Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sex in Cinema?

Howdy fellow writers. Today is our second post dealing with Clint Eastwood. You may say; what does Clint Eastwood have to do with sex in cinema? I would say exactly. He is the most prolific star and film maker in America today and has NEVER had an even slightly "risque" sex scene.

In fact the only time Eastwood deals with sex either in front of or behind the camera is "rape." By rape I mean sex that is not exactly consensual and is not meant to be romantic or "pretty."

The first example comes from High Plains Drifter. Eastwood plays his usual role as the mysterious stranger, good with a gun and his hands. This particular film sees him rape a woman who disrespected him. There is no graphic display, but the point is made that sex can be a weapon.

The second example that I will note is The Gauntlet in which Eastwood plays a drunk cop who gets setup to take a fall. In this example Eastwood doesn't have a sex scene but there is an attempted rape on the train. "Forced Sex" is a recurring theme in Eastwood. You won't see the "obligatory" climb out of the bathtub or the slow strip so common in "adult-themed" movies, but still his movies are touching, exciting, sometimes sexy - Sondra Locke is HOT in some short shorts (she got him for awhile) and nearly always profitable and/or award winning.

I think it shows that if you can make good movies about extraordinary people you will ruin it with sex. I can say that The Departed turned me totally off with it's sex scenes. Perhaps I think of women as the same level of protagonist as men and that type of "disclosure" takes away from a strong character.

It can also be very offensive to people as it may strike a chord with their most "intimate" thoughts. The rise of explicit sex and nudity has I think spoiled the ability of female actors to excel as they are told to "act hot"(Bay's words to Megan Fox). This marginalizes these characters as it's hard to take a person serious when they're nude(perhaps why periods of nervousness about being judged are said to be countered by picturing a person "in their underwear").

At any rate, we will begin our analysis of sex in three different arenas: as a movement image, as a time image and as a memory image. These will be disseminated into the various reasons people will have sex in a given scenario. Some of them are money, love, trust, companionship, and of course the opposites of each.

The Movement Image:
This is probably what most film makers aim for with sex scenes - as outdated as it is. The movement image represents the quanta of interpretation through the various stages of the movement image - perception - affection - action and those intermediate steps. We'll concentrate on those as they most closely represent the "idea" of sex in cinema.

The first effective use of the movement image in memory is a recent film that somehow worked a sex scene into it. "300."

If you look at the images of sexuality beginning with the Oracle the movements are abrupt and not pervasive of time but requesting perception and gaining a "reaction to action" through the use of the affection image, such as Leonidas watching the spectacle of the dance unfold. The action image in this case would be the licking of the girl's flesh which, again, is not encompassing time but relating to the movements of the participant for effect. Of course the same effect would have been preserved with non-flowing gown - who wants to see nearly naked men anyway but this is about narrative not pandering.

The only other instance was the scene right after when Leonidas appears to need comforting. We begin with a time image of him standing nude in the archway. This is time image because absorbs the viewer into the duration of his pondering. We then proceed to him on the edge of the bed where his wife (never named which demonstrates the necessary marginalization of the "exposed and vulnerable") awakes to his troubles.

For me, it seemed to limit the range of the character as there's an underlying tinge of maybe she should wear more risque clothing and not talk much. (of course that's a personal opinion and not scientific) The same scene could have been done with him laying his head on her chest or her getting upset at his frustration and throwing him over and giving him a stern lecture.

Our second example is Miami Vice. There is one graphic sex scene with Colin Farrell which is what some might consider well-placed but in terms of the narrative it has no relevance. It is merely a series of movement images which have no affection image or action image. Consider that if they have an attraction that could come back to haunt them this is fulfilled by the scene in the club where they dance together and are filmed. This does provide a memory image of the "passion" but passion is not a narrative except in "negative arc" films such as Fatal Attraction(to be referenced) where it is the narrative and not an "insert."

There are tons more examples and I leave it to the reader to determine when Movement Images are used. It's an interesting challenge.

The Time Image:

This is probably the least used of the images when referring to sex. It's not because it can't be done but because the sex scene has to be encompassed in a secondary passage of time, such as; the progress of a train or other vehicle. This though necessarily moves the emphasis from the actual sex scene and towards the element which does encompass time. Coincidentally, Alfred Hitchcock's "North By Northwest" used this technique at the end where as the couple is headed towards coital bliss we view the "phallic" train heading into the tunnel, which fulfills both the Memory Image in that it is linear, and the Time Image which is the movement of the train through the tunnel.

Of course, Hitchcock was never known as the "modern" auteur, using sexuality as a vehicle. He was once quoted in an interview that he didn't work with actors like Marilyn Monroe because he felt they "wore their sexuality like baubles and there is no discovery of their sexuality possible." I agree. Even in Marnie, when the famous "rape" scene happens, there is no actual sex, just the images leading up to it which try to capture the emotional state of the participants. We can then use that memory image as the fuel for the relationship in later scenes.
The falling of her robe represents the use of a time image (would have been more effective in slow-mo) but it more so enters the realm of the action\affection image.

Foreplay scenes are much easier as Marnie implies. One of the more effective Time Images involving foreplay was the elevator oral sex scene in "Fatal Attraction." This film managed to maintain the tenuous grip to the time image while including sexual content, but when examined they all work out to the passion involved in their "foreplay" (evidence of the passion in the narrative). We see them all over her kitchen, knocking things over water spilled; very sensual yet not sexual.

As I scan through the myriad sex-based b- and mainstream movies, I can't find a single instance of the actual sex act translating to a Time Image. You can't encapsulate movement because sex is about stationary movement. Time Images encapsulate movement by revealing displacement. You can actually do it but it has to be the same thing every time: a romp around the room; going from the bed to the dresser to the wall to the closet, etc. But again this is ALSO achieved with no nudity or "implied penetration."

This now brings us to the
Memory Image:
which is perhaps the biggest enemy of sex in cinema. It has probably killed many a career and is an unfortunately inherent aspect of all cinema. It can take a person who is enjoying the fare and turn them into an offended spectator. The reason is that it's impossible to know what a person doesn't do sexually. Offense is rarely caused by something that a person doesn't or wouldn't do, it mostly comes in the form of that MEMORY. Imagine you take a date to the movies and something that you may have done comes on screen out of context. It could be construed as being an invasion or somehow an attack. This could perhaps be why you won't see a lot of women and couples discussing sex scenes.

Another way this Image can be bad for the movie is that the memory image continues throughout the film, so that as was previously stated shows exposure and vulnerability and can affect how viewers respond to shows of strength by said character - unfortunately usually only female due to the stigma attached to breasts and female intimacy. Also, these images can’t be "controlled" as the memory image can be encompassed within the time image or usually the movement image. It is more of an abstract notion as it's again impossible to know what image will strike a chord with what viewer or whether that chord will be positive or negative. Sexual memory images will almost always bring a negative feeling the more graphic it is. It isn't a point of morals or sexual freedom but again intimacy and vulnerability.
Even heroes like James Bond will break down upon orgasm, which may perhaps be why the orgasm is rarely a part of the scene. The one male orgasm I can recall was in The Matrix Reloaded. There was comedic one in Eddie Murphy's Boomerang but I could feel a tinge of discomfort when viewing it.

Now we will turn our attention to other facets of sex in cinema such as the "purported" necessary scene. We will examine several films that will be picked by a fellow writer and perhaps a few that stick out in our minds. I guess the best place to start this section is the ubiquitous creation of Ian Fleming, James Bond. Bond is special in that though he has at least one sex scene in every movie, it's nearly always PG-13 sex, meaning there was rarely any full frontal nudity. His scenes do have the requisite of having a reason other than passion. Normally, he's lured into bed by a femme-fatale who is on the side of the villain. She then proceeds to fall for him and help foil the villain's plans.

Examining how we can manipulate cinema to emphasize these as character motives, we first assume that we will merely encompass the perception\affection\action image pattern. We'll start with "Die Another Day," the last 007 I've seen. The "action" in this installment was provided- on the good guy side by Halle Berry and - on the bad guy side a relative unknown, Rosamund Pike who later steamed up Doom.

At any rate, establishing the sexual tension begins early with Rosamund (Miranda) being briefed by M about working with Bond. Bond then meets Halle (Jinx) on an island and the usual sexual banter ensues. We then nearly cut to a sex scene where there is little nudity and no slow undressing - which usually characterizes James Bond films (perhaps the film makers realize how jarring a graphic sex scene is). The purpose of this particular scene is none, except maintaining the "mystique."
The second "sex scene" is when Miranda has to let James stay in her room as a cover. This gives a reason for a sexual encounter but not the actual sex scene itself. The sex scene can only serve itself as it doesn't and can't forward the story between the missionary position and the doggy style one unless of course the film is about convincing a person to experiment with different positions. And even then, the close-up can enable reaction shots that don't require visible nudity.

As Hitchcock once said, "Once you zoom into the act, where do you go?" This in my mind implies that the master of cinema saw little to no cinematic usefulness in sex acts on screen.

We're now going to pick a few random films with both graphic and non graphic sex scenes to analyze how the increasingly graphic scenes affect word of mouth, box office and critical acclaim.

We've already looked at one of the more acclaimed films, Fatal Attraction. We'll next look at "Showgirls." It was an immediate hit with its under the covers look at Las Vegas and its glittering showgirls. Elizabeth Berkley and Gina Gershon highlighted the tale most famous for its writhing pool moment in which Berkley attempts to set the record for removing water from a pool while engaging in the most fake sex scene ever. The entire film was an exercise of writhing bodies, great for the "pig" in me but seriously lacked a coherent narrative other than a reason to have an exercise of writhing bodies. This was of course interspersed with a plethora of homoerotic images, none of which provided any true insight into the characters. This type of film is always bound in the classic perception/affection/action realm.

Next up is the recent "The Departed:" perhaps the most irrelevant use of sex in the list. When looking at the motives for the psychiatrist character to have sex with both characters, it does perhaps show a conflict of interest, but the inclusion of explicit sex merely cheapens the overall inner turmoil. It nearly reduces the character to a mere McGuffin, needful and confused. It's difficult enough to view the complexities of such a relationship without exposing the intimate details. These will be specifically in the realm of the memory image, which evokes thoughts of betrayal. This does fit in the narrative but need not be specifically viewed to impact it.

Vulnerability can be shown in many ways more cinematic and touching. Sex scenes merely force you to have an intimate personal opinion as per your moral views.

Next we'll look at the recent box office smash, Knocked Up, obviously it has sexual content but even its title evokes an end result rather than the action of sex.

It's what I like to call the fact of sex vs. the act of sex. The fact of sexuality can drive a movie, but once you enter into the realm of "interpretation" it becomes a crap shoot of offending people vs. cinematically realizing sexuality.
There are two sex scenes in Knocked Up, both of which minimized "exposure" and concentrated on what could be considered a time image. If you turn down the sound, you can imagine the passage of time as Rogen's character discusses "hitting the kid in the head." Had there been more exposure, the scene wouldn't have been funny as it would have forced a reaction to the to the perceived vulnerability of the characters.

Next we'll look at Wild Things, rather acclaimed in a cult status way. This included scenes of a homoerotic nature where the women were merely playthings for the pleasure of the antagonist. The narrative was thereby destroyed because the draw was not forwarding of the story but the continued exposure and vulnerability of the main characters. When the audience remembers the movie, they won't think about the plot to steal money but the sexual content. This of course is fine for the purposes of the movie but would not hold up to true mainstream entertainment.

Another similar narrative can be found in Bound with Nina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly (I could use the term usual suspects) which will also be analyzed. The usual frolicking takes place and drowns the narrative. The appeal then becomes the fragility of the contact and not importance of its meaning. The list of these types of movies is rather long but very few ever achieve mainstream status which begs the question - Where does the audience lie? I would say in the home video market where such exposure is more comfortable as there sure fewer other viewers with differing tastes. It's similar to the effect of home video on X-Rated fare. Even with the "relaxed" morals of the late 80's millions of people who would never expose themselves were renting videos for every reason including a desire to experiment with someone else's tastes.

Also, when looking at the participants we can say they are always the usual suspects which begs the question - Why aren't more "modern" women desirous of such romps? Everyone has a voyeuristic nature to some extent, but it's rather hard to see yourself purposefully vulnerable. This may explain why the lure of beautiful women doesn't create more male porn stars.

Looking at the recent "We Own the Night" there was as much press over the fact that Eva Mendez have to have a few stiff drinks for the 10 seconds of genital groping as there was about the excellent cast (I thought the movie fell flat). But if we examine the context of this groping, it was like being dropped into a B-Movie scene on Cinemax as there was no intro of either character; no understanding of their relationship and no real establishing scene. Then the vulnerability and marginalizing occurs in the next scene where a time image shows her progression towards the crowd as an object of sex, complete with the push up and dangling cigarette. The character goes nowhere and later we are jarred by her lack of acceptance of Joaquin's choice. Again a common theme: confusion and shifting "values."

Personal Opinions

Aaaah, yes, it’s that time: the time where we expound on our personal feelings about the uselessness of sex in MAINSTREAM CINEMA. As we have viewed previously the sex scene itself can only ever be a Movement Image, which is contrary to the “cinema of the seer” as the Time Image and its variants came to be known.
Now you may say: “Well you are seeing,” but the point of the designation is that you are drawn in to the STORY over time not the images. I can’t remember a really sexual female character that wasn’t merely a caricature. They usually have no depth other than an outburst or two regarding their “marginalization.” I guess it’s difficult for me to separate the character from the actor. It wouldn’t be an issue but porn stars are not the role models we want for young female thespians. They need to be in touch with their humanity not their sexuality. I guess perhaps I’m taking a huge chance crapping on everyone’s “logic” but hey as soon as you grow huge tits and tend to leak, I’ll pay the slightest bit of attention to you.
With all of the movies I’ve analyzed there are lots more that were even more offensive to me. By offensive I mean I couldn’t imagine my girlfriend or wife in such a position as an actor. Men refuse to even show pubic hair which begs the question: “Are you afraid that you may like testicles on screen?” Either way how are women supposed to be comfortable in what is admittedly a homosexual embrace while males basically sit back and try to look interested?
I really like women who can dance but I can’t watch hip hop videos cause I’m waiting for the rappers to start kissing each other (read: they never seem to ACTUALLY TOUCH the girls).
Now there are those people who say I think sex is dirty or something but I have stories about encounters that could be in Penthouse Letters. I just wouldn’t film it; mainly because I don’t want to see myself exposed like that but partly because of my sense of chivalry. When I view graphic sex I am totally snatched out of the narrative. I don’t care what happens after the scene with the juicy tits. I don’t care how the story ends. I would just watch the tits for the whole movie like in Idiocracy (except I won’t be looking at a guy’s ass).
Anyway none of this is to besmirch those who tend enjoy a writhing experience on the big screen. But I have done more sexual things in the club than most movies with sex. I’m working on actually having sex in the club and I would have if… never mind – not very cinematic.

So we'll call this little diddy to a close and just say to all who care,

Keep Writing as Writing is the Revealing of the Soul.

Just skip the graphic sex and nudity. :-)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Modern Cinema and the Eastwood Effect

Howdy writers,
Today we want to talk about the current master of what I like to call the personal story. These are stories about everyday happenings that may or may not have happy endings.

To understand let's look at a definition for "everyday happenings." These are the dramatic things that happen to all of us. Looking at Eastwood we can reference "Mystic River" in which a tragedy befalls a group of men who have seen their share - of course the additional individual conflicts add a dramatic flare.

Looking at the body of his recent work behind the camera this theme is played out time and again. Starting with his first directorial effort, "Play Misty For Me" he always maintained a "human realism" wherein his characters tend to deal "extraordinarily to "ordinary" conflict.

Even the Sergio Leone movies held to this technique. "A Fistful of Dollars," High Plain Drifter, Joe Kidd, and The Outlaw Josey Wales. They were all basically the same movie with a slightly different premise.

A stranger rides into town and brings trouble.

It was around this time that Eastwood began to take on more urban stories. He maintained the "unfeeling tough guy" mentality throughout movies such as; The Gauntlet, and The Dirty Harry series. He even expanded the tough guy role to comedies such as "Every Which Way..." and "Any which way..."

As he got older he seemed to become more thoughtful and his movies began to show this. The first of which has to be the Unforgiven, the award-winning story about the "beast who was tamed by beauty and lived to tell about it." Analyzing it you can see that there isn't much excitement, just very "soul-revealing" lines.

From the start there's a violent crime against a woman and an intractably "sexist" sheriff. Then we see Munny on his farm, dealing with life with pigs and children. It's an excellent twist on "refusal of the call" since it's not from a person in danger but from one who wants to make some money.

His motivation is as simple "getting a better life for them youngsters." He justifies his actions as a man of the old west: "he deserves it for cutting up a woman."

Again we see character studies with the relationship between Little Bill, English Bob and the biographer. Of course he throws in a vicious beating to maintain the tone of indiscriminate violence. This see saw pace of "character reveal-conflict" continues throughout all of his movies.

Unforgiven started a "franchise" for him with this type of human examination story and it continued in movies like "A Perfect World" - one of Costner's best performances showed Eastwood's resistance to interference in his role as the "always get his man tough Texas Ranger." It examined the relationship between a man at the end of his rope and a boy with no rope to speak of. As always he plays the tough, competent man's man.

Next up was "Madison County?" a woman's movie about an illicit affair that bore only a letter. It worked with the isolation and yearning of a housewife who meets a world-traveler with a slight demeanor. Mushy but effective.

Eastwood then did "Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil," a twisted tale about a gay man who murders his low-life lover. A very good Cusack role and for Spacey as well. He had no role but it was an interesting movie.

He then followed up with True Crime, a story of redemption; Space Cowboys, a group of irascible old guys save the world; and Blood Work, a strange tale about "having what it takes."

Then he hit with Mystic River, an adaptation that was admittedly long on moments but short on substantive relationships and closure. Still the high concept of a murdered daughter and an excellent cast led to boffo-land.

Next up was Million Dollar Baby, Haggis' second Oscar winner in a row. A touching story about determination and loss. Eastwood showed not a tough guy that would keep the faith but a tired man who couldn't see the things he'd seen anymore.

A few war films which cause a brouhaha with Spike Lee were next and though I saw neither even now, I'm sure there was not a conscious effort to remove black units from the fighting scenes. And hey, I wouldn't want to be rushing artillery anyway, so you white guys can take Spike with you and God speed.

Moving into the now we have this year's Changeling, called a hodgepodge by critics, though admittedly Angelina's range may have affected it and Gran Torino a new entry this week that has the per-screen record as it's likely Eastwood at his intractably gruff best.

All in all, Eastwood has been a ptolific film maker who has the distinction of playing the same character over and over in different settings and still being "fresh."

I think he has proven my theory that people don't care abotu twists or clever stories, but respond best to extraordinary people reacting and overreacting to situations which could hinder their path to the McGuffin, whether it be a mindset (Neo), a trinket (Indy), a job (Tess - Working Girl), or anything else.

Ordering elements that perfunctorily enable triumph through tragedy will entertain by equating memories to images. It again speaks to what I call "juxtaposed banality" which is consistent with the differences in characters' everyday lives as they pursue their life goals based on their life view. There will never be anything new at this point just a retelling, which may explain the prevalence of "reimagining" older films.

I can admit that I don't really watch a lot of old movies, though I have seen large parts of classics like The Seven Samurai, Breathless, Birth of a Nation, and most Hitchcock. I moreso like to abstractly examine these films from the philosophical point of view of people like Deleuze. His Movement and Time Image texts are a must read and can encapsulate the techniques of all the greats new and old.

Well, that's all for now. So

Make My Day

and Keep Writing as Writing is the Revealing of the Soul.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Conflict vs. Tension vs. Suspense

Food for thought. How do we differentiate these three essential components? Let's start with definitions.

Conflict: The interaction of juxtaposed opinions.

Tension: the interaction of conflict and character.

Suspense: The interaction of tension and time.

Notice that all definitions involve interaction. This is because movies are about interaction. One-sided dialogue can rarely sponsor either element. A single character cannot a drama make.

Differences between the elements are also many. For instance conflict can occur in a single scene, while tension spans multiple scenes and suspense spans a whole movie. So as is usually the case time is the determining factor while interaction is the necessary starting point.
This interaction can be between people, animals, or nature with similar effects.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Tension/Suspense and No Country For Old Men

Howdy folks,
We're talking today about SUSPENSE at the behest of our fellow scribe .

I didn't see it in the theater but I did catch it as soon as it hit cable. Actually I've seen it three times, so the analysis should be pretty thorough. We're going to go scene by scene chronologically and hopefully readers have seen it to be able to follow along.

To start we'd like to define the expectation that invokes suspense. We can direct you to UNK for his definition of suspense - recreated here for your convenience:


I'd like to extend that to venture into the territory of why such cinematic concepts are so intriguing:

Suspense is evocative of a simple thread existent in life. It extends to all living creatures as danger exists for us all. You can especially see it in the wild. For instance imagine a wooded setting; a small fawn hides beneath some bushes as mother deer returns from foraging. Suddenly the scent of a cougar wafts through their noses. Elsewhere a cub sees its mother stalking their prey.

This is classic suspense. On the one hand, if the mother cougar doesn't catch the deer the cub may starve. On the other hand if the mother deer cannot return to and care for the fawn it will starve. This shows that either of them could have a destructive outcome.

Now you may say I would be rooting for the deer, but you aren't the cub. We're lookign at it from the point of view of either side of the food chain. Both of these parties experience the same sense of what I call:

"Cognitive realization of a possible destructive outcome."

This is the essence of suspense and why we gravitate towards it.

Tommy Lee's VO tells the theme of the story "old-timers" vs. "new-generation."
We see Chigurh being loaded into a police car. Then we see him kill a police officer in the station. He simply slips the cuffs around, walks up behind and strangles him with the cuffs.Then we see him pull over a vehicle and brutally kill him with an air gun. Here the mystery of why he got arrested heightens the tension.

Moss' story begins with a barren landscape which immediately raises the hackles on your neck as you try to imagine the horrors that await. The next scene shows Josh Brolin peering through a rifle scope eyeing what may be his source of food. Now we jump to direct conflict that may prove to be destructive for him or the prey. If he misses they scatter, he may not get another chance. He hits it but not a killing shot so now he has to track it.

He begins his search across the barren plain. A blood trail. Things are looking up. He lines up the spots. Ahead he sees a limping dog. What? He heads towards it and at the top of a ridge he sees several vehicles and bodies around them. Tension is heightened. Suspense builds as he approaches cautiously. It builds even more as we see the bodies and bullet-riddled vehicles. More dead dogs. The mystery builds tension.

Suddenly he finds a live one. Checking the vehicle he spots drugs. A drug deal gone bad. Speaking Spanish, asking for water. He has none. Then realization. Where's the money? A guess and he's off, taking an Uzi with him. he walks, walks. Then next to a tree a body leaning. Bingo. But how long before the orchestrators send backup?

A large briefcase sits at the body. He opens it. A dream come true. Stacks of hundreds. Grab it and go. Take the chance. No one's around. Or are they? More tension. Thunder rolls as he make his way to his pickup.

Arriving home he stashes the Uzi, greets his wife. Later he awakes, thinking why not take him some water, see what I can see. Tension ratchets. We've seen the bodies. Arriving he sees the hombre is dead, but notices a truck has joined his on the ridge. Suspense as it comes toward him firing. No choice. Gotta run for it. What chance does he have? He runs and runs shots whizzing by. Finally, he's hit and tumbles to the ground. He gets up and dives into the river. Escape? No a dog is sent after him. He crawls from the water, desperately tries to dry the gun. Just in time the dog careens into him shot. He examines his buckshot wound and contemplates the events.

We jump to Chigur in a store. A friendly store keeper makes small talk. Bad idea. Tension rises when he asks how the weather is in Dallas. Chigur snaps back "what business where I'm from?" It goes downhill. Will he kill him? Demeaning questions follow. Then the fateful coin toss. Call it? Oh my god! Heartlessness awaits our hero. The heartlessness Bell spoke of minutes ago. Heads. You WIN!

We go back to Moss retrieving his weapon. Get out of town. They got my license number. His expectation raises the tension more. Nonchalant yet deadly serious.

Chigur meets mystery men. They go to deal site. He kills them quickly after getting the VIN off Moss' truck.

Bell gets horses, goes to site of Chigur's latest getaway car. His mellow nature, like the others', seems disarming, slightly scary. They locate the site, examine it. NO DRUGS!! Just some powder in the truck bed. They spotted Moss' truck.

Chigur arrives at Moss'. Grabs some milk to wait after searching a phone bill. He sits still almost mechanical. SCARY!

He appears at the office. The landlady is difficult yet stern. Will he kill her? She has no fear. Sorry. No information. He tries an intimidating look. She doesn't budge. Not worth it. He's gone.

Bell and deputy arrive at Moss'. Wait. I think we just missed out mystery man. Deputy raises tension with his realization of the threat to Moss.

Moss gets his wife off to Mom's and checks into a hotel. Out comes....a coin. COnnecting object of tension to object of help. STashes dough.

Chigur callign numbers on the phone bill. Cold. Direct. Tense.

Moss buying boots? Back in the cab. Nervous. Drive around the parking lot. Go to another motel.

Chigur driving towards Del Rio. Raises his gun over a small bridge. Oh my god! He fires at a crow. Misses. No reaction.

Bell told about autopsy. There's no bullet! We know why. DEA? Screw em. Go back out there? No way. I can't even eat.

Moss planning. Sawed off at the ready. Back to original motel. But a different room. Maybe next door. The walk to the room. Shoulders looked over. Get the money. Poles spilled.

Chigur in the car. A beep. A transmitter. In with the money. Oh my god! Narrowing down the rooms. He pulls into the clerk. I use maps too.

Moss making a grapple.

Chigur searching room.

Moss ready to retrieve money.

CHigur removes shoes. Readies large shotgun with silencer. Oh MY GOD!

Moss retrieving money.

Chigur walking in socks with gun and air cannister. REALLY OH MY GOD!! Balsts open the door, flicks lights. Kills one. Second from bathroom. TOO SLOW. Shots ring out.

Moss hears. HURRY!! HURRY!!

Chigur examines bathroom. One left. Unarmed. TALK! TOO LATE!! He removes is socks. Searches for money. Where? The vent. Out comes a coin. Scratches. Slide marks.

Moss in getaway car.

Large building. New player. Chigur's an animal. Find our money.

Moss in his new digs. Cautious. Still not realizing what others have. Perhaps too naturally brave. Settling in. Can't sleep. What if....? OH MY GOD!!!! Searching, searching. Dollar bills...in the bundle A TRANSMITTER. OH MY REALLY FUCKING GOD!!! Call the desk. No answer. UH OH!! Carefully check door. SHHHH! Get the gun. Turn out the light. Wait. Wait. UNBEARABLE. I'm brave. Shadow under the door. COCK the hammer. Shadow leaves hall lights go out. Suddenly the lock flies to his chest. He fires.
RUN!! Out the window. The chase is on. I caught one. Dark lonely street. What now?
A truck. Flag it down. Shots. bloods spray from driver's neck. OH MY GOD!!!! SLAM on gas. Get out of here. More shots. Duck down. Out of control. CRASH! RUN! HIDE! Chigur approaches slowly. A different LARGE GUN. Spotted in mirror. Brace yourself. NOW!! Chigur senses him and barely dives away. Hurry. Too late. Chigur is gone. His gun left.

Moss struggling to walk across border. Buys a jacket to cover his bloody clothes. Stashes the money over the fence. Strolls into Mexico. Wakes to serenade. I'm not dead but...

Chigur stakes out a PHARMACY? Cuts a shirt removes cotton balls. He's limping. Wasn't fast enough. Blood soaks through a pants hole. He rigs a gas tank. Wlaks into the pharmacy. Suddnely an explosion. PANIC!!! He calmly retrieves medicine. EVEN COLDER!!! He patches himself up. WHAT IS HE!

The Sheriff gets deeper. Dead men owned the cars. Still no excitement in his voice. Sheriff work. The bodies hanging off a flatbed. Everything's changed!!

Moss wakes to Wells and some flowers. He tells him his slight chances. STubborn. I'm no coward. Maybe you should be?

Bell meets with wife. He's strong. He takes on anybody. These guys are not from around here. He may be tough but shit happens.

Wells finds the money. HA! But Chigur awaits him at his hotel. He's going up the steps. Turns. There he is. Gun in hand. SHIT!!!! Begging. No response. Bargain. No way! A foregone conclusion. Defiance. Deafening moments. The phone rings. DEAD!! A slow meander to the phone. It's Moss. Discussion as blood runs. Your wife is next. OH MY GOD!! The agony. The cruel deal. More defiance. Now I hunt you!!!

Sheriff learns of more bodies. Lock cylinder knocked out. Who are these people? Horrors of the world.

Moss in his robe. Gotta cross sir. I'm legal. Need some clothes. Get the moeny. Wells won't be. Call the wife. ext phase. Take the money and run.

Chigur in the contact office. Gun rises. Guy takes one to the neck. An accountant remains. Should he die? We'll never know. EXCRUCIATING!!

Carla Jean and Mama on the run. Being followed. Carla Jean gives up. Help him Sheriff.

Chigur on the road. Car approaches. OH MY GOD!! That foregone conclusion. Questions. Need a jump. Can you get those chicken crates out? IT JUST NEVER STOPS!! Dry, terrifying.

Moss on patrol. Rifle slung. Small talk.

Bell aproachign motel. SHOTS RING OUT! OH MY GOD!! Too late. A truck speeds away. A trail of bodies. Moss lies inside the room.

Carla Jean. He's dead. I'm sorry.

Sad meeting of old-timers. This guy is unbelievable. No remorse. Deep thought. Winding down.

Let's investigate. Did they find the money? Door cylinder blown out. Our friend. Fear. Apprehension. The gun comes out. Door swings open. Empty. Moss' blood stepped over. All clear. Gotta sit.

Bell visits an old friend. Passes for small talk. The big news. I've seen too much. The tension needs to end. It drags on. Horrors of the world.

Carla Jean in grief. Returns home. Seated in grief. An open window. In the bedroom. Chigur. Cold stare, cold words. Immobile. "It's my code. I told him I would kill you." Bargaining. "Call it." "I ain't gonna call it." No shot. Outside he checks his boots. Pretty good sign. Bye Carla. THE HORRORS!!

Driving away. More tension. CRASH!! Plowed into. Other driver unconscious. Limps hurt to the sidewalk, bone protruding. Kids amazed. "Buy your shirt for a splint?" He just walks away.

Bell at home. Glad it's over. Strange dreams.

The end.

Wow, what a roller coaster. This took a little longer cause I wanted to do a scene by scene so I watched it while writing. I treied to narrow the wording to the points of interest. As you can see, throughout the movie the lack of excitement in the voices actually increased the tension. Chigur's cold demeanor was just chilling when thinking about the cougar. Fast, swift, deadly. No emotion.

Moss' bravado and wife's belief lent credence to the belief that maybe he can survive. Bell's calm yet rattled demeanor suggested otherwise as did the presence of Wells, who was in fearful awe of this "psychopath." Throughout, the antag was kept close. Near misses made the tension skyrocket every few minutes. Moss saw himself having to make change after change as things were obviously beyond him, but still we wouldn't want the drug dealer to win.

We will root for the mellow guy who just found some money. We want to see his wife take advantage of the money. We HOPE beyond hope, but the viciousness of Chigur raises the UNCERTAINTY. We are cognizant of the stakes and realize that there could very well be a destructive outcome. Destructive for Moss. Destructive for Bell. Destructive for Carla Jean. Destructive for Wells. Like the cougar we find it difficult to root for Chigur but we do admire and fear his ruthlessness and power.

Very few movies in recent memory did such a good job of ratcheting up the tension, but in a movie where death is the original stakes, you can only maintain tension and build suspense. It was an excellent film. Classic tension. Classic suspense. Classic dread.

News from the Bailout

Yes, we're talking about the bailout today. The interesting part of it is the $470M earmarked for the entertainment industry. It extends Section 181 through 2009 (don't know why 2012 wasn't chosen).

So all you indie filmers, hit up those friends and let them know they can write off anything they give you.

It also raised the cap on budgets to unlimited. This means that you can write off $15M in taxes no matter the size of the movie. Good deal.


After talking with a very prominent entertainment lawyer, I found that even companies can take advantage of this tax break and incentive program. So all of you out there trying to film shorts and even features, approach those local business owners and tell them they can't lose because the gov't will refund all of their investment in the current tax year. No waiting.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

New Start

Howdy campers....Maybe I should stop saying that. I sound like a serious comedian. Or maybe that would be a "serious" comedian, with all of the contradictions. But then maybe that will help me write movies filled with contradictions.

Anyway I finally stopped using the comma after "Anyway." Well that's not what I meant. I guess that's the conflict with writing for speech.

This post is about our latest start. Book that is. Well I mean I'm reading a new book. A highly recommended piece by Judith "I hope I remember if it's "o" or "i" Westin: The Film Director's Intuition."

It does make it easier to write dialog if you study how directors deal with cinema.

A little tip: Go to Amazon and do searches on screenwriting, cinema, Seger, and film theory. There is a plethora of info just waiting to be a sound or visual image.

Oh yeah,

Keep writing as writing is the revealing of the soul.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Elements vs. Plot - Examination of the Time Image

Howdy campers, it's time for yet another piece about the thing we call cinema. I've got a few days off and I'm letting my over-worked brain cool down, but I love the philosophy of cinema. It's voice ever-reaching; it's thoughts transcendental; it's effects infinite.

I was recently reading a post by Julie Gray over at The Rouge Wave about the glut of movies currently. One thing led to another and voila I realized why SPOOF movies are so popular these days. It's because as viewers see more and more spectacle, drama and hilarity, plot becomes less important and elements (character traits - The Joker; situational comedy - Tropic Thunder; recognizable occurrences - Juno, Knocked Up; and character props - Hancock) become the way to go.

Of course, as Disaster Movie, etc showed you have to have an "abstract coherence" as just a bunch of jokes is what you get in the average "non-spoof" (though I believe every movie is a spoof (Aristotle might call it imitation) on something - sometimes just not meant to be funny).

It gets back to something is actually in the Bible; there's nothing new under the sun. This is apparent in cinema with the growth of the remake market lately. Writers are looking for the clever hook about the x who does f(x) with complications leading to f'(x) - sorry for the algebra, but people just want a couple of good scenes in between stuff that leads up to them. Clever is only for dialog. It allows you to reveal character in reaction to a joke; in a voicing of learning or understanding; in approaching the opposite sex; in responding to the opposite sex, a friend, a mentor, a sibling or a colleague.

Juno has to be the worst story for "the Hollywood Style" of filmmaking. Do you threaten the baby, reveal some horrible adoptive parent secret, have an adoption agency scandal? No, you have a snarky teen who gets knocked up by a nerd, goes through to full term and gives up the baby, albeit only to one parent.

It was those dialog elements along with recognizable banality. The struggling couple, the naive, yet well-meaning parents, the comic relief BFF and a wealth of pregnancy jokes. Not to mention the circular path of the two protags.

Robert De Niro once said he would be in any movie with three good scenes and no bad ones, which I believe defines perhaps a low but the maximum you really need to aim for to make a film commercially well-received. Commercial is what people want to see not what is popular with the studios. People don't know what they want to see. One day it's The Dark Knight, the next it's Mamma Mia.

I watched Martian Child with John Cusack last night and it was missing certain elements that made it hard to recommend. It didn't properly relate back story, it fumbled the development of the psychosis by making the boy seem intelligent enough to know better; it presented conundrums that were superficially explored; the child had no real back story because the contrast of his childhood missed. It coincidentally had him as a writer who writes science fiction with an adoptee who pretends to be from Mars. There were just too many misplaced scenes.

SO you may say what does this have do with a Time Image? Well, the time image is an abstract concept defined by a succession of frame stat encapsulate time and subjugate movement. A simple example is showing two cars in a chase. It's an immediately recognizable passage of time as we switch from car to car, showing firing and ducking, swerving and bullet holes.

Tracking shots are other examples of the time image as we are concerned with the "combination of instants" rather than the instants themselves. In the pre-sound days, emotion was displayed specifically with abrupt hand gestures and varying levels of body language to emphasize the dialog sections. Close ups were instrumental in relaying emotion without speech, but now the close up has become a definition of time as it represents a progression of events rather than an instant of reaction.

For example, many film makers employ a technique whereby reaction shots are zooms rather than static cuts. This shows the realization rather than the emotion, which is more effective. Camera angles can also define the time image through the use of montage with several static cameras. You'll see this over done n action movies where we see the punch three times from different angles, sound fx and all.

Everything in a film should be about the relation of time to image. That's why the best movies don't show every movement but only those that represent time. For instance, you won't see the family enter the van in Little Miss Sunshine or you don't see Batman jump behind the wheel of the Batmobile, start it and pull out.

This is what good cutting and multiple camera angles does. It enables you to have a shorter time in your chase without missing the sections of it. A good example is the chase in Hot Fuzz, where they go back and forth between cars, which enables you to separate sections so you can be on a city road in one segment and a country road in another. The Dark Knight also has a well crafted chase.

Another version of the time image is the memory image. Memory images merely use quick images to establish location or time of day. Memory images are what allows the sound to be turned down and you can still understand what's going on.

The time image is also the basis of the "cinema of the seer." Where earlier films used sensory-motor schema which consisted of a perception image, an affection-image and an action-image (many others in between). This is a progression of a shot where a movement signifies each image.

The use of the time image is also the basis for the term "auteur," which describes the director as the storyteller rather than the screenwriter. Directors such as Hawks, Welles, Ford followed the practice along with most popular foreign directors such as Resnais, Godard, Eisenstein. That's why I believe every screenwriter should study directing as it makes it easier to determine what will work and what won't.

In mt ravels I came across perhaps the best shot I've ever seen. It was bound in time and made the movements into a whole rather than parts. The scene was in Citizen Kane when Kane was a child. He was outside a window and his mother and uncle I believe were discussing his future. The camera pans backwards away from the window framing them all in the shot as they move through the room. It comes to rest in the kitchen where mother has sat down at the table. The beauty of the shot is that it's one fluid move. Welles beautifully hides the track the camera is on by cutting off the shot below the ceiling of the room. Hitchcock does something similar in Frenzy with the famous scene that moves backwards out of the building and across the street.

These shots clearly denote the use of time rather than movement. It's also why many of the greatest films take place over years and not days as time subjugates growth and change rather than actions. Great films also tend to show an actual end rather than the end of a conflict. Take Silence of the Lambs, it doesn't end with Clarice killing Buffalo Bill and ending the case, it ends with her truly coming to grips with both her childhood and Hannibal Lector's fascination with her. In the beginning we could see her being terrified of that phone call, but in the end she has grown enough to understand he wasn't a threat to her.

I think that's the difference between a $40M box office and a $140M box office. It's not resolution of conflict but a picture of growth. Juno could easily have had birth complications or Clarice could have been at the other house. These both would have changed the tone and purpose of the movies. Purpose is perhaps what makes filmmakers great. There are no new stories; nothing people haven't seen, or at least heard of.

Making yourself stand out by remembering the picture before the plot is what writers should be striving for. Plot stems directly from character so memorable characters will produce memorable (interesting conflict) moments. Memory images make up these pictures. Memories of what just happened in the film and\or what people are cognizant of or averse to.

Aristotle called plot the "representation of truth." Character is the representation of choice while thought is considered to be the representation of character. Interestingly enough some call new-wave cinema the "power of the false." Meaning that it's all made up so it can go places where real life can't. Thus how "flying monkeys" work in the Wizard of Oz or how invaders snatch bodies. It doesn't actually defy logic but it can twist it to fit the circumstances. As an example, Live Free or Die Hard should have seen McClane in traction after just a few of the stunts, but we can believe he can take it by showing him limp or grimace or bleed. The memory of previous Die Hards makes it less of a stretch though the stunts became more demanding and McClane got older.

Curiously, early Greek theater was filled with more treachery and deceit than sex though it touched on sexuality and sensuality in taboo formats. The reason why sex doesn't work well for cinema o the seer is because sex can only be equated as a movement image and not a time image unless we use rapid cutting of facial expressions and use of the hands. This section was admittedly a last-minute addition as I finally found Hitchcock's opinion about sex in cinema (I wasn't really looking for it). In his opinion, he would not cast a "Marilyn Monroe" as she, as he puts it - "wears her sex like an amulet." He would rather have it under the surface to be discovered which explains why he used Tippy Hedron types.

Well, that's it for this installment of the Time Image. Join us next time as we explore this paradigm even further.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Google Chrome

Howdy folks, I know this isn't a screenwriting post but I've been using Google's new browser for about 10 minutes now and I have to say they have a great beta here. It should kick IE and FF in the ass. It has worked with sites that haven't worked in one browser or the other.
It seems pretty stable and is a fast renderer. Unlike IE or FF where if you get a site that is rendered incorrectly the refresh won't fix it but with Chrome I had a site load incorrectly hit refresh and it rendered correctly. I'd say that MS shouldn't have tried to horn in on the Internet.
Now IE's share is goig to experience real problems. I can say to anyone still using Netscape (I held out until I had to install Windows on 100s of test machines) you WILL love this. It's just a beta but is so far very stable.
Kudos to the Google browser team.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Aristotle’s Poetics – Part 1

Howdy campers. It's that time again. Yes, time for a new post. I know I should be finishing my comedy but writing comedy seems to be a little harder in terms of length(funny exchanges only get you so much "black space" - damn that punch line).
Anyway, as the title says, we're going to do an intro to The Poetics, perhaps the "granddaddy" of all screenwriting tomes. Written several THOUSAND years ago, its concepts of plot, character and dialog are still valid and perhaps the basis of all later theorems, whether philosophical, scientific or even artistic.

We will use the translated text and it will be in italics.

I was introduced to the Poetics recently in my screenwriting group. It's headed by this year's winner of the Sundance Lab, Steven Arvanites. We had a very inexpensive visit by Prof. Gordon Farrell of the Tisch School and many others.

The Poetics is not a book in the regular sense of the word in that it is compiled from lecture notes from Aristotle as there were no texts that survived. It is in-depth in terms of what he spoke of though. Depending upon the translation, it can be rather difficult to read as he analyzes the works of early Greek poets and dramatists and uses words that don't have the same meaning as now.

As an example, "imitation" in his time meant "a genuine representation" but now it means "a false representation." Contextually, this becomes apparent but the use of rhythmic speech is not as commonplace so words like "iambic pentameter" or "dithyrambic hexameter" are more so the domain of poets.

In his teachings he advocated that all stories must have a beginning, middle and end. But this is not in direct correlation to what evolved into the current three act structure. To Aristotle, this was time based.

Now, according to our definition Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete, and whole, and of a certain magnitude; for there may be a whole that is wanting in magnitude. A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be. An end, on the contrary, is that which itself naturally follows some other thing, either by necessity, or as a rule, but has nothing following it. A middle is that which follows something as some other thing follows it. A well constructed plot, therefore, must neither begin nor end at haphazard, but conform to these principles.

The substance of his theories though encompasses the gamut of cinematic representation - albeit then in stage form. His theories on Tragedy (qualitative) are the basis of the 3 Act structure currently in use - but ironically that was his definition of plot(qualitative) and not content(quantitative). His content involved four linear concepts.

Prologue, Episode, Exode, Choric song; this last being divided into Parode and Stasimon. The Prologue is that entire part of a tragedy which precedes the Parode of the Chorus. The Episode is that entire part of a tragedy which is between complete choric songs. The Exode is that entire part of a tragedy which has no choric song after it. Of the Choric part the Parode is the first undivided utterance of the Chorus: the Stasimon is a Choric ode without anapaests or trochaic tetrameters: the Commos is a joint lamentation of Chorus and actors. The parts of Tragedy which must be treated as elements of the whole have been already mentioned. The quantitative parts- the separate parts into which it is divided- are here enumerated.

Well, that's it for Part 1. We actually tried to post from Word but Blogger doesn't use the same <> syntax. Fricking JavaScript.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Flexible 4 Act Structure

Howdy campers, don't forget your booties cause it's cold... uhh wait, that's not what I meant. I guess I write too much while reading.

Anyway, today's topic was inspired by our good friend UNK.
He is a stickler for using a 4 Act structure rather than traversing that long second act in the 3 Act structure. I whole-heartedly agree.

Especially since the 2nd Act midpoint is always desirable. I like to look at the movie(script - but we are writing movies) from the end to the beginning and back so that I can map points of interest(conflict - whether it's setup, build up or payoff) to the desired ending. This actually helps maintain tone and theme, I find.

To help me look at it abstractly, I borrowed from The Hero's Journey to develop a more flexible course through the circle (nearly all movies are circular arcs in that the hero usually ends up at or near where he started in the regular world). Of course the negative arc doesn't, though (Leaving Las Vegas).

Rather than using four sections, I use 8 so that you have more chances for change, disruption, conflict and resolution and also because this abstraction doesn't tie you to page numbers.

The first section is "At Home or Work," which is where every story starts. Sometimes this is as simple as a character preparing for her day or rescuing someone from the bad guy or hell even going to sleep after a hard day's work. This is the chance to START to intro your main characters (the order isn't as important as the reason for it). I say start because giving too much info too quickly will come out on-the-nose and expository. It's best, in my opinion to show a few images that show mind-set or social status and move on to the "problem at hand."

As you can see, it doesn't start at 0 degrees because this is reserved for the hero and you may intro the villain first. Sometimes, it increases the tension to imagine who will stand up to "Villain X who is so heartless and cruel." This section more so establishes location, genre, etc. rather than in-depth personality traits(that should come with the various conflicts). Some stories don't have an actual McGuffin so the goal is an accomplishment rather than a possession(graduate Cum Laude, break the hot dog eating record, get married before next week, etc.)

The next section is "Start Of Decision." This section usually begins the trip to the "new world of conflict" and includes the incident which moves the hero to take on the challenge or not. By this point, you have intro'd what the villain wants and it should be perfectly juxtaposed to what the hero wants(graduate Cum Laude, break the hot dog eating record, get married before next week). Of course those are simplified cases but they speak to the abstract notion of "implied conflict." You aren't the only student, hot dog eater or person desirous of marriage). Here we really expand on the hero's personality and show the contrast between their perspective allies\enemies. The Act 2 incident will be what cements the relationships whether they be for the better or the worse and should occur in this section.

The next section is "Meeting Allies and Discovering Enemies." This is where the rubber hits the road so to speak and the hero is truly in the midst of conflict. After the answer of the call, those who want to help and those who want to hinder are brought into view. Depending on the genre and story they could be peers, underlings, or just intimate with the hero or villain. Of course, the McGuffin becomes the total reason for everyone's existence by this point, no matter what it is. This section takes you around the halfway point as everyone jockeys for position and feels out their adversaries. Once again this flexible structure means that things aren't exact time-wise as scenes\sequences take as long as they take.

This section gets us even closer to the inner-desires and conflicts of the hero and villain and their supporting cast. Again, never give to much too fast. Let it happen in conflict. It may never be relevant that the hero is afraid of dogs or cheated with his best friend's wife while drunk. I guess that's an extension of it's "on the page" that I'd call it's "in the story."

As an example, if a story takes place on a boat, the hero should be unable to swim. Or if it takes place in the desert, the hero should have trouble in the sun, etc. Let the story find the flaws rather than developing them in what I think is a vacuum. Any back story is well-placed here but again, be careful as you don't want to tell whole stories. So if the hero is afraid of dogs, have them walk by one that startles them or even tries to sniff them.

Ex: Indy falls into the pit near Marion. The hissing rises with him as he grabs is torch. His eyes light in horror as the moving ground reveals itself.

Not snakes. God, anything but snakes.

I had to use that example with the Darabont Indy 4 script making waves lately.

What I like to do with back story is to use a dream. That way you can be "abstract" and very visual without the usual, "When I was young" technique.

But I digress. The next section is called "In the thick of things" and carries through Act 2 into Act 3. This section brings most of the twists, big reveals, and sets up the final Act. More enemies reveal themselves in the build-up from their intro. This section is where sub-plots and story threads are concluded (depending upon their "closeness" to the goals of the hero) The lead supporting character usually continues their story\arc beyond this point, but underlings get wacked here A LOT. Never to return.

By a lot I mean, multiple underlings, be they on the good guy's side or the bad guy's. The level of their "destruction" is also story and genre-dependent though as poignant dramas don't work well with murders just as action movies don't have people flunk out of school(unless it's a "SEAL" movie).
This section also elevates the conflict between the main characters and will contain the 2nd Act midpoint so used in 3 Act structure.

The next section is called "Give up or go on" and occurs near the end of Act 3. It's when the hero is becoming weary of the fight after others are "wacked" out of the story and the villain just keeps coming. You can really show what your hero is made of here as this is also a good time for a "duplicitous reveal" or double-cross if you will. You are grinding closer towards the McGuffin and the villain usually gets it by this point but can't manipulate it without the help of the hero. Kidnappings or threats to those close to the hero usually happen here as the desperation of the villain becomes greater. "Why didn't she give up?" syndrome. The hero normally will have to accomplish some feat to retrieve the McGuffin and\or ensure the safety of those closest to her. Again, this is story and genre dependent and has no exact structure, just an abstract idea. (If you really want abstract read "Deleuze on Cinema")

The next section is called "Bleak as night" and usually occurs when the hero has the most personally destructive thing happen to them. Their HQ is bombed; their dog is killed; they get kidnapped, etc. and it is the point where we all think the hero is a psycho for enduring all of this (you could have given up in the other section), but this is also where we find out why this person is a hero. They handle this in stride, though obviously their heart is heavy.

The last section is called "The final battle" and usually happens because fo the kidnapping, dead dog, etc. The hero's back is against the wall and they usually "flip out" becoming for a moment like the villain and doing something against their code. This is also the final straw for the villain and the villain's last chance to win the McGuffin. This section can be a surprise in terms of who the real villain is or it can just be the natural progression of the struggle. Thrillers pull the twist, action and comedy usually doesn't and drama can go either way.

Here we determine once and for all who gets the McGuffin and who is the last person to be wacked. This is usually the villain but movies like "No Country" break the mold (OK it's not really a mold, more like a "mold concept."). This is also the point where everything in the hero's arsenal is required as many times it's tiered (in the vein of Game of Death) where the hero has to get by the last of the underlings (like a lot of video games) before confronting the lead villain. Sometimes they must face both at once. Again this will be story\genre-dependent and to some extent character-dependent. Back to the flaws, it takes place on a boat when the hero can't swim. There are dogs everywhere. It's really cold or too hot. Perhaps an old friend who was turned long ago is the last underling. It's up to you. BE CREATIVE.

The battle with the villain must have more at stake than any other, so that's why I write from the end so that I don't go above the ending in the beginning or middle. Continuity is a bitch.

That brings us to the EIGHTH and final section, "The return to life at home." This is just when the hero settles back into her routine to wait for her next challenge or just to continue living life, having retrieved the McGuffin, protected those closest and vanquished the villain. This is the place where you set up a continuing franchise or just a sequel. You can have some mysterious stranger show up with some startling info or have something happen in the home life.

An example is the ending of Iron Man where Nick fury mentions the Avengers. A lot of franchises rely on standalone stories but the ending of Matrix Reloaded made certain everyone would see the Revolutions. In other words, leave a string untied or a thread hanging. Stand alone features should realistically tie up all loose ends and close out all threads.

Anyway, that's our description of the 4 Act flexible structure. If anything the key is don't count pages count events, emotions and images. Most viewers don't realize "structure" in the movie, they just expect certain things to happen at certain times. Though by that I mean in relation to other events.

Example: The killer appears in the mirror, we expect a murder. Or the villain can't get the McGuffin to work, he kidnaps the hero.

This of course all goes to the duree and the Six Movement Images which imply that all images should relate to all others and all actions should be extensions of others.

Wow, this is fun. I wish I had decided to do this years ago. It's truly invigorating to be able to use everything I've noticed in my travels.

So remember
Keep Writing as Writing is the Revealing of the Soul

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Six Images of Dissemination

Thoughts are faster than the structure of typing.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Great News for a Tired Writer

Yes, after a serious funk and being at the end of my rope (fortunately perhaps, I'm the homicidal type), some really good news came this weekend. I actually got involved with a writers group a few months ago and last weekend, we did a 5 page script read of my well underway Political Thriller.

Everyone loved it. Out of the 10 or more read, mine got the best feedback on pacing, dialogue, white space and readability. I guess my crazed PhD program is working pretty well. I managed to even keep my job.

Also, I have THREE, count em, THREE ProdCos waiting on scripts, so my schedule seems to be good. My goal is to start a movie this year, whether it be an indie or a sale or an assignment.

I found out about a federal program (Section 181 of the Jobs Creation Act of 2004) that allows private investors to write off 100% of their investment as the money is spent. I'm thinking about finding some investors and filming a horror film.

I may even start blogging again. WooHoo!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

An Image of a Moment

Howdy writers,
We've been away in the library, but we're back with a look at the philosophy of Henri Bergson through the analysis and theorems of Gilles Deleuze.

What does that title mean? Well, Bergson defines what he calls the duree, which is the infinitely divided slice of time, dependent on that before it and after but existing as its own qualifiable instant.

With any cinematic attempt, small moments can be large parts of a movie. The slow step towards a door, the slight smile of acceptance, or the look of fear at an encounter with the unknown. All of these moments add up to create a chronological series that isn't dependent upon the measure of time but the measure of the passage of time.

This is seen in movies like Memento which happens backwards or Pulp Fiction which happens out of order. It can also be seen in films where the passage of time is greater than the film length - which is basically every movie. Different films and creators handle time differently as different stories may compress or expand time by years or hours.

Anyway, that's a taste of duree. I'll post more when I finish the books.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Countenance Worthwhile - Neo-Real Character Studies

As soon as we get around to it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Saga of the Anti-Hero

Howdy fellow writers,
We're back because of the holiday. I thought I would do a new post on directors next but an interesting topic came up in a post from UNK
which talks about a definition of different story scenarios.

It was an interesting list of contradictory goals and immediately made me think of "anti-heroes." You know the guy who is forced to do something he wouldn't normally do to "save the day" as it were.

This is a very difficult character to write as you have to be careful to not put the "hero" in the position of violating that covenant at the wrong time, nor fulfilling the covenant at the wrong time.

The anti-hero though can be a very exciting character as he will not do the expected but the unexpected; such as torturing a villain or shooting a running criminal in the leg rather than chase.

These characters are also interesting as they can be "non-heroes" like the hacker who has to commit a crime to get his daughter away from a porn star mother or a hitman who has to save his target. Amazingly, I picked two stories from the same author, Skip Woods. The films are Swordfish and Hitman, neither of which were heralded though Swordfish had a pretty good BO run.

I, though, would rather have the quintessential hero; the family man who is used to trouble but takes on the job because he has to protect those he loves and what he believes in. He doesn't turn down the call. Sorry Mr McKee. I disagree. Sure you can add a few minutes of regret and soul-searching but you are still limited to how you actually construct the intro and the inciting incident.

You're stuck with the same old speeches as to why the hero won't do it at first. This type of hero is limited to the military or some derivative as the person can choose to refuse, so their life is not in danger.

If you look at perhaps the most famous modern hero, John McClane, he can never turn down the call as it is his job. In history there was one hero that comes to mind who does at first turn dwn the call and that's Wyatt Earp. But looking at the back story, it's clear that he is in the same position as the recent "Rambo" where he was "retired" from the hero game and doesn't want to get involved.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Non-Acting Characters

Yes, we're back after a long hiatus. Today's topic is strangely enough, characters in your movie with no lines.

You may say, how can you have non-acting characters in a movie. Well, these characters don't say anything because they don't need to. They are light breaking through shadow, the object of everyone's desire, the wind that threatens the town, etc.

The camera itself is also a character in that its placement can determine the effectiveness of a conversation, argument or even a love scene. Props can also be used as characters - or sometimes the extension of character.

Indy's whip, or Neo's sunglasses speak volumes about their characters. Even something as simple as lip gloss can be an effective character if it's used during times of stress or even times of happiness. You would just merely change the character's expression and hand movements.

Light and shadow are also great characters as they can set the tome for a scene or relate danger.

For example, you can have several different meetings in the same bar, but slight changes in lighting or camera placement make a totally different location.

Ex.1 - Man is meeting his girlfriend for dinner where he plans to pop the question.


Pat strolls into the dimly lit establishment, his eyes squint to adjust. The bar has booths around the perimeter lit by candles while a pool table occupies the center area. A smiling bartender dries glasses as a scantily-clad waitress saunters up with menus in hand.

Good evening sir. Table for one?

I'm meeting someone. There she is.

Pat moves excitedly towards a booth in the middle of the wall. His girlfriend's face shimmers in the candlelight.


Ex. 2 - Man meeting a drug dealer


Pat strolls into the dimly lit establishment, his eyes squint to adjust. The bar has booths around the perimeter lit by candles while a pool table occupies the center area. A smiling bartender dries glasses as a scantily-clad waitress saunters up with menus in hand.

Good evening sir. Table for one?

I'm meeting someone. There he is.

Pat moves cautiously towards a booth in the back corner, his eyes squint in tension. A leather-jacketed ruffian sits in the corner of the booth, his face obscured by shadow.


That's a rather rudimentary example but shows how light and shadow can change the tone of a scene. Camera angle can also be a character as it can change the tone of the scene in different ways. For example, a person's tear can say a lot about the scene or character.

Ex. 1 - Man trying not to hurt a woman's feelings.


On Pat, as he paces back and forth, trying to find the words. Sheila sits apprehensively, her eyes follow Pat with anxiety. She stands, abruptly.

Just say it.

Well, I...I mean we...

It's OK.

Pat and Sheila stand facing each other. Sheila raises her hands to his supportively. A tear streams down the right side of his face.

Ex. 2


On Pat, as he paces back and forth, trying to find the words. Sheila sits apprehensively, her eyes follow Pat with anxiety. She stands, abruptly.

Just say it.

Well, I...I mean we...

It's OK.

Pat turns and faces her. His face a mask of pain as tears cover his cheeks.


With these two examples we can see that in the first scene, it's a minor issue that hurts him, while the second one shows a man tormented with a horrible secret. In both we can see the love in the relationship.

Other non-acting characters include the sun:

Ex. 1 - Man dying in the desert


The sun blazes brightly in the sky as Hank lies face down in the sand. His breathing slight, his lips chapped and burned. He struggles to rise, the fierceness of the heat saps his every energy.
He finally drags himself to his feet, his sand-scuffed arms meekly attempt to block sunlight as he sees his goal shimmer before him, shade cast down onto the sand by the welcome SUV.

Ex. 2 - Man waking from a hangover on the beach


The early-morning sun shines warmly against a beautiful blue sky as Hank lies face down at the edge o the tide. He snores heavily, his lips and face covered with cheap lipstick. The tide awakens him with a shove and he struggles to rise, his hangover making the task difficult.
He finally rises unsteadily, his tanned arms hide his face from the brightening day. He makes his way toward a barely visible goal, a row of small cottages with similarly overcome college students laying next to bottles on the patio.

In these cases the sun goes from being a deadly phenomenon to being a backdrop for a vacation. But in both cases, it is merely the use of a visual non-acting character. This technique can be used for weather, time of day, exact location in a city, etc.

Non-acting characters are also scene transitions as they can link two disparate scenes with a common thread such as an action, an emotion, an object or a sound. As writers we need to think about these non-acting characters as they provide a more interesting read.

Another way of thinking about is the simplistic, "good action lines." That is so generic a term as to make it nearly inconceivable. Again, the key becomes study or doing. Something I've found good practice is writing the first ten off a "sequence map" for different genres and heroes (I quit saying antag\protag as I interchange them too much), which is to say "end result" and "personality-type."

The aforementioned can perhaps be the most powerful non-acting character and is simply "a dissemination of concepts such that you can define them in your terms." Every filmmaker has their own starting point for the cinematic journey. Some begin with story, some with concept, some with character. Some start at the end, and some at the beginning. None are right or wrong, just more efficient for each individual.

But the constant is the toolset at your disposal; the eye, the word, the sound, the emotion, but it all starts with the eye. Directing the eye is the basis of the art, controlling the other elements is the defining of genre.

It's a circular dependency though as emotion can control sound (speaking vs. yelling) and sound can control emotion( startling vs. involving), just as the word can control the emotion and vice-versa. Your acting characters MUST interact effectively with your non-acting characters to create the most effective story.

An excellent example of this use is the poster (tear sheet) for The Exorcist. Though only one character has a speaking part the streetlight effectively describes the tone of the movie: a light shining in the darkness. A solitary figure surrounded by darkness. The use of rose petals in American Beauty also lend a hand in describing mental state and perception. In the "bathtub scene" there was an interesting use of POV as when at Lester's POV, a song is playing, but not when at Angela's.

Another excellent example is the Jaws theme (score), as it defines the way the shark attacks, tension building and the strike. Or the "stabbing violins" of Psycho. Or the theme to Shaft, which represents a character and a description.

Of course the most obvious non-acting character appears in every horror movie and that's sounds. Sounds can take a scene from being just "a dark room" to being "an eerie darkness, drips and clanks echo in the background, a dragging sound seems to come from everywhere."
Of course, sounds can be used effectively in any genre, such as; "soft cries are heard from the other side of the door," or "the click of the hammer stops him in his tracks, inches from his ear," or "the sound of crashing cabinets is heard as Jack glides into the cupboard on his skateboard."

This NAC can represent nearly every emotion; "The sounds of props and bombs cause screams of relief from the small band of beleaguered troops."
"They can hear each other heart beats as they embrace tightly."
"His shouts are heard from the rooftops."
"The roar of the creature signals its presence, just yards away."
"The clank of the metal door is a somber sound, defining the truth of your captivity."

Those are examples from actual successful films:
Saving Private Ryan
The Matrix Reloaded
The Edge

Well, that's all for this episode of "Somewhat Untitled Musings." Our next topic will either "Theme vs. Story" or "Hitchcock to Mamet."

See ya then and,

Keep Writing as Writing is the Revealing of the Soul.