My Oscar Picks for 2014

If you follow this blog, you know I’m running an online Oscar pool. As per the rules, here are my picks (you have until showtime to submit your own choices).

This is based solely on my opinion. I’ve seen all the Best Picture nominees (except Captain Phillips and Philomena) and I’ve consulted no outside source. These are just what I think deserves the award, not what it most likely to win (thus, you might find it easy to beat me if you enter).

Okay, here goes:

Best Picture (3 pts): 12 Years a Slave
Directing (2 pts): Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)
Original Screenplay (2 pts): Her (Spike Jonze)
Adapted Screenplay (2 pts): The Wolf of Wall Street (Terence Winter)
Leading Actor (2 pts): Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Leading Actress (2 pts): Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Supporting Actor (2 pts): Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
Supporting Actress (2 pts): Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Production Design (1 pt): Her
Documentary Feature (1 pt): The Act of Killing
Documentary Short(1 pt): The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Animated Short(1 pt): Feral
Live Action Short Film (1 pt): Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasnt Me)
Foreign Language Film (1 pt): Omar (Palestine)
Animated Feature (1 pt): Frozen
Film Editing (1 pt): Gravity
Sound Editing (1 pt): Gravity
Sound Mixing (1 pt): Gravity
Cinematography (1 pt): Gravity
Visual Effects (1 pt): Gravity
Costume Design (1 pt): The Great Gatsby
Makeup and Hairstyling (1 pt): Dallas Buyers Club
Original Score (1 pt): Her (William Butler
Original Song (1 pt): Let It Go (Frozen)

Good luck to all those who entered! Now, a little more fun– Kids tell you everything you need to know about the Best Picture nominees:

As a final bonus, for those who are into drinking games, here’s a good one for this year: http://www.uproxx.com/filmdrunk/2014/02/official-filmdrunk-oscars-2014-drinking-game/

Be safe; have fun! Winners will (most likely) be announced tomorrow.

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My Oscar Picks for 2013

If you’ve read my last few posts, you know I’m running an online Oscar pool. As per the rules, here are my picks (you have until 5:30 pst, when the show begins, to submit your own choices).

This is based solely on my opinion. I’ve seen all the Best Picture nominees (except Zero Dark Thirty) and I’ve consulted no outside source. These are just what I think deserves the award, not what it most likely to win (thus, you might find it easy to beat me if you enter).

Still, deciding wasn’t easy. Some years are filled with shoe-ins, but this time around I was split on almost every category… Okay, here goes.

Best Picture (3 pts): LINCOLN
Directing (2 pts): SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Original Screenplay (2 pts): MOONRISE KINGDOM
Adapted Screenplay (2 pts): LIFE OF PI
Leading Actor (2 pts): Daniel Day-Lewis
Leading Actress (2 pts): Jessica Chastain
Supporting Actor (2 pts): Philip Seymour Hoffman
Supporting Actress (2 pts): Anne Hathaway
Production Design (1 pt): LINCOLN
Documentary Feature (1 pt): SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
Documentary Short(1 pt): “Mondays at Racine”
Animated Short(1 pt): “Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare””
Live Action Short Film (1 pt): “Curfew”
Foreign Language Film (1 pt): AMOUR
Animated Feature (1 pt): WRECK IT RALPH
Film Editing (1 pt): LIFE OF PI
Sound Editing (1 pt): DJANGO UNCHAINED
Sound Mixing (1 pt): SKYFALL
Cinematography (1 pt): LINCOLN
Visual Effects (1 pt): PROMETHEUS
Costume Design (1 pt): ANNA KARENINA
Makeup and Hairstyling (1 pt): HITCHCOCK
Original Score (1 pt): SKYFALL
Original Song (1 pt): “Suddenly” from “Les Misérables”

Good luck to all those who entered! Now, a little more fun– Daniel Tosh tells you everything you need to know about the Best Picture nominees:


As a final bonus, for those who are into drinking games, here’s a good one for this year: http://filmdrunk.uproxx.com/2013/02/filmdrunk-oscars-drinking-game-2013

Be safe; have fun! Winners will (most likely) be announced tomorrow.

Scripts vs Novels

Disclaimer: I am not a legal professional, and nothing found on this site should be taken as legal advice.  Always consult an attorney.

I’ve already written about the differences of Screenwriting vs Prose from a writer’s perspective.  Now I’d like to touch a little on the differences between the finished products: Scripts (screenplays) and Novels (books).  Physically, here you go:

The Script: Three-hole-punched 8 1/2″ x 11″ computer printed paper, bound with two brads.
A Book: Bound pages, professionally printed, in a variety of shapes and sizes.

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As for the format?  There’s plenty of nuts and bolts books written on formatting screenplays and you can google manuscript specifications for agents or publishers (or ebook format), so if you’re looking for that, keep looking.

What I’d really like to talk about in this post is what the rights a writer keeps if they sell a script versus selling a novel.

Here’s what it boils down to: when you sell a screenplay, you are (generally) selling the whole thing.  It’s no longer yours.  Other writers can (and probably will) make changes to your story without your permission.  When you sell a novel, you’re still the copyright holder and it’s still your writing, you’ve just given the publishing house the rights to print and sell it.

As a writer in the US, you have far more rights as a novelist than as a screenwriter.  In Europe, screenwriters have more rights, but for this purpose–I’m talking only about American writers making deals with American production companies.

There are ways to keep certain rights to a screenplay, such as the extremely complicated Theatrical Separated Rights.  On the flipside, there’s also terrifying loopholes like Hollywood Accounting, where you might never even get paid.  For the most part, though, screenwriters aren’t even allowed to distribute the very scripts they wrote once they’re sold.

But as a novelist, you keep your copyright.  Even if your book is getting adapted to film–in which case you only license the material to the studio, allowing them to make the film, much like you allowed a publisher to print the book.

Really, we can chase this rabbit down the hole as far as we want, but I think if we go much further we’ll need a pack of lawyers to read the map.  So… that’s it for now.

Lesson learned: write the book first.  Sell it twice, keep the rights!

Film Review: THE HUNTER (2011)

Disclaimer: I don’t plan on making film reviews the norm on this site but because I already wrote about this movie, I’m willing to make an exception.  I also don’t like giving negative reviews, especially for independently financed projects, as I respect the difficulties of moviemaking and I don’t want to steer revenue away from these hard working artists.  However, my audience is intelligent enough to know that this is only my opinion and that their own millage may vary.  So we shall proceed.

Please be aware that SPOILERS will follow, so if you don’t want to ruin your Monet Experience then go watch the movie now (it’s currently playing VOD) and then come back and share your thoughts.

Here is the trailer for the movie:

The Hunter (2011) – Official Trailer HD

The trailer would have you believe it’s a tense thriller, right?  About a man with a rifle, put in jeopardy by a conspiracy of those all around him–plenty of intrigue and suspense, right?  Wrong.  This 1:38 might be the most exciting of the whole 100 minute movie.

Okay, so maybe the problem was with marketing.  Maybe if I knew I was getting into a slow, plodding drama more about unemployed loggers than a Tasmanian tiger hunt, I’d have enjoyed the experience more.  But probably not.

Don’t get me wrong, this movie has its redeeming aspects.  The cast was stellar!  Defoe and O’Conner brought grace and strength.  Sam Neil perfectly blended as a native (IMDB tells me he grew up down-under, so it’s no surprise).  And what a beautiful film; the cinematographer expertly captured the breathtaking scenery.

I actually wish I liked this movie more.  The topic is obviously one that interests me.  But I just couldn’t get behind it.  It strikes me as another in a painfully long line of films that tries to be profound by having nothing happen.  It’s like someone who wants to write a great work of literature, so they decide step one is “don’t have a plot”.

A fellow friend and filmmaker once shared a bit of wisdom with me he learned while making a documentary on the Air Force Academy.  He said, you can’t show the audience that an event is boring by boring them for ninety minutes.  By the same token, I find that if you spend too much time building the atmosphere, you’re left with nothing but that.

So did I miss something?  Or did the filmmakers?

A Monet Experience

Monet Experience (noun): The process or fact of personally observing, encountering, or undergoing something for the first time, or without any preconceived notion as to what might be entailed or encountered. To be a blank canvas.  I went into the movie without even seeing the trailer, it was a total Monet Experience.

“Water Lilies at the Bridge” by Claude Monet – 1890

This is the coining of the term; its first non-spoken use.  Monet, like me, often longed to see the world without any preconceived notions, prejudices, or expectation whatsoever.  To see the world for the first time, like a child, but with an adult mind with the capabilities to appreciate such a thing.

When you taste a new dish for the first time, when you read a book with no idea what it’s about, when you visit somewhere you’ve never even seen pictures of — you’re having a Monet Experience.  In the fashion of an Epicurean, I find no greater bliss than experiencing something new; no matter how small.  So when I read that Monet felt the same way, it finally gave a name to what I’d been feeling all along.

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”
– Claude Monet

And to be frank: I’m not narcissistic enough to call it a “Schannep Experience”.  I like the name “Monet Experience”.  Associating a man so full of passion, genius and talent adds an element of beauty to a concept near and dear to my heart.

As both a purveyor and rabid consumer of books and movies, a Monet Experience is essential to my enjoyment.  Friends call me a “Story Purist” because I don’t like to know anything about a book or movie going into it.  The writer intends information to be revealed in a specific way, and it tickles my senses for the process to unfold in such a manner.  Spoilers, an apt name if ever one was writ, ruin that experience.

Ever watch a movie trailer, then say “Thanks for showing me the entire movie”?  This is far too commonplace, in my opinion.  Teasers do much better, but if I know I’m interested in something, I’ll skirt any conversation or exposure to that work.

“It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.” – Claude Monet

My love of the Monet Experience was cemented by a single event.  I’ve served in the military, and during basic training we were cut off from the outside world.  After we were able to leave the gates for the first time, I went to see a movie with a few friends.  We had no idea what any of the films playing were about.  “What should we see?” we asked one another aloud.  A patron leaving said, “The Ring is a really great movie.”  We all shrugged and bought tickets.  It remains to this day one of my favorite movie-going experiences.

“So how do you pick movies and books?” you might ask.  Simple: by recommendation.  Trusted friends and critics say something is amazing and worth my time, and I check it out.  Or by reputation.  There are writers and filmmakers whom I believe produce quality art.  Once I’m a fan, I’m hooked till they lose me.

Bottom line: Sometimes you can’t avoid the hype, but I find it more pleasurable not to seek it out.  Give it a try.  Only a Monet Experience can provide the joy of unadulterated perception.

© James Schannep and jamesschannep.com, 2011-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Book trailers

I have a friend who can’t seem to get behind the idea of a book trailer, so figured I’d put my thoughts out there and explain a bit about why I support them.

The easy answer — We live in an increasingly visual society, and a book trailer is a quick way to get people excited about books.  Take this trailer for Stephen King’s Under The Dome for example:

I don’t own the rights to this, it’s merely an illustration.

Thirty seconds, and you’ve been good and teased on the book’s premise.  What’s wrong with that?  Well, as my friend would say, we’re trying to make books more like movies, and in doing so, robbing the reader of their own imagination.  To put it bluntly: we’re catering to the illiteracy of our society.

Here’s why I disagree: I don’t see this clip as a “trailer” (as it’s billed), but as a commercial.  Why shouldn’t books get advertisements?  We can see “trailers” about housewives using laundry detergent without spoiling our own experience with the product.  Otherwise books are advertised without actually telling us anything about the book.  “Hey, a new thriller book is out.”  If you don’t know the author, how do you know you’ll be interested?

I think book reviews are an excellent tool, but only insofar as you’re relying on someone’s opinion.  With a commercial, you get a chance to see what the book is intended to be.  It’s sort of like saying, “Here’s what I want to make you feel when you read this book.  Does something like that interest you?”

So as I see it, book trailers are raising awareness.  It’s up to the filmmakers to properly raise this awareness–to tease us–without spoiling the experience.

***update***

BONUS THOUGHT: After sleeping on it, I wonder if book covers didn’t experience a similar skepticism during the transition from plain-leather-binding to printed works of art.  One could make a similar argument that cover art limits the reader’s imagination by introducing visual representations of characters and story world.  Even so, one could make the case that cover art allows a potential buyer to instantly glean an understanding of what lies within the pages, and that book trailers are merely the next technological leap in this vein.

Screenwriting vs Prose

As a writer who finds himself at home in both forms, I’m often asked what it’s like transitioning between the two.

Personally, I love it.  They’re both very different, and switching from one to the other is like taking a break, but without the lost productivity.  And my number one goal?  Be prolific.  So if nothing else, it helps me accomplish that.

But before I get ahead of myself, let me outline the fundamental differences between the two.  As most people are familiar with prose (you’re reading prose right now!), I’ll just speak to how screenwriting differs.

In prose, the writing is the finished product. In a screenplay, the movie is it’s final form.  So there’s no thoughts, no emotions, no asides–just action and dialogue. In a script, you’re only writing what will be SEEN or HEARD by the eventual audience.  And guess what?  No description either.  You want your lead in a blue dress?  Oh well.  UNLESS it directly influences the plot, but if you just envisioned her that way–too bad.  Why?  Because at this point you’re doing someone else’s job.  A movie is a collaboration.  There’s someone whose entire job is picking out what color dress your lead will be in.

The result leaves you the bare minimum of words with which to tell the story.  But that’s expected, because there’s one other very important job as a screenwriter: you dictate the pacing.  The general rule, is that one page in a script is equal to one minute of film time.  So much hinges on this (budget, blah blah blah) that a minute goes by quicker than you think.

So in a nutshell:  Writing a novel, your goal is to completely immerse your reader into your story, by whatever means possible.  There are almost no rules.  Writing a screenplay, your goal is to not get in the way of everyone else on the project, so they can immerse the audience into your story.  And there are lots of rules (I’m not going to touch on formatting), but they can be broken if you know what you’re doing and have a good reason.

Now to cover the initial question: what’s it like to switch?  It makes my writing, in both forms, that much richer.  I’ve learned to make my words count, to use subtext, to let a moment speak for itself.

As an exercise, I re-wrote a story that was originally a short script, The Tunnel, as a short story.  You can read the script here and the short story here.

Want more on the differences?  Check out the next post in the series, Scripts vs Novels.