Elizabeth Taylor

With all the talk about Elizabeth Taylor lately, one thing might have been lost. And it's something we screenwriters appreciate even when we don't know why we do.

Look beyond her celebrity, which is something related to movie-making in only the most sideways fashion. She understood celebrity, and in later years used it to help the fight against AIDS for example. She came from a generation that married their boyfriends which led to far too many marriages and More celebrity. Also, her emotion-driven lifestyle related to her skills in making movies in a sideways manner.

Look at her performances: from National Velvet through The Mirror Crack'd. Both amazing for completely different reasons. In the first, she became a Movie Star in her first role as a child. In the last, she became a self-parody in the role of a "movie star." The first one has more to do with the art of acting and the last to do with the art of celebrity.

But I want you to look at a later movie where she was neither brilliant/amazing nor amazing/horrifying. I want you to look at a movie where she had a role that should have been boring in a script that was boring by filmmakers who depended on a great music score and pretty pictures of the beach to fill the screen.

As a professional director and actor before I was a writer and script analyst, I want you to look at her abilities as an actor. Audiences of actors first noticed from National Velvet on that here was an artist whose commitment to her character was so complete and intense that it seemed effortless. All the intensity was there but none of the "work" was showing. Critics said, "Well the character of Velvet Brown was just ever so close to the personality of young Elizabeth Taylor." Critics are famous for this mistake.

Now look at The Sandpiper, the movie with the beach scenes and the great music score. Elizabeth Taylor gives the same commitment to a character here. Playing the home-wrecker girlfriend to the married preacher Richard Burton (her husband at the time), Taylor keeps you involved in a story that suffered from a melodramatic premise and a potful of writers (including Dalton Trumbo)--always a dangerous sign. Director Vincente Minnelli knew enough to let Elizabeth do her thing.

Her one-to-one connection with character leaps off the screen. Always. Every role. There's a fascination in this that goes beyond the strength and weakness of the material. Every writer whose work she interpreted on film--including William Shakespeare--owes her a couple thank-yous. She made unforgettable yet totally honest choices for her character that make the script eminently involving. She made a big difference in The Comedians too.

Try watching someone else do Martha in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and you'll know why writers--including Edward Albee--should thank Elizabeth and actors knew they were doing well just to keep up with her.

This post was written by Howard Allen.
Edited 3/31/11



CoyoteMoon Films' Megan Guthrie has a new interview with Steve Holy at Lyrical Lifestyle. The interview can also be viewed on YouTube.

Anyone who has taken a screenwriting class from Howard Allen knows that the main character of a film is not necessarily the protagonist. John August explains in his blog here, with Ferris Bueller's Day Off as the example.


New project

CoyoteMoon Films is working on a new short film, "The Three O'Clock," and we've started work on preproduction. Last week, we held a meeting about the storyboarding of the film.

In attendance were Csenge Molnar (CoyoteMoon Films' storyboard artist), Howard Allen (CMF founder and director of the film), Jim Scott (cinematographer), and Megan Guthrie (storyboard artist and producer).

Howard Allen discusses some of the finer points of the script.

Csenge Molnar listens for ideas on storyboarding a scene.

Megan Guthrie goes over the script.

Photographs by LR Simon.


Independent Spirit Awards

The recipients of the Independent Spirit Awards were announced on February 26, 2011. Here are some of the nominees and winners of the major categories:

127 Hours
Black Swan (winner)
The Kids Are All Right
Winter’s Bone

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan (winner)
Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right
Debra Granik, Winter’s Bone
John Cameron Mitchell, Rabbit Hole

Everything Strange and New
Get Low (winner)
The Last Exorcism
Night Catches Us
Tiny Furniture

Daddy Longlegs (winner)
The Exploding Girl
Lovers of Hate

Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg (The Kids Are All Right) (winner)
Debra Granik, Anne Rosselini (Winter’s Bone)
Nicole Holofcener (Please Give)
David Lindsay-Abair (Rabbit Hole)
Todd Solondz (Life During Wartime)

Diane Bell (Obselidia)
Lena Dunham (Tiny Furniture) (winner)
Nik Fakler (Lovely, Still)
Robert Glaudini (Jack Goes Boating)
Dana Adam Shapiro, Evan M. Wiener (Monogamy)

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Greta Gerwig, Greenberg
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan (winner)
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Ronald Bronstein, Daddy Longlegs
Aaron Eckhart, Rabbit Hole
James Franco, 127 Hours (winner)
John C. Reilly, Cyrus
Ben Stiller, Greenberg

Ashley Bell, The Last Exorcism
Dale Dickey, Winter’s Bone (winner)
Allison Janney, Life During Wartime
Daphne Rubin-Vega, Jack Goes Boating
Naomi Watts, Mother and Child

Bill Murray, Get Low
John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone (winner)
Samuel L. Jackson, Mother and Child
John Ortiz, Jack Goes Boating
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

The King’s Speech (winner)
Mademoiselle Chambon
Of Gods and Men
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Mike Ott, Littlerock (winner)
Laurel Nakadate, The Wolf Knife
Hossein Keshavarz, Dog Sweat

The Academy Awards get most of the attention each year, but the films nominated for Spirit Awards will usually tell you stories that you might find more challenging, more interesting, and more satisfying. The complete list of nominees and winners of the Spirit Awards can be found here.