Melissa Rosenberg’s New Gig

After taking on vampires in Summit’s Twilight Saga, writer Melissa Rosenberg is tackling a different kind of immortal being: Scottish highlanders.
The scribe is in negotiations to come on board to work on the studio’s remake of Highlander. Neal Moritz is producing the project, which offers an update on the 1986 movie starring Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery and Clancy Brown. Justin Lin (Fast Five) is attached to direct. Peter Davis is also producing.
The original story centered on a Scottish swordsman, who discovers he is part of a secret race of near-immortal beings and faces off against an unstoppable barbarian who covets the power gained from there being only one of their kind left.
6a00d8341c630a53ef013484270c83970c-250wiMelissa Rosenberg, one of the most successful female writers in the business, has a new fantasy assignment.  I’m looking forward to seeing how she revives a venerable old franchise.  I am a bigger fan of her work on Dexter than on Twilight, so I am curious what she does here.
After taking on vampires in Summit’s Twilight Saga, writer Melissa Rosenberg is tackling a different kind of immortal being: Scottish highlanders.
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The scribe is in negotiations to come on board to work on the studio’s remake of Highlander. Neal Moritz is producing the project, which offers an update on the 1986 movie starring Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery and Clancy Brown. Justin Lin (Fast Five) is attached to direct. Peter Davis is also producing.
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The original story centered on a Scottish swordsman, who discovers he is part of a secret race of near-immortal beings and faces off against an unstoppable barbarian who covets the power gained from there being only one of their kind left….
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(A)s the sole writer on Summit’s vampire pentalogy, she has proved adept at handling both character and action, as well as yearning, a key component of Highlander as protagonist Connor MacLeod watches his true love age while he does not. Before tackling Twilight, Rosenberg was a writer/co-executive producer on Dexter, the Showtime series that darkly balances family with bloody carnage.
Power of Idealism characters are those who yearn for someone who is emotionally or physically unavailable to the them.  They are always seeking what they cannot have or what is forbidden to them.  A huge component of this kind of story is loss and the resolution of loss.  Some story examples are:  Romeo & Juliet, Sophie’s Choice, Bridges of Madison County and Casablanca. The Power of Idealism book explains what these stories have in common.

My Day at Pixar

IMG_0997I spent an amazing day at Pixar on Tuesday.  I was doing a Character Map session with some of their writers, artists, directors and others.  What an interesting creative bunch of people and what a tremendous corporate culture of openness, willingness to try new things, desire to always improve and be challenged.

It’s easy to spot people coming to Pixar for the first time.  They’re the ones, like me, walking around trying to soak in all the wonderful visuals in the building and snapping pictures like mad.  Here are some of mine–

As you walk toward the main building on the open green Pixar campus the first thing you notice is a giant Luxo Lamp standing at attention to welcome you.

Loxo is an Anglepoise desk lamps.  The character was inspired by one of the lamps on John Lasseter’s desk.  The lamp and a smaller version Luxo Jr, starred in the first film produced by Pixar Animation Studios in 1996.
Luxo Jr. is playing with a small red, yellow and blue rubber ball.  The smaller lamp chases and jumps on it.  The larger lamp watches and reacts to the playful antics. After the colorful ball deflates, because of exhaustion, Luxo scolds his younger companion.  Luxo Jr. then finds and plays with an even larger ball to Luxo’s head-shaking amazement.
“Luxo Jr. sent shock waves through the entire industry – to all corners of computer and traditional animation. At that time, most traditional artists were afraid of the computer. They did not realize that the computer was merely a different tool in the artist’s kit but instead perceived it as a type of automation that might endanger their jobs. Luckily, this attitude changed dramatically in the early ’80s with the use of personal computers in the home. The release of our Luxo Jr. … reinforced this opinion turnaround within the professional community.” –Edwin Catmull, Computer Animation: A Whole New World, 1998.
Luxo has become a “good luck charm” and an iconic symbol for the company much like Mickey is for Disney.

IMG_0998Loxo is an Anglepoise desk lamp.  The character was inspired by one of the lamps on John Lasseter’s desk.  The lamp and a smaller version, Luxo Jr, starred in the first film produced by Pixar in 1986.

In the film, Luxo Jr. plays with a small red, yellow and blue rubber ball.  The smaller lamp chases and jumps on it.  The larger lamp watches and reacts to the playful antics. After the colorful ball deflates, because of exhaustion, Luxo scolds his younger companion.  Luxo Jr. then finds and plays with an even larger ball to Luxo’s head-shaking amazement.

“Luxo Jr. sent shock waves through the entire industry – to all corners of computer and traditional animation. At that time, most traditional artists were afraid of the computer. They did not realize that the computer was merely a different tool in the artist’s kit but instead perceived it as a type of automation that might endanger their jobs. Luckily, this attitude changed dramatically in the early ’80s with the use of personal computers in the home. The release of our Luxo Jr. … reinforced this opinion turnaround within the professional community.” –Edwin Catmull, Computer Animation: A Whole New World, 1998.

Luxo has become a “good luck charm” and an iconic symbol for the company much like Mickey is for Disney.

IMG_0986As you walk past Luxo and in the door at Pixar, a giant atrium “town square” spreads out before you inside the building.  The Pixar Cafe is located here in the open with tables, chairs and benches all over.  My terrific tour guide and the person who invited me to Pixar, Adrienne Ranft, explained that this area of the building was designed to provide opportunities for everyone in the company to meet causually, have a chat on the go and generally mingle and cross-pollinate ideas.

The whole collection of Oscars and other Awards are on display here as well.  A reminder of the level of excellence expected of everyone.  And everyone’s “ownership” of the awards.

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This open area is filled with visual fun.  When I visited there were larger-than-life Lego versions of Woody and Buzz Lightyear standing in immediate greeting to all who enter.  Woody and Buzz continue to have adventures in Lego toys.  These were really beautiful versions of the characters.  The reception desk had a statue of Ratatouille munching on gourmet cheese, as I signed in.

Behind me as I walked in were life-sized replicas of Luigi and Guido from Cars.  Luigi is a proud 1959 Fiat 500. He is a big Ferrari fan, and has followed European Grand Prix racing his entire life. His license plate reads 445-108, which is the latitude and longitude for the main Ferrari factory in Modena, Italy.

IMG_0983In Cars, Luigi owns a tire shop, Casa Della Tires in Radiator Springs, which is famous for its “Leaning Tower of Tires.” This advertising sign is a stack of tires modeled on the Leaning Tower of Pisa. His assistant is an Italian forklift named Guido. Guido only fully understands Italian and is Luigi’s best friend. His name is a homonym for the Italian verb “I drive.”  His dream is be on a pit crew for a real racing car, which Lightening McQueen helps him realize in Cars.

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IMG_0987And further back, in the corner, were the group of green, three-eyed rubber aliens. They figure in all three Toy Story movies.  They first appear in Toy Story when Buzz discovers a giant claw game in Pizza Planet.  Mr. Potato Head saves them from flying out a Pizza Planet delivery truck in Toy Story 2.  The aliens are eternally grateful, to Mr. Potato Head’s unending dismay.  They figure in the toys’ salvation in Toy Story 3 due to their karmic relationship with “The Claw.”

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Nearer the door was a life-sized Sulley and Mike from Monsters, Inc.   The mild-mannered , Sulley, is the best monster in Monsteroplis at scaring kids.  Monster’s Inc., the company Sulley works for, extracts energy from children’s screams.  Mike is his faithful sidekick and publicity hound.  The two foil an evil plot against children to “extract” their screams with a machine, as a more efficient way to power Monsteropolis.  Sulley takes over Monsters, Inc. and changes the monsters’ task to make children scream with laughter and delight instead of scream with fear.

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Huge murals adorn the walls of the “village square” and upstairs is a art gallery for visiting collections and art created by Pixar employees.  The exhibition up during my visit was of show of Chuck Jones’ artwork.

IMG_0988I happened to have the privilege of interviewing Chuck before he died.  I talked to him and a number of surviving members of “Termite Terrace”  during a job for Warner Bros. to codify and establish style and character guides for all the classic Warner Bros cartoon characters.  Over the years and through all the licensing deals, relaunches and ancillary uses of the character a wide variety of inconsistencies threatened to blur their personality and uniqueness.  I helped work out what the key characteristics needed to be and how to communicate that clearly across multiple platforms and uses.

In the upper gallery, there was also a huge exhibition of Toy Story 3 artwork, models, story boards and boards that help create mood and tone solely through shape and color.  The exhibition will be traveling to several places to showcase the work in this wonderful film.  The attention to detail is amazing.

IMG_0996For example, I never realized that in Toy Story 3 blue is a “safe” color indicating security or possible salvation.  I am taking another look at the movie to see all the ways in which the color blue is used in that way.

Adrienne said that EVERYTHING used in the visuals, the music, the modeling is designed to support the story and clarify the characters.  If something doesn’t do that it is dumped– no matter how clever or inventive or interesting it is.  That’s a great note to end on.  Everything in a script you write should be subject to that same rigor.

The Queen’s Reaction to THE KING’S SPEECH

queenelizabethiiApparently, Queen Elizabeth likes the portrayal of her father’s struggle with his stuttering and her mother’s attempts to help.  She’s seen a special screening of the film.

So what’s The Queen’s Review of ‘The King’s Speech’?
Two royal thumbs up.
Queen Elizabeth II of England, depicted as the young daughter of King George VI (played by Colin Firth) in the Oscar-nominated film ‘The King’s Speech,’ received a screening about her father’s struggle with public speaking and his eventual triumph in inspiring his nation in the face of a German invasion. According to producers The Weinsten Company, she was “moved” by the movie.
The film was only made following the death of her mother, The Queen Mum, who is played by Helena Bonham Carter in the film. She asked writer David Seidel to refrain from committing his screenplay to film until her passing, as it was too painful for her to watch.
So what’s The Queen’s Review of ‘The King’s Speech’?  Two royal thumbs up.
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Queen Elizabeth II of England, depicted as the young daughter of King George VI (played by Colin Firth) in the Oscar-nominated film ‘The King’s Speech,’ received a screening about her father’s struggle with public speaking and his eventual triumph in inspiring his nation in the face of a German invasion.
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According to producers The Weinsten Company, she was “moved” by the movie.
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The film was only made following the death of her mother, The Queen Mum, who is played by Helena Bonham Carter in the film. She asked writer David Seidel to refrain from committing his screenplay to film until her passing, as it was too painful for her to watch.
She also likes the Wii Entertainment System.  Here’s the report after Christmas.  Rock on QE II!
According to British paper The People, Queen Elizabeth II is the latest member of the Wii fanclub.
The report says that the system was a Christmas gift from Kate Middleton to her boyfriend Prince William, but after watching her grandson play, the monarch “begged to join in.”  “She played a simple ten-pin bowling game and by all accounts was a natural,” the paper states, presumably referring to (pack-in title) Wii Bowling.

BLACK SWAN writer Mark Heyman will pen AGE OF RAGE

heyman-450x377Mark Heyman, co-writer on BLACK SWAN, will write AGE OF RAGE with Marc Webb attached to direct. The film depicts a “post-apocalyptic society where all the adults have died and a group of teens sets about trying to establish a new society.”

Love those post-apocalyptic teen dramas.  Not.

See more info at Gordon and Whale.

#ThinkpieceThursday – A Hope-ful survey on the state of indie films

2004+Sundance+Awards+Ceremony+Fs5aFTdZ87vlTed Hope presents an exceptionally glowing outlook on the state of the independent film business.

Yes, the business of indie film is back.  The rapidity, volume, and consistency of deals blossoming ($30M and counting!) at Sundance should give investors more confidence that you no longer have to rely just on foreign; the US acquisition climate seems quite robust again.  Whew.  But the good news does not end there.

Indie Film has been infected by a new breed that — like those that came before them — refuses to ask for permission.  But unlike the earlier wave, their go-get-them attitude doesn’t stop at production, it extends into all the pillars of cinema — from discovery and participation on through production, distro, appreciation, and presentation.  The content, the form, the plans of cinema are not only for re-examination, but the rules have been thrown out.  Time to get out of the way, and let the fresh air disrupt the stale space.

Hope makes a strong case, pointing out that last year, 15 Oscar Nominees have come from Sundance.

As long as corporate filmmaking fails to offer realistic takes on women’s lives, Indie Film will always thrive as a welcome alternative.  Sundance must be acknowledged too as a tremendous generator of quality content; Sundance’s responsibility in delivering 15 Oscar nominees is nothing short of mind-blowing.  If the world was just, the Oscar would be renamed the Bob.

Modern Day Sherlock Holmes on the BBC

1. Have you seen BBC’s Sherlock Holmes? Thus far it’s a three-episode series set in contemporary London, and to podge a British term, it’s brill. Smart, fast-paced, relying more on intellect and issues about character than on the stars’ appearance, it won thumbs up from all four members of my family.
What they do well, IMHO:
a. Respectful blending of past with present: Watson is a recovering war vet, wounded from a tour as a physician in Afghanistan. He’s a blogger!  Despite modernization, though, the essence of the series feels true to the original books.
b. Technology is important in the sleuthing process, but not the focus. This is not a series about gadgets.
c. There’s a fascinating and believable relationship between Watson and Holmes in which each make the other bigger. Without Holmes, Watson would be limping in a half-existence,  devoid of the risk and stimulation which is his life’s blood. Watson, on the other hand, both grounds Holmes and validates him.
d. The writers have set up a central question about Sherlock, articulated by Lestrade in this quote: “He’s a great man. if we’re very lucky, one day he might be a good one.”
Will Sherlock cross from brilliance into psychopathy, perhaps out of sheer boredom? Will he learn to engage emotion and vulnerability along with his impressive intellect, particularly around the female sex? These are great questions to have a viewer asking within a few moments of beginning a series.

bbc-sherlock-holmesHere is a post from a wonderful blogger Jan O’Hara writing on Tartitude.  She was thinking about Sherlock Holmes and asked if I thought he was a Power of Reason Character.  My answer was:  Sherlock Holmes is indeed a Power of Reason character– Everything can be explained/deduced rationally and logically. “It’s elementary, my dear Watson.” Power of Reason characters care more that something makes sense or is practical and less that it is moral or kind. Moving from a cold clinical analysis toward a more human evaluation (which takes into consideration connection, caring and a real valuing of others) is their journey toward greatness.

Here is Jan’s review of the new BBC re-envisioning of Sherlock Holmes in a modern day setting.  Looks interesting.

1. Have you seen BBC’s Sherlock Holmes? Thus far it’s a three-episode series set in contemporary London, and to podge a British term, it’s brill. Smart, fast-paced, relying more on intellect and issues about character than on the stars’ appearance, it won thumbs up from all four members of my family.

What they do well, IMHO:

a. Respectful blending of past with present: Watson is a recovering war vet, wounded from a tour as a physician in Afghanistan. He’s a blogger!  Despite modernization, though, the essence of the series feels true to the original books.

b. Technology is important in the sleuthing process, but not the focus. This is not a series about gadgets.

c. There’s a fascinating and believable relationship between Watson and Holmes in which each make the other bigger. Without Holmes, Watson would be limping in a half-existence,  devoid of the risk and stimulation which is his life’s blood. Watson, on the other hand, both grounds Holmes and validates him.

d. The writers have set up a central question about Sherlock, articulated by Lestrade in this quote: “He’s a great man. if we’re very lucky, one day he might be a good one.”

Will Sherlock cross from brilliance into psychopathy, perhaps out of sheer boredom? Will he learn to engage emotion and vulnerability along with his impressive intellect, particularly around the female sex? These are great questions to have a viewer asking within a few moments of beginning a series.

Mark Zuckerberg on SNL

the_social_networkThis video is quite hilarious!  It is triple vision– three guys who look scarily alike.  Jesse Eisenberg (who played Zuckerberg on The Social Network) hosted. Andy Samberg joined Esenberg onstage to add his Zuckerberg impression.  Then the real Mark Zuckerberg, the FaceBook Mogul himself, rounded out the trio of “bergs.”

The lesson here is FaceBook and Zuckerberg’s deft handing of The Social Network movie.  Despite being a fictional and immensely unflattering protrait, Zuckerberg wisely refrained from going ballistic in the press– which wouldn’t have helped and would have only made him look worse.  Now he is at the point of being able to laugh at the whole thing and wins points for not taking himself too seriously.

In my opinion, that’s why Arnold Schwarzenegger is a much bigger star than Steven Seagal.  Schwarzenegger doesn’t take himself too seriously and Seagal takes himself way too seriously.  To survive and thrive in the entertainment, lighten up and and don’t be afraid to share a laugh at your own expense.  The ability to do that shows a touch of humility and vulnerability– and that is always appealing.

#BeFabFriday – CineStory Competition

Self4Here is a guest post from a good friend and wonderful writer, Lisanne Sartor.  She is also on the Board of Directors of CineStory, an organization that runs one of the most worthwhile writing competitions in the industry.  Here is her post:

I’m a UCLA MFA Screenwriting alumna and screenwriter and I’ve been involved with the screenwriting non-profit organization CineStory for the past ten years.  I went to my first CineStory retreat after I was a semi-finalist in the CineStory Screenwriting Competition.  I’d entered the competition because its prize sounded amazing – an all expenses-paid, four day retreat during which all retreat attendees get three hour and a half meetings with industry professionals and the competition winner gets a year-long-mentorship with two industry professionals.  Though I didn’t win that year, I was invited to the retreat, an experience that was worth its weight in gold.  I got great notes and met industry professionals who I’m still in contact with today.  Most importantly, the notes I received helped me develop my screenplay into a viable project that eventually became a Lifetime movie of the week – my first produced credit!  I loved that retreat so much that I went to a second and eventually got involved in CineStory as a staffer.  I’m now the CineStory Board Vice President.  I encourage all writers, from novices who’ve just written their first scripts, to screenwriters who may have a produced credit or two under their belts, to enter the competition.  You won’t regret it.

#ThinkpieceThursday – Skins: No Consequences

mtv-skins-tony-480x270Lots of controversy has been brewing around the new teen drama “Skins” on MTV.  I think the problem here is a lack of good storytelling.  The three crucial elements of any good story is 1) want, 2) need and 3) price.  Dramas that don’t work most often don’t attach a price to the choices a character makes.  Unless there is a cost, the action doesn’t feel urgent or compelling.  The higher the cost, the more intense the story and the emotional journey.

What a character wants is a clear and simple ego-driven goal.   It is something he or she can physically have or obtain.  It is clear.  It is simple. It is concrete.  It is specific– The booze, the drugs, the girl, the party invitation.  The want is a finite object of a character’s personal desire.  It is something tangible that would gratify or benefit a character personally and immediately.

What a character needs is an inner ache or yearning that a character is unaware of, denies, suppresses or ignores.  It is a deeper, more abstract or intangible basic human longing.  It is not physical or concrete. It is an emotional satisfaction that enriches the character more deeply– to be accepted for who you are, to be intimate with someone in a meaningful way, to find joy or to connect with someone in a true and authentic manner.

To embrace the need, a character must abandon specific selfish or self-centered goals and address more fundamental and far-reaching human concerns. Every great story ever told since the beginning of time is about the war between the things of the world (the satisfaction of the ego by obtaining worldly trophies, prizes or thrills) and the things of the heart, the soul and the spirit (the deeper satisfaction of embracing our essential humanity).

420x316-alg_mtv_skinsWhat is the cost of obtaining the want or object of desire?  What is the cost of embracing the need and living up to one’s highest, truest, most authentic values?  Which price is a character willing to pay?  What is a character willing to sacrifice or surrender to obtain the want or embrace the need?  The tougher the choice is, the better the story.  If choices isn’t expensive– if there are no expensive consequences– a character’s actions seem episodic and gratuitous.

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David Carr writing in the Business and Media section of the New York Times put it this way:

Now that MTV is back on its heels, you will hear arguments that “Skins” merely describes the world that we already live in. There’s something to that. MTV didn’t invent “friends with benefits,” oral sex as the new kiss or stripper chic as a teenage fashion aspiration. And MTV didn’t employ the teenage star that posed semi-nude in Vanity Fair; the Disney Channel is the one in business with Miley Cyrus.

But when you hear talk about how innovative and daring “Skins” is — and you will —that argument is no more credible than the one made by the stoned teenager out after curfew. “Skins” is pretty much a frame-by-frame capture of a British hit. “Kids,” the film by director Larry Clark, plowed the same seamy ground back in 1995. (And films, at least, are more regulated: “Kids” initially received an NC-17 rating, which meant that some of the youngsters who were in the film could not legally see it.)

“Skins” is nothing new, only a corporate effort to clone a provocative drama that will make MTV less dependent on reality shows and add to the bottom line. True, MTV is not alone. Abercrombie & Fitch built a brand out of writhing, half-naked teenagers, as Calvin Klein once did.

But since its inception, MTV has pushed this boundary as hard as any major media company ever has and may have finally crossed a line that will be hard to scramble back across. The self-described “Guidos” and “Guidettes” of “Jersey Shore,” MTV’s breakout hit, have probably already set some kind of record for meaningless sex.

(More questionably, MTV exported the show to some countries with the tagline, “Get Juiced,” a clear reference to the obvious steroid use on the show.)

But while Snooki & Co. may act like children, they can legally drink alcohol and give consent to what might ensue: the age of 21 may seem like an arbitrary distinction but it’s an important one and, besides, it’s the law.

Even in the most scripted reality programming, the waterfall of poor personal choices is interrupted by comeuppance. People get painful hangovers, the heartbreaks are real if overly dramatic and the cast members have to live with their decisions.

Not so on “Skins,” where a girl who overdoses and is rushed to the hospital wakes up to laughter when the stolen S.U.V. taking her there slams to a halt. Teenagers show children how to roll blunts, bottles of vodka are traded on merry go-rounds, and youngsters shrug off being molested and threatened by a drug dealer. And when the driver of the stolen S.U.V. gets distracted and half a dozen adolescents go rolling into a river, the car is lost but everyone bobs to the surface with a smile at the wonder of it all.

Any adults on “Skins” are of the Charlie Brown variety, feckless beings who are mostly heard off-screen making bummer noises. MTV leaves it to real-life parents to explain that sometimes, when a car goes underwater, nobody survives and that a quick hookup with cute boy at the party may deliver a sexually transmitted disease along with a momentary thrill.

Read the full article here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/24/business/media/24carr.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=Skins%20+%20MTV&st=cse

The Weinstein Co. and Sony Pictures Classics Close Deals at Sundance

110125_detailsAccording to IndieWIRE, The Weinstein Co. has paid $8 million for worldwide rights to Jacob Aaron Este’s The Details, starring Tobey Maguire and Elizabeth Banks. Meanwhile, Sony Pictures Classics closed on The Guard and Morgan Spurlock’s The Greatest Movie Ever Sold and Take Shelter.

Harvey Weinstein was in a good mood Tuesday after earning 13 nominations for The King’s Speech and Blue Valentine. He worked with Maguire in the past on The Cider House Rules and Banks on Zack and Miri Make a Porno. TWC’s first Sundance buy (in league with financeer Ron Burkle) also stars Banks, My Idiot Brother, starring Paul Rudd; TWC paid more than $6 million for U.S. and some foreign rights. The Details was produced by Mark Gordon, Hagai Shaham and Bryan Zuriff with Mickey Liddell and Jennifer Hilton as executive producers.