Heart of Coppola

Zeotrope

Francis Ford Coppola likes me! He really likes me!

So, no sooner do I finally get around to posting my laurels from Nashville than I find out that my screenplay The Naughty List was selected as a semifinalist in the 12th Annual American Zeotrope Screenwriting Competition, an organization run by Francis Ford Coppola (I seem to recall he was a director of geopolitical documentaries).

I had started to wonder if the screenplay was going to see any love in the competitive world…this is good!

Coming to a theatre near you (please, please, please)

Coming to a theatre near you (please, please, please)

So, what is the story of The Naughty List?

What would you do if you learned decisions you make every year ruin the lives of millions of children?

Oh, and your name is Santa Claus.

After a brush with death just days before Christmas, Santa rescinds the Naughty List only to learn that for some kids, the lump of coal started a life-long downward spiral. In fact, two kids—now warlords—are about to unleash hell on each other and their people.

With a loving heart and snowy balls, child-like Santa dives into the fray. But his magical meddling only makes things worse.

He greases the wheels of war. More children suffer, including a girl desperate to save her family. As his magic fails, Santa knows he must face the oncoming storm as a mortal.

One man. Two armies. Can Santa stop the madness and save a crumbling Christmas?

 

It gets to us all – Jon Stewart

jon_stewart-chin

For many of us, programs like The Daily Show were our weekly bulwark against the insanity of clashing cultures and ideologies or against insanity itself. Regardless of your personal sociopolitical leanings, shows like this one help many of us to see that we are not going insane or losing our hearing, that the bizarre ironies of peoples’ words and actions are not just figments of our imaginations.

Cain and Abel

Cain and Abel

But where most of us simply allowed the insanity to flow over us and healed our wounds in the salve that was satirical comedy and commiseration, the world’s woes wear on the people who bring us this salve. Such, I think, was the case this week with the announcement that Jon Stewart will shortly hand the reins of The Daily Show to another.

A couple of months ago, I tweeted Jon and The Daily Show to express my concern about his health, both mental and physical. Over the last several months, it seemed that each episode of the program was taking more and more out of the host, that he had to fight to maintain his composure. And he seemed to be losing that fight.

Aging sucks

Several times, his personal comments on recent events bordered on screeching rants, as though the nuanced commentaries we had witnessed for the past 17 years required too much of him. On other occasions, he almost seemed to throw his hands into the air and with a head-bobbing sigh, surrender to the madness that swirled around us all.

Jon Stewart seemed tired, and if not broken, at least seemed wounded.

And please, this is not a condemnation or expression of disappointment. The man has clearly earned his weariness and wounds. (Too Jewy to say he took on our sins?)

Nice hat...where's my chocolate?

Nice hat…where’s my chocolate?

Even the strongest metal abrades to nothingness if repeatedly and relentlessly thrown against a stone wall that seems to regenerate itself at will. For every monolith of stupidity or cruelty that The Daily Show tackled through humour, a dozen others formed behind it. And the show kept pushing.

And so, as much as he will be missed, Jon Stewart will step aside and begin the healing process, while the show will become what it will become under the guidance of another.

Tracey+Stewart+Jon+Stewart+Family+Walking

As he expressed in his announcement, the first part of that healing will likely be him reinforcing his roles as Dad and Husband. Eventually, will we see him back on stage performing stand-up (sure, we all say we’ll go to the gym)? And after that, who knows? (As long as it’s not acting…dear god, Jon, NO!)

The man has earned his rest, and we will applaud and cheer and cry as he walks out the door (and about two weeks later, we’ll start pitching screenplay ideas to you).

Coming to a theatre near you (please, please, please)

Coming to a theatre near you (please, please, please)

Be well, Jon Stewart, and thank you.

Screenwriting, not choreography

Write-dance

In her weekly blog Why The Face, my friend Marsha Mason (more “Hey, there!” than Goodbye Girl) hits briefly on two topics of particular angst in new screenwriters: camera directions and over-written action sequences.

For me, both of these come down to the same issue: the screenwriter’s need to choreograph his or her story so that the reader “sees” the movie as the screenwriter “sees” it.

Below, with permission, I have reproduced Marsha’s original post and my comments on it.

WTF

Why The Face, March 1, 2014:

There are two things I’ve noticed of late in a number of the scripts I’ve been reading that you really don’t need to do.  They’re small things, but they can wind up pulling the reader out of your script, when what you really want is them sucked into your story.

1) Camera directions: leave them out. When someone falls in love with your script, the director that attaches to it will be the one to figure out what camera angles they’ll use and when.

And…

2) Detailed descriptions of fight sequences/car chases/long physical comedy bits: once someone falls in love with your script, there will be stunt choreographers, fight directors, and your star actor/comedian, people whose specialty it is to design these sequences for the production, based on the needs/wants of the director/producer/star.

A better idea is to describe the feeling and the tone so the reader knows what you’re aiming for, rather than going on for a page or more.  Ie “An epic car chase ensues.   More Seth Rogen behind the wheel than Al Unser Jr., it goes for blocks, barely missing nuns and orphaned children.”

Essence of, then right back into your story.

My comments:

Couldn’t agree more. Too many people feel they have to direct their screenplay to ensure the reader “sees” what they “saw” in writing it.

In a few screenplays I read recently, the writer went to great lengths to choreograph fight scenes, offering the minutiae of balletic movements.

“Raising his knee, he blocks X’s kick, and then twirls to chop X across the back of the neck. Stunned by the blow, X falls forward but recovers quickly enough to tuck and roll back to his feet. Etc. Etc. Etc.”

A fight sequence should have a sense of energy, urgency. These are people struggling. You want that to play out emotionally. You want the reader to break out in a sweat, his or her pulse elevating while reading the scene.

Instead, you slow down the reading with lengthy descriptions. The reader has to wade through line after line of description.

As Marsha describes, you can offer the fight in broader strokes to elicit feeling or tone.

Alternatively, you can present a sequence in short, staccato phrases and sentences. It is like having 20 hockey players firing pucks at you, at will. You become powerless in the onslaught, never precisely sure from where the next shot is coming.

Because the descriptions are short, they take little time for the reader to absorb before he or she moves onto the next one. Each line comes faster and faster, until the reader finds him or herself in the fight.

And then suddenly, it is over and the reader is left drained, but exhilarated.

In action sequences, less is more.

Sleigh

 

(Note: The above sequence is from my latest screenplay The Naughty List, a holiday-themed film for adults. Think The Santa Clause meets Good Morning, Vietnam.)

Holiday Dinner at the Royal York

As much as it pains many people I know, for the last four years, I have spent my Christmas dinner at a local hotel, The Fairmont Royal York in Toronto. The splendid buffet is held in the hotel’s Imperial Room, a small hall that once hosted musical legends (back in the day when you dressed up to go to a show).

For the first two years, I went with my wife Leela, whereas more recently, I have been sitting on my own (interestingly at the same table). That being said, when you’re surrounded by dozens of families, a troupe of carolers, a balloon artist and Santa Claus, are you truly alone?

The lesson I learned this year: Don’t watch people (adults as well as kids) use the chocolate fountain…you’re better off not knowing.