Couch Session: Award-Winning Writer Marc Rosenberg Talks ‘Elevator’ And More

Just the other day I got to talk with director Stig Svendsen on the indie thriller Elevator. Now, continuing with that coverage, I’ve had the opportunity to interview Marc Rosenberg. Marc is the writer and producer of Elevator. We got a chance to talk about the film and his relationship with Stig. As well, Marc talked about his influences, future projects and whether or not he ever plans to become that triple-threat guy by taking a seat in the director’s chair. You can read the full interview below.

JL: In a script like this, there appears to be a lot of subtext, both social and political commentary. What sort of message or point are you trying to convey through this?

MR: I wish there was something deep and meaningful I could say, but really my main concern was creating an entertaining movie with the budgetary and logistical challenges we had. I do read the news and I have life experience, so that inadvertently becomes my resource material.

JL: How was working with Stig Svendsen? How do you feel he did in contributing to convey your story and message on the screen as you intended in your writing?

MR: The only way a writer can hope to convey a message, if there is one, is to find a director that has similar reference points and is open minded. I could never make Stig tell my story without it being his story. While writers hate to hear this, film is a director’s medium. I always hope the director likes the script enough that he or she will want to know my reasoning and to meld this with their own understanding of the world. If a director changes something in the script, I want to be sure they know the ramifications of that change. They might make it better than I imagined, I always hope they can. Stig and I like similar movies and that became the basis of our working relationship and friendship – that, a sense of humor and a love of drink. Stig did an amazing job – we captured ‘lightning in a bottle’.

JL: You mention you and Stig share a similar taste in movies. What are some of your favorite movies? If you’re anything like me your Top 5 change on a regular basis and it’s too hard to narrow it down like that anyways. However, just off the top of your head what are some that you’ve really enjoyed?

MR: Both Stig and I love stylish films, films with a lot of panache. I think he’s more open-minded than me. We love “Psycho,” the way it’s edited, the boldness of it and Polanski’s “The Tenant,” the way he combines humor with horror. More recently, I was taken by “Two Lovers” as a beautiful and powerful character piece, I loved Mike Lee’s “Happy Go Lucky” as something totally refreshing and charming, and “The Visitor” appealed to me. I like intelligent movies. I don’t go to the cinema as much as I used to, and arrogantly, I pretty much feel I’ve seen “everything,” and there’s not much that will surprise me anymore. I walked out of “Transformers,” which surprised me until I found myself walking out of “Sherlock Holmes,” too. The “knee-jerk” films don’t entertain me; they’re soul-less.

JL: Well, with so many layers and seemingly underlying commentary and such interesting characters, ‘Elevator’ definitely doesn’t seem like it will be falling into the soul-less category. How do you feel the cast did in portraying all the layers of the film being as so much rides on the characters in a movie like this?

MR: I believe the actors we chose, or who chose us, did a spectacular job under fairly grueling conditions. They were asked to spend 12 hours a day in a confined space. They did it for the challenge and were amazing at carving out their individual stories. I was constantly reminded to never underestimate a professional.

JL: How do you approach a project? Do you like to take control? Or do you like to sit back and try to let the director command the project while you are behind him/her for support and the good of the film?

MR: I didn’t used to be a very good cheerleader, but over time I’ve come to see the value in it. I would prefer to be with a strong director, and once I’ve made the choice to work with them, I want to support them in every way I can. I used to nitpick, but it’s pointless and no fun at all. I think, for the most part, all the bitching and moaning that can go on comes from insecurity. I’d like to think I’m past that, I don’t choose to be a victim. If I want more control, as I did on “Elevator,” I produce, and in this case, invest. It doesn’t mean that I always get my way, but people pretend to listen.

JL: Stig Svendsen has said you’re very much one of these producers that are all about the good of the film. How much of this stems from you being a writer? On some level, is it hard for you to take criticism during filming on a project that you’ve vested so much time in as a writer?

MR: I’ve been a writer for 30 years and I’ve worked with the kind of producers you’d never want to work with again. I didn’t want to be that producer, the one that treats creative people like irresponsible children. I’ve always thought the goal of a quality producer is to make the best film possible, and once you’ve chosen your key creative personnel, you have to trust them as professionals to do the job they’ve been hired for. One of the first things I told the production department was my distaste for the boundaries between production and creative. We’re all creative and we all have something to contribute to the final film. If a second AD can make an actor happier, doesn’t that help the film? I believe it worked, we built a trust.

As far as my relationship with Stig goes, he shook me out of my cynicism. In casting, he’d always go to the top. My first thought was, we haven’t got a snowball’s chance in Hell, but then I’d think, “Why not?” If I could see the benefit in anything the crew wanted and we could find a way to pay for it, I’d try to get it. We were all pulling on the same end of the rope.

JL: Being as how I’m sure you have such a vested interest with your screenplays, how does it differ for you being able to serve as producer on a project as well? Being able to have more control over the whole process as opposed to such films as ‘December Boys’ where you have to just sit back and let another director and producer flesh it out on screen.

MR: I was very involved with “December Boys,” because I was friends with the director and I promised not to be a nuisance. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way and it’s not much fun. On “Elevator” I wanted as much control as I could get. I wanted to sink or swim based on my own efforts. It’s exhilarating and frightening in equal measure. I was very, very lucky to be surrounded by people who were smart and generous. I may be different than most writers, but once I finish a script, I’m not that invested, it’s almost like someone else had written it. I still want the check sent to me.

JL: What’s it like for you watching your writing adapted on screen? I would think on some level, as much time as you put into it, a screenplay becomes something like your baby. How is it watching your baby essentially grow up right before your eyes?

MR: That whole concept of it “being my baby” is foreign to me. I was constantly being asked what it felt like, and to be perfectly honest, it just seems like this cousin that I’ve seen photos of. Perhaps early on in my career I would have been more possessive, but not any more. When I’m writing it, it’s fun and challenging, and I put my heart and soul into it, so perhaps when I’ve finished I’m just spent.

JL: You talk about wanting to have as much control as you could on “Elevator” and how that “sink or swim on your own efforts” is exhilarating for you. With that in mind, have you thought about ever making that final leap and take a seat in the director’s chair as well? Maybe at some point do your own project that you write, produce and direct?

MR: I’m in awe of directors. When I was watching Stig talk about camera angles, deciding on costumes, working out choreography with actors – the confidence you need, it all seems daunting. I did think about directing at one stage, soon after Film School, but I was too influenced by the people around me. I guess that’s why writing appeals to me so much – I can be a closet show-off. I haven’t totally given up the idea of directing but it’s not a burning desire.

JL: Speaking of your writing, I’ve heard that when you and Stig met you let him read several of your screenplays and ‘Elevator’ actually wasn’t his first choice. However, due to budgetary restraints y’all weren’t able to do the one he first chose. What was the original script that Stig was interested in?

MR: The original script was an espionage film set in L.A. and Venezuela. It’s still a possibility, so I don’t want to reveal too much.

JL: Do you have any plans to collaborate with Stig again? Maybe to come back to that script at a later time? How would you feel working with him again?

MR: I’d love to work with Stig again, and we have an idea for Harrison Ford. It’s another big film.

JL: A Harrison Ford movie huh? That’s interesting. Anymore you can tell me on that?

MR: The “Harrison Ford” project is still in the early stages, but deals with a character that makes an unnatural discovery that changes history.

JL: Going back to your and Stig’s decision to work together. As I mentioned, the first script Stig wanted wasn’t possible due to budgetary restraints. This results in having to go a much more low-budget route. It seems more and more like indie films and getting recognition these days. With recent hits like Paranormal Activity and Buried, how do you thinkthis bodes for those very low budget filmmakers? How might it affect the industry that’s so known for being all about money and being more focused on using big names and huge budgets to typically sell movies?

MR: I believe that there will always be spectacle films, big budget films, but if you’re an aspiring film-maker or you want to have more control, you can make high-concept films on a low budget. The market is receptive to indies.

JL: Have you found a distributor for ‘Elevator’ yet?

MR: We don’t have a distributor, and this was by design. When I first pitched the concept to my lawyer, he said he could sell it immediately, but I’d lose control, and that seemed to defeat the whole point of me doing it in the first place.

JL: When might we be seeing Elevator? Any tentative release date? Any ideas to shop it around at any festivals?

MR: I’m trying to formulate a strategy for getting it seen in the most positive way. My first thought is to take it to Cannes. I want to talk to wiser heads and see what they suggest.

JL: Do you have any other scripts in the works or ideas for what you might be doing next?

MR: I have a big budget film in the works called “The Mennyms,” based on a series of books by English author, Sylvia Waugh. The story centers around a family of living dolls fighting to keep their house. Besides that, I’ve always been drawn to the Patricia Highsmith books and would love to adapt one of those. I wasn’t at all happy with the film, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”.

JL: Speaking on the admiration of others’ works, the concept of ‘Elevator’ feels real Hitchcockian and you mention your love for ‘Psycho’, so I’d figure in some ways his films have had an influence on you. What have been some of your biggest influences as a writer?

MR: I read a lot of novels. Patricia Highsmith has been a big influence on me – “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “The Glass Cell,” “A Dog’s Ransom,” etc. There’s not one of her books I haven’t read. I’m still struggling with the classics that most people read in college – “Anna Karinina,” etc. I am a huge fan of Chekov, and I think his “A Boring Story” is a masterpiece. I like reading novels set in L.A. and get a kick out of recognizing the locations. I really think the secret to being a good writer (or filmmaker) is knowing the terrain, not parodying someone else’s work, but writing from a personal knowledge. Emotional terrain counts, too. If I weren’t a screenwriter, I’d love to write a novel. Most screenwriters turned novelists are pretty average.

JL: “The Mennyms.”. Anymore you can tell me on that? You say that’s in the works, how far in the works are we talking here?

MR: I’ve written about 10 drafts of “The Mennyms”, trying to please producers and directors, and now there’s someone trying to raise the money. If they can’t, I may produce it myself.

JL: Well, I thank you for your time, Marc. It’s been very interesting and a pleasure. I look forward to hearing more about ‘Elevator’ and your future projects.

Why Disney’s “Frozen” Is a Bad Movie

I just finished watching the popular Disney movie, “Frozen”, for the second time. The hype surrounding the movie was obnoxious and everyone was saying that, “‘Frozen’ is one of the best movies of all time.” Watching it my first time around, it wasn’t great; the bar was set pretty high and my expectations didn’t meet up to the reality of the movie. But after my second time watching it, it has solidified in my brain that this movie is one of the worst Disney has ever produced.

There’s actually a funny history surrounding this movie. Walt Disney wanted to make this movie all the way back in 1943. “Frozen” was supposed to be Disney’s adaptation of the popular fairy tale, “The Snow Queen”, written by Hans Christian Anderson (Get it? Hans, Kristoff, Anna, Sven. Good job, Disney). “The Snow Queen” actually has, what would be Elsa, as the villain. They decided they couldn’t create the movie in the 40s because they couldn’t find a way to adapt it to a modern audience. They tried again in the late 1990s, but the project was scrapped when one of the head animators on the project, Glen Keane, quit. In 2010, they scrapped it again because they still couldn’t find a way to make the story work. Then, in 2011, they finally decided on making Anna the younger sister of the Snow Queen, which was enough for them to create “Frozen”.

“Frozen” was directed by Chris Buck (known for “Tarzan”) and Jennifer Lee (known for “Wreck-it-Ralph”). The bar was set pretty high for me seeing as both those movies were well above the standards of a “kid’s movie”. The story was going to be just like the fairy tale, but then, Christophe Beck composed the hit song, “Let it Go”. The production team went crazy; instead of trying to fit the song into the movie, they rewrote the entire plot and Elsa’s entire character to fit the song. I have never heard of an entire movie being changed to fit one song. Because of this, it’s blatantly obvious that no one could decide on anything in this movie. Since Elsa isn’t the antagonist, there really was no real evil force. The Duke of Weaselton is brought up to be the villain in the beginning when he states, “Open those gates so I may unlock your secrets and exploit your riches. Did I say that out loud?” Why do you want to unlock the secrets and exploit their riches?

The Duke has absolutely no development to the point where he doesn’t even have a name. He barely even gets screen time. So if he isn’t the villain, who is? Well, in the last 15 minutes of the movie, Anna’s fiance, Prince Hans, is brought up to be the villain, stating he wants to rule a kingdom and he can’t because of his 12 other brothers. This comes out of absolutely nowhere. There were no hints, no evil glances, no sidebars or monologues, nothing. He even gives out blankets and hot soup to every person in the kingdom of Airendale. Prince Hans even says, he will protect Airendale because Anna left him in charge and “will not hesitate to protect Airendale from treason” when the Duke states he wants to take over. I can’t stand it when they get so lazy as to just throw in a villain at the last few minutes because they couldn’t actually bring up a real villain. Prince Hans states that he wanted to take over and he was going to kill Elsa and all this other crap, but Elsa was just about to be killed and he saved her life. Why would he save her life if he wanted her dead? None of it made sense and it irked me the entire movie.

Frozen recycles animation and character models from their previous hit, “Tangled”. The main characters, Elsa and Anna, use the same exact model as Rapunzel from “Tangled”. This controversy has been huge around the internet, calling Disney “lazy” and the such. Personally, I was okay with this. Disney is known for recycling animations (which can be seen here). Even though it was really strange that Elsa and Anna had the same exact face and body structure and the only difference between them were the freckles and their hair, it didn’t bother me too much. But, during the coronation scene, Elsa says to Anna, “You look beautiful.” Pretty ironic if you ask me.

The movie starts off with Elsa and Anna playing together with Elsa’s ice magic. It’s cute at first, but then Elsa strikes Anna in her head and they have to “thaw out the ice” or something along those lines. So they ask the trolls to heal her and they wipe Anna’s memories of Elsa having magic. Then, they lock the castle doors so no one can ever see Elsa and lock Elsa away in her room to never speak to her sister again. This is where it all starts to go downhill. None of it made sense. Why would you wipe Anna’s memories of Elsa having magic? If it was easily fixed, why not just explain to her that they can’t play with Elsa’s magic anymore because it’s out of hand? She would’ve known the consequences afterwards. It’s like if you touch a hot stove; you’re curious, you touch it, you burn yourself, you never touch it again. The fear solidifies subconsciously. Even if you could explain why she needed her memories erased, why was Anna locked inside the castle doors too? Anna had no recollection of the events, even at the end of the movie, so why was Anna being punished for something Elsa did? They could have easily allowed her to talk to the townsfolk and have a good time outside the castle while Elsa was locked away.

There’s this motif throughout the movie about locked doors; they lock the castle doors, Anna knocks on Elsa’s door and she never answers, Anna and Prince Hans sing the song, “Love is an Open Door”, Anna says to Elsa, “All you know is how to shut people out.” I found the motif pretty clever until they forced it down my throat. When Anna reaches the ice castle, she knocks on the door. When the door opens, she says, “Well that’s a first.” It’s a giant punch in the chest when you think you’ve analyzed a motif and you can go on and on about how amazing the directors were for putting it in there, but then the directors hold your hand and forcefully say, “Hey! This a motif! You should totally love us for this!” I would’ve been okay with it too if they just didn’t put that one line in the movie. When you read a book and you analyze it, the author is trying to let you come to the conclusion yourself and let you discuss it. It’s the same with movies. There was no need to forcefully tell us that this was a motif. Doing so was actually counterproductive. It popped my bubble.

This lead me to the question, “Why was Anna the main character?” Here’s a checklist of every plot-moving event in the movie:

Elsa strikes Anna so they have to lock the castle gates and Elsa can never talk to anyone ever again
Elsa is becoming queen
The entire kingdom gets frozen over because of Elsa
Elsa arguably has the best song in the entire movie
Anna has to find Elsa so that Elsa can save the entire kingdom
Hans has to kill Elsa to become king

Everything centers around Elsa. So why have Anna be the main character? Anna didn’t have any real character development in the movie while Elsa was completely fleshed out in every scene that she’s in. Just watch the scene from her song, “Let It Go”The entire song is about her “letting go” of her fear and coming to terms with her powers and being herself. This would’ve made a for a better plot; a woman finally coming to terms with herself, society trying to shut her down, and her fight to be accepted as who she is. Instead, it’s about Anna trying to find her sister so her sister can save the kingdom. It’s like Phil being the main character of Hercules or Mushu being the main character for Mulan. It doesn’t make any sense. Anna isn’t as interesting as Elsa. Sure, she’s funny and relate-able, but that could easily have been Elsa. Everyone can relate to not fitting into the social norms. So I reiterate, why have Anna be the main character?

Speaking of Anna, they said the only way to save her was “one true act of love”. There were many “true acts of love.” Kristoff bringing her to the trolls, Olaf giving her that pep talk, Kristoff bringing her to Hans to save her. All of these were “true acts of love”, but none of them counted because it didn’t “fit the dynamic of sisterhood.” The whole dynamic between Elsa and Anna felt so forced to the point where I stopped caring halfway through the movie. Mostly because Anna doesn’t actually evolve as a character until the very end of the movie. Even then, the development isn’t that major.Olaf is another thing that felt so force-fed. It was cute that the snowman Elsa and Anna created when they were young became a real living being and helped Anna out on her quest, but he didn’t do much. At all. He sings a song about the summer, makes a ton of jokes, gives Anna a pep talk at the end of the movie, more jokes, then that’s it. He doesn’t really face much adversity, making him extremely 1 dimensional. It’s obvious they put him in there just to be cute and to target a wider audience. There’s a test that I use to explain 1 dimensional characters; if you can replace the character with a lamp, and the plot could still advance, then the character didn’t need to be there. I promise you, if you watch the movie again and follow that test, you’ll understand exactly what I saying. What’s worse is that he could’ve actually been a catalyst to Anna regaining her memories of her sister and finally realizing why she feels the way she does. But instead, he’s nothing but a comedic relief that has no part in the plot whatsoever.

The whole movie and plot felt so rushed and like no one could agree on anything. From the villains to the plot to the characters; it’s all rushed. It felt like they said, “Hey, “Tangled” was great! Let’s just take the stuff we used from “Tangled” and get this movie off our checklist after 70 years.” But, there is one thing that did surprise me; the soundtrack. The music was phenomenal. Every song felt very broadway-esque and fit the scenes perfectly. “Let It Go”, “Love is an Open Door”, and all the rest of the songs made my heart soar and gave me hope for the next Disney titles to have music on par with the classics like “Mulan” or “The Lion King”.

And that’s my opinion on Disney’s “Frozen”. Honestly, this movie was just plain bad. I say, wait for it to go on Broadway and see it there. I firmly believe that the Broadway musical will be light-years better than this atrocity. They’ll have more time for production, more time to explain and develop their characters and plots, and the effects will be really sick. I can’t wait to see how they bring up Elsa’s Ice Castle! If you don’t agree with any of my points, do feel free to leave a comment with your opinion! Unless you’re gonna argue that this movie wasn’t targeted to my demographic and that it was “made for kids”. I will then point you in the directions of the masterpieces known as “Tangled”, “The Lion King”, “Mulan”, “Brave”, and almost every other Disney movie before this. I would love to see what everyone else thought of the movie!

How to Write a Quality Movie Review

Writing movie reviews can be a great hobby. With enough work, it can even become a great profession. However, writing a movie review can be harder than you might think. Fortunately, there are a number of steps one can take to make high-quality, interesting movie reviews that people will enjoy reading and be interested in reading more of your work. In this article, I will discuss some basic parts of a movie review that will make them both informative and interesting.

The first thing to realize is that no one really cares about your opinion. Nobody really wants to hear about what you like or dislike. After all, they like and dislike things, too. Whatever you do, talk about the qualities of the movie, not about your own sentiments. Movie reviews, after all, are not polls.

On to the techniques…

Talk About the Direction: Talk about the direction of a particular film. You should speak about the choices that the director made with respect to music, lighting and how the performances work together. Don’t forget to name the director of the film. It’s a good opportunity to link to other reviews for movies by the same director.

Talk About the Actors: Pick one or two of the actors in the film and discuss their performances. Who really drew you into their characters and why? Who best brought out the themes of the film using the acting? Was there anyone who stood out for the wrong reasons?

Talk About the Appearance of the Film: This is a general category, but you can talk about the use of color, of sets, of cinematography or even of special effects. Films, after all, are a visual medium, so you should discuss how that medium is used. You can even discuss things like the use of shadow, special camera tricks and so forth.

Talk About the Themes: Films are about something. What was this movie about? Once you’ve discussed the theme, discuss how well the film brought out the theme or any ways that it did the theme a disservice. What did this film have to say about the theme that is better than any other film. Themes are generally what directors are most interested in, so by discussing this, you’ll discuss the film in terms of what the director had in mind.

Compare the Film to Other Films: There are a few ways to do this. First, it’s usually a good idea to comment on how this film compares to other films from the same director, or how the performances of the actors compare to other performances by those actors. When doing this, comment on what is special about this film relative to those by the same artists. Second, you can comment on how it compares to other films with the same basic themes. Does it bring out the same themes in a more insightful way? Is the film re-inventing an already better-invented wheel?

Comment on the Making of the Film: One nice trick when reviewing a movie is to comment on its actual making or even distribution. If a film went over-budget, or if an actor chose this film over another, these facts can be interesting and something readers might not know, even if they’ve seen the film. You can also comment on how it was received at film festivals, if it was originally released there.

Following the above steps will help you write interesting and informative movie reviews that people will actually want to read. Happy viewing!