Dennis Muren-ILM Creative Director Says Special Effects Aren't Special Anymore

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  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by kelgy: I think the basic relationship and plot of Terminator can work as a western.

Stranger in town rescues woman from another stranger who seems indestructible (bullet proof metal plate--thanks for the idea Clint!) and determined to kill her.
Or you could make the sci-fi element into something supernatural, like High Plains Drifter or an eerie western.
The terminator becomes a demon of some kind.
You could still have prophetic visions of the future.

Would have to replace the truck with a runaway locomotive loaded with dynamite I guess.



With a western, when in doubt: peyote.
 
  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by kelgy: I think the basic relationship and plot of Terminator can work as a western.

Stranger in town rescues woman from another stranger who seems indestructible (bullet proof metal plate--thanks for the idea Clint!) and determined to kill her.
Or you could make the sci-fi element into something supernatural, like High Plains Drifter or an eerie western.
The terminator becomes a demon of some kind.
You could still have prophetic visions of the future.

Would have to replace the truck with a runaway locomotive loaded with dynamite I guess.


But the HEART of Terminator was the Causatic Paradox. So you need time travel. You need to have the "indestructible evil" come from the future... and she is the mother of the child who will vanquish them.

The thing I was pointing out is that.. it was more NATURAL to write it as a "contemporary action adventure" than to have to think about the thematic limitations of Westerns..... What really happens here is we are re-writing Terminator as "Steampunk Terminator" or "Native Indian Ghosts Terminator".

That said, Westerns... and the "world" of it usually involving a rarely present Federal Law presence allows for very strong Personality projection. For example, the characters and viewpoints in "3:10 to Yuma" are very effective because they are set during the Wild West. Ben Wade has a holier-than-thou view of life and the world... quotes the bible like a lawyer quotes the law and basically thinks only God has a right to judge him.

You can probably build this thing and set it in South Dakota or something (see: First Blood), but the modernity kind of still makes the audience go: "But that's still against the law". In a film like "3:10 to Yuma" Ben Wade wears his mantle of folklore hero alongside his outlaw status and to the son of Dan Evans, his wide-eyed admiration of Ben Wade is easily acceptable.

So basically I think I'd rather write Westerns as Westerns and write Contemporary as Contemporary.
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Last edited by CGIPadawan : 04 April 2013 at 09:19 AM.
 
  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by CGIPadawan: But the HEART of Terminator was the Causatic Paradox. So you need time travel. You need to have the "indestructible evil" come from the future... and she is the mother of the child who will vanquish them.


I think Pixanaut is talking about the underlying dramatic premise between characters--that if there isnt enough there to work as a western then you dont have enough of a story.
The sci fi element is not the dramatic premise--its the relationship between a woman and a stranger she meets. That premise still works as a western.

There may well be stories with sci-fi elements so far out and central to the concept it cant work as a western, but Terminator is not the best example.

ps
a sequence almost identical to the the gun shop scene in Terminator happens in the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
 
  04 April 2013
Westerns with sci-fi. Be careful what you wish for as it can feel cheesy easily.
I had the chance to watch Back to the Future (all three) last year.
The best one is still the first/original.

And i found the third one almost too much to finish (with it's sci-fi western theme). Audiences panned Wild-Wild West pretty resolutely too.

But in the end-anything goes if the story is king. If you can really justify
the sci-fi western mix with a story that doesn't feel cheesy as a premise
than anything goes. I'm not completely convinced a great story in one historical context will work as successfully as another unless you have a clever new way to get there. It has to feel 'right'.
 
  04 April 2013
I'm actually surprised more films haven't mixed a period piece with sci-fi.

Who doesn't want to see ancient romans or fuedal japan cope with aliens? Plus it's ripe for metaphor, especially in feudal japan trading with western cultures and the struggle against the new cultures/gunpowder/religions.
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  04 April 2013
I think it would be cool if they did other periods. Medieval, Ancient times, whatever.

The only sci-fi western I have liked that comes to mind immediately is the Valley of Gwangi.
Western and dinosaurs.

2001 a Space Odyssey would be hard to hypothetically imagine as a western.
Make Bowman and Poole into miners and Hal into an unseen foreman above who controls the elevator and air vents. They think he's losing his mind because he is making errors (he claims he is incapable of error because he hails from Missouri) so they plot to have him sent to the local sanatorium but he has other ideas.
He kills Poole and Bowman manages to climb up and overpower Hal by breaking a bottle of ether and the fumes make him loopy (I'm losing my mind Dave) then Bowman discover Hal had a telegram from the coal mine boss saying the mission to find a super rare rectangular slab of coal they plan to use as a poker table for a Texas gambling big shot was more important than the miners?
 
  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by kelgy: I think Pixanaut is talking about the underlying dramatic premise between characters--that if there isnt enough there to work as a western then you dont have enough of a story.
The sci fi element is not the dramatic premise--its the relationship between a woman and a stranger she meets. That premise still works as a western.


^^^^^This.
 
  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by kelgy: I think Pixanaut is talking about the underlying dramatic premise between characters--that if there isnt enough there to work as a western then you dont have enough of a story.
The sci fi element is not the dramatic premise--its the relationship between a woman and a stranger she meets. That premise still works as a western.

There may well be stories with sci-fi elements so far out and central to the concept it cant work as a western, but Terminator is not the best example.

ps
a sequence almost identical to the the gun shop scene in Terminator happens in the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.


Well.. OK... I understand that... and I tend to agree that if you strip everything down to its essence you have to have relationships that work in almost all theme-situations (Westerns, Sci-Fi, War movie, etc.).

But a few things would still cause problems. Take this Chinese film called "Connected" which has a tense relationship between a woman who was kidnapped and the stranger she calls at random to help her... It's a relationship without characters seeing each other.. that needs a sense of urgency that can only come from the characters being "close" to each other... which only works because you have a cel phone to work with.

If you try and force that into being a Western... you can't get over the gap in time required to communicate.. and then it suffers.. I can't get it without assuming I have a mobile phone in the core material.
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  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by CGIPadawan: If you try and force that into being a Western... you can't get over the gap in time required to communicate.. and then it suffers.. I can't get it without assuming I have a mobile phone in the core material.


It would be hard to convey the urgency with smoke signals or by telegram that's for sure.



But the suggestion of this hypothetical is more useful for a situation where you have a straight sci-fi kind of story with lots of typical sci-fi trappings and you are wondering if the dramatic underpinnings of the story is strong enough. Its one way to look at it without the sci-fi distractions and see it from a more basic dramatic story framework.

I dont think one would want to try it with a suspense based idea like that anyway because there is nothing in the story that would be distracting--in fact its the opposite, sounds like its mostly a dialogue scenario.Like a stage play or radio drama.

If you dont have a dramatic enough story and dialogue in a restricted situation like that you are going to find out pretty quickly.

The 2001 scenario I mentioned earlier-- it wouldnt really be necessary to think of it as a western anyway because the relationship between the characters doesnt have much props or distraction to begin with. 2 men and a voice in a ship. Its kind of like a radio play too--but the basic relationship between the characters involves distrust, possible insanity, and self-preservation so there is already a dramatic story to it (although its not milked for dialogue and melodrama like you would get in a standard non Kubrick kind of movie).

This is kind of like that Red Letter Media Star Wars prequel video where he asked people on the street to describe characters from the movies-their personality, likes, hates etc.
If you cant come up with various adjectives to describe the characters then there must not be much interesting things going on in the story or they are boring characters.

Poole and Bowman in 2001 are boring characters but that's sort of the point. Hal is the interesting character for a reason.

Last edited by kelgy : 04 April 2013 at 01:17 AM.
 
  04 April 2013
Special Effects wonít be special, the day you canít show the video you shot on your vacation because you are waiting for it to come back from post production.

Without a good story and interesting characters there isnothing to watch regardless of special effects.

Last edited by DaveKleve : 04 April 2013 at 03:06 AM.
 
  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by kelgy: But the suggestion of this hypothetical is more useful for a situation where you have a straight sci-fi kind of story with lots of typical sci-fi trappings and you are wondering if the dramatic underpinnings of the story is strong enough. Its one way to look at it without the sci-fi distractions and see it from a more basic dramatic story framework.

I dont think one would want to try it with a suspense based idea like that anyway because there is nothing in the story that would be distracting--in fact its the opposite, sounds like its mostly a dialogue scenario.Like a stage play or radio drama.


Well not really.... The main problem I see with using "just a Western"... is that "Connected" uses GAGS to really push the emotional stakes.

For example, when the guy first gets the call, he instinctively believes he should go to the cops. He can't hang up cause the girl is so frightened and she doesn't know if she can call him again.. he goes to the police station.. they tell him to see a detective upstairs..

He's going up the stairs - Signal Loss.

The pay off in that gag... when the guy looks at his phone.. and sense that "Oh shit.. She's gonna die".. and he's looking... seeing where he can find a cel phone signal.. It's not a radio play gag.

There's another really good one when said detective dismisses it as a prank.. and then at that precise moment.. the kidnappers enters the girl's room.. and she has to cover her makeshift macguyver phone in a cloth.

And the detective hears the kidnappers making threats....

The "pay-off" in that gag really had audience in their seats.

BTW, "Connected" was one of those cross-over projects.. I think it was a Chinese film made with some help from WB.

P.S.: I do get Pixanaut's concept though.. The question really is: "Does your story stand out without the Gimmick?" And that's a good test.
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Last edited by CGIPadawan : 04 April 2013 at 03:49 AM.
 
  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by CGIPadawan: The main problem I see with using "just a Western"... is that "Connected" uses GAGS to really push the emotional stakes.


I see what you are saying but as already mentioned the idea had more to do with standard sci fi type stories, not suspense or other genres.

It reminds me of the radio drama Sorry, Wrong Number though. About a woman who overhears a call that someone is planning to kill someone. They made a movie out of it but I dont know how it would translate with the ending.

Duel would be an example of a story that wouldnt translate well into a western--but its not sci-fi anyway. Although...the basic idea of someone being chased by an unknown person and the diner scene-guessing who the stalker is, could be done as a western.



On the subject of special effects in general--there is the example of Melies. He didnt have stories in his films but for the time they were considered quite interesting because of what they showed.
In theory, if one had introduced innovative fx in short novelty films like he did, the impact wouldnt be the same as with a complete story but it probably would have produced the same sort of: "that's neat-- show me that again!" effect.

Last edited by kelgy : 04 April 2013 at 05:41 AM.
 
  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by CGIPadawan: Well not really.... The main problem I see with using "just a Western"... is that "Connected" uses GAGS to really push the emotional stakes.

For example, when the guy first gets the call...


Yeah, the idea wouldn't work in every scenario, but with 'Connected', it sounds like the film is based around a technological device - the cell phone. (I haven't seen it so I don't know for sure.)

But yeah, my saying 'western' is me using that as a euphemism for 'low tech', making sure the story works without any potential tech devices, and then wrapping that story in whatever genre skin after the fact.
 
  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by Pixanaut: Yeah, the idea wouldn't work in every scenario, but with 'Connected', it sounds like the film is based around a technological device - the cell phone. (I haven't seen it so I don't know for sure.)

But yeah, my saying 'western' is me using that as a euphemism for 'low tech', making sure the story works without any potential tech devices, and then wrapping that story in whatever genre skin after the fact.


Yes it is definitely a good test "most of the time".
It's just that I was thinking about some other stories where I started to encounter problems.

But yeah.. if you "remove the gimmick" does it work?

Food for thought though is that I have it in good authority that TRANSFORMERS (2007) was based on the plot structure of "The Magnificent Seven".

So that's one example where it actually happened.

"Connected" was actually the remake of another WB film entitled "Cellular"... "Connected" struck a chord and won awards in Asia. I think what really surprised people was this mostly Western concept of "We have to help people we don't really know" in a Chinese film.... The whole film was Chinese but essentially the guy in it was acting like a Western hero... benevolently trying to help the frightened girl on the other line when most Chinese guys wouldn't bother.

So that's another thing.. making sure your gags and VFX and gimmicks support the "Universal Language of Human Audiences".
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Last edited by CGIPadawan : 04 April 2013 at 08:50 AM.
 
  04 April 2013
And the Magnificent Seven was based on the Seven Samurai. It would be a pretty loose similarity to Transformers though.
The boy seeks girl plot is front and center, while in Magnificent Seven its the gunfighter-gang plot that dominates. I think there was a brief subplot romance but the gunfighters had more character development while in Transformers they were practically anonymous. Magnificent Seven isnt among my favorite westerns though.

I almost mentioned Transformers a few posts back as an example of a film that would fail as a western because the drama component is terrible--boy is after girl, has something strangers want, saves strangers by throwing item at other stranger, wins girl.
Kurtzman and Orci tried their hand at a western--Legend of Zorro.
Awful sequel to Mask of Zorro.

But it doesnt matter since they have remained steadily employed ever since.
 
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