Started posting notes and sharing stuff I find on my tumblr notebook…
I’ve been watching crime movies lately as I’m working on a crime/suspense/thriller/comedy. This was made in 1990 but still has that 80s look that I can’t comprehend. I thought it moved a bit slowly but I enjoyed it. I con-men and -women movies all day.
This is the best comedy I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe the best movie I’ve seen this year, although I’m not ready to put it above Inherent Vice just yet. It’s an anthology film apparently, which is a term I didn’t know until I started reading about Wild Tales. Great use of Advance & Continue, which is a term that Keith Johnstone writes about in Impro for Storytellers.
The stories push just far enough in one direction before coming back in the other (sometimes literally, like in the highway vignette). It’s dark and light and every story starts mostly in a light place before going to a really intense or dark place. But it’s fucking hilarious throughout; I can’t remember the last time I was in a theater where people were laughing so much. Actually I do remember and it was Almodevar’s I’m So Excited (Los Amantes Pasjeros), which is a movie that nobody I’ve ever met has seen and I just looked up on IMDB and has a rating of 5.6 so I don’t know what that’s about, that movie was really funny.
Anyway, what was I talking about. Oh, Wild Tales. One thing I loved was how high the stakes were in every vignette. It was mostly about normal people behaving in extreme circumstances or escalating to extreme circumstances, but it never felt forced or unbelievable. And the writing and acting was so rich that even when it got serious or deadly, the human behavior was so real or honest that it was hilarious. At least that’s what I thought. The kind of movie I wish I had written. And the final vignette, the wedding scene, was really brilliantly written, acted and directed. Little touches like the cook in the background telling his buddies about what happened on the roof were so good.
Nice play on words too — “salvajes” means wild but it also means savage, something that gets lost in translation.
The theft of secret documents was the original MacGuffin. So the “MacGuffin” is the term we use to cover all that sort of thing: to steal plans or documents, or discover a secret, it doesn’t matter what it is. And the logicians are wrong in trying to figure out the truth of a MacGuffin, since it’s beside the point. The only thing that really matters is that in the picture the plans, documents, or secrets must seem to be of vital importance to the characters. To me, the narrator, they’re of no importance whatever.
– Hitchcock in Hitchcock/Truffaut
I was relieved to read this the other day because I’m working on a script has an object of desire that sets off the action of the entire story, but I was worried that the object was too… unbelievable. Part of that unbelievability drives the humor, but I don’t want people reading/watching the movie and thinking “yeah, that was illogical.”
It reminds me of something an improv teacher (I can’t remember who) told me a long time ago about plausibility vs. believability: that plausibility, in the storytelling context, means “would this actually happen?” Believability means “given these circumstances, are things unfolding in a believable way.”
That’s why you can watch True Blood and be interested or entertained without tossing the whole thing out on the premise that vampires could never exist. Given that they do exist in this world, are things playing out in a believable way? OK, maybe True Blood isn’t the best example1 but the point remains.
Reading this book has made me realize how much I need to watch more Hitchcock.
One reason I stopped watching that show was that the world kept changing–just one you thought you knew what the rules were, they changed, often at the precise moment that the protagonist needed them to change ↩
I put together an actual website for the Words Fail Me web series. It looks a lot like this website because I used the same WordPress theme, which was a lot cheaper than paying someone to design a website.
I shot this back in October 2013 and finally got around to editing it. Editing took a while because it was the first time I’d ever worked with a multi-camera workflow or a green screen. The discerning eye will notice some artifacts due to the green screen,1 but I actually like the effect. My writing teacher (in whose class I wrote the original script) said that it gave it a Lynchian feel.
Chroma keying (the term for working with a green screen) is pretty time-consuming and difficult for someone like me, whose knowledge of post-production visual effects comes from online tutorials. I think the lighting of the green screen was a bit uneven as well, which may have made it impossible to get looking perfect, even for an experienced colorist. Not to mention that the close-ups are shot on Canon 7Ds, which tend to produce artifacts when you shoot with them in low-light/high-ISO situations. All of this is to say that sometimes a technical obstacle can turn out to be a happy mistake, if you embrace it. ↩
I did a staged reading of Begin, a screenplay I recently wrote. It went very well, with lots of laughs in the right places and the audience stayed tuned in throughout the 90 or so minutes of the reading, in large part because the actors nailed it so well. There are two reasons why I love doing a reading like this: feedback from the audience and feedback from the actors.
From the audience you learn where it’s working and where it stalls and where it’s funny and where the jokes land flat. And from the actors you learn if you’ve written roles that are fun or interesting to play. And you can see if the characters come to life when the words are spoken out loud, or does it just feel like someone’s reading some lines? It helps to have actors that prepare and commit to it.
Afterwords, we did a Q&A, where I was asking questions of the audience to get their feedback on some of the story and theme issues that I’ve been struggling with — mostly things that were pointed out as weaknesses by Blcklst readers.
I asked the audience: “I’ve gotten some feedback that said that the reader was not clear about what the theme or the point of the story is. Do you agree with that comment and why” And I saw many heads shyly nodding.1.
A lot of the feedback was related to the main character, about why he was making the choices he was making and how it seemed like things were happening to him, very funny things, but things that didn’t necessarily relate to his larger arc or the theme of the film. This type of feedback is invaluable because it provides another data point, more evidence that this is in fact a problem, not just something one reader had an issue with. But it’s also a bit strange to me, because I know exactly what the theme is, and in my head it’s so obvious that I was worried that it would be too obvious.
But when 20 people nod their heads in unison, it’s hard to ignore. I tried to communicate something and I failed, as much as I wanted to believe that everything was working well. And now that I’ve accepted that, I can begin the work of addressing those issues and with some luck, take it from “a funny movie” to “a really good movie that’s also funny.”
I used to have this feeling, like a fear of putting stuff out into the world because I wanted everyone (or the people I care about) to just say “this is great, I love it, it’s perfect,” so I wouldn’t have to change a thing. But I’ve been braver lately and try to seek out critiques from people that will be honest about the issues in what I write, so that I can make my work better.
It’s really hard to do that and admit that something I love is broken, but I don’t know if there’s another way to improve as a writer (along with practicing a whole lot). And getting there required changing my mindset from “making something good” to “continuously improve as a writer.”
After receiving zero response to my first question, I remembered that I had to tell them that they had permission to say negative things, which opened things up quite a bit ↩
“In the documentary the basic material has been created by God, whereas in the fiction film the director is the god; he must create life. And in the process of that creation, there are lots of feelings, forms of expression, and viewpoints that have to be juxtaposed. We should have total freedom to do as we like, just so long as it’s not dull. A critic who talks to me about plausibility is a dull fellow.”
– Alfred Hitchcock in Hitchcock/Truffaut