Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Friday, February 17, 2012
Wonder how the scenario will pan out in India. With each for himself, and with not much unity within the particular domains (exhibitors or distributors,) it would be interesting to see how things pan out, especially when some folks control both the sectors. I guess there's still some time left before substantial shake-ups happen.
Observations on film art : Pandora's digital box: Notes on NOCs
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
1. You are creative.
2. Creative thinking is work.
3. You must go through the motions of being creative.
4. Your brain is not a computer.
5. There is no right answer.
6. Never stop with your first good idea.
7. Expect the experts to be negative.
8. Trust your instincts.
9. There is no such thing as failure.
10. You do not see things as they are; you see them as you are.
11. Always approach a problem on its own terms.
12. Learn to think unconventionally.
I think my two favorites are this:
There is no such thing as failure. Whenever you try to do something and do not succeed, you do not fail. You have learned something that does not work. Always ask "What have I learned about what doesn't work?", "Can this explain something that I didn't set out to explain?", and "What have I discovered that I didn't set out to discover?" Whenever someone tells you that they have never made a mistake, you are talking to someone who has never tried anything new.
Learn to think unconventionally. Creative geniuses do not think analytically and logically. Conventional, logical, analytical thinkers are exclusive thinkers which means they exclude all information that is not related to the problem. They look for ways to eliminate possibilities. Creative geniuses are inclusive thinkers which mean they look for ways to include everything, including things that are dissimilar and totally unrelated. Generating associations and connections between unrelated or dissimilar subjects is how they provoke different thinking patterns in their brain. These new patterns lead to new connections which give them a different way to focus on the information and different ways to interpret what they are focusing on. This is how original and truly novel ideas are created. Albert Einstein once famously remarked "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand."
And then this summary:
Creativity is paradoxical. To create, a person must have knowledge but forget the knowledge, must see unexpected connections in things but not have a mental disorder, must work hard but spend time doing nothing as information incubates, must create many ideas yet most of them are useless, must look at the same thing as everyone else, yet see something different, must desire success but embrace failure, must be persistent but not stubborn, and must listen to experts but know how to disregard them.
The thing about creative writing: We're not dealing with widgets, rather we're pilgrims in a universe infused with mystery. As desperately as we may want to believe there is some foolproof routine or all-knowing system to write a great story, the truth is writers are wranglers of magic.
And that's the way it should be, at least in terms of being authentically creative, perhaps nowhere more than screenwriting. Anybody can write a formulaic script. It's only writers who go into their story and engage their characters within the context of their story universe as organic, alive and real entities with their own back-stories, personalities, wants, needs, fears and so forth that we tap into the magic.
And so a toast, fellow pilgrim. May we commit ourselves each day to the ever-challenging task of engaging our Creative Self in order to Wrangle the Magic!
For more of the Psychology Today article, go here.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
The Art of Screenwriting No. 1, Billy Wilder | Paris Review
Theater vs Pictures
The tragedy of the picture maker, as opposed to the playwright, is that for the playwright the play debuts in Bedford, Massachusetts, and then you take it to Pittsburgh. If it stinks you bury it. If you examine the credits of Moss Hart or George Kaufman, no one ever brings up the play that bombed in the provinces and was buried after four shows.
With a picture that doesn't work, no matter how stupid and how bad, they're still going to try to squeeze every single penny out of it. You go home one night and turn on the TV and suddenly, there on television, staring back at you, on prime time, that lousy picture, that thing, is back! We don't bury our dead; we keep them around smelling badly.
Now, I do have to admit I was disappointed by the lack of success of some pictures I thought were good, such as Ace in the Hole. I liked the movie very much but it did not generate any "must-see" mood in audiences.
On the other hand, sometimes you'll have a rough time, and the film will turn out all right. On Sabrina I had a very rough time with Humphrey Bogart. It was the first time he'd worked with Paramount. Every evening after shooting, people would have a drink in my office, and a couple of times I forgot to invite him. He was very angry and never forgave me.
Sometimes when you finish a picture you just don't know whether it's good or bad. When Frank Capra was shooting Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, after the last shot she said, Will that be all Mr. Capra?
We're all done.
All right. Now why don't you go and fuck yourself. She thought the picture was shit, but she won the Academy Award for it.
On Writing Partner, Brackett
After Sunset Boulevard, Brackett and I parted friends. Twelve years together, but the split had been coming. It's like a box of matches: you pick up the match and strike it against the box, and there's always fire, but then one day there is just one small corner of that abrasive paper left for you to strike the match on. It was not there anymore. The match wasn't striking. One of us said, Look, whatever I have to give and whatever you have to offer, it's just not enough. We can end on the good note of Sunset Boulevard. A picture that was revolutionary for its day.
On Writing Partner, Diamond
We had a great deal of trust in each other. But sometimes with writing you just can't tell, especially if you're writing under pressure. Diamond and I were writing the final scene of Some Like It Hot the week before we shot it. We'd come to the situation where Lemmon tries to convince Joe B. Brown that he cannot marry him.
"Why?" Brown says.
"Because I smoke!"
"That's all right as far as I'm concerned."
Finally Lemmon rips his wig off and yells at him, "I'm a boy! Because I'm a boy!"
Diamond and I were in our room working together, waiting for the next line—Joe B. Brown's response, the final line, the curtain line of the film—to come to us. Then I heard Diamond say, "Nobody's perfect." I thought about it and I said, Well, let's put in "Nobody's perfect" for now. But only for the time being. We have a whole week to think about it. We thought about it all week. Neither of us could come up with anything better, so we shot that line, still not entirely satisfied. When we screened the movie, that line got one of the biggest laughs I've ever heard in the theater. But we just hadn't trusted it when we wrote it; we just didn't see it. "Nobody's perfect." The line had come too easily, just popped out.
On Writing Partner, Chandler
He accused me of having as many as three martinis at lunch. Furthermore, he wrote that he found it very disconcerting that Mr. Wilder gets two, three, sometimes even four calls from obviously young girls.
Naturally. I would take a phone call, three or four minutes, to say, Let's meet at that restaurant there, or, Let's go for a drink here. He was about twenty years older than I was, and his wife was older than him, elderly. And I was on the phone with girls! Sex was rampant then, but I was just looking out for myself. Later, in a biography he said all sorts of nasty things about me—that I was a Nazi, that I was uncooperative and rude, and God knows what. Maybe the antagonism even helped. He was a peculiar guy, but I was very glad to have worked with him.
To begin to make even a mediocre film you have to learn the rules. You have to know about timing, about creating characters, a little about camera position, just enough to know if what you're suggesting is possible. They pooh-poohed it.
Whenever we saw Scott Fitzgerald there, we'd talk with him, but he never once asked us anything about writing screenplays.
Pictures are something like plays. They share an architecture and a spirit. A good picture writer is a kind of poet, but a poet who plans his structure like a craftsman and is able to tell what's wrong with the third act. What a veteran screenwriter produces might not be good, but it would be technically correct; if he has a problem in the third act he certainly knows to look for the seed of the problem in the first act. Scott just didn't seem particularly interested in any of these matters.
At some point he worked with Howard Hawks on To Have and Have Not, and he cowrote The Land of the Pharaohs. On that movie they went way over schedule with production and far past their estimated costs. On screen, there were thousands of slaves dragging enormous stones to build the pyramids. It was like an ant heap. When they finally finished the film and screened it for Jack Warner, Warner said to Hawks, Well, Howard, if all the people who are in the picture come to see it, we may break even.
Hecht truly endeared himself to the people he worked with. A producer or director would be in a jam . . . the set built, the leads hired, the shooting begun, only to admit to themselves finally that the script they had was unusable. They would bring out Hecht, and he would lie in bed at Charles Lederer's house and on a yellow tablet produce a pile of sheets, a screenplay ready to go. They'd take that night's pages from Hecht's hands, forward them to Mr. Selznick, who'd fiddle with them, have the pages mimeographed and put in the actor's hands by morning. It was a crazy way to work, but Hecht took the work very seriously, though not as seriously as he would a play of his. They call that sort of thing script doctoring. If Hecht had wanted, he could have had credit on a hundred more pictures.
It was wonderful to work with some actors. Jack Lemmon. If we were to start at nine, he'd be there at eight-fifteen with a mug of coffee and his pages from the night before. He'd say, Last night I was running lines with Felicia—his wife—and had this wonderful idea. What do you think here? And he'd go on. It might be wonderful and we'd use it, or I might just look at him, and then he'd say, Well, I don't like it either. He worked hard and had many ideas, but he never was interfering.
Sometimes I'd have an actor so stubborn that I'd say, All right, let's do it two ways. We'd do it my way, and I'd say to my assistant, Print that. Then to the actor, All right, now your way. We'd do it his way with no celluloid in the camera.
On Producers' Comments
I was talking once with a writer who had worked at Columbia who showed me a script that had just been read by Samuel Briskin, one of the big men at that studio. I looked at the script. On every page, there was at the bottom just one word: improve.
Like The New Yorker editor Harold Ross's imperative "make better."
That would be one word too many for these producers. Just improve.
On 'Idea Guys'
There was one guy who never wrote a word but who came up with ideas. One of them was: San Francisco. 1906 earthquake. Nelson Eddy. Jeanette McDonald.
Great! Terrific! Cheers from the producers. A film came out of that sentence.
Do you know how Nelson Eddy ended up with his name? He was Eddie Nelson. He just reversed it. Don't laugh! Eddie Nelson is nothing. Nelson Eddy was a star.
On Studio Rivalry
The studio era was of course very different from today. There were many different fiefdoms scattered around town, each producing its own sort of picture. The Paramount people would not converse with the MGM people; wouldn't even see each other. The MGM people especially would not consort for dinner or even lunch with the people from Fox.
One night before I was to begin One, Two, Three I had dinner at the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Goetz, who always had wonderful food. I was seated next to Mrs. Edie Goetz, Louis Mayer's younger daughter, and she asked what sort of picture I was going to make. I told her it was set in Berlin and we'd be shooting in Germany.
Who plays the lead?
Jimmy Cagney. As it happens, it was his last picture except for that cameo in Ragtime.
She said, Who?
Jimmy Cagney. You know, the little gangster who for years was in all those Warner Brothers . . .
Oh! Daddy didn't allow us to watch Warner Brothers pictures. She had no idea who he was.
Film's thought of as a director's medium because the director creates the end product that appears on the screen. It's that stupid auteur theory again, that the director is the author of the film. But what does the director shoot—the telephone book? Writers became much more important when sound came in, but they've had to put up a valiant fight to get the credit they deserve.
On Writers & Stars
Nobody consults the movie writer. In production, they just go wildly ahead. If the star has another picture coming up, and they need to finish the picture by Monday, they'll just tear out ten pages. To make it work somehow, they add a few stupid lines.
Brackett and I were writing a picture called Hold Back the Dawn. Back then, no writer was allowed on the set. If the actors and the director weren't interpreting the script correctly, if they didn't have the accent on the right word when they were delivering a gag, if they didn't know where the humor was, a writer might very well pipe up. A director would feel that the writer was creating a disruption.
For Hold Back the Dawn, we had written a story about a man trying to immigrate into the U.S. without the proper papers. Charles Boyer, who played the lead, is at rope's end, destitute, stranded in a filthy hotel—the Esperanza—across the border, near Mexicali or Calexico. He is lying in this lousy bed, holding a walking stick, when he sees a cockroach walk up the wall and onto a mirror hanging on the wall. Boyer sticks the end of the walking stick in front of the cockroach and says, "Wait a minute, you. Where are you going? Where are your papers? You haven't got them? Then you can't enter." The cockroach tries to walk around the stick, and the Boyer character keeps stopping it.
One day Brackett and I were having lunch across the street from Paramount. We were in the middle of writing the third act of the picture. As we left our table to walk out, we saw Boyer, the star, seated at a table, his little French lunch spread out before him, his napkin tucked in just so, a bottle of red wine open on the table. We stopped by and said, Charles, how are you?
Oh, fine. Thank you.
Although we were still working on the script, Mitchell Leisen had already begun to direct the production. I said, And what are you shooting today, Charles?
We're shooting this scene where I'm in bed and . . .
Oh! The scene with the cockroach! That's a wonderful scene.
Yes, well, we didn't use the cockroach.
Didn't use the cockroach? Oh, Charles, why not?
Because the scene is idiotic. I have told Mr. Leisen so, and he agreed with me. How do you suppose a man can talk to some thing that cannot answer you? Then Boyer looked out the window. That was all. End of discussion. As we walked back to the studio to continue to write the third act, I said to Brackett, That son of a bitch. If he doesn't talk to the cockroach, he doesn't talk to anybody! We gave him as few lines as possible . . . wrote him right out of the third act.
On Being a Director
I don't come from the theater or any dramatic school like the Strasberg school, and I didn't particularly have ambitions to be a director, to be a despot of the soundstage. I just wanted to protect the script. It's not that I had a vision or theory I wanted to express as a director; I had no signature or style, except for what I learned from when I was working with Lubitsch and from analyzing his pictures—to do things as elegantly and as simply as possible.
The Art of Screenwriting No. 1, Billy Wilder | Paris Review
Monday, January 16, 2012
Ms. Doran is in the movie business, and her résumé runs from production executive on "This Is Spinal Tap" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," to producer of "The Firm," "Sense and Sensibility" and "Stranger Than Fiction," to president of United Artists Pictures, and now an independent producer.
What's not on her résumé is just as intriguing: script doctor, for one, and anti-smoking advocate who helped lead the effort to eliminate on-screen puffing. But the biggest position missing from the official CV is her role as a missionary for mood-elevating films. Terry Rossio, a writer whose credits include "Shrek" and the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, playfully describes her as a "Pied Piper, leading all those ratty, bleak and violent screenplays in town over a cliff."
Ms. Doran is an omnivore who likes movies light, dark and in between. But when she attended the Austin Film Festival last year, "something I found both terribly sad and terribly sympathetic," she recently recalled, "is that aspiring screenwriters ask again and again, 'What can I write that a financier wants to make?' Not, 'What can I write that fills me with joy?' "
After reading the book "Flourish," by Martin E. P. Seligman, a catalyst of the positive-psychology movement, she began rewatching films through the lens of what Dr. Seligman identifies as the five essential elements of well-being: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment. (He refers to these elements collectively as perma.)
The results surprised her. And they inspired a stealth campaign to reverse the Hollywood superstitions that a "movie is only art if it ends badly, and that you'll only win an Academy Award if you write or direct a movie about misery or play someone miserable," as she put it. During the past six months, at a symposium and in a series of presentations to filmmakers, she has strongly advocated the concept of cinematic Zoloft.
"What shocked us," said Dan Lin, a producer of the Sherlock Holmes films whose team recently watched a Doran presentation, "were Lindsay's points about what audiences care about most — relationships and the positive resolution of those relationships. We had previously thought what was most important was the lead character winning at the end of the movie."
Reflecting at her home here in December Ms. Doran said: "Some people say I'm just talking about formula filmmaking. What I wanted to know is: Why is the formula the formula?" She analyzed box-office hits and critically acclaimed movies on the American Film Institute's favorites lists. She broke down their emotional components, isolated the elements of mood elevation and tested her findings against those of market researchers. She concluded: Positive movies do not necessarily have happy endings; their characters' personal relationships trump personal achievements; and male and female viewers differ in how they define a character's accomplishments.
Ms. Doran had long been drawn to "funny dramas and comedies that make you cry," she said. Now she knew why.
In a July presentation before the Second World Congress of the International Positive Psychology Association in Philadelphia Ms. Doran recalled her first "aha!" moment, when she recognized that the perma elements of well-being that Dr. Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania professor, had identified were the basis of the movies that made her, and others, happy. She showed how these five factors were embedded in films as far-flung as "Ferris Bueller" (characters who displayed positive emotions throughout), "The Godfather" (characters fully engaged in what they're doing throughout) and "The Karate Kid" (a character completely focused on accomplishment).
"It's no surprise to say that American movies specialize in stories of accomplishment," she told her audience, adding later, "When Jennifer Grey finally dares to make the scary leap at the end of 'Dirty Dancing,' when the Karate Kid performs the impossible kick that wipes out his opponent, or when King George VI gets through his wartime speech without stammering — those accomplishments are among the great pleasures of cinema."
Ms. Doran's second "aha!" moment came when she consulted a veteran market researcher who oversees hundreds of previews annually. "I listed the five elements of well-being, and he said, 'I can already tell you one thing: Audiences don't care about accomplishments.' " She was thunderstruck. Wasn't the Hollywood ending about accomplishment?
No, he said, adding: "Audiences don't care about an accomplishment unless it's shared with someone else. What makes an audience happy is not the moment of victory but the moment afterwards when the winners shares that victory with someone they love." So she mentally rewound the concluding scenes of these "accomplishment" films. Ms. Grey leaps into the arms of Patrick Swayze at the end of "Dirty Dancing," and after that she reconciles with her father. Jaden Smith performs that impossible kick at the end of "The Karate Kid," but afterward makes peace with his opponent and shares the moment with his mother and trainer. Colin Firth conquers his stammer at the end of "The King's Speech," and then shares his victory with his wife, daughters and the crowds cheering outside the palace. The film closes with a title card that reads that the king and his speech therapist remained friends for the rest of their lives.
"Three generations of psychiatry and psychology have been suborned by finances to the misery agenda," Dr. Seligman said in an interview, explaining why there is not much government grant money to support research on mood-elevating films. "Movies are a form of soma," he said, referring to the idea of an uplifting drug, and he hypothesized that "more perma-like movies would make people's lives better, but nobody's researched that."
Jonathan Haidt, a University of Virginia professor of psychology and the author of "The Happiness Hypothesis," said, "People not only use movies and music as soma to feel good, they use it to open themselves to others." It may follow that watching narratives about positive relationships in a darkened room alongside others is elevating.
Not long after Ms. Doran's insights about the nature of movie accomplishment and relationships, she realized that relationship movies were gender-specific. In movies aimed at men and boys, she said, "there is the goal, the thing the hero is trying to accomplish." Then, she continued, "there's the relationship, usually with a woman, child, friend or father. Usually at the end the hero realizes the relationship is more important than the accomplishment." But in most movies geared toward women, she realized, the relationship is the accomplishment.
"Some would say that this is patronizing to women," Ms. Doran said, but she saw it differently: "Maybe it just means that women have figured it out."
When she shared this with some female producers, she said, they were surprised.
The actress Emma Thompson said in an e-mail, "My initial reaction to Lindsay's presentation was a bit like when you read something in a book and think you've always known it," but then you realize "the only reason you thought you knew it is because it's so well put and so clear." (Parenthetically she added, "Sometimes a comedy like 'Spinal Tap' is as good as a double dose of paracetamol.")
Ms. Thompson, who has worked with Ms. Doran on five movies including "Sense and Sensibility," was struck by three of her conclusions. First, some of the most elevating American movies "are about people desperate to achieve something that they do not get to achieve." (George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life" doesn't get to travel the world, Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird" doesn't win an acquittal for his client.) Second, many of the greatest romances ("Roman Holiday," "Casablanca") are about lovers who can't or don't remain together. And in many of the most successful movies of all time accomplishment is accompanied by incalculable loss: In Ms. Doran's words, "Obi-Wan dies, Dumbledore dies, Gandalf dies, 1,500 passengers on the Titanic die, thousands of Pandorans die." The protagonist may be happy at the end, "but his smile," she said, "is laced with the loss that's come before."
What this suggested to her is that "the accomplishment the audience values most is not when the heroine saves the day or the hero defeats his opponent." Instead, she said, "the accomplishment the audience values most is resilience."
So where does Ms. Doran go from here? As she continues speaking with filmmakers and studios, she said in an e-mail: "I think the thing that they're getting out of it is that the 'happy ending,' the one that is most memorable and might make people go back to see the film a second time, might not be about winning. It might be about not winning, about finding something deeper that means more than victory."
"A lot of people seem stunned," she added, that ending with a character who survives loss "might be both the more inspiring and the more commercial way to end a movie."