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In a World where Ingrid Goes West

Two articles about the same movie, one in The Hollywood Reporter and one from IndieWatch caught my eye this week for the same reason–Aubrey Plaza.  The film is a new Indie film by Matt Spicer, about Ingrid (played by Aubrey Plaza), a young woman who tried to make friends with a woman she follow-stalks on Instagram (Taylor, played by Elizabeth Olsen).

After Ingrid has an initially successful attempt to befriend Taylor by stealing her dog and pretending she found it as an excuse to me, things quickly spiral out of control.

Interestingly enough, the trailer itself wasn’t that interesting to me–I mean, it wasn’t bad–it is a well edited trailer which poses a lot of questions, but it didn’t really give me any idea at all about what the film was.  I had to get the premise from other sources.  Because I had just watched the trailer for In A World (a 2013 Indie film by Lake Bell) for a class, I automatically compared the trailers to each other.

In A World took a very different approach.  It’s a longer trailer at two and a half minutes.  Although it boasts a cast featuring Fred Melamed, Ken Marino, Eva Longoria, and Nick Offerman, it doesn’t push their names in the trailer.  Instead, it opens with a montage of “In a World”s being said by different V.O. artists, quickly sets up the story, introduces the characters and conflict, brings comedy in to show the mood of the film, and then wraps, leaving behind a good understanding of the film’s premise somehow without having dropped much at all in the way of spoilers.

Ingrid goes West, by comparison, has it’s first trailer at just over a minute.  While it at least introduces Aubrey Plaza’s character, it offers almost no plot explanation, characters besides Ingrid or their dynamics with each other, and little else detail wise aside from a sense of the film’s mood (claustrophobically fast, modern, and technological–which is characterized very well by the trailer).  It spends most of the trailer pushing stars Aubrey Plaza, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Elizabeth Olsen.  And yet, as I just admitted, Aubrey Plaza was the reason I read the article in the first place, so you can hardly knock that as a marketing tool.

It brought up some interesting thoughts on the subject of marketing–especially trailers.  I’m a big fan of Aubrey Plaza because of her roles in Parks and Recreation and Safety not Guaranteed, so that initial interest got me to check out a link I wouldn’t otherwise have clicked.  At the same time, having watched both trailers, I definitely found In A World more compelling, because I understood it, which made it something I wanted to see, while my general feeling towards Ingrid goes West ended up as a vague “well maybe” towards pursuit of seeing it.

I’m not an expert in marketing by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m trying to learn more and more about the business aspects of filmmaking.  And, it seems to me–both through these contrasting examples and many, many more trailers that these two brought to mind–that actor or other names attached to a film are great for grabbing interest, but it takes a solid looking story and characters, and a trailer which feels as invested in its audience, to fully entice an audience to become invested in it.

As an aspiring filmmaker who has no access to big name stars, it is kind of reassuring to realize that–at least personally–when looking for new films, I am captivated much more by characters than cast.

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Writing and Mental Health

Scriptnotes’s most recent episode (I guess 293.5?) was a rerun of one of the most popular episodes, due to John having a bad cold.  In what was actually episode 99, psychotherapist Dennis Palumbo joins Craig and John to talk about psychotherapy, writing, and the mental issues writers deal with.

This was an episode I hadn’t heard, having only started listening to Scriptnotes fairly recently, so I was really glad they reran it.

There were a lot of things I hadn’t thought about.  Writing is not an easy thing.  I’m a writer–both a screenwriter and other forms, such as novel and drama, but I never really hear people talking about the difficulties that go with it, except for basic words of advice like “find a comfortable work space,” “procrastination is just a flimsy excuse,” and the like.  It was refreshing to hear a medical professional who actually had a personal background in screenwriting talk about the issues writers face, and treat them with validity.

Even after listening to the episode, it’s hard to imagine master screenwriters like William Goldman ever dealing with fears about failure or not being a good enough writer, but it was still encouraging just to hear Dennsi talking about professionals coming to him with that kind of struggle.

There was a lot of helpful advice to unpack, like writing scenes bout yourself talking to a freind who likes you about the issues you’re dealing with writing as a way to work past writer’s block, or even the freedom to actually give yourself a day off–something which generually feels shameful and guil-inducing.

I definietly think if you’re a writer, or creative artist of any sort–or really just anyone dealing with things like feelings of inadequacy, or procrastination, and fear about trying to pitch yourself and your creations, this is a great episode to listen to for a little insight and reassurance.  I know it helped me out.

It can mean a lot, even just to know other people–sucessful people–often feel the way you do.

To finish up, John and Craig end with their one cool things:  a documentary called The Imposter which incorporates some original and beautiful film techniques for action recreations, alongside documentary interview footage, and PaperKarma, an app which helps you filter out junkmail, but is sadly being shut down in late April 2017.  Dennis adds his own one cool thing–a Spanish thriller called The Secret in their Eyes.

Studio Ghibli coming back to the Big Screen

Indiewire recently ran an article about a Studio Ghibli festival, partnering with Fathom Events to release six Ghibili films back in theaters.  The dates run June 25 and 26 for My Neighbor Totoro, the first of the films, July 23 and 24 for Kiki’s Delivery Service, August 27 and 28 for Castle in the Sky, September 24 and 25 for Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, October 29 and 30 for Spirited Away, and November 26 and 27 for my personal favorite Ghibli film (excepting maybe The Wind RisesHowl’s Moving Castle.  

 

I was very excited to read about this, because I’m a big fan of animation in general, and Studio Ghibili has made some incredible works of art.  I’m including a gif from each of the six movies screening, in order of their screening dates, so you can get a look at the visual style of each work and can see the animation in action.

My Neighbor Totoro:  Image result for my neighbor totoro

Kiki’s Delivery Service: Image result for kiki's delivery service

Castle in the Sky:  Related image

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind:Image result for nausicaa of the valley of the wind 

Spirited Away:  Image result for spirited away haku

Howl’s Moving Castle:Image result for howl's moving castle

 

The films are quite different from each other.  Ghibli has a constant visual style, but the storytelling can be vastly different.  For instance, Castle in the Sky has a slow and steady pace, almost like a long folktale, told in its entirety, whereas Howl’s Moving Castle almost has a The Princess Bride feel to it with a quick pace and a mixture of action, drama, and comedy.

I’m really grateful Fathom Events has become what it has.  I love all the projects putting older films, or specific themed releases like this, or things like Broadway shows, into theaters.  Because of these efforts to make theaters offer more diverse content, I was lucky enough to see Jaws on the big screen, in a packed house of people equally wrapped up in the action, despite the film releasing twenty odd years before I was born.  I also got to see George Takei’s Allegiance, which I never would have been able to visit during its broadway run in New York.

I hope Studio Ghibli’s event is a success and continues in years to come, as well as sparking similar “Fests.”  I’m also glad to see GKIDS involved, as they are an important distributor for indie and small studio animation projects like The Book of Kells, Ernest & Celestine, and A Cat in Paris (which is a lovely film noir for children illustrated like a children’s book.  I would love to see GKIDS do some sort of GKIDS festival where they release some of their distributed films in a similar fashion.

The Book of Kells: Image result for the book of kells movie

Ernest & Celestine: Image result for ernest & celestine

A Cat in Paris: Image result for une vie de chat

 

Anyway, I was really excited to see this showcase of animation coming to theaters, and I hope it draws an audience of repeat viewers and newcomers.  The films are certainly works of art worth the viewing.

News Stories to Potential Films

In Scriptnotes episode 293, John August and Craig Mazin are joined by special guest Irene Turner (writer of An American Crime and producer for The Most Hated Woman in America) joins the show and all three talk about three recently popular articles, and the likelihood they will be turned into films.

To start off, Craig and John discuss Get Out, Jordan Peele’s new hit horror film, and the promise and weight Peele carries in the film world right now.  Irene, the only one of the three to have seen the film Get Out so far, joins them and comments on how much she loved it and then talks about The Most Hated Woman in America, a film about Madalyn Murray O’Hair, a famous atheist who was kidnapped and murdered.

The bulk of the episode, however, is about three new sctories, The New Underground Railroad, You May want to Marry My Husband, and Prenda Law–the group that made porn and then hunted down illegal downlaoders of their porn so they could extort money from them, and the potential each one has to be a film.

I thought all three were interesting stories, which could work out.  The majority vote at the end of the episode seems to be that The New Underground Railroad is the most likely to become a film, as the story about Prenda needs a specific type of person to adapt it well–preferably into a Coen-Brothers-esque dark comedy, and You May want to Marry My Husband would depend a lot on the wishes of the surviving members of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s estate.

The story about a new Underground Railroad is about a safehouse originally started by nuns which houses refugees and helps them get out of the us to safer places in Canada.  It’s an awesome story, which I hadn’t heard before, and I wish everyone involved in it and similar endeavors the best.  It might be a little early though, I think, to make a film about that.  I don’t know.  It’s a story that needs to be told, refugee struggles, but at the same time, if you expose very publicly the ways in which refugees are currently smuggled, won’t that make the work more difficult?  And safety of the refugees I think ought to be the top priority.  Of course, there’s already this massively famous article about it now, so maybe it’s a moot point, although I don’t think the article details do much damage to the group’s work.  Maybe a film could be orchestrated much the same way.  If it could, it would make a good film.  It’s a very popular topic right now, issues dealing with immigration, and if made well it could benefit a lot of people.

Honestly though, I’m more interested to see if there is a way I could get involved personally in something like that, and help people.

The second idea, a very sweet article by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who has recently passed, written before her death about how great her husband is, basically asking some wonderful woman to marry him after she is gone.  It was a very moving idea for a goodbye to a loved one.  I have to agree with Craig and Irene that it’s too personal a story for me to want to make into a film or to go see.  She made it public, and it’s a story that’s already been told, so it’s not one that needs telling.  Maybe, if it was sort of about their lives before, almost like her husband’s farewell gift to her in return–a movie about her, immortalizing her and his love for her and her’s for him, ending with her writing that article and passing and his reaction, then it could work and actually by a very meaningful and sweet answer to her piece, but otherwise I don’t think I’d want to adapt it or see it adapted.

The final idea, the one about Prenda Law, is actually the one I would vote as best choice.  I think it could be an incredible dark comedy, to see two guys pull off this massive scheme to rip off people downloading porn, and to be so hugely successful for awhile, before eventually being caught by a lawyer.  It’s got drama, it’s a fantastic story that is real, it has great promise as a dark comedy (and plenty of material), and I don’t see any real downsides to adapting it.  it would take someone with specific talents to pull it off, but I think there are plenty of capable people in the industry.

However, if personally was having to choose one to make, I’d take the Underground Railroad story, because I think it’s the most important and could do a lot of good, but needs to be handled carefully.  I think, with plenty of advice and help from people whose experiences these are and know this type of story inside and out, it could be spectacular.

I’m interested to see if Scriptnotes will be right, and The New Underground Railroad will be auctioned off soon.

To close the episode, Craig’s one cool thing is a podcast (the first ten minutes of the first episode of which follows the Scriptnotes episode), Tess Morris & Billy Mernit’s podcast You Had Us At Hello, Irene’s is I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore, and John’s is a running app called “From Couch to 4k” and one called “5k to 10k.”

Q&A

In episode 292 of Scriptnotesby John August and Craig Mazin, the guys devote almost the entire episode to answering listener questions.  The episode ends with one cool things about an episode of Girls called “American Bitch,” and a game app called Stop.  It starts out with a little followup on a grammar error from last week’s episode, a Scriptnotes app for Amazon Echo, and rescheduling of the live Scriptnotes podcast, then gets down to Q&A.  It’s really nice to have the level of listener interaction Scriptnotes possesses, so it was fun to listen to an entire episode of answering questions–not to mention helpful.  Topics and answers include how long an agent should take to read your script (the answer ended up being a week or two, including weekends, but also contained an intriguing discussion on how agents function for actors, writers, and directors–when representation changes due to notoriety, and other such topics.), how to handle getting the note “make it more funny” on a script (good luck–that’s not a helpful note. See if anyone thinks it’s funny.  If not, you’ve got a problem, if so, it may be your editor just has read the script multiple times and it’s not funny the fifteenth time but really the material is fine),  if a background in law enforcement helps you write crime-dramas (it does), the function of writer-director names on posters, and how formatting that goes (this one was complicated), the translation of feature scripts into tv shows and how the original film spec-script writer is credited, pitching limited series scripts vs longer lasting projects (both are good), how to suggest in script that a character is saying something unimportant while important action is going on in the background (droning in parenthetical is suggested), the morality and amorality of writing about famous figures and including or omitting terrible facts about them such as slave-holding and racism (yes you should probably include it), and the question I thought was by far the most fascinating–how to handle including or omitting character race in your script when it is not important to the story.

This last one is something I’ve wondered about a lot too, because most of film is so white.  It’s not such a problem if you’re working on something independently and you’re going to have creative control, like the project I’m working on right now, but I know that since I plan to enter the industry as a writer, I’m going to have to deal with this a lot.  And I’m not sure what to do with the answer they suggested, which was submit with your script possible actors for the roles, including ones of a variety of races.  I believe that works well for them–well established and successful writers, but I kind of find it hard to believe any executive would give a second look to something like that attached to a newbie spec script.  And –considering how white-washed film is, with even specifically non-white roles being glazed over, like Ghost in the Shell, I feel that even if I did suggest actors of color, I’d probably be ignored.  It’s a tough problem.  Of course, doubting the answer they suggest doesn’t mean I have one.  I guess in mine I’m likely to go ahead and suggest race–well, for my major characters, not every single person in a script–unless it’s something I plan to make independently and have control over, and then I only mention race when relevant to the character.  Diversity is an important thing in this industry–in all industries–and I want to do my part to try and make things better in that area, and I’m a little daunted by my future as a writer specifically, in regards to this.  I’m trying my best to come up with what I should do, and that’s something at least, but I wonder what the right answer is?

A Rainbow of Recommendations

In a recent FilmMakerMagazine article, Jim Hemphill offers a selection of unique and unusual series of recently remastered or blueray released films up as film recommendations.  The headline caught my eye because it mentioned a film I almost never hear anyone mention–The Valley of Gwangi.  I have an uncle who is a connoisseur of fringe, unlikely, wildly random film gems.  Routinely through my childhood and still to this day, he sends us a big cardboard box of films and tv shows every now and again.  You can never successfully guess what would be inside.  And that’s exactly what reading this article was like.

Most of Hemphill’s suggestions are films I’ve never seen, but from the descriptions I’d be willing to bet my uncle has copies of every one of them.  Hemphill starts off by recommending the film Finian’s Rainbow, a filmic adaptation of a musical, about an Irishman and his daughter stealing a leprechaun’s pot of gold, immigrating to the USA, and dealing with racism once they arrive. (Directed by  Francis Ford Coppola in 1968).

Image result for finian's rainbow

Image result for finian's rainbow

The second recommendation is a film called S.O.B., directed by Blake Edwards in 1981.  S.O.B. is a satyrical film about films, and jab at immorality in the film industry.

Image result for S.O.B film Image result for S.O.B film

The next film he recommends is the one I want to see the most–Demon Seed, a 1977 horror-sci-fi directed by Donald Cammell.  The plot follows a super computer developed by a brilliant scientists, who takes control of his creator’s home and traps the man’s estranged wife inside.

Image result for demon seed

Related image

Although Hemphill goes on to The Valley of Gwangi next, I’ll save that one for last since it’s the one that originally drew me to the post.  The final film Hemphill visits on is Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (english title Lovers on the Bridge), directed by Leos Carax and released in 1991.  The film is about two vagrants, a street performer with addictions and a diseased painter losing her sight, who live on Pont Neuf, a bridge in Paris, while it is closed down for repairs.

Image result for lovers on the bridge

Image result for lovers on the bridge

The last film recommendation of his that I’m bringing up is The Valley of Gwangi, long held by my uncle to be the best cowboys vs dinosaurs movie ever made (and after watching Cowboys vs Dinosaurs on Netflix, I am glad to report the record is still held). The Valely of Gwangi is a western-sci-fi-fantasy film about cowboys who stumble upon a prehistoric valley hidden in the west, which houses dinosaurs.  Image result for the valley of gwangi

The 1969 film is directed by Jim O’Connolly.  As Hemphill points out, the real highlight of this film is the stop-motion effects by Ray Harryhausen.

Image result for the valley of gwangiRelated image

I thought this article was really an enjoyable read and a fun idea.  I don’t see a whole lot of more obscure older-film recommendations, much less in such a conversational yet well-presented and considered tone.  So, in honor of what a nice idea this original post was, on top of Hemphill’s recommendations, I thought I’d add one of my own to the list.  There is a 1996 claymation film called John Clark Matthews , called Pocahontas: The Girl who Lived in Two Worlds.  I didn’t see Disney’s Pocahontas film growing up–I saw this one (which may be a good things as, while silly, over-the-top, and far from complete, it’s still a more historically accurate re-telling).

Related image Image result for pocahontas the girl who lived in two worlds

I’ve always been fascinated by the diversity and work that goes into stop motion films, and maybe watching this one growing up is why.  A small-budget movie that’s hard to find much about online, it’s actually a very well put together little musical, and certainly worth the watch if you are interested in some of the history of western stop-motion animation.

Three Pages and some cool things

In episode 291 of Scriptnotes, John August and Craig Mazin take on another three-page challenge—something they do every so often, where listeners are invited to send in the first three pages of a script, and get useful critiques back from John and Craig via the show.  Before getting into the main challenge, John and Craig take a minute to go over a lovely article from ScriptShadow (a blogger giving free advice on screenwriting) describing how Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight both had Oscar-unworthy scripts despite the recent wins.  I’m still not sure if hearing about that article was funny or sad.  They also go over the Scriptnotes guide listeners are invited to contribute to, suggesting back episodes for new listeners (and probably soon to be called the “Script-Dex,” which I think is appropriately catchy.)

I’m a new listener, so I’d never hears a Scriptnotes three-page challenge before, and this was very interesting. I know when it comes to submitting a script, the first three pages can be pivotal when someone is sitting at home with a stack of twenty scripts and a limited attention span, but I’d never heard really detailed breakdowns of the first three pages side-by-side of several scripts, by professionals in the screenwriting world, so it was a very educational experience.  I’m also impressed with the bravery of Lambert, Nauert, and Gioulakis (the three writers whose scripts were read) for submitting to Scriptnotes for this, because asking professionals to critique your work on a podcast lots of people are going to hear sounds terrifying—though in the end a terrifically helpful thing.

To finish up the episode, John and Craig go over their one-cool-things, which this week include British film writer Jack Thorne, and a small plastic “Beat The Boss” phone you could apparently sneak into prison, and while I was surprised to see the latter on the one-cool-thing list, I’m going to have to remember that phone exists, because it seems like the kind of thing that comes in handy when you’re writing a crime story and your character needs some way to be able to make a call.

 

K9s and War Movies

I’ve been interested recently in War Films, or other stories that focus on the military.  Oddly enough, they’ve never really been one of my favorite genres, but time to time I’ll find one I really like, and reading the play version of Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men last week got me thinking about the topic.  However, even if War Films hadn’t been on the brain, I think Meagan Leavey would have still had a great shot of being a film I stopped to read about when going over several articles about new releases on Indiewire.  The reason being, the official storyline I read has a lot to offer “Megan Leavey”: Based on the true life story of a young marine corporal whose unique discipline and bond with her military combat dog saved many lives during their deployment in Iraq. When she is assigned to clean up the K9 unit after a disciplinary hearing, Leavey identifies with a particularly aggressive dog, Rex, and is given the chance to train him. Over the course of their service, Megan and Rex completed more than 100 missions until an IED explosion injures them, putting their fate in jeopardy.”

I can’t think of any films off the top of my head that are specifically about a female marine, much less a marine and a dog.  Animals are a naturally good selling point to films, including War Films (such as War Horse), but I find them personally interesting and engaging, not just monetarily or commercially smart as a choice.  Based on a true story, Megan Leavey (Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite) is a film I think has promise, and I’ll be interested to keep up with it as it gets closer to its June 9 release date.

 

 

The Useful and the Daunting

In episode 290 of ScriptnotesJohn August and Craig Mazin discuss speech ticks and pauses or pause words while speaking, and learning to use them less through doing their podcast, a follow up from a reader about an article they referenced in the past episode, poisonous teething tablets and homeopathy, getting listener recommendations for a list of best-of-Scriptnotes episodes, and their One Cool Things about the game Rusty Lake: Roots, and Archive.org, but the bulk of the episode is about having a social media presence as a screenwriter.

I am really glad I listened to this episode, because it’s something I had a lot of questions about, and know is relevant to what I need to be working towards myself right now.  I’m currently writing a feature script I intent to independently shoot on a very micro budget.  I may be a film student, but I’m quickly finding that in no way means I am prepared for this enormous task.  Along with decisions like crowdfunding and other means of financing, looking into festivals, distributors and streaming sites, and sites which let you curate your own film, I know a big part of the process will be having and growing an online presence, but I’m only now getting some good ideas of what that will mean and how to go about it.

The advice they give, as far as how often to update, and what sites to use, as well as what to avoid, like constantly re-tweeting or reposting your own promotion for your content, or only getting on to update something impersonal every once in awhile, is very useful to me.  I’ve been planning all along to have someone film behind the scenes footage constantly while in production, but I had no idea this is something people frequently do–much less that releasing some of it via social media was a tactic.  It’s fascinating.  I think some of the ideas, like having a Reality TV almost style camera set up in a room by itself, like a for-fun confessional, could be a great technique for getting interesting updates.  Coincidentally, I’ve been reading up on this a good bit too, and the combination of the readings and the podcast hit me hard.  It’s a very daunting project, and listening and reading has left me both inspired and terrified of the work ahead.  Still, whatever else I can say, I’m glad I know.  If you’re working on breaking into part of the film industry, it can be daunting, but still definitely give the episode a listen–it’s a quite informative and useful breakdown, or introduction, to social media in the business–and that knowledge is crucial knowledge.

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