Ingmar Bergman and Sven Nykvist

Film Production: Why The DP is Your MVP

I’m mentoring a young friend through the process of writing and directing his first feature, which he’ll shoot in a year; he’s still in development tweaking the script before it goes out to cast. His executive producer, the former president of a major studio, said to him the other day, “Your cinematographer is the most important person on set after you.” I couldn’t agree more.

There’s nothing like working with a great DP, it makes all the difference in the world to the outcome of your film on many levels. The most important level for me is the personal, the experience of making a film. I don’t get to direct often, so when I do I want to enjoy it, to be carried away by, yes, the quasi-spiritual experience of creating something worthy in harmony with my crew, as cheesy as that might sound.

Jessica Chastain Tree of Life

Filmmaking: Is Voiceover Narration Always a Weakness?

A couple of weeks ago I was in a preliminary meeting for a TV series I am being commissioned to write. One of the associated producers, who has hitherto exclusively made reality-TV fare, suggested the characters break the fourth wall and talk to the camera, in mockumentary style, which works to great effect in both TV and feature-film comedies — note the word “mock” — but not in drama.

As a purist, I was taken aback by the suggestion of deploying this unnecessary device. I reigned in my kneejerk contempt for it by nodding and muttering, “Hmm, interesting idea.”  It just didn’t suit my vision for this particular piece at all, but I’m also coming in later in this project’s process. I’m changing it from a comedy to at most a dramedy, although by the time I’m through it’ll likely be an outright drama with comedic hints now and then; one of the main characters has a personality disorder that is too often the butt of jokes, which isn’t so bad as it is tiresome and inauthentic to how both people with the disorder and their caretakers deal with it in real life.

Cary Fukunaga

Content Creation: ‘Endings Are So Difficult’

The most controversial topic strafing the Net this week hasn’t been Putin’s grab for the Crimea; after all, since the dawn of the Industrial Age every Russian emperor’s mandate has been to secure access to a warm-water port, so is this really controversial? It hasn’t been the missing Malaysian Airlines flight, either (however, if I were Boeing’s PR department, I’d be in preemptory damage control mode right now — I’ve got a sneaky feeling that plane wasn’t flying right.)

Nay, nothing has ruffled more feathers this week than the ending of HBO’s True Detective.

If I were to imagine a word cloud rising from the chatter about the finale on Sunday, the leading adjective, the one in the center in the biggest font in the brightest magenta, would be “DISAPPOINTING.”

Jeffrey Tambor Transparent

Keep It Simple, Showrunner

Let me start with the obvious caveat that I am deeply and inherently prejudiced in favor of the particular form of narrative filmmaking that I specialize in: fictionalized biographical and autobiographical dramas. I do on occasion dabble in the magical, either with overt supernatural themes or the more subtle magical realism, which is my preferred cut-off; I don’t like to stray far from authenticity. But the unreal isn’t my forte because it isn’t what I’m passionate about.

This wasn’t always the case. When I was younger and mired in a miserable childhood in a gilded cage, I escaped at any opportunity by turning inward and daydreaming a world I could control by magic. When I taught myself screenwriting in my early twenties, my stories were entirely supernatural; as I like to say, “Twenty-somethings are only adult teenagers.”

Michel Gondry

La Vie en Verlan: How the French Literally Lost the Plot

Let me immediately digress onto a tangential subject that will hopefully serve as an intro to my main topic. It occurred to me the other day, when I was discussing with Scarlett Rouge the alarming fact that almost nobody in the English-speaking countries is reading contemporary French writers in translation, that there are no female auteur filmmakers. In any language. None. There currently isn’t, nor has there ever been, an autrice filmmaker, as she would be called.

I don’t consider Sofia Coppola an autrice. The only thing that distinguishes her films as her own are the willful lack of adherence to dramatic convention and the obsession with the inane antics of privileged white female teens and twentysomethings. Her niece, Gia, is doing exactly the same thing, but upping the now signature Coppola Family pretension by working with proto-wankers like James Franco. At this point in the history of filmmaking, the only place I can bear to see the Coppola name is on a wine label.

Orange is the New Black

Writing: Fiction Must Be Stranger Than Truth

Midway through a pitch at Showtime a few years ago I literally lost the plot. I’d flown in to Los Angeles from London that afternoon. I never sleep flying east to west, so I compensated for my fatigue by over-caffeinating. The caffeine mixed with the adrenaline rush of performance. I became a blithering idiot, human Jell-O right there in the meeting with the network’s top execs. I couldn’t remember the plot or the names of characters I had created and written myself.

Luckily, I had two seasoned producers on either side of me. “The story is autobiographical,” one of them said, trying to pick me up and carry me across the finish line. I shot him a surprised look; that was an outright lie, wasn’t it?

Odd Nerdrum One Story Singer

Content Creation: Talking to Yourself Is Healthy

I’m on Reddit about as much as I’m on Facebook. What amazes many other Redditors is we get far more comments and likes for our posts from strangers than we do from actual friends for our posts on Facebook. Your contributions also don’t appear directly on other Redditors’ feeds; you post by subject, or ‘subreddit’, and hope for the best. So why bother posting to Facebook at all? It lost whatever negligible cool it had long ago, after all.

Many of my friends and most of my small family have either never signed up for Facebook or have dropped away. “It’s a waste of time and distracting,” an award-winning writer-director friend, who cancelled his account well over a year ago, said to me the other day. This guy is so cool he can carry off a polo shirt and actually make me hesitate as to whether I might need one or two in my wardrobe as well. (I don’t.)