Wednesday, 20 September 2017

James Cagney and Bob Hope

This great dance and comedy routine is taken from The Seven Little Foys (1955). Who knew Bob Hope could dance?

First posted: 10 May 2014

Monday, 18 September 2017

A Celebration of the American Silent Film

This is an excellent look at the silent pictures and the stunts that made the early movies so successful. It includes interviews with many of the stunt performers of the time including Harvey Parry and Yakima Canutt. Narrated by James Mason.

First posted: 4 May 2014

Sunday, 17 September 2017

The powerful tool people forget when pitching

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She is a regular contributor to and Inc. magazine
     She recently attended the National Publicity Summit to see what it was like to be on the receiving end of the pitches. Here is her report, as published in Inc. magazine. It is not aimed at screenwriters, but you'll be able to translate the key points with a little thoughtfulness.

It was an educational afternoon. I learned that being on the receiving end of a pitching event is much less nerve-racking but much more wearing than being the one doing the pitches, because no sooner is one brief pitching session finished than someone arrives for the next one. I met about forty people, some of them authors with interesting concepts that I was happy to hear about. But to my surprise, almost no one who pitched me used what I've found to be the most powerful tool in these settings.

That tool is asking questions.

All of the people who pitched gave a description of their product or concept and why they thought it would appeal to the readership of this column, and then they waited to hear what I thought about it. None of them asked what kinds of stories I was looking for or what kinds of topics appealed most to my readers.
     Admittedly, they had only a very short time (less than three minutes!) to sell me on their ideas, and I'm sure they thought there wasn't much time for back-and-forth. But even in the shortest of pitch sessions, asking questions is a powerful and smart thing to do. Here's why:

1. You'll break the pattern of endless pitching.

A rhythm develops when you step or sit in front of someone and launch right into a spiel. Pausing to ask a question or two breaks that pattern in a good way and gives the person you're pitching a short breather from the onslaught of sales pitches. And because so few people think to ask questions in this setting, your pitch session is likely to stick in your prospect's memory.

2. You'll engage your potential customer.

"The sexiest sentence in the world is: 'Talk to me.'" A colleague of mine with a very successful track record from pitching events told me this once, and it's really stuck with me. Asking people what they want shows that you care about what they want. And most people are more open to transacting when they feel cared about.

3. You can better match the prospect's needs.

Years ago, I met with an editor from at a pitching event. I had a set of pitches about the credit card industry all ready to go, but early in the conversation, I asked the editor what she was looking for. The answer surprised me: offbeat and unusual topics.
    I didn't have one of those prepared, but I had recently been given a debit card that my bank printed while I waited and that had no raised letters or numbers. I pulled it out of my handbag and showed it to her, and asked if she'd be interested in a piece on these weird flat debit cards. She was, and her company has been a regular client ever since. If I hadn't asked, I wouldn't have known to pitch that topic and might never have landed that first assignment.

4. You won't seem in a rush to make a sale.

Veterans of pitching events all know it's extremely rare for a deal to be completed in a meeting just a few minutes long. Your objective should be to make a connection, one you can follow up later on outside of the hullabaloo of a pitching event. Asking questions signals your intention is to build that relationship rather than just make a quick deal.

5. You'll be better able to continue the conversation.

If all you've done is pitch your product or idea, then the only follow-up you're able to send is more information or a written sales pitch for that same product or company. Asking questions opens up many new possibilities. If you learn, for instance, that the person you're pitching is interested in some newly released technology, you might send an article on the topic with a note reminding your contact of your meeting. Building that kind of relationship puts you in much better shape to make an eventual sale.

6. You'll gain a competitive edge.

Looking for a way to stand out from the crowd? Many people making pitches try to make an impression with a little schwag or a slickly produced piece of literature. I like schwag as much as the next person, but to be honest, asking questions and getting to know what a prospect really wants will make you stand out much more in that person's mind than a gift of the latest cute gadget. Especially because no one else is doing it.

7. You'll make the pitch about the potential customer or investor, not you.

This is the most important reason to ask questions during a pitching session. You came to the event with one goal in mind--to sell your product or gain investment for your company. But the person sitting across from you has his or her own agenda, which may involve buying products or making investments but is certainly not the same as yours. Asking questions lets you quickly focus your interaction on fulfilling the person's needs, not yours.

And that's the quickest way to make a sale.

First posted: 2 May 2014

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Notes on Notes

Brad Riddell once taught a BFA Thesis Class at USC, which consisted of six very talented men and women, each about twenty-one years old. These writers had been in classes, workshops, and at parties together for three years. Over that time they had dated each other, broken up with each other, fought and loved each other, and at one point, when the script notes started flying, the tension popped and things got personal. He ended class immediately, called his fellow professional writers, other professors, as well as the managers, agents, producers and executives he knew, all in an effort to codify a set of principles for the process of giving and receiving notes.

These are
Brad's rules, as he wrote them in Script Magazine. He applies them, as best he can, in every creative setting involving script notes.

1.  Note givers should always begin with what they like about the work, even if it is just a single image or turn of phrase. It’s important that the good things are reinforced. We are not coddling writers; we are reinforcing and appreciating what is working so that it doesn’t get tossed.

2.  Don’t just point out problems when giving notes, but try to offer solutions with each note you give. Barring that, attempt to be as specific as possible about what is troubling you. Whether in features or TV, “working the room,” thinking on your feet, and collaborating with others to solve problems is an essential business skill. Resolving problems will get you much further than simply calling them out.

3.  The writer is interested in what you took from the material, so give him/her your interpretation and your thoughts. Questions like, “Why did you write this scene?” or “What was your intention?” shift the onus away from you. Do the work of forming a well-reasoned opinion for the benefit of the writer.

4.  Delivery is everything. Beginning a note with, “What I need to see is…” or, “You need to…,” often alienates the writer. Foster a tone of “what if” or “maybe.” Offer possibilities, not absolutes. When giving notes, do your best to remove emotion from the discussion. Be helpful, remain invested, but be as objective as possible. Avoid sarcastic, superior, and condescending tones. Such deliveries imply judgment. Receiving notes is never easy. We almost never feel good after getting notes. Do not exacerbate this problem for the writer by delivering your thoughts with an attitude.

5.  There is great benefit in riffing or brainstorming in the room. However, talking to talk, or talking in order to seem as if you are smart when you have nothing truly helpful to say, can cause dangerous digressions, waste time, and make you look inconsiderate, unprofessional, and unprepared. Better to keep listening, keep thinking, and wait until you have something clear and helpful to say.

6.  When receiving notes, a writer should employ a poker face. Looking demoralized and defeated, or acting wounded and depressed will not change a producer or agent’s mind about what they read, and it only makes you look weak. Getting angry is even worse. No rolling of eyes, scoffing, or grunting. Writers must strive to be objective about their own work. You want your story to be better. A note is not a setback, it is an opportunity to improve. Defending your material with an answer to every note comes off as uncooperative, insecure, and precious. Writers are inherently insecure people, but you must set aside fear, tuck away your ego, and listen for ways to make your movie better. The goal is to put a poster on the wall. There are always fights worth fighting, but make sure you’re not just fighting for fighting’s sake.

7.  Readers are your audience. They are visualizing a movie in their minds as they read your script. You cannot argue with the audience in a movie theater, therefore, you should not argue with your readers. They feel what they feel. Attempting to prove yourself right or someone else wrong – be it as a note taker or a note giver – simply wastes time and hinders efforts to make the script better. When receiving notes, you should be listening. You may disagree with what you’re hearing and choose to disregard it, or ask to discuss it further. That’s fine. You may also express your point of view, but arguing gains you nothing. Take the note, be grateful, and move on. If you are giving a note that is not well received, be the bigger person, consider it his/her loss, and move on.

8.  It’s not unusual for writers to develop a sense of the readers whose sensibilities match their own. This is okay! You can’t please everyone, and much of workshopping is determining what to take and what to leave. Some writers paint themselves into a corner by taking all notes, which can be as dangerous as taking none. Use your discretion.

9.  After receiving script notes, do not panic. It is wise (unless you are being pressed by a severe deadline) to leave the material for a day or two. You will find yourself in a better, more objective frame of mind to work, and therefore feel more creative when it’s time to rewrite. Large issues at the note table usually seem less daunting once the swelling has gone down, emotions have subsided, and a more distant perspective has been gained. Your logical, problem-solving brain can’t function until you’ve found a bit of peace.

10. Know when to say when. Unless you are being paid, this is your story. At some point, you have to shut out the noise and remember why you are writing this script, what it means to you, and what you want it to be. Always trust your gut first. Brains are tricksters, but guts tell the truth.

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First posted: 1 May 2014

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Akira Kurosawa - On editing

Here we have the final battle scene of Seven Samurai (1954). In an effort to better understand Kurosawa's technique, Phil Baumhardt made this analysis video, then added a commentary for the benefit of others.

First posted: 30 April 2014

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Hollywood's Golden Age

Here's a documentary about locations in Hollywood and Beverly Hills during Hollywood's "Golden Age".

First posted: 27 April 2014

Monday, 11 September 2017

'Citizen Kane'

Almost from the moment you take a serious interest in film, you start coming across references to Citizen Kane (1941). You can't avoid it. It's on every list of great films. Argue, if you will, about which is the greatest, but Citizen Kane is on your list somewhere.

All this adulation causes newbies (typically young people) to cringe when they finally get to see the actual movie. Shock! Horror! It's in B&W.

The trailer for Citizen Kane is less a sales pitch than a mystery. It shows plenty about the people behind the making of the movie but nothing from the actual film. Based solely on the trailer, you don’t know what Kane is about, short of being about a shadowy, complicated character called Kane.

Welles wasn’t just being cagey for the sake of building audience interest. He was trying to head off a fight. Though Welles publicly claimed that Kane was not about media baron William Randolph Hearst, you can hardly blame the tycoon for feeling otherwise. Hearst was a newspaper magnate with a showgirl mistress who built himself a preposterously opulent castle. Citizen Kane is about a newspaper magnate with a showgirl wife who built himself a preposterously opulent castle.

Hearst did everything he could to stop the movie’s production – and he could do quite a lot. When he failed to kill the picture by pressuring the studio, he pressured theater owners. He used his media empire to slander Welles – using the director’s complicated personal life as tabloid fodder and even implying that he was a Communist. Hearst’s campaign to discredit Welles was so successful that when the director’s name came up during the 1942 Academy Awards, it elicited boos.

If you want to get a sense of just why Citizen Kane is revered then check out this exhaustive documentary below about the film.

First posted: 24 April 2014