MORE RANTINGS AND RAVINGS OF A SCREENPLAY READER


rant and rave secondEver wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks of your screenplay? Frustrated that your screenplay isn’t getting the reception you need or want? Do you want to try to expand your vision as a screenwriter? Try the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y

These essays are based on my twenty year experience as a reader and judge for numerous competitions, as well as a provider of one-on-one personal consultation. During that time, I have come to notice that writers often seem to make the same sorts of mistakes over and over and over…and over again.

The essays are not rules to live by. They are not an attempt to codify and tell you what you have to do. I don’t believe in that.

The essays are just a way to give you, the author, more of an idea as to what you may need to do to make it up to that next level.

“The author’s wealth of knowledge of movies across all ages and cultures is beyond impressive. The rantings and ravings from his experiences reading scripts for contests are fascinating and insightful. I don’t always agree with his viewpoints (such as the chapter about if a movie is good or bad and thinking critically about it), but I’m still surprised and impressed by the book as a whole and found it educational in so many ways, it’s a must read!”

 

“I got a Kindle addition of Rantings and Ravings about three days ago. I’m maybe a fifth or a quarter of the way into the book. And I see a lot of good things you are pointing out that are mistakes that writers are constantly making in screenplays, and some laughs at some of the unintentional things writers often do. Your book would be $3.00 well spent for 80 or 85% of the writers here…” Eli  Donaldson (for the complete review go to: http://ow.ly/CGqhQ )

“Not just a nice perspective of a contest reader but some helpful … hmm, tips is the wrong word … insights (that’s better) into the writing process–again, the wrong word — reading of the writing process. We write to be read. So how one’s screenplay is read is as important as how it was written. This book reminds us of the importance of the read as the read proceeds all the other steps that lead to a viewing.” Tim Lane

“Information that needs to be heard.” L.A. Sidsworth

“Don’t be fooled by the amusing title of this fascinating book. Howard never actually rants or raves, but instead provides a plethora of valuable insights into the art and business of screenwriting. If you’ve ever entered a screenplay contest and have wondered what goes on once your script is received, look no further. Howard pulls back the curtain to give us a rare, behind-the-scenes glimpse at the judging process, and he’s not afraid to reveal the different factors that go into choosing the winners. (It’s not as cut and dry as you might think.) If you are just starting down the path of pursuing a screenwriting career, you’ll definitely want to check out the chapters on common mistakes, what works best and what to avoid. For the more seasoned cinephile, the book is also crammed full of thought provoking essays on the art and craft of cinema, as well as an eclectic assortment of movie reviews. Quite a lot of bang for just a few bucks. And best of all, Howard’s encyclopedic knowledge of cinema, combined with a keen sense of humor, makes for a very enlightening and entertaining read.” Jeremy Carr

To purchase the book, please go to http://ow.ly/xK2L0.  More reviews follow:

“An insightful book from the perspective that matters the most…that of the professional reader. As writers we sometime get far too absorbed in the minutiae of our story that we can easily miss the forest for the trees. Howard’s book helps take a couple of steps back and allows the writer to step into the reader’s shoes. I think this book should provide useful and practical advice to any aspiring screenwriter. While this is not a how-to manual on the art of writing, it should nonetheless be a good addition to most screenwriter’s libraries. Highly recommended.” Kays Al-atrakchi

“I read this book to get a perspective from the “other” side, the side of the screenplay contests readers. Howard tells it like it is. His “rantings and ravings” details how screenplays succeed or fail with specifics of what contest readers look for in great scripts or find in horrible scripts. In more than half of the book, Howard presents examples of movies, in different genres, that show original screenplays, successful character development, plots, premises, and concepts that work.” Dinah

“Great read for any screenwriter, just starting or an old dog looking for new tricks. Been following the writer on Facebook and reading his blog for a while now. This collection of his “Rantings and Ravings” is just what a screenwriter needs. Sage advice, encouragement and the truth. As a writer and screenwriting coach I can tell you he speaks to the things that we all need to pay attention to. Not just the obvious, but the little things that really matter. Buy this book! I did.” Steven Esteb, writer/director (Dirty Politics, Baller Blockin’)

Howard Casner is an amazing writer, reader and screenplay judge who was also the very first person to read and discover my award-winning script in the Slamdance Screenplay Competition. Now he is sharing his invaluable insight and knowledge so that all writers may realize their dreams. THANK YOU and CONGRATULATIONS Howard!!” Miranda Kwok, writer/actor (Spartacus: Blood and Sand)

“Howard Casner has just published a book called “Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader.” For anyone interested in screenplays, screenwriting or film, I encourage you to buy a copy. It’s only $2.99 and I’m sure you’ll find it well worth the price. I’ve read a lot of Howard’s film reviews, and with each one I’ve been impressed by his insight and knowledge. I’ve learned something valuable from every review of his that I’ve read.”  Todd Niemi, screenwriter/producer (Backgammon)

For all my screenwriting students and friends, Howard’s book is terrific, with some insider wisdom about contests. He is a very interesting, spot on writer. Congratulations, Howard.” Bart Baker, screenwriter (Supercross, Live Wire)

“If you want to know what the bleep goes on in a script reader’s head, Howard Casner’s “Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Consultant” is a good place to start and it’s currently available on Amazon.  Tanya Klein on Stormblog, the official blog of Coverage, Ink. http://ow.ly/zD6Ed 

 

POP ART: Episode 11, Adaptation/Sunset Blvd.


NEW EPISODE: “Audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes a picture; they think the actors make it up as they go along.” The quarantine is giving you a lot of time to write and work on your art. But are you? Sounds like the perfect time for the next episode of Pop Art, the podcast where the guest chooses a movie from pop culture and I, in turn, choose a film from the more art/classic side of cinema that has a connection to it. My guest, filmmaker Josh Kim (writer/director How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)), chose the whimsical, idiosyncratic movie Adaptation written by Charlie and Donald Kaufman, while I chose the film noir Billy Wilder classic Sunset Blvd. (the movie that shows the real tinsel behind the fake tinsel of Hollywood), both about screenwriters in crisis. And we cover such topics as: What does it say about screenwriters? Which is the better film? Why did Charlie Kaufman think his career was over? What was the original opening for Sunset Blvd. and how did they achieve the shot used now? Who else was considered for the various roles? Who or what is an H.B. Warner? And what is the connection to Rebel Without a Cause? Finally, remember, it’s the pictures that got small.

Next up: Die Hard/District B13.

ON ITUNES AND PODOMATIC https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/pop-art/id1511098925 and https://hcasner65579.podomatic.com/, as well as Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/5jX4noVGArDJdmcFtmrQcGm , Anchor: https://anchor.fm/howard-casner, Google Podcasts: https://podcasts.google.com/?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly9hbmNob3IuZm0vcy8xZWI4N2NmYy9wb2RjYXN0L3Jzcw , Breaker: https://www.breaker.audio/pop-art, Pocketcasts: https://pca.st/vfjqj6j6, Radiopublic: https://radiopublic.com/pop-art-GExxNb, Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/you/tracks   And don’t forget to LIKE, COMMENT and FOLLOW.

Previous episodes: Raiders of the Lost Ark/The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; Goldfinger/The Spy Who Came in From the Cold; Monty Python and the Holy Grail/The Seventh Seal; The Great Escape/A Man Escaped; Best in Show/Series 7: The Contenders; Robocop/THX 1138; Singin’ in the Rain/Irma Vep; Star Wars/The Hidden Fortress; The Omen/Village of the Damned; Aliens/Attack the Block.

 

Check out my Script Consultation Services at http://ow.ly/HPxKE. I offer several types of service. Testimonials can be found at the blog entry.

Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader published on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y

Finally, I have published a collection of three of my plays, 3 Plays, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08478DBXF as well as two collections of short stories, The Starving Artists and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ and The Five Corporations and the One True Church and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF.

What Do Screenwriting Contests Want? A Reconsideration.


 

rant and rave secondFirst a word from our sponsor:

Check out my Script Consultation Services at http://ow.ly/HPxKE. I offer several types of service. Testimonials can be found at the blog entry.

Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader published on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y

Finally, I have published a collection of three of my plays, 3 Plays, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08478DBXF as well as two collections of short stories, The Starving Artists and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ and The Five Corporations and the One True Church and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF.

 

 

I wrote a blog entry sometime back called Everything You Wanted to Know About Screenplay Contests* But Weren’t Afraid to Ask. For those intrigued, the link is here: https://howardcasner.wordpress.com/2015/01/24/the-future-is-now-a-pretentious-essay-for-screenwriters/

 

Since then I have been doing some rethinking about contests. Most of what I’ve said above, if not all of it, still applies. But there is one area that I did want to address based on my own experience and based on some facebook posts I have come across.

 

What sort of screenplays do contests look for? Continue reading

Rules of the Formatting Game


First a word from our sponsor:

Check out my Script Consultation Services at http://ow.ly/HPxKE. I offer several types of service. Testimonials can be found at the blog entry.

Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader published on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y

Finally, I have published a collection of three of my plays, 3 Plays, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08478DBXF as well as two collections of short stories, The Starving Artists and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ and The Five Corporations and the One True Church and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF.

 

The next in my blog entries on screenwriting and film will be about common formatting mistakes I still see people make. I am surprised at some of these, that they are still committed on such a regular basis. But it still happens.

 

Probably most of you already know these rules. But it never hurts to have a refresher course. Continue reading

HOW DO I WRITE A GREAT SCREENPLAY, OR BARRING THAT, AN ACADEMY AWARD WINNING SCREENPLAY? SPOILER: YOU CAN’T.


rant and rave second

First a word from our sponsor:

Check out my Script Consultation Services at http://ow.ly/HPxKE. I offer several

types of service. Testimonials can be found at the blog entry.

Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader published on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y

Finally, I have published two collections of short stories, The Starving Artists and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ and The Five Corporations and the One True Church and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF

 

I often see on facebook, as well as other media, screenwriters asking, how do I write a great screenplay? Or I see gurus offering advice on how to write a great screenplay or, falling short of that, how to write an Oscar nominated screenplay. Well, I am here to tell you the truth.

 

You can’t.

 

I’m sorry to have to break it to you, but you just can’t. No matter what people tell you, you can’t and they can’t. I mean, yeah, they say they can, but, hell, I could say the words as well, but that doesn’t mean I can help you do it.

 

There are reasons for this of course. A screenplay gets a nomination for an Oscar for all sorts of reasons, with the quality of the screenplay being only one, and sometimes the least important one, of how this process happens. One of the myths (though I don’t believe enough people actually believe this, but you never know) is that screenplays, like the other fields, just naturally get voted for simply because they are the best, they are the cream of the crop, and cream rises to the top.

 

And I have the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge in my back pocket.

 

And for proof, I give you Love Story, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, …And Justice for All, and last year’s Greenbook (the most edgy film about race relations of 1972).

 

Screenplays, like all the Oscar and other award group movies, tend to get nominations if: you have a producer and distributor willing to spend a small (ha, small, right) fortune on an Oscar campaign; they open it at the right time of the year (getting  a movie nominated in the non-technical fields is almost impossible if it opens earlier than September, and even more difficult if it opens earlier than that); and there is enough buzz, critical and otherwise (film fests can help here) before and as the film opens.

 

There are exceptions to the early opening rule. Get Out was a huge one, opening in February of its year. It also is a horror film, which is a genre difficult to get noticed at awards time no matter when it opens. But here, the Oscar campaign commenced almost simultaneously with its release and it never let up. It was also popular enough with the audience and the critics to give the campaign that much more energy to get the awards buzz going throughout the year.

 

This year, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood opened in July. But that is a movie by Tarantino. And the Oscar campaign really began long before the movie even opened.

 

Movies of high quality do get through. Last year, First Reformed, written by Paul Schrader, got an Oscar nomination for original screenplay. But Schrader is considered one of the finest screenwriters working in Hollywood and the movie got much critical acclaim, which helped with the Oscar campaign, so that the screenplay did manage to sneak in. (Ethan Hawke, however, did not manage to get into the Best Actor field.)

 

So how do you write an Oscar nominated screenplay? As I said, you can’t. You can write one and if all the various factors come together just right (and these are factors the writer has absolutely no control over), then you might, but only might, get one. But you can’t write that. You can only write the screenplay.

 

Writing a great screenplay is actually probably easier, but that’s because greatness in art is something that isn’t dependent on how much money a movie makes, how many awards it receives, how it is received at the time, or factors like that. The only determining factor in whether a screenplay is great is time, with the irony that the author may very well be dead long before the film is ensconced in the pantheon of greatness.

 

Since greatness in a screenplay isn’t dependent on those factors, what factors is it dependent on? The intrinsic quality of the script helps. Bad screenplays almost never are considered great no matter how much time has passed.

 

But the most important ingredients that will help in this area is the author writing their vision, writing something that really means something to them, that is original and unique. And if the author succeeds in writing a good screenplay with those qualities (because you can actually write your vision and do everything else I mentioned and still fall short-), it may one day achieve greatness.

 

However, at the same time, such screenplays can be much harder to get greenlit in the United States.

 

About the only thing a guru can really do to help here is to guide you in making your script the best it can possibly be. They might be able to give some insight into marketability and such, but generally speaking, when it comes to that, to paraphrase the old saw, nobody in Hollywood knows anything (if they did, they wouldn’t be making any flop movies).

 

But nobody can write a great screenplay or write an Oscar nominated screenplay. And no one can teach you how to do it. That’s just not the way the system, or life, works.

 

 

Screenwriting and Little Women


rant and rave second

First a word from our sponsor:

Check out my Script Consultation Services at http://ow.ly/HPxKE. I offer several types of service. Testimonials can be found at the blog entry.

Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader published on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y

Finally, I have published two collections of short stories, The Starving Artists and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ and The Five Corporations and the One True Church and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF

If you want to see what a difference a screenwriter and a director can make to a movie, it might behoove you to see all four versions of Little Women, 1933, 1949, 1994 and 2019.

 

The ranking quality of the films are generally thus: the 2019 version is the best, then 1994, closely, closely followed by 1933, with 1949 a distant fourth. And I think there are reasons for this, which lie in the areas of both directing and screenwriting. In the end, what makes the 2019 version the best is that it is the best directed combined with the best screenplay. The 1994 and 1933 versions are almost as well directed, but the screenplays are not nearly as strong. And the 1949 suffers from just not being that good in either category (it’s all right, but that’s about it).

 

One place to see the difference in the direction is to look at the first party scenes at the Laurence’s. In the 1949 version, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, this scene is incredibly limp and boring. It really sags. And it’s a reflection of the movie as a whole. It never really comes alive.

 

However, look at the same scenes in the 1994 version, directed by Gillian Armstrong, and the 1933 version, directed by George Cukor (who always had a knack for this sort of storytelling), and one can instantly see the difference. These scenes are far more alive and exciting.

 

At the same time, we then get to the party scene in Greta Gerwig’s version of 2019 (she both wrote and directed), and this scene soars. In fact, the earlier dance scene after the theater is the place where this version really takes off. But in the party at the Laurence’s, it is so exciting and riveting, it is a signal of the quality that is to come.

 

At the same time, I still maintain that in the end, what ultimately makes Gerwig’s version the best is the superb screenplay (without it, I suggest the film, though still enjoyable and well received, might not be regarded as the best of the top three-probably just as good). It is far richer with more vibrant and more deeply developed characters. Where characters like Aunt May and Mr. Laurence are sorely lacking in early versions, Gerwig has made characters like these pop out and stand on their own by giving them more time and development. She even introduces a new character, the crusty curmudgeon of a publisher that Jo has to battle to become the artist she wants to become, who also has a vibrancy about him.

 

Alas, or it may be inevitable, she is not able to do more with Mr. March than in any earlier version. He has no real character and doesn’t seem to have any real purpose in the story except to show up in time to preside over the marriage of his daughter (he’s a minister). After that, he seems to disappear. And not only that, he is never missed.

 

Gerwig has also taken the feminism of the 1994 version and gone much further with it. It is very modern in its psychology of women’s role in society and what they have to do to become their own persons and achieve each their goals.

 

And she has given it a non-linear structure which, for me, further deepens the emotions of the film (some didn’t like this aspect of the film, but for me it is one of the ingredients that raise it above the other incarnations).

 

The earlier versions have screenplays by Robin Swicord (1994); Andrew Solt, Sarah Y. Mason and Victor Heerman (1949); and Sara Y. Mason and Victor Heerman (1933)-I don’t know if Mason and Heerman actually worked on the 1949 version, or just get credit because much of their original screenplay was used. But of the group, Swicord is the next strongest, followed by Mason and Heerman (1933), and a the one in 1949 (the weakest, possibly because the directing is the weakest).

 

So for me, the real triumph of this new version of the Alcott classic is the superior and remarkable screenplay. And writers should perhaps take note of just how important they can actually be, if allowed, to projects like this.

LOGLINES AND TITLES AND BEARS, OH MY!


Check out my Script Consultation Services at http://ow.ly/HPxKE. I offer several types of service. Testimonials can be found at the blog entry.
Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader published on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y
Finally, I have published two collections of short stories, The Starving Artists and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ and The Five Corporations and the One True Church and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF

 

     This is the latest entry in my blog essays on various screenwriting topics. These are mainly inspired by postings on various facebook sites. This one is inspired by numerous postings that I personally believe give the wrong idea when it comes to the above-referenced issues.
     However, before I begin I should mention and it should be noted that based on the postings I continuously run across, I am very much an outlier in my opinions. So take this into consideration as you read.
     When it comes to loglines, the main issue I disagree with is when someone says that you have to have a logline that will make whoever (agent, manager, producer, director) want to read your script. That they are compelled to read it, that the fate of the world, the very life of their first born, will depend upon it.  Continue reading

EXPOSITION: CAN’T WRITE WITH IT, CAN’T WRITE WITHOUT IT or YADDA, YADDA, YADDA…THE END


For questions: hcasner@aol.com

First, a word from our sponsors: My short film 8 Conversations in 15 Minutes 58 Seconds will premiere at STUFF, the South Texas Underground Film Festival on January 27th, 2019 http://www.stuftx.org/

Check out my Script Consultation Services at http://ow.ly/HPxKE. I offer several types of service. Testimonials can be found at the blog entry.

Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader published on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y

Finally, I have published two collections of short stories, The Starving Artists and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ and The Five Corporations and the One True Church and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF

 

     Exposition seems to bring out the worst in screenwriters. I don’t mean how they use it when putting fingers to keyboard, but how they talk about it. The way some of them go on…and on…and on about it, one would think using exposition is worse than child molesting and will damn you to hellfire for all eternity…or longer.

But have no fear. In the real world, exposition is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, exposition can be your friend. You will not only invariably use it in your screenplays, you will quite possibly use it multiple times…and not once grow hair on the palms of your hands.

In fact, exposition is just about unavoidable. It’s just a fact of the writing life. Continue reading

SUBTEXT: THAT PASSIVE/AGGRESSIVE FRIEND YOU HATE, BUT CAN’T DROP or WE’RE GOING TO NEED A BIGGER BOAT


For questions: hcasner@aol.com

First, a word from our sponsors: My short film 8 Conversations in 15 Minutes 58 Seconds will premiere at STUFF, the South Texas Underground Film Festival on January 27th, 2019 http://www.stuftx.org/

Check out my Script Consultation Services at http://ow.ly/HPxKE. I offer several types of service. Testimonials can be found at the blog entry.

Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader published on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y

Finally, I have published two collections of short stories, The Starving Artists and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ and The Five Corporations and the One True Church and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF

    This is the second in a series of articles on various screenwriting topics. Further entries will include exposition, voice overs and passive central characters. The previous entry was on diversity in film.

On facebook and a myriad of other places, people put forth various requisites or must haves, do’s and do nots, they claim are needed to write, if not a great screenplay, at least a perfectly serviceable one.

One of the most popular ones is subtext. Now, I prefer writers not worry about things like this, at least at first. I’m on the side of the angels who say, concentrate on writing a good story that is successful on its own terms and if it has subtext, good, if not, good. I mean why tamper when you’ve got a good thing going?

I prefer elements like subtext to grow organically out of the writing, not be foisted upon it. Still, if you are receiving constant feedback that your dialog is too on point, or that the reader feels as if they are being told how to feel, rather than being allowed to feel, you may need subtext, taken four times a day on an empty stomach.

One problem with subtext is that everyone seems to know what it is, but have difficulty coming up with a clear, concise and satisfactory definition that everyone agrees with. It’s like art: no one can define it, but they all know it when they see it. Continue reading

IT’S TIME TO GET INTO THE SPIRIT OF THE ZEITGEIST or DOING THE ZEITGEIST RAG


For questions: hcasner@aol.com

First, a word from our sponsors: My short film 8 Conversations in 15 Minutes 58 Seconds will premiere at STUFF, the South Texas Underground Film Festival on January 27th, 2019 http://www.stuftx.org/

Check out my Script Consultation Services at http://ow.ly/HPxKE. I offer several types of service. Testimonials can be found at the blog entry.

Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader published on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y

Finally, I have published two collections of short stories, The Starving Artists and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ and The Five Corporations and the One True Church and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF

 

     It has been some time since I put pen to paper and wrote something for my blog. I got distracted for various reasons, some good (I wrote two books of short stories and published the second edition of my screenwriting book, see above), some not so good (I’ve been caught up in one of those downward swings moody, artsy people tend to get into from time to time). But for some while now, I’ve been mulling over an idea, a subject that has finally formed itself into something that compels me to share it.

 

In the past, I’ve written about the zeitgeist, that overall spirit in art that can define a creative period of time. However, my writing about it has been somewhat negative since for some time, mainly from 2007 and on, I felt there wasn’t one for US filmmakers and that American films suffered for it and were constantly falling short and disappointing.

 

One conclusion I came to for this state of being is that as a result of technology, anyone and everyone can and have been making movies, resulting in that ubiquitous saying that the great thing about filmmaking today is that anyone can make a movie; the awful thing about filmmaking today is that anyone can make a movie. But I think the main drawback to this advance in technology is that though we have a more than over abundance of filmmakers, at the same time, they have had nothing to say, no real reason to make a film. There was no zeitgeist.

 

      But I think that’s changed. Over the last few years, a new spirit of the times has wormed its way into the world of film, one that has taken filmmaking into a new direction and breathed new life into an art form that often seemed to be dying of mediocrity in America. And I think this has had, or should have, a serious impact on screenwriters. I suggest that new screenwriters (and even more experienced ones) should consider embracing it with, ironically, open arms.

 

The name I give to this brave new world of filmmaking is diversity meets genre.

 

Before I get any farther into why I believe this is central to what is happening in filmmaking today, I will backtrack some and suggest historically just how this came to be. And in doing so, I think I must admit to an error I believe I made earlier regarding a zeitgeist of the past, in fact the most recent American zeitgeist. I termed it post modernism and said it revolved around a group of core filmmakers: Steven Soderbergh, Quinten Tarantino and the Coen brothers, all starting in the 1990’s. However, I think it might be more accurate to call these filmmakers post post modernists.

 

     It might be more exact to attribute post modernism to the period from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. There are few reasons why I think this may be more exact. And here I am defining post modernism as artists taking everything from the past and treating it with equal value, from the lewdest of scatological humor to the highest of philosophical debate. Everything is of worthwhile fodder in creating art.

 

It was during this period, possibly for the first time in the history of film art in the U.S., that filmmakers were more influenced and inspired by movies and directors and writers and stylists that had come before them than anything else. These were artists who learned how to make movies by watching movies as they grew up.

 

These filmmakers lived, breathed and almost totally existed within the history of cinema. And not just art, foreign and prestige films, but also the lesser films, the B-films and lower budgeted genre films that were not held in as high a regard as many others. And this led to many changes in movies when these younger viewers became adults.

 

     One major one is that filmmakers began taking B-picture genres and making A films out of them. These included horror (Jaws, The Shining, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby); sci-fi (2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Star Wars); crime/film noir (Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, Night Moves, The Late Show, The Long Goodbye); comic book movies (Superman); and serials (Star Wars and Indiana Jones).

 

Another change was the introduction of existentialism from post war Europe, especially in the films of Paul Schrader and Woody Allen, as well as the films of other filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick and Paddy Chayefsky.

 

Finally, this was the period of great satires of film genres including Take the Money and Run (documentaries), Sleepers (Sci-fi), Love and Death (epic films), Blazing Saddles (westerns) and Young Frankenstein (horror), leading up to the great satires of Airplane and The Naked Gun franchise.

 

     Then came the 1990’s and the triumvirate of the period, the aforementioned Soderbergh, Tarantino and the Coens. They continued to emphasize genre, but often with a post post modernistic smirk where it felt as if the movies sometimes were also commenting on themselves and the genre conventions.

 

Which leads us to the new zeitgeist which takes the post modern emphasis on genres, but breathes new life into them by having a new and diverse set of filmmakers making them. And these movies are doing well, both from a critical and money making standpoint. These films either having diverse characters in the lead (and I include women here with recent films having some of the best roles for female actors in some time), or have a diverse cast, or have diverse screenwriters, directors and producers, as well as other more technical aspects of film, behind their creation.

 

These include:

 

  Comic book movies (Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Spider-Man Into the Spider Verse, Aquaman);

 

Horror (Get Out, Hereditary, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus);

 

Rom Coms (The Big Sick, Crazy Rich Asians, Love Simon);

 

Film Noir/crime (Widows, Dope, Jackie Brown and the upcoming Scarface);

 

   Thrillers (Searching, A Simple Favor, The Girl on the Train);

 

Fantasy (Mary Poppins Returns, Beauty and the Beast, Frozen, Moana);

 

Sci-Fi (Gravity, Annihilation, Arrival, Under the Skin, The Hunger Games).

 

This can also be seen in more non genre films as well, straight dramas or stories of social commentary (Boy Erased, Monsters and Men, If Beale Street Could Talk, Call Me By Your Name, Moonlight, Roma, The Favourite). In fact, there are studies that suggest the more diverse a cast is, the more money that film will make at the box office.

 

     So what does this mean for up and coming filmmakers, for writers, directors and producers? To me it suggests that diversity, especially diversity meets genre, is the zeitgeist of the day and this should be embraced and taken to heart. If you are a member of a diverse group, then don’t be afraid, in fact, be proud to tell your story from your own background, with that special insight that being a member of a diverse group can give you. For others, it might be something as simple as changing your lead or setting. Can your white-bread male lead, as well as supporting cast, be made female or gay or a member of a diverse group?

 

And generally speaking, it means making your world larger rather than smaller and be open to all possibilities in the world today.

 

In closing, I am going to talk about two movies that have core similarities: Into the Woods, the film made from the Stephen Sondheim musical, and the live action remake of the animated film, Beauty and the Beast, both fantasies, both musicals.

 

About halfway through Into the Woods, where on stage the intermission comes, everyone is singing Happily Ever After at the castle. Standing next to the main characters is a black woman, the only character of diversity I remember seeing in the film. And at that moment, all I could think is that, my, this movie is incredibly white. Cut to Beauty and the Beast which had an amazingly diverse cast, including two gay characters.

 

    Now, I’m not saying that this was why Into the Woods didn’t do as well as expected or hoped and Beauty and the Beast was such a success. Into the Woods had other problems. And there are many reasons why one movie fails and another succeeds.

 

But still, I couldn’t help but take notice. And I think this is an area where filmmakers should probably start taking notice.