Am I writing this blog to point out the unoriginality in Hollywood?!? No. Both of these movies were probably my favorite movies from this year, and I can’t wait to watch them again! If they made this kind of movie a 3rd time with Chris Pratt, I’d pay to watch that too!

I guess the reason I wanted to write about this is mostly just because I’m trying to get better at writing and story structure is what I’m trying to improve upon. It seems like it’s the first thing any writer should learn before getting started on a first screenplay/treatment/pilot/short, and yet it’s the last thing any aspiring writer wants to accept.

“You mean there’s a How-To Book that tells me HOW I HAVE to write my stories?! Writing isn’t something you can learn from a book!”

Well, yes, kinda. Several, actually. But you can’t look at it like that. There are good books on how to write a feature/pilot, and I’m sure there are just as many or more bad books on the subject. I look at this kind of supplemental reading like this. Movies have been around for a long time, longer than most of these books. Movies came first, and anyone who writes a book with a bunch of “how to” structures is just creating structures based on those the movies they saw. Then once you apply these structures and templates to other movies, you can sort of see the patterns form (even though these patterns are very very loose). And, if you’re trying to write a feature, it’s probably not a bad idea to fit your story loosely into one of these patterns.

Even though Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie fit a relatively loose pattern (and it is loose), they are far from the same movie. And they’re both great!

Characters!!!

First, even though Chris Pratt plays both the leads in these movies, he plays VERY different characters (in my opinion). In Lego, the character of Emmet is sort of a pathetic character that we pity. When we first meet Emmet, he’s an outcast in a world that doesn’t have outcasts. Everyone in Legoland is the same and they’re just all kinds happy about it! They even sing a song about being a part of a team every single day! Even when he gets banded together with his outcast crew to save the day… he’s sort of the outcast there! Most of his new friends don’t necessarily believe in him for like half the movie. But we want him to succeed, because despite the fact that no one likes him or accepts him, he’s just so positive and only wants to help everybody!

Chris Pratt’s character in Guardians (Peter Quill, Star Lord), is just so cool! He’s an outcast (literally stolen away from his parents as a child), but he’s definitely slick. He’s different form Emmet because he’s who we aspire to be, but with a few flaws to kind of make him relatable. He’s a little bit of a bumbling hero. He’s not the most efficient, the most skilled, but no matter what pickle he gets himself into he finds a way to slip out of it in a clever way that makes us like him for it. He’s Han Solo, or basically Indiana Jones.

Just a brief note, in both films all the characters don’t really like each other at first, but have to band together to save the day, and in doing so become friends by the end of the film. In Guardians, they’re literally attacking each other at the beginning, in Lego Movie everyone just kind of thinks of Emmet as a big disappointment, but he’s the only one with enough spirit to rally everyone together for the third act.

Structure!!!

Even the structure is pretty different when you put it under a microscope. Obviously there’s the stuff I listed above, but a ten bullet summary doesn’t make a whole movie. The first acts of both movies are INCREDIBLY SIMILAR, but still have their own style. In the Lego Movie, the artifact (Piece of Resistance) comes into play a little later in the first act than Guardians of the Galaxy (if I remember correctly). 

In Lego, the sequence goes something like: 

opening image (Lord Business and the prophecy) 

SEVERAL YEARS LATER 

Goofy song! 

Character Scenes (we see WyldStyle, but we don’t really meet her much)

Artifact

Custody

Meet friends when they escape

In Guardians it goes a little:

Opening Image

SEVERAL YEARS LATER

Goofy Song

Artifact immediately shows up!

Meet friends before custody!

Go to prison, and then prison kind of becomes the second act of the film.

In Lego we spend a little more time with Emmet before he finds the artifact, and we see a day in his life and why he doesn’t fit in and how everyone kind of makes fun of him, then he finds the artifact and everything changes. InGuardians, we see Peter Quill dance around a little bit, but then he immediately picks up the artifact, and THEN we get to know him. Turns out he has a nickname he gave himself (Star Lord), he’s kind of cocky, but he’s very able (shoots all the bad guys and narrowly escapes), he has that moment where he forgot he even had that alien girl in his ship (He’s so cool!). Then he has a very character revealing conversation with Yandu, before trying to sell the artifact and getting into custody.

Second Act!

The second act of the films are obviously very different! But here’s how they’re similar. This is just a very, very brief summary of what happens, but in both films they sort of spend the first half of the movie evading the villain, then they spend the second half pursuing the villain with a plan to take him down. In Legothey go to West World and narrowly evade Bad Cop. In Guardians they go to prison and escape just before Ronan The Accuser shows up. 

In Lego the next world they go to is Unikitty Land, they bring the Piece of Resistance to the Council, where they should tell Emmet what to do next and then the story’s over happily ever after, right? But then Bad Cop invades, takes the artifact, and now our hero has to take the fight to the villain in order to save the whole universe!

In Guardians the next world we go to is Knowhere, the home of The Collector, who is about to pay our heroes an impossible sum of money for the artifact they found, and then they ride off into the sunset happily ever after, right? But then Ronan invades, takes the artifact, and now our hero has to take the fight to the villain in order to save the whole universe!

In the second half of the second act (just after Ronan takes the artifact), the characters in Guardians hatch a plan to infiltrate Ronan’s ship to stop him. Same thing happens in Lego Movie just after Bad Cop takes the artifact.

You know, as I’m writing this, I forget how I thought these parts of the movie were different… But look they just are!

Third Act!

The third act of both movies is just sort of the pay off for the entire movie. They obviously have to stop the villains. In both movies, a supporting character has to sacrifice themselves. In Lego it’s Vitruvius, and in Guardians it’s Groot. Also the main character has to sacrifice themselves, but then the power was inside them all along! In Guardians, Peter Quill faces Ronan head on (distracts him), and grabs the orb (even though it’s power should kill him), turns out he can handle it with the help of his friends (and also he’s like secretly an ancient alien race turns out). In Lego, Emmet chooses to sacrifice himself by jumping out of the tower, he lands outside the Lego Playset, but through powers that we don’t truly understand he WILLS himself to move (because he’s The Special), and he somehow makes it back into the Playset and talks Lord Business down from gluing everybody in place!

They really are different though!!!

As you can see, the structure of both movies is very very similar. But does that make them bad? Or unoriginal? No! Both are huge hits this year. These are the two freshest movies out there right now! Literally both are fresh on Rotten Tomatoes! Guardians, 92%, Lego movie, 96%. What makes them original and new is the characters and the directing, and the writing. Structure of a movie doesn’t mean the writing of a movie. That meta-scene where Emmet falls out of the Playset and there’s a live action scene with Will Ferrell, there’s nothing that meta in Guardians. Even though they both have that “sacrifice” moment we talked about, the Lego Movie did something that you can say you’ve “never seen before”. And even though both movies had an escape from prison scene,Lego Movie did it in the First Act, Guardians did it in the Second, and I thoughtGuardians did it… not “better” but “funnier”. In Lego movie it’s a lot of action, and you get introduced to the concept of a “special” and a “master builder”, but in Guardians, it’s definitely funnier. Groot prematurely triggers the plan, Rocket Raccoon asks for a guys leg, Drax the Destroyer can’t understand sarcasm. There’s just a lot of jokes flying at you. So even though both these scenes are in both movies, they’re at different spots in the movie, and they’re totally different scenes!

Structure should be there to tell you kind of the journey your characters need to go on, but you still need to write the movie! You still have to come up with the characters and who they are. You have to come up with scenes that stay clever, that get meta, that stay fresh, etc. Don’t put that break-up scene in a restaurant! People have seen that and restaurants are boring! Put it in a car wash, or a drive-thru, something we haven’t seen before! Then think about what could happen in that NEW scenario. What if it were in a crime scene? You know where everyone has the CSI suits? Because then no one would recognize each other. Now that’s a different scene that is new and fresh to an audience, which is what Edgar Wright did in Hot Fuzz.

That’s what writing is, and using a template as a guide isn’t a cardinal sin. I have a lot of friends that are comedians, so maybe they can relate to it this way: when you write a joke, even if it’s new and original and fresh, it still has to go in a certain order. No one’s telling you it needs an act-out, and no one’s telling you it needs a reference, or a pun. But if you have any of these, it’s probably not a good idea to put them before the set-up. That’s just the structure of a joke to make it work. Premise, first punchline, then tags go here, act out if you got it. And that’s very general… you still have to write your own damn joke. But when you do, don’t start with a tag, then act something out, and then give me the premise at the end. (Or maybe do, maybe you have the Memento of jokes). But a decent joke is usually about 1-2 minutes, and a longer “bit” is maybe 5, and even then a lot of times you need to work it out to see what order it should go in. A pilot is 22 minutes, and a feature is about 100. You still have to write your own damn episode or your own damn movie, but when you’re tackling something between 4 and 20 times the size of a joke, it’s probably not a bad idea to take a couple pointers from somebody else that made it work.

10

Edited down from a similar documentary made for a long out-of-print LaserDisc release, The Making of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest  features interviews with Miloš Forman, Saul Zaentz, Ken Kesey, and both Michael and Kirk Douglas (the only true disappointment here is the absence of Jack Nicholson).

Kirk Douglas bought the rights to Ken Kesey’s novel before it was even published in 1962. While the book became a bestseller and a counterculture classic of the time, Douglas produced a Broadway adaptation with himself in the lead role of Randle P. McMurphy and spent years trying to get a film version off the ground. Turned down by every Hollywood studio and most of the major American directors, it was finally made independently by a pair of first time producers-actor Michael Douglas (who bought the rights from his father) and jazz record impresario Saul Zaentz—and émigré director Miloš Forman (Hal Ashby was originally going to direct, but eventually dropped out and replaced by Forman, according to Danny DeVito's 2009 appearance on Inside The Actor's Studio). It became a box office smash (eventually earning $200 million on a budget of less than $5 million) and the second picture in Hollywood history to sweep the top five Academy Awards.

Thanks to frame-paradiso for this trip down memory lane. If you haven’t seen this amazing film or not for a while, don’t hesitate and get the 35th Anniversary Collector’s Edition available at Amazon.

Miloš Forman about the movie:

One day, I got a package from California. There was a book inside I’d never heard of written by an author I’d never heard of but when I started to read I saw right away that this was the best material I’d come across in America.

“Hell, Milos, I tried to get the rights to the fucking book, if you know what I mean, but that old boy Douglas beat me to the punch,” said Jack Nicholson when I offered him the part.

All the scenes stood or fell with Jack Nicholson, who was a dream to work with. He had none of the vanity, egomania, or obsessions of a star. He insisted on receiving the same treatment as everyone else. He was always prepared for his scenes and had a clear idea of what he wanted. His sense of humour put everyone at ease, which is always a great asset on a set. He helped the people around him because he knew that the better their performances were, the better he would look in the end.

Discovering Nurse Ratched in the prim, angelic Louise Fletcher surprised me, but the more I thought about it, the more it made me sense. I’d learned long before that it’s better to cast against type in the leading roles and with it in the minor roles. For reasons of economy and clarity, I prefer to give the audience a quick read of secondary characters by casting obvious physical types, but with the principal roles, it’s more engaging to uncover a different personality under the obvious type, to peel away the erroneous expectations, to be surprised by a deeper knowledge of the character.

Also, recommended viewing: here’s a little over 13 minutes of deleted scenes, courtesy of frame-paradiso.

These scenes display what a fine director Forman is. They are all excellent scenes but it’s often said that the ability to cut good material in order to make a better total picture is a hard-learned skill. Scenes included here play fine on their own but the film is so right as it is that they aren’t needed. Of particular note is a scene where McMurphy has the various behavior altering punishments utilized by the hospital explained to him.

Dear every screenwriter, read this: Lawrence Hauben & Bo Goldman’s screenplay for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest  [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers.

For more film related items throughout the day, follow Cinephilia & Beyond on Twitter. Get Cinephilia & Beyond in your inbox by signing in. You can also follow our RSS feed. Please use our Google Custom Search for better results. If you enjoy Cinephilia & Beyond, please consider making a small donation to keep it going:

4

Micro-budget filmmaking 101: sketches of DIY camera rigs used by Sam Raimi and company for the original The Evil Dead, courtesy of Deep Fried Movies.

Raimi is interviewed behind a wall of posters for Evil Dead 2 in this piece which offers a nice retropective of his pre-Darkman work (Jonathan Ross casually mentions that Raimi currently has a few projects in development with Universal). Numerous clips from his early super-8 shorts are shown in addition to choice scenes from the super-8 Evil Dead promo Within The Woods, a film which Raimi presented to prospective investors as proof of his filmmaking abilities. Also included is a visit to the set of Scott Spiegel’s Night Crew (aka Intruder) where Sam is seen playing a cameo role of a doomed butcher. The production nightmares of Raimi’s big-budget sophmore effort Crimewave are discussed and the film ends a short segment on Evil Dead 2 where Raimi seems unsure of whether Ash will re-appear in another film again.

Dear every screenwriter, read this: Sam Raimi’s screenplay for The Evil Dead  aka Book Of The Dead, with the back & front cover images as drawn by Tom Sullivan [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers.

For more film related items throughout the day, follow Cinephilia & Beyond on Twitter. Get Cinephilia & Beyond in your inbox by signing in. You can also follow our RSS feed. Please use our Google Custom Search for better results. If you enjoy Cinephilia & Beyond, please consider making a small donation to keep it going:

Fake Ass Posters’ benmadethis has created yet another stunning poster, this time for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

How about the stylization of the violence? A lot of it is very funny, and what actually happens to Alex, in the brainwashing sequence, is much more unpleasant to watch than what he does to anyone else.
Kubrick: Well, of course, the violence in the film is stylized, just as it is in the book. My problem, of course, was to find a way of presenting it in the film without benefit of the writing style. The first section of the film that incorporates most of the violent action is principally organized around the Overture to Rossini’s Thieving Magpie, and, in a very broad sense, you could say that the violence is turned into dance, although, of course, it is in no way any kind of formal dance. But in cinematic terms, I should say that movement and music must inevitably be related to dance, just as the rotating space station and the docking Orion space ship in 2001 moved to The Blue Danube. From the rape on the stage of the derelict casino, to the super-frenzied fight, through the Christ figures cut, to Beethoven’s Ninth, the slow-motion fight on the water’s edge, and the encounter with the cat lady where the giant white phallus is pitted against the bust of Beethoven, movement, cutting, and music are the principal coasiderations—dance?
And the use of speeded-up motion, in the scene with the two girls Alex picks up at the drugstore?
Yes, of course, I forgot to mention the high-speed orgy. This scene lasts about forty seconds on the screen and, at two frames per second, took twenty-eight minutes to shoot. I had the idea one night while listening to Eine kleitie Nachtmusik. The vision of an orgy suggested itself, shot at two frames per second. As it worked out in the film, though, the fast movement William Tell was more suitable to the purpose of the scene.

How much do you preplan scenes? You don’t do the Hitchcockian kind of detailed advance planning?
I do a tremendous amount of planning and try to anticipate everything that is humanly possible to imagine prior to shooting the scene, but when the moment actually comes, it is always different. Either you discover new ideas in the scene, or one of the actors by some aspect of his personality has changed something—or any one of a thousand things that fail to coincide with one’s preconceived notions of the scene. This is, of course, the most ci-ucial time of a film. The actual shooting of a scene, once you know what you are going to do, is relatively simple. But it is here that the picture always hangs in the balance. The problem, expressed perhaps a bit too simply, is to make sure that something happens worth putting on film. It is always tempting to think of how you’re going to lilm something before you know what it is you’re going to film, but it’s almost always a waste of time. —An interview on A Clockwork Orange, Saturday Review, 1971

In Great Bolshy Yarblockos! Making A Clockwork Orange, we follow Stanely Kubrick as he creates one of the most controversial films of all time, one that retains its power to shock audiences, even after 35 years. At the time of its release, A Clockwork Orange  created a firestorm of controversy. Through interviews with collaborators, filmmakers, screenwriters and authors, we come to appreciate Stanley Kubrick as an artist unafraid to take risks and court controversy, committed unwaveringly to his single-minded goal: the highest artistic quality of his films.

The powerful things that you remember may be the images but perhaps their strength comes from the words that precede them. Alex’s first-person narration at the beginning of the film increases the power of the images.
Kubrick: You can’t make a rule that says that words are never more useful than images. And, of course, in the scene you refer to, it would be rather difficult to do without words to express Alex’s thoughts. There is an old screenplay adage that says if you have to use voice-over it means there’s something wrong with the script. I’m quite certain this is not true, and when thoughts are to be conveyed, especially when they are of a nature which one would not say to another person, there is no other good alternative.
This time you wrote your script alone. How would you equate the problems of writing a screenplay to writing a novel?
Writing a screenplay is a very different thing than writing a novel or an original story. A good story is a kind of a miracle, and I think that is the way I would describe Burgess’s achievement with the novel. A Clockwork Orange has a wonderful plot, strong characters and clear philosophy. When you can write a book like that, you’ve really done something. On the other hand, writing the screenplay of the book is much more of a logical process — something between writing and breaking a code. It does not require the inspiration or the invention of the novelist. I’m not saying it’s easy to write a good screenplay. It certainly isn’t, and a lot of fine novels have been ruined in the process. However serious your intentions may be, and however important you think are the ideas of the story, the enormous cost of a movie makes it necessary to reach the largest potential audience for that story, in order to give your backers their best chance to get their money back and hopefully make a profit. No one will disagree that a good story is an essential starting point for accomplishing this. But another thing, too, the stronger the story, the more chances you can take with everything else. —Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange, an interview with Michel Ciment

Stanley Kubrick’s screenplay for A Clockwork Orange  [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers.

For more film related items throughout the day, follow Cinephilia & Beyond on Twitter. Get Cinephilia & Beyond in your inbox by signing in. You can also follow our RSS feed. Please use our Google Custom Search for better results. If you enjoy Cinephilia & Beyond, please consider making a small donation to keep it going:

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