Thursday, April 15, 2010

Day 7: Tonight I Will Experience Insomnia...Twice

Thursday night is my set-aside night for watching a film in my genre (see archived Blog from day 2 or 3). Tonight, I'm returning to a detective film that I'm pretty familiar with - Insomnia - the American remake of the Scandinavian original. However, I'm going to get the original out and watch that first; I 've seen that before too, but I want to remind myself just what the writer/s of the remake brought to their version story that wasn't in the original. Did it improve the film or not? Did the Americans trample all over a European gem or did they create something new that remained true to the spirit of the original? I'll have the script (of the US version) alongside and an A4 pad to take notes. In both films, I'm looking to note down what I feel to be "the conventions" of crime/detective movies.

I've already talked a little of what "genre conventions" are and I'll spend more time on them in the days and weeks to come. When I watch films in my genre, I'm looking for those common elements of structure, character, plot and theme that seem to be in most films of this genre, because, unconsciously, the audience has an expectation of them too. Once I'm familiar with them to the point of expertise, then I'm free to play with them.

Here's one major detective story convention: the traditional detective is male, heterosexual, either a cop or private investigator, he drinks and/or smokes, has a failed love relationship/marriage behind him, is smart/cluey, violent, tenacious (in that he will always get his quarry), a loner (usually hates having a buddy cop thrust upon him), he's a ladies man, existential to the point that he'd make Camus blush, often has a question mark in his past over the poor handling of one case or another, is prepared to step outside the law that he upholds to get results and is reviled by his superiors(he's a pain in the a**) yet they tolerate him because he gets the job done.

Does the above job advert sound like Jack Nicholson (Chinatown, The Pledge), Al Pacino (Insomnia, Sea Of Love), Michael Douglas (Basic Instinct, Black Rain), Gene Hackman (Mississippi Burning, The French Connection), Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry, Magnum Force) and, of course, Humphrey Bogart (The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep)? What about Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo and Rear Window...Hitch obviously knew that character convention well enough to really bend it.

Day #7 Tip: Read Screenplays (this is not optional)
I said that I'll have the screenplay alongside me when watching these films and they're easy to get hold of. The best source is the net and if you go to the Links section of this Blog you'll see that I've listed just a few of the sites that I use. As long as the scripts are being used for "educational purposes" then they're free to download, often in PDF format (I find this is best). Some of the scripts are original drafts or shooting scripts. I try to avoid transcripts (where someone has just taken down what's on the finished film) if I can. Plenty of bookstores sell scripts in book format, Berkelouw on Oxford Street, Sydney is a good second-hand resource.

Reading scripts is not just about conventions though. I'm not a novelist, nor am I a poet or a playwright. I write feature film screenplays, so that's what I need to read, consume, understand and learn about. There are tons of guru's, seminars, books on screenwriting and teachers (more on that in the days to come) but the best and most reliable form of scriptwriting education (in my opinion), is to watch film and read scripts.....successful and unsuccessful; see what works and what doesn't work (the more you read, the more you'll instinctually know the ones that aren't working so well and maybe, why?). I try to read one a week, it's the most valuable method of getting to learn the language of what I do.

Tomorrow I'll get back to talking about the Index Cards.

And remember, in the words of Clint Eastwood's alter-ego, Harry Callaghan: "It's a dirty world and someone's gotta clean it up."

1 comment:

  1. Except me.I'm not gonna be that 'someone'.
    Grant you,I'd be good at it, but I've done my fair share of cleaning dirt.