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Podcast Transcript for The Pealing of a Bell: JFRRS 1.1

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Podcast Transcripts

The Pealing of a Bell on a Silent Night:

Jen Frankel Reads Random S#it ep 1.1

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original airdate: Jan 6, 2017

Podcast Details

For anyone who loves cinema, sound is just as important as the visual image to storytelling. In the debut episode of the JFRRS! Podcast, Jen reads an essay on the use of music and sound effects in Akira Kurosawa’s classic films including Rashomon (left) and Seven Samurai.

Transcript follows: some differences between actual recorded content and script is not just possible but likely!

JFFRS Ep 1.1


opening quotation

“Serenity is the privilege of hearing a sound evoked by the gentle jump of a sparrow accompanied by the sound of a falling leaf.”

Music changes.


Hello and welcome to the first episode of the JFRRS podcast, or, if you’re in a Not Safe For Work be damned environment, Jen Frankel Reads Random Shit. I am Jen Frankel, a writer of said random shit, but at the beginning of this episode, you heard me read a quote from Jaroslav Havelka. I hope to share with you some words of wisdom on life and writing in particular over the course of this podcast, from some of my favourite authors and thinkers on the subject.

You’ve probably heard it said that writing is a lonely profession. There’s something to that, but it’s also true that writers often stand just outside of the world, either on purpose or because they just can’t help it. I was once at an exhibition of new pointillist paintings – you know, the ones made up of tiny dots of colour – and the gallery was in a house so tiny that you literally could not stand far enough back for the pictures to make sense. Being a writer is like that, you need to step back to see the whole picture sometimes.

And taking THAT lesson from my experience also makes me focus less on the way I put my foot right in my mouth by saying, “You just can’t get far enough away from these paintings.” Just when the artist was standing right next to me.

Context. Perspective. Yes, they can make you take a few steps back to get a sense of the entirety of the thing you’re considering. Or you can move in close and see details that were invisible before, a single hair, or a tiny bug, an amoeba, an atom, a quark.

On this episode, I’m going to read you an essay about the Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa which delves a little into how both the grandiose and the minute can amaze in the hands of a master. If art is about communication, Kurosawa spoke in a way that made me excited to listen. This is The Pealing of a Bell on a Silent Night.

Music changes.

Second quotation

“Hearkening to the pealing of a bell on a silent night, one may be awakened from a dream of dreams. Gazing at the reflection of the moon on a transparent pool, one may visualize a spiritual body in one’s physical body.” A Chinese Garden of Serenity by Hung Tzu-Ch’eng


The films of Akira Kurosawa are visually stunning. The scope and depth to capture the imaginations of Western, as well as Eastern, audiences. Every moment in a Kurosawa film provides the viewer with breathtaking precision of choreography. Still, every character and motive rings true, as in a well-executed play. Kurosawa understands every device of modern cinema. He utilizes every method of storytelling to a level of excellence rarely seen in any other productions.

Especially outstanding is Kurosawa’s use of sound, both to set mood and underscore action. It is only fitting in a movie of the epic grandeur of The Seven Samurai that the music and sound effects should take the story above conventional adventure, to turn it into legend.

One of Kurosawa’s talents is to use music vividly enough to almost preclude the need for the images themselves. The Seven Samurai opens with heavy, ponderous drumbeats, changing to the overwhelming percussion of hoofbeats, the ominous approach of the bandits. Even without visuals, this scene could be accurately described by someone listening to the soundtrack.

Music in The Seven Samurai never resembles the pervasive background hum of modern Hollywood soundtrack. It is used more as an effect, in the same manner as other sound is added. It is obvious Kurosawa gave as much thought to the inclusion of music as to the images. For example, when the farmers arrive in town to look for their samurai, the music is light, almost comical. It’s setting an easy tone to the first days’ search, and almost giving the audience permission to see the humor in the farmers’ misfortunes.

Later, despair settles on them as they realize they can no longer afford to eat if they expect to pay samurai, if samurai they can even find. A sitar plucks single notes, lending a mood of loneliness and depression.

Another method used by Kurosawa to use sound to its fullest is the idea of personal, or symbolic, themes. Several characters have music or sounds that alert us to their presence. Indeed, the whole well-being of the farmers’ village seems hinged on the sounds of a single bird chirping. As long as the bird chirps, everything is safe. When the bird is silent, there is a reason.

The old grandfather has a very specific theme always associated with him that becomes vital in the latter portion of the film; that of the rhythmic thump of the waterwheel. Whenever the farmers, or later, the samurai, visit the grandfather, Kurosawa has laid over a very heavy track of thumps, of the millwheel in operation. Near the end of the film, when the bandits close in on the village. It is obvious some number of houses will need to be sacrificed because they cannot be adequately defended. It is the repeated thump as the camera focuses on the mill from the distance that reminds us that the grandfather is in danger.

Another way Kurosawa uses sound to manipulate and intensify the involvement of the audience is probably the most obvious, as it is the most striking. This is the simple use of foley and ambience sound that is basic to filmmaking. Kurosawa, however, is not content to lay sound to match every sound that might have been present at the time each scene was shot. One sound is usually picked out as having more importance than the others. It is only this sound that the audience hears.

One example of this is the use of the noise of the falling rain. Repeatedly, this becomes a symbol of despair, especially when no other sound is audible. It is hard to forget the scene in which the farmers realize their crop has ripened. The drumming rain counterpoints the earlier hoofbeats of the bandits’ horses.

In Rashomon, another very powerful example exists. During the scene in which the woman conjures the spirit of her dead husband, the visual suggests a strong wind, whipping her hair and garments. But the soundtrack contains only drumbeats and the spirit’s voice, upsetting the reality of the scene. It allows that mystical things may happen, even in a film otherwise based outside the metaphysical.

Kurosawa has a mastery of the film language that creates the magic of his movies. A storytelling ability that is the culmination of his control of sound, plot, and image. All the planning however does not make a film like the Seven Samurai look contrived, just very well made. The attention paid to sound and music is certainly one of the most valuable lessons to be taken by any student of his work.

Music changes.


I actually did write that essay for a class when I attended art school. In coming weeks, I’ll be sharing with you some purpose-written work like pieces of reporting or other journalistic explorations. Some short fiction, poetry, excerpts from longer work, and lyrics. On subjects from time travel to the Titanic and in a multitude of genres. I am, as you might see, as much a random writer as a reader of random things.

I used to say that the reason I write is that short of becoming a game show contestant. There’s really no other profession that allows me to use all the useful and useless random knowledge that I accumulate. I’m a fact sponge. I love learning things, and when I do, those things rattle around with other things and sometimes make new things.

I’ve also been known to say that, for a creative person, it’s when the voices in your head STOP that you know you’re sick.

As I continue this podcast, I hope to share some insights into the writerly mind. Some extreme close-ups as well as some vistas. Because seeing a person is as difficult as seeing a pointillist painting. You get different impressions depending on how far away you are and how closely you look. I’d like to let you get to know me through my words. And I’d like to get to know you too through yours.

That’s all for this first episode of Jen Frankel Reads Random Shit. I hope you’ll explore the films of Akira Kurosawa, like The Seven Samurai and Rashamon, and maybe look up Jaroslav Havelka as well.

See you next time, when yes, I shall have more random shit for your listening pleasure.

How to Write a Successful Hollywood Film

It isn’t that Hollywood is out to make bland, bad films. It’s just apparently the industry has forgotten entirely what used to make them good. Or, at the very least, is just supremely good at making them mediocre…

How to Write a Successful Hollywood Film in 11 Steps


If you know my writing (and, well, my attitude — I’m not exactly quiet when it comes to the subject), you’ll know that colouring within the lines is not exactly my thing. I take my craft pretty damn seriously, and that’s why I try to up the ante with each major piece of writing I attempt: hone the style, find unique ways of looking at a fictional world and portraying the characters who inhabit it, and try oh so hard to keep you guessing about what’s going to happen.

Let’s face it. An astonishing self-serving message from Amazon claims that books compete directly against movies, video games and other forms of entertainment, but I know that’s just not true. People who read continue to read. But far more people will only ever experience my work if it gets translate to the screen.

That makes scriptwriting a kind of mystical holy passion many dream about, novelists or no. But if you wanna get your film produced, here’s what you gotta do.

11 Steps to Writing a Hollywood Film


Think up an idea that can be successfully communicated in ten seconds or less. An idea, mind, not a story, and if you include a character or two, make sure you refer to him (not him/her) as “the hero,” not by name or personality type. This is the famous so-called “elevator pitch,” so called because “something a drunk producer you met for ten seconds at a party will remember tomorrow morning in the bathroom” is way too long to be hip.


Don’t go out of your way to learn how to write. Especially, don’t read yourself. If you want to learn how to write scripts, just think of what you’ve seen in the past few years. If you remember them at all, those films must have been AWESOME. If you must read classic scripts, don’t go back further than Quentin Tarantino. I mean, he references everything that matters from before anyhow.


Your hero must be an everyman. He must combine the best of the schlubbish laziness we’ve come to accept as the pinnacle of cool with killer abs for the ladies. After all, if there’s killer abs, they’re not going to make a fuss about a little bit of female T&A on display.


And you’re gonna need some T&A. If it’s an action flick, a preternaturally skinny kick-boxing hottie with an utterly humorless attitude who dislikes the hero, so you know she’s gonna fall for him (schlub magic at work! or maybe it’s the abs…) If it’s any other kind of film, you’ll need a preternaturally skinny Pilates-outted chick with an utterly humorless attitude, who gives you the impression she’s been preparing every moment of her life to be a beautiful Hollywood actress, so, you know, no time to develop a personality or outside interests. She should also be able to authoritatively deliver her lines entirely as questions to the hero: “What do you mean?” “Where are you going?” “I don’t understand about the main elements of the plot to this point at all so perhaps you could give a synopsis for me and all the intellectually slowish audience members?”


Fight scenes. This is what your movie turns on. Yes, there’s the action scenes to worry about too, but the big climax is going to come down to a fight. Mano a mano. Your schlub against the up-to-this-point magically so much stronger villain. Spend most of your creative time trying to think up something you haven’t seen in a film before. Doesn’t have to be good, just different enough to be memorable.


Action scenes. Not to be confused with fight scenes. These are where your CGI guys will really earn their money. You can include your characters, but seriously, it’s not the climactic fight scene where you actually DO need to have people around, so concentrate on minor stuff they can shoot greenscreen and pimp out big time time in post.


Issues. Gotta have issues. I mean, no matter what else is going on in the plot, your main schlub has to have what poncey hipster screenwriting gurus refer to as “arc,” something that any good producer will strip to a bare minimum. Something about the schlub’s inability to connect with his daddy is awesome. Dead wives and kids are great too. Just stick to one, and make sure it affects everything he does — until it suddenly gets solved right after the big fight scene. That’s called “catharsis.” Or “denouement.” Whatever. You need it. Just don’t labour too long to come up with something spicy. It might not be universal enough!


Add some subsidiary characters. Don’t worry too much about them, and remember you can always cheat using my famous “Handbook of Minor Characters.” Just make sure you use the current edition, or you’ll end up with some retro “funny black guy who can trip over his own toes for comic relief” character that’ll get the political set all riled up. For your reference, here are some must-haves:

    • The big-ass strong, dumb guy.
    • The wiry hyper-kinetic out-of-control guy.
    • The know-it-all techie guy who sucks with women
    • The token girl. Don’t agonize over this one: if you already have a T&A girl in the script, no one will notice if you leave the second chick out! It’s like having an Asian or a black guy in your script. As long as you have one, you’ve done the due diligence.


Tart up the villain with something special, either a power or secret pain we haven’t seen before. Maybe something about his daddy! You can throw in some low-level flunkies, and maybe one more developed one. The more developed one, traditionally, is the one who betrays his boss by having an attack of conscience. Don’t fret any other characters; they’re just there to bring coffee, drive cars, and die without any emotional burden to the audience.


One liners. Screw dialogue! Just watch a few days’ worth of Louis C.K. and you’ll be in the right mood to hammer out some sardonic, sassy catchphrases that moviegoers can memorize and repeat ad naseum to each other.


The story. I know, you figured the story really tells itself! Well, no, honey. You have to actually think up a story to go along with all the awesome characters and action sequences. Think back to the elevator pitch, and see if you can tease something out. Look up “MacGuffin” online so you don’t stress TOO much about this part. What they’re fighting for doesn’t really matter that much. The fact that they’re fighting is the point.

And there you go! That’s all there is to it. Fame and fortune awaits. . .