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"Watching The Lord of the Rings by Christopher Vogler


"The Screenwriter in the Editing Room" by Christopher Vogler
"On The Firing Line" by Christopher Vogler
"What's the Big Deal?" by Christopher Vogler
"Fusing Fact and Fiction for Art's Sake" by Brad Schreiber
"Biographical Sketches Revitalize Telepic World" by Brad Schreiber

"Watching The Lord of the Rings by Christopher Vogler
Sometimes I like to see a movie twice; once to watch the movie, and once to
watch the audience. You can learn a lot from watching the audience, how
involved they are, how restless, how they breathe, when they lean over to talk to
each other, when they dont understand something.
I saw The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time early
in the movies run, in a packed house, and concentrated on watching the movie.
Watching movies is an uneasy process for me, since I am observing with a lot of
agendas most movie-goers dont have. I am watching professionally, both as a
writer judging a fellow of the craft and as a worker in the film industry who needs
to keep up on trends and be able to debate points with colleagues and bosses.
Every movie becomes a tool or a weapon whose success or failure you use to
prove your point and defend the movie you want to make. Every movie is
evidence. I also watch with the eye of a teacher and lecturer and have to keep
track of plot points and running times and earmark potential clips to illustrate
ideas I talk about. To top it off, Im scanning every movie for points of
correspondence with my theories about the Heros Journey and the archetypes
that I see pervading everything. Im especially interested in things that seem to
contradict, plot elements or editing choices that defy either my perceived patterns
or Hollywoods unwritten but standardized code of story development.
The Fellowship of the Ring is so loaded with Heros Journey evidence that I
dont need to dwell there. Suffice it to say that reading the books as a teenager
was one of my first experiences of modern-day myth-making, showing me how a
writer could revive the potency of mythic patterns. When I was trying to work out
and systematize those patterns for myself in my twenties and thirties, The Lord
of the Rings was a major source of orientation, providing vivid examples of the
heroic way stations such as the selection of the hero in the Ordinary World, the
Call to Adventure, the fateful meeting with a Mentor, and so on. Its all there, big
and obvious, in fact so obvious that it must have been a worry for the filmmakers.
Because everyone from George Lucas to He-Man, Master of the Universe to
Dungeons and Dragons has been feasting all these years on the archetypal
imagery in LOTR, mining its icons of demons and dwarfs and wizards with pointy
hats, wouldnt it seem, well, a little old hat?
It made over 300 million dollars in its first run, so I guess not. Timing is
everything, and they may have been lucky to come along at a time when the
world imagination was bruised by reality and desperately needed the Tiger Balm
of myth to ease its pain. I like to think the movie would have worked at any time
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because there was a commitment, in the books and in the faithful adaptation, to
giving depth and dimension to the archetypes that have been turned into clichs
by other hands.
What was interesting was how the movie seems to challenge some of the
unwritten rules of Hollywood development. These are truisms that everyone
quickly learns and most of the time they are true and useful, but like any
convention they can stultify creativity. There will always be an embattled
borderline between common sense and artistic risk-taking.
Its hard to imagine The Fellowship of the Ring surviving a conventional
Hollywood development meeting. For one thing, it doesnt have a happy ending
and in fact leaves matters unresolved in a way that is quite risky. The filmmakers
were gambling that people were willing to wait three years to resolve an overall
dramatic question: Will Frodo resist temptation and survive Orc attacks to fulfill
his mission? Its more radical than the story links that Lucas plants in the Star
Wars movies, like Darth Vader surviving the Death Star battle or Luke Skywalker
getting a wink from Princess Leia that lets you know therell be a sequel. Lucas
ends each movie on an upbeat, celebratory note, evoking a sense of community
or group spirit. By contrast, at the end of Fellowship the heroic team is
scattered and grieving, the principal hero isolated and uncertain. Not the sort of
thing that reassures movie executives. I can hear the dialogue in the typical;
Hollywood story meeting: The characters keep talking about this place Mordor
for 125 pages and youre telling me we dont even get there until the third
movie?!
Another element that would have provoked vigorous objections in a conventional
story meeting is the fact that there are two of everything. What I noticed on the
first viewing was how polarized this story is, how shot through with duality,
pairing and twinning. Its not only split into the two obvious camps of good and
evil but further polarized into pairs and twins at every level, the ultimate buddy
picture. There are two pairs of Hobbit adventurers, two lanky-haired human
warrior nobles, two white-bearded wizards, two races of monstrous Orc warriors,
two otherworldly women, and two elaborate sets depicting shimmering Elvish
dreamworlds. Even the taciturn elf Legolas and the sputtering dwarf Gimli make
a Mutt and Jeff pairing of opposites.
All this doubling would probably be the first thing conventionally-minded execs
would want to change. Hm. We have two of everything. Why dont we combine
the two human warriors into one guy? And just have one girl. And one monster.
And one set.
Thankfully the development of The Lord of the Rings went on mostly outside
the Hollywood arena, for doubling and twinning have their value. Ask Buuel, ask
Hitchcock. In movies like That Obscure Object of Desire or Strangers on a
Train they used dppelgangers to give resonance and a sense of lifes mystery
to their works. Polarization and doubling are great engines of conflict, allowing
the audience to experience contrasting reactions by different characters to the
same situation and tugging on conflicting drives and desires within each person
viewing the story.
Hollywoods cookie-cutter narrative conventions dont apply when a film has a
broader vision. The fellowship of artists and craftspeople who brought forth this
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version of The Lord of the Rings are working, like Lucas in the Star Wars
movies, on an epic canvas. An epic is a series of adventures linked together by a
single great struggle or quest, some unanswered question weaving many
threads of narrative into a coherent tapestry that will bear being told over a long
period of time. Repetition, doubling, twinning, echoing and mirroring are the
instruments of epic, bringing out the music and magic power of names and
probing the mysteries of identity. Hollywood thinking may say the doubling is
redundant, but an epic marches to a different heartbeat.
The episodes or chapters of an epic like The Lord of the Rings may not require
the usual neatly wrapped but often sterile resolution of Hollywood conventional
thinking. The filmmakers were signaling the audience that it was going to be a
long ride with a bigger vision than a single blockbuster Friday night opening.
Wait; doesnt this long-term storytelling fly in the face of the famous short
attention span of modern audiences? Dont they want instant gratification?
Maybe the impatient choppiness of current entertainment and the breathless
pace of technology have generated a desire for something to countervail,
something patient and deep, something willing to work in you over a long time,
something to link the parts of your life. It took three Christmas seasons to unfold
the full epic of Lord of the Rings and with Star Wars, most of our lifetimes.
Audiences, young and old, are saying Thats OK. We like that once in awhile.
Theres something reassuring about the artist who thinks were going to live long
enough to enjoy all this story in the post 9-11 world.
The repetition, the doubling, and the long strands of inter-connected narrative all
mean something. They say that life is a series of cycles, and that we will likely
meet the same kinds of archetypal guardians, opponents and allies at various
stages along the way. But the nature of the conflicts changes as you age and
grow over the span of an epic. Reading The Lord of the Rings in my 20s, I was
inspired by its idealism but also terrified by its vision of middle life and old age as
a patient, plodding struggle against the mundane grinding of evil. Seeing the
movie meant something else to me from my current perspective, around the
corner of age fifty, reminding me that the raw intensity of youthful dreams still has
purity and power. At the same time I felt the death of comrades in the movie
keenly, for comrades have started to fall around me, and I looked to the story for
the courage to continue the struggle without them.
Like any good mythic cycle, J. R. R. Tolkiens The Lord of the Rings keeps
drawing parallels appropriate to every time and place. In creating the story,
Tolkien was reacting to the hammer blows of industrial revolution and world war
on his beloved English countryside. In the 1950s the books seemed like a
prediction of the uneasy struggles of the Cold War, and in later decades
strangely reflected both the trippy odysseys of many hippies and the harrowing
battle experience of grunts in Vietnam. Today, the first installment of the movie
version resonated with the titanic, polarizing struggle against terrorism and, like
the events of Sept. 11, invited consideration of whats human, heroic, and evil in
our fellow men. The image of the twin towers shadowed the movie (and all
movies for awhile) like a ghost, forcefully brought to mind by the looming
presence of Sarumans dark tower, a true axis of evil. Eerily, Tolkien titled the
second book in his trilogy The Two Towers, providing the title for the second
episode of the Trilogy.
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My first viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring had another impact on me, quite
a physical one. It gave me a complete spinal adjustment, so bone-shakingly
righteous was the battle against the monsters in the depths of Moria Mines. I
actually felt my vertebrae snapping into alignment, making eights buck admission
seem like a bargain compared to a session with the chiropractor. It was the most
physical catharsis Ive had in the movies in years.
I depend a lot on bodily reactions to evaluate a movie or a script. My mentor,
popularizer of myth Joseph Campbell, used to say the archetypes, symbols, and
narrative patterns of myth operate on the organs of the body, triggering
physiological reactions. When I had to evaluate a great many scripts as part of
the studio assembly line, I depended on my body to tell me whether the things
were any good or not. My criterion became It must stimulate two organs of my
body to get a positive recommendation and when I reported verbally to
executives on scripts Id read I would describe its physical effect on me it made
my blood run cold, it made my heart pound, I choked up, I laughed out loud, etc.
So, hoping for another spinal crack, I came back a second time later in the run of
the movie, but instead of a lumbar release I got to see how the movie was
playing for young American manhood. This was my viewing to watch the
audience.
The theatre was empty but for me and a scattering of young males who reflected
the ethnic diversity of Los Angeles, prime cannon fodder for the war against
terrorism. I sensed they were either just out of the military or thinking about
signing up; there was a certain professionalism about their running critique of the
movie.
Since it was just us guys in the theatre they felt free to loosen up and react loudly
and enthusiastically, in short, they were a good audience. Its as close as I can
get in L.A. to the conviviality and involvement of a pre-Giuliani 42nd St. grind
house where the audience talked back to Clint Eastwood and Sly Stallone.
With warrior eyes, the eyes of young men who had survived the streets of L.A.,
my audience rated the weapons and tactics of the little band of brothers on the
screen. The Elf Legolas, looking like a slender surfer dude, got top marks for his
awesome archery, handling his bow like a machine gun and even flinging an
arrow bare-handed in a pinch. A good man to have on your squad. They gave
Boromir his props for the way he went down fighting impossible odds, like Roland
in the pass of Roncesvalles or the doomed Rangers in Mogadishu.
My fellow movie-goers werent just hooting and hollering through the battles,
however. They were struck to respectful silence by the spell of Elvish magic and
the ethereal radiance of the two Elf women, Arwen and Galadriel, portraits of
idealized womanhood such as Henry Vs knights would paint on the inner surface
of their shields. When the gallant Arwen defied the Ringwraiths at the river
crossing, the young could-be warriors in the darkened theatre had to furtively dab
the corners of their eyes. Tears fell again as Samwise Gamgee grieved over his
comrades capture and death and the utter failure of his mission. The characters
of fantasy didnt seem so distant from the lives and emotions of these young
men, who might soon being facing opponents no less dangerous than those on
the screen.
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Clearly, the revival of Tolkiens mythic creation in this time of terrorism was
serving the purpose the myths have always served, to present role models and
ideals, to give signal lessons in tragedy and triumph, to give orientation and
anchorage in the stormy seas of life. Its also a pretty good manual of close
combat at the squad level. My audience might have been escaping into a
fantasy, but they also were drinking up this stuff with an eye on reality, looking for
ways to carry themselves in battle and on the street.
The Lord of the Rings speaks of vast conflict and shattering polarization, but
tells us there is power too in unity, and that behind the masks of dualism we are
one. People of good will can band together like the heroes of the tale, putting
aside differences in common cause, trying to make the world a little better
despite immense forces to the contrary. Against darkness and apparent evil, we
have the shield of fellowship and the comfort of unity and community.
As the legend says, One Ring to rule them all and in the darkness bind them.
We were certainly bound in the darkness, me and that afternoons audience for
the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings, fellow travelers on a long journey
together, seeking meaning for our shadowed world in the mirror of a myth, just as
humans have always done.

"The Screenwriter in the Editing Room" by Christopher Vogler
The screenwriting process, I discovered, doesnt stop when the writer hands in
the final draft. A film is re-written many times in the production and
post-production process by the choices of directors, actors, producers, editors
and technicians. These choices can have drastic, deep-reaching impact on the
whole concept of the work, evolving it into something more, and sometimes less,
than the vision the screenwriter has labored to put down on paper. I have always
assumed that opportunities to shape the narrative continued deep into the
process, but because most of my work has been in pre-production I rarely got to
see just how true that is. Then I got one of those out-of-the-blue phone calls. In
the language of myths that I expound in this book, this was my Call to Adventure.
The voice on the line was that of actor Steve Guttenberg, veteran of mainstream
Hollywood entertainment such as POLICE ACADEMY, COCOON, DINER, and
THREE MEN AND A BABY. He said he was a fan of my book and that he wanted
my help on a new project he was undertaking. He was about to start shooting his
first feature film as a director, an adaptation of the Broadway play P. S. YOUR
CAT IS DEAD.
Intrigued, I met Steve at a Santa Monica deli and discovered he is an intelligent,
high-energy, upbeat, sincere guy. He has been part of the movie business since
he was a brash eighteen-year-old infiltrating himself onto Hollywood lots, and his
move into directing is a natural progression. His approach to directing his first
feature was to surround himself with smart people in key positions.
One of his advisors had told him that rather than producing an original story for
his first film, he would be better off optioning an existing property, something that
already had a track record and some kind of reputation. He was able to secure
the rights to P. S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD, a play and novel by the late James
Kirkwood, co-author of A CHORUS LINE.
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I later discovered that many people have fond memories of this material from
having seen productions of the play or from having read the novel at a certain
formative time in their lives. It deals with the dashed hopes and unquenched
creative drive of the artist on the fringe of show business. Its known for its
intense two-character scenes which are often chosen by student actors for their
exercises. Various producers and studios had tried to develop a movie version
over the years, but until now no one had managed to bring it to the screen.
Steve quickly laid out the story of P. S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD. A down-on-his-luck
actor walks into a barrage of bad breaks one New Years Eve. In short order his
best friend has died, his one-man play has folded, his girlfriend is ending their
relationship, and his cat is sick with a bladder infection. Someone has
burglarized his apartment, taking the only copy of a novel that he labored over for
a year. He wishes he could get his hands on the burglar, and unexpectedly that
wish is granted when the burglar strikes again. The actor catches the burglar,
knocking him out in a struggle and tying him up. At first he seeks revenge on his
enemy, a feisty, funny guy who hurls insults even while tied up on the kitchen
sink. But the actor soon realizes the burglar is human, in fact more human that
he is in many ways. By the end of the evening, theyve gone through a crisis
together and theyre on their way to becoming friends.
It was a courageous departure for Steve, who gained stardom as the likeable
hero of broad, commercial comedies and fantasies. He wanted to try something
different, he said, to show what he could do as an actor but more importantly to
establish the range of things hed like to do as a director.
Steve was now just a few weeks away from starting to shoot the movie. He had
secured financing, had co-written the script with standup comedian and
screenwriter Jeff Korn, and would serve as producer as well as directing and
acting in the film. He would play Jimmy Zoole, the down-and-out actor. He
wanted my help in looking over the script before going into production.
I jumped at the chance to influence a go picture. Much of what I do, even for
major studios, is working on scripts that might get made, someday. This was
more immediate and real than ninety per cent of the projects I deal with. I agreed
to serve as a consultant, one of several godfathers who would help guide Steve
through the process of making an independent film.
My first step was to go home and read the current script and its underlying
material, the stage play and the novel. I felt the script was a little scattered in its
attempt to touch on the many themes explored by playwright and novelist
Kirkwood. It seemed to be about many things -- the frustrations of being an actor,
the difficulties of love, the torments of creativity, the dangers of dependency, the
meaning of friendship, the challenge of adversity. When Steve and I met again, I
made a few suggestions for refining the narrative to support a single theme,
something that I hoped would encompass all the interesting sub-themes while
creating a coherent dramatic experience. I suggested that the core of the play
was the idea of what it means to be human. The playwright presented two men,
reacting to difficult situations in different ways. One (the actor) responds from a
baser, less human part of himself, while the other (the burglar) reacts in ways
that show he is more evolved, more completely human. The journey of the hero
in this case is to recognize the humanity of his enemy, acknowledge his own
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brutality, and begin to change for the better.
I offered this observation along with many lesser notes about details and
mechanics of story. Steve accepted my notes and incorporated as much as
possible into the script before commencement of shooting.
After Steve and his crew had been shooting for a few days, I visited the set and
looked at the dailies which they had already assembled into a rough cut of the
first scene. I was impressed with the production value but a little concerned over
the direction they were taking in terms of coverage and camera angles. Steve
and his editor, a talented young man named Derek Vaughn, had chosen to keep
the camera at an almost Martian distance from the actors at first, with a plan to
gradually move in tighter as we got to know the characters better.
I thought this approach was a little too intellectual, and that it defied the desire of
the audience to see deeply into peoples faces, to read the play of emotions in
their eyes. I suggested that they back up their bold experimental approach with
slightly more conventional coverage, and more closeups, just in case their
experiment didnt work.
I also felt the scene they showed me was overcut, jumping back and forth
between the actors unnecessarily in the effort to generate tension. I counseled
them to relax and trust the materiaI, the dramatic situation, to provide the
tension. I think they heard me. In the end they struck a balance between artful,
innovative technique and sturdy, classic methods that let the story tell itself.
Then I went away for awhile, only visiting the set a couple of times during
shooting. From those visits I could see that Steve was an unusually collaborative
filmmaker, welcoming suggestions from everyone including the fellow who
delivered the pizzas. He kept a happy set for the most part, and I was pleased to
see that his screenwriting partner, Jeff Korn, was on set most of the time,
rewriting lines and scenes as needed, or reminding Steve of why they had
decided, months before, to set up a scene a certain way.
As the crew completed principal photography and Steve and Derek began to edit
the picture, Steves line producer, Kyle Clarke, approached me about taking on a
bigger role in the production as an executive producer. He felt, and Steve
agreed, that someone was needed to guide the production through the next
phase. I found myself accepting the role without any real notion of what that
might mean.
Steve and Derek, meantime, had edited the film to a rough cut of around two
hours. They screened it for audiences of crew and friends and began making
changes based on feedback from the viewers. What we saw in all these early
versions was a fascinating, unpredictable, but ultimately exhausting expanse of
drama and comedy. There was simply too much of a good thing. The scenes,
one by one, were riveting, but the audience was worn out by the struggle
between the two antagonists. Certain scenes seemed to repeat information, or
developed ideas and backstories in greater detail than was really needed. The
story began strongly with a rousing argument between the actor and his girlfriend
that played much funnier on the screen than it did on paper. The audience roared
at the impotent fury of the actor as his girlfriend walks out on him on New Years
Eve. However, the movie then turned much darker as the actor discovered and
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confronted the burglar, and their conflict, at first mesmerizing, seemed to lose
focus and drive. In addition there were many rough spots in editing and sound
that drained away the good will of the audience.
I had a hunch there was a real movie in there somewhere. Professional
filmmakers who saw the rough cuts agreed, predicting that Steve had months of
editing ahead to bring out the potential in the material. Everyone sensed that
another eye was needed to find the movie in that embarrassment of riches. This
is not an uncommon situation and is no slight upon the skills of the director.
Directors understandably grow close to their material and may not be able to see
all the possibilities in what they have shot.
While the situation stewed, I visited the editing room to give my notes on the
most recent version. I spent an afternoon going over the film scene by scene with
Steve and his editor, Derek. By the end of the day it was clear we clicked and
could make a formidable team. Somehow I balanced between Steves
impetuous, restless creativity and Dereks intellectual, almost Vulcan logic. I
found myself coming back the next day, and the next, and then pretty much
every day for the following four months, during which we chopped and shaved
the film down to a tight eighty-four minutes.
I fell in love with the editing process, realizing it is an extension of the writing
process. I relished the absolute power to shape the narrative, to seek out and
emphasize different themes at will, to direct the thoughts and feelings of the
audience.
We were joining in the writing of the film, in the telling of the story, as fully as the
screenwriter. We were able to make choices over such things as point of view,
degree of comic intention, level of intensity, tempo, rhythm, and velocity. For
example we made the choice early on to tell the story primarily from the actors
point of view, on the writers principle that the story belongs to whichever
character has the greatest distance to travel.
We did a lot of writing with silence. In many cases, lines of dialogue had been
written and filmed to explain things or to express a characters reaction to a
dramatic turn, but we found that a more effective statement was to say nothing,
or to find a hint of a smile or a glint in the actors eye that said it better than
words.
In one scene, a critical moment when the actor rings up a shady friend of his,
inviting him to come up and harass the tied-up burglar, we struggled for a long
time with the dialogue on the other end of the phone call. Lines had been written
and shot, showing a character receiving the call on the other side of town, but the
footage was technically flawed. We decided not to use it, leaving us free to write
any dialogue we wanted for the other side of the phone call. It was a tempting
opportunity to lay in a number of ideas that would help to explain Steves
motivation or add shadings of menace, and we wrote and recorded several
versions of this call. However, it occurred to me that we could also delete that
half of the conversation, so that we only heard Steves end of the call. When we
tried it, we found the effect was electrifying. It threw much more weight to Steves
character and his action, making him appear more brutal and calculating. It also
gave more emphasis to the burglar, who is listening intently to Steves half of the
conversation for clues about his fate. It put the audience in the same position,
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getting the same information that the burglar gets.
This experience was but one example of a principle that kept asserting itself in
the editing (re-writing) process. Every time we made a change, especially when
we cut something we had become attached to, we would discover three or four
unexpected benefits from the change. There was abundant endorsement for the
idea that Less is more.
Another principle emerged that works as well on paper as in the editing room: Its
better to be clear than to be pretty. Often we were faced with a choice of
approaches to a scene or a shot -- one way was artful and mysterious, a little
obscure or clever, while the other option was straightforward, not as interesting
perhaps, but certainly clearer. Again and again we found that the overall purpose
of the work was better served by the simple, clear choice. Intelligibility and lack of
ambiguity allowed the audience to participate fully in the experience, following
every idea and emotional development, instead of intermittently losing the thread
of the narrative while we tried to impress them with an arty shot or an obscure
reference. In our process we made many passes over the entire film from front
to back, looking for and correcting various things, and one of our passes was
devoted entirely to intelligibility, rigorously asking ourselves if everything made
sense, if the intention of the scene was clear, if the audience could understand
everything the characters said and did, and more importantly, why they said and
did everything. We sacrificed many beautiful shots and actor moments because
their intent was not entirely clear. When in doubt, cut it out became our motto.
Focus was another useful principle that came into play as we re-wrote the movie
through editing. By determining the intention of each scene, and eliminating
anything that did not serve that intention, we achieved a much greater sense of
focus and direction. Focus had been scattered in the production phase because
there are so many things to keep in mind and keep track of -- lighting, sound,
performance, set decoration, continuity, a variety of themes and motifs that you
wish to be consistent, and so on. It was as if a great many lights were aimed at
different subjects in a frame, producing a fuzzy, out-of-focus effect, but when we
shut off the distracting side lights and illuminated a single subject, the whole
picture came into sharp focus. We tried to maintain a laser-like focus throughout
the film, so that there is certainty about where its going and what youre
supposed to be considering from moment to moment.
The natural impulse when adapting a stage play to film is to open it up by
adding exterior scenes or action sequences. Most plays are designed for minimal
sets and as few actors as possible. The P. S. team had shot ample material to
open up the play, including excursions to a local grocery and a New Years eve
party at the home of the actors rich aunt. They had also staged the physical and
verbal battles with an eye towards avoiding the sense of claustrophobia. The
hero frequently went to the window to look out and sigh, and some of the fight
scenes were covered from a P.O.V. across the street, outside the building. The
team shot the film in such a way that the audience had opportunities to escape,
fearing that they would tire of being caged with two angry men in a small
apartment.
In fact we found that just the opposite was true. Instead of opening it up, what
worked best was bottling it in. We were stoking a boiler, and the excursions and
trips to the window let the accumulated energy dissipate. What the audience
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seemed to like most, and what they really needed from the narrative and
dramatic point of view, was to be as close to the two men as possible, right in
their faces, nose to nose. Thats where the action was, and the dramatic
explosions that the script was trying to ignite could only happen when the
pressure was kept tightly contained.
With that in mind, we cut the film again and again, looking for ways to streamline
it and throw focus onto the dramatic conflict at the spine of the story. We had to
sacrifice some moments of comedy and even a few substantial scenes to do it,
but it was worth it. One elaborate scene had been shot outdoors for a moment in
the film when the hero returns to his apartment from a party he has been to. He
sees emergency lights and fears that something has happened to the burglar
whom he left tied up. Rounding a corner, he sees a firetruck and crew attending
to a car fire, and is relieved. Although considerable time and expense had gone
into this scene, in the end we left it out because it didnt serve the hard dramatic
core of the narrative. Many other scenes and moments, though effective on their
own, went the same way. Perhaps the expense could have been avoided by
more thoughtful, rigorous screenwriting before production began.
The editing process began to seem something like building a boat. The spine of
the story, the simple idea of a man discovering his own humanity, became the
keel. To that we attached the ribs, the key turning points and confrontations. Over
those we laid the planks, the individual scenes and speeches. Then we began to
plane and sand, shaving the craft down to an efficient shape that could cut
through the water. At one point I thought of the old Viking story of the shipwright
who astonishes his apprentices by gouging deep wedges out of every plank on a
ship being built for the king. They think hes ruined the ship for some reason, but
upon reflection realize hes simply guided them to plane all the planks down to
the level of the gouges, producing a ship that is almost supernaturally light and
slender, slicing through waves instead of shouldering them. Thats what we were
doing, cutting to the bone, making the most efficient version of P. S. YOUR CAT
IS DEAD possible with the footage that had been shot. To Steves credit, once he
grasped the principle, he led the charge, ruthlessly taking his axe to many
scenes that featured his acting skills, but did not serve the speed and efficiency
of the boat we were building. In one memorable session he suggested a drastic
cut that eliminated fourteen minutes of intense and moving exchanges beween
the two antagonists. He was right -- although these scenes deepened the
characters, they did so at the expense of the velocity and sense of narrative
drive.
One of our most effective tools became the manipulation of the audiences
breathing. We discovered that by cutting out all pauses and hesitations in the
dialogue during tense scenes of conflict, the audience tended to hold their breath
or to breathe very shallowly until we reached a climax or turning point in the
scene. Then we would create a pause, sometimes by drawing back from tight,
edgy closeups to a more serene long shot, sometimes by allowing the actor on
screen to sigh or draw a breath before beginning the next run of dialogue
exchange. These pauses subtly cued the audience to breathe, creating an
important moment in which the brain changes gears, the mind absorbs
realizations, the emotions flood in.
The screenwriter working on the page has many of the same techniques at hand,
and can control breathing and other physiological functions in the reader. Its a
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thrill to read a good script that takes charge in this way, getting your eye to fly
along the page, clicking seamlessly through sparse volleys of crisp dialogue and
action that get your pulse pounding, leaving you gasping, and then every so
often, under precise control, letting you rest, recoup, and reflect.
Narrative is biological, working on the organs of the body, playing them like the
instruments in a symphony orchestra. When I evaluated scripts as a
development executive at Fox, my criterion was that they had to affect me in at
least two organs of the body, grabbing my gut and raising a lump in my throat, or
making my heart throb and bringing a tear to my eye. I came to depend on my
body as a judge of material in other ways. If my head nodded or my posterior
went numb while reading a script, I knew the writer had succeeded in boring me.
If I grew restless in my chair and began tapping my foot, I knew the writer had
overstayed his welcome.
My impression is that writers rarely have anything to do with the editing stage of
the filmmaking process, and that by and large they are excluded from the editing
room. If they are lucky, they might get a chance to comment after a screening of
a version, but it would be unusual for a writer to be invited into the day-by-day
process of editing. In the case of P. S., the three-person team of Steve, Derek,
and myself took a run at editing a version of the picture all on our own, but then
were most eager to get reactions and ideas from the primary screenwriter, Jeff
Korn, and invited him to spend several days with us as we did one of our
passes over the film. There were many opportunities to write additional
dialogue, voice-overs, parts of phone conversations, and wild lines, that is, lines
over shots in which the actors lips are not shown so that any reasonable
dialogue can be inserted. We got out of many difficulties with Jeffs help, and
kept the new elements consistent with his voice and style of writing. In addition,
his eye and ear were useful in testing our choices, pointing out where we had
failed in our intention to make things clear and crisp. He often was the only one
who could remember why choices were made long ago, and guided us to
recover the original intention of a scene or a line of dialogue.
One of the last stages of post-production is smoothing out sound and music. This
stage, like all the others, was a continuation of the writing process, and we found
ourselves rewriting the script by the subtle choices about where music begins
and ends, where the climax of a piece of music is placed, and what version of a
piece you select. Screenwriters are often told that they shouldnt put specific
music cues into a script because producers may not be able to secure the rights,
and its probably unwise to hang an entire story or major plot point on the lyrics of
a Beatles tune or a Beach Boys recording. However, it can be very effective to
mention a familiar composition, quote a line from a pop song, or suggest a type
of music when you are writing the script. The reader sometimes resonates to
these suggestions, and as an executive evaluating scripts, I would find myself
humming the music the writer had mentioned, or unconsciously reading the script
with the rhythm of the music that the writer had planted a few pages before.
As we polished P. S. and added levels of sound effects we also added a
dimension of reality, creating the impression of a consistent sound ambience in
the apartment, and now and then evoking the feeling of a whole city pulsing
outside the building. Once in awhile, the sounds of cars and people outside
helped to emphasize the heros isolation and loneliness. Again, these tools are
also available to the screenwriter, who can sometimes drop in a telling reference
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to the sounds in the environment, summoning up another sensory stimulus for
the reader, and contributing to the overall effect of the story being a lived
experience with depth and dimension.
Finally, I observed that the writing process continues, in a way, in the minds of
the audience members who see the finished film. They complete the circuit,
taking in the images, words and sounds that the writers and their collaborators
have assembled and drawing conclusions from them. Each person arrives at a
unique judgment of the film and its characters, writing his or her own version.
How often have you gone back to see a loved or hated old film, only to realize
you remembered it in an entirely different way, and that you have rewritten
scenes in memory to match your own idea of things?
Screenwriting is a process that extends far beyond the composition of a
screenplay, stretching both backward into the imagination and experience of the
writer, and forward into the hands of the directors, editors, producers, and
technicians who will continue to shape the vision. On P. S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD I
had the chance to see how the screenwriting truly continues through the entire
filmmaking process, even if it isnt always the nominal screenwriter who is doing
the writing. Along the way I discovered that some of the tools of post-production
and techniques of film editing could be just as useful at treatment or screenplay
stage to focus the story and invite the full participation of the reader. Its good to
try on the other fellows hat once in awhile, and I wish all writers could have the
experience of time in the editing room, so they could see how closely the worlds
of editing and screenwriting are bound. Screenwriters should be more involved in
all phases of production, and smart producers and directors will budget for some
of the writers time in the post-production phase to insure continuity of voice and
vision, and to make full use of the writers skills in the editing room as well as on
the page.

"On the Firing Line" by Christoper Vogler
A behind-the-scenes look at the development of THE THIN RED LINE, Terrence
Malick's acclaimed comeback film.
==
My four-and-a-half-year run as a development executive at Fox 2000 led me into
some fascinating and varied arenas of story, from a seven million dollar labor of
love (SOUL FOOD) all the way to a $100 million special effects inferno
(VOLCANO). But undoubtedly the highlight of that period was the opportunity to
work on Terrence Malicks filmed essay on war, THE THIN RED LINE.
Fox 2000 is a division of 20th Century Fox, producing feature films under the
direction of Laura Ziskin, president of production, an experienced producer of
quality films like NO WAY OUT, THE DOCTOR, HERO, TO DIE FOR, and
PRETTY WOMAN. Fox 2000 was started in 1994 to expand Foxs slate of
feature films.
At some point in 1997 I was delighted to learn that Ziskin had decided to support
Terrence Malicks comeback film, an adaptation of James Jones epic novel of
World War II, THE THIN RED LINE. Malick, a famous recluse known and
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admired for two artful feature films from the early 70s, BADLANDS and DAYS OF
HEAVEN, had virtually disappeared from Hollywoods scope for twenty years.
Now he was back, with an ambitious project to film Jones complex, controversial
novel, a semi-autobiographical account of his experiences in the battle of
Guadalcanal.
We got into the development rather late, after Malick had already been working
on the script for many years. We contributed notes and suggestions about editing
the script, which was about 180 pages long when we first saw it. It was a unique
document, unlike any other screenplay I had ever seen. It included long
descriptions of action and patches of inner monologue, detailing the tortured
thought processes of the men under stress. As I discovered when I read Jones
novel, Malick had in effect transcribed large portions of the book, simply
changing the narrative to present tense. The effect was a dense and challenging
read. It was difficult to sort out the many characters. Some had similar names, a
feature of Jones' book. Jones seemed to be suggesting that the soldiers were
almost interchangeable units, at least from the Armys point of view. Again, the
characters were hard to sort out because some of them werent in the story for
very long before being shot to pieces.
This was a script that had to be read more than once. After several readings it
began to make sense and the major themes and character relationships began
to emerge.
My first assignment was to read the novel of "The Thin Red Line" and compare it
to the script, so the studio would know what characters and situations were taken
from the book and what Malick had invented, combined or cut out. James Jones
is a wonderful writer who was able to project himself convincingly into the minds
of many characters, breaking the basic novel-writing rule about sticking to one
point of view. At the end of that book you're beginning to get some idea of just
what hell those young soldiers went through.
I wrote a memo on what I thought the major themes were, basically that the
young men became a kind of family under the intense stresses of combat. The
army and the war try to dehumanize them and they must fight to maintain their
individuality.
My second assignment was to prepare a briefing document that described the
military situation at Guadalcanal and its importance in the war. Neither Malick nor
James Jones spent much time setting the campaign into its historical context,
preferring to dramatize the disorienting subjective experience of troops thrown
into combat with little motivation or preparation. I learned that this was the first
major amphibious landing by U.S. troops, and Americas first opportunity to
respond in force to the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. In less than a
year, the U.S. geared up its military and launched the Pacific campaign at
Guadalcanal, first in a chain of islands that would have to conquered to push the
Japanese back to their homeland.
Next we began to send notes to Malick and the production crew who were just
about to start shooting in northern Australia. These notes presented suggestions
for trimming the script, combining and eliminating characters to emphasize
certain themes and relationships. Malick took these suggestions with good grace
and continually strove to streamline the unwieldy but fascinating script. While
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looking for characters to cut, we all had our favorite characters whose presence
we fought for, like Mazzi and Tills, two G.I.s who provided some comic relief.
From the beginning of our involvement, we backed Malick as a respected artist
and trusted his instincts. Malick added some scenes at the beginning that are not
found in the book. These involve Jim Caviezel's character, the wandering
rifleman Witt, and show him going AWOL and living with a native tribe, to explain
the kind of trouble that Witt got himself into, and set the tone of contrast between
the peaceful, beautiful village life and the horror of war.
It was a little worrying because the movie could have turned into a HEAVENS
GATE or APOCALYPSE NOW situation where a great artist struggles to find a
form and the production never comes to an end. But we trusted Malick to make it
into a beautiful design, and in fact he not only produced a powerful film, he came
in on time and on budget.
Once the picture started shooting, my job was to view the dailies as they came in
on videotape. This was a huge job because Malick had at least two crews
shooting at all times. He did a lot of improvising with Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, and
the others while a second unit was out shooting butterflies, shadows, and
explosions.
He seemed to be a gentle, patient director who guided and calmed the actors
with the simplest directions possible. "More scared," he would say, "As scared as
you've ever been in your life.
He shot a tremendous amount of film, enough, as Nick Nolte has said, to make a
whole other movie without duplicating any of the footage. Sadly, some wonderful
performances and ideas had to be cut, because something had to go. There was
simply too much story, and everyone knew it all along, including Malick.
The part of Fife, the scrawny company clerk played by Adrian Brody, was a major
element of the story in the book and the script, and yet was cut down to two lines
in the finished movie. In the dailies we saw a wonderful friendship between Fife
and Witt being tested by battle, and Fife's loyalty to his fellow soldiers driving him
to return to the front lines even when wounded and entitled to go back to the
States. All of that was gone, including Fife getting into fights with other GIs as he
developed his self-esteem, getting wounded, and being questioned by an Army
doctor.
I felt terrible for the actors who worked so hard on scenes that didn't make it into
the movie. Adrian Brody, with his quizzical looks and talent for comedy, created a
person who was very real to me, and it didn't feel right to see the movie without
him. There were other characters, just as fully realized, who had to be cut.
The final product was an amazing movie, a harrowing view into the hell of
combat. Reviews were mixed and the box office was disappointing to those of us
who worked on it. But few could disagree that Malick had brought forth a
haunting visual masterpiece. I feel there are other movies waiting to be made in
the material shot for THE THIN RED LINE and I'd love to see alternate versions
someday. Wouldn't it be an interesting experiment for a studio to finance the
re-editing of the material shot for a film like this? Perhaps the same director could
come back in a few years and re-edit his own material, as has been done in a
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few cases. Or, if he happened to be in a generous mood, the director might
allow his editor to exhibit his preferred cut, or even allow some other director to
re-edit his raw footage into a totally new film. Maybe theres another THIN RED
LINE sitting in film cans in a vault somewhere, with equally brilliant performances
and stunning visuals waiting to be edited into another masterpiece.

What's the Big Deal?
article by Christopher Vogler
April 12, 2007
Hollywood is a sink-or-swim industry where they rarely take time to teach you
anything. But I once got a useful lesson early in my career when I was a reader
for Orion Pictures. Our story editor called a meeting of the readers to tell us
none of us had any idea what a scene was. I was surprised; I thought I knew. A
scene is a short piece of a movie, taking place in one location and one span of
time, in which some action takes place or some information is given.
Wrong, she said. And proceeded to explain that a scene is a business deal. It
may not involve money but it will always involve some change in the contract
between characters or in the balance of power. Its a transaction, in which two or
more people enter with one kind of deal between them, and negotiate or battle
until a new deal has been cut, at which point the scene should end.
It could be the reversal of a power structure. The underdog seizes power by
blackmail. Or it could be the forging of a new alliance or enmity. Two people
who hated each other make a new deal to work together in a threatening
situation. A boy asks a girl out and she accepts or rejects his offer. Two
gangsters make an alliance to rub out a rival. A mob forces a sheriff to turn a
man over for lynching. The meat of the scene is the negotiation to arrive at the
new deal, and when the deal is cut, the scene is over, period. If theres no new
deal, its not a scene, or at least its not a scene thats pulling its weight in the
script. Its a candidate either for cutting or for rewriting, to include some
significant exchange of power.
The story editor pointed out that many writers dont know what a scene is, either,
and put in non-scenes that are just there to build character or to get across
exposition. They dont know when to begin and end a scene, wasting time with
introductions and chit-chat and dragging the scene out long after the transaction
has been concluded. The scene is the deal. When the deal is done, get off the
stage.
I found this principle very useful in pinning down the essence of a scene, and I
found it also works at a macro level in identifying the bigger issues in a script, for
every story is the re-negotiation of a major deal, a contract between opposing
forces in society.
Romantic comedies are a re-negotiation of the contract between men and
women. Myths, religious stories, and fantasies rework the compact between
humans and the greater forces at play in the universe. The terms of the uneasy
balance between good and evil are re-evaluated in every superhero adventure
and story of moral dilemma. The climax of many movies is a courtroom
judgment that lays out a new agreement, passing sentence on a wrongdoer,
proclaiming someones innocence, or dictating terms of a disputed transaction.
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In all cases, we go in with one deal and we come out with a new deal having
been cut.
Knowing when the big deal of the movie has been cut tells you when the movie
should be over. Many movies today go on long after they have truly ended, as
far as the audience is concerned. They know its over when the last term of the
deal has been decided, and they get restless if the filmmaker goes on with extra
flourishes and codas and flashforwards to ten years later, etc.
And at the most macro level of all, storytelling itself is a deal. Its a contract
between you and your audience. The terms of the deal are these: They agree to
give you something of considerable value--their money--but much more
importantly, their time. You are asking them to pay attention to you and you only
for ninety minutes. Think about that! Focused attention has always been one of
the rarest and most valuable commodities in the universe, and its even truer
today, when people have so many things vying for their attention. So for them to
give you even a few minutes of their focus is huge stakes to put on the table,
worth much more than the ten bucks or so they shell out, and therefore youd
better come up with something really good to fulfill your part of the bargain.
There are many ways to fulfill that contract. I used to think the Heros Journey
model that I describe in my book THE WRITERS JOURNEY was an absolute
necessity. I still think it is the most reliable way to honor the terms of the deal
with the audience, providing them with a metaphor for their lives that includes a
taste of death and transformation. They tend to read it into any story anyhow,
and its actually hard to tell a story without including some of its elements.
But Ive come to see its not the only way to hold up your end of the deal. At a
minimum, you must be entertaining, in the original sense of the word, to hold
their attention with something a little novel, shocking, surprising, or suspenseful.
Be sensational; that is, appeal to their sensations, give them something sensual
or visceral, some sensation that they can feel in the organs of their bodies, like
speed, movement, terror, sexiness.
A good ride to another place and time can fulfill the contract. I dont remember
being moved much by the story of THE ABYSS, but I felt well repaid by being
taken to a cool dark place under the sea for two hours on a hot summer
afternoon. Giving them stars they like in appealing combinations or new
costumes is a way the studios have always used to uphold their deal with the
public. If you loved Kevin Costner in his cavalry outfit, youll love him in tights as
Robin Hood. Sheer novelty weighs heavily with audiences, justifying the
investment of their time and attention. Its worth a lot to people to be able to talk
about the movie everyones buzzing about, be it PULP FICTION, THE BLAIR
WITCH PROJECT, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, or 300. Fulfill a deep wish
the audience has, to see the dinosaurs walk again in JURASSIC PARK, or to fly
and wield superpowers in SUPERMAN. The audience will forgive a lot of story
problems and plot holes if other terms of the contract are satisfied.
At first, I resisted the idea that its all wheeling and dealing. It cant just be about
business, can it? But I came to see it is, in a way. From the Bible on down, we
have lived by our contracts, for the Bible is an account of the deals made
between God and his creation. We all have an unwritten deal with the rest of
society, called the social contract, to behave ourselves in return for our freedom
and relative safety. The essential documents of our civilization are contracts,
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agreements made or statements declaring the terms of a new deal, from
Hammurabis Code and the marriage contract to the Bill of Rights.
Just be sure when you tell your story that youve thought about Whats the deal
going down here? in every scene and Whats the big deal? of the whole story.
Think of the attention and time your clients, your audience, have put on the table,
and try to fulfill your part of the bargain with something that at least entertains
them, stimulates and amuses them, and maybe even transforms them a little bit.

Fusing Fact and Fiction for Art's Sake by Brad Schreiber
Daily Variety, Feb. 20, 2002
Henry Ford said it is bunk. Napoleon said it is a set of lies, agreed upon. But
history, as depicted in motion pictures, can revive interest in people and events
which may otherwise remain generally overlooked.
In the recent past, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman won the Golden Globe award
for his script about the schizophrenic, mathematical genius John Nash in A
Beautiful Mind, based on the book by Sylvia Nasar. The biopic posed historical
challenges, as Nash had in reality divorced his wife Alicia before returning to her,
had a child out of wedlock and homosexual tendencies. Miramax Pictures
allegedly participated in a campaign to discredit the accuracy of A Beautiful Mind,
and by association, Universal.
But as Goldsman explained, "The architecture was really genius, madness,
Nobel Prize." As for the enduring commitment between Nash and Alicia, he
acknowledged, "They divorced, then they lived together for decades. Then, they
remarried. So, the fact of John and Alicia is that they started married and ended
married ... he was in Europe for a year. That's not the movie either, you know
what I mean? There's certainly compression".
Perhaps Gregory Allan Howard had even more of a daunting task concerning
economy of storytelling, as he is credited with the story and wrote the original
draft for Ali, about one of the most recognizable people on the planet. "What I
wrote was a father and son story," says Howard, one which concentrated on
Muhammed Ali's life from age 12 to 40, as opposed to the decade covered in the
film.
Howard prefers relying on interviewing to get at historical truth, a technique
which proved quite effective when sixty interviews resulted in his script about a
1971 football team helping to integrate Alexandria, Virginia in Remember the
Titans. He feels Hollywood generally fails at biopics. "If you have a true story, you
should try to adhere to it above the 50 percent level, otherwise there is no point.
You might as well just make everything up."
When Richard Eyre co-wrote and directed Iris, he knew that most viewers would
not be familiar with author and philosopher Iris Murdoch, her battle with
Alzheimer's disease or the book Elegy for Iris, which her husband, John Bayley
wrote about their life together. The film depicts Murdoch both young and old, with
the help of Kate Winslet and Dame Judy Dench. "I never saw it as a biographical
picture," Eyre contends. "I saw it as a relationship and the story of the young and
the old (Murdoch) was a necessary device ..."
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Eyre elucidated Murdoch's views through a series of lectures in the film, but
realizes that an emotional truth is often a substitute for an historical event. "I'm
not being entirely facetious where I say certain elements of it are not
biographically true, in the literal sense. You know, who knows what goes on in
private in a marriage?"
As resident historian for the series History Vs. Hollywood on the History Channel,
Steve Gillon gives Hollywood high marks on its recent biopics. "Historians have
not been involved enough in using the opportunity of these historical films to
engage the public in a larger debate about the events that are described in film."
As an author specializing in post-New Deal America and a professor at the
University of Oklahoma, Gillon has consulted on the History Channel's
examination of films like The Patriot, U-571, 13 Days and their powerful two hour
doc, The True Story of Black Hawk Down.
"The most difficult question a historian has to grapple with is causation, is what
leads people to do the things they do ... when you take that 300 or 400 page
book and try to turn it into a film that is dramatic and can reach a wide audience,
you make further compromises to the complexity of the personality you can
present."
Gillon, whose books include That's Not What We Meant to Do, examining
legislation which achieved the opposite of its intended effect, lays out clearly the
battle lines between historians and historical films: "I think historians have to
understand the requirements of filmmaking, sort of the limitations...and the need
and desire to reach a wider audience. And filmmakers also need to understand
the importance of presenting as much as possible a portrait that's historically
accurate."

Biographical Sketches Revitalize Telepic World by Brad Schreiber
Daily Variety, June 14, 2002
While network telepics have generally receded into the mists of time, there are
still TV movies that can artistically compete with those of the silver screen.

TNT's "James Dean" seems one of the front-runners in the category this year, a
nice successor to ABC's winning biopic last year, "Life With Judy Garland: Me
and My Shadows."

The script for "James Dean," written by noted playwright Israel Horovitz, was a
feature project for seven years, originally at Warners, before Turner Network
Television decided to bring it to life. Finding an actor, outside of a then-too-young
Leonardo DiCaprio, to play Dean was a dilemma, solved with a career-making
performance by James Franco. And Horovitz's psychological insight into Dean's
abandonment by his father became the fulcrum of the storyline.

"Why would a father ship his wife's body back on a train with an 8-year-old son,
never go to the funeral and never pick the son up again, never bring the son
back out to him?" Horovitz recalls of the ideas that helped fuel the creative
process.
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The train ride from Santa Monica to Indiana book-ends a unique chronology that
Horovitz created, working with former Actors Studio cohort director Mark Rydell
in a fashion Horovitz describes as "very invested." Their agreement to not work
on the project if the right actor was not found suggests just that.

A cultural icon of an entirely different stripe, convicted killer Gary Gilmore, in
1997 was the first person in over a decade to be executed, by a firing squad no
less. His brother, journalist Mikal Gilmore, wrote a searing, honest memoir that
won the National Book Critics Circle award for biography and became HBO's
"Shot in the Heart."

"I actually tried to keep myself out of the book as much as possible, until my
place in the story became the narrative drive," explains Gilmore, played by
Giovanni Ribisi, matched in onscreen charisma by Elias Koteas as older brother
Gary. "I never saw it as about me. I saw the book as about family and I saw the
central character as my father ... and the hero as my brother Frank."

"I know in a way Mikal's book was so popular, so you're actually responsible for
the popularity of the book," says writer Frank Pugliese, who focused on the
relationship of the two brothers, with flashbacks including the alcoholism and
physical abuse that were a large part of the family dynamic.

Mikal praises the production for not settling for an ending with the ever-popular
idea of closure, especially in such a dark tale. "The story is the consequence, the
story is the aftermath ... that there are things that you have to live with that you
cannot live with. ... And that the only grace that you're left with is memory and
love and a kind of limited forgiveness."

Executive producer Tom Fontana was an essential element, having proved at
adept at a gloves-off approach with "Oz," his HBO prison series that has upped
the ante on dramatic shock value.

"One of the things I learned about with 'Oz' was that these are people who pay
for this specifically so they're coming to it the way that people who go to the
theater go to the theater. ... They're not like other television audiences," he says.
"They seem to want this kind of intensity as opposed to backing away from it."

Audiences and critics demand a certain accuracy in historical feature films. But
do cable and network biopics get held to the same standards of the truth and
nothing but the truth?

Pulling no punches, Showtime's "The Day Reagan Was Shot" concentrated on
the power vacuum that ensued after the assassination attempt on the life of the
president. Writer-director Cyrus Nowrasteh exhaustively researched the event,
producing a riveting portrait of Alexander Haig, played by Richard Dreyfuss, and
the little-known fact that a medical student got past security into the hospital
room of the president.

Nevertheless, Nowrasteh objects strongly to the concept of total accuracy for
either feature or television films. "If we accept these standards, what are we
going to do, take about a dozen of Shakespeare's historical plays and throw
them out? There's a larger truth at work here in some of these historical
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adaptations or dramas that's more important than the accuracy of each incident."

Steve Gillon, University of Oklahoma history professor and resident historian for
the History Channel, feels "The Day Reagan Was Shot" and "Shackleton"
particularly capture an essence of history and character.

"Maybe because it's a smaller audience they're appealing to," he says, "but these
television movies do a much better job of dealing with personality and
motivation and the complexity of human nature than do Hollywood movies,
feature movies which present a very superficial and very monodimensional view
of character and personality."


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