Screenwriting is the most competitive profession in the film industry

Reading the trades, I discovered that only about 1100 writers worked on films in Hollywood last year.  Sure, more than that worked on TV, but most elite members of the WGA only work about one year in three (if at all).  And, when they do find work, their pay is still less than many less glamorous roles.

(I know Squanto.  You were unemployed long before I made that discovery.) Continue reading Screenwriting is the most competitive profession in the film industry

Consensus or Group Think?

Usually, when people talk about “group think” they are condemning bad decisions. Yet when they talk about “consensus” they are implying that the group or crowd must be right.

When good leaders make bad decisions because advisers not only fail to speak up, but fail to even consider that better options may be available, that’s Group Think. When two people share the same view, and everyone else is afraid to speak, that’s Group Think. Group Think is when people not only fail to challenge the consensus, but fail to consider that the consensus may be wrong.

Look at almost any war, and you’ll find that the consensus behind at least one side’s leadership was wrong, and went largely unchallenged. However, war is politics by other means, and I do not wish to discuss politics.

Before getting into heated political mud fights I may wish to forget, I’ll talk about a “non-political” area, one where I’ve wasted time in debates that have turned ugly: film theory. Continue reading Consensus or Group Think?

“A short course of nothing” review of “Las Maestras de la República”

I hate to start a review with a spoiler, but knowing your history is always a spoiler.  And, if you don’t know your history, historical films often lack interest.

Spain was backward during Franco’s dictatorship, just as fundamentalists in the middle east are making their own countries backward.  Much of Europe only truly emerged from the dark ages in the past 200 years, some parts have yet to emerge.

This documentary “Las Maestras de la Republica” is a story about education in a time between extremes, not only Franco’s extreme, but the extreme of the other guys.  The Second Spanish Republic was not a bed of roses, and the documentary skims over most of the problems of that regime.  Instead, it focuses on the new found equality of Spanish women through education, especially the role of teaching. Continue reading “A short course of nothing” review of “Las Maestras de la República”

What is a genre? (film, theatre, music)

Aristotle spoke of a certain number of arts, but it’s not like he invented the “muses.”  To him, theatre had two main “genres”, comedy and tragedy.  There were similar arts, such as “epics”, which also told stories.

To summarize, a tragedy had a great man falling from a great height, and a sad ending, and a comedy had someone come from nowhere and achieve a happy ending.  The other “rules” of genres were merely conventions or expectations.  (When I’ve used the words “rules” in the past, I usually meant conventions.)

The DK book of Shakespeare also includes histories, romances, and “problem comedies”.  Shakespeare himself spoke of Tragicomedies and other hybrids, but they were basically three genres of history, tragedy, and comedy. Continue reading What is a genre? (film, theatre, music)

Our favorite online film schools

There’s a lot of misinformation online.  And, a lot of false things have been said about the film industry, many of which were being said even before the Internet.

It seems like some of the worst advice has found its way to top of the search results.

But, among all the misinformation (some of which you have to pay to access), I found a few courses that would be useful to filmmakers.  Continue reading Our favorite online film schools

Why screenwriters should grow spines

Harry Longabaugh aka Sundance Kid by De Young Photography Studio three quarter body shot
The Sundance Kid doesn’t think much of spineless screenwriters

William Goldman shares two important lessons in Adventures of the Screen Trade.  First, he claims that Nobody Knows Anything.  Then, he contradicts himself with his strongest piece of advice : Protect Your Story’s Spine To The Death.

Yes, Goldman whines and whinges melodramatically about how screenwriters are on the bottom of the power ladder, how you have to collaborate to the bosses, how stars have too much power, and about how if all you do is write screenplays your life will be unfulfilling.

But, just when he appears to give up all hope of influencing anyone else, Goldman shows how he actually fights to defend the integrity of his films.  We see how a certain number of projects were sunk by the writer, and most importantly, how having the courage to protect the integrity of his screenplay produced the classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid  (yes, the film with Robert Redford which inspired the famous film festival). Continue reading Why screenwriters should grow spines

Why watching movies can teach us history.

President Richard Nixon smiling, facing front
Richard Nixon inspired a lot of screenwriters

Did you know that both Chinatown and Shawshank Redemption were inspired by President Nixon?  That’s what the “making of” documentation said.  I didn’t get that the first time I watched either of those films, and I wonder if the cinema audience did.  Perhaps I should ask some of my older relatives about it.

What I did get, after watching “Avatar” was one older-than-me man saying “that’s about Iraq.”  Yes, I “knew” that too.  But, the youngest school kids in the audience didn’t have that impression.  To them, it was only about blue people.

I don’t know why some people totally loved or others totally hated Avengers AssembleContinue reading Why watching movies can teach us history.

Should screenwriters use camera directions?

Herbert G Ponting's cameraConventional wisdom* among amateur directors and beginning film lecturers is that camera directions should “never” appear in a film script.  Yet, the camera is probably the one thing that separates a screenplay from a stage-play.  (Okay, so there’s CGI, logos and subtitles, as well as editing overlays, but the stage can have its own version of these effects.  Even animation can be achieved with a giant flip book.)

I’d wax lyrical about Universal studios turning 100, but that’s irrelevant. In the silent era film scenarios looked different than they do today.  Let’s take a look at our experience, and at other scripts for well known films, and at why the myth persists. Continue reading Should screenwriters use camera directions?

An experiment based on Kuleshov’s work with political icons

Karl MarxMost film students will know of the Kuleshov experiment by their second year in film school.  And most historians will know who Karl Marx, Margaret Thatcher, Richard Nixon and Napoleon Bonaparte are.

Well, why not mix the simplest film experiment in history with four of history’s most debated icons? Meanwhile, we can test someone’s historical knowledge.

Try showing the following video to your friends, students or peers.  (Kids, try this with your parents.) Ask them how the other images in the sequence makes the famous people feel. Continue reading An experiment based on Kuleshov’s work with political icons