Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Dillio pt. 2

I drove home and quickly devoured the text (I spent a total of a day and a half reading Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434. From the opening sentence I was truly amazed at the lack of information the book possessed and it’s indiscernible link to Christianity. I mean what if you are Muslim, Buddhist or a Pagan.. .maybe even a Wiccan… are all of those groups forbidden from the golden knowledge possessed in this work? And since we’re bustin’ on this piece of shit book.. why is it written in 16 point font? Why is there a noted lack of multi-syllabic words and complex phrases? According to Lew Hunter you not only have to write simple…but you have to think simple.

I recommended that he read “Film Language: The Semiotics of the Cinema” – by Christian Metz. 434 is really an amazing text. I mean for a UCLA professor to openly state that nothing has changed in the ten years since he originally published his work…is astounding. In his mind all of screenwriting is static, dead…ceasing to break new ground and expound new theories. That’s quite the pessimistic view from someone with the title “professor” after their name….but don’t take my word for it…

The following passage is from the 7th page of 434… it’s the introduction to the new release:

“What is different for screenwriting in the ten years that have rocketed by since the first publication of this book? Give up? OK, the answer is: NOTHING!”

I was truly floored by that, not only as a statement, but as an opening statement from a screenwriting professor. But wait … it gets better…

“Gertrude Stern wrote, “A rose is a rose is a rose”; I write, A story is a story is a story.” We professors are charged by academia and our institutions, UCLA in my case, to “break new ground”, “conquer new horizons”, clichés that relate more to horticulture or astronomy than screenwriting. Every time someone tries something new, it seems as if they end up making a divertissement for the mirror, for the shelf in the lab or, if they are lucky, something direct to DVD.”

These are his words, these are his thoughts. Now ask yourself, do you think it is remotely possible that someone with such a pessimistic view of screenwriting and art in general could enlighten you in any way, shape or form? All he cares about is Aristotle and Egri, no one else it seems in the last several hundred if not thousands of years has made any discernable contributions to the creation of and contemplation of the narrative. That’s truly an amazing statement for someone in academia to make.

But wait.. then I found this gem…

People often say , “We believe anything you write will be beautiful because…you are beautiful.” That hoary phrase of the sixties suggests that structure is secondary to “your own thing”. To counter, I almost gleefully suggest on the first day of 434 that “you are not beautiful. You are ugly, misshapen and not dissimilar to a swamp frog. But…you are about to be kissed by a princess called the UCLA writing program and a price who thinks he is visually Robert Redford but periodically confesses to be Lew Hunter.”

I think that speaks volumes. This is an older man, who feels that life is pain, and that you were born in sin, whether you be a Christian or not since the entire universe is only concerned with appeasing Christianity. And that should you attempt to write something new, something that has not existed before….then you are foolish. This is a man who teaches. This is what my tax dollars support. I am truly flabbergasted!

I would like to point out that Lew spends an inordinate amount of time explaining where to get your script ideas from. Has it occurred to Lew that if you don’t have an idea for a script… then maybe you should be trying to write a script.

Is it any wonder that I am a radical? that I am often removed from Border’s and similar places for throwing his book on the floor and cursing it?

To say that I lost respect for Dennis McGovern is a gross understatement. I decided to ask him a few questions before I passed judgment.

COOPRDOG
So I read your book

DENNIS MCGOVERN
And what did you think?

COOPRDOG
I think that it omits a majority of the axioms and devices that make narratives function.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
Well the book is a general how to approach to screenwriting.

COOPRDOG
But how can you subscribe to someone who feels that the artform has ceased to grow…someone who feels that it is stagnant and never changing?

DENNIS MCGOVERN
He doesn’t state that.

COOPRDOG
On the first page of the introduction, in his very first sentence he states that nothing has changed since he last published ten years ago. I can quote it if you like…


DENNIS MCGOVERN
Well he’s speaking generally

COOPRDOG
So, in general you feel that films like “Memento” and “Run Lola Run” are not recent additions to the type of film offerings we traditionally consume?

DENNIS MCGOVERN
I’m saying that a story is a story.

COOPRDOG
Is it? Are Michael Moore’s films stories? Because they aren’t documentaries, nor are they mockumentaries.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
Well no, they are mostly fiction.

COOPRDOG
Which may or may not be true, but the realization that nothing like them has ever been seen before is a verifiable fact.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
So what’s your point?

COOPRDOG
My point is that there are glaring examples in your field of vision that vehemently contradiction his assertion, yet you whole-heartedly accept it.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
Is that the only thing you took away from the book? You didn’t learn anything at all?

COOPRDOG
I learned that he has made a career out of rhetoric and that his unyielding faith in Christianity makes it difficult for him to discuss any topic without interjecting it.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
How can you say that… you haven’t even met the man.

COOPRDOG
He quotes from the old Testament on the second page of the first chapter. How can I be misunderstanding its importance to him and his belief that it is centrally important to screenwriting.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
C’mon, it’s over 300 pages and that’s all you learned?

COOPRDOG
Dennis, I’m a screenwriter. I’ve written more than 15 features in my career. Why would I be interested in a book that feigns to give you ideas about where to get your ideas…and how to title your scripts? It’s a remedial text at best.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
Well, the thing is he gets you to take chances and express yourself.

COOPRDOG
I…uh,… I think that you are not really all that familiar with the text. Time and time again throughout his book he stresses to stick to the basics and fight the urge to write exciting dialogue and inventive concepts. He feels that if the approaches were feasible and possibly fruitful… then they would already be in use.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
Well that’s true. That’s certainly true.

COOPRDOG
Is it? The use of feedback to make music is a lubricious assertion… till someone like Jimi Hendrix comes along and puts it all into prospective.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
But you are no Jimi Hendrix

COOPRDOG
Can you be sure? I mean are you certain that when the next Jimi Hendrix appears that you will be able to recognize him as the genuine article….if you feel that it has all be done before?

DENNIS MCGOVERN
Look, it’s a guide… it’s a mean to write a script.

COOPRDOG
It’s a layman’s approach to understand a rather complex writing form. His lack of knowledge of film theory and semiotics and linguistics underscores his lack of a circumspect view and his fear of the unknown.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
Well.. I thought you might find the book helpful.

COOPRDOG
I didn’t… it was a waste of my time.

Needless to say that even when I presented him with concrete arguments about why I have such suspicions about these “screenwriting gurus” it fell on deaf ears.

Over the next 3 weeks we played phone tag and I listened to him tell my how he was a recovering addict and that I need not rely on chemical means to motivate me. I responded that I like to get high because I like the taste of weed.

He countered that I don’t need any of it and then I told him that I really have a problem with recovered addicts who now fear all substances… because they have an inability to use their drug of choice in moderation.

So this is what I was dealing with.. and 60 something Jewish cat who reps Christianity and lectures me on drug use. I will give him credit.. he did do his research but with each conversation I noticed a theme emerging. This…telling the filmmaker what’s up with filmmaking shtick that he seemed to have well honed..

I found this particularly enjoyable because he seems to have never met a well read filmmaker. So I really liked throwing him for a loop.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
So you want to direct this?

COOPRDOG
No, I am directing this…there is no “wanting” to direct this… it’s my film.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
I know you wrote it but a more seasoned director would know more about how to get the good shots.

COOPRDOG
I’m not sure what a “good” shot is…but I seriously doubt that any director no matter how illustrious or great will have more to bring to the table than me…because he’ll have at most two months to pour over the script and I’ve spent seven years pouring over it.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
So you want a lot of control

COOPRDOG
I want to be able to shoot the film that I have we have agreed to shoot.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
But what about some rewrites. Every script needs a good rewrite.

COOPRDOG
Who told you that? And if the process of rewriting is endless, how do you know when it’s over?

DENNIS MCGOVERN
Well you feel it, you get feedback…

COOPRDOG
And you feel that that will yield a better film that a director who is happy with his script and knows his script. Your ignorance of principal photography and post-production is the stuff of legend.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
Look everybody rewrites their scripts…

COOPRDOG
And most filmmakers have short careers…do you see a correlation?

DENNIS MCGOVERN
You are going to have to give up some control. They aren’t going to let you just run they show.

COOPRDOG
Who is they?

DENNIS MCGOVERN
The money guys

COOPRDOG
I thought you were a money guy.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
I’m talking about the investors…the people who actually write the checks.

COOPRDOG
They love me.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
No, they think you are a control freak

COOPRDOG
Why? Because I refuse to let those who don’t shoot and those who don’t produce dictate how my film is shot?

DENNIS MCGOVERN
The investors want a film that makes money.

COOPRDOG
Actually the investors want a film that does something, that is something. That’s backed by a director who captures peoples minds and attention….if that type of film makes money – they’ll be happy… be they are in it for the romance.

It was answers like that that stumped Dennis. He seemed unable to resolve my aggressive business school debating with my idealistic and romantic view of the cinema.

DENNIS MCGOVERN
I really don’t know about you Cooprdog

COOPRDOG
That’s the point Dennis… none of us knows. Anyone who tells you different is ignorant or the facts or lying about them…or both.


COOPRDOG

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