Sunday, May 1, 2016

THE GRADUATE - A Crash Course in Perfect Filmmaking

"I just want to say one word to you. Just one word."

This month’s featured excerpt from The DVD – Laser Disc Newsletter prompts me to re-affirm the wonderful value in owning/viewing a movie on Blu-ray or DVD... especially if the movie is a Criterion Collection release. 

Early on, in one of the most influential movies of all time, there is a character attending a graduation party who whispers to our lead character, Benjamin, just one word — “plastics.” One word, meant to be a secret to success as our lead character embarks on his journey ahead. THE GRADUATE ended up having more than just one word worth listening to. Indeed, there are so many quoteable lines of dialogue that many Professional Screenwriters consider the film to be an example of the perfectly written script. 

The film has become a creative touchstone for directors as well. Mike Nichols exploited the wide-screen capabilities in telling a small, personal. indie story. He would place his characters on the edge of the frame to illustrate how distant they were from each other. He would also use the middle of the frame to show how two characters could be sexually together, but emotionally worlds apart. He used depth of focus in the classic shot of a seductive woman in the foreground while we watched the panic on Benjamin's face as he stood in the background. There were scenes shot with long lens (hallways, stairwells), one, in particular, has Benjamin running, running, and running toward the camera while not seeming to make any progress at all. There were long takes that allow scenes to have a documentary vibe, a feeling that what we were watching was... authentic. 

And there were montage sequences that were not only edited to suggest the passage of time, but also cut to the beat of pop songs that informed the soundtrack. THE GRADUATE not only gave birth to the career of Simon and Garfunkel, the film ended up becoming a road map to the first music videos that would show up on MTV years later.  

This is a film that I’ve returned to often over the years, but I’ve never felt great about how it looked on video. Doug Pratt writes about how the latest release by Criterion finally delivers a Blu-ray/DVD experience that invites anyone to watch the film again and again. The clincher for me was a new audio commentary with director Mike Nichols being interviewed by Stephen Soderbergh. Nichols and Soderbergh happen to be two key directors who ushered independent filmmaking to main-stream audiences -- Nichols in the 60s, and a couple of decades later, Soderburgh in the 90s. Who knows, maybe there’s someone who will listen to their interview and be influenced enough to be the next indie pioneer. Count on me being the one at a party celebrating the recent graduation of a film student by whispering to him, "I just want to say two words to you. Two words — DVD Commentary."   

      Early Hoffman                                                  Doug Pratt

Remastered a long time ago for 5.1 stereo, the DTS tracks for the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of THE GRADUATE (UPC#715515151-68212, $40) and the MGM 20th Century Fox Blu-ray (UPC#027616077066, $15), are glorious.  The music is warm and smooth, and finely detailed, enhancing the film’s dynamic blend of nostalgia and topicality, and preserving the freshness of its humor and insight.  The colors are also preserved with perfection, and the image has just a slight softness at times, to reinforce its now antique setting.  The 1967 feature remains a vibrantly entertaining classic, primarily due to its marvelous performances and its inspired, meticulously constructed narrative—about a cougar before there were cougars, and the aimless young man who pulls out of her grasp when he meets her daughter—but it also endures because of the innovative film style employed by Mike Nichols, which includes its pulled-from-the-popular-culture musical score, its aggressively freeform editing, and its innovative cinematography—the camera goes into a swimming pool and underwater, ‘wearing a diver’s mask.’  No matter how often you see the film, seeing it again is not only a delight, but it unfailingly reveals a greater depth and richness with every screening.

The film is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1.  The colors on the Criterion presentation are more intense than the colors on the MGM version, but do not loose an iota of sharpness.  On both, the image is spotless, but in a direct comparison, the MGM version is just a little bit paler.  The MGM presentation has an alternate French track in mono, optional English and Spanish subtitles, and a trailer.  The Criterion version does have optional English subtitles, if you can figure out how to activate them.

Criterion supplies two commentary tracks.  One is the passable analytical talk that was given by film historian Howard Suber on Criterion’s LD release.  

The other is an absolutely riveting conversation between Nichols and Steven Soderbergh, as they talk about everything from the inspirations of specific lines of dialog to working with the other cast and crew members and the reasoning behind not only the camera angles and choices, but the editing, as well. Nichols, for example, reveals that some of the apprehension expressed by Hoffman’s character came directly from the skits Nichols himself used to perform with Elaine May.  

He shares many stories about working with Bancroft, whom he had dated some time earlier, and how everyone was a bit intimidated by her character on the set.  He also wonders wistfully why he never worked with her again.  

He explains why he turned down Robert Redford.  “I would talk to Redford about it.  We were good friends because we’d done Barefoot in the Park together, which was my first Broadway play and his second.  And we were shooting pool in my rented stone house and I said, ‘I don’t think so.  I don’t think this is your part.’  And he said, ‘Why?’ and I said, ‘Because I don’t think you can play a loser.’  And he said, ‘What are you talking about?  Of course I can play a loser.’  I said, ‘All right.  How many times have you struck out with a girl?’  And he said, ‘What do you mean?’  And I said, ‘I rest my case.’”  

Soderbergh, for his part, provides a constantly insightful analysis of every scene and often grills Nichols until he gets to the very heart of how the ideas came together and who contributed what, and yet, at the same time, they also branch off to talk about how viewers react to characters, how good actors make you think about the people you know, and about the social impact a film can have.

 “To be an ‘idiot rebel’ is something that was true for a lot of people, but it was completely unfashionable.  [The producer] made me go to college after college running this before it opened, and I don’t think you can guess the thing that I heard the most from college students, was over and over and over and over—‘Why isn’t it about Vietnam?’  Because that was the fashionable topic, that was the topic that showed what a serious person you were, and how deeply involved, and to make a movie that was for young people and was not about Vietnam actually affronted them.  It’s hard to remember that different times have different fashions.”  

Also featured on the Criterion BD is an excellent 38 minute interview with Hoffman, who shares many stories about the shoot and his early days in New York, along with a nice 25-minute conversation between a very elderly Buck Henry, who wrote the screenplay, and an equally geriatric Lawrence Turman, who was the producer, although both men still have vivid memories of creating the film; an excellent 26-minute deconstruction of the film’s editing and profile of editor Sam O’Steen; a fascinating 16-minute interview with Nichols by Barbara Walters before he started shooting the film; a 5-minute interview with Paul Simon by Dick Cavett in which he explains that the song that was turned into Mrs. Robinson was originally titled ‘Mrs. Roosevelt,’ which lets the song’s other lyrics make a lot more sense; 13 minutes of screen tests, some of which appeared on the LD, showing how hopeless the casting had seemed before they brought in Hoffman; and a 26-minute retrospective appreciation of the film.  The 23-minute documentary and the trailer that appeared on the LD have been carried over.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What are some facts movie directors know that common people don't?

I love Quora!

I've learned so much from reading questions/answers in the categories I'm interested in. It's also been enlightening reading the type of questions that people all over the world are interested in knowing more about!
I just answered my first question on the website earlier this month. The question felt like it was right up my alley! Here's the original question and my answer below -- 

Q: What are some facts movie directors know that common people don't?

A: A good or great director knows how to manipulate an audience watching a film. The director knows how to use every aspect of moviemaking – the script,the acting, the music, the photography, and other “mood” enhancers such as production design, lighting, costumes, makeup, and editing. All, and much more are used in the creation of a film. 

Every step of the way the final goal is to have a film that manipulates the viewer into feeling, thinking, and experiencing the screen story in a way that is purposeful and carefully designed. Every decision is meant to manipulate the audience to laugh; feel afraid; or cry, while the story plays on the big screen.

The medium of Film has proved to be a very powerful way of impacting a mass audience. Before movies there was live performances, books, and music. All had a significant impact on audiences when the work engaged their audience. The artist behind the work was able to connect with the audience by using their talent, skills, and techniques, to manipulate the reaction to their story.

Movies became the “Perfect Storm” of audience manipulation when the medium was able to achieve a symbiosis of all the arts that had come before –performance, the narrative storyline, music, and projected images. Collectively the new medium allowed a perfect simulation of the way people see the world, if not in their everyday world… then in their dreams, a subconscious vision of life played back during R.E.M induced dreams and nightmares.

Film directing is shooting a movie with a clear understanding of how the audience experiences the world, experiences movies, and how the two combine to construct a mental process that takes in the world around them, awake and asleep.

Everyone is different. Every generation sees things differently. 
A film director must figure out how to manipulate his audience when watching his movie so that his work will endure. 
Not just over the weekend, but years, or even decades from now.

Richard Finney
My credits as a producer are on / WGA member / My Blog is

Sunday, April 3, 2016

How "YOUTH" is Best Served by Someone with Experience

This month’s featured excerpt from The DVD – Laser Disc Newsletter prompts me to bring up a topic recently debated in the media  – 

Do Film Reviewers matter anymore?


But before I address the issue, I want to mention what film critic, Doug Pratt, writes about two of my favorite TV series from 2015 -- 

"By the end, we were so unsure of what is real and what is not that we watched the whole season all over again.  You’ll probably want to, too.  The show is so subversive that it even undermines one’s concepts of entertainment." 

Mr. Pratt likes MR. ROBOT a lot, but his review ends up being a level less than the praise he reserves for his review of the first two seasons of The LEFTOVERS (this is from his review of Season 2): 

"The storytelling is highly involving, jumping back and forth between characters and situations, and re-telling events from multiple perspectives.  There is also a very elaborate dream sequence that lasts almost an entire episode and is as challenging as anything to have appeared on TV, although it fits nicely with the show’s psychoanalytical turn.  The season finale looks like something out of Hieronymus Bosch."

Mr. Pratt appreciates how the filmmakers of The LEFTOVERS  wound up pulling off one of the hardest creative feats to achieve in TV — after a great first season, following it up with an equal or better second season. 

MR. ROBOT must now confront the same dilemma The LEFTOVERS faced after its maiden voyage. There is at least one core creative element that was revealed during the first season of MR. ROBOT that will make the second season a challenge for the filmmakers. 

The recent theatrical premiere of BATMAN v SUPERMAN - Dawn of Justice raised an issue that many love to debate, especially during a time when we now turn to the Internet to guide our entertainment choices — do professional film reviewers still matter? 
The topic once again became an issue when BvSDoJ did huge box office business despite being savaged by reviewers. Perhaps there was a unique element to the discussion this time because many people writing on the popular social sites really liked BvSDoJ and were not embarrassed to defend their love in writing. 
No matter how this issue plays out, one aspect of the controversy I believe is relevant is that we should keep in mind that there are differences between professional  film “reviewers,” and professional film “critics.” Reviewers are paid to see a ton of movies every year, and as part of their job, assigned films to review that they are not at all excited to see. These same reviewers often write their reviews against a deadline, or because they will be seeing another movie (or two) tomorrow, what they write is inevitably done very quickly. This is just one factor (and there’s many more) sometimes leading to the lack of thoughtfulness in your average Film Reviewer’s review. 

Doug Pratt is a Film Critic. When you read this month’s excerpt on the movie YOUTHtwo points will quickly become very clear – 

You’d be an idiot not to seek this movie out on home video. 

And a film critic who writes intelligently and passionately about movies will always have a place in our entertainment consuming lives. A great film critic is capable of pointing out what matters and what doesn’t, and when they write about why, you are absolutely convinced that they know the way.   

Youth is wasted on the young

Sadly, the best film of 2015 was only nominated for one Oscar, albeit a deserved one in the ‘Best Song’ category.  The most often heard putdown of the film, Paolo Sorrentino’s YOUTH, a 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment Blu-ray release (UPC#024543239291, $40), is that it is too gimmicky, but that comes from people who don’t like cinema, who think that movies are only supposed to tell stories and not feed the senses and the spirit with a full range of artistry.  Like Sorrentino’s masterpiece, THE GREAT BEAUTY, there is a surprise every minute in
YOUTH, dazzling the viewer in a cascade of sounds, images and emotions from its very first, transfixing frame and note to the stunning dedication at its end, and like THE GREAT BEAUTY, it is well served by the spectacular qualities of Blu-ray audio and video delivery.  

Taking the cue from the Oscars, David Lang’s musical score is as good a place as any to begin categorizing the film’s many pleasures and satisfactions.  There is not just one type of music in the film, which is set in a lovely Alpine spa and resort, and the score is augmented by a wide selection of source music and other pieces, all gloriously and crisply delivered in 7.1-channel DTS sound.  There are different performance groups that play each night at the spa, in a variety of genres, so that every evening has a different atmosphere.  Lang’s background music is not intended to hide behind the scenery and nudge the viewer toward feeling more about the characters or drama.  Instead, it is a stimulating component to the overall effect of each sequence, arousing the viewer’s involvement with the film’s state of being.  In one sequence, the music will be refined and ethereal, while in another, there is a genuine rock music video, which turns into a comical nightmare.  And the border between where the music stops and the sound effects begin sometimes disappears.  In one scene, the hero, an elderly, retired composer and ‘maestro’ played by Michael Caine, steps into a shop full of cuckoo clocks, which sound off with a subtle organization, and in another segment, Caine is sitting by himself in a mountain pasture, physically conducting the cowbells, the moos, the tweeting birds and the other seemingly natural sounds around him.
But if Caine’s character is entwined with the film’s audio design, then Harvey Keitel, playing an aging filmmaker and longtime friend, who is also staying at the spa, is intricately linked with the film’s visual inventiveness and audacity.  Letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1, the location shots of the mountains, the hills, the valleys, the fields, the woods, and the waters are transporting.  The film is a constant visual thrill, from its intriguing close-ups of objects and faces to its magical drifting that defies a sense of space or time, and every moment is heightened in impact by the precision of the BD transfer.  Sorrentino even addresses the movie’s own supposed tackiness, a complaint brought on by its unrestrained sense of invention, by having characters make condescending references to the artwork at the hotel and the entertainment acts, essentially saying to the viewer, ‘Relax, it is what it is.’  While the film has tragic elements, it is also, forthrightly, a comedy, and its humor often arises simply from a unique choice of angles—there is a delightful sequence that begins with a tennis ball being lobbed again and again straight up into the air—or a juxtaposition of images.  

The heartiest laugh we have had in quite a while occurs when Caine and Keitel are relaxing in an otherwise empty pool, and a young woman, seemingly oblivious to their presence, comes to bathe.  Their expressions barely change, but you are so onto their wavelength that you see everything that is going on in their heads.  Sorrentino makes you do all of the work, but that is the reward of the scene.
Running 123 minutes, the film’s narrative emerges gradually and in pieces, but there is so much else going on that the story doesn’t have to be in a rush to get anywhere.  Caine's character is trying to embrace retirement and resisting a request to
conduct a Royal performance.  Keitel’s character is periodically working on the final act of a script with a group of screenwriters.  The daughter of Caine’s character, played by Rachel Weisz, is coping with a sudden divorce, and Paul Dano
plays a Johnny Depp-like movie star, enjoying the relative isolation of the locale before he moves on to another production.  The most amazing appearance, however, is an
Oscar-worthy cameo by Jane Fonda, who plays a burnt-out actress confronting Keitel as part of the film’s climax.  But the movie as a whole belongs solely to Caine.  A wonderful, enduring movie star for six decades, Caine’s acting skills have come to be especially lauded in his later years, and he has received a worthy share of awards for his work.
 Nevertheless, it is a travesty that he was not nominated for an Oscar as best actor.  The range and gravitas that he exhibits in every moment he is on the screen is both remarkable and moving.  In the very beginning of the film, there are a few scenes with Keitel where the dialog exchanges sound too much like words written on a page, but only if your eyes are closed.  When you see him, he owns every moment, changing like magic from the actor and star that is Michael Caine to a world famous and highly accomplished conductor, who may look and sound like Michael Caine, but has clearly spent his life working with music and orchestras, and not making movies.
There are optional English, French and Spanish subtitles, a trailer, a very small selection of lovely promotional photos, and 18 minutes of promotional featurettes, which hardly do the film justice.  There is also an audio track that describes the action (“Daytime.  The view of the back of the Tibetan’s monk’s buzzed head drifts down to his shoulders and reveals the path by the garden in front of him.  A red cape draped over his shoulders comes into view, along with the mountains before him, the lower peaks blanketed in grass.  Taller, more distant peaks jut into the sky, their craggy summits dusted with snow.  The view of the monk becomes wider to show most of his body draped in the cape, which ripples in a light breeze.  It becomes wider still, setting the monk’s figure against billowing clouds in a pale sky.  A full view of the monk reveals the hem of his cape waving gently, high above the ground, as he hovers in the air.”).
Initially, we bought into the film’s bad press, and kept thinking that while the first part of the movie was fantastic, it was undoubtedly going to disappoint us somewhere further on.  But instead, the film just got better and better and funnier and wiser and better, 
culminating in a concert sequence that is utterly glorious both for its uninhibited embrace of artistic expression and for its carefully measured restraint of that same unbounded freedom.  The story had ended earlier, but the audio and visual components are brought to a separate and more resounding climax, which some viewers may not recognize as being integral to how the film is intended to envelop your consciousness.  The longer you stay around movies, however, the more you will come to realize that YOUTH is indeed another Sorrentino masterpiece.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Handling Rejection in the Entertainment Industry as a Professional… and Non-Professional. (Part 3)

Over the years there have been specific ways of handling rejection that I believed has allowed me to have a thriving, longlasting career in the entertainment industry. I recommend them all for anyone really serious about working in the entertainment industry; or as mantras for the professional screenwriter hoping to keep a career moving forward. Here's what I might say to myself after something I've worked on is rejected -- 


Rejection is a system. Attrition is still the EI systemic way of dealing with the multitudes who aspire to be a part of the industry. It is 100% in practice to this very day. Therefore, one should respond to Rejection in the Entertainment Industry as part of a process that is meant to weed out those who do not “deserve” to move forward to the level where the real games begin.

And if you don't want to look at this point in such totalitarian terms, then see it as a matter of statistics. There are only a few people who are in the position to say "yes" in Hollywood, the only answer that leads to your project moving forward in a significant way. Everyone else has to say, "no." So unless you are the hottest writer, the biggest star, a whale with a ton of money to spend, you will hear "no," 99.9% of the time.


For instance, if you want to play the game of writing big-budget movies, then you should know that your choice means you will be playing the long game with your career. If you win, you win big. But you will almost always lose with a big budget (spec) screenplay because, now, more than ever before, maklng movies is about the money (& Branding) Not just the production budget, but also the marketing expenses to launch a big studio franchise movie. Both are stacked up against the worldwide gross of a project and if the numbers don’t add up… you won’t get traction on your script/project. 
There are ways to hedge your bets, ways to make your project sexier and enhance the chances of it getting produced, but a big-budget spec script will always be about the long game strategy. 
Can you handle that as a writer? 
In the long game, facing rejection becomes a familiar beast best handled with patience and persistence. 
Or don’t bother.


Naiveté allows too many doors to remain open, inviting too many people the opportunity to take advantage of you along the way, telling you what you want to hear rather than the truth.

Bitterness closes too many doors. It generally is a result of not being able to handle the truth about your work. 
Bitterness typically takes the form of blaming everything and everyone but yourself for career disappointments — the messenger, the system, the people in your past.
You should only be striving to succeed in this industry with eyes wide open... to everything that might and probably will happen. But never let your eyes end up bloodshot from what is happening to you. If you can't consistently stay in the middle of these two extremes, then walk away... before people need to help carry you off the field. 


Yeah, I know, everyone wants to believe they are learning from every rejection they receive. But here's the thing -- most people would like to believe they are learning from feedback, but most never do. They usually pay all their mental attention to the good and explain away the bad. They don't have the confidence in their ability and their craft to believe that what comes their way negatively will only make them a better writer.

This is the way most feedback begins when one is talking to a real writer hoping the feedback will help their work get better —  

ME: Do you want me to go into how great the first act is, how the main character is wonderful... 

PROFESSIONAL SCREENWRITER: I appreciate the kind words, but let's skip that and get to the second act, when the main character discovers the truth about his past. What do you think I can do to make that entire sequence work better?  

Learning from Rejection means questioning your talent and ability as a Professional Screenwriter.  
The ones who get better are the ones who doubt what they are doing on some level of their effort.  
The best writers I know, no matter what they've already accomplished, are always questioning what they are writing. Usually, this is how they ended up with something they've accomplished to look back on.  
This is the real reason that the good writers are generally not pleasant people to be around.  
And its the reason those who write as a hobby, are always happy about what they are working on. Ignorance can be bliss when know one is telling you you're an idiot.  

When one gets rejected, do what you must to remain standing, but don't draw on the power of saying the person who has rejected you is wrong about your work. 
Indeed, I believe in your contemplation of the work you should always start here — 
Assume they are right. 
I promise you — You'll have the best chance of learning from the rejection if you start there.   

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Handling Rejection in the Entertainment Industry as a Professional… and Non-Professional. (Part 2)

Below are some Excerpts taken from Screenwriters (no names, just their real words) responding to their scripts being rejected by me (evaluating their screenplays as a Film Producer).

"From everything you said in your email, you had your mind made up."  

"I hate to be put in this kind of position where someone like you lacks merit and is a poor, very poor judgement of character."  

"You are literally the only person, whether actor, writer, or professional note giver (and two have read this script), to say that my characters all sound alike and are one-dimensional."  

"You don't pull any punches. You sound like you’re attacking me personally. I guess that's your role and part, to exclude, degrade, and insult an innocent person like me."  

"I’m a nice person by default, but this doesn’t make me a pushover. I don’t see any reason to destroy another person’s work."  

"I challenge you to eat some of my truth as I admit to eating some of yours. Understanding and admitting I have started to climb, but knowing I still have room to always improve, I do hope we can continue from here. That's all up to you. Perhaps we both can learn."

Let me contrast the above quotes from wannabe screenwriters with how I handled rejection at a critical point in my career.
This story takes place years ago, when it was still possible as an uncredited screenwriter to sell pitches.

The executive was Jason Hoffs, a VP at Dreamworks SKG. We (my writing partner at the time was James Bonny) had been pitching to Jason for three years running, at least four different projects during that time. However, every pitch ended with the same result – rejection. A pass from him and his studio.
Now we had a new pitch for a project titled, “Alien Zoo.”
The producer who was shopping the project with us, Robert Lawrence, asked us if we could pitch a different executive at Dreamworks, someone who he had set up projects with before. But I insisted on pitching Jason Hoffs, the same executive who had turned down our previous four pitches. Why?
Why go back to the executive who rejected me?
Here’s my answer — Even though Jason had rejected our previous pitches, I honestly felt he loved what we were doing. He couldn’t sell what we pitched him to the higher ups, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t being sincere with his enthusiasm. And perhaps more importantly, I believed I had learned something new about Jason (and
Dreamworks) every time we pitched to him. All four times, after hearing the rejections from him, I had the same reaction – the next time I pitch Jason, the result will be different. And I certainly felt this way about the latest pitch, “Alien Zoo.” In many ways, the project was developed with his sensibilities in my mind.
We pitched to Jason Hoffs on Day Two, of a Two-Day campaign where we hit all the major studios and production companies with our pitch for “Alien Zoo.” Jason heard our pitch in the morning and called our agent immediately, telling him that he loved the project and was going to pitch his boss… Steven Spielberg. 
At the end of the day, our agent got another call from Jason telling him that he had pitched Steven our project and Spielberg wanted to hear the full pitch the next morning. By this time, “Alien Zoo” had already gotten a wonderful offer from Disney Studios. We decided to put off closing that deal so we could pitch “Alien Zoo” to the top director in town. The next day, after a pitch meeting with Steven Spielberg, we closed a writing deal for our project, “Alien Zoo” with Steven Spielberg’s studio, Dreamworks. The payday was $350,000. We would have made a lot more if the project got made as a movie, but to date it still has not happened. 

Do I have regrets looking back? Yeah, for sure. 
I wish I was as smart and creative then as I am now as a screenwriter. I firmly believe I would have gotten a movie made from my pitch.  
Complaints? None. 
I ended up working with some huge people in the entertainment industry on that project, an experience that ended up influencing my entire career. 
And I got paid a lot of money allowing me to keep on going as a professional screenwriter; and become a professional producer as well.

But here’s the point in relating this story – my success with “Alien Zoo” began with a choice to pitch to Jason Hoffs, a movie executive who had previously “rejected” my work. 
The guy who rejected me four times ended up being my hero. 
My life changed because of Jason Hoffs.

This is what handling rejection the right way can do for your writing career. 

The Next Post: Rejection - Pt. 3 

Four Basic Ways to handle rejection 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Handling Rejection in the Entertainment Industry as a Professional… and Non-Professional. (Part 1)  

How one handles REJECTION while pursuing their Professional dreams as a Screenwriter / Filmmaker can be a key factor in how long your career lasts in the Entertainment Industry (“EI”). I would rank it up in the top three factors impacting a career (even above "talent") and probably the number-one factor in deciding the success of someone who seeks to break into the EI.  

This is a big, complicated subject and I plan on devoting more than one online post addressing the subject. I kick things off by laying the ground work for why rejection is such a huge factor in the EI.  

Five Entertainment Industry Truisms regarding Rejection as a way of doing business. 

1 Working in the Entertainment Industry is perceived by the rest of the world as sexy, glamorous, and the way to become rich and/or famous. This is why the EI attracts the best and brightest people from all over the world who hope to become part of it. And of course it also attracts (from all over the world) the far-from-the-finest, the not- so-smart, and the people without any talent. This explains why there is a massive amount of people who want to be part of the club. 
It also partially explains why professionals have a difficult time maintaining their status in the EI. Everyone has a script they’ve written… or wants to be an actor… or wants to direct… or wants to be a hyphenate and do all three. Most will do anything they can to become connected with a successful movie or TV show. 
Very few professions invoke such passion and obsession. I would claim that no other profession even comes close (even though my use of the term EI is specifically referring to the Movie and TV industry. If I was writing also about Music... forget about it. There's no other profession in the world that is at the same level.) 

2 The systemic way the EI largely weeds out the wannabes from those who end up becoming professionals is through Attrition. And one of the main weapons used in this system is... Rejection
Everything having to do with getting a foothold in the industry seems hopeless or next to impossible in the way business is conducted daily.  

3 The system of attrition / rejection leads to most people attempting a career in the EI to quickly give up in their effort. This is why the system has been part of the EI since working in movies and TV became a life goal. 

4 Those who do end up becoming Professionals often struggle and have short careers because of this system of attrition. Sustaining any kind of success is problematic over the long haul when one (especially a "creative artist") must go up against a system that is grounded in the concept of rejection.  

5 The Attrition System employed by the EI is still the most common way of welcoming newcomers and nurturing artistic talent.  
Under the Attrition System, rejection, in one form or another, usually occurs regularly, even for a Professional working in the Entertainment Industry. Those who want to break into the EI will likely face even more rejection until they become a Professional.  

The above Truisms are why how one handles rejection, Professional or non-Professional, is critical to eventually succeeding in a profound way when going up against the E.I. attrition system.  

Are there exceptions to the above Truisms?  
You bet. One obvious example is "money." If a person has money, especially enough money to finance movies, the attrition system doesn’t apply. But what’s the point of going into the exceptions.  
Mostly everyone who attempts to break in or succeed in the Entertainment Industry will suffer rejection.  
So let’s proceed on that path.  
The next post will deal with how some people handle rejection badly and how others use the attrition system to their advantage.   

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Perfect Mystery

I do love when a writer is able to draw on his expertise to come up with some insightful thoughts on a complicated subject. 
In this month’s featured excerpt from The DVD – Laser Disc Newsletter, Film critic Doug Pratt succinctly deconstructs the mystery genre before launching into his review of the latest entry in the JESSE STONE TV movie franchise. I promise you his insights about why certain movies work in this popular genre will be revealing for both professional screenwriters and fans of the genre.
Personally I have seen only the first three movies in the JESSE STONE series. I truly admired each of the movies I saw, but had to stop watching at three because of the nature of what the franchise filmmakers seek to capture with their Movie Series – an all-encompassing atmosphere of melancholy purposely designed to be the equal to the actual content of the story. The expert execution of their creative goal ended up being too much for me to endure beyond the third movie. My choice not to proceed should be interpreted as a testimonial to my hyper sensitivity, but also an endorsement of the creative accomplishment by the filmmakers who have worked on the franchise all these years. The fact that the movie series has consistently captured a large and loyal audience during a time when Network TV movies have all but disappeared is reason alone to take a serious and close look at the mystery genre. I urge you to take the time to read the excerpt from his Newsletter to discover why Doug Pratt believes there is no mystery to the popularity and creative success of the JESSE STONE TV movie franchise.


by Doug Pratt

Our favorite genres are westerns and murder mysteries.  We love westerns because they are simple.  They strip away the clutter of modernity, and yet are still modern enough to present recognizable dramatic conflicts, made raw without the distracted cooking of technology.  Ironically, they are actually set in the time when the greatest inventions all occurred, and in that sense they represent our collective childhood.  They are also about our own roots, about the America of our great and great-great grandfathers, and so the good and the bad that happen within westerns allows us to visualize our own moral foundations.  And yeah, we love them because we loved them as a child, and watching them allows us to hold onto our own youth and innocence.  As much as they are dramas, they are also action programs, and the excitements they present, largely unembellished by special effects, become a neverending confection of simple but delightful thrills.
Murder mysteries, on the other hand, are about coping with death. We all have loved ones who have died, and whether it was because of microbiology, or war, or the inebriation of an automobile driver, there is no real reason why people die, except that it is an intrinsic part, or conclusion, rather, to the process of life.  But in murder mysteries, there is a reason why people have died, and not only that, there is a hero, who searches on our behalf and then discovers, again on our behalf, why death happened.  Yet, just as life is the journey and not the destination, so, too, are murder mysteries not so much about the solution to the crime (although the entertainment is useless if the solution is flawed), but the atmosphere that is created along the way. Often, it is an atmosphere of danger, where fear for the lives of the characters are so effectively communicated that they become your own, safely experienced fears.  But other times, the mysteries allow the filmmakers to explore a specific, exotic (or, at least, otherwise unvisited) setting, with the ‘plot’ providing validation for wherever the filmmakers want to poke their camera.  The rich array of characters, ‘witnesses’ and ‘suspects,’ each have their moments to suggest their own personalities, their own histories and their own lives, as the hero crosses paths with them.  Thus a fabric of existence is woven, and, as an entertainment, savored.

We obtained two mysteries at the same time, from two TV programs that we have greatly enjoyed, the 2015 installment of the Tom Selleck series about a police chief in a small town in Cape Cod, Jesse Stone Lost in Paradise, a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release (UPC#043396470279, $27), and the singular 2015 episode of the dazzling Benedict Cumberbatch series, Sherlock The Abominable Bride, a BBC Video release (UPC#883929488162, $23).  As revved up as we were to dive into the Cumberbatch program, however, our first choice was its diametric opposite, the exquisitely languorous and mostly uneventful Lost in Paradise.
As a title card explains, ‘Paradise’ is, “A place or condition of great happiness, where everything is exactly as you would like it to be.”  It’s also the name of the town where Selleck’s character is the chief of police, with about two people under him.  He has the town’s problems so subdued that he has become disabled by his own ennui, and starts working for the state police in his spare time, investigating cold cases.  The case he chooses is the horrendous murder of a prostitute.  A serial killer admitted to killing three others the same way, but insists that the fourth victim was not his, although everyone assumes that he was responsible for the crime. The more the hero digs into it, however, the more he is not so sure. As a ‘B’ story, he also befriends a thirteen-year old girl whose mother is going off the deep end. 

Like the previous entries in the series (there are now nine telefilms in all) the solution to the crime is somewhat obvious, and the climax, while exciting, is pretty much over in an instant.  Indeed, the entire program is over at the 85-minute mark, although extended credits bring the running time to 89 minutes.  And, the bit with the teenaged girl is about as sappy as you can get with a straight face.  But, taken as a whole, Lost in Paradise is absolute perfection. 

Shot in Nova Scotia, which is more Cape Cod than Cape Cod is, and during a season where there is limited vegetation, lots of overcast skies and even a decent amount of drizzle, the show’s sense of place is transcendent.  As with the entire series, Jeff Beal’s relaxed jazz musical score is utterly absorbing.  The mystery, as it plays out, does just what it has to do, which is to hold your curiosity enough that you follow the hero’s investigation without becoming impatient.  And indeed, as he sits in his isolated beach house at night, alone except for an accepting dog, nursing a drink and slowly flipping the pages of the case files, with the music drowning out the sound of the rain on the roof, there is nowhere in the world you would rather be than looking over his shoulder from the comfort of your own couch, while basking in the same music and solitude. It is a true paradise. 
The picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 1.78:1.  The color transfer is great, and the cinematography is excellent, with a strong sense of design.  The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound is more problematic, in that at a couple of points, the dialog surges on the right for no apparent reason (it’s kind of like the sound engineer wanted to give the impression that it was coming from over there, but he pushed the knob too hard and then had to pull it back some). The music, however, as we mentioned, is sublime, so for the most part, the sound is quite satisfying.  There are optional English and French subtitles.