Ken Miyamoto with ScreenCraft discusses the MacGuffin, what it is, and how to properly use it to tell your story as effectively as possible. He uses films such as James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Citizen Kane to illustrate how the MacGuffin can be an effective storytelling tool and add conflict to the story.
I’ve come to the realization that I’ve been running this blog page for Hollins University for a year now and I have yet to properly introduce myself. Where are my manners? Allow me to ameliorate this.
Name: Amanda Hobbs
Hometown: Richmond, Virginia, USA
How long at Hollins?I’ve been a graduate student in the summer graduate screenwriting & film studies program since 2015.
What made you chose this profession?Long story short, this place feels like the right place. This industry has given me more chances than others. I believe in following the yes’s. So this is where it’s lead me.
Favorite films/directors/writers/scores/composers/costume designers? Favorite films: Chicago, A League of Their Own, The Sandlot, just about any Disney film, The Princess Bride, Invictus, Long Strange Trip, Midnight in Paris, The Dark Knight, Charlie Wilson’s War, Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen… Directors: Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen, Alfred Hitchcock, Susanna Bier… Writers: Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin, Quentin Tarantino… Composers: Michael Giacchino, John Williams … Costume Designers: Colleen Atwood, Alexandra Byrne, Jenny Beavan
Goals for this blog:To reach as many people as possible and be a valuable tool for as many people as possible. I strive to include articles about multiple aspects such as filmmaking and production, the atmosphere and culture of the industry, women and minorities in the industry, and perspectives from the actor’s or director’s points of view. I seek out multiple – if seemingly unusual – sources for inspiration, creativity, and anything else I think could be of value to anyone working or hoping to work in the film industry. Since this page is sponsored by an actual living, breathing university, I also like to showcase the work of our students and professors in hopes that you will come spend time with us so you can become better at your craft and become a part of this incredible family of creatives and artists.
What genres do you like to write? Is there another genre or aspect of the industry you’d like to explore more? I’ll admit my brain tends to go into a Hallmark/Lifetime kind of place. But, I do have an incredible fascination with history. It’s really not as boring as people think. History is all about people and their stories. As far as the film industry goes, I want to learn about anything and everything I can get my hands on: writing, directing, acting, film scoring, or costume design. My skill set, however, is an entirely different discussion – ha ha. Anything can be learned if you’re willing to be a student.
Where do you find inspiration? History and real life stories fascinate me. I also find myself gravitating towards stories about women. Women have stories just as rich and compelling as anyone else. I’m not the sort to condone or resort to man-bashing; I think it’s neither necessary nor appropriate and contradicts the goals of gender equality. I just think women deserve to have the credit for their contributions, respect for the abilities of their brains, and deserve to have their stories shared and celebrated.
Tricks for sustaining/maintaining creativity? How do you fight creativity blocks? When I write, I like to lock myself in room with a big window, stick my earbuds in and listen to classical music (which is also not as boring as people think). The Beethoven station on Pandora does the trick for me. It’s nice to have something in your ear that will block out the outside world for a bit while also stimulating your brain enough to keep your attention. Whenever I find myself struggling to write, I realize that it’s time to take a break. The brain needs some rest. So I’ll find something else to do like go for a walk – fresh air does wonders, find a craft to do, read a book, or exercise. I like to think of it this way: when you hit a block, the creative fuel tank is empty. So in order to keep going, you need to refuel. I find it enormously helpful to go find something else to do because staring at a blank page all weekend accomplishes nothing. Go socialize, enjoy a meal with people, have conversations… I’m an introvert and I’m saying this. Yes, private time is important. But humans are social creatures and require interaction with other humans for a multitude of reasons. That’s neither an accident nor a fluke. Also, pick a writing time and defend it like mad – this is something I struggle with immensely.
Fun facts/favorites/interests/hobbies: Fun facts: I attended the Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake City for the first time this year and volunteered with the Richmond International Film Festival. Both wonderful experiences. Interests: outdoor activities, travelling, gardening, music, cooking/baking, crafts, reading
Bio: A little bit about me. I’m Amanda, your humble blogger. I grew up in Chesterfield, VA (just south of Richmond). I received my Associate’s in Arts degree from Richard Bland College, my Bachelor of Arts in History from Virginia Tech, and I’m currently working on my MFA at Hollins University. As far as my involvement with the film industry, I’m slowly but surely, making my way. I was an active member of the music community as a band student in high school and wanted to pursue a career as a music teacher, but eventually realized it wasn’t a good fit for me. However, I did become a sister of Tau Beta Sigma, the National Honorary Band Service Sorority. I considered pursuing a theatre major, but opted for history because I felt it would be more versatile, it was subject I was genuinely interested in, and I still thought I wanted to be a teacher. After teaching preschool for several years, spending a semester in a teacher licensure program, and not satisfied with where I was headed, I decided to take another direction and go after something that I really wanted. I came upon Hollins University after doing an online search for film programs in my home state of Virginia. I stewed over it for some time before applying, but once I did I never looked back. I’ve continued to pursue work in this industry because it’s given me opportunities that others wouldn’t. And, plus, there’s more than one way to be a teacher.
MM: To be honest it was the only thing left in the arts I hadn’t tried yet. I have a background in Art History, Music Composition, and Theatre. I love film and had taught and studied every aspect of it except STORY. It felt like the right way to close my educational loop.
HU: What was your first script about?
MM: It was about a painter who wonders what would happen if two people imagine each other at the same moment. Would they be able to meet for real? The painter imagines a writer is writing a story about her. As the writer sits in the coffee shop he begins to write a story about this painter. Suddenly she appears out the window. He can’t believe she has materialized. He must meet her. What will happen when they see each other? Probably would have made a decent Twilight Zone episode back in the day.
HU: What were the highlights of your experiences at HU both as a student and as a professor?
MM: As a student, making my first film in Amy Gerber-Stroh’s video class. It was a life changing experience looking through the lens and breaking the world up into little rectangles. As a professor, every conversation I had with a student as they were getting excited about a new story or paper idea. When ideas start taking hold, it is such a beautiful experience to be in the presence of people who are riding or creating this wave.
HU: Is there a class you wish you had here as a student? What would it be?
MM: Screenwriting for Playwrights/Playwriting for Screenwriters. Some sort of class that addresses both forms where screenwriters can get a good dialogue polish from playwrights and playwrights can learn how they can be more VISUAL on stage. It would be cross listed so students in the Playwriting and Screenwriting programs would both get credit. We can learn a lot from each other.
HU: What were the best/worst movies you’ve seen this year? Why? MM: The Revenant and Mad Max because they were the MOST cinematic. They were relentless and unapologetic. They don’t exist on the page. They exist on the screen. Yes, a bit on the macho side, and perhaps they appeal to my inner Rambo, but they were extraordinary experiences in the theater. Ex Machina was the most satisfying intellectual experience last year. The worst film last year was Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. It was a total cop-out, vote-of-no-confidence in the new material film. It completely pandered to nostalgia and was nothing less than plagiarism of a New Hope. (Sorry. I know I’m in the minority on this one.)
HU: Who’s your favorite screenwriter?
MM: For dialogue, I love Ingmar Bergman and Tarantino. David Lynch is my favorite Art Film writer. He creates amazing nightmare movies. Wes Anderson overall. I love his foregrounding of awkward pauses and quirky behavior. The Anderson formula is children behaving like adults and adults behaving like children. You can’t go wrong with that sort of contrast.
HU: Do you have any advice for current students?
MM: The most important thing you can do to become a successful screenwriter is to cultivate an insatiable curiosity for life. Become a student of humanity. Read philosophy. Go as deep as you can. Experience everything you can. Always observe for meaning, even when you are in line at the grocery store. Your knowledge of story structure will not create a compelling story. Your point of view and experience will. The structure is just there to help you give this experience some shape.
HU: What was your favorite class as a student? Why?
MM: Well, it is important to understand that I was a student pre-Tim Albaugh, so I never benefited from the programs he has brought since, particularly the writing for television courses, which I wish I had taken. It was actually a Playwriting class I took as an elective that really stimulated my creative writing energies. We were given writing prompts. Certain props had to be in our play. Certain phrases had to be said. Certain themes had to be present. Because we had these guidelines, we ended up writing things we wouldn’t possibly have come up with on our own. We learned how to problem solve, how to fit certain story elements together. I found this to be incredibly useful in terms of long-term creativity. When you have prompts, you flex certain muscles that you don’t when the story is left completely up to you.
HU: Tell us about your professional life to this point. What was the transition like from student to a professor?
MM: I will openly admit I have found it very difficult to teach and make time for professional writing. I’ve loved teaching and the interaction with students and the wonderful ideas and observations the classroom environment facilitates, but I am looking forward to transitioning to full-time writing in the next two months. Some can balance both well but I cannot. I have a television series in development dealing with the Edgar Allan Poe character Roderick Usher (from Fall of the House of Usher). It is a sort of Penny Dreadful of the Edgar Allan Poe world and actress Adrienne King, the heroine from the original Friday the 13th (1980) has been kind enough to try to get it off the ground. She is a fellow Long Islander. I have another television series that deals with Scrooge and Marley, the early years when they were in business together before Christmas Carol picks up, and I’m still working with NY Times Best selling fantasy author Katherine Kurtz, adapting her novel, St. Patrick’s Gargoyle, which hopefully will go into production in the next year or two in Dublin. It is always good to have a few pots on the stove. Something will eventually boil over.
HU: I know you and I share a deep love and appreciation for music, and for you that was part of what inspired your passion for films. What is your favorite movie score/soundtrack? Who is your favorite movie score composer? Why?
MM: I wish I had a more specialized niche answer but Bernard Herrmann by far. His score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is extraordinary. I actually consider Vertigo a Music Drama, a spoken word opera. The music gives you more insight into what the characters are thinking, feeling, remembering, regretting, wishing, than any of the dialogue. You can listen to the score and follow the story. I also love Peter Gabriel’s score for the Last Temptation of Christ.