FEELING IS RHYthm
Screenplays are musical scores. The scene to scene rhythmic composition of the story expresses the deep feeling embedded in the theme. Polishing the dialogue will not affect the structure of the movie. You must go to the rhythmic, feeling source. This sequence builds from a simple rhythm with strong feeling to fast changing rhythms with strong changing feelings.
Melody is Journey
Multiple melodies, like character journeys, interweave to make up a drama. D'Indy introduces you to a simple chromatic rise and fall. Tchaikovsky writes melody with the sweep and passion of Shakespeare.
Like music, your screenplay is built on rhythm, pulse, tension, build, dynamics, melody, harmony, unison and polyphony which come together to express a complex, unified whole. Bach is the master of unity. I love to listen to him for pulse, intention and sheer crystalline beauty. He is the best ensemble writer imaginable. Listen to him if you're writing multi character plots with interweaving storylines and no protagonist. Bach illuminates how to craft a a film that has many voices but keeps a consistent tone.
A Life in Music
Not every film has got, or needs a steady rhythm. Check out Thelonius Monk.
Tension is a property that can be applied to any feeling. It is not exclusive to anger, aggression, conflict or sex. Vulnerability has tension in it, as does serenity and friendship. Often when a screenplay flags we habitually seek to add tension by adding sex, fights or chases. Why not try longing or listening or change?
Once you really get tension, you can use it to build. The Bolero is a classic example. When directors have a long, seated scene or sequence I ask them to conduct the Bolero. Start squatting and take the whole piece to slowly stand, finally expanding through your whole body and still further through your heart, your thoughts. We did this to prepare for the 20 page dinner sequence in "Little Miss Sunshine". It gives a practical sense of how strong and clear you need to be to hold that much screen time through a single location and action. It's also great for your thighs.
I like this version cause it's even slower than most.
Tension and build are used to create line. It may be lines of blocking within the frame through long sequences, long story lines demanded by feature films, or the throughline of thought and action held by your lead actor. Shirley Horn is a master of line. She never stops thinking through the silences. Never stops moving forward even in utter stillness.
Tone requires rhythm, syncopation, tension, build, line, unity and feeling to create a world. Satie is a master. So is Wong Kar Wai. His cinematic worlds are complete.
Kurt Cobain's performance here is shattering. He takes a simple structure, a simple story, simple dialogue. He creates a world, keeps the tone, builds the tension of the journey - and slaughters you.
I love the album "A State of Wonder" (Bach's Goldberg Variations) because Glenn Gould illuminates the expressive impact of interpretation informed by a lifetime of deep intimacy with the work.
Bach's A State of Wonder
CONDUCTING IS PAINTING
It's great to conduct a painting because it demands you move your eye, ear and feeling within a frame. Take your hands, or pieces of paper and cover a painting completely. As the music moves, change your frame by closing and opening the paper to reveal shape, color, and parts of images. Let your movements build and change as the essence of the image unveils through a surprising sequence of what is seen... and unseen.
DIRECTING IS CONDUCTING
During the work on "Little Miss Sunshine" I listened to Symphony 7 constantly. The way it continually whips itself into a frenzy is PERFECT for certain kinds of comedy, especially farce.
Directors, Writers—try conducing the whole of "Sing, Sing, Sing" with your whole body—so you feel the highs, lows and changes of rhythm. Keep the forward movement in your mind, so it's really more conducting that dancing. Though I recommend dancing all the time, to anything you can.
Also if you're directing an ensemble take note of how Goodman's band works. They are TIGHT and they SWING hard.
A feature is a long expanse of time. First features can tend to flatline, leaning on polishing perfect moments or sequences of shots rather than taking the roller coaster ride of the whole IDEA. Conducting is a great preparation for directing. Try conducting a whole symphony in your living room and you will begin to train for the mental stamina necessary to hold a feature in your head while you execute it with a 100 member crew.
Pay particular attention to how musical pieces begin, peak and end. We tend to repeat the same rhythms in our screenplays and direction. But life offers us many more options. It's also fascinating to listen the quality of rhythm of how each day begins and ends. You'll be surprised--- and I hope you use that surprise in your direction. All great art has strong rhythm that evokes emotion – whether it's music, dance, poetry, sculpture, painting, fashion, photography, literature, drama, acting. What I love so deeply about cinema is that it requires every art form. All modalities of humankind's artistic expression work together in concert - revealing the magical space between the real and the unreal, the imagination and the truth. Great cinema connects us to the mysterious practical dream which is life.
THE POINT OF NO RETURN
The Point of No Return marks the moment in which the story is never going back. You are on the road from now on. Music lets you in on this thrilling moment, clearly, subversively or wondrously...
If you land your ending fully and with feeling... your film will be remembered fondly. All of these endings are incredible, bold.