August Osage County…Film vs. play

Sometimes theatrical plays don’t translate well onto the screen.  I suspect, based on my reading of the play (I have not seen the production), that this might be the case with Tracy Letts Pulitzer Prize-winning play, August: Osage County, vs. his movie adaptation.  

In the play, the first line of the prologue is revelatory. “Life is very long…” (10) This intensely dark comedy epitomizes the term “baggage” with the unfolding of every single character within the play, and Letts uses their dysfunctional personal and interpersonal dynamics to set the tone in the storyline, which drives the plot forward.  This is certainly the case in the film as well.  The audience is told that life is long against a backdrop of miles flat Oklahoma fields and cattle.  

There is no doubt that Meryl Streep lived up to her reputation, and executed a brilliant performance as Violet the cancer-laden, vicious, pill-popping, abusive, bitter Weston family matriarch (and untamed shrew), who is at the helm of her family’s extreme dysfunction.  As good as Streep was, and even with the all-star cast in this adaptation, the film has some issues.  Let’s start with the fact that the trailer sets this film up as a comedy, but in no way is this storyline comedic, in fact, it is epitomizes that worst kind of individual and family dysfunction.  It’s brutal.

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Violet, who is suffering from mouth cancer, spews venomous words in rapid fire against every member of her family–to include her daughters, following her husbands suicide.  Violet is toxic and overbearing; she is nothing short of a monster. Roberts plays her eldest daughter Barbara, who is the acorn that didn’t fall too far from the tree, also does an amazing job, but having two characters that are this “large,” seems to take away from the intensity of the other.  

Some of the themes so present in the play are muddied when adapted over into a film.  Such as the disconnect present in a family who are aimlessly going through the motions of life, and none of them are on the same page. At times, it felt contrived.  Also, the dinner-table scene goes on and on, and is somewhat stifling. 

At the core, this story is about abuse, and generational abuse shared between all the women in this family, and the many skeletons that are in their closets.

Good news!

Recently, I posted something about WriterDuet.com, the free online screenwriting program that allows you to write collaboratively, seeing all edits as you write. Whether you’re writing with a writing partner, or as a group, or working on screenplay solo, WriterDuet is a great program; it has my endorsement.  Another wonderful perk…WriterDuet has a page for outlining, story-boarding and creating index cards. With the flick of a finger, using the command key, we can go back and forth between our notes, and insert right into the script!

With the increasing popularity of WriterDuet, there have been requests for a desktop version, which is in the works. This will be fully compatible with the free web app, and will feature offline access to your scripts while saving your files automatically to your hard drive.

A Kickstarter campaign for the desktop version has been launched, and we’d love your support, and greatly appreciate your help promoting this campaign: www.kickstarter.com/projects/1721272044/writerduet-collaborative-screenwriting-software

Please check it out! 

 

 

Colorado nightmare: Does the media affect human behavior?

The news of the horrific crimes committed last night in Aurora, Colorado has sent a chill up my spine.  Watching the continual updates of this tragedy has caused me to pause and “think” about how and why these kinds of crimes continue to escalate in this nation.

With last nights tragedy, I cannot help but wonder why a 24-year-old man would commit acts of violence like this?  I cannot help but wonder if television and movie violence has played a part in the promotion of these kind of acts against humanity.

As a screenwriter (thankfully I don’t write horror or thriller stories), I am asking myself if the media is playing a part in the acceleration of evil we’ve seen over the years. Does violent entertainment feed these kinds of minds, and if so can it really be classified as entertainment? If the answer is yes, then it might be detrimental to society, and no amount of money is worth promoting things that contribute to this kind of criminal thinking.

The Academy of Pediatrics says “More than one thousand scientific studies and reviews conclude that significant exposure to media violence increases the risk of aggressive behavior in certain children, desensitizes them to violence and makes them believe that the world is a ‘meaner and scarier’ place than it is.”  If children begin to think that this type of violence is normal behavior these thoughts are often said to be difficult to change later on in life.  Hence, the child becomes an angry adult.  The American Psychological Association says there are three major effects of watching violence in the media (i.e.: video games/television) children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, children may be more fearful of the world around them, and children may be more likely to behave in aggressive or hurtful ways toward others.

Of course, it’s not just violence in the media.  There are other reasons children/adults commit violent acts. According to one study, “The involvement of parents in what their children watch, how the family interacts with each other, what the children are exposed to in their environment are also indicators of  how they will behave and what value system they will follow.”

As a writer, I fully understand the elements that are crucial when telling a story, especially in film.  However, perhaps we are “showing” far too much.  Unlike the visuals that are in a work of fiction, a film or television show has the capacity to visually bring the audience into the scene.  It’s not entirely about the imagination of our audiences.  We show perspective and intent visually, and that’s powerfully suggesting.  Stories about good vs. evil have been around forever, but perhaps the acts of violence that are being shown in the media are really the issue.  I don’t know… as a responsible writer, I am questioning it.

The New Media Foundation has a great article on media values, listing the 12 short-term effects of media on the public found in James Potter’s book , 11 Myths of Media.

Perhaps the film/media industry needs to reassess healthy values and truly realize the affects that certain kinds of human behavior can have on audiences.

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”
– Roy Disney

For Further Reading:

http://www.thenewmediafoundation.org/media/values.php

Interesting… Fox News talked about this:

Tragedy in Aurora: Hollywood to blame?

Screenwriters and Actors Collaborate Online

In 2010, Guy Goldstein, a screenwriter and program developer from Santa Barbara, California created ReadThrough.com.  “A buddy of mine wanted me to read his script, and I just didn’t have the time to sit down and do it.  One day, while I was stuck in LA traffic I found myself wishing I had a way to listen to the screenplay.  I went  home that night and created this program,” says Goldstein.

After 2 years ReadThrough.com is revolutionizing the script read-through and sharing process.  Reading a script is not always easy, but with this program, it becomes a pleasure instead of an inconvenience.

Often, I have heard producers say, “I wish there were more hours in the day.  I just don’t have the time to read through all of these scripts.”  Well, this program helps elevate that issue.  Imagine being able to listen to a script while driving, traveling or just while going for a walk.

Whether you are a writer, a producer looking for a new project, an agent, or an actor wanting to rehearse the dialogue on a script, ReadThrough.com makes the process much easier.  You can virtually listen to a script from anywhere!  Mp3’s can be downloaded, notes can be added and you can share the read-through with others.  In addition, a writer can communicate the storyline with background music, sound effects and images.  When casting parts, writers can readily search a database of actors and ask them to perform specific parts.

For actors, the computer acts as a scene partner by performing cues and pausing for the actor to deliver his or her lines.  Actors can also download the scene or script as an mp3 and rehearse it anywhere!  Additional features include:  public actor profiles, voice acting in real performances, voice-overs and more.”

Screenwriters are told to read their scripts out-loud, and part of the reason is because a screenplay is a spoken/acted, visual medium.  So, it is very important to hear the way dialogue sounds and how it relates to the development of the storyline and the main characters.

ReadThrough.com supports PDF files, Final Draft 8, Celt, Microsoft Word, Text and more.  It gives screenwriters and actors a quick and easy way to bring scripts to life through computer read-through rehearsals, script sharing, and hosting screenwriter and actor profiles.