Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Get Your Movies Free

Online piracy of movies at sites such as

And, In A Related Story...
Daniel Craig
This is too good -- you'd think I had made it up. The star of the new James Bond movie "Casino Royale", Daniel Craig, was offered an illegal copy of the 'Casino' DVD while in a Beijing market. Stay tuned...
THR Digital Spy

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Brief History Of The Horror Movie

Ils (Them)"Ils" or "Them" is a new French horror movie firmly rooted in the 'isolated home-invasion' sub-genre. Guardian offers a quickie look at how we arrived at this point in the evolution of the creepfest (excerpt):

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre works precisely by removing any reassuring cultural scenery, dumping you in an American nowhere populated by freaks who wouldn't have heard of Old Europe.

But the template for the modern slasher film was created by a British director steeped in expressionist cinema. Alfred Hitchcock worked at the Berlin studios early in his career and especially admired the great FW Murnau, director of Nosferatu.

This movie has that euro-thing going -- a realistic setup that plays out with style, and camera technique that is a pleasure to observe (you could watch this one with the sound off and still enjoy it). There's something about this picture that suggests it would be an attractive property for a Hollywood remake. I certainly hope not as such a project would surely lack the charm of the original. Subtlety and intelligent dialogue would be replaced with on-the-nose this-is-what-I'm-thinking (just in case there was any doubt) blather and super-slick crash/swipe/zip camera pans, punctuated with this-is-the-scary-part...right...HERE shock music stings. Oh, and let's not forget the script alterations -- yielding a palatable squeaky-clean Americanized ending stripped of any ambiguity that would confuse an audience. Oh, and there's the...

Wait a minute. I've put the cart before the horse. I haven't even seen "Ils". It could be guilty of all the things I've condemned Hollywood remakes (and sequels) for. Maybe I should just wait. Meanwhile, here's a trailer.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

That's Why It's Called Money...

Bambi vs. Godzilla by David MametJanet Maslin covers David Mamet's book "Bambi vs. Godzilla":

About one particularly bad sequel, he says: "Jewish law states that there are certain crimes that cannot be forgiven, as they cannot be undone. It lists murder and adultery. I add this film."


By resisting demands for arbitrary alterations in one's work, the kinds of changes that raise doubts about the work's seriousness. What would happen, he asks, to an architect who was similarly accommodating? ("Would you mind moving the staircase? Thank you. Now would you mind moving the skylight?") And by understanding the etiquette of betrayal, Hollywood style. "Should the project go awry," he writes, "you will be notified by a complete lack of contact with those in whose hands its administration has rested."

Looks good. I can't remember the exact quote, but in "Heist", written and directed by Mamet, Danny DeVito says something like, "Yeah, money. Everybody wants money. That's why it's called money." "Glengarry Glen Ross" (written by Mamet) is filled to the brim with some of the sharpest writing to be found but I've always liked the simple "Asshole" from Al Pacino -- 'hole' is over enunciated with the mouth in a perfect O shape, sort of like 'asshooooole'. (Sorry. It may be one Mamet's less literary bits of dialogue, but frankly, I really don't think anyone else could have thought of it). 'That's why it's called money...' Damn...

Oscar: Gaming The System

Claude Brodesser-Akner and John Horn (of LAT The Envelope) discuss the machinations of the Hollywood awards season at The Business on KCRW in Santa Monica. Also appearing, Jeff Ammer, marketing consulting for Revolution Studios. Unless you're pretty familiar with this stuff this show is very educational.

What Will Sell At Sundance

Elvis Mitchell (who is on the jury at Sundance) and Scott Simon discuss what will get distribution this year. Everybody is looking for the next "Little Miss Sunshine".

Old Dragon vs. New Dragon

If you're a big fan of dragons this is a must-listen. Apparently, dragons didn't used to like people too much -- now there is a revised approach -- dragons like people just fine as long as they are of the right ilk. (You have to be a big fan). NPR -- 6 minutes

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Rule Of Three

If a movie wins the Oscar for Best Picture only a maximum of three producers may accept the award. This, of course, means that if a movie is nominated for an Oscar a maximum of three people will be listed as producers. If there are four or more people who produced the movie, too bad -- their names will not be listed. Gregg Kilday reports on how this arbitrary rule affects movies like "Little Miss Sunshine" and "The Departed" at THR.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hi-Def Porn

Porn star Jesse JaneThanks to high-definition DVDs pornography now looks so crystal-clear it's like being there. The problem is -- the details are so sharp many porn stars are having cosmetic surgery to hide the imperfections.

Producers are taking steps to hide the imperfections. Some shots are lit differently, while some actors simply are not shot at certain angles, or are getting cosmetic surgery, or seeking expert grooming.

"The biggest problem is razor burn," said Stormy Daniels, an actress, writer and director.

Ms. Daniels is also a skeptic. "I'm not 100 percent sure why anyone would want to see their porn in HD," she said.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Daily Sundance Rundown

There's a lot of coverage of Sundance out there but these guys probably connect the best.
Daily podcasts from Park City

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Rocky Inspires Pilgrimage?

Sylvester Stallone in Rocky on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art We all know this scene -- Rocky Balboa, triumphant after running up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Nice, but who would have guessed it has inspired real people to do the same -- not as a goof but in pursuit of a deep, almost spiritual experience. Reporter Michael Vitez and photographer Tom Gralish, both Pulitzer Prize winners from the Philadelphia Inquirer, spent a year recording the stories of the people who re-create Rocky's run up those steps for their new book Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope and Happiness at America's Most Famous Steps.

Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope and Happiness at America's Most Famous StepsHow Stallone's little movie that could has managed to inspire these people to such a degree is a bit of a mystery to me. I was surprised to discover that such people existed and that accomplishing such a thing could be considered worthy of, in many cases, substantial sacrifice. Guardian reports:

...Jabrane became obsessed with the film and one scene in particular: the boxing hero running up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Jabrane knew he had to run the steps himself. In 1998, after four months mopping floors, he had the money to fly to the US and emulate his idol. Freshly inspired, he returned home and began to turn his life around. The high school dropout got a degree and a job with a pharmaceutical firm. These days, whenever the motivation slips he returns to Philadelphia to run the Rocky steps. "I feel great, untouchable, proud," he says.

That story might sound a bit too too, but it's common -- lots of people feel this way. Check out these photos from the dedication of the Rocky statue in Philadelphia last September. Here are some stills from the book (both sets from the Philadelphia Inquirer). Here is the NPR story from November 2006 (this is good stuff). People love what Rocky represents -- the 'bum from the neighborhood' making good. I guess that's not so mysterious after all.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Talk Of Sundance

Talk of the Nation covers Sundance. With guests Greg Kirschling of Entertainment Weekly, Actor Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, and Weapons), Adam Bhala Lough (Bomb the System). 30 minutes

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Audrey HepburnIf you're a fan of Audrey Hepburn you'll want to check out Richard Corliss' appreciation at Time Magazine (excerpt):

Today, these matters and manners may strike you as so very once-upon-a-time. Nobody "behaves" any more. In the post-Audrey age, when stars are in rehab before they're out of their teens, when British royals rut as strenuously as rock stars and a President gets impeached for accepting fellatio from an intern, deportment is a Victorian concept. Even in the 50s, a decade of such screen seraphs as Vivien Leigh, Claire Bloom, Grace Kelly and Jean Simmons (William Wyler's first choice for the role of Princess Ann), Hepburn was a glorious anachronism. She represented a moral and emotional aristocracy that no longer exists - if it ever did, outside of her pictures.

I'm not what you would call a devotee but I can see the appeal -- Hepburn's work is a testament to the elegance of a bygone era. (I'll admit I have not seen more than a few clips of her work, but I have seen her most contemporary-styled movie [and the one which marks the end of her days as a leading lady], "Wait Until Dark", and since I was a kid it's been one of my favorites).

I agree with Corliss -- Hepburn was elegant in a way that today's movie star couldn't even imitate, and times have certainly changed -- nobody really minds how the hottest young star behaves anymore. Their latest stint in rehab or DUI photo or off-the-cuff half-baked diatribe is catalogued in the tabloid press, but it's an amusing diversion not an offense to society. Even writing 'offense to society' is dorky today. Once upon a time we had Leading Ladies, now we just have movie stars. Is it the actors that changed or is it society that changed? It's a rhetorical question...both have changed.

To The Best Of Our Knowledge

This episode is dedicated to movies. Laura Poitras (IMDb profile) talks about her documentary "My Country, My Country", which follows a Sunni Ara doctor who runs for public office in the 2005 'purple finger' election in Iraq. This one has won several awards and is on the short list for an Oscar. Trailer.

Orson Welles: Hello Americans written by Simon CallowActor Simon Callow (IMDb profile), author of "Orson Welles: Hello Americans", tells us why "Citizen Kane" was loved by critics but hated by audiences. (I've never known anyone that said they liked it).

Callow says this is a movie that inspired a generation of filmmakers despite the fact that it flopped at the box office. One reason for its critical acclaim -- it was edited by image guru Robert Wise, who went on to direct "The Sound of Music", "West Side Story", and one of the most visually well executed movies, "The Haunting".

Will Farrell in Stranger Than Fiction written by Zach HelmZach Helm (IMDb profile), screenwriter of "Stranger Than Fiction". He tells a funny story. He was doing work for hire for Fox 2000 when he submitted a spec called "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium". They liked it but decided to give it to another writer for doctoring. Helm was shattered because this was his first script. Fox 2000 sent him a ham as consolation. The experience compelled Helm to insist that none of his future work be doctored by another writer and, in return, Helm stopped accepting rewrite assignments of other writers' work. Happy ending -- Helm got the script back and the movie is in production with Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman -- Helm directs. Helm also describes why he separates himself from his writing and how thick black bands tattooed around both his wrists help him to accomplish this -- and, yes this comes off a little stranger than fiction.

Hitchcock's Music written by Jack SullivanJack Sullivan, author of "Hitchcock's Music" on the collaboration between the director and composer Bernard Herrmann. There are two very interesting stories. One is about how the producers of "Vertigo" were afraid that audiences would not know what the word vertigo meant, and commissioned a song to explain the word's definition to be played of over the opening credits instead of Herrmann's jarring orchestral music -- chalk that one up as a close call.

Another story is about how Hitch was disenchanted with "Psycho" and was about to cut it up for presentation on his TV show. When Herrmann found out he told Hitch to take a few days off, and during that time Herrmann scored the shower cue (which Hitchcock originally planned to be unaccompanied by music). When Hitch came back Herrmann played the shower scene with what later became the most famous movie music ever -- Hitch loved it and decided to shoot "Psycho" as a feature.

Listen to the show (53 minutes)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Rose And O'Toole

Peter O'Toole on the Charlie Rose Show
Charlie Rose is one of the best interviewers working. How anybody can know so much about so many things I'll never figure. Rose interviews all kinds: politicians, writers, athletes, etc. But, he really likes movie people. I don't suppose any of this is news, however, you may not be aware Rose has a new website. He is making available clips and previews of his shows as well as full-length downloads (and more stuff coming soon). You'll need the Google Video Player. Here is Rose talking with Peter O'Toole about "Venus" and the mechanics of interpreting a script.

The Treatment

Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in Babel
Elvis Mitchell talks with Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, director of "Babel", the third in the trilogy of films with the theme of communication which also includes "Amores Perros" and "21 Grams"

The Black President In TV And Movies

Elvis Mitchell and Scott Simon with an insightful look at black presidents in TV and movies.

(Simulated) Sex (With Children)

Dakota Fanning in HounddogWhen I first heard the uproar over Dakota Fanning's sex scenes in "Hounddog" I thought it was just more uptight ultra-conservatives stomping their feet looking to quash another artistic effort just because it's edgy. But, the person leading the effort doesn't seem irrational. He is Paul Petersen, who has had a long career in TV and movies and started as a child actor (
IMDb profile), and runs the website A Minor Consideration ( The New York Times quotes Peterson:

...Ms. Fanning should never have been allowed to play the victim in a rape scene, no matter how much she wanted to or how sensitively it was filmed, and that her doing so violated the letter of federal child-pornography law.

"Nothing excuses it," he said. "The plain cold fact is this is illegal, the statutes are what they are, and Hollywood chose to ignore it. If they'd made the character 15, and hired a 19-year-old, they wouldn't have heard a peep out of me."

He makes a fair point. Fanning replies to all the controversy with:

"You know, I'm an actress," she said. "It's what I want to do, it's what I've been so lucky to have done for almost seven years now. And I am getting older. February 23 is my birthday, I'll be 13 years old. And I will be playing different kinds of roles. I won't be able to do the things I did when I was 6 years old when I'm 14. And that's what I look forward to -- getting to play new roles that aren't too old for me and aren't too young for me, that are just at the right time."

She makes a fair point as well. "Hounddog" will play at the Sundance Film Festival and is already being referred to by festival goers as 'the Dakota Fanning rape movie'.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Nick Cassavetes

Alpha Dog directed by Nick Cassavetes
Backstage talks with writer/director Nick Cassavetes

He wrote his first script, Unhook the Stars, as an exercise, to see if he could create a fully developed character. He showed it to his mother, who happens to be accomplished stage and screen star Gena Rowlands. "I said, 'What do you think?' She said, 'What do I think? When are we doing this?'" he remembers. "I said, 'No, it was just an experiment.' She goes, 'Uh-uh. We're doing this.'" Unhook the Stars, directed by Cassavetes, was released in 1996 and netted Screen Actors Guild nods for Rowlands and co-star Marisa Tomei.

Actors love this guy and with good reason -- his writing is intelligent, his stories turn on a dime, and his camera is effortless. If you haven't seen "She's So Lovely", also written and directed by Cassavetes, check it out. It's loaded with fine performances -- with John Travolta, Robin Wright Penn, Sean Penn -- and is one of the lesser-known gems out there. Cassavetes has "Alpha Dog" (pictured) coming out soon.

How Much Work?

Beyonce Knowles, Anika Noni Rose, and Jennifer Hudson do a Vanity Fair shoot
How much work does it take to do a photo shoot? Here's a look. Vanity Fair has footage of "Dreamgirls" Beyonce Knowles, Anika Noni Rose, and Jennifer Hudson taken during a session for photographer Mark Seliger.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Hollywood Of The South

Denzel Washington in Deja VuWhere is "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" being filmed? In New Orleans. Post-Katrina Louisiana is doing some brisk movie-production business. 'Curious Case' stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett and has the highest budget of any movie ever shot in Louisiana, $150 million. Several other high-profile projects have been shot in Louisiana, including "Deja Vu" with Denzel Washington (pictured), "Premonition" with Sandra Bullock, and "Factory Girl" with Guy Pearce and Sienna Miller. Here is
NPR's story about the 'Hollywood of the South'.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Name This Book

Billy Mernit, author of "Writing the Romantic Comedy", faces a quandary: what to name his new novel. Seems his publisher, Random House, doesn't like his title of choice, "Making Up", and Billy, being somewhat involved in editing the manuscript, has asked his readers to help conjure up a title more in line with the needs and wants of a major publishing outfit. He outlines his story thusly:

Desperate to win back his estranged wife, a man invents an imaginary lover to make her jealous...and then gets into real trouble when this fantasy woman becomes real to him.

Billy is humbly accepting suggestions. (Fabulous prizes if your title is chosen)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sexy Or Icky?

Cate Blanchett and Andrew Simpson in Notes on a Scandal
In the above still from "Notes on a Scandal" is the heat between Cate Blanchett's character and her young student, Andrew Simpson, icky or sexy? Caryn James vents on the nature of attraction between older characters with authority and their younger wards in 'Notes' as well as other upcoming movies including "Venus" and "The History Boys".

A Fourth Bourne?

Matt Damon as Jason BourneThe trilogy of books written by Robert Ludlum which feature Jason Bourne has been made into some of the best thrillers of the genre: The Bourne Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum (currently in productatum) all starring Matt Damon as the down-to-earth spy who is constantly in peril. Anne Thompson ran into Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass who, among other things, says Bourne will survive Ultimatum to face bad guys in a fourth Bourne movie. So...Ludlum writes three Bourne novels but a fourth movie is tentatively good to go -- I had to check this out.

Sure enough there is not only a fourth Bourne novel but a fifth as well -- both written by thriller veteran Eric Van Lustbader (I've read his The Ninja -- it moves along with conviction [and according to Lustbader's website is being adapted for the screen by 20th Century Fox with a script due in months]). The next Bourne movie, should there be one, is The Bourne Legacy. The fifth novel, not yet finished, has a working title of The Bourne Trajectory (that will have to be changed for a movie, sorry).

As long as they can keep the quality of the material top-notch, I'm all for more Bourne stories. Bond may have been the thing way back when, but he's a bit superficial (as well a sexist in a backwards way) today -- Bourne has much broader appeal and audiences connect with Damon. Rock on Jason (and hope you work out that memory thing).

Movies About Spy's Death Planned

UGO reports on the various projects planned about the life and death of former KGB and FSB operative Alexander Litvinenko, who died November 1, 2006 as a result of polonium-210 radiation poisoning. Warner Bros. is currently developing two projects based on books about Litvinenko: Sasha's Story: The Life and Death of a Russian Spy by Alan Cowell, NYT London Bureau Chief (being produced by Johnny Depp), and Blowing Up Russia, co-written by Litvinenko (being produced by John Malkovich).

Variety reports Columbia has purchased the rights to Death of a Dissident co-written by Marina Litvinenko. Michael Mann is attached to direct and the book will contain first-hand information about Litvinenko's life and career.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Duality Of "The Descent"

The Duality Of "The Descent"
DVD review by Alan Green
January 14, 2007

Since the DVD of "The Descent" was recently released I thought I'd reprint my movie review from August 2006 -- ag.

In the poster for the movie "The Descent" (which is based on a photograph by Philippe Halsman in collaboration with Salvador Dali) we see six women whose bodies form a skull. The skull can be interpreted to mean death, so the relationship between these women must also represent the death of something. Here, I think it's honesty, or being true to yourself and others--as when we descend into duplicity. While these women cling to each other for support, this intimacy is the source of their pain because each deceives the others and themselves. All the women, except one, have their heads bowed and face hidden--suggesting shame in who they are. The woman whose face can be seen is screaming, possibly because (although she does turn her face as far away from us and her skullmates as possible) she is still facing us and cannot hide her duplicity and is crying out in shame (or horror of her relationship with the others).

This poster encapsulates the themes of "The Descent"; what we truly are is hidden beneath the surface and, because we are not true to ourselves, our relationship with others is duplicitous and creates a cycle of destruction. This is played out nicely after our six women go down into the cave where they grapple not only with fanged flesh-eating albino freaks called 'Crawlers', but their own true natures, and their betrayals of each other and themselves, when they are forced to make horrific choices as they fight for survival.

While "The Descent" is about the dichotomy of human nature, the movie itself is also split into two distinct halves. In the first half the suspense builds quickly after the women enter the cave and we find ourselves floating along with them in subterranean blackness. The only light comes from the lamps on their helmets, and watching these white spots dance in the dark quickly disorients the audience and we're left unsure how far away objects are or in which direction things are moving--a fine soup for horror-movie creepiness. Character builds quickly as well. Writer-Director Neil Marshall never stops for long expository dialogue, preferring to expose traits by immediately putting the women in danger when one of two known exits from the cave collapses. This would not normally present a problem except, because of a certain lack of full disclosure, the women find they are not where they were told they would be and must now ad lib their way out of an uncharted cave. This sets the stage for an animosity that, as the situation gets worse, builds until it reaches a psychological tautness (and some pretty serious betrayal) not usually found in gory horror flicks.

Read the rest at

Filmspotting Top Ten

Adam Kempenaar and Sam Van Hallgren rundown the best and worst of 2006. These guys specialize in lists and handle the format with plenty of energy -- the show is over an hour long but always moves forward. On this show they have some cool guests including Ira Glass (host of This American Life on NPR), Scott Tobias (contributor at A.V. Club), and Rian Johnson (writer-director of "Brick"). An easy-going fun gabfest.

The Treatment With Bill Condon

Dreamgirls written and directed by Bill Condon
Elvis Mitchell talks with the writer-director of "Dreamgirls", Bill Condon.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Scorsese Throws His Hat In The Ring...Again

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro on the set of Casino
I will see any movie because it was directed by Martin Scorsese -- and -- I'll see any movie with Robert De Niro. Put the two together, and, well, I buy the disc and admire their work again and again. Scorsese's latest, "The Departed", will surely be nominated for Best Picture and he will probably get another Best Director nod. This will make the sixth time Scorsese will be up for top honors. Stephen Hunter (story at WP)
asks whether we should care, calling “The Departed” 'an earnest bit of corporate filmmaking designed to honorably milk genre expectations for maximum profit'. This is exactly the impression I've gotten from the previews. 'Departed' just doesn't seem to have the power of "Goodfellas" or "Casino", and Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson don't have quite the magnetism of De Niro.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson in The Departed directed by Martin ScorseseHunter continues with, "It's somehow largely unconnected with his previous great films..." -- and, "The irony? If he wins, it'll be for one of his least Scorsesesque films. It even could be argued that "The Departed" is an imitation Scorsese film." Again, reading my mind. "Gangs of New York" was a far cry from the gritty quality of, say, "Taxi Driver" and Scorsese seems to be continuing the trend with ‘Departed’. His recent work, while avoiding self-parody, does strike me as a tad derivative and a little too pretty, a little too safe, a little too 'product'.

This leaves us with the possibility that, if he wins for "The Departed" Scorsese may be left high and dry when and if he makes some future picture with the snap and click of his earlier movies. I'm not a fan of proper epics like "The Aviator" (and Gangs) and keep holding my breath for this auteur to deliver another 'shoot from the hip' crime saga. For now, I'll get the sit-up-straight 'Departed' on disc and hope it's a bit edgier than most are saying.

Scorsese seems to be striving for a glossier, more conventional, more mainstream professionalism is his recent movies, and it just doesn’t quite come off. Marty, give me the spiked energy and slick subversive sleight of hand I fell in love with when I first watched “Goodfellas” -- just one more time -- and if it goes unrecognized by the Academy (again), well, that’ll be okay.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Player

Tim Robbins in The Player directed by Robert Altman
My favorite movie by Robert Altman is "The Player". Every scene builds on the energy of the one which precedes it in a manner often described in screenwriting guides but rarely found in an actual movie. Tim Robbins, an actor who to me seems as if he would be more at home on stage, comes off very believably as the cutthroat ultra-ambitious movie executive Griffin Mill in what is my favorite of his performances. The movie is based on the 1988 novel of the same name by Michael Tolkin, and I believe this is, largely, why it works so well. Certainly, Altman's ability is not to be questioned, but there has to be a foundation. It's probably fair to suggest that many if not most of the best movies are based on novels, especially these days. This logic extends to Altman -- here are some of his movies which are based on novels: MASH (novel by Richard Hooker), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (novel by Edmund Naughton), Thieves Like Us (novel by Edward Anderson), and The Long Goodbye (novel by Raymond Chandler). Lastly, I would mention one of my all-time favorites, "Short Cuts", based on collected short stories by Raymond Carver. Carver's writing is succinct and a bit dry, and carries more between the lines than most writers can express directly. Altman's cinematic handling of this material matches its source -- a very rare achievement in moviemaking -- in fact it's possible that he surpassed the scope of Carver's stories.

Ann Thompson's new column covers Tolkin's sequel "The Return of the Player". (It wouldn't be right not to mention Anne's excellent blog, Risky Biz). Tolkin was well into a career as a Hollywood writer at the time he wrote "The Player" and it's always been assumed Mill was based on a real movie exec. I've always assumed Mill is a composite). The aspect of Thompson's write-up that most interested me is her frank description of script doctors as having to "suffer years of indignity writing scripts by committee inside the studio industrial complex, where you have little control over the results but make a handsome living." She continues to posit that it's easy to understand why a writer would prefer writing novels for the control and satisfaction it offers.

I started out writing screenplays but recently discovered writing shorts and novels -- and I couldn't agree more. In general, screenplays utilize high-school level syntax. In fact, the very rules of proper syntax are often ignored for the sake of brevity (there's a strict industry-standard page count to adhere to) and you get stuff like: Nick stumbles in, looks around frantic, is shocked to see Dr. X sitting at far end of room smoking cigar -- a faint grin (dances) across his face.

This tour de force might be followed by dialogue such as:

So. We meet again.

I've been expecting you.

Whereas, in a short or a novel you might enjoy throwing something together, like: London isn't that cold in October, but when it rains and the wind kicks up it can be pretty nasty. I ducked into the nearest doorway, shook the water off and went into the pub. It was warm, smoky, and crowded inside and there was a healthy buzz of conversation. I expected everyone to turn to see who had come in like they do in old Westerns, but no one did so I proceeded to the bar and sat next to a quirky looking fellow with wild hair and gleaming blue eyes who gives me a friendly nod before returning his attention to a tall glass of something black and fizzy. The bartender approaches and, for an American, I do a fair job of ordering a stout.

Really. How can you compare the two? Screenwriting may bring in the bucks and the script doctor's phone may ring off the hook, but (good) prose enlivens the mind and soothes the soul. Besides, how much of your life experience can you put into the characters of a screenplay? With the need to meet demographic demands, stay within the confines of a PG-13 or R rating (the only ones that regularly make money), as well as budgetary constraints, struggling with whether or not a given A-list actor could deliver a given line with credibility, rewriting endlessly to meet the whim of the next suit with an MBA, screenwriting doesn't give you much wiggle room and is rarely rewarding on a personal level, especially if you farm out your skills to studios seeking fixes for their library of broken down screenplays in the hopes of producing that one gem that will yield a box office steamroller. But, novels… You can get back at your worst enemy (or, if you don't have any enemies, invent some -- then destroy them), exorcise your darkest personal demons, live vicariously through your characters -- all while creating some nicely crafted sentences and stories that appeal to a more discerning audience -- (hopefully).

I love movies and I look forward to making them, but the peaceful, satisfying life of a novelist beckons. For now, I'm going for the brass ring, a persistently ringing phone, and the happy/frenetic seven-day-a-week schedule of a successful Hollywood screenwriter (I'll let you know as soon as I get there). But, when it becomes possible I will retire to a life of quiet days spent reading novels or the paper and, when the mood strikes, writing novels or short stories, or something, next to a partially open window in my modest home near the beach at the end of a long driveway. I know I won't be able to fully put aside my love of slick (mostly) superficial Hollywood movies -- perhaps I'll have one (any one) running in the background with the sound turned off while I make dinner and watch the sun set. If you call you may expect to leave a message -- my answering machine will be on.

Alan Green

Blog Archive