bookmark_borderThe use of Flashback in Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace (dir. Michael Apted, written by Steven Knight) seems to be the first major film to depict the life and activism of Wilfred Wilberforce. I was reluctant to write any review because I’m not sure of the historical accuracy of Wilberforce’s life. However, from a creative point of view, I find the use of flashbacks interesting.

Many biopics, from made-for-tv movies to big-budget blockbusters, use flashbacks as a creative device. At one extreme you have The Iron Lady, where almost every other scene is the elderly Thatcher remembering her rise and fall. Then there’s the TV movie like Coco Chanel, where flashbacks are used intermittently to show a character still in her prime remembering how she got where she was while preparing a show.

The classic, however, is a film like Gandhi (Dir: David Attenborough, writer: John Briley, 1982), where we start at the death of the main character, then tell the story in sequence, introducing the protagonist just before that fateful first decision is made. But, all these devices open a story toward the end of the story, not in the middle. Continue reading “The use of Flashback in Amazing Grace”

bookmark_borderBen Franklin’s financial advice

Since the following quote is so long, I won’t put it in quote format.

TO MY FRIEND A.B.,

As you have desired it of me, I write the following hints, which have been of service to me and may if observed be so to you.

REMEMBER that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor and goes abroad or sits idle one half of that day though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness ought not to reckon that the only expense, he has really spent or rather thrown away five shillings besides.

Remember that credit is money. If a man lets his money lie in my hands after it is due, he gives me the interest or so much as I can make of it during that time. This amounts to a considerable sum where a man has good and large credit and makes good use of it. Continue reading “Ben Franklin’s financial advice”

bookmark_borderIt takes more than 100 days

2 years ago, I witnessed the re-enactment of the battle of Waterloo.  Thousands of talented volunteers from around the world walked through the footsteps of Napoleon, Wellington, Blücher, and their allies and armies.

Although we didn’t have the best seats on the field, it was wonderful that so many dedicated re-enactors, or living historians, brought history to life for us.  If you missed it, you should have been there. Continue reading “It takes more than 100 days”

bookmark_borderFilmmaker admits awards are political

When The Hollywood Reporter asked producer Janine Jackowski if she was disappointed that Toni Erdmann didn’t win the foreign language Oscar, she said no. She expected it, when she heard the news of “Trump’s travel ban.”

“Two hours later I talked to Maren and we both said, ‘It’s gone.’ We knew the Academy would want to send a signal with the Iranian film. Up to that point, Toni Erdmann was one of the favorites.”

Continue reading “Filmmaker admits awards are political”

bookmark_border3 ways to work with a writing partner

Or, “Three Ways to Collaborate on a Screenplay.”

A lot of people offer advice to screenwriters. We don’t. We write scripts in-house, produce our own stories, and provide services to film production companies. So, screenwriters are not our target market.

So far, apart from a few student projects where working as part of a team was part of the grade, I tend to write alone.   I’m not looking for a writing partner, and unless I were hired to work as part of a team I don’t know if I’d work with one.

However, if you do write screenplays, and you have found your writing partner, I can tell you what seems to work for others.

1. Taking turns.
I found this one reading Joe Eszterhas’s autobiography. He did this with a friend and said it was a lot of fun. The resulting film wasn’t one of his biggest hits, but oh well. Taking turns is as simple as it sounds: One writer writes one draft, then sends it to the other writer for the next draft, bouncing it back and forth until they’re both happy with the final result.
2. Alternating scenes.
I also read a book by two comedy writers whose movies I enjoy, called “writing movies for fun and profit.” I laughed at Ben Garrant and Thomas Lennon’s films (the Pacifier, Night at The Museum, even Balls of Fury), but their scripts were much better than that book. Some jokes just have to be performed to make sense, I suppose.

Anyway, since the book is mostly written tongue in cheek (their films grossed a billion worldwide perhaps, but they’ve only seen a tiny fraction of that), I can’t be sure that this is really their working method, but it might work. First, you sit together in a room and rack your brains until you come up with an outline. Then, each writer writes a scene for part of that outline. They claim the outline is the hard part. After you’ve written the odd scenes and your partner the even scenes, you switch and polish off the other writer’s work.

3. Lyrics and rhythm.
 Teachers of music composition often express doubt that creative collaboration is possible. When confronted with great collaborators, they assume one artist wrote the lyrics and the other composed the melody, or something like that.
This can work in musicals, as illustrated in Topsy Turvy, and sort of reflects the way the famous 1930s Wizard of Oz was written. With a non-musical script, it’s a little more tricky. But, it can be done. French films have two kinds of writing credits, one for the storyline or treatment, and one for the writer who does the dialogue.

Now, before you approach me or anyone else with one of these, consider that all work best if you know your writing partner well, or if you have an existing working relationship with the writers. Do you share the same taste in films and stories? Do you have a story that you both want to tell in the same way? If you’re not on the same page, it probably won’t work.

Also, unless you’re both loaded, you’ll probably need some money to sustain yourselves while writing, or extra patience while your partner tries to find time to write. The reality is multitasking celebrities usually get ghostwriters to write for them, and even full-time screenwriters would normally take 3 months, 6 months, or even a year to complete a script. The mythical stories about someone writing a draft in three days leave out all the months that went into preparing that first draft and the additional months that went into writing the more careful second draft.

bookmark_border5 Remakes that pass for originals

We’re growing tired of remakes.  Some rehashes claim to be better than the original, but we’re not sure “better” is the right word.

Do we need another Karate Kid, another Dr. Doolittle, another Ghostbusters, another Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or another Steel Magnolias?  What was wrong with the first film?

(The second Karate Kid was okay,  but “Pick up your coat” is incredibly lazy compared to “wax on, wax off.”)

However, some remakes add something, and in some ways improve upon the original.  A few, in fact, are so good that we sometimes think that the remake is the original. Continue reading “5 Remakes that pass for originals”

bookmark_borderEaster Eggs.

For most, Easter is a wonderful time of year.  Schools (and even many employers) are closed, so families of all religions can celebrate together.  Some paint boiled-eggs, then hide them for children to find. Others use chocolates (or even toys) in place of boiled eggs.  In any case, they are hidden in places that aren’t obvious, but for obvious reasons aren’t too hard to find.

Children then seek out these treats, which they enjoy and share.  This is called the Easter Egg hunt.

When children look for the eggs, they come equipped with baskets. Though some make it competitive, organizers usually ensure that there are enough eggs for everyone. Sometimes we even limit what each child can gather.

The spirit of Easter is about giving and even sharing, not competition. (Although there are sports competitions that sometimes accompany the hunt.) Continue reading “Easter Eggs.”

bookmark_borderApocalypse Now Redux: review

Walter Murch, yes the Walter Murch, travelled all the way to Aberystwyth to take questions on his film, Apocalypse Now.

Okay, so Murch was only the sound stylist, right? An editor, not a director, star, screenwriter or even a producer. Producers take home the best picture award, directors get to be thought of the auteur, actors get famous, screenwriters can say they thought it all up, but without people working below the line there’s only so much you can do.

Continue reading “Apocalypse Now Redux: review”