Inside The Chaos: Gems You May Have Missed – Mary and Max

mam1.jpgby Kierston Drier

If we had time to spare in our busy lives, many of us would never be behind on any good show or film, but sometimes even the best pieces slips through the cracks. While it is highly acclaimed (and with good reason) if you haven’t seen MARY AND MAX, do it.

Mary and Max, a 2009 animation drama coming out of Australia has a pedigree of awards long to make even the shrewdest movie goer seek it out. Director Dam Elliot took home the prize of Best Director in a Feature Film, from the ADG for the work in the same year, and the piece won Best Animation Feature Film at the Asian Pacific Screen Awards, and received numerous honors and nominations besides. Yet that might not be enough to sway you to see a film.

An animation with startling and breathtakingly effective visuals, this piece is a lush feast for your eyes. Detailed and subtle, with a charming yet oddly other-worldly tone to it, it plays out in muted blacks and whites with bright accents of color. It’s music, emotive nature and whimsical touches bring it into a child like world of imagination- yet it’s subject matter and emotional complexity is anything but childish.

Mary is a young Australian girl in the 1970’s, who flees from a life of loneliness, parental neglect and solitude by seeking a pen-pal out of the phone book. She sends a letter to Max Horowitz, in New York. Max is a forty-something jewish atheist who struggles with social issues. The two strike up an unlikely, but enduring friendship.

What follows is the true story of two people at odds with a world they do not conform to. And the result is heartbreaking, breathtaking and maddeningly beautiful. Some films are greater than the sum of their parts. We can analyze each character, deconstruct the plot and the style, and brilliant directing- but there is an inexplicable, unknowable quality in this movie that makes it’s line replay themselves in your head long after the final credits roll.

If you love animations or drama, watch Mary and Max. If you love films that will make you laugh, cry and think, watch Mary and Max. If you love films that break the mould and set the standard bar of cinema a little bit higher than they were before- what Mary and Max. Watch it. It is 80 minutes of a life incredibly well spent.
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Inside the Chaos: Cinema writing 101- 5 Things About Overwriting

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Everyone who has ever put fingers to keys on a computer with the attempt to write a cinematic piece has probably had to deal with overwriting. Everyone has overwritten something and it’s nothing to be ashamed about- as long as you know how to correct it.  But in this reviewer’s’ time as a script coverage provider, it is surprising how much, (and how easily) overwriting happens. Below are five things about overwriting you might want to refresh on for your next revision.

  • YOU DON’T DIRECT YOUR STORY

 

Writing is often considered to be playing God to a very tiny universe. In novels, this is certainly true. Collaboration pieces, where many hands touch the work before it is seen by the eyes of the masses, such as stage plays or screenplays, have a slightly different approach. Specifically for Screen writing, the script provides dialogue, setting and action- the combination of which creates story. But it is important to understand the parameters of that confine: you don’t direct the piece.

BASIC RULE: In cinematic writing, you want to avoid overt descriptions of the way a character moves, delivers or reacts to their lines, their micro expressions or mannerisms, or excessive details of their minute actions.

 

EXAMPLE: It is established that Character X always rings their hands when they lie. They are lying in this scene and Character Y needs to find out. Then you can write “Character X rings their hands. Character Y sees.”

 

EXCEPTION: If a scene or line is otherwise ambiguous and clarity can only be reached with a direction, or that direction is crucial to understanding the context of the scene.

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  1.  DON’T TELL US WHAT WE DO NOT NEED TO KNOW

Sixteen years earlier the mother of Character A and the Father of Character B had an affair, but no one knows or will ever find out and it’s all water under the bridge now. Characters 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 are staying at the Bed and Breakfast once owned by character 3’s great-great-grandmother whose husband fought in the war.  The details that make your characters rich, robust histories might be incredibly satisfying to read about in a novel, where we have hundreds of pages to bring out full deep back stories and elaborate web. But Cinema has time constraints. Constraints on the reader, and constraints on the audience. Stick to the story that is relevant.

 

BASIC RULE: If it’s not going to show up directly in the story, then we don’t need to know.

 

EXAMPLE: If it’s important, have a character make reference to it. If it’s not important enough to waste a line of dialogue on, or if the plot is not directly entangled in it, don’t bother putting it in.

 

EXCEPTION: Historical pieces, where details about characters’ based on real life people may, in fact, be needed. Consider adding them into a director’s’ note at the end of the piece instead of building them into a scene.

 

  1. BE CONCISE WITH YOUR ACTION

It is absolutely okay to reference that action in your scene, but you must say it plainly and to the point. Elongating the piece by over explaining the work only hurt the piece in the long run.

 

BASIC RULE: The Best Cinematic writing will create the clearest and most vivid images necessary, with as few words as possible.

 

EXAMPLE: Character X punches Character A in the face. Character A falls hits the floor. Their nose is broken and bleeds profusely. OR: Character X punches Character A. A crashes to the floor, smashed nose bleeding, instantly plastering in blood.

 

EXCEPTION: It is not unheard of to see the occasional flowery sentence in the scene description. Use the greatest discretion with these; one per page is often enough. If you use a more flowery or poetic line in your work, make sure it draws together the scene clearly and purposefully.
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  1. SHOW, DON’T TELL, and TRUST YOUR AUDIENCE

Anyone who has ever had to write an essay gets caught up in over explaining ourselves in order to make ourselves perfectly clear…and fill up those huge required word counts. But you want to disregard that training in cinematic writing. Utilize the power of suggestion and trust your audience is smart enough to pick up the clues. Don’t have Character 1 tell his buddies he’s going out on the town to cheat on his wife. SHOW Character 1 ignoring his wife’s calls, removing his wedding band and offering to buy a girl at a bar a drink.

 

BASIC RULE: Consider how’d you get this information across visually- then describe exactly what you see.

 

EXAMPLE: (After slug line establishes Character is at the Bar) Character 1 removes his wedding band, puts it in his pocket. Gestures for two drinks from the bar tender. Sees a call from his wife. Ignores it.

 

EXCEPTION: “On-the-nose” Lines, or lines that are overtly obvious, can be very impactful and incredibly useful WHEN USED SPARINGLY. Like, once an entire piece kind of sparingly. For an example, check out TV shows like BOJACK HORSEMAN. This show employs excellent and tactful use of on-the-nose lines. They are always emotionally compelling because they are done strategically and with exceptional care.

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  1. REMEMBER- OVERWRITING HURTS YOUR PIECE

 

Overwriting can hurt your work. Excessive or unnecessary details can weigh down the action of your script, making your piece read heavy and slow. The quicker your story starts into the action and more fluidly (and clearly) that action moves, the stronger your piece will read.

 

BASIC RULE: Be clear, quick and efficient. Show, don’t tell.

 

EXAMPLE: *Taken from Graeme Manson’s Pilot script of Orphan Black.

Shower running.  Sarah undresses.  Beneath the clothes, bruises hint at a rough exit from her life with Vic.

 

EXCEPTION:  Historical, fantasy and Science-Fiction may require a slightly full description to establish world building.

 

Writing is a craft, and art and an on-going process. First drafts will always be rough and ideas will always need polishing. The clearer and quicker you can be, the better your work will read.

 

Under 5min. Film: I & MYSELF, 5min, Japan, Drama/Fantasy

Played at the Under 5 Minute June 2017 Film Festival

I & MYSELF, 5min, Japan, Drama/Fantasy
Directed by Hisanori TsukudaMizuho came to Tokyo to make her dream reality but things have not been going well for her.

CLICK HERE – and see full info and more pics of the film!

Review by Kierston Drier

This five minute Japanese Fantasy drama is a charming romp through the mind of a woman who is consistently too hard on herself. After a long day of perceived mess ups, she exits the train to find, well- herself. But a confident and charming version of herself who takes her out to sushi.

Her new familiar friend takes her out for a night on the town and along the way, she meets several more accomplished versions of herself- showing her all the possibilities she has.

What makes I AND MYSELF special is that, underneath it’s fantastical surface is a message about self love, and acceptance. The main character’s versatility and performance is nothing short of spectacular- it takes several minutes to realize they are all the same actress.

The film is not only well shot and well composed, but has a touching theme underneath it’s whimsical front. A piece about the potential and possibility in everyone, I AND MYSELF is a touching and heart piece.

Under 5min. Film: PROCLAMATION PUNCTUATION, 4min, USA, Dance/Fashion

Played at the Under 5 Minute June 2017 Film Festival

PROCLAMATION PUNCTUATION, 4min, USA, Dance/Fashion
Directed by Sewra G. KidaneAn enthralling fashion film centered on a fabulously fascinating woman reciting a short soliloquy paying homage to her love for using exclamation points in her missives.

CLICK HERE – and see full info and more pics of the film!

Review by Kierston Drier

This no-holes-barred larger than life experimental will test your fashion sense and your grammar. Our beautiful and fantastical heroine recites her thought-provoking monologue on grammar, punctuation and her “overuse” of exclamation points. The costume design in this work is utter artistry, and the actress’s highly stylized interpretation of the text makes this an engaging and sensual film experience.

One thing that must be noted in this piece is the incredibly apt timing. At four minutes, this piece is just enough sass and volume without being overwhelmingly “loud” from a symbolic point of view. Our heroine struts into our world, accents her thoughts with starting visuals and leaves us dazzled and satisfied. Full of attitude and sass PROCLAMATION PUNCTUATION is a fun, flirty and vibrant film.

Under 5min. Film: THE FINAL FAIRYTALE, 1min, UK, Family

Played at the Under 5 Minute June 2017 Film Festival

THE FINAL FAIRYTALE, 1min, UK, Family
Directed by Ken WilliamsA woman looks back at a fading memory of her father and of fairytales .

CLICK HERE – and see full info and more pics of the film!

Review by Kierston Drier

A four minute American film about the pain of growing up. A father reads his bedtime story to his daughter, when his daughter tells him that she thinks she might be too old for bedtime stories.

It is an utterly simple film. But emotionally, it is fathoms deep. Most impressively, the acting of the cast. The character of the father is only given one small moment to react to his daughter’s request- and so many emotions are transmitted. The efficiency of this emotional punch is breathtaking. A moment of independence for a child, and a moment of heartbreak for her father.

Remarkably effective and incredibly poignant, THE FINAL FAIRYTALE is touching and worthwhile piece indeed.

Under 5min. Film: THE SNOWMAN’S HAT, 2min, USA, Animation

Played at the Under 5 Minute June 2017 Film Festival

THE SNOWMAN’S HAT, 2min, USA, Animation
Directed by Jeff DraheimA stop motion snowman adventure.

CLICK HERE – and see full info and more pics of the film!

Review by Kierston Drier

A cheerful wintry work of art, this two minute animation is a beautiful jaunt through the hardships of being snowman. Yes, our hero is a come-to-life snowman sitting in a backyard, when the wind steals his hat and lands it in a tree nearby. Despite our hero’s most handy efforts, he can’t seem to retrieve his hat, until one of his over reaching schemes takes him too far. Literally. He will take flight and meet an airplane with some unflattering results.

But does he get his hat back? That’s a question open for debate. A funny, whimsical, family-friendly piece about not sweating the small stuff, this adorable animation will delight anyone of any age. It might make you watch your own snowmen a little bit harder- just to make sure they aren’t up to something.

Under 5min. Film: MOUNT ROYAL 2017-09, 2min, Canada, Experimental

Played at the Under 5 Minute June 2017 Film Festival

MOUNT ROYAL 2017-09, 2min, Canada, Experimental
Directed by Jeremy EliosoffA short, non-narrative montage in which scenes from Montreal’s Parc Mont Royal are transformed via custom computer software into a dreamy cascade of colourful, abstract shapes, set to a melodic, sample-based soundtrack.

CLICK HERE – and see full info and more pics of the film!

Review by Kierston Drier

This two minute Canada experimental piece is a study of colors, sounds and recognition. It takes classic images of places in Montreal and throws them bright contrast. A true local will understand the scenes, but for anyone who has never been there, this film will be a dazzling experimental carnival ride for the eyes.

MOUNT ROYAL does an excellent job of making the audience question what they are seeing. The pictures are never in full clear focus, which means the onus is on the viewer to link the picture to the location. MOUNT ROYAL is a bright, light and delightful piece that will spark the imagination of Montreal’s locals and tourists alike.