Posts Tagged ‘steven fischer’

A Writer’s Journal – Creativity and Screenplays

February 15, 2018

Recently, someone asked me for a personal example of what a writer goes through to write a script for TV or for the cinema. In answering the question I re-discovered these excerpts from a production diary I kept while writing and directing Urban Paradise (originally called The National Arboretum) for Maryland Public Television/PBS. The 8-minute movie was a segment for the Emmy-winning series Outdoors’ Maryland, a narration-driven look at Maryland’s outdoor life. It premiered June 21, 2011.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading about how one writer tackles the challenges of creating a new story.

~Steven Fischer

 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The script for The National Arboretum, like most scripts, is the result of many months of questioning and exploring and deliberating.

When I was first introduced to the Arboretum in October 2010 and given a tour by Gardens Unit Leader Scott Aker, the immediate impression was how motherly the public garden was. But it was more than just the garden’s obvious relationship to Mother Nature. I could not define it completely, nor could I shake the interpretation, so I continued to explore it as the project developed. As I collected facts, stories, and relevant information for the script, everyone I interviewed about the arboretum agreed that there was a connection between the arboretum and something matronly. With that encouragement I established “motherhood” as the central theme, basing all my creative decisions about scenes, stories, photography, lighting, narration, and perspective around motherhood and all things motherhood represented to me: strength, dignity, protection, nurture, beauty, unconditional love, etc.

This was a tremendous help in writing the script, but the process, as always, was a labor of trial and error, questioning and experimenting with answers. I was still at the beginning of a long journey.

In my early research of arboretums I discovered the writing of Laura Barton. Laura is an English writer on staff at The Guardian. Her work, especially on the Westonbirt Arboretum in Tetbury, England, was instantly inspiring. She is a natural writer and clearly in love with words. Her poetic description of Westonbirt, cut to the thoughtful cinematography of Felix Clay, influenced the poetic direction I intuitively wanted to go.

For further influence  I returned to two sources that never fail: Charlotte Brontë and Shelby Foote. Passages from Jane Eyre always leave me breathless while Foote’s mastery of the historical narrative is a model – and the early versions of the Arboretum script were filled with many stories from its very interesting history.

As time went on and I began collecting on-camera interviews and editing the beauty shots of the gardens, it became apparent that the original structure I had wanted to follow (interweaving history and stories with the research unit, the social value of the arboretum, and beauty shots) was producing a work much longer than the 8-minute run time we were assigned.

I also needed to keep in mind what would best serve the Outdoors’ Maryland series. The answer was: a focused piece on facts, the research unit, and the social value of the Arboretum. So I honed the script to meet that framework keeping in mind that every word of narration must reflect the central theme of motherhood. It was a matter of working and re-working the script.

Then there was a little matter of the ending. I could not find one of any real significance. The frustration was agonizing.

2.

At this point the structure was established and I had the sequence on the research unit next-to-last in the segment. To jump from the research unit to an ending that wrapped up everything was jarring and felt uncomfortable. It also didn’t make any sense.

We were now in January, 2011. The deadline was approaching fast, and a suitable ending was still elusive.

On a walk one January day, I pondered the problem of how to end the script when I asked suddenly an unexpected question: “What is the ideal ending?” That simple question sparked an inner response that stimulated the imagination!

The ideal ending, I reminded myself, thinking back to earlier ideas, was either a poetic line that made the audience feel good or a line that wrapped up the whole motherhood theme. The rest of that day was spent experimenting with those ideas. That session helped define the arboretum in human terms: the personality of the place, its usefulness to society, its qualities, etc. This led to a memory of lines spoken to me by Dr. Griesbach, a former Arboretum staff member I interview weeks before. I asked: “If the Arboretum was a person, how would you describe her?” Griesbach gave one of the best answers: She has many personalities: flaunty and gregarious like the Bonsai, refined and shy as the Asian garden…

The line had potential for the ending. I recorded a scratch track of it and, not fitting as well at the end as I imagined, found a useful place for it in the middle (which later had to be removed for time’s sake). But adding that line forced me to move a couple of other sequences around and that rearrangement, after living with it four more weeks, led to a discovery that has become the ending.

While in conversation with Dr. Margaret Pooler, head of the research unit, I mentioned that the Arboretum seemed to me a grandmother people go to for a hug. Pooler was struck by the line and commented on its sweetness. I agreed. It was a moment of epiphany. That was the line! That could be the final line of narration. I wasn’t sure how exactly, but I knew it was an important piece of the puzzle.

3.

The original line ending the script ran something like, The National Arboretum provides sanctuary for human and plant life alike. She might very well be the nation’s grandmother, offering those inner comforts that make visitors feel loved.

When I recorded the scratch track and played it back it sounded like, “love” instead of “loved”, so I amended the script, preferring the misinterpretation. Removing this one letter may not seem like a big deal, but it re-positioned my mindset for the next discovery that was about to come.

As the next couple of days went by I began thinking more in terms of the beauty of nature and the beauty of truth. This led me to the work of the poet Keats and then to my well-read edition of Philosophies of Art & Beauty edited by Albert Hofstadter and Richard Kuhns. The volume collects writings from all the major thinkers, from Plato to Heidegger, each answering the questions what is art? and what is beauty? As I read Ficino’s contribution I came across the second chapter of his treatise on Plato’s Symposium. The chapter title read: How Divine Beauty Inspires Love. That did it.

“Inspires love.” What a turn of words! That was the ending; the ending wasn’t “inner comforts that make visitors feel love”, but inner comforts that inspire love.

All of this came about in the past couple of days, exactly one month to the day I took that walk in January and posed that simple question to myself.

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Steven Fischer’s Sketchbook

December 15, 2017

Some illustrations from the sketchbook of Steven Fischer

Chalkboard drawing for Rocky Run Tap & Grill restaurant chain. copyright Steven Fischer. stevenfischer.net

Studies of male. Copyright Steven Fischer. stevenfischer.net

Copyright Steven Fischer. stevenfischer.net

Studies of cafe patrons. Copyright Steven Fischer. stevenfischer.net

Invented man. Copyright Steven Fischer. stevenfischer.net

Copyright Steven Fischer. stevenfischer.net

Invented woman. Copyright Steven Fischer. stevenfischer.net

Feet study. Copyright Steven Fischer. stevenfischer.net

Invented lady. Copyright Steven Fischer. stevenfischer.net

Study of child. Copyright Steven Fischer. stevenfischer.net

Cartoon Storytelling for Adults of All Ages at Northwestern University

November 30, 2017

Learn the basics of cartooning, storytelling, and creativity. Participants use cartooning to create original characters and personal stories. This course is ideal for anyone interested in the art of cartooning, learning effective visual communication skills, and those interested in taking their creativity to the next level. Our objective is to create and complete and original story with original characters. Make sure your pencils are sharpened; you’ll be drawing a lot!

Six weeks starting January 23, 2018!   Click here for details and sign up!

Call Me Giant

November 17, 2017

Join us January 25, 2018 at Northwestern University’s Norris Center for an intense acting and character creation experience! Click here for details and sign up.

 

Director Steven Fischer leads actors through exercises for Call Me Giant, part of an actor’s intensive character creation experience at McCormick Auditorium, Evanston, Illinois. Photo by Jeff Sweeton.

 

Director Steven Fischer leads acting exercises at McCormick Auditorium in Evanston, Illinois, as part of an actor’s intensive character creation experience. Photo by Jeff Sweeton.

 

Film director, cartoonist Steven Fischer guides actors at McCormick Auditorium in Evanston, Illinois part of an actor’s intensive character creation experience. Photo by Susan Zielinski.

Closing Night, Chicago International Children’s Film Festival

November 6, 2017

Jenny Zumarraga, Analia Chavez, Jury Chair Steven Fischer, Amy Stern at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, closing night ceremony, November 5, 2017.

I am Max shoots in California

October 28, 2017

Shooting I am Max in Simi Valley, California. Many thanks to Regen Wilson Joe Wade Simi Valley Historical Society and Erik Goodrich! http://www.documentary.org/film/i-am-max

Director Edward Porembny.

 

Shooting I am Max in Simi Valley, California.

 

Regen Wilson as George Spoor.

Cartoon Illustrations for DiamondMind Enterprises

October 28, 2017

L-R: Tom Rosenak at DiamondMind Enterprises works with cartoonist Steven Fischer on drawings for “Acres of Diamonds”.

 

L-R: Tom Rosenak at DiamondMind Enterprises works with cartoonist Steven Fischer on drawings for “Acres of Diamonds”. October 2017.

Media Process / Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics video shoot

October 28, 2017

L-R: Tyler Wilson (set PA), Hayden Jackson (sound), Steven Fischer (director), Mike Swanson (director of photography) on a shoot for Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and Media Process Group, Chicago.

 

L-R: Steven Fischer (director); Mike Swanson (director of photography, behind camera); Hayden Jackson (sound); Siva Panchamoorthy (talent), video shoot for Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and Media Process Group, Chicago.

Opening Night, Chicago International Children’s Film Fest, October 27!

October 28, 2017

Writer/producer Steven Fischer, Jury Chair, animated shorts category attends the opening of the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, 27 October 2017.

Documentary Short Film Review “Old School, New School”

September 5, 2017

Review by Kirk S. Fernwood

4 Sept 2017

Film director Steven Fischer (left) with the legendary cinematographer William Fraker on location in Hollywood for Old School New School, 2008. (photo Scott Uhlfelder)

WATCH THE FILM HERE

First, the Recap:

It’s the digital age, and anyone and everyone is able to share their talents (or “talents”) with the world at large, opening themselves up to scrutiny, even putting out material of professional quality appearance–even though they aren’t really professional, perhaps, in connecting with an audience via true artistic integrity. So, therefore, what exactly is it that makes for, well, “making it” in the realms of stage and screen? For 2-time Emmy nominated independent filmmaker Steven Fischer, this was the burning question he himself had been struggling with for some time, with no immediate answers to be found.

However, he then embarked on a journey across the United States on a quest to find those elusive truths found within three distinct aspects of what it means to be grounded in the arts: finding your voice, security vs. risk, and the definition of success. As he engaged some of the wide-ranging entertainment industry’s most consummate, revered, and skilled artists in their respected fields of expertise, the notions shared, the personal level of insights presented, and the sometimes deceptively simple wisdom gained very much embodies the very heart of what it means to find exactly what was being sought.

Next, my Mind:

In what this reviewer would deem a perfect amalgamation of what it means to be a part of the independent film community while also delivering a pure, insightful, and fascinating look into the greater entertainment industry machine via some its veteran luminaries, writer/director/co-producer/editor Fischer’s 33-minute documentary short hits a home run on multiple levels. Thanks to the very up close, personalized nature of the interviews here, it makes the viewer one hundred percent experience the world through these artisans’ words as they share their own revelations about what it is to find success while also making it clear that everyone truly needs to find their own path.

Emphasizing concepts like not deviating from being who you are, knowing what risks to take vs. taking none at all or playing it too safe, having a willingness to push yourself, taking constructive criticism, being a person of honesty with yourself and others, realizing there doesn’t have to be suffering for your art to be successful, and asking yourself if you’ve found happiness, fulfillment, or reached your full potential, it very much should resonate deeply with anyone striving to walk that path to what they desire to do, even outside of the industries presented here. It’s an actuality, a personal endeavor, to aim for the goals you have and do it with passion and hard work, all while knowing with confidence what your talent is, developing it by being hand’s on, and accepting no shortcuts. It’s affecting and so real.

The “cast” Fischer provides us for this journey is nothing short of extraordinary. Included are renowned cinematographers like 6-time Oscar nominee William Fraker and John Bailey, 4-time Grammy winner and John Coltrane Quartet jazz legend McCoy Tyner, 134-time Tony nominated/41-time winning stage producer Emanuel Azenberg, 50-year theater teacher and performer Sam McCready, whose former students included names like Branagh, Neeson, and Boyle, poet James Ragan whose work has been translated into 12 European and Asian languages while also having read for 5 heads of state, Carnegie Hall, and the U.N., Kirstie Simson, a worldwide name in new dance instruction, as well as actors Ben Jones, Brian Cox, and Tomas Arana, all of whom stand out for their prolific deeds either on or off screen.

In total, with its completely relatable, down-to-earth vibe, fluid pacing, totally engaging interviews, and wealth of knowledge offered to any and all who have dreams of pursuing careers in the entertainment industry or other paths, “Old School, New School” is a must-see documentary effort that especially resonated with this reviewer and the goals I have been aiming for. It’s motivation, challenge, and steadfast encouragement found here, something we could all use more of in this hectic situation we call life.

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!

L-R: Fred Weil, Steven Fischer, Brian Cox, Chris Cassidy shooting Old School New School, New York City, June 2010.