My Greatest Cinema Moments Ever

There was a terrific feature in Empire Magazine last month, especially during a pandemic when all cinemas are shut down and barely any major movies are released. They invited their readers and celebrated filmmakers, like Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Bong Joon-Ho to share their favorite cinema moments.

They are specifically looking for moments in which the whole audience experienced movie magic. Think Hannibal Lecter escaping from prison in The Silence of the Lambs. Can you imagine the audience’s response when he pulls the face off in the ambulance? I sure can, even though I never saw Silence in cinema. Or the ending in Buffalo Bill’s house where the depraved serial killer is stalking Clarice Starling with night vision goggles? These are memories from filmmaker Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Shaun of the Dead), who initiated this feature.

Wright: “I vividly recall riotous screenings of A Fish Called Wanda and There’s Something About Mary, the unforgettable sound of massed sobs in E.T. or Titanic, or just the palpable energy of the first weekend crowd of Scream or The Silence of the Lambs, which was so electric, you’d think it could power a city. I’ve been lucky enough to have made a few scenes myself where the crowd have drowned out the next scene because they are laughing or whooping (I’m thinking the ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ scene in Shaun of the Dead, JK). Such moments are truly infectious, but again, that’s an adjective that needs to be retired for the moment.”

Other notable contributions in the issue are:
– Darth Vader’s dilemma right before he kills the emperor in Return of the Jedi. By Simon Pegg.
– Luke throwing down his lightsaber, also in Return of the Jedi. By Mark Hamill.
– Neo stops the bullets, but the whole film really, in The Matrix. By Chris Evans.
– The tragic reality of Menace II Society. By Patty Jenkins.
– The ear scene in Reservoir Dogs. By Joe Russo.
– And many many more….

My favorite cinema moment by far is The Lord of the Rings. I went to fellowship on opening day and it was a magical experience. You could feel the whole room just be completely absorbed by the wondrous world Peter Jackson and his team had painted on the screen. It was breathtaking. I remember highlight after highlight, but the ultimate audience engagement happened in Moria where the fellowship faces one challenge after the other. When finally Gandalf sacrifices himself to let the others escape, the audience felt like Frodo: totally and utterly defeated. By the time they face the Uruk Hai at the end, the audience was re-energized, and left the room in pretty good spirit, but also sad because of the loss of both Boromir and Gandalf.

The Two Towers even topped this experience. The way it starts is just a master move. Gandalf being pulled into the abyss and falling and fighting the demonic Balrog. Everybody in that cinema went apeshit. After that: one great scene after the other. But the real show stealer of the evening was off course Gollum. Never before had a digital character been so fully realised. Andy Serkis’ performance is mind blowing. He should have won the Oscar for best supporting actor that year, no question. The movie ends at Helm’s Deep and this is a groundbreaking battle scene in terms of pure scale and spectacle. It is the only movie I saw in cinema three times.

Of course, at the moment there are no cinema experiences at all, but the memories remain. And like many of our favorite movie characters, they will return at some point. No question. True cinema moments are magical. There is no substitute.

How to Write a Television Series

Originally published on FilmDungeon.com on 24-12-2007

As a lifelong devotee of the moving image, I developed the idea of writing screenplays. What better way is there to get your break into movies when you’re a non-professional that wants to be a filmmaker? I had already written a movie screenplay. A low-budget horror-comedy comparable with Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste. The problem with actually filming it was that a considerable budget was required. I am from the Netherlands where even renowned filmmakers struggle to get another project done. So who was going to invest in a cult film with a microscopic target group and an inexperienced director?

It was time for a strategy change. TV-series are the next best thing. And being the creator of a TV-series is what many would call a dream job. So would I. You get to write and produce a mini-movie every week, and when successful, you can continue it for as long as a decade. So I decided to start the creation of my very own TV-series. I already knew my subject. Or concept if you will. Now I needed some ideas on how to craft my screenplay.

To get this done I bought a book: The Sopranos – Selected Scripts From Three Seasons. This is an extremely useful book for aspiring TV-writers. But knowing the show is probably a prerequisite. It describes the process of writing a series. The creator of the show, David Chase, explains how he came up with the overall theme of every season. Then, together with his writing team, he started working on the individual episodes. Every episode has three or four storylines. One major storyline called A. Then there are smaller ones called B, C and sometimes D.

Once the storylines were decided, the actual scenes were described. The five example screenplays in the book are in between 35 and 80 scenes long, and approximately 60 pages (1 hour of TV). When the scenes for every story were decided they are sequenced in a logical order. Then the episodes were divided among the writers. They had approximately two weeks to come up with the first draft. Then the show’s creator read it and gave the writer feedback on what he liked and didn’t like about it. Then the second draft was written and this process continued till the final draft was ready for production.

A great benefit of this book is that it contains five example TV-plays. If you need direction on the format of a TV-screenplay, all you have to do is check out one of these. After finishing the book I was ready to start the creation process of my very own TV-series. First a lot of research had to be done. I collected newspaper articles and started reading books on my subject. I started shaping my fictional world by describing the characters, their life stories and their personality traits.

The research and preparation took me a whole year. Of course I did it all in my spare time. I also had a day job to keep going. After this year I was ready to write an actual episode; the pilot. I wanted to do this in one go, because I thought it would make the writing process easier. So during a holiday in Crete I wrote the pilot script. It was certainly fun to do. But finishing the script was a weird sensation. I was proud that I had not given up, and had now completed it. But I was also wondering if what I wrote was actually any good…

Update 2021
No, that pilot tv-script I wrote is not very good. However, I haven’t lost my passion for this writing business. I recently decided to give it another go. That Bad Taste like script I mentioned earlier, I have decided to rewrite it. And it will be in English, so it is fit for international audiences.

Will it ever be a movie? Small chance. No one will want to produce it, that’s for sure. It’s too weird and has no commercial appeal I think. But if I ever get my hands on some money that has no immediate purpose, I might produce it myself. It has the potential to become a fantastic amateur cult movie.

And I would put it straight on YouTube when it would be done. It would be a lot of fun to make for the voluntary or underpaid cast and crew, that’s for sure. So I take another advice from David Chase, don’t stop believing!

Closing chapter: Terugblik op dramatisch 2020

Zeg me dat het niet zo is.
Zeg me dat het niet zo is.
Zeg me dat het niet waar is…

In de kerstvakantie neem ik altijd twee weken vrij om op te laden. Ik herbekijk dan altijd een van mijn favoriete filmseries, zoals The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit of de originele Star Wars trilogie. Dit jaar ben ik bezig met een herkijk van The Sopranos, mijn favoriete serie ooit. Ik heb hem bijna tien jaar niet gezien en het is zelfs nog beter dan ik me herinner. Het is zo goed geschreven en gespeeld. Waanzinnig goed. Ik ben bezig met een e-book over de show. Dat verschijnt waarschijnlijk volgend jaar; er liggen al veel teksten klaar. Ik geniet ook van het nieuwe album van Paul McCartney, ‘McCartney III’. En over Paul gesproken: In 2021 komt Peter Jackson, een van mijn lievelingsfilmmakers en hardcore Beatles-fan, met de documentaire Get Back. Ik heb vijf minuten materiaal gezien op Disney Plus en het ziet er waanzinnig uit. Intiemere beelden van The Beatles heb ik zelden gezien. En dus, als er één film is waar ik naar uitkijk volgend jaar is deze het wel. En als ik er nog eentje mag noemen is dat The Many Saints of Newark, een prequel van The Sopranos, gerealiseerd door Sopranos-bedenker en schrijver David Chase. Met in een van de hoofdrollen Michael Gandolfini, zoon van de legendarische James Gandolfini die overleed in 2013, maar onsterfelijk werd door zijn vertolking van Tony Soprano. Nu stapt zijn zoon in zijn voetsporen. 2021 wordt een heel goed filmjaar.

Qua films was 2020, net als in vele andere opzichten, juist een waardeloos jaar. Ik heb een filmpje in mijn hoofd, waarin het liedje ‘It was a very good year’ van Frank Sinatra speelt en we beelden zien van verlaten straten, mondkapjes, begrafenissen, dramatische toestanden op de IC’s en sombere toespraken van politici. Ik heb zelf niet te klagen overigens. Toen in maart de eerste lockdown werd aangekondigd vond ik het stiekem wel spannend. Een ongekende gebeurtenis. Een hele lichte versie van een zombie apocalypse, zoals in Dawn of the Dead. Het had wel wat: verplicht thuis met toch alle luxes van het moderne leven: speciaalbier, wijn, een koelkast vol met eten, een enorme collectie films en boeken en via het internet verbonden met de hele wereld. Maar ik begrijp natuurlijk dat corona heel veel mensen in de ellende heeft gestort met verliesgebeurtenissen, financiële problemen en gevoelens van eenzaamheid.

Van mijn persoonlijke vrienden is de eigenaar van het bedrijf waar ik sinds 2008 voor werk getroffen. Hij kon niet verdragen dat zijn levenswerk ten gronde ging en stapte op 1 juli uit het leven. Net voordat hij zijn aandelen zou overdragen aan een overnemende partij. Voor de rest van ons (werknemers) was de overname een redding, een veilige haven. Maar voor Alex voelde dit helemaal anders. Wat er precies in zijn hoofd heeft afgespeeld zullen we nooit weten, maar de aanhoudende paniek veroorzaakt door corona heeft vrijwel zeker een doorslaggevende rol gespeelt in zijn dramatische actie. Onze directeur Melle wist het rampjaar onlangs goed onder woorden te brengen. “Stel dat iemand in december vorig jaar gezegd had; ‘er komt in 2020 een dodelijk virus waardoor er niemand meer naar onze events en trainingen komt en dan maakt Alex er een einde aan’, dan hadden we gezegd: wat een slecht filmscenario.” De werkelijkheid is soms uiterst vreemd en onvoorspelbaar. Als een Zwarte Zwaan.


Voorwoord Quote, editie oktober, 2020

Maar los van deze misère waar ik nog dagelijks aan denk, ben ik er tot nu toe goed doorheen gekomen. Ik kijk documentaires over wat de mensen uit Syrië is overkomen en kan deze lockdown makkelijk relativeren. Ik zit in een fijne bubbel. Wat betreft 2021 ben ik voorzichtig positief. Het kan nog wel een tijdje gaan duren, maar ik hoop dat we in de zomer het sociale verkeer weer redelijk op de rit hebben. Mijn professionele leven ziet er ondanks corona goed uit: een groter bedrijf, meer mogelijkheden, nieuwe collega’s. En ik heb een fantastisch team met Charles, Willem, Jan, Yilmaz, Henk en Tomer. De mensen waar ik problemen mee had zijn allemaal weg. 2021 wordt op werkgebied ongetwijfeld een heel goed jaar. Persoonlijk gaat het ook goed. Rosa ontwikkelt zich als een heel sociaal en vrolijk meisje. En Loesje blijft worstelen met chronisch pijnsyndroom en (andere) psychologische issues, maar ervaart veel succes op werkgebied als begeleidster van jongeren en om een of andere reden vindt ze het ook met mij ook nog steeds leuk en dat is geheel wederzijds.

De reden dat ik dramatisch boven deze blog heb geschreven is dus eigenlijk puur de dood van Alex en omdat ik meeleef met alle mensen die getroffen zijn door corona. Maar zelf vind ik het leven mooi en interessant en een overwegend positieve exercitie. We zijn zelfs nog getrakteerd op een nederlaag van Trump en een implosie van Forum voor Democratie. De silver linings zijn dus niet moeilijk te vinden voor mij. Een laatste positief gebeurtenis om het jaar mee af te sluiten is het verschijnen van ‘The Grand Biocentric Design’, het derde deel in de serie over biocentrisme van Robert Lanza, het boek dat mijn leven in 2017 heeft veranderd. Hierin wordt nog meer bewijsmateriaal gepresenteerd dat aantoont dat leven en de kosmos één zijn en dat de dood niet echt kan bestaan in een dergelijk bewustzijns-systeem.

Deze blog heet fragmenten omdat alle aspecten van mijn leven erin voorbij komen: films, mijn filosofie, boeken die ik gelezen heb, mijn persoonlijke leven… Samen vormen die wat ik beschouw als ‘ik’. Maar uiteindelijk bestaat er geen ik en maakt deze illusionaire verschijning onderdeel uit van een veel grotere entiteit. En ik ben er helemaal oké mee om een oneindig klein element te zijn van iets veel groters. Ik zou zelfs niks anders willen. Een gevolg is dat je er nooit uit kan stappen. En dus is de actie van Alex niets meer geweest dan een reset. Een hoofdstuk in het boek heet ‘Quantum Suicide and the Impossibility of Being Dead’. Let wel, dit is een boek over natuurkunde en geen filosofie.

Voor de familie van de overledene blijft zo’n gebeurtenis overigens wel heel naar, want vanuit hun perspectief is die persoon permanent vertrokken. Vanuit het perspectief van de overledene kan er echter geen sprake zijn van ‘weg zijn’. Het gaat allemaal door en door en door en door. Ook corona is maar een heel klein streepje op een oneindig lang toneelstuk. Laat die volgende lock down dus maar komen. ‘Ik’ houd het nog wel even uit.

Book: Peter Jackson & the Making of Middle-Earth

The Lord of the Rings trilogy has been the biggest movie event of my generation. By far. Strange to think that it almost didn’t happen. An initial 200 million dollar budget for the director of splatter horror Bad Taste (one of my favorites), was too much of a risk for any Hollywood studio to take. Then Bob Shaye, CEO of New Line Cinema, took a giant leap of faith….

Ian Nathan’s Anything You Can Imagine describes Peter Jackson’s heroic quest that started more than 20 years ago. After he had completed Heavenly Creatures – a critical success that showed he could handle an emotional story – and ghost movie The Frighteners – that lead to the foundation of special effects houses Weta Digital and Weta Workshop in New Zealand – the now hot director selected Rings as one of his new projects to pursue (the others were new versions of two ape classics: King Kong and Planet of the Apes).

Development of The Lord of the Rings started off at Miramax, together with the notorious Weinstein brothers who approached the project with numerous Tony Soprano tactics. Especially Harvey. Problems arose when the Weinsteins couldn’t raise more than 75 million dollars for the initial plan of a two movie adaptation which wasn’t nearly enough. After Jackson understandably refused to make it into one large movie, the Hollywood mogul and Kiwi director had a fall out. Then Jackson’s US manager Ken Kamiss negotiated with Harvey Weinstein and they got four weeks to strike a deal with another studio. This became the now legendary deal with New Line Cinema, who gambled the studio’s future on the project. It was New Line’s Bob Shaye who suggested they make it into three rather than two movies. The Weinsteins got a great bargain out of it: big time profits and their names on the movies’ credits.

So began the longest and most exhaustive production in the history of motion pictures. No studio had ever attempted to shoot a whole trilogy in one go, for good reasons. “Had we known in advance how much we would have to do, we would have never done it”, said Jackson. But a strong passion and drive by the entire cast and crew to bring Tolkien’s world to the big screen in the best possible way they could, eventually lead to a glorious result. Nobody expected it to become that good.

I remember being completely blown away at every screening back in 2001, 2002 and 2003. These movies are absolutely perfect. The first time I saw the fellowship march on Howard Shore’s brilliant score. The wondrous Gollum crawling into frame in the beginning of The Two Towers. The Rohirrim’s epic assault at the Pelennor Fields… And so many other magic moments forever branded in the collective cinematic consciousness. Jackson gave me and my generation a cinematic experience that could match, or even exceed, the excitement of the original Star Wars trilogy.

In The Two Towers, when Gandalf returns from death, he explains to his baffled friends: “I have been sent back until my task is done.” These words are not directly from Tolkien, but from screenwriters Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens. They emphasized fate as one of the core themes of the story: “Bilbo was meant to find the ring. In which case you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.” However pragmatic these New-Zealanders may be, fate was their compass in making those movies. Many chance encounters paved the way, major obstacles arose during production, but they overcame them all. It took the toughness of the bravest of hobbits to drive this one home. Even the conservative Academy didn’t fail to notice what they accomplished, and The Return of the King was awarded 11 major Oscars (except those for acting, the outstanding ensemble cast made it tough to single out any one actor).

Years later, fate lead to Jackson directing The Hobbit and so he had the ‘once in a lifetime experience’ twice (but there won’t be a third time, he has said). Jackson and his loyal team never expected to make better movies than Rings. They made The Hobbit to satisfy the fans. And they did for most part. To them, Jackson is a hero. A maverick filmmaker with an unique vision and the drive and mental toughness to accomplish things previously undreamed of. Jackson and his fellowship of collaborators reminded Hollywood on how to make really major cinema. They also put New-Zealand firmly on the map as country where movies and special effects are dreamt up.

Because special effects are Jackson’s big thing. He discovered the magic of filmmaking when he was nine years old and saw the original King Kong on television. Since that moment, he worked non-stop on creating special effects in his garage and eventually he completed a whole movie (Bad Taste) which became a cult hit. However successful his career got since, he never stopped aiming to satisfy that nine year old boy. In making The Lord of the Rings, he focused on making movies that he would enjoy himself. Even though he is a brilliant, technical craftsman and storyteller, his youthful energy is what really catapults his films from merely good to terrific.

With The Lord of the Rings, he wrote movie history. Anything you can imagine perfectly captures this history of how an outsider succeeded wildly in Hollywood. Much like the heroes of his story, he did it by staying true to himself. He may not have had to face the horrific challenges Frodo had, but at times it certainly came close. Sometimes you need an unlikely hero to change the course of history. And very much like his protagonist Frodo Baggins, Peter Jackson certainly fits that bill.