*Music for Your Screenplays

Ken Miyamoto at ScreenCraft shares his thoughts on how to use music to enhance your screenplays and stories. He uses several films as examples to illustrate the power of music and how it can add that extra layer to the story for the audience.

Full article here: How to Use Music to Write Better Screenplays

 

*In other news, this is our 200th post!! Thanks for tagging along. Here’s to the next 200 🙂

Marvelous Lessons Creatives Can Learn from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

Amazon’s new show “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” has been a huge hit this season. The show created by Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman – Palladino picked up two Golden Globes at the 2018 ceremony: one for Best Musical or Comedy Series and a second for its leading lady, Rachel Brosnahan, for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy Series. So we weren’t alone, or crazy for that matter, for falling head over heels for this show. Go watch it. It really is marvelous.

I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t watched it yet. But the show is about a woman in 1950s New York who begins pursuing a career in stand up comedy after her picture-perfect life gets turned upside down. I found that Mrs. Maisel’s story has some valuable lessons for anyone trying to pursue their dreams, especially in a creative field.

  1. Sometimes life takes unexpected turns when every plan you ever made falls apart. Sometimes you realize what your dreams are later in life or that you should chase that fantasy you thought was only a pipe dream. Sometimes, your eyes are opened to a gift you never realized you had. It’s okay when that happens. Go for it. Will it be difficult? Yes. Will it be difficult? Yep. Will it be worth it? Absolutely.
  2. The fear of failure is a fear worth confronting. Will you experience failures? ABSOLUTELY. Will you make mistakes? Yes. Will you hear the word “No”? Yes. Lots of people, powerful and influential people, will tell you no. Sometimes the material you come up with just doesn’t work. Sometimes you don’t like the material you created. Fear of failure of a very legitimate fear and it can cripple you. But it can also empower and strengthen you. Failure and mistakes are how you learn. You also have to acknowledge the fact that you failed. Think about a diamond. It’s a rock, a hunk of carbon to be exact. It’s made of the same stuff as the graphite in your pencils. (See the connection?) Diamonds are not only one of the most beautiful gems, they are also one of the strongest. But what did that hunk of carbon experience that separates it from the pencil graphite? It’s experienced more heat and more pressure for a longer period of time. So the next time you mess something up, get rejected, totally bomb, or something doesn’t happen in the time frame that you think it should happen, (looking at you fellow 29 and 30 – year olds) Remember that you are a diamond undergoing the necessary heat, pressure, and time and you are one step closer to becoming that drop-dead gorgeous diamond. You will get there. Now go get your pencil graphite and make something 🙂
  3. Plan and prepare. Spontaneity is great, but preparation is greater. A lot of people who are not me are great improvisers. They can come up with material on the fly. It seems that some people have this coveted superpower of the creative gods and others don’t. Some people can whip up Shakespearean levels of perfection in seconds. It’s infuriating. But is it really that spontaneous? Nope. Creatives spend lots of time creating, bombing, and creating some more until their work shines like diamonds. Spontaneity is great. It can make your work feel exciting as your creative energy bursts. But sometimes, like a secretary on a pre-QWERTY typewriter, the gears can jam. You can get stuck and flop on your face, or your butt, or both. You need to plan and prepare your material. It may be difficult to do at first. I struggle with prep work myself. My head refuses to produce anything until the last possible moment. But the more you prepare and organize your thoughts and outline your plans, the more it will benefit your work. This is much easier said than done. Preparation leads to better work. Better work leads to boosted confidence. Boosted confidence leads to more opportunities. Having more opportunities leads to success. This is the “pressure” piece of the diamond-making equation.
  4. Be your truest self and go with your gut. This sounds clichĂ©, but it’s true. Lots of well-intentioned people will give you lots of well-intentioned advice on how to pursue your work. They will give you lots of do’s a don’ts. At the end of the day, the work is yours. You have a unique voice that deserves to be heard. Like the Miles Davis quote goes, “you have to play a lot of other people’s stuff before you start sounding like yourself”. You will have to learn the craft, the business of the craft, and what material already exists as you begin creating your own. Take notes of your life’s experiences. Carry a notebook so you can do so. But by being your truest self, you ultimately become your best self and can carve out your place in the creative world by showcasing your unique perspective. If you study notable people’s careers, you will notice this pattern. This is the “time” piece of the diamond-making equation.
  5. Not everyone will understand what you’re doing. Go for it anyway. Especially if your heart, your head, and your gut are all in the same place. Some people will tear you down, insult you, laugh at you and your ideas, and constantly demand justification as to why you’re pursuing the career you’re pursuing and it often comes from the people closest to you. You will want to quit and, for a period of time, you just might. Please keep going. Keep working. Channel your inner Dory and just keep swimming. Use the things that excite you, make you curious, or make you furious. Those aspects of you are what make your worldview unique and worthy of sharing. One now-famous example is when Lin-Manuel Miranda first introduced his early Hamilton material at a White House event (a poetry slam hosted by the Obamas, I believe). He began with saying something to the effect of “this is about someone who embodies hip-hop: Alexander Hamilton.” The audience literally laughed at him. Just shy of a decade later, he’s gotten the last laugh as that material from the poetry slam has grown into a Broadway smash hit. Excellent proof of what you can accomplish if you just keep working at what you are genuinely passionate about. It will feel like you are the only person in your corner; it’s because you are. You will have to be the only person standing in your corner to prove to others that your corner is worth standing in. This is the “heat” piece of the diamond-making equation.

Contrary to popular belief the creative life is not for the faint of heart. It takes a tremendous amount of work, mistakes, determination, and vulnerability to find your voice and learn how to use it. You are capable of becoming a diamond, but you will have to endure the heat, the pressure, and the time. Keep going and you will get there.

 

 

Music for your Screenplay

Christopher Osterndorf with Script Lab uses the summer 2017 film Baby Driver as a model to discuss how to incorporate music into your screenplays.

Read full article here: Screenwriting 101: How to Incorporate Music in your Screenplay

The Festival Circuit

Hello my fellow writers, cinephiles, and artists:

It looks like I’m becoming one of those people who is beginning to hit the festival circuit. Within the past few months, I have had the opportunity to learn more about this side of the film industry from the perspectives as a participant and as a volunteer. The reason I began embarking on such an endeavor is that I want to learn everything I possibly can about the film industry. So I’m trying to absorb everything I can and get my hands into everything I can. In fact, I’m even taking an acting class right now. Since I am in between jobs and job hunting like a madwoman, I have some time on my hands until I find my next place to land. So I figured I’d make the most of it and take advantage of some opportunities out there and share a little about my experiences thus far.

This January, I had the opportunity to travel to Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. The festival is held in Park City, the festival’s main base, and Salt Lake City for ten days in January. I attended the second week of the festival and stayed in Salt Lake City. Many of the films screen in both locations, but all of the extra events such as filmmaker discussions, panels, and formally organized networking opportunities were in Park City.

The features I saw were To The Bone, Landline, The Nile Hilton Incident, L.A. Times, and Band Aid. I did get to see a number of documentaries: Winnie, about Winnie Mandela and her leadership in the fight against apartheid in South Africa; The Good Postman, about a mayoral election in a disappearing Eastern European town struggling with how to handle refugees; and Long Strange Trip about the Grateful Dead. There is seriously no better title for a four-hour Grateful Dead documentary. I’ve always been a nerd about music (my family’s favorite pastime is quizzing me on my rock & roll knowledge), so it was the last film I saw at the festival and my favorite.

I did manage to squeeze in an afternoon in the gorgeous Park City, which was about a 45-minute drive from Salt Lake City. I spent some time in the Sundance TV lounge, learned more about Sundance Now – a new streaming service similar to Netflix, but exclusively for projects affiliated with the Sundance Institute. I even got a pair of Sundance Now socks for signing up 🙂  I did catch one of the Filmmaker Lodge discussions. Which was fantastic.

The ticketing process was fairly easy and explained in elaborate detail. The site was set up as if you were shopping online, so it was very easy to navigate. I chose the 10-ticket package that came with two credentials. After being given a time slot by the Sundance staff (probably so thousands of people didn’t log on at the same time and crash the site – smart idea), you got to go onto the website and select which films you’d like to see, and then selected the box office where you’d like to pick them up. You have to pick up the good old-fashioned paper tickets in person. The title of each film printed on each one; which I actually prefer to an emailed or electronic ticket. Ticket packages are not mailed or emailed. That made everything much easier.

This festival clearly runs like a well-oiled machine. There were lots of staff and volunteers in yellow or black Kenneth Cole jackets and all of them were incredibly helpful, friendly, and enthusiastic about being apart of the festival. Most of the screenings were scheduled in the evening, so I got to spend my days exploring the city and trudging through snow for good places to eat and shop. There was more snow and less heat than I am accustomed to having as a Virginian, and some people quipped that the festival should be called “Snowdance” instead of Sundance. But the amount of frozen precipitation never put a damper on my experience. Everyone I met, whether or not they were involved with Sundance, was incredibly friendly. I was also happy that Reshma, one of my good friends from Hollins, was also in attendance. There was some overlap on our screening schedules so we got to attend some movies together and play a bit of catch up. So final verdict: if you ever get the chance to go to Sundance in any capacity – do it. It is worth every penny.  If life allows it, I’d probably go again next year.

Since I got the opportunity to experience a film festival as an attendee, I figured it was about time I learned what film festivals are like from the other side as a volunteer. The film industry has been growing and drawing more attention in Virginia, especially with historically inspired films. Many strides are being taken to open up Virginia and make it a more appealing and competitive place for the film industry to thrive as Virginia becomes a more sought-out location. One of the many ways Virginia is working to increase its appeal to filmmakers is by hosting the Richmond International Film Festival (RIFF). This year was the sixth year of the festival. So it’s still young, growing, and evolving. The most recent phase of evolution was creating an SXSW type of vibe with film screenings and musical performances. This year was the first time at creating this type of atmosphere for RIFF. As both a volunteer and spectator, I think it’s a direction worth exploring and maintaining. Richmond has a rich and growing arts scene, the festival just needs time to grow.

Like any prospective volunteer, I sent an inquiry in response to an email requesting volunteers that came out of the Virginia Production Alliance listserv. I introduced myself as a Hollins University graduate student and recent Sundance attendee. This evidently made an impression since the result was an invitation to join the small group of volunteers that worked closely with the event producers. Which was cool. I got to help put together the RIFF website, add RIFF events to local online calendars, and work the RIFF table at the State of the Industry event.

During RIFF itself, I worked ticket tables for a lot of music events. My first night I worked a hip-hop/rap event with performances from Supa Soop, Ace of Spades, Prince La’kid, KingTay, and Chance Fischer. The next night was a music video showcase and live music mixer with a variety of music. Performances ranged from hometown talent – like Rodney the Soul Singer and Noah-O, to musicians from around the country like Just B. Polo, and Smoothe da Hustler and Trigger tha Gambler from New York. Residents and guests of the River City also got a special treat with performances from international musicians Sparky Quano from Japan and Naomi Achu from Cameroon. Another night I worked an event called “Women in the Round” which showcased several female singer/songwriters: Susan Greenbaum – a Richmond favorite, The Belle of the Fall, Violet Dulaney, and Mary Bragg. I befriended Mary Bragg, a country/Americana musician. I gave her drink tickets so she later gave me a copy of one of her albums – which I’ve enjoyed listening to. It was tremendous fun and all of the musicians put on incredible performances, but it required many long nights that lasted until the early morning hours. I did work the ticket table one of the movie theaters one afternoon. But I think the music events were more fun to work. Most of the movies I wanted to see conflicted with times I had to work, so, unfortunately, I didn’t get to see many films. The documentary about the 611 steam engine was fascinating.

I was elated to see some Hollins friends make the trek to RVA. Although the visit was brief, I enjoyed and appreciated it immensely. Tim, Amber, Tyler, Jamie, Allen, and Alva: thank you for making your way to Richmond. I hope y’all enjoyed it!

I did work the ticket table for one event that I was really hoping to get to: the Flow Collective panel discussions. There were five panels lasting about an hour each. So like any studious individual, I took notes with the pen and notebook I keep in my purse. Because it’s not every day you get to sit in on panel discussions for free (well, in exchange for working the ticket table) 🙂 I was in the back of the room and the speakers didn’t have microphones, so it was a bit hard to hear them at times, so I scribbled down what I could.

People were able to come to the panel and pitch their ideas for projects or present their reels of work to a panel of industry professionals from casting, directing, composing, producing, and writing. I didn’t get to jot down all of the pitches themselves or the sources of all of the advice, but I did catch some gems worth sharing:

  1. “You’re the imaginative one in the room, most people in the room aren’t” and won’t admit it. That in itself is worthy of your confidence.
  2. “Communicate everything in your head so the audience can understand it.”
  3. “When you say ‘yes’ you’re making a commitment to yourself.”
  4. Jesse Vaughn, director of The Last Punch –“Sound = Picture”…”There is no excuse for bad sound. The only excuse is laziness.”
  5. “Create a win-win situation…If you want [career] longevity, create win-win relationships.” -J.V.
  6. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get it… you can’t be shy.” -J.V.
  7. You sometimes have to give people “gentle elbows” in order to accomplish a certain goal. -J.V.
  8. When beginning conversations about financing, don’t begin the conversation with “What’s your rate?” That’s a major turn off. Use language more along the lines of “What does it take for us to work together… Communicate what you have and what you need respectfully.” – J.V
  9. When asking for film score help, ease your way into conversations. For example, “I like your music”, “I like this bit here”, and “can I see more of this?”
  10. “QUALITY: It’s all about bringing in and wanting to create A-level work” – J.V.
  11. “Be sincere, but be flexible.” -J.V.
  12. “Present someone with a challenge and do your homework”
  13. One goal to have: wanting people to “leave the theater smarter/better informed than when they entered.”
  14. When making reels (actors, composers, cinematographers, etc): “Make reels tailor-made. Know who you’re presenting it to”. – Anne Chapman and Erica Arvold
  15. Make your reel lifelike with highs and lows, moments big and little, peaks and valleys.
  16. Figure out what it is you want and curtail your reel to accomplish the goal.
  17. “Display proficiency and flexibility” -Black Liquid
  18. Anecdote: Context – When Rambo was first made and introduced without a score people couldn’t sit through it. Once the score was added, people could sit through the film and enjoy it.
  19. Composer reels should be two minutes in length.
  20. Cinematography reels should show some variety in your skill set.
  21. One thing from employers: (this note was given in regard to cinematographers, but could easily apply to anyone in any line of work) What they are looking for is how well do you work with people. A big part the job is managing people and equipment. How well do you do that? How well do you work with people you do and don’t like?

Overall, my experience of working with RIFF was a positive and beneficial one. I enjoyed learning more about the film festival and what all goes into planning. I’m also grateful to the film community as a whole for being incredibly welcoming. I’ve never once been belittled or ridiculed for lack of knowledge or experience. Whether I’m with writers, actors, or film festival goers, everyone is always so kind, generous, and encouraging. There is always something new to learn or experience and the enthusiasm people have for sharing what they’ve created is always inspiring. Richmond has so much to offer and is becoming a more sought-out place for a number of reasons, especially with a rich history to fuel a film industry. I can’t wait to see where this festival goes and how much it grows over time.

 

Links:

RIFF website

Richmond, VA was also ranked on MovieMaker magazine’s The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2017

 

Interview with Alumnus & Professor Matt Marshall

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HU: What brought you to screenwriting?

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.