Top Five Best Uses of Mise-en-scène // Dream Casting + More!
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Setting Intentions // Screenwriters Inspired by Poets // Top Five Best Uses of Mise-en-scène // Dream Casting

Dear Storytellers,

What an incredible month for shared humanity. This past weekend, more than half of the world’s population were observing some of their holiest days, all at once. In an occurrence that happens only every 30-ish years, the Christian holiday of Easter and the Jewish feast of Passover fell during the Muslim observance of Ramadan.

Author and environmental activist Starhawk wrote poignantly on Sunday: "Today the three holidays coincide—reminding us that these three peoples—who today are so often in conflict—draw spiritual sustenance from the same roots and have also lived together in harmony many, many times throughout history."

Even if you don’t observe any of these faiths–there’s something powerful about setting intentions when so many people around the world are being intentional about their practices. When so much energy is focused in similar directions; calling upon traditions of the past and looking toward the future with hope.

There’s an abundance of research out there about how setting intentions helps us reach our goals. Intentions aren’t goals themselves, as they are less about a specific outcome than in preparing yourself to get there. For example, your goal may be to write 10 pages today but an accompanying intention might be "I intend to turn off all social media to allow for less distractions" or "I intend to stay open to what my characters are telling me they need in this scene."

So what are your intentions, dear reader? I suggest you take this auspicious moment to set some. Perhaps set one for personal life and one for your project. Try it every day this week and see what happens.

Meanwhile, read on below for insights and advice from some of the storytellers of the Sundance network.

See you on the page,

Director of Content
Throwing Muses
Storytellers on their sources of inspiration

While we are feeling hopeful about all that’s on the horizon for the Collab community, our hearts are heavy with the continued suffering of those at war in Ukraine. Poetry is one way we have always found solace and solidarity in tough times, so given that it’s also National Poetry Month in the U.S., we’re including three contributions here from screenwriters inspired by poets.
"The poem ‘Villager’ by the late, great poet of the American West, Richard Hugo, is a tremendous touchstone for me. It lives in my head and gives me new rewards every time I revisit it. It is a wonderful poem about connection, about empathy, about the griefs and gifts of the human struggle—a 'there but for the grace of god go I' type of meditation." – Alex Smith (Walking Out, Winter in the Blood)

An excerpt from Richard Hugo’s "Villager":

I have much to tell him. And nothing. I'd start
with the sea. I'd say, there was another sea something
like this long ago, and another me. By the time
I got to the point he'd be looking away and be right.
No two hurts are the same, and most have compensations
too lovely to leave. At night, a photo glows alive
inside him when his mother's asleep and the cops
aren't watching. It lights up in the dark
whenever he looks hard and by dawn has burned out.
Lost at sea. Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

"My older brother sent me the poem ‘For the Young Who Want To’ by Marge Piercy when I really needed it. It could be inspiring for any writer." – Tracy Whitaker (Ghost and The House of Truth, Blindspot)

An excerpt from Marge Piercy’s "For the Young Who Want To":

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job…

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.
"I read poetry frequently. As a filmmaker, poetry offers a similar but different perspective on the marriage of word and image. There are many poets I love but Mary Oliver's resonant and contemporary voice always draws me back, especially her collection Devotions [a personal selection of her best work]."
Tessa Blake (American Horror Story, Blacklist)

Mary Oliver’s "Wild Geese":

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
When Inspiration Struck
How creators came up with their most notable ideas

Contributed by Ian Truitner, Sundance Collab Advisor (Teleios, Cutting Room)
Perhaps one of the most interesting characters I developed is one who never actually appears in the film, but is rather someone who is defined by all the other characters in the film. The character is the titular "Richard Roe" (a variation of John Doe), and the film is about everyone trying to recall a person they know exists, but no one can actually remember him.

It was based on being approached in a coffee shop by someone who knew me, and 20 minutes into the conversation I had no idea who they were or how they knew me. After they left, I never saw them again and I still don't know who it was (in my state of being flustered I didn't get their name). It struck me that we will never remember most of the people we meet in our lives, though they still exist.
Top Fives
Artists on their favorites from across the world of cinema
Contributed by Pau S. Pescador (Brick and Mortar : Stars and Stripes)
Top Five Best Uses of Mise-en-scène
1. The films of Pedro Almodóvar
I always gasp when I am watching the world of an Almodóvar film; a character turns a corner and suddenly behind them is an oversized billboard of a different character in the film such as All About My Mother (1999) or the plasticity of patterns and texture of the domestic settings of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). Each film is seeped in the artifice of sets and costumes, often feeling more like a stage set or soap opera than a movie. The world of his films feels Brechtian, so bombastic that I am almost taken out from watching only to be pulled deeper into his world.

2. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
Written and directed by Jacques Demy

Jacques Demy’s musical romantic comedy has been such an influence to my practice. A film of simple lyrical songs spoken conversationally as a young couple comes together and must separate due to war. The clothing and wall papers in much of the film are hyper tones, pinks, red and blues. The mise-en-scène is singing as loudly or even louder than the music and makes me want to get lost in its fantasy.
3. Video work by Lolo y Lauti
Lolo y Lauti are contemporary video artists working in Buenos Aires. Their work explores the appropriation of both Latin American pop culture as well as Hollywood iconography. Their video works take the form of virtual reality sex play and music videos. The videos are often monochromatic in tone and possess a level of absurdity in humor through playful costumes, props and dance. Despite the elements of play, the videos often touch upon the history of Argentine politics and how the country is perceived by the west.
4. Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)
Written and directed by Toshio Matsumoto

Not only do I love this film for its ability to discuss trans-ness so openly and with characters that possess agency in a manner that is remarkable for the time it was produced, but also for the world the film inhabits. Funeral Parade of Roses takes place in queer Japan among artists and filmmakers, set against mod attire and psychedelic imagery, drug trips and flashbacks. There is a humor and playfulness to the iconography and look and feel of film as well as a gothic violence.
5. The performance and videos of ASCO
ASCO was a Chicano performance and conceptual art group started in Los Angeles in the mid ‘70s. Their performances and videos were constructed through pop-up public interventions that would occur in front of store fronts and busy intersections throughout East Los Angeles. The costumes and props used to produce their humor and absurdity cited the iconography of Chicano history as well as mainstream Hollywood cinema. Projects including No Movies—still images almost like performance documents, where actors would perform for a film that didn’t exist—were both a spoof and a critique of Hollywood.
Writing Promptly
Sparks to deepen your relationship with your script

Contributed by Julia Camara, Sundance Collab Advisor (Open Road, Occupants)
Dream Casting: Nothing helps my screenwriting more than putting a face to the characters I create. I often pose the question to students and advisees: Who would play this character in a movie? Pick your favorite actor or the biggest name you can think of for each role. Every time you sit down to write a scene you’ll already have a full cast of people in your mind to play with. Dream casting can also be a great exercise in giving your characters a unique voice. Here are some things to try:

  • Rewrite a scene after you cast all of your characters with well-known actors. Compare this version of the scene with the one you had written originally. Make a note of the moments that had to change drastically because of the new casting. Pick your favorite version of the scene and set aside.

  • Rewrite the scene again, this time using a whole new cast of actors for each character. Try to pick the worst possible actors for each role. (Example: Cast Joe Pesci playing a character meant for Benedict Cumberbatch. Or Cast Judi Dench for a character written for Tiffany Haddish.) The more extreme, the better.

  • Now, examine the two scenes very carefully. Somewhere in all those versions, you will discover the correct one for your story and the true voice of your characters. Sometimes, when we experiment, we find gold and sometimes we find trash. Either way, you’ll be one step closer to figuring out who your characters are and they won’t sound generic or have the same voice as someone else.

For more prompts in a live setting, join our free Writers’ Cafe each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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