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
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
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


WritePathway said...

Since I am not a movie buff, I won't be much help, Tracy. I wanted to tell you about a movie that Eva Marie Everson used in her fiction writing class at BRMCWC in 2007. The name of it was "The Nephew."I talked about it for weeks; it was excellent. It's good to hear your excitement! I know this will probably the most fun of any of your classes. Ann

Tracy Ruckman said...

I'll hunt for that book - I haven't seen it mentioned yet, but I'll definitely check it out.

I'm taking three classes this semester: Writing the TV Drama Series, Aesthetics for the Contemporary Communicator, and Story Structure. From what I've seen of past syllabi, they all look like they'll be fun because most call for more creative writing than academic.

Thanks for reading!