Jackie Chan: Action Auteur

This is an article I wrote about the Jackie Chan films Police Story and Police Story II for an unfortunately now defunct site:

Jackie Chan: Action Auteur

Tons of ink and digital pixels have been spilled talking about how Jackie Chan risks his life to please his audiences, and for good reason. Are his stunts amazing? Yes. Without question. But whenever anyone talks or write about Jackie, all they focus on is the action. This is a huge disservice to the man. What is missing in the conversation is Jackie Chanʼs immense talent and ability as a filmmaker, a director, an auteur. Thatʼs right. Auteur. The snooty French auteur theory talks about how even in a collaborative medium such as film, a singular voice can influence and imprint a movie with their vision and style. In Police Story & Police Story II, Jackie Chan was the director, co-writer, star and stunt coordinator.

How better to define singular vision and influence on a picture?

Prior to Police Story, cop movies had degenerated from intense thrillers and dramas such as The French Connection and Serpico into hackneyed procedurals that resembled something on television, only with bigger budgets, movie stars and excessive macho posturing. The genre had become so worn out that the only way to make a cop film stand out was to combine it with another genre like comedy (e.g., Beverly Hills Cop). Enter Jackie Chan.

Continue reading “Jackie Chan: Action Auteur”

Complicated ‘Corruptor’: Shades of Gray in a Complex World

This is an article I wrote about the Chow Yun-fat film The Corruptor for an unfortunately now defunct site:

Complicated ‘Corruptor’: Shades of Gray in a Complex World

Morality is complicated. Unlike what our “betters” tell us, the world is not black and white. One transgression or thought crime does not make you a bad person. Who you were or what you said or thought years or decades earlier does not represent who you are now. People are complex. The best stories and movies reflect this reality and provide not answers, but questions that help us explore the  complicated nature of our humanity. One such movie is James Foley’s fantastic 1999 film The Corruptor, starring The King of Cool, aka Chow Yun-Fat, and a young Mark Wahlberg.

“You don’t change Chinatown, it changes you.” – Nick Chen (Chow Yun-Fat) Continue reading “Complicated ‘Corruptor’: Shades of Gray in a Complex World”

The Difference Between Drama and Non-Drama

Too many times, writers mistake information for drama. The need to make sure that the audience understands everything, that nothing is left out, overcomes our better judgement and as a result we write undramatic drivel that serves no purpose except to inform. Continue reading “The Difference Between Drama and Non-Drama”

Screenwriting Book Recommendations

SCREENWRITING BOOKS

Forget the gurus. They want to sell you useless books that you don’t need (see Robert McKee & Syd Field). There is no formula for screenwriting. These are all of the books that I find useful for screenwriting.

1. On Writing by Stephen King

I know what you’re thinking. Stephen King? It just so happens that this is the best book on creative writing that I have come across. This book is split into two parts. The first is a semi-autobiography of Stephen King that helps you understand the life and journey of a writer and how that shapes their work. The second part consists of a nuts and bolts breakdown of the craft of writing. While Stephen King’s advice is geared towards aspiring novelists, the advice he gives on plot, character and story are also applicable to the art of screenwriting.

2. On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King

This is the audiobook version of Stephen King’s memoir on writing read by the ol’ Stevie King himself. Before I start a new script or begin rewriting an old script, I often find myself listening to this audiobook for both inspiration and as a reminder of what and how I should be writing. I recommend both the printed and the audio versions of the book and find each to be useful in different ways.

3. On Directing Film by David Mamet

I realize that this is a book on directing, as the title so clearly states. It is an excellent book for directors. However, it is also a great book for aspiring screenwriters. Although best known for his dialogue and his plays, Pulitzer-prize winner David Mamet was an Oscar-nominated screenwriter before he became a director. This book, which was taken from a series of lectures that David Mamet gave while teaching a directing class at Columbia University, will help you learn how to break down a story visually. This is an important skill for any screenwriter.

4. Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach by Paul Gulino

This is the method taught by my alma mater, the USC School of Cinematic Arts. It offers a non-conventional approach to structure that can be useful but is not, by any means, the only way to approach screenwriting.

4. The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

Every writer should have proper grammer, spelling and punctuation; screenwriters included. This timeless guide will not only make your writing look more professional, but also help you to make your writing clearer and easier to read.

These are the only books that I have found useful for screenwriting.