“The problem with you kids, is that you watch too many movies,” screamed my mentor, John Fletcher, British cinematographer and documentary filmmaker. It struck me as an odd thing to say to a group of graduate students who were actually studying film. But Fletcher, who had worked with likes of Lindsay Anderson and Tony Richardson in the Free Cinema documentary movement, believed that filmmakers should look beyond their own discipline to improve and expand their craft.
He also believed that I would make a lousy documentary filmmaker, but he was convinced that I had a promising career as screenwriter.
If I would stop watching so many movies.
Flash-forward. He was right. With an established screenwriting career under my belt, I am now the one urging the next generation of aspiring filmmakers to look beyond film for inspiration. My belief was buttressed this week at Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television, who with Center Theatre Group brought renowned screenwriter/producer Roberto Orci and Tony-award winning choreographer Matthew Bourne to campus to discuss how they each “re-imagine the supernatural” in their work.
At first glance, the only thing these two artists would seem to have in common is that “sleep” is in the title of each of their recent works (Orci’s Sleepy Hollow and Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty). Yet, scratch the surface and connective tissue emerges. Both believe in the big idea, that if you can tell your story in one sentence, then you may have a story worth telling. Both are equally committed to making that story accessible. Orci likes to disguise his own truth about human nature in genre and Bourne admitted his deep down need to please an audience.
Bourne finds inspiration in movies and popular culture and Orci in the tomes of history stacked on his bedside table. Both go beyond their oeuvre and re-imagine their own work through the works of others.
So, when I tell my screenwriting students that they should quit stealing from other films and go to an art museum or something, do they listen?
Sometimes. This past month a group of them went to the ballet, opening night of Sleeping Beauty. I rather suspect if I look deep enough, I will find traces of Bourne’s cinematic dance in their next set of pages.
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