Friday, October 8, 2010

Day 183: “My work here is done”

Six months ago on April the something, I decided to set about Blogging, with the intention of writing a screenplay over six months, using a “writer’s method” as offered by Robert McKee in his book “Story”, inviting anyone who cared to, to come along for the ride with me. The six months are up today and there is no completed screenplay.

The best laid plans of mice and men and all that: there have been treatments that needed my attention on another project and synopses that I had to complete for Producers and all manner of things that explain why I left location “A” with the intention of getting to ‘B‘ but ended up in ‘P’.

There was something that I said, from the outset that I shared with friends, and that was that I was going to let the Blog take me where it would. Normally, in other areas of my life I am at great pains to try and make sure that things (especially work “things”) go in the direction that I want them to go even, sometimes, when others I’m working with don’t want them to go in that direction. From the very start of this Blog, the metaphor I used was this: “I’m going to put my row boat on the river, throw away the oars, lay down in the boat and let the current bear me where it will”. And, that’s just what I’ve done.

There have been rewards that I didn’t plan for. I have been graced, in that every day for 183 days, come fair weather or foul, I have not missed a Blog deadline; there has not been one day that I haven’t posted that day’s Blog before the cursed hour of midnight struck and so, like some Bloggers version of the Pony Express, I always got through with the day’s mail. This has taught me a writing discipline that I kind of thought I had, but never employed, before. It’s taught me that whatever’s going on, I can rely on myself and wherever ideas come from, to front up on a daily basis and come up 500+ words on something or other. It’s a sure-fire way to lick that procrastination problem.

Thank-you for being a bloggee and for being on the trail with me. Google Analytics tell me that I’ve been read in five continents, on computers in over half the States of North America, up and down the length and breadth of the British Isles and across this great Southern land of Australia. Thank you to those who took the theme literally and brought me food, thank you for the comments (whether left on this site, on F’book, emailed or delivered in person).

The Hungry Screenwriter will return sometime in the future, just like the Lone Ranger of today’s title; I’ve oft talked here, of a document in my possession that I have created of my 239 favourite films, each with a pithy sound bite recommendation as to why I love that particular movie; I’ll be back to share those with you on a daily basis in the not-too-distant future, but for now I’m done, I’ve just about run out of things to say.....okay so maybe that last bit's not true.

Until the next time, I am the Hungry Screenwriter, bidding you adieu.

Day #183 Tip: When all else fails, watch a movie
I’ve quoted him before and I’ll quote him again, because for me, the quote works. Giuseppe Tornatore, writer and director of Cinema Paradiso said this of his film (a hymn to movie romance): “Cinema Paradiso is a bittersweet lament for the love that eludes us in real life, but is there to comfort us in the dark embrace of the cinema.” I, personally, would add the word “meaning” to that quote, “....the love and meaning that eludes us in real life....”

The penultimate line, I give to Mr McKee: “Write very day, line by line, page by page, hour by hour.”

The final word comes from Ferris:

[After the end credits]... You’re still here?

It’s over!

Go home.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 182: Prophet or Profit?

On April 5, 1999, American illusionist and endurance artist, David Blaine was entombed in an underground plastic box underneath a 3 ton water-filled tank for seven days, eating nothing and drinking only 2-3 tablespoons of water per day. 75,000 people visited his “Buried Alive” stunt.

On November 27, 2000, Blaine stood encased in a massive block of ice in Times Square (NYC), supplied with water and air by a tube, for 63 hours and 42 minutes; “Frozen in Time”.

May 22, 2002, sees David Blaine perform “Vertigo”; lifted by crane onto the top of a 100ft pillar, (22 inches wide) in Bryant Park (NYC), where, unharnessed, he stood for 35 hours.

On September 5, 2003, David Blaine began his first major stunt outside of the USA, sealed inside a transparent, Plexiglass case, suspended 30ft in the air (by Tower Bridge, London), surviving on just 4.5 litres of water for 44 days. I was there.

I dig David Blaine, but that wasn’t always the case. At the time I was in London, working on a script of mine, The Comedians, when he began the “Above the Below” stunt and for a second or two there, I was as full of derision as much of the UK’s population were at the time. Two things begged me keep an open mind: one, was my favourite newspaper, The Guardian, saying “Blaine has created one of the most eloquent and telling visual images of our time” and the other, was a close female friend, also over from Australia at the time suggesting that I might be growing a tad more cynical than I usually was.

Knowing that “contempt prior to investigation” is a favourite pastime of mine - I’ll often give you a damning review of a film I’ve never seen - I boarded a train on the Underground’s District Line and headed for Tower Hill station one fine Sunday morning. Alighting at said Tube station, I found myself part of a throng, following the hastily-prepared signs that pointed to David Blaine’s stunt. Suddenly there was hubbub, others were obviously thinking like me too, and we crossed the Thames over Tower Bridge, craning our necks for the first glimpse of this latter-day Harry Houdini, hoisted up in the air over Potters Field Park, alongside City Hall, on the South Bank.

What a crowd, what a veritable circus there was beneath him and I, excited, joined that crowd to stand underneath his transparent box calling up to him “David, David!!”. He looked my way, or was he responding to the hundreds doing the same thing all around me? So many in the UK scoffed for the seven weeks and more of his stunt: there were those who hit golf balls at him, threw paint balls, food and beer cans, but most of all it was abuse of the kind that said something like “there are people starving in Ethiopia whilst you’re.....”. Even (Sir) Paul McCartney went down there and mocked him....but then what do you expect from the guy that by now, was musically obsolete, having written Mull of Kintyre, Silly Love Songs and the excruciatingly awful Ebony & Ivory?

The event was broadcast on tv station Sky One in the UK, with a “special” made out of his "going in", and famously - almost stopping the nation - on his ‘coming out’. Prior to the climax of David Blaine’s London outing, I visited him again, this time accompanied by the friend who had encouraged me to make the quantum shift away from the position I had initially taken; I was keen to show off my new friend, David. And, by this time, the tide had turned throughout London too, somehow now, we were all joined together on this countdown to David Blaine’s liberation from his self-imposed ordeal.

David Blaine has gone on to perform “Drowned Alive” (submerged in a sphere of water for 7 days and 7 nights) , “Revolution” (shackled to a rotating gyroscope for 52 hours) and the “Dive of Death” (hanging upside down, without a safety net for 60 hours in Central Park).

What’s the point....who knows, who cares? I love the fact that David Blaine picked his target well, with us the English, who are often happier scoffing and carping; we’re not always like that, it’s the righteous indignant right-wing middle class in us that is stirred up and agitated by the tabloid media, and the media that pretends it’s not tabloid but is. There’s something fun and optimistic about David Blaine that is within me, but needed the provocation of others to force it out.

I could have mocked with the rest, expending hot air, getting all huffed-up about things, sitting in judgement from afar, but instead I went down there and waived to David, not throwing eggs at him, but egging him on.

Day #182 Tip: On the same page
What I recollect, most interestingly about the 44 days and nights of the David Blaine London experiment, was that as the stunt gathered momentum and public opinion shifted a little towards him, we all were on the same page, all caught up in following the same event; we shared a common bond.

I’ve felt this before, often sadly - Diana’s death, 9/11 - and occasionally with joyous spirit, like when the Sydney Olympics came to town in 2000. There’s something about unity, about being kindred spirits and it’s flip side, so eloquently put by John Donne : “...And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

Yes, “we are the world, we are the people” and it’s heartening when we all move in step, drawn together, pulled by a force that gives us a common talking point to focus on; it’s as though our collective energy is being directed in one powerful uniting way, before the event that binds us together ends and we go back to our individual hidey-holes.

Film is like that, it’s collaborative and, we the writers, are often the David Blaine’s who come up with the stunt that galvanises everyone. Doesn’t mean that our work has to be happy stuff or sad stuff, it can be whatever stuff we like, but, with the caveat that it inspire, move and touch; firstly those we are going to work with and then those who we will share the story with.

Where are you David Blaine, reveal yourself, we need you!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Day 181: St.Paul’s Cathedral

Tomorrow, I was meant to be leaving for London, to enjoy a few weeks over there, but circumstances beyond my control prevent that from happening; not to worry, I will try again at Christmas and maybe that is what is meant to be.

When in London, I walk a lot, there is plenty of walking and, for me, thinking, to be done. Thinking, that precious commodity of the writer, is best accessed when I put in some repetitive physical action that distracts my mind from what it thinks it should be thinking about, to think other things. I combine my walking in London with the work of filling the creative well. Every day that I sit down to my trusty laptop and open up the synopsis, treatment or screenplay du jour, I summon up the Gods and go to the creative well for inspiration.

Julia Cameron, in 'The Artist’s Way', teaches that we must fill ourselves (our well) with matter to call on, when we dip our metaphoric buckets into that creative well (I think the “well” part of the metaphor is mine). Julia counsels for us to go on an “artist’s date” (alone), once a week: to the cinema, the art gallery, the second-hand book emporium, the aquarium or the concert hall (in Sydney’s case, maybe the beautifully monikered Angel Place Recital Hall [where on such a solo date, I saw the late, famed harmonica player Larry Adler play and met David ‘Shine’ Helfgott into the bargain]). In London, I am spoilt for such destinations.

London’s skyline may draw your eye to what was once called the Post Office Tower and the goofily-named “Gerkin” (Swiss Re Building), but really, it is dominated by one edifice: St. Paul’s Cathedral.

On Ludgate Hill, in the City, stands St. Paul's, dreamt of and designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1675 and 1711. Great marriages and funerals have taken place there; who can forget the voluminous train of Diana’s entering and exiting St. Paul’s, on 29 July, twenty-nine years ago? Indeed, 750 million plus, watched the celebrated and joyous affair on television; how the bells rang out.

Those same bells, muted and muffled, tolled, sixteen years earlier, in 1965, when I was but a boy of seven, for Sir Winston Churchill, who lay in state for three days (by decree of the Queen) in the great cathedral. I have visual snatches in my memory of the sombre day of his funeral, pictures that haunt my mind as though from some Gothic tale. Churchill’s coffin was borne along the River Thames on the passenger ship the Havengore, as dockers lowered their crane jibs in salute, following the service of funeral in S.Paul’s.

Two of England’s greatest sons, rest in the crypt of St.Paul’s: hero of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington’s sarcophagus, sits alongside that of his naval counterpart, Viscount Horatio Nelson, Duke of Bronte, smasher of the French fleet in 1805 at Trafalgar. There are other non-fighting men to keep them company in the crypt, like Wren himself, Turner (the painter) and Sir Arthur Sullivan (of G&S fame).

Ironically, my favourite spot, within the City, to take in the skyline of London is from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral, after all, St. Paul’s stand’s on the City of London’s highest spot; there’s bound to be a fee for this small adventure but you get to go up to the inside of the great dome and enjoy the phenomena that is “The Whispering Gallery” - stand on one side of the dome interior and whisper to the wall and it’ll carry 180 degrees around to a friend (if you have one handy, on the other side). But it’s outside, at this level that one can survey the Thames, both upstream looking towards the Embankment & West London and then back downstream to the City, Tower Hill and Bridge.

But for all this, what most stuns me about this building - testimony to man and God - is the fact that it survived the Blitz of 1940. Nightly, the Germans would drop their payloads over London (I have heard many eyewitness accounts from my late mother and her family), hundreds and hundreds of bombs, and yet the biggest target of them all, survived? The famous photograph, on this page, was taken by photographer Herbert Mason on the night of 29 December 1940 and published in the Daily Mail two days later, with the caption: symbolises the steadiness of London’s stand against the enemy: the firmness of Right against Wrong.”

Churchill said this “At all costs, St. Paul’s must be saved.” It did take a hit or two, but how on earth did this iconic landmark survive....maybe asking questions looking for “earthly” answers is not the best line of enquiry?

Day #181 Tip: Ours is not to judge
When the work is done, when the six months (or more) of screenplay writing is completed, we cannot survey what we have done with any objectivity until distance of time allows us to climb a hill and look over what we have created. In the meantime, others will make assessments for us, don’t worry about that. My scripts have sometimes had to endure slings and arrows of an outrageous nature, but still they’ve made it through, one way or another.

I can think of two films that I treasure, in which St. Paul’s features: Lawrence of Arabia, which begins with those who knew TE Lawrence leaving his memorial service in the cathedral and Mary Poppins, where the bird lady sits, feeding the pigeons. In the lyric of ‘Feed the Birds’ it says that “All around the cathedral, the saints and apostles look down as she sells her wares...” When my wares are done, I leave them (the wares) for others to look over and wait for the dust to settle before viewing the work myself.

London can wait....for a little longer.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Day 180: Chinatown

Anyone who has followed the blogging of the Hungry Screenwriter, or anyone who knows me for that matter, is more than likely aware that my favourite film is Chinatown.

Where to begin?

There is a series of slim volumes, published by British Film Institute Publishing, each of which dissects and analyses “classic” and “modern classic” films. I have a copy of the “classic” volume on Chinatown, by Michael Eaton, who at the start offers this:

“Every film, even (perhaps especially) those that never see the light of day or the dark of night, is the result of an accident. Sometimes that contingency leads to the serendipitous discovery of a fragrant isle hitherto only alluded to in unreliable travellers’ tales. More often it resembles a multi-vehicle pile-up on a rush-hour freeway. The fact that any film ever gets made at all seems more a demonstration of the operation of chaos theory than the result of rational, industrial planning. But for once the magic worked: so, Chinatown.”

My pocket-size justification of Chinatown as my favourite film is this: I believe that every facet of the film making craft is shown at the top of it’s game in this one film. Directing, acting, cinematography, casting, musical composition, costume, set, hair & make-up and, of course, screenwriting.

Anyone who knows the film might recall that long before we see anything, we first of all hear the mysterious opening stanza of the late Jerry Goldsmith’s suitably haunting them: a harp, over strings and then a solo trumpet (in the style of Jackie Gleason), supported by a piano, playing the “love theme”. Even before I’ve seen private investigator, Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), in his natty suit, at work in his Los Angeles office of the 1930’s, with his quick and sardonic repartee, I’m sold.

I’m not a big Polanski fan, and Roman was not a big fan of the Robert Towne script, when producer Robert Evans (at the time, Vice-President in charge of Production at Paramount Studios) gave it to the Polish-Jew, then living and working in America, to read. Actually, that’s not true; Roman Polanski was struggling to understand the script, as was Jack Nicholson when it was given to him and as was Producer Robert Evans, himself, when he first read it. I also think that anyone who watches the film for the first time is pretty mystified too. But they all knew that there was “something” in this impenetrable screenplay and, they were right.

Chinatown is mix of genres, Detective Story, Film (neo) Noir, Love Story and Thriller. Robert Mckee (who devotes a whole seminar session to this film alone) defines the Crime sub-genre of Film Noir by dint of it’s protagonist being “a tough guy with a fatal flaw”. The “fatal flaw” in Jake Gittes is that - with the best of intentions - he tries, like Oedipus, to get to the bottom of what’s going on in this world (his world) endeavouring to make a wrong situation turn out right (the raison d’ĂȘtre of most detectives and law-keepers). Only trouble is, that Jake, just like the King of Thebes, won’t let go until everything eventually, in tragic irony, turns on him and those he’s trying to save.

What McKee defines as a “Thriller”, as oppose to a film that’s “thrilling”, is a story in which the protagonist comes up against an antagonistic force that is driven or consumed by “the spirit of evil”, meaning that the bad guy (wearing the black hat) can’t be bought off. No bag of money will stop him, no deal-making or bartering, no release of hostages or a plane to spirit him away will stop him from doing what he wants to do. Jake Gittes comes up against such an antagonistic force in the shape of Noah Cross (John Huston). If you meet me “out there”, outside of this “cyberworld”, ask me to explain what Noah Cross means when he justifies what he’s doing by saying “...the future, Mr Gittes, the future...” (sorry to be so cryptic but I can’t give all the gold have to earn some’s worth it!).

Sometimes there’s a part of me that wonders - craft and technique and all that aside - why it is that I love this film so much? Am I kidding myself, living in the delusion that I think it sounds knowledgeable and impressive to say that I like this one best of all, rather than something else more “mainstream”, less “lofty”, say like Mrs. Doubtfire or School of Rock (both tremendous films)?

Day #180 Tip: In defence of no defence
I love Chinatown because I love Chinatown.

Maybe it’s the “romance” of the film, in the broadest sense of the term? Wise guys in suits and hats, waving guns, chasing women, drinking liquor, smoking cigarettes, being smart, outwitting fools, living on the margins of society?

It could be because of the pessimistic ending and the film’s Controlling Idea of “the futility of good intentions”; maybe that’s the glass darkly through which I see life and it resonates with me?

In Edward De Bono’s book, the Six Thinking Hats, there are different colour hats to be “worn” for different types of thinking: White (facts & information), Black (negatives), Yellow (positives), Green (new ideas), Blue (the big picture) and lastly, Red (feelings & emotions). Red is about “gut feelings”, sixth-sense thinking, intuition and instinct. 

Sometimes in our work, in our writing, we just gotta trust what we feel and can’t marshall facts, figures, reason and logic to support our case and that’s okay. However, we can’t play this get-out-of-jail-free-card all the time (at least not in the $$$$$ world of the film industry), but every now and then, well, we know what we know. I have many other loves in my life and I’m not going to justify, defend or vindicate why I feel the way that I do about any one of those.....even the Caesar Salad at Trop. I do have plenty of reasons, actually, for that salad and for Chinatown and, for all the other loves of my life; they’re my “favourite” things, just like Maria Von Trapp had her “favourite things”.....

...and let me tell you, “snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes” isn’t one of mine (can you remember the other 14 “favourite things”?); maybe that’s a little of my “glass darkly” again?