I Blame Ninjas

A Screenwriting Blog

  • Jul 12


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  • Jul 12

    NinjaZenI caught a matinee of World War Z before work Thursday. I enjoyed it – the ‘human wave’ and ‘army ant’ style zombies brought something new visually, and it had a good mix of spooky sneaking around and wild mass zombie battle mayhem. Zombies on a plane also was a neat twist; talk about challenging your characters!

    I’m really fond of speedy setups, and World War Z gets things moving almost immediately – after a short scene of Brad Pitt at home with his family, we dive right into the story with a zombie outbreak in a traffic jam as the family heads out on vacation.

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    Filed under Films, Screenwriting
    Jul 4

    NinjaHopI’m watching my Gettysburg DVD again in honor of the battle’s 150th anniversary this week, and I’m noticing the quieter scenes often seem to trail off. It’s a good reminder of the importance of ending each scene sharply with what’s sometimes called a ‘button,’ a bit of dialogue or action that tops off the scene or spins us into the next one. Now, there can be stylistic reasons for letting a scene trail off; to emphasize confusion or disarray. But mostly it’s sloppy writing (or, in a film, sloppy direction or editing).

    For example, there’s a scene just past the halfway point in Gettysburg, a pretty inconsequential one where Tom Berenger as General Longstreet orders a spy to scout the enemy flank after the second day of battle. The spy, a former actor, replies that the problem with his current occupation is the lack of an audience – when you do the job right, nobody notices you at all. That would have been a pretty good button to end the scene on, a good, funny line, at least. Instead, Longstreet and the spy just stand there looking at each other for awhile, and Longstreet finally mutters “go on, then,” and the spy leaves. So instead of a sharp ending on a funny line that moves us into the next scene, we’re wondering why we’re still watching a scene that for all intents and purposes has already ended.

  • Happy Halloween!

    Filed under Films
    Oct 31

    I’m taking the day off to carve pumpkins and watch classic horror movies. I now have DVDs of all the classic Universal monsters, except Karloff’s The Mummy, so I’ll be doing my own marathon with those. I’ve also been catching up on a lot of ’50s giant monster movies this month courtesy of Netflix – Them!, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, It Came From Beneath the Sea, 20 Million Miles to Earth and others from my own collection – Gojira, King Kong,  King Kong vs. Godzilla.

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  • Oct 4

    A great analysis of a director’s guild event in which James Cameron and JJ Abrams talk about Steven Spielberg’s films, this one dealing with the importance of tone and emotional resonance in his movies. Basically, having a human story of some kind at the core of your screenplay.

    Or, as Pete Docter puts it in the production notes for Up, talking about Disney animator Joe Grant:

    I got to know Joe when he was in his 90s. He was a friend of mine-this great old wise guy. Every time I would show him something we were working on he’d say, ‘What are you giving the audience to take home?’ That was his way of telling me it’s the emotion-the character-based emotions that people are going to remember.

    That’s something I really work on in my own scripts – you can have all the action and spectacle in the world, but if there’s no heart, you don’t have much of a movie.

  • Oct 3

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  • Thor

    Filed under Films, Screenwriting
    Sep 27

    I caught a second viewing of Thor on blu-ray the other night with friends, and I’m reminded once again of how perfectly it follows standard screenplay structure. Spoilers follow:

    In Act I, we meet Thor and the other characters. Thor’s a brash, arrogant gloryhound, but we like him anyway. He impulsively endangers Asgard, so Odin strips him of his powers and exiles him to Earth. In Act IIa, Thor seeks to solve his external problem – losing his powers – without resolving his internal problem – thinking only of himself. So he tries to take the easy way out, believing that simply recovering his hammer will restore his powers without any messy soul-searching required. At the Midpoint, we have a false victory – Thor battles his way to his hammer, only to discover he’s not yet worthy of it or his powers. It’s a crushing blow. In Act IIb, Thor’s enemies close in. Loki lies to him about Odin’s supposed death and his permanent exile. Thor learns humility and begins to think of others. At the All is Lost beat, Thor even sacrifices himself to save his friends and, by proving himself worthy, regains his hammer & powers. In Act III, Thor returns to Asgard for the final confrontation with his enemies – not for personal glory or revenge, but to save his people.

  • Insidious

    Filed under Films
    Sep 12

    Insidious (2010): A family looks to prevent evil spirits from trapping their comatose child in a realm called The Further. Latest from Saw creators Leigh Whannell and James Wan. An awesomely creepy first half that mostly falls apart at the end, though it still manages to deliver a few more scares.

    What I learned: Trying to define or explain the horror in a horror movie’s almost always a mistake. I’m not saying you, as the screenwriter, ought to be in the dark about what’s going on in your own screenplay – just that we, as the audience, will be more frightened if you don’t tell us what’s going on. The unknown’s always more frightening. Look at the two Paranormal Activity movies. In the first, the couple has no idea why this evil spirit’s after them, and neither do we.  They uncover a few clues and consult a psychic, except he’s more frightened than they are. Terrifying. In Paranormal Activity 2, we get a convoluted backstory about a grandmother’s deal with a demon in exchange for the souls of her descendants or something, plus a lot of pseudo-mystical mumbo-jumbo about transferring curses and so forth. Still a fun movie, but way less scary. It’s the same in Insidious – in the first half of the movie, when we’re just as baffled as the family about these bizarre events & strange apparitions, we’re totally freaked out. Once a psychic shows up for a long talking heads scene explaining everything, way less scary.

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  • Aug 30

    I wrote about reading The Hunger Games trilogy the other day – finished the third book over the weekend, by the way – and mentioned the upcoming movie of the first book. The first trailer debuted Sunday at the MTV Video Music Awards. Take a look:

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  • Aug 24

    Well, it’s sure not having your blockbuster movie flop. Sean Hood, brought in as a script doctor to rewrite the screenplay during production, shares what it’s like to discover you’ve written a bomb.

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