Action is a movie staple, but how do you do it right?
If you want to know how a clock works, take it apart. You look at the way one piece fits into another, the way the gears turn in relation to each other, how the parts become the whole. Then, whether you can put the same clock back together is irrelevant. You’ve learned something. Films work the same way. If you want to know how they work, take them apart, scene by scene, shot by shot, line by line.
Patrick Willems’s new video essay does just that with an action-packed scene from the short film The Wrong Trousers, in which the beloved Wallace and Gromit chase a duck named Feathers, who’s stolen some very valuable diamonds, to answer a question that’s probably on many young filmmakers’ minds constantly: how do you make a great action scene? Check out the video and read our top five takeaways below.
Spider-Man finally swung home. Back in February of 2015, I wrote about why Spider-Man swinging back to Marvel Studios would be a good thing for the famed webslinger. Now, two years later, we have Spider-Man: Homecoming, the sixth Spider-Man film that actually feels like the first. The film, which stars Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Michael Keaton as The Vulture, is exhilarating, extremely well-made and most excitingly of all, refreshing. It shows how you properly reboot a character like Spider-Man, cementing Kevin Fiege and Marvel Studios as creative powerhouses who truly care about these characters. Let’s take a look at why Homecoming was the perfect Spidey reboot – and what’s in store for him after this. ›››
When Edgar Wright (Baby Driver) talks… filmmakers listen!
I saw Baby Driver this week and it’s fantastic! In all respects. Script, casting, directing, and hugely inventive in one amazing way: It’s a musical!
That’s right, Baby Driver is an action-crime-musical. But a musical like no other. Writer-director Edgar Wright uses music in a way… well… you know how in traditional musicals, there’s that weird transition from reality to where someone just starts singing, like this is the way the world works. Orchestra swells. People dance. Characters sing.
That’s not Baby Driver. The music arises organically in the context of the physical world in which these characters exist — a gritty, realistic story universe. Radios, iPods, tape recorders, the music emerges from these natural sources. There’s no soundtrack, the music just is. I can’t describe it better than that, you just have to see the movie to understand. And when you do, you may come away from the theater like I did, wondering if this is the way musicals should have been done all along.
Of course, the movie is not all music. Well, it is all music. There are over 30 songs featured over the course of the 113 minute runtime. But I mean there’s also stuff like…
“The stakes need to be very clear and very vivid. That’s why The French Connection (1971) is always brought up as one of the greatest ones. Popeye Doyle commandeers a car because the other guy’s on a train, so it’s out of necessity. Then you’ve got a great car chase where it’s car versus train. It’s not like they’re just tooling around in their cars and then a car chase starts.
“That’s kind of how Bullitt (1968) starts. Frank Bullitt is being tailed, and then he decides to lose them. It is an iconic sequence. A lot of the best car chases look well shot, spatially correct, with geographically clear action.
“The Blues Brothers (1980) would be another example, because they have to get to the court offices before a particular time, and they’ve got the money — their winnings from the concert — so things are linked together. It’s quite schematic in that movie.”
The interesting thing is apart from perhaps the music, screenwriters can impact those key aspects of a good car chase in what we write. Here’s an excerpt from a draft of the Baby Driver script:
Baby’s car sails into busy traffic, the track blasting on the car stereo, building in speed and energy.
Despite the velocity of the getaway, our driver is calm at the wheel, weaving through traffic like an android.
The other gang members lay low in their seats, shrug out of their business attire. They trade looks as Baby swerves.
WOOP WOOP. One BLACK & WHITE cruiser screams the opposite way.
It zooms past, then makes a 180 behind them.
Baby sees the Black & White BEHIND. A light turns red AHEAD.
He FLOORS it through the stop light. Other drivers break hard around him. Cars crash, rear end in time with kick drum hits.
The Black & White flies through the intersection, gaining.
Baby nears 70 mph, the track building with cracking snares. The lone Black & White still dogs behind. Sirens wailing.
Baby HITS 70 mph. Then 80. Comes up to an intersection. Eases off. Makes a hard right at the last second into –
A side street. Loses the Black & White. Baby TEARS down the narrow street, dodges dumpsters.
On the adjacent artery, the Black & White can be seen in parallel. Baby floors it to the next cross street and SWERVES a hard left, directly into the path of the Black & White pursuing.
Baby plows through this intersection, forcing the Black & White and all other traffic to brake VIOLENTLY HARD.
The Honda Civic leaves the Black & White in the dust and tears down another straight with less traffic.
All this action is grounded in a terrific opening. We see the vehicle (hot). We have a sense of the location (urban). We get to know the driver (Baby). The connection of music to action is made clear with the movie’s first song ‘Bellbottoms’ by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The way Baby bobs, weaves, and sings to the song not only indicates how music will be used in the movie, the scene also immediately ingratiates Baby to us.
The stakes in the opening car chase? Because we like Baby immediately, we don’t want him to get arrested. And in ensuing scenes after we learn more about who Baby is, why he’s a driver, and his backstory — which makes the stakes “very clear and very vivid” — we really like him. As a result all of the action scenes and car chases, they actually mean something, they carry emotional heft, not just tires squealing and bullets flying. We are invested in Baby’s fate and hope he can extricate himself from increasingly dangerous situations.
Yeah, Baby Driver is all kinds of awesome. So if you care about original stories and inventive filmmaking, spend actual money at an actual theater, preferably opening weekend (it goes wide starting June 28 in North America), and see this movie.
Congrats to Big Talk Productions (I’m looking at you, Rachel Prior!), Working Title Films, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and especially Edgar Wright for producing a truly entertaining film.
Cassius and Pharrell’s new music video uses juxtaposition to connect ideas.
If you ever wondered how to creatively utilize split screen, Cassius’ new music video is a great place to start. The video, directed by Paris-based Alexandre Courtes and featuring Pharrell and Cat Power, juxtaposes images in order to connect ideas. It’s a work of visual poetry that speaks to the complicated issues we face in society, such as the gender pay gap (visualized as a woman shattering a glass ceiling), climate change and destruction (visualized as a plume of smoke and a toppling house of cards), the military-industrial complex (a weapon and a firework exploding), and more.
When it comes to perfect endings, look no further than Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Prisoners.’
[Warning: Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t seen ‘Prisoners’ and plan to go in blind in the near future, we recommend that you skip this article.]
Denis Villeneuve is a master of suspense. His frequent collaborator, cinematographer Roger Deakins, is a master of framing. But it wasn’t until Villeneuve’s 2013 film Prisoners that the director proved he was also a master of endings.
In a new video essay from One Perfect Shot, H. Perry Horton demonstrates how the final 30 seconds of Prisoners comprise the perfect movie ending. As Horton points out, you can make or break a thriller in its final moments; either the carefully wound strings come unspooled, or they tighten, revealing a beautifully crafted work. In the ending of Prisoners, before the screen goes dark, Villeneuve and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski communicate an entire film’s worth of themes and character without the aid of dialogue or any further exposition.
Here’s proof that ‘Breaking Bad’ had the best pilot ever—and how you can emulate its success.
Breaking Bad is as cinematic as television gets. With innovative camerawork, epic editing, astounding performances, and, most of all, incisive and poignant writing, Vince Gilligan’s character-driven series shattered the precedents of peak TV.
In a new video essay from Lessons from the Screenplay, Michael Tucker breaks down just what makes Breaking Bad the perfect pilot. According to Tucker, a pilot has to “introduce the main characters, set up the world of the show, and tell enough of a satisfying story that an audience is entertained and wants to come back for more…in 57 pages.”
The pilot contains structural elements that help construct the world: a teaser and four acts. In any pilot, the teaser should be a “surprising and puzzling” opening scene into which high stakes are quickly introduced. In Breaking Bad, it’s watching a gas mask-wearing Walter White crash his RV into the desert and emerge from it in his underwear, bearing a gun.
How do you write a story that has elements of both comedy and tragedy?
Plenty of those in the film industry have offered their commentary on the dichotomy between comedy and tragedy. Charlie Chaplin once said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” Carol Burnett said, “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” Even Aristotle speaks about these literary elements in Poetics. So, clearly the two are closely linked, but how have screenwriters used this relationship to create stories that are equally hilarious and heart-wrenching?
In this video essay, Jack Nugent of Now You See It explores the delicate dance between tragedy and comedy, how the two intermingle to not only expose and intensify one another but to expose and intensify the emotion of the audience as well.
As someone who’s been a big voice on Twitter for a while now, Rowling clearly anticipated the annual parade of angry trolls and decided to shut them down before they even had a chance to get started. Read more…