James Cameron has said that Endgame’s box office haul gave him hope that his Avatar sequels can be as big as the original. Have you spoken with him directly?
We haven’t. We’ve never met him or run into him socially. He was a huge influence on us growing up. We always say the script for Aliens is the template for most modern filmmaking. It spawned an era of commercial movies that owe their DNA and lineage to that script. He’s the godfather of modern commercial cinema along with Spielberg and Lucas. When someone says something like that about a movie you made, when you grew up on their films, it’s hard to process. The little kid inside of you certainly is ecstatic and validated. [Cameron is] not wrong in saying there’s hope. There’s certainly always hope. We have to look to ourselves to provide the right kind of entertainment to get people to come out of the house. It’s more competitive than it’s ever been. I think [audiences] want new and interesting concepts. They want it presented in a way that feels spectacular and worthy of walking out the door and sitting in a theater. They want a communal experience. I think Endgame was reflective of that as a communal experience that you couldn’t get in your house: the screaming and the cheering and the communal crying and the communal laughter. That’s why people go to the theater. There’s all different kinds of movies that can provide that. We have to work harder to provide that, to earn their trust and respect.
Dune is one of Denis Villeneuve’s favorite books of all time, along with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. When talking about a chance at directing another big screen adaptation of the iconic source material, the director knew that getting the rights was going to be difficult. He says, “For me it was just a dream, and I guess I’m lucky that Mary Parent from Legendary got the rights and offered it to me.” Villeneuve continued by revealing, “I can’t say no to that. I have images that I am haunted by for 35 years. I will not say no to that. That’s going to be the project of my life.”
Dream Lover (1993)
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
The Terminator (1984)
Career Opportunities (1991)
You have to orchestrate emotionally. It’s not about peaking visually, it’s about peaking emotionally.
So, have screenwriters actually ruined recent movies by relying too heavily on a prescribed story structure like Snyder’s Save the Cat?
I argue no. Screenplays by their very nature require a very specific structure to tell a story that will unfold over 90-120 minutes on screen. Maybe the problem is audiences feel like the stories told within these structures have become unoriginal.
With this in mind, how can aspiring screenwriters use structure but still tell original stories? Here are my thoughts:
- Create original characters: A well-structured story is important, but don’t forget to make your characters original and unique. Maybe your story seems familiar to an audience at first glance, but if your characters are truly original, their experiences and reactions to obstacles along the journey of your particular story should feel unique.
- Be unexpected: You may be hitting your story beats right on schedule, but the world you create and how your protagonist navigates through those beats should be wholly original. Seen it before? Then find another way. In fact, find a dozen more ways. Surprise yourself, surprise your protagonist, and then maybe you’ll surprise your audience.
- Rearrange the structure: Christopher Nolan, with the help of Jonathan Nolan’s short story, drew audiences in with his rearranged story structure in Memento. Charlie Kaufman subverts story structure in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to create something completely original. Or, Kaufman simply turns to his imaginary twin brother in Adaptation to give the audience what they would typically expect in a wholly unexpected manner. In these examples, all of the story elements are there in these films, but they hit the audience at unexpected times and in unexpected ways (see “Be unexpected” above). You also may be surprised how you end up using a traditional story structure to make sure your rearranged structure still works as a movie.
Roger Deakins in an interview for Variety:
In a recent visit to the offices of Variety, he quoted one of his heroes, the late Oscar-winning d.p. Conrad Hall, as a way of reflecting his own philosophy to the craft: “Connie Hall said it best: ‘I just wish I could film despair and get rid of all the artifice and actually get to the real meaning of it,’ ” Deakins says. “It’s not about pretty images and beautiful compositions, it’s about something that just feels right.”
He credits his background in documentaries with teaching him to think quickly on his feet, and taking a certain unfussy approach to his craft.
“The documentaries gave me two things really,” he says. “An experience of the world and a sixth sense about what’s about to happen and what’s important in the frame. I think that’s really key to what I do; it’s how you position yourself and the camera to interpret what’s in front of you. It also teaches you to work very quickly and very instinctively.”
Deakins doesn’t like to intellectualize about cinematography. He says he works “emotionally and spiritually.
“It’s never showy, it’s never going for the obvious,” Crudo says of Deakins’ work. “Roger has certainly had a million opportunities to place photography out front, to put it ahead of the story. But he never does that. And none of the great cameramen do. Yet (the work) absolutely has his stamp on it. I attribute this to his individual way of seeing. These things are as peculiar to an individual as their handwriting.”
While nobody exactly took Deakins under their wing as he was rising in the ranks, there are a few d.p.’s he looked up to, and still does. “There’s so many, mostly that I never knew,” he says. “I only met (French Nouvelle Vague master) Raoul Coutard once at the ASC.” He also mentions the Japanese d.p. Kazuo Miyagawa, known for his collaborations with Akira Kurosawa (“Rashoman”) and Kenji Mizoguchi (“Ugetsu”), and, of course, [d.p. Conrad] Hall, whom he idolized.
Maybe the closest thing to a mentor was fellow Brit Oswald Morris (“The Spy Who Came In From the Cold,” “Moby Dick”). “I used to get letters from Ossie telling me I shouldn’t operate,” recalls Deakins.
When asked if all these near-misses get under his skin, Deakins seems genuinely indifferent.
“It really doesn’t matter to me,” he says. “I feel very lucky. It’s what individual people think about your work. I still see myself as just starting out. And then you realize, ‘I’ve been doing this a long time.’ I’ve had a fantastic life already, and I’ve got plenty to come, I hope.”