The dark knight rises

Despite the high standards set by Nolan for himself after ‘The dark knight,’ TDKR is a decent finale to the trilogy. Nolan’s persistent obsession to cram more and more into his plots doesn’t work out as smoothly as in ‘TDK,’ but still it holds together, at least in the second half. There is a marked improvement in the direction of action scenes. This time, he gets all most all of them right.

Yeah, characters still talk more about ideological issues than pass on actual information. But anyway, that comes with the ‘Nolan brand.’ It is part of the fun. You are always more emotionally invested if thematic conundrums are presented through the characters. But despite being a Nolan fan, with each movie, his narrative tricks are becoming a little (disappointingly) familiar for me.

(Spoilers) The moment Alfred talked about the ‘wish’ he had in Florence, I could guess what the last scene of this movie would be. The initial attention and time Nolan gave to the Wayne/Selina Kyle chemistry somehow gave away ‘the anonymous trigger-man.’ Because Nolan always likes to tie up the loose ends. And sometimes Nolan uses the same plot trick a little too often. His favourite is making Batman/Wayne disappear for a little too long and then making his return a big emotional event for Gotham and the audience. He does it in Batman begins and he does it twice in TDKR.

But what is making me more worried is that I am seeing more fissures in the logical fabric of the whole Batman universe. Sometimes the manipulation of the writer to make a point becomes a little too apparent. That is most obvious with the Gotham public’s attitude and reactions especially towards Batman. It shifts and turns according to the needs in the story.  Bane’s decision to punish Gotham for 4-5 months with the revolution before detonating the bomb was also a little sketchy. It was understandably a plot device to give Batman enough time to heal himself and come back. But the issue is, was it a real punishment for Gotham where 99% is anyway supposed to be poor? They were actually having a blast by looting and prosecuting the 1% rich till Batman returned. Another thing is that Nolan comes up with all these convenient philosophical tidbits as per requirement. In the pit, Wayne tells the doctor’,I don’t fear death.’ The doctor tells him that he should fear death to do better. Now Wayne is able to clear the jump without a rope because it helps him to have fear. So the question is, if Wayne was not really afraid of death in the first place, how would the presence or absence of rope really matter?

Regarding the Bane vs Joker question, I think Nolan took a clever decision. The Riddler would be too similar to Joker. With a villain who doesn’t even have a face, there is not much scope for comparison or repetition. Joker is one of those divine ideas that fall into your lap. It won’t happen every day, even for Nolan. When it happens, you make the most of it and move on- rather than artificially trying to make it happen again and fail miserably.

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Two short film contests

1) The Bombay Sapphire imagination series and Tribeca Film Festival present a short film script contest where you are to write a short film script based on a template provided by Geoffrey Fletcher (scribe of ‘Precious’). Five winners will be chosen and the writers will get an opportunity to work on the production of these scripts. The link is here.

2) An initiative by LA India film council, the second short film promises contest winners 1000 dollars and opportunity to get work experience in a ‘major film production company.’ Open to film and media students in India and LA. The link is here.

The finishing line

Finally I finished that script. In bits and pieces. Over one year. Never again will I write a script this way.

Now I have to sit on it for 2 weeks. Then I will give it out to friends for feedback. Oh, before that… I have to take away 40 pages. Why are you staring at me? Even Aaron Sorkin writes 160 page first drafts, you see.

Photo by Purrrpl_Haze 

How do you know you have it in you to be a scriptwriter?

I have a friend who is a mechanical engineering graduate. Now he is planning to move to Mumbai to become a scriptwriter. Naturally, when the countdown has begun for the shift, the self doubt is creeping in. On one of such moments, he asked me- How do you know you have the talent to become a screenplay writer or for that matter, any kind of creative writing?

The truth is, you never know until have made your first sale or your first film. And often, your script getting produced is not an enough validation of your actual writing talent. Especially in our film industry. But still the question caught me. We make drastic and risky career choices based on the conviction that we can write. We spend a lion share of our spare time writing, shutting ourselves off from our family and day job. Often a little bit of objective perspective can save us a lot of loss and despair.

So, below are certain points that I could think of, which may help. But the standard disclaimer is, these points could be indicators of talent, but not necessarily that of success. More than that, these are points which should guide some one to understand how important writing is to himself.

The motive talks for itself

Are you into scriptwriting because you believe it is the easiest and least expensive way to break into film industry? Or because you absolutely love writing? Most of the other aspects of film making requires technical expertise. Expertise in screenplay writing can be acquired by sitting at home and writing. If that is why you turned into writing, be careful. Writing is learnable but the progress is much slower than learning to edit or capture a shot. And there are much less objective measures for your improvement (if any).

Have you written anything in the last 3 years?

Writers write. Talking and debating about writing, reading script gurus, analysing the scripts of recent films, writing blogs about scriptwriting- all these don’t amount to writing. Writers have this itch to punch out things- even if they are not on a grand scale. It doesn’t have any logic. But they go on doing it in some form or other. If you have not written anything for a long time, it is much more likely that it is a dispensable habit for you. Then why all this trouble because writer as a career is one of the most volatile, insecure, stress inducing and unpredictable professions.

 Is your writing appreciated by strangers?

Friends and family members don’t count. Also if the appreciation comes from a stranger even without your seeking for an opinion from this particular person, it counts more. Someone buying your script is the best and honest form of appreciation. Unless it is your parents.

 How much does success matter to you?

Imagine this. Your guardian angel appears in front of you and tell you that if you pursue writing as a career, you are not going to succeed at least for the next 10 years. Now be completely honest with yourself. Would you still continue to write now? If answer is an emphatic ‘no,’ one needs to reevaluate one’s options. Because the truth is, even if you are talented, probably you are going to take that much time. If you can’t the enjoy the process in the mean time, then what’s the need for the suffering?

Can you survive the scissors?

What makes script writing different from so many other forms of writing is that, unless the you are the writer-director-producer kind, your script will go through changes many of which you are not going to like. If you want to be the autocrat hermit, it is better to write a novel where the interference is much less. Producing scripts is about being good in the room, articulating your position and being willing for compromises. It may sound easy. But it is not. Because everyone involved with a film loves to give opinion on the script. But sometimes the writer has to sacrifice the pawns to save the king.

Some indicators of your flexibility are- 1)Does your script undergo drastic changes after first draft, based on feedback? I mean a page 1 re-write with complete restructuring because you liked someone’s advice? 2) Have you got into heated arguments with the person who gave feedback on your script?3) Is your co-writer still in talking terms with you?

 Ability to give intelligent feedback is not equal to talent.

Many of us are very good in breaking down and analysing films/screenplays. It doesn’t mean the scripts that we write are going to be good. A good script is not only about getting ‘things right’ and ‘avoiding mistakes.’ It is also about consistently good execution in every page and line. In a good script and film, good writing may appear deceptively easy and simple. Don’t get fooled by thinking that ‘it should not be that difficult to write something better than that film that got released last week.’ Because our judgement about a script is heavily coloured by the quality of the final film.

 Do you finish your projects?

Occasionally losing faith in a project is normal. But if the pattern is persistent, say out of the last 5 scripts none were completed, you need to be careful. A possibility is, your ‘shit detector’ is decent enough but your writing is very bad. Sometimes our mind knows even though we don’t want to openly accept it. Also it is possible that you are not able to sustain enthusiasm on a project for long. Writing a tweet and a script are different. There is no instant gratification while developing a script. You have to hammer on without any guarantees or encouragement. Is your temperament suited for such a process?

Photo by It’s a Keeper

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: The book and the film

Should you read the book or see the adapted film first? Well here is the problem. If you see the film first, there is not enough incentive to get into the trouble of spending 5-6 hours on a book where you know every beat, just with more beating around the bush. Unless the language of the writer absolutely captivates you. I can imagine seeing a film based on ‘Catcher on the rye’ or ‘Pedro Paramo’ and still enjoying the book afterwards. But with most plot oriented books, after watching the film it is going to be difficult to enjoy the book because there are so many details coming your way without the hook of ‘what happens next.’

And this time around, I tried it the other way. I read the book first. And what do I think? I think after reading the book, it is really tough not to be disappointed with the movie as you naturally build an allegiance with the book. So much of details, back story, nuances etc are lost on the chopping table.

Anyway, this was an interesting experience. It gave me an insight into how different the priorities of a novelist and a scriptwriter are. After I read the book, before I watched the film, I tried to make a note of all those aspects that I would pay attention to, if I am adapting this book.

 (Minor spoilers ahead)

-I thought I would take out the whole track of  Jim Prideaux working as the teacher (lot of pages are devoted to it in the novel) because it doesn’t add much to the actual story.

  • In the film even though it has not been completely taken out, it has been kept to a bare minimum.

-I thought I will resist the temptation to start the film in the middle of the action (which is the fashion nowadays). Continue reading