#ThinkpieceThursday – William Friedkin: Coming Back From Failure

Thinkpiece Thursday

by Guest Contributor Oscar Harding

William Friedkin, the Academy Award-winning director of such films as The Exorcist and The French Connection, is arguably one of the most interesting and unpredictable filmmakers currently working today. Friedkin has had to constantly reinvent himself in order to survive.

Whether you appreciate his filmography or not, every writer can learn something from the highs and lows of this filmmaker’s career. He doesn’t hide his mistakes, he personally takes the blame for his more spectacular falls from grace, detailed in his excellent memoir The Friedkin Connection.

Friedkin first gained attention for his debut documentary in 1962, The People vs. Paul Crump.  The film played a key role in saving a Crump from the electric chair. After a huge learning curve directing TV documentaries as a work-for-hire director, he used his friendship with Sonny and Cher to score his debut feature film, Good Times.

After a critical mauling, and failure of his second film, he adapted two stage plays. They received a better reception. The Boys In The Band got people’s attention when gay subject matter was taboo. Then he risked everything and made an unconventional little film called The French Connection. Next came a commercial block-buster.

High on the monumental success of The Exorcist, he then made his magnum opus Sorcerer.  This film has since been re-evaluated as a masterpiece when at the time was a significant flop. It couldn’t withstand the box office tidal wave of Star Wars. It is 30 years later it got it’s due.

Many filmmakers would have called it a day, rested on their laurels or quietly gone into a self-imposed exile. Instead, Friedkin kept himself in the game with a mostly forgotten bank heist caper, then made Cruising, a film which provoked vilification and outrage.

Even today it elicits extreme reaction both good and bad- it is a flawed film on many levels.  But Friedkin created a story with as lasting an impact as his best films. Cruising‘s reception and box office relegated Friedkin to director’s jail. On top of that, he barely survived a massive heart attack.

Friedkin kept working on the occasional TV episode and a string of films that either underperformed at the box office or met with underwhelming reviews. Yet somehow, he was still able to make films.  In the middle of the wilderness years, he did achieve success by capitalizing on the style-over-substance movement of cop dramas sparked by Miami Vice.

He was aware of the trends of the time and sought to contribute to the conversation, as opposed to remaining rigid in his thinking. Friedkin has always been willing to learn and to adapt, which is why even when people weren’t paying attention, he was still able to find work and tell his stories. No film is the same, but with filmmakers like Spielberg or Terence Malick, some of their films can “feel” similar. It could be argued these filmmakers are stuck in a rut, but achieve financial success. Friedkin clearly isn’t interested in that approach.

Instead of becoming bitter and frustrated, he received widespread acclaim in a different medium- Opera. Friedkin, like many of the filmmakers who continue to endure, looked beyond one type of art and found creative stimulation in another.

This is a move other directors like Terry Gilliam- an equally fascinating filmmaker who has been met with failure and bad luck yet endures– would follow. Some filmmakers in Friedkin’s situation would have continued to fail because they kept struggling in a medium that didn’t want them.

It wasn’t until 2006 that Friedkin achieved the kind of notoriety and success he hadn’t had since the days of Cruising and The Exorcist. Coming across Bug, a play by Tracy Letts, Friedkin directed an adaptation that has proved to be a big success amongst audiences and critics. He kept it cheap, shot quick and utilized the tools of filmmakers much younger. Instead of becoming an elder statesman of Hollywood, he did exactly what the emerging filmmakers of today are doing. He has never looked down on the young, instead learning from them. In adapting to survive, he got his groove back.

His next Tracy Letts adaptation, Killer Joe, incited the kind of controversy and attention he hadn’t seen in decades. It was one of the films responsible for Matthew McConaughey’s career renaissance as a dramatic actor, and the film became part of the Awards season discussion in 2011/12. Friedkin took a trick from his own book- back in the late 60’s, when he and his career were stuck in a rut, he adapted stageplays that really evoked emotion in him, that he had an intense emotional connection to and he truly felt he could to justice to on screen.

He hasn’t directed a film since Killer Joe, not for lack of trying. So he has learned from his past, returning to Documentaries and the subject matter of his biggest film. The Devil and Father Amorth played this year’s Venice Film Festival, has ignited a discussion about the relationship between science and religion, and we’ll no doubt hear more about it when it gets a theatrical release.

The point of telling Friedkin’s story? There are some key lessons we can take from it- Keep it personal. Risk everything. Adapt to survive. Never get complacent. And keep people’s attention. Something people always seem to forget is that we learn more from our failures than our successes. No filmmaker demonstrates better than William Friedkin.

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#ThinkpieceThursday – The Key Vulnerabilities

Thinkpiece Thursday – Vulnerability

I talked about vulnerability in a recent Blade Runner post.  The sequel movie, to me, falls flat emotionally.  I did not feel moved although I did admire the technical and visual accomplishments of the film.

Audiences are moved because of a character’s vulnerability. A character’s vulnerability is always built on some kind of loss which challenges him or her emotionally and not just physically.

A character is most vulnerable – when he/she faces:

  1. Jeopardy – loss of physical safety or the physical safety of others close to you
  2. Terror – loss of emotional or psychological safety
  3. Horror – loss of hope
  4. Neglect – loss of nurture or care
  5. Loneliness – loss of companionship
  6. Unfairness   loss of fair play or impartiality
  7. Kindness- loss of support or sympathy or human comfort
  8. Injustice- loss of justice or equity
  9. Rejection – loss of acceptance or inclusion by others
  10. Abandonment –  loss of connection or support or help from others
  11. Humiliation – loss of self-esteem or dignity or stature/status
  12. Frustration – loss of achievement or purpose or potential
  13. Insecurity- loss of security or stability or a sense of grounding
  14. Misunderstanding – loss of communication
  15. Betrayal – loss of trust or not being believed when telling the truth
  16. Shame – loss of  self-esteem or sense of worthiness

Set up situations or circumstances where your character experience these key vulnerabilities.  The more vulnerable your character is,  the more human he or she becomes. The more human your character seems, the more the audience will care about and embrace him or her.

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#ThinkpieceThursday – The Blade Runner films and Vulnerability

Thinkpiece Thursday

Be warned, 
MAJOR spoilers follow for both Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049!

Popular wisdom has it that Harrison Ford’s voice over in the original Blade Runner was added when the film tested badly with audiences. Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) had a moment of vulnerability so powerful it made Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) look like the bad guy.

The most potent tool in creating the emotional connection with the audience is vulnerability.  In the end, Batty valued life so highly he was willing to save the man hell-bent on killing him. It is a sense of humanity so deep and so profound that it mitigates all of Batty’s evil acts throughout the film.  The scene shows Batty has grown into a real human being.

The only way to save the film and preventing the audience from thinking Deckhard is an a-hole was to voice Deckhard’s thoughts and feeling in voice-over.  Below is the scene that forced the change.:

Blade Runner 2049, unfortunately, contains no scene even remotely as powerful. Whilst it is unbelievably beautiful in a visual sense, it falls flat in the vulnerability and humanity of its characters.

BR 2049 lacks an opposing character as dynamic and engaging as Roy Batty. Adding to the problem, Harrison Ford’s Deckard is subdued here, offering little of the rakish charm of the original.  Maybe this is due to his much-speculated drug use. He seems flattened out and a bit mechanical.

This sequel does ramp up the remorse Deckard has always felt for the life he led and the mistakes he’s made. There’s not much character growth here.

All Roy Batty wanted was to live beyond slavery and experience what it is to be human.  Batty ultimately he achieves the humanity he desires by showing mercy to Deckard as Deckard is about to slip to his death. Jared Leto BR 2040‘s lead villain, the closest equivalent character, barely appears and provides no real emotional catharsis.

Comparing the Replicants, K aside, in the sequel to the likes of Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah demonstrates, to my mind, the sequel is emotionally inferior.  We never feel for anyone, let alone our antagonist.

Agent K, or “Joe” (Ryan Gosling) learns he is, in fact, human instead of a Replicant. The film is far too focused on him unraveling the mystery of his identity rather than understanding the meaning of this discovery or the devastating impact it has on the characters and world of Blade Runner 2049.

Below is a video essay that explains the brilliance of the original Blade Runner:

#ThinkpieceThursday – Power vs Influence

Thinkpiece Thursday

I’ve just discovered a wonderful website Difference Between. Here is their take on Influence vs Power. Lawrence of Arabia is a classic example of a character who had absolutely no power but had tremendous influence. He basicly remade the Middle EastGandhi is another example of a character who also had no power but remade India.  Both where the subject of Oscar-winning motion pictures.

Here is the article from the Difference Between website.

Power and Influence are two terms between which a number of differences can be identified. Both Power and influence are attributes that we come across very early in our lives. You must have heard interviews of celebrities where they talk about the person who held the greatest influence on their lives. Surprisingly, for a vast majority, the person having the greatest influence turns out to be either father or mother. But fathers or mothers are certainly not very powerful, are they? This means that power and influence are separate entities contrary to common perception. Though many a times it looks like the person with authority is influential because of his power, but often it is vice versa. There are differences between power and influence though their ultimate purpose or objective is the same, and that is to control others or to get them to do things you want them to do. This article attempts to highlight the differences between the two terms while elucidating each term.

What is Influence?

Influence can be defined as the ability to create an impact on the beliefs and actions of an individual. Influence evokes respect. Unlike Power, influence contains such a magic that those under the influence keep working in the desired manner even in the absence of the influential person. Influence is a desirable trait in any leader. No secretary of state has been more powerful than Dick Cheney in US. This was because of the influence he had over the then President George Bush. Mahatma Gandhi was the most influential personality ever to have breathed in India. All the power, he had, was derived from his influence. He had no post, no power from the top. He had hundreds of thousands of followers who were ready to die for his cause or obeyed him blindly. This highlights that Influence is a very powerful quality.

What is Power?

Power can be defined as the authority to get something done through an individual. This usually evokes fear. Both power and influence can be used to achieve a particular goal such as the completion of a task. However, since power is often associated with fear, there is a tendency for the task to be completed poorly. Especially, when the person, who uses the power, is absent, the quality of work decreases. Power is imposed from the top as when your boss asks you to do a job. You do it in time and the manner that your boss has asked you to do, but you do it more out of fear than any love or respect for him. You do the job because it is your duty, and you are fearful that you might get reported if you do not complete the job. Some people are powerful because of their influence. However, most derive their power from the post they have got. In the modern society, we see people abuse their power merely to get things done. This abuse of power is not only immoral, but also harms the entire society. What leaders need to cultivate is to accumulate both power and influence, and learn to use both judiciously and appropriately. They must realize that misapplication of either can result in the loss of both.

#ThinkpieceThursday – I Call “Bullshit” on Scott Rosenberg’s Essay

Thinkpiece Thursday

Sacrifice is a word that has very much fallen out of favor in our current cultural and political climate. Protect yourself.  Protect your career. Protect your party. Shut and go along to get along.  Don’t sacrifice anything for the good of the country or anyone else.

I’m sorry but, to me, this attitude is exemplified by Scott Rosenberg’s recent Facebook post which has been lauded for its “bravery” “courage” and excellent writing.  I have to call Bullshit.

I will admit, Rosenberg is right in calling out the sanctimonious “shock” of those who now condemn Harvey Weinstein, pretending personal ignorance.  These folks remind me of the gambling scene in Casablanca:

Rosenberg very rightly says:

And to me, if Harvey’s behavior is the most reprehensible thing one can imagine, a not-so-distant second is the current flood of sanctimonious denial and condemnation that now crashes upon these shores of rectitude in gloppy tides of bullshit righteousness.

Because everybody-fucking-knew.

And do you know how I am sure this is true?
Because I was there.
And I saw you.
And I talked about it with you.
You, the big producers; you, the big directors; you, the big agents; you, the big financiers.
And you, the big rival studio chiefs; you, the big actors; you, the big actresses; you, the big models.
You, the big journalists; you, the big screenwriters; you, the big rock stars; you, the big restaurateurs; you, the big politicians.

I saw you.
All of you.
God help me, I was there with you.

He repeats “Everybody fucking knew” several times.  Which begins to feel like an excuse.  It doesn’t matter what anybody else knew.  It matters what YOU fucking knew.  It matters what YOU did or didn’t do.

That’s the cowardly rub.  Rosenberg was enjoying himself too much, lapping up the perks, the prestige, and the champagne to do anything. It was benefiting his career too greatly, in becoming anointed as a major talent, to rock the boat. The fact is: HE saw it.  HE knew it.  HE did nothing.

But…
And this is as pathetic as it is true:
What would you have had us do?
Who were we to tell?
The authorities?
What authorities?
The press?
Harvey owned the press.
The Internet?
There was no Internet or reasonable facsimile thereof.
Should we have called the police?
And said what?
Should we have reached out to some fantasy Attorney General Of Movieland?
That didn’t exist.

Substitute 1930’s Germany and Rosenberg’s quote tells us exactly how the horrors of that time happened.  The excuse: “what could I do?” “who could I go and tell?” is a collaborating coward’s way out.  The Edmund Burke quote:  “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”–  That’s what this is about.

I am not saying I’ve never been a coward when I should have spoken up.  I remember a particularly vicious writer’s room where the target was male.  I am just so annoyed by the acclaim Rosenberg’s post has gotten now when it now costs him nothing to speak out. His recent “mea culpa”, in fact, has only enhanced his reputation.  It seems like it was designed to do so.

I don’t doubt Scott Rosenberg is a good man (although I don’t know him personally) who did nothing.  He wasn’t willing to sacrifice anything to call out what was wrong.  And he even dances around blaming the victims:

Not to mention, most of the victims chose not to speak out.

Like it was a choice?  Rosenberg seems to think he needn’t speak out, which WAS a choice because the women Weinstein destroyed didn’t want to risk total professional and emotional annihilation?

Contrast this with Quentin Tarantino’s interview reported in the UK Independent:

Quentin Tarantino has admitted he was aware, for decades, about Harvey Weinstein’s alleged misconduct towards women. The director said he failed to act in order to protect women despite knowing about several instances of alleged sexual assault, stating: “I knew enough to do more than I did.”

In a new interview Tarantino, who worked with Weinstein on some of his best known films including Pulp Fiction, said he regretted not taking action with the knowledge he had.

“There was more to it than just the normal rumours, the normal gossip,” he told the New York Times“It wasn’t second hand. I knew he did a couple of these things. “I wish I had taken responsibility for what I heard. If I had done the work I should have done then, I would not have had to work with him.” 

What a wonderful ride Scott Rosenberg had at the expense of so much suffering.  He waxes poetic about just how much fun it was.  And I can guarantee that Oscar-winning Quentin Tarantino had an even better ride.  But Tarantino doesn’t get into the perks, the glam, the fun!  His was a simple apology for HIS actions and failings.

I am glad Rosenberg is ashamed.  He should be.  But what is he going to do now– besides public handwringing and excuse making, which has served to garner him much public adoration?  What is he willing to sacrifice now?  What is Tarantino going to sacrifice?

Would the WGA (Writers Guild) ever bring gender equality and an end to sexual harassment to the bargaining table?  Would it ever strike because of those unmet demands?  Or is it just the privileged white male’s income protection society?

 

#ThinkpieceThursday – Music in Film

Thinkpiece Thursday

My husband was on a panel at a legal conference right around the time The Silence of the Lambs was released.  An FBI profiler was also on a panel at the conference.  The moderator asked what the profiler thought of the film.  He said, “I was scared to death”.  The moderator asked why. “Don’t you deal with this stuff every day in your job?”  The profiler replied, “Yes.  But in my job, there’s no music.”

Jonathan Demme is known for marrying sound and picture in a very evocative way.  He creates a sound atmosphere’s that heightens emotion that’s already there but doesn’t hit you over the head telling you how to feel.  Howard Shore wrote the score and he talks about music in film HERE.

This is also my impression of your score for SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. The music is very “neutral” and monochromatic. It’s just flowing without much counterpoint.

I tried to write in a way that goes right into the fabric of the movie. I tried to make the music just fit in. When you watch the movie you are not aware of the music. You get your feelings from all elements simultaneously, lighting, cinematography, costumes, acting, music. Jonathan Demme was very specific about the music. His suggestions were valuable…

Here is an analysis of Shore’s score for The Fellowship of the Rings trilogy.  He is, indeed, a modern master.

Contrast Howard Shore with John Williams.  While visiting my family this summer we went to an outdoor orchestral performance of John Williams’ scores. So much of it sound vaguely alike.  Personally, I am not a fan.  I especially disliked his heavy-handed work on Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. The script was very weak and very episodic and the score tried to box the audience in the ears to get them to feel something.

The following video essay on Marvel movies is a great analysis of modern scores

 

 

#ThinkpieceThursday – Deep Dread of Uncertainty

Thinkpiece Thursday

At the heart of any character’s inner conflict is change or transformation. The rage and divide in US politics is all about the perception that the country is changing. “It’s not the country I know anymore.”

Demographics are changing. Social mores are changing. Moral taboos are changing, Resistance to these changes is summed in the theme song of the television hit All in the Family.

In a story, someone or something provokes some kind of shift or change in the character or the character’s world. Change is disturbing because what comes next is uncertain. “You are no longer who I expect you to be. You are not predictable.”

Studies have shown that people would rather get a predictable electric shock (pain) now than maybe be (unpredictably) shocked (or not) later.  People show greater anxiety when waiting for an unpredictable shock (or pain) than an expected one. The Joker says: “Because it’s all part of the plan.”

Writers are always advised to write what they know. What writers (and all other human beings) know the most about is change.

Living, by definition, is to change. Nothing in life is static. Change and transformation are all around you. Both impact you every day. You live in an unsettling and constantly changing world. That is especially true today, with the backtracking, outright lying, and whiplash-inducing policy and personnel shifts in the White House.

The world is (and always has been) full of political uncertainty, evolving relationships, personal and professional ups and downs, and, conflicting responsibilities, loyalties, commitments, and desires. Your characters should experience their world in exactly the same way.

You know how painful change and transformation can be. You have experienced extreme, dramatic and, sometimes excruciating change. Your life has been full of unexpected reversals, complex dilemmas, and difficult growth experiences- and so should the lives of your characters. (And there’s no reason why all this turmoil, chaos, and pain shouldn’t be hilarious. Great comedians know: “If it doesn’t hurt. It isn’t funny”.

One of the downsides of the awesomeness of human consciousness is the ability to worry about the future. We know the future exists, but we don’t know what’s going to happen in it. In animals, unpredictability and uncertainty can lead to heightened awareness.

What’s unique about humans is the ability to reflect on the fact that these future events are unknown or unpredictable,  This uncertainty itself can lead to a lot of distress, anxiety, and pain. And that is scary.

 

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#ThinkpieceThursday – Why Nine Character Types?

Thinkpiece Thursday

I’ve often been asked: “Why nine character types?  Why not seven or thirteen or any other number?”

Let’s begin at the beginning. Western societies use a Hindu Arabic base-ten number system. Nine is the terminal numeral before moving to another decade or numeric cycle. The final number, Nine, represents unity, completion, and perfection. In numerology, the world progresses in distinct nine-year cycles. For computer programmers, “999” means “end of file”. The Enneagram is an ancient Sufi teaching that has nine distinct personality points.

Nine is a Symbolic Gateway to Knowledge and Inspiration

The number Nine symbolized a mystical gateway to knowledge across many different cultural traditions. The Greeks, Romans, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Vikings all used the number nine to guide human beings toward some kind of transcendent truth, knowledge, inspiration or spiritual awareness.

In Greek and Roman Mythology

The Greek God, Zeus, had nine daughters, called the Muses, who orchestrated and presided over all creative endeavors. The Muses were also the daughters of the female titan Mnemosyne who personified remembrance. Muse means one who remembers.

In the ancient Greek and Roman world, all knowledge, and learning were under the patronage of these Muses. They inspired poetry, theater, music, dance, and art. Ancient educational institutions each dedicated a shrine or temple to the Muses. Such a place called as a mouseion, which is the Greek root of the modern word “museum.”

In the Ancient Greek and Roman world, creativity, memory and the passing on of knowledge and inspiration were all inextricably linked with the number nine.

In the Ancient World of Jerusalem

There were nine doors to the holiest part of the Temple in Ancient Jerusalem. These nine doors were the gateway to G_d. Why nine doors? In the Kabbalah, writings on Jewish mysticism, the number nine symbolizes the transcendent world because nine is a threshold number that allows for the transition to the next level of existence (to move from the world of one digit numbers to the world of the two digit numbers i.e., 1 + 9 moves to the next level of two-digit numbers 10 and so on.).

Multiplying by nine also reveals the mirror symmetry among numbers. If any number is multiplied by nine the resulting single digits always add up to nine. For example 2 x 9 = 18 (1 + 8 = 9); 3 x 9 = 27 (2 + 7 = 9), 4 x 9 = 36 (3 + 6 = 9) and so on.

The ancient Hebrews referred to the number nine as a mystical threshold between one world and the next and the symbol of immutable Truth.

In the Muslim World

The Holy month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. The month of Ramadan is traditionally believed to be the time when the Quran (Koran or Muslim Bible) was sent down from heaven, as a guide to living a good and proper life and as a means to learn how to achieve holiness and enter the gateway of salvation.

Nine and the World and Underworld

Viking mythology describes the Cosmos as being composed by nine worlds. The Ancient Mayans believed that human consciousness and history was built on nine distinct underworlds. The Divine Comedy, an epic poem written by the Italian, Dante Alighieri, in the fourteenth century, describes the author’s allegorical journey through the afterlife. In The Inferno, Dante describes nine circles of hell. In each circle, the sinners are guilty of one of three kinds of sin.

Three is a Number of Unity and Completion

Three is also considered a mystical number. Nine is divided equally into three parts with three in each part. Since ancient times the number three has symbolized unity and completion. The trinity of life is composed of substance (or form), intellect (or intelligence) and soul (or life essence). Three also symbolizes the trinity of the individual person as head (intellect), heart (emotion) and hand (physical being or physical action). Or the trinity of the family: father, mother, and child.

In Christian Tradition


In Christianity, God is divine as the Trinity. According to the Catholic Encylopedia: “The Trinity is the term employed to signify the central doctrine of the Christian religion– the truth that in the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these Three Persons being truly distinct one from another. Thus, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: “the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God.” The Holy Trinity forming a single God of unity and completion.

In Buddhist Teaching

According to the Buddhist tradition, all phenomena (dharmas) are marked by three characteristics, sometimes referred to as the Dharma Seals. The first seal, Anatta, is the unchanging, permanent essence of the soul. The second, Anicca, is the inconstant, unsteady, and impermanence of physical being. The third, Dukkha, is the self or world as it perceived by the individual and others.

In Hindu Tradition

Hindu teaching divides the cosmos into a set of three planes. Bhuloka is the “Earth world,” and is the physical plane of existence Antarloka is “Inner or in-between world,” and is the world of dreams and imagination. Sivalok is the “World of Siva,” and is the realm of the Gods, the saints and the most highly evolved souls.

The Magic Square

A magic square is three sets of three. It is created when each single digit number is used only once, but the horizontal, vertical and diagonal sums are all equal. (4 + 9 + 2 = 15 and 4 + 3 + 8 = 15 and so on). The sum 15 is also divisible by 9 and equals 3 (the number of each square in the row or diagonal).

The magic square was considered a sacred and powerful symbol in the Ancient Islamic, Tibetan, Buddhist, Celtic, Indian and Jewish traditions. The Chinese patterned their architectural temples along the harmonious principles of the magic square.

If this diagram looks familiar, you might recognize it as a basis for the popular 9 square by 9 square Sudoku number puzzle.

Now you know why there are 9 character types- time to check out some articles on all of them, and to learn more you can purchase my eBooks on the ETB store.

#ThinkpieceThursday – Genre Is Meaningless

Thinkpiece Thursday

I am a screenwriting heretic.  I don’t believe in many of the so-called foundational tenets of screenwriting.  For example, I don’t believe genre is a helpful term for writers.

Genre is mostly style, tone, and setting.  It’s a marketing tool.  It’s designed to help people scanning Netflix or Hulu for something to watch that fits their mood.

The Silence of the Lambs, on a streaming service, could be found under keywords: detective, crime, serial killer (sub-genre), mystery, thriller, or even coming of age (it’s about a young woman who is assigned her first professional job).  How is that mix helpful to a writer?

A detective story sometimes involves a murder, but not always. A thriller often involves a crime, but not always. A serial killer story sometimes involves a mystery, but not always.

This is very hazy ambiguous stuff when great writing is always about specificity.  What to do instead?

Apocalypse Now and Chinatown would never be located on the same “genre” shelf, but they both have the same emotional structure.  To me, emotional structure is key.

Both of these films feature a protagonist trying to find the truth about one simple thing (AN: where is Colonel Kurtz? CT: Who killed Hollis Mulwray?).

Over the course of the film, the protagonist finds out the truth about a much larger thing (N: The moral quagmire that was the war in Vietnam. CT: The corruption in City of Los Angeles water system.).

And in the end, the protagonist finds out the truth about himself (AN: Captain Willard could easily become Colonel Kurtz and, in fact, Kurtz’s followers want him to do just that. Willard looks into his own heart of darkness. CT: Jake Gittes lost two women he loved because he refused to ask for help.).

In Chinatown, we know Gittes has a strong relationship with the press because he threatens the bureaucrat with exposure in the press.  He could expose Noah Cross publically.  His ex-partner is a decent cop.  Gittes admits as much to Cross.  But Gittes doesn’t go to his partner for help in exposing Cross.

In each alternative, Evelyn Mulwray probably would never speak to or see Gittes again for revealing their monstrous family secret, but she wouldn’t be dead and her daughter/sister wouldn’t be in the hands of Cross.

Emotionally, Apocalypse Now and Chinatown have the same structure.  This is a specific emotional pattern that I think is much more useful than undefined notions of genre.

 

 

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#ThrowbackThursday- Aardman, Bristol and Me

Throwback Thursday

Something a little different this week…

People often ask me why I moved to the UK and why Bristol in particular.  I will leave the UK answer to my post on the difference between American and UK/European broadcasters.  The answer to the Bristol part is easy.

My good friend Paul Kewley, when newly appointed as a development executive at Aardman Studios, invited me to Bristol to do a series of workshops.  These visits to the city from the US resulted in several consulting assignments on Aardman projects.

I met Paul when I was in the Masters Program in Screenwriting at UCLA and he, a Brit, was a student in the USC Masters program in Producing.

He like a script of mine and we went out pitching a number of projects together.  Over the years we stayed in touch and when we were in a position to recommend each other we did! So thanks Paul for the introduction to Bristol and Aardman

Paul has since become Oscar-nominated as a producer of Shaun the Sheep.  One of Aardman’s iconic characters, first introduced in Nick Park’s Oscar-winning A Close Shave.

Always be kind to school chums as they may someday be in a position to offer you a job! And it’s a good idea to be kind and helpful anyway because that makes you a human being!

The lovely Nick Park, as a result of my work on Aardman projects, wrote one of the two letters I needed to apply for my Tier One Exceptional Talent visa. This allows me to work in the UK without restriction.

Nick is quite simply a genius, although a genuinely humble and shy one. The gentle affection with which he writes his characters, despite their loopy eccentricities shows a depth of understanding of the human condition.  Thanks, Nick for being one of the principle reasons I was allowed my lovely time in Bristol.

Barbara Machin, BAFTA-winning creator of Waking the Dead brought me on board as a consultant for long-running BBC medical series Casualty.  

I’ve since done work on both Casualty and companion show Holby City. The first show is about A & E (or the emergency room in US terms) and the second is set in the hospital.

 The shows were initially shot in Bristol and subsequently moved to Cardiff.  But it was another introduction to Bristol and Barbara was a principal cheerleader and hand-holder during my UK Visa application process.

So thank Barbara for encouraging not to give up my dream of living in the UK.  Initially, I thought for one year, but it’s been almost five and with a recent visa renewal, I am good to stay until 2021 and eligible to apply for “leave to remain” indefinitely. (like a US Green Card).

Wildseed, a talent incubator and production company started by Miles Bulloughs and Jesse Cleary, Aardman alumnus, hired me early on to help young animators improve their storytelling skills.  It was a Bristol vote of confidence shortly after I moved. And subsequently, Scandinavian and UK writers/directors and producers have come to Bristol to work with me.  And it’s very easy to fly anywhere from Bristol airport via Amsterdam or Brussels.

So the final answer is, I knew a lot of people in Bristol (a real social network and not just a virtual one), there were lots of clients here, and it is easy to travel anywhere in the world.  Not to mention Bristol is a wonderful friendly creative city! Voted Best Place to Live in Britain-  CLICK HERE

 

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