Friday, July 28, 2006

My Favorite Films

Here we go -- My top ten favorite films (based on personal enjoyment):

I. Casablanca (1942)
II. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
III. Excalibur (1981)
IV. Rob Roy (1995)
V. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
VI. Leon (aka "The Professional") (1994)
VII. Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (aka "Spirited Away") (2001)
VIII. The Little Mermaid (1989)
IX. Unforgiven (1992)
X. Monsters, Inc. (2001)

*Honorable Mention:

The Iron Giant (1999)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers (1993, short film)
Remains of the Day (1993)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The Sword in the Stone (1963)
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
The Hobbit (1977, TV)
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Army of Darkness (1992)
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
A Christmas Story (1983)

**Worth Mentioning:

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
The Dark Crystal (1982)
Dangerous Liasons (1988)
Groundhog Day (1993)
Ghostbusters (1984)

The top ten are in order of importance. As you can see, 2001 was a good year for me (as was the period dating from 1992-1994)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Top Ten

Okay, here's a fun game.

Right now, without too much thought, see if you can reel off your top ten favorite films of all time.

Harder than it looks isn't it? I know. And here's why: Nobody wants to leave out one of those "gems" that forever affected them (or maybe even helped shape a part of their life).

I constructed my first list about five years ago. A close buddy of mine recently reissued the challenge and I'm still amazed at just how difficult it is to whittle a lifetime of great cinema down to a measly ten titles.

It's especially entertaining when your significant other, close friend, co-worker or family member lists a film that you'd never in a million years suspect them of liking.

There are a few rules:

1. Don't spend a lot of time thinking about it -- just jot down the most memorable films that pop into your head. You can always re-edit your list later (and trust me, you will)

2. Animated films absolutely count. My wife wanted to have her own separate top ten list for feature-length animated fare but in this game, it's not a separate category.

3. An entire trilogy (like the"Godfather" movies or the "Star Wars" films) DOES NOT count as just one film (come on . . . you didn't expect it to be that easy did you?)

4. Here's a helpful hint: Think "Watchability". It doesn't matter how "well-constructed" the film is or how critically acclaimed it was. All that matters is how enjoyable or meaningful it was to you. One good rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether or not a film has successfully withstood the test of time. For example, I'd be hard-pressed to label "Beastmaster", "Evil Dead" or "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" great cinema, but I've seen each of them a hundred times over. And if I crossed through a room in which any of the three happened to be playing on cable, I'd have a pretty hard time not plopping down and watching them again

It's always surprising to see what comes to mind first. After further editing, I ended up sticking with about eight of my original titles. For those of you who care, I'll publish my list in a separate post.

Happy listing!

Monday, July 17, 2006

"Sizzle" Thumbnails

Marker and ink roughs for a girl's softball team.

Recent Reading

Recently read the following screenplays: SLING BLADE by Billy Bob Thornton and AFFLICTION by Paul Schrader.

Liked them both.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Favorite Screenwriters?

Someone asked me recently who my favorite screenwriters are and what types of scripts I'd recommend.

Now before you laugh at my recommendations, you have to understand that my exposure is pretty limited -- I've only been reading scripts for about two years and for the most part, I've been limited to what I can read for free from the internet. Still, in that short amount of time I've found plenty to like, plenty to admire, plenty of screenplays that I believe to be very well-written.

On the topic of favorite writers, I have a strong feeling that my absolute favorite would be that bastion of Merchant-Ivory films, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. If the theatrical cuts of A ROOM WITH A VIEW and HOWARDS END are any indication, she is an absolute virtuoso at taking a novel and adapting to film the depths and subtleties of human interaction (according to IMDB, both of her Oscar wins were for adapted screenplays of E.M. Forster novels). However, I'm basing my assumption on the screenplays she's written that I've seen. You see, I haven't actually been able to find any copies of her work to read (REMAINS OF THE DAY is notoriously hard to find, so if anyone knows where I can get my hands on a copy -- other than the copy residing at the Academy Library -- I'd be eternally grateful).

Jhabvala isn't the only screenwriter I'd like to read but can't find. Alvin Sargent and Frank Cottrell Boyce are two screenwriters whose work I'd like to read as soon as possible. Ditto Joyce Carol Oates.

A lot of my colleagues prefer Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avary, and David Mamet. I like those guys too, but I also like Richard Curtis (LOVE ACTUALLY, NOTTING HILL).

Of course, screenwriters have different strengths. For character, I like Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. Both ELECTION and SIDEWAYS are incredibly lean scripts. So is GODS AND MONSTERS by Bill Condon. It's a goal of mine to write as minimally yet as powerfully as these guys.

For that pure moviegoing experience -- that sensation of looking at a bunch of words and actually seeing a film in your head, Jim Cameron and Frank Darabont are hard to beat. Read ALIENS (Cameron) or THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (Darabont) and you'll see what I mean. THE GREEN MILE, another Darabont adaptation of a Stephen King work, is really good too.

I haven't read much comedy yet, but I am exceptionally fond of GROUNDHOG DAY (Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis) and TOY STORY (John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, Joe Ranft, Joss Whedon, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow).

Other scripts I'd recommend include AMERICAN BEAUTY by Alan Ball, THE WILLIAM MUNNY KILLINGS (UNFORGIVEN) by David Webb Peoples and SENSE and SENSIBILITY by Emma Thompson.

And then there are those scripts I appreciate, but whose style doesn't appeal to me personally. I have never regretted reading (nor would I hesitate to recommend) WITNESS, THELMA and LOUISE, ADAPTATION, THE GODFATHER, GOOD WILL HUNTING, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, THE TRUMAN SHOW, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, GLADIATOR and THE PRINCESS BRIDE. I learned something from every single one of them (I liked most of the finished films just as much as, if not more than, the ones listed above) and each is very successful as a screenplay. But would I pick them up again purely for enjoyment? Probably not. It's just personal taste.

What about the masters, you say? What about Ingmar Bergman? Billy Wilder? The Horton Foote's? Well, I've read CASABLANCA, THE SEVENTH SEAL, THE WIZARD OF OZ, and CHINATOWN but everybody talks about those.

I'm going on vacation in three days. My planned reading?

Wilder's SUNSET BOULEVARD. Also ROCKY, THE USUAL SUSPECTS, and an early, unproduced version of SPIDER-MAN by David Koepp.

And Horton Foote? I'm looking forward to reading him. And I'm gonna throw in some Nora Ephron, and some David Twohy and Jeb Stuart, too. Heck, I've wanted to read Alan Sharp's version of ROB ROY for a long time -- see if I like it as much as I liked the film.

Just give me time.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Camp Meigs and Caide

Quick invitation for a themed Birthday Party . . .

Friday, July 07, 2006


As I sat down to write (at four a.m.) one morning, this nearby set of old computer speakers seemed to be, um . . . looking at me . . .

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Reading the Movies

"Read as many scripts as you can"

Beginning screenwriters hear it all the time, but let me tell you, it's good advice.

Really good advice.

It's not that I didn't put stock in the advice (I mean, how can reading lots of scripts not make one better at writing them?) but I did severely underestimate the impact that reading lots of scripts would have on my own writing.

Early on, I think I placed too much emphasis on watching gobs and gobs of movies (or on reading all those highly recommended "how-to" books) and too little emphasis on simply reading as many scripts as I could get my hands on. I'm also more or less continuously involved with a novel, so there is the issue of time. When I did read scripts, I'd try to be too selective (I wanted to read the very best ones) or I'd find myself embroiled in ridiculous, irrational fears. For example, I'd be halfway through a poorly written script and think "Wait a minute: I'm still a beginner. I'm still developing and growing. What if I continue plowing through this horribly executed script and I somehow subconsciously absorb some of these bad habits and incorporate them into my own writing?"

Of course, the absolute best way to get better at writing screenplays is simply by doing it. Writing and rewriting. Day in and day out. That's always been the case and always will be. But the importance of reading the screenplays of other writers should not be overlooked.

If you're eager to start reading screenplays, you need to understand that the positive effects of reading lots of them can take some time. It's a cumulative process. You might learn some great things right away from reading your first good (or not so good) screenplay but the real benefit is probably going to show up a bit further down the road.

AMERICAN BEAUTY was the first script I picked up after making the decision to try screenwriting seriously. I read it and reread it. I could come away from that script and see instantly where my own script was lacking. I learned a lot about formatting. It's a heck of an example to compare your work to. But it wasn't until much later, after I had read large amounts of vastly different works, works as different from one another as ADAPTATION and GROUNDHOG DAY, that the light really came on. It's a phenomenon you hear people talk about again and again but you never really understand it until it happens to you.

I still watch lots of movies. I've also learned quite a bit from some of those "how-to" books (Robert McKee's STORY and Lajos Egri's THE ART OF DRAMATIC WRITING have been particularly helpful to me) but I make it a priority now to read one or two scripts a week.

As a more established screenwriter once said in his blog: "One script a week is fifty-two a year!"

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

I recently finished "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson, and I have to say it's a pretty decent "crawler". The writing conjures such nice visuals that I briefly considered adapting the work into a screenplay (yeah, I know the movie's been done a million times, but one can learn a lot from adapting a classic).
I eventually decided against it because I don't think the real horror of this book would translate well to the screen. Film is a visual medium and the really terrifying thing about this book is the idea that man can separate his decent side from his wicked side and that the wicked side might just be strong enough to stamp out said decency.

I was surprised by the lack of characterization regarding Edward Hyde in the book. People who meet him get a bad vibe but they never attribute it to his appearance. Hyde's never actually described as monstrous -- at least not physically. He is quite a bit smaller than Jekyll (presumably because the wicked side of a predominantly decent man has not been exercised as much as his good side and is therefore not as developed) but he's not at all the brutish, hairy fellow that cartoons and cinema would have us believe.
I'm looking forward to seeing each and every one of the "Jekyll and Hyde" films (there are at least four listed on netflix) but I'll be very surprised if a single one of them affects me as much as the good Doctor's letter did at the end of the book . . .

Seven Samurai

I just saw Akira Kurasawa's "Seven Samurai" for the first time and really enjoyed it. Visually, "Samurai" is an amazingly elegant film, but it also features a strong story and some pretty unforgettable characters. It's one of those "highly recommended" films that I wish I had seen earlier.

If you happen to be one of those story-driven moviegoers (like me), check it out.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


I am a writer, husband and stay-at-home father of two. It is my sincere hope that this site might serve as an interesting and informative commentary on filmmaking and the art of writing screenplays. I'd also like to use this blog to post the occasional drawing.

I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts. I very nearly double-majored in English, but needed (and wanted) to be out in four years. Following graduation, I moved to Orlando, Florida where I spent the next twelve years with Walt Disney Feature Animation contributing to such classics as THE LION KING, MULAN, and LILO & STITCH. Working in both Production Management and as a Visual Effects Artist allowed me exposure to every facet of the filmmaking process, from conception to post production. While at Disney, I attended numerous seminars, lectures and workshops on writing and storytelling for film, and it was during this time that I wrote my first screenplay.

My second script, a bleak comment on loneliness, was good enough to be made into a short film, and an early draft of my first feature-length screenplay placed in the top fifteen percent at the 2005 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.

My interests include reading, writing, drawing, storytelling, picture books and mythology and folklore. I enjoy watching movies and playing board games with my wife and two children. I am fascinated by the period of Norse and Scandinavian History dating from 750-1100.