Tag Archives: Looper

Gone Girl, and a blog about spoilers. With no spoilers

13 Oct
Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck star in Gone Girl -- which is all I will say

Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck star in Gone Girl — which is all I will say

I enjoyed Gone Girl enormously, and expect it to be a serious Oscar contender, though it’s mildly annoying a) for being basically a silly idea, brilliantly executed and b) because said silly idea is one I had independently dreamed up and filed in my “movie premises” folder and which now, obviously, I can’t use, grrr (see also Looper).

But I’m not going to review it or tell you about it, because the movie has already been written about too much. And that brings me onto the Extremely Annoying Thing about Gone Girl: that so many newspapers and websites have given the game away.

Movies have long relied on the element of surprise, and critics have a duty to safeguard their readers’ enjoyment. Hitchcock turned the secrecy over Psycho’s twist into a marketing campaign. So, too, did Miramax with The Crying Game: when I attended previews, we critics were handed a document forbidding us to divulge the twist that turned it into an unlikely Stateside hit. I worried about spoilers so much when editing Time Out that I would argue with the Theatre Editor over discussing the ending of Hamlet. It may be four centuries old, but some readers would be seeing it for the first time.

Editors, bloggers and even the odd critic seem to have forsaken this public duty in the race for circulation/clicks. With Gone Girl, even though I deliberately avoided the reviews before seeing it, the style magazine headlines alone were enough to tell me the big reveal.

So a plea, and a promise. Please, editors, don’t reveal too much, or your readers might stop consuming reviews altogether. And readers, you can trust me, in this blog, to be extra-careful about spoilers, as I always have been.

As to how this blog ends… well, I’d better not say.

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LSF #10: Creating character with Pilar Alessandra

8 Nov

Image

I hope you’ve enjoyed my blogs from the London Screenwriters’ Festival: this tenth post pretty much exhausts the good material. I want to close on character, and the excellent workshop by Pilar Alessandra (left), director of the writing programme On The Page.

But first, a confession. My earlier screenplays, I realised after far too many years, were plot-based. That is, I had a good premise, puzzled it through a variety of twists [my first was a time-travel movie eerily reminiscent of Looper], and then tried to shoehorn the characters into them. As Julia Roberts would say, “Big mistake. Huge.”

Drama is conflict that emerges from character. It is not clever plotting. And as any writer will tell you, when your characters are alive, in your head, they do all the work for you: they decide what to do and say; you just take dictation.

My grandfather was a famous novelist: Richard Hughes, author of A High Wind in Jamaica and The Fox in the Attic. There is a family story that he came out of his study one day, white as a sheet. My grandmother rushed up and asked him what was wrong. “It’s Molly,” he said (Molly was a character in the book he was writing). “She’s just fallen from her horse. I rather think she might die.”

Back to Pilar Alessandra. She took us through an intriguing exercise in brainstorming a film structure from scratch, based on character. You can do it yourself, now. You’ll see you have the framework for a workable film within minutes.

First, pick a flaw, any flaw – vanity, laziness, wrath, mendacity, greed, whatever. Then give it to a character.

Now: what’s the worst situation a character with that flaw can find themselves in? So a lazy person might have to win a race; a wrathful person might have to control their temper; a mendacious person might have to tell the truth. [Having written those three things, I realise they already are movies: the first might be Simon Pegg’s Run, Fat Boy, Run; the second might be Jack Nicholson’s Anger Management; the third, Jim Carrey’s Liar, Liar. See? It’s working already.]

And now: what does he/she do about that situation? Then: how does this backfire?

Next: what is their overall goal? Next: who would be the absolute worst/least likely person to help them out with it? Now, what action might this person push the protagonist to take? And who or what might now get in the way?

The protagonist needs to be learning something, maybe helping someone else – so now, how can that flaw be turned into a skill? What final action can they take that is the least likely thing they would ever previously have done to take us to the resolution?

Try it. You’ll see it generates plot; interesting/funny scenes; and of course has a built-in character arc.

Two more things I liked from Pilar’s workshop.

One, her description of “3D” characters. The three dimensions she identifies are A) Public: what is your character like when out and about? B) Personal: in one-on-one scenes? C) When he or she thinks no one else is looking? [Contrast with Graham Linehan’s distinction between “above the line” and “below the line” character in post 7.]

Two: her simple rule for introducing a character in a script. You must express essence, and action. An example from one of her students: “EMMA BALE, tough by necessity, furiously packs the crabs into straw boxes.” From that short line we have character, location, employment, history and some idea of looks without just describing the heroine as “pretty” or “brunette”. Note that the less specific detail about physical attributes you give, the more widely open to casting the role is, and the more actors who might be interested in playing the role.

And th-th-that’s all for now, folks! But y’all come back now, y’hear?

Tickets to next year’s London Screenwriters’ Festival are currently available to pre-book at a £70 discount. There are also monthly instalment plans to spread the cost. http://www.londonscreenwritersfestival.com/lsf2014/. For my other blogs from the festival, including a lot of wildly entertaining stuff from Basic Instinct writer Joe Eszterhas, start here.

S**t happens: the coincidence of the new Audi ad and the remarkably similar short

15 May

I’d like to show you an amazing coincidence. A coincidence so astounding that you could stick a beard on it and tour it round the country in a freak show. In fact, forget the beard; it’s freaky enough on its own.

Take a look at the new TV ad for the Audi SQ5, above. Then take a look at the minute-long 2011 art short No 26 To Hackney, by fashion photographer turned film-maker Ben Charles Edwards (below).

 

See what I mean? Freaky! To the untrained eye, it gives kind of a déjà vu.

A glamorous woman walks down a dimly lit street: in slow motion, to nonchalant music at odds with the drama about to unfold, her heel breaks; her handbag falls; she falls with it; there’s a close-up on her handbag as its contents spill to the unforgiving pavement; the woman is left sprawled on the cold hard ground.

There is a key difference between the two: the ending. At the close of the ad, a gleaming Audi drives off leaving the hapless pedestrian stranded, whereas at the end of the short film it’s the more prosaic No 26 bus to Hackney.

Oh, and in the short, the woman’s face ends up pressed into a pile of dog shit. That’s not in the TV ad.

I know that film-making coincidences happen. My own premise for a sci-fi movie turned up years later as Looper (see here). Animal Charm, which I co-wrote with Ben, featured terrorist babes in balaclavas, just like Spring Breakers (see here). But this seems a bigger one. The first Ben heard of it was when his mother texted him to say “Congrats on the Audi ad!” Knowing his short film, she had assumed the ad she’d just watched on television was his doing.

So I wondered if there might be some connection between the two, if Ben’s film inspired the ad in some way. I phoned the ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, who told me to phone Audi’s PR agency, who told me they would look into it and have an answer later that day. By evening they still couldn’t quite give me a definite answer: “So sorry I haven’t got back to you today. Just checking out the story but at this stage I think it is just a coincidence but I am just waiting confirmation.”

The next day, ie yesterday, I got my response, from Richard Stainer, Client Services Director of BBH. And it is categorical: “BBH was not aware of the short film of Ben Charles Edwards. While there are points of comparison in content (like the broken heel and the dropped bag), the Audi SQ5 story is original material. As an agency, we pride ourselves on creative originality and we take any claims suggesting otherwise very seriously.”

So there it is. An amazing coincidence.

I’m glad it turns out to be a coincidence, though. Not just because amazing coincidences are fun to gawp at, like a wedding ring lost at sea that shows up years later on someone’s dinner plate, inside a fish. But because it would be rather embarrassing all round if it weren’t. No top British ad agency would want to use emerging film-makers as a cheap source of inspiration. And no manufacturer of superlative cars would want customers to be viewing their ad, while all the while thinking of dogshit.

Come back for my daily reports from the Cannes Film festival, starting tomorrow!

Friday films: karma karma karma karma chameleons

22 Feb
Cloud Atlas

Hanks a lot: why Cloud Atlas is Berry peculiar

 

What a day for new film releases! There’s To The Wonder, the latest from Terrence Malick, who could film paint drying for all I care and I’d go watch it. Mama, a taut horror film with Guillermo del Toro as Exec Producer. And Cloud Atlas, which is…

Actually, just what the hell is Cloud Atlas?

It’s safe to say no other film this year will screw quite as much with your brain. It’s an art movie that cost $100 million to make; a costume drama that starts in the 19th century and ends 500 years later as a dystopian sci-fi epic; a blockbuster informed by Derrida and deconstruction. It ambitiously interweaves six narratives across six time periods, linked by the notion that reincarnation dooms people to repeat the actions and relationships of their past.

And it’s by the makers of The Matrix.

Most attention-grabbing of all is the cast, which includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon. It’s not so much their combined star wattage that makes you sit up, as the fact that each takes several roles within the film, swapping ages, genders and even race along with the time zone. Without wanting to spoil all the surprises, yes that is Halle Berry gob-smackingly unrecognisable as an elderly Asian doctor, and Hugh Grant as a war-painted cannibal chief (check out the very funny gallery from UltraCulture, http://bit.ly/UKRGnE).

Sometimes this degenerates into a game of ‘spot the actor’: on set, the stars sometimes didn’t even recognise each other. But it’s mostly a thrill to see a terrific cast get stuck into one of the greatest challenges of their careers. All were committed: the film is one of the biggest-budgeted independent movie ever, and a sizeable chunk of the funding fell out at the very last minute. The stars’ agents advised them to walk. Led by Tom Hanks, they stood by the project. In the end, the film-makers put up their own houses and other assets to secure the missing millions.

It was a characteristically bold move from the Wachowski siblings. In 1999, The Matrix changed the face of action movies overnight. V for Vendetta, which they scripted, became the emblem of the Occupy movement. And if Speed Racer in 2008 was pure bubble-gum, they were making up for it off-screen with their complex private lives, as Larry Wachowski changed sex to become Lana Wachowski. That’s why this tale of gender-bending reincarnation was personal enough to grip them throughout the many years since Natalie Portman first gave them the book.

“My brother this week had the sweetest line ever,” Lana Wachowski told the A.V Club website before the US release: “[He said] ‘Of course I believe in reincarnation—look at my sister.’ We, in our own lives, reincarnate as well. We have new lives. I’m sure there are people in your life who would see this version of you, as opposed to 20 years ago, and would say, ‘Wow, you’ve changed.’”

If the half-baked mysticism behind Cloud Atlas leaves me cold, that at least I can relate to. It was the genesis of my own sci-fi script, Time Squared, in which an assassin travels back in time to face his most dangerous enemy yet – himself as a young man. It’s just a pity Looper got there first, as I detailed here: http://bit.ly/XPxSel.

NB: Portions of this post first appeared in The Book magazine, http://bit.ly/XATWcb 

New Year script resolutions

2 Jan
Looper: proof that time-travel ideas won't last if you sit on them for ten years

Looper: I wrote a script with the same premise ten years ago; shoulda sold it more

 

* Fit the plot around the characters, not the other way round. From Blair in Gossip Girl to Frank in Blue Velvet, the most interesting characters are those who do something you don’t expect, without actually behaving out of character. And if they don’t surprise the writer, they’re unlikely to surprise the viewer.

* Write something you care about. It sounds obvious – why spend months or years on something if you don’t give a damn? But a light-bulb went on when having coffee with a top producer: I was talking up my sci-fi script, then my thriller script, when she said, “Yes, but what have you written that you really care about?” I did care about these scripts, of course, but she meant something authentic, something only I could write. So I’ve just finished a script, that was very hard to write, inspired by the death of my father. It may or may not get made, but if it has “heart”, it gets you noticed as a writer.

* Don’t do a zillion drafts, unless they are major changes. I can carry on chiselling away at a script for months, but sometimes it’s just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

* Make your first five pages extraordinary. If they don’t grab the reader and make them want to know more, they won’t even read the rest.

* Don’t ignore accepted structure, however much you may admire Charlie Kaufman. There’s a reason for all those courses and books: it tends to work. My fave book on this in recent years, incidentally, is Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

* Get a second opinion. And a third, and a fourth… But don’t trust friends and family to give you honest and/or informed feedback. Pay a professional script reader. I’ve personally found Ellin Stein brilliant (www.solidscripts.co.uk). I also met Michelle of http://www.writesofluid.com at the London Screenwriters Festival, and she seems pretty switched on. Another cheap and easy option is to agree with other writers to critique each other’s scripts.

* Don’t just write it, sell the damn thing. I had a sci-fi script in my bottom drawer for ten years, which I only showed to a couple of producers. Then Looper comes out, with pretty much exactly the same high-concept premise (a time assassin on a mission to kill himself), and it’s hailed as one of the best sci-fi flicks in years. This year, I’m going to put myself about more. Starting with my London, Hollywood blog. If you like it, please Follow it, Retweet it, tell your friends.