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Which one of us is on heavy drugs?
(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 steps?

Hihgly unlikely.

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).

Iliya Pavlovich
Deerfield Beach, FL - USA

About: Iliya Pavlovich, PhD, sociology, foreign affairs, culture, politics.



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