Making the Movie

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Review: The Movie Business Book, 4th Ed.

The Movie Business Book, 4th Edition
edited by Jason E. Squire

This textbook opens with an unsupported claim: “More historic change has occurred in the movie business recently than in any decade since the coming of sound.” Perhaps it has, but I think competition from television in the 1950’s or the shift in the studio system in the 1960’s, or the coming of blockbuster economics in the 1980’s were larger historic changes than the addition of sound. But anyway, yeah, the internet has changed some things. Anyway, this book’s strength is not in telling movie history.

Even if the book’s introduction does not make a strong a case for why the pages that follow are worth reading, I will attempt to point out the elements in its pages that filmmakers may find useful. The Movie Business Book is best used to get a Rashomon-style view of the industry. Each chapter in the book is written by a real filmmaker, and the roster includes some heavy-hitter names: Doug Liman, Jay Duplass, Kevin Feige, David S. Goyer, Alan Horn, Harold L. Vogel, Linda Benjamin, David V. Picker and more. They give their own specific vantage point, from which a larger picture begins to emerge.

This book is ideal for people who are interested in the movie business, but who are unsure of what area to focus on. As you read through, you may find yourself drawn to the descriptions of producing or screenwriting or distributing. It focusses more on the business side than the “creative” side, so you won’t find essays from cinematographers or editors or costume designers.

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2017 Oscar Nominations Analysis

My quick takes on today’s nominations…

Best picture
“La La Land”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Hidden Figures”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Hell or High Water”

Analysis: It’s a race between La La Land and Moonlight. Now, one wrinkle is that the Academy uses an instant runoff voting system for this category, which could hurt La La Land because it is a more divisive film than Moonlight. (Does anyone HATE Moonlight?) Snubs: Sully, 20th Century Women, The Lobster, Silence, Nocturnal Animals, Zootopia, Jackie.

Best actress in a leading role
Natalie Portman, “Jackie”
Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Ruth Negga, “Loving”

Analysis: This is a tough category to predict. There’s a story for why each of these nominees would win. Ruth Negga’s performance is the least showy, so she probably has the least chance. Meryl has won many times before, so the Academy won’t feel bad avoiding her. Isabelle Huppert’s character in Elle makes no sense, and the film is a professional troll. However, some people seem to be blown away by her performance in it. She certainly commits. She’s also considered the Meryl Streep of European actresses, so I think she may have to be content with her Globe. That leaves Emma Stone and Natalie Portman. Portman seems the clear favorite here. Jackie is basically one long closeup on her emoting visage. But if La La Land is sweeping every category, look for the well-liked Emma Stone (playing an aspiring actor with the majority of Academy voters being actors) to win.

Best actor in a leading role
Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Denzel Washington, “Fences”
Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”

Analysis: Affleck is the one to beat. You might see Denzel edge him out if the whisper campaign about Affleck’s treatment of women gains traction and the Academy wants to reward Denzel for starring in and directing his passion project, Fences. Snubs: The little kid from Lion, all the actors who played Chiron in Moonlight.

Best director
Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”
Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”

Analysis: Anyone other than Chazelle is an upset here. Snubs: Martin Scorsese for Silence, Clint Eastwood for Sully.

Actress in a supporting role
Viola Davis, “Fences”
Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”
Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”
Nicole Kidman, “Lion”

Analysis: Although Viola Davis seems to have already been crowned here, I could see Michelle Williams with an outside chance. Both have single scenes in their nominated films that will absolutely wreck you.

Actor in a supporting role
Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”
Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”
Dev Patel, “Lion”
Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”

Analysis: Mahershala Ali is the one to beat. The Academy members will be looking to reward Moonlight and this is one of the easiest places to do it.

Best documentary
“O.J.: Made in America”
“I Am Not Your Negro”
“Fire at Sea”
“Life Animate”

Analysis: I’ve only seen one here, OJ: Made in America, but it is brilliant. It’s also long, so that may turn off Academy voters, who may prefer to award Ava DuVernay, director of 13th, whose Selma the Academy unjustly snubbed a few years back.

Best foreign language film
“Toni Erdmann”
“The Salesman”
“Land of Mine”
“A Man Called Ove”

Analysis: I haven’t seen any of these yet, although I love the Iranian director who made Salesman. Toni Erdmann has the most buzz around it, but this category is often the one with the best pictures of the year (as opposed to Best Picture). So it’s anyone’s game.

Best animated feature film
“Kubo and the Two Strings”
“The Red Turtle”
“My Life as a Zucchini”

Analysis: Kubo really did it for me, but so did Moana and Zootopia. The Red Turtle is supposed to be a beautiful, almost wordless film. Zucchini aka Courgette seems like the ‘Happy to be here’ pick. Probably the Academy will go with Zootopia, because it managed to put social issues in a kid-friendly form. On the off chance that Moana splits the Disney Animation Studios vote, Kubo could sneak in. Snub: Finding Dory and PIXAR.

Best adapted screenplay
“Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins
“Arrival,” Eric Heisserer
“Lion,” Luke Davies
“Fences,” August Wilson
“Hidden Figures,” Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi

Analysis: All of these are nominated for Best Picture, but Moonlight has the most heat. One thing that might keep Moonlight from winning is that the main character is not very articulate. Unfortunately, the Academy tends to associate these awards with showy dialogue rather than what a screenplay is: the whole story. Arrival is very cleverly constructed. Fences also stands a good chance, since it is from a stage play that is considered modern Shakespeare. And the dialogue is very, very, very good. I’m not sure it was well-adapted into a film, but I don’t get a vote. Snubs: Deadpool, Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Best original screenplay
“La La Land,” Damien Chazelle
“Hell or High Water,” Taylor Sheridan
“Manchester by the Sea,” Kenneth Lonergan
“The Lobster,” Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou
“20th Century Women,” Mike Mills

Analysis: This one will likely come down to the Best Picture nominee overlappers. La La Land is not beloved for its screenplay (except by the Golden Globes, I guess). So that leaves Hell or High Water and Manchester by the Sea. Writer/director Kenneth Lonnergan is a playwright, and Manchester is the more writerly film, so I’d predict that one. Taylor Sheridan, the (excellent) writer of Hell or High Water, used to be an actor. And as we know the Academy is mostly actors, and may like to vote for their own. So I guess they will be asking themselves: “Which one don’t you want?” Snubs: Kubo, Moana, Zootopia, Green Room, Everybody Wants Some!, Hail, Caesar!

Best original song
“How Far I’ll Go,” “Moana”
“City of Stars,” “La La Land”
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” “La La Land”
“Can’t Stop the Feeling!” “Trolls”
“The Empty Chair,” “Jim: The James Foley Story”

Analysis: It doesn’t look good for Lin Manuel Miranda’s EGOT. “How Far I’ll Go” is not even the second best song in Moana, in my opinion. There’s a possibility of the La La Land songs splitting the vote, although I’d guess “City of Stars” will be the frontrunner anyway. There’s also a chance the statue will go to “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” by Justin Timberlake, which is a bona fide hit song. Snubbed: Every song in Sing Street.

Best original score
“La La Land,” Justin Hurwitz
“Moonlight,” Nicholas Britell
“Lion,” Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka
“Jackie,” Mica Levi
“Passengers,” Thomas Newman

Analysis: La La Land is again the one to beat, since the music in the film is kinda the point. Jackie had a really interesting modern score that I would love to see rewarded, and Moonlight and Lion had very fine scores too. Snub: Manchester by the Sea, Arrival

Best cinematography
“Moonlight,” James Laxton
“La La Land,” Linus Sandgren
“Arrival,” Bradford Young
“Silence,” Rodrigo Prieto
“Lion,” Greig Fraser

Analysis: I didn’t like the look of Arrival but I seem to be the only one. Moonlight was good but it seemed like they couldn’t afford a focus puller. La La Land may win for the showy camera movies and (intentionally) artificial lighting, although I think Silence and Lion are the masterworks here. Rodrigo Prieto is the biggest name on this list, and this is the only place where Silence fans can show their love, so I’m guessing he’ll win. But it could be anyone’s ballgame.

Best production design
“La La Land,” David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” Stuart Craig and Anna Pinnock
“Arrival,” Patrice Vermette and Paul Hotte
“Hail, Caesar!,” Jess Gonchor and Nancy Haigh
“Passengers,” Guy Hendrix Dyas and Gene Serdena

Analysis: La La Land is the front runner. Hail, Caesar! could be a surprise winner here, because the production design is outstanding and this is the only place voters who liked that film have a chance to show their love.

Best visual effects
“The Jungle Book,” Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould
“Doctor Strange,” Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould
“Deepwater Horizon,” Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton
“Kubo and the Two Strings,” Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff

Analysis: The Jungle Book jumps out at me here, since the film was so beloved and people were really blown away by the quality of the effects. Doctor Strange also is a movie where the effects are a big draw. I think Rogue One also has a shot here, since the effects were outstanding and have an old-school practical look, which I think the Academy would appreciate. Snubs: Batman vs. Superman, Suicide Squad, Passengers, Jason Bourne, Star Trek Beyond

Best costume design
“La La Land,” Mary Zophres
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” Colleen Atwood
“Florence Foster Jenkins,” Consolata Boyle
“Jackie,” Madeline Fontaine
“Allied,” Joanna Johnston

Analysis: The costumes in Allied made me, a not fashionable person, go “Wow!” However, I think Jackie could win this one. In some cases the dresses were made with material ordered from the same factories as Jacqueline Kennedy’s real, iconic dresses. Fantastic Beasts also seems to have a shot here, with a combination of period clothes and fantasy clothes.

Best makeup and hair styling
“Star Trek Beyond,” Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo
“Suicide Squad,” Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson
“A Man Called Ove,” Eva von Bahr and Love Larson

Analysis: The Visual Effects people in my office are crying foul on Star Trek‘s makeup nomination, since many of the makeups had to be touched up digitally. But that’s par for the course any more in big movies. I loved the Killer Croc makeup in Suicide Squad, not to mention Harley Quinn and Joker, but I think the Academy may just hand over the statue to A Man Called Ove, since it also a Best Foreign Film nominee and therefore has more prestige.

Best film editing
“La La Land,” Tom Cross
“Moonlight,” Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon
“Hacksaw Ridge,” John Gilbert
“Arrival,” Joe Walker
“Hell or High Water,” Jake Roberts

Analysis: If the night is going to La La Land, Tom Cross could win his second editing Oscar. However, Arrival and Hacksaw Ridge are ‘cuttier’ films, which the majority of naïve Academy voters tend to prefer.

Best sound editing
“La La Land,” Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
“Hacksaw Ridge,” Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright
“Arrival,” Sylvain Bellemare
“Sully,” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
“Deepwater Horizon,” Wylie Stateman and Renée Tondelli

Analysis: Likely La La, although the Academy does like to reward war/action films like Hacksaw Ridge in this category. Sully and Arrival actually had some beautiful sound editing, leading into and out of the ‘flashbacks’. Snubs: Silence, Kubo and the Two Strings, Don’t Breathe

Best sound mixing
“La La Land,” Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow
“Hacksaw Ridge,” Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson
“Arrival,” Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye
“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth

Analysis: Likely La La, although the Academy does like to reward war/action films like Hacksaw Ridge, Rogue One and 13 Hours in this category. But they will probably split that vote, leaving Arrival as the only possible upset pick.

Best animated short film
“Borrowed Time”
“Pear Cider and Cigarettes”
“Blind Vaysha”

Analysis: “Borrowed Time” has some heat online. It was made by PIXAR artists but not by PIXAR officially. That’s up against “Piper” which is an actual PIXAR short (and beautifully rendered). Last year I got burned trying to choose short films based on merit, versus who has the most prestige. So at this point, I’d predict one of these two PIXAR-associated films, likely “Piper” because it is more officially PIXAR.

Best live action short film
“Sing (Mindenki)”
“Silent Nights”
“Ennemis Interieurs”
“La Femme et le TGV”

Analysis: No idea.

Best documentary short subject
“The White Helmets”
“Watani: My Homeland”
“4.1 Miles”
“Joe’s Violin”

Analysis: No idea.

Wednesday Links: Will La La Land’s Sweep Continue?

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

Thrillist: Oscar Predictions for Completely Clueless People – I’m expecting a lot of overlap between the Globes and the Oscars. Moonlight is a beautiful film, but Best Picture is an award for producing and La La Land did big, complicated producer-y things like shut down a freeway. So I think Academy voters will give it the edge. However, I’m seeing a backlash on facebook from some industry people. So who knows?

Silentmoviegifs: How some cool silent film effects were done – These are by a Canadian guy, who also runs a similarly-themed Twitter account.

The Director Series: The Coen Brothers

FiveThirtyEight: Star Wars Killed A Universe To Save The Galaxy

TrueFilm subreddit: La La Land vs. Moonlight: How two different social contexts will impact this years Oscar race.

Deadline: ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Gets Rare Extended China Release As Box Office Crosses $50M

Yahoo Finance: Plot twists, suspense mark George Lucas’ plans for museum

Cinephilia & Beyond: Sweet Smell of Success, Alexander Mackendrick’s Most Accomplished Film that Hasn’t Aged a Day

The Independent: Casey Affleck wins critics’ Best Actor award, reads out all the nasty reviews critics gave him

MUBI: The Best Movie Posters of 2016 – Nice choices. Love this one for Lo and Behold:

Blu-ray Review: The Quiet Earth

Imagine waking up to discover you are the last person on Earth. It is the premise of many a movie and t.v. show. 1985’s The Quiet Earth may have done it the best before or since.

The film opens with scientist Zak Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) awakening to find all animal life has seemingly evaporated. Although the film reportedly had a low budget, it manages to stage many convincing tableaux of mayhem, including a plane that has crashed into a city. When Zak checks the seatbelts in the wreckage, they are still buckled.

Zak uses his scientific knowledge to explore and observe this, uh, quiet Earth. Eventually, he starts to go a little loopy. As we all would. The filmmakers — director Geoff Murphy working from a script by Bill Baer, Sam Pillsbury and Lawrence, based on the novel by Craig Harrison — effectively take us into the mind of a smart guy who is faced with an overwhelming situation.

As the packaging and menus give away, Hobson will later discover that he is not alone. Working with the human capital that is left, Hobson discovers that the Earth is still in danger. Together, they must work to shut down the U.S. energy program that has been messing with the fundamental structure of the universe.

The Bonus Features

The Quiet Earth is one of those rare science fiction films that takes the science as seriously as the fiction. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, it counts noted astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson as a fan. Along with film critic Odie Henderson, Tyson provides a commentary track. It’s a bit sparse, but it does contain “the best explanation of a 1980’s movie sex scene, ever.”

The booklet in the box has a nice essay from St. Mary’s professor Teresa Heffernan, which illuminates some of the influences of the film and probes its deeper themes.

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Wednesday Links: Going Rogue

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

How Soderbergh keeps it fresh (video essay) – I think this video overstates how original Soderbergh is. The editing techniques used in The Limey can be found in Point Blank and Don’t Look Now, for example. And Soderbergh has said directly that he drew inspiration from those movies. Nevertheless, he is, like Scorsese and Tarantino, a film encyclopedia who is able to adapt techniques that are less known to audiences.

MY JOSEPHINE (Dir. Barry Jenkins, 2003, 8min) on Vimeo

TechCrunch: Amazon isn’t playing nice with Plex’s new cloud service

John Waters on Everybody Wants Some: “The best accidentally gay movie ever made by a known heterosexual director”

The Ringer: Why Warren Beatty’s Howard Hughes Movie Failed

The Film Stage: First Reactions to Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ Arrive; Full Score Available to Stream

Richard Wolfgramm: Moana and Resistance Spectating

Motherboard: After 20 Minutes of Listening, New Adobe Tool Can Make You Say Anything

Engadget: Netflix finally added offline playback


Blu-ray/DVD Review: Private Property

Cinelicious Films continues to do yeoman’s work in rescuing movies that live on the fringes of legend. You’ve probably never heard of Private Property (1960), a seemy psychodrama, because it was too risqué (for the time) to get a release in the US. However, thanks to the work of Cinelicious and UCLA Film Archives, this lost gem is back in a big way.

Perhaps the current ‘hook’ of Private Property is that it was the debut of cult actor Warren Oates (Two-Lane Blacktop), who as near as I can tell emerged fully formed as a vaguely-threatening oddball. He plays one of a pair of drifters who settle in an empty Los Angeles canyon house and interrupt the idyllic life of the young couple next door.

The other lead is Corey Allen (Buzz from Rebel without a Cause) and he steals the show. He’s a manipulator and slick liar, both with his ostensible friend (Oates) and with the fragile housewife Ann (Kate Manx). Writer/director Leslie Stevens would go on to a long and successful television career (The Outer Limits), but watching Private Property, it is easy to see that he could have gone another way. The film reminded me very much of another director’s early Pinteresque psychosexual thriller: Roman Polanski and Cul-de-sac. The John Cassavetes/Faces resemblance is also quite strong.

For my money, however, the number one reason to see the film is Continue reading

Wednesday Links: Advice from Brad Bird

An excellent video essay from Kees van Dijkhuizen Jr. It uses snippets from various Brad Bird commentary tracks to build a picture of the director’s philosophy of storytelling and animation.

Toronto Star: Like the video store era, cult movies may be destined to become extinct – I doubt the premise of this. What movies are in the cult cannon may change, but cult movies as a phenomenon seem to be here to stay. What’s interesting is that certain movies you might expect to be cult, like Moonlight, Deadpool or Mad Max: Fury Road have proven to be mainstream.

How Straight Outta Compton pulled off “The Pool Shot” – YouTube video, contains boobies and drug use. My favorite ‘how they did that shot’ video remains this one, from The Raid 2.

It took three cameramen, one disguised as a car seat, to pull off one of the camera shots from Raid 2's car chase/fight

FiveThirtyEight: ‘Doctor Strange’ Ends The Sibling Rivalry Between Superheroes And Magic

Marginal Revolution: An economist breaks down how to choose and assess the movies you are watching

Business Insider: Paul Schrader interview on ‘Dog Eat Dog’ and casting Nicolas Cage

Imgur Album: Directors Merged With Their Most Iconic Characters

5 Great Political Movies to Watch This Election Eve

1. The Candidate

Robert Redford plays Bill McKay, a liberal lawyer who reluctantly makes a quixotic run for Senate under the guidance of a political Svengali played by a be-bearded Peter Boyle. McKay is the son of a popular governor, but his relationship with his father is so strained, there is a danger his dad will endorse his opponent. The best part of the film is seeing McKay pulled between speaking his mind and speaking political platitudes, how gradually and subtly the system perverts his initial idealism until his community organizer friends are ready to disown him.

Rent on Amazon, iTunes.

2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

This Frank Capra-directed film is the Ur-text of political idealism. Jimmy Stewart plays an out-of-his-depth senator who finds himself leading a filibuster against the forces of “graft and corruption” in his home state. Although it made filibusters seem like an awesome and essential part of American democracy, we have to forgive this movie. Jimmy Stewart is just too likable!

Rent on Amazon, iTunes.

3. Recount

The made-for-HBO film entertainingly captures the seesaw battle over votes in Florida in the 2000 Presidential election. The Gore team’s leader (Kevin Spacey), is an apathetic political hack at the beginning but finds his passion in his desire to see every vote count. The Bush team’s leader (Tom Wilkinson), is a genial man who knows how to play hardball. And then there’s Laura Dern as Katherine Harris, a bizarro performance in honor of a real bizarro American character. Even though I knew how it ended, I was massively entertained by the process. You really believe it could go either way.

Streaming on HBO Now, HBO Go.

4. Primary Colors

A thinly-fictionalized account of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, based on the novel written by Anonymous (later revealed to be Newsweek reporter Joel Klein). John Travolta in drag plays Bill Clinton and Emma Thompson of all people plays Hilary, sorry Jack and Susan Stanton. If you’re looking for the real thing, check out the documentary The War Room. There has probably never been so much access, both fictional and real, in one presidential campaign.

Rent on Amazon, iTunes.

5. Dave

In the great tradition of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the movie Dave asks the question: what would happen if a normal person got unexpected political power? Kevin Kline plays the titular Dave, who is an exact look-alike for the President, who happens to have landed in a coma. A dark faction installs Dave in the hopes of keeping the President’s condition under wraps — and also implementing their own agenda. However, Dave has other ideas, including maybe falling for the First Lady, played by Sigourney Weaver. This is the kind of movie where your accountant friend can balance the federal budget overnight fueled by nothing more than some good, crunchy pickles. Dave was written by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) and directed by Ivan Reitman and it will take you back to a kinder, gentler time in American politics.

Rent on Amazon, iTunes.

Book Review: Writing for the Green Light

Writing for the Green Light: How to make your script the one Hollywood notices
by Scott Fitzpatrick

Writing for the Green Light is not like other screenwriting books. In the first place, the author, Scott Fitzpatrick, is not a screenwriter. He is a distribution company executive.

The first advice he gives is to forget about the craft of screenwriting. Forget about writing something artistic. He suggests sticking to well-worn genres: The Family Christmas Dog Adventure, The Woman-in-Peril Thriller, The Family-Safe Teen Romance, The Creature Feature, The Aging Name-Actor Comeback Action Film, The Young Boy Action Avdenture Film. I almost threw the book across the room.

If you’re trying to be commercial, why not horror movies? Why not low-budget based-on-a-true-story dramas? Well, luckily I kept reading, because Fitzpatrick has answers. His suggested genres are more valuable. A screenwriting career is about making money as a screenwriter, not as a waiter or barista.

What this book provides that no other screenwriting book does (nor my expensive NYU Film School education did) is a practical guide. There are good, useful tips for breaking in and starting a career as screenwriter.

Smart Advice for Novice Screenwriters

Fitzpatrick tells you to forget about query letters and agents and screenplay competitions and focus on making a product that is already selling in the B-movie market. Don’t write eight bad spec scripts to hone your craft when a guy on Craigslist will pay you $500 to hone your craft on his bad script!

Truly, this is not advice for people who want to get into screenwriting for the love of cinema. This is the book for people who want to get paid to write. With Fitzpatrick’s method, you must be willing to start at the ground floor and work your way up. You must be willing to explore some hoary, old genres. You have to write fast!

If for nothing else, I recommend this book for a smart articulation of the perspective of people in the industry who buy scripts. A-level Hollywood content may offer some additional genres, but in a lot of ways the attitudes are the same. Fitzpatrick has solid advice on pitching and on focussing on the work that pays — writing — and not the work that doesn’t (query letters, contract negotiations).


Full disclosure: This review is unpaid but a copy was provided by the publisher.

On What Makes a Movie Rewatchable

My perspective on movies changed dramatically once I began working in the world of editing. The editor of a movie watches and rewatches dailies, then a scene, then a sequence, then the entire film. Over and over. And over.

As this happens, there is a tendency for shots to get shorter and shorter. I’m not just talking about cutting scenes or lines that are redundant to the story. Frames at the start and end of shots seem superfluous the more you watch, and are constantly being shaved off.

As you become familiar with material, you need to see less and less of a shot (or the action conveyed in the shot) to track the story. Hence the editor trims. Or the director makes the editor trim. Or the studio executives make the editor trim. (Studio executives are also notorious for changing out jokes that work because they are sick of hearing them — not thinking of the audiences who are coming to it fresh.)

For this reason, and because once editing became digital, the labor cost of trimming a few frames off a shot became almost nothing, today’s average big studio movie is paced to be more re-watchable than watchable.

It has been tuned for consumption by a team of people who are accustomed to re-watching the film over and over, who are already familiar with those frames and moments that are removed. This is a side effect of how modern movies are edited, and perhaps not as much a creative choice as you might think. Audiences have become accustomed to this telegraphic aesthetic as normal film grammar, which only reinforces it further.

Of course, many top editors are aware of this problem. Walter Murch, editor of The Conversation and Talented Mr. Ripley, says of watching dailies:

I sit there with a laptop with the screen turned off, and as each shot goes through, I type whatever random thoughts occur to me about the material. […] You only see something for the first time once, and your reaction is very important.

Preview audiences can help restore focus to the experience of first-time viewers. But ideally, filmmakers would also like feedback on what makes a film better the second (or third or fourth…) time around.

On re-watch, the viewer has time to appreciate the finer points of the craft: set design, costumes, music etc. and how they all contribute to the effect cast by the film. Filmmakers often hide ‘easter eggs’ — little surprises and inside jokes, for those paying close attention. Animated films, particularly PIXAR’s, are notorious for this.

While there is nothing wrong with intentionally making disposable entertainment, I believe most filmmakers would rather make a film that has qualities of rewatchability. But, beyond tight editing, what are those qualities, and how can you achieve them?

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