Friday, July 9, 2010

101 Things I Learned in Film School - Neil Landau and Matthew Frederick

If you are a follower of You've GOTTA Read This, then you know I am a lover of more than books...I also love my movies. I don't claim to be an expert (like my film critic sister, who has seen more movies than just about anyone I know), but I like them and I watch them. I have opinions. I pay attention to plot, dialogue, soundtracks, setting, and I hate predictability. You can't win me over with car chases and explosions, or when the guy gets the girl in the end. It really isn't so different from books, is it?

So anyway, I was thrilled when I won a giveaway from the lovely Trisha (eclectic/eccentric) entitled "101 Things I Learned in Film School". It is possible that someone like my sister would know all of this already, but I might just learn something! I found the book on my doorstep when arrived home from my trip out west, and even though it was close to midnight, I had to start reading it that very moment.

It is one of those books you could keep in the bathroom (truly no offense) because you can easily pick it up and read a few pages at a time. It provides all kinds of insight to movies, from the development of plot, casting, budgeting, etc. I found it truly fascinating, to the point where during the next movie I watched (Disturbia), I was viewing with a whole new perspective. But more than that, it also dawned on me that many of the insights also applied to novels as well. Here are some things that caught my eye:

* A flawed protagonist is more compelling than a perfect protagonist. Absolutely! Perfect is not realistic. I want to see moral struggles, the fighting of demons, and bad decisions.

* Practice perfect pitch. There is a whole list of things to keep in mind if you pitching a movie to a director (how to get to the point quickly and succinctly). I suppose this would come in handy if you have a movie idea you are trying to sell. But what about book reviews? Seems these tips would work there as well.

* Act 2 is where poorly structured film goes to die. I bet we all could come up with a nice, healthy list of books that died somewhere in the middle.

* Make setting a character. I've always said that using setting in a book is an opportunity to make a good book great. Those are the books you don't forget.

* Make the conflict existential. In other words, midpoint through the story, an unexpected curve or reversal of fortune deepens the conflict and provokes a dilemma, causing the protagonist to evolve. Fingersmith, anyone?

* Dig deeper. Good movies are about simple things explored with depth, nuance, and attention to detail and meaning. Clutter confuses. Do fewer things, but do them better. Hallelujah! This was exactly my frustration with the last Harlan Coban book I read.

* Film, novel, television or stage? How often have we talked about books that worked on film, and ones that fell flat. This page offers advice on what works where.

* A movie is a novel turned inside out. Cool idea, huh? Novels describe inner motives and emotions and leaves it to the reader to formulate a mental picture of the physical world. Movies depict the visible and implies the unseen. Thereby making an adapted screenplay a tricky inversion.

* If you want to write, read. If you want to make films, see films. Makes all kind of sense. I believe this was the sage advice given by Stephen King to a group of writers.

* Deus ex machina. Literally, "god from the machine", refers to any plot contrivance that miraculously emerges to resolve a dilemma. (Which disappoints viewers, and I daresay readers, every time.) We want our protagonists to solve their own problems and become empowered, not to have the answers plop in their laps. I see this all the time in books. Nice to know the official name!

Well, you get the point. This is a treasure trove of little gems that give me just enough information to be dangerous! For anyone who likes a good movie now and again, you are going to enjoy this one.

4 out of 5 stars


Ana S. said...

Yep, that definitely applies to novels as well. I really like "make setting a character". I love it when a story's setting is more than just background scenery.

caite said...

certainly, several do apply to books. the flawed protagonist and poor act 2 jump out to me. I love me a flawed protagonist...but it is a delicate balance too.

Susan said...

I really want to read this book! And then pass it along to my son, who will love it.

I'm with you and Nymeth on "make setting a character". To me, that makes the book. The first one that came to mind was The Prince of Tides in which the setting really is a main character. Another is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. The descriptions of house, barns, surrounding countryside were integral to the plot.

Boy, do I hate an Act II FAIL!

bermudaonion said...

Sounds like the perfect book for you!

Molly said...

Oh my word --- this sounds like a perfect book for an English teacher! Teach the students the basics of a literary education in a media that they understand :)

I will definitely check this out (even though I rarely watch movies; just not enough hours in the day)

raych said...

'I like them and I watch them.' That is the simplest and the best defense for any hobby.

ds said...

Count me in with nymeth and Susan. Setting is a character. The only question is whether the writer realizes that fact. I once heard that for a story (novel, film) to be satisfying/successful a character has to change. So a flawed protagonist is crucial.
Thank you for this!

Trisha said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this. Every time I watch a movie now, I whip it out and open to a random page to see how the movie matches the little rules. :)

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Great review! And glad to hear you only need to read "a few pages at a time" in the bathroom - LOL

Zibilee said...

This book sounds great, and I love that most of the lessons can apply to books as well. I think of all the topics you mentioned, it's the Deus ex machina that frustrates me the most. Great review of this book, Sandy! I know quite a few people who will be getting this one for Christmas!

Heidenkind said...

Aha! Deus ex machina. Now I know what my problem was with the ending of the book I'm finishing up right now.

Beth F said...

Great post. I am definitely not a film expert (or a book one either), but I have tried to be a more critical movie watcher. Mr. BFR is more discerning than I am when it comes to movies, and I've learned a lot by listening to him.

Sounds like a nice books to look through.

Jenners said...

I think it was fate that led you to win this book! Wonderful and fascinating review ... I very much enjoyed it and was nodding my head throughout.

Serena said...

Awesome review. I love these analytical books that help you understand movies and filmmaking.