Welcome to my Blog! Hello, my name is MaryLouise and I am a Special Education Language Arts Teacher. I have utilized my lesson plans and other original teaching material to create picture books, workbooks, nonfiction and fiction articles and teacher's guides for educational resources.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Today's Topic: Movie Making and Script Writing

Today's interview is with Paul Brenner, MFA, film maker, script writer, Director of Audio Visual Services at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at The University of New York. His focus was English Studies and Film Studies at the College of NJ, Rutgers and USC and then on to Northwestern and New York University for Graduate School.

MLAC: Can you tell us about some of your earlier creative activities?
PB: I started making movies in Jr. High School ...Super 8 films...one starred my dog and was called Bozo the Magnificent. Another was a film with my sister called Death in the Snow. Then I got more serious and started making films at TSC. One film that got me into USC was called Armadillo Souffle. This film was a parody of Invasions of the Body Snatchers. One morning the main character wakes up and everyone looks like Groucho Marx and starts to chase him. The film culminates with the main character (Ed Holub) jumping to his death from an open window. USC loved it. I'm not sure if they loved the film or the concept of Ed jumped to his death out of an open window. Actually, USC liked the way the shots were composed, the editing, etc.
MLAC: Was that the movie you asked me to be in on that rainy, spring day at TSC as I trudged through the mud pits to my car....and you and Ed Holub were about to enter the mud pits? I turned you down because I was having a bad hair day and didn't want my straight hair to get any straighter. Now I could kick myself because... I could have been in the movies!
PB: Yes. You could have been the next Pia Zadora.

MLAC: Back to your earlier creative activities.
PB: At Rutgers, I got more involved in film criticism and writing about film. I was the film critic for the Rutgers Newspaper, The Daily Targem.
I got accepted in 1974 to USC and went there for a couple of years. I mostly wrote scripts and worked collaboratively with teams of students on films.
I went to Northwestern University for Graduate School and majored in TV-Radio-Film mostly film history and theory and I made films because at Northwestern you could study film history and production in the same department. Several of my films were shown at festivals at the Art Institute of Chicago. Here I ran the film society, called the A & O Film Board. The society ran films 7 days a week with midnight showings on the weekends with special guests.
MLAC: You've had some very interesting experiences at some of the universities!
PB: At Northwestern University, a friend and I had to pick up Dennis Hopper from the O'Hare Airport for a special screening of THE LAST MOVIE, which Hopper wrote, directed and starred in. It was his first film after EASY RIDER. After the movie was shown we then introduced him to the students. They were not happy with the film, so they started to criticize the film...they were very angry about it. After the film a Question and Answer period took place and he didn't like some of the questions. It wasn't like Inside the Actor's Studio. It was more like Inside the Psycho Ward at Bellevue. A snarky, elitist film student disparaged the film as a piece of pompous drivel…some kind of intellectual diatribe. Hopper's film WAS very experimental and very alienating and some folks in the audience couldn't comprehend the fact that there was no narrative. Hopper had just returned from shooting APOCALYPSE NOW and he was super-paranoid.
Hopper reacted psychotically. He lunged over the footlights at his student critic and shouted “What do you mean by that?” and he revealed a gun stuck in his belt! I don't know if the gun was loaded or not, but I was, after Hopper got back on the plane.
At USC, there was a special retrospective of Orson Welles films with Welles himself in attendance.. At the end of the screening my friend Ken and I were supposed to sneak him out of the theater and to his car without Orson Welles fans seeing him.. We were using a golf cart as a means of transportation to Welles's car with Ken and I in the front of the cart and Orson in the back. It was slow going with Welles's feet dangling from the cart and he was spotted by the crowd, who started pursuing the electric cart. Welles started sweating and the mob kept getting closer. As his legs bounced around as we bounded over potholes, Welles would crane his head in our direction and in a booming Shakespearean voice he yelled, “ Faster, faster you b.......!”
MLAC: What are some of your professional writing assignments?
PB: I have written for a number of books and conducted research for others. The books I've written for have included two editions of The Motion Picture Guide, The Encyclopedia of Film and The Movie Guide. I researched and/or conducted interviews for Close-Ups: The Movie Star Book, Women and the Cinema, Cult Baseball Players, We Played The Game, Roger Maris: Baseball's Reluctant Hero (published last year), and Gotham (which won the Pulitzer Prize). I have also written many film reviews for a number of websites including America Online's first movie review site, Critic's Choice, MediaScreen, and FilmCritc.com.
MLAC: How do you find writing jobs?
PB: Finding writing gigs is like fishing. You just have to target certain editors and pitch yourself and offer samples of your work or links to your work. The more gigs you get, the more you add to your resume and the more you add to your resume the more editors will pay attention to you.
You can also get work by making contacts. For example, Paul Kelly with whom I co-wrote Fermented and My Day is a playwright who also works at John Jay College and we got together to write. So too with another script I wrote called Betrayal, with Kathy Willis, who was the producer of a television show, Criminal Justice Matters, that I direct. And the author of Gotham, Mike Wallace, I also knew from the college. Danny Peary, with whom I worked on the baseball books, I knew because his brother was a professor of mine at Rutgers, with whom I worked on several film books and Danny and I kept in touch through the years.
MLAC: Any memorable movies that you've worked on?
PB: In 1994/1995 I worked with director Ken Kwapis on the film Dunston Checks In which featured Jason Alexander, Faye Dunaway, and Paul Reubens. I was working at 20th Century Fox and my job was to write sight gags and jokes for the film. I was working with a story board artist to construct comedy sequences and the sight gags. The film was put on hold because of Rupert Murdoch who had taken over the studio and shut down production of everything and funneled all the money into The Power Rangers Movie, shot in Australia. I had already uprooted my family and quit my job, and my bank account was flatlining. With film on hold for several months I had to head back to New York and get my old job back. And the day I finally wrangled an apartment in Plainsboro, then they green lighted the film. It was shot, they used my gags but it didn't help the film at all. The film tanked at the box office. Jason Alexander went back to Seinfeld, Faye Dunaway went back into seclusion and Paul Reubens ended up hosting a game show.

MLAC: What project are you currently working on?
PB: My current solo project is called The Big Igloo which is based on the 1922 Robert Flaherty documentary Nanook of the North. Nanook of the North is generally considered the first documentary feature and it deals with an Inuit family Canada's Far North. Particularly a famed Inuit hunter Nanook. Well, the film was a big hit when it was released in the United States and Nanook became a cultural celebrity. The Big Igloo is a satire film is about how William Fox brought Nanook to NY for publicity and how Nanook became dazzled by the city and couldn't go back to his old way of life. In reality, Nanook went back to the Arctic wastelands and he and his family starved to death. But my script is about Nanook in NY. In my version, Nanook becomes a drunken lout who ends up losing it all and going back home where he can no longer fit in and can't adjust. A cynical take about what happens to an innocent when exposed to a modicum of fame. It's a laugh riot.
For a future project, I have written hundreds a film reviews as an online film critic and I'd like to collect all of my movie reviews and create a website or blog featuring the reviews and new criticism.

MLAC: Do you have any advice for film makers, script writers etc.?
PB: I agree with John Cassavetes. I met him one time during a screening of his film A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE and he told me that if you want to be a film maker or any type of creative writer, that has to be your main focus. Once you have an idea, see it through to the end. Don't solicit opinions from friends and relatives. Be true to yourself and your ideas. Cassavetes followed his own advice ...he would mortgage his house to complete a film.
My advice is...you have to make time each day for writing and you have to have a passion for what you do!
If I had had any sense, I would have worked in a Video Store like Quentin Tarantino. I would have been able to make more movies that way instead of getting a degree and making loan payments until I am 90. Thirty years ago, before video, it was very expensive making films. Today you can buy a flash card and film for 6 hours, then weed out what you don't want. A sloppy way to put together a movie. When you shot with actual film, you had to think every shot through since film costs money. It forced you to get a handle on what you wanted to shoot.
Paul's film reviews as a writer for FilmCritic.com on AMC:http://www.facebook.com/l/mAQHQj5n6AQH7iSkXQKYHHBCn42TAgBEhrgBxoHRa1_4QLQ/www.amctv.com/search%23t=ALL&q=paul+brennerhttp://www.facebook.com/l/mAQHQj5n6AQH7iSkXQKYHHBCn42TAgBEhrgBxoHRa1_4QLQ/www.amctv.com/search%23t=ALL&q=paul+brenner
Paul Brenner's Movie Reviews and Previews-Rotten Tomatoes:http://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/paul-brenner/
Movie reviews, previews, and articles from Paul Brenner on Rotten Tomatoes! Paul Brenner best and worst review.
Paul Brenner's email: pbrenner7@comcast.net

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