Writers / Screenwriters: if you aren't thinking "transmedia" when it comes to your story, you need to be. Once upon a time studios just wanted high concept, figuring they'd get a great movie out of it (and a great movie poster, which would entice people to see said great movie). Then they wanted not only high concept, but a great character as well, a hero (or heroine, or group) that could support multiple storylines, sequel after sequel after sequel... Now they want high concept, great characters, AND a fully-fleshed out, living, breathing, fictional universe, one containing any number of discrete, self-contained worlds, any one of which can easily be spread out / disseminated over multiple platforms--movies, books, comic books, video games, mobile gaming, ARGs, etc etc... Star Wars. Harry Potter. The Matrix. Here, then, we take a quick look at this handy dandy quick reference chart, put together by Bud Caddell, from a talk given by Henry Jenkins on the 7 Principles of Transmedia Storytelling--
1. Spreadability vs. Drillability
The ability and degree to which content is shareable and the motivating factors for a person to share that content VS the ability for a person to explore, in-depth, a deep well of narrative extensions when they stumble upon a fiction that truly captures their attention.
2. Continuity vs. Multiplicity
Some transmedia franchises foster an ongoing coherence to a cannon in order to ensure maximum plausibility among all extensions. Others routinely use alternate versions of characters or parallel universe version of their stories to reward mastery over the source material.
3. Immersion vs. Extractability
In immersion, the consumer enters into the world of the story (e.g. theme parks), while in extractability, the fan takes aspects of the story away with them as resources they deploy in the spaces of their everyday life (e.g. items from the gift shop).
Transmedia extensions, often not central to the core narrative, that give a richer depiction of the world in which the narrative plays out. Franchises can exploit both real-world and digital experiences. These extensions often lead to fan behaviors of capturing and cataloging the many disparate elements.
Transmedia storytelling has taken the notion of breaking up a narrative arc into multiple discrete chunks or installments within a single medium and instead has spread those disparate ideas or story chunks across multiple media systems.
Transmedia extensions often explore the central narrative through new eyes; such as secondary characters or third parties. This diversity of perspective often leads fans to more greatly consider who is speaking and who they are speaking for.
The ability of transmedia extensions to lead to fan produced performances that can become part of the transmedia narrative itself. Some performances are invited by the creator while others are not; fans actively search for sites of potential performance.
As a few of us writer / actor / director types here in New York City debate the (now, it would seem) inevitable move to Los Angeles, aside from the obvious "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here..." sign which should surely be posted (just for us New Yorkers) right outside the taxi stand at LAX, perhaps a few sagely words of wisdom might be in order, with all this. Check out this post my man Darby Parker just kicked my way, written by one Derek Sivers (of CD Baby fame), re: "Advice on Moving to Los Angeles". In particular I like--
Americans are already quite individualist, but Los Angeles is the most individualist part of America. Because so many people are employed by the entertainment industry, many are self-employed freelancers. They’re very focused on themselves. People talk about themselves a lot because they feel they have to, for survival, for self-promotion. Just as you can’t fault anyone in the world for doing something for survival, try not to fault them for being so self-promotional. Learn to lovingly listen like you’d listen to an 8-year-old who excitedly tells you about their train set for an hour.
Every culture values different things. In some places, it’s your bloodline. In others, your university. In others, it’s where you live. In LA, it’s who you know. Since the entertainment industry is all about short-term projects, everyone survives by their next project, and these projects always come from a connection. So everyone is collecting contacts. (Again: it’s survival.) Friendships are pragmatic and often short. Don’t fault them for talking about who they know, the same way you wouldn’t fault someone from India asking about your family. Introducing people to each other, people who could potentially work together, is the most valuable thing you can do, as it raises your value and theirs. LA people want (NEED!) to have powerful well-connected friends, to survive and thrive.
Great interview with Jon Spaihts, screenwriter of the upcoming Alien prequel PROMETHEUS. Of particular interest (to us fellow sci fi screenwriters) is what he has to say re: Hollywooding greenlighting (or not) original sci fi IPs in this day and age, versus video game companies which, for reasons given below, seem to be much more gung ho about charging forward with new intellectual properties. Check it out--
Why is it so hard to get Hollywood to greenlight space adventures like your Shadow 19 script? Video games like Mass Effect make insane amounts of money, so why is it so hard for Hollywood to commit to similar movies?
There are some technical reasons why. In game engines, hard shiny surfaces are easy to render, while pliable or complex surfaces are hard. So in a game, spaceships, tanks and armored figures are very approachable subjects. It's a lot harder to render, say, a long-haired girl in a flowing dress chasing a shaggy dog through a garden. That's brutal geometry for a game engine. In games, scifi's easier to achieve than mundane reality.
With film, the opposite is true. Anything available in the real world you can just point a camera at. Fantastic things have to be built, physically or digitally, and that's expensive. Sci fi costs more in film.
All that said: scifi blockbusters have made mountains of money, and are over-represented in the top fifty box office hits of all time. The mighty Avatar first among them, with the Star Wars films and others trailing behind. Clearly the audience will turn out if you execute well. I think there's a ready market for grand space adventures.
But it's got to be a good story on every level: good characters, emotional arcs, sharp dialogue, comprehensible world, clear stakes… it's a lot to get right. There aren't that many people around who can do it well.
Have video games changed the way people think about this kind of storytelling?
Yes and no. Storytelling in games has matured tremendously in the past decade. Some really great work has been done. But the design requirements are totally different, almost the opposite of filmic storytelling.
The central character of a game is most often a cipher – an avatar into which the player projects himself or herself. The story has to have a looseness to accommodate the player's choices. This choose-your-own adventure quality is a challenge for storytellers and, I fear, militates against art.
A filmmaker is trying to make you look at something a certain way – almost to force an experience on you. Think of the legendary directors, whose perspective is the soul of their art. It's the opposite of a sandbox world. It's a mind-meld with a particular visionary.
Do you think films like Prometheus and Gravity could spark a new interest in big space epics that aren't based on an existing franchise?
I want to say yes, but I think those aren't the films for the job. Prometheus "shares DNA" with a pre-existing franchise, and what I know of Gravity suggests it's a fairly grounded predicament movie, without the larger-than-life characters or fanciful story-world that would naturally give birth to a franchise.
To launch a new franchise you need both a strikingly imagined world with a conflict built into its bones, and vivid characters with heroic traits that allow them to the be the backbone of a series of stories. See "Star Wars."
A wonderful quote I was just sent from my dear friend Nesya Blue--
You see, the film studio of today is really the palace of the sixteenth century. There one sees what Shakespeare saw: the absolute power of the tyrant, the courtiers, the flatterers, the jesters, the cunningly ambitious intriguers. There are fantastically beautiful women, there are incompetent favorites. There are great men who are suddenly disgraced. There is the most insane extravagance, and unexpected parsimony over a few pence. There is enormous splendor, which is a sham; and also horrible squalor hidden behind the scenery. There are vast schemes, abandoned because of some caprice. There are secrets which everybody knows and no one speaks of. There are even two or three honest advisors. These are the court fools, who speak the deepest wisdom in puns, lest they should be taken seriously. They grimace, and tear their hair privately, and weep.
-- Christopher Isherwood, Prater Violet, 1945
Three men doing time in Israeli prisons recently appeared before a parole board consisting of a judge, a criminologist and a social worker. The three prisoners had completed at least two-thirds of their sentences, but the parole board granted freedom to only one of them. Guess which one:
Case 1 (heard at 8:50 a.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.
Case 2 (heard at 3:10 p.m.): A Jewish Israeli serving a 16-month sentence for assault.
Case 3 (heard at 4:25 p.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.
There was a pattern to the parole board’s decisions, but it wasn’t related to the men’s ethnic backgrounds, crimes or sentences. It was all about timing, as researchers discovered by analyzing more than 1,100 decisions over the course of a year. Judges, who would hear the prisoners’ appeals and then get advice from the other members of the board, approved parole in about a third of the cases, but the probability of being paroled fluctuated wildly throughout the day. Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.
The odds favored the prisoner who appeared at 8:50 a.m. — and he did in fact receive parole. But even though the other Arab Israeli prisoner was serving the same sentence for the same crime — fraud — the odds were against him when he appeared (on a different day) at 4:25 in the afternoon. He was denied parole, as was the Jewish Israeli prisoner at 3:10 p.m, whose sentence was shorter than that of the man who was released. They were just asking for parole at the wrong time of day.
There was nothing malicious or even unusual about the judges’ behavior, which was reported earlier this year by Jonathan Levav of Stanford and Shai Danziger of Ben-Gurion University. The judges’ erratic judgment was due to the occupational hazard of being, as George W. Bush once put it, “the decider.” The mental work of ruling on case after case, whatever the individual merits, wore them down. This sort of decision fatigue can make quarterbacks prone to dubious choices late in the game and C.F.O.’s prone to disastrous dalliances late in the evening. It routinely warps the judgment of everyone, executive and nonexecutive, rich and poor — in fact, it can take a special toll on the poor. Yet few people are even aware of it, and researchers are only beginning to understand why it happens and how to counteract it.
Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move — like releasing a prisoner who might commit a crime. So the fatigued judge on a parole board takes the easy way out, and the prisoner keeps doing time.
Decision fatigue is the newest discovery involving a phenomenon called ego depletion, a term coined by the social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister in homage to a Freudian hypothesis. Freud speculated that the self, or ego, depended on mental activities involving the transfer of energy. He was vague about the details, though, and quite wrong about some of them (like his idea that artists “sublimate” sexual energy into their work, which would imply that adultery should be especially rare at artists’ colonies). Freud’s energy model of the self was generally ignored until the end of the century, when Baumeister began studying mental discipline in a series of experiments, first at Case Western and then at Florida State University.
It is easy to get worked up over remakes and prequels and sequels these days, but it's also not terribly productive. This is the modern Hollywood film industry in the year 2011, and you can either accept that or you can rail against it, but either way, they're going to keep on doing business this way until there is a compelling reason for them to not do business this way.
I wrote about my experience at Comic-Con this summer with the "Prometheus" panel, and certainly I hope that film delivers something special when it is released next year. I am willing to walk into it open-minded, especially since it's not like the "Alien" franchise is this untouched, pristine thing. Any time your iconic creation has already been roughed up behind the bleachers by Paul "Show me on the teddy bear where he touched your favorite movie" W.S. Anderson, it's fair game for anyone. Besides, having Ridley Scott back in the world that he helped create in the original 1979 film is interesting, no doubt about it.
But that "helped create" is important, and something to consider today as the news breaks that once again, Ridley Scott is planning to revisit one of the SF worlds he was part of with a "follow-up" to "Blade Runner" being announced this morning. And while I'm a big fan of the 1982 film, I think the notion of any sequel or prequel in that world is a terrible one. Awful. Catastrophically bad.
The simple truth is that not all films are franchises, and not every narrative can support a sequel or a prequel. This disturbing idea that has taken hold that we need to wring every drop of creative juice out of any film that has ever attracted any audience of any size is, quite honestly, death. This is what the death throes of studio filmmaking look like, folks, and the only real or substantial thing that film fans can do is grab a bag of marshmallows to roast as the whole thing goes up in flames. People love to point at the occasional fluke like "Inception" as proof that the system isn't broken beyond repair, but the only reason that film happened was because Christopher Nolan made a remake, which convinced the studio he was responsible enough for them to trust him with a reboot, and then he made a sequel to his reboot that made a billion dollars. And for that, finally, they "rewarded" him with the opportunity to make something he wrote. That ended up making the studio some $800 million, which is great, and which guarantees him more freedom. So far, he's used that freedom to sign on to direct another sequel while producing, yes, another reboot. This is the guy film fans love to hold up as an example for how to do it right in Hollywood, but so far, what I see is a very good filmmaker who is still having to navigate the same blood-filled waters as everyone else. He does it well, certainly, but he's still stuck in the same box that other filmmakers are, and his work hasn't changed the system at all. If anything, he's given the studios more ammunition to prove that what they are doing is right. It works. It's the correct model to follow.
Ridley Scott may never set foot on a set for a "Blade Runner" follow-up. Signing a deal is one thing, while making the actual film is something totally different. There's a long way to go before that film is a real and tangible thing. And in that time, they may end up deciding not to ever roll film, something that's happened with plenty of in-development projects, particularly with things Ridley Scott has been attached to over the years. After all, I'm not sitting down this summer to a big-screen giant-budget version of "The Forever War," so just because he says he's going to direct something, that doesn't mean it will really get a greenlight.
With "Blade Runner," though, there is a special level of anxiety that the announcement brings. I've said before that the real problem with filmmakers who go back to continue screwing around with a film after it's been in release is that filmmakers often have no understanding of what it is that an audience loves about a film. Once you've released it, you have to stop touching it, because further adjustments could well erase the thing that made it important to someone. You could screw up a character or the timing of a sequence or a thematic point, and the various versions of "Blade Runner" perfectly highlight that problem. When I first got Internet access in 1994, I was amazed to find people in newsgroups debating ideas like "Was Deckard a replicant in 'Blade Runner'?," especially since I know from firsthand experience in 1982 that general audiences totally rejected the film. That ambiguity, and the way the film left room for interpretation, was one of the reasons it lingered so well. When Ridley Scott started playing around with the movie and adding new effects and tinkering with it after the brief release of the Workprint version, all of a sudden that ambiguity started getting a lot less ambiguous, and Scott seemed determined to answer the question for us. I found it infuriating, but at least I knew I still had the original version of the film to go back to. If Scott's planning to return to the world of the movie, I'm afraid of him creating something which will not just rob that first movie of any and all ambiguity, but which will make me wonder if what I saw in the original film was ever really there at all. He can't erase the original from existence, but he can absolutely destroy my interest in the narrative, and I'm afraid that when it comes to "Blade Runner," he's the last person I want to see playing around with that property.
To the writing of his detective stories RAYMOND CHANDLER brings the experience and the skepticism of a newspaper reporter, the narrative gifts of a born storyteller, and a mastery of pungent American dialogue. His leading character, Philip Marlowe, is a professional detective who has held the spotlight thus far in four novels, all of which have been purchased by the movies. One of them, The Big Sleep, in which Lauren Bacall plays the lead, is soon to be released. In his screenplays as in his books, Mr. Chandler has scored a personal success, but he has done so without losing sight of the difficulties encountered by the creative writer in the studios. For this is the anomaly: the producers pay their authors large fees apparently for the purpose of disregarding their advice and their text.1
HOLLYWOOD is easy to hate, easy to sneer at, easy to lampoon. Some of the best lampooning has been done by people who have never been through a studio gate, some of the best sneering by egocentric geniuses who departed huffily - not forgetting to collect their last pay check – leaving behind them nothing but the exquisite aroma of their personalities and a botched job for the tired hacks to clean up.
Even as far away as New York, where Hollywood assumes all really intelligent people live (since they obviously do not live in Hollywood), the disease of exaggeration can be caught. The motion picture critic of one of the less dazzled intellectual weeklies, commenting recently on a certain screenplay, remarked that it showed "how dull a couple of run-of-the-mill $3000-a-week writers can be." I hope this critic will not be startled to learn that 50 per cent of the screenwriters of Hollywood made less than $10,000 last year, and that he could count on his fingers the number that made a steady income anywhere near the figure he so contemptuously mentioned. I don't know whether they could be called run-of-the-mill writers or not. To me the phrase suggests something a little easier to get hold of.
I hold no brief for Hollywood. I have worked there a little over two years, which is far from enough to make me an authority, but more than enough to make me feel pretty thoroughly bored. That should not be so. An industry with such vast resources and such magic techniques should not become dull so soon. An art which is capable of making all but the very best plays look trivial and contrived, all but the very best novels verbose and imitative, should not so quickly become wearisome to those who attempt to practice it with something else in mind than the cash drawer. The making of a picture ought surely to be a rather fascinating adventure. It is not; it is an endless contention of tawdry egos, some of them powerful, almost all of them vociferous, and almost none of them capable of anything much more creative than credit-stealing and self-promotion.
Hollywood is a showman's paradise. But showmen make nothing; they exploit what someone else has made. The publisher and the play producer are showmen too; but they exploit what is already made. The showmen of Hollywood control the making – and thereby degrade it. For the basic art of motion pictures is the screenplay; it is fundamental, without it there is nothing. Everything derives from the screenplay, and most of that which derives is an applied skill which, however adept, is artistically not in the same class with the creation of a screenplay. But in Hollywood the screenplay in written by a salaried writer under the supervision of a producer - that is to say, by an employee without power or decision over the uses of his own craft, without ownership of it, and, however extravagantly paid, almost without honor for it.
I am aware that there are colorable economic reasons for the Hollywood system of "getting out the script." But I am not much interested in them. Pictures cost a great deal of money—true. The studio spends the money; all the writer spends is his time (and incidentally his life, his hopes, and all the varied experiences, most of them painful, which finally made him into a writer) - this also is true. The producer is charged with the salability and soundness of the project - true. The director can survive few failures; the writer can stink for ten years and still make his thousand a week - true also. But entirely beside the point.
I am not interested in why the Hollywood system exists or persists, nor in learning out of what bitter struggles for prestige it arose, nor in how much money it succeeds in making out of bad pictures. I am interested only in the fact that as a result of it there is no such thing as an art of the screenplay, and there never will be as long as the system lasts, for it is the essence of this system that it seeks to exploit a talent without permitting it the right to be a talent. It cannot be done; you can only destroy the talent, which is exactly what happens - when there is any to destroy.
Granted that there isn't much. Some chatty publisher (probably Bennett Cerf) remarked once that there are writers in Hollywood making two thousand dollars a week who haven't had an idea in ten years. He exaggerated—backwards: there are writers in Hollywood making two thousand a week who never had an idea in their lives, who have never written a photographable scene, who could not make two cents a word in the pulp market if their lives depended on it. Hollywood is full of such writers, although there are few at such high salaries. They are, to put it bluntly, a pretty dreary lot of hacks, and most of them know it, and they take their kicks and their salaries and try to be reasonably grateful to an industry which permits them to live much more opulently than they could live anywhere else.
And I have no doubt that most of them, also, would like to be much better writers than they are, would like to have force and integrity and imagination enough of these to earn a decent living at some art of literature that has the dignity of a free profession. It will not happen to them, and there is not much reason why it should. If it ever could have happened, it will not happen now. For even the best of them (with a few rare exceptions) devote their entire time to work which has no more possibility of distinction than a Pekinese has of becoming a Great Dane: to asinine musicals about technicolor legs and the yowling of night-club singers; to "psychological" dramas with wooden plots, stock characters, and that persistent note of fuzzy earnestness which suggests the conversation of schoolgirls in puberty; to sprightly and sophisticated comedies (we hope) in which the gags are as stale as the attitudes, in which there is always a drink in every hand, a butler in every doorway, and a telephone on the edge of every bathtub; to historical epics in which the male actors look like female impersonators, and the lovely feminine star looks just a little too starry-eyed for a babe who has spent half her life swapping husbands; and last but not least, to those pictures of deep social import in which everybody is thoughtful and grown-up and sincere and the more difficult problems of life are wordily resolved into a unanimous vote of confidence in the inviolability of the Constitution, the sanctity of the home, and the paramount importance of the streamlined kitchen.
And these, dear readers, are the million-dollar babies—the cream of the crop. Most of the boys and girls who write for the screen never get anywhere near this far. They devote their sparkling lines and their structural finesse to horse operas, cheap gun-in-the-kidney melodramas, horror items about mad scientists and cliffhangers concerned with screaming blondes and circular saws. The writers of this tripe are licked before they start. Even in a purely technical sense their work is doomed for lack of the time to do it properly. The challenge of screenwriting is to say much in little and then take half of that little out and still preserve an effect of leisure and natural movement. Such a technique requires experiment and elimination. The cheap pictures simply cannot afford it.
Many of you know Mastai's work through "The F Word," one of my favorite scripts I've read here on the site, and a 2007 Black List member. Since then he's done a lot of assignment work, and it's really paid off recently. He wrote an upcoming film starring Sam Jackson called "The Samaritan," and is currently working with Oscar winner Alan Ball on his next directing project. This is one of my favorite interviews yet. There's a ton of great screenwriting advice in Elan's answers.
SS: How much time had you put in as a screenwriter before you finally found success? Are we talking years? Decades? How many scripts had you written?
EM: The short, simple answer is about seven years and fifteen scripts before I wrote “The F Word” and it launched my career in LA, scoring me my agents and manager, getting on the “Black List” and picked up by Fox-Searchlight, and opening doors for me to start writing studio projects, which I’ve now been doing since late-2008.
The longer, convoluted answer is that of those fifteen scripts, four got produced as low-budget independent features of varying degrees of quality, three got optioned but never made, five were assignments I got hired to write or rewrite, one of which also got produced but without my name on it (thankfully, because it’s atrocious), and three were semi-successful attempts to figure out what kind of writer I wanted to be, what my quote-unquote “voice” was, that I never did anything with because I knew they weren’t there yet.
Even though I was making a living as a screenwriter (in Canada, where I’m from), it wasn’t as rewarding as it maybe should’ve or could’ve been, because I wasn’t writing stuff in my own voice.
So, a super-low-budget movie I co-wrote premiered at Sundance in 2007. And everyone was very complimentary and all that, but deep-down I knew I couldn’t really present that movie, or any of the scripts I’d written to that point, to anyone as an example of what I felt I could really do as a writer. I realized I needed to re-think my approach to screenwriting.
And that led to me writing “The F Word”, which was the first script I wrote that conveyed my point of view, told the story in a way that only I could. In retrospect, it makes sense that it was the script that got me all kinds of attention in LA. But I had a lot of kinks to work through in my writing before I had the solid storytelling skills to pull off a script as low-concept and voice-driven as “The F Word”.
SS: During that time, when everything's so uncertain, and that big beautiful dream of being a "professional" screenwriter is so unclear, what kept you going? How do you know whether to keep pushing through or not?
EM: Basically, I met other aspiring filmmakers through film festivals and film-related events. We watched movies, talked movies, made short films, read each other’s stuff and gave candid feedback, helped each other improve, kicked each other in the ass a little when it was needed.
In general, though, I’m pretty clear-eyed about my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. So I also spent those seven years writing scripts that allowed me work on my weaknesses. I wrote, like, kid’s movies, horror flicks, crime thrillers, teen comedies, sports movies, anything that would teach me something I didn’t know and fill in a blank in my toolkit.
It was very cool to read your review of “The F Word” and the ensuing comments thread because, whether people love or loathe the script, they’re seriously engaging with my writing. That’s awesome. But it’s also a little odd for me because the draft everyone’s discussing is, like, three-and-a-half years old. I’m proud of the script and it’s been a fantastic calling card for me, but I’ve also had the chance to rewrite it twice for Fox-Searchlight and write four or five other movies since then. And it’s funny because all the points being discussed in the comments are the exact same debates I had with the producers and execs when I was rewriting the script. I’d say, in fact, basically all the criticisms you voiced in your review have been dealt with in subsequent rewrites.
My roundabout point is that being hyper-aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, without being so self-critical that you paralyze yourself from actually writing anything, is just as important before you break through as it is once you have.
Working as a professional screenwriter in LA, you have to present this confident, positive version of yourself to potential employers and creative partners. But you also have to be chronically objective about your limitations in order to improve as a writer. So the arguments in the comments thread (is my writing innovative and hilarious or overrated and boring?) are the same ones I ask myself every single goddamn day when I sit down at the keyboard to write something new.
Go Into The Story's Scott Myers and I exchanged a few tweets Friday night, which was motivated by my assessment of Green Lantern, which was "Not as good as I hoped, but not nearly as bad as I feared."
Scott replied: "Rinse, repeat for all comic book movies / sequels? Mediocrity = The New Good?"
I have to admit, I'm wondering if that's the case. I've seen a lot of movies this year that have been "just okay." Almost six months in, I can't think of a single release that's blown me away. I've been entertained, certainly, by movies like Thor, Paul, X-Men: First Class, and Super 8 among others, but I've yet to come across a film that really made me saw "WOW! Why can't I make that?"
In other words, it seems like Hollywood is doing a good job of getting on base even hitting a few triples, but no one's hit a home run yet - let alone a grand slam. Yet every now and then it seems that film fans try so hard to praise a particular film as not just good, but as the second coming of film. I'm not naming names, but there's been a recent release or two that seems to have gotten more credit than they're due.
For instance, something that's an original idea in a sea of remakes seems to get an A grade just by virtue of the fact that it's not a rehash. Yet if the film were held to a more objective standard. It might be more of a B.
So is this how we rate movies now? "A for effort?" All flaws are forgiven so long as the filmmakers had pure motives?
Which brings me to a couple tweets from screenwriter Justin Marks (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.)
First he said, "Go find me a bad Hollywood movie, then find me the director who says he wasn't trying to do something special with it. Doesn't exist."
There are three groups of people in Hollywood:
Group 1: People who know nothing or next to nothing about story.
Group 2: People who can tell you what's wrong with a story, but don't know how to solve its problems.
Group 3: People who not only can determine what's wrong with a story, they can fix it.
Guess which group a writer wants to be in.
A few caveats:
* Virtually no one in the acquisition, development, production or marketing side of the movie business would ever admit to being a member of Group 1. But they're there. A tip to figure their identity: If you ask someone, "What's the story about," and they respond by actually telling you the story beat for beat, there's an awfully good chance they don't have a very good grasp of the concept of story.
* Most people in Hollywood fall into Group 2. They know enough about story to be dangerous. That is they can tell you at least some of the things that are wrong with a script, but often their solutions are way wide of the mark. The worst is when they suggest something that would force you to radically reinvent the story, but they can't see how or why that doesn't make the problems worse. "I know it's called 'Nuns With Guns,' but why does it have to be nuns?"
* If you're a writer, you hope you qualify for Group 3. A studio exec may be involved in shepherding a dozen projects or more through the development process, so they are looking at writers to be problem-solvers. Your ability to identify a story's underlying issues and suggest solid, tangible ways to resolve those concerns will serve you in good stead in Hollywood.
However if you are a member of Group 3, you can not speak to people who are in Group 2 and certainly not Group 1 as if they understand story the way you do. You have to be able to break down your analysis and ideas into a series of graspable talking points. If you try to impress them with your deep understanding of the nuances of story theory, you will not only likely lose them, they will probably feel a great deal of discomfort sitting in a room with you.
Instead you must try to meet them on their level and shape your suggestions into digestible, bite-sized talking points. This is not to demean them in any way. You may know story, but you probably don't know squat about business or the subtleties of networking. You have your talent. They have theirs.
When last afternoon brought the news of a fourth Mission: Impossible film, I only felt a tepid sort of interest. I enjoyed the third one and all, but I'd be hard pressed to really remember anything about it other than Keri Russell's hideously brilliant death scene. For me, the answer is simple -- it's because Ethan Hunt is the most boring character to lead a franchise. The reason I remember Keri Russell's character is because I felt some level of empathy for her (and a "How did they do that to her eyes?"), but I can't really feel anything for Hunt. So why should I sit through the impressive action sequences? It doesn't really matter if he lives or dies, because he's not really there in any appreciable way.
By now, someone out there is violently disagreeing with me, and that's cool. But I ask those people to tell me something really significant about Ethan Hunt. I know he had a fiancee in Mission: Impossible 3, so that doesn't count. Tell me something else. His favorite weapon, perhaps, or his biggest fear. What does he do in his off time? What does he feel about his job, and the body count it requires? If you can answer any of these questions, I will give you a gold star. (Well, figuratively.)
But Ethan Hunt isn't the only tepid culprit. This decade seems to be the one full of the bland action heroes who are inexplicably given franchises when they don't have anything but a name. I feel the same way about John Connor in Terminator: Salvation (and, sadly, in its short-lived "companion" The Sarah Connor Chronicles). I can't remember one significant thing about Jack Ryan beyond that he was a nice guy, and had a "cover" as a historian (and that was only thanks to his last "reboot", The Sum of All Fears) so I can't understand why he's a viable property. The only thing all these guys have in common is that they have cool names.
Nuit Blanche explores a fleeting moment between two strangers, revealing their brief connection in a hyper real fantasy. A gorgeous short film, spectacularly rendered, and a must see.
Been waiting for this one for a long, long time. Here's Roger (via ScriptShadow) with his thoughts re: the latest screenwriting take on one of the greatest science-fiction novels ever written.
Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Coming of Age
Premise: Aliens have attacked Earth and have almost destroyed the human species. To make sure humans win the next encounter, the world government has started breeding military geniuses and trains them in the arts of war. The early training takes the form of games, and Ender Wiggin is a genius among geniuses who wins all the games. But is he smart enough to save the planet?
About: Ender's Game started out as a novelette by Orson Scott Card in the August 1977 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. When it was expanded into a novel, it won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel. In May 2003, Card released his latest version of the screenplay to Warner Brothers. D.B. Weiss (and later, David Benioff), working closely with director Wolfgang Petersen, wrote a new script. Petersen eventually departed and Card announced in February 2009 that he had completed a new script for Odd Lot Entertainment.
Writers: D.B. Weiss (author of the videogame-themed novel, Lucky Wander Boy and one of the scribes for the screen adaptation of Bungie's Halo and George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire Series for HBO) based upon the novels Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card. Also based upon the screenplays by Orson Scott Card, and Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris (X2, Superman Returns).
Details: Draft is dated 7/7/05
Before there was Harry Potter and Quidditch, there was Ender's Game and Battle School. Sure, when it comes to narrative voice, Miss Rowling is heavily influenced by Roald Dahl, but when it comes to plot elements, it's hard not to draw comparison between Hogwarts and its various houses (Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, et al.) and Battle School and its various armies (Salamander, Dragon, etc.).
I've never read Ender's Game, Rog. What the hell is Battle School?
It's a space station where children are trained in the art of war.
You see, humanity is almost wiped out when a race of aliens with insectoid physiognomy called Formics (from the Latin formica, which means ant) invade Earth. Due to the heroics of a backwater half-Maori commander, one Mazer Rackham, the Earth survives the invasion and the Formics retreat.
To prepare for future confrontations, a shaky international military unit is formed, called the International Fleet (IF).
Many children around the world dream of passing the battery of tests the IF conducts so they can leave Earth and train at Battle School.
It's at Battle School where students, some as young as six-years old, are organized into armies and participate in simulated micro gravity battles. The children learn everything from historical battle formations to space combat tactics. Needless to say, the teachers and adults at the school encourage the students to be competitive, cultivating their bloodlust and violent nature.
Picture a combination of the Danger Room from the X-Men comics, a Quidditch Arena from Harry Potter, but set in a ginormous zero-g spherical arena.
Who's this Ender kid?
I've said it before and I'll say it again:
-- HBO series
-- International cast
-- The children are 12 and under
-- It is Ender's Game AND Speaker for the Dead
-- It is NOT Ender's Shadow
-- Seasons 1, 2, 3 Ender's Game; seasons 4, 5 Speaker for the Dead
-- Don't sell it out
For Vanity Fair's annual Hollywood issue a few years back, photographer Annie Leibovitz created a classic image of a film director at work. Posing beneath a stormy sky, George Clooney stood with his shirt ripped open, trousers tucked rakishly into his boots, arms outstretched – a young Orson Welles meets Michelangelo's vision of God. His crew were a crowd of female models in flesh-coloured lingerie; not the obvious costume for a camera operator, but there you are. This was the auteur as masculine genius, a warrior amid a sea of passive women.
This has long been the archetype of the film director, but over the last few months a host of women have been making waves: Sam Taylor-Wood with Nowhere Boy, Lone Scherfig with An Education, Andrea Arnold with Fish Tank. Then there are Kathryn Bigelow and Jane Campion, both trailing Oscar buzz for The Hurt Locker and Bright Star respectively.
So, is this a new era for female film-makers? Unfortunately, the numbers suggest otherwise. In a study published last year, Professor Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University found that only 9% of Hollywood directors in 2008 were women – the same figure she had recorded in 1998. If Bigelow is nominated for the best directing Oscar in March, it will be only the fourth time a woman has been nominated, out of more than 400 director nominations altogether (the other three were Lina Wertmüller in 1976, Jane Campion in 1993, and Sofia Coppola in 2003). No woman has ever won. No wonder, then, that last year Campion entreated aspiring female directors to "put on their coats of armour and get going".
Once, the dearth of women directors could be traced to the small numbers entering film school. These days, that's not the case. Lauzen says women are now well represented in US film schools, while Neil Peplow, of the UK training organisation Skillset, says women make up around 34% of directing students in Britain. That translates into a large number of female graduates making short films, but few moving on to features.
Over the years, this failure to progress has often been blamed on a chauvinist culture; and certainly, talking to established directors, it's easy to uncover tales of overt sexism – from the mildly disconcerting to the downright illegal. The British film director Antonia Bird (Priest, Mad Love) says dryly that on her first directing job, "I was the only woman there, and all the guys just assumed I was the producer's PA. That was good." Director Beeban Kidron (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) once sacked a male assistant director who called her "the little lady". At the extreme end, US film director Penelope Spheeris, who made the $100m-grossing Wayne's World, remembers meeting an executive at the Beverly Hills Hotel when she was at the start of her career. "And the guy was pretty drunk, and he ripped some of my clothes trying to take them off me, and when I got up and started screaming he said, 'Did you want to make this music video or not?'" She pauses. "You say sexist, I say felony."
When it comes to sexism, Martha Coolidge – director of Rambling Rose and Real Genius, as well as the first woman president of the Directors Guild of America – has heard it all. There was the story of the female president of a major studio who said "no woman over 40 could possibly have the stamina to direct a feature film. I've heard people say that the kind of films they want to make are too big, too tough for a female director. The worst was when my agent sent another woman director in for an interview, and afterwards the guy called up and said, 'Never send anyone again who I wouldn't want to fuck.'"
There are signs that this culture is changing. A 2009 report – carried out by the UK networking organisation Women in Film and Television (WFTV) and Skillset – found that, while "a number of older participants reported direct experience of overt sexism, none of the younger participants [did]". But Coolidge insists that the film industry – and Hollywood specifically – remains a minefield, because "there is such a sexual component for the men who go into it. If all they wanted to do is to make money, they could just go to Wall Street. If you're a male executive, a producer – and I'm not talking about everybody, but the vast majority – you're there partly because you're surrounded by gorgeous girls. And that means that the older a woman is, the less they want them around. A woman would disrupt the flow of their lives." Coolidge and others point out that this is as true for black, working-class, and gay film-makers – in fact, anyone outside a small circle of privilege.
You may have heard about Avatar. James Cameron’s 3D juggernaut has reportedly topped $2b globally as of this weekend, and seems poised to dominate the box office for weeks to come. 3D showings are sold out days in advance in major cities, and there’s every reason to believe that the film has at least another month’s worth of box-office fuel in the tank.
The New York Times reports on the possible bottleneck faced by Fox and Disney. With at least 70% of Avatar’s revenue coming from 3D exhibition, Fox doesn’t want to lose a screen. But the IMAX chain has already promised most of its 179 domestic and 82 foreign 3D screens to Disney for Alice in Wonderland. If Alice doesn’t perform, Fox could get some of those back in a hurry. But if the interest in 3D ignited by Avatar turns into big money for Alice, will March 5 be the end of the line for Cameron’s film?