Last night I enjoyed being on an Oscar panel at the Writer’s Store (a terrific store with wonderful film folks) in LA with three other writers of film books: Chris Riley The Hollywood Standard – 2nd edition, Marcie Begleiter From Word to Image 2nd edition, and Michael Hauge Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds, and moderator-writer Chris Vogler The Writer’s Journey 3rd edition.
Marcie got the discussion off to a stimulating start by talking about reading the screenplay of The Hurt Locker. The scriptwriter describes the landscape as “brown on brown.” She counted the colors mentioned in the script: white and brown dominate and green is entirely missing. I had never thought much about the color palette of a movie and what is says about the character and now will be more aware.
During my introductory remarks I talked about how the editor is the last storyteller on a movie. Chris Riley followed this up by instructing screenwriters to put character, place, and plot on the page so that producers can visualize the film and that dialogue is less important in a script or movie, though it should be well-written.
Here are the discussions that most intrigued me:
Themes of this year’s Oscar nominees
I deciphered two themes and the panel agreed:
1) Cultural diversity whether on another planet as in Avatar and Up, in another country The Hurt Locker, in the U.S. Precious, The Blind Side, and Up in the Air or in the future, District 9.
2) The fettered 1960s and how people dealt with them: An Education, A Single Man, and A Serious Man.
Themes of the future
In the face of our stuttering at home with economic woes and reform attempts and abroad as a leader, I foresaw four types of movies:
1) Certainty: Good, old American values about winning, overcoming adversity and kicking ass like in The Blind Side, and Precious.
2) History: Reflecting on, taking comfort in, or re-writing history a la Inglourious Basterds.
3) Fantasy/escape – there will always be thrillers and action movies.
4) Exploratory: Probing our world like Up in the Air. I thought this movie took an incisive look at what our modern devices, air travel, and motivational speakers can produce. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has a cell phone yet isn’t connecting with anyone, is a fanatical frequent flyer who’s going nowhere fast, and asks “What’s in your backpack?” as he’s becoming increasingly lost in his own life. And a computer is threatening to take over his high flying job of laying people off for “rightsizing” corporations.
U.S. vs. European films
Chris Volger talked about how U.S. films demand an upbeat ending and eschew tragedies. European films, on the other hand, accept tragedy and often have ambiguous endings. Michael Hauge brought statistics on box office grosses and pointed out that this year’s cinematic crop trended toward a European or international style by not yielding to simple happy endings.
Rhythm and pacing trends in movies
Also, the question of rhythm and pacing in films came up. I’ll delve into this and talk about an interesting new article from APS (Association for Psychological Science) after concluding my series on comedy editing – unless something cuts in the meantime!