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“Storytellers broaden our minds: engage, provoke, inspire, and ultimately connect us.”
Robert Redford, Sundance Institute President and Founder

“It seemed like an age old story made new.”
Director Jessee Moss (on not Hercules, but his doc The Overnighters)

It’s really not a fair fight. The tag team of  Hercules and Lucy will be playing today in 6,762 theaters in the United States and The Overnighters (as far as I know) will be playing in just one theater—and a small one at that. It’s actually playing at microcinema—or minima—in Pepin, Wisconsin.

Pipin’s where I wish I could be tonight or tomorrow as The Overnighters plays in a theater that holds just 40 people. The Jessee Moss documentary on Williston, North Dakota won the  U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

How’s this for a logline? “Desperate, broken men chase their dreams and run from their demons in the North Dakota oil fields. A local Pastor risks everything to help them.”

Okay, maybe not a logline that wouldn’t excite WME Story Editor Christopher (The Inside Pitch) Lockhart and result in a movie that would open in 3,000+ theaters and find an international audience, but I look forward to seeing it eventually. You do know this blog is called Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places, don’t you? Williston, North Dakota qualifies as an unlikely place to make a film.

“Jesse Moss’ verite documentary about the impact of the oil boom in Williston, North Dakota on the local job market, and the controversial priest supporting the lives of the newcomers it attracts, contains one of the most remarkable examples of layered non-fiction storytelling to come along in some time.”
Eric Kohn, Indiewire review of The Overnighters after the movies Sundance viewing

The Overnighters really isn’t competing tonight against Hercules and Lucy (and I’m sure some talented screenwriters worked on both of those movies), I just wanted to give a shout-out to the Flyway Film Festival gang and its Executive Director Rick Vaicius as they celebrate the opening of their Flyway Minima tonight in a former ice cream shop near the banks of Lake Pepin. The only thing better than being at the opening night would be eating at the Harbor View Cafe in Pepin before going to the movie.

P.S. Don’t be surprised if Lucy beats Hercules at the box office this weekend. Remember that post I wrote earlier this week (‘What it means to be a screenwriter’) and how “Young Women Are The Hottest Box Office Demographic.” Showdown—Who will win at the box office—A female driven action film or a male driven action film? What are the chances they both do well and Dwayne Johnson and Scarlet Johansson end up in a film next year?

Related posts:
Postcard #17 (Lake Pepin)
The Perfect Logline
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 1)
Screenwriting Quote #172 (Christopher Lockhart) 

Scott W. Smith

 

“There’s a little bit of pink and blue coding that goes on in the film business in terms of material that you’re offered for sure. Every now and then I will feel in a meeting a little bit as though I’m out of place because there are so many men in the room. Certianly nothing that they’re trying to do, it’s not a harassment situation. But I’ll just have a sense that they’re looking at me like I’m a girl and that doesn’t come up for my husband (screenwriter Nick Kazan). We sort of have a lab thing going on at our house — he has one experience, I have another. There’s a certain amount of overlap, and the ways that they are different—some of them have to be put down to gender. I don’t let it bother me. I just go on doing my silly stuff…Statistically we know there aren’t as many women working in film as there should be. Having said that, I’ve had a wonderful career and I have many opportunities ahead of me and I have nothing to complain about.”
Screenwriter Robin Swicord
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Jay Fernandez  (Part 3)

P.S.   Having Nick Kazan as a husband means that Robin’s father-in-law was Elia Kazan, the Oscar-winning director of On the Waterfront.  Robin and Nick’s have two daughters in the entertainment business—  Zoe Kazan graduated from Yale with a theater degree, and Maya Kazan graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in film studies. This rounds out a nice run of posts taken from Robin’s interview on The Dialogue. On Monday I’ll pull some quotes from Nick’s own interview on The Dialogue.

Related posts:

On What Makes a Director
Screenwriting Quote #143 (Elia Kazan)
Kazan on Directing (Part 1)
‘Unstoppable’ Wesleyan University
The Most Important Two Hours  “My life as a writer began in the theater…”—Nicholas Kazan
‘What it means to be a screenwriter’

Scott W. Smith

“I see the movie very clearly when I’m writing. I try to put down what I see and let other people in on the joke, and hope they are seeing the movie that’s in my head. It’s important to do that whether you’re writing so that another director will take it and interpret your work, or whether you’re trying to get financing and get actors attached to it. They need to know what the movie is and so I try to put as much on the page as I know how.

“…If you’re writing visually you’re seeing so much, and there’s a tendency to see every bit of behavior and everything that’s in the room and so forth because it’s vivid to you if you’re seeing the movie in your head. But part of the craft of screenwriting is to write in such a pity way—it’s almost like being  a combination of a poet and a journalist. You’re trying to get the important information out there, but you’re trying to do it with enough concision and accuracy that you’re almost like a poet describing something in as few words as possible, but as vividly as possible. You don’t want there to be a lot of confusion because it is the blueprint of the film.

“Later you will have prop people, working with set dressers, working with art directors, and production designers and they will be looking at that little piece of description and they’ll be saying ‘Is it this or is it that?’ So you do have to help them out a little bit by trying to write precisely… I don’t think there’s any screenwriter working—that’s getting their films produced— that doesn’t try to direct a little bit on the page. Because if you know this is a sad moment at the end of something you’re going to try to write a transition that allows that sadness to sit there for a moment. And you don’t want to just bluntly go to the next scene, you want to describe something—but that’s technically direction.

“If you’re saying what the character looks like or emotion that they’ve making or even if they’re sitting still for a moment, you are providing direction. But if you don’t put that there, the scene isn’t going to land in quite the same way and allow the reader to have that moment to experience it before you move on to the next scene. So slowly you learn to hide this direction so that it’s not intrusive, it doesn’t become the point of the scene, and it allows the director room to interpret and say I know they wrote them sitting still here but instead I’m going to go to leaves outside of a window for instance. As long as they are giving something that allows a resting places it doesn’t matter. You’re just giving one version of it.”
Screenwriter Robin Swicord
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Jay Fernandez  (Part 3)

Related posts:

Descriptive Writing (Frank Darabont)
Descriptive Writing (Stephen King)
Postcard #65 (Tennessee Williams)  “The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks! The world thirsts after sympathy, compassion, love.”—T.W.
Descriptive Writing—Part 1 (Tip #22) “The future always looks good in the golden land because no one remembers the past.”—Joan Didion
Descriptive Writing—Part 2 (Tip #23)
Descriptive Writing—Part 3 (Tip #24)
Descriptive Writing—Pt. 4, Action (Tip #25)
Descriptive Writing—Pt. 5, Setting (Tip #26)

Scott W. Smith

“I think it’s impossible to be a writer and not draw from your own life…I see shadows all of the time in my work—things from my life.”
Robin Swicord

“I see shadows of certain characters from script to script. I’m interested in ambition certainly. I see that strain running through [my work]—like The Rivals* a script I sold on [actresses] Eleonora Duse and Sarah Bernhardt. And that thing of Eleonora Duse being the newcomer, the one no one expected much of because she was from Podunk little Italy, and theater was really happening in Paris and London. I found echos of my small town childhood and her desire to leave there and sort of take on the world. So I do think that’s one of the things we can’t escape— that we end up telling our own story behind the mask of whatever story we take on.”
Screenwriter Robin Swicord
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Jay Fernandez  (Part 3)

P.S. The flip side to yesterday’s post about the long journey to get Little Women (1994) produced is The Rivals still hasn’t been produced, though Steven Speilberg was once attached to produce and/or director the movie with  Nicole Kidman said to be cast as Sarah Bernhardt.

Related posts:
Emotional Autobiography (2.0)
Emotional Autobiography (‘On the Waterfront’)
Robert McKee vs. Richard Walter
Screenwriting Quote #129 (Bob Peterson) Pixar lets the directors create an ‘autobiography.’ In other words, things that are important to us make it into the film.”
E.T. & Emotional Autobiography

Scott W. Smith

“I want to do something splendid…something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.”
Louisa May Alcott (Little Women)

Writer/director Edward Burns once said filmmaking is “overcoming obstacles”—here’s the expanded version of that concept from Oscar-nominated screenwriter Robin Swicord:

“[Little Women director] Gillian Armstrong had the very difficult task of coming in on a project that had been in the minds of the writer and my executive Amy Pascal for about 12 years.  I had developed this more or less along with Amy without a producer as an interface at all. It was something she and I had talked about since we met. We kept trying to find a working situation where we’d be able to produce Little Women, and it took about 12 years for her to call me up one day and say, ‘I have a hit with Groundhog Day and with A League of Their Own, and I’m going to be able to do something now that I want and I want to do Little Women.’ And so we began our work together and she was my really my creative partner. 

“And Gillian came about because the studio had resistance to making a movie with female protagonists. And we were able to find a wonderful ally, Sid Ganis, who at that time was in charge of their marketing and today is a terrific producer. Sid had four daughters and I told him there was a strong marketing idea for Little Women, which was to reach a multigenerational audience.  A big broad audience, and not worry so much whether men would come to see this movie. But understand that every women would come, and that she would probably attend multiple times. And he bought that argument and that is in fact what played out at the marketing level. 

“Then from higher up in the studios we got this edict that if you can get Winona Ryder to be Jo then we will make this movie. And in order to approach Winona Ryder we looked around for the strongest producer that would have a relationship with her and we were very lucky to find Denise Di Novi and so she came in as the producer. And so she was able to bring in Winona Ryder and the studios said, not so fast—you’re going to have to get Susan Sarandon. And so we went to Susan Sarandon. And because we had a well-respect actress,Winona Ryder, she agreed— yes, this looks like a healthy thing. 

“And then Winona Ryder said I’d really like to work with a female director. And at that time that was a very short list of people. But fortunately on that list was Gillian Armstrong who had made My Brilliant Career, which is a film the studio could see enough parallels in that they would green light it with Gillian Armstrong. 

“And so she had to come into the situation that was pretty much ready-made, and [the studios] said we want it for next Christmas—and it was now December. And so she just had to hit the ground running. We had to make decisions of where to shoot it. And for the amount of money they were giving us we had no choice but to got to Canada [to shoot the movie].

“That’s just what it means to be a screenwriter. I know there’s a lot of derision about it being a collaborative field –what that really means, and David Mamet’s well-known quote, ‘It’s a collaboration, bend over’—but, in fact, it is a collaboration and if you’re not drawn to collaborative work you probably shouldn’t find yourself in the midst of film. I like the problem solving aspect that comes up, and there are frustrations but they’re the frustrations we’ve chosen in chosing this field.”
Screenwriter Robin Swicord (Little Women)
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Jay Fernandez  (Part 2)

I’m pretty sure in my six and a half years of blogging that’s the longest chunk I’ve ever transcribed. A lot of insights about how and why movies get made packed into several paragraphs.

P.S. Little Women was released in 1994. For an interesting perspective on fast forwarding 20 years, read last month’s Forbes article by Melissa Silberstein stating “Young Women Are The Hottest Box Office Demographic.” (And that’s before the July 4. 2014 weekend that’s been called the the worst 4th of July box office in decades when the traditional young males didn’t show up as expected.) Also, this is how Brent Lang explained it in Variety last month.

“Maleficent” rode “Frozen’s” coattails to a decisive victory at last weekend’s box office, analysts say.

More than any other Hollywood player, Walt Disney Studios has adroitly tapped into the strength of the female moviegoing audience, keeping this potent demographic in mind while cooking up everything from princess lines to “Let it Go”-style empowerment anthems.

“Right now Disney is pushing all the right buttons with regards to young girls,” said Eric Handler,  a media and entertainment analyst at MKM Partners. “The ‘princess brand’ is a very, very strong brand.”

Related Posts:
The 10 year ‘Get Low’ Journey
The 20 Year Journey of Craig Borten
Screenwriter David Seidler (and his 70 year journey)
Film Collaborating, Mismatched Souls & Pizza Making
Ron Howard & the Story Biz (2.0) What really gets me out of bed in the morning is this lifestyle that I’ve always been a part of: the creative problem-solving, the collaboration.”—Ron Howard
How to Be a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41)

Scott W. Smith

 

“Protagonists have to be active, they’re making their own fate all the time.”
Screenwriter Robin Swicord (Little Women)

“David Mamet says the one question an audience asks is WHAT’S NEXT? I agree. Let each scene drive the story forward. Make sure each moment is vital no matter what page it’s on.”
Ken Levin (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Fraiser)
Post on his blog The World As Seen By A TV Comedy Writer

“I think of [story beats] more in terms of one scene pushing the next scene into existence. And within a scene there will be certain beats because there’s a kind of progress that happens in every scene. And I think everybody who knows much about drama understands that the character is starting here, certain revelations or actions take place in the scene and you’re in a different place at the end of that scene. And what happens in that scene then makes the other scene happen. And so there’s this kind of because, because, because, that runs all the way through dramatic writing.  And so I don’t create schematics the way so many screenwriting books have done. I don’t think there’s anything magical about a certain page number, but I do know that the story happens in three large sweeps. The three act structure is not that artificial. Some people break it down into five— I think that’s quite legitimate, because act two is very long, so that can be broken down into whatever size you want. But generally speaking there is a progress toward and that is what makes dramatic writing dynamic.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Robin Swicord
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Jay Fernandez  (Part 2)

Related Posts:
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO?
Screenwriting Quote #94 (David Mamet) “Each scene must end so that the hero is thwarted in pursuit of his goal—so that he, as discussed elsewhere, is focused to go on to the next scene to get what he wants.”

Scott W. Smith

 

“To speak technically, photography is the art of writing with light.”
Gerardo Suter 

“I think that you should make as much film as you possibly can —long and short. But I don’t think it’s smart to start screenwriting without at least having carried a camera around. I really think you have to teach yourself to see the world cinematically in order to write cinematically. The thing I think that’s poorly understood about screenwriting from people who aren’t close to the film business is that screenwriters don’t just write the dialogue, we don’t just make up the story and structure the dramatic beats, but we also describe the images on the page which are then transferred into film images by everybody else. And carrying a camera, which I did for many years, really taught me to see the world in terms of photographs. It gave me a leg up in terms of learning to write visually.”
 Writer/director Robin Swicord (The Jane Austen Book Club)
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Jay Fernandez  (Part 1)

Related post:

John Ford’s Advice to Spielberg
Descriptive Writing—Part 1 (Tip #22)
Descriptive Writing—Part 2 (Tip #23)
Descriptive Wriitng—Pt. 5, Setting (Tip #26)
10 Cinematography Tips (Roger Deakins)
Cinematography & Emotions

Recommended Book: The Visual Story by Bruce Block

Recommended Website: The American Society of Cinematography (ASC)

P.S. I didn’t attended Vincent Laforet’s Directing Motion Workshop that toured the country the last three months, but the trailer looks great. And it’s available as a digital download and DVD. (I’m trying to get my hands on the material to review.)

Scott W. Smith

 

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