Half-Arsed: The Breakfast Club (1985)

I have a nice history with The Breakfast Club, as a teenage boy who hung around other teens (boys and girls), this movie was almost inevitable viewing for us after a night of underage drinking. Memories of trying to find a comfy space to sleep on my mates floor, as an eclectic group of teens turned their attention towards a film, older than all of us, that taught us how to be a group of eclectic teens. As a film I’ve only viewed twice in my twenties, yet easily thirty times during my formative years, I may have underestimated the impact this film has had on my life and my creative style.

If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you go and watch it, it’s recently been added to Netflix, and I’ll be talking about specific scenes, so it will help to watch it.

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Example of ‘singles’

A few days ago, I watched this film for the first time in years, fortunately those years have imbued me with a greater appreciation for film and it’s component pieces. The first thing that struck me when re-evaluating The Breakfast Club, is it’s use of ‘singles’ and ‘ensemble staging’, while these could initially seen as way to overcome the fact that most of the movie takes place in a single place, the school library, the use of singles especially bring the audience into the character space. The term ‘Character Space’ may seem a tad wanky/pretentious, but it’s a quick easy way to differentiate the camera placement, as the singles tend to place the camera between/amongst the characters interacting, as the ensemble shots are outside the character space, viewing the characters rather than being amongst them. The use of these singles in the character space put the viewer in the conversation, making the experience feel more active, increasing the empathy we feel for these characters. The use of the longer (wide) ensemble shots serve as establishing the characters in relation to each other, giving us a read on their overall body-language, which you might say “well duh” to, but it’s very important. Body language can be broken down and analysed like any other language, but as we perceive body language throughout a movie, it’s more instinctual and subconscious, when we see a young couple holding hands, we think “oh that’s a young couple”, not “they must be a young couple because they’re holding hands”. When we see the iconic shot of the detention group sitting on the floor in a semi-circle, we just see a bunch of teenagers sitting on the floor, but this is the lowest point for the characters in the movie, they don’t have desks to act as barriers between them, the facade of their characters fall, and they start to see each other as equals, now that’s pretty poetic for a bunch of teen film stars sitting in a library.

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Examples of ‘ensemble staging’

The message of the film as always stuck to me, don’t let your environment or others dictate who you are, crystallised in the relationship between John Bender (Judd Nelson) and Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald), Bender stands as a poor, abused, bad boy, while Claire stands as the rich, privileged, good girl. Bender sees her as his enemy, he acts like an utter dick to her, and she see’s him as lesser than her, until they both realise that they both think that their life is shit, they both realise they didn’t ask for this life, and both hate their parents. As an adult, I find it hard to find the character that “is me”, of course when I was younger I was Bender, but less disadvantaged, but now I’m drawn to Ally Sheedy’s character (without the conventional transformation), or I’m the janitor, the active observer that falls out with the power structure of the story, just there to remind the other characters what’s important, perspective. The film opens with a quote from ‘Changes’ by David Bowie “And these children that you spit on / As they try to change their worlds / Are immune to your consultations / They’re quite aware of what they’re going through”, then that quote explodes into glass, reaffirming the teen rebellion that this film epitomises, breaking away from ideals laid out by parents, teachers, and our peers, teaching us to look inwardly for the answers, rather than being told who you are, you define who you are.

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On a personal note, I’m incredibly reassured after re-watching this eighties-ass masterpiece, as I am unemployed, and slightly aimless, it’s been helpful to reflect inwardly. Setting out to build this website, and try to grow an audience is fucking scary, much like how I viewed adult life as a teen, this is why I’ve chosen The Breakfast Club as the first film to write about in this series, as this is me taking my first steps into a new world, trying to be noticed on the internet. If you ignored me earlier and didn’t watch this movie, do yourself a favour, watch it, and do a bit of reflection, it’s good for ya.

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The Way of the Writer: Part One – Ideas

Hi, I’m Dusty Smith, someone you probably haven’t heard of, I like to write, therefore I like to call myself a writer. I haven’t been successful in being paid to write, so why should you listen to me? You shouldn’t. Recently, over the course of six months, I’ve written an eight-episode comedy/drama series to a first draft level (a.k.a. I’ve written it, but haven’t reread and rewritten any of it), considering it took me three years to complete the first draft of a feature-length screenplay (ended up being over a hundred pages), and it’s taken me a sixth of that time to write over three-hundred pages of material, I think I found the easy way to write. So in this series I’ll give you some tools that might make you a more ‘productive’ writer, but I won’t be able to make you a good writer, if I knew that, I wouldn’t be writing this.

I like to think of this as writing style, but sharing more in common with a style of kung fu, rather than an aesthetic style of writing, it’s my ‘Drunken Master’ but for writing, get it? Cool.

I owe this knowledge to spending a year studying film in uni (had to drop out ‘cause I couldn’t afford it), and to spending way too much money on books about filmmaking, so being a nice little socialist, I wanna share this info, for free (although I may start asking for donations/do a patreon). Before I get on with the job, I’m gonna be honest and tell you to buy ‘On Film-making’ by Alexander MacKendrick, I’ll be stealing heavily from this book, and I was told by a lecturer that it’s the only book about filmmaking that you need, so there’s that.

 

Let’s talk about Ideas

The start of any, and I mean any, creative process comes from an idea. In my personal opinion, all ideas are bad initially, only through patience and over-thinking can you make a bad idea good. For example, Star Wars went from this, to a billion dollar property, every idea has potential for greatness. For me, ideas are irritating, like a bad penny, these ideas keep showing up unprompted, bugging me in the middle of movies/work/relaxation, the more they keep coming up, the more I have to explore them. So even if you have a stupid idea for making a talking dog movie, think how to refine that idea, and make it the talking dog movie that YOU want to see.

Explore what you like, and ask yourself why you like it, the answer may be simple, it may be complex, but it’s a lot harder to make something for other people to enjoy, without enjoying it yourself. I’ve been exploring Japanese psychological horror, after enjoying the body horror elements of Akira, and it’s fascinating, but I’m not really jumping to write horror, so why explore it? Because it might be helpful one day, it’ll sit in my unconscious mind, until it hopefully inspires me.

Inspiration doesn’t come from one source, if you wanna write a screenplay, listen to music, read a book, take a long walk, play some games, go to the pub, talk to people who aren’t writers, but don’t worry there’ll be a time to watch movies later, just absorb every other kind of information first. Have a foundation for your idea to build upon.

Inspiration strikes

If you’re patient, and don’t think too hard about it, one day you’ll get a stupid idea, for example you think “what if there was a talking dog movie, where snoop dogg voices an actual dog?”, stupid idea right? So you’ll toss it aside, and move on with life, but it comes back, “what if the snoop dogg talking dog movie, was an allegory for the struggle of black people in american culture?” Then you think hard, and realise that just a cheap rip-off of Zootopia, and again toss it to the side. Once again, here’s that thought, “what if in the future, dogs gain tons of intelligence, and eventually live to co-exist with humanity? snoop dogg plays a cameo role though”, now you could do something with that, it might sound dumb, but so does Star Wars, “space farmer boy destroys evil empire’s greatest weapon, featuring laser swords”, dumb shit works.

If you want to be good, you should probably have a notebook, or an app for taking notes, and write everything down, and return to it if you’re struggling with coming up with something. My notes are mostly nonsense I’ve written down while intoxicated, but some of it has been helpful if I’ve needed to come up with something. The TV stuff I’ve been writing initially started out as a murder-mystery, with a focus on inter-generational conflict, but now it’s a comedy-drama, where I experiment with social/political/religious/philosophical concepts, the original concept may seem more interesting, but I suck at murder-mystery right now, and small-town murder-mystery is kinda cliche at this point, but I’ll probably explore it again, in the future.

 

Research

Now you’ve got the sci-fi dog idea, what do you do with it? Just consume everything that you feel will help you, that’s it in a nutshell, that’s research. It sounds daunting, and it is, you don’t have anyone to tell you if you’re researching the right thing, but that’s the beauty of it. Look up any fiction that has dogs gaining intelligence (yeah, that Rick and Morty episode counts), find stories where dogs are treated as a race of people and not pets, read dog training books, explore any philosophical concepts that might relate to a world where homo-sapiens and canine-sapiens live side-by-side.

I tend to approach research by building lists of media that I need to check out, for instance I wanna make a stoner-comedy, so I’ve added Half-Baked, Harold and Kumar, How High etc., to my watchlist, I watched a decent video essay on Harold and Kumar and how it relates to the American Dream, I bought a digital copy of Society of Spectacle by Guy Debord, because it could be helpful, I dunno if it will be, but learning is it’s own reward.

If you’re hardcore enough, you could even write essays in order to make sense of everything you come across. School/college/university may have made essay writing a turnoff for many, but it can help you articulate what you’ve discovered, thus making it more concrete in your own head, amazing isn’t it?

Also genre, if you wanna write in a specific genre, make sure to not limit yourself to exploring that one genre, but also you need to become an expert in it, academic texts on genre theory are a dime a dozen, so get to reading/watching essays.

That’s gonna be it for the first part of this (hopeful) series, the title is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, this and subsequent parts are just me telling you how I feel like writing, this is by no means the “correct” way of the writer, but hopefully I’ve given you something to try out, and maybe adopt as your own, then you can blame me when you’re unsuccessful, but I warned you about that.

See ya next time for words on character and setting.