King of the Nominations

In an interesting window into the changing landscape of cinema, Netflix leads the Oscar nominations this year. Via Deadline:

That’s pretty astounding. Netflix has yet to win a Best Picture Oscar (Roma was their first nomination, and won for Best Director at the 2019 Academy Awards), but The Irishman gives them a strong shot this year. 16 of their 24 nominations were from The Irishman (10 nominations) and Marriage Story (6 nominations). Their strategy of courting strong auteur directors seems to be working!

The industry continues to change in the wake of the rise of streaming services.

Coppola's Next Chapter

I’ve not read much about Francis Ford Coppola or seen many of his films, so I was curious when I came across a recent interview with him on his 80th birthday. I found him both fascinating and inspiring, with a few quotes in particular standing out at me.

…every human being is unique, and to be an artist and not make your work be totally personal is a waste of the opportunity that every artist has.

I’ve thought about variants of this idea over the years. A related quote that previously struck me, by John Boyd, is “Do you want to be someone, or do something?” When I was at Pixar, I wrote about how I was a small pixel in a giant image. Every pixel is important in making up the whole, but I felt like I wasn’t fulfilling the reason I got into that line of work. I wanted to tell stories—my stories, stories that were personal and meant something to me. That’s a tough position to work yourself into, but I feel that, though my work is now on a much smaller scale, I’m on that track now more than ever before. I love Coppola’s quoting of Godard and the idea that if you make a truly personal work, audiences will know who made it without ever having to see the credits.

"I was seriously on the verge of getting fired maybe on three or four occasions. Had I not won the Oscar for Patton, I would absolutely have been fired from The Godfather.”

Coppola bet on himself over and over, taking huge risks financially and perhaps even personally. He was fiercely independent and assertive. Those qualities propelled him to his greatest successes and his greatest failures. But through it all, he’s maintained artistic integrity.

“I see a communications revolution that is about movies, and art, and music, and digital electronics, and computers, and satellites, and above all, human talent.”

Coppola said these things during his presentation of the Best Director award at the 1979 Oscars. While at the time he was embarrassed by his off-the-cuff remarks, they almost all came true. But what I love about his statement is that he emphasizes “human talent.” In an age of algorithmic YouTube videos, AI-based interactive storytelling, and feeling more and more like the product instead of the consumer or creator, I find the idea of celebrating people’s talent refreshing. People make art that touches other people. No machine can do that—and if it ever does, it will be a façade, an imitation of the real thing.

"I’m 80, but I have a 102-year-old uncle who just wrote a new opera that has been well received. Genetically, I could have 20 years and I will need that long to do everything I’m excited about wanting to do.”

I love that Coppola sees no reason to stop making movies, to stop creating. Where most people would see turning 80 as a time to slow down, it seems to give Coppola urgency. As Dickens said in A Christmas Carol, “…any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness.” We have much to do. We might as well get on and do it.

Further Reading: Francis Ford Coppola: How Winning Cannes 40 Years Ago Saved ‘Apocalypse Now,’ Making ‘Megalopolis,’ Why Scorsese Almost Helmed ‘Godfather Part II’ & Re-Cutting Three Past Films by Mike Fleming Jr.

"The unhipness of optimism!"

"You know, I always noticed that in art school, that grief was considered more profound than happiness. But why? Break it down into something like acting: Comedy is super hard to do well, and yet every year, it’s dismissed by the Oscars. A great comedy like The Big Lebowski will never win Best Picture, you know? If it happens, it’s a fluke, once in a billion years … but if you’re playing an alcoholic with a harelip and a limp and financial problems, have we got an award for you! I just reject that notion that grief is more profound than joy."
Brad Bird

Further reading: How Brad Bird Steered Incredibles 2 Through ‘Complete Chaos’ by Kyle Buchanan

Listen to the Pros: Film

When educating yourself about any field, it seems best to me to go straight to the people actually doing the work. The ones in the field, on the set, day after day. The ones for whom the craft isn't theoretical, but a cold practicality, a problem to be solved.

Here are a few filmmaking podcasts that give you close access to talented creators. I've gotten a lot out of them.

3rd & Fairfax | iTunes
The official podcast of the WGAw, 3rd & Fairfax features interviews with writers discussing their latest work, and covers TV as well as features.

Episode pick: Episode 92 – Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, writers of The Post

American Cinematographer | iTunes

The American Society of Cinematographers creates this podcast about the art of capturing moving images. The interviews feel unrehearsed and candid, and feature artists who we typically have less opportunity to hear from.

Episode pick: Lost - John Bartley, ASC

The Director's Cut | iTunes
This official DGA podcast features a unique format of established film directors being interviewed by their peers. It's fun not only for the educational content, but for the friendships and relationships that are revealed in the discussions.

Episode pick: Bridge of Spies with Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese

The Q&A | iTunes

Host Jeff Goldsmith interviews screenwriters and the occasional director or actor about their recent films, asking in-depth and unique questions. These interviews are approachable for novice and experienced writers alike, as he dives into both breaking-in stories and deep discussions of structure and craft.

Episode pick: Coco with Matthew Aldrich and Adrian Molina

Scriptnotes | iTunes
Hosted by working writers John August and Craig Mazin, Scriptnotes is "a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters." It's both extremely educational and entertaining, with John and Craig coming at writing from different perspectives and discussing all parts of the process, from breaking in, to craft, to the business, and everything in-between.

Episode pick: 341 - Knowing vs. Discovering

David Condolora is a storyteller in games, film, and beyond.