Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Brewer's Phrase & Fable

Yes! I've got the latest Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Now I will know how everything came about.

Well, you'd think so anyway. It's a book the size of a small planet, and is currently emitting a strong gravity field attracting everything else in our lounge room. Kind of.

It's a great book for a writer to have. I have it on the shelf right next to "The Book Of Beginnings", which covers similar ground, only different.

I'm not actually sure when I'll need it writing (you never know!) but it sure is great to be able to tell Marie where "Bob's your uncle" actually came from (I looked it up, but she was asleep and then I forgot).

I continue to be delinquent with my "school". I read almost two chapters of Story yesterday, which were great. Detailed notes to come. Sorry!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Two book reviews: The Age of Shakespeare & Olivier

1. You'd think a book called The Age of Shakespeare would be about, well, the times in which Shakespeare lived. But it's not; it's really about Shakespeare - a little bit about his chronology, some interesting bits about the businesses he ran, and some quite academic, very interesting stuff about his writing at various stages.

I guess it's a generalist book when I was expecting a more specialised angle. However, having said that if you don't mind the equivocal writing style of an academic, The Age of Shakespeare gives an illuminating glimpse into the period Shakespeare worked in, one where English theatre underwent a radical transformation.

2. Olivier is a big fat book, filled with perhaps "too much information" on many aspects of Laurence Olivier's life. I wanted to find out how he became a great actor, and what his views were on acting and theatre and movies. But instead the great mass of the book seems devoted to his many relationships. All very interesting, but I can't help feeling I would never seek this information out about anyone. It feels I am invading his privacy. Why do we (the "general public") feel we should know the intimate details of famous people's lives?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Two time machines

Very briefly, because there isn't much time: I saw both The Time Machine (1960) and The Time Machine (2002) the other day. Both very good works.

Significant differences:
  • In 1960 the world's end was because of nuclear disaster and war; in 2002 it was because of man meddling with the environment (the moon, to be precise)
  • The 1960 film allowed Yvette Mimieux as Weena to be a genuinely dumb blonde; Samantha Mumba's Maya, on the other hand, is one of her race's intellectuals. And 2002's dark-skinned Eloi made more sense than the Nordic looking Eloi of 1960.
  • Both films had great action and special effects for their time. They both took an unlikely action hero - an inventor and a professor respectively - and turned him into a fighting machine through his experiences.
  • Interestingly, the 1960 version had Americans playing Britons; the 2002 version had an Australian and a lot of English actors portraying Americans.

Two Vietnam flicks

Last week I saw two almost diametrically opposite films about the Vietnam war: The Green Berets and Apocalypse Now Redux.

John Wayne's The Green Berets provided an interesting story and some fairly interesting characters, but the whole thing was very obviously a piece of propaganda.

Perhaps because it was made while the war was still in progress, the propaganda goes right over the top in some places, portraying the Viet Cong as ruthless, heartless evil people who just simply want to cause terror. They demonise the VC - Charlie - without respecting the viewer's ability to judge.

An interesting contrast between the two films was that Green Berets is completely the old style of storytelling - we, the viewers, are observing from without. Apocalypse Now, on the other hand, takes us directly into Captain Willard (Martin Sheen)'s experience, first hand.

It's interesting that there are some similarities between the two films - both portray the Viet Cong as ruthless; in Apocalypse the ruthlessness has a reason, in Berets it's senseless violence.

Apocalypse Now is quite an experience to watch - particularly the Redux version which is over three hours long. The sound especially, by the legendary Walter Murch, immerses you in what's happening on screen.

The acting, too, is fantastic. These guys just got completely involved in their roles, surroundings and so forth.

Actually, even the trivia page on IMDb makes fascinating reading... it sounds like this was particularly difficult to make! If you're too lazy to read the whole trivia page:
  • Marlon Brando didn't know the role at all, and was 40kg overweight. He asked to be filmed in the shadows (here was I thinking that was a directorial decision - well, it worked!)

  • Martin Sheen was actually drunk in the exceptionally well-acted drunk scene. He really did cut his hand on the mirror.

  • The actor playing Lance, the drugged out surfer, was actually high on drugs most of the film

So, a lot of the authenticity was in fact authentic. If that makes any sense!

Since Francis Ford Coppola threatened suicide three times during the making of this film, I don't think I'd adopt Apocalypse Now as a model for filmmaking. The ends rarely, if ever, justify the means.

Summing up both films ... what is it that makes a war film work? In both cases, it's having an ensemble very strong individual characters, who the audience begins to care for, and yet knows that they could die at any time.

That doesn't work so well for TV, because in a series you know the main cast will always survive (except for the odd surprise like Tasha Yar in Star Trek:The Next Generation or Gan in Blake's 7).

In a movie, though, all bets are off, except for the main character. And in an ensemble piece, you never know who's going to bite the big one.


It sounds like the name for some new Japanese anime super-hero, but it's really a compound word from the Hopi language meaning a way of life that feeds on the life force of others.


Powaqqatsi is the second in the -qatsi trilogy, unusual films with no dialogue, no characters and no plot. Instead, it's documentary style footage combined with the music of Philip Glass.

Sounds odd, but it's quite profound. Great care has been taken to craft something here. There's nothing random at all about it.

Director Godfrey Reggio, along with Glass, help us see new things, and also see things differently. Scenes of life from around the world pass by either sped up, or slowed down to a crawl.

Powaqqatsi allows - encourages - you to stare at people. The human race is so interesting!

And then there's the message. Eloquently, without words, this film makes us ask the same questions raised by The Corporation.

I'm looking forward to seeing the third in the trilogy, Naqoyqatsi.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

What the f*** is wrong with NZ drama? (Another rant)

I f****ng watched The Insider's Guide to Love on f***ing telly last night, and s**t, what's wrong with this f***ing country?

The characters - just about f***ing all of them - can't seem to string a f***ing sentence together without f***ing swearing like some f***ing teenager out with his f***ing friends.

What's the f***ing deal? The same bloody thing was true for Fracture - only there was a bit more f***ing variety in the bloody language there.

S**t. I can't help but wonder, are we as a nation trying to prove that we are, uh, f***ing grown up! While both Fracture and The F***ing Insider's Bloody Guide to Love were pretty good for story, the amount of bad language and sexual references seemed just a bit desperate.

What are we trying to f***ing prove?

Or are we trying to devalue our language? Soon enough we'll need to find - or make up - some new swear words for when something really dramatic needs to be said.


Monday, November 21, 2005

Tip for movie makers: keep up profile - 21 Nov 2005 - Business

Tip for movie makers: keep up profile - 21 Nov 2005 - Business

Take plenty of trips to New York and Hollywood, says Eisner. What happened to the image of the poor artist? ;)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Million Dollar Baby deserves its Oscars

I can understand why Million Dollar Baby did so well at the box office and also at the Oscars. It is exquisitely crafted, and Clint Eastwood has created his own style of filmmaking that just works.

Some gems that I picked up from the excellent special features:

  • Lighting - "Sometimes it's what the audience doesn't see that's important"

  • Eastwood's style is to do as few takes as possible, to make it natural and quick. He's the kind of director who will insist on a very tight schedule, which the producers are understandably happy with.

  • The first two points are tied together - if there's minimal setup with lighting etc., you save time. It was a physically very dark film, but that just made it more realistic (or am I making excuses for bad filmmaking? [cheeky grin])

  • Listening is a vital part of acting. Sometimes when working with a new actor, Morgan Freeman will respond to a line with "Mm?". If they repeat their line, they're listening.

  • Morgan Freeman's character Scrap wasn't in the original short story; he was borrowed from another story by the same author (F.X.Toole).

  • Another thing about Clint Eastwood - he'll go with the first draft of a movie and use an improvisational style throughout. The actors were amazed they were working with white pages, not pink or blue or all the various colours they use for rewrites.

  • Instead of yelling "action" at the top of his voice, Eastwood uses more of a "when you're ready" approach. He says that helps the actors "crescendo into the scene". Legend has it that in westerns when you yell action, the actors tense up and frighten the horses.
I've also put a post on my Fundamentalist blog about some of the ideological stuff in the movie. Don't read it unless you've seen the film.


Just finished watching Fracture, the 2004 adaptation of Maurice Gee's novel Crime Story (2004 was a good year for Maurice Gee adaptations, with In My Father's Den produced the same year).

Very good. Great camera work, characterisation and plot. It was a fairly murky plot, but one that I could follow pretty easily. And when the characters hurt, I could understand what they were going through, which I guess means the film worked.

Interesting how the character of Brent starts out as someone we pretty much hate - a burglar, mercilessly kicking his victim down the stairs - but as we get a glimpse into his life we feel for him. It's clever how we see both families' side of the story.

Negatives - sometimes the acting came across a little contrived. If New Zealand drama suffers from anything it's from being too intense - or trying to be. It's good to ease the tension a little bit sometimes, whether it's with humour or just banality.

Also, what's with all the dark stories coming out of New Zealand? The real classics of the past two decades:
  • The Quiet Earth
  • The Piano
  • Once Were Warriors
  • In My Father's Den
  • Heavenly Creatures
  • Fracture
  • Crooked Earth
...they're all very, very dark tales. And no, I'm not including Lord of the Rings in this list because that almost falls into an entirely different category (for the sake of this argument, anyway!).

Maybe it's just that I don't know of any examples, but I'm struggling to remember a good feature film comedy, or at the very least family drama - meaning something you can show the whole family rather than a drama about dysfunctional families.

Would New Zealand be able to produce a "Cheaper by the Dozen" style movie? How 'bout "Finding Nemo"? "Hitch" even?

Or is life really so desolate here? If that's the case, I wanna move - get me to Australia or America now!

Of course, there's "The World's Fastest Indian", which I understand is a very positive story, and based on a true story to boot. Looking forward to seeing that 'un.

Ann D's notes from the Screenwriter's Expo

Many, many thanks to Ann D on Skip Press' Hollywood Writers Yahoogroup, for posting this information from the recent Screenwriters Expo in LA:

Here it is folks and I'm sure it will help you out. This is the basics for a one minute pitch and then you can expand from there. I will later tonight or tomorrow also show a 3.5 min pitch of "Home Alone" that David Freedman did. He is an agent and attends several pitch fests or expos a year. He was straight to the point about query letters, as Skip, that many agencies really don't read them. He receives about 500 query emails a week also and if you don't get his attention right away then he deletes it.
Oh and by the way Pilar is also a Nicholl Fellowship winner.
First I appologize for not scanning it in, but I am having difficulties with my scanner, but I'm sure this will do.
Start with a What If question of your screenplay. Find what is interesting about your story and bring it to the front.
Discourage using "You".
Take the What If off and you have a logline.
Then you want to state the title of your screen play and the genre.
Then you want to put something like "in the vein of" --------------------
Then - It follows the journey of ---------------------------------and ----------------------------
Then - "Problems occur when" -------------------------------------
You can also state - "What makes it special - This movie is unlike any in its genre because of ---------------------------------.
If your script has a special message you want to state that also. Also leave with a specific scene the audience will love.
Here is what mine would basically look like.
My logline with the What if off. -
A young woman finds a powerful sword on earth and learns she is from another planet, destined to become a mighty warrior.
Basic one minute pitch.
Tracer is a sci-fi, action, adventure in the likes of "Xena" meets "Star Wars". It follows the adventure of a meek beautiful archeaologist turned space warrior and her stronghearted cousin Zach, as they battle the evil Borac and the Icarians. Problems occur when Borac finds the Iberian Crystal. Now they must not only defeat Borac, but also destroy the Iberian Crystal.
I hope that helps.
With David's, I taped the class so I will go through my tape and write verbatium what he said about the pitch stuff.
I know next year I will be ready to pitch at least 3 different stories.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Insights from Screenwriting Expo 4

I think especially given the popularity of Chicken Little (it's booming at the box office), what these people have to say about family values has some... well, value.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005


For Immediate Release

LOS ANGELES, CA (ANS) -- Screenwriting Expo 4 at the Los Angeles Convention Center was the center of an intense discussion on Friday, Nov. 11 by top entertainment executives and producers about the elements of what makes a good, successful family movie and a good, successful religious film.

Brigham Taylor (Disney) with Dr. Ted Baehr

The John Templeton Foundation and MOVIEGUIDE®, a family, Christian guide to movies and entertainment, sponsored the two panels on spiritually uplifting, religious films and family movies.

At both panels, Dr. Ted Baehr, founder of MOVIEGUIDE® (, produced extensive statistics from his Annual Report to Hollywood showing that the best, most successful movies at the box office are inspiring, spiritually uplifting or religious films with a strong Christian worldview and family movies with traditional moral values and biblical principles.

“The mass media is the primary teacher of our children,” Dr. Baehr told both panels and the audience.

Dr. Baehr pointed to the overwhelming popularity of such movies as THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, MADAGASCAR, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, BEN-HUR, THE INCREDIBLES, FINDING NEMO, THE LORD OF THE RINGS (originally written by a Christian), MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, and SPIDER-MAN, which contains the Lord's Prayer in one climactic scene.

Brian Robbins and Brigham Taylor with with Dr. Ted Baehr

“Movies with humor also do better,” Dr. Baehr added. “What attracts an audience? Heart, humor and values. People want good to triumph over evil. People want the hero to succeed.”

Everyone on both panels agreed with that comment and with Dave Johnson's (PAX-TV's DOC, SUE THOMAS: F.B.EYE and many other network shows) comment that all Christian and family films, videos and programs need to have heart, honesty and humor.

“It's got to have excellence,” Johnson added. “It's got to have humor.”

“There's a perception out there that Christians don't have a sense of humor,” said Simon Swart, executive vice president of sales at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. “I don't think that's true.”

Paul Sirmons, newly appointed Chairman of the Florida Film Commission, independent filmmaker of such movies as THE FIRST OF MAY on HBO for 18 months and assistant director of QUANTUM LEAP and other TV shows, said, “You will succeed if you make your audience laugh. If you make them cry, you will succeed even more.”

Sirmons continued, “I want to encourage the independent family film. You have to have passion. People are investing not in your script or in your story, but in you. Have good people around you.”

Brian Robbins, a producer of DREAMER and director of the upcoming THE SHAGGY DOG and producer of TV's SMALLVILLE, ONE TREE HILL and WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU, said, “Nothing works better for mom, dad and the kids than humor. If you make them both laugh and present a strong, positive emotional core for both. . . Find that combination. A triumphant ending is also important for both parents and kids.

“You still have to tell a story that you really love, that you have to tell. The best movies come from great stories that come from great writers. The only thing you're left with at the end is the movie. So, write from your heart.”

Brian Robbins

“Humor will stand you in good stead,” agreed Ken Wales, producer of such works as THE PINK PANTHER movies, THE GREAT RACE and TV's CHRISTY, “even when you're trying to explain something serious. Inform the audience with delight.”

Wales added, however, that telling a good story was the most important thing.

“The story is the star,” agreed Bill Ewing, president of Every Tribe Entertainment and executive producer of the upcoming Christian movie END OF THE SPEAR. “Everybody serves the story.

“We must entertain with excellence,” he added. “If we don't entertain them well, then they [the audience] are out of there. But if we do entertain well, they will open their minds. They will open the keys to their heart. Ask yourself, Whose story is it? What do they want? Why should we care?”

Brigham Taylor, senior vice president of production at The Walt Disney Company said, “In the last 11 years, the definition of a family film has been a shifting definition. We don't always hit the mark.

“We have to distinguish family films from kid films,” he added. “Family films are films for the whole family, for all ages, not just for kids 12 and under. Part of my job is listening to stories. A great family movie has compelling characters, something that inspires the audience and something that's optimistic.”

William Fay, producer of THE SHAGGY DOG and producer of such popular movies as INDEPENDENCE DAY and THE PATRIOT, said, “The key for a successful family film is finding that film that the whole family can relate to. . . that will speak to everybody. Laughing with your kids is a great feeling. Also, finding stories that can cross international boundaries is important. The film business is a worldwide business right now.

“Look for a solid moral center,” Fay continued. “Pass on a moral lesson that parents feel good about. Those sorts of moral stories also speak to kids. Follow a three-act structure, something that catches your interest and sustains your interest.”

Dr. Baehr added, “Please get your craft right. CHICKEN LITTLE (Number One at the domestic box office for two straight weeks) has great tension and jeopardy.”

Wales remembered that Walt Disney told him when he was young to always remember to put in danger and jeopardy for the characters. Their reaction to that danger and jeopardy is what makes the story.

Jeff Holder, freelance producer of THE GOD-MAN and formerly of Sony Wonder, noted, “A good writer is able to translate his ideas onto the page. A bad writer is unable to do that. The difference between a good writer and a great writer is the ideas in their heads.”

Swart added, “When it comes to movies, Christians compromise an awful lot. We tend to neglect the art. It needs to be better. Subtlety goes a long way. Whatever you thought of the content, Mel Gibson's THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST was well made from beginning to end. Today, the industry's screenwriting hasn't caught up to the special effects. You don't need a large budget to master the art form.”

Denise Guerin of Regal Entertainment Group, the world's largest theater chain with Regal Cinemas, United Artist Theaters and Edwards Theaters, said her company definitely wants more family movies.

“People want year-round family films,” she said, “not just during the summer or the Christmas holidays, or when kids are out of school. We like to see family films spread out. The more family films we have, the happier we are. More and more of our revenue comes from family films.”

“There's something in all of us that desires good,” added Dave Johnson. “People want to feel better about life and the world they live in.”

Dr. Baehr noted that the Christian definition of art is to promote the Good, the True and the Beautiful.

“Movies have an impact on the world,” he stressed more than once. “Don't stoop to conquer.”

“Think about writing for kids,” Jeff Holder also told the large audience of about 300 screenwriters. “You can do no better than writing something for kids. The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”

“Make good choices,” Ken Wales urged them. “Be really critical about the choices you make. Get your act together, especially your faith.”

Note: For more information, or to arrange an interview with Dr. Ted Baehr, founder of CFTVC and author of NARNIA BECKONS: C.S. LEWIS'S THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE AND BEYOND, SO YOU WANT TO BE IN PICTURES, THE MEDIA-WISE FAMILY, WHAT CAN WE WATCH TONIGHT?, and many other books, please call 1-800-577-6684.
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Monday, November 14, 2005

Telegraph | Arts | Yearning for transcendence

Telegraph | Arts | Yearning for transcendence

Myth is big business these days - I'm seeing books, seminars etc. about it everywhere.

In other news - school starts again tomorrow; sorry everyone (anyone?) for the delay.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


Saw Robots last night - a bit of a temporary break from Star Trek! - and while it didn't really grab me in the way, say, Finding Nemo did, there were some really nice bits.

I learnt from the director's commentary on the deleted scenes that the story was kind of being written as they went. I think perhaps it shows... while there is a nice cohesive story it doesn't have the feeling of being carefully crafted, more just put together in the nick of time.

What has been carefully crafted is the special effects - those robots look great. But even there I noticed some things that could've done with a bit more attention. Maybe I'm getting picky in my old age?

The story, such as it was, followed a fairly classic composition. Very likeable young hero follows his dream - he reaches out for what he wants, but then reality intervenes and cuts him off from his desire (working as an inventor with Bigweld).

Then he's plunged into the abyss (well, on the streets) and meets the friends who will help him. Only to start with, they discourage him, telling him it's too hard, he should give up and go home.

Then - cutting a long story short - he finds Bigweld, who he thinks will be able to make a difference. But instead of his childhood hero he finds a disillusioned old man, addicted dominoes.

Reality again. Damn.

That's almost enough for him, but just as he's about to buy that ticket out of town, Bigweld has a change of heart, and together they hatch a plan to take on the evil Ratchet.

The climactic scene is really cool, with lots of mini "gasp!" moments. It's a very action-packed film, but nothing too scary for kids. The fact that they're robots, not people, helps make the action believable without being scary.

And there's a very satisfying scene at the end where the father, who has sacrificed his dreams for his son, gets to fulfil his dream of being a musician.

The comedy in this movie was fantastic in some spots - especially Robin Williams as Fender - and in other spots was a little lame. But there were more good spots than bad. Visual comedy was fantastic, with Fender and Rodney's across-town trip lingering in my memory.

Naughty, naughty...

I have been awol from school for over three weeks! I had planned to do some school while in Australia, even took the books over with me (bad decision - they're blimmin' heavy!), but unfortunately (or fortunately?) was having too much of a good time with family to concentrate.

Anyway, I'm back now, and ready to get into things!

What I have been doing over the break is watching a lot of Star Trek. While I was away I bought the Original Series collectors edition, plus beforehand I'd bought several of the early Star Trek movies (the ones with the original series crew). Plus I've been renting the most recent series, Enterprise, set 100 years before the original series.

The thing about Star Trek is the staggering volume of product. And I'm just talking about what fans call 'canon' - the TV shows and movies. There's also the animated series made in the 1970s, several PC games, countless novels, some of them authored by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, and then of course the amazing panoply of stuff created by and for fans.

It can be inspiring, or overwhelming... There's something about a universe so complete and real that appeals, but that also tends to inspire only imitation.

What's amazing is that it all started from a simple idea, and didn't even seem that popular until after the original series was cancelled.

In the marketplace of ideas, it's nearly impossible to tell what will succeed. But one thing seems certain: ideas that are passionately owned will get the chance to find out.