Archive | December 2013

Movie Review: ‘The Last Days on Mars’

The Last Days on Mars grabs you right at the beginning and doesn’t let go. It is a text book example of how to make a sci-fi thriller.

Liev Schreiber

The hero is a senior systems engineer played by Liev Schreiber

Based on Sydney J Bounds’ 1975 short story,The Animators, the film focuses not on landing on Mars, but on the crew’s last day of a six-month mission. After six-months, a lot of things have begun to break, including the crew’s nerves. And that is what makes this movie special – its examination of the human psyche under pressure.

The hero of the story is senior systems engineer Vincent Campbell, played by Liev Schreiber (Ray DonovanLee Daniels’ The Butler). Within the first few minutes of the film we realize that Campbell, whom the crew is dependent upon to keep things running, is suffering from a potentially debilitating psychological problem. His battle to overcome his inner daemons is paralleled in the crew’s battle against the daemons they discover on Mars.

Olivia Williams

Olivia Williams’ character alienates everyone

The screenplay by Clive Dawson (The Bunker,The Bill) is a tutorial for screenwriters. As I watched the film, I had mixed feeling at first. The plot is quite similar to Europa Reportwhich premiered at this year’s LA Film Festival and I kept being reminded of Alienand The Thing. What these films share in common is the uber-genre which screenwriting guru Blake Snyder (Save the Cat)identifies as “Monster in the House”.  In these films a small group of people are trapped in a confined space with something that wants to kill them. Dawson has mastered this genre.

Director Ruairí Robinson, this was his first feature, and editor Peter Lambert (The Twilight Saga: New Moon) also deserve credit for keeping the film tight and exciting. I watched the screener for this film on my PC, and I could see the tiny progress bar move across the bottom of the monitor as the film progressed. It showed me that the film was hitting the beats needed for a successful Hollywood-style film at exactly the right places (see professor Eric Edson’s The Story Solution: 23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take).

Besides Schreiber’s performance as the hero, the rest of the cast also deserves praise. The characters are sharply drawn and each personifies aspects of the human condition.

Schreiber and Garai

Schreiber and Garai examine the stricken Koteas

Romola Garai (Vanity Fair) plays the heroes’ mentor and love interest, a love which never gets beyond holding hands, but is real none-the-less. As everything begins to deteriorate around her, she personifies strength and is the only one who tries to hold everything together.

Elias Koteas (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) plays the captain of the mission. His failing is that he has become too friendly with his crew, rather than remaining their leader, thereby enabling the weaknesses of the others to manifest themselves. Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense) plays one of the geologists tasked with finding life on Mars. She is the mirror of Koteas’ character, so focused on the mission that she alienates and loses the trust of the rest of the crew. Goran Kostic (Taken) plays the other geologist whose arrogance and deceit start the chain of events that lead to tragedy. Johnny Harris (Snow White and the Huntsman) plays the crew psychologist, personifying the powerlessness of modern psychology against real problems. Tom Cullen (Downton Abbey) and Yusra Warsama (Dracula, the TV series) also give impressive performances, being the youngest members of the crew and trying to deal with guilt and lack of confidence.

It is that interplay of tortured souls that makes this movie so good. Yes, it is a familiar sci-fi genre, some of the scenes seem somewhat derivative, but the story is really about the human spirit, its failings and its triumphs. It is both technically and emotionally an exciting journey.

The Last Days on Mars, an official selection of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival Director’s Fortnight, rated “R”, is available now on iTunes and on demand and opens in theaters December 6, 2013.


Top 10 Reasons Screenwriters Love The Story Solution

screenwriters scriptwriting books


The Story Solution23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take, by experienced screenwriter Eric Edson, is acclaimed as one of the best books on screenwriting available. Through his focus on heroes, actions and developing a story, Edson helps aspiring screenplay writers take their craft to the next level. Here are the top 10 reasons why screenwriters love The Story Solution

  1. Innovation: Eric Edson uses The Story Solution to deliver a completely new approach to writing a screenplay that keeps producers, agents and audiences glued to their seats.
  2. Education: Edson uses his many years of teaching experience to explain the basics of writing a movie script in clear, compelling language. He is Professor of Screenwriting and Director of the Master of Fine Arts Program in Screenwriting at California State University, Northridge.
  3. Experience: Edson doesn’t just teach screenplay writing; he has real-life experience, having written seventeen feature screenplays on assignment for such companies as Sony, Warner Brothers, Disney, 20th Fox, ABC Motion Pictures, Lifetime, Showtime, NBC, and TNT.
  4. Free Chapter: Subscribe to the informative newsletter and download a free sample chapter from one of the best screenwriting books on the market.
  5. Actionable Insights: Edson reveals the 23 actions used in writing screenplays to create dynamic, three-dimensional heroes who link together all parts of an engaging screenplay from first page to last.
  6. Ongoing Support: The art of scriptwriting can’t be simply picked up from one book, no matter how good it is. Edson stays engaged with upcoming screenwriters through his blog updates and Facebook postings. He is constantly providing tips and insider insights every young screenplay writer can use to achieve success.
  7. Networking Opportunities:  Join any of these message boards and talk with other screenwriters about story lines and Eric’s Hero Goal Sequences concept.
  8. Humor: The Story Solution is clear and fun to read, yet still brings to light an innovative way to insure effective plotlines for both screenplays and novels.
  9. Motivation: Edson offers motivation to get started and get going again when new screenwriters are met by the challenge of writer’s block or other impediments that can stifle them or keep them from writing. In fact, one piece of advice he often offers scriptwriting students it to “Write Badly With Pride,” as long as you are writing. The rest will fall into place, but you have to make a start.
  10. The Art of Storytelling: Screenwriting and creating heroes that an audience can engage with are true art forms. Edson knows that it may not be an easy path in life, but he helps writers understand why they feel the need to bring these characters to life, and Eric provides encouragement for the task of creation.

About The Story Solution:  The Story Solution was written by accomplished screenwriter Eric Edson. It reveals the 23 actions used to create dynamic, three dimensional heroes and link all parts of a captivating screenplay. He also covers screenwriting tipsscreenwriting resources, andscreenwriting booksVisit the website and Facebook page or call (818) 677-6608 for more information.


Avatar of Eric Edson

Eric Edson
Eric Edson has written seventeen feature screenplays on assignment for such companies as Sony, Warner Brothers, Disney, 20th Fox, ABC Motion Pictures, Lifetime, Showtime, NBC, and TNT. He has also written for episodic television. He is Professor of Screenwriting and Director of the Graduate Program in Screenwriting at California State University, Northridge, and lectures through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, the largest screenwriter training center in the world. Eric holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Screenwriting and Film Directing from The American Film Institute, and a Master of Fine Arts in Playwriting from UCLA. He also earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in English at UCLA. Eric has been a member of The Writers Guild of America since 1981. He lives in Calabasas, California. Eric can be reached at:


Young adult books from page to screen

“Hunger Games” heroine Katniss Everdeen returns to the big screen this weekend with the second installment in the young adult fantasy trilogy, “Catching Fire.”

For months, bloggers have been anticipating Sam Claflin’s portrayal of Finnick Odair and buzzing about how Katniss’ face-off with President Snow and the Victory Tour will translate to the screen.

Young adult book-to-film adaptations are a steady draw for viewers: J.K. Rowling has signed on for yet more Harry Potter films, and a new class of YA novels is set to be adapted to the screen starting in 2014: Veronica Roth’s “Divergent,” John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars,” James Dashner’s “The Maze Runner” and Gayle Forman’s “If I Stay,” to name a few.

With loyal, built-in fan bases for these best-selling books, the hype comes as no surprise. After all, the idea behind movie adaptations, besides franchise-building, is to give readers a new opportunity to walk through their favorite world.

“It’s a chance to fall in love with the characters all over again when readers can see the books come to life,” Erin Setelius of the YA Book Addicts blog said. “It’s like a little reward for loving the books.”

Film adaptations are a balancing act of fan expectations and filmmaker priorities — especially when fans have grown up with a book series or character. If a movie deviates too far from the book’s plot, changes characters or fudges dialogue, readers can quickly lose faith in it.

So what is the recipe for a well-made YA book-to-film adaptation? Authors and filmmakers agree it doesn’t include putting every single page on the screen.

The evolution of young adult fiction

Preserving the soul

“When I saw the first ‘Twilight’ film, I came out of that with butterflies in my stomach,” Forman said. “I felt exactly like I did reading the book, and that’s what you want from the film. With so many adaptations happening right now, it speaks to that emotional resonance of YA books and how that translates to the screen.”
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One of the biggest challenges of adapting a book for the screen is deciding what stays, what goes and how those pages will translate in a film while maintaining the essence and emotional ties of the story, authors say.

“I think ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ is one of the best adaptations of YA literature we’ve ever had,” said author and filmmaker Bryan Young. “Director Alfonso Cuarón was the best at taking the spirit of what the book was and boiling it down. He created a new look and feel for the Harry Potter movies that set the tone going forward in a way that no one else really did.”

Young said a skillful culling of the book’s themes also helped the first “Hunger Games” story translate easily to film. Director Gary Ross made a movie that newcomers could appreciate, while discarding parts of the book that didn’t make sense on the screen.

‘Harry Potter’ producer talks about upcoming spinoff

Forman has signed on to be executive producer of the adaptation of her popular novel “If I Stay.” She hopes to be a conduit between her readers and the film’s producers, making sure that key scenes, players and touchstones are included.

Casting is an essential part of the equation, too. Fans want to believe in the actors portraying their favorite characters, from appearance to personality.

“As a reader, you have ideas of characters in your head,” Forman said. “But for my story, everyone has been so perfectly cast. It’s like someone reached into my head and pulled out Mia in the form of Chloe Moretz. If I’m feeling this way, I think the readers will feel that way too.”

‘Hugo’ author leaves readers ‘Wonderstruck’
Martin Scorsese and his team captured all the right aesthetics for \
Martin Scorsese and his team captured all the right aesthetics for “Hugo.”

Brian Selznick didn’t have a formal role in the adaptation of his children’s book, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” but he believes “Hugo” was still a faithful, loving production by director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter John Logan. Scorsese and the entire film crew read and had copies of the book on set at all times, using Selznick’s drawings as storyboards.

“If you have a director who loves the original material and a writer who is respectful, you can find that middle ground,” Selznick said. “They can maintain the core of what makes it work as a book, yet have something only the cinema can bring to it.”

The young adult books that changed our lives

Negative influences

Before the rise of Internet culture, films were made in a relative vacuum, and potential fans didn’t know much about a movie until the trailer released. Now, movie headlines are created before the script is even finished, and fans aren’t afraid to share their opinions on the script, casting and plot.

“You have all of these voices who think they are absolutely right,” Young said. “Then the filmmaker has to do their job and take all of this into account. It’s not fair to expect them to work as an artist under those conditions.”

Marketing has also taken on a comparative aspect. Selling a dystopian tale such as “Divergent” as the next “Hunger Games” creates the wrong expectations going into the movie, Setelius said.

This could be a contributing factor to the lackluster box office numbers for other YA adaptations outside of the “Harry Potter,” “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight” franchises. But the tide could turn with hype over upcoming films like “Divergent” and long-awaited adaptations such as Lois Lowry’s “The Giver.”

“I do think that when a YA book goes to the movies, it’s sort of polarizing,” said YA writer Margaret Stohl. “You’re going to endure a storm one way or another: are you like ‘Twilight,’ or ‘Hunger Games’? But in truth, those movies also did a lot for YA books being adapted.”

Stohl is co-author with Kami Garcia of the “Beautiful Creatures” series. The first book became a film in March 2013, and Stohl’s YA novel “Icons” has also been optioned by Alcon.

The “Beautiful Creatures” movie, based on a 600-page Southern Gothic YA novel, drew mixed reviews from fans. But the movie helped to bring in 4 million new readers this year, Stohl said.

List: YA books scheduled to hit the screen

Doing it right

Stephen Chbosky adapted his beloved novel, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” to the screen in 2012. That was 13 years after the book debuted.

Fans fell in love all over again with the coming-of-age tale of shy teenager Charlie, while new viewers empathized quickly. Chbosky’s challenge was to faithfully preserve the boy’s story without reciting the book triumph for triumph, humiliation for humiliation.

A ‘Wallflower’s’ lasting impact

“I think that the process of turning ‘Perks’ into a movie was the most gratifying and challenging work I’ve ever done professionally,” he said. “I had to do a real adaptation — I couldn’t just film the book. It was a real balancing act to simultaneously be emotionally very inside the piece and at the same time always be outside of it to keep it on the train tracks.”
The famous Fort Pitt tunnel scene in \
The famous Fort Pitt tunnel scene in “Perks” worked even better on screen.

He wrote a version of the screenplay including almost every detail of the book. It gave Chbosky a chance to self-edit, cutting back on small details or scenes that didn’t focus on central characters.

Chbosky wanted to maintain the audience of his readers, both from 1999 and now, bringing teens and parents together around issues that kids of all generations face.

It’s something that YA film adaptations continue to do, and Chbosky is hopeful that Forman’s upcoming film will have a similar impact: “I do believe that these books and these movies can change lives.”