Monday, August 25, 2014

Confusion of Week One

The first week of school is always the most stressful for me (and for everyone else, I imagine.)

Even provided with syllabi ahead of time, we still have to figure out exactly how the classes are structured, how the professor wants assignments, and what writing style we're to use. Professors clarify assignments and explain, change, or add things to the syllabus that weren't part of the original. On top of that, we have the hundreds of introductory posts by all the students that must be read, and then a couple replied to. When students make minimal comments like "Hi, nice to meet ya, good to have you in class" - and they do that for EVERY student, some of us tire of that quickly. So I always look forward to getting past that point - I never was one for small talk anyway.

This semester, we'll be writing loglines for five episodes of a current TV drama series and one full spec episode. (I'm doing Blue Bloods, so we're binge-watching all episodes. Thankfully, an idea has already formed itself and I'm already percolating the script.)

We'll also have to write a full-length feature film. Several ideas are bouncing around my head right now, but I haven't settled on one.

And by the end of next week, we'll have to turn in a short script for possible production at our school. This one terrifies me, even though it's the shortest - because it's due so quickly. I'll be carving out brainstorming time early this week just to figure out something.

Our viewing this week has mostly been Blue Bloods, but we also watched a few movies. Some of the movies don't have assignments attached to them - they're just for viewing purposes. In one class, we're assigned to groups and each group watches different movies and then critiques them.

Gravity

2013
Starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock

I LOVE space movies. Except this one. Wow. We watched the entire thing and I kept waiting for the movie to start. At the end, they put up the title graphic, and thought, "Good, now we can get to the story" - but then the final credits started rolling.

What were these stars thinking? I like both of them in other movies, but they must have needed a paycheck or something. I was flabbergasted to learn that this movie had been nominated for hundreds of awards, and even more astounded to learn it actually won 175 of them! Most are in cinematography, and that makes sense because visually, the movie is stunning.

Innerspace
1987
Starring Dennis Quaid and Martin Short

I quit watching this one in the first 10 minutes. It was an "alternate" viewing option for First Blood, and since I had not seen it, I chose to view it instead. Now I'm waiting for First Blood to arrive so I can watch it again.

Vertigo
1957
Written by Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring James Stewart and Kim Novak

We are required to write a 1000-word critique on this movie. It's going to be a chore, because my first impression of this one is that it's just one weird movie. As I'm researching academic articles discussing the film, I ran across a comment that gave me a little comfort though. The article writer quoted Kim Novak in a conversation she had with Alfred Hitchcock. She said, "There's a scene that bothers me. It doesn't make sense" and Hitchcock replied, "That's the point, my dear, that's the point." So I feel better - I totally got his point. The movie didn't make sense to me. The article writer goes on to say, "He loved to move things around and not always totally justify a scene on purpose, to keep the audience alert, to keep them participating." I'm not sure today's audiences would put up with that for very long.

The articles have given me a bit more appreciation for the film as a whole, though, so I'm eagerly reading as much as I can about it in hopes to understand a little more.

We also have a five-page essay on Citizen Kane due later this week, so I'm rewatching it as well. I'll have to seek out articles on this one as well - I understood it less than I did Vertigo.



Have you seen any of these movies? I'd love to hear your thoughts on them. 

Other recent movie lists:

A Blur of Television and Movies
Bridal Shower, Papers, and Movies
Confusion of Week One
My MFA Textbooks
Writing and Viewing the TV Drama
Rethinking Use of Color and Plot in Screenwriting
The Journey to an MFA in Screenwriting Begins



Reference


Brown, Royal S. “Back from among the Dead: The Restoration of Alfred Hitchcock's ‘Vertigo’.” Cineaste - America's Leading Magazine on the Art and Politics of the Cinema 07 1997: 4-9. ProQuest. Web. 25 Aug. 2014.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My MFA Textbooks

I tried putting together a fancy little widget from Amazon to show our textbooks, but the code doesn't seem to like me at the moment.

Instead, I'll list my textbooks, software, and equipment here, and update the list each semester.

Semester 1

Books Required:

Story by Robert McKee
(required for two classes)
The Hollywood Standard

Screenwriter's Bible by Dave Trotter
(newest edition)
The Visual Story
Reel Spirituality
    
The TV Writer's Workbook

Writing the TV Drama Series
      


Faith, Film and Philosophy:
Big Ideas and the Big Screen
  
  
Anatomy of a Film




































Books Recommended:



The Routledge Companion to Religion and Film









Software Required:

Movie Magic Screenwriter

A couple of years ago when I took my first screenwriting class, I purchased Movie Magic 6 for two reasons: platform and cost. MM6 works on either Mac or PC - at the time, I knew I would be switching computers, and MM6 worked easily to accommodate both computers. At the time, it also cost quite a bit less than Final Draft. Today, they're closer in price, but you still have to choose one or the other platforms on Final Draft - you don't have the option of using one purchase for either/or.



OR

Final Draft











We are also required to use SKYPE this year for some communication with our professors.


Recent movie lists:

A Blur of Television and Movies
Bridal Shower, Papers, and Movies
Confusion of Week One
My MFA Textbooks
Writing and Viewing the TV Drama
Rethinking Use of Color and Plot in Screenwriting
The Journey to an MFA in Screenwriting Begins


Monday, August 11, 2014

Writing and Viewing the TV Drama Series

Another class I'll be taking this semester is Writing the TV Drama Series. We haven't received our syllabus yet, but based on an older one, I think we might have to write a pilot episode of our own creation. I'm excited about that, oddly enough, because some of today's favorite dramas are not my favorite.

Some of my favorites over the last few years have included (in random order): Longmire, The Good Wife, LOST, Blacklist, 24, Sherlock, CSI: Miami, Law & Order: SVU, and Midsomer Murders. But I admit, I enjoy some of the older (tamer?) dramas as much or more than some of these because of content. In the older dramas, I didn't have to worry about too much gore or being assaulted with filthy language or graphic sex scenes. 

We started watching a few drama series this weekend, based on textbook and other recommendations.


Once Upon a Time
2011-
Created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz
Pilot Episode written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parilla, Josh Dallas, Jared Gilmore

I expect a flogging over this admission, but I've never been too much of a fantasy fan, and I never dwelled in fairytales for long periods of time. Although many of my writer friends love this series, and I can see the draw of it, I'm not a huge fan. I watched the pilot and will watch other episodes in the coming weeks, I'm sure, but I'm not compelled to continue watching like I am with other genres. 




Mad Men
2007-2014
Created by Matthew Wiener
Written by Matthew Wiener and a host of others for various episodes
Starring Jon Hamm, Elizabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones

With an advertising background, I expected to like this show much more than I did. I actually enjoyed several episodes of it - I love the time period (50s) and I like the overall premise of the series. The writers are creative in the way they incorporate elements to reflect the decade. But for me, they push the envelope a little much, taking viewers into darkness instead of light. 


Blue Bloods
2010 - 
Created by Mitchell Burgess, Robin Green
Written by Mitchell Burgess, Robin Green, and a host of others
Starring Tom Selleck, Donnie Wahlberg, Bridget Moynihan, Will Estes, Lou Cariou

This drama has periods of brilliance and originality and then other times when it seems like several of the other legal shows on the air in recent years - Law & Order, in particular. (I'm not saying L&O isn't brilliant - for the most part, I enjoyed those series as well.)

Blue Bloods is gripping and we can't stop watching, which is what every writer longs to hear, right?

As Tim and I discussed the dramas we watched this week, we agreed that Blue Bloods was several notches above the others in quality and content. I also recognized within the episodes a pattern taught in one of my textbooks. So it will be interesting to learn those patterns and discover other series using them.


Do you watch these TV shows? What's your opinion of them? Do you recommend any others?


Recent movie and TV lists:

A Blur of Television and Movies
Bridal Shower, Papers, and Movies
Confusion of Week One
My MFA Textbooks
Writing and Viewing the TV Drama
Rethinking Use of Color and Plot in Screenwriting
The Journey to an MFA in Screenwriting Begins

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Rethinking the Use of Color and Plot in Screenwriting

Since my last post, we've watched a short film recommended by Hulu's Summer Film School and a feature film recommended by Robert McKee in Story, one of my textbooks this semester. Story is actually required reading for two of my classes this time, so I'll make good use of it in the coming months.

I had a question about textbooks, so I added a widget at the bottom with all our required books for this semester. I'll add to it each semester as we go.


The Red Balloon
1956
Written by Albert Lamorisse
Starring Pascala Lamorisse

This delightful short (35 minutes) was full of surprises. The story is told visually, with minimal dialogue, and won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Hulu recommended watching this movie for its use of color. The boy runs all around the back streets of Paris, providing a drab and dreary backdrop to the colorful red balloon.

The surprise ending still has me smiling.

This film hit a personal note with me. On my 1st birthday, my maternal grandparents took me to Six Flags. My grandfather told the story of carrying me all over the amusement park all day long. At some point, he bought me a balloon, and I clung to it the rest of the day. As we were getting in the car, I let go of the balloon and it floated up, up, and away. They tell me I put up quite a fuss!

Tender Mercies
1983
Written by Horton Foote
Starring Robert Duvall, Tess Harper, Betty Buckley, Wilford Brimley, Ellen Barkin, Allan Hubbard

I've been a fan of Robert Duvall since Lonesome Dove. When I saw this movie recommendation in the opening chapters of Story - my first reading assignment - I ordered it from Netflix pronto.

After the movie ended, I cautiously questioned the accolades, until I studied other opinions and comments. It seems more like a "slice of life" vignette than a feature film, but that's what makes it so special - it is a slice of life. Character arcs aren't steep, although a slight one exists for Duvall's character, Mac Sledge.

Robert McKee admits that "some reviewers described it as 'plotless,' then praised it for that." The plot takes place within Sledge's own mind during this life slice. Robert Duvall won an Academy Award for the role.

I love movie trivia and found some fun tidbits about Tender Mercies over at IMDb.



Other recent movie lists:

A Blur of Television and Movies
Bridal Shower, Papers, and Movies
Confusion of Week One
My MFA Textbooks
Writing and Viewing the TV Drama
Rethinking Use of Color and Plot in Screenwriting
The Journey to an MFA in Screenwriting Begins


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Journey to an MFA in Screenwriting Begins

School starts again in 12 days, and I'm getting excited. I'll be seeking my Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting through Regent University. My school books have arrived, and one syllabus has already been posted, so I've started my reading assignments.

I want to use this personal blog now to document the movies and TV shows that we're watching and record some of my thoughts about them. I'd love to hear your own reactions to the movies and shows we see. (I use "we" because my husband Tim watches most of the programs with me. He's been a movie buff for years, so it's interesting to get his take on them, too.)

Confession time: for the past four years, we've not had a TV. We gave our big TV away when we moved to a different state, and because I was entering school to get my bachelor's degree, we decided to live without one for awhile. This summer, we've utilized my laptop to watch programs on Hulu, and we've just added Netflix DVDs to the mix so we can watch more classics. The combination of the two provides the perfect mix to find just about anything we need to view. But we still don't have a television.

Hulu is offering a Summer Film School this year, and in their list of resources, I discovered Dan Harmon who created the sitcom Community. So we had a marathon of that series the last few weeks. The first season hooked us, but in the second season, we began to have some doubts about the quality of the show. Over five seasons it proved to be inconsistent - at times, written with great humor and fun, other times written with an apparent message of liberal Hollywood, and other times, the writing took extremely dark turns. I plan to study particular episodes to learn more about the individual writers, because obviously, they weren't all on the same page.

Netflix DVDs began arriving this past weekend.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
1958
Based on the play by Tennessee Williams
Screenplay written by Richard Brooks and James Poe
Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Burl Ives

I'd never seen this movie before, and don't know why I waited so long. I think it's now in my Top Favorites list of all time. Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, and Burl Ives were stellar, and the tension created between the characters was palpable. One particular thing I noticed, from a screenwriter's perspective, is that except for the opening scenes, the majority of the story took place in one of two rooms in the same house. The glorious Southern plantation house is a better description of the building that almost seems a character on its own. The reason I noted the number of scenes that took place inside the house is financial - many contests call for "low budget" productions, limiting the movement of cameras and equipment from one locale to another to save money. According to IMDb, Cat on a Hot Tin roof had a $3,000,000 budget (in 1958) and has grossed over $17 million.


Citizen Kane
1941
Screenplay by Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz
Starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore, Ruth Warrick

This movie is billed by several sources as the greatest movie of all time, and one of my first assignments in my first class is to explore this and explain why. But after watching the movie, I know I need to go exploring to formulate an answer, because as of right now, I don't have one. The movie started off with narration that bordered on boring. In today's movie world, theater-goers would have gotten up and walked out. But once the actual movie starts, the characters and story prove interesting, although I'm still not convinced it deserves the "world's greatest" accolades. I even have a newspaper background and that wasn't enough to sell me on this one.

Some of my random observations after watching the movie once (and yes, I'll watch it a few more times):

  • the way they showed the passage of time in a couple of different scenes was remarkable. Kane and his first wife sitting at the breakfast table, and we discover the passage of time mostly through their attitudes and comments to each other. 
  • The vastness of the Xanadu set. Monstrous fireplaces, magnificent halls. The brief moment when Kane walks in front of the never-ending mirrors is breath-taking.
  • At one point, Kane is typing furiously. I told Tim that the movie was rock solid proof that typewriters once existed and were actually used. 
Estimated budget on Citizen Kane, according to IMDb, was less than $700,000. That figure boggles the brain a little when the Xanadu set is figured in. And yes, I realize it was a set, but the impression remains.

I'll update this post if I discover anything profound in my explorations of Citizen Kane and/or when I learn something in my classroom discussions.

Have you seen either of the movies or Community? Tell me what you think of them!



Other recent movie lists:

A Blur of Television and Movies
Bridal Shower, Papers, and Movies
Confusion of Week One
My MFA Textbooks
Writing and Viewing the TV Drama
Rethinking Use of Color and Plot in Screenwriting
The Journey to an MFA in Screenwriting Begins