Nashville Film Fest a fun, great learning experience

By G. Robert Frazier

The Nashville Film Festival concluded its most recent run Saturday after 10 days of movies, informational panels about the film industry, and parties celebrating the creative minds behind the films and scripts entered in the event. As a script reader for the screenwriting competition, I earned a gold laminate that provided free access to as many of the events I could stand.

IMG_20160423_130115061

By all accounts, the fest was a roaring success both in numbers of entries in the film and script categories and in attendance. There were more than 3,500 film entries and 1,500 script entries across numerous categories, from shorts to features, from dramas to science fiction.

The event was the culmination of my third year as a script reader and, coincidentally, NaFF’s third year to hold a screenwriting competition. I began reading as a way to learn more about the screenwriting process, while also helping out a good cause. I can honestly say that I learn some new technique or become aware of something to avoid with each script I read. That knowledge can only help me as I continue to write my own scripts and send them out into the world.

IMG_20160417_211650283The fest also provided a key opportunity to study the mystique of the short film. As I am co-writing a short screenplay with a friend and fellow member of the Tennessee Screenwriters Association, taking in as many short features on the big screen was an invaluable learning experience.

I have a new respect for the filmmakers who put so many hours and so much work into their projects. Hopefully, we will be able to put this knowledge to good use and produce our short on film as well.

One downside this year was the decision to allow ScreenCraft to sponsor the writer’s conference portion of the festival. Not that I have anything against ScreenCraft. They certainly brought in a stacked and talented roster of industry professionals to share their knowledge over two days with festival-goers. But it was the added $300 admission price that was a put-off for me.

NaFF 2016 PostersIn the previous years of the festival, my script reads were enough to gain free admission to a few writing panels held at the fest. This year, however, because the event was held by ScreenCraft, my reads got me free film access but no access to the writer’s conference. That was more than a bit disappointing to someone who would like to learn more about the craft of writing and is reading specifically with that in mind.

I sincerely hope that the NaFF organizers rethink or renegotiate the deal next year to better benefit their readers.

Still, I’m happy for the experience of reading scripts and for helping determine the winning scripts in the competition. I read 140 entries in the competition. Of those, 13 went on to attain semifinal status and four reached the finals. Two of those four were winners in their categories and the other two were runners-up in their categories!

Below are links to the winning films and winning scripts in the competition:

2016 NaFF Shorts Awards Recipients

2016 NaFF Feature Awards Winners

2016 NaFF Screenwriting Competition Awards

 

 

REVIEW: Latest Star Wars movie excites, but aggravates too

NOTE TO READERS: If you have been living under a rock and haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, don’t read any farther!

The Force Awakens

by G. Robert Frazier

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has finally played itself out to hordes of fans and left many giddy with excitement and others equally as revolted. I loved the spectacle of the film and the nostalgia of it, but I happen to fall in the latter category overall. Star Wars was a mess and nothing more than a reboot of Episode IV.

For starters, if you have to explain away plot holes in follow-up news articles by the Hollywood Reporter and Entertainment Weekly, as has been the norm over the past couple of days, then the movie didn’t work. A movie should be able to establish time, place, characters, and situations without footnotes and PR flacks coming to the rescue.

I’ve recently read articles trying to explain how the Resistance came to be and how it relates to the new Galactic Senate, as well as an article in which JJ Abrams tries to explain R2’s arc. Whatever.

There are numerous unanswered questions, like who are the Knights of Ren, who are Rey’s parents, who is Lord Snope (Snoke? Snape? Snappy? Snoopy? Voldemort, whatever the hell his name is), how did Luke’s lightsaber wind up in a trunk in Maz Pinata’s cellar, etc., etc. All questions that will likely be answered in the sequels and which we can wait upon.

But aside from the many unanswered questions, the movie was filled with several unsatisfying scenes or lack of scenes altogether.

The biggest fail in the entire movie has to be the reaction to Han Solo’s death by General Leia. Instead of giving the “big walking carpet” Chewbacca a hug, Chewie walks right past Leia and Leia in turn hugs it out with Rey, whom she doesn’t even know and has apparently never met! I nudged my brother while watching that scene and said to him: “That’s just wrong.” Plenty of other folks have responded the same way. My Burbank brother also hated the scene, saying Abrams failed to note the historic significance of Han’s passing and a silent hug between Chewie and Leia would not have left a dry eye in the house.

Another major fail is that Luke, Han and Leia were never reunited on the screen together. That Luke couldn’t share one final adventure with Han, which is what everyone wanted, is a shame and a disgrace on the part of the writers. While the movie is obviously hellbent on introducing new characters for the next generation of movie-goers, it lost points with fans who have been longing for new adventures with old friends.

C-3P0 and R2-D2’s roles were absolutely wasteful. Neither did much of anything in the film and C-3P0 didn’t even sound like him. I don’t know what they did with his voice, but it just didn’t sound right. The stupidest thing he said was when he pointed out to Han that he had a red arm. It didn’t matter one iota to the movie’s plot and no one gave it a second thought. The audience isn’t color blind and I’m sure we all would have noticed without the “on the nose” dialogue from C-3P0. Observant fans will notice that he no longer has a silver leg below his right knee either, but I didn’t hear him telling Han he had replaced his leg with a gold one.

There were so many coincidences in this movie that it felt contrived and forced from the get-go. Rey just happens to rescue BB8; she pilots the Millennium Falcon towards a freighter that just happens to be piloted by Han Solo; they just happen to go to a planet where Luke’s lightsaber is hidden; etc., etc. If events don’t occur organically, that is naturally, then what you are left with is a script where things happen for the sake of plot convenience. It makes the whole thing less believable and, ultimately, less enjoyable.

In case you think I have entirely negative things to say about the movie, that’s not true. I found one gem to highlight: When Kylo Ren froze the blaster fire in midair! Not even Darth Vader froze laser bolts in midair! Now that was cool!

Around the Web: Bond, Star Trek franchises endure with new movies, books, series

by G. Robert Frazier

Every day I scour the web for interesting articles about writing, reading, and other fascinating stories. I occasionally share those in this space, just because I’m such a cool guy. Today’s roundup consists of two movie franchises with huge fan bases, and no, I’m not talking about Star Wars. Both are fascinating looks at the past, present, and future of characters that have endured no matter the medium. As a bonus, I’ve included an article about a superhero now appearing on your not-so-small home television screen. Enjoy.

Spectre movie poster (886x1280)There was an interesting article on Variety this week about several Bond films that never made it to the screen, including one from Alfred Hitchcock. The new James Bond movie Spectre hits theaters this weekend and I couldn’t be more excited. Bond was one of my mom’s favorite movie series. Even though she had every Bond movie on DVD, she’d still watch Bond whenever it came on TBS. I’ll be thinking of her when the lights go down and the Bond theme song cues up. I know she’ll be watching with me in spirit. I recently read Casino Royale by Ian Fleming as a way to psych myself up for this new Bond movie, and I have to say I am suitably psyched up.  Here’s a review of Spectre to help get you excited. As Rich Gold pointed out in his 1962 review of Dr. No, “As a screen hero, James Bond is clearly here to stay. He will win no Oscars but a heck of a lot of enthusiastic followers.” There’s even a new Bond novel out there, Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz, that drags Bond firmly into 2015 with a live-in girlfriend, Pussy Galore, and a gay friend. And, finally, a long lost Bond novel, Colonel Sun by Kingsley Ames in 1968, is finally being reprinted as a paperback in January.

In case you might have been sleeping under a rock and haven’t heard, CBS All-Access will showcase an all-new Star Trek series beginning in January 2017. In a bold move, perfectly fitting for a series that goes where no one has ever gone before, the digital on demand subscription platform makes perfect sense. Rather than airing the show on broadcast TV and praying for a particular set of ratings each week, the show will have an opportunity to thrive online instead. The series will be executive produced by Alex Kurtzman and will introduce new characters seeking new worlds and new civilizations, while exploring dramatic contemporary themes. Believe it or not, there’s actually a campaign to cancel the Star Trek series before it begins. The folks behind the campaign apparently fear, and with good reason based on the latest movies, that CBS will only screw up the franchise even further. I’m excited to hear about the new series and am hopeful of the new stories yet to be told. Let’s boldly go forward. The exciting news for writers, meanwhile, is the return of Star Trek’s Strange New Worlds writing contest. I’m hoping to enter, but so far I’m drawing a blank on what, or rather, whose story to write.

supergirl-01

Is anyone watching the new Supergirl TV series? It’s clearly targeted towards teens and young adults, but as a comic book fanboy I’ve watched the first two episodes and will likely watch more. The special effects are a little on the cheesy side, but so far the story has been entertaining. I do hope she doesn’t have to keep contending with former Krypton criminals and Phantom Zone menaces, however. Let’s explore something other than the usual, huh? For those of you wanting to know about Superman’s cousin, bamsmackpow.com has put together A Beginner’s Guide to Supergirl. Check it out.

Superheroes on the small screen are all the rage right now. Gotham, which tells the story of Gotham City Police Detective Jim Gordon and a young, pre-Batman Bruce Wayne, has really ramped up the action and intensity this season. The Flash and Arrow are both going strong over at The CW, and NBC has rebooted Heroes Reborn. I’m even enjoying iZombie.

Horror world loses iconic director Wes Craven

wes_craven_photoWes Craven, 1939-2015

Wes Craven, the man who gave us Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream and The Hills Have Eyes has died. He was 76.

I believe the cinema is one of our principal forms of art. It is an incredibly powerful way to tell uplifitng stories that can move people to cry with joy and inspire them to reach for the stars.

On horror movies:

It’s like boot camp for the psyche. In real life, human beings are packaged in the flimsiest of packages, threatened by real and sometimes horrifying dangers, events like Columbine. But the narrative form puts these fears into a manageable series of events. It gives us a way of thinking rationally about our fears.”

More quotes to remember Wes Craven by

The official site of Wes Craven

Read the original script for Dream Warriors

Remembering the man who transformed horror

The Atlantic: How Wes Craven redefined horror

How Wes Craven wrote, then rewrote his own horror rules

A video tribute to horrormeister Wes Craven

Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/31

Every day I scour the web for interesting articles, writing tips, and just great reads. It’s all part of my ongoing effort to learn more about the craft of writing. A lot of these come from email newsletters I subscribe to or from my Facebook newsfeed. From time to time I may also throw in my two cents about the topic at hand. Not because I’m an expert, mind you, but because I feel like sharing. I encourage you readers to also chime in if you have any insights or thoughts about the topic. Just leave a comment.

Today’s roundup looks at some stories behind the stories, and, specifically, the authors.

Vacation poster (214x317)The new Vacation movie is now playing, but without the humor magazine’s name in the title. Here’s an interesting story behind the death of National Lampoon magazine.  And, better yet, here’s John Hughes’ actual Vacation story that appeared in National Lampoon and effectively launched the movie franchise. Sadly, the new movie is only receiving mediocre reviews so far. I don’t typically spend money at the theater for a comedy since there aren’t any special effects to ogle over. But, as the original Vacation is a favorite and I can use a good laugh, I’m planning to catch this one this weekend.

You can’t please everyone… Did you know Emily Bronte never knew how successful she’d become, according to this article from Time. (By the way, scroll to the bottom of the Time article for a list of the 100 best young adult books of all time.)

Did you know the newest issue of The Strand Magazine includes an unpublished story by F. Scott Fitzgerald? Here’s a neat little story about Andrew Gulli, the man who discovered the unpublished work. Go get a copy.

1933-KING-KONG-009

While we’re on the topic of famous authors, here’s another interesting read. This one is a book review about the life of Edgar Wallace, the author who created that most cinematic of giant apes, King Kong. I wasn’t aware of how prolific an author he was, so I checked Project Gutenberg, and sure enough, there are more than a dozen of his stories available to download to your e-reader.

MidianUnmadeCover (198x300)Clive Barker fans should be plenty happy right now. Not only do they have a new book from the author to read set in the Hellraiser mythos, The Scarlet Gospels, but also a new anthology of stories in tribute to his Nightbreed/Cabal universe. Co-edited by Joseph Nassise and Del Howison, the book is titled Midian Unmade. I didn’t realize this, but Howison happens to own an independent horror bookstore called Dark Delicacies in Burbank. Next time I visit my brother in Burbank I’ll also make it a point to visit the store.

Got any good stories about authors to share? Post ‘em in the comments section below!

Review: Ant-Man’s silly fun works for fan boys, kids only

I’m apparently not the comic book fan boy geek I used to be.

Antman movie posterOtherwise, I should have loved Ant-Man, the latest Marvel super-hero opus gracing your local Cineplex. But, for all of its efforts, I was bored, annoyed, and just plain uninspired by the film.

Oddly, it’s getting pretty decent reviews from most of the entertainment media and critics. Not the incredible rave reviews that Guardians of the Galaxy fetched last summer, but plenty of kudos nonetheless. A number of critics have stated the film is fun and features a terrific third act.

After watching the first two acts, it desperately needed something to save it. I can’t speak to whether the third act did the trick or not, though, because after 90 minutes of the dreck that is Ant-Man I walked out. Mind you, I don’t normally walk out on movies, so that says a lot right there.

For starters, Ant-Man is already a hero you can’t take seriously. Even Saturday Night Live once lampooned the character in a skit featuring Garrett Morris as the diminutive hero at a gathering of heroes. When asked about his power, he replies: “I shrink myself down to the size of an ant while retaining my full human strength.” To which The Flash (Dan Ackroyd) replies: “Oooh, that’s really impressive. Size of an ant with human strength. You must be able to clean house on those other ants, huh? Hey, Hulk, check this guy out. .. He’s got the strength of a human!”

IMG_20150724_153513431 (950x1280)So, to be fair, I didn’t give the movie much of a chance right out of the gate. The previews had left me less than excited and Ant-Man was never one of my favorite comic book heroes. How could he be when there are heroes like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor around?

Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to the movie in the mood I was in. Did I mention it was my birthday and I was feeling old? But, I was bored at home alone and I wanted to do something to mark my special day. And, it wasn’t like there were a lot of alternatives at the theater to see. Well, there was Minions 2…

In any case, you’re probably wondering, what’s wrong with Ant-Man? Why didn’t you like it?

I think, in part it has to do with the mood or tone of the movie. I couldn’t tell if it wanted its audience to take it, and its little hero, seriously, or yuck it up for laughs. I mean, who is the target audience of this film? If it’s comic book fan boys, OK, parts of the movie should have satisfied them. References to the Wasp, the fight (if you can call it that) with the Falcon, and its continuity within the Marvel world of movies were all points to savor. But, on the other hand, it was chockfull of silliness you’d expect from a Disney film. (Oh, wait, Disney owns Marvel now, right?). Paul Rudd, as one critic put it, is “laughably unheroic” in the role.

The film also plays all the right notes when considering its story structure, following the hero’s journey/character arc from reluctant no-good conman to redeemable superman by the end. There are parallels of father-daughter subplots between Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter and between Scott Lang (Rudd) and his daughter. There’s the slighted pupil turned evil bad guy against his mentor (Pym).

But for all of that, the film seemed flat and boring. All the plot points seemed to come about more by rote (as in, story structure says such and such an event must happen next) than through the organic growth of the characters and plot. The result was a very dry, predictable romp for the first 90 minutes of the movie. I kept waiting for the movie to surprise me, and it just didn’t do that.

Favorite quote:

Paul Rudd as Scott Lang (Ant-Man): My days of breaking in places and stealing stuff are over. What do you want me to do?

Michael Douglas as Hank Pym: I want you to break into a place and steal some stuff.

What other critics are saying:

Update (Aug. 12): I just came across this trailer from Werner Herzog on his interpretation of Ant-Man, in which Scott Lang is trapped in the insect world and experiences the grim brutality of nature. This could have been a cool take on the Ant-Man movie. No silly super-villains. Man against nature. Much more interesting.

So, have you seen Ant-Man? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

G. Robert Frazier’s Best of List

With the Grammys behind us and the Oscars ahead, I thought I’d present my own Best of… roundup as well. Consider this, though, more of a people’s choice awards list. I haven’t seen all the Oscar contenders so I can’t rate the high-brow emotional stuff, and I’m not into pop music, so this is just me, the common man, listing my own personal faves. I’ll include a few “worst of’s” as well. Kudos to all the writers who collectively entertained me in 2014 with their originality, wit and fun stories on screens big and small.

Movies:

BEST: Guardians of the Galaxy

While it was a bit goofy at times, especially with Star-Lord’s “dance off” toward the end, I found this movie to be refreshingly fun and entertaining. The characters were unique, the action was top-notch, and the film never got bogged down in the weighty seriousness of other super-hero movies.

RUNNER-UP: The Lego Movie

A kid’s movie? Maybe. But it was just so hilarious and that tune, well, it was awesome. Face it, everything was awesome. Batman and Green Lantern and Superman were awesome. Did I mention this was awesome?

SLEEPER OF THE YEAR: John Wick

Keanu Reeves picked a perfect flick to make his return in a big way. This movie was intense, action-packed, and just plain fun to watch. Of course, the studios are going to try to repeat their success with a sequel. Sigh.

WORST: A Million Ways to Die in the West

This movie was just a flat-out miss. The story was practically non-existent, the jokes – if you can call them that – were bombs, and the acting just tired. Comedies are hard. Maybe one of the most difficult forms of movies to pull off. But this one missed on so many levels.

TV:

BEST: Fargo

How do you take a great movie like Fargo and translate it to the small screen? Like this. This series was so quirky and enjoyable. The performances were first rate and it was full of surprises. No formulaic tv drama here.

RUNNER-UP: The Walking Dead

Some people didn’t like the direction this series took in 2014 with its episodes that singled out individuals or small groups rather than including the whole ensemble, or more specifically, Rick Grimes. I thought it was a great change of pace from the prison/governor episodes and allowed us to get to know each character a bit better. It did seem at times that the storyline sort of forgot people, such as when Beth went missing, but as evidenced by the current season, the writers have atoned for that quite well.

SURPRISE: Last Comic Standing

I don’t really like stand-up comics, but this competition series provided quick laughs when I needed it most.

WORST: Z-Nation

A SyFy Walking Dead ripoff of the worst variety. I think I managed to watch about ten minutes before deleting it from my viewing que forever.

SECOND WORST: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD

Boring. That’s the only way I can describe what should have been an exciting, action-packed series. This is how you take a Marvel franchise and dumb it down for TV. Ugh.

Books

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Concerts

Best: KISS

Forty years and still the best band in the world, KISS! Def Leppard came along for the ride, but just proved that no one can open for KISS.

Surprise: Arcade Fire

They may not be a surprise to those who were already fans, but their act/songs took me by storm in 2014. I got to see them live in Nashville and that only cemented the deal. My favorite best new group, even if I did discover them a bit late.

Social media:

TWITTER

More and more I find myself turning to social media, particularly Twitter, for quick news. By just scrolling through tweets, I can get a quick assessment of what is the hot topic of the day and what everyone is talking about. Makes me wonder, if no one is tweeting about it, is it really happening?

What were your favorite TV, movies and books of 2014? I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations. Just comment in the box below. 

PS…I follow back.

Writers: You don’t have to do this … but you probably should

It’s a simple enough line of dialogue: “You don’t have to do this.”

But it’s also one of the most common and, perhaps, overused lines of dialogue in today’s movies and TV shows as well. Listen for it, and you will hear it uttered more often than not.

The line exists for one reason only: It represents a decision point.

The main character has one last opportunity to consider his or her course of action. Do they take on the bad guy even though it puts them, their family, their career, etc., at risk? Do they choose the action even if it goes against every moral fiber of their being?

Of course, the character faced with the choice always does move ahead. If not, the movie or TV episode would fizzle on the spot. The goal would go unfulfilled, the viewer would leave unhappy.

It’s unfortunate, however, that so many screenplays telegraph this choice in such a way. It’s not very original in terms of writing, and it sounds cliched. But there it is, time and time again. It’s clearly an audible cue to the viewers that this is an important decision to be made. It is a moment that everything in the film has been building towards. In other words, the big payoff is at hand.

I’m not sure if this line of dialogue has its own chapter in the many how-to screenplay books out there, but it should. Your story, your screenplay, is nothing without it.

 

 

NaFF: The Identical superbly written, acted, directed

Made it to the Nashville Film Fest (NaFF) today.

Saw Something, Anything and The Identical. The first story focuses on a young woman who loses her first child in birth and suffers a long bout of depression afterwards that basically ends her marriage and former friendships. She seeks out an old school friend who also had doubts about his life and went into a monastery for four years, before learning that wasn’t what he wanted either. The two ultimately find each other and forge a new path. The movie was a bit slow, though it was well-acted. Written and directed by Paul Harrill, with stars Bryce Johnson, Linds Edwards, Ashley Shelton and Jason Benjamin.

Embed from Getty Images

The Identical’s Seth Green and Blake Rayne appear on the red carpet at the Nashville Film Festival.

The Identical, on the other hand, was superbly acted, shot and written. The story follows identical twins separated at birth who both find their calling in music. Think what if Elvis had an equally talented twin brother no one knew about. The film was shot entirely in Tennessee and features Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Seth Green and Blake Rayne in the title role. From first-time director Dustin Marcellino. The filmmakers provided a fascinating question-answer session after the viewing and described how it was all made possible by the script (written by Howard Klausner). According to the director, Ray Liotta said after reading the script it was a part he had to have. It took over three years to bring the film to fruition, but from the audience reaction I’d say their time was well-spent. The rest of the nation can view it on Sept. 12 when it’s released in theaters. Trust me, it’s a heart-tugging, entertaining story of rock ‘n’ roll, faith and family that is not to be missed.

I plan to return to the fest for a panel on scriptwriting and for more movies on Friday.