TO: Scott Abbott, Mark Jeffries, Jans Wager (tentatively), Dr. Julie Nichols.
FROM: Benjamin Lewis
DATE: May 3, 2011
SUBJECT: Proposal to complete a finished screenplay that comments on genre.
Statement of Thesis and Project Summary
With my emphases in English (particularly creative writing and critical literature) and Cinema Studies, the most effective way that I believe I can exercise all that I have learned is by writing a screenplay that makes a statement on the medium. The screenplay naturally springs from the creative writing and script writing that form equal parts of both of my emphases, but I believe that it is important to include the other half of my studies in film and English, and have something to say about the literature of film.
The screenplay will detail the life progression of the main character, Johnny, and the several shifts in his mental development. To designate the shifts in his world view, genre shifts will occur, where the movie will follow stereotypical or common tropes and trends of certain genres that portray his morals or struggles at any given time in the script. Broadly, the script will use the progression of Fantasy, War, and Dark Urban Drama, before finally ending on life-told-backwards Dramas (like Forrest Gump), that have moments that synthesize whole life experiences.
The genre shifts are intended to be blatant. In fact, they will be the most noticeable aspect of the script. This examination is meant to have the reader or audience experiencing several changes in their expectations for the movie, creating a deeper sense of genre awareness.
To make it clear that genre changes are occurring, I will use common elements from movies of these genres and make explicit references to them, whether in music suggestion, direct quotation or parody. While I intend the script to be direly serious at times, this deliberate attention to genre will naturally create an awareness in the reader that will lend itself to humor, despite dark themes.
Review of the Idea
The main goal of this project is to create a finished script. I went into English as my major when I first entered college because I wanted to learn how to write stories. I haven’t yet lost that goal, but I have learned about many other important things that are incredibly valuable to me. Since academics have taken priority, I have only been able to focus on creative writing minimally. This is my attempt to marry the skills I learned as a writing student and the knowledge and concepts I learned as a critical literature and social awareness student.
I was first introduced to the academic side of mixing genres while in Jans Wager’s Film Theory class while discussing Film Noir. In class we discussed whether Film Noir was accepted as a genre or as something else. One of the most intriguing discussions was how Film Noir was used in the film Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945), and how Film Noir was contrasted with what might be called a Domestic Drama, both inside the same film, but at different times. This marrying of themes and techniques made a film that was so powerful and lasting that it has been revived now, more than 50 years later, as a television miniseries on HBO (http://www.hbo.com/mildred-pierce/index.html).
I have since wondered how much genre affects a viewer’s watching experience. Audiences are aware of the genre of film they choose to watch, and they have basic expectations for what will be involved. When these expectations are met, the movie is received, but when they are exceeded, the movie is lauded. When these expectations are not met, the movie is not often well received. With this in mind, I wonder how much a casual viewer is aware of his own expectations in his viewing experience. Questions like: what makes the film Lilya 4-Ever (Lukas Moodysson, 2002) “brutal and realistic” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilya_4-ever) when it is just as imagined as Short Circuit (John Badum, 1986).
Included at the end of this proposal is an annotated bibliography that outlines the sources I currently intend to use for my genre bases and my screenwriting techniques.
Johnny, a typical media-drenched American teenager, has his life thrown upside down when he is drafted in a sudden war of aggression with China. His optimistically youthful outlook on life is shattered, and Johnny is forced to change his perspective on life repeatedly, through comparisons with movies, until he can finally find a compromise that he can live with.—The pitch.
The beginning of the script takes Johnny from his idyllic suburban home to the war front. These sequences will emphasize the genres of Fantasty and War through The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001), Spiderman (Sam Raimi, 2002), Platoon (Oliver Stone, 1986), and The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008). In this part of the movie his expectations for life and morals are formed and crushed. He is left mostly empty without these fantasies of faith.
The second act will take Johnny through a series of more domestic challenges represented by the movies like Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008), Crash (Paul Haggis, 2004), and The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946). Possibly The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972). In this main section of the movie, Johnny is made aware of how imperfect his pre-war life was. His hopes for a return to innocence are blasted and he attempts to navigate a world that he doesn’t trust. The major issues here will be the death of Johnny’s father while Johnny was away; the revelation that his mother is less than perfect; and the tempting life his brother offers. Naturally, all of the movies that are reviewed are more domestic and neighborhood oriented, even if extraordinary things happen in them.
The final act will bring the conflict between himself and his brother to a head, and he will have to decide what sort of a life he wants. He realizes that life is not black and white, but also that it is not necessarily more black than white. Forest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994), It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946), The Road Home (YiMou Zhang, 2000) and Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood, 2004) are all potential candidates for emphasizing the synthesis. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950) is a definite inclusion. With the exception of Million Dollar Baby, all of these films are about life told backwards, They all begin with the ending and they have a sort of acceptance that seems to create a full meaning out of a full life. Million Dollar Baby is only has that factor in retrospect, when you realize the narrator is not merely a disembodied voice, but a deliberate story teller; however, it too has a wise eye that refuses the idea of complete hopelessness.
Berliner, Todd. "The Genre Film as Booby Trap: 1970s GenreBending and The French Connection." Cinema Journal 40.3 (2001): 25-46. Print. A critical review of the topic of genre bending. Berliner reviews how movie makers have tried to bend the system before and how they did. He even discusses how far a filmmaker goes before he is not just bending genres, but breaking them.
Cramer, Kris. "Kris Cramer â€“ author & screenwriter." Kris Cramer â€“ author & screenwriter. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2011.
Crash (Widescreen Edition). Dir. Paul Haggis. Perf. Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Thandie Newton. Lions Gate Films, 2004. Film. An illustration of Johnny's experience in real life.
Dancyger, Ken, and Jeff Rush. Alternative scriptwriting: successfully breaking the rules. 4th ed. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Focal Press, 2007. Print. A How-to book with alternatives to the three-act structure. Since I want to write a challenging structure, this will prove as a useful guide rail.
Eisele, John. "The Wild East: Deconstructing the Language of Genre in the Hollywood Eastern." Cinema Journal 41.4 (2002): 68-94. Print. Eisele discusses the "Eastern" and how Hollywood has stood by this stereotype. I intend to apply its principles to genre stand-bys.
Forrest Gump [VHS]. Dir. Robert Zemeckis. Perf. Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise. Paramount, 1995. VHS. An illustration for Johnny's reaction to life's spectrum of experiences.
Gates, Tudor. Scenario the craft of screenwriting. London: Wallflower, 2002. Print. "Presents a system of logical analysis of the basic structures of successful screenplays." I intend to use it as a measuring stick to avoid as much as I dare.
Gorman, David. "Modern Genre Theory." Poetics Today 22.4 (2001): 853-861. Print. An extended article on how genres have developed and been theorized throughout criticism. I can use this to help me further understand genre and how it is used.
Hauge, Michael. Writing screenplays that sell . New York, NY: HarperPerennial, 1991. Print. Has an extensive section on protecting written material, finding venues to sell, and the life style of a screenwriter. Though dated before the digital age, the copy writing and pre-sell prepping is still valid.
It's a Wonderful Life. Dir. Frank Capra. Perf. James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore. Paramount, 1946. Film. An illustration of Johnny's acceptance of life.
Landrum, Jason. "Rethinking Genre Theory." Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 48.1 (2007): 109-111. Project Muse. Web. 25 Apr. 2011. A review of Barry Langford's "Film Genre: Hollywood and Beyond," Landrum explains Langford's concepts. These will help me to understand how genre is being discussed.
Meyers, Ashley. "SellingYourScreenplay.com â€” Practical tips and advice about how to sell your screenplay." SellingYourScreenplay.com â€” Practical tips and advice about how to sell your screenplay. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2011.
Million Dollar Baby. Dir. Clint Eastwood. Perf. Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood. Warner Home Video, 2004. Film. An illustration of Johnny's acceptance of life.
Platoon. Dir. Oliver Stone. Perf. Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe. Mgm (Video & Dvd), 1986. Film. An illustration of Johnny's war experience.
Rashomon. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Perf. Toshiro Mifune. Criterion, 1950. Film. An illustration of Johnny's acceptance of life.
Slumdog Millionaire. Dir. Danny Boyle. Perf. Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla. Twentieth Century Fox, 2008. Film. An Illustration on Johnny's adaptation to real life.
Spider-Man (Widescreen Special Edition). Dir. Sam Raimi. Perf. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe. Sony Pictures, 2002. Film. An illustration of Johnny's innocent beginning.
Suite101. "Developing Memorable Characters:: 45 Questions to Create Backstories." Suite101.com: Online Magazine and Writers' Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2011.
The Best Years of Our Lives. Dir. William Wyler. Perf. Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy. Mgm (Video & Dvd), 1946. Film. An illustration of Johnny's experience of life after the war.
The Godfather (Widescreen Edition). Dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Perf. Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan. Paramount, 2004. DVD. An illustration of Johnny's reactions to morally questionable decisions.
The Hurt Locker. Dir. Kathryn Bigelow. Perf. Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty. Summit Entertainment, 2008. Film. An Illustration of Johnny's war experience.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Widescreen Edition). Dir. Peter Jackson. Perf. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom. New Line Home Video, 2001. Film. An illustration of Johnny's innocent beginning.