Archive for the ‘Chapter 7’ Category

Leaping at you!

Leaping at you!

This weekend, free comic book day is arriving and we are about to be hit with the Age of Ultron juggernaut.  Meanwhile, for some time now, superhero tales have been popping inventively through the channels of television as well, including the current franchises of DC’s The Arrow and The Flash, among others.  Recently, Marvel’s Daredevil has joined the fray courtesy of Netflix, ready for being devoured in hours of bingeing.  (One student in a class discussion about sports asked if among winter sports in which he takes part one could consider binge-watching because it’s a sort of competition and includes a variety of skills in order to master its intricacies and emerge a victor from among friends.)  The Daredevil TV series, created by Drew Goddard, has garnered quite a strong fan reaction for its clever retelling of the comic’s 1960’s origin story and successive development by writer Stan Lee and artists including Bill Everett and influential maverick creator Wally Wood.

Karen Page, Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson: you make it with your Characters

Karen Page, Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson: you make it with your characters

For those interested in an interesting screenwriting lesson, this recent podcast on The Frame with show runner Steven DeKnight features many compelling discussion points and revealing commentary about scripting television series, including story structure and character development — and how they are dependent on episode length, platform, and target audiences.  DeKnight also discusses details about the content of the show and how tone and violence were key issues for the show’s creators to consider.

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Dead-poets-society-robin-williams-32089561-500-336This week’s incredible journey of virtual mourning for millions over the tragic death of Robin Williams (and personal, private mourning for his family and friends) has been quite powerful in its breadth and is anchored by this still recent ability to share media – like going down the cellar to take out the boxes of home movies and prepare them for family reminiscing – so quickly, so widely, and so interactively by both professionals and the general public.

One of the movies selected for study with Moving Images is Dead Poets Society, and a picture of Robin Williams as Charles Keating is featured on page 296 in a discussion of casting in the production process.  Interestingly, the first time I personally used the film in a media literacy course – because it is generally used in a sophomore English class at my school – was this past spring.  I had not seen it in a while, and I was struck in particular by Robin Williams’s performance, along with the entire cast.  If one is looking for lessons in directing of actors in a film from the past few decades, the work that Peter Weir did in this movie was extraordinary.  I have found that people tend to focus on the “antics” of Robin Williams’s performance in this role, but if that is the case, they aren’t looking very closely or with an open critical eye.  While general perception of this role has tended to focus on his behavior as a “teacher on stage,” Williams is able to convey the care that his character takes in trying to understand his students and pay attention to them as appropriate to the context of a private academy of the 1950’s.  His is a supporting role – and another great lesson for students learning from this film is to investigate and discuss the core dramatic issues of the screenplay: who is the main character?  when are the turning points of the story?  what are the objectives of all of the characters and where are the conflicts? –  and it is one that is quite subtle and honest; it is often best in the quiet moments, even ones without words.  This is not often enough said of Robin Williams performances, but I find it true here.  I highly recommend giving this movie a fresh viewing and doing it with an open critical mind; the poetry is in more than the book Williams is holding in this picture.

fool and flying shipOn the solely verbal side, I would like to recommend another Robin Williams performance that is not among his most famous: his narration of The Fool and the Flying Shipa children’s story for Rabbit Ears Records back in the 1980’s.  All of his voice gifts are there, along with the one-liners, the accents, the infectious energy, but as opposed to the ping-ponging, zipping here and there qualities of his stand-up work, here he is grounded by story.  And since he is narrating, the voices of individual characters have time to stay with us, come back into view, and form a distinct presence in the life of a narrative, which is a bit different than the quick blips of caricature that he would use in comedy performances, talk shows, and similar work.  He also narrated Pecos Bill, which is more well-known and is excellent as well in different ways, but I would encourage anyone interested to seek out the brilliant creation The Fool and the Flying Ship.  I must add a personal note that was rather unbelievable to my family and I: we listened to this story precisely four days ago.  This past Monday morning, the day of Robin Williams’s death, we had to drive to Boston for a medical appointment for two of our children.  On a whim, I grabbed a CD that we hadn’t listened to in many years, The Fool and the Flying Ship.  It was the first thing we listened to during our drive, and I remarked to my wife, “I think this is one of the best things Robin Williams has ever done.  It really brings together so many of his best qualities and he is just so on here.  It’s right up there with his most distinctive, natural performances.”  We just couldn’t believe it when we got the news that evening when we arrived home, which is clearly still the case across the globe.

As one final comment, in discussions of Williams’s work this week, I have not heard mention of Moscow on the Hudson, directed by Paul Mazursky.  It was his most acclaimed performance of his early feature film work and one that appeared to be very important to him.  It should certainly be listed among the defining titles of his filmography along with some of the later more famous, and perhaps not as distinctive, performances.

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Sizzle in Paris this summer with Hepburn and Holden as they work to get the screenwriting juices flowing

Summer Movie about Screenwriting: Sizzle in Paris with Hepburn and Holden as they work to get the creative juices flowing

Chapters 3 and 7 (Sound and Image and From Page to Screen) are the sections of Moving Images that deal most explicitly and directly with screenwriting.  One of the topics introduced in Chapter 3 and pursued further in Chapter 7 is that of screenplay format.  Currently, there are many programs available to set up writing for proper screenplay format, such as Celtx (which offers a freeware version), Final Draft, Adobe Story, and many others.  Educators or students may wish to invest in any of these or access freeware versions, but here is another easily accessible option.  Microsoft Word can be programmed so that through the style settings the basic components of a script are ready to go.

Would you like a copy that is prepared for you?  Here it is: Screenplay template.  The titles for screenplay components in this document are those that I have used in Moving Images and are described in the definitions and descriptions in Chapter 3 (p. 101-106) and Chapter 7 (268-271).  This Word doc template has been set for Courier; you may have to change the font settings to Courier New depending on your version of Word.  Please review the style settings, because they can be problematic between software versions and they might need review or updating.

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This is where it started: the original story by Chris Claremont with art by John Byrne – the graphic novel can be used in a lesson comparing media and critiquing adaptations

Let’s take a visit to the world of writers today!  For those of you either teaching or learning about the meaning of the word “exposition,” please go and see X-Men: Days of Future Past.  There’s lots on display there.

Speaking of writing, there are two wonderful examples of the craft of fine writing to be found this weekend at the New York Times: A.O. Scott’s reviews of the X-Men movie and Blended are absolutely brilliant.  I particularly recommend his review of Blended; there you will find the best summary of the “Adam Sandler” movie experience that I have seen to date, such as “There are comedians who mine their own insecurities for material. Mr. Sandler, in his recent films, compensates for his by building monuments to his own ego. In Blended, he once again proclaims himself both über-doofus and ultimate mensch, disguising his tireless bullying in childish voices and the ironclad alibis of fatherhood and grief.”  A.O. Scott concludes the piece on Blended with the rating description: “Rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It will make your children stupid.”  

Every once in a while, some students will select Adam Sandler movies as a topic of study (for example, those directed by Dennis Dugan, or “Double D” as the last presenters called him), and I have to watch snippets from a variety of Mr. Sandler’s films.  I think I am going to have A.O. Scott’s review of Blended made into a poster and put on my classroom wall.  Media literacy includes examples of brilliant critical writing too, after all.

Barry Scheck of The Innocence Project and screenwriter Pamela Gray, seated

Barry Scheck of Innocence Project and Pamela Gray

I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past with my eldest son this weekend, and before the movie we were barraged with the onslaught of previews for brain-frying movies that are about to arrive: Let’s Be Cops, 22 Jump Street, The Expendables 3, Kingsman, and…oh, here’s a “woman’s movie” — Lucy (starring the consistently superb Scarlett Johansson).  Ah, Luc Besson is back with the latest incarnation of his adolescent “perfect woman” fantasies that he can’t move on from (La Femme Nikita, Fifth Element, Angel-A, etc.), along with his usual vicious Asian stereotypes and more.  I’ll pass.  So, a propos of all this, I would like to bring up this article about a recent talk with screenwriter Pamela Gray (Conviction, A Walk on the Moon), who is featured in our From Page to Screen Close-Up interview.  Watching those trailers, I couldn’t help but think about these lines from the Golden Gate Xpress article, “Gray also said that what she really writes are character-driven screenplays, and that most of hers just happen to involve female leads. She said the challenge is not writing for these women, but instead lies in the sexism of the industry: ‘What’s more difficult is getting those movies made (and) finding assignments with good females roles,’ Gray said. ‘There are fewer and fewer of those assignments now.'”  So, perhaps that is your assignment right now for your media literacy and production class!

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I'm Here Spike JonzeAfter directing scripts by Charlie Kaufman for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation and then collaborating with Dave Eggers to write Where the Wild Things Are, Spike Jonze went solo to pen the script for his most recent feature Her and promptly won numerous awards for his effort, including the Oscar for original screenplay.  Aside from studying the script for Her, I also recommend checking out this far less known short that Jonze made in 2010, I’m Herewhich is a bit of a thematic and stylistic warmup for issues explored in Her.  Also, you can check out the links with each movie above for screenwriting perspectives and discussions with Kaufman, Eggers, and Jonze.    

Besides the clear applications to Chapter 7 of Moving Images (From Page to Screen), I’m Here also prompts topics explored in Chapter 5 — Personal Expression and Studio Production — by provoking questions of “Who made this? / Why did they make it?” and related inquiries.  In this case, Jonze, who has worked on music videos and commercials throughout his career, creates here a “commercial” that is 30 minutes instead of 30 seconds.  And that is not truly a commercial.  Well, it’s really a (long-ish) short funded by Absolut for production studio credit and some cachet, it appears.  “Merchants of Cool,” indeed.

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X BelieveTruth in Fiction, Part 2:  A short while back, Google celebrated the major media event of the alleged Roswell UFO sightings with one of their undoubtedly best Doodles: here it is.   It’s a movie, it’s a game, it’s also quite subtly mesmerizing.

Contemplating the beyond, whether through sci-fi or speculative fiction or fantastical worlds, remains one of the most widespread areas of mainstream storytelling, but it continues to be one of the sparsest domains of exploration for reading in schools.  Or media literacy.  A few years ago, a superb series of media literacy materials for middle schools called The Story of Movies was created through a partnership between the Film Foundation, TCM, and IBM.  Of the three films for which they created useful study guides, one was for the science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still.  

Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny,Meanwhile, one of the great Roswell-related events in American popular culture is presently celebrating a twenty-year anniversary: The X-Files.   The appearance at this year’s San Diego Comic Con of some of its principal figures, including creator Chris Carter, writer Vince Gilligan (of Breaking Bad), and actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, provided an interesting forum for discussion of how a groundbreaking program can lead to new avenues of storytelling and media creation, and how shifts in cultural viewpoints can reflect the historical view of a movie or show.   Of particular note are the degree to which the alchemy of a leading duo was invigorated through The X-Files (in the tradition of the John Steed – Emma Peel Avengers, or Tara King too!), the questioning of authority embedded in the series evaporated within the following decade (particularly in the wake of 9/11; and which now returns with a vengeance), and, perhaps most importantly, the development of an intricately woven backstory and arcing universe of mythology now commonly feeds narratives of episodic series.  For use with Chapter 7 of Moving Images, a superb piece for screenwriting study is the award-winning episode Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, written by Chris Carter and Darin Morgan.

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MUDJeff Nichols’s Mud is arriving in theaters in the United States, and it provides rich points of discussion for the classroom, starting with its ties to American literary traditions of the South, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  And for high school teachers, here is some big news: it’s PG-13!  (Which – as many educators certainly know – is often not the case with movies that delve into complex themes and develop multi-faceted characters …just start looking through lists year after year of award-winning movies!)

Jeff Nichols Directs "Mud"

Jeff Nichols Directs “Mud”

One particularly enlightening video for classroom use to discuss Mud is from the “Anatomy of a Scene” series by the New York Times.  Screenwriter and director Jeff Nichols provides excellent insight into the decision-making process of a filmmaker – particularly in relation to cinematography choices – which can stimulate very interesting group discussion.  In this interview with Jack Giroux of filmschoolrejects.com, Nichols discusses the writing process and inspirations for this movie, among other topics.  Also, here is a video interview of Nichols on firstshowing.net and a text interview from crave online that focuses primarily on “how to get it made” (and in which the journalist ends up by centering the discussion on the fact that he will be going to the Cannes festival this year!).  For those interested in pursuing information about collaboration between directors and actors, there are many interviews with star Matthew McConaughy (for whom Nichols created the role) while Jeff Nichols talks about highlights of his work with Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, and others in the interviews linked above.

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