Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Screenwriting Growth

Not much in this world gives me more joy than learning and having "breakthroughs" in my understanding of what I'm passionate about.  I like to think.  I write a lot of notes.  Most of them are kept private to me in quick emails, google documents or jots on scraps of paper.  I do this until they've had enough time to gestate into a fully formed idea, and over the years it's just become my working process.

The focus for me lately has been in my further understanding of screenwriting as an artform.  And over the last few weeks a few big breakthrough pieces I've stumbled across have opened up the floodgates in my thinking.  Somehow, every time this happens, it almost always is perfectly in-sync with something I'm needing to solve in a current project I'm working on, and this is no different.

Since the start of the year, I've began plotting out and exploring a screenplay that I've been collaborating on with a fellow colleague.  While in the past, I've typically been able to knock out a first draft in a matter of weeks— this one, I've been taking my time on and really trying to see the whole forest before I venture into the woods.  I carefully wrote the first 20 pages or so, but felt like I was wandering into some bad territory in the story, so I deleted the last 6 or 7 pages and took a step back.

Something that has really helped me keep my head on straight has been the mixture of Syd Field's Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting (which I've been kicking myself for not reading earlier), as well as this tool I devised for myself to keep things straight and in order for the events of my story that I've been calling "Screencards".  It's really nothing more than some cards with the major "formulaic" beats of the story, and a little reminder of what each piece should contribute to the structure as a whole.  Think of it as the blue print or "training wheels" to help plug in what you know about your story.  It's the most commonly-identified beats (maybe identified with different names) within a screenplay structure that writers can settle on.

I don't necessarily prescribe to the idea of formulas in the long run, but understanding how well-written screenplays function and the things they have in common with one another is certainly not a bad place to start as far as I'm concerned.

I'm sure once I've been around the block longer in this world of screenwriting, I won't need them, but for now just having a place to pin ideas that says "This part of your story needs to generally do X" helps free me from worry about "what happens next".

So I've been pinning the ideas I knew I wanted to have, and probably once a day, I'll visit the board, shuffle some things around and maybe a new spark will hit me that causes me to form an even clearer picture of what I'm after here.

Once I felt like I had exhausted my current ideas and pinned everything up, I took a break from the process and circled back to that Syd Field book I mentioned.  Aside from his brilliant explorations and observations, a couple major things have really stuck for me.  He says that before you should even think about putting pen to paper (or ehm, E-ink to screen, I guess?) that you should have 5 things figured out, in this order of importance:
1) Your main character
2) Your ending
3) Your beginning
4) Plot Point 1
5) Plot Point II

Well strike one for me, I suppose.  I solved 1, 3, 4, 2 (kind of), THEN 5 in that order.  But it's caused me to question a lot and poke holes in some ideas, and reaffirmed other ones.

Another thing that was fascinating was his description of "sequences".  I've always used the term as a catch-all for a nondescript duration of edits.  For me a sequence could be three shots in succession, or it could be 3 scenes, depending on the context.  But he defines the term as a clustering of scenes serving one objective, i.e. "Our main character attempts to do X".  On the surface, it was rewarding because I had never really heard a screenwriter address the idea of the sequence (which maybe just makes me a newbie in the craft), but I think what really stuck out to me is the attempt at reducing the daunting task of writing an entire 120 pages screenplay.  By clustering scenes together and saying "These 4 scenes are about INSERT OBJECTIVE", each scene is just the WAY that that objective is achieved or revised, and you've suddenly reduced the number of things to think about from 4 to 1.

It sounds silly, and way too intuitive, but reducing the complexity of the job helps open you up to focusing on the more creative material, which I think is what Syd is attempting to achieve here.

The other big lesson I'm learning here is that beyond simplification of the process, patience is the other takeaway I'm hearing from this book.  I've always heard about screenwriters who spend a year or more working on a single screenplay, and my assumption was just that they were too exacting in their first draft.   And while I'm a proponent of opening your mind and letting words flow from your fingertips as subconsciously as possible, I think I've perhaps neglected the other end of the spectrum; the consideration of the grand idea and structure of your story.  It takes time, it really does, to write a genuine original piece without fudging and faking certain aspects that you don't yet understand.

And it's been a compounded experience for me, as I'm a writer often drawn to period films concerning lifestyles and careers that are different from my own experience.  This takes even more research to accurately portray their world.  I think as I'm writing this, the reason I'm drawn to these types of stories is not in the exploration of "what it was like back then", but more from my yearning to bridge how human and similar their experiences were back then to ours today.  Really, I'm going against the grain of the thesis I was so fired up about when I first started this blog; the anti-romanticist.  Life is real, messy, gritty.  It's not easy.  We all deal with problems, and even though something that seems so different and distanced by the span of time from how our lives are in modern society, it really isn't so different.  We're saying the same things as we were 100 years ago about politics, religion, economics, the world.  The context is different, but the content is the same to a large degree.  I just think that's cool.  That's probably the closest thing we can get to an emotional time travel right there: connecting emotionally to past events by drawing comparison to similar instances in our modern day life.  You're being reminded by both the unfathomable expanses of time, as well as the finitely minuscule separation we have from our ancestors.  We're both totally foreign from our ancestors, and at the same time we're mirror copies of their fears, dreams and comprehensions.  It's truly incredible.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The A to C and Audience Engagement

I like to read what interests me, that sounds like common sense but I say that because sometimes that takes me to interesting places.  In this instance, I'm talking about improv comedy.  I've never done improv comedy, but it sounded interesting to me. and I wanted to read about it.  So, awhile back, I bought The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual, where they break down their school of thought and theory in improv comedy, and some of the games that they play.  I finally got to read through it this past week and barring a review of the whole book, there were a few ideas that I really connected with.

One principal that came up was "A to C'ing", which I had never heard but I'm sure some of you are familiar with.  Essentially in improv, you're constantly heightening the stakes, and building off of ideas.  Everything put out into the world by your partner, you're supposed to treat as a fact and then propel your thoughts off of that.  It's constant listening and response— an often overlooked portion of good acting.

The A to C idea is that if your scene partner introduces idea A (let's say they say the word 'truck'), rather than jumping directly to a B idea (a direct word association or knee-jerk response, like "driver") you go to the C idea, take your B idea and compound that (something like "screw").  Suddenly the subject of your train of thought evolved from a vehicle to a tool.  It's an unexpected move (which is often where the comedy lies), but has a train of thought that could be followed logically, creating an organically complex evolution of concept.

In the editing world, I see A to C'ing as a method of avoiding on-the-nose storytelling where we are talking about the idea and showing it at the same time, and instead drawing correlations, metaphors or emotional representations on screen of the subject matter.  So let's say we're talking about domestic abuse, rather than showing someone getting abused, or even "aftermath" of a bruised and beaten person in the fetal position looking out the window, we show an insert shot of a tea kettle whistling.  It's in a home setting, so there's a trace to the original idea, and the whistling is emotionally disturbing enough that the dissonance of that conveys an emotional thread that is true to the subject matter.  It's better storytelling.

A to C'ing is great because it goes back to a principal of storytelling that I believe separates the men from the boys, so to speak.  This idea I'm talking about is playing to the audience's intelligence rather than feeding them emotions.  You allow the audience to fill in the blanks and on a primal level, they become more empathetic and emotionally available to the story.  They're engaged and receiving an award for slight cognitive work.  It's active rather than passive storytelling.  I've often described it as "staying ahead of the audience" so they're constantly having to keep up.

I wrote recently about how the feature documentary I've been editing had a big change in its last revision where this very principal reared its head.  Essentially, we had a convention of voiceover in the edit that framed our entire story from the perspective of our protagonist.  Because we went that route, on the surface it gave us the ability to hear the character's thought process and psychology as he goes through his journey.  It became a trap though for two reasons.  One, it became an outlet for information that wasn't 100% clear visually in the raw footage.  So audience feedback was mainly focused either on wanting more information, or wanting less dependent on their personal taste.  The more we tried to address those issues, the less satisfied the audience was with the story.  The second trap was that the voiceover attempted to answer psychological questions and in turn, alienated the audience by telling them what to feel.  So in turn, our feedback was focused on the distaste for our protagonist because what he was feeling was not in line with how they felt.
So the solution was stupidly simple.  Remove the voiceover convention and suddenly test audiences stopped asking to learn more about the backstory and instead began actively participating in the here and now of the story, and rather than being told how things felt, they could perceive and deduce their own opinions on the conflicts of the protagonist.
We moved the story from a passive framework to an active one and the audience perceptions of the film completely changed.  Suddenly they engaged deeply with the material and were having meaningful discussions after the fact.

I'm not totally poo-pooing voiceover.  I think it's a valid convention to introduce when necessary, but perhaps not in an intimate film such as this one.  It is a very clear lesson for me though in the value of audience engagement.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

An Epihpany In A Year Long Project But A Life Long Understanding

In working with this feature doc I've been editing, and my recent reading of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", the theme of "purpose" has come up and all the questions along with it.  What is a good life?  What is the most primal want I have?

For me, I think I'd hope to approach everything with 'balance'.  People call it Chi, or aligning chakras, or simply "having a level head"... for me it's about trying not to get too excitable about the high points, and keeping your head down and reassuring yourself you'll get through the very low points, and reflecting and gleaning value from both situations.

Things outside your control aren't worth dealing with, and the things that are, deal with them orderly and calculated way.  Balance is in doing right by your family, living a fulfilled career (taking risks when you can, and pulling the plug when it's not working), helping others move forward in their lives, and leaving behind something worth talking about with others.

Maybe for me, that's partly what this blog is.  No one knows about it now, and while this is going to come off as completely narcissistic, I suppose in a way, I one day hope people could look back on my ramblings here, and see the seeds of the ideas that have influenced my taste, my sensibilities and the types of stories I'm drawn to in my future work.

If anything, I hope this gives some other aspiring nobody out there permission to think freely, allow yourself to ramble and make bolder statements in a forum that is fairly unpopulated.  It's like screaming into a pillow, or praying for some.  You talk out what's on your mind, talk in circles, poke holes in your own constructions and what shakes out the other end is a clearer understanding of concepts, abstract thought, and philosophies.

I think there's a stigma in free thought, or at the very least, a lesser perceived value in it than it than there once was.  We're encouraged to be witty and concise with our online content.  Fuck that.  I want to say what I want to say with no limitation of characters, and no worries of people picking apart an idea.  A sculptor doesn't know how to sculpt until they shave just a little too much off and have to start again.

 I'm making mistakes and I'm thankful for that.  This blog is my sandbox.  Not everything I say in it is going to be truthful forever.  I'm sure if I went back to some of my original posts, when I was swooned by idealistic theories of storytelling based on whatever kick I was on at the time, my claims would appear a little too bold and uninformed for them to be 100% true...

But I can't negate their value.  I needed to believe in something in the start of this journey; I had to work with some direction for my compass to point in order to find my way.  And those ideas evolved.  They lead me to other terrains, they've opened up doors, invited me into more fertile lands and new epiphanies.  They're just as valuable to me as the conclusions I've come to currently.
I've come to value stumbles, because with unassuming reflection, they become lessons that last forever and cause impressions upon your future work.  You essentially are growing more valuable at every step of the way.

This week, we went through a major change in the edit of this documentary I've been working on.  My intuition upon completing my footage log and starting the structure assembly of the edit nearly a year ago was that there was enough information in the visuals that voiceovers and interviews were unnecessary.

Then when I began editing, after the tracks were laid for the opening of the film, I skipped to the end  and began cutting the final sequence so I knew what to work towards.  I ended up with a very impactful ending that was right in line emotionally with the logline we had drafted up.  The problem was, it required voiceover as a vehicle to give us our protagonist's perspective in the story.

That meant a commitment to that tool for the rest of the film... my instincts told me no, but the edit felt like it was necessary.  I began to sell myself on the idea.  Suddenly, we were then given permission to inject context and exposition, as well as the protagonist's emotional state in times when we wouldn't have been able to otherwise.
We got cozy with the idea, and wrestled with it to squeeze as much out of its abilities as possible.  We said what we wanted to with it and at that point, we thought we were working towards a good destination for the film.

Flash forward nearly 6 months later, 9 revisions, 6 screening sessions of varying success, maybe 15 hours of voiceover logged after the fact, and a swimming pool's worth of coffee consumed, we drew a pretty hefty conclusion: voiceover was a mistake.

The problem was, we committed to a more indie/art house lean into our later drafts of the edit.  As such, the story is told in an intimate, and breathing voice as it examines a friendship and a failed road trip.  The voice over widened the scope too much, and called attention to an opportunity to otherwise explain all loose ends within our narrative.  And the more we tried tightening up our story and the more screenings we had with individuals in that art house camp, the more it became clear that voice over was a contrivance and a distraction.  We needed to tighten the boundaries of our sandbox so as to not even allow the opportunity for outside information beyond what was able to be derived from the screen.  Less is more.  This was the biggest lesson in that old film school adage "show it, don't tell it". We were creating a vacuum to a film that would thrive with open interpretation.

After our internal screening today, our suspicion was affirmed and I believe this is the right direction to go.

So we're now attempting to make a sprint towards this year's Sundance deadline, and hopefully that will put us in a good place for the film and take me one more step in understanding this crazy craft, giving me a little more equity for the next story, and will eventually lead to that legacy I was talking about earlier.  Perceptions of your own work evolve no matter what: either you end up somewhere unexpected, or they travel in a circle and you end up back where you thought you would.  Either way, whether your expectation is met or is completely derailed, you're growing.  Growing towards that more balanced self with a greater understanding of your storytelling abilities and hopefully a more realized comprehension of the human condition (because that's really what good storytelling is, right?)

I can't call what we've been working towards WITH the voiceover a failure, or a mistake even.  It lead us to the conclusion we're at currently.  Had we not gone down that road, and explored every avenue of it, we wouldn't be able to confidently say that our presentation of the story in its current form would be the most ideal iteration.  So, I'm thankful for the gallons of coffee consumed while banging our heads against the wall trying to make the mechanism work.  It has a time and a place, but not for this particular story and there's a peace in admitting that.

Who knows, maybe another epiphany will strike and we'll realize the avenue we're headed down isn't ideal either.  But I assert that I'll bring balance to that situation.  If it truly is right, we'll vet it and see the value for the newest conclusion and appreciate even more the depths of exploration we've gone through in getting to that point.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Little Catch Up and Some Storytelling Knowledge!

It's been over a year since my last post.  Holy crap.  A lot has happened— too much to catch up on.  My character's been tested, the depth of my passions, and the integrity of my convictions... but I've been quietly moving forward with learning as much as I can about this wonderful craft.

A few quick highlights since my last entry:
I DP'd a feature film, which ended up being a live-and-learn experience.  It brought me closer to a few crew members, but ultimately left a sour taste in my mouth for inexperienced microbudget productions.  Never again, lads and lasses!

I've been editing a feature documentary that's hopefully seeing picture lock soon.  It's been a fantastic learning experience and has really taken my comprehension of storytelling and structure to a whole new level. 

Final Draft's been open quite a bit for me— writing a few shorts and a new feature.  The feature is currently in exploration mode, where I'm just putting pen to paper and seeing what comes out.  So far, I'm feeling good about it.  It's kind of a darker family comedy and could be an interesting piece.

I've been reading quite a bit.  Biographies, philosophy books, potential stories to adapt to screenplays... it's been keeping the creative juices flowing.  I'm currently reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which has me thinking quite a bit... and leaves me wanting to go on a cross country motorcycle trip.

Earlier in the year I directed a short film with two fantastic actors.  It's been completely finished aside from an ADR session that's set to happen in November, so I believe we'll be sending it off to festivals once that's completed.  It was honestly the best directing experience I've had to date and has really made me appreciate what good actors can bring to the table.

Other than that, there are quite a few interesting things on the horizon for me.  As they get closer to being a reality, I'll share them, but they're certainly exciting to say the least.

SO the whole reason I logged back in here was to share with you this fantastic list of storytelling tidbits compiled by Chuck Wendig, who's a fantastic resource on the craft of storytelling.  He put together 101 tips for writing a story.  I suggest you read the full list: 100 Random Storytelling Thoughts And Tips... but I plucked a few of my favorites and wanted to talk about them a little bit.

1. If you’re bored, we’re bored.
This is my modus operandi when it comes to editing, and more and more in my writing as well.  Keep your sense keen and don't ignore the fact that you're not feeling it.  On the other end of the stick, don't let that talk you out of finishing your piece either.  Thick skin and momentum will keep the ship moving forward.

9. One of your greatest skills is misdirection. You seed the truth of the magic trick early on in the story. Then you convince the reader that the truth isn’t the truth at all — until the time comes to reveal. And okay yes fine sometimes you are a Druid summoning swamp-elves out of the murk. Sometimes writing is sacrifice, not magic trick. Sometimes it’s all of those things.This one felt like just a fantastic reminder of a powerful device in your toolkit.  Setting a scene is often difficult enough, but then going a step further and realizing that the scene has too much information and gives away a potential mechanism to illicit emotion.  Stay sharp and keep that misdirection in mind.

12. Love, hate, jealousy, life, death, betrayal, lies, revenge: these are the widgets, levers and flywheels that keep the story running, and that keep us coming back. Lubricate the gears with blood and tears.I love the idea of blood or tears being the stakes.  It's such a primal way to work.

20. Pretend while writing that your job isn’t to tell a story but it’s to manipulate and emotionally injure the audience. Because that actually kinda is your job. You monster.I'm a people pleaser.  It's hard to break that cycle when writing.  I have to remind myself constantly to be crueler to my characters, and in turn toward the audience.  A cringe is a good thing.  It means that paper thin vale of your story is being upheld and the audience is feeling the emotion and engaged.  I just finished reading Mel Brooks' biography— the dude got away with every taboo thing he could think up.  He did it to shock people.  It got a rise out of them.  It made them squirm in their seat.  Then he'd turn it on its head and make you feel okay about it.  Something tells me that type of thing wouldn't fly as easily today, but go for the jugular and shed a little blood.

25. Humor is the hardest emotion to get right. Here’s a tip: don’t treat it like humor. Humor is funniest when the characters don’t find it funny. They’re not telling jokes. They’re not self-aware of the humor or the absurdity. To them, it’s dreadfully serious. Sure, YOU think it’s funny that they’re fighting a bunny rabbit with giant human nipples for eyes and loud, eruptive fart sounds every time it attacks, but THEY don’t think it’s funny and in fact they’re probably really terrified.This usually happens on such a subconscious level, but it certainly is a great reminder to frame it up that way.  The other tidbit to add to this is from Robert McKee who says that comedy is drama under conditions where you know the character won't get hurt.  I think Wendig's point is more on situational authenticity, where your character isn't aware his story is a comedy, and McKee is on the reality, or the proscenium in which that situational authenticity can take place.

27. Every scene is multipurpose.Nuff said.  Actually, to add to that, every scene must have an emotional core, and some would argue new information illustrating a new facet of a character a new direction for the character to take.

33. Characters are not role models. Characters should never ever ever be role models.At the core, this is an extract from the idea that all characters must have faults, and their mistakes are for our benefit.  It is the human condition to make mistakes.  A super hero may be a role model, but it often comes at the cost of an emotional emptiness or a moral dilemma that they must wrestle with.

37. Embrace dramatic irony: when the audience knows something characters don’t.
This guy goes with numbers 9 and 12.  It's another core tool to work with to squeeze out emotion.

41. End chapters interestingly. Which means with uncertainty, suspense, excitement. Lace the end of a chapter with the equivalent of narrative heroin. Readers will turn a page to get the next hit.
42. But don’t always give them the next hit. Keep them waiting. Tantric storytelling. They want you to keep driving straight. So, for a little while, take a hard right. Make them want it harder. Give the audience a straining story boner. Narrative blue balls or whatever the equivalent to lady blue balls is. Cerulean Clitoris, perhaps.
These two go together.  I think just developing your sensibilities and anticipating the needs of your audience.  The rough edit of the documentary I've been working on began with three scenes in a row that left the audience hanging with more questions and very few answers.  We thought it was a nice way to wring out some exposition while allowing the audience to participate in the story and think about it.  Well, having that many "to be continued's" left people frustrated and felt like they were being slighted.  Be mindful and listen to Uncle Ben when he said "With great power comes great responsibility".  Use these tools wisely.

52. Let the characters talk as long as they want to.
53. Be prepared to cut a lot of what the characters say.

I love this encouragement here, followed by harsh reality.  Always be willing to travel down a rabbit hole and see what comes out of a character.  Something a gem bubbles to the surface.  But when your story's all done and you're sixty pages over, show that discipline and cinch up the rambling that lead to that one great idea.

73. Cause and effect. Action and consequence. This is the blood and bone of storytelling. Character wants shit, does shit, shit happens. Character discovers character is not the only character in the world and is in fact in a universe dominated by many other characters who want shit, too.
It's momentum to your story.  The most basic building block of drama— being aware of this constantly and staying one step ahead will keep your story interesting.

88. Active over passive. Character agency over character inertia.
Going back to McKee again, he separates stories into a triangular continuum: Archiplot which is the commercial, by-the-book, happy ending type of storytelling.  Your character is proactive and seals the deal by the end.  On the other end of the triangle are Miniplot and Anti-plot.  Miniplot deals with a more intimate, passive character, and Anti-plot is like cuckoo land where nothing makes sense.
In traditional storytelling, having a more active character is what's expected, but it would be silly to completely ignore toying with a character who gets swept up in the inertia of a world and has some sort of existential crisis over it.  Indie movies wouldn't exist if we didn't have the more passive, whiny Eeyore character.

98. Storytelling is a series of promises, some broken, some fulfilled. Know which is which and know why each must be the way it must be. Fulfill more promises than you break.
One of my favorite film professors in college DRILLED into our heads the mantra "Everything is Setups and Payoffs." We practically chanted it in a seance during class.  It's a wonderful lesson in economics of storytelling and being mindful of purpose.  Both Wendig and my film professor's ideas are stemming from Chekhov's Gun principal which states "One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep."  Stay lean, folks.

Monday, May 12, 2014

My Journey Into Street Photography

Photo by Matthew Mann

As some of you know, I've been getting back into shooting film photography over the past year.  I picked up a cheap 35mm FED4 camera and carry it with me wherever I go.  From this, I've improved significantly in reading exposure by eye and guessing where my settings should land on my camera in any lighting situation.

After a year of shooting with it, I gained my confidence with film on the FED and was ready for a next step up.  After seeing the documentary "Finding Vivian Maier" (watch the trailer below) I really began researching medium format cameras for all-around high end photography.  After a few weeks of research, I invested in a Hasselblad 500cm, which was the holy grail of medium format film photography for a long time.  They shot the lunar landing with a 500 series camera.  It's been used for decades in fashion shoots and classic studio photography.  It's robust, and is just a finely engineered piece of machinery.

I've done multiple outings with it as a street photographer with my buddy Matt and have really been struggling with shooting people.  It's just an uncomfortable hump to get over, and is a very common problem to street photographers when they first start out.

My goal is to be comfortable just approaching someone on the street, getting into their personal space and capturing an event or portrait of them.  It's a lot easier said than done though.  Several articles and videos I've come across have really helped me get my head into it and challenge myself to get over this anxiety.  Hopefully some of you are in a similar boat and could use a good set of tools to help curb this issue.

One of the most helpful tools I've come across is an e-book written by Eric Kim that gives a 30 day challenge to green street photographers.  Each day provides a new challenge and new set of tips to go along with it.  A lot of the material is common sense but it's helped align my mindset when going out and doing this.  That can be downloaded here.

The next majorly helpful item I've come across is a lecture by Adam Marelli sponsored by B&H.  He goes through seven major approaches he uses in the way he tackles street photography.   Surprisingly, there's very little overlap between he and Eric's tips.  Where Eric challenges the photographer to shoot first and handle the consequences later, Adam suggests picking a location that's photographically pleasing and almost like a wildlife photographer, waiting for the right people to walk through your scene.  I think both approaches have merit and it's ultimately worth trying any and all techniques until you get over that fear.  The lecture's about an hour and a half and can be seen below:

The last thing that's helped me approach this anxiety is another article I came across through Eric Kim's site called "10 Things Garry Winogrand Can Teach You About Street Photography".  Again, it's another list of tips, but they're from a great source for learning technique and the general message is important: Shoot a ton.  The article talks about how Garry would shoot an entire 36 shot roll just walking down the street and not stopping!  That's a challenge to find that many interesting things even with a digital camera.  Let alone handling film.  But I love the idea of it.

There's kind of a dark and light side to shooting film.  You are generally more selective on the shots, composition and subject of each individual shots because there is a finite amount of film and every shot is a little more money burnt up, but on the other hand that can be arresting as well.  You may miss a shot because you go back and forth about it in your head.  "Is this situation worth it?  Is the light good?  Are these people emotionally evoking enough?" and by the time you've decided whether or not you're going to shoot the photo, the moment's already passed and you're stick with zero photos for the day.  I think shooting 36 shots in a matter of minutes, especially on film, is a bit absurd, but the idea is right.  I think the more you do it, the more refined your sensibilities will become for spotting those moments and the quicker you'll become at getting the shot off.

Another interesting piece that came from the article is a recommendation of Garry to not develop your negatives for a year.  I'd never heard that before but I guess that's a common practice for street photographers.  Shooting in the moment is important, but forgetting the moment over time can be just as important.  Waiting for an extended period of time and then returning to the material without rose-colored glasses and truly reacting to the photo as a pair of fresh eyes would is important in curating your own work.  I think you could do a similar method without so much "wait time" and only allow yourself to share three photos per roll of film you shoot.  Maybe even be more strict and allow one photo per roll.

I like that idea, as you're teaching yourself the discipline to ask "what is the best, most emotional and aesthetically rich material I've shot?" and severing any "maybes".  It's about honing your sensibilities and remaining critical of your work.  I know at this point in time, I typically post maybe 30% of my exposed photos online, and I'm learning that that's probably too much quantity, and not enough quality.  I think as I receive my first few rolls of medium format back from the lab, I'll really start to incorporate a more strict filtering of my work.  To read the full article, visit Eric's site here.

Finishing My New Screenplay "Garage Boys"

About two months ago, I began really entertaining this idea I've had brewing in my noggin.  The premise was simple: It's a buddy comedy set in the early 90's about a trio of late-blooming friends who get the wild idea to start a tech company in their mom's garage with the assumption that in doing so, they'll strike it rich. Their friendship is put to the test as they soon face the hard realities of their naive plan.

This has been the most organic writing process I've experienced thus far.  I had an idea.  I gestated on the thoughts for awhile.  I wrote a rough outline of how I saw things playing out in the story, and I sat down and began writing.

Three weeks after beginning the screenplay, I now have a finished first draft and am feeling good about the first broadstroke I've put on paper.  I realize there's a lot of work ahead for the project, in both the screenwriting and the potential of actually funding and producing it but this is the third feature I've written and it feels like it's getting easier over time.  Perhaps it's because this was the first feature I've written where I've had a cast in mind for the key players, and was able to use my familiarity with their natural speaking voices to help guide the writing and focus more on the "want" of the characters and not think so hard on finding a voice for them.

I filed "Garage Boys" with the copyright office last week and sent out the first draft to a batch of friends and colleagues for review.  I have up and down moments in my confidence in the story as I eagerly wait for the first response to come back, but hopefully I'll either have that confidence restored, or will receive a hard dose of reality in identifying the true problems and plot holes within the story.

My plan is to take the screenplay after I've received these first reactions to it, and begin a writing room with the intended cast and take another stab at it with them to help distill the story another level.

As I wait for the responses to roll in, I'm beginning to noodle with my next screenplay that I want to write, which is a fictional political drama set in the very near future.  This one may require quite a bit of research but it could be an interesting cultural tableau of a potential reality.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Unique Look at Uniqueness in Filmmaking

Nelson Carvajal, a fellow Chicago native, filmophile and insightful writer over at IndieWire shared a video essay with me today about Aronofsky that really got me thinking.  There are a lot of good filmmakers out there today but few great ones.  I'd put Darren Aronofsky on the short list of great ones next to Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, and the Coen brothers who all skate that fine line between unique, envelop-pushing auteurship and commercial success— but how are they all doing it differently?  My gut tells me they're not.

In this wake of the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman, a torrent of great material surfaced in interviews with the man, and many critics have turned toward retrospective analyses on the state of the film industry today and how people like Hoffman have changed that landscape and redefined what a "movie star" actually means.

Something that came across my newsfeed was an interview from Hoffman (which I can't seem to find anywhere on the world wide web) saying that great art is about speaking in the macro, but telling your story in the micro.  Essentially speaking containing a large message within an intimate story about a single character or collection of characters in a given circumstance.  Arguably all of these greats do that.  They intimately examine and peel back the layers of these simply fascinating characters and give you a pervasively close look at who we are as a society.

Now getting back to Carvajal's essay: the topic has come up before with my fellow film geeks about how unique Aronofsky's films are from one another.  But I think it boils down to that old adage about how every storyteller (or filmmaker in this case) tells the same story over and over again.  Arguably, I think that, while Aronofsky's films may be different on the surface in the intellectualized, resulted sense, they're emotionally telling the same story.  I've got to give credit to Mr. Carvajal for sparking that insight, as before this essay, I was just in the same boat as everyone else on the argument.

I would love to see a similar analysis done on Danny Boyle, as I've heard similar discussions arise from his storytelling.  Without further adieu, read the article here first, and then watch the essay.