March 26, 2004

Project greenlight 3 (update #9)



Our script Yellow made the Top 1000 Screenplays in the first round of Project Greenlight 3. I'm incredibly happy, and surprised as well, considering it went from a germ of an idea to a final draft in about two weeks.

Oh yeah, about those two weeks...unfortunately, it showed. Below are the reviews we got from our fellow competitors. I agree with some comments, I don't agree with others, some make me scratch my head. But without further commentary:

Reviewer #1:
The most interesting idea in the script concerns the girl who can take photos of the future. All other aspects should be scrapped.

Dialogue (1-12): 2 Characters (1-12): 1 Story/Plot (1-12): 1 Overall (1-12): 2

Reviewer #2 (used in evaluation):
I can tell this is either your first or one of your first scripts. I can also tell that you're young, probably in college. These are not bad things. The road to screenwriting is a long one, and one without a destination for most. The key is, if this is really, TRULY what you want, to stick with it. Keep writing. Write new, don't rewrite old, etc, etc. The main problem you have here is structural. I didn't get a clear sense of the three-act structure. In your logline (the reason I chose your script), you pushed this idea of a photographer who takes pictures that tell the future. Okay, intriguing concept, I'll bite. And bite I did, only to have to wait until page SIXTY SEVEN for you to reveal this part of the story. The first 35 pages are a muddled mess of introductions. Cut all that stuff out. The best rule of any scene or act is to start late and leave early. Let us, your audience, fill in the blanks. I don't need to see 6 characters introduce themselves to everyone (and multiple times, at that). You have to pick up where your story gets interesting. And that's with the first mention of the secret society. You need a clear main character, a clear problem and a clear goal-slash-consequence (if the hero fails to solve the problem). If you choose to rewrite this script, sit down with these points in mind and beat it out in an outline before you dive back in. Everything needs to move quick, be concise and lead the reader (without being predictable) in the direction of the narrative. I hope this helps. Write more, write on. Good luck.

Dialogue: 4 Characters: 3 Story/Plot: 5 Overall: 4

Reviewer #3 (used in evaluation):
I love Dario Argento, so I was eager to read this screenplay. I'd love to see PG do a horror movie (especially if I win the directing contest). This script was pretty good, though I think more lies in it's potential than what's currently there. The structure seemed to be the weakest link. Some information seemed to be revealed too early perhaps (Fioina's abilities...which could also be more important to the film before the ending bit). Time spent with characters seems a bit off. Until David died, I wasn't sure who was the lead, him or Bernardo. ONe more negative: I was dissapointed in the death scenes. Nothing very Argento-ish. Especially the explosion...cut the explosion, or at least make the exploions send a jagged piece of metal into the kids eye or something. And more deaths! More deaths. But I did really like the story. I liked the characters and the dialog alot. With some polishing this could be really good.

Dialogue: 9 Characters: 9 Story/Plot: 7 Overall: 8

Reviewer #4:
Standard summer cinema shenanigans. The characters are two-dimensional, differing only in their mode of dress and sex. Add in the cost of a soundtrack and recording studios and you should break even.

Dialogue: 6 Characters: 6 Story/Plot: 2 Overall: 5

Reviewer #5:
Of the three screenplays I have read, this is the only one that 'played' in my head-I could really see the colours & hear the characters. I was won over in the beginning by the bit about the chairs littering the room & the students littering the chairs. I could imagine this story fleshed out as a novel or realised as a movie.

Dialogue: 10 Characters: 10 Story/Plot: 10 Overall: 10

Reviewer #6 (used in evaluation):
The story is nicely formulated. The script has strongly defined characters. Story flows well. The script has a few minor punctuation errors, misspellings and missplaced characters. One example, just for reference, is found on page 17. The Author has Valerie take a drink of water, even though the character was killed off in a earlier scene. There are a three things that a reader will expect from an Author, whether they are cognizant of it or not, (one) spelling, (two) punctuation and (three) knowing your own characters. It will kill the reading no matter how minor the errors. Such is the case here. Find a "Third" party to read your work. I mean some one who has no reason to soften the blows. I would look for someone who you like but has the tact of a brick. This reviewer found there to be too much use of the "Montage". In the writen form this creates a nice cadance but would visually clutter a film. There are better ways to TRANS. In the "montages" given form they do not move the story along. If they contained elements that were essential to the plot ( ie. seeing a character involved in an act that would later effect the given character or plot direction)then they might work in a smaller number. As it stands now, the use of the "montages" could only appeal to a Warhol private collector. Every scene should move the plot forward. For an example, the Author may wish to readdress the scene with David and Coyles' father on the road. I feel this scene is not really necessary, though it is referenced later in the story by Heller. I feel the scene as a whole slows down the pace. And at the very least the Author should readdress the dialog. Playing the "race card" gives more weight to the scene than it should recieve. Use of that type of dialog may not be out of place for the character but is fairly out of place within the context of the entire story.

Dialogue: 10 Characters: 10 Story/Plot: 10 Overall: 10

Reviewer #7:
The dialog was OK. The idea was great, even if it is similar to a Twilight Zone story, but that was fine. The problem is that the story made no sense. The camera was not used, except as a prop. The "LOOSE & R37734" weren't true, and didn't work. The story was hard to follow and drug on. From: Explosion--CU-David's eyes, through Heller conversation was confusing. The camera angle was the most interesting, but was NEVER developed. The style, flow and dialog were good.

Dialogue: 6 Characters: 5 Story/Plot: 2 Overall: 4

Reviewer #8:
No comments provided

Dialogue: 4 Characters: 4 Story/Plot: 3 Overall: 4

A big, grateful "thank you" to all eight reviewers, who took the time to read our Hail Mary script. We really believe in this script, and though its continued success in the Project Greenlight contest is doubtful (I think), I'm committed to making this movie in any way possible. Your comments and criticisms are greatly appreciated and will definitely be taken into consideration for the next draft.

If any of my other readers would like to take a gander at our script, shoot me an email and I'll send you a .pdf. If you do read it, I encourage you to post comments to this space.

Finally, congratulations also to the writers of Grim, The Dream Weaver, and Sohorrity, wherever you are. We read your scripts and you deserve to be in the Top 1000. I even think Martin and I learned a trick or two from your writing. Excellent job, people.

Posted by kza at 02:15 PM | Comments (4)

March 24, 2004

Project greenlight 3 (update #8)

The first round of the contest is now officially over. This Friday, on or around noon, the Top 1000 Screenplays and the Top 250 Director Entries will be announced.

I'm nervous as hell, but that's normal. Martin, the Seinfeld to my Costanza, feels pretty good about our chances of making the cut; I don't think he'd mind too much if I quoted him saying our script was "stronger than anything (he'd) read."

I sure hope so; while we certainly have such qualities as "originality" and "commitment to not taking the easy way out" covered, there were a couple scripts that felt, I don't know, smoother to me. That is, they seemed more ready to go into pre-production rewriting, had their beats worked out better than us. I would think that's a better selling point than originality, but then, my cynicism knows no bounds.

Also, a big shout-out and a hearty "good luck!" to Todd and Brendan, whose short, I Can Get You Down There, is in the Director's competition. This is some of the best work I've seen from them (and their stars, Valerie and Kirk), and that's saying something. Excellent job, guys; I hope to see your names on Friday.

Posted by kza at 12:36 PM

March 17, 2004

coloring-in another number on the calendar

Not sure if I'm gonna be updating much in the next week or so. I'm trying to finish another act of my screenplay (not the PG3 one), as well as get a jump-start on the next Kza/Martin collaboration, AND read another PG3 competitor's screenplay. (Note to Martin: my Spidey-Sense tells me we've got a contender.) Oh, and did I mention that they're announcing the Top 1000 PG3 screenplays in about eight days?

So, my mind is elsewhere, but I wanted to get some random stuff down, if only to let people know that I haven't completely given up. Yet.

Current Movies: The only new things I've seen in the past week are The Company and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Short version: I liked both, but one is for completists only. I may get around to a legit entry on one or both, I may not.

Upcoming Movies I Want To See:

Dawn of the Dead: This one's a no-brainer. (Heh heh, I kill myself.) As it should be plain by now, just the very notion of humans vs. zombies creates such a frisson with me, that it'd be almost impossible for me to not enjoy it. I mean, you'd have to have, I don't know, anti-talent to fuck something like this up.

Walking Tall: Hey, I'm as surprised as you. Here's the root of this, I think: I remember watching, several years ago, some WWF special on MTV. Before each commercial break, one of the wrestlers would give some spiel about something or other, and they were all terrible, bad at reading the teleprompter, evincing no charisma or even a reason to exist. Except one: The Rock, of course. I'd never seen him before, but he was clearly a star: comfortable in front of the camera, charismatic, a keen intelligence flickering behind his eyes. It was obvious the WWF was too small for this guy, and I've been rooting for him to break out ever since. Unfortunately, the only movie I've seen him in is The Scorpion King, which stung me and we both drowned, but then, perhaps that was just the movie's nature. So I'm hoping this is the one that really breaks him. If the screenplay is fast and witty, and the direction competent, I think it may.

Endless Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: High hopes for this one as well, but I felt even more stung by Human Nature -- in fact, I stopped the DVD thirty minutes before the end cuz I just couldn't take it anymore. I have a theory, and it is mine: If the content of your movie is really strange, then the style of your movie should be as plain as possible; conversely, if the content is very pedestrian, then the style should have full license to be as weird as possible. Human Nature tried to have it both ways, and as a result, felt completely unreal, like it was beamed in from an alternate universe where believable human behavior was a superstition or something. I never gave a fuck about what was going on, and boy, does that get tiring. So hopefully Endless Sunshine (as the TV ads call it; what, are voice-over guys paid by the word, or something?) will be different, but David Poland's recent article has given me doubts.

Edit: Eternal Sunshine, Eternal Sunshine. You know, guys, you are allowed to point these things out...unless you like it when I look like a doof.

Posted by kza at 12:15 PM | Comments (18)

March 10, 2004

Shrek (2001, Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jenson) 20

Blast From The Past Dept.:

Before I started this blog, I had a website. It only lasted a couple months, during the summer of 2001. I quickly burnt myself out, thinking I could churn out something long (like the review below) on a weekly basis. It didn't help that I wanted to be Jonathan Rosenbaum, either, and it really didn't help that I was quickly turning into a bad parody of Armond White instead. Anyway, after four long reviews and one capsule, I gave up. (On the plus side, the website encouraged me to figure out about thirty years worth of Top Ten lists; hopefully, I'll get those on here soon.)

But now I'm doing this blog. I can't say why the blog would be any different, but it feels more low-key than a full-fledged website. And, hey, when I don't have an entry ready, I got some backups. So, reproduced here with virtually no changes, I present to you: My Second Review Ever.

The $44,000,000 Puppet Show

The Shrek commercials that carpet-bombed the airwaves were the first giveaway. If they're still on by the time you read this, look at them. Look at them carefully. Notice anything? Notice how EVERYTHING IS IN THE CENTER OF THE SCREEN? At first, I was willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt; Pixar created a version of A Bug's Life where they digitally squeezed everything together to fit television's aspect ratio. Perhaps they were doing the same thing here. But then my friend Lauren went to see it after I told her my reservations, and I apparently ruined the experience for her: all she could notice, she said, was that everything was in the middle of the screen. Now I had to see if my hunches were correct, or if I was just making my friends neurotic.

Shrek has quite a few marks against it, primarily due to the script, which sucks. It isn't funny; the only wit it manages is the "have you seen the muffin man?" bit with the paraplegic gingerbread man. It is chock full of cliches, both verbal and visual. The characters aren't even that interesting (I mean, the donkey's name is Donkey). However, what if the script was brilliant? Characters with more than two traits, original jokes, and genuine surprises? Fact is, Shrek would still suck. Why? Because the directors don't know what they're doing.

Shouldn't a computer-animated feature, released in 2001, be better than one released in 1995? Isn't that a reasonable expectation? Of course, it depends on what you mean by "better". From a technical standpoint, Shrek is more advanced than Toy Story. (That's what they say at least; I'm not sure I can tell). But there always exists the possibility of going backwards artistically; and Shrek is as backwards and regressive in its storytelling compared to Toy Story as the medieval ages are to modern day.

In the first ten minutes of Toy Story, we get: swish pans; varied compositions; movement within the frame; off-screen dialogue; interesting lighting (when the toys look out the window at the incoming party guests, the black shadows of the blinds create a beautiful shot); and interesting scale changes (Woody talking to the tiny toy soldiers, then moving down to their vantage point). The most captivating segment is the soldiers' recon mission, as they move from the bedroom down to the first floor, which is told with little dialogue.

In Shrek, we get virtually none of that. Furthermore, every long shot, medium shot, and close-up in the film has its subject placed right in the middle of the screen; it's like the directors have a button for each, and they're calling the camera shots "live", like on TV show. Whenever someone speaks, we cut right to that person, dead center. If another person responds, another cut, dead center. (Antz, another Dreamworks production, had the same problem.) The "camera" (of course, there is no physical camera in computer animation) barely moves, and when it does so, it keeps its subjects dead center. Everything is told through the dialogue; you could listen to this movie on the radio and not miss anything.

Ultimately, Toy Story is told visually, and Shrek is told verbally. Understand: there is nothing inherently wrong with this. It's simply a style, a choice, and there are a number of great films that are told this way; look at any film by John Cassavetes. In fact, there is a precedent for a kind of visual performance that is told through verbal means: the puppet show. Nothing wrong with puppet shows, right?

But when you are using computer animation, and you can show anything you can imagine, from any angle you can imagine, why, but why, would you use puppet show aesthetics? Unfortunately, the answer is simple: because you have a threadbare imagination.

Is that harsh? Look at any still from Shrek. Once you get past the surface beauty of the image, look at the background. There is no sense of life in this world. There are geometric rows of flowers, slick, clean-looking stone castles, and forests that disappear from memory once they've left the screen. Several of the backgrounds look no better than the mattes used in fifties films. One of the big jokes in Shrek is Lord Farquad's castle, which is supposed to remind viewers of Disneyland's antiseptic cleanliness. The hypocrisy of this joke is that everything in the movie is as sterile as the castle. Everything is curiously underpopulated, curiously spacious, and curiously geometric. The cathedral, where the climax takes place, looks more appropriate for a "Quake" death-match. I take back my earlier statement; these aren't puppet show aesthetics, they're video game aesthetics.

Douglas Sirk once said that camera angles are a director's thoughts, and the lighting is his philosophy. I can only surmise that the Shrek directors' responses are "I don't know" and "I don't care." Since it's gotten them this far, I don't expect them to change any time soon.

Posted by kza at 11:44 AM | Comments (4)

March 09, 2004

The Brood (1979, David Cronenberg) 85

We all know the critical line on Cronenberg by now: "Body in revolt against itself", "From the disease's POV", "Sex=Horror", blah blah blah. Although this theme is present in The Brood (in spades), it's not what's interesting about the film. (The Fly, from 1986, was probably the last hurrah for this theme anyway. If Cronenberg is past this, and the piss-take that is eXistenZ suggests he is, then maybe we should be as well.) What comes through, 25 years later, is the depiction of divorce as an intensely painful death spiral.

Reportedly, Cronenberg was going through a divorce when writing The Brood, and it shows. The anger and despair from Frank Carveth’s divorce is palpable, so much so that when the monsters come out, it’s less like an invasion into normal reality than the period at the end of a sentence. Yet, what makes this film so good is that the people at the center of this darkness (Frank's wife Nola, her parents Juliana and Barton) never seem like villains, just very weak and human. Even Dr. Raglan, the “cause” of the horror in the classic mad scientist mode, is sympathetic by the end. And the film is filled with little human touches that make the horror lurking under the bed even darker: Frank tucking his daughter into bed, watching over her, telling her everything will be okay; and Barton’s breakdown over his ex-wife’s death (unusually poignant for a horror film, but then, grief is rarely allowed to intrude in this genre). Hell, even the supreme gross-out at the end of the movie is based on tenderness.

I seem to be developing a new aesthetic towards horror movies. I'm finding myself more and more attracted to films that can splice together drama and horror without betraying either, unlike The Birds or a certain *cough* Project Greenlight script. The Brood is a perfect example of this ideal, where one could remove the horror element entirely from the story and it could still work, yet paradoxically, the horror element is intimately entwined with the drama.

(How does that work, you ask? Good question. I’m still puzzling over it myself. It has to do, I think, with the essential conflict of main character, Frank, and how that conflict -- he wants custody of his daughter -- is part of the drama side of the equation.)

The only weakness in The Brood is Raglan's therapy, which props up the equation's horror side. Frankly, it doesn't make a lick of sense. How exactly is it supposed to be helpful, moreso than, say, a punching bag? Send your thoughtful answers to Kza, c/o this blog, the Internet, USA.

Posted by kza at 11:45 AM | Comments (4)

March 08, 2004

The Last Samurai (2003, Edward Zwick) 53

For a Tom Cruise Vanity Project, not bad. Enjoyable. A bit bloated at 2 1/2 hours, but again, Vanity Project. Good job with the fight scenes. Interesting: a story about an American accepting Japanese values, featuring sword fights that attempt to respect spatial continuity in the Asian style, as opposed to the Way of Bay. (Not always successful -- thanks for the slo-mo replay, btw -- but the attempt is there.) Playing the Nerd Card: it made me want to play the Legend of the Five Rings collectible card game, and making me want to play a game is a special merit badge that few films attain.

Posted by kza at 11:21 AM

project greenlight 3 (update #7)

Congratulations to my friends Todd and Brendan on an excellent Director Contest entry. I think they have a real shot for the big prize. Truly impressed, guys. Good luck!

Posted by kza at 11:05 AM

March 05, 2004

Japanese Story (2003, Sue Brooks) 15

I could say a lot about this. I could talk about how there is absolutely no chemistry between Toni Collette and Gotaro Tsunashima, rendering their developing relationship more hypothetical than anything else. I could mention that Mr. Tsunashima shows no charisma whatsoever, not neccessarily a shortcoming in general, but deadly for movie about two people falling for each other. I could explain why the direction is uninspired at best, content with easy signifiers (loneliness = eating baked beans alone, grief=crying and hitting the bathroom wall). I could say that the super-secret, don't-tell-your-friends-make-them-see-it-cuz-it-worked-for-The Crying Game twist actually works, at least for a couple minutes, before it becomes apparent that the twist is a lazy screenwriter's gambit, and they got nothin' left, leaving the film to spin its wheels in the red dust for the remaining time. I could mention how the performance of the guy playing Baird is atrocious, all capital letter ACTING, and go on to detail a theory that good Australian acting is an oxymoron (and I like Collette and Geoffrey Rush).

But instead, I'll leave the final word to my wife, Aza, a veritable fount of wisdom:

"It was kind of like Gerry, only the opposite."

Posted by kza at 11:26 AM

March 02, 2004

Probot, "Probot" (2004)

Hey, he loved him some music, too.

This the first CD I've purchased from an actual, physical store in...God, I have no idea how long. Not long ago, my UK correspondent Mary gave, that's right, gave, me her 10 GB iPod. Now, if you know anything about iPods, you know that once stuff goes on, it can't come off -- it gets erased. Fortunately, I know people, and was able to strip the iPod of all her music and put it on my computer. (I'm still going through it all.) Anyway, the point is, between the iPod and some of my friends, there's been very little need to buy any music for a long time. Not so much because I can get anything I might want (although I probably could), but because I have enough to keep me busy for months, what with people throwing Red Kross, The New Pornographers, Kings of Leon, Dizzee Rascal, The Postal Service and The Shins at me, not to mention the ever-lovin' Beatles. (Soon, Martin, soon.)

But a few days ago, I bought the new Dave Grohl metal-fest Probot. I'm really, really digging it. It makes me feel like I'm 15 again. Not that I really listened to this kind of underground metal when I was 15; I was mostly into Ministry and Metallica then. (Actually, I was also really into the obscure British metal band Sabbat as well, but they were apparently under Grohl's radar. Maybe Martin Walkyier will pop up on Probot 2.) I read a review somewhere that said that only the first four songs are good; this is horse crap. In fact, song #4, "Access Bablyon" with Mike Dean, is the weakest track here. (I'm not much into straight thrash, generally.) My favorite is #5, in fact: "Silent Spring" with Kurt Brecht of D.R.I., a catchy, shout-along bit of metal. If by the end of the song, you're not yelling "NO!" along with Brecht, what the hell's the matter with you?

In fact, I think I prefer some of the slower numbers here, like Lee Dorrian's "Ice Cold Man" and Wino's "The Emerald Law" to the faster numbers that are front-loaded on the disc. Another highlight is "My Tortured Soul", which features Eric Wagner, probably the best straight-up singer on the album. I'm imagine most will diss it because, well, it could be a Foo Fighters song. That'd be a shame, cuz it's a great song.

Finally, it must be revealed that Jack Black makes an appearance at the very end, with a hidden song that I guess is called "I Am The Warlock". Imagine a more serious Tenacious D, without any acoustic guitar, getting in touch with their inner Satanic cultist. Yes, it's still hilarious.

Posted by kza at 10:45 AM | Comments (2)

March 01, 2004

The Barbarian Invasions (2003, Denys Arcand) 75

I'm quipless too, Martin. Wait, how about: I didn't realize Scott Thompson's Uptight Straight Guy had a soul!

This is a pretty good movie, folks. Good script that doesn't try to make anyone "right" -- in fact, both the "sensual socialist" Rémy and his son, Sébastien, the "puritanical capitalist" can be insufferable, and it's a credit to the script and the actors that I never lost sympathy for them. As a writer, I'm still trying to figure out what exactly Arcand does to make all the characters, even the minor ones, feel so well-drawn. (Certainly one of his best choices is to give Sébastien's fiancé a job and make her good at it.)

If it's "only" a good movie and not a great one (and good ones are so hard to find), it's because I'm not sure groups of friends, however close, have such witty and profound conversations in real life. And on the big screen, listening to these ex-radicals from the sixties talk about blowjobs, it can get a bit twee. But then again, maybe that's the price that's paid to establish a strong rapport between these friends.

Posted by kza at 12:14 PM | Comments (1)