A cop, a Korean war vet, and a shoemaker walk into a screenplay…

As you may have noticed, the blog’s been on a brief hiatus the past few weeks, but we have been busy!  We’re now involved with ArtsCAP’s CityArts event – look for more information in the coming weeks on Facebook & Twitter! We’re also actively gearing up for our summer Shore Screenwriting Seminar at the Showroom in Asbury Park.  In preparation for our seminar, one of the instructors, Laura Gesin, writes this week about why she selects specific films for analysis in her screenwriting classes.

I’ve taught the craft of screenwriting for a number of years now, and I approach it differently with each class.  I do believe screenwriting is a craft not an art; a craft requires a set of tools and follows a set of rules.  Many great screenplays go beyond that, but at its core, screenwriting is a craft.  It can be taught, learned, and honed like any skill, and each year I equip at least one group of students with the tools they need to excel at this craft if they so choose.

I spend a decent amount of time each summer searching for new films and screenplays that exemplify the elements of screenwriting that I highlight during the school year.  This spring, I chose films with characters that are older, perhaps nearing the end of their lives rather than just starting out, in order to examine how they function within the plot of a movie.

Confession #1: My students are teenagers.  I just couldn’t face another stack of scripts this year all with 17 year old main characters struggling with life or death issues such as “what college will I go to” or “why doesn’t he/she like me” or “my parents are mean evil creatures and must be punished”.

Interesting characters lend themselves to intriguing stories.  I wanted them to take their typical teenager stories and tell them in an inventive manner.  Part of the curriculum requires students to watch selected films and analyze the characters and plot.  Each year, I select 4-5 films to view and analyze.  With this year’s goal in mind, selected Kinky Boots, Gran Torino, Bella, and The Visitor.

Confession #2: I’ve shown Kinky Boots every year since it was released on DVD.  There’s nothing like a little bit of cross dressing and a lot of fabulous footwear to get the attention of teenagers in a required writing course!

Each one of these films had at least one or two supporting characters that were in mid life or later.

  • In Kinky Boots, we have George and Pat, supporting players whose wisdom moves the plot along at key moments.  After all, only a seasoned shoemaker like George would know that steel shanks in a high heel would hold a man’s weight!
  • On the surface, Walt Kowalski appears to be the main character in Gran Tornino.  However, I see this as Thao’s story told from the viewpoint of the cranky, elderly neighbor played by Clint Eastwood.  In a lively discussion after watching this movie, my students came to the same conclusion.
  • I chose Bella primarily because I recognized years ago that my students rarely see films made by non-American directors with non-English speaking actors.  In Bella, the main character deals with an unwanted pregnancy, and the way she eventually resolves her issue is greatly influenced by the parents of another character.  While the main characters are in their 20’s, again this film highlights how multiple generations lend depth and interest to a story.
  • Finally, The Visitor.  I haven’t watched this yet with my class; I’ll post their reactions once I do.  Like Gran Torino, the main character is an older man, and the screenplay highlights his interactions with a young immigrant couple.  Is it Walter’s story? Or the story of Tarek and Zainab?

Confession #3: I also always show either Die Hard or Live Free or Die Hard depending upon the time of year.  Why the Die Hard franchise?  First, I share my theory that all main male characters are either Bruce Willis or Tom Hanks (think about it, it works and might be another blog post topic).  This spring I’ll show Live Free or Die Hard – John McClane’s aging well, don’t you think?  But he does need that younger, tech savvy sidekick to help him beat hacker Thomas Gabriel.  The only blockbuster I show this semester, it has that multi-generational approach in an action movie package!

Take a look at these movies again if you’ve seen them, or watch them for the first time if you haven’t.  Pay attention to how multigenerational characters make these films better than average and enhance the viewing experience, then let me know what you think!  Any movies you’d add to my list?

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