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About Jenna Cato Bass

I'm a director, writer, photographer, aspiring explorer and retired magician living in Cape Town, South Africa

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Drop the 'the'...

Posted November 08, 2010

So if I have learnt anything in the past few weeks, it is this: WRITING IS NOT FOR SLACKERS. Don't start, Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater, those guys may make films about slackers (or used to), but there's no way they didn't work damn hard. Unless I'm missing something here.
It's a cold spell for what is supposed to be summer and I probably make a comical sight - Sitting in the middle of the room on the beach chair I have taken to writing in, covered in an eiderdown smelling overwhelmingly of mothballs. On my right hand side - notebook (all pages now used up, slightly deflated, as all notebooks that come to an end seem to look), The Ghost that Closed Down the Town: The Story of the Haunting of South Africa by Arthur Goldstuck, On Dreams and Death by Marie-Louise von Franz (if this script ever ends up being good, it will be in part thanks to the Jung library) and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (because it either makes me feel safe, or allows me to snigger and feel superior). To catch up, feedback from Minky (script editor) was manna from the gods, but also alarm bells/cookoo clocks/atomic rocket fuel blast off that there is so much work to do. Such that, when Richard gives me some script notes and remarks at my acceptance of criticism, I say that after what I've been through with script coverage in the preceding weeks, unless he was telling me to throw the script out the window, nothing would really surprise me. He says I shouldn't throw the script out the window. So that's good. 



So. The Social Network came out here on Friday. Since then I have seen it three times in three days. I would have gone a fourth time tomorrow, except I will be on a plane. The Short Film Festival Winterthur has very kindly invited me to Switzerland for their screening of The Tunnel. Now come decisions like - 'is it pretentious to wear my Sundance jacket to the festival... even though it's the warmest thing I have...?' High-class problems - phrase learnt from Kisha. Realise that before The Tunnel I didn't know the meaning of High Class Problems (capiTals). But really looking forward to Winterthur - the program indicates they'll be screening shorts by some of the best short filmmakers I've seen around - David O Reilly (who at Sundance I told was a genius while he was in the middle of an arcade game and probably freaked him out), Liza Johnson, Paul Wright, and of course, Guy Maddin. 

But um, ja. The Social Network. I can imagine that elsewhere, and particularly in the US, this film has been discussed to death. But wow. A thousand times, wow. What was especially great was that it helped solidify a thematic link I've been trying to make for the last two or three years (though probably I'm really slow on the uptake, because now it all seems so OBVIOUS), defining a trend, or a series of concerns, or a rise, within American cinema... A return to certain classical, most often tragic emotional themes, sweeping epics of the heart that play out in places great and small, from oil fields to a fox's den. They focus on the great personalities, man at the height of his abilities, such as they are, and how they consume, defeat him, how despite his greatest efforts, he is consigned to the earth of his own making, or one that has grown beyond his control. VERY relevant. And that's why it all makes sense. I actually harbor not-so-secret pretentious desires of writing an essay on this. It will be no doubt pompously titled 'Mighty Giants in the Desert'. Yes. Now I'd just need to find someone to read it. 
So. Trying to use my time constructively by thinking about my script (i.e. instead of building, say, a shrine to Aaron Sorkin. Or writing blog posts about The Social Network), I wonder how far away I am. I was in a position yesterday when I had to pitch the film, and for the first time I was more able to do that... one of the things that Blake Snyder does get right (yes yes, with exceptions), that if you can't pitch your screenplay, it's not nearly in the region of 'final draft'. So that's good. And what did Nikhil say, 'wow, Jenna. It's like Athol Fugard. On smack.' Or did he say crack... these things matter. But what I feel the script doesn't have, is moments of open space. Something very important, which The Social Network thankfully reminded me of. Not just for rhythm, and tone and to give the audience time to sit back and go 'OK, now what? What's next' (Important things), but also for you, as the director, to take the film where it's meant to go. I think it's in these moments that the story really transcends the page. Just look at that boat scene in....
The Social Network. Thank you, David Fincher. Your film has officially obsessed me for three days, and will continue to for a while after, if I'm not mistaken. Why is this? Perhaps because if everyone had a film made about them the world would be a better place. Perhaps because of.... that boat scene....
I'm off to go relive this all in my dreams. 

And finally. A postscript to this rather single-minded post. Got me thinking, which director would you choose to shoot the biography of your life... I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg ever asked himself that... most likely not. But it is an interesting question. My dad, as the guinea pig for this slightly pointless thought experiment chose Paul Greengrass. And unless I'm mistaken, he means 'Bloody Sunday'-Greengrass, not 'Bourne-Ultimatum'-Greengrass. Unless my dad has a secret life he's not telling us about. You never know.