Daniel GersonI am deeply saddened to receive the news that Daniel Gerson, one of the screenwriters of Monsters, Inc., Monsters University, Big Hero 6, and others, has passed away at 49.  Dan was one of my classmates in the NYU Graduate Film & TV program, and he was always such a friendly, profoundly funny man.  All those who worked with him share many fond memories of fun times and very memorable shoots and hilarious writing by Dan right from the start.

I highly recommend checking out this video of Dan and frequent collaborator Robert L. Baird discussing their writing for Monsters University and the process of developing a screenplay with Pixar from the red carpet premiere of the movie.  Also, here is another piece in which Gerson and Baird discuss story specifics of Monsters University including the overall theme of the movie, character development, and writing a prequel.  

He was always such a stellar person in a sometimes not-so-nice business. Our condolences from my family to his.

Election Burnout?

Robert Redford in The Candidate

Robert Redford in The Candidate

Even if you’re competently media literate, it might be hard not to feel pretty burned out from the non-stop buzz of images and sounds from all the electioneering.  Maybe it might be the perfect moment to get inspired by some classic movies.  There are documentaries like PrimaryThe War Roomand Our Brand is Crisis.  Or there are the classic feature films The Candidate and Bulworth.  And from television among the best are The West Wing and House of Cards.  

Or maybe you just need to turn it all off.  But it’s not going away yet.

"Sanjay's Super Team" by Sanjay Patel

“Sanjay’s Super Team” by Sanjay Patel

Throughout the media, there is lots of heated debate revolving around this year’s Academy Awards.  Here’s an invitation to escape the controversies about the lack of skin-hued diversity among the nominees for a moment and check out the short films nominated in the three categories devoted to shorts: animation, live-action fiction, and documentary.  Visit ShortsHD for info about where you can find the Oscar shorts and lots of other short film info.  And by the way, there’s lots of ethnic diversity represented in many of the shorts nominated for Oscars in these categories.  But evidently, these movies don’t count for anything.  However, they certainly do for us and for anyone who loves inventive, invigorating moviemaking off the beaten path.  So check them out, you will probably find something you like.

Uncatty Valleys

far cryIn discussions of CG and visual effects on various occasions – such as ones at mediateacher.net with visual effects supervisor Greg Butler – one of the topics that regularly arises is the particular challenge of animating people.  This involves the concept of the uncanny valley – that territory whereby the closer one gets to creating an artificial human, the creepier and more repellant that version becomes (recently confirmed through research by Maya Mathur and David Reichling).  It seems to be not such a big issue for gamers (such as with Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, or Far Cry), but in fiction movies, the trend has been towards creating very cartoonish-looking people.  Among the most famous examples of the uncanny valley turning off viewers have been in the performance capture features of Robert Zemeckis, such as in The Polar Express and Beowulf, as well as earlier Pixar efforts such as Tin Toy (with that unintentionally gruesome baby) and Toy Story.  When reviewing the history of CG in animated features, it is interesting to track the development of animating humans as it settled into a distinctly stylized, successfully cartoonish look, such as in Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and Up.  One notable moment in CG features that struck me was with the release of the feature Monster House, in which the setting was animated in a hyper-realistic mode and while the characters were created using performance capture, the design distinctly pursued a claymation look, most visibly noticeable in the hair of the characters.

MogWhen I was watching some British holiday commercials that were highlighted by the blog Media Psychology, I chuckled at one long ad featuring the CG cat Mog (for Sainsbury’s narrated by Emma Thompson).  I wondered, “so when cats watch this, are they creeped out?  Do they experience the uncanny valley too?  And what about dogs?  Do they get a chill down their spine watching CG puppies like when we watch The Polar Express and they yell out, ‘please, just turn on Madagascar again!'”  

Holiday Stories

The ApartmentBest holiday movie ever?  Well, here’s my vote (at least for grownups): The Apartment.  

Not a traditional choice, but there you go.  If you haven’t seen it, check it out — one of Mr. Wilder’s finest, and that’s saying quite a bit.

(Yeah, Pocketful of Miracles or A Christmas Story are pretty strong contenders too, for sure.  Of course, there’s lots from TV too, like the tradition of holiday episodes from ER or Dr. Who or How the Ghosts Stole Christmas from The X-Files.) 

MurdererDocumentary filmmaking has long been at the forefront of the digital media revolution.

Making a Murderer, directed by Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi is and will be a powerful case study for many phenomena of our interconnected, media-immersed world.

Choose the course: Media Literacy and Digital Video Production; Criminal Justice; Sociology; Psychology; or many other fields of study or secondary school departments — this series can be used for ripe investigation in all of them.

Here are a bunch of interesting questions ready for inquiry.

The Revenant

DiCaprio and Iñárritu discussing a parenthetical.

Hollywood Studios and television networks are notorious for their thorny relationships with screenwriters throughout movie history.  Things change.  And some things don’t.

Here are some recent end-of-the-year pieces of interest for screenwriting-related issues.  The New York Times recently visited with a number of the top writers from feature films this year in this piece on Alejandro González Iñárritu, Amy Schumer, Aaron Sorkin, Paolo Sorrentino (Youth), Cary Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation), and Phyllis Nagy (Carol).   

For fans of media literacy inquiry, here’s a question for your students: “What’s fishy about this article related to the movie Trumbo (about legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, as played by actor Bryan Cranston) in the Times?”   (See answer 1 below.)

And here’s another: “What’s odd about the journalism — and lack of media literacy expertise — in this article by Cara Buckley about the new movie Joy, directed and written by David O. Russell and starring Jennifer Lawrence.”  (See answer 2 below.)

Happy New Year and be back soon!

1:  It’s not journalism.  It’s a paid piece posted amidst the online articles of the Times.  See also: irony.  [RE: Dalton Trumbo]

2: When the director and actors of a movie compare themselves to Cassavetes‘s or Bergman‘s collaborative “troupes” and it’s only their second movie together, please call them on it.  See also: puff piece.  



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