Friday 4 March 2011

The Apartment - A Perfect Screenplay, Dialogue-Wise, Structure-Wise, And Other-Wise

For one week I will be focusing on the film "The Apartment." This is the second in a series of articles.

'The Apartment' is an easy screenplay to read. It's effortless and breezy; and impossible to put down. 'Effortless and breezy' might make it sound like a simple, and unimportant screenplay; but as fellow screenwriters will agree; we'd love for our screenplays to feel like this. If we look a little closer, underneath the snappy dialogue and memorable characters, we can see how two screenwriting masters, Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond, shaped and crafted one of the greatest scripts of all time. I want to apologise, in advance, if I refer to things as 'Wilderesque' or 'a Billy Wilder line..' because I am aware that he co-wrote this with Izzy Diamond, a wonderful writer in his own right. It's impossible to see or know what came from who. Even Billy Wilder would admit he didn't have a clue who penned famous lines like "Nobody's perfect," (the last line in 'Some Like It Hot'.)

There are many rules to writing comedy, but my main rule is: look at what Wilder did. Read it, learn it, practise it, read it again, watch the films, and do them all again fifty times. You're going to get more from this screenplay than from an expensive course. One of the things we see again and again is how something would get planted, in the script, and it would be seemingly meaningless-- but two pages, or sixty pages later, it would provide a laugh. Here's an example. 

This is a very early exchange between the main character, C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), and one of the executives who is using his apartment for rendezvous with women. Baxter is referred to as 'Bud' in the script.
First let me mention something else. There's a great line there; "You're on your way up, Buddy-boy. And you're practically out of liquor." This is the delightful way Wilder uses language; to point in one direction but then pull you somewhere else. It's delivered as if saying "You're on your way up, and things are going well for you," or something equally mundane, but it's pulled another way, to give more meaning, and humor. This has always been part of Billy Wilder's repertoire. He used a similar device in 'Double Indemnity' when Jackson says "Mr. Keyes, I'm a Medford man - Medford, Oregon. Up in Medford, we take our time making up our minds," and Mr Keyes responds with, "Well, we're not in Medford, we're in a hurry." 

But back to the screenplay sample. There's a line by Kirkeby about cheese crackers. He's just asking where they are. It's mildly amusing, because we, as an audience, see how put out Baxter is. Not only is he being muscled out of his own apartment by his superiors, but they're demanding cheese crackers. It's funny. But it's funnier a few pages later, when Baxter is desperately trying to talk Dobisch out of bringing a girl to the apartment. 

The cheese crackers come back, in a throwaway line. The reader of the script, or audience of the film, don't even remember that they remember cheese crackers, but the joke is funnier because of the previous information. I don't mean to imply this is the greatest joke ever--- but the screenplay is peppered with many of these. In screenplays today, jokes are often obvious, and instant. Or-- if they do plant information, they make sure you know the joke. If the cheese crackers line was written in Hollywood today, they'd probably build it up sixteen times, just to make sure you get it. "Oh, I must remember to get some cheese crackers. Yes, cheese crackers would be good." That's the magic of Wilder and Diamond, they lived by the rule of 2 x 2. They give you the math; but they let you find the answer. They don't need to tell you it's 4, it's more fun if you find it out yourself.

One of Wilder's greatest skills, and most used techniques, was to have the characters to say something that meant more than one thing. Most of the time, it would mean one thing to the character it was being said to, but it's meaning was entirely different to C.C. Baxter, and to us, as the audience. 

These jokes are peppered throughout the script. You often don't notice them and you often don't realise you found them funny-- but they add layers to the experience. 

The joke here, again, is about how everyone is using his apartment. Margie has no idea what he's talking about. Billy Wilder cast Jack Lemmon again and again, and only settled on making 'The Apartment' after finding Lemmon and working with him on 'Some Like It Hot.' He found, what he called, his 'everyman.' It takes someone like Jack Lemmon to make these lines work. He doesn't go for the joke, he doesn't add anything to what he's saying--- he just says it. The comedy comes from the banality of the lines. Good comedic writing fails, more often than not, when a director or an actor tries for too much. This can be better explained by a line from the TV show "Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip."

Harriet: I got a laugh at the table read when I asked for the butter in the dinner sketch. I didn’t get it at the dress. What did I do wrong?
Matt: You asked for the laugh. 
Harriet: What did I do at the table read?
Matt: You asked for the butter.

To just talk about humor and jokes is to do a huge disservice to the screenplay. The way Wilder and Diamond planted information was used for more than just one-liners about cheese crackers. Like I said at the beginning -- reading the script, like watching the film, is a breeze, but that's only because of how expertly the material was written and handled. The final act of the film, and how it all comes together; is probably the best screenwriting I have ever read.

One of the key moments in the film is when Fran Kubelik overdoses on sleeping pills. We know she's having a tough time, and we know she is suicidal. Baxter is still concerned about her mental health; refusing to open a window in-case she jumps, and he comes home one night convinced she has tried something again when he smells gas.

But then we have an unexpected twist, a moment which brings the characters closer together. He shares the story of how he tried to kill himself once, but, in a moment of panic - shot himself in the knee.

During this scene - we think we know what we're getting. We're getting a laugh, about the knee, and we're getting a bit of understanding between the two characters. They've both been there, they've both been through it. But there's more to come.

There's a bottle of champagne. It's mentioned again later on--

The champagne is just champagne, it doesn't mean anything to us, the audience. 

There are many things to say about the ending. But I don't want to spoil absolutely everything for those of you who haven't seen it. Suffice to say; the way in which Fran realizes she wants to be with Baxter is quite wonderful, and the way in which she comes to that realization, with Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) is magic in itself. 

The film ends with her running as fast as she can to Baxter's house. It's exciting; we're ready for our happy ending. Here's what happens: 

When Fran ran up the staircase and heard a bang -- she thought he'd shot himself. We, too, feared the same. The scene is a repeat of the earlier one where Baxter comes home to find the gas has been left on, only this time, it's the other way around and there's the unmistakable bang of a gun. 

We don't even realize we knew about the champagne, it was so insignificant. 

But when we see Bud with the champagne, it all makes sense; we're all relieved as Fran is. It wasn't a gunshot, he was popping champagne. And we even get a 'Wilder' line --- "how is your knee?"

There are about a million things that make this my all time favorite screenplay. The things mentioned in this post are just scratching the surface. I really hope you read it. It's magic, and magic is a rare thing, screenplay-wise, film-wise, and other-wise.

Care to share?

Thursday 3 March 2011

The Apartment - It's A Must, Gracious Living-wise

For one week I will be focusing on the film "The Apartment." This is the first in a series of articles. 

I was responding to an email interview yesterday, about one of my own films, and one of the questions was, "what does this film mean to you?" I didn't have a clue. It's the same with the films that mean the most to me - I am terrible at describing it. It may be that I am too close to them, but I am beginning to suspect that it's something to do with the types of films I love. When you love 'The Apartment,' you might recall a particular scene, or great line, or a moment between C. C. Baxter and Fran Kubelik. But the reason you love 'The Apartment' isn't any of those things, at least it isn't for me -- it's something intangible - a magic that permeates through it. You feel it when you read the script, you see it in Jack Lemmon's face and you feel it in them musical score. Some films rise far above just picture and sound, and this Billy Wilder film is one of them.

"It's hard enough to write a good drama, it's much harder to write a good comedy, and it's hardest of all to write a drama with comedy. Which is what life is."
-Jack Lemmon 

That quote is true. Comedy is tough to write, but some people can do it. Even fewer can make it work on screen. When you well and truly laugh at a movie, it's a rare thing. When you think about it, very few comedies stick out for people. For people of my generation, they'll mention a film like "See No Evil, Hear No Evil" or "Cool Runnings." They are very funny films. But why, what was it about them films? It's hard to say. 

Even rarer than those, are films that mean something beyond the laughs --- that resonate with who you are, how you're feeling, and how you see the world. That is where 'The Apartment' excels -- it mixes the painful with the joyful, in a way that only a few --namely Billy Wilder, Charlie Chaplin and Frank Capra-- were able to do. Even writer/directors like Woody Allen try, but rarely quite make it, because it's just too hard to get the potion right.

I was watching 'The Apartment' last night, and it was remarkable to me how Miss Kubelik is in love with Mr. Sheldrake (the other man), right up until the very end of the picture. There's a real sadness underlying the film --- where we see the wonderful C.C. "Buddy Boy" Baxter looking after Fran, falling in love with her, while she painfully pines for another man who doesn't love her in the way she needs. 

And before we get all serious, we have to remind ourselves of the premise. This is a film about a man who can't go home at night because the executives at work are using his apartment to entertain their mistresses. The set-up is a hilarious one. Its simplicity is also wonderfully complex-- and enables to plot to bend and shift in subtle, and masterful ways.

The screenplay is, for me, the greatest script ever written. I don't know if Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond were on a direct line to God, or whether they were on some amazing drugs --- but whatever it was, they managed to reach for the stars and produce a document that is as beautiful, touching, poetic, and hilarious as anything ever written. The screenplay bounces into life the second you read it. 

"On November first, 1959, the
population of New York City was
8,042,783. If you laid all these
people end to end, figuring an
average height of five feet six and
a half inches, they would reach
from Times Square to the outskirts
of Karachi, Pakistan. I know facts
like this because I work for an
insurance company --"

C.C. Baxter, Opening Voiceover.

I know that many of you love this film like I do, and many of you will never have seen it. I am also aware that many of you won't share my enthusiasm for it -- but I hope you will indulge me this week, as I attempt to dig deeper into the film, to work out why it was magic (at least, to me), and to also figure out why, on a personal level, I hold it so dearly. That's fascinating to me. Why do we watch some films a million times over? What IS IT? 

 Where we go, my place or yours?
Might as well go to mine - everybody else does.

If this post seems a bit clunky and all over the place, It's because it is. These posts aren't a know-it-all trawl of information and analysis -- they're a guy trying to get to grips with a movie he adores.  This is the week of 'The Apartment,' and I hope you'll stick around for it.

Care to share?

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Facebook Question

Do you like to comment on statuses? Or do you prefer to comment on statuses that people have liked? ..OR does the status of your liking depend on the comments? Do you like to like statuses and if so would you comment on why you like liking liked comments?

I hope you can clear this up,

Kid In The Front Row

Care to share?

Sunday 27 February 2011

2011 OSCARS: Live Blog - 83rd Academy Awards

Time in EST. Press REFRESH For Updates.

00:01AM - A Whole New Day:
That's it from me, I'm signing off. And we'll see you all again next year!

11.58PM - Film Idea:
Queen Elizabeth II gets leg-braces, which makes her stutter -- so she enlists the help of her two secret children, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant. Nothing original or particularly exciting happens, but everybody speaks in movie-English, saying words like "Gosh" and "Bugger." Firth looks sincere, and Michael Caine has a cameo as a wise old man. All the English people learn valuable life lessons and manage to overcome their unfortunate social status'.

I'll begin writing my acceptance speech. 

11.50PM -
Before the Best Film winner was announced, there was of course a montage of clips. The dialogue was all from 'The King's Speech' - as was the music. Now, if I'm one of the other nominees, and I'm sitting there awaiting the result-- I'm not going to be happy when the montage is over taken by the favorite, 'The King's Speech.' Don't you think neutrality is important in this moment? We all knew The King's Speech would win; but even so. I'd be offended. I am offended, for the other nominees. That isn't cool.

Or maybe I'm just ranting now, because the show was unbelievably boring. 

11.40PM -
PS22 are so inspiring. You should check them out on YouTube. But tonight they seem flat. We should be loving it because they're kids with beautiful voices; but it's flat. The whole night was flat. But if you want some magic; go look up PS22 now, because the stuff they sing and the way they sing it is amazing. 

Sometimes the Oscars are memorable. Sometimes they're like this. It's a good reminder though -- things can be better. There's room for more of the
inspiring. It has to come from somewhere. Whatever writers, directors, editors, make-up artists, sound mixers, etc, who may be reading --- there's room out there for you. Your work can make a difference. You can inspire people. 

The Best Film of the year is The King's Speech. Discuss.

- Who's here? Who's with us? Say hello in the comments! Also: the 2011 BLOGGIES were today. This very blog was nominated in Best Entertainment Category, and didn't win. 

- Best Actor. Colin Firth. 

English. Check.

Disability. Check. 
Crazy hype. Check.

-  Jeff Bridges is presenting. Don't you just love Jeff Bridges? They should let him present the whole thing. No script, no rules, just let the dude speak.

Best Actress:
Natalie Portman.

Natalie is an amazing talent. I don't think people realize. They see her as that pretty girl in 'Garden State.' This award proves she's really got game. And a baby.

11.05PM -
Best Director. Tom Hooper, 'The King's Speech'. I didn't expect that. Well, I kind of did. Did he deserve it? I'm going to say no.

I don't mean that in a horrible way. 'The King's Speech' is a great movie and the general public loved it. But it's just popcorn. 'The Social Network' was a masterpiece of direction in every single frame. And the ride Danny Boyle took us on with '127 Hours' was beyond anything else this year. 

But Hooper won. Maybe Best Film will go elsewhere. 

10.55PM -
That's the problem with movies. Everybody dies. Tony Curtis is dead. And now we can't ever talk to him or Jack Lemmon or Billy Wilder or Marylin Monroe about 'Some Like It Hot.' That's gone now. You think you get away with it and you think you're okay and then one day you're watching 'It's A Wonderful Life' and you're wondering where the HELL is James Stewart? You need him and you want him and you just need him to come back to visit, for like a day, but he won't do it. 

Dennis Hopper is dead. Pete Postlewaite is dead. We look up to these people to take as away from life when it gets too difficult --- and it works, but then one day, they're lost in the wind, and it leaves your heartbroken.

- Randy Newman won Best Song. It wasn't the greatest track, it wasn't as memorable as 'You've Got A Friend In Me,' but it's the voice. It's what he means. You hear Randy Newman and it resonates somewhere deep within you. Just like when he's accepting his speech. He's talking nonsense, but we're rooting for him. That's what happens when you stick around, you weather the storm, you keep working. After you have enough experience, you just burn your way into people's hearts. It's why we loved seeing Billy Crystal and why the image of Chaplin, or Bob Hope, just makes you want to cry with happiness.

10.37PM - "Sitting here for my 25th Oscar ceremony. It used to be champagne and rich food but now as I get older its a bowl of Ready-Brek and coffee to keep me awake!" - Netty123, ha!

Okay-- Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law are hilarious. Downey keeps interrupting Jude's intro to moan about special effects people. I wish I was fast enough to copy down the whole routine, but it's speeding by way too quick----- maybe Sorkin penned it. 

Inception won
Visual Effects.

But back to Sorkin. The Social Network won
Best Editing. This is an interesting one because - whilst I agree that the editing was wonderful -- it was guided very strongly by the blueprint set down by Aaron Sorkin's screenplay. The cross-cutting lawsuits, the sharp cuts, etc; they were on the page. 

The Social Network
 was my favorite film of the year. But I think best editing should have gone to 127 Hours.

- Bob Hope.

10.21PM -
Best Documentary: 
“Inside Job” Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs. I feel bad, I've not seen any of the nominees this year. The winner makes a big statement about bankers who should be in jail. I instantly like him. I'll be watching the documentary. 

I'm still bored though. 

- Best Documentary Short. Pee break time...
Winner: “Strangers No More” Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon.

Best Live Action Short Winner: 
“God of Love” Luke Matheny. First thing Luke says, "I should have got a haircut." It's the biggest laugh of the night, which shows you just how boring this is. Even worse, he'll probably get a three picture deal writing comedies for Warner Bros now. 

- Some scoop from an anonymous commenter: "Rumours backstage - Ricky Gervais has been seen breaking in through a backdoor. Actors are beginning to look uncomfortable in their seats...." --- no worries, Christian Bale is gonna take him down. 

10.04PM -
Randy Newman is a class act. He doesn't sound as good on TV as he does on CD, or in a concert. But he's a pro. His voice feels like home. Our journey with the three Toy Story films is forever intertwined with his voice. 

Isn't it just great seeing Woody and Buzz up there on the screen? 

Talking of class acts: Kevin Spacey is a pro. He knows how to present awards, even if his Bill Clinton impression at the BAFTA's was a bit bizarre. 

- Best Make-Up
“The Wolfman” Rick Baker and Dave Elsey. And I hope you guys don't mind me saying--- I'm really bored! James Franco and Anne Hathaway are lovely, but then them have a rest--- and bring on Ricky Gervais and Kirk Douglas. Whadd'ya say? 

Meanwhile, the Oscar for Costume Design goes to
 Colleen Atwood for  “Alice in Wonderland”

Unfortunately, Colleen also picked up a special award: Most Boring Acceptance Speech of All Time.

09:53PM - Sound Mixing: Inception. Sound Editing: Inception.

- Best Original Score: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, 'The Social Network' - VERY MUCH DESERVED.

- They just showed a clip of Chaplin. Now I'm loving these Oscars. Chaplin. Wow. They don't make 'em like that anymore do that? Charlie Chaplin was magic. As soon as these awards are over I'm watching some Chaplin, I don't care that it'll be 7am over here. 

Now we have an orchestra playing E.T. I missed the intro, I turn off when I hear Nicole Kidman speak -- so I don't know what's going on----- but a Chaplin clip followed by E.T. music? Magic. 

And now for
Best Original Score. I'm going to call this before it's announced. THE SOCIAL NETWORK. 

Let's see..

- Anyone else a bit bored? Maybe we need Ricky Gervais afterall. Any thoughts? 

- Best Supporting Actor - Christian Bale or Geoffrey Rush? 

Christian Bale. The Fighter.

A Christian Bale speech is like an Adam Sandler movie. Everything is going along fine, but you're waiting for him to get angry and go crazy. Well, Sandler didn't do it in his last movie, so Bale, in turn, stayed calm for this one. A deserved award. The King's Speech cast and team, however, are baffled. They bribed the wrong person. 

9.29PM - "In A Better World" wins Best Foreign Film. I've not seen it, have any of you? I love Danish films -- I'll be checking it out!

9.20PM - Best Original Screenplay. The Academy Award goes to 
David Seidler for 'The King's Speech.' So here it all begins. Let's hope some other films get a look in. Did he deserve this award? Who knows. It was an enjoyable screenplay but it wasn't a masterpiece.

But then again, it seems, 'The King's Speech' captured people's hearts, and that's a good thing.

YES! It had to be. Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network. His first academy award. Long overdue. One of the best screenplays I've ever read. This guy is close to a hero to me. He said "I'd do this for three," no you wouldn't, Aaron, but we like the sentiment. 

His speech was pretty good, although I wish Sam Seaborn and Toby Ziegler had penned a few lines...

9.08PM -
Best Animated Feature Film goes to TOY STORY 3. It had to be, right? Fully deserved. A wonderful movie. When a film gets my parents to visit the cinema, you know it's something special. TOY STORY 3 captured the hearts of all of us. "To my Grandmother who always insisted she'd see me up here one day."

9.05PM - Best Animated Short goes to “The Lost Thing”, by Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann. Nobody watching cares about this; but for these guys, it's the greatest moment of their lives. They seem like great guys; let's hope they have a big future in the industry. 

8.57PM - "She's gorgeous. Wow! Where were you when I was making pictures?" -Kirk Douglas, on Anne Hathaway. Wonderful. After the nominations for best supporting actress, Kirk puts on a bit of a show, ad-libbing some jokes and milking the moment. But it's wonderful. He has so much presence. You suddenly wish he was shooting more movies. 

He holds off announcing award... everyone is laughing, and the actresses look nervous.
Melissa Leo wins. She looks ready to have a heart-attack. She's overwhelmed. She's standing next to Kirk Fucking Douglas. Amazing moment. This is why we watch the Oscars.

8.48PM - Wally Pfister, Inception, Best Cinematography. It's deserved -- I didn't love the movie as much as everyone else, but it was shot beautifully, no-one can deny that. 

8.46PM - Tom Hanks is the Oscars. Tom Hanks is the movies. Even when he just says the names of films, I get excited. First Award: Art Direction, "Alice In Wonderland" - Production Design: Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Karen O'Hara. "The King's Speech" producers look at each other, confused. 

8.38PM - "Tell the Winklevoss' to stop giving me the stinkeye!" -- the opening sketch get's people laughing. Hathaway and Franco work their way through all the big movies of the year, with a perfect cameo by Morgan Freeman. This sketch alone is funnier than 'Cop Out' and 'Hot Tub Time Machine' combined.

8.31PM - Here we go. Before we get into it let me say, the movie I loved this year was The Social Network. The King's Speech was not a big deal for me but I do think Colin Firth was pretty solid. I'm just remembering though that it's 127 Hours that had the biggest effect on me. Anyways, awards time.

8.27PM "There's nothing like it." 
-Tom Hanks.
I like that guy. 

8.11pm - The Social Network or The King's Speech? Place your bets now in the comments or forever hold your peace. Of all the people who choose the right movie, I will choose one of you at random and send you............. *looks for film related thing*... I will send you, an Alan Alda autobiography. You know you want it. Answer quickly, the competition closes as soon as the next update comes..

8.04pm - Some actors love acting, and some actors love that they look like they love acting. It's interesting to spot the difference.

7.40pm - Scarlett is on the red carpet. I've always love this part of the Oscars.

7.36PM - I am here. Just not so into the red carpet thing. I hear there'll be awards at some point.

7.09PM - Jesse Eisenberg looks genuinely overwhelmed. I like him. Shame he won't win. His performance was great, but as Colin Firth knows too well - Stuttering outranks autistic.

6.56PM - I can't wait to hear this on the red carpet. "Um, Banksy, what -- errr, what are you wearing?"

6.43PM - The TV Presenters seem very interested in what everyone is wearing. Thanks for asking! I'm wearing Adidas tracksuit pants that I've had since I was 11 (they're small, but comfortable), and an old brown top that is as fashionable now as it was when I bought it which is not at all. What are you all wearing?

So, here we go. I'm going to be stuttering my way with true grit through the next 127 hours (that's how it feels) with the grace of a ballerina, bringing you updates of everything that happens. I'm in the UK, I'm going to be here until 6 or 7am (UK time) but I'm a fighter, I'll stick it out. If I do fall asleep, I'll continue blogging from my 4th of 5th level of dreaming. I am also developing a new website during the ceremony, called, where nominees can decide who looks better; Gervais or dead farmyard animals. 

Turn off your social networks and make sure your toys are asleep. Enjoy the show, it's going to be biutiful!

Care to share?

Friday 25 February 2011

Putting The Hours In

"I never write anything terrible, I'm too many miles in."
-Bob Lefsetz

Every single person you meet has an idea. Almost as many have talent. What I know is that all the successes I've had come not from some magical place of talent, but from working hard. When you're still writing three hours after you stopped writing, when you're rehearsing three weeks before rehearsals start and nine minutes before the first day of shooting, when you're writing ideas, or filming ideas, rather than telling people about them; that's when it comes together. Every time you share an idea in a pub, or coffee house, or on Facebook chat; ask yourself if your time could be better spent elsewhere. 

I wanted to be a professional footballer. But I hated being on the pitch every rainy-and-cold Sunday morning. David Beckham hated the cold too, but he loved the way it felt when his right-foot connected perfectly with the ball. He loved it so much he never left the training ground. He never noticed it raining. He moved to L.A. and married the pop star and won all the trophies, not because he was good looking or because he was a celebrity but because he stayed out in the rain every Sunday and Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday and Saturday. He still does now. If you're not out there in the pissing down rain on a freezing cold night, every single day of your life, then you're not going to make it. 

"My secret is practice."
-David Beckham

Care to share?