Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#16) TALES FROM THE SCRIPT

1) Not *Crypt*

2) I've had a kind of crazy couple of past days where I had watched things on Netflix, but I couldn't quite count them as movies (there were two comedy specials I watched, one I had not seen, an Eddie Izzard Live at Wembly Stadium which was uproarious, and one I'd seen many times, George Carlin's 'It's Bad For Ya', his final and one of his very best specials).  Maybe there was some lack of initiative, or maybe Irreversible kicked my ass the other night.  Or just because I also watched Resnais' Wild Grass, the Golden Globes, which was a mixed-bag of amazing (Gervais) and not so amazing (most of the rest of the BS show).  Then yesterday I had a pretty intense film shoot where my camera operating skills were put to some extremes of work, going through 50+ shots in just about five hours in freezing cold.  Suffice to say I was wiped, however able to watch this documentary before konking out.

So, in short, I have a make-up film to watch, or two possibly.  But there's still another week or so in this Netflix-game, so I'll try and keep up a little better.  Sadly Kevin Murphy wouldn't approve, but, fuck it, he doesn't know me, I don't know him, whateversville.

I might be crazy, just a little bit.  No, not a little bit, a lot-bit.  I do want to be a screenwriter, or more importantly a filmmaker, but firstly someone who can put down some good words and a decent story to type and then go off and get that made into a movie, if not by myself than someone else.  But it's also a livelihood that is not very ideal for someone who to hear "NO!" in the kind of words "Yes, we'll get back to you," is soul-crushing.  Or as Paul Schrader puts it in this documentary, as advice for those who ask him about getting into writing or making movies, that if something else makes you happier do that instead, because "you should only do this if you have no other choice."

That might be lofty advice coming from him, though he is also an artist in the world of screenwriting and directing.  Others interviewed here may not have quite the same level of artistry- Steven E de Souza, who gives some of the best insights among the many screenwriters and few other professionals (professors mostly) who give their testimonies about life as writers in the movie business, has writing credits ranging from Judge Dredd to Commando- but all of them are passionate about what they do, and have many war stories.  What Tales from the Script is good for is to give a level-headed account of the various facets of the business: how to get in, if at all (one writer describes it as a little crack in a wall opens up, you can wiggle in, but then it closes up and no one else can enter), how to pitch, or how that screws up by the person pitching your pitch, how to talk to producers ("All of them are shorter than you," one writer laughably remarks), and how to survive through compromising situations.

The key word here I would think is 'compromise', but then there are other perks for getting by through the bullshit.  For one thing a screenwriter, writing out a blueprint, gets to see it eventually make it to the screens.  On the other hand, there is an immediate false-hope when it comes for screenwriters.  Firstly that the reputation built over time, and that can be attested to by the late Hollywood B-writer Melville Shavelson, was that the writer was low on the totem pole, barely above the producer's girlfriend in the movie-making scheme.  While one of the key lines ever muttered from Sunset Blvd ("No one thinks movies are written, they just think the actors make it up as they go along.") is not mentioned in the film, it's not something that is too far a stretch to see happen with the process.  Between the studio executives, whom have grown out of control since the 70's and 80's when the business moved to a much more corporate-dominated enterprise, and when the number of people at a studio exec meeting went from two-to-six, not to mention the producers and the stars who look at a script and go "my character wouldn't say that", to say a writer's work would change from the start is an understatement.

Some of the stories are more heartbreaking, while others are just outright funny.  William Goldman, one of those old sacred cows of screenwriting since the 60's, tells of his work on The Marathon Man and The Princess Bride being changed a bit on set, and it is sad but perhaps to be expected (he admits to mostly writing the former so to meet Laurence Olivier).  But Guinevere Turner, previously co-writer of the American Psycho adaptation, tells of writing the original first draft of Bloodrayne, and before this being yelled at on the phone by its director, Uwe Boll, and never wanting to speak to him again.  When she submitted the script, he said (in a bad, awesome Boll imitation), "Good, we shoot in one week", and this from the first draft!  Ultimately she was the only one at the premiere of the movie howling with laughter at the screening, recognizing how butchered it was but that it was okay, to live and let live.  After all it's only a Uwe Boll movie, right?

The main anecdotes of Tales from the Script are told in pretty basic shots so that we just get the stories, interwoven based around some topics; originally (or perhaps concurrently) this was released as a book of interviews, which I read before and is pretty faithful to that.  Writers who have some name recognition- Darabont, Carpenter, Schrader, Goldman, Shane Black are interviewed- and then others who are still eeking it out or have the here-and-there success- Justin Zackham, Josh Friedman, Zak Penn, Steve Koren- all get their say and there's a similar theme running through their testimonies on their work: don't be too precious about your words, but make sure to write the hell out of it, and know realistically what you're getting into on every project, even if (or especially if) it doesn't get made, which is a mathematical probability (350 scripts in development at Warner brothers, only a dozen or so get made each year, what does that tell you for example).

Stuck Inside a Mobile with the Final Draft Blues again
I was glad the tone of the doc was so sobering (if a little sappy sounding from the music track which could have been done away with; movie clips featured from Barton Fink and Adaptation and For Your Consideration are more appreciated), since it's appeal can lie for screenwriters (aspiring or industry professional) and non-screenwriter alike.  For the former you get a first hand account from those that made it, if only by some luck and a little perseverance and a lot of who-you-know which is a big factor in Hollywood, and you see how you have to keep at it, to just keep writing scripts and hopefully one gets made here or there and that draft after draft is kept at.  The writers don't pull any punches and they don't sound full of themselves, even the usually prickish Goldman who has more success than most featured.  And for the latter layman it gives you a peek into a world that is somewhat underrated; they are paid a lot when scripts are made, this shouldn't be forgotten, but it is also as Josh Friedman describes, "A hard way to make an easy living."

To be able to sit and do the work is worthwhile.  The bullshit part of it... that's what is hard to get through.  As for me, I can only hope to keep scratching and writing and do something that gets through, either by selling a script or going it alone myself.  After all, as the documentary more than hints (flat out tells us), Hollywood knows the difference between a "movie" or a "film".  And when they say "ah, that sounds like a movie", it's all about commerce.  The trick is, I gather from all of this, to find the line of commerce and art and skid along it, or at least do something interesting in the meantime.  It's a captivating if basically shot look at an artistic-and-or-commercial process.

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