Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tarantino Chic

Any time someone creates something--especially a writer--what they're doing is presenting their version of the world they live in.

This especially rings true for film, considering it's intrinsically tied to our world and is the most literal example of a stylized presentation of our world. Whenever you watch a movie, what you're essentially getting is a processed rendition of life. It's like looking through a window within your window of the world outside both windows.

That being said, it's obvious that every writer (since it all starts with the writer) has a different view of the world than the other one.

This is why most movies can be so different. The world Judd Apatow creates is very different than the one Steve Zallian creates, and even that is very different than Eric Roth. But none of them are as unique, stylized, intelligent, original, and just plain cool as Quentin Tarantino's.

Car from Reservoir Dogs. Doesn't get much cooler. Photo by Annie Leibovitz.
Tarantino was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and then soon after was raised in Los Angeles, California. He was named after Burt Reynold's character in Gun Smoke. His mother was sixteen when she gave birth to him. His father split later on and he and his mom moved to LA. When Tarantino was sixteen he dropped out of high school to "pursue filmmaking". Apparently he had an IQ of 160 at the time--which is genius level--so I guess he knew what he was doing. He started working at a video store, back when they were relevant and VHS tapes still existed, where he had infinite access to hundreds of films and film lovers to network with.

Clearly, Tarantino has lived a very colorful life with an obvious level of intelligence, complete disregard of what is expected,  and an extreme lack of formality. After watching and reading multiple interviews, it seems like he's lead this singular life in a way that's worked for the better (his career also suggests this). Instead of being a total weirdo, he's become a very entertaining and enlightened man.

This comes through without a doubt in the films he writes.

Although his most popular films like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill 1-2, and Inglorious Basterds do a great job at displaying his unique and entrancing view of the world, I believe his most personal film, Deathproof, is the best example.

Unlike the previous movies listed, Deathproof is essentially plotless. It's a complete homage to seventies car movies, beautiful woman, brilliant conversation, libations, and some of the best music south of the Mason-Dixon Line (it takes place in Austin, Texas and Lebanon, Tennessee. Tarantino usually always mentions his home state and one of his favorite cities). It even has an eighteen minute, epic, car chase at the end. It is, in other words, Tarantino's fantasy movie where he was given free reign to put whatever he wants on film.

It's obvious that by 2007, when Deathproof came out, Tarantino had been successful long enough that his name being put on a project was enough for producers to start throwing money at him--regardless of content and commercial capabilities.

But, his earlier films were a huge risk. Natural Born Killers, his first sold feature script, was an ordeal which lead to Tarantino physically assaulting producer Don Murphy in a restaurant resulting in a $5,000,000 lawsuit. All Murphy did was attempt to change Tarantino's script.

Reservoir Dogs was his first break out. A film about a robbery gone wrong, we can't  help but watch as the train wreck unfolds in front of our eyes, resulting in a bloody climax that is one of the best scenes in film history.

And then he shocked the world with Pulp Fiction, a film that could have been good going in chronological order but got propelled to greatness when Tarantino decided to cut up the story. Once again, a gutsy move.

Photo by Annie Leibovitz.
Tarantino's films may be based on a stylized view of the world combined with his own brilliant art of conversation, but his career is marked by an uncompromising determination to make his film. To write the movies that he wants to see about the world that he sees and experiences. He certainly has the chops to pull it off. Thank God he's got the balls to share it with us.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Business of One-Sheets

I was introduced, a little while ago, to one-sheets by John August. Well, the official name I was introduced to. I was already familiar with what they are: movie posters.

Most of us cinemaphiles know that the one-sheets of old are much better and more sophisticated than the one-sheets of now. But, I was introduced to this website by amazing director Jon Favreau, which features artists' modern, sophisticated, stylish, and incredibly original one-sheets of contemporary and classic films. This is not a new trend in the modern art world, in fact here's another source for what Mr. August calls "unsheets" at My Modern Metropolis and also here.

Less this.

As you can see, the graphics of these posters are all driven by the content of the movie. These artists consume these films, get to the heart of them, and use that as a way to represent the film in one image. For example, if you had one image to express, what you feel, is the most important aspect of the film, what would you choose?

More this.
The resulting product are images that say things about our culture on multiple levels. One of them is how deep of an affect films have on us. Clearly these artists have spent considerable time not only creating these posters, but also in watching and analyzing the films. They break down the tone, the camera angles, and the meaning of certain poignant images in these films and mashed them all together in one image that is designed to get to the core of the film.

In a simple sense, what I'm getting at here, is that the posters linked to above are all examples of what the motion picture industry is missing: class, sophistication, taste, and style.

Now, obviously, these posters are infinitely better than what studios are pumping out as ways to collect our hard earned dollars. My conundrum is why doesn't the studio use these as advertisements for their films?

Faye Dunaway as beautiful as ever.

Granted, they are not for every demographic. This much is true. But they are for the biggest and wealthiest demographic: 18 to 25 year olds at metropolitan colleges.

My proposal: The studios distributing, and therefore advertising, these major Hollywood releases, should commission works by local artists in Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and LA to create "unsheets" like these to be posted and used as advertisements in these cities. That way they not only add a local feel and flavor to the promotion of their films, but also play towards the abundance of "creative" 18 to 25 year olds coming out of progressive, WASPy, suburban schools.

Imagine in this in the halls of NYU's Tisch, promoting an alumni's next film and maybe made by an alumnus as well.

On top of that, if they're feeling generous, they can cut a deal with the local artists to split the profits from all poster sales 50/50. That's pretty good. If my recently post-grad graphic design friend got commissioned by Warner Brothers to do the posters for their next release I'd buy a few. Wouldn't you? The "buy local" movement is still holding strong.

Either way, how we present what we create stands a lot for what we believe in. Clearly, the film industry doesn't believe much in style and class. Unfortunately, though, the film industry is also a major taste-maker for our culture. It's important that every once and a while our culture tears down and starts anew with what we idolize. Rebirth is growth, and if you look at every truly successful artist (the "true" coming from longevity) image regeneration has played a major part in their success.

I would see this movie in a heartbeat. I didn't even like No Country for Old Men.

The film industry isn't just the last industry that wants to fall behind the curve of what's popular, it's the industry that absolutely can not afford to. And, right now, these are pretty damn trendy.

Think about it, Hollywood.

The Noir of  The Social Network.
Paramount aspect of the story. Titanic as a thriller.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why Everyone Should See HappyThankYouMorePlease

About a week ago I posted an analysis of my top three scripts. Josh Radnor's HappyThankYouMorePlease is a close fourth.

Go get yourself some lovin'.

HappyThankYouMorePlease is an ensemble piece--probably the first good one in ages--about a couple twenty-something New Yorkers struggling to find direction and meaning in our modern culture. Written in 2007--where it was voted on to the Black List--it took years of work by Radnor (who wrote, directed, edited, produced, and is starring in it) for it to come to fruition. It was premiered at Sundance this year and just opened to a limited audience in New York last weekend.

I don't normally read the Huffington Post, but I was just directed to a great article by Cate from C is for Cinema on Huffington that was written by Radnor.

Radnor in HTYMP and his new best friend.

In summary, the article stipulates why, in a time of post-post-modern-existential speed of thought, where trends and ideas last a good two weeks and we all seem to be incredibly pessimistic, doubtful, or just thoroughly lost, that he chose to spend years slaving over something so...happy.

His answer is very well written and very intelligent. The normal stigma we give to "happy" films is that they're less intellectually fulfilling. My experience in reading HTYMP was the exact opposite. It's an extremely smart script, that challenges our modern thoughts and beliefs on happiness and success. And so does Radnor's article.

I highly recommend you go view this movie when it's available at a theatre near you. And, if it already is, than go see it on this rainy weekend. It'll make you so Happy that you'll say Thank You and come back for More saying Please.

That last joke was pretty bad but in all honesty this is required viewing for twenty-somethings everywhere. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Architectural Narrative

Narrative is storytelling. Stories consist of events that are put in a certain order to affect characters in certain ways.  These stories may exist on Pluto or in  your backyard. Either way, they came from your (the storyteller's) head and therefore are intrinsically, subconsciously, and unavoidably involved in the world we exist in, right here and right now.

A writer once said that the best writers are the ones who beautifully weave life in and out of the story--using its essence rather than its topical  events. Mediocre writers attempt to do this, but their failures show too easily--there's always a sense of something not being right, something being uncomfortable (not in the sense of content, but in tone). And bad writers just rape the shit out of life.

That being said, life is crazy. It's unpredictable, irrational, irreversible, meaningless, way too short, and it tosses us around like a rag doll in a Hurricane. So what do we do? We take it in--all of it, the worst of the worst to the best of the best--and we structure it. We control it. We compartmentalize it until it gets to the point that it's an easily controlled and understandable form of literature. Our world in 90 to 120 pages.

In a sense, we are architects in designing the edifice of a story. We are building a narrative. We are constructing a connected series of events.

Boston Public Library Courtyard. Neoclassical. At once an homage to classics and a symbol of new learning.
Architects, in order to successfully design a building--a massive piece of product that effects our lives on a daily basis--must take into account numerous, often too many, Things. A couple of them are a little more important i.e., the function of the building and the building's relationship with the world around it.

What is this building for? What is this building doing?

These two questions affect everything. The mode of design--contemporary, neo-classical, arts nouveau, arts and crafts, modern--the way the inner workings of the building are designed--big rooms? small rooms? no rooms? stairs? elevators? where are the elevators?--to the exterior facades--windows? lots of windows? big windows? no windows?

Although these may be the broadest of broad strokes it is often time not having the broadest of broad strokes that fails us. These questions, these thoughts, create the foundation of our creation and if our foundation is not strong enough to build our metaphorical building on, it simply will not hold.

The same is true for writing.

Who is this story for? What is this story doing?

The answers are a little less ambiguous, though. The first question is always you. You are the writer. You are the creator. You are the one putting yourself on the line, making yourself vulnerable and naked for all the world to see and criticize. If this story isn't completely tied to who you are, it will fall on its face.

The second, the verb, is a little more ambiguous. This is up to you. This is where you make your mark. Just like every architect has certain mathematical and physical requirements in which he/she must design their building--the writer has certain limits in which to design our stories (especially screenwriting). DO NOT leave these boundaries or--once again--your building will fall on its face.
Hancock Building isn't falling on its face any time soon.

Instead, find your creativity within the boundaries. Limitations--believe it or not--induce creativity. Challenges, confrontation, conflict (ALL OF WHICH ARE INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT TO NARRATIVE) are the ingredients for creativity. Tight deadlines, rules, bitchy producers--all of these push us to perform and create in ways we never thought we were capable of. Genius is 1% personal ambition 99% your interpretation of everything else. What this story does--essentially what it is--is determined by how you play within the rules and how well you're able to bend them without breaking them.
Check the details. Creativity in the boundaries.

Same for architects. Architects can't defy gravity, if you're gonna have a staircase it better hold who ever is walking up it. It's how well they're able to make a functional staircase that separates them from the others. How does this staircase fit into the motifs that I've set in the broad strokes while still functioning as a staircase?

If anybody says art has no rules--they're bullshitting you. Have you ever seen Picasso's early work? It's remarkably normal.

And remarkably beautiful.

In order for us to branch out to literary cubism we must first conquer the broad strokes. We must first prove our abilities to play within the rules--much like how Frank Lloyd Wright started out as an apprentice to Louis Sullivan and how Picasso started with his beautiful portraits. It took FLW years of work before he became the famous architect (and womanizing egomaniac) we know today.

Like what Morgan Freeman said in Shawshank Redemption, "Time and pressure. Sometimes that's all a man needs."

Mine the rules, give yourself some time, and add some pressure. That's really all you need.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Big Three

1. The Adjustment Bureau

Magic Fedoras. Beautiful Ballet Dancers. Fighting for Love.
2. The Muppet Man


3. The Dogs of Babel

What a dog would say if he could talk...
I've never thought about why these three have found their way so deeply into my heart. I guess I've been too concerned with trying to consume as many scripts as I can to stop and think about why I got chills at every major beat in The Adjustment Bureau, or at the end of Muppet Man, and during the climax of Dogs of Babel.

But, there are a couple things these stories have in common.


Unrequited romance.

Jim Henson, David Morris, and Paul Ransome are all going through some serious romantic issues.

Jim Henson's work has driven him almost physically ill and pushed away the woman he's loved the most--causing him to suffer from incredible heartache.

David Morris (Adjustment Bureau) is fighting to be with the woman who--for some inexplicable reason--he cares about more than anything else in this world, and he's fighting against incredible odds.

Paul Ransome (Dogs of Babel) is a man on a mission to find closure for not only the crumbling of his marriage but the mysterious death of his wife. The only witness being their dog.

Woody Allen once said that the only true romance is unrequited romance. Heartache is clearly the foundation of all these and is something that can drive grown men crazy. Just look at any country song out there.

The other night I was watching Richard Pryor's Live on the Sunset Strip. In this routine he has a fifteen minute spiel about how men react to being heart broken. It was so true it was hilarious.

"Men--we deal with heartbreak differently. Y'all woman you cry and shit. We just bottle it up like it don't hurt...then we walk in front of buses. "Aw, did you see that? That motherfucker just walked in front of a bus! 'Course he did. He was heartbroken. Motherfucker wouldn't  have seen a 747."

Call me a hopeless romantic--but heartache seems to be my specialty.


Fantasticism. I know. That's not a word. But, I think it's the best way to describe how all these stories go into the depths of something fantastical.

In The Muppet Man--Jim Henson's story is paralleled by Kermit's as he goes through an alcoholic stupor and tries get Miss Piggy off the altar before she marries that annoying muppet who tries to be a comedian and laughs at his own jokes. I forget his name. Henson's story (it's a biopic) is constantly cameoed by the amazing characters he created and, subsequently, died for. It's an incredibly powerful way to tell the story of a creator, like Henson, through what he created. Not to mention how the beautiful songs ("I'm Going to go Back there Someday"!) he made are woven into his own personal story. I'm getting chills now just from reminiscing.

Adjustment Bureau--I mean, come on. Do I really have to? I've been known to wear fedora hats when I go out. It's a great ice breaker for woman and the glue to my personal style. But, in this world, fedora hats have special powers. That's amazing. Let alone the sole idea that there is an entire bureau of people working to control the universe, to control our destinies to make sure that all goes according to plan. And, of course, Matt Damon is fighting against this and (SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!)...wins. Beautiful.

Dogs of Babel--I love dogs. Everything about them. I've had them as far as I can remember and will have them for the rest of my life. This story is interspersed with little vignettes of how dogs have saved their owners lives. Of the unconditional love that dogs are famous for. Of their brilliant devotion, loyalty, and that fucking sixth sense for the ones they love that adds that ultimate mystique to them. Let alone the premise: A linguist seeks to teach his dog how to talk so he can learn what really happened to his recently deceased wife. Talking dogs have been around for a while (Pixar did an amazing job) but this is a whole other way of looking at it. I read this script almost immediately after I read the Art of Racing in the Rain and the two combined are extremely powerful.


Great Characters.

Muppet Man--Jim Henson. Kermit the Frog. Rowlf the Dog. Miss Piggy. Swedish Chef. ANIMAL!. Not only are these brilliant characters but the way Christopher Weekes weaves them in his story is beautiful. The subtleties and specificities he uses to create these characters--to give them life--are touching.

This goes for all the films.

It's clear that the writers of these three movies not only love life, but have taken the time to sit and look at what really makes us tick. And they've found that it's not the overarching, massive, broad strokes of themes and ideas. It's the little shit. "All The Small Things" by Blink - 182 shit.

There's a reason why two very popular statements are: The Devil's in the details AND God is in the details.

We find the highest of happiness and lowest of pain in the details we see in life. When a certain someone looks at you in a different way--it can send you soaring or crashing depending on the context. But it's just a look. Or just a saying. Or the way someone responds to your text messages differently than usual. The small details of life are the glue that hold everything together. Find them. Use them. Write about them.

Now that I think about this, the plot of Dogs of Babel is entirely built on subtleties. I'll let you read the script yourself, but when Paul Ransome finally opens his eyes and sees the beautiful details his wife left behind for him it's an incredible scene. Once again. Chills.

After writing this something has occurred to me: Why haven't I used these in my stories yet?