Thursday, October 23, 2008

What, When, Where this Weekend - Syecdoche, New York, The Changeling, Let the Right One In, Pride and Glory

What, When, Where is a weekly guide to select screenings, discussions and events in the NYC-area of interest to screenwriters.

- STRANDED screenings followed by filmmaker Q&A at Film Forum.

- SLEEP DEALER screening with writer/director Q&A sponsored by the Moving Image Museum.

Opening this weekend...

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, written and directed by Charlie Kaufman

A theater director struggles with his work and the women in his life as he attempts to create a life-size replica of New York inside a warehouse as part of his new play.

Playing at: Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, Landmark Sunshine

Every now and then a movie comes along that I have to see immediately; this is one that won't make it through this weekend unseen. I've seen reviews ranging from "nonsense" to "incomprehensible" and despite all I've seen and read, I'm still not sure what to expect going in, but I'm real eager to dive into this one.

There's a great interview with Charlie Kaufman here.

You can watch the trailer here.

THE CHANGELING, written by J. Michael Straczynski, dir. by Clint Eastwood

Premise: A mother's prayer for her kidnapped son to return home is answered, though it doesn't take long for her to suspect the boy who comes back is not hers.

Playing: All over.

The Babylon 5/Spider-Man/The Real Ghostbusters J. Michael Straczynski scribe has been entertaining my generation for our entire lifespan, so I'll tend to give him the benefit of the doubt. Plus, Clint Eastwood? And a good cast? I'm in.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, dir. by Tomas Alfredson

Premise: Oskar, a bullied 12-year old, dreams of revenge. He falls in love with Eli, a peculiar girl. She can't stand the sun or food and to come into a room she needs to be invited. Eli gives Oskar the strength to hit back but when he realizes that Eli needs to drink other peoples blood to live he's faced with a choice. How much can love forgive? Let The Right One In is a story both violent and highly romantic, set in the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg in 1982.

Playing at:

I've heard a lot of good buzz around this one - the premise alone had me sold, and I've really been jonesing for another good vampire flick. (Speaking of which - anyone watching True Blood? I've heard people both raving about it and ripping it apart.)

PRIDE AND GLORY, written by Gavin and Gregory O'Connor, dir. by Gavin O'Connor

A saga centered on a multi-generational family of New York City Police officers. The family's moral codes are tested when Ray Tierney, investigates a case that reveals an incendiary police corruption scandal involving his own brother-in-law. For Ray, the truth is revelatory, a Pandora's Box that threatens to upend not only the Tierney legacy but the entire NYPD.

Playing: All over.

Good cast, but looks kinda boring. See you on Netflix in six months.

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

The Writing Wire for 10/23

The latest happenings in the world of books and related topics:

The L.A. Times Jacket Copy book blog dredges up some more bad writing tips.

• Murderati has a great post discussing the realities of using real people and places in your novel, and just how it works. Worth a look.

The New York Times is reporting the death of famed literary agent Pat Kavanagh. They also review Eminem's new memoir.

The L.A. Times (again, via Largehearted Boy) on Mia Kirshner's new book.

The Onion AV Club on Michael Connelly's latest.

New York Magazine's VULTURE blog on the confusing publicity for Synecdoche, New York. Also, Javier Bardem is working again.

Independent Film Structure

On Monday, I went to another of the Screenwriters Meetups here in the Big Apple. As it had been with the last meeting Zombie and I attended, I had to read a script and come ready to critique it. The script, very much an indie flick, generated almost as much discussion on the structure of indie films as it did on itself. The overwhelming consensus among the other attendees of the Meetup, which I disagree with wholeheartedly, is that indie films do not need structure.

I was sitting there shaking my head as some of the other people – I won’t begin to speculate as to anyone’s experience (or lack thereof) with screenwriting – defended the script’s passive protagonist and lack of tension by saying that indie movies do not need traditional cinematic devices (such as a climax). The script essentially flat lined at the end of act one. It was supposed to be a romantic drama about two people struggling to get their lives together. Yet there was never any sense that the characters were really fighting for anything. If they got separated, they didn’t seem to mind. If they were homeless, they were just as happy as if they had a roof over their heads. The script, if anything, ebbed and flowed, but it did not build. The stakes were never raised. The characters never fought for anything, and at the final FADE OUT, they were no different than when we were first introduced to them.

I say all that about the script not to criticize it – there was a lot I liked about it – but to give you the necessary background for why I was so frustrated with other peoples’ notion that all of those flaws were OK, since this is an indie spec. I was amazed by how willing people were to love a script that didn’t build, simply because it would most likely play in art-house theaters if made. No producer, at least none I can think of, is going to buy a script with flat characters and story because it’s indie. Indie films, contrary to what people were saying, often do follow traditional structure, but are so well crafted that the act breaks are not immediately noticeable. The characters are so engaging you’re alternating between looking away from the screen because you don’t want to see them hurt and clinging to the edge of your seat, because you can’t wait to see what’s next.

It’s a dangerous trap to fall into to let yourself believe that independent movies are free to completely discard format and structure. While indie movies are more frequently about “normal people” than most blockbusters are, normal people do not go see movies about normal people not learning lessons or doing anything interesting. It’s not a form of escape. And producers are well aware of the fact that independent movies, which run on limited screens in limited cities, cost just as much if not more per ticket as do blockbusters playing on 3,000 screens across the country. Independent films might be much closer to home thematically than say, Max Payne or The Dark Knight, but they’re still movies. They still require structure.

Charlie Kaufman interviewed about writing, directing your script, and Synecdoche, New York

Scott Tobias recently posted a great interview with the ever-enlightening Charlie Kaufman over at the AVClub. I always love hearing this guy talk about his writing and the writing process, if only to hear something beyond the traditional character arc and three-act structure dialogue that most writers will get into when prodded about what makes them intriguing writers. That stuff is all important, but it's nice to hear things that weren't part of every screenwriting class or book that you've already managed to devour.

Kaufman talks about his writing, his new movie, and interesting (considering all of our recent discussion on here about giving up our babies) directing your screenplay for the first time. As a frustratingly slow writer, here's one of my favorite, most reassuring bits of the interview:

AVC: You don't seem like the sort of writer who has a set of note cards and knows what's going to happen in every scene, but your movies are very intricately constructed. How do you pull that off?

CK: I take a very long time to write them. By doing that, I can allow myself to be expansive. As ideas come in, I can include them and then go back and figure out how to introduce them. So it's an ongoing process of back and forth and back and forth until I have a script. In this case, that took two years. So by the end, I'm pretty clear on it. I don't need cards to know where things are, and I start to understand relationships not only between people, but between parts of the movie, in new ways, and that's exciting for me. It keeps me excited about the process, and it allows for a certain amount of complexity in the construction. You know, it's weird: If you set up something early on as a structure or a goal, then that's what you write toward, and there's no opportunity to allow other stuff in. So you end up saying, "I can't do this, because this movie goes here." That doesn't interest me, and it doesn't feel exciting to work that way. So I don't.

You can read the full interview here.

And if you've got some time on your hands, WIRED has a five-part, two plus hour audio interview with Charlie Kaufman up on their blog. (Parts three and four focus most on his writing and career.)