Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Films, writing and fear in Hollywood

Last week I attended a screenwriting workshop sponsored/organized by the Italian film company I sold a project to.

The exec I work with received her Masters at one of the best film schools in the U.S. One of her former professors held the workshop. This professor also teaches at the top film school in Paris.

The class was in English but I was the only American writer. I really enjoyed the workshop and it was fun to meet some of the Italian writers and writer/directors.

The main things the class focused on was structure, themes, and characters. Writing a script is so different from writing a novel. You might start a novel not knowing your ending. For a script if you don’t know the ending, you will go back and rewrite the beginning after you figure it out.

We watched films that couldn’t be more different (Sideways, The Elephant Man, The Godfather, The Shawshank Redemption, Billy Elliot, Notting Hill etc.) and yet they all had the same structure.

I’ve seen all the films we watched and there were things the professor pointed out that I never noticed before. This workshop will definitely help me with my writing.

We also talked about the “industry.” Hollywood is in a strange place right now. The system is broken. Everything is so geared toward young teen boys, other audiences are underserved. That is why everyone freaked out when a study came out a few years ago saying teen boys ranked going to the movies below playing video games and being online as the things they liked to do for entertainment.

Film critic Jeffrey Wells ha a website called which is a great read. Currently it’s heavy on politics, and he can get down right cranky sometimes. Anyway, he was talking about how fear in Hollywood is ruining the business. He complained most of the powers that be don’t seem to have any love of film. They are operating from fear and that is why so many mainstream commercial movies suck.

I agree with someone who left a comment saying if you work in film and never get that goose bump feeling before a movie starts, perhaps you should do something else for a living. Several execs have told me they hated writers. Umm okay, why stay in Hollywood? There are other, easier ways to make money.

We will be seeing more comic book movies (there are a bunch in development) and more remakes coming out of Hollywood. I love comics as a child but enough already.

What genres are you sick of and what types of movies do you want to see more of?


glamah16 said...

Hmmm. Tough question. Only through CS , have I come to tolerate action films, but they are still not my thing.Although he does love those old classic war movies. Im a older movie, and Indie type. Just give me a good story, intelligent script,and some real issues I can understand and relate to.Not some way out stuff.And what happened to the real stars, the true drama queens. I guess those days are gone .I guess thats why I always like European films more.

Michellanea said...

In a way, the fact that all of those movies have the same structure is a bit disconcerting. But, again, Hollywood is afraid to deviate from a winning formula even if it means creativity and experimentation are stifled. Just downloaded Slacker Uprising for free on iTunes. Michael Moore's tactics often bug me (or when he's called a journalist or documentarian because I don't believe he is either) but I usually generally agree with the point he is trying to make. Interested to see how this latest movie is.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

glamah16 - same here. I want interesting stories. Special effects are cool but they alone do not hold my interest.

michellanea - Yes the down side of being motivated by fear is one is less likely to take chances. That is why you see the same "stars" over and over again. Sometimes the actor is not right for the role but the studio doesn't want to hear that. It's all about the numbers. I get it's a business but why can't we have some balance bet. art and commerce?

re: structure, Interesting I never thought of it that way. Most of the problems with scripts is the structure. Without that you have nothing to hang your movie on. I thought it was incredible that the movies were so different. The only thing they had in common is they are considered very well written movies. Even most of the most experimental art house films have a three act structure.

Some of the films we watched were indie movies. Scripts are like the bones of a film but everything else makes one body unique from another. Hollywood is too focused on the opening box office weekend. Movies that need time to breathe don't stand a chance. Since teen boys are the only one who regularly attend movies opening weekend, that is who they gear the market toward. This annoys me since I am not a teen boy. ha

I agree with you regarding Mr. Moore. One of my friends worked with him and the stories....very deep. That said at least he has a strong POV.

Lenoxave said...

I'm tired of everything right now. I haven't been to see a film in months. We get the action/adventure/Rom Com/black uplift/Tyler Perry/Vampire/Comic remake and that seems to be it.

I don't know what happened. It seems the industry has been hijacked by studio heads whose only concern is the bottom line.

I'd love to see more films from Innaritu, Del Toro, Cuaron. They have tremendous imagination, vision and they know how to tell a story. It seems as if the art of story telling is dead in Hollywood.

I'm not holding my breath.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

sdg1844 - I'm a big fan of those three filmmakers.

I'm hoping during the late fall (oscar season) there will be some good films. If not I'll stick to the foreign movies and the classics.

Anonymous said...

I haven't visited a movie theatre in years. Simply, nothing strikes my fancy.
I tend to borrow classic, foreign or documentary films from my local library.

Anonymous said...

Almost all of the movies l watch and this has been the case for quite a few years are European.
I can't stand to watch the fear based movies or tv shows for that matter. There has been a huge influx of crime related shows appearing on our screens back-to-back every night of the week.

I find it concerning that there are so many fear based scripts that end up on the big screen. It perpetuates the fear and anxiety that is already a problem in society (It is proven that our sub-conscious minds do not know the difference between fact and fiction).

Therefore, in saying that l would prefer to see movies that are inspiring, uplifting and that challenge us to think differently:)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

ms violetta - I miss having a public library and Netflix.

confessions - the crime based shows will always be around because they do well in syndication. How many versions of Law and Order and CSI are there?

Romerican said...

Hummm, maybe I'm biased because I translate Italian films for work and am exhausted by how bad and un-original most of them are... all I know is the last few American movies I saw were fantastic! Examples: The Wrestler & Burn After Reading.
There are very few Italian films nowadays that are worth mentioning... but the US still manages to churn out some great flicks.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

romerican - I cannot wait to see Burn After Reading. Mickey Rourke's plastic surgery freaks me out. I used to see him all the time at the Coffee Bean near my office in L.A. I don't know if I can watch a movie with him in it.

Hollywood releases over 600 films a year only Bollywood makes more movies. I would hope that at least 10 would be good. I'm not surprised given the volume that there are move good/interesting American movies than Italian. The industries and markets are completely different.

I saw a 007 poster in the window of a theater in Trastevere. That is one Hollywood movie I'm excited to see. I will be there opening day, November 1st. Someone told me the movie is opening domestically and internationally on the same day. Excellent.

Anonymous said...

I can't stand any more horror films. THere are so many, just the same as the last one. Blood, gore, guts, blah. Boring!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

new - I am with you on that one. So over the horror flicks.

Anonymous said...

I don't get the chance to go to the movies much because of my schedule. But I just can't stand adventure/action blockbusters or badly-written teen comedies. So bad! I'm with Glamah16: all I really want is a good story. What do you think of new Italian cinema? Are there any films/directors that interest you?

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

milanese - I feel you. I do like good action movies like Die Hard but those are far and few between.

I just saw your post on Italian cinema and I'll reply there.