(Note from the FOUNDER of Screenwriting Staffing, Jacob N. Stuart) With the Academy Awards being broadcasted today, and many of the films being chock-full of expensive effects and props, I thought I would shed a little light on the MOST important, yet forgotten, piece of cinema: STORY.
There used to be a time where movies like Jurassic Park gave us a nice mix of technology and story, making the movie experience an emotional and thrilling endevour. But now, in 2015, we find that MOST studios crank out movies with no real substance, and just enough special effects to persuade the average moviegoer to pay 15 bucks for a seat in a theatre.
Many screenwriters feel the larger the budget and more extravagant the locations are, the better the story. You know, take the protagonist on high speed chases, have him/her climb dangerous mountaintops, with a final showdown against some “space alien”. OK – sounds fascinating… but what’s the story about? Exactly…
So with Oscar weekend finally upon us, I wanted to remind you of 5 SINGLE LOCATION scripts that either WON or got NOMINATED for an OSCAR:
Yes, some of these films utilized the wonderful power of technology and effects, but it’s NOT what drove the film… it was STORY that won the Academy over… it’s story that won the AUDIENCE over…
OK – so I decided to catch up with the VERY talented Gene Rizzardi (Titanic, Apollo 13, Team America), and here’s why:
He’s an Emmy Award winning Model Supervisor with 35 years of successful experience in the Motion Picture, Theme Park and Architectural Industries providing Miniatures, Special Effects and Props and Sets.
- Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – Visual Effects Branch
- Visual Effects Society – Former Board of Directors/ Awards Committee, Membership committee, Archive committee/Special Effects Mentor
- VES Handbook of Visual Effects- Special Effects Author
- Association of Professional Model makers – Mentor/Special Effects
- IATSE Local 44 – Special Effects / Propshop
So if anyone knows about the cost, labor, and purpose of visual/special effects, props, and building sets… it’s Gene!
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What is the current hourly rate for a skilled special effects tech? How long are work days?
GENE RIZZARDI: That really depends on where you are in the country, in Hollywood it can be over $38 per hour. Hours: 10-12 a day.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What is the longest/most complex sequence you’ve done?
GENE RIZZARDI: That is a tough question to answer. Many shots take weeks to months to prepare and are over in milliseconds.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Do you think it advanced the story or was it just a waste of time and money?
GENE RIZZARDI: The story is the key, without a good story all the effects in the world won’t save your film.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Do you feel there is more a screenwriter could do to showcase certain emotions, actions, and struggles, as opposed to creating expensive and time-consuming special effects scenes?
GENE RIZZARDI: Again, as I have said previously, a good story told properly does NOT need excellent effects, but effects should add to the story, not detract from it. The more invisible our effects are the better they will be for the audience.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Do you feel a movie can be visually compelling but lack a good story and still be great? If not, why?
GENE RIZZARDI: A movie without a good story will not work no matter how much money and effects is tossed at it. So, i.e., Jupiter Ascending, GREAT effects, NO story.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: How can screenwriters’ of today use post production technology to their advantage?
GENE RIZZARDI: Write a story that the special effects, whether digital or practical, enhance the story telling – NO story, NO box office money!
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: With today’s technology, how important is a screenwriter? Has a screenwriter’s stock got down? Has the importance of “story” deteriorated?
GENE RIZZARDI: Screenwriters are special people and they should understand what is possible and not possible. But I would never say don’t write it because it cannot be done, that is not true. Anything can be done if you have time and money and perseverance. The word is unpossible – that which cannot be done just yet. The key though is flexibility in the solution, it is only words in the beginning so sometimes change is possible before time and money is spent. The same goes for the Production Design and Art Department. Flexibility is very important in solving issues.
So folks, focus on your story first. Keep your story limited in locations and characters. Change the way people view the world by your “words”, NOT by explosive, expensive scenes. If you have a compelling story, you won’t need to worry about all the high tech effects we see so often in film.
I can’t stress this enough to my members at Screenwriting Staffing. If you go on our Job Board, you will find a plethora of ads seeking moderate to low budget screenplays, with limited special effects, to produce. Why? Just like Gene said, it can be highly expensive to hire a visual effects artist.
It’s VERY important to understand the roles and wages of those in the film industry. When you start to understand the skills and experience it takes for certain jobs like Gene’s, you realize how pricey a film can be.
For instance, I asked Gene what are some basic, but necessary skills a Special Effects Technician needs?
GENE RIZZARDI: Welding, Machine Shop, Auto Repair, Plumbing, Electronics, Construction, and having a Pyro technician license will help.
I think it would behoove EVERY screenwriter to drop “The Hero’s Journey” book for a little bit, and read-up on film-making and post-production. When a writer clearly understands what it takes to film a screenplay, a writer begins to re-shape the content in their screenplays.
So I challenge you to look through your BEST script. Look at scenes that can be scaled down to fit a modest budget. Take out characters that serve no real purpose to the story. And most importantly, don’t spend so much time writing out demanding action sequences and crazy wardrobe costumes – leave that up to the professionals like Gene . Your ONLY job is to tell a phenomenal story!