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

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  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by kelgy: snip
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.
Snip


Whilst I agree that transformers was crud, any overboiled synopsis sounds terrible.

Shark eats people. A cop goes after him and blows him up.

That's Jaws.
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  04 April 2013
Or.

Man gets put in jail. Meets some nasty people and some nice people. Then escapes and goes to the seaside instead.

That's the Shawshank Redemption.
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  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by pooby: Whilst I agree that transformers was crud, any overboiled synopsis sounds terrible.

Shark eats people. A cop goes after him and blows him up.

That's Jaws.


Sure but I was talking about analyzing the dramatic under structure like we did with Terminator a few posts back.
If one added to the Jaws story there would be--Quint hates sharks and authority figures and might be a little crazy.
Brody is new to town, thought he was escaping big city problems, has problems with self-serving town officials, afraid of water.
Jaws is not even considered a character driven story but there is still more going on.

If you transplant Jaws to a western scenario--man going after killer (something).
Its still more interesting than "boy seeks girl, has something strangers want, throws object, gets girl"
There's very little else in that movie's characterization.
Everything else is government antics with computers, cut to soldiers doing something, then back to boy and his whatever he is doing. And some special effects.

Its closer to Masters of the Universe 87 than Magnificent Seven except the lead is the girl who lost her parents and instead of John Tuturro there's James Tolkan but he doesnt strip to his underwear by force, he voluntarily puts on a toga.

Actually though-the real plot of Transformers is giant robots come to earth and fight.
But when you watch it--they dont do much to motivate the action, its the kid who is the focus.
And unlike Masters of the Universe or even Small Soldiers which is also very similar to Transformers, the magic creatures dont do much to solve the story. The kid does.
In Small Soldiers the kid causes the EM pulse, but the toys hide under the dish on their own initiative to save themselves. Even they do something more energetic than than the giant robots in Transformers.
And come to think of it, did the Decepticons kill any humans?
I cant remember. If they didnt then that in itself lowers the stakes in the story from being very suspenseful.

Last edited by kelgy : 04 April 2013 at 04:49 PM.
 
  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by kelgy: 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.


Well what I learned was that they had two structures going. One was the teen romance angle with the "Boy and his Car"... and the other one, for the robots had to be a lot more straight forward... Which is where "The Magnificent Seven" comes in.

Basically "The Exotic Bandits ride into town and cause trouble for the defenseless village... They are led by some villain with an exotically evil name... There is a warning that they will be back. BUT! Here comes the Band of Heroes with unique costumes, cartoon like personalities, and abilities that match the Exotic Bandits, with their charismatic and majestic leader to save the town."

The plan called for the "Boy and His Car" story to literally intersect with the "Magnificent Seven" angle... and that's what happens when you have Prime, Bumblebee, Sam, and Mikaela in the alley.

The influence was so strong that originally there were plans to pit 7 Autobots against the Decepticons.... budget restraint prevailed though.. and it became 5 Autobots. The Decepticons also got a roster boost when Prowl (police car) was re-written and changed into Barricade.
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Last edited by CGIPadawan : 04 April 2013 at 12:18 AM.
 
  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by CGIPadawan:
Basically "The Exotic Bandits ride into town and cause trouble for the defenseless village... They are led by some villain with an exotically evil name... There is a warning that they will be back. BUT! Here comes the Band of Heroes with unique costumes, cartoon like personalities, and abilities that match the Exotic Bandits, with their charismatic and majestic leader to save the town."
.


Its such a vague similarity--why would they even suggest such a story inspiration when there are other stories with a band of heroes fighting a band of villains to help people? Did Orci and Kurtzman say that was the inspiration or someone else in the production? Its sounds like something they would say.

In Magnificent Seven the gunfighters had to be recruited to work together. They werent originally a band like the Autobots. They put aside personal problems and rivalries to help the village, and all but two (the biggest stars who assembled the group) die.


They really deviated from the source.

But I didnt like Magnificent Seven because the gunfighters worked together too smoothly.

Once they agreed to help the village they were mostly well behaved. Especially one scene where they realize the town is giving up its food to feed them, so the gunfighters chip in and do catering service for the town which was hard to imagine among hardened killers. Very old fashioned. The sequels dirtied them up a little more.

My ability to watch American westerns has been ruined by the two Sergios

Leone and Corbucci.

Last edited by kelgy : 04 April 2013 at 12:34 AM.
 
  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by kelgy: Its such a vague similarity--why would they even suggest such a story inspiration...


I'm guessing that it was an effort to give it an ounce of credibility and help them sleep at night without feeling like Hollywood whores.
 
  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by Pixanaut: I'm guessing that it was an effort to give it an ounce of credibility and help them sleep at night without feeling like Hollywood whores.


Hey! Don't shoot the messenger. I can't recall whether the writers mentioned it (they were online quite a bit and liked to talk to fans) or it was another source... but I distinctly remember them mentioning either watching "The Magnificent Seven" for preparation or being told it would be the base for the robot story arc.

I do think it came down to a matter of minutes... You couldn't have the Autobots arrive separately.. so they all came together. You couldn't have them fight amongst themselves so they became "Prime's Yes-Men". The film had 120 minutes max to work out a lot of robot characters and the human side was kind of an imperative... The boy-car story was really the first thing that materialized.

It's sort of like... for any minutes being allocated, the "Boy and his Car" was No. 1 in priority, with the Earth government/military and the Robots being like equal No. 2.

The writers, early on, talked about how there was this big temptation to just make the movie about the robots... but nobody felt it was a good idea... I think some others felt it was a "punch below the belt". An "easy win" if the story was just about "The robots flipping eggs on Cybertron" and they felt they wanted to tell a different story with it that had "more in it for the human race".

Of course, there was all this other material, like the MTME mini-series that opened the show. So if you can see the film again in passing, you will see it was all these things.
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  04 April 2013
I've read interviews by Orci and Kurtzman where they said they had expected to make Waiting for Godot type movies after school. I can believe it. They strike me as not understanding or being interested in sci-fi genre movie storytelling at all. As if it is completely alien to them.


And one of them claims to hate dinosaurs.
How can anyone hate dinosaurs?
Ray Bradbury would have given him a smack on the back of the head for being such a square.
 
  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by kelgy: I've read interviews by Orci and Kurtzman where they said they had expected to make Waiting for Godot type movies after school. I can believe it. They strike me as not understanding or being interested in sci-fi genre movie storytelling at all. As if it is completely alien to them.


And one of them claims to hate dinosaurs.
How can anyone hate dinosaurs?
Ray Bradbury would have given him a smack on the back of the head for being such a square.


Well online, the pair swore they are "true fans of TRANSFORMERS".
As a community, we took their word for it.

Even now, I still believe it. What I do understand, from that experience, was that there were so many hands in the project that it was very hard to keep any one structure intact.

Oh and the pair also wrote the STAR TREK reboot and STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS.
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  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by CGIPadawan:
Oh and the pair also wrote the STAR TREK reboot and STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS.


Yeah but they get paid--doesnt mean they like doing it.
Its either doing these kinds of films or making a lot less doing a Waiting for Godot kind of film. They follow the money. Same with actors who would rather do character driven films or have scripts written for them. If they want the money they have to do the corporate mascot franchise film.

If they really cared about writing and doing a good job and were hampered by the studio they would raise hell. They don't appear to.
Its hard to imagine they watched Mask of Zorro when they wrote the sequel since the characters dont match. Zorro's daughter was a chip off the old block--in the sequel she became a stereotypical killjoy housewife with zero personality.

I shouldnt pick on them though since they arent alone in writing weak characters and dialogue. Transformers was just an easy target because Small Soldiers and Masters of the Universe had the same story but dont feel so empty headed and didnt have anything as Ed Wood-like as giant robots searching for a pair of glasses with the secrets of the universe etched on them.
 
  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by CGIPadawan: Hey! Don't shoot the messenger....


Not at all. You and I are in agreement.

My point was that I don't think there are very many screenwriters who set out to write movies like Transformers. Certainly not Kurtzman and Orci. I have no doubt they go into projects with the best intentions, but this industry is one of egos. Producers, actors, their family members/significant others all get to put their two cents in for some reason, rather than let the professional screenwriters do the job that they were hired for.

Ultimately, I blame story problems on producers because 99 times out of 100, a writer at that level isn't handing in scripts full of plot holes. It's the notes/change requests and rewriters that create those plot holes trying to accommodate tolerable ideas (sometimes), ridiculous ideas (usually).

The way rewrites happen is a problem in Hollywood. In order for a rewriter to get a screen credit, they have to have changed 50%+ of the script's content. That means it is in the rewriter's best interest to ditch 50% of the original script - the one that got people interested in the first place. Now, a truly professional screenwriter might not aim for that 50%+ worth of changes, but human nature tells me that every one of them considers it when they sit down to do the rewriting.

In my opinion, if you can't get a solid draft out of the original writer, and one additional writer within three drafts of the initial first draft, there are major problems with the foundations of the story, or there are too many above the line voices making a mess of things.


At any rate, I think we've completely derailed this thread...
 
  04 April 2013
Its interesting about that 50% rule because in the case of Mask of Zorro apparently David S Ward, writer of the Sting, wrote 85% of the dialogue and didnt receive screen credit. Merited front page article status in the Los Angeles Times according to what i read about it.

I suspect in that case it was where the producers due to flukey circumstances managed to accomplish a lot despite serious production problems since you could analyze the film and find 5 characters with strong development and personality traits--unlike Transformers where you'd be lucky to be able to say anything about even a single character.

But the way studios worked must have been different then too.
I can easily find movies from the late 90s that work like normal films (even remakes like Mighty Joe Young) but you hit the 2000 era and suddenly things dramatically change.

Last edited by kelgy : 04 April 2013 at 02:02 PM.
 
  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by kelgy: Yeah but they get paid--doesnt mean they like doing it.
Its either doing these kinds of films or making a lot less doing a Waiting for Godot kind of film. They follow the money. Same with actors who would rather do character driven films or have scripts written for them. If they want the money they have to do the corporate mascot franchise film.

If they really cared about writing and doing a good job and were hampered by the studio they would raise hell. They don't appear to.
Its hard to imagine they watched Mask of Zorro when they wrote the sequel since the characters dont match. Zorro's daughter was a chip off the old block--in the sequel she became a stereotypical killjoy housewife with zero personality.

I shouldnt pick on them though since they arent alone in writing weak characters and dialogue. Transformers was just an easy target because Small Soldiers and Masters of the Universe had the same story but dont feel so empty headed and didnt have anything as Ed Wood-like as giant robots searching for a pair of glasses with the secrets of the universe etched on them.


Well Orci and Kurtzman started talking about STAR TREK around 2006 September (when Transformers had wrapped) and, they seemed genuinely excited about it.

There was a lot of "careful language" on that community (save for one or two "rebels"). And you kinda take what they tell you at face value. Like the Camaro thing (VW won't/can't do it)... or the Soundwave thing (the character was seen as valuable in a planned sub-plot about "who is loyal to Megatron? What is Decepticon motivation?"... but the character was removed due to a disagreement about Mass-Shifting and there was little left of the sub-plot after that). Whenever things like that happened... there was always this phase where they kinda try to tell us relatively early (this was around 2005?) that some things "won't be what you guys are expecting".

I knew in reality it was just "testing"... They'd show us pictures and they'd ask us a few questions... It was still educational really.

Personally I didn't weep for any of the compromises but I always found the "because" parts interesting. "Because of Hasbro"... "Because it's not Realistic"... "Because Michael Bay wants it that way"... "Because General Motors is paying."..."Because we'll bust our budget"...

By around April 2006... you could see the whole thing was "gravitating" towards a point.. and the funny thing was.. without seeing the film.. I kinda already knew where the pieces fell. I still enjoyed seeing TRANSFORMERS because it "worked"... and I knew to some degree who did what and which idea is whom....

I was reminded of this... especially when talking about VFX and Story Writing... I mean.. we all know it's true that story is first. What I learned on TRANSFORMERS is that EVERYBODY has a different idea what kind of story they're supposed to be telling... and because everybody is so fired up.. and they have so much at stake in something? It goes bananas.

And yeah, it rested on Orci and Kurtzman to basically write draft after draft that incorporated all these things... They went from opening the film in a jungle with Soundwave and Ravage to opening it in Qatar with Blackout and Skorponok (residue: Blackout "ejects" Skorponok... because that was how Ravage was going to get out of Soundwave).

Oh and the best "because"? "Because we want to make the best movie possible".

P.S.: And no.. I don't think we've derailed the thread... because Story and VFX are kinda inseperable... the VFX design, the art choices... the "effect"... is a sign of what went on with the story and the telling of that story. Why did Tumbler NEED to look like an angular rolling tank? Why did Batman start wearing black when the comics costume was blue? Why is the lighting and design for Punisher Warzone so different from the Thomas Jane Punisher? Behind that... in the "agreement" for the VFX.. the "specialness" there will come from what PUSH and how hard of a PUSH comes from all these people in the VFX and around the VFX Team who are trying to push the Story.

If Dennis Muren feels TECHNOLOGICALLY that VFX/SFX thing is no longer special... then it just means that "Story Push" that informs the VFX process can and needs to be a lot more overt.
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Last edited by CGIPadawan : 04 April 2013 at 12:35 AM.
 
  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by kelgy: Its such a vague similarity--why would they even suggest such a story inspiration when there are other stories with a band of heroes fighting a band of villains to help people? Did Orci and Kurtzman say that was the inspiration or someone else in the production? Its sounds like something they would say.

In Magnificent Seven the gunfighters had to be recruited to work together. They werent originally a band like the Autobots. They put aside personal problems and rivalries to help the village, and all but two (the biggest stars who assembled the group) die.


They really deviated from the source.

But I didnt like Magnificent Seven because the gunfighters worked together too smoothly.

Once they agreed to help the village they were mostly well behaved. Especially one scene where they realize the town is giving up its food to feed them, so the gunfighters chip in and do catering service for the town which was hard to imagine among hardened killers. Very old fashioned. The sequels dirtied them up a little more.

My ability to watch American westerns has been ruined by the two Sergios

Leone and Corbucci.


I love Leone, but if you need a counterbalance, then watch the two end-of-the-west Richard Brooks westerns, THE PROFESSIONALS and BITE THE BULLET. Or for a different kind of counterbalance, RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY and THE WILD BUNCH from Sam P.

I think I just named all my favorite westerns. Except WILL PENNY, so there!
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  04 April 2013
Originally Posted by Pixanaut: Not at all. You and I are in agreement.

My point was that I don't think there are very many screenwriters who set out to write movies like Transformers. Certainly not Kurtzman and Orci. I have no doubt they go into projects with the best intentions, but this industry is one of egos. Producers, actors, their family members/significant others all get to put their two cents in for some reason, rather than let the professional screenwriters do the job that they were hired for.



The more things change, the more they stay the same.
In the mid to late 80s, I was thinking the epitome of evil manifested not just in the White House and with the machinations of Albert Broccoli, but with Cash & Epps, the guys who wrote LEGAL EAGLES and TOP GUN and TURNER & HOOTCH and SECRET OF MY SUCCESS and DICK TRACY. I couldn't believe how bad these movies (not so much TRACY) were, or how these guys were getting these gigs.

Then I read a really good interview with one of them and it was very clear that they had their own ideas, but all of that got submerged in favor of writing to order. And it certainly worked on the level it needed to ... producing blockbusters. The blockbuster mentality has only become more pronounced, and I guess Orci and the rest are an example of how to succeed financially working the system. Personally I think I'd be too ashamed and furious to cowtow, but then again how do I KNOW I wouldn't sell out?

I used to play a game with friends ... the guy who wants to option your script is John Landis ... do you spit in his face for what he got away with or do you make the deal? Was surprised how many folks said make the deal, cash the check ... THEN spit in his face. Massively unethical and yet there it was.

True story: when I got in to pitch stories at Next Generation a millennia back, the lady who got stuck taking the meeting (because the guy I was supposed to pitch to had to go upstairs and placate Roddenberry, who had gotten hold of the story for the season 4 ender and was having a conniption) didn't like any of my ideas ... except a runner (c-story) about Picard always making a point of being off the ship at the time of his birthday to avoid having to deal with the inevitable party, and this is the one time he can't do that.

All the rest of the stuff was met with "Picard wouldn't do that" or "we don't do fantasy" (interesting, since that was a hard sci-fi pitch) or 'there is NO contradiction between the hippocratic oath and the prime directive" ... but she liked "Picard tries to get out of having to go through a birthday party." Geez, that's a logline for a sitcom! But I had integrated it into the a/b story (stuff she didn't like), so she was asking if I could put it into something else ... yeah, like that is going to fit into a script about a planet that can't make manned spaceflights anymore because they've got so much crap in orbit that it is like a shooting gallery to get out of their gravity well! When you have a & b stories that don't resonate or connect in any way, you get ... well, you get the stories that NextGen did that were usually bad. So while I did go through about 3 more pitches (I think I had a dozen altogether), I didn't try to shoehorn the birthday story into any of them. I guess I did blow off a possible assignment since I didn't do the eager-beaver thing. Damn, the more I write the more I remember about this ...

Shoot, at least I took something away from it that was positive ... Ron Moore was one of the other guys in the pitch session, and when she shot down my main pitch (the 'Picard wouldn't do that' turndown), he got up and did about 5 minutes of fairly passionate defense of my idea ... it was almost as if he had read the material I had in my briefcase, because he was going places I hadn't gone verbally, but already had down on paper. She listened and then just repeated "Picard wouldn't do that." He didn't say another word for the next 30 minutes, so I should have probably taken the hint myself that it wasn't going to work out right then. I had already become impressed with Moore on the basis of FAMILY and the Romulan defector episode, but that just cemented my good opinion of him. Have liked most of his work since, too, though let's not bring up GENERATIONS, okay?
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