Jonathan Leiter

Jonathan Leiter

Filmmaker, Digital artist, voice actor, and film studies blogger. If you want to explore my more personal thoughts, check out my site:

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Latest Articles

Latest Topics


Are Biopics Getting Predictable?

With the release of the latest biographical film (biopic), "I Saw the Light"–about the core years of the career of Country Music legend, Hank Williams–it is beginning to look like the events depicted in biopics of this nature follow a pretty predictable pattern, no matter how real or how embellished the events actually are. And these events are not just subject to musicians, they are also true of actors, directors, business men, and many others.

The protagonist is most often a famous man. They end up courting, dating, and/or marrying multiple women during their life. In the middle of each marriage they are sleeping around. Half the time one of the wives is also sleeping around. There’s domestic violence, drinking problems, drugs, and abuse. Mistreatment of children and/or custody battles with one or more of the wives. Spiraling depression. Some terribly awkward event that ruins the protagonist’s PR. Heated arguments over artistic differences with record producers, executives, business partners, and so on. And many many moments of sobering honesty when the main character finally lets down his guard, and speaks truthfully about himself and his issues.

Now of course, these are just facts of life. The reason these things are in a large portion of bio-pics (eg. The Aviator, Chaplin, J. Edgar, and the new Steve Jobs film) is because every person in these films was at times greedy, lustful, selfish, short-sighted, insensitive, and likely cared too much about their fame and fortune to put anything else ahead of it. And yet, there are still other biopics about famous individuals who either did not lead lives as ugly as these, or at least had lives that were filled with more positive noteworthy events, which their biographies tend to highlight more than the darker anecdotes. Films like "Gandhi," "The King’s Speech," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Ed Wood," "Ali:" where their stories are not so much defined by their tragedies, but by their triumphs, both behind-the-scenes and in front.

So my question is this: is a biopic worth being made about certain famous individuals, even if their lives are basically as sad and tragic as someone else’s who already has a film about them?

  • I'm not entirely sure I agree with this concept so perhaps a comprehensive study of a) the most popular biopics and b) the most acclaimed biopics over the past decade or two might be necessary to really make this work. It would be interesting to see if the biopic is a reflection of trends in Hollywood, be it creatively or production wise. – jwiderski 9 years ago
  • I brought up this topic because every time I watch a Bio-pic, I sometimes get something interesting and original, with facts I never knew before, but usually I get the same old story of adultery, drinking, depression, failure, and regret, despite the good things a particular individual may have done in their life. And my point was, is there a reason to make a film about one person or another, if there really isn't anything unique or special to say about them, other than what has already been said or shown about another person with a similar life? Because the more I watch bio-pics, the more I see many tending to follow a predictable pattern: I'm often not surprised or engaged when I watch them, because I can just feel the the next beat in the story coming from a mile away. If you don't think you've noticed this pattern, then that's perfectly fine. But I think it's visible enough for someone to give it a deeper look. It's really less about the film aspect, and more about "Does this person's story NEED or deserve to be told? Is it unique and important enough to warrant an entire film?" – Jonathan Leiter 9 years ago
  • "is there a reason to make a film about one person or another, if there really isn't anything unique or special to say about them, other than what has already been said or shown about another person with a similar life?" - the rationale behind making films is always, will it make money? Never forget that the film industry in a business. – louisestupar 8 years ago
  • I'm in the business, so I am well aware that money is the deciding factor. But even with that said, what is it about certain individuals that would make people want to go see a film about them, especially if you have no idea who they are or who they were? Because some of the people who get films aren't that interesting in the end, even if they did something miraculous. And like I've explained above, their stories are basically the same as many other real life people. You could basically take any number of bio-pics and plot out the beat-by-beat similarities between them, and how they're almost all the same film, with only the details being what differentiates them. Other fiction and non-fiction movies can have similar beat-by-beat plots as well, but I just feel that biopics are far more obvious in this regard. – Jonathan Leiter 8 years ago
  • Some biopics inspire more than others. For instance, I saw Concussion and am a huge Will Smith fan, HUGE! But as a biopic, Concussion did not answer the question of why the doctor was so invested in pursuing truth, his religious beliefs, his integrity as a doctor or his idealism of being an American citizen. Dr. Bennet Omalu did not suffer from the perils of success that you have pointed out. In fact, he maintains the movie is not about him but the issue of concussions, humble man that he is. But I felt dissatisfied with the conclusion even though I loved the movie. I felt the movie should have celebrated the success of Dr. Omalu and could have shown the effects of his research more than it did. But, I couldn't help but smile as I read your responses to biopics. My understanding of your criticism is that perhaps you feel biopics should be inspirational and raise our awareness of the power of the common human being to show how we can triumph over insurmountable obstacles to find a way not just to survive but thrive, yes? Otherwise what is the point of telling this person's story? The qualities of the person, their courage and their character, should be worthy of a story. Perhaps this new trend in biopics is a result of a shift in moviegoers who want to see the flawed and real character, rather than an idealized version of a hero. Rather than being uplifted nowadays, maybe audiences want to be able to say, "Hey, here is a guy/girl just like me and they did something great." I also think this trend toward depicting the negative side is growing, perhaps sadly. I just saw 10 Cloverfield (spoiler alert). The premise of the movie was that instead of a heroic stereotype of a person who survives in a post-apocalyptic world, a pedophile, had the resources to survive the alien invasion. I think this trend will find a small market but hopefully biopics will be made that do inspire us to lift ourselves out of the mundane to do something worthwhile. We do need inspiration. – Munjeera 8 years ago

The Star Wars Cinematic Universe: Will it Prove Better Than the MCU?

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU) has proven over the past 7 years to be a strong, viable, profitable, and well-beloved series of films, which plan to continue forward with at least two films every year with no end in sight. But now, Star Wars is looking to break out into its own Cinematic Universe, and spawn an ongoing series of both episodic and stand-alone films. So what could this mean?

With the Marvel films, each film is gathering plot points, characters, and events from decades of material that all must be accounted for in order to make sure that certain elements that have been established for decades are stay consistent. With Star Wars, the new execs at Lucas Film and Disney have decided to throw out the majority of its expanded universe in order to allow the most creative freedom and a clean slate going forward, hopefully with the result that the newly expanding universe will be more coherent and consistent between all previous and future installments. On the Marvel side the mandate requires that each screenplay include Easter-eggs or plot details from future Marvel properties within the story, so that a large interconnected web can be constructed between every film. This has resulted in many artistic and creative arguments. On the Star Wars side, Lucas Film and producer Kathleen Kennedy seem less interested in mandating any particular rules for the writers and directors, in favor of letting everyone work freely as they please, in order to get the best possible stories and films out of them.

For Marvel, “The Avengers” was an enormous step forward not just for legitimizing a more cartoonish comic-book universe on film, but it was the first ensemble super-hero movie that was actually helmed by a talented director who could handle the task, and it proved a huge success. But with the release of pre-order tickets for “The Force Awakens,” Star Wars seems more than capable of breaking every record at an unbelievable margin not only because of the brand, but because the right people are running the show, and making this film an event no one should miss. So what does that mean for the Star Wars films that come afterwards? Is it possible that the Star Wars Cinematic Universe could surpass the MCU in terms of filmmaking quality, world-building, and drawing power; or is all of this just hopeful speculation, and it could just as easily run into all of the same problems that Marvel has, and an eventual over-saturation of its own brand?

  • Sorry Cmandra, I'm not sure if this entirely fixes the issues you had with it. It's honestly a bit hard of a topic to explain in a short few paragraphs. If this still doesn't sound quite right to you, please let me know. – Jonathan Leiter 9 years ago
  • I think it is important to note that Marvel is working with a preconceived time-table that outlines the story line and plot as well as what movies will be coming out at what time. They are planning their extensive universe well in advance. However, the Star Wars Universe, although cleaning the slate by disregarding what was considered canon but came after the movies, does not-as far as I know-have any plans laid out for future projects. – courtlynn 9 years ago
  • I tried to allude to that in my opening sentence. And that's precisely part of the issue. Is Star Wars destined to be a much stronger series due to the current lack of a very specific time schedule, and no apparent "Big-event" films which must be properly foreshadowed in earlier installments? Or are Star Wars and Marvel pretty much in the same boat? – Jonathan Leiter 9 years ago
  • The other day I came across old Star Wars canon novelizations and graphic novelizations and was surprised to remember and discover how vast the worlds really were. I grew up reading things like The Jedi Apprentice (about Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui Gonn Jin's relationship) and sequels to the films. Some were authorized by George Lucas himself. This is all to say that there is immense potential in the Star Wars universe. The movies almost die to have context and ensembles that the format doesn't allow, and maybe fans want more than the animated Clone Wars and Rebels series. So I think that if the effort is genuine--i.e. if they get the right, enthusiastic, cooperative creators on board--they could really launch the Star Wars ship. I think of this not really in context of Marvel; they seem so different now. I don't think anyone will stop that woken giant! – IndiLeigh 8 years ago

Can You Make a Movie Out of a Gender Neutral RPG?

Back in 2012, I heard at one point that there were talks about making a "Skyrim" movie, back when the game had been out for about a month or so. The talks didn’t last long. But, a big-budget, or even a small-budget film about "Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" would still be exciting, and there are plenty of reasons why it could not only have a strong narrative, but a great cast, stunning visuals, and plenty of room to expand to sequels.

However, there is one glaring problem with the prospect of a "Skyrim" movie getting produced: who should play the Dragonborn?

Since you are free to choose not only your race but your gender when you start the game, how would you go about choosing the in-universe race and gender for the character, and then how would you choose the real actor to portray that character? Should you choose to cast a female actor in the role, in order to avoid a backlash from fans of the game who played through it as a female? Or should you cast a male, as the developers had clearly done for the cover art, posters, trailers, and the live-action teaser?

It’s a very tough question to answer, and one that could come up when dealing with a movie version of any RPG video game that includes a character creation system.

There are still doubts in the industry as to whether or not movies based on games can ever be any good. I personally think they can, since plenty of games have strong stories, deep in-universe histories, and engaging characters. It’s just a matter of getting the right director and the right amount of studio support. Picking the right game to adapt isn’t a bad idea either. So there are still chances for some RPG’s to be brought to the movie screen. And I’m curious to see if someone out there has a solution to this sort of predicament, or at least some good options.

Should RPG’s with character creation systems just not get their own movie adaptation based on principle? Or, if they do, is there a way to handle it where both male and female fans can be pleased with who portrays the main protagonist?

  • I like the idea of this topic but I don't know if it should be a yes/no answer. I think it may be easier to write this topic if you weigh the ability of such games to be turned into movies. Instead of should it be made into a movie maybe it should be asked "how" will this game be turned into a movie. This way there is more to grab onto and write about. But I think this is a really interesting topic given the state of both games and movies today – DClarke 9 years ago
  • That's precisely why I'm bringing it up, and why I asked the last question. This topic can and likely should be tackled the first of those two ways, just like you proposed. – Jonathan Leiter 9 years ago
  • And yes, I agree that someone should find the best way to approach it from a angle that does not end with a yes or no. – Jonathan Leiter 9 years ago

The Future of Home Media: Beyond the Blu-ray

At this time, the chief physical platform for movies is still the DVD. It is packaged with almost every Blu-ray release as an extra bonus for those out there who still don’t own a Blu-ray player. And it is a slightly more accessible format for those who do not have portable devices equipped with a Blu-ray drive, in order to go on the road or on vacation.

At the same time, the Blu-ray is the best current format for home viewing that allows one to experience a film or TV series in the best visual and audio quality outside of a theatrical environment. But Netflix, Amazon, and I-Tunes are coming up fast as the better alternatives, due to instant downloads, large streaming libraries with monthly fees, and the ability to carry your entire collection on a single computer or hard-drive.

The question is, will there be another physical format to replace Blu-rays in the near future, or will everything go completely downloadable? Will people still crave a physical box to house their favorite films in on an expansive living room shelf? Or will they come to appreciate the convenience of the digital library, complete with a searchable database, and every single TV show and film they could ever want, not only for lower prices, but a smaller footprint and price-tag when moving from one home or apartment to another?

  • It is worth mentioning that 20th Century Fox is planning on releasing "Ultra HD Blu-Rays" which are the equivalent of current Blu-Rays but with 4K resolution. So in that sense, there are still physical releases being produced for movies. That being said, how successful it will be is another matter entirely, especially considering that the process of getting more people to upgrade formats is a slow one. And sometimes not all formats are successful: 3D Blu-Rays did not sell nearly as well as 2D Blu-Rays. I think it would be very interesting to look at how much digital media has grown over the years and also maybe find out if it is doing better than physical media today if you can find anything about it. – Seth Childers 9 years ago

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Latest Comments

Jonathan Leiter

I normally don’t reply to comments on this article lately, as no comment has given me a specific reason to. But I’m confused in this case because you seem to want to share with me an opinion which may prove entirely pointless in relation to this article if you had simply read the article before hand.

First of all, I find your opening line a bit of a paradox, as you cannot say that children will never be ready for darker films if said films are designed with children in mind. This is especially true these days, when so many “children’s films” have been dumbed down and simplified to fit the more censored approach that modern parents take towards their children’s media consumption. Whereas films from the 80s that were also designed for children captivated and fondly stayed with plenty of them. Clearly THEY enjoyed said darker films, so where exactly does your evidence come from to support your claim?

As far as I recall, I clearly state in my article above that it is in fact up to the parents to knowingly and actively gauge what is appropriate to show their kids, and to be as aware as they can be of what their own children are mentally and emotionally capable of watching: meaning that they do not overestimate it or underestimate it. It surely is a fine line we walk no matter how good any parent is. You can’t always know what will affect your children negatively: whether it will result in nightmares, whether it will produce an irrational fear in something they otherwise wouldn’t have, or if it may adversely shape their views on violence or other negative acts in their later lives.

But filmmakers and storytellers like Jim Henson and Don Bluth (who both produced very similar work in the 1980s) both contest that it is unhealthy for a child to grow up without a sense of fear or a lack of experience being scared or presented with something darker and more foreboding than they may find in their regular lives. And because of how I turned out, I am inclined to agree with this viewpoint.

And if one simply looks back at the children of the 1980s, you might recall that plenty of children were quite massive fans of all things dark and terrifying, plenty of whom were taken to R-rated movies like Robocop, Conan the Barbarian, Terminator, and the Predator films: much like how I see a lot of modern kids taken to the Batman films, violent dramedies, and Deadpool today. A lot of kids lived and thrived on this stuff. Does that mean they all turned out alright in the end, perhaps not. But we also cannot definitively say that any of them who saw such material were forever harmed or altered by it in a negative way. And yet those films obviously weren’t meant for kids, nor do I think parents should have responsibly taken their children to them.

So what about the films that were meant for children audiences: many of which I cover in this article? Aren’t they much more generally appropriate for kids to see? Things like “The Black Cauldron,” “Willow,” “Legend,” the original “Star Wars” trilogy (including The Force Awakens), “Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan” (and the new Star Trek films), “The Neverending Story,” “The Secret of NIMH,” “An American Tail,” and so on?

Of course, one of the key questions should also be, “how do you know if your kids will find something scary or not if you don’t try something first?” If you actively hide your children from scary things, then you do them a disservice because you create this belief in their heads that all things within a certain range of images, words, ideas, etc, are GOOD and happy, while potentially anything outside of that range is bad, wrong, or disturbing. Whereas children with a generally broad exposure to at least “family friendly” dark films from as far back as the 70s and 80s, and darker stories from almost any time, may grow up with an easier acceptance of both good and bad things, and won’t be so scared when scary things come their way, yet hopefully will also have a sensible respect for actual dangers and not be unwise in regards to confronting or fleeing them.

I may be getting a little convoluted in my thoughts here, I’m sure. It’s a little hard to explain in a concise way. Basically, I personally think it is nurture that softens a child too much in our modern society. Although, I have yet to really notice children turning soft, and more so have noticed more parents becoming far more restrictive about what their kids watch, read, or play, almost with no regard for what their children might actually be able to handle. Therefore, I think we shouldn’t try to hide them as much from darker imagery specifically (which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with violence), because it could potentially give them less confidence in themselves to venture out into the world and society when they must do so, even with just going to grade school. A lack of darker imagery or a lack of sad and more emotional concepts may also cause a lack of empathy and understanding in children who have not been exposed to such material: these sort of things really help one to mature and become a more well-rounded person. Something I think a great part of the world still lacks.

Another angle to consider is the fact that grim and creepy things can also be quite fascinating and enjoyable. Zombies have a pretty broad fanbase, and many fans begin as children, particularly 9 or 10 years old, which is an age that I emphasize right away in my article as being a key age to experience darker themes and visuals. Any younger than that, I agree, may be an improper time.

The classic movie monsters were big sellers for 60s through 80s born kids. Godzilla as well. There are of course many cartoon baddies like the rosters that would appear in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Real Ghostbusters, Dragonball-Z, Courage the Cowardly Dog, etc. Even cartoons typically seen as harmless girly fare, like Rainbow Brite, were far more dramatic and had more believable stakes than comparable programs had in the early 2000s. Only now with the new My Little Pony, Steven Universe, and Gravity Falls animated series’ are we seeing a nice return of big stakes, emotional drama, relationship ups and downs, and actual consequences being presented in a children’s television medium again.

But really, I don’t expect anyone to do one or the other with regards to their children’s viewing habits after reading something like my article. My opinion is my own, and I will raise my own children as I see fit, when and if I even have any children. The rest of the world’s parents can do as they wish because that is their choice. I simply wish to share my opinion, and offer a different point of view to those who may not be fully aware of the broader perspective

I do, however, plan to make my own films fit this balance of dark and light, because I could not see myself creating anything different.

Should Children's Films be Dark or Light?
Jonathan Leiter

I don’t think the use of music, in this film’s case, means to suggest anything specific as familial ties. Rather it suggests or alludes to story themes and concepts that we are already (most likely) aware of.

The film uses mostly new themes as a way to differentiate itself from the previous 6. However, when it does use past themes, it uses them to an understandable and nostalgic effect.

We hear portions of the Vader theme (which was actually called “The Imperial March:” which is why it isn’t always used as just a theme for Darth Vader, but also a theme for the Empire as a whole) in two specific instances: once when the last few bars of the theme are used as Kylo Ren steps down from his ship at the beginning of the film, and again in a very slow rendition when we see Luke at the end of the film. This second usage is the strangest of all uses of previous themes, because it may suggest a conflicting battle of light and dark within Luke, but also the looming shadow of Anakin/Vader/Kylo’s actions from Luke’s past, and how they are coming back to haunt him now.

We also hear bits and pieces of the Millennium Falcon gunfighter sequence and the trench run, when the Millennium Falcon is first introduced.

And lastly, we hear the music from when Luke found his home destroyed, and the dead bodies of his aunt and uncle outside, played over the moment when Rey grabs the lightsaber with The Force during the climax. Now you might not have realized where that piece of music came from when writing your comment. But even if you did, thinking about it’s original scene in “A New Hope,” it makes much more sense that this musical score over Rey is meant to suggest that this is the moment when she leaves her past life behind, and embraces the way of The Force, and the path of The Jedi. When Luke saw his home destroyed and the skeletons of his family lying in the sand, that was it for him: there’s no turning back now. It’s all forward from here, where ever the path may take him. And the same can be said for Rey, when that same music is played over her moment, just before duking it out with Ren.

This piece of music does not directly support a familial connection. If it did, then every time they use it in “Star Wars: Rebels” it would mean that Ezra Bridger is related to Luke, and I very highly doubt that, since he’s a contemporary of Luke and Leia and is the same age as them.

Star Wars: How The Prequel Trilogy Enhances The Force Awakens
Jonathan Leiter

I enjoy many aspects of them as well, and I grew up with them when they came out. However, I also saw all three originals when I was 5 years old, just before Episode 1 was released in 1999.

From this perspective, the main issue with watching the films in “Episodic Order” is that the original films were designed so that each introduction to a character would be a mystery, since they were all brand new to the audience at the time.

For example: we had no idea who Darth Vader was when he first appeared in Episode 4, which gave him a mystique and a more intimidating presence, as there was no backstory to him, nor any familial connection to Luke. This then allows the reveal that he is Luke’s father to be more surprising when you go to Episode 5, along with the reveal that the Great Master Yoda is a small green alien rather than a tall and muscular looking person or figure. The Emperor is also more fascinating and creepy when we only know of him from Episode 6. But then watching Episodes 1-3 enhances his character after the fact. But, if you watch the films in order, the Emperor seems much more to age until all he can do is shock you with lightning and not much else. He can’t even leap out of Darth Vader’s grip or stop him from throwing him down that shaft, when just 20 years earlier he would have been able to.

These and many other reasons are why I think it is still wise to watch the films in order as people born in the before the Prequels had: you watch 4-6 first, because it allows the suspense and mysteries set-up in those films to be maintained, and then you watch the Prequels to get the backstory and blanks left by the originals filled in, as it had for those of us who DID watch them second.

Just because George Lucas says that Episode 1 is the first episode, that doesn’t mean one has to approach them that way.

Star Wars: How The Prequel Trilogy Enhances The Force Awakens
Jonathan Leiter

Star Wars Rebels is actually going to confirm that Kylo’s Lightsaber is based on an ancient saber design that used a cross-guard. But what makes his lightsaber so messy and violent looking is because he built it with incomplete specs, and a cracked Kaiburr crystal: which gives the saber another reason why it needs the cross-guards as vents for the escaping energy out through the cracks in the crystal itself. So it’s actually a layered design with multiple reasons for why it exists: including being a reflection of Kylo’s inner conflict and personality.

Star Wars: How The Prequel Trilogy Enhances The Force Awakens
Jonathan Leiter

In what way. I’ve simply explained that certain facts and details presented by the prequels enhanced the historical weight of the new film and future films. Those same facts could have been a part of a different but better story just as much as they were part of the sub-par one that we got. Whether or not the prequels were good has no bearing on what I’ve laid out here.

Star Wars: How The Prequel Trilogy Enhances The Force Awakens
Jonathan Leiter

What do you mean by Second Generation? I’m only 23, but I grew up on the original trilogy first because my mom had all the movies, and I watched them when I was 3-5, just before “The Phantom Menace” came out. So I actually was excited to learn the story of how Anakin became Darth Vader, rather than going in completely blind.

Star Wars: How The Prequel Trilogy Enhances The Force Awakens
Jonathan Leiter

I will always appreciate the look of “The Phantom Menace,” and the feelings I had as a kid watching the trailers, reading the behind-the-scenes info, looking at comics, buying the toys, and seeing the film in theaters. I definitely don’t like the story, the writing, or the acting (from Natale Portman especially). But the music, the design, and the visual direction still stand up a lot better than the fully CGI environments of the latter two Prequels.

Star Wars: How The Prequel Trilogy Enhances The Force Awakens
Jonathan Leiter

They’re not going to do that. I’m sure when handing over Lucas Film, George had a clause in the contract that stated they couldn’t remake any of the films that already existed. Nor do I think Disney would want to, considering all 6 have been around so long now, and there are die-hard fans on both sides of the Prequel fence. The new continuity and canon has also been very well established now, especially with the introduction of both “The Clone Wars” TV series, and “Star Wars: Rebels.”

Does no one appreciate what they’re doing with those TV shows. Does nobody watch them? Because they honestly fix a lot of the problems the Prequels introduced. And frankly, if you want to skip the Prequels entirely, save for “Revenge of the Sith,” you can do so, and just watch the animated shows. It’s really all you need to get caught up on pre-New Hope history.

Star Wars: How The Prequel Trilogy Enhances The Force Awakens