Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Humphrey Bogart by Darwin Porter

Darwin Porter. Humphrey Bogart: The Making of a Legend. (Staten Island, N.Y.): Blood Moon Productions, Ltd., 2010.

Researching diaries and interviews, the author has fashioned a biography of actor Humphrey Bogart. This book relies heavily on stories and speculations on people’s sex lives.

Bogart was born in 1899 to morphine addicted parents. Among his earlier jobs included working as a nude model for an art class. He acted in a Navy theater where he befriended James Cagney. Bogart portrayed a showfaly in drag in an all male Navy cast.

Bogart won a job directing a movie. His miscalculation of a car driving into a wall scene led to two people being hospitalized. Bogart was fired.

Bogart became a screenwriter for the movie “Blood and Death”. He showed the script, hesitantly since he’d been fired, and learned the script was accepted. The script though was literally thrown out by a producer. Bogart, though, was hired as a stage manager for a touring company. A set change mistake caused a wall to fall on an actor, Helen Meneken, who was unhurt. Meneken was irate. Yet, they later dated. Meneken also was dating Tallulah Bankhead.

Cagney’s acting career faced early difficulties. He went a year without getting any roles. He finally got a part in the movie “Meet the Wife”. Bogart was engaged to Meneken when he cheated on her with Louise Brooks. Bogart and Meneken wed.

Bogart tried to emulate Rudolph Valentino while acting. He did this even though their physical appearances were very different.

Bogart performed on Broadway with Fanny Arbuckle. Earlier Arbuckle had been acquitted on charges of raping and killing Virginia Rappe. A prevalent rumor was that Arbuckle had sexually inserted a milk bottle into Rappe and that broken glass tore her bladder, leading to her death. Bogart sent an empty bottle to Arbuckle. Arbuckle never spoke to Bogart except when on stage.

Bogart became upset with Meneken’s continuing relationship with Bankhead. Boart and Meneken fought physically. They divorced.

Mary Phillips was Bogart’s second wife. Bogart received a role in a movie with then movie sensation Charles Farrell. Farrell told Bogart he spoke effeminately. They fought, with Farrell burning Bogart’s hand with a cigar.

Bogart received his first major film role in A Devil With Women”. Bogart later worked with Spencer Tracy. He discovered Tracy drank heavily enough to have problems during shoots.

The book claims Louis B. Mayer had frequent sexual relations with actresses, in particular Joan Crawford. It also states the “casting couch” stories were true, claiming Bette Davis had to audition with 15 men taking turns kissing her in a romantic scene, with only Gilbert Roland being sensitive to her shock but explaining this was a rite of passage. Bette Davis later confided to Bogart she was a virgin and had never seen a naked man. Bogart arranged for a baby diaper change scene for Davis and hired a baby with a large sized penis to embarrass Davis. Davis conducted the scene fine, although she did look embarrassed.

Dr. Harry Martin was famous for being the person actors went to for treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Studios hired him to a “technical advisor” on shots.

When Bogart worked for Fox, he received $750 a week circa 1930.

When Winfield Sheehan headed Fox Studios, he conducted a study of their films. It was concluded that many leading men were effeminate. As this was during the time of morality insisted upon by the Hays Commission, Sheehan concluded that Fox would be more profitable making family oriented films. Sheehan also believed Bogart acted effeminate in his roles. Sheehan saw Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and John Wayne as the future.

Jack Warner was not happy with Bogart in the movie “Two Against the World”. Yet, since Bogart was under contract, he cast Bogart in “Bullets or Ballots”, but with fourth billing. Bogart again received fourth billing in “China Clipper”. Bogart had third billing under Ross Alexander, who was then being heavily promoted for stardom by Warner Brothers. Alexander, it is claimed, was a homosexual lover of influential directors and actors. His marriage ended tragically when his wife Aleta Friele commited suicide. Alexander was later blackmailed for $10,000 by a gay lover. Not having the money to pay the blackmail, the studio paid the blackmail and deducted it from his salary. In 1937, Alexander killed himself with the same pistol his wife had used to kill herself. To replace Alexander as their next rising star, Warner Brothers several weeks later signed Ronald Reagan to a seven year contract.

Bogart starred in a succession of Warner Brothers films from the mid-1930s through the late 1940s. Bogart formed his own production company, Santana, yet many of those films were released through Warner Brothers with some others released through Columbia Studios. Bogart notes “I went from one film to another so fast, I forgot what character I was playing. I figured the best way to deal with that was to play Humphrey Bogart, meaning play myself.” Bogart played tough guy parts yet reportedly softened his imaged with a hobby of painting flower designs onto tea cups.

Bogart filmed a movie “Isle of Fury” that was so bad, Bogart later refused to admit he was in it. The director, Frank McDonald. Commented to Bogart “Let’s face it. Both you and me are hacks turning out shit.” Bogart responded “Don’t say that word around me. Why say shit when crap will do?” Jack Warner agreed and the movie was held for release for four years. Evelyn Keys said of director McDonald, “I’ve never seen anyone as terrified of directing as Frank McDonald. “ McDonald, though, directed over 100 movies, many of which were Republic Westerns.

Bogart’s career was elevated in 1937 when “Black Legion” a successful A level movie he was in was released. Jack Warner, though, continued to be disappointed in Bogart. The Ku Klux Klan sued Warner Brothers for copyright infringement for using their symbol in the movie. They lost the suit.

Jane Bryan dated Ronald Reagan. Reagan left her for Jane Wyman. Bryan and her ultimate husband, Justin Dart, remained friends with Reagan. Dart made a fortune selling prescription whiskey during Prohibition and had continued success with Rexall drugs. Dart would help Reagan get elected Governor and then President.

Bogart appeared in the movie “Dead End” with A list director William Wyler. Wyler was known for demanding retakes and script changes. Wyler fought with Samuel Goldwyn. Once when spotting Goldwyn arriving on his set, Wyler announced “here he comes clanking balls he doesn’t have.”

Bogart appeared in the movie “Saving Your Land”. It made less than $25,000 and was removed from theaters after two days. Still Warner increased Bogart’s weekly salary to $1,100.

Bogart appeared in “Crime School” with the Dead End Kids. The Dead End Kids were more popular and received billing over Bogart.

Actor Ward Bond once made a drunken pact with Bogart that each would die before becoming 60 years old. As it turned out, Bond died at 57 and Bogart at 58.

Bogart starred with Gloria Dickson in “Racket Busters”, based on Thomas Dewey’s prosecution of gangsters. Dickson would perform in “Crime Doctor’s Strangest Case” about death by a cigarette starting a fire. Ironically, Dickson died in that manner.

In “Racket Busters”, Bogart had to throw sulfuric acid onto a passing truck to create smoke. Bogart fell and the acid burned his clothes. Fortunately, he was not physically harmed. Shooting continued that same day, with Bogart instead throwing dry ice.

Barbara Stanwyck was the highest paid female movie actor during the World War II period. Bogart received top billing over the 1947 movie
The Two Mrs. Carrolls”.

Kay Francis was the highest paid female movie star in the late 1930s. She appeared in a number of movies that were financial failures. Her husband left her to return to Germany because he wanted to support Hitler. Francis later did low budget films for Monogram.

George Raft’s line at the end of “The Roaring Twenties” of “He used to be a big shot” was added as something to say during fade out. It would later be recognized by the American Film Institute as the most famous gangster movie line.

James Cagney eared $368,333 one year. This was one of the highest salaries in all of wartime USA.

John Leech, who a previous court dubbed a liar, accused Humphrey Bogart of being a member of the Communist Party. Leech testified to this before a Congressional committee. Bogart denied this. The Congressional committee later determined there was no evidence that Bogart was a communist.

George Raft turned down appearing in a movie to be title “Manpower”. A year later, Raft agreed to appear in “Danger Zone” without realizing it was the same script as “Manpower”.

In 1941, Warner Brothers was preparing a film “Aloha Means Goodbye”. The plot involved a Japanese plan to bomb Hawaii and Bogart was to star. The story location was changed to the Panama Canal when that actually happened. It was renamed “Across the Pacific” and starred Bogart. As critics noted, the characters never reached the Pacific nor were they across it.

Bogart sought to be in “Casablanca” and won the role. The film had five screenwriters and the numerous script rewrites were not always liked by the stars. Some plot holes remained even in the final version. Claude Rains saw his salary increase to $4,000 a week when he was cast in “Casablanca”. Many of the actors portraying Nazis in the film were Jews who had flew Nazi Germany. S. Z. Sakall turned down being in the movie until he was offered $5,250. Bogart received $36,667. Rains received $2,333. The film had gay undertones of a relationship between Bogart’s character and Rains’s character. The ending line of Bogart’s character to Rains’s character “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship” was not one 1940s audiences thought was about a gay romance although it capped underlying tones that were intentionally placed into the film. Other famous lines from the film were “round up the usual suspects”, “here’s looking at you, kid”, “we’ll always have Paris”, and :of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine”. The line “you played it for her, you can play it for Sam” has been famously misremembered as “play it again, Sam”. The movie did well in its initial release but not very well. It would become a classic later on.

The real world Casablanca Conference between Roosevelt and Churchill helped the movie’s popularity.

Actor Leslie Howard was a leading advocate of the British war effort. He may have even done intelligence work. Joseph Goebbels believed Howard was a “most dangerous propagandist” and may have ordered Howard’s plane shot down. Howard died when Nazis shot down his plane.

Bogart and Lauren Bacall fell in love with each other while filming “To Have and Have Not”. They married in 1945.

Bogart filmed “The African Queen” in the Congo. A tribal chief thought requested extras were going to killed for real, so he initially provided ten women and six children he presumably didn’t care much for. More natives were provided once they realized they weren’t being killed. Bogart won the Oscar for Best Actor for this performance in 1951.

Bogart was in a car accident where he lost three front teeth that affected his speaking while filming “Beat the Devil”. Peter Sellers mimicked Bogart in some post production dialogue, replacing Bogart’s own voice.

Bogart’s last film was “The Harder They Fall” in 1955. Bogart developed esophageal cancer. He died in 1957.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Are You Hungry, Dear? by Doris Roberts

Doris Roberts withy Danelle Morton. Are You Hungry, Dear?: Life, Laughs, and Lasagna. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003.

The author notes her character Marie Barone on the TV series “Everybody Loves Raymond” gives quite a bit of advice, some good and some bad, bit “all of it comes from a mother’s love.” She notes the title of her book “Are You Hungry, Dear?” is an alternative form of “is there anything I can do for you?” She notes the emotional and symbolic connection between feelings and food.

The author has played the role of a mother numerous times, from the TV show “Alice” to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”. He also is a real life mother who understands who mothers feel. The “Everybody Loves Raymond” set was created by set decorators to include the clutter, toys, and plastic slip covers found in real homes.

Roberts notes that created the proper tone, which sometimes can be challenging, can create good comedic interactions. Sometimes a single critical line has to be delivered in a correct manner to convey its comedic contradiction.

Roberts has directed, which she enjoys as she appreciates being a decision maker. She realizes directing is more than having strong opinions on how things should be done. When casting, she wants actors who can follow directions.

An acting teacher David Craig advised actors to “think pink”. Thinking pink means an actor is fresh, open, and easy going. She was thinking pink when she read for the part of Marie Barone, in competition against over a hundred others. She read the part, not as an angry character as others were, but with realistic frustration.

Roberts states how, before reading for roles, she tells herself “I’m coming here to give you the best I’ve got and I hope you like it. I’m not here to be validated. I validate myself.”

Roberts loved performing in theaters, noting ‘you don’t do it for the money, I was having the time of my life in this company of struggling actors”. She recalls once not having enough money after touring to afford a bus ride home and getting a job with an auto company that was transferring cars in order to get a car to drive home.

Good acting allows an audience to reach feelings they usually avoid feeling themselves, she observed. Acting should put an audience in touch with the human spirit. Acting should make people watching feel better.

Roberts was on the TV series “Remington Steele”. She was unhappy that the lighting made her look sickly. She explained her feelings honestly with the cinematographer without getting angry. He listened and made the changes. She is glad she stood up for herself yet did so without being confrontational.

Actor Jimmy Coco advised a way to negotiate is to lean forward, stay in the position, and explain your position quietly and simply.

Roberts studied improving her acting at the Actors Studio. She observed that Rod Steiger stood out as an exceptionally good actor who drew attention. She noted some actors acted like divas even though they lacked the talent to deserve the respect they demanded.

Lee Strasberg was a great teacher who could always tell what was wrong with an acting performance. Once, Lee Strasberg criticized her before opening night. She realized she could have let that destroy her performance. Instead, she chose to believe in her performance.

Roberts was surprised when acting teacher Milton Katselas told her she needed more arrogance. She then realized that “arrogance” comes from a word meaning that one should stake a claim for oneself. She realized that walking onto a stage, one has to be arrogant to be noticed.

Roberts notes she wasn’t called to be considered for casting on “Remington Steele” because she was considered too old for the part. She knew the casting director and persistently asked for a tryout. She won the role despite their earlier images of casting someone younger.

Monday, October 18, 2010

An Actor and a Gentleman by Louis Gossett, Jr. and Phyllis Karas

Louis Gossett, Jr. and Phyllis Karas. An Actor and an Gentleman. New York: John Wiley and Sons Inc, 2010.

The author, at age 25, was an actor in the Broadway and then movie versions of “A Raisin in the Sun”. While filming the movie, he had to stay in one of the few motels that rented then to African Americans. He returned to Broadway and occasionally did episodic TV at the $2,500 minimum per show. He then performed in NBC’s first Move of the Week, “Companions in Nightmare”. Lew Wasserman, the head of Universal, hired him to be in the TV series “In the Heat of the Night”.

Gossett was enjoying his new wealth and flaunting it in his lower economic class neighborhood. He then recalled something his Great Grandmother told him when he ad acted that way, “God was here before you got here. He is going to be here while you are here. And he is going to be here long after you’ve gone. So you might as well calm down and let Him handle things now.”

Gossett also learned humiliation when he on multiple occasions was pulled over by police because he fit a suspect’s description of being Black. He was verbally abused and once handcuffed to a tree.

Gossett had a role where he had to yell at a character portrayed by Melvyn Douglas, an actor he greatly respected. Douglas told him “Lay it on me. Do your job.”

Gossett performed in a play with Shirley Booth. When the play was performed in Delaware, a local restaurant refused to serve Gosset because he is Black. When Booth learned of this, Booth called influential people in town and told them Gossett must be treated well from then on or else shoe would work to prevent other pre-Broadway shows from appearing in Delaware.

Gossett unofficially studied at the Actors Studio, learning about acting from Lee Strasburg, Frank Silvera, and others. Silvera would use a hair fryer to simulate a camera so actors would learn from its heat where a camera was located. The author states the best student he saw was Marilyn Monroe. Other talented students he saw included Sidney Portier and James Dean.

Gossett learned important acting differences between theater and film. The voice modulation is different for audiences and for microphones. The camera sees more closely, so eye expressions are more important on film.
As the author puts it, “the camera was a magnifying glass, capable of revealing your inner life.”

Gossett writes of a rumor that studio executive did not like that Sammy Davis Jr. was dating actress Kim Novak, and feared the interracial romance would devalue her box office returns. The studio head supposedly had David heated so badly he lost an eye. The rumor has it that Frank Sinatra intervened and stopped the beating from getting worse.

Gossett was troubled by seeing the disgruntled neighborhood youth, some of whom broke his windows. He obtained $18,500 in Federal Harlem Youth Act funds for a youth theater program. The Gossett Academy of Dramatic Arts was created. He always had about 86 students learning acting, dance, set construction, costumes, etc. Richard Pryor, James Earl Jones, and Paul Sorvino taught there. The funds ended during the Nixon Administration.

When Gossett visited Kenya, he discovered a crowd of people staring at him. He was told they had seen him on TV, watched his character die on the operating table, and believed it really happened. He opened his shirt ot show them he was fine.

Gossett filmed a scene in a movie directed by John Trent with a pygmy and a real poisoned arrow. In the script, Gossett overruns the pygmy to the arrow. The pygmy insisted on doing the scene first, for real, and won, holding the arrow that could have killed Gossett between his eyes. In another scene, Trent told a helicopter pilot, but not Gossett, to fly his helicopter straight towards Gossett and the camera operator, forcing them to frantically dive into a ditch, all for a shot.

Gossett learned to relate to camera operators, sound technicians, prop people, stunt people, etc. Mutual respect will develop and each will help each other out. As Gossett believes, “there is no room for ego”.

Gossett worked on episodes of numerous TV shows. He was often called upon when there was a role for a tall bald Black actor.

Gossett once turned down an invitation to a party at Sharon Tate’s house. He thus escaped being there the night everyone in her house was murdered.

Gossett filmed a movie scene where he wore only a loincloth, playing an African native. Chuck Connors was warmly dressed as the temperature was in the 30s. Gossett protesting being cold and that the show wouldn’t look authentic if the native was shown not knowing how to dress properly. The director insisted that shooting proceed. Gossett looked to Connors for help and was disappointed that Connors declined to get in the middle. Years later, though, Gossett came to better know and respect Connors.

Gossett had the role of Isak Poole for 15 episodes of the TV series “Young
Rebels”. He complained that his character was the only one who hadn’t had the hero role in any episode. In the next episode, his character was placed in a coma, as retribution. He also notes his pay was less than his costars.

Gossett worked with the same double and stand-in for 25 years, Bobby Angelle. Angelle was also his personal assistant and good friend. Angelle would speak up for Gossett if they felt a production was abusing him, since they knew Angelle had less to lose. They protected each other.

Tony Brubaker was his stunt double in about 15 films.

Gossett pays tribute to African Americans who helped pave the way for him and other African American actors, such as Hattie McDaniel, the first Blak to star in a TV series “Beulah” in the 1950s and Diahann Carroll, who starred in a popular TV seires “Claudine” in the 1960s. He noted many whites were not used to working with Blacks, often did not regard Blacks as well as others, and often Blacks were exploited. Yet, if the Blacks complained, they were regarded as being difficult. Gossett was placed in difficult situations, such as filming in a real Mexican bug and possibly disease infected jail cell and at a location with scorpions and DDT spray that choked him.

Gossett won an Emmy for his role in the TV series “Roots”. Still, he continued observing that his white co-stars were paid more than he was.

Gossett filmed the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman”. To learn the role of a drill instructor sergeant (DI), he spent 30 days at Camp Pendleton. A DI was on the set to see that Gossett’s uniform was always correct. Gossett observed that Richard Gere and Debra Winder had great chemistry on film but bad chemistry off camera. Gossett won an Oscar, People’s Choice Awards, and Golden Globe for his portrayal.

Despite winning an Oscar, Gossett found his roles continued being supporting roles.

The author believes studios allow actors using drugs to work. Insurance companies that insure these actors during their shoots often pay personnel to inform them when an actor uses drugs.

Gossett filmed several movies in ill health. It was eventually discovered he was suffering from toxic mold poisoning.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Growing Up Laughing by Marlo Thomas

Marlo Thomas. Growing Up Laughing: My Story and Story of Funny. New York: Hyperion Books, Harper Collins, 2010.

The author was taught by her father actor Danny Thomas, when she was a child, to always respect the audience. He advised her to never lie to the audience, for “once you go off that road, you’ve lost them.”

At 8 years old, Marlo Thomas watched her father filming on Warner Brothers sets. She watched as the directed yelled “Cut! Print it! Very good! We try again!” She used those very lines on her father in getting out of trouble once when her father was mad at her.

Jerry Seinfeld told the author that the nervousness of his first doing “The Tonight Show” was like a full body flu.

At age 12, Marlo Thomas wrote a school essay. When she read it to her touring father, he was so moved he decided to stop touring and decided to stay home and do a TV series instead. When her father returned, her mother would tell her to leave the bed because “we have to make room for daddy”. The name of the Danny Thomas TV series was be “Make Room for Daddy”.

The author grew up near where gossip columnist Louella Parsons lived. People were afraid to be seen by her for fear of what she would write. Children would not go to her house on Halloween for trick or treat.

Danny Thomas would tell stories on TV interview programs about his family. When he humorously told about Marlo getting her first bra, she didn’t leave the house for a week afterwards.

The author, lacking oval eyes, was cast in the role of a Chinese woman on “Bonanza”. She filmed the movie “Jenny” with Alan Alda. She then starred in her own TV series “That Girl”. Danny Arnold was a workaholic producer on that series who knew writing, directing, and editing. The work day would begin at 5 am and he’d still be at work when she left at 9:30 pm. Groucho Marx read for the role of her father on the series. Lew Hunter was given the role.

Monday, October 4, 2010

My Fortyfive Years in Hollywood...and How I Escaped Alive by Michael B. Druxman

Michael B. Druxman. My Fortyfive Years in Hollywood…and How I Escaped Alive. Albany, Ga.: BearManor Media, 2010.

The author is a screenwriter and director. He wrote several screenplays for Roger Corman. He was a Sociology major at the University of Washington who graduated in 1963. He did not major in Drama, which interested him, because there was a negative stigma that Drama majors were gay. In 1963, being gay meant social isolation. The actor isn’t gay but he was interested in writing for Drama.

While in college, Druxman directed university theater presentations. He had acted in high school and college and realized he was more interested in directing. A controversy over the university not allowing “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” be performed led the author and many cast members to form their own theater group.

The author worked as an extra for a day in “It Happened at the World’s Fair”. He received $10 and a box lunch. In the movie, he walked behind Elvis Presley when Kurt Russell kicks Elvis.

The author made a short movie for his signature card. While actors would work for free, they still had to be fed. There were also production costs. He hired Ted V. Mikels, a master of low budget movies, for acting, handling cinematography, and editing for under $700. John Carradine spent 15 minutes for $300 narrating the film. The film, though, could not find a place to be shown, as few theaters showed short movies.

The author got commitments from same name actors to be in a film he would make. He figured it would need a $150,000 budget. He tried to raise the money, only to discover he couldn’t raise any money.

While learning about acting, Druxman learned the importance of eye contact. He also learned that actors and directors must “serve the play”.

Druxman once appeared in a play as an emergency substitute without knowing his lines. His character stayed in a bunker while reading a hidden script.

Droxman were into publicity. Since he had no overhead, he advertised his services for $25. He had a few takers including Charles Nelson Reilly and Deanna Lund. He also offered his services as a screenwriter. Sal Mineo was his first client in asking a script from his storyline.

Druxman represented producer Stanley Rubin. When Rubin produced the movie “The President’s Analyst”, which co-starred Druxman publicity representee Pat Harrington, the CIA and FBI contacted him wishing to see the script. In postproduction, these agencies were redubbed the FBR and the CEA.

Druxman represented director Edward Dmyrtryk. Dmyrtyk for years researched the life of Christopher Columbus and planned an $8 million movie on Columbus, who was a poor scientist (which is why he accidentally found America), con artist, and liar. Most scientists then knew the world was round and that China was about 11,000 miles away from Europe. Columbus misfigured that China was 3,500 miles away. Dmyrtryk read Columbus’s journal and found many mistakes and lies. Word of this movie drew negative reactions from some Italian American organizations. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Musmanno spoke out against the movie and urged Italy to ban the movies. The movie failed to raise the money to be made.

Druxman created a campaign for a Sammy Fain song that was nominated for an Oscar. He placed ads where people could call answering machines that played the song. The song didn’t win but the campaign was noticed.

Druxman represented Steve Kanaly, who was on the TV show “Dallas”. He also represented Howard Keel, who resisted appearing on TV as he feared it would diminish his image as a movie star. When Kell was convinced to join the cast of “Dallas”, his career rebounded. Kanaly even convinced Draxman to write some episodes of “Dallas”. Draxman didn’t like the formula style of writing, yet the producers liked his scripts.

Abe Vigoda was also a client of Draxman’s. His character on “Barney Miller” attracted much press attention.

The author sold the idea of writing a biography of Paul Muni to a publisher. He researched the book and interviewed many of Muni’s associates. After that, he wrote a biography of Basil Rathbone.

Druxman learned the job of studio’s Story Department was to reject scripts. No movie had ever been produced at Columbia Pictures that came from the Story Department. The key to getting scripts produced is to get a producer sold on the script.

Druxman offers this advice based on his life experiences: “Take every reasonable opportunity that comes your way, because you never know where it leads.”

Druxman wrote a one woman play on the life of Carole Lombard. He directed Carol Lynley in presenting the play.

Producers and directors add material to scripts so, under Writer Guild rules, they can be listed as co-screenwriters and qualify for residuals. These additions often confuse the script rather than improve it.

It is hard for screenwriters older than their mid-40s to be hired. Young producers are resistant to hiring “their fathers”.

Druxman sold his screenplay “Dillinger and Capone”. He was fully paid but the movie was later made with major revisions. He sold his script “Cheyenne Warrior” which was produced. It starred Kelly Preston, Dan Haggerty, Bo Hopkins, Clint Howard, among others. It went straight to home video release yet it is one of Concorde-New Horizons three most successful movies.

Druxman was so unhappy with “Dillinger and Capone” he considered asking for his name to be removed from the screenplay credit. He learned doing so would prevent him from getting any residuals.

Roger Corman hired Druxman to write a screenplay adaptation of “Far From the Maddening Crowd”. Druxman noted this had already been done and convinced Corman to film an adaptation of the novel “The Aspern Papers”. Corman bought the script buy shelved the project. They then collaborated on “Battle Queen 2020” starring Julie Strain. Druxman was going to direct the movie in Ireland but costs required it be shot in Canada instead. Corman dealt with a Canadian company that required a Canadian director and that the script rewriter also be Canadian. Corman then had Druxman direct “The Doorway”.

Steve Kanaly gave Druxman some important advice. He advised being close the the cinematographer who will then check that no film mistakes are made. Druxman also learned the importance of editing and how it can change a film. Druxman then worked on “Raptor”.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Art of Storytelling by Michael B. Druxman

Michael B. Druxman. The Art of Storytelling: How to Write a Story…Any Story. Westlake Vilage, Ca.: The Center Press, 1957.

The author observes it is important for a writer to effectively write a story. To do this, some essential techniques must ob observed. A story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. A story must have a three act structure. Without that three act structure, the story will not work.

There are critical parts to a story: a set up, a catalyst, a turning point, a climax, a final confrontation, and a resolution. The set up introduces the main characters, sets the mood, and describes their purpose in the story. In screenplays, this takes the first 15 pages. The catalyst motivates the story into a direction. It should be something that allows viewers to develop empathy with the main character. Complications change the plot in the first turning point. The main character learns an important lesson in the climax. This climax leads to a final confrontation. The outcome is the resolution.

It is important to create good characters with have wants and drawbacks. Dialogue should be real. Avoid repeating information, long dialogue, and stilted language. Give all characters their own voices. Conflict makes scenes interesting. An interesting plot should be presented. Exposition provides useful background information. Plan an opening that creates an interesting tone. Foreshadowing can be useful in making an audience think. Resolutions should occur near the end or else the story then drags along.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Cinematography for Directors by Jacqueline B. Frost

Jacqueline B. Frost. Cinematography for Directors: A Guide for Creative Collaboration. Studio City, Ca.: Michael Wise Productions, 2009.

The Director and Director of Photography, or Cinematographer, should cooperate in conveying a desired fell to their movie. The cinematographer chooses the lighting during production and the digital intermediate or color timing in postproduction to create the movie’s visual appearance. Directors and cinematographers usually share their concepts, examine other works to realize what fits their needs, and then create accordingly.

There are many nuances that make filming each movie different. The director controls the pace of shooting. The cinematographer works to produce the director’s cinematic vision. Some directors, especially ones from theater or writers who turn directors, are less skilled in the technical aspects of filmmaking. The cinematographer may need to provide more advice on such technical aspects as what mm of film, filter, etc, to use.

The genre of a film may help determine its’ cinematography. For instance, a comedy is usually filmed brightly without shadows. Science fiction often uses wide angle lenses and a de-saturated color palette. A romantic comedy often uses soft and practical lighting.

Decisions have to be made for each shot as to whether it will be a long, medium, or close up shot, the type camera used, how the cameras moves (i.e. handheld, dolly, Steadicam, crane, or tracking), whether the visual palette should be warm or cool and amber or blue, as well as hue and gradient , whether lighting should be high key or low key, soft or hard.

There are about 340 who belong to the American Society of Cinematographers.

The cinematographer determines the set lighting, calculates exposure, and determines camera placement, lighting, and focal length. This is usually planned in advance, often with the storyboard. These decisions are flexible, especially if the cinematography makes an observation during shoots that will improve a film.

Cinematographer Daniel Pearl is known for top light, warm sepia hues, and low light images that are used in his horror films.

Since directors and cinematographers work closely together over the shooting period, it is usually important they work compatibly with each other.

Directors often share their cinematographic visions with cinematographers by showing photographs indicating a desired look.

The Director of Photography or cinematographer (DP) controls the camera and lighting crew. The camera operator is second in charge.

The cinematographer/DP often observes the actor and the action for lighting and framing issues. The DP can operate the camera, but usually does not and instead concentrates on the overall situation.

The DP usually knows in advance what an actor will do. The lighting thus is determined prior as to what is best in each situation.

The director sends the DP a final shooting script, meets and discusses a vision, determines style of filming, determines who will operate cameras and who the crew will be, goes over storyboards or similar visuals, discusses vision concerning scenes and color with the production designer, shoots tests, visits and consider locations and what lighting works best at each, considers recommendations, and decides what to do.

DPs find the most difficult directors are those who don’t collaborate with them and are too controlling without considering the DP’s advice.

Directors should keep updated on new camera technology, know cinematographic fundamentals, have visual references available, collaborate with DPs, prepare storyboards, and make other necessary preparations, observe locations prior to shootings, determine importance of shots, consider blocking, prepare postproduction procedures, and manage well.

Super 16 mm is often used for High Definition.

The t stop is true light and the f stop concerns exposure.

Lens should always be clean with no smudges.

Cooke lenses are often sued for soft images. An Arri master prime or Zeiss high speed prime is for sharper images when opened at 1.4 stop instead of the slower 2.8, which lets less light in.

The zoon lens varies its focal length while a prime lens is fixed in its focal length.

32 mm prime is better for close shots.

Zoom changes the background focus. Changing the camera position and the lens create the same size shot with a different look. A prime lens can shoot close up and keep the background in focus.

The zoom lens emerged in the late 1960s.

Panavision zooms and Zeiss ultraspeed zooms offer sharper images.

Normal vision is approximately 180 degrees. To approximate normal vision in film, use 35 mm file with a normal or 55 mm lens, with a SI16/16 mm film with a 25 mm lens. A large imaging device area requires longer focal lengths when using a normal lens. A 123” DDC would use a 15 mm lens. A 1/3” CCD would use a 11 mm lens. A Super 16 mm formal would use a 22 mm focal length. Wide angle lenses would be 16 mm, 10 mm, and 8 mm. Wide angles in 35 mm format would use lenses such as 32 mm, 27 mm, or 14 mm. The normal lens offers more clarity and less distortion than the zoom lens. Zoom lens are good for moving shots and particular views.

A beauty shot usually will not work as well with a wide angle lens.

Combining a long field depth with a wide angle lens can underscore certain kinds of scenes. Wide angle lenses keep backgrounds in focus and can be good in shooting scenes with motion.

A Steadiman with a short lens keeps focus. A Steadicam, dolly, or handheld keeps better focus and dept of field with a wide angle lens.

Fish eye lens create horizontal frame edge distortion.

A telephone lens distorts the background behind the image it focuses on. A telephone is an 85 mm, 150 mm, and 200 mm lens in 35 mm, 1:85 aspect ratio.

The focal length of a lens is often found on the inside lens ring beside the glass. Often, white numbers tell feet and red numbers tell meters.

F/1.4 is about what the dilated pupil sees. F/22 is what a constricted pupil often sees. F and t stops occur, from widest opening to least amount of light let in, occur at 1.4, 2.0, 2,8, 4, 5, 6, 8, 11, 16, and 22..

F stop is used to calculate field depth. T stop is used to determine exposure.

An anamorphic lens usually opens at f and t stops from 3 to 22. It allows less lgith to enter and thus requires more light for scene lighting.

The most light enters at f aperture open at 1.4. The least light enters at f of 22. “Stepping down” is defined as switching to the next lowest f stop. “Opening up” is defined as switching to the next highest f stop.

More light reduces depth of field. Less light induces background detail.

Overexposure can be handled with a neutral density filter. The neutral density filler ND.09 reduces the f stops. The ND 0.6 reduces two f stops, and the ND .03 combo filter can turn tungsten film to appearing as daylight.

A cloudy outdoor light might require f/5.6.

“Hitcock’s Rule is how much space things appear in should be equivalent to their importance in the scene.

Many Westerns used wide angle lens when showing scenery. Many horror/suspense films use wide angle lens as the surroundings, at times including a hidden villain, are important to the scene.

A wide angle lens on a Steadicam or handheld is used to show what a character is viewing.

“Chiaroscuro lighting” involves wide difference of light and shadow at the same time.

Light at down has cooler light. Late afternoon light has more amber hues.

Surrealism has a dreamy imagery.

Impressionism uses changing light qualities.

Film relates to light differently than does the eye. HM 1 lights color balance as natural daylight at 550 K. HM1 lights thus are used for many daytime shoots.

The amber appearing Tungster films color balances at 3200 k.

The “cooler colors” are blue, green, cyan, and violet. Yellow, orange, and red are dominant next to cooler colors. The eye is drawn to yellow with blue surroundings and thus a dominant sight could be established this way.

Cool colors can highlight feelings of isolation.

Ektachrome film presents a blue hue.

Orange, yellow, and red usually exert warmth.

The light amount required for correct exposure is the film’s speed rating or exposure index.

Kodak and Fuji are the only manufacturers of movie film. Only Kodak makes black and white film.

The three point lighting set up uses a key light as the main light source, a source light that can be seen in the scene, and a fill large for balancing shadows.

Dramas usually are lit to show realism with faces evenly lit and shadowy areas.

A tracking shot is filmed with in a car and is shot following or moving away from the action.

Handheld shots are often shaky as operators usually shake while filming. The shot usually brings an audience more emotionally into the scene.

There should be reasons as to what message a scene tells by a camera that moves or stops moving.

Crane shots are for views from high angles. A crane uses a zoom.

A dolly moves a camera and has less of a depth of field shift as does a crane.

A Steadicam is worn with a harness which reduces the movements faced with a handheld camera. Theya re good when filming where a Dolly can’t be placed.

The frame height and weight ratio is called its aspect ratio. Regular 16 mm has a 1.33 aspect ratio, which fits digital video’s 4:3 aspect ratio. Super 16 mm has a 1:66 aspect ratio, High Definition a 1:78 aspect ratio, regular 35 mm as 1:85 aspect ratio, super 35 mm a 2:35 aspect ratio, anamorphic a 2:40 aspect ratio, and 70 mm a 2:65 aspect ratio.

HD Super 35 mm, anamorphic, and 70 mm are for wide screens.

U.S. theaters mostly use 35 mm or anamorphic. Wide screen theaters use 70 mm.

Some films are shot on Super 16 mm and transferred to 1:85 for theaters.

The lifespan of film is 100 years. A film stored on HD will need to be rebooted periodically to restore its data, which is more expensive than archiving film.

Filming on 35 mm film with a 1:85 aspect ratio is most common and often the least expensive method. This is for theater and will appear letter boxed on television.

Frame is normally 2:40. Some prefer framing at 1:85 to show scenes more intimately. Many don’t wish to first shoot in 1:85 in order to get a sharper looking scene. A 35 mm shot in 1:85 can be developed into 2:40 and this is commonly done.

Super 18 mm film is about half the cost of 35 mm film and runs about twice as long. Yet is has higher postproduction costs as it has to be converted for theater use. It can be used directly for DVD release.

Super 18 mm is used by smaller and lighter cameras. It is thus often used by lower cost productions.

The super 16 mm aspect ratio of 1:66 is similar enough to HDs 1:75 ratio and thus can be converted to HD.

Anamorphic lenses compress images during wide screen shots.

IMAX uses 70 mm film.

Super 16 mm is generally better quality than digital. Digital can allow more diversity.

It is becoming more common for directors and DPs to view dailies on HD or DVD.

When processing a film photochemically, the first print is the answer print, which is processed three times adding two rolls and the soundtrack. The answer print is corrected for colors, dissolves, optimal effects, title checks, etc.

Films with a large distribution may need over 1500 prints. Foreign distribution often causes subtitles using the title interpositive.

The photochemical developing process can be used to deliberately alter colors. Using less or no bleach bypass sharpens contrast between dark and light, lowers color saturation, and yields a more monochromatic color palette. Doing this to the print results in darker shadow areas and darkens the color black.

Neutral flashing is when the color is desaturated to reduce contrast, improve shadows, and show more detail. Color flashing reduces contrast according to specific goals.

Forced processing involves under exposing film to increase grain and increase darkness. It often is done to balance by overexposing film that was shot when underexposed.

Cross processing uses a different chemical process that removes orange mask.

Most studio movies use digital intermediate then convert film to a computer hard drive. It scans more slowly than other systems as it requires correction at a different resolution than the resolution at viewing.

Billy Bitzer was one of the first notable cinematographers, working with D.W. Griffith. They first used tracking shots.

GregToland was a noted cinematographer in both silent and talking films. He worked on “Citizen Kane”.

Robert Burks was a cinematographer on a number of Alfred Hitchcock films. Russell MEtty worked on a number of Douglas Sirk films. Januse Kaminski has worked on several Stephen Spielberg films.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Essentials of Screenwriting by Richard Walter

Richard Walter. Essentials of Screenwriting: The Art, Craft, and Business of Film and Television Writing. New York: Plume Book, Penguin Group, 2010.

The author suggests that writers dislike the actual act of writing, yet doing so allows them to create, as if they were God forming through their writings. Formal writing instruction can help a screenwriter become a better writer, as good writing is important in the movie industry. It takes a good screenplay to be one that an agent will represent. Writing often involves being able to present chaotic events. Writings should come from the heart.

A screenwriter needs to understand English and how it is spoken. English words are what advances a story in a screenplay.

The human condition should be presented in what is also entertaining to an audience. A screenplay should be commercial while communicating life’s messages. A movie involves voyeurism, as audiences are peaking into the characters’ lives. A screenplay is a craft, involving contrivance to unite diverse scenes in developing a seamless movie. A screenplay must exploit a writer’s resources. Hollywood is the center of movies, and audiences are the customers.

Movies are for many people to view. A painting or poem may be appreciated by a few, but movies require an audience to be appreciated.

Aristotle noted communication requires a source of the communication, a message that is communicated, and a receiver of that message.

Screenplays must never be boring.

Critics who believe that something with mass appeal is pandering to an audience are wrong in that view. Audiences are intelligent.

A screenplay requires structure, character, dialogue, setting, and a story. Aristotle states there are three parts to a story, a beginning, a middle, and an end. Numerous screenwriting theories have expanded upon this, but Aristotle has establishes this basis for stories.

A screenwriting should be a personal story. This is disputed by other screenwriting theorists. Richard Walter notes that exploring one’s own self best produces creative expression. Disclosing one’s own self to oneself should be the basic organizing principle of screenplays.

Each line in a screenplay should advance the story’s plot and present more about the character. The audience should learn something with each line.

All unnecessary dialogue should be eliminated. A scene should being with the story.

Time impacts an audience viewing a movie. A long pause can kill a movie, unless it is being skillfully used for dramatic effect.

A screenplay that is personal and integrated will often be good, regardless of its topic.

Action and character should define each other. Dialogue integrates both action and character towards creating a story.

Movies can heal, and writing a personal screenplay can help a writer heal. What one writes is one’s own story for one’s own heart and mind. A screenplay is a mirror of a screenwriter’s life.

Movies need themes which follow the story. Characters are reflections of us all. Identity is the one theme in all movies.

Movies require visual presentations and not just dialogue.

All parts of a play or movie have beginnings, middles, and ends, according to Aristotle.

The theme of a movie comes out in the story. A good theme will surprise the screenwriter.

Violence can express conflict, stress, or tension in a movie.

People can find truth throughout their lives. When they escape to the movies, they want falsehoods that drew them into watching. Movies are contrived. A screenwriter should write something that seems real, even if it is not the authentic truth. Audiences want the truth, but never find it. Screenwriters thus are free to make up their own stories, regardless of the truth.

There is no mystical formula for screenwriting success. The author seeks to demystify screenwriting by noting all stories follow Aristotle’s beginning, end, and middle structure. The middle is the largest in size.

The tone of most films should be the same throughout the movie. The protagonist(s) needs to be clearly shown. Exposition, or information the audience needs to know but doesn’t, must be presented.

The story is enhanced by complications, reversals, impediments, obstacles, and wrinkles. Audiences do not want a predictable story.

The author recommends keeping coincidences to one per script. Too many coincidences will disappoint an audience. Audiences are more thrilled with a story overcoming a large, gloomy obstacle.

An ending should leave an audience humbled. They should feel as if the movie was about them.

Questions are what are important to art, not the answers.

Positive space in a movie is the area containing the subject. The surrounding area, or the background, is the negative space.

Movies should move and continually be advanced. Screenwriting should avoid having stories stand still or regroup.

Movies should end too soon and have audiences wanting more.

Characters should not be stereotypes, must have some sympathetic functions (even the villains), and should evolve during the story.

Audiences will accept a character doing something they’d never do so long as the character reacts as they would in that situation.

Movies involved sight and sound. Dialogue is critical o the movie. It must move the story and allow characters to grow. Dialogue should be minimized. It must not repeat information. It should quickly get to its intended point. Avoid writing dialect, as that is usually left to the actor.
Dialogue should be conversational. Characters should argue. Don’t have a character repeal information the audience already knows. Avoid writing chit chat that does not expand a story or character.

A screenplay should not have underlined or understood words.

Authors should avoid writing parenthetic directions in their screenplays. Actors resent them. Avoid writing exclamation marks and funny punctuation. Dialogue should not include lengthy speeches.

Integrate action into the story. Action is important as it is drama. It is better to have action than not have it.

A scene setting should be appropriate to the action.

Avoid using scenes on telephones or in cars as they limit action. Apartments, bars, restaurants, offices, and hotels tend to be drab locations.

Screenwriters should have actors doing something visually. It should demonstrate their character.

A screenwriter should treat his or her own self as professional. There should be no fancy or illustrated covers.

A screenplay should be about 100 pages. The author notes a great 169 script that, while he can suggest nowhere to cut, its’ length keeps it unsold.

Screenwriting is rewriting. Screenwriter David Koepp states he has rewritten at least 17 drafts to each of his scripts.

Old scripts should not be abandoned. Many old scripts have later been sold.

Scenes should not be numbered.

Scripts should be in Courier New, 12 point font.

A character, when first introduced, should be typed in uppercase letters. Uppercase letters should inform the production manager of something required from the production manager.

Scripts should not contain technical jargon, such as film shots, unless they are integral to the story and character. Screenwriters should not write instructions such as “CUT TO” nor writing P.O.V. (points of view) camera instructions.

Screenwriters should write what sounds are head, instead of writing “we hear”.

Screenwriters should write in the present tense.

A flashback should be apparent with no need to write “FLASHBACK”. Yet, it is a permitted cheat if necessary to guide the reader. Gentle reminders such as reconnecting a character to a previous obscure appearance, are also permitted cheats if it helps the reader.

A screenwriter should use montage only in describing confusing sequences, such as a car chase. The important aspects of the montage should be described.

INT indicates interior scenes. EXT indicates exterior scenes.

Screenwriters should remember they can write only presentations of sight and sound. Only essential information should be written. More information should be conveyed in less writing.

Information in a screenplay should have a purpose, that purpose should be worthy, and the information should be presented in the best possible manner.

Deleting material from a screenplay is often the best choice.

A screenwriter should not set a scene’s mood. The mood should be clear from the disclosure.

Instructions should be written in ordinary sentence structures. They should not be written in fragmented sentences.

Scripts should not have plot turns. It should not move in a “checkerboarding” straight line. They should not have extreme plot turns coming from left field.

Screenwriting instructions should be concrete. Name the place and the label of clothes worn (even it is is a fake creation).

A screenplay should not use “very” in describing something.

Screenwriters should think of dramatic, rather than drab, locations that will increase the drama.

Do not write things that will be difficult to film, such as a pigeon that acts on cue.

Do not write long dialogue. Point should be expressed quickly. It is often better that dialogue imply a fact rather than stating it “on the nose”.

Try stating in four words what has been stated in ten words.

The words of the screenplay are what are important, not any fancy screenwriting graphics.

Movies involve motion. Audiences should be held breathless and not given paused motionless breathers. Do not waste any time in a movie. Avoid repetitious dialogue. Write to increase tension. Don’t reduce tension with repetition and instead choose one tense scene or the other.

Do not write lame dialogue. Dialogue should be what makes sense when heard. Avoid over brazen exposition.

Remember that an idea for a movie still requires a script to be written.

Writer’s block happens and should be accepted. The cure is to write. Deadlines are important and should help guide a writer to be productive within a timeframe.

An outline should be written first. It is fine to adjust a script that is improved even if it no longer fits the original outline. Screen cards can help guide a writer.

The hydrant effect is when producers and producer assistants all add something to a script in order to later claim credit for their participation in the script. These changes are often not improvements upon the script.

A screenwriter should embrace discarding material that does not work. The author advises removing anything which the screenwriter has a doubt about.

A screenwriter has to go inside each character and realize how each character thinks and acts.

Screenwriters should avoid getting angry at others. This can ruin their careers. They should embrace that writing for their ego is fine. They should respect criticism but they don’t have to agree with it. Accept that rejection happens. Art can hurt. Actors exist so there can be people treated worse than are screenwriters. Note that people in authority often do not take the time to know what they are talking about and thus will talk about things they don’t really understand.

Creativity is often more eccentric than intelligence. It should include some magic. Good qualities lead to more questions.

Audiences attend movies to explore the questions of their lives. These are similar to what they go to places of worship.

Screenwriting is an important, indeed the basic, part of the movie.

A screenwriter should write their part and leave directing and scene design creativity to those who do that work.

The hope of the world rests on middle class values. Sex and violence are at the core of dramatic creations and have been for centuries. It is better to assimilate than to separate from the popular culture.

To sell a script, ignore trends as they die out quickly and movies take years to produce. Write taking risks instead of playing it safe. Good writing is what works best.

A query letter to an agent should provide a quick tease as to the script. A study of well written query letters had 96% response rates seeking the scripts, including many who stated they don’t read unsolicited material.

An email to an agent has to properly stand out to be noticed.

An agent cannot receive than a 10% commission. An agent may represent for 90 days unless there is a bona fide employment opportunity. After 90 days, with no job offer, a writer may contract with another agent.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The House That Ince Built by Dennis Daggett

Dennis Daggett. The House that Ince Built. USA (copyright 1980).

Thomas Harper Inca was a partner in Triangle Studios with D.W. Griffith and Mack Sennett. Ths book focused on the history of the studio he constructed.

Ince was Director General at the New York Motion Picture Corporation. Among the films he directed were “The First Misunderstanding” with Mary Pickford in 1911. He then moved to Los Angeles to work on such films as “War on the Plains”, which is notable for hiring Native Americans to play the Indian roles. In 1915, he became Vice President of Triangle Film Corporation. As an executive, he purchased 10,000 at Pacific Coast Highway and Sunset Boulevard and named it Inceville where films could be made. There, such movies as “The Battle of Gettysburg”, using eight cameras, was filmed

Ince was known for his planning and scripting ahead of time in a time where movies were more loosely constructed. He was personally very concerned with film editing. He hired experienced directors to direct.

Ince used glass stages that used natural sunlight and which kept the same light balance for interior and exterior scenes. Others filmed with artificial lighting.

Harry Culver had Ince supervise the construction of Metropolitan Studios (later MGM). Culver then dismissed Ince for an internally employed candidate to run the studio operations. Ince then informed Culver he owned part of the property, forcing Culver to purchase Ince’s property. Ince used this money to construct his own studio in 1918. It opened in 1919.

Ince’s studio introduced new lighting techniques, introducing fill lights known as arcs, baby jrs, brutes, and quartz lighting systems that remained in use until the late 1960s.

Ince directed or supervised most of his films. He also appeared in most of his films, often in disguise and using a fake name. Ince was the first, the author believes, to develop star talent. “Anna Christie” was among the successful films that resulted.

In 1924, Ince disappeared on a yacht belonging to William Randolph Hearst. It is theorized he was shot and thrown overboard. Rumor had it an actress, Louelle Parson, may have seen the murder. She was hired by Hearst and became a famous newspaper columnist. She said nothing about the incident. Ince’s death was officially declared a suicide.

Ince Studio stopped production after Ince’s death. Cecil B. DeMille purchased the studio in 1925. In 1928, Pathe Pictures bought Ince’s former lot from DeMille. Pathe, being a smaller studio, faced greater financial problems adjusting to the higher costs of movies with sound. The Mutual Film Corporation merged with Pathe. Joseph P. Kennedy gained control of Mutual and changed it to Keith-Albee-Oprheum. Film Booking Offices merged with Pathe as they sought more physical space. Keith-Albee-Orpheum went into receivership during the stock market crash. David Sarnoff of Radio Corporation purchased Keith-Albee-Orpheum and Film Booking Office and renamed the, Radio Keith Oprheum (RKO). RKO owned both the former Ince Culver lot and a lot in Hollywood.

David Selznick, son of a failed studio owner, became the head of RKO. He previously had worked at MGM, where he was fired by Irving Thalberg. He asked his father’s former rival, Adolph Zuker, for a job. Zuker was impressed Selznick would turn to him. Zuker hired Selznick to work at Paramount.

Under Selznick, Katherine Hepburn was signed to star in several successful movies, even though Selznick was not initially impressed with her. “King Kong” was a financial success for RKO, the largest money maker than ever before. Selznick decided against dropped contract actor Fred Astaire, a decision that proved wise as Astaire filmed several successful RKO movies afterwards.

RKO used heavily lighted background with actors in the foreground successfully in “The Informer”. Orson Welles used this technique in “Citizen Kane” five years later.

Director William Dieterle was known for carefully directing every single line for maximum effect. The technique made “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”
very successful.

RKO hired Orson Welles to direct movies. Welles negotiated a 60 page contract that gave him full artistic control of his movies and kept executives out of rush screenings. Welles met Herman Mankiewicz and was enthralled by Mankiewicz’s idea of a film on Mankiewicz’s former boss, William Randolph Hearst. Mankiewicz wrote a 200 page screenplay over three months. John Houseman edited it. Welles added material. “Citizen Kane” resulted. Cameraman Gregg Toland used a new bifocal lens he has invented which used sharp foreground and sharp background lighting creating sharp focus in the foreground and back. The only problem was side distortion. Art Director Perry Ferguson created props in both foreground and background. Welles would often use 84 to 100 takes per scene, and even 120 takes for one scene. Robert Wise edited the film with Welles over six months with many 18 hour workdays. Music composed by Bernard Herrmann was used in nontraditional means with no title music and music beginning as the estate is first shown. Herrmann had three months, rather than the usual three weeks, to compose the music. He composed as the movie was filmed, tying the music to the scene.

“Citizen Kane” took 82 days to film, using 276,505 feet of film, and with production costs of $686,000. Welles paid for $100,000 of the production costs.

The Hearst newspapers blacklisted any mention of “Citizen Kane”. William Randolph Hearst threatened to use muckraking journalism to embarrass Hollywood. The opening date was postponed as RKO let Hearst representatives view the movie. Welles threatened to sue it “Citizen Kane” was not released. It was, but the Warner theater chain, Radio City Music Hall, and many independent theaters declined to show it. It was shown in second rate theaters and was a financial flop. It would only become successful when shown later on TV.

Selznick started Pioneer Pictures with Merian. C. Cooper and Herbert T. Kalmus, the developer of Technicolor. Their focus was on color photographs. They filmed “Becky Sharp” by renting the RKO Culver City lot. The higher film cost with required higher lighting costs caused financial problems when the film flopped.

Selznick in 1935 created Selznick International Pictures and leased RKO Pathe’s Culver City studio. The agreement kept RKOs right to use the studio. The first Selznick International Picture, “Little Lord Fauntroy”, shot in black and white, was considered a good film but didn’t make much money. The second movie used a little known Marlene Dietrich, signed for a large sum of $200,000 in “The Garden of Allah”. Filming in a desert that hit 120 degrees complicated matters, including lighting problems and sunstroke to people. The movie itself flopped.

Selznick signed William Wellman to direct movies. His first, “A Star is Born”, based partially on Wellman’s life, was a success. Wellman and Selznick fought during the movie with Selznick changing the script and Wellman changing it back. This was followed by their next collaboration, “Nothing Sacred”. Ben Hecht began writing the script but quit after fighting over it with Selznick. The script was finished by Ring Lardner Jr. and Budd Shulberg. This movie was also a success. Wellman then left Selznick’s employment. Selznick faced three flops soon afterwards with one success, “The Prisoner of Zenda”.

Story Editor Kay Brown recommended Selznick produce “Gone with the Wind”. Civil War films previously were generally unsuccessful. Russell Birdwell, in the publicity office, recommended a two year publicity campaign, including publicizing a lengthy search for casting. The book the movie was based on sold almost two million copies, increasing public discussion of the movie. The little known Vivian Leigh was selected as the lead female based on her talent.

Selznick insisted on authenticity. Ann Rutherford asked why they had to wear authentic underwear, noting “nobody will know that I’m wearing this fancy underwear”. Selznick responded “but you’ll know it’s there.”

In one scene, 1500 people and 600 dummies portrayed dead and dying in a battlefield. A camera was lifted 95 feet on a crame to film the scene, topping the tallest boom reach of 25 feet. After ten weeks of rehearsal, the scene was shot in one take.

“Gone with the Wind” took five months to film, using half a million feet of film, at a cost of $3,957,000. This was over the original estimated budget of $2,500,000. The next task was editing the film. One film cutting session lasted 51 hours nonstop.

Max Steiner and Herbert Strothart scored “Gone with the Wind” in three months.

The line “frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” was allowed by the censors but considered an offense that resulted in a fine of $5,000 paid to the Producers Association.

Selznick brought Alfred Hitchcock to direct “Rebecca”, which started filming while “Gone with the Wind” was being produced. Selznick clashed with Hitchcock, who was used to having full control over directing. Selznick sent memos telling how to direct. Hitchcock shot only enough film as Hitchcock was guaranteed of getting his way.

“Gone with the Wind” was so successful that Selznick’s reputation seemed to require him to continue making similar hit movies. He made few movies for three years, with “Suspicion” directed by Hitchcock being sold by Selznick to RKO. Jennifer Jones and “Song of Bernadette” successfully rejuvenated Selznick’s successes. Selznick believed “Since You Went Away” was better than “Gone with the Wind”, and while most critics disagreed, the movie was a financial success.

Selznick took over sciptwriting to “Duel in the Sun” with Jennifer Jones and spent over a year and over $5,000,000 producing it. Selznick fell in love with Jennifer Jones. Selznick became so involved in the film that director King Vidor walked out. Dimitri Tiomkin spent six months composing the score, being told by Selznikc to “score an orgasm”. Selznick demanded the score be rewritten, stating “that’s not an orgasm”. Selznick declared of the revised score “I like it, but it isn’t orgasm music. It’s not the way I fuck” to which Tiomkin responded “you fuck your way, I fuck my way”. Selznick approved the score. Selznick later married Jennifer Jone but ended up overextended in $12 million of loans. He resolved his debts but left the film business.

Orson Welles directed “The Magnificent Ambersons” and insisted on using real snow, which was created in an ice plant in Los Angeles. A problem developed as the hot lights melted the snow.

Welles directed a documentary “It’s All True” at the request of RKO stockholder Nelson Rockefeller, who was then in charge of the U.S. State Department’s Inter-American Affairs. The hopes were the film would help improve diplomatic relations. A crew member died during underwater filming, causing the crew to be returned to the U.S. in fear of straining diplomatic relations. The film was never completed.

In 1942, Floyd Odlum gained control of RKO stock. Joseph Breen, David Sarnoff, and Nelson Rockefeller left RKO. In 1943, RKO had a $7 million profit. It showed profits for six years afterwards. Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan were big RKO stars. Orson Welles directed “The Stranger” for RKO and followed all RKO orders in an attempt to restore his successful image.

During the Red scare Odlum sought to sell his share of RKO for $9 million. Howard Hughes bought control of RKO. Dore Schary couldn’t get along with Hugh. Schary became in charge of MGM’s production where he made many successful movies, including many war movies which had disinterested Hughes.

Hughes gave almost complete artistic freedom to producers and directors. Unfortunately, Hughes retained final control, and Hughes often clashed with others over his ideas of artistic quality. In addition, Hughes was busy with companies in multiple industries and it could take months for Hughes to provide his input.

Robert Mitchum was arrested and convicted for marijuana possession. He served 50 days in jail. Hughes lent Mitchum $50,000 to pay for his lawyers.

Hughes hired Jane Russell to star in what was eventually called “Double Dynamite”. It began filming in 1948. Hughes’s interventions in the film delayed the film being finished until 1951. It was not very successfully. Other Jane Russell films failed to attract the audience Hughes sought.

The “Superman” TV series ran 104 shows from 1951 to 1957. The 1951 episodes were filmed on the Culver City lot. Some were filmed in two days. This was the firs episodic TV series.

RKO did not make the money Hughes expected. He decided to concentrate on his other businesses so he sold RKO. Hughes bought out some other RKO shareholders and then sold RKO for an estimated $25 million to Thomas Francis O’Neil, who owned General Teleradio as well as General Tire and Rubber. O’Neil covered his costs by selling the backlot for $15 million and future TV rights to RKO movies for $10 million. Daniel O’Shea was hired to preside over RKO. O’Shea had been one of Selznick’s studio attorneys. O’Shea moved to concentrating on producing high quality films.

Hughes retained RKO’s theater chain. All other movie companies were later required to divest any interests they had in theaters.

“Star Trek” was initially rejected by NBC for being too good for a wide audience to appreciate. Desilu spent $700,000 on the rejected pilot. NBC requested a second pilt. Since the set already existed, a second pilot cost $300,000. The lead actor, Jeff Hunter, was filming a movie in Spain, were he had an accident falling from a horse that contributed to his death later on. William Shatner was cast to take Hunter’s place. The lights attracted waps that stun actors Shatner and Sally Kellerman.

Desilum ran out of money in 1968.

The author claims the film business puts business first and “if there is room for a little art, it’ll be a coincidence, but so be it.”

Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor sued Warner Brothers over failing to publicize their independent film “Billy Jack” and for not paying the producers. They contacted theaters on their own. They then filmed the sequel “The Trial of Billy Jack” at the Culver City studios.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Stan and Ollie by Simon Louvish

Simon Louvish. Stan and Ollie: The Root of Comedy. The Double Life of Laurel and Hardy. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2001.

The author argues that “no culture was complete without it’s clowns”. Joe Grimaldi was a famous comedic figure in early 19th century England. Many clowns subsequently were patterned after Grimaldi. Clowns understood the fears and joys of their audiences and played to those emotions. Dan Leno carried on as leading comic actor in the late 19th century until his death in 1904. Dan Leno inspired Stan Laurel, who with Oliver Hardy would become the roots of cinematic comedy.

Oliver Hardy was fat from birth and probably genetically destined to be overweight. As a 200 pound teenager he attended a military school which may explain where he learned the agility he displayed on film.

Stan Laurel’s father was an actor who died when Stan was 16. Stan acted as a solo comedian, using work inspired by Dan Leno’s partner Harry Randall and indirectly by Leno. Fred Karno, who also helped Charlie Chaplin’s career, discovered Laurel and helped his career. Karno’s performances bridget the era between Grimaldi and silent film comedies.

Karno’s act invented self-referential stage comedy, where acts were interrupted for off stage comments.

The New York Times in January 1909 reported that 45 million attended movies weekly and that $40 million had been invested into the movie industry. Movies cost 5 cents or 10 cents, which compares to the 40 cents or 50 cents charged then for a top level vaudeville show or $1 for a legitimate musical comedy.

Oliver Hardy married Madelyn Saloshin, a piano player in 1913. Oliver was a singer.

Karno spent much time training his actors to have a keen sense of the pace and timing of humor. Mack Sennett hired Charlie Chaplin at $150 per week to star in Keystone film comedies.

Jacksonville, Florida in 1914 claimed to have more movie units than did Los Angeles. Oliver Hardy joined the Lubin film company in movies there. Hardy learned his craft beginning with this film work. He made 65 Vim films in 1915 through 1917 at an average of one a week. He appeared as Babe Hardy.

Vim films failed and was taken over by Caws films. They moved the entire crew including Hardy to film seven films in Bayonne, New Jersey. Then they moved to Hollywood, where Oliver’s first Hollywood film was as the Sultan of Bacteria in “The Slave”. This also claims to be the first film to no use intertitles. Hardy also appeared in this pre-censorship film “Playmates” which dealt with characters stealing cocaine for a homosexual drug user.

Stan Laurel filmed several comedies at Universal. Early comedies then relied heavily on physical humor.

Larry Semon signed for Vitagraph in 1919 for $3,600,000 for three years. He was a master of stunt comedy that was very popular in the early 1920s. Stan Laurel appeared in several Larry Semon films. Oliver Hardy also appeared in some Larry Semon films. Both Laurel and Hardy appeared in the picture ‘The Lucky Dog”, which Laruen playing a thief whose filrst words to Hardy’s character are intertitled as “put ‘em both up, insect, before I comb your hair with lead.” After that film, Laurel and Hardy wouldn’t meet again for a few more years. Laurel wett to do films for Broncho Billy Anderson. He also appeared in several Hal Roach movies, but separately from Hardy.

Larry Semon starred in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1925. Oliver Hardy was in the film. Semon’s reliance on slapstick was met with mixed reviews. A new era of comedy was emerging with focused more on plots and characters. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd emerged as the new comedy film stars.

Hal Roach spent over $1 million to make films in 1925. Director Leo McCarey liked “slow burn” comedies where jokes were set up and provided reasons why slapstick comedy resulted.

When Laurel and Hardy were paired together, their director James Parrott helped their progress. Parrott had great faith in their abilities. He helped their successful move from silent to talking films.

Hal Roach Studios paid the following salaries: 1925, $5,695 for Laurel, $2,116.07 for Hardy.
1926, $12,050 for Laurel, $11,850 for Hardy.
1927, $20,450 for Laurel, $15,541 for Hardy.
1928, $33,150 for Laurel, $21,166,67 for Hardy.
In 1927, Laurel and Hardy were brought working together. Their first movie was “Duck Soup”.

There are numerous stories as to how Laurel and Hardy were brought together. The author believes it most likely was film supervisor Leo McCarey who decided they should be a team. The marketing for Roach Studios listed them as a team. It is also noted that McCary would reuse the title “Duck Soup” in a later and separate Marx Brothers movie.

Hal Roach saw Hardy as a tough guy character. He was not happy with him becoming a comedy partner. He later would claim credit for pairing them.

The author notes that Stan Laurel had a career that continually improved over time. Oliver Hardy’s career, until being teamed with Laurel, was one that has it progressions and regressions. The first teaming of Laurel and Hardy, as written by Hal Roach, was designed to showcase Laurel. In one of their early paired movies, “Love ‘Em and Weep”, Hardy is only in a few scenes. In “Sailor’s Beware” there first was a line that would become their trademark, “here’s another mess you’ve gotten me into”. The author believes their next film “Do Detectives Think?” was the first “proper” Laurel and Hardy film.

In 1927, Roach switched his distribution from Pathe Exchange to the large MGM. This led to lawsuits that were settled in 1932.

The first MGM Laurel and Hardy movie was “Sugar Daddies”. After that, Leo McCarey returned to direct or supervise the next 18 Laurel and Hardy movies. The author notes their comedic competition faded in comparison. The Marx Brothers became tired, W.C. Fields worked loss, Mae West lost her best looks, Buster Keaton didn’t switch as well to movies with sound, and Charlie Chaplin became more political. The author argues only Laurel and Hardy maintained a steady comedic trait.

The author attributed Laurel and Hardy’s success at being silent and talking film starts as due to “the audience, entranced, was just not willing to let them go.” The author believes audiences saw Laurel and Hardy as well matched for each other whose give and take dialogue were discussions with which people identified.

Model T Fords destroyed in their film were special made vehicles with no engines that would self-destruct when strings were pulled.

In 1928, MGM had assets of $1,856,895 and liabilities of $125,826.

The author observes that some of the humor audiences attribute to Laurel and Hardy is the unstated belief they are a gay couple. This directly related to vaudeville where effeminate and homosexual themed presentations were standard. Their films have no sexual themes, and the characters are presented with childlike innocence in situations audience laughter recognized as gay-themed.

Laurel and Hardy once filmed on a roof 150 feet high with a camera platform three stories above that and a safety platform 20 feet below that. Hardy jumped onto the safety platform to show it was safe, only it broke. Fortunately, a safety net worked.

The first talking Laurel and Hardy movie was “Unaccustomed As We Are”, released in 1929.

Laurel and Hardy dubbed their own voiced for Spanish, Italian, French, and German versions of their movies. Scenes were reshot to appeal more to these specific audiences, such as changing an American police chief with a Mexican customs officers. This was slow and difficult to shoot as Laurel and Hardy had to be helped with vocal coaches. Yet, Roach made money in many countries that adopted Laurel and Hardy as part of their own culture. They accidentally drew extra laughs when using a German saying they did not realize had a sexual connotation.

In one movie, the dialogue included Hardy’s real phone number Oxford 0164.

“The Music Box” was a Laurel and Hardy movie that resonated well with an audience during the Depression. They portrayed working class laborers who destroyed a piano, a wealthy good.

Their comedy often derived from their being people seemingly unaware of the dictates of society. They violated societal norms and were then bewildered by others’ reactions to what they perceived as being normal.

Laurel and Hardy movies began facing censorship. Pennsylvania required deleted a scene where women were hit. Quebec deleted a scene with dancing girls. A kissing scene was deleted in Japan, Norway, and Sweden. Morocco and Bohemia refused to allow showing a movie where they cross-dressed. Lithuania deleted a scene of Laurel sitting on Hardy’s lap. Even politics entered into the censorship as Nazi Germany banned “The Bohemian Girl” for being sympathetic towards Gypsies. “Pack Up Your Troubles” was banned in Germany and Spain for showing Laurel and Hardy capturing a German battalion. Their movies did not attract much dispute from the American film standard Hays Code, although there was some internal studio self-censorship over fears that Laurel shown wearing lacy underpants might violate the Code.

MGM survived the Depression with fewer monetary losses than other studios.

In 1935, Laurel refused to sign a contract with Roach. Roach announced they would be replaced with a new comedy team which included Spanky McFarland. Laurel then settled whatever “story trouble” he had with Roach and he signed a new contract.

Hal Roach made an agreement to produce Italian operas with Italian actors and American crew to be produced by Vittorio Mussolini, son of Benito. Benito’s anti-Jewish positions and his leading Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia led to much outrage in America. Vittorio Mussolini was not well received in American and he returned to Italy without making any movies.

Critics thought some of the Laurel and Hardy movies in the late 1930s and early 1940s lost some of their old edge. They made money and strengthened their star status. MGM re-released some of their old shorts to capitalize on their success. During World War II, the war effort played into themes in their movies.

Laurel and Hardy films in 1943 and 1944 faced problems with script changes, a producer quitting, and delayed studio releases. Comedies did not fare as well during the post-World War II resettlement years. Laurel and Hardy made one movie in 1951 that was only initially released in Europe and was then re-cut for American showing in 1954.

Hardy suffered a heart attack in 1954. Their last U.S. public appearance was on the TV show “This Is our Life” which surprised them on live TV. The public saw a slow moving Hardy. They appeared on a British TV program in 1955. Hardy then suffered a stroke that paralyzed his left side. He went on a diet that reduced his weight from 350 to 210 pounds. Hardy died in 1957.

Laurel moved into a Santa Monica apartment with a listed phone number where admirers seeking to learn from him such as Dick Van Dyke as well as many contemporaries called and were welcomed. Laurel died in 1975.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blue Collar Hollywood by John Bodhar

John Bodhar. Blue Collar Hollywood: Liberalism, Democracy, and Working People in American Film. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2003.

Political history and cultural history are linked. The depiction of political events and their results in culture can be studied.

Films have presented many proletarian protagonists and depicted political and economic events that changed their lives. The author concludes that the broad manner in which films presented how politics influence characters represents the broad general discussions of society. Films opened many economic and cultures desires and emotions to public discussion and debate.

The working class is often presented in life in film, as in actual life, as part of a political and class struggle between the political left wing and right wing. Many issues of race and gender are highly political and explored in movies.

Class distinctions were often part of the narrative in movies. Character actions in these movies may not be determined solely by class yet class dictates how they live and influences their range of actions. Left leaning films tend to glorify workers and their plights. Right wing films tend to criticize workers movements and defend the capitalist system.

Silent films before the 1930s represented many ideas simultaneously. Labor leaders could be great fighters for economic justice or violent revolutionaries. These portrayals provided insights into the political debates of those times.

American films in the 1930s focused on individual feelings. Pulp fiction in magazines, by contrast, portrayed male proletarians as moody and violent.

There were films critical of wealth and how the upper class hurt the middle class. 1936 saw a large number of such films. The Screen Actors Guild was sympathetic to the national labor movement until its leadership shifted toward the right wing under Ronald Reagan and John Wayne.

John Howard Lawson argued that films often hurt the labor movement by focusing on the societal depravity of the working class and emphasizing themes showing the working class as uncooperative with others.

Movies brought more social realism to audiences who learned about social disorientation and problems facing others. Some would accuse the movie makers of showing their biases in films.

Movie making itself is a result of capitalism. Yet it is found that capitalist movie company executives approved of movies criticizing capitalism as long as they were profitable.

Today (circa 2003), labor unions and political parties exert less influence on society than they did several decades ago. Both society and movies have focused more on issues of race and gender. Films depict cultural changes from past traditions.

Many films of the Great Depression showed how poor economic times caused people to lose faith in individual liberty. Movies, though, avoided direct endorsement of the union movement even though much of the rhetoric of unions on the dangers of the status quo were consistent with many movie themes.

World War II movies mostly ignored issues of unionism. Some movies did bring more racial issues upfront and some still criticized the capitalist system.

The 1950s blacklist era still saw some films showing support for lower class economic interests. The 1960s produced more films defending womens rights and civil rights issues.

Films in the 1930s presented a “cross dressing” of movies that could appeal to both political radicals and conservatives. Sexual and material desires of characters were explored in a context that stated adultery was wrong. Men were strong and were flawed if their wives had to work, as presented in both film and society then in general. Audience attendance figures were not as good as expected for movies, such as “Duck Soup” and “Modern Times”, that criticized government institutions at a time people sought for faith in their public institutions.

Films showing gangsters and boxers presented themes of men rising above the hardships of the times on their own initiative. Some criminals in films like “I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang” and “Heroes for Sale” showed reputable workers and war veterans crushed by the economy who turned to crime to overcome their economic oppression.

Gangster films sent mixed messages, yet it was often the moral lackings of gangster characters that led to their downfalls. Boxing films avoided the criminal side of morality yet their depiction of men struggling and overcoming hardships only to fall from wanting too much in life. These movies did not present consistent themes that were similarly expressed by either the political left or right.

Some 1930s films such as “Cabin in the Cotton” and “Black Fury” presented working class characters with hope the future will improve who remained where they were in their working class positions.

Women in 1930s films were often shows as supportive of a male character. Their love and support often were necessary components form male characters to succeed. Darryl Zanuck of Warner Brothers claimed the film industry made 20% of its movies as “women’s pictures”, also known as “sex pictures” where illicit sex would lead to the downfall of women.

Frank Capra’s films questioned democratic society and economic inequalities. His films avoided supporting institutions such as pro-New Deal political groups or labor unions.

The Workers’ Film and Photo League of America arose in the 1930s to fight capitalism. Critics noted their films were about individuals and failed to present the scope of the problems.

World War II saw the interests of government and the movie industry being similar. The labor movement supported the war. The public focused more on the war and movies reflected this. The government also directly encouraged movie studios to produce patriotic films, and the studios complied. Some films still presented the flight of working people. Still, movies of social realism were less prevalent in the 1940s compared to the 1930s. Films for women such as “Tender Comrade” involved the need for women to remain loyal to their men at war and to the nation. Many films presented the glory of going to fight in the war. The horrors of war were minimalized.

World War II literature, culture, and society renewed a focus on individual liberties and less control from government and society. Labor unions lost strength and found diminished public support. The strong public war time support of government ended.

Post war movies depicted both characters respectful of society and characters angry at society. Greater sexual overtones existed in society and film as men returned from war to start families. Elizabeth Peck observes the issue of wife beating was not wiedly publically discussed in the U.S. between 1900 and 1970. No sociology journal considered family violence until 1969.

Women in postwar films such as “Best Years of Our Lives” and “Pride of the Marines” were presented as giving up personal desires for family goals. War veterans in films insisted on faithful girlfriends. Films shows the path towards betterment of life was through marriage and a working husband.

Some films made by leftist filmmakers challenged capitalist notions. The blacklist of filmmakers reduced the numbers of such films.

A lesson from the ethnic hatred of the Nazis was that Americans should not tolerate ethnic hatred. Post World War II films such as “Crossfire” examined prejudice against Jews. Movies such as “Home of the Brave” examined prejudice against African Americans.

The 1950s saw society rejecting communism and seeking patriotism. Religious films such as “The Ten Commandments” supported religion which in turn bolstered public support for all American institutions. Many movies showed working class males as violent and as antiestablishment rebels.

“Salt of the Earth” was a pro-laobr 1954 mvoie where an active union wins its struggle. It did not do well in attracting a large audience.

Movies such as “A Raisin in the Sun” focused more attention on the problem of racism in American society.

Movies in the 1960s and 1970s depicted questioning of society and the birth of the women’s liberation movement, which appealed to leftists, as well as law and order film that appealed to conservatives.

Labor unions were seldom positively portrayed in 1980s movies expect for “Norma Rae” and “The Molly Maguires”.

Government actions were increasingly questioned in 1960s and 1970s movies. A number of films questions that policies for war veterans, such as “The Deer Hunter” and “Coming Home”.

African Americans began being portrayed as dominant her images rising against lower class disadvantages in 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s movies such as “Shaft”, “Do the Right Thing”, and “Jungle Fever”.

The author concludes that liberalism and individualism have been dominant forces in much of American mass culture. Other views, though, received wide audiences.

It should be noted that many films have “multiple meanings”. Institutions and political positions can be complicated and criticized simultaneously, especially in a democracy. Even a study of Nazi films found “multiple meanings’ despite the limited ideologies that the Nazis allowed to be presented.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Theory and Technique of Playwriting by John Howard Lawson

John Howard Lawson. Theory and Teaching of Playwriting. New York: Hill and Wang, 1960.

This book is of interest to both playwrights and screenwriters. Originally published in 1936, it established many of the ideas adapted by early screenwriters and screenwriting text authors.

Lawson believes that drama has undergone changes. It arose from tales with significant meanings to stories where authors presented their ideas of critiques of characters, ethical decisions, or emotional problems. While plays are often written with a profit margin in mind, the stories must be something that audiences will pay to view and appreciate. Audiences will likely expect to see something with action building to a climax.

Theories of drama can be traced to ancient theaters in Athens, China, India, and Japan. European and American theories of drama have emerged and evolved from those theories.

Sartre presented existentialist ideas examining the ironies that life is both absurd and tragic. This has been explained by several writers attempting to find a purpose in life in an existential environment.

Social criticism is the aim of some writers. Some have explored the absurdities of life. Some have explored the torments of life.

Some actors have interpreted their roles according to the Stanislavsky method where they explore the psychological and sexual emotions of their characters. On the other hand, some actors have deliberately rejected this method of expressive acting.

Aristotle believed tragic plays need to be present one day or less in time in the course of the entire play. He believed audiences would wonder about details if more than one day is presented.

Drama emerges from probably scenes. Actions are derived from reversals of fortune. A sudden event, revolution, or peripeteia, changes lives of characters and sends their lives towards new directions. The directions of the characters’ lives are also changed by “anagnoris”, or recognition scenes, which is the unexpected association with friends or enemies.

Aristotle believed that actions are more important than characters. This is the basis of technical playwriting theory. Thus, truth is defined by a series of actions and is not simply defined. In plays, the actions must be dramatic rather than general.

Aristotle viewed character as the sum of numerous qualities that make character difficult to evaluate. Later theories believed character was worth exploring and that drama can emerge from a conflict of will. Character, though, must be established in how one reacts to events.

Aristotle’s “Poetics” states the writers must evaluate action, what characters think, and create revelations in how they respond. The actions are the plot. There must be unity to the plot’s contents.

In Aristotle’s ideas, characters must find consequences when they violate taboo. Later theories explored how societal pressures could create tragic stories.

Aristotle’s writings were republished in 1498. The Renaissance period was not directly aware of Aristotle’s beliefs. Horace wrote his ideans in “Ars Poetica”. He believed in maintaining the proper manners of the day. He insisted decorum should be maintained. The presentation of anything lacking decorum reduced the possibilities for actions that Aristotle believed were essential. The rules of decorum were challenged by vulgar comedies that appeared as satires in the 15th century and then by Gresset, who wrote a play depicting a murder (an event lacking decorum then) in 1740. Voltaire further challenged this with “visions” of nudity on stage.

Machiavelli wrote plays that promoted his ideas of morality, ambition, and conformity. While Machiavelli wrote about manipulative politicians, he also believed the goal of a unified state was the important goal. Ibsen and other 19th century writers noted that ethical lapses in political systems were creating societal disorders. Shakespeare noted how society was disrupted
by disturbances within the ruling elite.

Laape de Vega in 1609 stated there was no set theory of dramatic playwriting. Shakespeare is presented as writing without any sense of an established technique. The knowledge of psychology and sociology was very limited then compared to a few centuries later. Plays then did not then reflect issues of psychological drama or societal challenges. The Renaissance era saw adherence to mostly static laws, and plays reflected this stability.

Plague, disease, and a large London fire during the times of King Charles II helped create several societal tensions. Plays, whose audiences were upper class attendees, reflected growing class cynicism.

John Dryden in 1668 noted that plays should avoid recreating previous knowledge and present a new genius of ideas. This was the first historical analysis found in playwriting criticism.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in 1767 to 1769 argues that drama must be socially relevant and should explore the psychology of characters. Revolutionary ideals in politics and society in France and America were reflected in writings. Authors became concerned with issues of idealism and materialism. John Locke’s ideas of government representing people and of labor rights should determine property rights were repeated by American revolutionaries and French materialists that led to the French revolution.

Social realism emerged in 18th century plays that examined middle class realities. Plays focused more on relations between people than relations with the rulings class, as were common before.

19th century plays presented explorations on romanticism, especially in the earlier days which evolved towards more explorations or realism in the later decades. Romanticism represented traditional values of romantic language societies. The German middle class grew quicker than it did in other European countries and its romantic writings were critical of French classical writings. Goethe believed the soul needed to unite with divine will and thus evil could not fill a soul.

Georg Hegel believed logic emerged through disturbances in the equilibrium until a new equilibrium was reached. This is the dialectic method. Tragic conflicts could create dramatic actions leading to examinations of the will of characters. Hegel believed there was a universal will. Schopenhauer believed there was an ultimate idea. Hegel argued a rational existence could be reached. Schopenhauer argued that people are not committed to rationality. Hegel believed it could take much conflict before equilibrium is reached.

Subjective dramatic criticism gained notice in the 19th century. Issues of technique were explored as well as commentary on issues, such as debates on free will.

Victor Hugo believed romanticism and realism could be molded together.

Karl Marx rejected that there is a permanent dialectic. He argued that people and their relationships create their awareness, which is constantly changing. Social conditions are strong factors in creating public wills. Marx and Engels argued there are causes in society, but not spirituality, that affect public souls.

Honore de Balzac criticized moral decay and corruption that destabilized society. Emile Zola was influenced by Balzac. Zola wrote on social issues in the belief that justice could be reached by perfecting human behavior.

Gustav Freytag wrote an idealistic view of drama in “Technique of the Drama” in 1963. Freytag believed plays released emotions within the audience that improved their perceptions.

Ferdinand Brunetiere saw drama existing in people’s attempts to control their environment.

Ibsen examined middle class conflicts, social pressures, how environment shapes people, and how finding one’s inner self can produce solutions.

The perceptions of a playwright affects the creativity of the work product.

Early 20th century playwrights often wrote how social instability led to psychological difficulties.

George Bernard Shaw struggled with an unsuccessful search to rationally explain social philosophy.

Constantin Stanislavski believed the inner psychology and past experiences drove characters, each with their own idealism. A character’s expressionism are portrayed not just by statements but by behavior and something lighting and/or scenery.

Eugene O’Neill wrote now hostile fates made characters angry and that their anger and useless fights lead to their fate of destruction. Eugene O’Neill believed the techniques of plays were characters subjected to fate or whim but not to their will, that psychic motivations drive characters’ actions, that actions illustrate characters, that conflict is diffuse, and that actions are repetitious.

Dramatic structure should involve conflicts in relationships. Dramatic construction involves a series of conflicts, crises, and suspense. Conflict must create crisis.

Dramatic actions disrupts the equilibrium. The climax is the greatest disequilibrium that is reached. Actions must be dramatic and must involved meaning and purpose in the conscious activity. Physical actions and dialogue compose dramatic action.

A play should have a probable and necessary theme, where actions and the theme are united.

The climax changes the equilibrium and unifies the story. The unity includes the beginning that builds to the climax with a unity of theme and action. To build to a climax, a writer must find crises and create scenes that show actions to the climax that also present the scheme of life, also called the social necessity, that limits routes to reaching the climax. An author cannot go outside the social necessity without eliminating the reality of the climax.

There must be continuity of scenes. Continuity includes dramatic exposition, which extends from plot actions, causes leading to solutions, increasing dramatic actions, conflicts leading to the climax, increasing emotions accompanying the progression of actions, a proper rhythm and tempo, should exist with building tension, scenes should link over shared interests, the tempo should grow as the story intensifies, incidents should have value relative to root actions, new forces should be introduced only with preparation for their effects, and emotional tension should buld to the moment of explosion.

The author notes the use of “cut and flash” scene transitions that move from a height of interest to a lower level of interest. This allows people to think and realize the heights in the scenes.

The audience needs to receive required disinformation to follow a play as soon as possible. The audience must know who, where, and what time the characters are and how they relate to each other. A story should begin with conflicts, the situation must be dramatic, disturbances must be presented and felt but not described, and they must increase the purpose and needs of the character.

Exposition can be broken into subordinate actions which each build to their own climaxes.

There must be a progression of increasing action that has greater complexity to the rest of the story.

A play consists of one part exposition, five parts increasing action, an obligatory part, and the climax. The exposition may consist of two or more action cycles. The second part of increasing actions is a climax that will tie the exposition to the increased actions and the obligatory scene.

Surprise is useful, but only if it moves the story forward.

Francisque Sarcey developed the exploration of the obligatory scene. The obligatory scene is where uncertainty allows the audience to then appreciate the climax.

Freytag’s theory of drama states there are five parts of a play, 1.) the introduction, 2.) the rising action, 3.) the climax, 4.) the falling or return, which is just as important as the rising action, and 5.) the catastrophe. The climax is the important unifying middle toward which, and then away from, actions builds and then increases.

Characters must relate to others and their environment. There can not be a character that stands alone. A character must progress through the story.

Dialogue must compress and expand upon action. Dialogue should be poetic.

The audience must fell united to a play. As the author concludes, “A living theatre is a theatre of the people.”