Sunday 6 March 2011


"I'm writing about 'The Apartment' all week. problem is, it bores 99% of readers. The good thing? 1% love it. Never forget the 1%."

That was me, on Twitter two days ago. I'd never thought about that until I wrote it, but it's been playing on my side ever since. Blogging is like making a movie; you have an idea and then try and shape it into something that everyone will like.

But when you go chasing everyone, you don't truly grab anyone. But when you do what you truly want to do, even if it's for one person, that's when it means something. The problem is, when you do it for the 1%, there's not going to be a lot of support because it doesn't make a lot of business sense.

Film is about business. Every artist suffers. Even most great indie films have a rewritten beginning or a re-cut ending. We're always changing and adapting things to appeal to a bigger percentage. But when the percentage gets bigger, the true satisfaction gets smaller.

The stuff we truly and madly love is rarely the stuff that was made for everyone. You can cook yourself a perfect pie but if you're going to sell a lot of them, you need to package them differently; and you need a recipe that will appeal to everyone.

But that's the reality. That's the business. And we all cave. We take out the violent scene to get a lower rating, we hire the famous actor over the right actor to get the funding. By doing it-- we make a living. But we rarely make magic.

Magic is made when you do things for the 1%. It's just hard, is all.

Care to share?

Saturday 5 March 2011

The Old Apartment - This Is Where We Used To Live

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

In the history of humankind, the film camera is a pretty new invention. For whatever its original purpose was -- the main reason soon became: to shut us up and entertain us for two hours (or educate, or brainwash.) But of course, the effects are much longer lasting. In the past, people would die and they would be gone. Now they're living on our giant TV screens. Billy Wilder movies still get new reviews, and people debate who is more natural; Lemmon or Stewart. It's as if they're still here. There's something so strange about that, when you really think about it -- these people still shape and form parts of our lives long after they've exited.  Was it meant to be this way? Did nature intend for us to be able to press rewind and bring back the dead?

A motion picture is a snapshot; something created by a bunch of people some time in the past for reasons we'll never fully know. People make movies because they're inspired, or because they want to impress a girl, or because they had three-pictures left on their contracts. There are all sorts of reasons. But these movies last for life and they take on new meanings which had nothing to do with the intentions of the creator's. 'The Social Network' means something now, in 2011, because we're all spending our time on Facebook. But what will it mean in fifty years? What does 'The Great Dictator' mean now and what did it mean when Chaplin made it? 'The Apartment' captured my heart, mind, soul and all-round-attention in a way so few films ever have done. And it leaves me longing--- longing for more Wilder dialogue, for more people like C.C. Baxter. I live my life like a guy who constantly gives back the executive washroom key, and instead holds on to his integrity --- but what does that mean? Is who I am based on the real world or based on a fantasy of 1960? Can I live in this way or will I just wind up with egg foo yong on my face?

Would C.C. Baxter survive in 2011? Would Fran Kubelik go running after him? These questions are stupid, perhaps; as they were the work of fantasy in 1960, just as they are now. But films do hold resonance in the years they are made. They have meaning, they reflect society. But when people like me and you still find meaning in them long after the fact, we're in a minority. On our worst days, we act like we're in on a secret; like we 'get it' -- but holding on to the romance of old is always accompanied by disappointment and a lack of comprehension of so much of what happens in the world around us. Do we watch these movies just for comfort, to console us in some way; or are they useful and meaningful in today's world?

Care to share?

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

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