All entries for Tuesday 18 October 2005

October 18, 2005

Two Rules To Being A Great Film Director

I once quoted Yasmin Ahmad quoting a Thai director about what it takes to be a great director, where the answer was script and casting.

Turns out that the director George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid) said the exact same thing more than twenty years ago. (Taken from William Goldman's Adventures In The Screen Trade.)

The principle job of a director is to first get his script and get it right and get it playable and get it almost foolproof. Then his job is to cast it as perfectly as he can. If he does those two things, he can phone in the direction, because it doesn't make any difference, his work is eighty percent done.

I have a feeling he wasn't the first to have said it.

Script and casting.

Script and casting.

Script and casting.

Script and casting …

Film Reality

As the mind continues its stubborn silence, I decided to have a read on one of the most widely read books on Hollywood – William Goldman's Adventures In The Screen Trade: A Personal View Of Hollywood. Goldman was one of Hollywood's top writers - he wrote such classics as Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, All The President's Men, The Princess Bride, Misery and A Bridge Too Far, and his experiences told here are certainly interesting and revealing as to how Hollywood spins around itself.

So anyway, he was telling of the making of A Bridge Too Far, directed by no other than Britain's Sir Richard Attenborough. It was a movie he was very proud of, because he was proud of his work, because Attenborough was the nicest person he's worked with, because none of the stars (and they had 14 in the film) misbehaved, because he had one of the most daring producers working for him – and because the film did so well everywhere around the world. The film basically tells of one of the most heroic WWII tales involving British soldiers – the Battle of Arnhem. Unusually other parts of the world got to see the movie first and word of mouth was really good.

Goldman was sure his own countrymen would love it.

US film critics thought the movie was incredible and unbelievable. In the perjorative sense. They didn't like it.

Now, reality in films are different from reality in, well, the real world. When you're watching reality in film = reality in real world … of course, you'd be watching a documentary. You can't really tell stories through a documentary … not in the same way a movie does that job at any case. Besides, that's not the point for a documentary.

What this points out is the fact that there is such a thing as reality in films, and it is something that every writer and director must pay attention to. Note that that doesn't mean all films have to be film-realistic. Take Charlie's Angels or Lord Of The Rings, for example. It isn't realistic. We all know it. But it doesn't matter.

But it does matter a lot when you are trying to re-enact a historical or biographical story (though not limited to those … dramas and even comedies need film reality to work sometimes). You can't have planes flipping over a few times stylistically when telling a true story. (Wait … that happened in Pearl Harbor … my bad …)

The problem is, that old cliche 'truth is stranger than fiction' can be true, and when that happens – your audience just refuses to believe what's happening onscreen.

The fucking audience refuses to believe what the filmmakers are telling them in a story. And they don't like the story for that.

Another example: Apollo 13. In the director's commentary, Ron Howard told about how film critics refused to believe certain scenes in the film, most prominently the scene where Marilyn Lowell loses her wedding ring in the shower on the very day the mission is to take flight.

But it happens to be true.

And Apollo 13 happens to be, in my opinion, the most faithful film adaptation of a real life event.

Fucking film critics.

Now, relating that to the story I'm writing. How real do I make it? In a way it doesn't matter, coz, well, I'm doing a drama about student life in uni. And then there's the physically impossible element of everyday being different. I don't have to be realistic, do I?

But I want to be. I'm beginning to realise that I'm a serious perfectionist when it comes to writing scripts (how long that will last, I dunno … inevitably writers crack when producers blackmail them to write something they want or be fired/lose money). And for this one, my first one, the stakes are all that much higher – it is an indication of my style, my personality, the kind of product I produce.

And I've decided that the story must seem real, at the very least, so that to differentiate it from all other student productions. It's about planting a real life (but likable) character in a situation that has a probability of happening of exactly nil.

So I do have to think about reality in film. And to realise that it's different from reality in the real world. At the moment, that sounds like it means I can't write anything unusual.

But, things that are unusual are what makes stories interesting, unexpected.

I feel like my hands are tied.

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