Sunday, September 25, 2016

His Final Words Broadcast from Dodger Stadium...

After 67 Years in Broadcasting... Vin Scully just called his last game at Dodger Stadium.

Yes it did! The above were some of the last words from Vin Scully calling his final game at Dodger stadium.

In the First Inning of today's game, Scully saw Justin Turner (the second batter to come up for the Dodgers) motioned upwards... and Scully realized something -- "Are they waving up here? Oh, that's terrific. Holy, Mackrel. I saw Justin and I thought, 'oh he's waving up to a fan and then I realized that Kendrick did the same thing.' Seconds later Vin said -- 
"No Score, First Inning. And this is not about me. This is a big day, the Dodgers with a chance to clinch to the Western Division."

When I think about the word 'Modesty,' I always see Vin Scully first in my mind. 
Everything about his career as a sports announcer has always been about modesty. 
As a "journalist" - which Scully always considered the foundation guiding the way he approached his coverage of Baseball - the game was first... he was a distant second. His words were simily the connection that enabled the fans to enjoy the sport they loved. 
I have been a die-hard Dodger fan for four decades, and over the years probably heard more words spoken over the radio/TV by Vin Scully than I ever heard from my own father and mother combined. 
So, yeah, he feels like family. 
I'll miss him. Just like everyone else who has made the love of baseball a major part of their life. 

One Final Note on Vin Scully in the Addendum page.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Behind the Curtain is often times a Talented and Brilliant Creator… who is probably physically Out of Shape and most likely… Unhappy.

At a recent party I ran into a Show Runner of a Network TV Series I’ve known for a while.  And he looked like Shit.  
No surprise. I’ve known him for two decades and during that time he always looked like shit. He’s been the Executive Producer on three TV series — one show running for three years; the other two for five years.  
His physical health was no different than almost all the TV show runners I’ve known over the years — most look like shit as well. 
Being Creative and working that creativity for a multi-million-dollar entertainment franchise takes its toll, whether you're a show runner on a TV series... 
Or being the main brain behind a brilliant Video game franchise, like one of my favorites, “BioShock.”  

Recently, the Franchise Game’s Designer, Ken Levine, closed down the company that had been producing the game. He told the people who had been financing the successful game franchise that he had enough, and was going to start working on “smaller, more entrepreneur driven games.”  
Because the process of working on every new incarnation of the Video game had taken its toll. 

“I saw a picture of me when we first announced it (the development of the latest BioShock video game). That was 2010. And then I saw a picture of me after I did an interview on NPR when we shipped it… in 2013. And I look 10 years older. It changed my life in terms of what it did to my health, and what it did to my view of making games, and my relationships with people. I'm not a happy person. I have crushing anxiety all the time. Which is crazy, because I wake up and I look at my beautiful wife and my beautiful dog and my beautiful home and the beautiful people I work with and these things I've created and these fans, and I say, 'How the fuck can you be unhappy?'" 

In the Entertainment Business, despite what you may have heard, when the Devil wants to make a Deal, he seldom negotiates for the rights to your soul. Actually, the Prince of Darkness usually ends up focusing on the terms of the contract that bind creative people to sacrificing their good physical and mental health in exchange for career success. Satan’s lawyers refer to these sections of the agreement as Standard, Reasonable and Customary terms of any Entertainment deal.   

Monday, September 19, 2016

Another SCREENWRITING "EXPERT" attempts to Share some Wisdom... and FAILS

Creative Screenwriting Magazine just posted a two-part interview with an author of two books who claims to know something about writing. 

Both parts of the interview revealed that the Writer had no idea what the hell she was talking about. She certainly would be no help to Screenwriters who want to break into the Entertainment Industry and become Professionals.  
Regular Readers of this blog will either find this latest post interesting...
Or be BORED with my latest attempt to call out "so-called experts" who attempt to make a buck on those who want to break into the Industry.
For those who are interested, you can check out the post on the PS Page of this Blog.
And everyone else who comes to read about other topics... 
We're moving on! 

Friday, September 2, 2016

In the Midnight Hour

This month the DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter celebrates its 32nd year as a publication. 
For the last two years, we've featured monthly excerpts written by the newsletter’s critic Doug Pratt. His insights into the latest offerings in the home-video marketplace have become one of our most popular features. And rightfully so. Whether you are a filmmaker or someone who appreciates a good film or TV series, Pratt has been writing his impressions on a wide assortment of offerings across the entertainment spectrum every month for over three decades. He's somehow delivered to his readership something that is not easily obtained today — clarity. 
Don’t mistake my appreciation for Pratt’s longevity as a fine writer on the arts as a superficial compliment, a blurb written out of professional courtesy. I actually believe success and longevity in the visual arts is typically rare. A TV show that once captured the attention and devotion of mass audiences in the 1970s is most likely unwatchable today. And one of the biggest problems the major studios have been encountering in the last decade is in realizing a respectable financial return to the movies they shot and released during the 1980s. It appears no one is much interested in revisiting this lost decade of movies, including the newest generation of film fans. 

So, when it comes to the shelf life of any artist who plies his trade (and art) in movies or TV, longevity can be considered an accomplishment if his work is still recognized today. Especially if one of his original creations was largely dismissed when it was first received by audiences. 

In 1965, a desperate filmmaker, Orson Welles, was finally able to get CHIMES at MIDNIGHTreleased to theatres. It took him years to cobble together the financing for the production, and even longer in the creation of the finished movie. Unfortunately, the distribution was a disaster. His film was largely unseen by U.S. audiences and dismissed by reviewers who did see the movie. 

The negative reaction pretty much sealed Welles’ fate as a washed-up filmmaker. He would never direct another theatrical movie again. His principal occupation afterwards was as a habitual guest on numerous TV talk shows; and as a commercial spokesman who specialized in touting
upscale products for consumers, like wine. Indeed, Welles was the original “Most Interesting Man in the World,” decades before any of the ad executives who created the “Dos Equis” commercials were probably born. 

And yet, here we are, fifty-plus years later, and Welles’ 1965 box office/critical disaster is now
considered a classic movie, possibly the best film adaptation of Shakespeare, and a relevant work that even modern audiences will appreciate. The passage of time withers and decays almost everything, especially pop culture. But sometimes it takes years, decades, for a work of art to become ageless.   

 Glory                                               DOUG PRATT

First, there is the poetry, William Shakespeare’s so brilliant ordering of words and their ideas that the listener is ashamed to share the same language and have not even a fraction of a fraction of the same skill in expressing it.  Then, there is Orson Welles’ cinema, which visually in its design, construction and rhythm is the equal to Shakespeare’s poetry. And finally, there is the drama, that exciting combustion of Shakespeare and Welles, which brings together the abstract elements of image and sound to manifest a human narrative so comprehensive that it drenches the viewer in every level of emotion and interaction, from the basest squabbling of peasants and thieves to the loftiest conflicts of governments and kings, while wickedly demonstrating that there really is no difference between the two, beyond costume and manner.
Welles’ masterwork, CHIMES at MIDNIGHT, is a jewel so radiant in cinematic expression that it stands as both the equal and opposite at the conclusion of Welles’ film career to the masterwork that began it, Citizen Kane. Released at long last on home video in America, and more thrillingly, on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection (UPC#715515184311, $40), the 1966 feature is an adaptation
mostly of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I and Part II, with a few references to the characters from other Shakespeare works slipped in.  
What grabs you the instant the film begins is its momentum. Despite being based upon texts that were nearly 400 years old, the film was so far ahead of its time that almost no one noticed how groundbreaking it truly was when it first appeared. 
Its MTV editing has only now come to be accepted, but the movie’s pace never falters, as one stunning shot flicks by after another, each so exciting that your anticipation quickens with intensity at every cut.  Welles’ rich experience in stagecraft, which vastly outweighed his experience in motion picture making, is so astutely integrated with that motion picture making that the one is wholly incorporated by the other. Characters constantly circle one another.  If a character in the foreground is stationary, there is business going on in the background, but that business is never distracting.  Instead, it colors or reinforces the business in front.  So everything is constantly moving, constantly progressing and constantly pushing the narrative along, as the dialog flows like a determined river, unimpeded by any change or edit in the images.
Knowledge of the film’s production history is not required to observe that it was shot in a piecemeal fashion, intermittently, over a lengthy period of time.  While some of the settings and some of the crowd sequences are very impressive, the budget was obviously thinner than Falstaff’s purse.  There are shots where characters freeze or move in a jumpy fashion because Welles is duplicating frames to maintain the pace he wants.  The dialog, at times, does not match the lip movements, and you can hear Welles’ voice coming out of more than just Welles’ character.  In this, it is the opposite of the studio production, Kane.  But like Kane, every sequence and every moment is a film experience so invigorating that it teaches you how to appreciate the world around you.
In addition to directing, Welles plays the rotund Falstaff as a jolly old elf, but shifts effortlessly to serious introspection when the dialog takes him in that direction.  One of his greatest and most meticulous performances, he cuts an indelible figure, even when he is entirely hidden beneath a comical shield of armor.  Keith Baxter has the central role as the prince torn between his love of the environment around Falstaff and his responsibility to his father, the king, played to gripping textual perfection by John Gielgud. Margaret Rutherford is also nicely cast as the innkeeper, and Jean Moreau and Fernando Rey appear, as well, with a historical narration delivered in voiceover by Ralph Richardson.  It is also worth noting that the film has a battle sequence at its halfway point that is remarkable for both its economy and its realistic depiction of the messy horror of war, all the while being as exciting as all get out. 

The black-and-white picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 1.66:1 and it looks beautiful.  The close-ups are incredibly detailed and textured, and the backgrounds are vivid.  The monophonic sound is very clear, but most effectively smoothed over, as well, so that Welles’ post-dubbing and other trickery rarely calls attention to itself.  The musical score, by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, is as clear as it comes across on the soundtrack LP. There are optional English subtitles, and a trailer. 

The supplements are worthy of the film, and systematically insightful, beginning with a spellbinding 30 minute interview with Keith Baxter, who talks about being blown away when he saw Gielgud on stage while a teenager, and the brilliant advice he received later on from Gielgud when they shared a scene in the film.  “‘You’re not observing the iambic pentameter.  You must breathe.  Shakespeare gives the actor time to breathe at the end of every line.  You must always breathe at the end of the line or at the punctuation.  If you break it up, it’s not Shakespeare, and what is the point?  We’re doing Shakespeare.  You see, Keith, if you do that, when you’re speaking Shakespeare, you’ll find it’s like being on a surfboard and it carries you.  Shakespeare’s genius will carry you.’”  (He does a wicked imitation of Gielgud within the film, too.)  He explains that he originally did the same basic show on the stage in Ireland with Welles, and then was summoned to Spain for the film, which Welles connived by pretending that they were going to shoot Treasure Island.  He compares Welles to Falstaff, not just because of his rotund stature and gregarious personality, but because, “He was always looking for a buck.”
Welles’ daughter, Beatrice, played a young page in the film, with a few lines that were dubbed by a boy (her presence also gives the film a compelling metaphysical perspective, a reminder, as it were, of the film’s creator), and talks about her life with her father in a fascinating 15-minute interview.  He introduced her to many of the joys in his life, from caviar to bullfights, and he let her hang out in the editing room as he worked his magic on the Movieola, such as his ingenious construction of the battle scene.  
“I was there, when we were shooting the battle scene, and it was, you know, three men and a dog, and a couple of spears.  It was amazing.” 

Biographer Simon Callow, speaking with heartfelt emotion for 30 minutes, provides a history of Welles’ interest in the material, which extended back to when Welles was in his teens, and he discusses quite insightfully the different components of Welles’ brilliant artistry, be it the film’s design, or the performances.  “What is so apparent on the screen is that Baxter adores acting with Welles, Welles adores acting with Baxter.  There’s a great complicity between them, which is palpable and which is a wonderful thing to see.  He was very isolated as an actor.  His performances are hermetic, they’re self-contained, they’re worked out, cleverly, and very forcefully executed.  You see the character; whereas, here, you see the relationship.  You see the electrical impulses passing between the two men.  It’s fantastic.” 
Another biographer, Joseph McBride, talks for 27 minutes about his conversations with Welles and his own experiences with the film’s exhibition.  Like Callow, he summarizes Welles’ lifelong history with the material, discusses the influence of Welles’ own father on his interpretation of the Fallstaff character, and other details.  Additionally, he talks about Welles’ filmmaking skills, and cites examples in Welles’ other films of technical approaches to filmmaking that he then utilized in CHIMES at MIDNIGHTIn 1965 Merv Griffin caught up with Welles while Welles was editing the film, and the result is an 11-minute interview that was broadcast on his talk show.  Oddly, Welles cites every major performer in the cast except for Baxter, but otherwise gives a pretty good spiel, promoting the film and showcasing the battle sequence.  He also chaffs a little bit when Griffin tries to turn the conversation to Citizen Kane.
Finally, there is a commentary track with yet another biographer, James Naremore, who deconstructs the film efficiently if somewhat superficially, explaining the visual dynamics of each scene, the character relationships, and an overview of how the scene was staged.  He also supplies a quick history of the kings, and talks about a few of the outside cinematic influences that inspired Welles and guided his hand.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Sounding Robotic when Writing about the Second Season of a TV Series

Maureen Ryan wrote a piece for Variety about two TV shows

currently in their second seasons - MR. ROBOT and “Unreal.” Apparently Ms. Ryan saw a thematic need to group the two shows together under one banner (and the quotes from her article I cite below refer to two shows, but the points she attempts to make all apply to MR. ROBOT) even though the only real
factor common in the two series is that they are both in their second season. It's just the first of Ryan's many missteps.  

“The Glut of television that led to the creation of these shows.”

I don’t know how Ryan came about using the word “Glut” for whatever problems she sees with the two TV shows she intends to examine. Perhaps it has something to do with FX programming head, John Landgraf, and his 2015 upfront presser with reporters when he bitched and whined about “too much TV” as a reason for him failing to secure the services of the Entertainment Industry’s best show running talent to work at his network. In Landgraf’s embarrassing cry for help he was really talking about how there is a shallow pool of Creative Talent for TV shows and it was being stretched too thin. Perhaps his message was somehow mis-interpreted by Ryan as a “glut" in TV that was challenging the creative talent behind shows renewed for a second season.
Setting aside the other show Ryan writes about, there’s no way anyone could use a “glut” of quality shows across the TV spectrum as a challenge to the quality of the second season of MR. ROBOT. The same creator (Sam Esmail), and the rest of the Producing and Writing staff which guided MR. ROBOT the first season, are the same creative people behind the second season effort. How does a “glut” (in whatever way Ryan defines it) affect MR. ROBOT?
I wish I could say that the other reasons Ms. Ryan cites in her article make more sense, but they don’t.
Esmail got the chance to direct every episode of his USA show (and write many of them) in its second year. As their creators gained power, it almost seemed as though both shows were nervous that viewers would lose interest in how their stories evolved.

What? Is Ms. Ryan actually saying that for the benefit of viewers, the creative direction of the show should have been spread out amongst more people rather than letting the same creative team/creator work on the second season? Is she suggesting the executives at USA network should have a bigger hand on what happens with the series?  

On the assumption that even buzzed-about shows need to go to very elaborate lengths to keep viewers on board…

The above is typical of the way Reviewers (without a creative clue) write about a TV series. They write stuff that has words/phrases like “assumption,” …  “buzzed about” and “elaborate lengths” as if somehow they are in the inner circle and know all about creating and maintaining the success of a multi-million-dollar TV production.  

Even if what Ryan writes above is true, can’t we assume if the creative brain trust behind MR. ROBOT had not gone to “elaborate lengths” and instead “played it safe” (a phrase often used by reviewers) creatively, Ms. Ryan would instead be writing her mid-second season autopsy on MR. ROBOT citing her disappointment because the writing talent running the show was creatively “phoning in” the effort, and everything was predictable, boring, not at the same excitement level of the first season.

For the record, I think what MR. ROBOT achieved in the first season was creatively remarkable. The show was arguably one of the top 5 shows on TV in 2015. The bottomline about whatever creative problems MR. ROBOT may or may not be having in its second season, I believe the series had a huge challenge at the conclusion of it's first season. The creative brains behind MR. ROBOT executed the First Season with this creative philosophy -- Don't hold anything back. There is no tomorrow. Leave whatever game you have on the table. Keep nothing in reserve. Do it all with the goal of telling a fascinating series story, with just enough details about the characters and the milieu, and sprinkle in some interesting plot twists along the way. And after several hours of storytelling, when the final credits come up on the season's last show, the audience feels like they've been on a journey... an adventure that feels complete.  This is what Esmail and his staff achieved. And it made coming up with Season Two way more challenging. They also must have known that whatever they created for Season Two would not be viewed with blind devotion, but probably watched from a rearview mirror.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Different Mindset of loving Movies.. And Watching Films with the purpose of Creating

I Answer Another Quora Question.

Is it bad to be a cinephile/film buff?

The answer is No, if your goal is to be a cinephile and film buff. 
And what’s wrong with that? Everyone should have a hobby… something to look forward to picking up after they are done with the other obligations in one has day to day, including the job one gets paid to perform so they are able to pay for their living expenses. 

And there’s also nothing wrong with becoming an expert at something so you’re able to provide guidance to others about your hobby — “So, you’re looking for a good movie to watch this Friday… I think I know a film you’ll enjoy.”

However, if the question is a more complicated query, asking/implying if it is bad to be a cinephile/film buff if one intends to seek a future as a filmmaker... Well, my response becomes much more complicated.

No, it’s not bad when one knows about the film classics as well as the most recently released movies, and are able to put both into an insightful context. Unfortunately, the approach will probably end up be limiting if you want to be a filmmaker some day.

With the goal of becoming a filmmaker, your knowledge as a cinephile/filmbuff needs to be turned into a mental archive that services a greater demand — to see movie making in a way that will inform and inspire your own creativity.

I'm talking about A New Mindset.

At first, by focusing on something radically different when you view a movie, it will sort of ruin watching filmsfor entertainment as the sole purpose. If you’re doing it mentally right, you should notice "the zipper in the back of the monster costume" - i.e. the reality behind the artifice. This allows you to see the construction of a film, and then examine what makes a film capture the love of an audience. You will also see why one fails. And perhaps more importantly how no one seeks to fail in shooting a movie, but how shooting a film that will capture an audience can go so easily off the rails. Even when one is behind the camera shooting a family home video.

After awhile, looking at the construction of movies from this mindset you will hopefully gain the knowledge of what it takes to make your own creations work successfully.

This is a profound transition - From film enthusiast to one who Creates, drawing on their knowledge/love of what has come before. It’s a transition that very few people accomplish who end up being professional filmmakers.

No worries if you truly love movies. After a period of time, your love of movies returns even when you see everything with this new mindset. If you transition to working professionally, you’ll become blown away when a filmmaker does something beautifully, appreciating it more because you now know how hard it was to achieve.

And if you never become a filmmaker, the mindset still has value, not just one that leads to making movies. You’ll be standing at a place where you know more about the art and craft of filmmaking, but more likely you’ll have an even greater appreciation of how much movies/TV/Media have enriched your life.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Are Screenwriters the Easy Target for Internet Scams?

Because of previous Post this weekend, one could call this -- Looking Out for my Fellow Screenwriters Part 2

We all know there are scams baited everyday and sent out across the Internet.  
And I believe one of the groups most vulnerable to grabbing the bait are Fledging Screenwriters. 
It seems like everyone has a screenplay that they want to get produced. And I'm no longer talking about writers living just in the United States, but all over the world. So many people out there dream of writing a Screenplay that ends up being Produced that it must be a con artist's wet dream when he thinks of all the possible targets. 

A recent post on Linkedin (via a group I'm a member of - Film & TV Professionals) caught my eye and I checked it out:  

Barbara Akpa
CEO/Fashion Designer at CAB'S Couture

Hi Everyone, we are launching a new platform for undiscovered scriptwriters which will help movie producers and directors connect with them easily. Media coys are invited to partner with us. 

Honestly, I was shocked to see how many people responded to the original post by Barbara Akpa because the person who posted was a self-described Fashion Designer in Nigeria (and of course it didn't help that the poster was from Nigeria, which is the punchline to many jokes about Internet scams). Unfortunately, many of the people writing replies to BA's post included their email addresses and other personal info, which of course, is often the first step in any Internet scam. But perhaps even more troubling was the content and tone of those who replied to the "launching a new platform for undiscovered scriptwriters" bait.  Here's a small sample of the replies --

Please add me to your list.
Add me too, i am interested.
You Know i have a great idea for a documentary that I would love to share with someone who is willing to work with me to make it into an awesome two to three episode maybe 4 movie. Is there anyone on this team that is willing to hear me out and tell me if this will fly. I am tired of waiting for others to do what I should have done a while ago. So do I have any interested people who want to set up a conference call or meeting?
Add me too, i am interested
Sounds like something I'd be interested in. Starting a production company, and would love to meet line producers and investors.I am very interested in learning more about this platform. I am an avid writer, as most of my stories are within the horror and drama genres.
I want in on this! Can we post scripts?
Great job!
Have a number of projects to list when you are ready for data.
Where and when?
I would like to learn more as well.
I have just started writing something and would love to know more!
i am basically film director and i have written a script and dialogues in Hindi ,for low budget commercial film ,the story is based on awarded novel ,i need a producer / financier
I'd love to hear more about it! I have plenty of friends who fall under the "undiscovered writer" category.
Add me to notifications. I am interested. I have a heep of undiscovered scripts on my desk. This sounds great.

Finally, the long list of unquestioning replies was broken up by JACK FELSON who posts a single question -- A fashion designer getting involved in filmmaking?

Barbara Akpa doesn't respond to Jack Felson's single question post. And why should she? The replies coming from undiscovered screenwriters out there continues after Jack Felson's post as if there is no problem --  

Brilliant - help at last...
I would like to connect for few fiction and nonfiction series.
Sounds very interesting...would like to learn more
How When Where, etc.). I am very interested.
As everyone stated before me, please keep us informed. I'm definitely interested.
Where do I sign up. IMDB me, I've written and worked on a number of film projects.
I am a writer and editor and a member of the Writers Guild of America.

Three weeks after Barbara Akpa's original post, a David Vernon writes a reply -- The owner of this posting appears to be a false scam account. Not sure how group owner allowed member. Hopefully will delete post and member.

This time Barbara Akpa does respond -- Hi David Vernon, I think it's very disappointing when a fellow business person tries to talk down or lay accusations he can't prove.

Despite this on screen exchange between BA and David Vernon, group members continue to pursue the opportunity that Barbara Akpa dangled in front of them weeks ago -- 

If it's in my lane I have several ideas and some past stories on military; families and (G-PG-R) Rated material!
Great job!
That'sgreat. Love to hear more about it so I can pass it along. Keep me informed.
Sounds like something I'd be interested in. Starting a production company, and would love to meet line producers and investors.

The last quote I listed above was from a post someone put up about an hour before I wrote this piece. 

There are many personal or emotional vulnerabilities con people look for when sizing up a potential mark. Greed is one of the obvious ones, but often times this isn't always the easiest one to exploit.  Not that greed isn't almost always in play, but a good con artist is usually looking for another trait to manipulate. Desperation, Naivete, and a victim's lack of Self-Awareness are all personality flaws that invite exploitation from those who have become experts at conning people out of their money. This is true regardless of where the trap is set -- in a boardroom... a dark alley... or at a dining room table where the con artist is surrounded by family and friends, who often turn out to be the con artist's first victims. 
But the best theatre of operation for grifters is the Internet. 
And right now I see a lot of vulnerable screenwriters who might as well be wearing tee shirts with painted targets. Why?
People who con others for a living know that the easiest marks are those who define themselves by the dreams that have not come true. 

UPDATE 08-23-16 6PM  I just checked the link to Barbara Akpa's original post. It has not been removed. It's still up in the Linkedin "Film and TV Professionals" group posting area, attracting more replies. 336 responses so far to the original post. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

How "Experts" don't know the difference between Heroes and Villains in "The Shining"

A piece on The Shiningposted on the BlueCat Screenwriting site asks this question in the title - "Who is the Antagonist?" I'm sure the post by blucat was meant to be provacative, not only with the title, but in the content as well. The goal was to have the piece resonate with readers interested in the art and craft of screenwriting. However, the piece, apparently "staff" written by those who work at blucat, is wrong headed no matter who authored the post because of this premise -- In the Stanley Kubrick movie adaptation, Jack Torrance, is a protagonist who eventually becomes the antagonist as the story progresses. 
The above premise is supported by many objectionable passages including this one -- "The audience experiences the film through Jack Torrence’s point of view."  

None of the above is close to an accurate reading of Kubrick's movie.  
Why should I bother to respond? 
I believe that any company attempting to get fledging screenwriters to enter their contests (which is how blucat makes money - via the entrance fees and other add on purchases that contest entrants are offered during the online process) should at least demonstrate a basic understanding of the standard principles of screenwriting when they are judging screenwriters and their efforts. 
For the record, I have never entered any of my screenplays in a blucat contest, nor do I know any of the people who are, or in the past, have worked at the company.   

Let me begin my response to blucat's piece stating the obvious -- Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining was designed with the character of Jack Torrance as the Antagonist from the very beginning of the narrative. There are reasons that this might have proved to be a mystery to the staff at blucat, but anyone viewing the film for some pointers on screenwriting can proceed forward without any concern that this is an ambiguous issue.  

We'll start our support of this position by attacking the ridiculous statement in the blucat piece cited earlier — "The audience experiences the film through Jack Torrence’s point of view."  
Kubrick's film is definitely not shot with the P.O.V. of Jack Torrence. If the story was seen through his character's P.O.V, we would not be experiencing scenes separate from anything involving Jack, which are objectively shot to depict the real protagonists in the film - "Danny" and "Wendy". There are a lot of scenes spread throughout the three acts that don't include Jack's character (let's mention three, all in the first act -- Wendy's interview with the Social worker / Danny talking to Tony in the
bathroom before he faints / Danny talking to Hallorann about his gift). And every scene is treated as if Jack is not privy to how any of the content of those scenes affect his character or the overall narrative. The filmmaking also handles these scenes with an objective P.O.V., with every scene consistent in style, tone, and plot development with the rest of the film.

Indeed, the filmmaking ends up also being consistent with almost every other movie Stanley Kubrick shot in his career. Similar to the films "Barry Lyndon" and "2001," Kubrick utilized a narrative style that was essential and equal to the content of the material, a omniscient P.O.V. that almost seems to be looking down at the folly of humankind's existence in a cold, detached way. Take for example, the opening credit sequence of The Shining, shot from a helicopter, with Kubrick's camera tracking a small motor vehicle making its way on the long winding road toward a destination (which turns out to be the Overlook hotel), completely surrounded by an open expanse of nature, not just mountains and surrounding bodies of water, but as the car drives to a higher elevation, the sequence depicts a change in the surrounding environment, similar to seasonal changes - sunny turns to snow covered mountains. The entire credit sequence is show with an omniscient P.O.V. a technically flawless tracking shot that would end up being employeed by the director (in some form) again and again (think of Danny being followed by the camera as he drives his big wheel through the hotel hallways) throughout the rest of the film.  

The original book by Stephen King depicted the character of Jack Torrance in a way that one could see him (when reading the novel before Kubrick's adaptation) as a "protagonist," along with the other protagonists clearly defined in the book, Wendy and Danny. The book's clear definition of these three protagonists is at the heart of the many problems King had with Kubrick's adaptation. From the beginning of the film's narrative "Jack" (played by Jack Nicholson) is clearly depicted as a man wearing a mask to hide the emotional desperation he's feeling in his life. Nicholson has a likable, charming persona on screen (one of the reasons he was cast), which can mislead viewers who might buy into the charming mask he is wearing like the hotel executives who hire him. However, this is all part of the film's creative construction (and another aspect of the adaptation that King believed was wrong with the film -- the way Nicholson plays Jack reveals he's a nut waiting to crack from the very beginning), that Kubrick wants audiences to witness -- how someone like Jack is given opportunities of responsibilities that count on his mental soundness to succeed. 
The character we watch at the beginning of the movie is not our "hero." He's the villain of the movie. Jack Torrance is a seriously flawed human being, with "pre-offense behavioral indicators," facing a "precipitating situation" (two phrases grabbed from the verbiage used by profilers to describe violent offenders) that will push the character from being someone who in the past has hurt the ones he loves to someone who will end up trying to kill his family.  

There is no doubt that the film has a completely different creative take than the original book. The changes Kubrick made in his adaptation of the two characters, Jack and Wendy, end up informing many of the other creative liberties he took with the source material. The book is essentially about three characters battling the supernatural forces haunting the hotel. Eventually the dark forces lure one of the characters to change sides. This is completely different than the movie adaptation which opens with Jack as the antagonist as he takes on a new job that he hopes will allow him a new start in life, but ends up being the final catalyst to a darker transformation. What is fascinating about watching Kubrick's take on the dynamics of a family unit is how a terrible member is excused time and time again for his behavior by his loved ones, until their is an finally escalation that threatens their lives. 

From the blucat piece -- "Kubrick chose to portray Wendy in the way her husband felt about her: disturbing, creepy, useless and annoying." This statement was written to support the wrongheaded opening premise ("The audience experiences the film through Jack Torrence’s point of view. "). Whatever audiences of the Kubrick film think of Wendy, her character (depicted objectively, not through Jack's P.O.V.) is one of two main protagonists in the film.  
Not that it really matters, but those who don't "like" Wendy as a protagonist should know the depiction of her character in the film actually is consistent with some traditional beats in the standard horror template (a "weak" protagonist who becomes stronger by the end of the movie and survives the ordeal and/or helps another protagonist to survive) which Kubrick was trying to immulate so he had some of the trappings of a typical horror genre film while at the same time expanding the creative scope in other ways. 
The character of Wendy couldn't be more different in Kubrick's movie when compared to King's book (where Wendy is depicted in a much stronger way regarding her self-esteem and personal attributes.) Kubrick chose to go with his creative take on Wendy's character because he believed that anyone who would stay with a husband like Jack was inherently weak in some crucial way, or she would have left the marriage when Jack had violently abused their son (an act of violence that is a back story element in both book and film adaptation). Perhaps Kubrick would portray "Wendy" differently if written today. We now know more about the dynamics of abuse between a husband and wife, and the more nuance view is that there are complicated reasons females stay with an abusive male spouse that might not have anything to do with a personality flaw that is broadly visible from anyone looking in from the outside.  

The other main protagonist in the film, Danny, is a character faced with a true protagonist challenge — how does he overcome the antagonist who threatens his life... and who also happens to be his father. This set up is the key to understanding how Kubrick's film continues to resonate over generations of new film watchers. Discovering that the bad guy who wants you dead is your own flesh and blood, family... a parent, is truly horrifying whether it is set at a resort hotel or in a suburban house, anywhere, USA.  And every new generation of young viewers who see the film tap into this fear. 

The maze in the film's hotel is a swap for what King depicts in his novel as a park of hedge animals that come alive and chase after Danny at the climax of the book. The change for the movie adapatation was made for FX reasons (Kubrick was convinced the state of 1980's FX technology was not up to the task of rendering scary Hedge animals for the big screen). Regardless of the motivation behind the swap for Hedge animals for the maze, the change ended up being consistent with Kubrick's thematic take on the material he was creating. Danny is still running from a killer in the third act, but not hedge animal manifestations conjured up by the evil spirits haunting the hotel. The boy is trying to stay one step ahead of his own father who wants to kill him.  

Kubrick depicts Jack as the Antagonist from the very beginning of the film. But like any great writing, the best way for audiences to connect with the story is for the creator to depict the "human" side of both the protagonist and the antagonist. The Shining spends time with the antagonist in a way that we are entertained by his complete crossover to the dark side of his human personality... which allows us to fear for our protagonists and their prospect of surviving the winter. 

There is no "growth" in the way Jack proceeds through the narrative (one potential indicator of a true protagonist and his journey through the three acts of the story). On this one point, Wendy and Danny do change, both grow as the storyline plays out. They are different... smarter, by the conclusion of the story due to their ordeal. Their growth emerges from a fight with an enemy, not so much the hotel spirits, but a family member hell-bent on killing the ones he loves.   

Friday, August 12, 2016

How does the Indie Film Movement Strike Back?

This is the First of Many Future Posts about how Indie Theatrical Films can be revived in an Era where -- 

The Major Hollywood Studios have focused on Producing Big Budget Franchise Comic Book Movies 

And Audiences satisfy their entertainment needs by choosing from a slew of programming options during the 
Neo-Golden Age of TV

Cast a Legendary Actor in a Role Guaranteed not only to Showcase his Immense Talents...But is a Character the actor would never commit to if he were contractually obligated to play the same role for three to five years on a TV series.  

The Positive Reviews For the New Indie Film HELL OR HIGH WATER all mention the great performance by Jeff Bridges. The great notices help to make this indie release special. I'm opting to record the Olympics and catch the movie tonight in the Theatre. 


VARIETY Raves about how "HELL OR HIGH WATER" -- ...'The Best Movie of the Summer, But Is There an Audience for It?

I knew this would be one of the movies that will be discussed/used to illustrate how Indie Filmmakers can Strike Back in the theatrical marketplace. Check out Owen Gleiberman's piece because he understands some of the issues in play...  

Sunday, August 7, 2016

You can take the Boy out of the Newsroom, but you can't take the Newroom out of the Man...

I worked in TV News for Ten Years.  
I guess I will always care about good Journalism until the day I die. 
How else do I explain my thoughts, going out of my way to react to a piece written by a columinst, Steve Lopez, for the Los Angeles Times?

The Problem with Columnists who work for Major Daily Newspapers is that they write in a significantly different way than the rest of the journalists who also work at the same publication. However, regardless of the differences in their writing style, or their bylines, the standards of ethical conduct is the same. 

Here's what Steve Lopez writes in his piece – 

“I suggested the drama of the last eight months at the Coastal Commission could make for a juicy TV serial – the colliding forces of ego, money and power along California’s world-famous shoreline. She rolled her eyes.” 

How do we know that the above excerpt from the article originally had a different context?
How do we know that it wasn't Lopez pitching the subject (of his article) as a show idea? 
We don’t know. 
So when he writes the subject “rolled her eyes,” how do we as readers not know that the subject is reacting to the merits of an entertainment pitch?
How do we know if when Lopez failed with a real pitch for a TV show (to Dayna Bochco and her husband Steven Bochco, the producer of shows L.A. Law / NYPD Blue) , he turned his reporting coverage as something different – an entertaining bit of journalistic style, a sarcastic interview starter to get a rise from his interview subjects? 
Again, the answer is that we don’t know. 
We weren’t there. 
But we shouldn’t need to be there to trust the story we are reading from a reporter who is writing about a real issue, and who we are led to believe is approaching his subject with an unbiased viewpoint before writing. 
The quote from his article above could be construed by readers (and opponents of his reporting) as an attempt to pitch a show to established Hollywood entertainment producers as a quid pro quo proposition that failed, which prompted him to write about the incident in a way that he was able to spin the context and the content as a journalist without any bias.

I believe the L.A. Times’ legal department, the editors, or anyone who might be paying attention to internal journalistic ethics (which, back in the day, was written brilliantly by David Shaw * who examined journalistic ethics, including the ethics regarding the newspaper who employed him - the Los Angeles Times. Yeah, I feel like a museum curator invoking his name) should be all over Lopez’s piece and asking questions. I mean, its not as if the paper wasn’t recently involved in a multi-million-dollar law suit against an ex-employee, a sports columnist, who sued the paper for wrongful termination. The L.A. Times legal department, in my opinion, clearly showed that the sports columnist used his position as a “journalist” in an attempt to secure work in the entertainment business, a clear conflict of interests. So the decision in court didn’t go the Times way, all the more reason to see Lopez’ reporting on this story as a similar lapse… or the appearance of an ethical lapse. 
For the record, I don’t know either of the Bochcos who are the focus of the article. Nor have I ever been affiliated with their cause or people who may be supporting their agenda. I have no personal stake in the issue written about by Lopez. In fact, until I read the story, I had no idea about anything regarding the fight to preserve coastal land from private exploitation. This is, of course, the purpose of a major newspaper -- to have their reporters draw attention to what should matter to the public at large. But I think its important, more than ever before, that we trust the journalists who we hope will be our eyes and ears in places we can't be.

* I do not invoke his name haphazardly, but out of design. I think of him whenever I think of journalism ethics. In college, one of the text books I had in my journalism class was a collection of articles by David Shaw, which obviously influenced my thoughts on this subject. But know that like any profession -- it's complicated when it comes to a profession and self-examination - 

He became the first media reporter at a U.S. newspaper given the independence to write about his own paper, and he often critically dissected the Times coverage. It cost him some friends in the newsroom, and Thurber's obit candidly notes that when Shaw won the Pulitzer in 1991, the crowd that gathered to celebrate was smaller than usual and many bottles of champagne were "returned to the kitchen unopened.