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.