slot as well).
So far, I'm elated. I can't wait to write a bunch of killer novels and screenplays on this thing. I'm almost glad that it's not too powerful because it will always remain my writing-only rig. I won't gunk it up with anything else.
One lame thing: on the Mac an em-dash is alt/option plus shift plus -+. How diabolical is that? Thankfully, there's a setting in Scrivener to convert double dash to em-dash, so all is good.
Yes, the MacBook Air is a pretty expensive option for starving writers. If you can afford it though, it's probably worth the purchase price because of its stability, functionality, and portability. It's got me pumped to do more writing.
The only thing that's as bad as last night's Season 2 premiere of True Detective, is how poorly the Monday-morning QB'ing has been regarding the cause of the epic failure. Media critics often have a general idea of what works and what doesn't, but they're often hideously wrong as to the reasons why.
Five minutes into last night's show, I knew that Season 2 was in serious trouble. I knew with absolute certainty that Cary Fukunaga had not directed this episode. I immediately looked up to see who did: Justin Lin of Fast & Furious fame. As I struggled through countless schlocky CU's & MCU's, the empty performances of stilted dialogue, the stale EXT. shots of Los Angeles freeways, I couldn't stop thinking about how disconnected from it I was.
What went wrong?
The first obvious misfire was not throwing enough money at Fukunaga to retain his directing services for Season 2. Season 1 was beautifully blocked and shot from beginning to end. Who can forget that haunting XLS of the tree sitting in the field that sucked us into the environment? The Season 2 pilot is a nonstop series of far-too-close shots that never allow us enough space to sink into the scene or the setting. It's pure sloppiness. CU's & MCU's are like semi-colons—they should be as rare as Bigfoot. If they're not, not only are they going to be ineffective when you use them, your entire episode is going to look like it belongs on free tv. Last night's episode certainly didn't have the look of original programming on HBO.
Beyond the look, the writing of last night's episode was uncharacteristically awful. Here's the problem: Showrunner Nic Pizzolatto insists on writing every episode. This is unconventional in television. A showrunner might write an episode or two, but typically most episodes are given to other writers and then changes are suggested by the writing team and the final polish is done by the showrunner. Eight hours of programming is a lot for one person to write, especially once under the gun of a television shooting schedule. Like Fargo, True Detective is capped at eight episodes a year to keep quality high. But it may be too much to place on one writer's plate.
Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, & Vince Vaughn are all very good actors, but they don't have much to play with here. The performances come across as incredibly flat. Perhaps they are miscast, but I place most of the blame on the writing and the direction.
At no point during this episode did I truly feel immersed in Los Angeles (and that's where I live!). At no point did I connect with the characters or feel like they were something beyond actors on a stage. In fact, I had a hard time following the story because the direction was so bad, it annoyed me to the point of being distracting.
I hope to hell that the mandatory budget cuts forced on the Time Warner divisions didn't have anything to do with this debacle.
Will Season 2 of True Detective get any better? Well, it's hard to imagine it getting any worse. But if the upcoming episodes are as bad as last night's, I don't see many people watching the entire season. It might be time for the mercy rule, and to end his thing after two seasons.
God, I hope F/X doesn't make the same mistake with Fargo as HBO did here. We're too used to amazing television to watch anything but top quality stuff now.
I don't remember feeling this disappointed in anything I've watched on TV. My expectations were off the charts. That may be part of the problem, but it's certainly not an excuse. Other programs (Breaking Bad, The Wire, etc.) came into Season 2 with ridiculously high expectations and managed to knock it out of the park. The expectations for True Detective are now in the sewer. We'll see if that helps any as we fight to sit through the rest of this season.
When you make a movie, like I did, and you pitch it to distributors, the first question they all ask is: "Who's in it?" The answer to that question is more important to distributors than genre. It's even more important than the story. In fact, distribution deals can be made before a single frame is shot, largely based on who is in the movie.
It's an interesting phenomenon. People tend to go to movies who have actors in them that they recognize. The level of recognition is more important than the ability to act. It's very odd to me. People don't buy books because there's a recognizable character on the cover. They don't buy video games because the main character is recognizable. But when it comes to movies, we better know the name of the main actors involved.
Whenever I watch a movie, it takes me awhile to fall into the characters—but it takes longer if I recognize the main actors. It's more difficult to dissolve into the story. If I see Leo Dicaprio on the screen, it takes my brain time to transition from: "Hey, that's Leo," to "That's an interesting character." Now, Leo is a terrific actor, so it doesn't take my brain long to get through that process. If it's a marginal actor, oftentimes I never buy them as the character.
As the marketing budgets of films have grown (oftentimes larger than the production budgets), having a marketable actor has become even more important. This is not necessarily a good thing in my book. There are thousands upon thousands of terrific actors out there that never get their big break because being recognizable is more important than having acting talent.
There is one genre of film, however, that isn't built upon who is starring in the film: horror. The crux of any horror marketing campaign is story concept and shots that are truly frightening. The film itself is actually judged and marketed on what it set out to do: scare the audience. If it can't do that, regardless of who is starring in it, it will be difficult to sell. If it can, the film will essentially sell itself. That's one of the reasons why the next film I'm looking to develop is a horror flick. They can be shot relatively cheaply, and you don't have to attach an expensive name to it. Not going the horror route was probably my biggest mistake with my first film.
I watched a movie yesterday (to remain nameless) that had a stellar A-list cast, was based off a terrific concept, and yet still fell flat as hell. It was a box office bomb. The problem was that the script was either under or overworked, and that the direction was less than stellar.
This brings me to my point. The powers that be at studios focus heavily on what they feel comfortable with, which is everything post-story creation. Looking at the general quality of movies released, it's obvious that the main decision makers aren't great storytellers and can't tell what narratives are going to resonate with audiences and which ones won't. What they can do (if they don't spend too much time hacking apart the script) is hire a hot actor.
Business + Art is always tricky. With the model that exists, it's amazing that any great movies get made at all. Not surprisingly, many of the best films released today are either based off of successful novels or are made by directors who have complete artistic control. They still take recognizability into consideration, but they're savvy enough to understand story at a deeper level than most studio or distribution execs. Typical, directors who have complete control, like Christopher Nolan, even take the time to hire actors who can act.
There's a specific type of movie ending that I particularly love. I'm going to give a couple examples, and fair warning: there's going to be spoilers everywhere, so if you haven't seen these films, I'd consider not continuing.
I have always loved the airport scene in Casablanca. Please don't watch this if you haven't seen the film:
I could teach a semester-long class on why this scene works. It's not just the writing, the timeless one-liners, the passionate world-class acting, the chaotic camera movement (in the midst of chaotic times), or the resolution of the story. What makes this scene so special is that it is the resolution of Rick's character arc.
Rick Blaine, a hardened, selfish, lost soul whose only loyalty is to himself, discovers why the love of his life left him, and realizes that now that they've reunited, he must be the one to leave her, for the greater good of the world. Rick realizes that he must give up the only vessel that could possibly lead him to happiness because the suffering that he'd endure by doing so is trivial compared to the aggregate suffering the world will endure if he doesn't. This is not the choice he would have made at the beginning of the film.
Rick's loss personifies the immense brutality and loss of a continent on fire. The fact that he'd grown to the point where he'd sacrifice everything of meaning to him in order to help freedom's cause is what pushes this scene from greatness to iconic greatness.
Another scene that I've always loved is the finale to Breakfast at Tiffany's:
Audrey Hepburn masterfully portrays Holly Golightly, a small town girl living in the Upper East Side, continually chasing a life bigger than she was ever meant to have. It wasn't until this final act, when Fred (George Peppard) tells Holly what her problem is, that she realizes that the string of broken relationships that have filled her life have been caused by the armor she's put up to protect herself from the potential hurt of falling in love. It isn't until this moment, the conclusion of her arc, that she realizes she has to drop that shield to find the life that she truly wants, one that has nothing to do with fancy cocktail parties or uppity Manhattanites, but has everything to do with accepting love, even with its inherent risks.
We watch a whole film in which Holly suffers, bouncing around without direction, not knowing why she's doing it. Our hope for her finding enduring love is all but lost. And then this final scene smacks us and changes Holly to the point where she can find and feel that one true love.
It's the emotional impact of the conclusion of well developed character arcs of fascinating and enduring characters that make the best endings so fantastic.
The global trend has been to push software from local computers onto various clouds. This was widely foreseen and just makes sense. Instead of reinstalling software on each computer that you buy and paying for upgrades, it's just more efficient to buy a license, and to operate the latest version of that software via a browser.
For years I've been doing this with the screenplays that I write at a place called Scripped.com. It wasn't the most functional website, but it was simple enough to use and made life easier for me. For a long time I wrote on two laptops, a rather powerful one that I kept at home, and a Chromebook which I took with me to coffee shops. Scripped was easy to load on either and since my scripts were stored online I had access to them wherever I happened to be.
Late last week, Scripped.com went down. Its twitter account stated that it was due to a forum upgrade. A lot of writers became nervous when it wasn't back up by the end of the weekend. Another tweet sent out early this week stated that there were unforeseen technical difficulties and they were working to get the site up again as soon as they possibly could.
Then on Wed. (April 1st!) I received an email from Scripped stating that:
'Due to a simultaneous malfunction in our backup services and primary servers, the unthinkable has happened and all recent script content has been lost. We sincerely apologize for this. If you did not download a backup copy of your screenplay, then we regret to inform you that it no longer exists.'
Within a few days, the Scripped facebook page and twitter account were deleted. Needless to say this caused an uproar. Reddit users started to investigate who the current owners of Scripped were. Come to find out, there was a sale of the site in December, which was never publicly disclosed.
Early last year I had backed up all of my script drafts to a thumbdrive. I wrote a new horror script last summer/fall, but fortunately I had the latest draft saved to my laptop desktop. It looks like the only things I lost were ideas that I had jotted down on Scripped.com. It's possible I lost one of the latest drafts of a script, but I certainly didn't lose all the drafts of any of my scripts.
I'm extremely fortunate because I know several people lost years worth of work.
Today, the very popular podcast Scriptnotes, interviewed the current co-owner of Scripped.com, John Rhodes. He all but admitted to misleading people about how the travesty happened, and to a cover-up, as he didn't want the event to harm his company Screencraft Media. After not being able to answer simple questions regarding the number of current subscribers, and after admitting that his company doesn't have the IT knowledge required to run scripped.com in its latest failing state, he even admitted to being negligent. It's truly something to listen to. If only he had been so forthright from the beginning.
Scripped did offer its members a 50% off promo code for a pro-account on Writersduet.com, which is a superior screenwriting wesbsite. I've transferred over all of my scripts to the new site. It did a great job of reading drafts that I just had in PDF. Plus, unlike Scripped, Writersduet has a backup option, where it'll automatically save copies to your GoogleDrive, Dropbox, or hard drive.
Moral of the story: you can't trust having only one save file, even if it's to a cloud service. Store your life's work at three places: two clouds (or one cloud and a hard drive), and to a thumbdrive that you keep on you at all times. You've put too much work into it to potentially lose it all. Don't, like many users of Scripped.com, learn that lesson the hard way. Just because a service claims that it has safe cloud storage, does not mean that it's being operated by knowledgeable people.
Protect your work! Save often to multiple places. In our current world, having one vault just ain't good enough.
As of the date of this post, according to IMDB users, here are the top 15 movies of all time:
1. The Shawshank Redemption
2. The Godfather
3. The Godfather: Part II
4. The Dark Knight
5. Pulp Fiction
6. Schindler's List
7. 12 Angry Men
8. The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
9. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
10. Fight Club
11. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
12. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
13. Forrest Gump
15. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
This has me thinking: What is the commonality here? What sticks out?
How many of these films were not based on novels or stage plays? The Dark Knight (whose characters were developed in comic books). The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (which was based off a story by Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Leone), Pulp Fiction, The Empire Strikes Back, and Inception.
Of those exceptions, how many screenplays and productions were not ultimately in complete control of the director? Zero.
Today, most film stories are written by many people in a long tortured process (Chris Nolan & Quentin Tarantino movies being notable exceptions), Screenplays are found by production companies (many of which have first-look agreements with the studios). The screenplays are rewritten, and rewritten again (by different writers-for-hire). Top talent is attached, as is a director (both of whom may make script changes). The film is then pitched to the primary studio, and if passed on, to other studios. The studio that bites orders rewrites and puts in its casting requests. A banking company or another studio may be called in to co-finance, and may make changes as well. The film may languish in development hell for years, and come out rewritten many times over by even more writers.
Eventually, a film is shot. The studio(s) request more changes. At some point the project is completed. The only guarantee is that the script, and more importantly, the characters, are probably significantly different than those of the draft that was initially optioned.
What we tend to see from the films that audiences rank among the greatest of all time is that they're based off of novels that were written by one author (and improved by an editor), or that they're made with one person in control, usually a writer/director that could veto any change requested by the various powers that hovered above and around.
This isn't surprising. As the old adage goes, the Mona Lisa could not have been painted by 1,000 artists, each doing one brushstroke at a time. Instead it was painted by one person—perhaps one of the most brilliant and talented minds in the history of humanity. But that one person, Leonardo da Vinci, was in complete control of his work, and mankind benefited greatly from that fact.
It's not that art-by-committee can't work. Casablanca, a film that I would argue is better than any on that top fifteen list (with the possible exception of #15), was largely made by committee in the old studio system. But films like Casablanca are the rare exception.
I believe part of the reason why we're in such a golden age of television is that many showrunners are given significant control over their series. This results in narratives that range from bad to superb, but to me that's better than what happens with committee work: a range that typically goes from bad to good.
I often wonder what terrific scripts were written by very talented writers over the years that were destroyed by people downstream who didn't have much writing talent. I wonder if there're any professional screenwriters out there that haven't had their work diminished by the Hollywood rewrite process.
Most of the greatest writers that we know of happen to be novelists. I wonder how many writers had the potential to be as good as Nabokov, but didn't get there because they chose to become screenwriters. I'm not suggesting that rewrites are a bad idea. It's the fact that almost everything in Hollywood is rewritten so many times, often by people who aren't talented writers, that I'm complaining about. Too many films follow a very boring and non-creative standard paradigm and it's made going to the theatre a chore instead of being a fun experience.
If Hollywood produced an ample number of terrific films that were loved by most, it wouldn't be such a big issue. But one often has to wonder after stepping out of a theatre: how the hell did that script get locked for production?
I rarely go to movie theatres anymore. The risk that I'll waste my money and time on a substandard product is too great. I believe this is a result of a process that leans too heavily on rewrites and not heavily enough on the original screenwriter's story and characters. There are plenty of great scripts out there. They're just not being found, and when they are found, they're being destroyed.
One of my favorite podcasts is Scriptnotes, hosted by John August (@johnaugust) and Craig Mazin (@clmazin). I listened to the latest episode on my morning walk yesterday: episode (#186) entitled The Rules (or, The Paradox of the Outlier).
In the episode, the two seasoned screenwriters list a couple dozen rules of screenwriting and then talk about the ones they agree or disagree with. It turns out they don't agree with a single one. All the rules that have been drilled into our heads—never write camera movement, never use v.o., always make sure your act breaks take place on this or that page, etc.—it's all stuff that is not in anyway a hard-and-fast rule that mustn't be broken. Great writers can break all the rules.
I'm glad that seasoned writers (on rare occasion, but not often enough) step up to the plate and admit this. Quantification of art can help guide us. When you go to art museums and look at various paintings from different centuries, you'll see how The Rule of Thirds developed over hundreds of years. It's still labeled a 'rule.' Yet it's broken every single day, and if it wasn't, our compositions would look entirely boring because they'd all be the same. Great painters, great photographers, great directors of cinematography—once the rule developed, they've all learned it, but they also learned that they can break it if they do so in a way that works for that particular moment.
The same goes for writers. When people read our novels or watch our movies, they simply want to be engaged and moved. That's it. They don't care about, and probably don't even know about, the rules of writing.
Imagine a world in which hard-and-fast writing rules really existed. How stifled would writers be? Wouldn't every narrative feel the same? Well, in the world of film, it kind of does. The fact that so many people within the industry buy into artistic rules and equate them to quality has hurt the entire film industry. Why would you want to spend money and time to keep rewatching the same thing?
I'll get into specific rules in later posts. Some bother me more than others. Some are so absurd I can't imagine how they even formed in the first place. If only we called them 'guidelines' instead of 'rules,' they'd make much more sense.
You're a good writer if you can tell a good story on paper. That's the only rule.
I've been talking to a close friend lately about what makes a quality story. It's made me reflect on how I've progressed as a writer. When I started writing screenplays (many years ago), I made the same mistake that traps many unseasoned writers: I focused primarily on story structure.
I did so for good reason: that's what the screenwriting books told me to do. There's been a long-time emphasis on structure, and in particular on a very tightly structured three-act paradigm. This concept was voraciously sold for years by the late Syd Field. It has its merits and is actually a pretty important thing for young writers to learn.
The problem is that the various forms of the three-act structure have essentially become screenwriting rules in Hollywood—rules that are assumed to never be broken. When you show a script to many industry people, they will point to what they deem as structural discrepancies (i.e. this plot point doesn't happen on the page it should) as if that's what is of prime importance.
There are a couple reasons why this overemphasis on structure has become so ingrained in our screenwriting culture. Movies are expensive to produce, and therefore studios want to maximize each film's potential audience. A bad risk or two could sink a studio. Readers are taught to look for what has worked in the past—for broad audiences. Structured paradigms fit this bill.
Added to this is the shine of the entertainment industry that lures many people to it, many who dream big, of becoming successful screenwriters and of receiving all the glory that naturally comes with. The reality, however, is that most people who dive into the screenwriting realm aren't natural writers, never will be, and are too easily drawn to whatever technical advice that they feel will improve their craft.
The quantification of the art of screenwriting does help produce the dozens of mediocre movies we see every year. It helps the large studio system stay solvent. It isn't the cornerstone of quality writing, however—not by a long shot.
I’m glad I wrote so many sub-par scripts while having the wrong blinders on, because you have to get so many hours in (regardless of your craft) to improve to the point where you're actually pretty good at what you're doing. It wasn't until I got a good chunk of the way through the MFA in Creative Writing program that I attended until the light bulb went off in my head.
Sure, structure is important. It's not what separates the best written narratives from the rest, however. That comes down to something else. My focus was misplaced. It should have been on what matters most: the characters.