Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night: Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR

I was all prepared and excited to watch another Christopher Nolan Movie – INTERSTELLAR. He is like God to some Filmmakers like me (Although there are many Gods out there – Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, etc, the list is long). Nolan Movie is something where you need to use your brain, not like our usual Bollywood Films (although I like Bollywood Films). I reached the theatre early; I had booked ticket online earlier. I got inside the multiplex and bought myself some snacks. While endless trailers were running on screen, I finished with the food and settled in the seat for the epic sci-fi called INTERSTELLAR. The theatre was full, the mood was good, seemed like this audience was ready to be blown away…I was…

Interstellar_2 Interstellar_7169 minutes later, that same audience came out of the film with a rather muted response…and so was I…

Those who did not understand the film walked out of the screen in the speed of the space shuttle, and those who were confused remained seated in the seats, may be they still were on different planet of another galaxy, or may be they were stuck inside the Black Hole somewhere. Frankly, the final 15 minutes of the film will put even the most loyal of Nolan fans to the test.

Later I read these lines online somewhere about the Film: There are times, when the science and the sentimentality, and the silliness work hand in hand, however, there are those times when the sentimentality and silliness overtake the science, and that’s not good. The sentimentality and silliness are laid on pretty thick by Nolan here. Nicely Put!

Now I could say one thing only – The film is very much like a Nolan film, and nothing at all like one.

Interstellar_6In the end this film is about a father and a daughter relationship, and Nolan’s films in the end have consistently been about those same things. Inception is about someone getting back to his kids, he’s lost his wife, etc. The same is true of his incarnation of Batman, a lost father theme. The main emotional crux of Interstellar is the relationship Cooper has with Murph. Cooper agrees to try to save the world for humanity because his daughter is a part of that future. Everything else around or about the film, both plot wise and scientific wise, HAS to revolve around that main emotional story of the father and daughter.

I don’t want this to sound like a negative review, there are things about the film that are simply incredible. Nolan, a champion of shooting on film, is one of the few filmmakers left with faith in the power of the image. The film looks mind-blowing and gorgeous. Interstellar is made purely with the power of cinematic spectacle. In other words, it’s a film you’ll pay that over-budget multiplex ticket price for, and feel like you’ve come out seeing something that was so unique to the movie theatre going experience.

Interstellar, isn’t as rigorous to the balance of emotion and science as other Nolan films like Memento, The Prestige, Batman series and Inception. This means the film essentially succumbs to its own sentimentality, and depends upon how YOU look at the film. And that can be a flaw for many.

The story isn’t perfect; for example, while I loved the father-daughter theme, I felt the son isn’t always portrayed in a very flattering way. And I’m not quite sure why Matt Damon’s character is in the film — for me, that sequence distracted from the main story line. Having said that, the movie made me think — and not many movies do that these days for sure.

I can’t deny that there’s more good things in Interstellar than bad, and the good stuff is so awe inspiring, I can safely say I let go Nolan’s ‘flaws’. The spectacle means something. Nolan’s approach DOES connect with you on an emotional level, sometimes the emotion is awe, but it’s fundamentally about family, which runs all throughout a lot of Nolan films.

‘INTERSTELLAR’ features this classic poem by Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Interstellar_8 Interstellar Interstellar_5

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PART 2 of ‘What should I write?’: Alt Script – You Are Not Tarantino or Anurag Kashyap

The past couple of weeks I’ve had five or six fairly futile stabs at writing an article about the importance of niche cinema, with each one less to the point and less satisfying than the one before. It happens. Sometimes I know what I want to say, but am not sure how to say it. Now, although in my last Blog (‘What should I write?’ and the Advice from a Screenwriting Guru) I wrote about the Reality of the industry and what every Writer must write, this is it’s alternative view point, the flip side of the story, which is the importance of Niche Cinema.

In Screenwriting and the Film Industry it’s really difficult to present an alternative view point, without it sounding like an attack on conventional thinking, which I don’t want to do. The irony of this is, the point I want to make is precisely that, it is about attacking conventional thinking. However, at the same time it’s not. Hence the difficulty. Just how do you say, “things need to be torn down and changed,” without saying, “the industry’s way of working is BS?”

The industry doesn’t exist to innovate or to uncover unconventional approaches to screenwriting. The industry exists, quite simply, to create mass market products which fill cinemas and sell popcorn. And, the way the industry does this by sticking rigidly to three basic rules:

  1. If something worked, do it again, and again, and again
  2. If someone makes money doing something you don’t understand, hire them
  3. Once you understand how they do it, apply rule one

Which brings me to the point I wanted to get to, which is, most of the things you will be told to do to succeed as a screenwriter, by either the Script Gurus and industry Script Readers (? Self-proclaimed mostly), came into the industry because an artist / film-maker made money or gained public approval by doing something the industry didn’t understand. These Mavericks and Independents, wrote scripts and made films no one at the heart of the mainstream industry could or would put into production. By doing that, successfully, they forced the industry to reconsider what the rules were and what was possible. Today’s conventional “this is how it is done” thinking, was yesterday’s “mad as bats” alt-cinema.

Did you know that there was a time in Cinema history worldwide when it would have been inconceivable for anyone within the industry to shoot movies on location or to attempt realism in Cinema. At that point in cinema history worldwide, the industry believed that cinema needed to be glamorous, epic and completely synthetic. It was the Independent Filmmakers / Makers of Parallel Cinema who changed that, by making better and more interesting movies by adding the realism of location shooting, and by telling the stories of everyday folk.

So, what does this mean?

Well, in the first place it means that there are always two different kinds of Screenwriters.

The First Kind is Artisan-Screenwriters. These are the kind of writers whose skills lie in finding interesting ways to interrupt conventional wisdom, as it exists in the industry, at that point in cinema history. In 1940’s Italy, that meant studio epics with lots of togas and horses. In present day Hollywood, it means ticking all the boxes a script reader needs to tick. In present day Bollywood, it means making popcorn movies, the no-brainers or star-studded blockbusters. Many articles on internet are written to elucidate and educate artisan-screenwriters, as are most of the books written to teach you how it’s done. Script Gurus live and die by the rigid application of rule one.

The Second Kind of screenwriters is the Artist-Mavericks. These are the screenwriters who don’t give a flying-monkey’s nut about character arcs or plot points. They come to the party with a specific vision of what a film could be like if you just did ‘A’. ‘A’ in this case being the interesting thing the writer has in their head. ‘A’ also being the one thing that no Producer would ever pass, the idea that no Producer / Financier would ever finance.

If you want to be a successful Artisan-screenwriter, you should keep in mind – You are NOT Tarantino. You’re not required to change cinema or bring a unique vision to the screen, you are required to turn out good product. Your job is to help the industry apply rule number one: If it worked before, do it again. That’s what I was talking about in my last Blog (‘What should I write?’ and the Advice from a Screenwriting Guru).

What the industry requires from its Artisans are competence and a willingness to know their place. You get the pay cheque, but you get that by playing nicely with others, dotting your “I’s” and crossing your “T’s.”  If your ambitions are to be a successful Artisan-Screenwriter, then when you get notes about typos or unrealistic dialogue, the one thing you are not allowed to say is “Tarantino did this” or “Anurag Kashyap does this”.

Now, ironically, if your ambition is to be a successful Artist-Maverick, then you are also NOT Tarantino. You are not Anurag Kashyap (and actually Anurag Kashyaps of the Industry are also changing). Hollywood already has a QT, Bollywood already has a Anurag Kashyap, it already has a Vikramaditya Motwane, and there are many more coming up and making names for themselves. The Industry doesn’t need or want more than one of those guys. If you want to be a rule breaker and a maverick, you have to present your unique vision of cinema, the emphasis being on the unique element. Show the world a movie we’ve never seen before and change our view of what is possible. Smash the rules to little bits and have all the Script Gurus saying “Well, ‘A’ is unique, his/her work stands alone. The rules don’t apply.” The only thing is, don’t expect the industry to financially support your experiments, until you’ve shown them that a buck can be turned from it.

The bottom line is that the industry is a mass market industry; it is about making the films that pretty much anyone can enjoy. Maverick talents are always niche. They always split audiences into those who love what they do and those who hate it.

My conclusions are different. I believe that whether the industry is prepared to finance it or not, cinema needs a constant battering from new ideas and new talents. The rules the industry applies to make movies need constant refreshing and savagely challenging. We need to write and make the movies that the industry doesn’t even know that it wants to make, yet. We need to write the scripts they will hate, and make the films they won’t take a risk on. And, the great news is that there has never been a better time to do that. Now is the time to write the best scripts we can, and to produce them ourselves.

My final thought is a question:

Given that cinema needs to constantly evolve, if it isn’t to become stale and tedious, what kind of movies should we be making?

‘What should I write?’ and the Advice from a Screenwriting Guru

After more than 4 Months, I guess, I am writing the blog. I was busy writing stuff and some scripts. I met some of the really talented fellow Writers during some Film Festivals recently. I also attended some one-day Script Writing workshops during these Film Festivals and came to the same conclusion after meeting a few ‘Screenwriting Gurus’. I also watched some mega-budget films like ‘Happy New Year’ recently. I wish to share some thoughts and experiences here. So without taking any names and defining situations, here is what I felt.

Let’s say you’re an aspiring screenwriter. Whenever you read an interview of a working Screenwriter or Screenwriter Guru and they are asked, “What should I write?” The response is almost always this:

“Write what you’re passionate about.”

You go to any Film Festival you will find at least one One-Day Screenwriting Workshop conducted by a big name – a proven, successful and famous Screenwriting Guru. You ask him/her, “What should I write?”, and you will get same answer:

 “Write what you’re passionate about.”

That sounds so earnest, honest, and aesthetically responsible.

But what if what you’re passionate about is a Period Drama involving three brothers, each of whom begins their journey in a different distant land, eventually intersecting at their rural family homestead for a week. There they recall their journeys, the people they met and some random, obscure stories from their past; their sagas conveyed in lengthy monologues.

Or say…

You’re utterly eager to write that script about a failed sculpture who is working on a statue of an Angel that comes to life in the moonlight. It’s also a period piece, and a musical; the story unfolds in a very lyrical way.

But facts are facts. Each of these scripts is a really hard to sell in Bollywood. Although these are the Scripts you are very ‘Passionate About’.

On the other hand, the potential projects Bollywood is dying to catch are: Comedy, Action-Thrillers, RomComs – the three biggest genres in the contemporary filmmaking. Think of them as big-budget-biggest-grossing-blockbusters, just waiting to be made – the famous Rs.100 Crores and Rs.200 Crores Club.

So how in God’s own Earth are you going to avoid these big blockbusters? You simply cannot.

Probably because those same well-intentioned Writers or Screenwriting Gurus who once told you to ‘write what you’re passionate about’ failed to let you in on the fact that ‘Bollywood barely gives two shits about your passion’. Rather they care about what they are passionate about — which is ‘Making Money’.

Comedy, Action-Thrillers, RomComs. The Genres that have proven time and again they are the most likely to net big box office revenues.

So my Advice is: Come up with a strong Story Concept in one of these three major Genres. Find some sort of emotional resonance to the Characters. And then write the hell out of it.

That’s your best bet to hook a deal in Bollywood or Indian Film Industry.

Remember: To catch a big fish, don’t stand in the water where you should actually be fishing!