Recently in Film & TV Category

One of my favorite neologisms is "tivodultery," coined earlier today, at my request, by my friend James. It describes the act of watching a TV program on your own when you normally watch it with your spouse.

The reason I needed James to come up with a word for this act is that I am being tempted to commit it.

I'm currently a week behind in Lost--I just got back from a week in Cannes. And tonight is the season finale. And my wife is in Helsinki on business and won't be back until Friday. And we've watched every episode of Lost except one together.

What makes it especially tricky is that, according to a rumor from a reliable source (WARNING: VERY VAGUELY PHRASED PREDICTIONS THAT WILL TELL YOU NOTHING BUT MAY TECHNICALLY BE A SPOILER), tonight's season finale has some huge, game-changing plot twists. Of course, they said that about the season one finale, and it turned out to be (WARNING: SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE IN CASE YOU ARE TWO YEARS BEHIND IN WATCHING THE SERIES) the shocking revelation that behind the hatch door... there was actually a hatch of some kind. So maybe tonight will be a washout.

But if it's not, then the next 48 hours are going to be very delicate for me. I'm thinking I may not be able to read any blogs or online news, lest I spy a headline like "LOST Shocker: They're All Dead Figments of Hurley's Imagination In An Alien Zoo! Plus Hurley Is Claire! Who Is Also Dead And Imaginary!" Or something like that.

Oh, tivodultery! Why must thou tempt me?

BBC Scripts Online

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As I've mentioned before, the Brits think Americans make better TV writers, and Americans think it's the other way around.

If you'd like evidence of just how much TV-writing talent there is in the UK, the BBC has made an archive of downloadable TV scripts available online. It includes scripts for British soaps like Eastenders, dramas like the new Doctor Who, sitcoms, and radio shows as well.

The Truth About Mordachai

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Every year at the Jewish holiday of Purim, my friend Rob Kutner--a writer for The Daily Show--gets a puts together a comedy show to raise money for charity. In past years, I've written sketches for it.

This year, he asked me to make some short films for it: political attack ads featuring Haman (the villain of the story) tearing into Mordachai (the hero). I've uploaded them here.

Warning: may not be funny to Gentiles.

The World Revolves Around Me

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This New York Times article is about two old friends of mine, one of whom was in my college comedy improv troupe and went on to work with me on Dennis Miller Live. The article (which was brought to my attention by one of the troupe's founding members) is written by yet another former member of my college comedy improv troupe, and it ends with a reference to Jose, who is another of my former Dennis Miller Live co-writers.

I commend the Times on this superb article. I am dismayed to note, however, that they continue to publish hundreds of articles every day written by, and featuring, people I have never met. I trust this will stop at once.

Home Town Teams

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For several years, the UK-based Aardman Animation has had a partnership with the LA-based Dreamworks, which has resulted in Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, among other classic films. This week, the partnership ended.

The LA Times opened their article on the news with, "Battered by the box-office failure of 'Flushed Away,"'DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. said Tuesday that it had formally severed ties with the movie's British maker, Aardman Animations."

The BBC reported the news with the headline, "Animators Aardman end movie deal."

(Personally, I'll watch anything Aardman does; I'm just amused by the different spins.)

The Hated Redcoat

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As an American screenwriter living in the UK, the most common question I get asked is: "Why are the bad guys in American films always British?"

Simply put, to an American, British accents sound smart and sophisticated. You want your villain to be smart and sophisticated, because that makes it all the harder for the hero to triumph. And giving him an English accent is a fast and easy way to do that.

My British friends never believe me, but that's about 90% of the reason.

What's the other 10%?

Part of it is, the actors cast for villains are often really good character actors. And the English system seems to produce a lot of really good character actors.

Another part is that you want your villain to be some kind of "other," so he seems exotic and unpredictable. But you can't cast him as a member of some group that Americans have historically oppressed, because then you either imply that his group is inherently evil (which will anger the liberals) or that his group has been wronged so badly, they deserve to take revenge (which will anger the conservatives.) And for practical reasons, you have to cast an actor who speaks English at or near the level of a native speakers. And you can't make him Australian because we Americans think all Australians are good-natured beer drinkers who just want to throw a shrimp on the barbie. You can't make him Canadian, because we think of Canadians the same way we think of Australians, only colder and more polite. So, basically, that leaves you with a villain who is from either the UK or Singapore--and there just aren't that many Singaporean character actors floating around Hollywood.

Hard at Work

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As I like to remind Lauren, there are certain advantages to being married to a full-time writer. She never has to be the one to stay at home and wait for a delivery, and most nights, I've got dinner waiting for her when she steps through the door.

But there are certain disadvantages as well. One of them, no doubt, is that sometimes your husband calls you at 5PM on a Wednesday to tell you he's just walked out of the first free movie screening of his afternoon, and he's on his way to his second.

Anyway, For Your Consideration season has swung into gear. Before taking this afternoon off, I had already seen Marie Antionette, followed by a Q&A with Sophia Coppola; and World Trade Center, followed by a Q&A with Oliver Stone and Will Jimeno (one of the real-life officers whose story the film is based on.) Today, I added Keane and The Black Dahlia to that tally. Tomorrow, it's Stranger Than Fiction, followed by a Q&A with Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and the film's writer, Zach Helm.

I've already read the script for Stranger Than Fiction--it's being passed around from writer to writer, because it's just that damn good. I'm hoping the film will live up to it.

Before the Movie Begins

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Man, these anti-piracy measures are getting more and more intrusive...


(If you can't see the embedded movie above, click here.)

Should I go to film school?

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When I got my Master's from USC, the digital revolution hadn't quite kicked in. But now that it has, I usually tell people not to bother with film school. DVGuru offers 10 reasons why--8 of them very good. I disagree with #8 ("You can't teach art. Can you?") and #10 ("You either have it or you don't.")

I believe that everybody has an intrinsic maximum potential in any field--artistic or otherwise--and that education is the way to maximize that potential. But I agree with DVGuru that, nowadays, the best way to educate yourself is to beg, borrow, or buy a DV camera and a computer, and start shooting and editing movies. And that goes for writers who just want to write--even if you ultimately want somebody else to direct your work, you ought to direct a few of your own short scripts, just for the learning experience.

Theme

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It's been a little while since I wrote about screenplay theory...

Over at The Artful Writer, Craig Mazin has posted an interesting bit of theory on the relationship between theme and plot structure.

Craig sees theme as:

A proposed argument, e.g. "There's no place like home," "It is better to love and lose than never to have loved at all," "The unexamined life is not worth living." In this sense, "theme" could actually be referred to as "The Answer."

Like most mainstream American screenwriters, Craig's definition of "theme" coincides with the one that Lajos Egri laid down in The Art of Dramatic Writing. (Egri calls it "premise," but "theme" seems a more common way of describing it.) I don't know if Craig has read Egri, but certainly many writers have. When I was at USC grad school, I was advised that Egri was the granddaddy of script theorists.

What's interesting to me is that, as a viewer of film, I've always gotten the impression that European films (and, perhaps, American indie films) define theme differently. In the American mainstream, theme is a sentence. In Europe, it seems to be a phrase, or even a noun. "There's no place like home" is an American-style theme. A European-style one might be "the human longing for home," or even simply "home."

As I said, this was my impression for a long time as a viewer. It was confirmed recently when I sat down with one of my favorite European directors for a script I'm writing for him. He decided early on that the theme of the book I'm adapting is "escape." An American director might have looked at the same book and concluded the theme was, say, "You cannot escape your nature."

(As with any blanket Americans-are-like-this-but-Europeans-are-like-that statement, I'm generalizing greatly, and there are numerous exceptions. Indeed, Egri himself--the found of the theme-as-sentence school--was Hungarian-born. )

Done well, there's nothing wrong with either approach. It's only when it's done badly that the differences really start to emerge. I find badly written American film to be too pat and too obvious.I find badly written European film to be maddeningly unclear or evasive. I enjoy the best-written films of all sorts... But because I personally prefer films that err on the side of ambiguity, I like the European approach a bit more. Obviously, it's a matter of taste.

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