Screenwriters Talk and Bloggers Blog

Thanks to blogger Sim at Chapter 1-Take 1 for the heads-up, I watched the whole 54 mins. of The Writers Roundtable via Hollywood Reporter. Gearing up for the upcoming Awards Season, these Roundtable talks give us a chance to hear some possible award contenders talk about their craft. I’m particularly drawn to the writers.

“No great film would have been possible without a great screenplay.” That’s how the clip begins. Sitting around a table to discuss their experience are some of this year’s acclaimed screenwriters.

The panel includes (In alphabetical order of the movie title):

John Ridley: 12 Years a Slave
Julie Delpy: Before Midnight
Nicole Holofcener: Enough Said
Jonas Cuaron: Gravity
Danny Strong: Lee Daniel’s The Butler
George Clooney and Grant Heslov: The Monuments Men (release date has since been delayed till next Feb.)

There are lots of interesting exchanges, and it’s refreshing to hear them talk uncensored and unscripted. Take for example the following dialogue relating to independent writing vs. writing for studio:

HR (Hollywood Reporter): Have you written any studio films?
Holofcener: Only for money (chuckle from somewhere). I mean like, not for myself.

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HR (to all): Do you like writing?
Strong: I do. I really enjoy it. I spent years as an actor. You just can’t go do it. You get hired to do it, so I started writing, to get my mind off the auditions…
Holofcenter: What if you can’t act, and you can’t write?
Clooney: You direct.

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There are lengthy discussions on the issue of historical accuracy, the truths vs. dramatization. I feel this is the hot topic lately, with The King’s Speech a couple years ago, to last year’s torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty, the accuracy of Argo, and this year’s Captain Philips, and Lee Daniel’s The Butler.

Here’s The Butler‘s screenwriter Danny Strong’s defence:

Strong: Well, in the case of The Butler, I made very clear that this was a fictionalization. So much so that I changed the character’s name to Cecil Gaines in the hope of saying: “This isn’t Eugene Allen. This is something else.” But the history in the film is all true…”

And then comes Clooney’s allegation unplugged.

Clooney: This is a new thing, by the way. This is all, like, bloggers — if that existed when Lawrence of Arabia came out, believe me, Lawrence’s own autobiography would not hold water. Patton wouldn’t. You can go down the list of movies — Gandhi — these movies are entertainment… These are not documentaries. You’re responsible for basic facts. But who the hell knows what Patton said to his guys in the tent?

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Whoa… bloggers? Thank goodness, bloggers get a chance to prod screenwriters to dig deeper into their facts, even if fiction is to be made from them. Because of bloggers, viewers can sharpen their senses to not just accept the dramatization as facts. Because of bloggers posting about movies, people are made more aware of historical events and background info. I see not all sites do, but the ones I frequent can have the effect of honing one’s judgement and critical thinking, even (maybe more so) when opinions differ. How we need these skills as we watch movies nowadays instead of just being passively entertained (or not).

Thanks George, for spelling out the importance of the work bloggers do.

You’re right too, George, because of the blogosphere, filmmakers now have to deal more rigorously (or, don’t they?) with the dichotomy between truth and fiction, historical accuracy and dramatization. Yes, the butler Cecil Gaines is a fictional character, but there are many real historical figures in that story context… like, say… Ronald Reagan, whose son Michael Reagan had protested against the film for painting his father with a racist brush.

As someone with a half-baked screenplay in the closet, I know how hard it is to even get to finish the first draft, and after that, hopefully, find someone qualified and experienced enough to read it and advise on rewrite. Then you go and rewrite, and rewrite some more. So I’m all respectful for all who can not only sell their spec script but actually see it produced, and not only produced, but distributed and shown on our theater screens. That’s why I attempt at every review with appreciation and humility.

At the same time, I’m also glad to see that the blogosphere has leveled the playing field for opinions and critiques, for accountability, and for creative expressions with checks and balances. I don’t see an end to the dichotomy between fact and dramatization, accuracy and entertainment, but at least we are free to challenge and critique. Don’t forget, George, bloggers are also the ones ready to defend and promote worthy productions. All for the better.

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Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Before Midnight: Reality Check

The King’s Speech: Fact and Fiction

Zero Dark Thirty and Argo

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2012 Golden Globes Results

Some of the major winners at the 69th Golden Globes Awards last night.

  • Best Motion Picture – Drama: The Descendants
  • Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical: The Artist
  • Best Actress – Drama: Meryl Streep (Iron Lady)
  • Best Actor – Drama: George Clooney (The Descendants)
  • Best Actress – Comedy or Musical: Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)
  • Best Actor – Comedy or Musical: Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
  • Best Director – Motion Picture: Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
  • Best Screenplay – Motion Picture: Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris

I must say I’m not too excited about this year’s Golden Globes to start with. Main reason: how can they totally snub Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life? Not even one single nomination for that epic production! I hope the Academy Awards can correct that negligence.

But I’m glad though for The Artist winning Best Picture, Comedy or Musical. It offers me a unique experience: watching a silent movie made in 2011 in the theatre, a successful, nostalgic attempt paying homage to the golden era of Hollywood. Last night, Uggie got a chance to share the spotlight.

Michelle Williams is impressive as Marilyn Monroe. Just a look at her at the Golden Globes and you’ll know how acting and make-up can create a whole world of difference. The transformation of an understated actor into a legendary personality in a dreamscape is what’s so magical about the cinema.

     

George Clooney is good in The Descendants, a showcase for his acting talent. You can actually see a tear welling up in his eye then flow slowly down his cheek to the tip of his nose. That scene is so deeply imprinted in my memory.

Haven’t seen Iron Lady yet, but what I remember from last night Meryl Streep winning Best Actress is her presenter, the inimitable, ever poised (even more so this time… marvellous result of some great workout?): Colin Firth.

And last but not least, excited to see Woody Allen once again getting recognized for his talent, albeit not in directing, still a worthy nod, winning Best Screenplay with Midnight In Paris. And I must mention this: not too long ago I read a book entitled Insanity Defense: The Complete Prose by Woody Allen. In it I read a story called “A Twenties Memory”.  O what a discovery! Of course! This piece of writing dating back to 1971 must be the original spark that later materialized into the script for Midnight In Paris, some forty years later. CLICK HERE to read “A Twenties Memory”. This just shows it’s never too late to bring ingenuity to life.

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For a full list of nominations and winners, CLICK HERE.

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Up In The Air (2009)

UPDATE February 21: Up In The Air just won Best Adapted Screenplay at the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Awards.   CLICK HERE TO READ MORE.

UPDATE February 2nd OSCARS NOMINATIONS:  Up In The Air has been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in the coming 82nd Academy Awards.  Jason Reitman gets a nod in the directing category, George Clooney in the Best Actor category, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick for Best Actress.  Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner also received nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

UPDATE January 17th: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner have just won the Best Screenplay Award at the Golden Globes tonight.

Now that we’ve entered the new year, the awards season has arrived.  Only two weeks to go before the Golden Globes presentation, and about a week after that the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the buzz now is around the nominees.  And this one is a good start for the new year.

Watching Up In The Air is like reading an O. Henry story.  The twist at the end makes it hauntingly poignant. But O. Henry probably would not have imagined that a story could be told in such a visually dynamic way.

Following Oscar nominated Juno (2007) and Golden Globe nom Thank you for Smoking (2005), director Jason Reitman, together with screenwriter Sheldon Turner, have created a screen adaptation of Walter Kirn’s novel.  Reitman has crafted an apt and relevant contemporary tale with just the right pacing, suitable for those too rushed to stop for a story.  I’m sure they’ll enjoy this one.

‘I fly, therefore I am’ … that could well be the philosophical stance of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney).  He flies from city to city, doing something most bosses shy away from: laying off people.  Apparently Ryan loves his job.  It gives him the reason to be constantly on the go. One time on the plane, he is asked “Where are you from?’  With just the slightest hesitation, he answers: “Here.”

Ryan Bingham is also a motivational speaker.  He brings a backpack to the podium, an object lesson too vivid to ignore:  the more you put in, things and people the same, the heavier it’ll get, the more bogged down you’ll be.  His warning to his audience: ‘The slower we move, the faster we die.’  He’s the guru of non-committal living.

Goerge Clooney is perfectly cast as Ryan Bingham.  His suave, urbane sophistication is tailor-made for the role. Add in the nonchalant nuances, no wonder his performance earns him a nom for the Golden Globe.

But just when Ryan is performing so well with his air ballet — even his carry-on-suitcase-packing manuevers look sleek and stylish, thanks to some fascinating series of shots — Ryan gets notification that he’ll soon be grounded. Thanks to newly hired, Cornell grad Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), who has developed a video conferencing system for the company, Ryan can now do his job without leaving his office.

To phase in, Ryan is to bring Natalie along to familiarize her with his job.  It’s most amusing to watch the foil between the experienced and the naive, the callous and the tender.  At the same time, the plot thickens as Ryan meets another frequent flyer, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), in a hotel lounge.  Meeting Alex, who seems to share his airborne lifestyle, Ryan’s outlook on life soon faces a major turnaround.

As the film unfolds, you’ll find the title ‘Up In the Air’ not so much refers to the obvious: air travel, but a more metaphorical meaning.  It points to the existential limbo in which we sometimes find ourselves, always moving but never arriving, constantly twirling in the transitory, never coming to a rest.

Further, the film deftly deals with the questions most relevant to us all:  Is the rootless and ungrounded life worth living?  Does the ‘airborne’ phenomenon define the modern man/woman? What makes life meaningful after all?

The dramedy explores these issues without being didactic.  You’d be gratified to see Ryan’s awakening, and empathize with his situation as his path twists and turns.  With its slick editing, catchy music, witty dialogues, and great acting, the movie offers some worthwhile and enjoyable entertainment.

Up In The Air is nominated for 6 Golden Globes: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress (both, Farmiga against Kendrick), and Best screenplay.  I think this will be a strong contender comes January 17th, and will likely soar to the Oscars.

As to which O. Henry story particularly stood out in my mind as I was watching the movie? Without giving out any spoilers, let me just say: when we know we need to change, let’s just hope that we’d get the chance to do so.

~ ~ ~ Ripples