Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Don't Mind If I Do by George Hamilton

George Hamilton. Don’t Mind If I Do. New York: Touchstone Book, 2008.

Acting can be physically harmful, according to the autobiography of actor George Hamilton. Years of rehearsing and acting in films featuring swordfights and bullwhips---including 12 hours straight of learning and practicing the use of the bullwhip---led to a torn rotator cuff and knee damage. In addition, he broke four ribs while filming a pirate parody. Still, he was asked and did appear as a dancer on the TV series “Dancing with the Stars”, even though his injuries sometimes made walking problematic. He competed against Rachel Hunter, formerly married to singer Rod Stewart, which he saw as fitting as both Hamilton and Stewart had both dated Britt Ekland and Liz Treadwell. His agent insisted appearing on “Dancing with the Stars” would be a good career move, especially since younger viewers were not as familiar with Hamilton.

Hamilton’s dance partner was Edyta Sliwinska. Hamilton knew some dance fundamentals having taken dance classes as a child. Plus, Hamilton even once taught dance, yet he passed himself off as a teacher only by taking the class just before the class then taught.

Hamilton was the oldest contestant and knew the younger dancers could be fancier dancing.

Hamilton’s mother auditioned at MGM and despite fighting off sexual advances from the man doing the casting, she won a role in the movie “Father Knows Best”. Yet, she objected to what she saw as a misrepresentation of Southern women in her role. When she refused to portray her part as written, she was replaced. Her movie career was over. His mother then decided, instead of trying to become a star, she would marry one instead. They moved to Beverly Hills. Hamilton attended Hawthorne elementary school where he first learned about acting. His mother dated a few celebrities, including Howard Hughes. Who did not impress her. Meanwhile, Hamilton was impressed with actors, even saving a cigarette stub he saw Clark Gable toss. Money ran out, though, and the Hamiltons left California.

Acting in a high school play, Hamilton experienced the terror of having his mind go blank while on stage. His panic reaction was to being speaking fake Russian. This only confused the other actors. Hamilton continued improvising by using hand signs. Although the curtain quickly came down, the audience reacted with laughter. Hamilton’s teacher recommended Hamilton become a comedic actor, and wrote a letter of recommendation suggesting that.

Hamilton later went to Hollywood and won some film roles, following by some small roles on television. This followed with steady work at MGM, earning $500 a week in 1960.

Hamilton met and worked with many film celebrities. He saw a happy Judy Garland only hours before she would attempt suicide. He met Jack Warner, whom he described as “the most uncouth man in an uncouth business.” Warner yelled, during a match with Chiang Kai-shek, “smash it to the Chink”, a comment that led to Warner Brothers films being banned in China while Chiang Kai-shek was in power.

Hamilton dated Lynda Johnson, daughter of President Lyndon Johnson. He faced criticism as a draft dodging playboy. He was denounced on the U.S. House floor by Rep. Alvin O’Koniski who noted that none of the men drafted from his district were from families earning over $5,000 annually while the President’s daughter was dating a wealthy actor with a draft deferment for financially supporting his mother. Vincent Canby of the New York Times noted how Hamilton earned more money than President Johnson was paid.

President Johnson strongly hinted that Hamilton should enlist in the military, stating “Georgie, it’s not enough to do good. You got to look good. And we don’t look good right now.” Colonel Tom Parker even advised Hamilton to “sign up”. Instead, Hamilton chose his film career and signed to film the movie “Jack of Diamonds”. He and Lynda split. She later married Charles Robb who was later elected Virginia’s Governor and U.S. Senator, leading Hamilton to speculate if that couldn’t have also been his fate.

Hamilton continued meeting and working with many film people. He recalls Cary Grant from his LSD phase predicting that everyone would be traveling to the moon and proclaiming that “nobody impersonated Cary Grant better than me.” He knew Elvis Presley and Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s manager after his days of showing Tom Parker and His Dancing Chickens. Hamilton learned the secret to getting chickens to dance in public was to put them on a hot plate and turn the heat on.

Hamilton dated Elizabeth Taylor, who had strict bodyguards who even slammed a door on a photographer’s hand and began driving off until he yielded a camera that had been used to take unauthorized photographs of Taylor.

The Man Who Heard Voices by Michael Bamberger

Michael Bamberger. The Man Who Heard Voices or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale and Lost. New York: Gotham Books, 2007.

Manoj Night Shyamalan wrote and direct several successful movies, including “The Sixth Sense” which grossed over $2 billion worldwide. His script “Lady in the Water” failed to garner the full support of his Disney executives. He decided to find other investors, deliberately avoided hiring superstar actors, and gave an eccentric cinematographer a major break. Shymalan, an auteur filmmaker, created the movie he envisioned. Unfortunately, audience support was less than expected, causing the book publishers to consider, by the title of this book, the film a failure. Interestingly, the author disagrees with his publisher’s title. While the film was not as big a success as Shyamalan’s previous films, he believes Shyamalan will bounce back as one of the top directors in the business.

David Bordwell notes that filmmakers can become so engrossed in their work that they become unaware of the flaws contained within their films. He notes that critics tend to be more negative to those with past successes. “Lady in the Water” may have been held to, and failed to meet, their higher than standard critical standards. Bordwell observes the movie had problems, yet these blemishes may have been overblown.

Shyamalan has both greater control and takes more responsibilities over his movies than do most other directors. He is also known for creating a family atmosphere with co-workers, actors and crew, when making a film.

“The Lady in the Water” was based on a story Shyamalan invented to tell his daughters as a bedtime tale. He found transforming the story to a screenplay daunting as it was, to him, a personal story. He was not satisfied with his first screenplay draft.

Shyamalan had been pleased working for Disney/Touchstone. Disney Chairman Michael Eisner had proclaimed Shyamalan;s “Unbreakable” as “the best Disney movie in 25 years.” Shyamalan’s films had been released under the more adult Touchstone label. Shyamalan intended “Lady in the Water” as a family film to be released under the Disney label.

Shyamalan had previously produced a film “Wide Awake” for Miramax, an independent-run company owned by Disney. Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein did not like the movie and told Shyamalan that he was not and never would be an A-list director. Even though Shyamalan was contracted to direct two more movies for Miramax, Shyamalan considered himself as fired by Weinstein. He wrote “The Sixth Sense” partially in spite to show Weinstein he could make an A-list movie. Shyamalan spent long hours going over every detail. He debated with himself, and followed advice that “sometimes what doesn’t make sense works”. He even removed the film’s famous line “I see dead people” during some rewriting before he put the line back in. Shyamalan demanded $1 million minimum and a guarantee to direct in return for selling the screenplay. Since he was not under to contract to Weinstein as a screenwriter, he sent the screenplay overnight mail to other film companies. He did send a copy to Weinstein, but by U.S. Mail. Shyamalan used bravado, in part fueled by his desire to get away from Weinstein, by calling the studios and telling them to put aside time to read the script. Shyamalan was known for his screenplay “Stuart Little”, so he was a known writer even if the calls still were a little unusual. Four studios quickly passed on the first day. Yet, New Line bid $2 million. David Vogel at Disney was convinced to quickly read the script, which he did. Vogel bid $3 million for the script plus $500,000 for Shyamalan to direct it. Shyamalan accepted Vogel’s bid. Weinstein did not object and asked for a share of profits for loaning Shyamalan as a director.

“The Sixth Sense” was a success and with that one movie, Shyamalan was on the A-list of directors.

Shyamalan’s subsequent movie “Unbreakable” had $249 million in ticket sales worldwide followed by “Signs” which grossed $405 million in ticket sales, followed by “The Village” which had a $256 million gross, as well as associated DVD sales and broadcast rights which additionally added tens of millions of dollars.

Some critics began hammering at Shyamalan. A.O. Scott of the New York Times declared his movies as ones that “never gives us anything to believe in other than his own power to solve problems of his own posing.” Roger Ebert stated “The Vilage” was “based on a premise that cannot support it.”

Shyamalan sent copies of the fifth draft of the script “Lady in the Water” to 23 people, including his wife, nanny, agent, music scorer, etc. He enclosed a detailed questionnaire which he uses in rating all his scripts. Shyamalan computes the results and compares the results to their reactions to his other scripts. Some feedback he received on “Lady in the Water” was the humor misfired. It also didn’t appeal as well to females. His nanny found it confusing and offensive to religious Christians. The sixth draft was the one that was sent to the studios.

Shyamalan planned to invest most of his liquid assets of $30 million into creating half ownership of “Lady in the Water”, which he planned would cost $60 million to make.

Shyamalan discussed “Lady in the Water” with Disney executives. He argued with them over their claims they didn’t understand the movie. Shyamalan believed he was no longer being treated with the deference he expected. Nina Jacobson of Disney found the script troubling, especially for a proposed Disney movie, as there were frightening mutated creatures in the script. She worried about Shyamalan’s plans to act in one of the major roles, since Shyamalan had little acting experience. She also thought the movie has too much dialogue and not enough action. The main problem she had was the story is myth, which she found difficult to follow. Her responses was “I don’t get it”, to which her Disney boss replied “neither do I”. Shyamalan was enthused by the Disney criticism and he strongly defended his script. Shyamalan then concluded that Team Disney didn’t appreciate his individualistic ideas. Disney offered to give Shyamalan $60 million to make the movie without their involvement. Shyamalan was upset as he liked the Disney executives and he wanted their cooperation and not just their money. He felt a rejection of their faith in him. Shyamalan tol his agent not to have studios bid for the script, as he feared possible resentment from the top bidder. Instead, he told his agent to show the script only to Warner Brothers. They bought the script.

Shyamalan initially had a list of actors in mind to star in “Lady in the Water”. He wrote the role thinking Tom Hanks would be best for the role. Paul Giamatti was on his list, but he considered Giamatti the least likely on his list for the role. Tom Cruise was interested in the lead role, yet Shyamalan thought his fame would overshadow the movie. Shyamalan changed his thinking about his list as he feared audiences would have preconceived notions about the actors on his list, except Giamatti. Plus, Giamatti had a record in past movies of portraying unlikable characters in a way so audiences liked him. Shyamalan sent the script to Giamatti and was disappointed to learn Giamatti did not rush to read a part, especially since he knew it had been written with him in mind. Giamatti was slow to respond, during which Shyamalan considered Kevin Costner for the role. Finally, Shyamalan heard from Giamatti, who had finally read the script, and who responded “dude, I am so “Lady”’. Giamatti had the part.

Shyamalan hired a cinematographer, Chris Doyle, who was known for being options to a director. They had worked together once before and Shyamalan wanted to recreate a dark feel that had been produced before. Shyamalan hired others to work on the film who had experience working on non-studio films and who were able to think for themselves.

In casting actors, Shyamalan was noted for quickly selecting actors based on intuition. He sought mentally balanced actors willing to be part of his filming community for up to six months of filming and editing. The role of Lin Lan was considered by many as impossible to cast as Shyamalan envisioned until Cindy Cheung auditioned.

Shyamalan thought Cindy Cheung was perfect for the role. He also thought she was an enthusiastic actor who would jump at the chance to have a lead role in one of his films for the SAG minimum. Shyamalan was disappointed when her agent asked for $1 million. While she settled for $100,000, Shyamalan had to separate his thoughts of her from his thoughts on her agent.

Shyamalan wanted to film “Lady in the Water” within the Philadelphia city limits, yet logistical problems prevented that from happening. Instead, a building in Green Lane, outside Philadelphia, was used.

Shyamalan treated visiting Warner Brothers executives gingerly. Warner had given him a $68 million budget. He hid some scenes from them he feared might raise too many questions. Although Shyamalan worried that he saw fear in their eyes as they toured the set, he was pleased when they left proclaiming “you wowed us.”

Mary Beth Hurt added dialogue not in the script. Shyamalan was not happy with this, but he knew with enough takes he’d get the scripted scene he desired.

The film editor carefully raised questions she had about the story’s logic. Shyamalan responded defensively.

The marketing for the film was presented as a tease that didn’t tell much about the film.

Editing was done in a barn on Shyamalan’s Pennsylvania farm.

The first day of shooting did not go well. A child actor was unable to perform a relatively simple lick and slap maneuver and would need to be replaced. Throughout the shooting, the Director of Photography (DP) seemed to have a drinking problem, sometimes causing shots to be missed. Shyamalan seemed comfortable with this behavior, which if it weren’t for the closeness of the cast and crew, would likely had led to harassment charges in other workplaces. The Director of Photography was known for kissing bellies and grabbing genitalia.

Shyamalan believed that providing good food on the set kept people happy. Plus, he enjoyed eating a lot. Shyamalan also, once a week, drew the name of a cast member’s name from a hat and rewarded the winner with a trip to Europe, Hawaitt, and once a two week trip to the Far East.

During shooting, Shyamalan was pleased with Cindy Cheung’s performance. He sometimes felt hers was the only role that was working. The film was shot darkly, which make it more difficult for a camera to stay focused. Warner Brothers was happy with the dailies, especially since they were steadily producing them.

Shyamalan was concerned about a scene where he initially wanted a handheld camera. It would make the scene appear like a documentary. He was worried if his Photography Director would be sober enough to get the desired shots. If he hired another to shoot the scene, he feared insulting the DP. He solved the dilemma by bringing in a Steadycam, which could get the shots almost as well yet was easier to handle.

Shyamalan tested “Lady in the Water” before 60 viewers. The group tested it better than any other test group had rated his previous movies.

Audiences tended to find their views were closer to those of the Disney executives. Many found the movie confusing. Some in the film industry condemned Shyamalan’s unwillingness to make a film with his contracted studio, Disney, even after they had agreed to put up the money, just because the executives stated they didn’t understand the script. The film cost Shyamalan his director’s right to insist on final cut approval. The author believes he will get that back.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Alma Hitchcock by Pat Hitchcock O'Connell

Pat Hitchcock O’Connell and Laurent Bouzereau. Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man. New York: Berkeley Books. 2003.

This book, written by the daughter of director Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma, is about her parents. Alma was one of the few people Alfred listened to most closely about professional matters. She was experienced in the film business before they met and together they developed their knowledge about the film industry. Alma became Alfred’s closest confidant and was involved in screenwriting, casting, and providing Alfred with directorial advice.

Alma is credited with screenwriting and continuity credit in several of Alfred’s films as Alma Reville, her maiden name. She also had numerous uncredited roles in his work.

Alma began working at the London Film Company at Twickenham Studios as a film rewinder. She then became a film editor, which then involving cutting and splicing film by hand. She asked for more responsibilities and was promoted to cutting from film negatives, working on sets as a floor secretary, and then working simultaneously as an editor and on continuity. At that time, editing consisted mostly of splicing entire scenes together. Later directors such as Alfred Hitchcock would being using close-ups and more complex visual techniques that also required greater editing involvement.

Alma learned a lot about filmmaking from her work. She worked with and learned from numerous people including director D.W. Griffith, actor Lillian Gish, then-actor Erich Von Stroheim, and actor Noel Coward. She also played small roles in several films.

Alma then got an editing position at Famous Players-Lasky British Producers Ltd. It was there she met Alfred Hitchcock. Alfred first drew inter-titles and drawing for silent movies before moving to becoming an assistant director. Alfred walked past Alma for two years without every looking at her. Alfred would later explain he didn’t want to approach her until he had a better job than hers. The studio closed and Alma was out of work for six months until Alfred called and offered her editing work on a film where he was the assistant director. Alma first turned down the job, stating the pay was too low. They later reached an agreement.

Alfred and Alma first worked together on the 1923 film “Woman to Woman”. More working together followed, including work in Germany where both learned to speak German for their positions. Alfred was concerned when he ran out of money while making the movie and didn’t want it known this was his first movie as director. Alma begged the production people for more money and received it.

Alfred’s second move, “The Mountain Eagle” filmed in 1925 but released in 1927, had Alma as assistant director. It was a financial failure.

The next film Alfred directed, “The Lodger” was the first film Alfred considered as a Hitchcock film. He relied on newspaper headlines, clocks, and calendars instead of inter-titles when he could, as he felt that kept the action of a silent movie progressing better. Yet it was so unique that the studio thought it was awful.

Alfred and Alma married in 1926, at a time they feared Alfred’s directing career was over. Afterwards, “The Lodger” was given a limited released. Audiences liked it and positive words about it spread. Alfred’s career rebounded. In 1927 he directed four movies including one he co-wrote as well as the one of the four on which Alma worked with him, “The Ring”.

Alfred directed “Blackmail” as a silent film and then added sound. It was released in 1929 as both a silent and sound movie. It is considered the first British-made sound movie.

Numerous film projects followed for Alfred and Alma. Alfred liked to employ what he called the MacGuffin, which is something a villain wants but knowledge of not known by the audience. He also liked to give villains charm and manners.

The Hitchcocks moved to Hollywood. Alfred directed “Suspicion”. It’s original ending with a murder was changed so no murder happened due to poor audience reaction to the original ending. Alfred listened to audiences more than to critics.

The author recalls a memo Alfred received complaining, during the filming of “Lifeboat”, that Tallulah Bankhead was noticeably not wearing underpants. Alfred replied “I don’t like to get involved with departments disputes. I can’t tell if this is the responsibility of wardrobe, makeup, or the hair dressing department.”

Alfred’s Hollywood movies were very successful. He also hosted a TV series. Grace Kelly starred in several Hitchcock movies. When she left acting to marry and become Princess of Monaco, Alfred chose a new leading female star while watching Tippi Hedren in a TV commercial. She passed a screen test and landed the lead to “The Birds”.

Alfred was invited to speak at a White House dinner with President Lyndon Johnson. Alfred drew laughs by stating, after Woody Allen spoke, “I always thought Woody Allen was a national park.”

The author recalls her parents getting one of the first VCRs. Two of the most technically proficient filmmakers in history were baffled by the instructions and getting the VCR to work.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Screenplay Workbook by Jeremy Robinson and Tom Mungovan

Jeremy Robinson and Tom Mungovan. The Screenwriting Workbook: The Writing Before the Writing. Hollywood, Ca.: Lone Eagle Publishing, 2003.

A screenwriter, before beginning to write a screenplay, need to develop characters, a plot, subplot, and find emotions and emotional shifts that the audience should experience.

A screenwriter should conceptualize a screenplay, consider its genre, characters, time period, how much a movie could cost to produce, what its target audience should be, the story content, the writer’s own interests, and then develop an impression of these thoughts so far.

Character development should include names for the characters. The names could project particular meanings or emotions. Consideration has to be provided to the themes the characters will project. The characters could have quirks, interests, vices, strengths, goals, sexual proclivities, regrets, etc. that are a part of the screenplay.

Character relationships need to consider how the characters interplay with each other, the challenges and difficulties in these relationships, their mutual interest and beliefs, and the goals of each in these relationships.

The plot structure has to consider exposition, increasing action, conflicts, climax, falling actions, resolution, and the ending.

Plot points and the turnings points have to be considered.

A character needs a character arc. A challenge posed to a character has to be acknowledged, faced, struggled with, and defeated.

A plot chart considers plot points, plot structure, and the character arc.

Screenplays need to consider their time period, location, story element, characters involved, the visual look, important actions, dialogue, and revelations.

Ask the Pros Edited by Howard Meibach and Paul Duran

Howard Meibach and Paul Duran (ed.) Ask the Pros: Screenwriting. 101 Questions Answered by Industry Professionals. Hollywood. Ca.: Lone Eagle Publishing Co., 2004.

This book poses questions that are answered by numerous screenwriting experts.

Diane Dank states that great screenplays have been ones where she felt the emotions they portray.

Arnold Schulman warns against writers strictly following formulas.

Gregg McBride notes screenwriting presents a visual presentation. It does not have to be well written, fancy prose. It has to tell a good visual story.

John Fasano recommends a good plot that holds up and is logical.

David Goyes has gotten ideas from dreams. John Fascano recommends interviewing all kinds of people and reading obscure magazines for interesting story ideas.

Robbie Fox finds good characters emerge from people he’s observed and that he finds they are people with which others can identify.

David Goyes believes good characters emerge from their actions.

Craig Moss develops a beat sheet and outline before writing.

Robbie Fox researches people and often writes from inspiration from observed events.

Craig Moss and Stephen Suseo recommend “Story” by Robert McKee. Robbie Fox believes McKee’s book has been a bad influence on other writers. Gregg McBride recommends “Screenwriting 434” by Lew Hunter and “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by Dave Trottier.

David Goyer suggests a write tackle a subject about which the writer is passionate.

Barry Gold states when pitching an idea that one should be able to state the idea in one sentence.

Larry Brody warns that the film industry is not really searching for new writers and new ideas. The industry wants dependable writers and doesn’t want to risk using new, untested writers. New ideas are risky as it can’t be known how large a market will buy a new idea.

Larry Brody suggests people with new ideas to film it themselves, even if it is with $500 in equipment and using friends, and then using Internet media to show the new ideas.

Stanley Brinks advises that producers seek big idea concepts.

Ken Kokin, a producer, states he doesn’t use readers. He reads scripts himself.

Stephan Palmer warns that most scripts she’s seen did not have a strong basic concept.

Rio Hernandez states it is not likely that a script recommended by a reader is ever developed. Most ideas start at higher levels than readers.

John Truby recommends a screenplay pick a specific genre for a screenplay. The hero and heo’s opponent have to fit that genre’s framework.

Linda Cowgill states a character’s backstory is important but not critical. It could be shown using just a few details,

Dyann A. Rivkin states a screenplay needs well developed characters and a state that an audience willingly will suspend belief and feel is real.

Linda Cowgill recommends writers try to create a unique view for an already popular theme that audiences desire.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Acting Class by Milton Katselas

Milton Katselas. Acting Class: Take a Seat. Beverly Hills, Ca.: Phoenix Books, 2008.

This book presents the instructions that the author uses in his Acting classes at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.

Acting brings out the genius from inside an actor. An actor frees a creative spirit when acting.

Stella Adler stated “I’m not teaching acting, darling, I’m teaching actors to be people.” This requires merging artistic skills with life knowledge to produce a performance.

Acting involves the actor as a person. Director Martin Ritt explained that “All you’ve got to be is mine the gold within yourself.
Creativity requires some to forget past life lessons that taught that one should have humility and modesty. Acting requires one to be a Mensch, or a full, caring human being.

Acting is the craft, technique, and process of acting work. Attitude is the artist’s feelings regarding the artist’s own life, feelings towards other actors, and feelings towards others in life. Administration is the chosen actions undertaken in the craft of acting.

An honest actor tries to feel the same feelings and live the same life as the character being portrayed.

Marlon Brando presented a height in personal acting with a wit that caught people off-guard.

Realism is acting as a foundation that includes intelligences, expressiveness, irony, humor, and unexpectedness.

An actor needs to understand the story and know what a real person would do during the story. Katselas explains this is the simplicity to acting, and warns that many try to make it more difficult.

An actor should be enthusiastic and have a good attitude towards acting. An actor should be pleasure to others in order to become successful.

Actors should maintain contacts with directors.

An actor needs commitment.

Technique is what helps an actor in creating the art of acting. An actor considers a Checklist for creating the art of acting, namely the Event, Evaluation, Behavior, Physical / Emotional State, what occurred prior the scene, Creative Hiding, Be a Person. Inner and Outer Life: The “Cover”, Who’s the Author?, Improvisation, Humor, Trust, Being Personal, Pathology, Objectives, Specifics, Use of Objects, Arbitrary Choices, Momemt to Moment (part 1): Belief, and Moment to Moment (part 2): Alternatives.

The Event is the scene’s location and what is occurring. The actor must relate to the scene.

The Evaluation is the appraisal of a scene.

Behavior is what a character does in a scene. There is the Apparent Event of what the actor physically does and the emotions shown in the Actual Event of the character’s motivation.

Stanislavski advised actors to follow “the line of action, the line of truthful actions, and of genuine confidence in them.” An actor uses the simplest of actions and words to present full emotions.

The actor must know the psychology of the scene. Director Elia Kazan stated “The job of the director is to turn psychology into behavior.”

The Physical/Emotional State concerns the actors condition, both physically and emotionally.

What Happened Before the Scene requires an actor to portray a role at a specific moment.

Creative Hiding is when a character hides emotions from other characters.

Be a Person requires portraying a real person. An actor should consider what real people do in situations. Stanislavski notes people often have a reflective delay.

Inner and Outer Life: “The Cover” is the subtext to a character.

Who’s the Author? Requires delivering the lines in an effective manner, often according to a voice an author intended.

Improvisation requires making dialogue appear real and spontaneous. Katselas recommends to “play the written scene, but use your own words to paraphrase the text”, “set up a situation analogous to the written scene”, “explore a part of the scene that is not included in the script but relates to your scene”, “explore another technique out of character”, and “realize what is expressed by action that is the opposite of expectations.”

Moment to Moment, Part 1: Belief requires a portrayal to be believable by an audience.

Moment to Moment, Part 2: Alternatives requires an actor to realize that real people don’t act in specific actions that they do so while weighing alternatives.

The author provides several acting exercises. One exercise is to sing while still and to relax and observe the small emotional impulses and note where tensions and emotions arise. Sing fully to loosen emotions.

Another exercise is to assume a pose from a picture and then speak as the person in the picture, being true to the character in the picture.

Another exercise involves the actor relating to and changing the environment of a scene by making it more personal. This may relax an actor and allow the actor to better absorb a scene.

Another exercise is to write and perform a monologue that tells something personal. This gives an actor practice in relating personal emotions.

Another exercise is to pretend to audition by acting without reading. Robert DeNiro advised for real auditions that “you go in, you read you do your best you can, you go home. You’re probably not going to get the job anyway”. When auditioning, Katselas states the actor should be enthusiastic and let the auditioners know the actor is interested in them. Also, don’t place much reliance on any feedback given, as an actor will never learn the truth as to what the auditioners discussed. Katselas advises actors to keep faith in themselves, to retain their dignities, and to be persistent.

Another exercise is to do improvisation with another actor. This helps actors to improve their impulses and learn how to stay mentally fresh.

Tense actors should try relaxation exercises. Tension usually is found around the mouth, back of the next, and around temples. Falling asleep can relax a person.

An exercise for actors doing a shoot is to run lines together without over-thinking the scene. Instead, the actors rely on their spontaneous impulses and reactions to each other.

Presentational acting involves showing emotions through visual presentations, such as gestures. Real or feeling acting also requires an actor to experience the role so the audiences see the emotions as real and not fake. The essence of an actor must go into each performance.

Stanislavski stated an actor should feel total relaxation when performing at the height of emotions. This requires a set attitude.

Humor can result from juxtaposing realities. An actor should plan the truth of a comedic situation and note that opposites can both attract and be humorous.

A director only provides clues to an actor on how to play a part. An actor needs to act with self-reliance and conviction.

An actor needs the proper positive attitude. A successful actor is 80% positive attitude, 10% talent, and 10% technique.

Stanislavski wrote that “The actor is still bound in his everyday life to be the standard bearer of what is fine. Otherwise he will only destroy what he is trying to build…Develop in yourself the necessary self-control, the ethics, and discipline of a public servant to carry out into this world a message that is fine, elevating, and noble.”

A positive attitude is important. Self-invalidation can destroy an actor’s performance.

An actor should learn how to discover casting calls, work well with an agent, contract people who can be of assistance, make friends with casting people, write good thank you letters after auditions and work, wear proper fashionable clothes, have good hair styling, have a website and other promotional aides, meet industry people, and lean about the craft. Persistent enthusiasm is a key. An actor should feel dignified about being an actor.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Soul of Screenwriting by Keith Cunningham

Keith Cunningham. The Soul of Screenwriting: On Writing, Dramatic Truth, and Knowing Yourself. New York: Continuum, 2008.

The author sees stories, movies, and psychology as parts of connected patterns. Screenwriters who write with strong convictions are often the most productive writers. A writer needs to tap into an internal creativity. Keith Cunningham states there are sixteen story steps to screenwriting.

The first influential book of screenwriting was ‘Screenplay” by Syd Field, published in 1979. The author believes these books like that teach writing techniques when it is really the process of writing that needs to be learned. This process includes finding storylines that work and knowing when to remove subplots that are distract from the story.

Cunningham warns against placing too much emphasis on analyzing existing good screenplays. Some good characteristics may be unique to the particular movie. A different story achieves greatness on its own composition.

A good screenplay will reach an audience and make them want to follow the characters and their story. Such a screenplay is considered as having “a path with heart.”
The author declares that screenplays tell stories. They must touch the emotions of the audiences. Audiences seek to learn about themselves and most appreciate stories that provide such insights.

Cunningham presents some important fundamental principles of screenwriting, A screenplay must have a natural energy that forms a good story that touches the human spirit. A writer needs both willpower and an intuitive sense for creating a story with good relationships amongst characters. A writer taps into a universal energy to create authentic characters. The screenwriter needs to internally feel and analyze the same emotions as exist in the story. Screenwriters allow the energies from their stories to emerge and use willpower to guide their characters to their goals. The audience through identifying with the story’s hero taps into the hero’s story and shares the hero’s emotions. The screenwriter experiences a psychological “flow experience” while providing each characters their voices. The process begins from an uncertain beginning. A writer’s inner life should be connected to the story.

Experiences in life provide insights that writers should notice. Writers should shape those experiences into adventuresome stories.

A screenwriter requires creativity. Bright ideas emerge from fertile darkness. The beginning of the story has much uncertainty. Writers face risk and overcome challenges while achieving creativity. Writers use observations to overcome resistance to finding new ideas. A writer’s internal energy can be focused on creating an energetic story.

A wrier subconsciously and unconsciously, instinctively projects when writing. Empathetic insight is at the core of writing. Empathy includes emotional connectedness to characters, a capacity to create appropriate analogies to situations since a writer likely will not have experience the exact same situations as the characters, and an understanding as to the appropriate degree of separation to avoid becoming lost within a character.

A positive process emerges from a screenwriter to creating a Hero’s Journey. A Call to Adventure moves a story forward. The hero needs to Cross the Threshold into a dramatic crisis situation. This is a crisis from which the hero can’t avoid. The hero then has a Descent into points of despair. The hero faces numerous trials. The hero then has an Initiation and Meets the Secret Master. A spirit guides the hero to act through the trials or initiations. This process transforms the hero. The Secret Master is the hero’s realization of a dramatic truth that allows the hero to overcome the obstacles being faced. The hero has a Return to the Day World where the hero realizes important insights. There is then a symbolic Sacred Marriage or Ritual Kingship where the realization is celebrated.

A screenwriter must know the true nature of the characters and how their natures relate to the story. The characters’ modes or motivations as guide by their self-images must be shown. The conflicts of the story will change these modes. The writer also needs to know aspects about each character which the character isn’t yet aware. The character should face a core of psychological conflict and values conflicts. The hero will be the Carrier of Values and face opposing vales that cause the hero to reach a new self-image. The need for self-actualization is a universal need with which audiences can identify. The hero’s needs propel the story. Mode tensions create conflicts, driving the hero’s mode toward achieving subtext to the story. There should be a resulting character arc that improves the character’s development. These universal needs project the character. An Antagonist appears as a Dark Mirror impeding the hero’s needs. The hero Reconciles Mode and Need with a Dramatic Synthesis.

The author desires for writer to think by using both sides of the brain, thinking visually and psychologically. This is different from most other academic approaches to screenwriting that approach screenwriting linearly and focusing on left brain analysis.

John Sayles, a screenwriter and director, connects all characters to each other. A Character Web is created. From this, a Story Molecule is created. Visual thinking develops roles between the characters. The Story Molecule explores Need competing with Mode. The Dramatic Trajectory escalates the Plot’s drama. Each character has a Point of View from one character’s view. A screenplay could show a Second Person Point of View which can permit parallel storytelling from several characters’ points of view. A screenplay could show a Third Person Point of View from the observations of a distant character. The Point of View provides a guide to the character transformation.

Some movies don’t resolve their stories. Some end with a dramatic resolution. The characters require Character Orchestrations within the Emotional Networks.

Character relationships can conflict and increase the Dramatic Stakes. The psychological Oedipal triangle of mother, child, and father is oft repeating in varying degrees that explore ego, anima, and shadow. Each character’s emotions conflict with each other. The story presents the Barometric of Change along with Orchestrating Subplots within the Emotional Network.

Ensemble Movies often present vast emotional networks amongst characters.

There are different levels of dramatic interest in constant motion. The dramatic conflicts can be shown through characters’ emotional networks. The Story Molecule presents hidden meanings driving plots. The external story is what is seen. The body copy of settings moves the plot and touches the viewers’ subconscious. The Story Steps create drama and alters the characters in the Story Molecule. The story goes through a catalyst event followed by a Threshold Crisis, a Core Crisis, a catastrophe, and climax. Dramatic momentum changes the man relationships. Foreshadowing can be used to peak an audience’s interest and move a story away from a linear progression. The hero goes through a journey that changes the hero, except in some genre and action films that instead rely on a peaking dramatic intensity raised by building outer actions. The Story Molecule becomes balanced, either on emotional or plot levels.

Story ideas are guided by idiom and genre. Idioms are film style constructions that present perceptions.

Realism is an impression of what is real.

Expressionistic films present stories in dream or nightmare terms.

Robert McKee observes there is no agreement on how to designate genres of films. Many films blend genres.

Thrillers and melodramas rely on emotions driven by audiences.

A main character does not always have to be active and facing conflict. A main character can be introspective. A main character can develop a presence, perhaps iconic or perhaps comedic.

A story is a series of events. A plot is a structure of growth in a main character through the story’s crises.

Howard Suber notes Act II has two different movements with their own separate feel and areas of action.

A hero’s journey consists of separation (desire), then descent (deception), then intuition (discovery), and then return (destiny). This is the three act operative convention.

A catharsis at the screenplay’s climax should create a resolution of the plot.

People have subliminal sexual cues where the nervous system responds in similar fashions to sexual responses as to dramatic responses.

A resolution doesn’t require a happy conclusion. A resolution requires achieving a better understanding of an issue.

A writer’s own energy creates energy for the characters they writer creates. This creative energy is where a writer’s dark anxieties and own needs filter into the story. Act I sets the conflict and brings it to a threshold crisis. Act II develops the crisis and drives it to catastrophe. Act III climatically resolves the conflict. All three acts consist of continuous dramatic action. Story Steps are major plot point sequences, which are Threshold Crisis, Core Crisis, and catastrophe, and climax.

A beat is a distant action created by a certain motivation, combining desire and dramatic action. Action is doing something in order to achieve a desire. Dramatic moments during a scene involve increasing conflict.

The 16 story steps are Establishing Function, the Catalyst that sends the hero towards a goal, Forward Movement of the actions the hero takes in responding to a call to adventure and the resulting consequences, a Threshold Crisis that conflicts with the hero’s forward movement, the Woundedness, the Shift to the Emotional Network (the Primary Relationship), the Reminder that Outer Plot Stakes are Rising, the Forward Movement in the Relationship, the Core Crisis, the Deepening of the Consequences, the Breaking Point, the Catastrophe, the Calm Before the Storm, the Climax, and the Resolution.

Screenwriting relies on a writer’s insights and abilities to create and distill a story.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Understanding Screenwriting by Tom Stempel

Tom Stempel. Understanding Screenwriting: Learning from Good, Not-Quite-So-Good, and Bad Screenplays. New York: Continuum, 2008.

Screenwriter Phoebe Ephron advised “Take notes. Everything is copy”.

Stempel described several good movies. One is “Lawrence of Arabia”, based on Thomas Edward Lawrence’s autobiography. Screenwriters Michael Wilson’s third and final draft was 273 pages and consisted of political insights yet the dialogue while good and was often flat. Robert Bolt, in his first screenwriting effort, revised the script. Wilson, a blacklisted screenwriter, was not listed as a screenwriter on this film until the film was re-released 40 years later. Stempel compliments the screenplay for being written with performance in mind and consideration for what audiences wish to see. Stempel praises the fast paced script and shows reactions to events. The main character is transformed and the audience sees this evolution.

“Bull Durham” is another movie Stempel rates as a good movie. The film, about a minor league baseball player, was written by Ron Shelton, a former minor league baseball player. His first script didn’t sell so he added a female baseball fan character. The movie successfully breaks a general screenwriting rule by starting the movie with a dialogue. The female fan delivers a great line, “I believe in the church of baseball”, which gives the feel of the movie with being on the nose.

Stempel declares “Rear Window” is a good movie. The screenplay, written by John Michael Hayes, took a good idea from a short story by Cornell Woolrich, and crafted that idea into an excellent movie. Hayes wrote a script filled with action instructions. Alfred Hitchock’s direction of the film was excellent although Stempel considers the film as more a product of Hayes’s creativity.

“Fargo” is a movie Stempel considers as good. He credits screenwriters Ethan Cohen and Joel Cohen with creating likeable characters (something lacking in many of their other films) and made villains more excitingly dangerous by making them less intelligent.

“Kinsey” is a movie Stempel rates as good. The screenplay by Bill Condon makes good use of composite characters in this story based on the life of a real person. It addresses sex scenes seriously while appealing to audiences.

“Y Tu Mama Tambien” is a movie Stempel rates as good. Stemple sees the movie as a contradiction to Ken Dancyger’s theory that movies worldwide are moving towards a similar model. Stempel sees this as a distinct Mexican story yet appeals internationally.

Stempel also states good screenplays include “All That Jazz” for its intelligent dialoge, “E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial” with good characters and story structure, “Unforgiven” for its strong characters, “Clueless” which properly condensed a longer story, “Something to Talk About” with an enticing story structure, “Bound”, a rare film noir with a happy ending, “Finding Nemo”, an animated movie with a strong story, “Ameriican Splendor”, which presents a good character study, “Bon Voyage”, which is hilarious, “Love Actually”, which manages to merge nine stories into one movie, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, a well done movie of complexities, “Maria Full of Grace”, an insightful script that was researched for three years, “Before Sunset”, with its sublime conclusion, and “Saving Face”, a good story presentation specific to Chinese culture.

“Collateral” is a movie Stempel consider “not quite so good”. Stempel argues its first plot point, where a body falls onto the main character’s windshield, occurs too soon. The main characters downgrade their intelligence in the last 25 minutes of the film.

Stempel rates all three “Jurrasic Park” movies as “not quite so good”. The movies skillfully suggest violence without presenting it. Stempel believes the films present action at the expense of character development. A scene that mimicked “Godzilla” was a point where the series jumped the shark.

“Troy” is a movie Stempel considers “not quite so good”. He sees it as a lesser version of other historic films.

Stempel views “King Arthur” as “not quite so good”. The audience is not overly inspired by one of the central dilemmas in this movie.

“Alexander” is a movie Stempel rates as “not quite so good”. The story is epic but lacks drama.

“Kingdom of Heaven” is considered by Stempel as “not quite so good”. Some characters are not believable.

“Something’s Got to Give” is “not quite so good”, according to Stempel. He finds the final half hour as lacking.

The “American Pie” movies are called “not quite so good” by Stempel. The raunch is misplaced. It has a good set up for a hilarious payoff line. The sequels are too repetitious of the previous formula. The characters are shallow.

Other movies Stempel rates as “not quite so good” are “Speed”, which follows the Syd Field formula yet becomes too busy and fails to develop secondary characters, “Deep Impact” which has a story that is poorly structured, “Armageddon” which overuses comedy in a movie about tragedy, “Shrek”, which has a good story yet overdoes its parody of Disney films, “Pearl Harbor”, which has great effects yet lacked character development, “Sleepover”, which has some story elements some audiences found as too creepy, “The Incredibles”, which begins fresh then turns conventional, “The Upside of Anger”, which as a flawed story, and “Junebug”, which fails to show characteristics ascribed to characters.

Stempel rates “Titanic” as “bad”. It has characters being repetitious. The movie is too long, has a bad script and has some bad acting.

“Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” is rated by Stempel as “bad”. It is an unfunny comedy.

The “Star Wars” movies are rated as “bad”. The sequels fail to satisfy audiences’ curiosity about known characters by overemphasizing new characters.

Stempel rates as “bad” other films, such as “Dune” which is too descriptive for a movie, “Howard the Duck”, which was meant to be a darker film that the studio insisted be made brighter and the result was disappointing, “Willow”, which has a boring story, “The Bachelor”, while failed to make a 1920s storyline appeal to a modern audience, “Gods and Generals”, which is too preachy, “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas” which did not work an animated film, “The Stepford Wives” (2004) and “Manchurian Candidate” (2004) which both improperly updated old movies, and “Broken Flowers”, which has poor character development.

When viewing a move critically, it is good to consider the time period being shown, notice how characters are presented, consider how dialogue is used, determine whether the characters fit the story, consider how characters develop during the story and if they are developing properly, see if the story is too formulaic, and watch if the ending is satisfying and resolves the story.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bambi vs. Godzilla by David Mamet

David Mamet. Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business. New York: Vintage Books, 2008.

The author David Mamet claims that good dramatic storyline in movies are being overtaken by movies with just a premise and assorted attention grabbing scenes, such as explosions, stunts, shootouts, gags, etc. Studios today make movies for targeted audiences. Mamet sees this as an example of basic economics where any industry, including movies, that becomes more monopolistic are no longer driven by competition to keep their quality high.

Movies that shoot mostly during nighttime have problems with staff fatigue. Crews don’t complain. Star actors, who are pampered, do complain. This represents the two tiers of movies: Stars, directors, producers, and screenwriters are above the line. Crew are below the line. A director is referred to by “sir” even though crew members assign “sir” as meaning “asshole”.

All films earn money, according to Mamet, even though technically nearly all claim net losses. The money is distributed to down. Guilds and unions give workers some strength.

Mamet states that film business decisions involve intuition and/or courage. Studio executives gamble with other people’s money, make money and then invest that money into a new film, and then continue gambling until they create a film that loses money and get fired.

Otto Preminger needed 10,000 extras in Jerusalem while filming “Exodus” but could not pay for them So, he put up posters reading “Be an extra in a movie, ten shekels” and charged the extras.

Preminger also filmed in Seattle yet had to have equipment brought from Los Angeles to Seattle. Rules with Teamsters required Teamsters to be paid higher wages as set by Los Angeles wage rates. Preminger instead had the equipment sent by rail and paid the lower Seattle wage rates.

Mamet states that Ashkenazi Jews have composed a large proportion of leading studio executive positions throughout the industry’s history. This includes names such as Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, Carl Laemmle, William Fox, and Joseph Schenek.

Movies require managers who can work under chaos.

Some producers raise money for movies they produce. Some are shtadlans, who communicate between the studio (which has all the power) and those making the film.

Movies often reflect what is happening to our society. They often reassure the public that their problems can be solved. Unfortunately, much of these reassurances are useless. Yet people become addicted to these movies, and the idea that more spending on problems can solve anything, as with spending more on movies can create blockbusters.

It takes comedy to entertain an audience to appreciate viewing something they should learn but resist discovering. “Fahrenheit 9/11” is an example of this.

Mamet notes the irony of several films with the theme that a Caucasian person teacher other races about their culture. Among these are “The Jazz Singer” where a white person teaches jazz to Blacks, “Schindler’s List” where a white man saves Jews, and “Dances with Wolves” where a white man teaches buffalo hunting to Native Americans.

In movies, the background and foreground often can not simultaneously be in focus. Some smart animators have begun making distorted backgrounds so the animated film will appear more like a movie.

There is no formula for predicting which movies will be successful. Studios hire numerous experts and analysts who often are wrong. Even audience research is often wrong. This is because market research audiences try to be objective when real audiences are often subject to discussions from previous viewers and their opinions which skews their preconceived notions of the movies. Harry Cohn may have had the best known prediction system which he used which involved “the feeling in his ass”.

Most film schools, undergraduate and graduate and seminars on filmmaking seldom lead people into positions where they make films, according to Mamet. He claims screenwriting books and the MFA in Screenwriting appeal to the gullible. It is access to money that determines which movies are made. He claims graduate film schools primarily prepare students to follow formulas so they learn to become subservient to studio management.

The secret to movies, according to George Stevens, “cinema, as its most effective, is one scene effectively superseded by the next.”

Screenwriters should know about aesthetics, which involves the unification of time, place, and action. The screenplay must be a story audience can and wish to see. It must consist only of a hero solving a problem. The solution must face increasingly difficult challenges. Mamet notes that studios often change scripts to fit this formula.

Humans have drama in their lives and love analyzing drama. There are few rules for writing drama, except drama is difficult for writing as a craft. Humans love drama in their lives and in their films while relaxing.

The wisdom of filmmaking is as follows: Use a star people will pay to see. Show only the story in a film and nothing else. Remember the audience, and which movies they will pay to see, and decide which kind of movies will be financial successes.

Most good scripts being with an easily understood story and properly continues to a probably but startling end. An incident in the story stimulates reactions.

A good script presents what occurs. A bad scripts fails to see there is action in the dialogue and fails to have action shown.

A movie’s editing should present the story and cut out the extraneous.

A good screenwriter can properly create, without sentimentality, characters of the opposite sex who have messages to present. Good writers know the similarities between men and women. A good writer observes and writes the truth. A good writer need not have lived the life of whom the writer describes, but knows how to present how the characters really are.

A problem with many screenplays is they are written to satisfy studio executives rather than to appeal to audiences.

A writer has to live the process of the story’s lead character. The conclusion of each scene must find the protagonist unable to obtain the story’s main goal. This makes audiences wonder how the main character will cope and identify with the struggle. Any scene other than this is irrelevant and ruins the movie.

Mamet claims film supervision of children and animals is lacking.

Good logical gags can make audiences wonder or laugh.

Filmmakers need to be prepared to improvise when circumstances require it. Steven Speilberg couldn’t get the mechanical shake in “Jaws” to function properly so he had to revise the movie by leaving the shark out of several scenes and instead filmed shark attacks without showing the shark. This actually was heralded by many as being more scary than if the shark were shown/

Sometimes film footage shot even before the director yells “action” may later accidentally prove to be useful.

The first films in history were short scenes, such as people kissing and a train coming towards the audience. The earliest movies were then lengthened so exhibits could charge more money. This required that structured stores be presented.

When there is a movie where audiences are expected to attend in order to see a star actor, see that the best lines go to that star and not to supporting actors.’

Mamet suggest that many movies can be improved by removing the first ten minutes of exposition and starting with the action. He also agrees with the “less is more” axiom of showing only what is needed to move a story forward.

Billy Wilder said of audiences “individually, they’re idiots. Collectively, they’re a genius.”

“Violating the aesthetic distance”, which is a cheap film trick that should not be used, is when the audience is excited by something that detracts from the plot. Some examples of this are scenes when showing “555-xxxx”phone numbers that are not needed in a story, as audiences know these numbers don’t exist. Another example is showing an actor can perform a skill such as playing a piano when the audience has already accepted that the character can do this. It takes away from the viewer’s joy of viewing the fantasy.

Mamet notes many recent comedies have relied more on the melodramatic and become compilations of funny scenes as opposed to earlier comedies that relied more on plots.

Murder in film can have psychological appear to audiences that are thrilled by killing. Police drama can have psychological appear on issues with superiority.

Stanislavsky believes drama related to melodrama as does tragedy to comedy. Tragedy is enhanced comedy.

Film noir unites violence with irony.

American war films filmed during World War II often featured conflicts between individuals within military units. British war films had themes of united units of soldiers.

A visual depiction that tells part of a story is better than using dialogue.

Great actors give performances that make audiences grin or smile sadly.

Mamet recommends directors look at actors’ works rather than their auditions when selecting actors. Doing well at auditions is not necessarily related to acting skills. In addition, the process of listening to numerous people audition dulls the senses and makes it possible to pay little attention to good performances, especially when the mindset is there may be a better presentation yet to arrive.

The mission of critics is to attract readers to buy the publications publishing their criticism. The advertising of movies in these publications can bias as well as increase coverage of these movies.

Many screenwriters wish to direct, in part, in order to retain control over revisions to their scripts.

The last two minutes of a movie can be the most critical. A movie that turns a movie around in the time is often successful. A move that can make a turn-around in its final ten ten seconds can be even more successful.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Control Room by Martin Plissner

Martin Plissner. The Control Room: How Television Calls the Shots in Presidential Elections. New York, N.Y.: The Free Press, 1999.

The author, former CBS News Director Martin Plissner, writes a history of how the TV news determined the coverage of Presidential candidates.

In 1916, the first broadcast of a political event was by Lee DeForest using a ham radio. DeForest announced to a few local listeners that Charles Evan Hughes had been elected President. Thus began a long history of broadcasts getting the news wrong. This would include 1948 when H.V. Kaltenburn of NBC mistakenly announced that Tom Dewey had defeated Harry Truman.

When the TV networks broadcast their first political convention, the 1952 Republican National Convention, the Republican National Committee Chairman at first thought the network should pay his party for the broadcast, as the networks do for sports broadcasts.

Not every candidate appreciated national TV coverage. In 1964, Nelson Rockefeller did not want TV cameras covering his speeches. By 1976, candidates were mostly planning their speeches according to obtaining network coverage.

In 1964, both CBS and NBC changed their evening news from 15 minutes to 30 minute programs. In 1963, had surpassed newspapers as the public’s primary source of political news. Presidential campaigns have increasingly strategized on how to obtain network news coverage.

The author states, from experience, that networks seek news coverage to reach the greatest number of viewers at the lowest costs. TV networks seek to find material that shows they have a broadcasting advantage to viewers over the other networks. Ratings are important, and ratings help determine the showing of national political conventions in accordance with lead in shows that may benefit or highly rated shows that may be shown instead of convention coverage.

TV news coverage has changed the political process. TV coverage of Presidential primaries caused more states to adopt primaries.

Networks began creating benchmarks for candidates to achieve in primaries. This made the races more interesting for viewers as all candidates were given benchmarks that news reporters expected them to achieve. The “expectations game” became a feature of TV coverage.

Networks created tiers of candidates. The first tier is a front runner and a primary challenger. The second tier is candidates with a potential to shine. The third tier is candidates consider to have no chance at winning. These designations are fluid, as John Connally in 1980 and John Glenn in 1984 were first tier candidates who quickly collapsed during their first primaries.

In 1975, network news began conducting and reporting “straw votes” at political gatherings to raise viewer interest in the upcoming elections.

Candidates can use network interviews to turn their campaigns around. In 1988, when Dan Rather of CBS challenged that George Bush has to have known about a controversial arms sales, Bush improved his image by attacking back at Rather.

Coverage of the 1992 Presidential campaign faced network financial cutbacks due to increase expenses networks faced covering the 1991 Iraq War as well as declining general network revenues.

The networks viewed campaign coverage during the 1960s as something that gained viewers. During the 1990s, campaign coverage was seen as something that lost them viewers. It became viewed as more of an obligation that as a ratings booster.

Gennifer Flowers’ accusation but inability to prove an affair with Bill Clinton soaked up much of the early 1992 campaign coverage. Voters stated they had no problem with a candidate who may have cheated on his marriage. Ironically, the Clinton scandal provided more coverage and acceptance of Clinton. The Clinton campaign gained while other candidates found they received relatively less coverage.

Convention broadcasting can affect news programming. When CBS failed to get its radio broadcasting star Edward R. Murrow to cover the 1952 Republican National Convention, a young reporter Walter Cronkite rose to fame when he provided the coverage. CBS received $3 million from Westinghouse for sponsoring the 1952 conventions from “gavel to gavel”.

TV coverage impacted the 1952 Presidential race. The 1952 Republican Convention began with Robert Taft having the most delegates. A Credentials Committee meeting was held where Taft supporters held a majority in determining controversies over seating delegates. The committee meeting was closed to cameras yet Taft supporters quickly realized the negative effect this closed door meeting had on viewers as Eisenhower supporters were shown demanding letting cameras to be brought in. A CBS technician was able to listen in to the committee’s closed proceeding and Cronkite reported what was happening. The committee hearings were then opened to cameras and the Taft supporters backed down on their planned maneuverings that would have seated more Taft delegates. Eisenhower wound up winning the nomination.

NBC devoted 152 hours while CBS provided 139 hours of coverage of the two 1953 national conventions.

CBS wanted to make speakers appear better on TV. CBS held candidates’ TV training classes led by Walter Cronkite. The classes included tips of diction, clothing, and makeup. Sen. John Kennedy was one of the attendees. Kennedy would narrate a 30 minute film at the 1956 Democratic Convention that ABC and NBC showed but CBS did not.

The 1956 convention featured fewer contests compared to the 1952 conventions as both opened with their Presidential nominees as certain. Two little known broadcasters, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, won praise for their NBC convention coverage that included humor and insightful stories. NBC then made Huntley and Brinkley the anchors of their network news. In 1960, NBC overtook Douglas Fairbanks of CBS in the network news ratings. CBS News had led the ratings since World War II.

Huntley and Brinkley’s NBC coverage of the 1960 conventions had more viewers than CBS, which used Cronkite and Murrow. A CBS news executive was fired. When NBC outdrew CBS at the first 1964 convention, CBS removed Cronkite from covering the second convention. NBC increased its spending on convention coverage by four times.

CBS had an advantage in that they polled delegates. They declared that Barry Goldwater had wrapped up the 1964 Republican nomination after the California Primary. In 1968, CBS announced that Richard Nixon had 689 delegates when he needed 667 delegates for the Republican nomination. This helped Nixon win the nomination as Ronald Reagan’s campaign claimed there were delegates desiring to switch from Nixon to Reagan but they wouldn’t switch as they had already made their commitments known to CBS.

In 1976, CBS was on the verge of declaring a week before the start of the Republican convention that their survey of delegates showed Gerald Ford was going to win the nomination. Ronald Reagan then announced his selection of Richard Schweiker as his running mate. It took CBS that final week to repoll delegate to ascertain that Ford retained his lead despite the Reagan selection of a running mate. Thus, though, had the impact of keeping Reagan in the race until the convention.

Network presentations of disorderly and divisive political conventions led to what has been labeled Donilon’s Law, from a quote from Democrat Tom Donilon who stated “a party’s chance of winning the Presidency varies inversely with the length of the time it takes it’s nominee to clinch the nomination”. Republicans transformed this law into what they called their 11th commandment, which is “thou should not makes news” or attack other Republicans in public. Ford’s campaign in 1976 gave up a convention fight over platform points to Reagan’s camp rather than have a policy split shown on TV. In 1984, Democratic nominee Walter Mondale did the same thing by conceding platform policies to challengers Jesse Jackson and Gary Hart rather than having the policy fights televised. By 1988, the Democratic Party had cut its platform to where there was little to be disputed.

ABC in 1968 did not broadcast the convenient. It kept its regular programs on. Instead, beginning at 10 pm, it presented a show summarizing that evening’s convention events.

At the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley limited mobile TV units to a few sites where his advisors thought protestor would be least visible. Instead, protestors sought out and deliberately protested where the TV cameras were concentrated. 16,000 police and National Guard and barbed wire protected the convention. A “police riot” was shown on TV. Members of the media, including Dan Rather of CBS, were physically hit, manhandled, or maced by police or the Guard. Walter Cronkite declared famously to Dan Rather as he was being dragged away by security “I think we’ve got a bunch of thugs there, Dan.” Mayor Daley was upset, believing the coverage was slanted and that protestor taunts were not broadcast.

The 1972 Democratic Convention showed convention and platform fight. This hurt the Democrats.

The 1980 Democratic Convention featured platform fights between Jimmy Carter and Edward Kennedy forces. The failure of the two sides to visibly unite afterwards hurt the Democrats.

Republicans in 1972 deliberately preset every aspect of their convention. CBS found this out and reported on the orchestration.

In 1992, NBC aired its regular programming for much of the conventions and allowed NBC reporters to broadcast for PBS. CBS didn’t show the entire evening of a convention and presented the All Star baseball game instead. While there was less coverage of these conventions, the author believes the public was not denied any information as the nominations were settled prior to the conventions.

Both political parties moved to prevent airing any political dissent at their 1996 conventions. Ted Koppel of ABC declared the conventions were “more infomercial than news event”. The Democrats polled who would draw ratings as speakers at their convention and picked paraplegic actor Christopher Reeves as a convention speaker. Overall, the networks decided that the $10 million and 300 staff they used to broadcast the 1996 convention would not be necessary for the 2000 conventions.

In 1952, CBS and NBC used computers to correctly predict that Dwight Eisenhower would win. ABC added a computer in 1956. The networks upped the ante when CBS predicted its computer would predict the 1960 winner by 7 pm election night. ABC claimed its computer would predict a winner by 6 pm. ABC missed its deadline but predicted at 6:54 predicted that Richard Nixon had defeated John Kennedy. CBS also missed its deadline but its computer predicted that Nixon would win at 7:16 pm. Kennedy defeated Nixon. The networks started using more sophistical polling techniques.

The 1970s saw the introduction of exit polling. CBS found them useful for explaining how categories of voters were voting. Soon after, they were used for election predictions.

In 1980, the networks made early projections that Reagan had won. Polling places were still open on the West Coast when the projections were announced. It was claimed that voter turnout declined in the later hours on the West Coast after these predictions were announced. Others could find little evidence this actually caused many people not to vote. The author states not one voter who didn’t vote because of the forecasts has even been found. Others argued this may have affected the outcome of several close local elections. Network executives promised not to project Presidential winners until after all the mainland polls had closed.

CBS, ABC, NBC, and CNN combined exit polling and computer operations. All used the Voter Research and Surveys (VRS). This saved each network approximately $10 million. In 1994, ABC made its own independent polls without telling the competition that remained reliant on VRS. ABC correctly made major election projections before the others. CBS and CNN responded by jointly investing $1 million to improve their own forecasting abilities that would cover more precincts.

The increased use of polling made both the public and politicians more aware of polling results. Some pundits such as columnist E. J. Dionne feared there was more concentration on polling results than debating or analyzing issues.

The first Presidential debate on radio was in 1948 on NBC, ABC, and Mutual radio networks between two candidates for the Republican nomination, Thomas Dewey and Harold Stassen. The debate covered one topic, “should the Communist Party be outlawed” with each candidates speaking for 20 minutes with each having 8 minutes of rebuttal. There was no moderator. More people considered Dewey the debate winner and Dewey narrowly won the following primary and eventually received the Republican nomination.

CBS and NBC considered holding debates between the Presidential nominees Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson until they realized that Federal Communications Commission rulings required equal time would have to be given to all minor party nominees. In addition, neither Eisenhower nor Stevenson appeared interested in debating in either 1952 or when they met again in 1956. Stevenson, noting that the candidates spent $7 million (or $40 million in 1999 dollars) on TV commercials in 1956, proposed TV provide free broadcast time to candidates. A bill was proposed that two hours per week over eight weeks be provided for major party Presidential candidates. Stevenson then suggested changing the FCC rules so the two major party candidates could debate. This idea was agreeable to the two 1960 candidates, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. President Eisenhower, who perceived Nixon was wrong to agree to debate, still approved removing the FCC rules so the debate could occur. The 1960 Presidential debate was the largest viewed TV show to that date. The debate helped elect Kennedy.

Later televised Presidential debates were considered influential in helping Jimmy Carter defeat Gerald Ford in 1976 and Ronald Reagan defeat Jimmy Carter in 1980. In 1984, according to polls, Walter Mondale won the first debate yet lost the second to Ronald Reagan who delivered his famous line “I will not, for political purposes, exploit my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Mike Dukaks lost support during the 1988 debate with his debate performance when he failed to show emotion on a hypothetical question concerning his opposition to the death penalty should his wife be murdered. The 1992 Vice Presidential debate hurt Ross Perot when his running mate James Stockdate declared “who am I? Why am I here?”

Candidate website are becoming more common. In 1998, 89% of Governor and U.S. Senate candidates had a web site.

The author concludes that the press should follow the words of John Milton and St. Paul of “prove all things, hold fast to what is good” and then adds “and leave the choice to each viewer’s discretion.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

By Any Means Necessary by Spike Lee

Spike Lee with Ralph Wiley. By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X. New York: Hyperion, 1992.

The main author, Spike Lee, produced the movie “Malcolm X”, stating it was his desire to make this film that drove him to become a filmmaker. Lee had read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” while in elementary school. Malcolm X became his life inspiration. Malcolm X urged Blacks to respect themselves and to improve their lives. He declared that Blacks should defend themselves and have pride in what they do. Both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X had similar goals, which was to obtain rights and dignity for Blacks.

Lee began studying filmmaking as a mass communications students at Morehouse College.

Marvin Worth, who knew Malcolm X, had the film rights to Malcolm X’s life, having obtained them from Malcolm X’s widow, Betty Shabass, and from Alex Haley, who co-authored “The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Norman Jewison was going to direct the film for Warner Brothers. Marvin Worth wanted Lee is direct it. Lee was upset that Jewison had been selected. Letters of protest objecting to Jewison directing the film were sent to Warner Brothers. Jewison stated he didn’t like the script and withdrew from the project.

Lee believes Warner Brothers was willing to do a movie on Malcolm X only after he had been dead for awhile. His memory was not at threatening to Caucasian audiences yet many Blacks still identified with him.

Lee fears major studios only makes Black-oriented films about drug dealing or Black oriented music, such as hip hop. Lee wanted to present a different aspect of Black films could be made.

Lee points out that the studios want profits. They like earning $57 million for Lee’s “Boyz in the Hood” that cost $6 million to make. Yet, they fear venturing far from films that appeal to mainstream audiences. Lee also notes there is racism throughout society and this includes the film industry. He notes there are few Black executives who have the authority to approve which films to make. Further. Few Black films give creative control to Black filmmakers.

Lee began publicizing the movie by selling caps with an “X” on them.

Lee submitted a budget for “Malcolm X” at $38 million. Warner stated they would not approve more than $18 million. Lee left the meeting knowing he wanted to do the movie correctly and he knew it would take more than Warner was willing to approve.

James Baldwin had written the first script with Arnold Perl helping to finish the script. Subsequent scripts were written by Calder Willingham. David Mamet, David Bradley, and Charles Fuller. Lee felt the Baldwin-Perl script was the best but felt it failed to delve into the subject of the split of the Nation of Islam between Minister Louis Farrakhan, who followed the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhamed, and Wallace Muhammed, Elijah’s son, who formed the American Muslim Mission. Malcolm X’s murder resulted from the split. Malcolm X had accused Elijah Muhammed of adultery which he considered a serious sin against their faith.

Lee looked at the scripts. He rejected one that had Alex Haley as a character as Lee felt Haley was irrelevant to the story. Malcolm X’s life was the story. Lee chose the Baldwin-Perl script and had it rewritten. Lee also chose cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, who was known for taking his time to do a good job.

Lee went to Warner Brothers to attempt to convince them that “Malcolm X” deserved to be a three hour epic film. Theaters don’t like long movies and they have to have fewer showing per day to present them which means fewer ticket sales per day. As Lee put it, “let’s be honest. Hollywood is predominantly male and Jewish, and all they think is that Malcolm X was an anti-Semite who hated white people and advocated violence”. Lee sensed a lack of enthusiasm amongst Warner Brother executives for promoting this movie.

Lee notes Universal gave him more independence and was easier to work with, especially since he made them profits. Warner Brothers was more intrusive into his filmmaking. Lee wanted Warner Brothers to sell the “Malcolm X” project to Universal, and Universal wanted to buy it, but Warner Brothers refused.

Lee had a clause in his movie contracts prohibiting them from being shown in South Africa, which then practiced apartheid. Lee used a foreign rights sale to boost the budget for filming “Malcolm X”, although the price was adjusted downwards by $500,000 as the distributor was not at first aware of the South Africa clause. Warner still refused to increase the budget and insisted they would sell the foreign distribution rights.

Lee conducted his own research for the film and interviewed people in Malcolm X’s life. He also reviewed Malcolm X’s assassination. He met with Minister Farrakhan, who was concerned how Elijah Muhammed would be presented and how the assassination would be handled. Farrakhan admitted he assisted in creating the climate the contributed towards Malcolm X’s shooting but denied any involvement in the murder.

After nine months of preparation, Lee began filming the movie even though some worried he wasn’t completely ready to film. Yet, Lee felt he had momentum going for him and he wanted to keep that momentum, even if it meant shooting and planning simultaneously.

Denzel Washington, who had portrayed Malcolm X on Broadway and had a physical resemblance to Malcolm X, had been hired to portray Malcolm X before Spike Lee took the project. Washington made helpful suggestions regarding his role throughout the project. Lee was very happy with Washington’s performance.

Shooting in Peekskill, N.Y. was done for scenes representing Omaha and East Lansing, Mi. A Manhattan building was used to represent a Boston home.

Lee had to deal with personal problems during the shoots. His girlfriend broke up with him, his father was arrested for having heroin, an extra was murdered, and a car with a brick tied to the accelerator crashed onto the set. The extra’s murder was not related to the movie yet the press placed her role in the movie in their headlines. Betty Shabazz objected to the script. Protestors appeared on the set claiming Spike Lee had no right to make the film. An actor quit on him during a filming in a rainstorm at 2 am.

When the filming costs whet over budget, the Completion Bond Company threatened to take control of the shooting. Lee went to film in Cairo and South Africa in defiance of the bond company.

Spike Lee and Denzel Washington took pay cuts to get the movie finished. Lee is upset that Warner Brothers did not provide extra money to satisfy the bond company for going over budget, as they have done for many other films. The bond company was also upset when Lee stated it would take ten weeks to edit the movie. The bond company threatened that the Directors Guild would have taken over the editing from Lee, except Lee wasn’t a Guild member. Lee then went public with his desire to make a quality film rather than a rushed film. Warner Brothers was upset over the negative publicity this generated for them. A first cut deadline was met by requiring the editors to work 12 hour days, seven days a week. Fortunately, the first screening went well and the Warner Brothers executives were happy with the movie.

The movie was released in 1992. As Lee summed it up, “nothing in the world gives me the feeling I get from the cinema.”

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier. The Measure of a Man. San Francisco: Harper, 2000.

This is a book about life, not necessarily about one man’s life, as it is meant to be a spiritual book with much questioning of what one does in life. Sidney Poitier notes the common frames of references that movies create for all to discuss their messages and their applications to life. People form common bonds in viewing, learning from, and raising questions collectively from their film viewings. This is a book about finding and living one’s values.

Poitier was born of parents from the Bahamas in a premature birth while his parents were selling tomatoes in Miami. He weighed less than three pounds and his parents, having already experienced still born and diseased children who died after birth, were concerned he wouldn’t live. His mother went to a soothsayer who told his mother that he would live and carry the family name worldwide. His mother, inspired by these words, fought to keep him alive.

When Poitier saw his first movie at age six, he was determined at the point to become an actor. His parents, though, didn’t quite understand movies. When they went to see his first movie “No Way Out” and watched a scene where he gets pistol whipped, his mother started yelling, inside the theater, “hit him back, Sidney! Hit him back. You never did anything to him.”

Poitier grew up a simple life on Cat Island in the Bahamas. He grew up in poverty in a family of tomato farmers in a place with nice beaches, climate, and native plums, grapes, and bananas. He grew up as child free to roam the island, where they were no paved roads, but many paths.

At age 10, the island’s tomato farming business collapsed. He and his family moved to Nassau. He recalls as a child the thrills and fears of taking risks, such as crawling through an underground ditch where he could have drowned. At age 15, he moved in with his brother in Miami to seek a living.

Poitier found Miami oppressive and he fled to New York on a one way bus ticket. He didn’t know about winter. The cruelty of not having proper clothing to survive the winter drove him to join the Army. There he didn’t understand military discipline and he throw a char at an office and was placed in a psychiatric ward. He observed if he acted as if he was crazy he could avoid prison and he was discharged from the Army.

Returning to New York, Poitier saw an ad for actors at the American Negro Theatre. He could barely read, had no acting training, had a thick Bahamian accent, and he failed his audition, being told to “get yourself a job as a dishwasher or something”. That comment tore at him. He made it his goal to prove to them he was an actor. He studied English from another waiter where he worked. He went to a second audition and was hired. He, though, was upset to only receive a role as an understudy to another Caribbean actor, Harry Belafonte. Fortunately, a casting director saw him on a night he was filling in for Belafonte and he was offered a Broadway role.

Poitier suffered from extreme stage fright. Yet the reviews for his performance were good. This led to a job with a road show followed by off-Broadway roles and then his first movie, “No Way Out”. The film director Joseph Mankowicz recommended him to producer Zoltan Korda who hired him to appear in London theater.

Poitier was offered a movie role where he didn’t like the script and he turned it down. An agent Marty Baum noted the part paid well, wasn’t racially demanding, and that Poitier felt an integrity in turning down a bad role. He offered to represent Poitier, telling him “anyone as crazy as yet, I want to handle him.”

While filming movies, Poitier noted that of cast and crew of almost a hundred people, he frequently was the only Black. From this, he felt very much as if his work was representing millions of Black people.

It was hard for Blacks to get acting jobs, get acting jobs, and be recognized for them. Poitier in fact would become the first Black to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. Poitier and others raised the issue with Actors’ Equity only to find themselves blacklisted from getting parts. Poitier believes that Leigh Whipper, the leader of the Negro Actors Guild, was a sell out who did not fight for more acting roles for Blacks. Whipper told him to accept the system and showed that he had a gun he would use on Poitier or anyone else who messed with him.

Poitier fortunately did win a role in the movie “Blackboard Jungle”. He was asked to sign a loyalty oath because he knew Paul Robeson, Canada Lee, and other Blacks actors “of questionable character”. Poitier refused to sign a loyalty oath. Shooting began. They never asked him again to sign the oath.

While doing publicity for “Blackboard Jungle”, Poiter went into a restaurant in Georgia only to learn that, by law, a Black person could only be served if a screen was placed around him. He left.

Poitier received a role on a David Susskind TV show. NBC asked Poitier to sign a loyalty oath and again he declined. David Susskind told Poitier to go to work and ignore NBC. Again, no one challenged his not signing the oath.

Poitier did a TV film in 1955 “Edge of the City” where Hilda Simms played his wife. Simms, who was a fair skinned Black, looked white on TV. Many viewers objected to what they thought was a presentation of an interracial couple and they jammed the TV station phones and sent letters in protest.

Poitier writer how Hollywood had been unfair to Black actors for movie roles. He believes Hollywood was insensitive towards Blacks and how this disservice has been captured on film. He feels he does owe a debt to Black film actors before him, knowns how much it pained them to perform roles that demeaned Blacks, and notes that many of them were able to show some good active as positive signs.

1968 was a good year for Poitier. He starred in the that year’s top three box office successes, “To Sir, With Love”, “In the Heat of the Night”, and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”. Poitier was applauded for his strong roles that better represented Black culture. He was criticized by some for not being angry enough Poitier sees his roles as a teacher as one demonstrating virtue, his role of a police detective as one showing intelligence and courage, and his role as doctor as showing courteousness. He believes he helped show that Black society has accomplishment, education, and refinement that deserves recognition.

Poitier notes that Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Paul Robeson, and Nelson Mandela made advances without being angry. Poitier sees anger as being a destructive energy that instead should be channeled into positive energy.

While preparing the filming of ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, people involved in the film delayed telling Columbia pictures the controversy of interracial dating that the movie would show. Instead, they assured the studio that he, Katharine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy were all onboard and that it would be a funny and warm script. Columbia began to have doubts and then stated they could not get insurance for Spencer Tracy due to his age. Tracy then stated he wouldn’t take any pay until filming was complete. Poitier notes the real world parallels when he was invited to dinner by Hepburn and Tracy and felt that while they believed in the ideals of the movie, that even Hollywood liberals in the 1960s were not used to having Black men over for dinner.

Poitier observes we have memories and he advises actors should reach a sense from their experiences to convey a character’s emotions. When audiences can see that, the actor has a “presence” that shows “a camera likes that actor”.

He strives to learn from other actors. Acting is more than pretending to be someone else. An actor prepares at length to objectively explore a character, then subjectively examine the role, and then focus so the character remains that person through the entire role. He recommends an actor intensively immersing the actor’s self into the role. This is what he learned from Rod Steiger.

An actor must know what life is about and know about causes and effects. Acting requires discipline. An actor should realize that human emotions are similar for everyone. The audience knows this, and the actor should recognize these universal traits. Effective acting is being real and being in the moment. An actor should learn to avoid portraying an unbelievable character. A sense of life can be found from doing good work.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Entertainment Law by Sherri L. Burr

Sherri L. Burr. Entertainment Law. St. Paul, Mn.: Thomson West, 2007.

The entertainment business is an important part of our culture and our economy. Its exports are financially larger than our food exports. Foreigners learn about American culture through entertainment exports and are apt to see and desire American fashion, products, etc.

A main film producer often hires creative staff, hired actors and directors who can work with the studio and with each other, chooses film locations, develops a budget, makes legal arrangements (if necessary) with shooting locales which can sometimes include foreign governments, supervises the screenwriting and then the filming and then the editing, and consults with studio personnel on marketing and publicizing the film. Producers without a financial interest in the film or the company doing the film who are employed by a studio or a production company are “employee-producers”.

Some producers are financial investors or primarily involved in obtaining investors in a film. They may have budget oversight.

Producers obtain distribution agreements, including domestic and foreign. These rights are agreed to before a film is finished and encompass the release date, a list of theater showings plus the contract details of theater exhibitions, the cost of advertising, as well as contract details for DVD, cable, TV broadcasting, etc.

A screenwriter has a right to buy back a script that contains no preexisting material if it is not produced after five years nor is in active development. The writer must repay the purchase price and/or the price of writing services. A subsequent purchaser must pay the rest of direct material costs and interest and so pay before principal shooting begins.

A director has the responsibility for a film’s images and “feel”. A director sees the screenwriting producers an appropriate script, directs rehearsals with actors, and provides direction to camera and sound operators, as well as providing direction to costume designers, set designers, editors, music composers, and the film laboratory technicians. Preproduction often takes two to six months.

Independent directors may be responsible for some activists a major studio producer would handle, such as raising financing, costumes, obtaining permits, seeing laws such as child labor laws are obeyed, and working with local film commissions.

Leading actors may work for 6 to 7 years while character actors may be employed for 50 years. Character actors master the ability to use body language and dialects to obtain various effects/

A “star’ is an actor a studio executive seeks and a “superstar” is an actor all the studios seek. The name of a star attached with a film should attract investors to finance a film. Some question the economic differences that stars bring to film profits, as in 2003 less than half of the most commercially successful films were star vehicles.

Technical staffs arrange sets and lights into their proper positions. Actors then arrive to act. Film editors craft raw film footage into usable film stock for post production.

The director of cinematography is responsible for all the movie photography.

Gaffers handle lighting.

Michael Orvitz, a former agent and cofounder of Creative Artist Agency, received $140 million to leave employment after 14 months with Disney, an amount that was almost 10% of Disney’s 1996 earnings.

Joe Roth was a leading executive at two major studios before creating an independent studio, Revolution. Revolution producer 47 films before it failed after six years.

Over 300 film commissions are members of the Association of Film Commissioners International. These are local commissions that assist nonlocal film productions.

Film and television was a $34 billion industry in California in 2005. Other states seek to attract filmmakers.

Louisiana has a 25% investor tax credit rebate and a tax credit for up to 20% when employing a Louisiana resident.

New Mexico has a 25% tax credit on all production and labor costs. The New Mexico Investment Council invests up to $15 million a film and that can be the film’s entire budget. This investment requires a guarantor who will guarantee the loan’s payment, a completion bond, the existence of a distribution or a presales agreement, 60% or more of below the line payroll going to New Mexico residents, and a substantial part of the film being shot in New Mexico.

Florida has a 15% reimbursement once $850,000 or more is spent by a film on various qualified expenses within Florida/

Action films often earn the most revenues, both domestically and in foreign revenues. They are often the more expensive type of film to make. They are often dangerous to make. There people were killed during filming “Twilight Zone: The Movie”. The film’s director went to trial for involuntary manslaughter and was acquitted.

Animated films often are less expensive to produce.

Documentaries are often less expensive to make. “Fahrenheit 9/11” has been the most financially successful documentary. It cost $6 million to produce and $10 million to generate. It has made about $250 million worldwide.

A person who signs a release and is paid to appear in a documentary still may sue. A contract is valid even if the person doesn’t read it all. Some who have sued claimed they were given alcohol before being shown the contract.

Television executive Brandon Tartikoff seeks enthusiasm when people first wish to create a TV series. That enthusiasm may need to last for years to keep the series fresh.

Major networks generally begin new TV series in early September, offer mid-season replacements in January, and have summer shows. Fox TV offers new shows year round.

There were 30 Western TV series on the three networks in the 1950s. In 2004, the only Western was “Deadwood” on HBO. The Western “Gunsmoke” ran from 1955 to 1975 and is the longest running TV series at 633 episodes.

TV executives want shows that can last five seasons. Full season orders of shows are 22 episodes. After about 100 episodes, a show is generally considered as having enough episodes for syndication. Desilu earned $60 million between 1955 and 1965 form syndicate licensing of its shows including “I Love Lucy”.

Michael Constanza sued Jerry Seinfeld, contending he was the inspiration for the character George Constanza on “Seinfeld” and that the character cast him in a bad light. The New York courts determined the suit was frivolous and sanctioned George Constanza and his lawyer each for $2,500. The Appellate Division ruled the dismissal of the lawsuit was appropriate but removed the sanctions.

TV show contestants who win prize money are required to pay taxes on the prize money. A contestant winner of “Survivor” was sentenced to 51 months imprisonment for failing to pay taxes on the money he won.

A reality show may require a contestant to sign a confidentiality agreement. A person who signed and then challenged this was unsuccessful in California court.

TV game shows have a right to limit the number of times a person can appear on all game shows.

A release statement to appear on a game show that included a provision that the decision of the producers at to the game was upheld in New York court when a contestant challenged that he had given an alternative correct answer on a game show that stated his answer was wrong.

TV talk shows usually require interviewees to sign release agreements.

A TV news station, whose crew followed paramedics and filmed an unsuccessful attempt to revive a patient, had a California court rule the widower had a cause of action for trespass, privacy invasion, and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

A Circuit Court held that KMGH in Denver engaged in illegal age discrimination in not renewing contracts of anyone in news reporting over age 40 and limited those over 40 to late evening news.

A class action suit of 50 television writers over age 40 claiming age discrimination. Citing that two third of TV series lacked any writers over age 40, was dismissed. 23 separate similar suits were all dismissed.

An American Family Physician study of school children and the amount of time they spent viewing TV concluded there was a correlation with increased TV watching with increased attention deficits, aggression, externalization, delinquency, social problems, and thinking problems. The study advised that children view two or less hours of TV a day.

Clarence Muse was the first African American to appear on TV when he appeared on W6XAO station in Los Angeles. Bob Howard was the first African American to star in a network TV show on a show that ran from 1948 to 1949, “The Bob Howard Show”.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Adarand Construction v. Pena in 1995 that Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rules to encourage the employment, as well as station ownership, or members of racial minorities violated the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. This overturned a 1990 Supreme Court ruling that had upheld the FCC rules. In 1999, none of the major networks’ new shows had a lead actor who was African American, Latino, Asian American, or Native American. A threatened boycott by the NAACP led the networks to agree to create more characters who were racial minorities.

A study by Robert McIlwraith concluded people can become addicted to watching TV.

Cable began with the Community Antenna Television when TV salesman John Watson put an antenna on a Pennsylvania mountain to capture and transmit TV signals to his store so he could sell more TV sets. 60% of households had cable in 1992. 80% of households had cable in 2001.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Turner v. FCC in 1997 upheld FCC rules requiring calbe television to carry local programming.

In 1999, the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act became law. This requires direct broadcast satellite companies to include all broadcast stations if they include at least one. To make it easier for direct satellite companies to do this, it allowed them to show these stations without having to obtain copyright authorization for each program shown. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this rule as necessary to key an array of local broadcast stations in existence.

The U.S. Court of Appeals halted FCC rules that would have prohibited a conglomerate from owning multiple media outlets in the same city, meaning no one can locally own two TV stations or a TV station and a newspaper, or a TV station and a radio station.

A Center for Public Integrity study found that over eight years that FCC employees took about 2,500 trips costing $24.8 million that were mostly paid for by the telecommunications industry. Las Vegas was the most popular destination for these trips.

TV networks had a recent financial interest in 67% of their prime time shows compared to 32% in 1992.

NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox offer TV shows online. They may be viewed for free and have advertising.

YouTube allows people to post videos for all to see. Google purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion in 2006.

Over 305 million units of music were sold in 2004. Compact discs account for 98% of those sales.

A music publisher contracts with companies to sell sheet music of a composer’s works and shares the revenues with the composers. A performance may perform a composer’s song by paying statutorily set royalties to the music publisher who then gives the composer a share of these earnings.

A recording company granting a right for a song to be in a movie allows the song to remain in the movie for future distribution, including DVD and by any means or methods now or hereafter known.

Many recording companies pay for a band’s touring expenses out of the band’s royalties. Some band members have not been aware of this.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. California in 1973 that “obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment” and rules obscenity is determined by whether “the average person, applying community standards, would find the material pruient, if the work describes or shows sexual conduct, and if the whole work lacks an artistic, literary, or scientific value.”

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) sought movie self-regulation by creating ratings of G (for general audiences), PG (for general audiences with parental discretion), R (minors restricted unless viewed with an adult), and X (obscene, not to be viewed by minors) to provide viewers notice of a movie’s content.

The U.S. House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC), which began in 1938, investigated Communist influence in Hollywood. Many suspected members of the Communist Party were blacklisted. Several of those blacklisted sued. U.S. District Court in 1962 found that the movie industry had a legitimate interest in controlling possible subversive activities from being introduced to movie viewers and in protecting themselves from anti-Communist boycotts. HUAC was abolished in 1974.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1961 in Times Film Corp. v. City of Chicago upheld the right of states and cities to require a film to be submitted for local determination if it was obscene. In 1964, four states (New York, Virginia, Maryland, and Kansas) and four cities (Chicago, Detroit, Providence, and Fort Worth) had active censorship laws. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court in Freedman v. State of Maryland overturned a conviction for violating local obscenity laws stating the Maryland law posed too great a burden on film exhibitors.

Mirimax Films Corp. sued the MPAA for giving an X rating to the film “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!”. The New York Supreme Court in 1990 dismissed the case stating the courts was not the appropriate place to seek relief for an internal industry dispute.

A District Court of Appeals remanded a District Court’s dismissal of a case brought by Maljack Productions against MPAA. Maljack argued MPAA gave an X rating to a film because Maljack was not a member of MPAA. The Appeals Court stated that was a breach of fair dealing and good faith.

A court ruling allowed a school superintendent to refuse to allow a history teacher to show an R rated film “Schindler’s List” to his class.

MPAA ratings have been criticized for being based on sexual content rather than considering violent content.

A court rules that Paramount Pictures and Saxon Theater Corporation could not be sued because a person who viewed the movie “The Warrior” about juvenile knife violence then committed a similar knifing death. Similarly, a victim of a violent crime committed by people who viewed the movie “Natural Born Killers” was unable to successfully sue the studio, Warner Brothers, and the director, Oliver Stone, declaring the movie as protected speech.

The FCC fined CBS $550,000 for a two second showing of Janet Jackson’s bejeweled breast. (Note: Since this book’s publication, this fine has been overturned in court.)

The FCC fined Clear Channel $1.75 million for indecency of the “Howard Stern Show”.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that since cable TV could have shows blocked on a household basis that Playboy had a First Amendment right to broadcast whenever they wanted. Prior to then, sexual oriented shows were limited to cable broadcasting between 10 pm and 6 am or else had to be blocked or scrambled.

The Michigan Court of Appeals held, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied a writ of certiorari seeking an appeal of the holding, that “The Jenny Jones Show” was not liable for damages and did not have a duty to anticipate that a guest would react to learning that a second guest had a crush of the first guest would lead the first guest to later murder the second guest.

A court decision disallowed a trial against NBC by the victim of a rape that was seen and then simulated from the TV show “Born Innocent”.

Two people were convicted in U.S. Court of Appeals in 2005 of obscenity for selling videos that showed sodomy and torture on the Internet.

The title of a movie or TV show may receive a trademark if it is going to be used in the marketplace or merchandising.

The Law of Ideas protects story segments that lead to movies of TV shows. Copyrights protest those expressions of ideas.

The Law of Ideas means the originator or an idea that is developed must be compensated. Many court cases have resulted in attempting to establish whether one party factually heard and agreed to compensate for an idea discussed in confidence.

A screenwriter can copyright a script and receive credit for the script. Upon selling the script to a studio, it legally becomes a commissioned work and the copyright is in the name of the studio.

In 1976, Monty Python successfully won an injunction to prevent ABC from broadcasting an edited version of a work of theirs they argued misrepresented the original work. They argued for the Right of Integrity. ABC had removed 24 of the original 90 minutes and left a program that was difficult to follow.

French court refused to allow a colorized version of the film “Asphalt Jungle directed by John Huston to be shown on French television and ordered Turner to pay 200,000 francs in damages and cost. John Huston objected to showing of the version that had been colorized by Turner claiming he deliberately shot and crafted it as a black and white film. The French court agreed that while Turner owned the economic rights to the movie that John Huston retained authorship of the film.

In order to prove a copyright has been infringed, it must be shown that a copyright is owned and that another person either copied or used an exclusive right of the work.

In 1936, a court found that the movie “Letty Lynton” was substantially similar to and thus had violated the copyright of the play “Madeline Cary”.

A District Court ruled in 1977 that certain aspects of TV show are protected from infringement. The court ruled that McDonaldland TV commercials were similar to the TV show “H.R. Pufnstuf”.

The Los Angeles News Services (LANS) sued Reuters for sending a copyright videro of riot beating to Europe and Africa from a satellite transmission originating in New York. Copyrights do not apply outside the U.S. The Court of Appeals declared the New York means of sending the unlicensed film infringed copyright laws and that LANS could obtain damages.

In Hochling v. Universal City Studio, a Federal court ruled that a book author’s theories about the Hindenburg disaster were not protected as interpretation of facts can not be copyrighted.

The fair use of copyrighted material is allowed for nonprofit educational reasons. Whether a copyright has been violated is determined according to how much of the copyrighted material was used, how much of the value or potential market value of the work is, and upon the nature of the work. Remedies may be ordered to prevent or restrain copyright infringement. A court may impound all copies, film negatives, tapes, plates, etc. of material infringing a copyright. A copyright owner may choose to receive statutory damages of $750 to $30,000 instead of actual damages. A court finding a copyright infringement was willful may award $150,000 or less in damages. Criminal willful copyright violations for financial gain over $1,000 could lead to five years or less imprisonment and/or $250,000 or less in fines.

The movie “Tomorrow Never Dies” received $110 million in product placement and merchandising contracts, which is about what it earned in domestic box office revenues.

Hormel sued Jim Henson Productions over the creation of a character Spa’am. Hormel feared its product SPAM’s reputation would suffer. The court decided the character was a legal parody.

California limits agents from receiving no more than 10% of their clients’ earnings. In New York, literary agents charge 15% of earnings.

Lawyers representing union members in negotiations should learn what collective bargaining already establishes so they don’t negotiate for a right their client already has.

California requires an agent who seeks to procure employment for a client be licensed according to the Talent Agencies Act.

Actor Kelsey Grammer sought to terminate having Artist Agency as his agent. Artist Agency and Grammer agreed to an interim contract where they would represent his TV work and another agent could handle his movie deals. A year later, Grammer sought out of his contract with Artist Agency. Artist Agency sued Grammer for $2 million. An arbitration panel agreed with Artist Agency. Grammer appealed in court but lost. Grammer would ridicule agents on his “Frazier” TV show.

There are no legal requirements to being a manager. A manager acting as an agent without being a licensed agent risks not getting paid. A manager advises a person on carrier and professional development. Managers may charge more than 10% of earnings.

A member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) can lose union protection if the member agrees to work for a producer who has not signed a basic minimum agreement with SAG.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Marquee v. Screen Actors Guild ruled in 1998 that SAG has no legal duty to notify someone about specific rights.

The Writers Guild settles writing credit disputes by having a committee hearing and then using three arbiters who read the materials and decide credits by majority vote. This decision is reviewed by a Policy Review Board. A decision must be made within 21 days or else the producer may determine the screenwriting credits.

The Producers Guild of American is a voluntary organization of producers. It can determine who receives producer credits.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists, and Allied Crafts (IATSE) has over 104,000 members. This makes it the largest union in the entertainment business.

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists has 70,000 members. Actors Equity has 46,000 stage actor members.

In film credits, an ampersand between names means they wrote together while “and” indicates a writer who contributed a version of a script.

New York Court in Sophia Loren v. Samuel Bronston Productions ruled that receiving a billing does not damage one’s prestige.

The court ruled in favor of director Michael Apt who asked that his name be removed from the TV version of the movie “Thunderheart” when 22 minutes was cut from the film.

Stephen King sued to have his name removed fro a movie that described itself as “Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man”. He believed the final story was very different from the original short story he had written to which he has sold the movie rights. The District Court held the film company in contempt for not having a required consent decree.

The Academy Award for Best Pictures award goes to the movie’s producers.

California court found removing a “film by” credit could cause the person who previously had such credit harm. Producer, writer, and production manager was awarded $25,000 when the 10th anniversary of this film “Four Stones for Kanemitsu” removed his “a film by” credit.

A Most Favored Nation clause in a contract requires the actor afforded such states to receive an increase in compensation equal to that of another actor should another actor in a work receive higher compensation that what the actor holding that clause receives.

William Smith sued and won $3 million damages in California court from MGM for its getting him to agree to less pay for a TV series in return for upfront billing at the start of the show. Instead, eleven actors received upfront billing, but not him. The case was appealed and settled out of court.

The weekly wages (circa 2007) for a key grip is $3,018, for a set painter $2,889 and for a screen actor $2,541.

A “pay or play” clause in a contract requires a studio to pay a stated amount in case the project is canceled.

Guaranteed compensation is paid at scheduled dates. Deferred compensation is paid when a listed event happens. Contingent compensation is paid according to a formula based on revenues, which could be either gross or net revenues.

Studio accounting systems seldom determine that a movie earned any net profits. For instance, Leonardo DiCaprio negotiated to be paid 18% of net profits of “Titanic”, which earned $2 billion, yet was paid nothing according to this clause in his contract. Studios deduct from net profits the costs of distribution fees and expenses, gross participation payouts, direct production costs, an overhead charge (usually 15%), and interest. Studies nearly always claim these expenses are larger than net profits.

Art Buchward and Alan Bernheim won a lawsuit over nonpayment for their idea for a movie in which they had been promised a percent of net profits. After discovering this meant no actual money, they sued. California court in 1990 found payments based on net profits were unreasonable. The court found most of the accounting overhead costs were not reasonable as to what actual overhead and interest costs were. Many costs were counted twice.

California court in 1994 ruled that a contract with part of a payment based on net profits wasn’t fair but since it was not coerced it was “not unreasonable”. The publicity over studios’ use of net profit caused them to use the term “adjusted gross profits” and “modified adjusted gross profits” which is a term where a person usually receives payments for an actual percept of gross profits.

The insurance company that insured two films that actor River Phoenix had been signed to film sued his estate after he died of a drug overdose. They noted he had signed a statement that he did not use drugs. The court ruled for the estate nothing that dying excused him from his contracts.

Main Line Pictures was awarded $9.8 million, twice more than what they asked for, when actor Kim Basinger breached her contract. Kim Basinger testified she could breach a contract “anytime I want to”, a statement to which the court did not agree.

An option contract to a writer gives a studio rights to something the writer has written. The writer receives a fee and a credit and keeps the rest of the copyright to the work, unless this is specifically changed in the contract; Authors should carefully read their contracts, as author Tony Hillerman unwittingly gave a producer all book rights to his character “Joe Leaphorn”, requiring him to hire an attorney to regain the book right sto his own book character.

Some book writers have words from their books placed into a movie and have been able to obtain a screenwriting credit.

Screenwriter contracts can contain multiple compensation criteria and have performance standards, including due dates and requirements of due diligent efforts at writing. Some contracts may include commitments to any sequels. Often the contracts determine ownership rights between writers and producers,

Writers should also have contracts reviewed by lawyers.

A director who agrees, even orally, to direct a film and accepts payment to direct is obligated to direct the picture. Some directors discover too late that a project is not what they initially thought, yet accepting money to direct the movie creates a legal obligation.

A contract between a director and a studio usually specifies the services requires of a director, such as location searches, preproduction meetings, rehearsal, principal shooting, editing, cutting, and final mix. Compensation can be handled a number of ways, including a mix of fixed, deferred, and contingent amounts. Some director contracts contain “pay or play” provisions. The contracts may have performance standards for the director and allow for a director to be fired.

A letter containing a commitment to pay can be held as a valid contract.

BBC allowed ABC to make changes to the Monty Python series. A count found that BBC did not have the right ot make major changes, only minor changes. A court ruled in favor of the Monty Python actors who sought to prevent ABC from airing of the edited versions of their work.

There are state law privacy rights protecting against intruding into private affairs, against public disclosure of private facts, falsely placing someone in a false light in public, or using someone’s likeness for profit. A celebrity’s right to privacy is often balanced with the public right to a legitimate interest in learning what a celebrity does.

Desilu was able to use the likeness of Al Capone in ads for the TV series “The Untouchables”. His widow and son sued yet the courts ruled dead people have no privacy rights.

A court ruled a portable toilet could not be named “Here’s Johnny” because the phrase was a signature phrase of Johnny Carson.

About thwo thirds of people die without a will.

Less than 10% of Australian films make a profit.

Many Indian filmmakers take advantage of filming and tourism offers in Switzerland.

The German government prefers supporting German filmmaking rather than attracting foreign filmmakers.

The United Kingdom spends $100 million to publicize films that feature British culture. They also have a government office that seeks foreign filmmakers.

Piracy is a concern, especially in China, Brazil, and Thailand. It is estimated 90% of Thailand’s video market is pirated.