Thursday, January 28, 2016

Finding Story Ideas for Film

About 3,500 films are made each year, not all of them great obviously. Is it my imagination or were more great movies really made back in the 1930s and 1940s, during Hollywood's Golden Age?  Certainly they had a system down for identifying plots that appealed to the public and maybe that made all the difference.

I just finished Thomas Schatz’ book The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Erawhich was a fascinating read.  Schatz says that in any given year in the early 1930s, MGM staff readers alone filed reports on more than 1,000 novels and original scripts, 500 short stories, 1,500 plays, and 1,300 works in foreign languages...all in the pursuit of stories the studio could turn into hit movies.  One assumes a similar output was seen at all of the other major studios as well.

At MGM they followed “The Ten Commandments for Studio Readers” laid down by head of production Irving Thalberg, and most of it sounds like good advice for struggling filmmakers, even today. Looking for a film idea? Consider this:

1. Your most important duty is to find great ideas. You’ll find them buried under tons of mediocre suggestions.

2. Read at least two newspapers daily.  Photoplays (scripts) sell best when they’re based on timely topics.

3. Analyze all material on the basis of the players who are working for us.

4. Remember, you are dealing with a pictorial (visual) medium.

5. Make a close notation of all books you see the public reading.

6. See at least two full-length motion pictures each week, one by this company, one from a competitor.

7. Everything else is secondary in your work to the finding of a strong dramatic situation, an interesting clash between the principal characters.

8. Prove your ability to recognize creative material by writing and submitting to us stories of your own.

9. Be proficient in one language besides your own. The competition for good stories is so keen that the supply written in English was long ago insufficient.

10. Above all, train yourself to recognize sincerity in a story. Talking pictures, particularly, have made the public very sensitive to false notes in plots.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Treated to a Wisconsin Supper Club.

Just back from shooting my role as the Grandmother in "The Book of Birdie." Wonderful cast and crew. It's going to be a terrific film. Plus, Saturday night, British actress Suzan Crowley and I were treated to a delightful evening at the Hob Nob Supper Club in Racine. What an experience!

Wisconsin has some 350 supper clubs, many of which began as roadhouses during Prohibition and then continued as establishments "outside the city limits" that serve alcohol. Public TV even did a special on them.

Hob Nob has these amazing white diamond-upholstered booths that look like a setting for the Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin "Rat Pack." Food was amazing and a pianist added to the atmosphere by playing the theme song from Billy Wilder's "The Apartment," which I've never heard played except in the film. Felt like I'd gone to Heaven. Many thanks to our hosts. It was such fun.

The decor looks like a movie set.  I love the upholstery.

Our table was here in the bar, which looks out onto Lake Michigan.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Filming The Book of Birdie for London-based Melancholy Star

As the New Year begins I am inundated with new film projects and feeling happy and fortunate. This week I'm heading out to Wisconsin to film my scenes for "The Book of Birdie," a feature-length psychological thriller from the London-based production and special effects house Melancholy Star. Wonderful locations. Terrific cast, including British actress Suzan Crowley.