All entries for October 2005

October 27, 2005

It Returns

Follow-up to Where Has It Gone? from Cinematic Concerns

It occured to me today where it has gone.

It refers to the creator of interesting stories once found inside my head, but that has mysteriously disappeared these days.

Turns out it didn't disappear, per se. It just needs a catalyst to work. What catalyst?

It occured to me when I was on a train today. Went to Birmingham to get some shopping done – that and long-time-no-eat duck rice. On the way back, on the train, very naturally, a stream of ideas for a new movie came into my head – and yes, they were very interesting ideas, at least to me. And there was no struggle, it just all flowed. I was thinking, what I want to happen next, and it comes, and I think, how bout if we do this different, and I come up with a better idea – all happening within seconds. Then another. Then another.

And now I have enough material to write, oh, half a script – the general outlines of it anyway. Can it be made? Dunno, coz this one's too controversial, so I won't talk about it.

Anyways, it was when I reached home that I remembered.

I haven't traveled in a vehicle in a long time.

I used to do that in the past – a lot. That's coz my school tended to be far away from my house. During primary school I would have to take hour-long school-bus rides to get home. During secondary school we have a car-pooling system but it still takes half an hour to get back.

And it was then that my mind wanders and conjure up all these stories.

The moving images outside the window helps me think.

That was the key all along. I knew it, all this while – yet I've forgotten. I've forgotten coz when I'm staying on campus, there's never a need to get on to moving vehicles.

Now I remember.

October 25, 2005

Time For Assessment

The deadline I set for myself to complete the script is this weekend. Probability of that happening: zero. Now that is a serious claim. Probability of one dying in a plane crash is not zero. Probability of one dying along with the rest of the world due to asteroid impact is also not zero. Get the point?

So I think it is fair to bring myself down and face facts.

The script is too difficult to write – maybe it would never work, even if you give it to Kaufman or Haggis. Maybe that's how impossible it is to write the script.

Now, I don't want to say that I'm giving up. Coz then friends would be saying stuff like, oh, don't give up, just try harder, don't be so hard on yourself … I wish, I don't have any friends like that. They couldn't fucking care less what the fuck I'm doing – I'm just a laughing stock, an imbecile who wishes he could be in Hollywood and talks about films all the time; in other words, someone to avoid.

The problem could be this though – I'm supposed to be giving up, but I'm not.

Coz the fact is this – I'm beginning to think that I'm not mature enough to write this script. What, you ask – isn't this a film about a student? I think when I presented this idea to a few people, the film they imagine in their head is, yes, a student production.

Hell, no. I'd rather not do it if it turns out to be just another cheap-ass student film. Anyone can make student films. Not everyone can make a serious, mature, thought-provoking and at the same time, emotional film. Yes, this is the nature of the film I'm making. It has to be good enough that people remember it, think about it. It cannot be a forgettable story.

Which brings me to the next point. You probably read that and felt – well, yeah, everyone wants to do the best film they can. That's not the point – the problem is, I couldn't articulate the point. Half the time when I talk to people my mind goes blank. In the first place, the ideas in my head are muddled – it's like locating for stars in a galaxy: there are billions of them, but they are so far apart that you can only see one clearly at a time, and you can't see the relation and association between them unless you see the big picture; but if you finally do see the big picture, the details get obscured.

Point is, I can't talk to people articulately. How am I supposed to direct if I can't talk to people, express what is inside my head?

So basically, I can't write, and I can't direct. Maybe, maybe not. But at this point that looks to be the case.

I tried, tried so hard to think about what could happen in university – but I can't, becoz I happen to think that university is boring. Nothing much happens here. What can happen here that is dramatic? Yet real? I mean, it's so much easier for me to engineer a story about a virus spreading in the university … if I can blow up some buildings, even easier. But to write an ultra-serious story that requires dramatic moments to work, but not being able to find them coz I'm locating it in a place where nothing much interesting happens (within a day) … I'm screwed.

And, I realised, that as much as I want to make this film a bit of a thesis about why university is a complete waste of time - I can't even reason out why I dislike university so much. I know it's partly because I'm not doing as well academically as I used to be, partly because I don't have any close friends around, no one to spar and debate with on the same level, and partly because I didn't achieve anything here. But that is just me. For this film, I have to find a reason why we all don't belong here. All this while, I know that university is pointless, that we should all find different paths into our careers instead – but when I tried to find the reasons in my head:


You might say – well, that's coz you're wrong, uni is a great place, a fun place, best years of our lives, plus we need the degree to survive in the work place today – the usual cliched reasons one writes into high school-type essays.

My answer to that would be that university doesn't do a lot in terms of giving you the necessary knowledge to survive in the real world. You're here for three years and more – and what comes out of it? Thousands upon thousands of whiny graduates who lament about being in debt, at the same time lamenting that they spent too much, most of them without a clue what financial health is, hence the insecurity about debt. We're not taught the practical knowledge in schools. We have to learn them by ourselves from others who don't have much clue as well in university. Then the real learning starts in professional/unemployed life – a few years too late.

Your reasoning's flawed, you say. University can be a sort of training ground to prepare us for the real world. A time to build up networks, when we have time to do so. Who knows, the guy next to you might be an MP and might come in handy in future times? It is a time where we can make mistakes – and not having to suffer too much from it.

And there goes my flimsy reasoning right out of the window. Along with the film. Scrapped.

And yet I was so sure I had the answer to that in my head a few months ago. Serves me right for not writing it down.

So what now? Scrap it and go back to a life I hate into a future that my university education did not prepare me for because I chose to come here when I did not belong here?

I'm saying no to that. But saying isn't anything. So what if I say no to that – what am I going to do about it? Sit there for a few more months trying to think of what else I'm trying to say through my script?

Should I consider turning it into a short? Should I consider writing a new story, something easier? No, writing anything's hard. I've had this story in my head for two fucking years. Should I just abandon it?

I'm really trying to say no.

I can't do this for long. Something must happen, and soon.

(Fog of disillusionment and hopelessness sets in. Author gets buried deeper and deeper like quicksand. Slowly he begins to give up hope and accepts his death.)

October 23, 2005

The Naked Revelation

Okay, so I've been listening to Big Right from Newman's Cinderella Man, over and over again, and this idea came bubbling up … and a weird one too.

First of all, Big Right is used at the end of the film, the climax, when the protagonist winning looks like a possibility, and the entire crowd stands up and looks on in awe of something they didn't quite expect to happen happening before their eyes, some with mouths gaping. The music is uplifting, dramatic, soaring.

And the scene I have in my head, with this piece of music accommpanying, is this. The protagonist of my story, for whatever reason, begins to realise something. It is a PROFOUND realisation. And, with a DETERMINED look on his face, he begins to walk, confident stride. He takes off his jacket and flings it away. He unbuttons his clothes, still walking. He flings that away. People are beginning to notice him. His eyes are always looking to the front. He grabs his shoes and pulls out his socks, fling those as well. He pulls down his pants, and eventually his boxers - everything, gone. Flings it as hard as he can, and immediately begins to run - run to somewhere.

Does this sound dramatic? If I can provide the reasoning, does this sound like something the audience will root for, something the audience feels like clapping to? (If porn comes anywhere near this, I don't want to hear it. It's not like that. You know it.)

UPDATE: I've figured out now why the character would do that. So obvious …

Another Eureka Moment

Yes, another one has arrived, but I'm not as euphoric as the last time now. Every eureka moment is cautiously followed – I might be led down another sinkhole, another dead end. It is also a potentially liberating thread of thought.

I was thinking, what could a man without a past and a future do?

The most obvious answer is, to help people, regardless of who they are, whether you know them (chances are you don't).

But hey, noble stuff. Also the stuff that makes people go "That's incredulous!" and laugh at the screen. We have sceptics for audiences these days.

Then it hit me.

The Book Of Jonah.

Whatever his mission is – and this is the part that still needs figuring out … if a man with no past and future has to do something, what is it? if not to help others, what is it? something heroic, something decisive, something dramatic, something that the score track Big Right from Newman's Cinderella Man can support – he is running away from it, or he doesn't know what it is and is searching for it in the first half of the film.

And the climax is when he sees, clearly, what the mission is, that he has to accept it, and accepts his mission.

Now, it takes another eureka moment to get to what that mission is.

Stay tuned.

October 21, 2005

Datin Paduka Seri Endon Mahmood 1940–2005

The Malaysian First Lady passed away yesterday 0755 Malaysian time.

I didn't know about it until many hours later – when my flatmates mentioned it, casually, in passing. I read the newspaper and I get the impression that people at home are wondering whether Monday will be a holiday.

And I couldn't help but feel sad, sorrowful.

I've never met her, I've never met the PM. But I guess what made me feel sad is this – if I ever do become famous or achieve a higher status back home, I would really have liked to meet her. They say the media distorts people's perception of a person – people as portrayed by the media may not be as nice or goody-two-shoes as people think. But in this case I believe it. Because she avoided politics. She chose to stay out. She and her husband seem like the most humble people around in the higher echelons. And all these stories that came out. No different from other First Ladies around the world you might say. Or of many people who are famous.

But what came out from reading those writings about her is this – sincerity, motherly care.

So yes, I trust what the newspapers reported about her. More stories are emerging now of how reporters and politicians and normal folk remember her. The petty stuff she did for them. As well as her major charitable works (the First Lady in Malaysia naturally heads an organisation consisting of ministers' wives who work on the charitable and giving side of things).

It feels strange to be in a half mourning state for someone I don't know. And as patriotic as I consider myself to be, I would never have expected to feel this so personally.

Her last words couldn't have been more emotional. "Take care of everybody and the family."

October 20, 2005

The Music Playing Now In My Head …

… is the Mae theme from Cinderella Man by Thomas Newman.

And I can't get it out of my head.

Such a tender, poignant, yet partly heartbreaking cue.

Heartbreak and poignancy – combine those two and you're bound to make me emotional.

The Two Hollywoods

(And yet another entry with words from William Goldman. Sorry, just couldn't resist. In case this isn't clear, all the quotes are taken from Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures In The Screen Trade.)

There are really two kinds of flicks – what we now call generic Hollywood movies, and what we now call Independent films.

Hollywood films – and this is crucial to screenwriters – all have in common this: they want to tell us truths we already know or a falsehood we want to believe in.

Hollywood films reinforce, reassure.

Independent films, which used to be called "art" films, have a different agenda. They want to tell us things we don't want to know.

Independent films unsettle.

Understand, we are not talking here of art and commerce. Hollywood films can be, and often are, art. Independent films, most of them, for me anyway, are pretentious and boring.

And yes, I know my definitions are simplistic. Hollywood films can unsettle, Independent films can reassure. But in general, for this discussion, let's go with them.

One quick example to be mentioned here – Shakespeare In Love, art flick or Hollywood?

I might be tempted to say, my God, it's Shakespeare, how can it not be an art film? Plus those costumes, Dame Judi, all the other British accents. If ever there was an art film, doesn't it have to be this baby?

Not even close. Because what Shakespeare In Love tells us is that the love of a good woman makes everything wonderful. Well, I don't know about you, but I want to believe that. I want to have a shot at Gwyneth's sweet boobies, because I just know they can change the world.

… We want to believe. Life would be just so much happier a place if only that were so. But alas, it's Hollywood horseshit. (Although I sure wanted to believe it when I was in the theater.)

Does the fact of the two Hollywoods affect screenwriters? … It does and it doesn't.

It does not remotely affect how we tell our stories. It totally affects which stories we choose to tell.

Famous cartoon from fifty years back. A couple are at the original run of Death Of A Salesman. The man turns to the woman, here's what he says: "I'll get you for this!"

The point is that most of us work all day, often at something we don't much love anymore but we do it till we drop. At the end of our average days, we want peace, we want relaxation, maybe a bite of food, a few kind words. We do not want to watch Willy Loman's suicide.

What we are really dealing with when we talk of the two Hollywoods is audience size.

Most people want to be told nice things. That we really are decent human beings, that God will smile on us, that there is true love and it is waiting for you, just around the next corner. That the meek really will inherit the earth.

Most people want to be told nice things. I cannot repeat that too often to anyone who wants to screenwrite for a living. You can be Bergman if you have the talent, you can tell sad human stories – but do not expect Mr. Time Warner to give you $100 million to make your movie.

The studios are in business for only one great and proper reason – to stay in business. If you want to tell a reassuring story, no reason not to shoot for a studio flick with all the, yes, good things that entails. If you want to tell a different story, write it wonderfully but write it small. Avoid car chases and star parts and special effects.

Great careers are possible in Independent film. The Coens and John Sayles are as good as anybody operating anywhere.

Join them. God knows we can use you.

October 19, 2005

An Insight On Clint Eastwood The Director

According to William Goldman, Clint Eastwood … well, I guess the best term to describe him is efficient. No fuss. No worrying or getting anxious – just know what you want and try and achieve it, simply. At least that's the impression I get from reading the book.

Script meetings – short and to the point.

Rehearsals. Well, apparently, sometimes what he does is to tell the actor to be prepared, just go through his lines or whatever, they're busy setting up the shot. What the actor doesn't know is that, that IS the shot. (I don't really know how that could work, at least not for an independent … what happens when the actor mumbles his lines … we can't afford ADR …)

Interesting insight. I should probably do something similar. Say I want an actor to stride pass the camera – but I don't want him to lose his unique stride, since that is what I hired him for (except that he doesn't know it … behaviour like that, mention it and it's gone). So I just tell him, see that camera there? Now don't look at it. I want you to walk past without looking at it. Try and act normal. Do what you normally do. Hell, I'll walk with you. If you want, just use me as a point in front of you to concentrate on. So we walk – and of course, the camera is running.


First, though, we need a script. (Fgrjfsghmsh …)

Speaking of the script, I think I figured out now what is the 'spine' in my story that Goldman keeps referring to. It's the fact that Jeremy should leave university – he doesn't belong here. Problem is this, when I started with the idea Jeremy has always been a character who's jaded with uni life. Recently, with the decision to change his personality into someone more acceptable to the audience, i.e. someone who's not introverted, who may hate academic stuff but is very much 'in' in terms of other aspects of uni life – how can one supply a reason why he doesn't belong in uni?

Anyway, a couple more anecdotes about Eastwood. He goes into a cafetaria, and – Goldman emphasised this – gets in line for his tray. He then goes to a table and has his meal, just like anybody else.

I believe what has kept Eastwood … on top all these years is somehow (he) has clung to the truth: that in spite of all (his) fame, in spite of our millions of spins towards (stars like him), they are just like anybody else.

And when Eastwood was directing Gene Hackman …

… Hackman and I are talking and then Eastwood comes over. … Eastwood says, quietly, "We're ready for you, Gene." Hackman leaves us and Eastwood says how much he loves working with Hackman. I ask why Hackman in particular. "Because I never have to give him direction," Eastwood replied. "I like working with actors who don't have anything to prove."


P.S. – I just want to stress that this in no way demonstrates that I really really really admire Clint Eastwood. I've barely seen his films. What this shows is that Willliam Goldman really really really admires Clint Eastwood.

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.

October 2005

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