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Within the last twenty-five years, an enormous burst of creative production has emerged from independent filmmakers. From Stranger than Paradise (1984) and Slacker (1991) to Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003) and Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), indie cinema has become part of mainstream culture. But what makes these films independent? Is it simply a matt Within the last twenty-five years, an enormous burst of creative production has emerged from independent filmmakers. From Stranger than Paradise (1984) and Slacker (1991) to Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003) and Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), indie cinema has become part of mainstream culture. But what makes these films independent? Is it simply a matter of budget and production values? Or are there aesthetic qualities that set them off from ordinary Hollywood entertainment? In this groundbreaking new study, J.J. Murphy argues that the independent feature film from the 1980s to the present has developed a distinct approach of its own, centering on new and different conceptions of cinematic storytelling. The film script is the heart of the creative originality to be found in the independent movement. Even directors noted for their idiosyncratic visual style or the handling of performers typically originate their material and write their own scripts. By studying the principles underlying the independent screenplay, we gain a direct sense of the originality of this new trend in American cinema. Me and You and Memento and Fargo also presents a unique vision for the aspiring screenwriter. Most screenwriting manuals and guidebooks on the market rely on formulas believed to generate saleable Hollywood films. Many writers present a "three-act paradigm" as gospel and proceed to lay down very stringent rules for characterization, plotting, timing of climaxes, and so on, while others who appear to be more open about such rules turn out to be just as inflexible in their advice. Through in-depth critical analyses of some of the most significant independent films of recent years, J.J. Murphy emphasizes the crucial role that novelty can play in the screenwriting process.


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Within the last twenty-five years, an enormous burst of creative production has emerged from independent filmmakers. From Stranger than Paradise (1984) and Slacker (1991) to Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003) and Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), indie cinema has become part of mainstream culture. But what makes these films independent? Is it simply a matt Within the last twenty-five years, an enormous burst of creative production has emerged from independent filmmakers. From Stranger than Paradise (1984) and Slacker (1991) to Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003) and Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), indie cinema has become part of mainstream culture. But what makes these films independent? Is it simply a matter of budget and production values? Or are there aesthetic qualities that set them off from ordinary Hollywood entertainment? In this groundbreaking new study, J.J. Murphy argues that the independent feature film from the 1980s to the present has developed a distinct approach of its own, centering on new and different conceptions of cinematic storytelling. The film script is the heart of the creative originality to be found in the independent movement. Even directors noted for their idiosyncratic visual style or the handling of performers typically originate their material and write their own scripts. By studying the principles underlying the independent screenplay, we gain a direct sense of the originality of this new trend in American cinema. Me and You and Memento and Fargo also presents a unique vision for the aspiring screenwriter. Most screenwriting manuals and guidebooks on the market rely on formulas believed to generate saleable Hollywood films. Many writers present a "three-act paradigm" as gospel and proceed to lay down very stringent rules for characterization, plotting, timing of climaxes, and so on, while others who appear to be more open about such rules turn out to be just as inflexible in their advice. Through in-depth critical analyses of some of the most significant independent films of recent years, J.J. Murphy emphasizes the crucial role that novelty can play in the screenwriting process.

30 review for Me and You and Memento and Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work

  1. 4 out of 5

    Leonard Gaya

    This is an academic book about storylines in recent (mainly 1990’s) American “independent” cinema. J. J. Murphy’s objective is obviously to challenge the doxa of most of Hollywood screenwriting manuals, since Syd Field and Robert McKee (among a few others). These handbooks predicate that screenwriting (if it is supposed to gain some audience) needs to follow a set of rules, such as, in no particular order: a linear three acts structured plot (beginning, middle and end), an active and goal-driven This is an academic book about storylines in recent (mainly 1990’s) American “independent” cinema. J. J. Murphy’s objective is obviously to challenge the doxa of most of Hollywood screenwriting manuals, since Syd Field and Robert McKee (among a few others). These handbooks predicate that screenwriting (if it is supposed to gain some audience) needs to follow a set of rules, such as, in no particular order: a linear three acts structured plot (beginning, middle and end), an active and goal-driven protagonist who encounters and overcomes obstacles along the way, a strong antagonist, and so on. Murphy tries to demonstrate that, although these rules are applied across the board (and with obvious, albeit unsecured, commercial success) in mainstream movie productions, it is not so much the case (as should be expected) when we consider the works of “independent” maverick filmmakers in recent years. The examples are judiciously chosen to make the point that perfectly good scripts can be built while eschewing said screenwriting rules or while taking them in the wrong way. Todd Haynes’s Safe for instance, builds its plot around a quite passive protagonist. Joel and Ethan Cohen’s Fargo shifts protagonists in the middle (this was also the case in Hitchcock’s Psycho). Murphy also touches on “ensemble” films through Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know, but he could as well have mentioned any of Robert Altman’s films (e.g.: Short Cuts). Moreover, he provides some very interesting comments on films that play with temporal structure: Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, Van Sant's Elephant, and Nolan's Memento (he could have equally commented on Resnais’s films L’année dernière à Marienbad or Smoking/No Smoking)… Finally, Murphy brings up a couple of films with non-causal, “thread” or episodic structures, like David Lynch’s masterpiece Mulholland Dr. or Linklater’s Slaker (once more, the idea can be traced back to Buñuel’s Le fantôme de la liberté). Overall a very stimulating body of film works, some being quite famous, like Fargo, Memento or Mulholland Dr., others not so much… It’s a pity though that Murphy spends so much of his book giving production fun facts and summarising the films he talks about, instead of providing in depth analysis to hone his reasoning against the classic Robert McKee “archplot” model he is trying to call into question. It is a bit odd too that, in almost each of these summaries, Murphy tries to surface the turning points that make for a three-acts structure, which mostly sounds wide of the mark and is like shooting himself in the foot.

  2. 4 out of 5

    heather

    I absolutely adore the social history of screen-writing books that prefaces what is, in essence, a very sophisticated screen-writing book. The interviews with Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch are astounding and well-integrated. The writer has excellent knowledge of cinematic history, literary theory and the social history of film consumption. The book is an indispensable guide to both the history and development of American "independent" film and a manual for writing beyond the confines of tradition I absolutely adore the social history of screen-writing books that prefaces what is, in essence, a very sophisticated screen-writing book. The interviews with Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch are astounding and well-integrated. The writer has excellent knowledge of cinematic history, literary theory and the social history of film consumption. The book is an indispensable guide to both the history and development of American "independent" film and a manual for writing beyond the confines of traditional narrative screen-play structures. The films in question are generously excepted to illustrate points about screen-writing, while raising deeper questions about narrative forms in general.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Anna Boudinot

    This book opened my eyes to how some of the most interesting films of the last two decades (Memento and Fargo, to name just two) have succeeded in telling stories while simultaneously eschewing traditional screenwriting technique. Each chapter of the book covered a different film, and if I hadn't already seen the film, I watched it before I read the chapter. This introduced me to some films I didn't like (such as Hal Hartley's Trust) and some I liked quite a bit (such as Gummo). Other films that This book opened my eyes to how some of the most interesting films of the last two decades (Memento and Fargo, to name just two) have succeeded in telling stories while simultaneously eschewing traditional screenwriting technique. Each chapter of the book covered a different film, and if I hadn't already seen the film, I watched it before I read the chapter. This introduced me to some films I didn't like (such as Hal Hartley's Trust) and some I liked quite a bit (such as Gummo). Other films that I'd seen before, like Reservoir Dogs, were explained to me in a new way that helped me pinpoint why I'd liked them so much. All in all, this book is a great basic study of independent screenwriting, and it inspired me to do some independent screenwriting of my own.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Douglas Cunningham

    -possible to shift protagonists in the middle of the story a la Fargo -a secondary character can be effective in creating turning points in the story a la Gas Food Lodging -an antagonist can create turning points when the protagonist is passive -multiple plotlines interweaving, sometimes only for the sake of creating thematic links -doesn’t have to be linear, can be nonlinear as la Mulholland Dr. or Reservoir Dogs

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alina Yasnaya

    A solid intro to movies and their structures that differ wildly from the traditional Hollywood structure most of movie goers are used to.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kelli

    This book is a good read and reinforces the notion of thinking outside the box. Whether a cineast, screenwriter, or someone who seeks a better understanding of the process from page-to-screen, J.J. Murphy provides enlightenment. Character arcs, protagonists, antagonists, plot lines, goals, dramatic conflict (internal and external), motivational behavior, back story, dialogue and endings are explored in the context of several independent films. Jim Jarmusch, Todd Haynes, Ethan and Joel Coen, Hal This book is a good read and reinforces the notion of thinking outside the box. Whether a cineast, screenwriter, or someone who seeks a better understanding of the process from page-to-screen, J.J. Murphy provides enlightenment. Character arcs, protagonists, antagonists, plot lines, goals, dramatic conflict (internal and external), motivational behavior, back story, dialogue and endings are explored in the context of several independent films. Jim Jarmusch, Todd Haynes, Ethan and Joel Coen, Hal Hartley, Allison Anders, Miranda July, Quentin Tarantino, Gus Van Sant, Christopher Nolan, David Lynch, Harmony, Korine, and Richard Linklater have one chapter each devoted to a detailed analysis of their technique on a specific independent film. Along with the knowledge gleaned from twelve insightful analyses, the message for anyone interested in screenwriting was clear and concise: "Write. Let structure evolve. Tell the story the way it should be told. Invent your own language and style. It's OK to lose yourself in the characters and find out where they are going. It's OK to start over." "Just write!" is my new mantra. This book illustrates that real innovation evolves not from ignorance of a process but from knowledge and the ability to see beyond limitations and boundaries. Explore ideas outside the box of convention.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mike Everleth

    Murphy does a bang up job accurately interpreting the structure of several "difficult" screenplays, giving fascinating new insight into several indie film classics. Murphy does a bang up job accurately interpreting the structure of several "difficult" screenplays, giving fascinating new insight into several indie film classics.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Steev Hise

    This is a great read for filmmakers or screenwriters frustrated with the standard hollywood way to write a screenplay.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  10. 5 out of 5

    Amy Tasillo

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nadia Parbo

  12. 4 out of 5

    Steven Davis

  13. 5 out of 5

    Paige Patterson

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

  15. 4 out of 5

    Olli

  16. 4 out of 5

    Devon Courtney

  17. 5 out of 5

    Grace

  18. 5 out of 5

    megan

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alex

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alen

  21. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Simmons

  23. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Moran

  24. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bland

  25. 5 out of 5

    John

  26. 4 out of 5

    Marc Raymond

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alex

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rick Seery

  29. 4 out of 5

    Clairedamn

  30. 4 out of 5

    Elisha

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