Star Wars Minute













In all the Barry Lyndon-ness of the past week, I’d forgotten that I was also a guest commentator on a whole week’s worth of Star Wars Minute, where I discuss, in staggering detail, my thoughts about minutes 21-25 of Revenge of the Sith. In a weird coincidence, those minutes are probably my favorite in the entire prequel trilogy, so it was a real treat to sit down for five hours or so and chat with Pete and Alex, who are great guys and very kind to a guest who laughs too close to his mike and goes off on too many tangents.

You can catch up on my episodes starting here!

A note on Mad Men


Mad Men is the greatest show in the history of television, certainly the greatest hour-long drama.

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My own perspective on Where the Wild Things Are

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I was up for the gig writing the screenplay for Where the Wild Things Are a million years ago, when the project was at Universal. I had mixed feelings about taking on the project, because the book is so slim, and so primal, so, well, "wild," that I knew no studio would spend $100 million doing it properly. Where the Wild Things Are should be weird, intense, edgy and deeply personal, the exact opposite of what i knew a studio wanted out of a four-quadrant hit.

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Screenwriting 101: The Pitch

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What would you say are the top three pitfalls of pitching? Like, what are some rookie mistakes; what should come out of a successful pitch meeting; what are some things that you should never, never do?pirateman

So in that situation [where some stranger walks in and ruins your pitch] do you just run with it and incorporate it or argue for your original point?johnnycrulez

If you’ve been reading this journal for very long, you know that I’m the last guy you should ask for advice about pitching.

I hate pitching with a passionate, burning intensity. Partly because it’s a degrading, humiliating experience antithetical to good writing, and partly because I suck at it.

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True Hollywood Stories: the Stranger in the Room

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The producer calls the writer, says "I’ve got this fantastic property I want to develop." The writer says "Oh I love that property, by all means let’s do this." The producer and the writer have a series of meetings where they talk about what would make a good movie based on this property. The writer has ideas, the producer also has ideas, they work together to come to an agreement of what the movie should be. When they feel like they’ve got a firm handle on the idea, they call up the studio people and set up a meeting.

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“Who does what” in practical terms: the making of “Grasshopper”

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Following up from my previous post, wherein I described, in rather dry, technical terms, the jobs of some of the principal players on a movie set, to give the novice some idea of what all that means I offer this personal experience.

In the autumn of 2001, a PRODUCER named Patricia Maguire came to me and asked me to write and direct a short film based on a Chekhov story of my choosing. I chose "Grasshopper," a tale of marriage and betrayal and seduction and sudden death.

I wrote my script (it was 25 pages) and submitted it to Patricia. She had a few notes, which were good notes, and I incorporated them into the script. (The wise screenwriter accepts good ideas from anyone, no matter who they are — producer, director, actor or man on the street. The trick is having a clear enough understanding of what you’re doing so that you can tell a good idea from a bad one.)

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Dark Knight postscript

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Over the summer, I saw The Dark Knight three times in the theaters, and came away stunned and baffled each time — it elevates the superhero genre so much, in so many different ways, it makes Batman Begins look like Batman Forever and it makes the 1989 Batman look like the 1966 Batman. It solves many of the problems inherent in the genre and places the characters in a complex continuum, instead of a hermetically-sealed corporate product. In many ways it is still as broad and "comic-booky" as any superhero movie, but by taking its characters seriously as human beings and thinking their actions through on a broad social level it succeeds in creating cinematic characters that breathe and speak to us. It is also a god-damn freakin’ plot machine, a script so complex and ambitious that I can only sit and wonder at it. Ideas in movies are easy, but plot is hard, and superhero plots are some of the hardest of all, which is why no one — until The Dark Knight — has managed to pull it off. And then, to have the movie be about the hero’s failure instead of his triumph, and then to have it go on to be the biggest movie in the history of the genre, well, that’s some kind of amazing thing.

In August, I had a meeting with a producer who has had some experience producing Batman movies. The Dark Knight was still the number one movie in theaters that day, and conversation naturally turned to it.

ME: So — The Dark Knight.
ME: Right?
PRODUCER: I know. It’s amazing. I know.
ME: So. You tell me. You make this kind of movie. You tell me. How?
PRODUCER: How what?
ME: How does a movie like that get made? In this environment, where anything complicated or challenging or pessimistic or visionary get ironed out to appeal to the broadest possible market, how does a movie like that get made? That’s an expensive movie with a lot of moving parts — the producers, the cast, the special effects, the location shooting — how does a picture like that get made, and end up that good?
PRODUCER: Because Christopher Nolan gets no notes.
ME: What do you mean?
PRODUCER: I mean, the studio gives him no notes. None. Zero.
ME: The director gets no notes?
ME: So, you’re telling me, Christopher Nolan and his brother write the script —
PRODUCER: And then they shoot it. And the studio gives them no notes. They’ve given them the project, they trust their vision, and they let them shoot it the way they want.  And that’s how a movie like that gets made.

Movies and DVDs

noskilz writes:

"Do you think the rapid turnaround from theater to dvd is a problem? One of my friends refers to theatrical releases as "trailers for the dvd" and I usually don’t worry about catching a film at the theater unless it’s the sort of thing likely to benefit from a gigantic screen and sound system."


I think the rapid turnaround from theater to DVD is a problem — but apparently not for the corporations that own the movie stats

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Paul Newman

I never met Paul Newman, although I am pleased to have appeared in a movie with him.

My wife, however, did meet him, the story of which I would like to relate to you now.

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My Iron Man

After working on Astroboy and Wonder Woman, for many years I was “on the list” of writers consulted for every comic-book movie that came down the pike.

When the Iron Man people asked me for a take on their then-aborning project, I took a jaunt to my local comic-book store to look for source material. This was quite a few years ago now, and, as hard as it is to believe, there was almost no Iron Man material in the stores. The only readily-available collection was The Power of Iron Man, an important, ground-breaking story arc that dealt mainly with Tony Stark’s alcoholism.

And I thought “Huh. Alcoholic superhero. Well, okay.” It seemed unlikely to me that the whole point of the character was that he was an alcoholic, so I looked him up in my Marvel Superhero Dictionary, which was published near to the same time as the Power of Iron Man collection and, yeah, seemed pretty jazzed about the idea of Tony Stark being an alcoholic. It was all part of the mid-80s “Comics Aren’t For Kids Any More!” drive, to show that comics could be “grown up” and deal with issues like alcoholism and obsession and insanity and the darker aspects of human nature.But alcoholism still seemed like an odd hook upon which to hang a very expensive superhero movie, so I called up the producer and explained to him that I was having a hard time finding Iron Man source material. He responded by sending me, yes, The Power of Iron Man.

So I said “All right, whatever you say. Alcoholic superhero. Let’s go.” This is the pitch I came up with:

Tony Stark is an arms manufacturer. He’s a heel and a creep, but somewhere deep inside he’s still human. He brings death and destruction to the world, and it’s beginning to corrode his soul. He turns to alcohol to dull the pain. Caught in the jaws of the capitalist beast, he can only press forward and continue producing death. He has responsibilities to his corporation to keep moving forward, but he’s cracking under the strain and alcohol, he thinks, will hold him together.

His alcoholism progresses to the point where he starts having blackouts. What he doesn’t know is that, when he is blacked out, he becomes Iron Man. Iron Man is, essentially, Tony Stark’s conscience, fighting against the very machine that Tony operates in his non-blacked-out hours. Iron Man works as hard to dismantle Tony’s company as Tony does pressing its agenda. Tony even gets the idea to create War Machine, a “waking Tony” creation designed to fight Iron Man, never realizing that he is, himself, in fact, Iron Man.

So I thought “Well, an alcoholic superhero, I don’t think we can sell that to an audience, but a superhero who is his own supervillain, we haven’t seen that yet.” And I pitched my take to the producer who had sent me The Power of Iron Man and his instant reaction was “Are you crazy? We can’t make a movie about an alcoholic superhero!” And that was the end of that.

(The idea of an alcoholic superhero, of course, didn’t seem so outrageous to the producers of Hancock.)

So they went and made an Iron Man movie without me, and it turned out very well. Tony drinks a lot in the movie, but they never point to it as a “problem,” which I think is the correct approach. The plot coincides with my pitch insofar as it hinges on Tony’s growing realization that he is not making the world a better place by manufacturing ever-more sophisticated weaponry. He doesn’t become schizophrenic, rather, he fights Obidiah Stane, his corporate officer and gets bounced out of his own company. It’s a lot of the same ideas, but more elegantly and organically presented. As far as superhero movies go, it’s pretty sophisticated stuff and a cracking good time. It is both a geek-fest and a good “entry point” movie: it’s filled with Marvel in-jokes but also manages to stake out its own identity.  This is all very hard for a hugely-expensive movie to do, which makes Iron Man all the more impressive.

The crowd for the screening I attended was more pumped for this movie than I’ve heard a crowd be pumped for a movie in a long time.  They hooted and hollered, shouted and sang as the lights went down.  The only thing that got them more excited than Iron Man was the trailer for The Dark Knight which received cheers and a round of applause.  Iron Man completely delivered to this crowd, a movie about a gearhead, made by gearheads, for an audience of gearheads.  I mean that as a compliment.

I would say to be sure to stay until after the ending credits, but if you’re the sort of Marvel Geek who is rushing out to see the movie today you probably already know that.


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