November 30, 2006

Strangely Wonderful

I try to read as many screenplays as is practical. Which usually works out to be about one a week. Sometimes more, usually less. How many I read has more to do with the quality of screenplays I can find online than how much time I have. Or how fried my corneas are. Since I started this racket, a number of online script repositories of varying quality have popped up. The most consistently good seems to be Simply Scripts. It's my favourite anyway.

I try to read something classic every now and again to get a sense of the venerable shoulders my craft is standing upon, and/or something current to see what the up-and-comers have come up with. It's always interesting, and often even enlightening, to read the screenplay for a movie you've already seen because you can get a sense of how the story has changed from conception to execution. Which ideas were strong enough to get through development hell and which didn't make the cut. But there's no greater gauge of a screenplay's inherent quality than to read it before you see the movie.

This afternoon I read Stranger Than Fiction. I haven't seen the film, yet, but I have seen the trailers so I wasn't coming into it without a reference point. I knew Will Ferrell was the main character, that Emma Thompson was the Narrator and that Dustin Hoffman was the English lit prof that Will's character goes to for help. I can't remember ever having enjoyed reading a script as much as I enjoyed reading this one. It's not easy to make me laugh out loud alone in my office, but Stranger Than Fiction had me chortling every few pages. The premise is brilliantly simple: A man starts to hear a voice that seems to be narrating his life as it happens and discovers that he's somehow become the main character in some author's tragic novel. And like all brilliant writing, it looks easy, and leaves you wondering, 'Now, why didn't I think of that?'

I first read about the writer, Zach Helm, in a Vanity Fair article about a year ago, but I didn't realize that what I was reading was his until I IMDb'ed it afterward. Helm was a highly-paid screenwriter who, like many highly-paid screenwriters, had never actually seen his work produced, and found his success less than satisfying. At which time he came up with a personal manifesto that more or less flew in the face of the industry and the prescribed career path of the vast majority of professional screenwriters. Vanity Fair didn't publish the entire manifesto, but it boils down to not allowing money or ambition to dictate the terms of the writing, to maintain and protect the sanctity of the creative process. Of course it could be argued that he already had done the working hack thing successfully for a number of years before his great epiphany. But either way it seems to have worked out pretty well for him. The writing is wonderful. Stranger Than Fiction has grossed over $33 million bucks in the domestic box office so far, and his next film, which he's also directing, is in post production.

I still haven't decided whether or not I'll go and see Stranger Than Fiction. I'm not sure I need to.

November 04, 2006

Here We Go

This is an advance look at the Retired promotional postcard which will be distributed at screenings and festivals and whatnot. I had little to do with the postcard itself beyond writing the logline and, of course, the title. I really like the look on Cal's face - a combination of fear and defiance - which sets the right tone for the film you're about to see.

We've just begun to release Retired to festivals. It's an exciting, anxious time. The air is charged with potential as your baby goes out the door and into the world. Will it be accepted, understood, appreciated and seen by... thousands? Or not?

Time will tell.