Category Archives: Writing

Remembering John Hughes

Let me start by saying that though I am a child of the 80’s, my early adolescence was not shaped by the films of John Hughes (after all, I was only four when The Breakfast Club first hit theaters) that are so often referenced as generation-defining films.  My childhood certainly was marked with films he wrote (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, Uncle Buck, etc.) and I have had the opportunity in more recent years to see and fall in love with many of his classic, often iconic, always quotable films.

Since his passing a little over a week ago, there have been a number of tributes posted online in various forms.  I’ve decided that rather then try to write pages of memories and remembrances about where I was when I saw which film, I’d link to a few of the favorite tributes I’ve seen over the last week.

One of the best (and from what I can tell, one of the most referred to) tributes is “Sincerely, John Hughes“.  I’ve seen several links and references to it on different sites over the last few days.  It’s a wonderful recounting of a series of letters written between the author (while she was a teenager) and Hughes between the years 1985 and 1987.

Hughes wrote the film, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and (and this was something I didn’t even know until a couple days ago) it was based on a short story he originally wrote for the National Lampoon magazine called, “Vacation ’58”.  If you’re interested in reading the original short story (and I definitely recommend that you do – it had me laughing out loud at several points), you can find it here.

Eric Hynes gives a wonderful commentary on both Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and why the proliferation of VCR’s in the 80’s made it possible for teenagers to embrace and own (both physically and metaphorically) John Hughes’ films to an even greater extent.

The Mystery Man on Film has posted a list with links to five of John Hughes screenplays including National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and Home Alone.

Finally, what tribute collection would be complete without a tribute video.  To that end I leave you with this: a 1991 tribute video made for Hughes when he was named Producer of the Year by the National Association of Movie Theater Owners (having just produced Home Alone).

The Beginning of Indiana Jones

This is fantastic.  Someone somewhere came across a 125 page transcript of the story meeting between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Laurence Kasdan when they first sat down to brainstorm and create “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and the character of Indiana Jones.  That same someone then scanned it all to a pdf and posted a link to it here, so that the rest of us could enjoy it.

I’m still working my way through it, but it is wonderful to be a virtual fly on the wall as Lucas & Spielberg dream and plot their way through the characters and story ideas that would become “Raiders” (as well as a bunch of ideas that got cut from “Raiders” and then used in the later Indiana Jones films).

For a few highlights from the transcript and a great analysis of it from a screenwriters perspective, check out this post from the Mystery Man on Film blog.

The Geography of Action Sequences

A little while back, there was a great post over at Mark Kennedy’s blog all about using geography well in action sequences.  He uses the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones and Marion try to commandeer the Nazi plane as an example.  Here’s a brief excerpt as he sets up the importance of geography in action sequences:

Geography is an important but rarely used device that is the key to making any action sequence work. No action sequence will have any real tension to it unless we know exactly where everything is at all times: where the hero is in relation to his objective, how close or far away he is from his goal, what obstacles are at play and where they are in relation to the hero in the scene.

I tried to keep this in mind while writing and planning this month’s film.  It was far harder then I imagined it would be and I feel like I’m learning a lot re-reading Mark’s post having just shot an action sequence and now reflecting on that sequence as I cut the film.  I think I succeeded in some scenes and fell short in others.  I know at times during the pre-production and especially the production itself, I spent more time focusing on what action was going to be taking place and how we were going to shoot it in a way that the action is communicated then I did on how the locations and individual shots informed the audience as to where the protagonist was in space.  Knowing where he is in space (as the above quote mentions) is key to building a stronger tension within the sequence.  I feel like at times, that tension is a lot stronger then others and I think it directly relates to how the geography of the sequence was (or wasn’t) clearly set-up and communicated.

Now then, I’m not trying to knock this film before it’s finished and I’m not trying to say that it’s terrible and that you shouldn’t expect to enjoy it.  I’m actually pretty proud of it and can’t wait for it to be done so I can share it with you.  Rather, I was more just taking a moment to reflect on the film and the thought-process I took in planning and producing it (in terms of using geography as a story-telling tool); and look at it with a critical eye.

Script Frenzy

If you’ve always wanted to try writing a screenplay but never really felt an incredible amount of stress and deadline-inspired pressure to do so, you might want to join Script Frenzy.  Script Frenzy is an international writing event where the participants attempt to write an entire 100 page, feature-length screenplay in a month.  What it’s about or even whether it’s all that good isn’t as important as just getting writing.  It’s free to join and they have discussion forums and resources to help everyone along.  There aren’t any major prizes if you finish, just the glory of finishing and a first draft of a screenplay in your hands at the end of the month.  It started on Tuesday and goes through the end of April; so if you’re interested, sign up and get writing!

And no, if anyone’s wondering, I’m not participating this year.  I’m not crazy enough to try to produce a short film and write a feature-length screenplay in one month.

Writing for Emotion

There’s an interesting post on the storyboarding/animation blog, Temple of the Seven Golden Camels that reviews the book, “Writing for Emotional Impact” and talks about viewing films as “emotional delivery systems”, with specific focus paid to writing. Here’s a quote from the post:

There are so many different books that offer helpful insight into how to fix the structure of your script and, after all, it is very, very important for the structure to work. But ultimately you want the structure to service the overall emotional experience of the film – the whole point of the structure is to make the emotional “punch” of the film work as effectively as possible.

As I think about writing in this context, I immediately think of character development because viewers empathize and become emotionally involved with characters, not the film’s structure. I think one of the greatest temptations when writing characters is to move them from plot-point to plot-point, occasionally throw in a joke or some cheap pathos, and then get them moving toward the next act or major plot development. I find myself doing it far too often. After all, it’s easier to write clichés with singular, simplistic motivations that will take you easily through the plot then write complicated, three-dimensional characters that cause you to think about why they’re involved in the plot to begin with as well as why they continue through it.

I realize that it can be near impossible to create a terribly complicated character in a 5 minute short film, but it is absolutely possible to pull back a few layers and reveal that the character has more facets than their initial actions might suggest. And it is of course possible to connect emotionally with the viewer (after all, 30 second commercials can and do deliver emotional impact).

Overall, I feel challenged to really work on the characters I create for my films to deliver that emotional impact. I would love to write at least one character that somehow connects with the viewer emotionally and moves beyond being little more than a vehicle for the plot.

Writing

Writing is not something I do a lot of (in case you couldn’t already tell by the overwhelming number of posts I’ve written since starting this site 21 days ago).  But writing is something I want to do more of and (hopefully) get better at in the process.  Besides, in order to shoot and edit 12 films over the next year, I’m going to have to first write 12 films over the next year.  So in a sense, the project (and especially this blog) is becoming a discipline in writing for me.  Although so far it feels like it’s been a exercise in attention deficit disorder.  Seriously, it is so hard for me to just sit and write.  I feel like after every sentence, paragraph, and phrase I need to check my email or see what’s on TV or get up and stretch or do something else not-writing-based.

In fact, as I type this, I’m in the middle of revising my second draft of the January film, “Mystery Box” (more on the film soon).  Of course, I’m shooting it tomorrow but that doesn’t seem to stop me from distracting myself from writing it tonight.  Although I guess technically, I’m shooting it today as the clock just passed midnight.  So with that in mind, I’d better get back to my current revision of the script.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.