Process Film - Chess Scene: The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)


The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) was directed and produced by Norman Jewison. The stars are Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. 

McQueen plays Thomas Crown, a very wealthy man who stages a bank heist near his mansion in Boston for the thrill of it. Faye Dunaway plays Vicki, an insurance investigator, who suspects Crown but also finds herself falling in love with him. 

The chess scene (above) happens at a crucial moment, after Crown invites Vicki to his mansion for the first time. As she explores his study (for clues?, because she is fascinated by this enigmatic man?), he watches from behind his chess set. He asks her, "Do you play?" and she responds "Try me." 

The music for The Thomas Crown Affair, including this unforgettable sequence, was composed by Michel Legrand. Legend has it that Legrand, Jewison and editor Hal Ashby cut the picture and sound working together. 

Near the end of his life, I met Hal Ashby. He was, and remains one of my favorite filmmakers. We never talked about this scene. I regret that.

For giggles: Here is the spoof of this scene from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged me:

Undergraduate Producing Homework Due Dec. 11th, 2015


I want each student to produce a short film about completing a process and have it on YouTube - ready to screen - for our next class on Dec. 11th.

By process I mean a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.

Simply put, I want each student to make a short film about someone doing something.

They can work with other students making their films, but each student should make their own short film. They can shoot it on cellphones. It can be edited together using any editing program the student wants - even just in the phone.

I would prefer that each film be no longer than 15 shots. Shorter is OK. No film should be longer than 2 minutes - and shorter is OK.

The finished films must be posted to YouTube.

In English, film teachers call the kind of film each student will be making a “process film.” That's because these films show a process - a series of actions or operations leading to an end - from start to finish.

For a process film, each student can choose to show almost any process with a beginning, middle, and end.

For example?

1) A girl putting on make-up.
2) A boy tuning his guitar.
3) A child tying a shoe.
4) A mother making noodles.
5) A worker planting a tree.

The great thing about a “process film” as a learning exercise is:

1) It teaches about visual storytelling. You need to plan your shots to tell the story. The idea is not to use words (try not to use dialogue or voice over) - just let the pictures tell the story. It will really help to have a written story outline and storyboard - but they are not required for the assignment. Music is OK but also not required.

2) Almost every Hollywood film includes a section that is technically a “process film.” A chase sequence is a process. And Rocky training for a fight is a process. And Tony Stark building his Iron Man suit is a process. So learning how to make a “process film” is an essential part of learning be a filmmaker.

But wait… we’re not done…

The part of the assignment that makes it complicated is that I also would like each student to use both of the tools we discussed in our last class as they think about their process film.

Specifically, the tools I want them to work with are the ”4 Character Questions” and “The Hero’s Journey.”

To start, once each student has decided on a process, I want them to ask the 4 questions about the character who is engaged in the process.

For example?

1) What does the girl putting on make-up believe?

2) What is the girl putting on make-up afraid of?

3) What does she think she wants?

4) What does she really want?

(Maybe she is going on a date she doesn’t want to go on - because she thinks the boy isn’t good enough for her - but then her date surprises her with flowers! And she realizes she really wanted to be appreciated!)

Or maybe the boy tuning the guitar will be performing a song at his parent’s wedding anniversary. What he believes and fears will effect how he behaves. And, if the filmmaker really considers what the boy tuning the guitar thinks he wants and what he really wants - could that help to make the guitar-tuning film much better than just a film where the lead character doesn’t have goals and obstacles?

In addition to thinking about the "4 Character Questions," I also want the students to think about "The Hero’s Journey."

Here are links that the students can follow to watch videos that explain how The Hero’s Journey has been used in other films:

Is engaging in a process (e.g., putting on make-up or tuning a guitar) like a journey with trials and an ultimate battle? Does the person who has attempted the process (of putting on make-up or tuning a guitar) return with a new understanding about what they are capable of? Maybe that’s asking too much for a short film. But The Hero’s Journey is a tool that Hollywood screenwriters often use to think about how to make their stories richer and more meaningful. And it actually can help to make even very some short films (commercials?) better.

Good luck!

Randy Finch's Film Blog:

Thoughts from a film producer about making and distributing films.