The best of 2017

2017 was a pretty dizzyingly great year for pop culture, with some genuinely classic albums, movies, TV shows, books and moments. Here’s our take on some of the revelations of the year, as well as our attempt to identify the ULTIMATE THING OF THE YEAR.

REVELATIONS OF THE YEAR

Just how good Jason Bateman is at directing. Like, really, seriously good. OZARK was a revelation in many ways (across-the-board excellent performances being one of them), but in large part because of Bateman’s effortlessly expert and dynamic way with shooting scenes.

Ozark JB

How many of THE FORCE AWAKENS’ plot points Rian Johnson could casually toss over his shoulder in THE LAST JEDI and still craft such a richly extraordinary, franchise-redefining experience.

TLJ Leia 2

How DOCTOR WHO could make us fall in love with a new Doctor with just one word (“brilliant!”).

Dr Who first moment

How much more fun GAME OF THRONES is when characters don’t have to travel in real time anymore.

got7_0420_3980_layout_v553_.JPG

On a related note… ICE DRAGON!!!

ice dragon

Porgs tho.

TLJ porg

How STRANGER THINGS could so successfully shift gears right before the finale in the clearly brilliant episode seven where Eleven goes looking for her sister (much of which was down to the truly astonishing, visceral directing of Becca Lou Thomas – give her all the franchise immediately!).

ST ep 7

GLOW showed us that a TV show about a cheesy 80s ladies wrestling TV show could be revelatory, inspiring and addictive, and could give Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin beautiful and fantastic roles that they so wonderfully OWNED.

GLOW Ep 7 Transformers

That in the midst of the SUICIDE SQUAD and JUSTICE LEAGUE dust-ups, the DCEU managed to bring us one of the year’s defining and most inspiring movies in WONDER WOMAN.

WW no mans land

2017 in photo form

TOM HOLLAND IN SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING.

spider-man TH and RDJ

In fact, all of SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

spider-man ship

Trying to keep it together in 2017

We all know M. Night Shyamalan is a genius director and James McAvoy is one of our greatest living actors, but that still didn’t prepare us for quite how flawless, atmospheric, terrifying, emotional and powerful SPLIT would be. And it definitely didn’t prepare us for THAT ENDING, nor the fact that GLASS will be released in a year’s time!

split JM

How dropping the X-Men movies’ increasingly complex timelines allowed James Mangold to create the elegiac yet emotionally bone-crunching LOGAN and deliver not only the greatest X-Men movie of all time, but also one of the greatest movies of all time.

logan comic book

Ryan Graudin showed us how utterly fresh and unexpected and moving and romantic a dazzlingly complex and breathlessly tense time travel story could be with her masterpiece INVICTUS.

Invictus cover

ULTIMATE THING OF THE YEAR

OK. Here goes. It’s tough. Really tough. You had Alison Brie in GLOW, Porgs, an ice dragon, STRANGER THINGS, the Spider-Man we’ve always needed, a hugely inspiring and moving female superhero movie courtesy of Gal Godot and Patty Jenkins, the greatest Wolverine movie ever (and one of the standout movies of the year) in LOGAN, one of the purest and most inspiring performances of one of the greatest superheroes ever from Melissa Benoist in the CW’s SUPERGIRL, Porgs, one of Patrick Ness’s most quietly stunning and ambitious novels yet (RELEASE), one of the most hypnotically beautiful novels ever written (Laini Taylor’s STRANGE THE DREAMER), Laura Dern’s purple-haired and unpredictable brilliance in THE LAST JEDI, which was also a STAR WARS movie that felt like nothing we’ve ever seen before while connecting so deeply to our love for the franchise, a knockout YA Princess Leia novel from the queen of five-star Star Wars novels Claudia Gray (LEIA, PRINCESS OF ALDERAAN not only showed us the future general in the making and the very beginnings of the Rebellion, but also beautifully depicted Leia’s childhood friendship with future Vice-Admiral Holdo), a dark, funny and emotional DOCTOR WHO spin-off show called CLASS that was absolutely—thanks to showrunner Patrick Ness and his wonderful cast—one of the great shows of this year (or any year), Porgs, and a time travel YA sci-fi that was maybe the most fun and brilliantly constructed piece of pop culture this year in Ryan Graudin’s INVICTUS… DAMN. That’s Kendrick’s masterpiece, not an exclamation, although, damn… What a pop culture year to celebrate!

However, if we have to choose one thing, somewhat inevitably, it’s gotta be… THE LAST JEDI.

TLJ Holdo

Vice-Admiral Holdo, one of The Last Jedi’s most original, awesome, inspired and inspiring new characters

Rian Johnson followed our heroes on their darkest journeys yet while inspiring us, making us laugh, tapping deep into the way Star Wars felt when we watched it as kids…

TLJ Luke Falcon

…yet still managing to reposition the entire franchise to point it to a new future, and somehow landing on the kind of note of poignant hope we really need this year.

TLJ Crait Walkers

Because 2017 often felt like we were standing in front of these guys

It was a joyous movie, an upsetting movie, a thrilling movie, a spooky movie, a movie that made you cry with deep nostalgia as well as fresh heartbreak, a movie that kept you on your toes, but above all, it was a movie about believing in the possibility of a beautiful future.

And who doesn’t want to believe in that?

On that note… Wishing you all a Happy Holidays, and a wonderful New Year!

 

 

Advertisements

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s first foray into the Star Wars universe is an auspicious one, full of dazzlingly ambitious filmmaking and beautifully bold narrative twists and turns. While not without some minor flaws, this is a triumphant entry in the saga.

TLJ Battle

While internet scuttlebutt had us thinking the movie would open precisely where J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens left us (with Rey offering up Luke’s lightsaber), it turns out that every word they said was wrong. Johnson instead plunges us headlong into a brilliantly dizzying escape attempt by the Resistance which spirals into a thrilling battle sequence with the First Order that would be extraordinary if it was the Act III finale… here it’s the intro, which lets you know just how much of a thrill-ride this movie is going to be (a huge thrill ride, to be clear). It also charts a clear trajectory for Johnson’s take on the story and characters: everything is morally complex, situations are messy and complicated, and there few easy answers.

TLJ Luke Rey

Of course, we join Rey and Luke on Ahch-To Island soon enough, and, per Luke’s trailer line, this isn’t going to go the way you think. Johnson handles Rey and Luke’s journey in beautifully unexpected ways, which serves as a blueprint for how he handles everything else: there are at least five moments where you feel like the movie is ramping up to an ending when instead it ducks and dives and gives you a much deeper journey, and takes you to narrative places you never expect, which is such a Star Wars thing to do. Although Johnson has his own storytelling moves, including a dark and fresh sense of humor, some beautiful lighting and camerawork, and a willingness to jump around in time and space, he also has a reassuringly sure grasp of what makes Star Wars, Star Wars. The morality and positivity and hope of it all. And all of that is represented most purely in Kelly Marie Tran’s absolutely perfect debut.

TLJ Rose Finn 2

This is Tran’s first major movie role, and what a way to start. Playing Resistance engineer Rose, she owns the screen every second she’s on it, more than holding her own with the irrepressible John Boyega (their emotional journey is one of the best things about this movie), and fully centering the movie as its moral compass, as well as being a deeply endearing and fearlessly inspiring presence in the story. It’s a grounded performance that burns bright, and easily fuels the movie through the only section where it seems to lose altitude somewhat—there’s an extended sequence in a casino (this movie’s cantina) that possibly outstays its welcome, although it is critical to Rose’s arc, and also sets some other things in motion that are critical for the end of the movie (again, no spoilers). However, whenever Tran is on screen, narrative concerns fall by the wayside; she’s the movie’s secret weapon in many ways.

TLJ Rey

But ultimately, this isn’t Rose’s movie, it’s Rey’s, and boy does Daisy Ridley step up and lead this epic journey to a whole new place. There’s an extraordinary purity to the light and fire that Ridley brings to this role, and her quietly emotional and compellingly powerful performance anchors the Star Wars universe in a way we haven’t seen since it began, and Johnson is a smart enough director to allow the camera to just hold on her deeply nuanced emotions. That nuance is complemented by a supremely focused physicality as Rey discovers just what she’s capable of. Johnson serves up some exhilarating and devastating situations and interactions for her, as he does for all his leads, and there’s a huge amount of suspense in her growing connection to Kylo Ren, who is on a complicated journey of his own.

TLJ Ren

And Adam Driver knows how to play complicated. He builds on the emotionally tortured performance from Awakens and takes it so much further in an intensely physical manifestation of Ren’s rage and pain and fear. We truly don’t know where he’s going to end up by the finale, which is a testament to Johnson’s writing, and to Driver’s powerhouse acting chops. In Ridley and Driver, this universe has two white-hot talents at its forefront, which is tremendously exciting as we contemplate what Episode 9 might hold.

TLJ Leia

Terribly sadly, that won’t include the wonderful, devastatingly powerful force of nature that was Carrie Fisher. She’s simply fantastic in this movie, leaving us with a performance of grace and intelligence and charisma and humor and charm. She’s everything you expect and also nothing you expect; her Leia is a powerful leader, a woman who will never give up on herself or her people, an inspiring human being of the highest magnitude, and that’s Fisher’s gift to the character, and to us. The best way to honor her legacy is to live inspired by what Leia represents: hope, never backing down, owning your life to the fullest, having a sense of humor about it all, and being compassionate and kind. The world would be a better place if we could all be a little more like Leia, and like Fisher.

She’s a key part of the movie’s overwhelming belief in hope, in the spark that will light the fire that will keep hope alive and ultimately make everything better. Amongst the cute creatures (SO MANY PORGS! Beautiful twinkling crystal foxes!), and the droids (BB-8 is a BOSS in this movie — he gets some AMAZING action scenes!), the movie feels so relevant to what’s happening in the world right now it’s almost painful, but in an exhilarating kind of way. It ends on a note of hope that burns bright and lights the way, not only for the future of the Star Wars universe, but for the future of ours too.

And that’s what you really want from a Star War movie.

Also what we really want from a Star Wars movie? LUKE SKYWALKER F**KING SH*T UP.

TLJ Luke

Zero spoilers here, but this movie more than makes up for Luke’s lack of dialogue last time around. Mark Hamill gets some fantastic work to do, and he gives a wonderfully detailed performance as the haunted, embittered, lonely Jedi. Hamill truly connects us to that wide-eyed farmboy from A New Hope and really makes us feel the devastating journey he’s been on since he blasted off from Mos Eisley. Hamill is an outstanding actor, and has gravitas and charm to spare, qualities he deploys to an almost weaponized degree here. It’s Rey’s movie, but it’s Luke’s too, and Johnson does a fine job of finessing their arcs (and everyone else’s—Laura Dern and Oscar Isaac have many beautifully played moments) into one propulsive, highly entertaining story that barrels along relentlessly to the extraordinary finale (while still finding time for a fan favorite old friend to show up along the way in spine-tingling fashion).

TLJ BB8

BB-8 tho

In short, Rian Johnson wrote and directed an excellent Star Wars movie that is a huge amount of fun, tremendously moving, and that moves the whole franchise forward, setting the stage for J.J. Abrams to deliver something amazing to wrap it all up in Episode 9.

So go see it!

 

 

Give yourself the gift of writing

As writers, we all dream of an unending vista of available writing time. No breaks, no interruptions—other than spending 40% of our time compulsively checking Twitter of course—just one neverending sweet, sweet writing zone. Wide open spaces like this are normally a good thing. It’s what we think we want. But when it comes to creativity, sometimes too much space allows for too much procrastination (so we’ve heard… *checks Amazon Prime to see if the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has dropped yet*). When there’s no specific destination, you can end up spinning in circles, getting nowhere, making yourself dizzy with all the possibilities.

cat choices

Contrary to what most of us might think, deadlines are not creativity killers. Deadlines provide direction and structure. A deadline gets the heart pumping and silences the inner critic that might otherwise go on for days like someone that’s just discovered how to thread their 280 character tweets. And a deadline provides a much needed sense of accomplishment in a field in which it’s virtually impossible to receive unanimous praise… and when you’re trying to make it, it’s a field in which even the most basic of recognition or validation is hard to come by.

validation.gif

This is one reason why NaNoWriMo is so popular. Suddenly, during the month of November, ALL THE WRITERS are inspired to hit the goal of writing the novel that’s been in their mind for months, years, or even decades. At first, you hit the laptop full force. You go HAM on that draft. You put off the laundry, skip happy hour, survive on leftovers and keep to your writing schedule. But then the laundry starts to pile up, co-workers and friends start wondering where you are, and suddenly you need to make a dessert for Thanksgiving dinner. So your novel takes a reluctant backseat to errands, dinner dates, family… and, well, life.

Sad Stitch

This is how your novel feels when you’re not writing it.

And as the holiday lights go up, your laptop can just get buried under wrapping paper, gift tags, and tiny sparkly trees. The novel becomes a file in a folder in another folder that maybe won’t get opened until you need to look for those old pictures your dad sent you of family members you’ve never met (remember those? The ones you promised you’d print for him?).

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Remember the excitement of the last few days of October? The dedication and verve you felt on November 1st? That sense of achievement when you hit save on those first thousand words? That feeling when you went from writing a page or two per month to writing twenty, thirty, forty… You can have all those feels again! You deserve them!

Rey lightsaber

How it feels when you OWN that word count target

All you need is a new deadline. NaNoWriMo may be ending today, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop writing and achieving. If you didn’t finish, or meet your goals, give yourself another deadline. Make it as small and realistic for your schedule as it needs to be. That could be 500 words per day, or 1,000 per week. Or 5,000 by New Year’s Day. You can even just commit to 10 or 15 minutes per day, or say you want to write 5 lines per day. Whatever it is, make sure it fits your schedule and your life… and commit to it. Hit those goals! And if you don’t, create new ones that you can hit. Not only will you find your word count steadily increasing, but the more you write, the easier it is to write. If your brain is in Writer Mode every day, the writing will flow. The longer you leave it between sessions, the more work you’ll have to do to crank the Writing Machine back up again.

Chewie Falcon.gif

November may be National Novel Writing Month, but December is the month of gift giving. So give yourself the gift of getting your novel down and on the page, and done. And remember, writing novels is forever, not just for Christmas. Make it your resolution in January to complete it. Make February “editing the first 30%” month. Make March “solve this character’s arc” month. Make April the “make it funny” month.

You get the idea. Find out what works best for you, and do it! And keep doing it.

Now stop reading this and get writing!

Get Writing! Warming up…

The winter weather was brutal at times this year. It felt like the clouds would never part, the sun would never shine, the dirty snow piles would never melt… But, finally, the sun started to peak out more and more, and spring finally arrived, bringing with it new buds and greener landscapes.

Spring 2

Spring is the season of birth and revitalization, and that doesn’t just apply to your garden. The air is full of ideas and inspiration, all you need to do is take the time to look for them. But ideas, like your garden, need tending to.

garden

Since writing requires talent, skill, and constant practice, we’ve decided to launch a new series of posts for inspiration and cultivation.

So throw open the windows and let the fresh air and inspiration in, as, first up, we have a warm-up exercise…

Spring 1

Write a conversation between two people, where they each find a way to tell the other one they love them, without actually saying anything that could be found in a Hallmark card.

Couple

No “I love you”s, no generic flattery. So, although, yes, this is probably the greatest love you scene in cinema…

I love you I know

… you have to do it without using those words! Just make sure your characters know by the end of their conversation that they are truly seen and cared for like no one else has cared for them.

Get writing!

Things We Like: Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens

Was there ever any doubt?

Really?

Well, sure, OK, a little. We didn’t know for certain that JJ Abrams was going to deliver an extraordinary and beautiful cinematic experience. We thought he would. We hoped.

And…

[insert Poe Dameron whoop of SHEER UNSTOPPABLE JOY]

… JJ gave us the Star Wars movie we wanted and needed. The Star Wars movie we dreamed of. The Star Wars movie that we deserved.

Yeah, JJ nailed it.

From the glistening Lucasfilm logo, to that gorgeous blue “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” to the BLAST of John Williams’ iconic theme as the crawl begins… JJ nailed it and then some.

Lucasfilm

Along with writers Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) and Lawrence Kasdan (the grand master behind The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi), Abrams has crafted something wonderful and exhilarating, moving and hilarious, devastating and thrilling, all in equal measure.

This will be spoiler free, but it’s not spoiling anything to let you know that BB-8 is a more-than-worthy addition to the droid-you’re-looking-for crew. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is an extraordinary bad guy, full of resonance, hurt and rage. John Boyega’s Finn is a joy to watch and the source of much of the movie’s off-kilter but brilliant humor. And, in Daisy Ridley’s Rey, we have one of the greatest characters in the Star Wars universe.

Rey

Ridley, who only had a handful of TV screen credits prior to this, plays Rey with heart and nuance, giving us loss, hope, bad-assery, ass-kicking, wise-cracking… and many more things we can’t share with you (spoilers!). Ridley’s story mirrors Rey’s in a lot of ways, and Ridley uses her natural energy to really bring Rey to crackling life.

Adam Driver, so volatile and uncontrollable on HBO’s Girls, dials that up even more here. He’s the only person who could have played Ren, and he brings a tremendous energy to it all. Boyega, who was SO GOOD in Attack The Block, kills it as Finn — he’s hilarious and heartbreaking —  while Oscar Isaac is in the ZONE as the chilled-out greatest pilot in the galaxy. Bodega and Isaac make you root for them immediately, as does Ridley.

And that’s what’s at the heart of this extraordinary journey — you are invested emotionally from the very beginning, and even more intensely as the movie goes on. The story is powerful, and the movie is shot beautifully, unafraid to linger on stunning vistas and bustling scenes of alien life. But it never feels slow. This thing reaches hyperspace right out of the gate, and drops out of it only at the dizzying, thrilling end.

Throughout, this is great storytelling, with wonderful, fully-realized characters, shot in a gritty, intense way, that gives you the feels. All of them. All the feels. #feels

Finn and Rey

It’s exhilarating, mind-blowing, full of danger and threat, and, gloriously, joyously, wonderfully… it just feels like Star Wars.

Because, also: John Williams.

We have new John Williams Star Wars music on a Star Wars movie. And it gives you chills to hear it. As the story flows, so does his music.

The story ends where it needs to, and opens up the door to the next two movies. The blend of the old and the new is seamless, naturalistic, and provides the perfect hand-off to what is to come. We get all our Original Trilogy feels, and plenty of new trilogy feels alongside.

In short, The Force Awakens is nothing less than the reawakening of something powerful, a new force in the universe. It’s everything you want it to be. 

FIVE OUT OF FIVE JEDI MIND TRICKS

Random awakenings:

  • HOW CUTE IS BB-8 THOUGH???!!!
  • The sound of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber is basically the most bad-ass thing in cinema history
  • Han and Leia’s theme will MAKE YOU CRY SON
  • Captain Phasma is cool
  • “Chewie, we’re home…” 
  • When the credits roll, this is how you’re going to feel:

Ridley Abrams Boyega

 

How to make a short movie: The Real Quinn Hardy

This summer, we wrote, directed and edited a short movie called The Real Quinn Hardy, about an aspiring singer-songwriter who thinks she’s about to make it to the majors. When it all goes wrong, she digs deep to write a song that she hopes will change everything.

It all started back in April, in Nashville, at the Bluebird Cafe, where inspiration struck in the middle of eating a black bean burger, forcing us to actually stop eating (damn it though the burger was SO GOOD, the muse does not respect the burger) and start scribbling the first few ideas, beats and lines of dialogue.

Later that night (after an AWESOME Bluebird set by the way — shoutout to Jessica Roadmap!), we pretty much had a first draft. We spent a month polishing and rewriting it, because all writing is really rewriting, then a month in preproduction where we cast our brilliant and wonderful actors (Rachel Keefe, Ana-Lisa Gunn, Brian Gallagher and Brittany Kleban), storyboarded it, designed the sets, and wrote the song too (which our fantastic lead actress Rachel also sang!).

Then, yikes! We shot it. D went full Spielberg, while A basically ran the set. It was awesome.

Two kick-ass actors: Rachel Keefe and Brittany Kleban

Two of our kick-ass actors: Rachel Keefe and Brittany Kleban

11 hours, 3 scenes, 70 shots later…

Dean

…it was time to edit.

Editing

So, we edited. And edited. And edited. And six weeks later (glossing over Apocalypse Now levels of insanity), we had a short movie.

Like, we made a thing, guys. It’s real!

Charlie dancing

We learned SO MUCH from this experience.

The most important, practical thing? Write what you can reasonably shoot with the resources that you have. Think about who you might be able to cast (friends, family, nonunion local actors, your super famous A-list third cousin), what kind of props you can scrounge together, where you can shoot, and then base your story around that. Yes, spaceships would be cool. Couple of dinosaurs? Obviously awesome. Superheroes who can fly? Hell yeah. But, realistically, it’s more likely to be people drinking coffee. Which is FINE –two people talking in a room can be beautiful, epic, hilarious, devastating… As long as you write it that way!

No less a filmmaker than Judd Apatow summed up his entire filmography as exactly that — people sitting around talking. You could say the same thing about Cameron Crowe (the brilliantly mind-bending Vanilla Sky aside).

It’s all in the HOW, not the WHAT.

The what is “people talking.” The how is the kind of people, the subjects they talk about (and around), and where they’re talking. Are they in a cafe, on a space station, arguing about comic books, dealing with an alien invasion (you know, the usual short movie topics).

The question you need to ask yourself is how can you make your people talking interesting? What’s the hook? What’s the thing about your story that is purely you. The thing only you could do in that moment? Because there is something — you just need to find out what it is. Felicia Day was a hardcore gamer when she started writing her groundbreaking web series The Guild — it’s people talking, but the hook was gamers talking about gaming.

In our case, we love music, and we write music, and we were SUPER INSPIRED by the awesomeness that is Nashville. So we based our story around a songwriter.

Rachel Keefe as Quinn Hardy

Rachel Keefe as Quinn Hardy

Also important!! Don’t worry about whether you have expensive cameras, a crew, or access to all your dream locations. In the end, you have to find a way to make it happen on your terms, with what you have in front of you. If you can’t shoot in a real cafe, dress a room to look like one. If you don’t have RED cameras, use a regular camera, or even your phone. Make whatever you’re using work for you in the context of the story. Write the scene or the movie, find some actors, feed them, let them do what they do best while you point your camera at them. Then edit it together and…

That's a bingo

Over the next few months we’ll be posting regularly in a lot more detail about every stage of making a short, from concept to script to preproduction to shooting to postproduction and beyond.

But for now, we’ll leave you with this. We didn’t want to sit around thinking about why no one has offered us the next Star Wars movie (side note: Lucasfilm, please offer us the next Star Wars movie) — we wanted to make something — so we made something.

And you can too.