Monday, April 29, 2013

Film Noir: Elements of Style

Film Noir is characterized by the following stylistic elements:

Setting is usually urban, a city. It is usually rainy, poorly lit, crime infested, with danger lurking around every corner.

Protagonist is usually male. He is often an antihero who is an inspector or detective trying to solve a mystery. In most cases he is morally ambiguous.

Characters: The femme fatale, a dangerous lady who may or may not be a criminal. She is, of course, guilty of enchanting the protagonist. She's gorgeous but also morally ambiguous.

Style of film: film noir originates in the style of German Expressionism (see previous posts) and utilizes chiaroscuro lighting. Shots are shadowy or distorted. Use of oblique and birds-eye angles causes uncertainty and disorientation, but also symbolize the inner turmoil or hostility or mindset of the protagonist. The use of "red herrings", "flashbacks", and voice overs is common. Film noir uses or compliments the genres of crime thrillers, suspense, mystery, and gangster movies and it's style is used often in these forms.

Film noir emerged from the political instability in Europe and economic downturn of America during WWII and The Cold War. Plot events in the film underlie mood of the time: repression, insecurity, suspicion, paranoia, crime, threat, etc.

Homework: Read and take notes on the article on Sound Effects.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

1930's Test; Sound & Film Noir

Your scripts are due this morning. Please print them out and turn them in.

After our test on the 1930's, please read the articles: Giannetti's chapter on Sound ("The Talkie Revolution") & Rausch's "The Dark Streets of Film Noir." Note key or important ideas in your journal/notebook. When everyone has taken the test, we will switch over to learn about film noir.

Film Noir: please watch the short film clip: The Elements of Film Noir (documentary)

Here are a few things to watch for as we screen The Maltese Falcon:

1. A protagonist that is cynical or detached
2. A femme fatale who leads the protagonist astray
3. A mystery, crime, or use of suspense
4. A naive scapegoat to take the rap of some "crime"
5. Goons (hired criminals who give the protagonist a hard time)
6. Razor sharp dialogue
7. Reference and description of low key lighting

The Maltese Falcon, directed and written for the screen by John Huston
Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett

Today's class will be extended until 10:00 or 10:05 due to testing.

HOMEWORK: Please complete the 2 articles (sound & film noir) from above.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Script & Upcoming Test

Please work on your script and prepare for the test on Thursday.

Joseph P. Maxfield
The Vitaphone
Don Juan
The Jazz Singer
Alan Crosland
Al Jolson
Western Electric (contributions to film)
Positive and negative elements of sound in film
Camera work and style of the 1930's in filming (editing, narratology, acting, etc.)
Laurel & Hardy
The Music Box (1931)
Hal Roach & the Little Rascals
Hell's Angels (1930)
Jean Harlow
Anna Christie (1930)
Greta Garbo
Tarzan, The Ape Man (1932)
Johnny Weissmuller
Morocco (1930)
Marlene Dietrich
Grand Hotel (1932)
Joan Crawford & John Barrymore
King Kong (1933)
Robert Armstrong & Fay Wray
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Clark Gable & Charles Laughton
Captain Blood (1935)
Errol Flynn & Basil Rathbone
Universal Horror Films
Dracula (1931)
Freaks (1932)
Tod Browning
The White Zombie (1932)
Bela Lugosi
Frankenstein (1931) 
The Bride of Frankenstein (1932)
The Mummy (1932)
Boris Karloff
The Invisible Man (1933)
Claude Rains
Screwball Comedy
The Marx Brothers
Animal Crackers (1930) Duck Soup (1934) A Night At the Opera (cabin scene) (1935) A Day at the Races (1937)
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Katharine Hepburn & Cary Grant
The Thin Man (1934) with Myrna Loy & William Powell
Frank Capra
It Happened One Night (1934) Claudette Colbert & Clark Gable
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) Gary Cooper
Lost Horizon (1937)
You Can't Take it With You (1938)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Jimmy Stewart
Gangster Films
The Public Enemy (1931)
Scarface (1932)
Cimarron (1930)
Stagecoach (1939) John Wayne (John Ford directing)
War Films
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
The Gay Divorcee (1934) Top Hat (1935) Swing Time (1936)
Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire
42 Street (1933)
Walt Disney
Flowers and Trees (1932) The Three Little Pigs (1933); Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Popeye the Sailor (1933)
2-strip and 3-strip Technicolor
Gone With the Wind (1939)
Wizard of Oz (1939)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) with Errol Flynn
HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee)

HOMEWORK: Script is due Thursday. There is a test on the 1930's Film Unit.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Script Project

Please continue to work on your scripts. Many of you have somewhere about 3-4 pages at most, after several weeks working on this. Consider what the problem is.
  • --I have no ideas: a writer MUST plan a film. It's not the organic process of wandering through a plot until you find an ending. A good script has an interesting character by design, not happenstance; a good script has plot points--a plot that turns and twists in unexpected ways. This does not happen by accident.
  • --I am having trouble getting started: brainstorm. Use a mind-map, free associate. Use the techniques that have worked for you in the past. Skip to the next scene that you can write. You have a word processor and can always fill in what you leave blank. If you know your ending, start there. Writing scenes for films is like shooting them: they don't have to go in chronological or narrative order.
  • --I am stuck in the middle (very few of you are here at the moment): there are a variety of ways to unstick a middle. See my advice about this below.
  • --My characters have nothing to say: a). characters in films don't have to say anything. Rely on your ability to describe (just like in fiction). A film is visual, not aural. A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say. b). give your characters motivation and a reason for being in the scene. 
  • --I've lost inspiration: If you are bored writing your script, chances are you're doing it wrong. Yes, writing can be frustrating, but there may be thousands of other things that are keeping you from writing. Fix those (or better yet, forget about them for 80 minutes and focus on writing). Other tricks: watch movies, read books, go for walks (not now, but while at home before and after writing). Some people are motivated by deadlines. Your deadline is next Thursday. The script is due.
  • --I hate my writing. I suck!: No, you don't. Get over yourself. Never tell yourself that you can't write. You can. You know you can. Stop complaining and write. Not everything we write is an "A"--whoever told you that you had to be perfect all the time is an idiot. The most important learning happens when we fail at something. Be realistic and do what you are capable of (which should be more than complaining).
Lab: write.
Next week: Deadline for your script: Thursday, April 25 (this is an extension. The original project was due April 11--count yourselves lucky).
UNIT TEST: 1930's films: Thursday, April 25. Covers everything we've been working on (handouts, readings, class information, clips of films, etc. from the 1930's).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Color tends to be a subconscious element in film. It has an emotional appeal which often suggests mood of the film or characters in it. At its most effective, complimentary characters are dressed in complimentary colors--antagonists are dressed in contrasting colors to their protagonists. Characters can match or contrast their settings and a whole host of other useful symbols can be created with color.

The first Technicolor film was THE GULF BETWEEN (U.S., 1917), a five-reeler made by Technicolor Motion Picture Corp. in Florida mainly for trade showings in eastern cities, to create interest in color movies among producers and exhibitors. It did not receive nationwide distribution. A lost film today, only a few frames survive.

The first two strip Technicolor feature made in Hollywood, and the first to receive nationwide distribution, was the costume drama THE TOLL OF THE SEA (1922).
Another silent movie filmed entirely in two strip Technicolor was the swashbuckler THE BLACK PIRATE (U.S., 1926), produced by and starring Douglas Fairbanks.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (Cecil B. DeMille's epic, 1923) THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) BEN-HUR (1925) and KING OF KINGS (Cecil B. DeMille, 1926) used color as a gimmick or in parts.

The first all-talking Technicolor feature was the Warner Bros. musical ON WITH THE SHOW (1929).

All of the color films up to this point were two-color processes, which could capture only two of the three primary colors of light.

In 1932, Technicolor perfected a three-color motion picture process (also known as three-strip Technicolor, because three negatives were employed in the camera, one for each primary color of light -- red, green, and blue).

It was introduced with the Walt Disney cartoon FLOWERS AND TREES (1932), which won the first Academy Award for Animation. Walt Disney kept a monopoly on 3-color technicolor from 1932-1935.

The first feature-length movie in three-strip Technicolor was the costume comedy-drama BECKY SHARP (U.S., 1935)

Technicolor used a three color system: red, blue, green (these colors therefore are most vivid)

Early color was used as an expression (expressionism) of the director’s or cinematographer’s story, and so early films with color tend to be ones that are formalistic, artificial, or exotic. Color was often not used for “realistic” movies.

Warm colors: red, yellow, orange (brown)
Cool colors: Blue, green, violet (white)

Technicolor fragments.
Phantom of the Opera Masquerade Scene
During the 1930's, technicolor was still expensive. It was still being used as a movie gimmick as seen here. The Women (1939); here's the trailer

Monday, April 15, 2013

Writing Advice: The Middle

You began typing the moment you had an idea. You started off strong. Now three lines in, or three pages, you've reached your first stumbling block: what happens next?

With prompts and experience, most writers can get started. I've given you several starters and graphic organizers for this project. Getting started should not have been too much of a problem if you completed these assignments. What's difficult is continuing through a murky middle. Here are some tips to slog through the worst part of your writing experience:
1. Most of the time we get stuck when we don't know what our characters want. Give your character a motive (a desire, or goal, etc.) to keep him/her moving forward.
2. Forward march: Move the plot forward by adding conflict and action. Involve your characters in a specific action or direct conflict with another character. This is particularly helpful if you are bored.
3. Put yourself in your protagonist's shoes: go inside a character's head. This is a common error that young writers constantly forget to do. Get your character's perspective. What would you think in a similar situation? What would you see if you were in this scene? What would you notice? What would you say? What would you do?
4. Skip forward in time. No one said this plot has to be chronological. Advance the time period and move forward with the plot. Skip a line to indicate you've changed time (either forward or backward).
5. Skip to another setting/location. Move your character to a new setting or scene. What happens there? Describe the setting/location, and the actions of minor characters. REMEMBER: every NEW scene or setting or location needs a new slug line. 
6. Skip to a different protagonist or the perspective of a new character
7. Press forward: If you need more time to research details and don't want to stop to look up a fact or information, indicate what you need to look up by BOLDING or CAPITALIZING a note to yourself. You can also insert NOTES using your word processor feature under the insert menu.
8. Skip to the next major plot point. If you know where the story is going, but don't know yet how to get there, skip and write the next scene.
9. Go back to brainstorming. Use your journal, graphic organizers, etc. to try out some new things. If you don't know (or are stuck on):
  • Your characters: write a character sketch, draw a picture of your character, or develop your character's background history
  • Your setting: draw your setting, find a picture of an appropriate setting on the internet, describe your setting using imagery--what sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and sights would one experience in the setting
  • Your plot: list possible challenges or problems that a character might face in a similar situation or setting. Decisions characters make (or don't make) often create conflict. Create a mind map or use a graphic organizer to focus on plot elements.
  • Your theme: create a premise for your story. What do you want to communicate about the human condition? What lesson or experience are you trying to relate?
 You are not really stuck unless you refuse to go forward. Writers block is a state of mind, not an actual thing.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Screwball Comedy; 1930's Films (continued); script project

During period 1 today, you have 20 minutes to work on your scripts. These script drafts are due on 4/25. During the second half of period 1, we will move next door to continue screening various 1930's films/clips and discuss screwball comedy.

Screwball Comedy gained prominence in the film It Happened One Night (1934), and, although many film scholars would agree that its classic period ended sometime in the early 1940s, elements of the genre have persisted, or have been paid homage to, in our contemporary films such as the recent Identity Thief, 40-Year Virgin, Horrible Bosses, My Best Friend's Wedding, Bridget Jones' Diary and others.

Like farce, screwball comedies often involve mistaken identities or other circumstances in which a character or characters try to keep some important fact a secret. Sometimes screwball comedies feature male characters cross-dressing, further contributing to the misunderstandings (Bringing Up Baby, I Was a Male War Bride, Some Like It Hot). They also involve a central romantic story, usually in which the couple seem mismatched and even hostile to each other at first, and "meet cute" in some way. Often this mismatch comes about because the man is much further down the economic scale than the woman (Bringing Up Baby, Holiday). The final marriage is often planned by the woman from the beginning, while the man doesn’t suspect anything at all. In Bringing Up Baby, when the leading woman says: "He’s the man I’m going to marry. He doesn’t know it, but I am."

Class issues are a strong component of screwball comedies: the upper class tend to be shown as idle and pampered, and have difficulty getting around in the real world. The most famous example is It Happened One Night; some critics believe that this portrayal of the upper class was brought about by the Great Depression, and the poor moviegoing public's desire to see the rich upper class brought down a peg. By contrast, when lower-class people attempt to pass themselves off as upper-class, they are able to do so with relative ease (The Lady Eve, My Man Godfrey (the full film)).

Another common element is fast-talking, witty repartee (You Can't Take it With You, His Girl Friday (full film)). This stylistic device did not originate in the screwballs (although it may be argued to have reached its zenith there): it can also be found in many of the old Hollywood cycles including the gangster film, romantic comedies, and others.

Screwball comedies also tend to contain ridiculous, farcical situations, such as in Bringing Up Baby, in which a couple must take care of a pet leopard during much of the film. Slapstick elements are also frequently present (such as the numerous pratfalls Henry Fonda takes in The Lady Eve).

One subgenre of screwball is known as the comedy of remarriage, in which characters divorce and then remarry one another (The Awful Truth, The Philadelphia Story). Some scholars point to this frequent device as evidence of the shift in the American moral code as it showed freer attitudes about divorce (though in this case the divorce always turns out to have been a mistake).

It Happened One Night (1934)Clark Gable & Claudette Colbert (Frank Capra director)

The Thin Man (1934) Myrna Loy & William Powell

Cary Grant & Katherine Hepburn
Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Cary Grant & Rosalind Russell
His Girl Friday (1940)

Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, & Katherine Hepburn
The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Abbott & Costello (1946/1948)
Who Done It? (1942)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Screening, Walt Disney, & Movie Script

During 1st period we will continue to screen movie clips from 1930's. Take notes, as you will be tested on key films, genres, and actors of the 1930's.

During 2nd period, you are free to either use the lab to continue working on your film script, or stay behind and view a few important technicolor Walt Disney short subjects.
HOMEWORK: Keep writing your script. Use this weekend to get a few pages written!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Monday, April 8, 2013

Film Writing Project

Today, during period 1, please work on your original film script. See below for some advice in working on this. Otherwise, use your graphic organizers we have already completed (or were supposed to have completed) to write and plan your original film script.

Use the handouts and organizers presented today if you need them to help you. During 2nd period, we will screen some films from the 1930's.

Screenwriting Tips
1. Most of writing a screenplay (about 65%) is done in planning and prewriting.
2. Writing a screenplay is a succession of breakdowns: moving from the general to the specific.
3. Don't write a script for a movie you yourself wouldn't go see.
4. Remember the goal of every writer is to get an "emotional" response from your audience. Scripts that are too bland or boring or cliche, only anger an audience (and don't usually get made in the first place).
Writers think in different ways:

1. Inductively: from specific to the universal
2. Deductively: from the universal to the specific
3. Logically: How one thing causes another thing to happen
4. Non-logically: Absurdity or mere coincidence
5. Creatively: discovering hidden connections or relationships between two unrelated things (i.e. metaphorically)
It's okay to think in any of these ways. No one way is the right way. You, of course, can also combine these ways of thinking too. Be creative!

HOMEWORK: Please continue to write your scripts, particularly if you did not write much this morning. We will be doing 1/2 writing-1/2 viewing classes for a few days, unless the class isn't really using their time...which has been happening lately. Please read the article on Walt Disney & Snow White for next class.

The Murky Middle (Even More Advice)

Aristotle wrote that stories should have a beginning, middle, and end. Middles can be difficult. You might have a smashing opening to a stor...