writer

Book Review: SCREENWRITING 101 By Film Crit Hulk!

Jan 01 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
SCREENWRITING 101By: Film Crit HulkRelease Date: December 10, 2013Buy it: Amazon SCREENWRITING 101 is technically a book about screenwriting, but it's much more significant than that. Most of my friends want to make careers (or at least paying side-projects) out of writing fiction, and I have recommended SCREENWRITING 101 to every single one of them. By the time I had gotten to page 30, I had recommended it. By the time I hit page 90, I was sending them annoying texts about it. Now that it's over, nothing has changed: everyone with the slightest interest in fiction should read this book. And the reason I say that is because until the sixth and final section of the book, the majority of its lessons can be applied (with minimal tweaking) to novels, plays, or slash fiction. Whatever you want to write about, you can get something from this book. Hulk apologizes for this, or for the fact that so much of the early stuff is not specific to screenplays or screenwriting, but he shouldn't; he should celebrate it. When he does an elaborate take down of the three-act structure or the generally conceived understand of the Hero's Journey, that is important. That may be the most important thing that the book does, in a broader sense. Formatting skills can be learned with practice and proper use of software; lessons of language can be learned by practicing and reading good screenplays until the quality sticks. It will take a while, but it can happen. But these structural concepts like beat sheets and saving the cat and blah blah blah will show up again and again in screenwriting books and classes and lessons. A whole lot of people will do what they can to convince you that structure is really as simple as A, B, C. Hero does this. Hero does that. Hero does the other thing. Roll credits. Million dollars. Boom. Yes, that's a gross oversimplification, but it's much closer to the truth than it has any right to be. That's boring, and it leads to the sort of sameness that is found in Hollywood today and the soul-crushing work of the studio interns who have to deal with all of the terrible same-y scripts that will never get made. So pretend that we're all doing this for the interns, not for ourselves or for money or for the betterment of cinema. It's all about the interns. I am working on a screenplay. I have been working on it since March, and it's undergone some serious revisions in that time. It's not feature-length, but it's something I'm going to be producing myself in the first half of this new year, and I want it to be the best damn thing I've ever made. It will be the best thing I've ever made. And that starts from the fact that it's the strongest screenplay I've written yet. (I've been told by people who know a lot more about this than I do that I'm pretty good at writing screenplays.) But as I read through SCREENWRITING 101, I kept thinking about things. I understood much of what he said on a fundamental level, but I had never really had the ability to. Even in screenwriting classes where I was taught some of these concepts (but not as many as I would have liked), it was never as clear as it is here, even obscured by walls of capitalized text. [On that note, SCREENWRITING 101 is available in both an all-caps version and a case-corrected one. I made it through about five pages of the all-caps version before I switched over (fortunately, they come together). The least interesting thing about Film Crit Hulk is his use of caps lock. It's a gimmick that makes you take notice but becomes mind-numbing pretty quickly. Without a case-corrected option, I would have never gotten through the 180+ page book. It wouldn't have mattered how packed with complete and total genius it was, because the headache it gave me would have killed my retention anyway. If (when) you read it, I suggest you do it the same way. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming] And a lot of the things I thought about made me look back at my screenplay and slap my forehead in dismay. "Why did I do that?" "Why did I think that was a good idea?" "No, of course not." "Hey! I totally did that. Good for me." Lots and lots of things. Around the three-quarters mark, I had an aneurysm. And by aneurysm, I mean not an aneurysm. I was sitting on the Metro North train heading into New York City reading the book on my tablet. I read it, and then a lightbulb went off in my brain. Well, more of an entire stadium floodlight. I realized that my ending as written was about twenty seconds too short, and what should be in those twenty seconds would make it extremely more powerful, because it would properly connect the opening scene-- Oh. My. God. I texted basically everyone I had ever heard of because I realized what the story had been missing this whole time. And when I looked at it, it was right there the whole time! The changes needed to implement this massive shift were/are miniscule, but they make the whole thing a lot more meaningful. They will add the empathy that was missing to everyone who wasn't me. And suddenly the world felt new again. I was Adam in the Garden of Eden, and instead of apples, the tree of wisdom was growing new copies of SCREENWRITING 101. And then when Eve appeared, I was all like, "Cool." And then I looked up to the sky and said, "Thanks, Hulk." Hyperbole? Less than you'd think. SCREENWRITING 101 is not a step-by-step guide to writing an amazing screenplay. It does not tell you how to structure a screenplay or what your narrative needs to be good. It's like a well-organized toolbox designed by someone who is a lot smarter than you are. But even though he's given you fifteen different wrenches, all of which have clear uses in theory, the thing you're trying to build is this ethereal cinematic masterpiece that nobody can see, because it's just a bunch of words. Yes, the best screenplay is better and more cinematic than many movies, but the majority of people who look to SCREENWRITING 101 aren't writing the best screenplays. They're writing anything from atrociously bad ones to great ones, but few will be better. (Edgar Wright wrote the intro; he's an exception.) But I truly believe that if someone reads this book and then pulls up Celtx and sits down to write the next Great American Movie, they will end up a hell of a lot closer to their goal than they would have without it. The punchline, that it is just a series of recommendations and a toolkit rather than a set of perfect building blocks that will pump out great stories, is not the crushing realization that Hulk makes it out to be, at least not for people who really care about storytelling. Because little lightbulbs went off in my head a dozen times while reading, and I will be citing this book until I die. As someone with some experience doing this stuff (and who has also been a more-than-occasional film critic for two and a half years), it was generally more of a solidification of ideas I already had or an clarification of things I was pretty sure I understood. There weren't a ton of wholly, completely new ideas, but that won't be true for the majority of people who read it. And those few things that were wholly new? Blew my mind. But that's not the point. The thing that turned on that lightbulb for me wasn't a completely new idea. It wasn't even a completely new idea in the book (he had referenced it at least a couple of times before), but it was the context of what I had been reading, the movies I had been watching, the writing I had been doing, and everything else. It all just clicked and it all came together in such a way that. And I don't believe I would have come to it on my own, at least not before production got started on this script. It is going to be the best thing I've ever made, and SCREENWRITING 101 is one reason why. To Hulk, who is not reading this review but whatever: Thank you. You gave me something amazing. In return, I'm going to tell everybody I ever meet to buy your book. Because it's the best book on screenwriting ever written by anyone ever. To you, the reader who made it to the end of this: Buy the book. It's $5. I don't care if you have to miss a meal or whatever to do that. It's worth it. Not interested in writing? Doesn't matter. If you're reading this (and reading this far), you have some interest in cinema and presumably some interest in the writing process, and you will get something out of the book. Maybe you'll read it and want to write screenplays. Maybe years down the line you and I will submit screenplays at the same time to the same depressed intern and he'll like yours more than mine and throw mine in the trash, and then you'll be a famous screenwriter when it could have been me and I'll regret having told you to skip a meal in order to afford this book. That would suck for me, but you know what? It would be worth it.
SCREENWRITING 101 Review photo
Save the intern
I first heard about Film Crit Hulk about a year ago. I had written an article about why Tom Hooper should have been drawn and quartered for his butchering of Les Miserables, and one of the commenters, rather than say anything...

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Bad Boys 3

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Interview: Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues (Evil Dead)

Apr 04 // Geoff Henao
Coming up with a good villain for this film… Fede Alvarez: She’s a good hero and villain, which is what I think made her [Mia] so unique. Even though she’s bad ass and people are scared of her so much, I think at the end of the day, she’s everybody’s favorite character because everybody’s with her since the beginning moment the movie opens. I feel the people kept with her because she’s doing something brave. Since day one, the moment the movie opens, you see a character that is ready to do something that is very ballsy. We all have our vices and our bad habits and we all wish [we could say], “You know what? I’m going to stop doing this.” I think it was great the way we created that character. I think since the first minute of the movie, people admire her because she’s ready to do something like that. And of course, everybody’s patronizing to her, and everybody hates that, and she’s the one that’s right. She’s a great character, and then suddenly, she’s the worst thing that can happen to you. She’s so scary. That’s what I like about her: She’s the hero, but she’s the villain at the same time. The pressure of remaking Evil Dead, since it’s such a beloved movie for horror fans around the world: Is there this pressure like, “I’ve got to make this the right way, but also want to do it my way. I don’t want to necessarily compromise what I see for this film, but also acknowledge that there’s definitely this expectation.” FA: At the end of the day, Sam [Raimi] told us at the beginning, “You have to go and write and make the movie that you want to see in theaters – not [the film] that the fans want to see in the theaters, not that Sam Raimi in the theaters, but what you guys [Alvarez and Sayagues] want to see in theaters.” Rodo Sayagues: We were fans, too. FA: He knew we were fans and followers of his movies as kids. It was like giving two guys in the audience [like saying], “You know what? This movie’s yours. You do it.” Because we’re completely outside of Hollywood, we’re from Uruguay, we’re fans of his movies, and he gave us the chance to write and direct this movie. It’s amazing. I think that comes out of the genius of Sam Raimi to take such a risky choice. Since you were outside of the Hollywood system, how did you get hired for this job? FA: That short Panic Attack [Ataque de Panico] was just another short [and] a lot of things I was doing, but it ended up an overnight hit on YouTube. It was in the right moment at the right time, I guess, because Facebook was exploding and YouTube was putting up the HD format that didn’t exist before that. Suddenly, it was an HD short, and everybody had Facebook at that moment, and it was when everybody was opening their accounts, so everybody was sharing it on Facebook. Today, nobody cares what somebody posts on Facebook, because you post so much stuff. Back then, it was quite new, so it was suddenly like boom, everybody was passing that on, so it became a viral, overnight thing. It had half a million views in one day, in night together. Through that short, just suddenly, I got a lot of attention in Hollywood, like I woke up and had 150 emails from the industry. I thought it was a joke at the beginning, but it was real. Then I went to LA, met a lot of people, and some of the people I met was Sam Raimi and his team, and we’re big fans and followers of his career, and soon I was the guy he wanted to work with. And also, he gave us… he closed the deal with us to make a movie, it was a blind deal. He said, “I want you to make the movie you want.” And out of that deal and that relationship, we ended up making Evil Dead. I asked some of the others earlier, but there are homages and allusions to the first film. Did you feel like you had to include that to kind of keep it in the Evil Dead realm? FA: As a fan, I want to see that. They didn’t want me to have the car in the film. They mentioned that, yeah. FA: Sam was like, “I wanted you to do your movie.” And I was like, “Yeah, but last time we saw the cabin, everybody died, and Bruce turned around and everybody was gone, but the car was left there. I want the car to be there.” When I walked on set the first day, I could see the car, and I felt like it was holy ground and needed to be respected, all of those elements. And I did that in kind of a religious way in so many levels that I bet you didn’t even notice in the movie. You know, in the original movie when the first girl was going to turn, she’s like reading those poker cards out loud and saying the sequence of cards that she started repeating, and she turns around and she’s possessed… [There’s] a deck of poker cards on the table in the living room and every one of those cards are assembled in the same order that she named them in the original movie, so there’s details like that that you’ll spot them if you pause it. But like that, the house is flooded like that. I think it was a way to bless every part with things from the original, and then we did the same thing with the audio. You’ll hear the voice from the original cast in the movie. When Mia shoots David and starts screaming, she’s screaming, but in the air, you can hear the original omen, the “One by one, we will take you!” You can hear that in the air, somebody screaming that. That’s from the original movie, so there’s a lot of little details like that. Some of them, you will know it as one-liners out of context, stuff like that, but just because we like it, not because somebody asked us. I don’t think they even know that they’re there. One of the controversial scenes from the first one, you also decided to keep, was the tree rape sequence. How did you decide to do it? Was there ever a decision to take it out? FA: It wasn’t a decision to take it out. Actually, we didn’t write it in the original draft. RS: It wasn’t there until the third draft. FA: It wasn’t until production, like… Rob Tapert, who created the original movie, it was Rob’s idea when they made the original movie, came up with the idea of the tree rape. In production, I don’t know why, but suddenly, [we said] “We need that tree rape in the movie.” The reason why we didn’t write it was because we felt we were never going to get away with it with MPAA these days. That was sex and violence altogether, my god, there’s no way. RS: We had to find a way to make it happen not as explicit as it was in the first film, the original one. FA: I think it’s quite explicit. I think the only way it’s not is that it doesn’t seem like she’s enjoying it. In the original movie, she’s going, “Oh yeah, baby.” And that’s like… that’s wrong. In this one, we wanted to show how painful that is, something like that would not be enjoyable at all. I think Jane [Levy] did a great job portraying that pain. It also serves its story. It’s like whatever was inside that demon in the forest is now inside of her. She takes that with her in the house. That’s why she said, “There’s something with us, and I think it’s inside the room right now.” She means herself. Your short, Panic Attack, was kind of in CGI with the robots, but the decision to use practical effects here was more like, not an homage, but more of a desire to kind of connect with the horror from the original. FA: It’s not that I’m not a fan of CGI, it’s just I’m filmmaking. It depends on what you have to tell, and the story I wanted to tell back then was an alien invasion movie. Unfortunately, I couldn’t build those robots for real, it would have been tricky, but I thought I would do it at some point with scale models. But it worked for what it was, and you have to use the techniques you have available to tell the stories you want to tell. That’s what it’s all about. With this one, we didn’t need it. We could have used it, but we didn’t need it. Most importantly, we wanted the movie to [last] as long as possible. We have a responsibility with the original classics. We want it to stand as long as those, and in order for a movie to last long, you don’t want CGI because CGI looks great today, but looks like shit in five years. We could have gotten away with some weird creature at the end that could have been awesome, but then you watch the movie in ten years and [say], “Wow, what were we thinking back then?” That’s the bad thing about CGI, I think. One of the great movies these days have CGI end up getting old very fast. They were saying you want it to be as timeless as possible [with] no cell phones, no modern technology. It could be anytime, anywhere. FA: It could be in the 80s. I think the only thing that dated it a little bit was the car. I regret that a little bit. I should have used an older car, but then the rest was… it was risky. We were worried that the audience were going to wonder why they don’t take a cell phone and call the police. They don’t, and people go with it. They didn’t really care about it, which was awesome. Are you excited to come out here and talk to the fans? FA: Oh my god, yes. I could stay here until I’m 50, believe me. I’m going to enjoy the festival, I know that. I want to watch movies, I want to be around people.
Evil Dead Interview photo
Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues walk into a bar...
[This interview was originally posted as part of our South by Southwest 2013 coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of Evil Dead.] Finally, the last of my SXSW Evil Dead roundtable interviews s...

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