Saturday, January 30, 2016


The Title of Doug Pratt’s review of Christopher Nolan’s latest movie is “Why we hate INTERSTELLAR.” 

Can you blame me for choosing his review as this month’s featured excerpt from The DVD – Laser Disc Newsletter? I do have another reason for my choice, but before I reveal what it is, I want to highlight two other home-video releases that Mr. Pratt covers in his newsletter. 

I’ve been looking forward to reading his thoughts on the final episodes of the TV series that helped usher in the Neo-Golden age of television, MADMEN.” And I was not disappointed with Mr. Pratt’s take on the TV series – 
“…There are just seven episodes, which feels like at least one too few, and you do end up wishing that the series would go on and on, but everything is brought to an apt close, with the fates of most of the characters given a relatively clear path to the future. On the whole, it is not
the strongest effort the series has put forth.” 

I agree that the series could have gone out in better creative style, but I don’t think it will diminish the place MADMEN will always have in the TV Hall of Fame. 

The newsletter’s main review is on THE MARTIAN,” the critical and box-office hit starring Matt Damon, screenplay by Drew Goddard, based on the book written by Andy Weir, and directed by Ridley Scott. During his tour of the Awards circuit leading up to the nominations of the Academy Awards, Damon was quoted as saying "(Ridley Scott), has given more than enough to cinema, so I hope that this is his year.” But it was not to be. As it turns out Scott wasn’t even nominated. Inevitably, the question always comes up when there is a new film released by Ridley Scott – will it be as great as his early career efforts, “Alien,” and “Blade Runner.” What does Mr Pratt think of the movie – 
"The drama of THE MARTIAN is simple and straightforward. The film’s unspoken appeal, what made it worthwhile to produce and to watch again and again, is its glorious, geeky embrace of the science and technology of astro-engineering." 

INTERSTELLAR another big studio SF film released in 2014, is this month's review excerpt. I wanted to use Mr. Pratt’s review of the film to draw attention to the director of the movie, Christopher Nolan, who is one of the great storytellers in filmmaking today. I will have some more thoughts on Nolan, and his impact on the film industry in an upcoming post.

Now truth be told, Mr. Pratt doesn’t really “hate” Nolan’s latest effort. When you read his review you’ll discover he actually liked the movie, but specifically hated a critical scene at the end of the movie. Mr. Pratt cites what I believe is a very valid reason for hating the scene and for being disappointed by the ending. But I will also point out Mr. Pratt never finds cause to criticize the film in a way many SF movies are often attacked – that the screenplay doesn’t keep up with the stimulating visuals. There is always a ton of original and exciting intellectual concepts bouncing around in a movie Christopher Nolan is directing, and I believe INTERSTELLAR lives up to that creative legacy.   



Christopher Nolan’s exciting 2014 intellectual science-fiction extravaganza, INTERSTELLAR , released by Paramount (UPC#032429209238, $16), presents a stunning and memorable depiction of the effects of relativity, including the warping of time and gravity.  The 168-minute film is a thrilling, stimulating and satisfying experience up to its ending, which suddenly and
stupefyingly reveals how out of touch Hollywood can be with the lives of its audience.  The film begins in the near future, as civilization is reeling from the effects of environmental decay.  A farmer played by Matthew McConaughey, a former test pilot living with his family in the Midwest, learns that there is a secret underground NASA complex nearby (according to Hollywood, the electrician, plumber and masonry unions are the best secret keepers in the whole world) which, in order to save mankind, is planning on a manned mission through a wormhole near Saturn to scout other worlds for possible habitation.  His experience qualifies him to lead the mission and he leaves his family to save his species, visiting two of the aforementioned, dazzling worlds, each with its dangers and excitements.  

So all of this happens.  Some parts’ feasibility maybe a little more questionable than other parts, but the narrative is at least anchored in accepted postulations.  And then at the end, big spoiler warning, McConaughey’s character, who has not aged too significantly, meets his daughter, who is now an elderly woman, alert but on her deathbed, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, i.e., his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  He doesn’t even look at them.  He says hi to her and then runs off to be with his new girlfriend, who is back on another planet, with time disparities quickly closing a window of opportunity to get together with her.  Regardless of that, the film verifies what is so wittily expressed by a character in Day for Night, a wife of one of the crewmembers, when she harangues the rest of the filmmakers for being so
licentious and insensitive. 
INTERSTELLAR begins in America’s heartland and is not just about family, it is about saving the American family, and yet the filmmakers are so clueless to that concept of familial strength that neither the daughter character,
played by Ellen Burstyn, nor McConaughey, gives more than a glimmer of acknowledgement that the other members of her family in the scene are related to him.  And the badly directed extras playing them barely look at him, either.  You could excuse it all as a dream, but that would negate much of the rest of the film.  We left the theater in disgust, and procrastinated for nearly a year before finally watching the DVD.

Watching the DVD, we became even more aware of how oriented toward family the rest of the movie is and how utterly misguided its final scene becomes.  From a scientist played by Michael Caine who continually recites Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night, to constant references about the importance of families, the film’s message, the film’s theme and the film’s intended counterbalance to the challenging depictions of quantum physics is the concept that a family is important, but as spellbinding as the rest of the movie is, and as tear-inducing as the finale starts to become, it all collapses into a black hole of emotional ignorance, too weighted by the stupidity of its own errors to allow any light to leave.

The picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback.  The picture is a little soft in places, but the effects look spectacular and colors are accurate.  The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound is terrific, with penetrating effects and a full dimensionality.  There is an audio track that describes the action (“He pushes the lever forward and the Ranger lifts off the water.  Cooper steers the spacecraft straight up along the wave’s face.  Fran grits her teeth and squeezes her eyes closed.  The Ranger soars into the sky.  Below, Doyle’s lifeless body floats facedown in the water.”), alternate French and Spanish audio tracks, and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.  Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain co-star, with John Lithgow and, in a brief but memorable part, Matt Damon.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

And the Loser is... Letter from An Academy Voter

I did not plan on posting anything else on this issue, but here I am reacting to a post on the Variety website just a few minutes ago featuring a Letter to the Academy of Motion Pictures written by Stephen Furst protesting the recent changes the Academy wants to make regarding racial diversity.  
Stephen Furst has been an actor since he was one of the stars in the classic comedy, “Animal House.” Over the years he not only continued to act (“Babylon 5”) but he was an active producer and director of Network TV and Theatrical projects. 
I wanted to re-post Stephen’s letter because I know Stephen… and consider him a friend. 
He and I have worked on projects in the past and I have always found him to be very smart and wise in industry-related issues. I believe his letter to be a sincere and thoughtful response to what the Academy is doing in response
to being in the spotlight on an issue I believe is not just an AA problem, but actually an entertainment industry wide problem. 

Dear Ms. Boone, Ms. Munoz, and Board of Governors,

In less than a week after (according to Associated Press) “a handful of actors” decided that they were going to boycott The Oscars, the Academy Board of Governors has concluded that I am racist, not to mention, irrelevant. In fact, I am very far from either. Whether I am an active member of the Academy is secondary to me at this point, considering the insulting and unfounded generalities the Academy has made about the character and judgment of older Academy members.

Like many other members I know, I was saddened, as well as offended, to learn the Academy Board of Governors has chosen to scapegoat the older members of the Academy in order to deflect the criticism about the lack of diversity this year in the nominees for Academy Awards. I know that there has been much public conversation about why the nominees this year do not include any minorities, with the focus being on the membership having so many old, white, male members.  The Academy has therefore bowed to this explanation, in a most disturbing manner, although there is no evidence that old, white, male Academy members are racist, do not appreciate the art of minorities, or refuse to vote for minorities’ work.

Diversity in film is important, and having that diversity represented in Oscar nominees is important, but those goals aren’t achieved by disparaging the wonderful filmmakers of all races and ethnicities who have made lasting impressions and opened minds and hearts across the world through the art of film.

The Academy can’t fight issues with diversity by engaging in ageism and sexism.

But it promotes fairness — and diversity — by ensuring members see the films before voting.

Your open letter states that “‘The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up.’” Apparently, the Board of Governors believes kicking aside the older voters is some sort of a solution to a lack of diversity in the industry. But of course it isn’t. And, with that statement, the Academy evidently fails to recognize that the film industry isn’t particularly kind to older industry people, period, any more than it is to minority ones. By eliminating older members from your voting rolls, you are hardly leading the way. You are simply imitating the worst aspects of the industry, adding insult to injury. And, as far as that sexism goes: Many successful actresses have a hard time getting work in the business when they hit their 30s or 40s and they may choose to take a break from film to be with their families. Whether they quit the business, work in television or, like Meryl Streep, work less for awhile, they are still relevant.

In your original letter you use the words “active members.” This is extremely vague. A second email from Ms. Munoz acknowledges that members have questions about what that means, but then doesn’t answer the question.

There are many reasons why some members might be considered inactive:

1. They change roles in the film industry. I myself have been very active as a director and producer in recent years.

2. Veteran filmmakers have decided to turned to mentoring young future filmmakers.

3. Some filmmakers currently work on acclaimed TV series. They may return to film in some capacity, but their current work will inform and enrich their film work.

4. A film may not be released and qualify for an Academy award in a given year.

5. An actress — or actor — who was accomplished enough to become an Academy member decides to put her career on hold to raise a family.

Are these people irrelevant because they have not worked in their branch for 10 years? Actually, those people are the most objective, not having their own work to promote.

One of the main reasons for the lack of diversity in nominees this year is that many members vote without watching all the films. I probably am in a minority myself, because I watched 95% of the screeners sent out. That’s the minority you should be focusing on preserving, because that’s how you preserve integrity in the nominations.  But I seriously doubt that ANY member of the Academy refuses to nominate someone because of their race, ethnicity or gender.

I myself nominated Straight Outta Compton, Beasts of No Nation, Abraham Attah, Zoe Saldana, Jason Mitchell, and Tessa Thompson. There were so many fine performances and films that I could have nominated 10 in each category and still run out of space. With your new rules, you make it clear that by shaking up the membership, you expect a different result as more minorities join the Academy. But this isn’t Alabama in the 1960s. White members don’t only vote for white nominees, and I trust minority members will not favor only minority ones. Minority films and actors are regularly nominated, but not every year. Even Meryl Streep doesn’t get nominated every year.

Fairness in voting will probably increase the numbers of minorities who are nominated. This is an integrity issue, not a racism issue. The Academy does not have power over what films producers and studios make, but the Academy can take steps in assuring that member see a certain percentage of films before they are allowed to vote. Those who don’t are the people that should have their vote taken away for that season.

Doing away with screeners and streaming the films with a password that allows the Academy to keep a tally on how many films a member actually watched would be a much better way to promote fairness in the nomination process.

The framed Academy certificate of membership on my wall reads “Having demonstrated excellence in the art, science, or industry of the motion picture.” It doesn’t say “relevance in popular motion pictures.” I know many extraordinary, devoted and intelligent members who will no longer be able vote under your new rule. Dismissing their accomplishments as being too long ago to matter is a mistake. The new rules may well result in a revolving door of membership, but it will not help the promotion of excellence in film.

The Academy should indeed diversify its membership — it should have done it years ago, but must you demean your older members in the process? Why not simply increase the membership temporarily? In the great film “Hotel Rwanda,” when the sheer numbers of people seeking sanctuary threaten to overwhelm the hotel’s resources, Don Cheadle, as Paul Rusesabagina, says simply: “There’s always room.” There’s always room.


Stephen Furst

Curmudgeon Films

Monday, January 25, 2016

Making sense of Your Creation through the Eyes of the Audience

One of the problems of the creative energy moving from Theatrical Movies to TV is that there are valuable parts of the process of making a movie that get lost in the development of a TV project. One step of the develoment process is watching your finished movie in front of a test audience. I've always believed that a professional filmmaker/screenwriter can learn a lot of valuable things about their project when it is screened in front of a test audience. 
Yes, I know that a lot of film directors hate test screenings. However, there are others who love them, especially comedy filmmakers that get to see how jokes or routines play out on the screen in front of a live audience, and then go away and tinker with a cut to make it better (or even reshoot). 

The TV equivalent is what Executive Producer Chuck Lorrie goes through during a production of one of his sit-com shows. During the performance being filmed in front of a live audience, if something doesn’t get a big enough laugh or plays flat, Lorrie will stop, gather the writing staff, and they will busily work on writing something better and then try it again in front of the same live audience.  

This process is not an option for TV Dramas.  
I know there will be people who will read the above and think that the new “test” audience for TV shows is Internet feedback. 
I don’t believe it’s the same thing. 
Often times the people who write about shows on the Internet are not an accurate cross-section of the audience that will be (or should be) watching your show. Whether I’m right about that or not, I do firmly believe that those who write on the fan sites are definitely more observant, and that is more to the point I’m about to make. 

I watched the premiere of the third season of "Black Sails" Saturday night, and enjoyed the show in about the same way I’ve enjoyed the previous two seasons of the series. I love the outstanding production quality of the show which is right up there with the best on TV. 
Every episode has a theatrical studio movie look with production design taking center stage, whether it is a big action sequence or an interior scene with actors trading lines of dialogue. I also appreciate the outstanding quality of the CGI work (used to establish the period locations/and of course the scenes of the ships at sea). Of course, the budget of a TV series always forces the filmmakers to pick their spots when to showcase expensive battle scenes at sea, or other similar sequences on land, but when these scenes do appear on "Black Sails," they are always wonderfully shot and post produced.  

And yet for me watching the last two years of “Black Sails” has been only a “guilty pleasure” due to the consistently poor writing. 
Before I get to my major criticism of the scripts, I feel it’s worth mentioning another problem area afflicting the writing -- the series has rarely engaged on an emotional level. 
The one huge exception was the payoff to the nearly two-year character arc of the show’s main character, Captain Flint.
There is no need for a spoil alert because I won’t be revealing anything for those who seek to watch the show. But I totally acknowledge that the final episodes from season two were very well written, and did indeed payoff on a plot line consistent with everything preceding the back story reveal. The high level of emotional engagement was even more shocking because up to that point in the series, essentially all the storylines, plots, and characters had been handled in a way that was sadly so superficial. 

Believe it or not, there is an even bigger problem with the writing on the series. It has everything to do with how the writers of the series handle their story bible, and their consistently unclear and incoherent way of delivering the plot machinations that lie behind the storylines to the audience. Clarity has even been a big problem not only on a season arc level, but many times during single episodes of the show. I spend a lot of time when I watch the show asking myself, WTF is going on… or simply not caring about plot lines because it seems like the writer of an episode/staff of writers on the show don’t care enough to use any storytelling skills to engage their audience in the story they are trying to tell. Any viewer who thinks they can skip the first two seasons and jump in with the Season three premiere, God help you, because last night’s episode was no different than what has gone on before. 
And this is why I bring up test screenings. The writers of "Black Sails" should be forced to watch an episode of their show with a test audience who will then fill out a questionnaire, and be involved in a discussion group afterwards. The writing staff would discover (what I discovered when I was involved in a test screening of movies I had either written or produced) – that it is often surprising, even shocking, how many critical points in the plot the audience either misses or does not understand. The viewers for top shows are definitely more sophisticated than any previous audience in the history of TV. Therefore, no one producing a show wants to be guilty of spoon feeding their viewers, but it doesn't mean that everything that is happening is understood by the audience because what is up on the screeen is polished and beautiful to look at. 
For Professional Screenwriters and Filmmakers, remember that you live with your work for weeks... months... perhaps even years during the writing, development and production of your project. However, your audience comes in blind when experiencing the storyline and can easily become lost as they take in the story. I believe this point would never be forgotten if all filmmakers at least once observe the look of viewers who watch their production with glassy-eyed confusion because they don't know what the hell is going on. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Life Story Rights... And a list that Sceenwriters may or may not want to read...

I want to take a moment to highlight a section of this blog that may be missed by some who visit... 

On the left side of this blog is a window labeled RECENT POSTS YOU MIGHT FIND INTERESTING 

This is where I list posts that I 've read and strongly believe the people who visit my site will get something out of by also reading. For the record, I usally do not know, or have any connection with the posts I recommend.  

The last two posts I've included in my list are about --

- The legalities involved with Life Rights... Script Registration and an Areement with another writer.

There's been a lot of times in the past where people ask me questions concerning contracts or agreements related to the entertainment industry (because I'm a producer). This is a blog that deals with the those kind of legal issues and the latest post is a good one. 

- Ten warning signs you are still a screenplay aspirant.

There's never anything wrong with a little self-reflection. And the writer of this list comes up with some interesting points.  

I will continue to update Blog Post List of posts that I read that you should read... Or I will repeat what my parents used to say to me growing up -- If you're not appreciating the effort we're making just for you, then we'll just stop.

Friday, January 22, 2016

And the LOSER is...

Academy Awards / Black Actors 

Two Factors being Ignored

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has approved a series of major changes, in terms of voting and recruitment in their attempt to overhaul a nominating process that has resulted in no black actors being nominated two years in a row. I'm not sure how much a difference these changes will make because I believe there are two largely ignored factors that for the most part, no one else has discussed. 

The movies Hollywood Studios produce and distribute has changed profoundly in the last decade and that change has affected the roles offered to Black actors.

I give credit to the Los Angeles Times writer Rebecca Keegan for at least mentioning this element in her article -- "...But awards watchers said much of the blame belonged with the studios greenlighting films, who had given minority actors precious few roles to begin with.”
But the above quote only begins to point to the huge factor that has continued to make the situation worse for working black actors in America.
Over this last decade, Hollywood Studios/and the major production companies have made and/or distributed fewer movies for the theatrical market place than the previous decade. And the productions these entities do greenlight average hundreds of millions of dollars in production and marketing expenses for each movie. Their choices are guided ineviably on how their investment will make a profit, and the bottom line fact is this — the return on these huge investments are now often recouped through theatrical distribution of movies in the foreign markets. I’m writing this without checking on the latest figures, but I will venture to write that the theatrical return on a big studio action film is often times 70% Foreign and 30% Domestic (meaning U.S. /Canada).
So here’s the problem – the Foreign marketplace have notoriously been “non-white cast resistant” (the phrase is mine, to suggest how I believe the situation is often delicately discussed, if it is discussed at all anymore, in industry circles), when it comes to how the major markets overseas embrace American made movies.
This is a huge issue if you are anyone but black actors like Denzil Washington, Will Smith or Samuel Jackson. 

I believe the American Actor is losing ground to the non-American Actor, especially in films that the Academy Awards has traditionally acknowledged with nominations.

Let’s look at how many actors nominated this year were American – Out of 20 Acting nominees; only 9 were American actors. The rest of the list breaks down this way – 9 were British actors, 1 Canadian, and 1 Swede.

In 2014, the year there were three black performers nominated for an acting award, (and one black actor won, for supporting actress, Lupita Nyong’o, who grew up and trained in Kenya). All three black actors were non-American actors (the other two, Chiwetel Ejifor, is a British Actor; and Barkhad Abdi, a Somali actor). The final breakdown of the 20 nominees - 12 Americans, 6 Brits, 1 Kenyan, 1 Somalian.

The critical year could be 2015 to prove my point, where there were also no black actors nominated. The final breakdown was 14 Americans, 5 Brits, and 1 French actor. Though this list speaks against a “British Invasion” (which is one of the points I’m making), it does say something about the issue -- out of 14 American actors nominated, none were black actors. 
In 2014, when there were three black actors nominated, none were Americans. 
So what’s my second point? Perhaps the training of actors in America is not so great when compared to the training programs in other countries, notably Great Britain. This to me is an issue that deserves its own study to see what the hell is happening, but I believe its very real.

For instance, the most popular series on TV at the moment, “The Walking Dead,” a Zombie show that takes place more or less in the states of Georgia and Virgina, have had, at one time or another, all playing prominent parts, four non-American actors. 

The star of the show, Andrew Lincoln, is a Brit. Long time regular, Laren Cohen, and new cast member Lennie James are also Brits, as well as a villain on the series for a season, David Morrissey. All playing the roles of rural Southern American characters. (BTW, the actress, Danai
Gurira, who plays the character, Michonne, on the show, is a Zimbabwean/American actress, who spent most of her childhood in Zimbabwe, but trained as an actor here in the States. Though according to Wiki, she believes her time spent in another country other than the United States was important to her professional success). 

Now don’t get me wrong -- every one of the actors I’ve cited above are all talented and professional. But I want to focus on two -- Lennie James, a black actor, who is arguably the best of any performer who has been cast on the show. He is a black British actor who got the role above every other actor, including any American black actors. And then there is Laren Cohen, (again, a solid artist) who is white, and plays a young, rural southern woman caught up in the plague of zombies.

So somehow Cohen was cast in this part because there was no available American actresses who read/tested/had the training/acting talent that were better than this British actor? Hard to believe, but somehow I must believe it because there are many other TV shows with similar cast breakdowns.

Once, again, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the show’s producers should have done anything different than what they did in hiring all the performers I mention above. I’m only pointing out what I believe to be true - there seems to be a big problem with the acting training process/system here in the United States that is not bringing forth a class of actors who are castable in either major movies or hot TV shows. And whatever is happening, profession wide, is of course more impactful on those who are non-white.

There are other factors to consider with this issue that I believe are being ignored, but felt comfortable at this time to raise only these two. And yet I’m hopeful that my contribution adds to an honest and revealing discussion over this issue.   

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Second book in the RELICT Vampire Series has a Publication Date!

Vampires have taken Over the World.
Of those who survived the holocaust...
Most have become prisoners in concentration camps. 
The captured are kept Alive to Tap their Blood
For the Undead.

If the Living are to reclaim the planet... 
The rebellion begins with an Escape from Captivity. 
All the Prisoners of CCC187 must be willing...
To Bleed for the Living... 
Or Die Donating Blood to the Undead. 

is the official Publication Date for 
RELICT the Vampire Series 
Shadows in the Light 
Book Two (Part One) 

and Barnes & Noble Nook

The e-book will then be publisher list priced at $2.99 until the release of the next e-book in the Series

Also check out the OFFICIAL RELICT VAMPIRE PAGE where there will be info in the coming days on how you will be able to get a special discount if you pre-order!
And also details on getting 
e-Book and Paperback...

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Three Essential Lessons a Professional Screenwriter can learn from this year’s Screenwriter Oscar Nominees

Congratulations to all the Professional Screenwriters nominated for both Oscars and WGA awards!

There were many thoughtful reactions gathered by Variety this morning from screenwriters who were nominated for awards. I wanted to highlight three quotes that struck me as potentially insightful for the Professional Screenwriter (or fledging writer)... 

Nick Hornby Adapted Screenplay: “Brooklyn” 

The novel is beautiful and muted but you can't do that in a movie, you have to get much closer. I felt we could make a successful work of art out of something that was already a successful work of art,” Hornby said. “I could absolutely imagine (that) with a little bit of tweaking it could be something that really messed people up emotionally.” 

I believe Hornby means by the word “closer” is trying to establish more of a creative connection with an audience that is watching a movie based on the source book. 
What works as a Novel (or any prose – novella/short story/magazine article/etc.) is often problematic when trying to tell the same story as a screenplay. 
In theory, the adaptation can be done by the author of the original work, but often times it doesn’t work out that way. Here’s why – there are at least two essential requirements one must possess when successfully adapting another work into a screenplay - 

1 The Professional Screenwriter must very clearly see the beauty and flaws in the original work. 

2 And the Screenwriter must have a Creative Vision to clearly see what the original source CAN BECOME as it makes the transition to a screenplay/production.  

Matt Charman Original Screenplay: “Bridge of Spies” 

“Two things came to mind when everybody came on to this project. First — I’m never going to have a film school like this again so I should really soak this up,” Charman said. “The second was that I don’t know if all these guys will ever be in the same room again so I really wanted to take in the entire filming experience.”   
You will learn more during the production of a movie you’ve written than what you’ll learn about your craft on that one production than you will learn writing two or more scripts in isolation. 
Make a movie based on something you’ve written. 
Forget that the Professional Screenwriter quoted above was involved in a studio film. It doesn’t have to be a major production for you to learn your craft in a way that you simply cannot learn by remaining behind your computer. People often lose sight of this essential fact — a screenplay is a form of writing meant to be produced.  

Make something that has at least these two components – 

1 A production based on something you’ve written. 

2 A production that involves more than a few people, including actors. 

Do not let any impediments stand in your way, just shoot something, no matter what it is or what you end up with when you are finished. The end goal is to go through the process of writing something and making it come to life in front of a camera. 

 Josh Singer Original Screenplay: “Spotlight” 

"As a Jewish kid growing up, you have books of Jewish heroes and Marty Baron would have been in one of those,” Singer said. “(‘Spotlight’) is this great story of this Jewish editor coming into this Catholic town, an outsider and first Jewish editor, and on his first day says 'We're going after the church.' That's a pretty ballsy move.” 

DEFINE YOUR LEAD CHARACTER, not only who he/she is, but be sure the character expresses themselves through action. 
It sounds essential and straight forward enough, but its amazing how many writers fail on this one critical creative element. It's actually shocking how many writers stumble in trying to describe (not only verbally, but on the written page) just a few key elements of the leading character in their screenplay --

1 What is an essential characteristic of the principal protagonist, something about the character that exists even before the screenplay begins. 

2 And perhaps more importantly, what does the character do during the screen story? 
The screenwriter nominated for an Oscar above manages to have both elements in his quote. He makes it look easy.

Often times a screenwriter will fail in a different way on this essential creative element by having a character description that is boring or hackneyed, which doesn't invite... the listener of the pitch/ reader of the script/audience in the theater or watching at home to ask - So what happens to the character next?   

Sunday, January 10, 2016

DEMON DAYS have Returned!

DEMON DAYS Book One is Back on this Blog.
No where else will you be able to read --
the amazon best-selling series with key art and other extras chosen by the creator!

Click Here to Read the Entire DDBK1 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

4 Essential Lessons Professional Filmmakers can Learn from the careers of two Great Cinematographers

In the past week two of the greatest cinematographers of all time died -- Vilmos Zsigmond and Haskell Wexler. 

Zsigmond, was director of photography on such classic movies as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and “McCabe and Mrs.Miller.” In a 2003 survey conducted by the International
Cinematographers Guild, Zsigmond ranked among the 10 most influential cinematographers in film history.  

Wexler’s work in both film (“The Conversation,” “One Flew
Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,”) and in documentaries (Interviews With My Lai Veterans.) has had a profound influence on the way both are shot today. His work opened the creative doors to films being more realistically shot and documentaries attempting to achieve the artistic gravitas of a feature film. 

The two artists knew each other very well. Early in their careers, both were commercial directors working at the same production company. And in 1975, their work as cinematographers on the films, “The Deer Hunter,” and “Coming Home,” competed for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. And yet they were also very different Professional Artists throughout their career.  

1 When learning your trade you often have to pay your dues by working
on cheap / exploitation flicks or educational / industrial movies.  

Zsigmond worked his way into studio projects by shooting B-movies like “The Sadist” (his first credit in 1963); “Incredibly 
Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies,” “Horror of the Blood Monsters,” and “Five Bloody Graves.”  

Wexler’s “apprentice” work had his share of low budget exploitation films (for producer Roger Corman), but what proved to be influential in his career style was shooting educational and industrial films in the 1950s. This led to a career-long pursuit of shooting both fiction and documentary films. 

2 The Two Cinematographers had different “styles" that guided their careers.  

Zsigmond was proud of the fact that none of his films ever looked the same.  He tackled almost all genres, epic and small productions, and worked with a variety of directors. And yet, there was a distinctive look to every film Zsigmond shot. “The Long Goodbye” looks completely different than the movie “Blowout,” even though both are considered “film noir” movies.  

Variety called the look of a Haskell Wexler film, “cool, uncluttered but visually distinct.” Clearly shooting documentaries allowed Wexler to create a unique way of shooting Hollywood movies. The influence is on display in the 1966 Oscar-winning film “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (with director Mike Nichols). The colorless, but cluttered (in the background of the frame) look is almost clinical, a film shot by a coroner trying to capture the details of a dysfunctional marriage that died long ago but somehow keeps on lurching forward like a walking corpse.

3 When shooting a genre movie, attempt to do something different.  

Zsigmond’s big break came when he was hired to shoot director
Robert Altman’s film “McCabe and Mrs. Miller.” He made the most of his breakthrough effort by shooting the "revisionist" movie with a palette of desaturated dark colors. This gave the film an
intentionally melancholy look so it would contrast with the bright, vibrant glossy look of most traditionally shot studio Westerns.  

When Haskell was given the chance to shoot a suspense-thriller, his documentary look was groundbreaking in Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece,"The Conversation." The movie is shot almost like a documentary film, with the filmmaker attempting to plunge the audience into the world of the main character, Harry Caul, by utilizing banal images and sounds, with the constant repetition of both. Only by digging deeper do these images and sounds begin to reveal something more complex, perhaps a sinister underworld hidden in plain sight within the seemingly boring veneer of every day life... or people. 

4 A relationship between the Cinematographer and his camera is not
necessarily the key relationship in achieving the best work.  

Zsigmond believed “a cinematographer can only be as good as the
Supporting his quote was the multiple films he shot for just a few
directors. He shot two revisionist movies for Robert Altman, now
considered classics – “McCabe and Mrs. Miller and “The Long Goodbye.” 
But he tasted both success / and failure (but not necessarily with his D.P. work) with the directors Brian De Palma 
(“Blowout” / “The Black Dahlia”); and Michael Cimino (“The
Deer Hunter” / “Heaven’s Gate”).  

The two films he shot for Steven Spielberg could be the most telling. He worked on “The Sugarland Express,” which was Spielberg’s first theatrical production. The work went well enough that a few years later the two teamed up again on “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” 
The movie ended up getting an Oscar for the great cinematographer, but ironically, Zsigmond never worked with Spielberg again. He felt his creative input during the production of “Third Kind” was ignored.  

As an artist, the key relationship for Haskell Wexler was his subject matter -- “One person has a responsibility not just for himself but for inter-relationships with the existences of others and the world.”
Wexler gave up shooting cigarette commercials because he eventually believed the products were killing people. He would spend most of his career shooting both documentaries and fictional films, often choosing his projects based on how he felt on a soulful level about the content and themes of the work. His celebrated film, “Medium Cool" was not a paid assignment, but a labor of love which he financed because he believed in the content. My favorite Wexler shot film, “Coming Home,” exhibits the same passion he had for all of his documentary films, the work of an artist using all of his craft to reveal the "truth" in the screenplay he was trying to capture on film.