What can we learn by examining only the first and final shot of a film?
This video plays the opening and closing shots of 55 films side-by-side. Some of the opening shots are strikingly similar to the final shots, while others are vastly different–both serving a purpose in communicating various themes.
Some show progress, some show decline, and some are simply impactful images used to begin and end a film.
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That’s what the wise and wonderful Neil Gaiman explores in a fantastic lecture two and a half years in the making, part of the Long Now Foundation’s nourishing and necessary seminars on long-term thinking.
Nearly half a century after French molecular biologist Jacques Monod proposed what he called the “abstract kingdom” — a conceptual parallel to the biosphere, populated by ideas that propagate like organisms do in the natural world — and after Richard Dawkins built upon this concept to coin the word “meme,” Gaiman suggests stories are a life-form obeying the same rules of genesis, reproduction, and propagation that organic matter does.
Please enjoy, with transcribed highlights below.
Considering the scientific definition of life as a process that “includes the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death,” Gaiman argues that stories are alive — that they can, and do, outlive even the world’s oldest living trees by millennia:
Do stories grow? Pretty obviously — anybody who has ever heard a joke being passed on from one person to another knows that they can grow, they can change. Can stories reproduce? Well, yes. Not spontaneously, obviously — they tend to need people as vectors. We are the media in which they reproduce; we are their petri dishes… Stories grow, sometimes they shrink. And they reproduce — they inspire other stories. And, of course, if they do not change, stories die.
On story being the original and deepest creative act:
Pictures, I think, may have been a way of transmitting stories. The drawings on cave walls that we assume are acts of worship or of sympathetic magic, intended to bring hunters luck and good kills. I keep wondering if, actually, they’re just ways of telling stories: “We came over that bridge and we saw a herd of wooly bisons.” And I wonder that because people tell stories — it’s an enormous part of what makes us human.
We will do an awful lot for stories — we will endure an awful lot for stories. And stories, in their turn — like some kind of symbiote — help us endure and make sense of our lives.
A lot of stories do appear to begin as intrinsic to religions and belief systems — a lot of the ones we have have gods or goddesses in them; they teach us how the world exists; they teach us the rules of living in the world. But they also have to come in an attractive enough package that we take pleasure from them and we want to help them propagate.
Gaiman illustrates this with the most breath-stopping testament to what we endure for stories as they in turn help us endure, by way of his 97-year-old cousin Helen, a Polish Holocaust survivor…
Maria Popova is a reader, writer, interestingness hunter-gatherer, and curious mind at large, who writes for WiredUK, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, among others. She is also an am an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.
With the success of “The Bible” TV series, and “Finding Jesus” on CNN, I’ve been getting plenty of inquires from people who want to get other Christian ideas picked up by a secular network. In many cases, they’re starting from the wrong perspective. The first step isn’t getting your show idea on a network. The first step is finding out what the network is interested in programming. With that in mind, here’s a few critical principles about how to get a secular network to look at your Christian program idea:
1) Start by looking for cultural events that would make networks more open to a Christian influenced program. For instance, a number of years ago, I realized the anniversary of William Wilberforce abolishing the slave trade in the British empire was about to happen. Since he was driven by his Christian faith, I pitched PBS on a one hour documentary on Wilberforce’s life. They loved the idea and not only did it get a national broadcast on PBS, but it was privately screened at the White House. So – what’s trending in the news right now that would make a network interested in your idea?
2) Think ahead. My friend, movie producer Ralph Winter says that making a big budget movie isn’t about what’s popular now. It’s about what will be popular 5 years from now, because that’s how long it takes to make a major movie. It’s really not much different with TV projects. So look into the future. Once “The Bible” series was successful, I received a ton of proposals to do something similar. Likewise, once Noah hit theaters, I had a bunch of Noah projects pitched to me. But they’d already been done and networks weren’t interested. The question is – What’s next?
An internationally known writer and speaker, Phil Cooke has actually produced media programming in nearly 50 countries around the world. In the process, has been shot at, survived two military coups, fallen out of a helicopter, and in Africa, been threatened with prison. And during that time – through his company Cooke Pictures in Burbank, California – he’s helped some of the largest nonprofit organizations and leaders in the world use the media to tell their story in a changing, disrupted culture.
The numbers for women in Hollywood trail far behind the percentage of females in executive positions in other heavily male-dominated endeavors, including the military, tech, finance, government, science and engineering
In 2005, Diana Ossana was in the green room at the Venice Film Festival, elated. Brokeback Mountain, the film she’d shepherded into being after reading Annie Proulx’s short story in The New Yorker eight years earlier, had just won the Golden Lion, top prize at the festival.
Ossana, who optioned the story from Proulx, then co-wrote and produced the film starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, was standing next to its director, Ang Lee, basking in their success when, she says, George Clooney walked in. Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck also had been in the running for the Golden Lion.
“He walked right up to Ang, shook his hand and congratulated him,” Ossana says from her home in Tucson. After heartily congratulating Lee, Clooney looked right past Ossana, then moved on.
“I really was startled,” she says. “It was as if I wasn’t even in the room. Ang even commented on it afterward; it was that obvious.” Clooney did not respond to a request for comment.
Ossana had been fielding that kind of treatment since before the film’s inception. Without her writing partner, Larry McMurtry, she wasn’t taken seriously. During meetings with studio execs, at which she was often the only woman, men turned in surprise when she spoke.
“They would look at me as if, ‘Oh, she speaks!'” Ossana says. “These were very prominent, very well-known men. If I was any more specific, everyone would know exactly who I was talking about.”
Ossana later had to demand that studio executives recognize her with a producing credit on Brokeback, which she and McMurtry had to push through the system. And “when we set about to make the deal with the studio, I’m not certain why, but they said they would have preferred Larry to be a producer.” (He got an executive producer credit, she a producer credit.)
Women are not tapped for power jobs in Hollywood. Their numbers trail far behind the percentage of females in executive positions in other heavily male-dominated endeavors, including the military, tech, finance, government, science and engineering. In 2013, 1.9 percent of the directors of Hollywood’s 100 top-grossing films were female, according to a study conducted by USC researcher Stacy L. Smith. In 2011, women held 7.1 percent of U.S. military general and admiral posts, 20 percent of U.S. Senate seats and more than 20 percent of leadership roles at Twitter and Facebook — and both companies now face gender-discrimination lawsuits.
In the wake of the Sony email-hacking scandal, and following Patricia Arquette’s rallying cry at the Oscars, some well-known Hollywood figures are openly saying that an ugly bias grips the liberal, charitable, Democrat-dominated movie industry…
With production values and writing that far surpass the first two installments, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s passion project tackles perhaps its most captivating episode tonight. TV has never seen anything like it.
Always the stickler for precision, Dean took EXACTLY 15 minutes to complete his list and added the following caveat: “I’m going to assume that the Bible is ineligible, but it should go as #1. Sheryl (Anderson) only listed writers, which I would be happy to do, in which case it would be “Preston Sturges” instead of Sullvan’s Travels and “Tom Fontana” instead of Homicide and “Jerry Zucker, David Zucker and Jim Abraham” instead of Airplane! and Peter Jackson instead of Lord of the Rings… etc. But if I were doing just an author list, I’d have to get into names like Bob Briner, and maybe A. Scott Berg.
Here’s Dean’s “Fab 15” list of the greatest influences in his life.
If my students were allowed to write down and take with them only one point from my lectures, I would have them write down this simple statement:
A story is… a narrative about a single character who must overcome some sort of conflict in order to solve a very specific problem.
This statement might seem elementary, but if I had a dollar for every script I’ve read that failed to follow this basic tenant of storytelling, I’d be a rich man.
Many times my students think they’ve successfully executed the above statement, but here is where most writers fail. Most writers have a difficult time grasping the concept of “…a very specific problem.” I cannot emphasize how important it is for you as a writer to give your main character a very clearly defined, measurable problem with a cinematic solution. And, by “cinematic,” I mean a solution that is external and visual.
The solution should be revealed through images not through dialogue. This is why sports stories work so well – there is always a tangible finish line or a physical trophy to win. I can show a team winning the national tournament without ever uttering a single line of dialogue. YOUR stories should work the same way. We know Frodo accomplished his goal at the end of The Return of the King, because the solution to the problem was so clearly defined – the story isn’t over until the One Ring of Power is cast into the fiery pits of Mount Doom – can you get any more cinematic than that?
Where most writers fail is by making the central problem of their story too internal. Let’s look at a specific example. The following statement is a poor example of a central story problem:
A man wants to find true love.
There are a thousand stories I could write about a man wanting to find true love. In fact, there are so many possibilities that I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know where to start, so I walk away from my laptop and claim I have “writer’s block.”
The above problem is a great “internal” problem for a story, but it’s not strong enough to drive the narrative. By externalizing the above problem and making it cinematic, I narrow my options and suddenly the writing process doesn’t seem so daunting. So, instead of trying to operate from a vague premise with endless possibilities, let’s tell a story about a man waiting to find true love but make our central story problem more specific and measurable:
A man must propose to a girl before his 30th birthday…
which is only two weeks away!
I don’t even fully know my story yet, but I already know what my final image is going to be…
Jeremy Casper is a writer/director/producer and recently completed Vacant House, winner of the Silver Screen Award at the Nevada Film Festival. He teaches cinematography and narrative storytelling at the Los Angeles Film Studies Center (which he also attended 1996). Jeremy has worked professionally in the film industry at Warner Brothers and did his internship at James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment during the production of Titanic. As a film professor, he has helped develop over 600 short films and is currently co-writing “The Inside Out Story” with filmmaker John K. Bucher, Jr. He also leads filmmaking seminars all over the world, most recently in Egypt, Ukraine, Ethiopia, New Zealand, Australia, and Italy. He has several projects currently in development, including his next feature film, which he also plans to direct.
This spring, Act One is offering its world-class screenwriting course online. Over the course of 10 weeks, writers can immerse themselves in 40 plus hours of video courses, Skype group writing sessions, and interactive one-on-one exercises with a skilled master teacher. Our goal: to launch you on the path of becoming a top-notch screenwriter.
The program kicks off February 19 with a 3-day intensive writing workshop in Hollywood, California. Students will sit with Hollywood screenwriters, producers, and executives and engage in high-level discussions on film, story, faith and contemporary culture. Lectures and workshops will focus on the vision and creativity needed to succeed in today’s Industry. Participants will leave spiritually challenged and refreshed, ready to dive into the 10-week video-based, online courses running the week of March 2 through the week of May 4.
We are seeing amazing things come out of our online program. Here is what one alum had to say:
“Here’s my story… I left in the personal parts because they’re true. I was truly, truly blessed this summer to be part of act one and welcomed into the family of this amazing program…You guys were a life saver for me in a difficult time where the grief of losing my mom could have easily brought me to a dark place where I gave up my passion and dreams of writing for television, for good. Getting accepted into act one and taking part of the writing program this summer gave me hope, took my writing to the next level, and allowed me to get a glimpse of Hollywood. It also brought wonderful new friends into my life…All through act one. God is doing so much more through this program, this beacon of light than just reaching Hollywood, He’s doing a deep work in the people He chooses to take part of the program. For that, I say: thank you.” – Joey C.
Right now, Act One is offering a discounted rate on the tuition. Apply by January 30, get accepted and pay the tuition in full by February 10, and you will get $250 off the current rate. On top of that, the registration fee is waived.
“If you were to walk into an Act One class, it wouldn’t feel any different than being at UCLA or USC. But from a Christian perspective, it’s a community where people can think out loud.” –Kurt Schemper, Emmy Award-winning Act One Alumnus
“Whoever tells the best story shapes the culture. Act One is training Christian writers and producers to be the very best.” –David McFadzean, Act One Faculty, Co-Creator, Home Improvement with Tim Allen
That’s the phrase that kept coming to mind as I started to write a blog post where I, as a Christian, was going to argue against the building of a Christian film industry.
After all, Christians have been trying – on some level – to create a Christian film industry since movies began, and some would argue even earlier. There were the Billy Graham films of the 1950’s, the apocalyptic Thief in the Night movies of the 1970’s, and a smattering of attempts by different Christian filmmakers during the 1980’s and 1990’s, but these movies barely registered on the radar of people outside of the church. As far as Hollywood was concerned, Christian movies were provincial affairs, unworthy of notice.
Then in 2004, Mel Gibson shocked everyone to attention with his blood-soaked account of the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus – The Passion of the Christ, a film that cost 30 million to make and earned over 600 million.
Hollywood finally stood up and took notice.
It was as if Gibson, by successfully tapping into the largely untapped market of the “faith based audience”, had singlehandedly uncovered the fabled lost golden city of El Dorado, and the L.A. conquistadors immediately set about strategizing how to best invade and conquer this shining city on a hill.
The Armani-suited conquistadors didn’t waste time, but began attaching themselves to little-known Christian filmmakers who seemed to appeal to the Christian masses, eventually inking deals with the Kendrick brothers (Facing the Giants, Fireproof), Pureflix Entertainment (God’s Not Dead), Cloud Ten Pictures (Left Behind), and many others – helping provide the finances and distribution channels that would permit these filmmakers and film companies to continue making and marketing their products for the Christian audience.
And in the past couple of years we’ve seen several well-known individuals from outside the filmmaking industry also try to tap into the Χριστιανός zeitgeist – Rick Santorum, Glenn Beck, Willie Robertson, to name a few – all doing their part to try and build up a Christian (or politically conservative) filmmaking industry in their own image, or at least one that lines up with their own personal theological interpretation of the faith or political ideology.
And now, here we have this little blog, a small voice crying in the wilderness, making the argument that creating a Christian film industry is absolutely the last thing that we Christians should be trying to do.
Here are my three arguments why a Christian Film Industry is a really, really, bad idea…
Brian Bird first posted this piece on his blog three weeks ago and seemed to have stirred up a few hornets. It resulted in several national radio interviews and he was even invited to take his opinions on this topic to Washington, D.C., where he met with a dozen members of Congress and their staffs to search for some solutions. It also ‘outed’ him as a sort of industry whistleblower. He asked if we would repost his original comments here.
Nobody asks us what we want to watch on TV. A tiny cabal of people in Hollywood just decide what they are going to offer us and hope we get addicted.
by Brian Bird • TV Writer-Producer
I woke up this morning to find this Hollywood Reporter article in my in-box. I thought I had stumbled onto a porn site. I actually won’t even repeat the headline. You can read it for yourself. But suffice to say, it’s time to take my own industry to the woodshed.
Apparently some of the broadcast TV networks and writer-producers have so much HBO envy that there are no envelopes they aren’t willing to push anymore. At Emmy time, the pay-cable networks seem take home most of the hardware for their public taste-challenging content. Remember, HBO’s branding slogan: “It’s not TV, it’s HBO.” Well, for a lot of the executives, buyers and content creators on broadcast TV, the way to cure your Envy-Green is go to Blue.
“This season, broadcast TV isn’t for the prudish. Nearly two months into the fall, it’s clear that explicit jokes and boundary-pushing storylines are changing the definition of what sexual content is acceptable in primetime.”
– Tim Winter, President, Parents Television Council
This is happening on the networks (CBS, NBC, Disney-owed ABC, and FOX) that people use to receive for free on their rabbit ears over the public airwaves, the same networks that used to be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. But now, because we pay a few cents or dollars for their feeds on our cable or satellite bills every month, they are now considered Pay-TV. Hence, virtually no FCC oversight. That’s the marketplace at work. These very same broadcasters used to have robust “Standards and Practices” departments, sort of public interest firewalls which would encourage restraint and discretion on the parts of the writers, producers and production companies so as not to ambush family sensibilities. Apparently, these S & P execs, right along with the feeble FCC, have now gone AWOL.
The Frog in the Beaker
Okay, call me a prude. I’ve worked on family-themed films and TV shows for most of my career, including such series as Touched By An Angel, Step By Step and Evening Shade, and Michael Landon Jr. and I have a family-friendly series called When Calls the Heart currently in production of Season 2. I’ll wear the prude tag like a badge of honor because what we’re producing is not vanilla or “soft” as some in the industry might call it. It’s actually radical, revolutionary, counter-programming because very few others are actually producing content like this these days. Not that many years ago, all of the big networks competed with each other to put family-themed programming on TV every day of the week, but that’s not the case anymore. In fact, most people I know can’t name 10 shows on TV any longer that they can actually, safely watch with their families.
“I have no intention of changing what’s happening on Scandal… I look forward to being censored.” -Shondra Rhimes, Executive Producer
Remember the high school biology experiment where you put a frog in a beaker of room temperature water and then slowly heat up the brew over a Bunsen burner? The frog splashes about as it acclimates to the rising temperature.
Until it boils to death.
As the networks seem to be chasing pay-cable over the cliff into dark, depraved and perverse, could it be that we’re all boiling to death and we don’t even realize it?
The Big Cop Out
I’ve had conversations with some of my peers who work on what used to be called “10 o’clock programming” but which now pretty much rules the airwaves at all times of the day and night. They say they are just reflecting culture when they drop language bombs or feature ever-increasing sexual explicitness in their programs.
In my opinion, that’s horse-(language bomb) and an extraordinary cop out. They are not just reflecting culture; they are shaping it and leading it… right over that cliff. Media occasionally reflects, but it mostly teaches. And if that’s not so, how come advertisers spend 20 bazillion dollars a year to try to teach us to buy their products? If media doesn’t teach, persuade, shape or influence our behavior, that money would never be spent. Media creates culture.
Nobody asks us what we want to watch on TV. A tiny cabal of people in Hollywood just decide what they are going to offer us and hope we get addicted. The only measurement is how many eyeballs they can attract and hold onto week after week. It’s completely utilitarian thinking. The bottom line is money, and people’s values be damned. The question of whether or not it is good for culture is no longer a concern because the audience gets to decide what it likes or doesn’t like. What’s the difference between that and handing out crack cocaine on a street corner and then saying it’s up to us to be responsible crack-users?
Don’t get me wrong. I have watched and enjoyed many programs that I would never purposely invite my kids to watch. Some of the story telling, production values and insights into the human condition are phenomenal and worthy of viewing.
But where is the balance? With wall-to-wall adult-oriented programming and nothing for families, I fear for the future of our culture. I fear for my kids and the next generation, which is facing an unprecedented tsunami of desensitizing, over-sexualized, violent content.
What can we do about it? You can watch my show, When Calls the Heart, and if you enjoy it, let the powers that be know you want more family programming.
And if nothing else, at least take my Family TV Challenge: Name 10 current “scripted” shows on TV you can watch with your entire family (real estate, gardening and cooking shows don’t count). If you can name 10, them I’ll concede I’m just tilting at windmills. But if you can’t, I urge you to share your strong feelings with the switchboards at the networks and the advertisers who are spending a great deal money trying to lure your eyeballs.
LinkedIn’s unique big data foray into the world of college rankings
With the education and job history data for over 300 million members at their fingertips, LinkedIn is in a unique position to connect undergraduate programs with a successful career as a Media professional. No one is shocked to find NYU at the top of their list, but USC at #19 and UCLA lower still? Now, that is something to get Hollywood talking.
Obviously the methodology (below) seems biased against schools training creatives for a film industry where LinkedIn carries little (if any) panache. For instance, stellar non-LinkedIn graduates such as Bryan Singer, Jason Reitman, Judd Apatow, Susan Downey, and Jennifer Todd didn’t help USC’s ranking; and even USC LinkedIn members such as Brian Grazer and Scott Derrickson probably wouldn’t show up as having successful ‘careers’ with the right companies, even if they bothered to keep their profiles up to date (which they don’t.)
Still, it is an interesting list to ponder, not only for high school students considering where to get the best ROI for their media education (Hofstra and Howard in the top five are definitely eye-openers) as well as for anyone contemplating the pro’s and con’s of the future of big data driven decision-making in higher education.
Undergraduate rankings for U.S. Media Professionals
With a current television schedule filled with vampires, corrupt cops, hypocritical politicians, fathers who act like buffoons, soft-core porn, growing levels of violence, and more – who’s producing programs that will do for this generation of kids the same thing that The Lone Ranger and Adam 12 did for the last?
First – it was the 100 year anniversary of the birth of Clayton Moore – who played “The Lone Ranger” on television. The series originally aired on ABC from 1949-1957, and was the highest-rated television program on the network in the early 1950s and its first true “hit”. As a kid, I watched it as re-runs, and it was one of my favorite shows. As you may remember, The Lone Ranger lived by a code, and as a kid, I knew the code by heart. Last week, during the news reports of the anniversary, his daughter, Dawn Moore said something remarkable:
“Thirteen years after my father’s passing, I continue to receive fan letters — not just from the United States, but from all over the world. The letters come from policemen, firemen and teachers who say they chose a life of protecting others wanting to emulate the example my father set — not just as an actor, but as a man. What’s his legacy? That he inspired and continues to inspire the notion of offering assistance without seeking acknowledgement or fame. To come to the aid of someone in need. Pretty powerful stuff.”
Second story – On Thursday I spoke at the Long Beach Leadership Prayer Breakfast in Long Beach, California. The audience of about 400 was filled with civic leaders, professionals, pastors, business, and ministry leaders, and law enforcement officials. After my talk, a senior police officer and I spent a few minutes together. He said that he grew up in East LA – a place where cops weren’t welcome. Growing up, he never heard anything good said about the police and as a result, distrusted them completely. But he watched TV, and a favorite program was “Adam 12.” He wondered: “Why aren’t the cops around here like that?”