January 31, 2008
My outline pitch on the historical movie went very well. Michael had major changes and notes for everyone but me, and said my story was in very good shape. However, one thing he encouraged me to do was cut down on the flashbacks I was planning on writing.
I've since talked to him and told him I'm just not ready to give up these flashbacks yet, and I'd like to still give them a chance to work when I actually write the pages. He told me that's fine, and to go ahead and do that, that's what first drafts are for.
Anyway, I was wondering... how do you feel about flashbacks? I personally like them, and even though they are somewhat discouraged by those "in the know," I think they really work well in a lot of movies. And, of course, LOST (which starts again tomorrow).
So my question is: Do you like flashbacks? How do you think they can be used well, and how do you think they are used badly?
Couple more movies
I'd highly recommend the movie Billy Elliot. What a highly emotional, uplifting story. Made me want to be a dancer. And I don't want to be a dancer.
13 Conversations about One Thing honestly seemed overwrought, pretentious, and in love with itself. The acting was good, though.
Memento is fantastic. Christopher Nolan is an awesome talent. Such a complex story, made intriguing and simple.
And if you haven't seen Juno yet, what are you waiting for. It's incredible.
If you haven't seen Citizen Kane, you should. And when you see it, you should watch it with an open mind, because it's incredible. On one level, there are the amazing technical achievements, the deep focus that plays out three different layers of action, the fantastic use of light, and scene transitions. But the reason it's so good is because of the story. Because, in the classic sense of the word, it's just about a perfect tragedy. In a tragedy, a person who has the whole world loses everything. So you have kings, or rich men, or great people ending up dead, or emotionally dead, or both.
Citizen Kane: Of Work and Love
Citizen Kane is the story of Charles Foster Kane, who unsuccessfully navigates the spheres of work and love in an attempt to gain what was stolen from him at an early age.
When still a young boy, Kane's mother chose work for him– assigning him to the custody of a bank so he could be raised to handle his newfound wealth – over the simple home-life he had. So at an early age, the conflicts of work and love were at work in Kane's life, irreparably damaging him and setting him on a lifelong fool's quest to regain what he lost. This point was made clear by the newsman's desire to find out the meaning of Kane's last word.
That's it – motivation. What made Kane what he was? And, for that matter, what was he? What we've just seen are the outlines of a career – what's behind the career? What's the man? Was he good or bad? Strong or foolish? Tragic or silly? Why did he do all those things? What was he after? Maybe he told us on his death bed.
He did tell us on his deathbed. "Rosebud," the name of his sled, the symbol of his simple homelife, his last innocent childhood activity, and his last weapon in a sad effort to prevent the inevitable change.
Without a word, Charles hits Thatcher in the stomach with the sled.
You almost hurt me, Charles. Sleds aren't to hit people with. Sleds are to – to sleigh on.
That the film uses extensive use of flashback is certainly effective, as it highlights the that Kane had no fond memories. For most people, memories are tinged with nostalgia, a "We'll always have Paris" warmth where you recall a moment where love was strong and real and present. But Kane had no such memory in the whole of the film.
Early on, Kane attempted to regain his lost love and childhood through work. He decided it would be "fun" to run a Newspaper, and in a childlike way he did just that. And he fashioned himself an "Editor of the People," attempting to gain the favor of the common man. Of course, this conflicted greatly with his work, costing him a million dollars a year. When pressed by his surrogate father, Thatcher, or his conduct with the paper, Kane responded that "he could lose a million dollars a year for the next sixty years."
Kane attempted to find love through his first wife, and early on things seemed hopeful. Yet as his media empire grew, his relationship with his wife soured, to the point where she remarked that she would only know how he was doing by reading his papers. And this day came.
Kane attempted to parlay his media empire into a way to make all the people love him – by running for Governor. This was going to be the apex of his work achieving the love he always wanted. It was a sure thing, a large portrait of him, enthusiastic crowds cheering. But this massive success was undermined by a simple, innocent attempt at love.
With his marriage fallen apart, grown barren, he met a young woman, Susan. Their time together was chaste, simple conversation, him being taken by her singing voice. Just a hint of the love he had never experienced. But his rival for the governor's office used it to spread scandal.
At the threat of this, Kane believed he had gained the loved of the people, tragically proclaiming:
You do anything you want to do. The people of this state can decide which one of us to trust. If you want to know, they've already decided.
But in fact, his last great attempt at finding love through his work betrayed him. He lost to Rogers. And the irony was, his great accomplishment in his work was the very tool by which he was scandalized, the yellow journalism that would print innuendo without any foundation in truth. So again in this way his life's work, his legacy, allowed "this public thief to take the love of the people of this state away from" him.
But he had one last try for love left in him. Susan Alexander, the woman who had been used to scandalize her, and the voice that had captivated him. Having given up on his work, at this point he pours himself into her, and his attempt for love. But, like a feral child never quite being able to learn language, at this point it's too late, and he cannot love her in the way she needs. Alexander accuses her of this:
Love! You don't love anybody! Me or anybody else! You want to be loved – that's all you want! I'm Charles Foster Kane. Whatever you want – just name it and it's yours! Only love me! Don't expect me to love you –
And in the end, this is his life, this is why he's dying and thinking of that sled, thinking of his loss.
[Love is] why he did everything. That's why he went into politics. It seems we weren't enough. He wanted all the voters to love him, too. All he really wanted out of life was love. That's Charlie's story – it's the story of how he lost it. You see, he just didn't have any to give.
January 30, 2008
I'm embarrassed to say that I took a film literacy assessment the other day in my 434 workshop... and came up lacking. There are a ton of foundational films which I've never seen. Anyway, I have the list now and I need to add them to my Netflix queue and try to make amends. I'll post the list after the link if you want to watch them too.
Update: If you want to see what my queue looks like now, so you can know what order I'm watching them in, click here. There are also films in there which are recommended by Howard Suber, who is teaching a "film structure" class based on patterns he's detected in 80 of the most memorable films. Also, I was prescribed a certain order for the films below, a first tier that I needed to see first.
I'm bolding the ones I've already watched.
Part One: English Language Films
A Clockwork Orange
All About Eve
Ball of Fire
Bonnie & Clyde
Boyz ‘N the Hood
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
The French Connection
The General (Buster Keaton)
The Godfather, parts 1 and 2
Gone With the Wind
The Grapes of Wrath
A Hard Day’s Night
His Girl Friday
In the Company of Men
It Happened One Night
The Lady Eve
The Last Picture Show
McCabe and Mrs Miller
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
The Maltese Falcon
My Darling Clementine
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The Postman Always Rings Twice
The Producers (1968)
Reversal of Fortune
Sense and Sensibility
Sex, Lies and Videotape
The Silence of the Lambs
Singin’ in the Rain
Some Like it Hot
Stranger Than Paradise
Terms of Endearment
The Third Man
Three Days of the Condor
Touch of Evil
2001: A Space Odyssey
The War of the Roses
When Harry Met Sally
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wollf?
The Wild Bunch
Wuthering Heights (1939)
Part 2: Foreign Language Films
The Battle of Algiers
Beauty and the Beast (Cocteau)
The 400 Blows
Jean de Florette/Manon of the Springs
La Dolce Vita
La Femme Nikita
La Terra Trema
Scenes from a Marriage
The Seven Samurai
The Seventh Seal
Shoot the Piano Player
Swept Away (1975)
Throne of Blood
The Wages of Fear
Wings of Desire
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
January 28, 2008
I had to watch the film Atonement for one of my classes. Unfortunately, the daytime showing was not going to work for me, so I had to catch a late night viewing. I haven't had an experience with a film like I did with this was for as long as I can remember.
In short, I thought the first half was truly excellent. It was engaging, intriguing, well acted, well written... everything you want a british victorian film to be. And then it just kind of fell off a cliff for me. And then the ending fell off another cliff and actually made me feel cheated and angry. More specific discussion after the link, in case you haven't yet seen it yet and don't want to be spoiled.
So the film is called Atonement right? And the basic plot is that this young girl misinterprets a couple of incidents she witnesses and as a result gets a man put into prison. Now this man was in love with this young girls sister, and the sister loved him too. But with him in prison, and then trading out of prison for service in World War 2, that relationship came to a tragic end.
The part that was very good was up until the man got arrested and put in jail. It was tightly wound, very interesting. Then it started meandering. Man in France or Germany or somewhere, trying to get to girl. Girl being a nurse, trying to somehow track down Man. Blah blah meander here, talk about missing each other there, etc etc. Now I have to admit, it was late at this point and I was tired. Very tired. But at the same time, this boring meandering nothingness of story was not helping my wakefulness.
So finally we meet the young girl all grown up, and she's a nurse too. And she feels guilt over getting the man arrested, realizes she was wrong, etc. So she goes to her older sister and apologizes. And her older sister is... surprise, entertaining the love of her life, he's in her bedroom, they are sharing precious moments! Huh, ok, that's nice. I guess. They got back together. I guess.
BUT THEN, it cuts to the young girl, now all grown up, and even more so, really quite elderly. And she's on CNN. Yes, that's right, they try to jolt me out of my stupor by cutting from these lush victorian sets to a CNN (Maybe it was BBC) soundstage. And the old lady is asking if she can go to the bathroom. And I'm thinking, hey that's not fair, I have to go to the bathroom, but I'm sitting through this boring weird ending, you should do the same because you are IN THE MOVIE.
So the old lady then tells us that the whole ending we just saw never really happened, her going to apologize, the lovebirds have their moment of reuniting. Nope, didn't happen. He died in the war. The sister died in the Nazi bombings of England. They never got back together. And no, she never had the courage to apologize to her sister either.
So why did they just show us that scene? Because she wrote a BOOK with that ending, to "make it up to them," for the way she ruined their lives. Yes, that was her ATONEMENT, she made up an ending to a story where they got to spend some time together. !???!! That's atonement!? Last time I checked, atonement was some kind of sacrifice that restored something that had been lost, to fix some of the damage that you created. THAT IS NOT WRITING SOME FICTITIOUS HAPPY ENDING so that "in some world they can be together."
Didn't work for me. Really did not work.
Sorry I haven't updated in a while, my laptop is getting repaired. I've been hard at work on writing. I finished the second draft of A Well Adjusted Boy (I think I've gone back to that title), but will be working on another one soon, I'm sure. I also just finished a 10 page outline of the next film I'm going to write. That was VERY hard work, and I'm so glad to have it finished.
It's strange, when I'm first working on a new story, my mind is just constantly attacking it from all angles. I find that very often I daydream the story, different little scenes, different problems, it's like I'm on autopilot. I don't decide to do this, and I guess I could actively work against it, but for the most part my mind keeps going back to solving the story. It's good, I think, but at the same time I can become kind of withdrawn and really quiet. Darby noticed it again today, and knew what was going on.
The good thing is that it does stop, normally when I start actually writing pages. The prep time is actually kind of the hardest. By the time you are actually writing pages, it's a relief.
You may notice that I haven't really talked much about what my next film is about. That's because I want to finish it before I publish anything about it online, because it's about a historical figure and it could easily be taken away because it's public domain. Now, mind you, I've done a ton of work and I think the angle I'm approaching the story is unique and novel. That's exactly why I don't really want to discuss it. But I'm very excited about it, it's going to be a fantastic screenplay, and it's not like anything I've done yet.
I will be discussing my outline in class tomorrow, and then in the next 4 weeks we have to finish the first draft of the screenplay. This pace is daunting, but it's also exhilarating and inspiration. I mean, I know that I can write a screenplay in 1 week, because I've done it. But to be able to consistently polish them off in 10 week chunks, that's just a great feeling. I have so many ideas, and I'm one of those people who HATES wasted potential, so just the thought of getting another one of those ideas down on paper every 10 weeks is so amazing to me.
We went to Mosaic Church in Beverly Hills today. The pastor there was talking about the story of the Witch of Endor, and asked people to raise their hands if they had heard this story before. Out of like 400 people, only me, Darby and around 4 other people raised their hands. WHAT? That story has always been one of the most intriguing in the whole Bible to me, with Samuel the ghost showing up and talking to Saul and his death. Who are all these people not even knowing that story?
Lyric and I played Monopoly for like 2 hours today. It was fantastic. She's going to win though. She got all the good monopolies.
My 434 workshop is so fantastic, because we're getting two geniuses for the price of one. Michael Colleary has a writing partner, Mike Werb, who sits in on our classes and actively gives notes and suggestions. They are both, without exaggeration, geniuses. And they have such helpful attitudes. I feel like I've lucked out so much in my first two quarters, managing to learn under 3 screenwriters who are currently working (well, once the strike ends at least), and getting movies made, and successful. It's exactly why I wanted to be here.
I got into the advanced Imagineering class, which is taught by the Chief Creative Imagineer for Disney, Bruce Vaughn. It's going really well. Our main project is to put together a total plan for a physical presence and experience for the Google brand. We are going to be pitching it to actual Disney execs at their studio in Burbank. Pretty cool. Also, we are visiting Disneyland with Bruce and getting backstage tours... we'll also get to visit the Imagineer labs in Glendale. For a Disney fan like myself, this is all pretty amazing.
So yeah, things are going well. Stressful, but good.
January 22, 2008
It's a fact of nature that people eventually get "used" to things, and something that may seem shocking and amazing at first will seem more mundane. As with drug doses, people will have to increase their dosage to get the same affect. This same dynamic works in movies... Take a look at the following numbers through the Rambo movies to see how they have to increase the violence each time in an attempt to break through the clutter.
From the Los Angeles Times
Dead and deader
When the newest "Rambo" movie opens later this week, there's going to be a lot of death and dying. So I got myself an early copy, watched it several times through, stopping and starting along the way,
By John Mueller
I: "First Blood" (1982)
First Blood Part II"
III: "Rambo III"
Number of bad guys killed by Rambo with his shirt on
Number of bad guys killed by Rambo with his shirt off
Number of bad guys killed by Rambo no matter how attired
Number of bad guys killed by accomplices of Rambo acting on their own
Number of good guys
killed by bad guys
Total number of people killed
Number of people killed per minute
Time at which the first person is killed (mins:secs)
Number of people killed per minute from that point until the end of the film (not including the ending credits)
Sequences in which Rambo is shot at without significant result
Number of sequences in which good guys are tortured by bad guys
Number of sex scenes
January 16, 2008
If Barack Hussein Obama manages to be elected president, it will be a complete miracle. Considering that name. I mean really, the guys middle name is Hussein?! And his last name rhymes with Osama? That's like the modern day equivalent of someone after World War II being named Barack Hitler Mussolimi getting elected. Could you imagine that?
It's like his parents could not have picked more unfortunate names for him. OK, yeah, the last name is inherited, and the first isn't so bad. But you know what I mean.
January 15, 2008
No Country for Old Men
I'm taking a fantastic class on the structure of memorable films, and we have to watch a specific film every other week and write a paper about it. This past week I had to watch the Coen Brother's No Country for Old Men, and write a paper answering "Whose movie is it?" and "What is it about?"
What is it about is not the plot... it's the message of the story, the overall theme. Anyway, if you haven't seen this film, you probably should (assuming you're old enough to watch a fairly violent film). It's an excellently made film, even though "What it's about" is very much a depressing notion.
If you've seen it and want my take on the film, read on...
No Country for Old Men is Sheriff Bell’s movie, about how relentless evil can eventually wear people down to the point where they just give up. The Coen brothers very carefully work against genre expectations to make this point in a dramatically memorable manner.
The ﬁlm opens and closes with Bell ruminating about lawmen of old, and how they might be able to handle the evil of today. He sounds tired, and confused, and over- matched. These bookends indicate that while Moss appears to be the protagonist for much of the ﬁlm, this is indeed Bell’s story. (This deduction is also fairly easy to make once Moss’s death doesn’t even warrant a on camera scene, and he’s barely mentioned the rest of the ﬁlm.)
So this is Bell’s journey. Or rather, as the Coen Brothers would intend, his lack of one. That they intend to make this point is so obvious because they set the ﬁlm up for this perfect genre moment. Husband murdered by a terribly evil man, wife crying, good sheriff, noticeably upset... How would 99% of ﬁlms treat the third act of this ﬁlm? Well, the doggedly persistent sheriff would promise the wronged bride, “I’m gonna get this sumbitch.” And then he would proceed to, against all odds, get the sumbitch.
What does Bell – who, make no mistake, is a good man – do? He has coffee with another old lawman, where they complain about the loss of manners and decency. He talks to his old wheelchair bound uncle, who says things have aways been bad, and age just wear a man down.
Does he make sure the wife is properly protected against the evil still at large? No. And she’s killed, because evil keeps it promises. Instead he retires to his ranch, haunted by dreams of his father, and expectations he can never live up to.
The antagonist, Chigurh, is the one who overcomes all the obstacles to attain his goals, while the protoganist wears down and gives up. We don’t even get a climax where they confront each other. People looking forward to the violent end where all the blood spilled would ﬁnally be avenged instead got a lengthy meditation on dreams and fathers from a man too tired to do anything but meditate on dreams and fathers.
Because this is no longer a country for old men, or good men, or young men for that matter.
Poor Moss showed us he was a good guy! He couldn’t sleep until he brought some water to the dying Mexican. He’s not supposed to die. At least, not without having some kind of redemptive value. Like saving his wife, perhaps. But no, his death only hastens his wife demise. But no, because this is the kind of evil that breaks the rules, it’s so persistent.
Just about the only people who can ﬂourish in this country are those that have bad intentions. Chigurh even escaped the normal Coen Brother comeuppance, surviving the vicious car crash and eluding the police. What are the good people to do in the face of this?
And a scene late in the ﬁlm, where Bell’s wheelchair bound uncle tells us that it’s not getting worse, things have always been this bad, that’s where it’s clear... despite what the movies will tell you, in the classic struggle of good versus evil, evil will win. Because evil knows that eventually it’ll wear you down.
And the only thing a good man can do is retreat from it, and hope it passes him by.
January 11, 2008
Another one finished
I reached FADE OUT on my latest screenplay, the one kind of without a name, but I'm leaning towards "Mother's Boy." I like it, it's very different from anything I've written so far.
In case we're keeping score, here is what I've written so far, from the most recent to the oldest.
Mother's Boy - Drama
Retro Band - Comedy
Hunter of Hunter's - Crime Drama
Black Family Singers of the Church of God Hallegalujah - Comedy
The Black Death - Action Adventure
War Between the States - Historical Drama / Romance / Fantasy (this is the one that sucks).
6 full lengths is not so bad. I'm not writing the sex(less) comedy this quarter, by the way. Michael Colleary was really excited by another one of my ideas, so I'm writing that one. Makes sense to me to write the story people in power are excited to read, especially when it's one you've been wanting to write for some time. But this one will take a ton more work.
I'm ready, though. Bring it on.
January 10, 2008
Mad Money Premiere
Tonight my sister Jenna and I watched the red (green, actually) carpet for Mad Money, starring Katie Holmes, Diane Keaten, and Queen Latifah. And we saw, up close and personal, all three of them. Plus Tom Cruise, Ted Danson, Ethan the villain from Lost, and the Haitian dude from Heroes.
Tom Cruise was actually quite nice with the crowds, he impressed me. Queen Latifah was as well.
The rest kind of ignored the fans.
Videos of Tom to come. We got some very good footage.
January 06, 2008
Added Note: I'm an Idiot
In case any of you ever doubted it. I was checking in yesterday, because we were supposed to leave THIS morning for California. Checked the kids in without a problem, but Darby and I were getting an error. Because I booked the kids for a flight on Sunday and Darby and I for a flight on Monday.
What in the world is my problem?
I couldn't switch anyone around so we could all be on the same flight, and I have to be back tomorrow (my first class).
So I'm going tomorrow with my sister Jenna (who's visiting). And Darby is coming on Tuesday. Alone, just her and the two kids.
I need to sell some screenplays so I can hire a personal assistant. Clearly I cannot do this on my own.
Going back to California
I leave in 5 hours to catch a plane. Tomorrow is going to be kind of crazy, because I have my first class when I get back, and it's at 6.30 until 11 PM western time so in eastern time standards my day tomorrow is going to be forever long. Like from 3 AM to 2 AM...
Definitely going to miss everyone here. But also definitely looking forward to the excitement that awaits me. It's hard to describe just how exhiliarting California and UCLA are for me right now. Sometime I'll try to capture it.
Ian got married yesterday, it was a very beautiful service. He had put together a slideshow and the last song in it was Simpler than it Seems. It was pretty bittersweet listening to that song, it sounded so good... We'll definitely have to play some shows in the summer. Congrats Ian "the Small Wonder" and Laura Palkovitz!
I've been kind of itching to make some more music lately. I have been inspired by Kimya Dawson's music on the soundtrack for the (incredible) move Juno. It's so lo-fi, so "I just pushed record and started playing" and I really like it. I think I'm going to start giving that a shot. I even have a perfect name I will record that music under.... To Be Announced. I kind of want Darby to play it with me too.
Today the announcement went out of the people who made it into Michael Colleary's class. The people in my program are so nice and supportive, I've been getting congratulatory emails all day long.
January 03, 2008
I just got some fantastic news. Next quarter I'll get to take a 434 (the main writing workshop at UCLA) with Michael Colleary, writer of Tomb Raider and Face/Off. You had to submit a writing sample to be chosen, and i got in.
I'm especially excited about this because I have an action/fantasy script that I've written that I really like, and I'd love to get a connection and feedback from a writer who's successful made one of those kinds of movies.
January 02, 2008
You may be asking yourself, "Self, what do you think the palkovitz portion of the look machine has been up to?"
Ask no more. Watch and learn.
That, and I'm getting married on Saturday.
January 01, 2008
A worthless essay
Sadly, a perfect storm of random trends has decimated what was once a sweet, emotional society. These trends started back in the day and only grew stronger in this post-9/11 climate where torture is the new national defense, the surge seems to be working, and waterboarding is an acceptable interrogation tactic.
But it's in our everyday life, set against the backdrop of mundane existence, where these changes in our national character really pop. Where we once were concerned with ways to give back to the community, we're now more obsessed with watching the latest Webinar telling us how to find the best deals on organic anything on Black Friday, so we can be consumers through and through while still feeling charitable for being natural and helping the environment.
But I don't mean to throw our culture under the bus. No amount of wordsmithing can really change the fact that it is what it is. And unfortunately, I've authored a lot of these attitudes in my own life.
if this essay seemed tired and cliched, it's because it relied heavily on 2007's List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness.