“The truth is that nobody knows what that magic combination is that produces a first-rate piece of work….
All we can do is prepare the groundwork that allows for the ‘lucky accidents’ that make a first-rate movie happen.” Sidney Lumet
“Most of the good things in pictures happen by accident.” John Ford
i typed those quotes wanting to talk about preparation, but then i decided to write about accidents. how many miraculous things come out of things that happen which are outside of our control. accident is often a negative word, because of the nature of accidents. often in an accident people are hurt or things are damaged due to them. but every once in a while, something accidentally happens that is a great thing. if it weren’t for accidents, we wouldn’t have Velcro, microwaves, post-it notes, or potato chips. also there are people who are famous by accident, including Mel Gibson, Evangeline Lilly and Marilyn Monroe. not that they weren’t talented or hardworking, it’s just that their big breaks came by being the right place at the right time.
lots of accidents happen on movie scenes and end up being left in the final edit, from Viggo Mortensen breaking toes, dodging knives and nearly drowning in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, to beer cans being thrown at John Malkovich’s head as he had just come out of John Malkovich’s head. and one of my favorites from Midnight Cowboy, where an actual taxi nearly ran over Dustin Hoffman and he reacted by uttering the famous line “I’m walkin here!” the ultimate Sanford Meisner moment where an actual reaction was caught on film and became one of the most memorable lines in movie history. i’m sure it’s still quoted to new york cab drivers many times a day.
so sometimes accidents can be a good thing. i guess it depends on how you look at it.
“Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain …and an athlete…and a basket case…a princess…and a criminal… Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club”
this past tuesday, marked the 30th anniversary of March 24, 1984. the day that The Breakfast Club convened for saturday detention at Shermer High School. i’ve always loved this movie. who can not like the premise of these kids who start from all different walks of high school and by the end of one day forge friendships. we can only hope that they didn’t go back to being in their cliques the following monday. i like to think that Bender and Andrew spoke to Brian the next week. i like to think that Claire and Allison were able to acknowledge each other in the hall or even have a conversation. and i think that’s why John Hughes leaves us with the end the way it is. we have hope that the typical high school garbage can be overcome. we want to believe that, and that is why we love this movie. the scene at the end as Simple Minds anthemic “Don’t You, Forget About Me” plays while Brian’s character reads the essay Mr. Vernon tasked them to write is probably one of the impactful scenes for me from a movie. i mean, i was Brian in high school. so, maybe go watch The Breakfast Club sometime this week. and remember who you are.
“That celluloid, the actual film that runs through the camera, is dead. That’s gone, and now digital is here. But storytelling with cinema never will die–ever, ever, ever. The way stories are told may change, but it will always be.” David Lynch
story, it’s the most important thing in any creative process. you have to convince people to care about the artistic endeavor. from painting to film, to music, people have to connect with what you are feeling or experiencing. that can be something simple or complex. it’s why people who have no interest in sports watch the Olympics. NBC has become great at telling the stories that go along with the games, and that is what draws viewers and compels them to root for the underdog or the favorite. same is true for shows like American Idol. it’s not about the music as much as it is about the hard luck story of the contestant who is struggling to make it in the music biz.
my favorite Academy Awards are the acting awards followed by the screenplay awards. i think performances and writing are the true test of a beautiful film. in essence, the best original screenplay or best adapted screenplay is an important award to me. i love great writing and great interpretation of that writing. if a movie is nominated for best picture, and doesn’t have any acting nominees, or it isn’t nominated for screenplay, then i question it’s validity. there are nine best picture nominees, but between original and adapted there are 10 nominees for screenplays, so I believe that if you have a Best Picture nomination, then you should also have a Best Screenplay nomination.
story is what drives everything. even in our ever present, day-to-day doings. we have to live a bigger story than the meager existence that many of us call life. who are you compelling with your story? how can our stories impact others? how can our stories impact the world? what story are you living today? would a movie of your life be nominated?
“I want to risk hitting my head on the ceiling of my talent. I want to really test it out and say, ‘Okay, you’re not that good. You just reached the level here.’ I don’t ever want to fail, but I want to risk failure every time out of the gate.”-Quentin Tarantino
that is an interesting quote from Tarantino. he’s one of my favorite directors and i love that he is talking about risk. i find it fascinating that he seems to be saying a failure is an end to his talent. i would say that if you are a risk taker, then failure is the beginning. you’ll never know how good you are until you’ve failed numerous times. but maybe i’m not grasping the context of the quote here. maybe he’s talking about failing at the very height of the ceiling, or maybe he is just saying he doesn’t like to fail. i don’t think any of us do, but i think we need to learn to embrace it if we are ever going to reach the apex of what our potential is. and there is a huge difference between failing and wallowing in that failure. i’ve been there. failure shouldn’t define us, it should inspire us to drag ourselves back up and do it again. so push through. allow yourself to create ceilings that you can bust through so that failure is the launching pad for the greatness within you. if you never take the chance, you will have a whole bunch of maybe’s and almost’s to talk about someday.
called “the Film-maker says” has been of enjoyment to me as of late. it’s little snippets and quotes from movie directors. i’ve used a few of them here as i write. they make great conversation starters, and i’ll use them in my classes as the year winds down.
i love a good quote. and this book is brimming over with not only great words, but contradictions on side by side pages. there are some quotes that are funny. some are sad. some are very thought provoking. it gives a little bit of insight from behind the camera that you might not always get. i recommend it for something to break the ice, or provoke thought.
“With some pictures, people leave the theater and it’s forgotten. If people see a picture of mine, and then sit down in a drugstore in a neighborhood or have coffee and talk about it for fifteen minutes, that is a very fine reward, I think. That’s good enough for me.” Billy Wilder
Give me a good script, and I’ll be a hundred times better as a director.
I read somewhere that David Mamet said there are no good actors, only good scripts. fitting coming from a playwright. i believe there are good actors. great interpreters, but i also believe they have to have great words to speak. i’ve seen so many great actors in plays and movies alike be horribly under-utilized and the limitations had to do completely with the story and the script.
so i say to all of you that write. write well. and i will say to all of you that act and direct, interpret well. the world needs better stories and better performances.
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?” John Keating-Dead Poets Society
with a person who tends to bully other people with the bible. i was accused of being biblically ignorant. my original intent with engaging this person was to ask them to stop being so judgmental of “seeker” churches and their choices with how they attempt to reach people. pretty much if you don’t preach the gospel the way this person thinks it should be preached, then well, you are wrong and sending people to hell.
my thought is if God can use donkeys, bigamists, prostitutes, murderers and utter failures, then He can tell His story through a poorly crafted movie sermon. it seems quite often people place the responsibility on man and his ability to discern and study. i believe that God does the work and the drawing. if Christ is lifted up, He will draw all men.
now don’t get me wrong. i’m not for willie nillie biblical errors…
i guess at the time i was still pretty hurt and angry. those feelings subside and then they come right back, but i guess i do know what God is teaching me….
1. nothing suprises Him- He wasn’t like, “How did that happen?” He knew it was going to happen and He will use my situation so that He will be glorified.
2. that a true Resurrection Life is based on choosing Love over Hate-this was made very evident to me at a party i went to and a friend introduced me to his child as one who does that and i wasn’t. so today i choose to love and tomorrow, i’ll have to wake up again and choose love.
3. that apart from Him, i can do nothing-i can’t choose to love unless i’m truly grafted into Him. that whole…
i have a few dreams for the creative things in my life. i want to make a record of songs written or co-written by me, and i want to make documentaries. i’ll be 43 this summer and sometimes i feel like the window is closing to do those things. there are a lot of songs, but i don’t know how many of them are album worthy, there are some great ideas for movies, but i often put those aside because of time and equipment contraints. i’ve written about fear before and that is a factor as well. i guess my question is, why haven’t i already started to make these dreams a reality? there can be a ton of excuses, but it really comes down to me just doing the things i need to do. not to worry about the money aspect of it. i could easily do a kickstarter campaign. not to worry about the creative part of it. i could easily ask a lot of my friends to contribute. not to worry about the equipment part. i have a good camera, all i need is a sound rig and a lens, heck i could even film on my iphone.
i wonder sometimes why God would allow me to have such great ideas, and not let me finish them, and i think it’s because He wants me to make them happen with other people. i realized this last week that creativity and the work can very easily be about one person. i naturally want the credit for greatness and i don’t have all of the tools to be great by myself. i have some of the components to make something great, but those components need to be shared with others while allowing others to share their greatness with me. i think that is why we need community. i love people, but often i will isolate myself from community. haven’t figured that one out yet. i do know that i am not an island and i need to create in the confines of community. i need to make the time to work with other people. i need that and so do they.
I tend to put down the auteur theory because a lot of people embraced it as a one man/one concept kind of thing, and making a movie is an ensemble. Clint Eastwood
happens to live right here in Austin, TX, so i have the opportunity to see him quite often as he is gracious enough to share his music with the hometown crowd. the first time i ever saw David Ramirez at a sold-out Stubbs show, he held the crowd with just his voice and a guitar. i would tell you, if you love great passion and songwriting, you should check him out.
i got to catch his set in a packed bar in the Hyatt Place yesterday and once again, he poured his heart out into the microphone. he closed the set with his song “Shoeboxes” and as i looked around at the crowd they were absolutely entranced as many of us all mouthed the words with him. we didn’t sing, we didn’t want to ruin the moment for those who were experiencing the magic of that song for the first time. i would say that David has a way of capturing the feelings we’ve all felt and that’s why he has such a connection with us.
if you are downtown at SXSW today, he’s playing a free show at the Sheraton on 11th at 6 pm. i highly suggest that you make the walk up to the lobby, have an adult beverage and be prepared to sing (silently) along.