About this project
"Lanouette's ideas are clever and well thought out . . . . A fresh way of looking at script analysis."
-- Larry Karaszewski, Screenwriter, Ed Wood, Man on the Moon, The People vs. Larry Flynt
"Screentakes is an immensely enjoyable way to go deep into movies we know and love . . . expanding our appreciation for these masterpieces."
-- Anita Monga, Artistic Director, San Francisco Silent Film Festival
"Jennine's e-books are an extremely compelling educational resource that goes above and beyond a textbook or even a lecture. Truly inspiring!"
-- Joanne Parsont, Director of Education, San Francisco Film Society
"A thought-provoking resource presented with clarity and depth for novices and pros alike. . . . Every filmmaker should have it!"
-- Don Bohlinger, Screenwriting Professor, USC School of Cinematic Arts
Chapter One: Finishing the Prototype
[Psst! Watch the video above first!] Although future ebooks will be on films like Pulp Fiction, Traffic, The Crying Game, and Fargo, I chose The African Queen for the prototype because it’s such a beloved classic. I thought this Bogart/Hepburn vehicle would help people enter into the ebook experience. Plus, it’s very good for introducing conventional structure while also showing how a story can go beyond that.
Here’s a look inside:
It took a lot of trial and error to arrive at this particular layout and user experience. But I wanted to make sure the various media – videos, photos, charts – were essential to the narrative. In other words, to get what I’m saying in the text, you have to engage with the videos and interactive graphics. They are not simply a cool gimmick added on.
I also wanted the reader to have the ability to engage at their own pace. This is where the ebook gives an advantage over the classroom lecture. Remember that feeling of being in a class and wanting to rewind the teacher to hear that last thing they said again? Here, you can swipe back to a previous page to reread a section or chart, or re-view a video or photo.
But there are some technical limitations in the prototype that need to be worked out. You can’t scan backwards in a video to replay just a section. And you can’t tap backwards in the charts to review an earlier slide. You can only keep looping forward.
The success of this campaign will change that with the programming work to finish the prototype. Plus, I’ll be adding more content: analysis of individual scenes and a closer look at Rose Sayer’s character.
Great News! We now have a sample of the prototype that can be streamed via the web onto any tablet or computer with internet access. View it here. You can also download the full prototype for iPad and Mac with Mavericks OS for free right here.
Chapter Two: The Second eBook
For my second ebook, analyzing Thelma & Louise, the text is already written. I only have to convert it into multimedia ebook form, which means making the videos and interactive graphics, selecting the photos and deciding on the design and layout.
I selected this film for ebook #2 because, like The African Queen, it is also good for delineating conventional structure while showing how a story can have deeper layers of meaning. Here’s a preview of my analysis:
Chapter Three: Going Cross Platform
For a long time, I thought about writing a traditional book from my script analysis lectures so I could share my insights not only with more aspiring screenwriters than could show up in the classroom, but also with producers, development execs and others who read and evaluate screenplays for a living, as well as creative professionals to hear their take on my analysis. But I didn’t know how to do justice to my lecture content in a book without being able to show the video.
Then, just over a year ago, I discovered I could combine text and videos and interactive graphics using the Mac-based ebook authoring platform called iBooks Author. Very soon I was able to produce a prototype with a surprisingly effective user experience.
However, when I started exploring how to get my ebook out in the world, I was soon confronted with the fact that what I was able to create on iBooks Author would be difficult to replicate for non-Mac devices. The gritty realists told me this would considerably limit my market reach while the silver lining-inclined said, “Don’t worry. Most people in the film industry are Mac-based anyhow.”
But another heartfelt goal has been to provide a resource for screenwriting teachers. I know well from my own experience the challenges teachers face when trying to communicate screenwriting principles in the workshop setting. I used to joke that I might do a greater service to my students if I stop talking at them around a conference table, trying to drum these abstract ideas into their heads, and, instead, focus exclusively on showing, in the lecture hall, the beauty of how these principles can work when applied by the masters in the great films. So I see these ebooks as a valuable supplemental text to a writing workshop curriculum, as if the teacher can assign their students to take the lecture hall class in a digital book form.
The only problem is this would never work if my ebooks were only available on Mac-based platforms, and, at that point, it looked like it would be a while before the same media-rich user experience could be easily reproduced on non-Mac computers and tablets.
Then, thanks to Bob Stein of the Institute for the Future of the Book, I got in contact with Dan Visel, a book designer and programmer who, for some time, has been envisioning ways to do just this. He looked over my prototype and determined that the technology does exist at this point to enable him to make web-streaming and Android tablet app versions of the user experience I have created on iBooks Author. This was a big turning point in the development of this project.
Update, June 26, 2014: You can now view a just-completed sample of the prototype streamed via the web onto any tablet or computer with internet access here.
Chapter Four: Where the Money Will Go
I have spent much of the past year seeking to understand the current state of multimedia ebook technology. I would sum up my findings thus: It’s a Wild West out there. Numerous different authoring platforms, using different epub formats, offering different degrees of media functionality, playable on different tablet and e-reader devices, also offering different degrees of media functionality, all of which are distributed through different on line storefronts. There is no conformity of industry standards and no governance of technical specs. As far as I can tell, it’s a free for all.
This is what makes reproducing the user experience I have created in iBooks Author for playability on other devices so challenging. In discussions with Dan, we have settled on making three versions: an iBooks Author version with custom widgets to create our ideal user experience playable through the iBooks app; an Android app version that will have the benefit of downloadability but may have only 85-90% conformity of user experience across the various Android devices; and a web-streamed version that will be playable on any computer with an internet connection and should have 98% conformity of user experience. Since my goal will be to have as much conformity as possible across the three versions, it will likely take a considerable number of programming hours to get it right. That’s what a large portion of the funds we raise in this campaign will go to.
The other lion’s share will go to production of the second ebook on Thelma & Louise – video editing, text editing, graphic design, user experience design, animation, and all the other creative fun stuff – as well as making new videos and chapters for The African Queen and applying the new custom widgets.
There are also legal and insurance costs. While the prototype has been thoroughly reviewed by a copyright lawyer (all future ebooks will be reviewed as well) and deemed to fall under the provisions of Fair Use, we have secured E&O insurance in case we are challenged. Finally, we’ll be setting up a project management infrastructure in preparation for rolling out many more ebooks after these two are done.
Update, June 26, 2014: You can now view a just-completed sample of the prototype streamed via the web onto any tablet or computer with internet access here.
Chapter Five: The Rewards
Your pledge (in the sidebar to the right) will not only help us get these ebooks made, but, at the $40 level, it will also get you the first two ebooks. I expect to have both the improved African Queen and the new Thelma & Louise ebooks ready for release in four to six months.
Plus, we know for sure we will be making more ebooks after that. So pledges of $60, $80, or $100 will get you a subscription to our third, fourth and fifth produced ebooks. (Right now, I’m thinking they’ll be The Crying Game, Traffic and Chinatown.)
For $125, you also get the opportunity to participate in an on line feedback forum. And a pledge of $250 will entitle you to the entire first series of thirteen ebooks, as they are produced. (My goal is to average one ebook every two months.)
Going up from there, I’m offering my story consulting services at a considerable discount in a limited number of one, three, five or ten session packages. If you are working on a screenplay, you should consider grabbing one of these. Since I will be focusing on making ebooks for the next couple of years, it may be a while before I will be offering story consulting services on a regular basis again.
For more fun with story structure analysis, I have thrown in the opportunity to have me write a blog post analyzing a film of your choice (go to www.screentakes.com/current-films for examples of how I do this) or do a video analysis of a scene of your choice (go to www.screentakes.com/the-craft for those examples).
And if you have a body of content of your own that you want to convert to digital form, for a $200 pledge, I will happily give you a consultation about ebook production to help you get started. I’ve become an evangelist about this new form of digital media!
So, what, you ask, is a Character/Action/Theme Wheel Chart (in the $10 and $50 reward levels)? It is a sacred mandala that will magically improve your screenwriting if you contemplate it deeply. But it’s not actually magic if you have respect for the role of the unconscious in the creative process. Click here for a more thorough explanation of this chart.
Chapter Six: The Team
Kyle Parker is a freelance Producer and Editor for clients such as Sephora, MACE Securites, Gordon Biersch and UC Berkeley. His feature documentary May I Be Frank (2010) played at film festivals nationwide and his short documentary Library of Dust won Best Documentary awards at Seattle International, Traverse City and Miami Short Film Festivals. He has also worked on the San Francisco TV shows Brew Your Own Beer (BYOB), Carpool Showdown and Viewpon. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Film Studies program and an Instructor of Video Editing for the Academy of Art University.
Jen Wang, Book Cover Designer
Having started as an in-house designer for the Penguin Group, Jen Wang’s work has appeared on covers for Random House, W.W. Norton and Macmillan. Her illustrations were featured in the Penguin Classics app “Poems By Heart”, named by Apple as one of the Best Apps of 2013. Jen’s grounding in print design has led to her current and ongoing explorations of how digital technology may enhance traditionally non-digital experiences.
With a background in film and television production as well as software development, Frank Colin founded the first company that marketed and distributed a variety of software productivity tools specifically designed for film and television production. He was midwife to Final Draft, world's #1-selling scriptwriting software, as well as being it's former VP of Business Development and Marketing. He also was SVP of Product Management & Media Relations at Aportis, the first company to produce ebooks for Palm Pilot.
Philip Chidel is an independent filmmaker and transmedia producer. His feature film Subject Two premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, his recent short 'Til Death garnered three Best Short Film awards at festivals in Atlanta, New Orleans and Las Vegas, and his screenplay Open Book received the Grand Prize at the Table Read my Screenplay Competition in the Austin Film Festival. In addition to fostering new creative projects, Philip works as an instructor for the Academy of Art University.
Michelle Byrd, Former Executive Director, Independent Filmmaker Project
Loren-Paul Caplin, Screenwriting Instructor, New York University
Ira Deutchman, Film Division Chair, Columbia University
Nancy Gerstman, Co-President, Zeitgeist Films
Paul Gulino, Screenwriting Instructor, Chapman University
J. Mira Kopell, Screenwriting Lecturer, University of California, Berkeley
Brian O’Leary, Principal, Magellan Media Partners
David Leitner, Cinematographer
Greg Maloney, Chief Operations Officer, 32Ten Studios
Bill Pace, Screenwriting Instructor, The New School
Gail Silva, Former Executive Director, Film Arts Foundation
Sharan Sklar, Business Development Director, ITVS
Bob Stein, Director, Institute for the Future of the Book
Fred Strype, Director, Screenwriting Program, Sarah Lawrence College
Risks and challenges
As stated above, the challenge of this project is in the programming work needed to make the web streaming and Android tablet versions. We know we have the general capability to achieve this, but I am determined not to compromise the look and feel of the user experience I have been able to create on the iBooks Author prototype when converting it for usability on other devices. So there is a risk that this could end up taking more time than we anticipate. There is also the possibility that for a few devices the user experience won’t turn out to be exactly what we’d hoped. We will be working very hard to guarantee 85-90% conformity of user experience across platforms.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
The use of photos and videos in these ebooks constitutes Fair Use under US Copyright Law. Also, the Copyright Ruling in 2012, providing exemptions from the DMCA, held that circumvention of DVD encryption is allowed when using short portions of a motion picture for the purposes of criticism or comment in nonfiction multimedia ebooks offering film analysis. This prototype ebook has been thoroughly reviewed by a copyright lawyer and all future ebooks will also be thoroughly reviewed before going to publication.
The older “e-ink” devices (what most people mean when they say Kindle) were not built to display media rich content. As for the newer ones – the Nook HD, the Kindle Fire or the high-end Kobo readers – we will be working to achieve playability on them, but we won’t have a definitive answer until we’ve completed the cross platform programming. The minimum standards necessary will be a device with a modern web browser (i.e., iOS or Android 4+) and a screen resolution of 1080 x 800 pixels.
These ebooks do not provide step-by-step advice on how to write a screenplay. What they do instead is show how screenwriting principles are successfully applied in the great films. Through immersing yourself in masterful works, the principles they demonstrate will seep into your creative unconscious and inform your own work. As you engage in shaping and refining your work into an aesthetic whole, you will also have a newly gained conscious understanding of screenwriting principles to aid you.
Obviously, what makes a “great film” can be debated at length. I have three criteria when choosing a film to study. First, that the film has had staying power over time, which is to say, so many years later, people are still watching it and talking about it. Second, the film had a significant cultural impact when it was first released, which is not to be mistaken for box office success. And my third criteria is not so much an objective measure of greatness as simply a precondition for study, which is that I like the film. However, I will also, from time to time, study a film that made me go “Eh!” but that everyone else got excited about to find out what I might have missed. Often, I will then gain a new respect for the film, even counting it among my favorites.
I can’t guarantee that reading my ebooks will help you sell your screenplay to Hollywood. No one can. However, if releasing my studies of masterful films in digital ebook form could result in more Hollywood films being influenced by principles of screenwriting art, I would be ecstatic.
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