Discover more from Pizza & a Movie
5 Clever Creative Plays That Made 5 Movies Great
It's not what you make, it's how you get it made.
I come to you this Friday not with a movie. Instead, five ideas from five movies we covered this year. (And, as you may have noticed, a fresh coat of paint around here.)
I love movies. And the stories behind them! But I also love glimpses into how the people who made them pulled it off. Each film is a one-of-one fingerprint left by the folks who created it. And each one contains a thousand stories. Here’s one from each you may want to try on your own work.
Push beyond to something totally new.
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller set out to make a Spider-Man movie like no other, even though 6 had come out in the last fifteen years. They leaned on the visual effects team at Sony Pictures Animation to make something novel. When animators felt like they’d gone too far, Lord and Miller said what you wouldn’t expect. Normally, when things stop working, you pull back a little. But these guys? They said to go even further. If things are breaking, push beyond the breakage to find a truly special, never-before-seen discovery. And it worked! So don’t pull back. Break on through to the other side.
Sometimes Plan B works better than Plan A.
28-year-old Steven Spielberg had super-expensive animatronic sharks made for his film adaptation of the best-selling novel Jaws. They’d “swim” in the water while the cameras rolled. But instead of swimming, they broke. All the time. How do you make a shark picture if you can’t show sharks? Just show the fin. After all, a villain is scarier when you can’t really see them. Spielberg would say he accidentally achieved a Hitchcock-like suspense by letting the audience’s imagination run wild. The fin in the water and the iconic dun-dun, dun-dun score live on because Spielberg made lemonade out of broken lemons. If at first you don’t succeed, try sometime simpler.
Use what moves you.
Young James Cameron was stuck in low-budget B-movies. In 1982, sick with a fever and a career that refused to launch, Cameron had a nightmare. The kind you really only get on a fever. He saw a wall of fire. And out of it crawled the upper half of hell’s lower depths—a machine with a skull-like visage, crawling toward him, dragging only a torso behind. A machine that wouldn’t stop. It scared him to death and started his career—that idea became The Terminator. Cameron, a former VFX worker, put his nightmare on film, making sure audiences felt exactly what he had. If your imagination moves your heart, it’ll probably move everyone else’s too. Use it.
When you’re tight on time, keep it simple.
John Hughes, he of Sixteen Candles and Home Alone, wrote the script for Ferris Bueller in a single week. The Writers Guild was about to strike. His movie happening at all hinged on his making hay in those seven days. Of course, his script wasn’t Shakespeare. It wasn’t even much of a plan. So Hughes got clever. He had the costume department keep his characters in exactly the same clothes for every scene. Why? So he could cut the footage together in any order, drastically moving scenes around in continuity as necessary to refine the movie’s story in the editing room later. His approach prevented expensive reshoots and helped him pivot from an initially dark tone to the jubilant-nihilism-slash-carpe-diem that made Ferris Bueller a Gen X masterpiece. When the going gets tough, the tough get flexible.
To open big doors, first blow a small one off its hinges.
Writers Lilly and Lana Wachowski worked on other people’s scripts for years. But they had one of their own—The Matrix. And no one wanted to give the enormous sum of money it required to folks who’d never made a movie before. So they wrote another script, Bound. In the ‘90s, heyday of machismo and twisty-turny plots like Reservoir Dogs, the Washowskis cooked up a story about two women who steal $2M from mobsters and might just get away with it. They made magic on a tiny $6M budget. For my money, Bound is one of the best heist movies ever made. More importantly, it got them a deal with Warner Bros to make The Matrix. If you think you can do something big and original, prove it on a small scale first. If you’re right, they’ll notice.
For more stories, check out each full deep-dive linked above. Hope you enjoyed this one! If you did, pass it one to someone else who would too.