Pilar Alessandra – Sydney Screenwriting Seminar

In February 2014, I had the pleasure and privilege of organising and enjoying LA-based screenwriting instructor Pilar Alessandra’s Screenwriting Intensive One Day Seminar – one event in Sydney and one in Melbourne. Pilar was kind enough to give some of her time to an interview with fantastically talented actor, presenter and writer, Kristy Best.

Head on over to Vimeo to check it out. And remember to visit Pilar’s website, http://onthepage.tv for great screenwriting tips, podcasts and courses.

Romancing the Story

steampunk_romance_by_deltamike

Their eyes lock across the crowded room. Inexplicably, they are drawn to each other by some invisible force, a magnetism that no wall of humans can inhibit. Entranced by each other’s company, the bond steadily grows, developing until it blossoms into a ceremony of public declaration of love. A writer meets the one, the story that opens up the mysterious catchment of creativity, dwelling deep in the soul which means that the writer and writing are now one. They are compelled to be together until death parts them.

Over the top? Maybe. But really, if we are not ‘in love’ with writing then how do we convince our audiences to read – or in the case of film, watch, our stories? If our characters aren’t evoking an emotional response in us, then where does that leave our audience? They are sitting in the dark for a couple of hours wondering what else they could have done with their money, and even more importantly, their time. More than likely, it will be: I wonder what I could have watched on VOD tonight instead? Our movies should be evoking a visceral response from the audience on some level. If not, then we have failed. We have lost the soul of our story. Could it be because even we don’t like our characters or we’re not moved by our own story?

Has formula replaced creative storytelling in an effort to secure ROI? Many would – and do – suggest that this the case. And to a point, I agree. It would seem that we have lost our way and sold out to the demands of the studios in writing scripts that are almost guaranteed success – the sequels, the prequels, and even adaptations because the story and characters are established. In that way, the movies have become like episodes of an ongoing story or series, like television or even a book series. And while that concept is not wrong, it becomes tired and jaded when it is being pumped out just a little too often.

And so now we see a resurgence of television with the emergence of binge watching, the ability to watch up to a whole season in one sitting via the Netflix or Quikflix or any other VOD company. And with that, we have seen the quality of television programs available through this method rise dramatically in excellence – House of Cards being the prime example.

And what has made these programs so successful? It’s not just accessibility or the viewers’ ability to control how much they watch at a time. These programs are great stories. The characters are engaging and we want to know more, every episode.

So it may be said, cinema has lost the plot. And yet there are some wonderful films being made by both the indie film crowd and the studios. But most of these are not original stories. It’s like we have fallen out of love with storytelling. We have become so clever in our efforts to ensure the ROI for investors (don’t get me wrong – this is important!), we have lost our love for storytelling, engaging, fun, dramatic, adventurous, edgy, storytelling.

romancingthestory1We must find our own romance with our stories, rediscovering what drew us in to this amazing craft that enables us to create worlds and characters that we can share with others. Telling stories that expose and explore human nature and teach us a little about ourselves. Of course, to do that, the writer must also be willing to bare their soul to an audience who may not share the writer’s POV. But still, the stories must be told. That is how humankind operates. We are the only species that tells stories. So why have we lost the romance of storytelling and replaced it with scripts that are more in line with an accountant’s calculations and demographic assessments than whether an audience will be moved emotionally, stimulated mentally and even inspired to change their own world.

The importance of building a strong network of contacts…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another great article from scriptcat.wordpress.com.

Networking and contacts are the same in any business and you should never underestimate how important it is to build and establish a strong network of contacts.  This is especially true in Hollywood where your contacts are your life’s blood to finding work and getting hired for jobs.  Learn patience on your journey because it will take time to establish yourself as an excellent screenwriter before you can fully cultivate your film industry relationships. Read more . . .

Batman, Nolan & Why Cinema Matters

Like millions of people around the world, I was so excited to finally get my chance to see The Dark Knight Rises. I faithfully avoided reviews, comments and anything I felt would colour my viewing of this much-hyped event. And was I satisfied? Did it meet my own expectations? Absolutely. And frankly, as a movie-goer who paid for my ticket and sat down in a theatre with other movie-goers, that is all that mattered to me.

I have heard fellow writers speak about where it failed, or didn’t work; and yet others who feel as I do – Nolan nailed it. And I can see where they have their point, and of course, are allowed their opinion – as we all are. But, I loved it. I look forward to seeing it again. I know there is much I need to revisit, just to absorb the film better. And considering Nolan stated in his farewell to Batman letter that he did not originally plan to do two movies, let alone three, he managed to tie up all three stories in the last instalment.

Hathaway’s Catwoman was terrific, and provided a much-needed relief character, usually provided by Caine’s Alfred. She was often the Court Jester, and the character who would follow her own path yet act as the catalyst in propelling our hero on his journey. And running down the subway tracks in those heels – well, step back Batman!

The story is convoluted, but who watches a Nolan film for a simple story? No – we love Nolan because he manages to get so much into a film, and yet not lose the plot (pun intended!). But there are also times when ‘simple’ fits the bill for me – I love watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers tear up the dance floor!

But I’m not analysing or making comments on structure – I need to see it a couple more times for a proper look in that way. Certainly a trip to see it in IMAX is a priority! But what I did really love was the hype, the interest and the conversation about the film before it came anywhere near a public screen. People were excited about going to the cinema, seeing a film outside their living rooms and being taken on a ride out of the everyday. Whether the critics or other filmmakers thought it was Nolan’s best work or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that film and movies and characters and stories are still an important part of people’s lives. They are choosing to spend their hard-earned leisure time and money on what filmmakers are putting on screens – whether they are independent films or backed by a large studio.

And as one who is a writer and on a learning curve as a producer, I can say that is great news! There will always be a job for me and my colleagues as long as people want to see films. And our job is then to ensure we make the stuff that keep audiences turning up. The recent horrific tragedy at Aurora, Colorado will naturally affect people’s decision to attend a cinema, but ultimately we will remember that events such as this are out of the ordinary and we will not have our freedom determined by the irrational actions of an individual.

The late Blake Snyder, in his response to someone who disagreed with Snyder’s assessment of Nolan’s Memento, made this comment about why making entertaining cinema matters:

‘And on a personal note, I am a reverse snob when it comes to film. I think there is something beautiful about entertaining lots of people; it’s selfless, it’s giving, it’s thinking of an audience first and your “growth as an artist ” second.

I think there is something terribly arrogant about many filmmakers who create movies to “make people think.” People can do their own thinking thanks. What they can’t do on their own is be entertained, taken away, lifted up, inspired, and delighted. That’s what “commercial” films do best, and I think it’s a pretty noble pursuit! Hollywood does it better than anyone in the world, and I am the defender of that philosophy — despite the fact that it often leads to overemphasis on box office.

To me, making money is not what being “commercial” is about.  But if you want to know how people vote with their ticket buying, the only way to see what works and what doesn’t is box office — and that’s why I emphasize it.’ (January, 2009; http://www.blakesnyder.com)

And in a final comment, people who make films do so because they love it; money is a poor reward for the effort, hard work and hours poured into creating a world into which our audiences can disappear for even a short time. There are far easier ways to make money. As Walt Disney said, ‘We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.’

A shadow cast on Hollywood

A shadow cast on Hollywood 

Alex Pham, Steven Zeitchik, Ben Fritz

Director Rob Cohen on the set of the film Stealth.

“I’m asking myself what are we responsible for…” … action film director-producer Rob Cohen.

This article appeared in the Los Angeles Times, and was reposted in the Sydney Sun Herald. It is an interesting read and provides a perspective for consideration.

While filmmakers – writers included – are not to blame for the recent horrific events in Aurora, Colorado, we do play a part in shaping society’s thinking and behaviour. Film is a particularly powerful medium where we hold the attention of thousands of people for about two hours, telling our stories and infusing our ideas.

Violence has always been part and parcel of human behaviour, and therefore storytelling, so blaming violence in film as a cause for tragedies such as Aurora is misplaced, and to my current thinking, a cop out. People are still responsible for their own choices, decisions and actions.

But maybe us humans should be looking at a whole range of things that influence society and taking stock of what we have come to see as socially acceptable.  As writers, filmmakers and media, I believe we still need to constantly review the content of our production and consider the level of influence that we hold in the broader community.

A Little Piece of Me

I love it when I watch a show, film or read a book that has a lead character with whom I identify. I see a trait or similarity which resonates with me and draws me in. And somehow, I also identify with the writer. Because more often than not, we write characters who contain a fair bit of us. We write from what we know and then what we would like to see develop in ourselves. That character who could never trust finally learns that people really care or that running from the hard stuff doesn’t work after all reflects that deep part of a writer who struggles with the same issues. The writer sees a chance for change and aspires to that end and then also draws in those who join in with cheering that character on to reach the goal.

I believe that the best writers allow themselves to be vulnerable and open to having their own flaws used as inspiration for really great stories. As scary as it is to ‘bare your soul’ before the world and risk humiliation, the one who takes the risk gets the gold. For some, that is an eminently easier exercise than it is for the rest of us. Because anyone who knows you will recognise the ‘you’ in that hero. And everyone has their boundaries.

So of course, not all of us writers cheerfully throw ourselves out there, openly expressing that our characters reflect some of the worst parts of us. And the balance is that we use the great parts of us in character too. All I can say is that our stories become truly real when we let the dimensions and dynamic of our own life struggles, experiences and victories build the fabric of the script and create characters with whom we like to laugh, cry and cheer on. Because we want the same thing in our own lives. It brings hope, it brings release and yes, even helps others. Wow – that’s a lot achieved just through a film or novel or theatre production. But we are the court jesters, send to stir the conscience of the king – or the politician, or the council worker or the business owner, or the sport star, the teenager, the mother.

Let’s not underestimate the power we have to affect the lives of others. At the end of the day, every artist is allowing the great big world into their soul for a time. We get to catch a glimpse of the deepest part of the artist, and that’s what makes us all connect. So let that little piece of you shine through your work. You just don’t know who is watching.

Hugh Jackman on Les Misérables & Live Theatre

Les Miserables will be something special, and I love Hugh’s quote on theatre.

Hugh Jackman Speaks On ‘Les Misérables’ & Live Theatre | Flicks and Bits.

‘Les Miserables’ is one of the greatest stories ever told, and it really is an uplifting story about the human spirit. It is a rare feeling to be in something that you know you will look back on as one the highlights of your life. Read more . . .