Ma Vie en Rose

Pam’s World
 
This film explores the intersections of identity and culture and how one child navigates this interplay with simultaneous naiveté and boldness. His narrative exposes the ways in which the individual and his/her/hir dominant culture are involved in an inherent power play of influence, each giving way, if temporarily, to the pressure of the other. Through unraveling Ludovic’s experiences we see how one child’s seemingly small world is influenced by French middle-class, Catholic, family, and binary gender dynamics with consideration given to Queer politics and typical childhood adolescent identity formation. The trouble caused by Ludo’s behavior hinges on the surrounding community’s focus on narrow-minded biological determinism despite Ludo’s obvious desire to fit into normative gender roles without sacrificing his girl identity.
In the movie Ma Vie en Rose, there is a large emphasis on the juxtaposition of Ludo and the social groups that view him as ‘other’. He spends the movie trying to deal with the harsh criticism he is given insisting that he is somehow different than everyone else and that this needs to be changed immediately. Ludo can mostly understand which behaviors his family and their neighbors find so appalling, but does not himself feel as though his behaviors are out of line with his family’s heteronormative goals, he just thinks of himself as a girl. Schiavi (2004) writes that “the literature on gay youth testifies to children’s early, necessarily silent, sense of their own difference from peers and family”. In Ludo’s case, he represents a child who is not silent and does not necessarily feel like he is somehow different than everyone else other than that God made a mistake with his chromosomes.
Nadeau (2000) argues that the humanist setup of the movie “vibrates with recent gay and lesbian discourses informed by the culture of personal rights”. He argues that because of this, the gender-identity-focused point of the movie serves as “the perfect setting for human exposure to tolerance”. The dynamic of Ludo and his family goes through a roller coaster of agreeable interactions and blowouts of blame and disagreement. Early in the movie, the mother gives the family haircuts so that “all the men are neat and trim”. The rest of the family gets very short traditional male haircuts, while Ludo insists on his hair remaining the same length down almost to his shoulders. The mother obliges saying that she “like[s] long hair and people who know what they want”. This implies a level of tolerance from the mother, but these feelings of free personal expression do not hold throughout the movie as the influence of disapproving neighbors gets to her and the rest of the family. Because of the criticism openly doled out by neighbors and friends of Ludo’s family, his mother and father each go through a period in which they blame the family’s problems on Ludo’s inability to adapt to traditional gender norms. This idea of “blaming the victim” is a frequent theme throughout many gender variant people’s relationship with their parents or social groups, including transgender individuals who worry about revictimization if they report physical or sexual abuse. Ludo could be seen from a larger viewpoint as a victim of French society’s strict gender norm enforcement and binary thinking, or, as Ludo seems to see himself, a victim of a chromosomal error when he was created.
From the sociological standpoint of Mallon (1999), gender variant childhood development should be viewed “where children and environments are understood as a unit, in the context of their relationship to one another”. Ludo, by himself, seems quite secure in his identification as a girl. His familial environment, mostly as a result of societal pressure and understood gender norms, attack his identity, treating his behaviors as troublesome and his female identity as a treatable psychological condition. Ludo seems to realize how unhappy he has made his parents and understandably wishes to keep his parents’ love, whatever the cost. He tries to modify his behavior – while his identification seems to remain the same – to act as he sees other ‘normal’ boys act. He practices scratching his crotch, shooting a fake gun, and even tries to kiss a neighbor girl because someone at school mentioned that kissing girls made you a real man. Ludo tries to adapt to appease his parents, but never seems to actually believe that they might be right about him, that he really is a boy.
Mallon (1999) mentions the difficulties of working with parents of gender variant children, saying “many parents are initially surprised when they hear a trans-affirming professional state that compromise is the best approach to supporting children who have strong transgender feelings and need”. Many parents, including Ludo’s it seems, think that they must know what’s best for their children. But, as we see in the movie, ‘what’s best’ is usually inextricably linked to how the child is received by the family’s social network. The negative reaction from the neighbors in the movie influences ‘what’s best’ to be only and always gender-normative dress and behavior, despite Ludo’s preference and self-identity.
The parents in the movie seem to represent the ‘we’ aspect of successfully existing in society by conforming to certain acceptable social norms. They want to be accepted by their community and when Ludo poses a threat to this acceptance, they want to modify his behavior to fit better into ‘appropriate’ social norms. Ludo’s desires go along with the norm-conforming idea of ‘we’ in society in the fact that he feels and wants to behave just like any other girl. But from an outside view, he represents the ‘I’ in the equation. He has a very solid identity which clearly does not fit into the ‘we’ of the community the way that the parents want it to, and thus stands apart as a separate entity of ‘I’ (Nadeau, 2000).
To counteract Ludo’s unconventional behavior (as many parents do according to Mallon (1999)), his parents “seek to have their transgendered child ‘cured’ through punishment, physical violence, or endless mental health assessments”. There are many ‘solutions’ to Ludo’s ‘problem’ behavior proposed to and by the parents throughout the movie. Both the father and the mother resort to physical violence as a frustrated and desperate attempt to snap Ludo back into line with the other gender-normative children. We see the father approach Ludo several times in the earlier part of the movie in a way that clearly indicates his intentions of violence, stopped only at the last moment by the mother’s pleas. Near the end of the movie we see the mother chasing Ludo in the neighbor’s birthday dress, finally catching him and hitting him while yelling at him for doing this again after he promised he wouldn’t. The Granny character tells of a woman she knew with a similar ‘predicament’ who let her child live out his fantasy by wearing a skirt to school for a week. She said that the boy lost interest after a week and returned to gender-normative behavior. The parents tried this proposed ‘cure’ by allowing Ludo to wear a skirt (which looked much like a kilt) to a birthday party explaining to the other guests that they were letting him live out his fantasy “to banalize it”. They also resorted to sending Ludo to a psychologist so she can ‘fix’ him and when she ‘fails’ the parents are outraged by her inability to do what they thought they were paying her for and then proceed to blame Ludo for this inconvenience.
The movie also focuses on the interplay between Ludo’s family as a unit and the surrounding society of their community. Mallon (1999) argues that “Western society continues to reward parents who socialize their children to these gender-bound roles”. Ludo’s family is seen as a construct that is openly judged on the behavior of single participants. This setup is a very strong motivator for each member of the family to keep the others in check to uphold the desired image. Ludo’s family (all but Ludo) are very driven by the desire to keep an image that upholds the values that are rewarded in their community. Their neighborhood, which is essentially together deciding the worth of the image that Ludo’s family is presenting, is one of traditional Catholic values of upholding appropriate appearances in public including dress, language, and a stable family. The very first frames of the movie include men dressed in traditional male attire assisting their wives into traditional female attire and insisting that their children wear appropriate clothing despite its uncomfortable nature. Other valued qualities include all the husbands having a successful white collar job to take care of their families in a respectable way. This is clearly shown by Ludo’s father’s continual and intense desire to not make a bad impression on his boss (whose son Ludo intends to marry). These expectations dictate the corrective and encouraging actions of the parents to make sure that Ludo follows his prescribed gender-normative behavior and does not act out his fantasies with Jerome (the boss’s son) so they can hold up their desired image.
Granny plays an important role in the parents’ desired ‘curbing’ of Ludo’s inappropriate behavior. She represents a more open approach to Ludo, avoiding violent and harsh punishments for non-normative behavior, avoiding insistence on psychological intervention, and suggesting more compromise-focused strategies to make everyone happy. Granny joins Ludo when he dances to the Barbie-esque “Pam and Ben” show, she reminds the parents not to overreact after Ludo makes his unexpected appearance as Snow White in the school play telling them “either way he’s your child”, and she encourages them to let Ludo go to the party in the skirt saying “why not? You’ve tried everything”. She strives for the compromise approach mentioned in Mallon (1999) as a positive approach to dealing with transgendered children when she shows Ludo the music box and tells him that she wishes she was ‘slim and smooth’ like the figurine in the music box but she has to “face reality”. She tells him that when she wants to do things that make her look “ridiculous”, she imagines her fantasy privately but does not act it out. She suggests this probably because the parents seem less focused on Ludo’s non-normative behavior in the house at the beginning of the movie, before the community gets involved and makes the parents feel pressured to make Ludo conform more. This emphasizes the power that public scrutiny holds over families with non-normatively gendered children and how this power drives the parents to stifle Ludo’s behaviors at least enough to not affect their outward appearance. They want to keep his ‘eccentric’ behavior private more than they want him to change his gender identity.
Ludo tries to smooth the tension of his non-conforming behavior by explaining his ‘boygirl’ status. He tries to explain why his behavior does not match up with the expected ‘boy behavior’ by saying that he is not just a boy, that he is a ‘boygirl’ and therefore should not be subject to the standards of male normative-gender behavior. This idea of “hybridity” has been analyzed as an important entity “within social sciences to refer to complex processes of social and cultural interaction (Sinnott, 2004). ‘Hybrid’ as an identity for specific groups of people who are a mix of more than one racial or ethnic background is “’seen to embody threatening forms of perversion and degeneration and became the basis for endless metaphoric extension in the racial discourse and social commentary’” (Young(Sinnott), 2004). The inherent problem with viewing certain types of people as ‘hybrids’ makes the two ‘groups’ that contributed to the ‘hybrid’ are “self-evident homogenous entities” (Sinnott, 2004). For Ludo, by determining himself as a ‘boygirl’, is supporting the identities of ‘male’ and ‘female’ as undeniable categories. While this is understandable considering the age and experience of Ludo in a society where everyone agrees that there are only two options for gender, it further exemplifies the strength of a community group on the actions of the community members. But Ludo is abiding by this idea of binary gender through his personal feelings of identity, not by how societal pressure tells him he should. This is one of the main differences and issues of conflict between Ludo and his parents regarding his behavior.
According to Mallon (1999), “gender variant children, because they are told that they do not fit in, are in a constant search for an affirming environment, where they can be themselves”. Because of the conflicting messages of which gender stereotype Ludo should be following because of his girl-identified self, he creates a fantasy world based off of the Barbie-esque character Pam. In this world, Ludo experiences a setting where feminine behavior and identities are celebrated and where he fits in as a result of his feminine behavior and girl identity. He experiences a place where his behaviors are normalized instead of punished. His expected gender-normative behavior is based on the societal view of his gender and not on his personal gender identity, is contrasted with the fact that his safe world where he is accepted and his behaviors fall within social norms was created by the same society that inhibits his ability to express himself.
A cultural contrast that further shows the unfortunate workings of French societal pressures on Ludo is the Bakla that exist in the Philippines. In Bicol, the culture highly values the ability to perform well, and the ability to transform one thing to another. According to Cannell (1999), “the identity ‘bakla’ is offered to little boys who seem happier doing girls’ chores and wearing their clothes…”. Bakla identify as men “with women’s hearts” and participate in events like beauty pageants. Gender behavior expectations for bakla children are very different than portrayed in the film. While French culture portrayed in this film includes many communities that emphasize the importance of gender-normative behavior to the point of administering ‘social death’ to those individuals and their families who don’t abide by social norms, Bicol social life generally has a “non-authoritarian attitude…which accommodates the bakla, so that they are rarely the targets of hatred or prejudiced violence…” (Cannell, 1999) While this accommodating attitude is surely not shared by all members of the community, it points out the seemingly incredible need for many members of Western culture to categorize people and draw thick and distinct boundaries which they then patrol vigilantly. In the film, the neighbors have drawn lines of expectations (specifically stringent on normative gender behavior lines) and proceed to make sure that everyone follows them, leading to the great distress of Ludo’s parents that they are being scrutinized for Ludo’s behavior.
Ludo seems to feel confused by this pressure to hide his behaviors when they seem to be perfectly normal with his female-identified self. He does not seem to want to rebel against a hetero-normative culture and its binary gender-focused social norms. His “dreams are in line with the existent gender order”. It would seem that he would not be opposed to following his parents’ strong feelings about keeping up appearances in public if the gender-normative behavior expected of him was in line with his gender identity. To him, it seems that the trouble caused by his non-normative behavior only exists because of an understandable but huge error caused by God.
Nadeau (2000) says that “ironically, it is by discovering biologism and scenarios of genetic configuration that Ludo reinforces his subjectivity and develops his famous XY theory”. He does not see anything wrong with his behavior because it was all just a big mistake that he was born with XY chromosomes and that his other X fell in the trash on the way down from God. He uses this theory to explain why his behavior is completely normal and that the trouble he causes for his parents isn’t his fault after all. Because Ludo fully identifies as a girl and not as somewhere in between as many trans kids do, and he is surrounded by a culture where biology is destiny, this theory finally gives him the words to explain why everyone thinks he’s so different when he really isn’t.
This idea reinforces the current predicament with many trans-identified people of how to describe their identities fully with a language that is so restrictive for such a task. The instance where someone cannot fully describe their gender-identity with language renders them essentially invisible to the surrounding society because if you can’t describe your gender, it must not really exist and there must be something wrong with you. So when Ludo finds a way to describe himself, he suddenly feels so much more confident of his identity using an argument that might normally be used to refute his identity.
Ludo extrapolates from his biological evidence for his existence that his male body and associated gender behavior expectations are just a phase he must go through before he becomes a girl. Just as his sister ‘becomes and real woman’, he too must grow up enough to become a girl, when God fixes his chromosomal mistake. Ludo has understandably intense desires to earn his parents’ love through adhering to their expectations and finds a way to explain away his current predicament and the awaited solution. But Ludo moves through his time in the movie only trying to change his behavior and explain scientifically why he is a girl; he never changes how he feels about his identity.
This movie is a journey of discovery for Ludo’s parents but not for him. Ludo does not exhibit any instances in the movie where he is questioning whether or not he really identifies as a girl. When he is mocked in school for his toys and his behavior, he looks more confused than hurt or embarrassed. When Ludo derives his XY theory for his identity, there is no struggle – he learns about XY chromosomes, comes up with a seemingly logical solution and says to Jerome, “God’ll fix it. He’ll send me my X and we can get married”. He struggles with where he fits in with his family, but not in a way that he ever starts to believe that maybe everyone is right, that he really is a boy. He is not wondering if he is wrong for identifying as a girl but more about why everyone else seems so confused.
Nadeau (2000) argues that the film is “not about coming out; on the contrary, it ambiguously plays with the question of coming in as a queer child”. ‘Coming out’ seems to signify the idea of a person accepted within a society or community tries to break out of the gender expectations enforced by those people and establish themselves as a subject outside of the social norms for that group. The idea of ‘coming in’ would mean that a person that is held on the outside of a social group or community is trying to break in to the community by trying to establish their subjectivity as within the social norms. They are trying to manipulate their behaviors and explain their identities in a way that fits in with the accepted social order. This is exactly what Ludo does throughout the film. His identity as female never waivers at any time in the film, nor is it specifically created within the film. He is sure he is a girl at the beginning and at the end.
Nadeau (2000) argues that Ludo “clearly specifies that sexual identity cannot be framed in terms of desire and politics, since it belongs to the rational-scientific domain”. By using biology and his feelings of fitting in perfectly with the culturally created norm of Pam’s World, Ludo creates a perfectly logical explanation of why all the trouble around him is just a simple mistake and that he does actually fit in perfectly with their hetero-normative binary gender world. Ludo seems to have the belief through the movie that he just ‘is’ and everyone seems to be getting confused by it. They can’t seem to see that he is just like everyone else and why they need to change him.
Nadeau (2000) argues that the movie is “quite in line with recent gay and lesbian discourses that crave making ‘personal rights’ the essence to political struggle”. This supports the idea that the emphasis on non-normative gender identities should outweigh the focus on the ‘discovery’ of these identities. Not every non-normative gender identity is the result of a long arduous internal struggle of who they really are ending with a large ‘coming out’ event in their life. This movie is signifying that some people are the way they are without any internal battle, and that the biggest struggle is usually with convincing other people that their beliefs and social norms should include them for one reason or another (but not necessarily because that person wants to fit into the hetero-normative binary gender life).
Ma Vie en Rose is an explorative (albeit unrealistic) portrait of a female-identifying seven-year-old boy trying to figure out how to navigate the gender behavior expectations thrust upon him and his desire for his parents’ love and acceptance. Nadeau (2000) argues that this film supports the idea of there being a distinct, undeniable difference between male and female sexes that is indicated by Nadeau’s (2000) reading of French feminism. She says that Ma Vie en Rose “celebrates sexual difference within established sexed spaces…” His feminine behavior threatens the family’s social standing and he is blamed for their troubles regardless of the fact that his desires do not in fact go against the hetero-normative standards that his social interactions are enforcing. Ludo is torn between his clear undeniable identity as a girl and the surrounding community pressuring his parents into enforcing the gender norms of a boy. The film supports gender differentiation while at the same time positively expanding the idea of what determines a person’s membership in either sexed group, and who gets to choose.
 
 
Bibliography
 
Cannell, F. (1999). Beauty and the idea of ‘America’. In Power and Intimacy in the Christian
            Philippines (pp. 203-226). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
 
Mallon, G. P. (1999). Practice with Transgendered Children. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social
            Services , 10 (3/4), 49-64.
 
Nadeau, C. (2000). Life With Pinky Dots. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies , 6 (1),
                137-144.
 
Schiavi, M. R. (2004). A “Girlboy’s” Own Story: Non-Masculine Narrativity In Ma Vie en Rose.
            College Literature , 31 (3), 1-20.
 
Sinnott, M. J. (2004). Global Sex. In M. J. Sinnott, Toms and Dees: Transgender Identity and
            Female Same-Sex Relationships in Thailand (pp. 24-46). Honolulu: University of Hawaii
                Press.
 
 

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Screenplay Structure

8.  Screenwriter William Goldman, a two-time Academy Award winner, has long preached that “screenplays are structure.” What is he talking about? 

A) If he’s referring to a particular story-telling model, describe that in detail.

B) If there are multiple models, what are the most influential ones and how do they differ?

C) And how has story structure evolved through the centuries?

Use examples from the 2008 Oscar nominees to illustrate your points.

 

When William Goldman says that “screenplays are structure” he is talking about how a story is actually put together.  A story may have excellent dialogue, and loveable characters, but if the structure is not fully developed then you may as well forget it. The structure of any story focuses on how beat by beat and scene by scene it is ultimately laid out.  A story can use any type of story-telling model, but focusing on the structure or the foundation of the story is vital. Goldman believes that screenwriting is a lot like carpentry.  If you put together some wood, nails, and glue to build a bookcase, you better have established a sound foundation.  If not, you have might have created something really beautiful, but it won’t work as a bookcase.  As a screenwriter you must first decide what the proper structure should be for the particular screenplay you are writing. To do this you have to know the spine.

Goldman believes that it is absolutely crucial to know the spine of your story above anything else.  A spine can be rather simple such as “boy meets girl, loses girl, finds her again,” or something much more complex.  That spine is then developed further, taking a broad idea and digging deeper into the story scene by scene. After finding exactly what the spine of your story is, a writer must protect it at all costs.  It is easy to lose focus of what is really important in a story when you’re 80 pages in.  Goldman insists that strictly sticking to the ultimate spine of a story will drive that script to success. Without a well-developed spine, a screenplay is pretty much doomed.

-Contributed by Mackenzie G.-

 

 

 

 

Part B

The most influential story structure models include Aristotle’s Three Acts, Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, Field’s Paradigm, and Daniels’ Sequence.

 

The basic “Three Act” model of a screenplay starts with establishing the setting and characters (Beginning).  At the end of this first act, the introduction of a problem (or inciting incident) makes the story progress to the rising action (The middle or “Second Act”).  During this part of the story, the protagonist attempts to solve the conflict created by the inciting incident.  The second act ends with a climax in which the tension of the rising action reaches its greatest intensity.  Here, the protagonist either wins or loses against the problems he/she faces.  The third act, or denoumenet, is spent showing what has happened to the characters since the climax and ties up all the story’s remaining loose ends.  Though it is part of a larger trilogy of films, The Bourne Ultimatum follows this basic structure.  The inciting incident in the story is when Jason Bourne finds himself tracked by the CIA again after attempting to gain knowledge of a top-secret operation he was once a part of.  The climax arrives when Bourne confronts the members of the CIA he once served under as part of the operation.  Finally, the denoumenet shows Bourne surviving the encounter and escaping.

 

Joseph Campbell’s concept of the Hero’s Journey involves a more complicated story structure.  Studying many ancient myths, Campbell constructed the idea of a universal “monomyth” with several common structural features.  The monomyth starts with a “Call to Adventure” – an event that entices the hero to leave all that is familiar to them.  In the film “Across the Universe,” this happens when Jude leaves for the United States in search of his biological father.  The hero then encounters a “Road of Trials” – a series of challenges to which the hero either defeats or succumbs.  For example, Jude’s relationship with Lucy weakens throughout the story.  He later attempts to save her from policemen at an anti-war protest gone violent only to get arrested and deported back to England – separated from her.  The hero’s victory or failure of navigating the Road of Trials leaves him/her with a “boon” or vital new knowledge about the world, leaving the hero a stronger and wiser person than he/she was before the “Call to Adventure.”  Finally, the hero returns to the life they left behind with this new boon.  The hero then has the chance to apply this new boon to the original world from the beginning of the story.  This happens when Jude legally moves to the States and reconciles with Lucy.

 

The Paradigm – as developed by Syd Field – took Aristotle’s Three Acts and divided the middle into two sub-acts – Act 2a and Act 2b.  In addition, it introduced the concept of plot points – important moments that occur around the same time in almost all good screenplays.  These include the opening image at the start of the screenplay (an image believed to sum up the film in one shot) and “pinches” (Scenes occurring halfway through Acts 2a and 2b designed to remind the viewer of the story’s main conflicts).  No Country for Old Men has a great opening image of the desert in Texas, setting the grim, desolate, isolated tone that the story takes.  Two “pinches” that occur in Act 2a and Act 2b also remind us that the hero – Llewelyn Moss – is constantly being pursued by the ruthless antagonist – Anton Chigurh.  The first “pinch” occurs when Chigurh nearly catches up to Moss at a motel.  The second “pinch” comes when Chigurh attempts to call Carson Wells only to find Chigurh on the other end of the line, threatening the life of his wife.

 

Frank Daniel’s Sequence Structure is based off of early film reels only having 10 minutes of film on them.  This limiting factor influenced a style of screenplay structure that still holds up to this very day.  Each 10 minute “sequence” of film was effectively a miniature version of a movie with its own three act structure.  Sequences 1-2 can then come together to form the film’s overaching beginning, 3-6 become the middle, and 7-8 are the end.  In the film adaption of Sweeney Todd, one of the two sequences at the start of the film tells its own self-contained story.  A corrupt judge lusts after Todd’s wife, trumps up false charges against him, rapes his wife, then “adopts” the child.  Though a tragic story, it has its own beginning, middle, and end.

-Contributed by Nick R.-

Part C

 Philosopher Aristotle had his own views on story-telling and story structure, which he exercised in his poems.  He believed that stories should explore choices and moral decisions.  “The development of a fable should arise out of the fable itself, and not depend on machinery.”  He believed that characters are not as important as the story.  One thing that he did think about the protagonist is that he should be flawed.  “In a proper tragedy, the protagonist recognizes that his own error has caused his downfall.”  He was big on writing the plot believing that that characters follow the actions.

                Lagos Egri( 1888-1967), author of “The Art of Dramatic Writing”,  had a different perspective.  He preached that characters were the driving force behind a good story.   He believed that stories were based on human psychology.  “You must have a premise- a premise that which will lead you unmistakably to the goal your play hopes to reach…The premise should be a conviction of your own, so that you may prove it wholeheartedly.”  He thought it was important to focus on character transitions.: define goals, values, and a plan.  Egri believed that actions followed character decisions.

                These two had differing views and Hollywood has seen both.  The only similarity was that the story always had a three-act structure: 1st Act , 2nd, and 3rd Act which were previously described.  Early films were were silent.  The audience did not get a chance to learn the characters on a deep level.  As a result the stories were centered on the plot and actions.  The story structure was very basic.  Once the “silents” became the “talkies”,  plots could no longer be simplistic.  Actors had to talk, which meant that the characters needed to appeal to the audience.   Authors such as William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, and John Steinbeck were drafted by the studios to write screenplays.    In most novels, the reader gets connected to the book characters and studio execs knew that these authors could translate that to the screen.  This was the beginning of character driven plots. 

                For the most part, story structure in Hollywood has remained faithful to the 3-Act structure.  However, there are small differences  in the story nowadays.  Loglines for story’s are not even the same.  Most stories have a one-sentence logline, which tells what the story is about.  However, in 1937, screenwriter Francis Marion was quoted, “If you cannot state the gist of a play in three lines, it lacks backbone.”  Nowadays three lines is considered to be too long.

                Plots and characters are no longer simplistic.  The characters and the plots are now much more dynamic and interesting than those in earlier days.  There is still some debate over if plot-driven is better than character driven.  For the most part, current screenwriters use both the plot and the characters to drive the story.

-Contributed by Ashleigh-

Tell Me what you think

This is an experiment…

1. Review the theoretical underpinnings of persuasive messages in relation to specific audiences, taking into account at least three of the following constructs: agenda setting, diffusion of innovation, central and peripheral processing, cognitive dissonance, source credibility, reasoned action, two-step flow, selectivity, expectancy-value and fear appeals.  As a writer/producer, which basic model would you use in developing political advertising for your candidate targeted at the general public.  Justify your selection.

 

2. The media landscape has certainly changed in the last few years. A dramatic example of this is the way non-fiction films are distributed.  Ten years ago there were only a few places where independent producers might sell their documentaries. Today there are many more outlets.  What are these new opportunities? Describe at least three case studies of non-fiction films that have profited from these new avenues of distribution.

 

3. Programming is what attracts audiences to television but advertising is the primary means of revenue generation for most networks and stations.  In a situation when 1) specific broadcast programming is attacked for containing too much “skin and sin” by traditional family values groups, 2) advertisers are inundated with thousands of email, letters and telephone calls to stop buying commercial time by concerned family group followers and 3) some advertisers withdraw, is this a triumph for the television audience, a chilling effect on broadcast TV creativity, or a step towards censorship and bland programming?   Assume each of these perspectives and cite evidence from previous program histories to explicate how these electronic media issues evolved, were resolved and continue to coexist.

 

4. In November 2007, the Writers Guild of America went on strike after its members and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers failed to negotiate a deal.  What are (were) the issues at stake in this conflict?  Trace the history of this conflict between these two groups and the consequent effects on television viewing audiences and new programming development.  How will this strike inform the future of new media and old media, and how will it affect you as someone who will be working in the industry as a) a writer, and b) a studio or network executive?

 

5.  In the coming years Cable TV will face very real competition from the telephone companies for customers. Give the competitive advantages of each industry and the efforts both have made in Congress and at the FCC to deal with perceived inequities in the competitive landscape.

 

6. The utilization of new and different media platforms — web streaming, mobiphones and the like — to deliver television programming has given rise to “anytime, anywhere, media measurement.” This system purports to track in-home and out-of-home viewing, Internet and phone TV usage, as well as traditional television viewing.  In addition, commercial ratings or audience viewership levels during the commercial breaks are now available to advertisers.

A)    What improvements does this system of audience measurement represent over the traditional ratings system?  

B)    How would producers, programmers and advertisers benefit from the new audience measurements?

C)    What are some of the concerns critics have raised and how can these be addressed?

 

7.  “American TV is dangerous to our children’s health.”   Scientific studies have shown that children who spend the most time with television are also those who are more likely to be overweight.  Children who watch television violence are more likely to behave in harmful ways towards others and become less empathetic.  You are testifying on behalf of television writers and producers before a congressional subcommittee intent on refining policy to protect the health of our nation’s children.  How would you address these findings in the face of existing legislation and offer solutions to parents, assurances to policy makers as well as a sound bite for the next news cycle?

 


8.  Screenwriter William Goldman, a two-time Academy Award winner, has long preached that “screenplays are structure.” What is he talking about? 

A) If he’s referring to a particular story-telling model, describe that in detail.

B) If there are multiple models, what are the most influential ones and how do they differ?

C) And how has story structure evolved through the centuries?

Use examples from the 2008 Oscar nominees to illustrate your points.

 

9.  Think about this: Today you can watch movies on your video iPod.  You can also watch TV on your cell phone.  Through global marketing you can catch the release of the latest big studio film in Shanghai, China the same day as in Syracuse, New York (probably a few days earlier).  The social media network, Facebook on which you used to post pictures for your friends is now valued at $15 billion. 

 

During your year at Newhouse, the media environment will continue to change dramatically. These changes may come from some new technology or an economic or policy shift. For example, if you’re reading the papers and the trades, you know that ABC News and Facebook have teamed up to develop a new tool to facilitate political debate coverage and interactivity on the social networking site;  the major TV networks continue to offer streaming video of their programs, and advertisers are using “skins,” “overlays” or “bugs” to promote their products and services online.

 

If you’re bright, flexible and entrepreneurial, you’ll find ways to make your career in any number of these future transformations. Even better, you should be smart enough to anticipate and take advantage of such changes before they (or you) are history. This is your chance to begin the birth of a future transformation that will bear your name.

 

Write a proposal for your new concept. What is it? What makes it unique? How does it take advantage of existing or new technologies, economies and/or policies? Specify what research you will do to determine if there is an audience and market. What legal and regulatory issues will you have to be aware of? Who are the people or institutions you need to convince this is the greatest thing since the iPod? Who are the people or institutions you don’t want to know about your idea until it’s a reality and why? Describe how this concept will ripple through the media environment or how it might have an impact on only a specialized niche.

 

An important part of your answer will be a personal inventory assessment: what talents, skills, knowledge, etc. that you possess make it possible for you to actuate this concept? Be realistic; if you’re not Steve Wozniak, recognize that and plan to hire him as a consultant. But if your idea is “television for housebound cats”, be-up front about your special understanding of the feline spirit.

 

10. In the book “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman, referring to a program called “Higglytown Heroes” being produced for the Disney Channel by Wild Brain, an animation studio in San Francisco, Wild Brain CEO Scott Hyten remarked about how the all-American show was being produced by an all-world supply chain —  The recording session is located near the artist, usually in New York or L.A., the design and direction is done in San Francisco, the writers network in from their homes (Florida, London, New York, Chicago, L.A., and San Francisco), and the animation of the characters is done in Bangalore 

(India).  These interactive recording/writing/animation sessions allow us to record an artist for an entire show in less than half a day, including unlimited takes and rewrites.

            Given the increasing trend in production toward on-line collaboration using work flow software, discuss the impact of such a trend on established television production methods and financing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The answers will come after a time.

-Alex

Suspense in Terminator script

Suspense in Terminator

    

 

The story structure creates the backbone of the suspense in this film because the stakes are as high as possible. Not only are the protagonists unprepared and unbelieved, but they also have to kill an invincible killing machine. The Terminator is extremely well armed, inside and out, and the more damage he receives the more unstoppable he appears (p.54). This is a great man vs. machine film and the script emphasizes the animal nature of Reese. He is repeatedly described as feral and a lot of attention is paid to his instincts and quick reflexes (p.18). While Reese’s story gives us some hope, the existence of mankind is at stake and much of the suspense comes from this against-all-odds situation.

            The characters develop very slowly in the script and of course the Terminator does not experience any character growth. This creates suspense because until the very end of the film, Sarah is scared, confused, and weak.  Reese goes in the opposite direction, becoming more human in the end but then we question how that will affect his battle with the machine.

            The screen directions  written in the script are great and it is a shame the director did not get to use them all. The first directions that add to the suspense are the low angle dolly or handheld shots (starting p.5). This makes us feel small and scared particularly when cut with ECUs of the Terminator. Another shot that creates immediate suspense is the POV shot looking into the barrel of a gun.

            The suspense created by the production design comes mainly in the chase and fight sequences. One line sticks out in the chases because it seems all encompassing; “RELENTLESS FORWARD MOTION”. The audience is put right in the middle of everything with a lot of danger and confusion all around. We are in the normal world but the stakes are reiterated with the flash-forwards of the future. The images of a war torn future builds suspense around the Terminator because it shows what a terminator is made to do and what it could do in our normal world. The script also has the best apparent defeat ever as the smoking steel skeleton rises from the ashes.   

 

“The Fog of War” five lessons from Robert Macnamra

Five Lessons

note: These comments are for WWII inclusive

 

 

 

“Belief and seeing are both often wrong.”

            Agree. They are always wrong; the real difference comes from perspective.

 

“Proportionality should be a guideline in war”

            Disagree. In order to win, it may be necessary to destroy the enemy’s moral and this may not be possible to do with a proportional guideline.

 

“Rationality will not save us”

            Agree. The smartest most intelligent calmest person will be completely irrational under the right circumstances.

 

“Emphasize with your enemy”

            On the Fence.  On a policy level, empathy should play a part. Once a war is in progress, however, empathy may cause hesitation to inflict the necessary damages.

 

“Maximize efficiency”

            Disagree. Historically efficiency causes many side effects and by-products. In war we may call these collateral damage or unnecessary civilian deaths.

“Dead Man” Review

                                                                              

Dead Man

 

I chose this film because I am a big fan of westerns and this is one of my favorites because it is a unique and compelling interpretation of the genre. This is to say that while the film has many of the elements of a classic western, I see it as an anti western because at this point industry has moved in and for all intensive purposes the west has been won. I think it effectively portrays the end of the frontier way of life. I also particularly like the style and acting throughout, particularly with respect to the portrayal of Native Americans.

 Dead Man is not a western in the traditional sense and many would no doubt argue that it should not be classified in the western genre.  There are elements in the plot and narrative that make this a western film, but the main characters are in most ways the opposite of the western hero or antihero.  One way to examine the heroes of the early western films and the antiheros of the later films is to look at this film which turns these traditional characters on their respective heads.  We can define and understand the classic western genre better by looking at a purposefully made reversal.  The point of view of Johnny Depp’s character William Blake is also a polar perspective from the traditional western.  The director tries to establish an anti- western set in a western setting.  This is confusing until we realize that the reversal is meant to show a hero who is simply not possessed of the same chivalric qualities of the classic western heroes.

The film is written and directed by Jim Jarmusch who is known for his experimental style. He describes this film as a “Psychedelic western” and the surreal quality of the film supports this description well.

There are several elements that make the film work stylistically, the most prominent being the soundtrack. The film is scored by Neil Young and consists of an electric guitar played throughout. The sound serves as transitions as well as emphasis at key points. The other element that enforces the overall surreal quality is the use of high contrast black and white film. The frame is often off balance and the shot composition seems cluttered yet fascinating at times. This provides us with a very compelling visual narrative.

The theme of the film is that Blake is killed near the beginning of the film and is being led into the afterlife. We see imagery of death throughout the film, particularly during Blake’s peyote vision quest where he embraces a dead fawn and paints his face with blood. The most disturbing image of this kind is of a marshal Blake kills and lying on the ground, resembles a Christian saint. The disturbing part comes when the bounty hunter Cole crushes the dead marshal’s skull like an orange. This adds shock and defines the sadistic nature of the pursuer.

            The film begins on a train going from east to west and each time Blake falls asleep the landscape changes and his neighbors evolve from well-dressed ladies and gentlemen to fur clad trappers shooting buffalo out the windows for fun. The landscape and attire of most of the characters in the film are initially the same as they would be in any classic western. For example, in the first scene, looking out the train window we see the familiar massive desert rocks that are the backdrop to so many previous westerns.  This pretext is quickly dropped as Blake enters the town of Machine where the traditional small western town is covered in soot and beaten, suspicious characters.  The town does have a western feel to it and could be the result of the kind of industrialization that the heroes in The Wild Bunch are fighting against.

 Quickly, however, and for the rest of the film, Blake is moving through large forests that have no resemblance to the standard western frontier. The trees progress from thin white birch to giant redwoods as Blake nears the end of his journey.  Though the forests have the same qualities inherent in the classic frontier scene, such as isolation and primitiveness, the open impressive landscapes that are a staple of the western genre are gone.

            The central characteristics of the western hero are determination and toughness.  They know exactly what to do in every situation even if it is incorrect, and are immovable once set in motion.  The hero in westerns is a representative of good and comes to the aid of civilization while at heart still in his element in the wild untamed lands.  These characteristics and theme are very much lacking in the film as Blake is certainly not tough and blindly moves in the direction fates takes him.

  He starts out as an educated easterner, complete with plaid suit and top hat, moving out west because his parents died and his girlfriend left him.  He is lost even before he enters the wilderness and looks like an overweight ten year old would bully him around.  His trade is accounting, probably the most civilized and out of place occupation in the west at that time.  Blake is also extremely passive throughout the entire film, a characteristic that would never be seen in a western character.  This is seen in an almost comic light because at first he kills people with a surprised, confused look on his face. Blake’s initial embodiment of civilization makes for great irony later on because the bounty hunters tracking him are being paid by the steel mill and yet are the embodiment of the frontier.

 Although he eventually becomes quite good at killing people, he can not provide food or navigation for himself and must rely to a large extent on his Indian admirer: “Nobody”.  Nobody was kidnapped and taken to England where he studied poetry. As a result he was given the name “he who talks loud, says nothing” but prefers to be called Nobody. Blake does not in fact have a destination and is lead around by Nobody the entire film.  Blake is shot in the chest after being denied a job and meeting a woman who is spoken for. We first meet Nobody as Blake wakes up to find the obese Native American digging in his chest to get the bullet out. Nobody regards Blake as a dead man from this point on and moves to abandon the “stupid fucking white man” until he comes to the conclusion that William Blake is the spirit of the great poet William Blake. An ardent admirer of the poet, Nobody resolves to take the spirit to the place where “the sea meets the sky” so his spirit can return to the afterlife. Nobody also greatly admires Blake’s natural prowess with regard to killing white men.

As Blake progresses further into the wilderness, civilization is gradually stripped from him and it is his motives that remain distinct from the western hero.  In short, he has no motives or desires past food and survival, and the latter is debatable.  In fact the only expression of need is a complaint of hunger when Nobody eats all the peyote and leaves Blake hungry.  Even his reasons for killing people seem ambiguous at times.  He completely turns his back on civilization by killing marshals and anyone trying to collect the reward on his head. He also embraces nature to an extent that it seems as though all memory of the civilized east is lost.

            The roles of the Native Americans are very distinct from their traditional roles in that they are more than one dimensional characters.  The Indian in genre westerns is generally hostile though is also infrequently regarded as a child of nature.  In the film, Nobody is given depth of character and Blake himself picks up some customs from his admirer.  Nobody dresses Blake’s wounds and takes him to a village which is adorned with totem poles and other cultural items.  This village contrasts with the town of Machine as it is clean and well kept, not a soot covered mud pit. The Native American culture is given a central role in this film whereas in genre westerns are never given more than a cursory glance.

            The greatest similarity between Dead Man and the classic western is with respect to the villains.  They are representatives of the large smelly smokestacks we see when Blake first comes into town.  Mr. Dickinson, the owner of the steel mill, hires the “finest killers of men and injuns” to go after Blake for killing his son, but seems much more concerned with recovering his horse than avenging his son’s death.  The hunters; a boy, a loudmouth, and a cannibal set off and are soon shown to be much more evil than expected (except for the loudmouth, who is just stupid).  The director makes a point of showing gruesome acts by the hunters and other people on the trail, particularly the Cole the cannibal, to create the image of what a frontiersman is like in this version of the west. This can also be seen as a contrast to one of the classic depictions of Native Americans as savage cannibals.

            The film ends with the death of all the main characters which seems proper as we can’t imagine an epilogue. Blake is going on to the spirit world and Nobody and the remaining bounty hunter kill each other simultaneously.

            The director commented that westerns were a “Fantasy world that America has used to process its own history” and tries here to convey a sense of fairness if not realism. Looking at the film as an accurate version of a western is not correct because although we have to suspend reality, Dead Man does not magically capture what the west at that time was like.  Jarmusch instead creates almost the polar opposite of the genre western to show a radically different point of view. That view is certainly more modern and gruesome but not more or less accurate than the western films that preceded it.

           

                                   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Red Balloon–review 2003

                                                                        Red Balloon                           

 

`The subject of the film is the trust and respect totaling the friendship between the boy and the red balloon.  The theme of the film is that however new and unexpected, a strong bond can be created quickly and meaningfully with lasting effects.  The character of the boy is at first simple and pleasant, the first impression we get of him is a love for all things.  He stops to pet a cat on the way to school and seems very content with his position in life.  Encountering a friend that is interested in a mutually enjoyable relationship excites the boy even more.  This newfound delight transforms into protectiveness of something special as the boy’s dramatic becomes closer and more attached to the balloon.  The balloon’s character is more of a static character because it attaches itself quickly and profoundly to the boy and the protection by the boy becomes a reciprocal relationship. The balloon also has its playful side. The game of hide and seek the two play on the way to school is a great example of this.  The main conflict of the story is the adversarial relationship between the two friends and the group of schoolboys whose jealousy increases as the friendship between the balloon and the boy becomes stronger.  The crisis in the film is when the schoolboys steal the balloon and tie it up, leading to a chase where the balloon is freed by the boy.

            The boy is walking calmly to school, stops to pet a cat and walks down the stairs.  Going down the stairs, the boy looks up and sees something of interest on the top of a lamppost.  He climbs the lamppost and frees a red balloon that was stuck.  The boy descends the pole and continues to a fruit stand and bus stop where the balloon attracts attention.  This attention leads to a bus driver refusing entrance for the balloon. The boy then runs to school because the bus has left without him.  Arriving at the school late, the door is locked and he must ring the buzzer for entrance. The boy brings the balloon into school, gives it to a teacher while the headmaster glares at him from a window.  Coming out of school, as it is raining, the boy seeks shelter for his balloon under various people’s umbrellas.  The boy runs home and there is a shot of the mother looking disapprovingly at the balloon.  The mother then lets the balloon out the window, only for it to return when the boy comes to the window.  In the morning the balloon is released out the window by the boy and meets him downstairs.  The balloon and the boy plays games on the way to school, adding another layer to their growing closeness.  When they arrive at the bus stop this time the boy gets on and the balloon follows the bus to school.  At this point it becomes evident that the balloon does not want to be held all the time. This is more like the relationship between friends than that of a master- pet relationship.  The balloon climbs over the wall and is a great distraction to the schoolchildren. Because of this the boy is locked in the headmaster’s office and the balloon is unhappy along with the boy.  The balloon responds by tormenting the headmaster as he walks down the Street.  The upset headmaster then lets out the boy.  Passing through a bazaar on the way home the boy looks mainly at a picture of a little girl and the balloon looks at mirrors.  Following from this, the boy and the red balloon cross paths with a girl and her blue balloon. The two balloons try to get close to each other.  The other schoolboys set up an ambush but the pair manage to escape while the schoolboys call “sallope!’ after them.  The schoolboys capture the balloon and they tie it up.  The boy once again rescues the balloon and a long chase results.  The boy is captured and the balloon is shot with a slingshot and begins to loose air before it is stomped.  Before the balloon dies he calls his balloon buddies to give back to the boy. As a result the boy gets a ride into the sky.