Which one of us is on heavy
(How to get away with a highway
robbery cloaked in "higher education?)
By Iliya Pavlovich
May 07, 2006
For many years, I was a member of AFI, one of the most reputable
film institutions here in the United States. As a NYC based playwright,
producer, director, it was natural that I'd be a member of WGA
(Writer's Guild of America) AFI (American Film Institute). At
the onset I remember that a lot of stress was placed on preservation
of the old celluloid films which were in a real bad shape. God
only knows how many parties, charities and other events we all
attended giving tons of money and rubbing shoulders with the
likes of Paul Newman, Gregory Peck, Steve McQueen, etc. etc.
This was all a good few decades ago and AFI presented a
most desirable face (in a manner of speech).
It has recently come to my attention that AFI is now considered
one of the pre-eminent film schools in the country. Being a New
Yorker, I admit I harbored the "woody-alan-esque" resentment
towards the other coast, but I did wish them well. After all
I was in the profession (a product of the NYU's Tisch) and I
knew full well what a nightmare film or theater can be
so they had my good thoughts and wishes.
All of that ended a couple days ago when I learned that AFI had
turned our profession (not mine any longer I have escaped
from the grips of glory, glamour and fame into more quiet waters)
on its head.
Yes there is an ongoing debate "what came first; the chicken
or the egg" but in my more mature years I chose to
side with my original sources. Aside from NYU's leanings towards
classics (Hellenic theater, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Brecht, Chekov,
Gogol), we spent much time on Aristotle, Aristophanes and other
pre-Christian times. I admit that the world has changed "somewhat",
and for the better since those ancient days, but I will not be
dragged into "chicken or the egg debate". The outcome
is clear enough. It is evident in all of NYC theatrical communities
(Misner, Adler, Actor's studio, Strasberg, NYU, Yale, etc. etc.)
they all practice only one way: the Greek way. And if that way
is so deplorable why have we Edomnd Rostagn of France in their
midst? Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare? Molliere?
Brecht? Chekov? Ibsen? Is it possible that the overwhelming
"narrative" advantage escaped them? Hell no. They knew
that narrative is for the birds. You just can not make a theater
play or a film with any narrative work. If you work on film or
theater the source material has to have all the dramatic (non-narrative
qualities) and those are:
1. clear beginning, middle and end (that's where the "narrative"
begins and ends you have to tell a story - it's unavoidable,
but the remainder needs to done in a dramatic fashion)
2. clearly defined characters with clear intents (objectives/actions)
3. clearly defined obstacles (difficulties)
4. high enough stakes (greater than average importance
preferably life and death)
5. sense of urgency (must be resolved soon and under pressure)
6. the instance when the irresistible force meets an immovable
object that is DRAMA, one will stop its key function the
other will not
7. sense of character's transformation (metamorphosis)
8. multi-facetted characters that are not like card-board
cut-outs, (characters with depth)
9. mutual impacts from one character to the next.
10. no stereotypes (Jews are not always victims or the white
hats do not always win, etc.)
11. increased complications (Greek word: peripetia)
12. some semblance of resolution
13. a false turn (reversal) towards resolution
14. a final turn towards the resolution
15. resolution and denouement followed by
16. CATHARSIS (purging in Greek theater, goat sacrifice and similar)
Now is it possible that AFI does not know the above essential
What is it that made one of the most reputable American Film
Institutions go crazy and try to sell this "narrative garbage"?
I have no clue, but this is a quote from their web site:
The Conservatory experience is centered on narrative, fictional
storytelling as the essential foundation on which moving image
artists build and shape their professional voices. It specializes
in the essential area of fiction--live drama or comedy--with
a strong emphasis on narrative as the guiding principle. "
Hello, excuse meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. What could that mean? Take Thomas
Mann's Magic Hill and make it into a movie? I doubt it very much.
Look at the Death in Venice another great narrative source that
did very badly at the box office I have examples by the
bushel so don't challenge me to produce more. I know for a fact
that the narrative will never work in the dramatic world unless
it is re-worked.
On the other side you have some positive examples of good dramatic
work which translated into great films:
Joseph Heller's, Catch 22, thanks to reworking by Buck Henry,
and an obese comedian with stage command (Orson Welles)
Joseph Conrad's Hearts of Darkness, known to us mortals as "Apocalypse
Now", through massive reworking by an ordained genius Francis
Ford Coppola + John Milius
Mario Puzzo's Godfather, also by the grace of Coppola
Could be a pure coincidence that the most brilliant William Goldman
has done work from the ancient Marathon Man, little seen "No
way to treat a lady", tremendous Butch Cassidy and the Sundance
Kid, all the way to today's Mission Impossible? Hell no. The
man works in a simple clear form following all the dramatic principles.
Just so that we know some more sources in case those Los Angeles
thieves (that's what they are since cost of one year in the post
graduate degree is over $50,000 (that's fifty thousand dollars,
in case you're not that good with pure numbers), but here's some
more NON-NARRATIVE SOURCES:
A few good men (stage play first, outstanding film second)
Amadeus (stage play first, outstanding film second)
A cat on a hot tin roof (same)
Who's afraid of Virginia Wolf (same)
A streetcar named Desire (same)
Gone with the wind (good novel reworked for the film)
Stephen King's Shining in the hands of the immortal Kubrick?
You had enough? I got tons more. Just look at AFI's own 100 best
films and do the math over 75% (an overwhelming majority in my
understanding of math) have a pure dramatic (NON-NARRATIVE SOURCE).
So how can this same AFI justify taking 50K/per kid/per year
and sell this garbage? Are we not being robbed of our education?
Is this not a case ripe for a class action court case against
all other forms of robbery? I wish I could enumerate more but
I don't have the in-depth knowledge that I just happen to possess
in the fields of theater, film, drama and related.
Let's not split hairs, narrative is valid as a frame and as an
ability to tell a story (structure) beginning, middle and end.
All other factors are not found in narrative structure, but solely
in a dramatic (if not antagonistic approach). Notice that I did
not state you must always have a protagonist and an antagonist
which would be hard-core dramatic demand almost impossible
to ever achieve in a feeble-brained communities such as ours
is not becoming.
In closing, I must thank the graduates of AFI who allowed me
to see their graduate work privately, so that my above criticism
in not misplaced. In the course of past graduates I also had
an illegal peak at some of the ongoing projects (that are kept
out of the general audience's views probably for a very
good reason, to reduce the embarrassment factor and not to be
forced to justify such horrible - lousy - warped - misguided
- overpriced educational program producing robotons (if there
is such a word, if not AFI has just created one).
Deerfield Beach, FL - USA
About: Iliya Pavlovich, PhD, sociology, foreign affairs, culture,
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