Sunday, October 30, 2011

Horror Script screenwriters hit it big time with creative strategy

For those who may not be familiar with the term, the spec script is a screenplay written under no kind of assignment other than the writer's will or need to write. Working freelance. Just like you would pen a newspaper article of your own and tried to sell it to a newspaper. Due to market dimensions and other constraints, it is not usually practiced in Europe - the auteur paradigm and the public financing system often requires that every script shall be attached to a director or a producer right from the start. On the other side of the Atlantic, not only it happens but also some of those spec scripts end up turning into some of the most successful movies of the year. Take Michael Arndt's debut with Little Miss Sunshine (won Oscar for Best Original Screenplay), Alan Ball's American Beauty (won several Oscars), Shyalaman's The Sixth Sense (nominated for several Oscars), cult erotic-thriller Basic Instict (script sold for $3 million) or Charlie Kaufman's Being John Malkovich. And did you know Quentin Tarantino didn't start his career with Reservoir Dogs but by selling two spec scripts, Natural Born Killers (to Oliver Stone) and True Romance (Tony Scott) ?

Every year, spec scripts are sold and the industry is always waiting and searching for the next writer coming up with the most amazing story of his own initiative. This time, we may be witnessing the birth of a new spec selling strategy: the spec script trailer.

Brandon Bestenheider & Allen Bey became a first-time seller team of screenwriters when recently Universal Pictures optioned their Grim Night screenplay. This is a horror film about a night that happens once a year in the whole world, when people lock themselves at home and hide from the terrifying Grims, some hooded black creatures. There you go, the strong concept, the precise genre, the probably archetypal structure, stuff that makes it different but recognizable enough for the big studios to see it as a business chance. It has been done, it worked; it has something new, people will want to watch it.

But do you wonder how did this two guys pitch this to the agents ? Do you imagine how they articulated the synopsis, how they structured the presentation, if they embarrassedly choked at some point ? Brandon and Allen did something much more effective. They got themselves a movie camera, some costumes and some friends and shoot a spec script trailer of what they wrote and wanted to sell. Check it out bellow.

Remember James Curran, from some posts back, who created those amazing The Adventures of Tintin opening credits and now is going to work for Steven Spielberg ? Well, that's it. Be creative. And thrive.

Guess who is the new Lara Croft

In 2001 and 2003, Angelina Jolie, freakin' badass then, assumed the role of the adventurer treasure hunter, millionaire gun skilled, heavy sexy, Lara Croft, directly from videogame Tomb Raider.

Well, things have changed. Impersonating Dr. Remy "Thirteen" Hadley in House MD gave this girl the greatest acting boost from TV series to Hollywood we've seen in recent times, starring on major budget productions such as the Tron saga and Cowboys and Alliens. They certainly saw her as a literal woman of arms, combining fierce beauty with sensual toughness. Now, they decided to take their bet one step further and gave her the first giant role of her life. Ladies and gentleman, Olivia Wilde is Lara Croft (Mark Fergus will be directing; no schedule yet).

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Be great and go work for Spielberg; New Michael Arndt project and other news

The most inspiring news of the week, and we could stretch the timeline, is that of hitherto unknown designer James Curran from now on being part of Steven Spielberg's team. Inspired by the release of the director's most recent feature, The Adventures of Tintin, he decided to create a fan-made opening credit sequence, based on the whole characters and adventures by the Belgian strips. I had the pleasure to watch it a few days before the assignment went public (perhaps even before Spielberg watched it himself) and I remember thinking that had this guythe right opportunity in Hollywood, he would certainly be up to the task. Two days later, the news came out: James Curran will be working on the sequel, already written, which will be produced by Steven and directed by Peter Jackson.

After scoring a terrific 104-episodes feedback, Disney Channel animated TV series Phineas and Ferb is climbing up to the big screen. The great news is that Oscar-winner Michael Arndt ("Little Miss Sunshine" and "Toy Story 3") will be re-writing the draft handled by the creators. Praised for its sharp sense of humor (a clever show for kids), tells the story of three siblings and their undercovered agent pet, dwelting on their particularly creative summertime adventures.

Keeping track on the world of animation films, The Muppets promotion continues to troll... the whole world of movies. This time, they mock "Going in the Distance", "Happy Feet", "Paranormal Activity", "Twilight", among others.

After producing, writing, directing and staring box-office success ($154 million) The Town, Ben Affleck was allotted another Boston backdroped film, the story of Whitey Bulgar, one of the most wanted man by the FBI until last year (when he was 81 years old). But this time, he will only co-produce, co-write and direct. First, this is good because there is a difference between the helmer Affleck and the actor Affleck. Second, this is good because the other halves will be filled by his longtime friend and partner, Matt Damon, who will also star as main character. The two first collaborated in 1995-1997, writing Good Will Hunting for which they won Best Original Screenplay and blossomed as some of Hollywood's most promising talents.

Finally, Robert De Niro may be making that comeback to decent roles we've been waiting for so long. Sean Penn will be directing The Comedian, with the great character psychological depth and balance between external and inner struggle driving the film. Sounds pretty different from Little Fockers.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

After the phone call that never was, Sorkin may be scripting Steve Jobs biopic

Two of the most recent posts I put in here, one about a Steve Jobs biopic coming onto the screen, the other about the phone call Aaron Sorkin never made, didn't quite anticipated the connection. Coincidences are a funny thing but this one has a lot more to had. You see, not only is here this sudden emotional limb to be forged for marketing purposes, but we're actually talking about one of the greatest contemporary screenwriters who, even more curiously, has just stepped into the Kodak Theater for receiving an Oscar for writing about the technology revolutionary genius, Mark Zuckerberg. This is still only a rumor but Sorkin will probably be interested in a project with huge apriori hype, first class material about such a, and might feel to be dialing those numbers after all. As for now, I am eager to watch Moneyball, directed by Bennet Miller, with Brad Pitt, co-written by him and Shindler's List Steve Zailian.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival: High expectations for huge premieres

Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival opens on November 4th with a great line-up, chiefly because of some of the most awaited premieres of the year - movies that made it to Cannes and Venice and that will, most of them, possibly be a part of the Academy's counts. Other spotlights go to Wes Craven's retrospective and William Friedkin's homage, with French Connection, Bug and others (wonder why they won't play The Exorcist).

Everything gets warmer because of some pretty promising masterclasses, that will have a tough job on making it to the level of last year's Abbas Kiarostami and John Malkovich/Stephen Frears. I am talking about cult-filmmaker David Cronenberg ("The Fly", "History of Violence"), Oscar-nominated actor Paul Giamatti ("Cinderella Man", "Sideways") and worldwide renowned playwright Yasmina Reza, author of God of Carnage, the play Roman Polanski adapted into Carnage this year, starring Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilley and Kate Winslet. You can check the program in here and I lay down my personal biggest expectations right bellow.

DRIVE, Nicolas Winding Refn (2011).

CARNAGE, Roman Polanski (2011).

THE IDES OF MARCH, George Clooney (2011).

THE SKIN I LIVE IN, Pedro Almodóvar (2011).

DANGEROUS METHODS, David Cronenberg (2011).

MELANCHOLIA, Lars von Trier (2011).

KILLER JOE, William Friedkin (2011).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The phone call Aaron Sorkin never returned

« “Why don’t you come on up here and let me give you a tour of the place.”

I’d never met Steve Jobs but we’d begun a phone friendship. It began when I was quoted somewhere answering the question “Mac or PC?” and I said, “Everything I’ve ever written, I’ve written on a Mac.” He called me to say he appreciated the quote and said if there was ever anything he could do for me I should give him a ring. Then he would "call me from time to time to compliment me on an episode of television or a movie I’d written that he’d particularly liked.

When someone’s making a courtesy call I like not to make them stay on the phone very long. So I never got a chance to tell Steve that he was making truly great American products that people wanted to buy. I never got to tell him about the experience of “opening the box” that so many of us are talking about this week. Or about how my young daughter can’t walk past an Apple store without going in. I never told him how I loved his sense of showmanship.

There’s a huge difference between a showman and huckster. A showman’s got the goods.

The second-to-last call I got from Steve came the day a television series of mine was canceled. “I just want to make sure you’re not discouraged,” he said. Why would an almost stranger take even 60 seconds out of his day to make that call? It had to have been because he was an awfully nice man. And that he knew what it felt like to blow it on a big stage.

But it’s his last call I’ll always remember. He wanted me to write a Pixar movie. I told him I loved Pixar movies, I’d seen all of them at least twice and felt they were small miracles, but that I didn’t think I’d be good at it.

STEVE: Why not?

ME: I just—I don’t think I can make inanimate objects talk.

STEVE: Once you make them talk they won’t be inanimate.

ME: The truth is I don’t know how to tell those stories. I have a young kid who loves Pixar movies and she’ll turn cartwheels if I tell her I’m writing one and I don’t want to disappoint her by writing the only bad movie in the history of Pixar.

(long silence)

STEVE: Jeez ... write about THAT.

ME: Steve—

STEVE: Why don’t you come up here and let me give you a tour of the place.

I told him I’d take him up on it and I never did. But I still keep thinking about that Pixar movie. And for me, that’s Steve’s legacy. That, and the fact that I wrote this on a Mac that I loved taking out of the box. »

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Woody Allen has new title for his Roman feature

Right after releasing his highest-grossing film of all-time in Cannes this year, Woody Allen flew to Rome to start preparing his next feature work about an European city. Although script details are not from public knowledge yet, it is expected to be his usual romantic existentialist comedy melting with the traditional commedia all'italiana style. For that he gathered an extraordinary cast: himself, Penélope Cruz ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), Jesse Eisenberg ("The Social Network"), Alec Baldwin ("30 Tock" series), Ellen Page ("Juno"), Roberto Begnini ("Life is Beautiful"), among others. Until now, the film was being sold has Bop Decameron, for Woody first intended to tell a modern version of Giovanni Bocaccio's The Decameron, tales of erotic, tragic and satirical love journeys. The story ended up following a different path and yesterday the production announced the author changed the title to Nero Fiddled, referencing the famous expression "Nero fiddled while Rome burned". After watching Midnight in Paris, can't wait to see if Woody will keep up the expectations.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Steve Jobs will have his life on film

“Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?

Sony Pictures is very few takes away from cracking the deal for telling the inspiring life story of the late master of innovation, Steve Jobs. The studio that last year geared the successful The Social Network, an adaptation of a biography about the young genius Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's father, is about to sign with Walter Isaacson for the adaptation of the first authorized biography about the Apple co-founder and father of Pixar Studios. I will be posting the details.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Artist (2011): a silent film that will echo in time

In an era of profuse technological progress, with remarking parallels in history, the film industry is boxing its frames into our homes with distinctive quality, sharpness and novelty extras (blu-ray), while at the same time the community cibernetically assaults their delivery trucks and unboxes them into our homes for distinctive camaraderie and share. Things are changing in the movie business and have been for a few years now, as home video screening sessions have risen as some of the highest accommodation and entertainment patterns. Things are changing too when the first culmination point hits The Artist's characters and although the world would never go back to silent films, we still have one steady buried foot on the somewhat sandy shore of theatrical exhibition. Let you get the other foot and make that step back this time, drive yourself to a cinema and don't waste this experience on a tiny-inch screen.

Hazanavicious' film, which I so far consider the strongest possible 2012 Oscar contender (three actors, script, directing, cinematography, editing, music), is an homage to the first years of this baby art-form stamped as the seventh. It is genuine and marvelously dignifying, without being flamboyant, and brings a pedagogical expectation of arousing in a mass audience the taste for the history of film. Maybe that's one of the reasons why the director worked a style I'd say takes so much of the classics (beginning credits, the smooth backlighted editing in the conversations, the wonderful montage sequences) as of their followers (the perfect Dutch shots or that extraordinary 180º swivel shot to the little whiskey puddle).

Being technically exquisite (the black and white, how the editing works the reactions or how the camera swifts focus with an impressive smoothness), this is also a very compelling story. As a global object, it is the typical melodrama of the time, told in a classic, simple, clear, three-act way (we have the cute dog character, a family movie element). However, the stones that lift this piece are the details on the set and characters (take the treatment of the Peppy's "birthmark"), the intelligent and delightful although few inter titles (the woman that regrets that the dog doesn't speak), the good rhythm and the great scenes (Peppy and Valentino meet each other's legs; P and V's coat; P and V dancing scene takes; V's dream sequence; the fire; and so many others). I'm missing the amazing cast, which wouldn't have done without the very well written characters. Jean Dujardin, brilliant, interprets a falling silent movie star, who I believe is loosely inspired on the figure of Douglas Fairbanks (the physical similarities; Valentino played Zorro and when Zimmer calls him to give the bad news he seems to be playing a musketeer, being that Fairbanks both starred as Zorro and D'Artagnan). Bérénice Bejo, also extraordinary, plays a rising sound film star and they're backed up by the great John Goodman as a film producer as well as by a very nice cameo by Malcom McDowell.

Last night was a solemn moment of connection with the past, with a Golden Age, as Woody Allen would've noticed, a feeling maybe enhanced by the enormous, carved, red benched room and by the introduction by a colored restored version of George Méliés' A Trip to the Moon. Reminder of other great films, such as Billy Wilder's Sunset Blv. The silence, the mimics, the grimaces and mugging, will echo as the bells of an old church would still peal after one hundread years of muteness. And let us hope one day we won't watch a film about the transition from huge screens to TV screens or from 2D to 3D. But then again, am I sounding as those early withholders ?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Arronofsky secures financing for "Noah's Arc"

After months of battling to get financing for his dream project, an epic about the flooding wrath of God upon the World as transcribed in the biblical charters, Black Swan director has finally set up on wheels the pre-production of this big-budget film. Noah's Arc will be produced by Paramount Pictures and by New Regency and previous rumors had already stated that screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator) is going to pen the writing done earlier by Arronofsky himself. Same sources announce Christian Bale may be Noah. Similarly to The Fountain, this film has a graphic novel as a background, also created by the director (artwork by Nico Henrichon).

Sunday, October 2, 2011