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“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’s 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 an 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 the right way is doing going to quite live in the same way and allow the reader to have that moment to have them 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.

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

 

“I started writing ever since I could pick up a pencil, but I had been orientated to novels and short stories because that’s what we studied in school. I really didn’t know movies were written until I was probably about 20-years-old.
Screenwriter Robin Swicord

Chances are good that even if you live in a small town in North America you have quite a bit of access to learning about the screenwriting and filmmaking processes. But if you were in a small town in the United States back in the 1970s—and even if you attended a college like Florida State University in Tallahassee—you didn’t have access to cable TV, DVDs with writer and director commentaries, movies streamed online, screenwriting blogs, or even that many books on the screenwriting/filmmaking process. (Syd Field’s classic book on screenwriting didn’t even come put until 1979.)

Yet that’s where Oscar-nominated screenwriter Robin Swicord (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) came from on her way to writing Little Women and Memoirs of a Geisha. She worked as a photographer to pay her way through college and then started to think she could write screenplays.

“I was intimidated. I didn’t have a teacher and I didn’t know how to get started. And it was that thing of being in a small town and knowing that there’s a big world out there, and not knowing quite how to get out of that small town and go to the big world knowing that I wanted to write for film but I’d never met a filmmaker. So there was a period of self invention were I was trying to figure stuff out. Then there weren’t things that are so available now; all the books on structure, interview series like this where you hear writers talking about their work—just being able to go in an rent a DVD and study one filmmaker’s work.”
Robin Swicord
The Dialogue interview with Jay Fernandez (Part 1)

But the road to Hollywood began for Swicord in Northwest Florida where her photography skills led to some corporate production work in Atlanta for IBM, which led to IBM asking their ad agency in New York if they’d hire Swicord as a copywriter and they did. That got her to New York City where she began to met people in the film business. She was told the best chance a female has to work in the film industry was to be a script supervisor, but her goal was screenwriting.

“I got in touch with some people who had gone to Florida State a little bit after me who were in New York City and hoping to start a theater. And I said, ‘I’ll write a play for you.’ I wrote this play called Last Days at the Dixie Girl Cafe, and we had like $500 between us and we rented the theater and we put an ad in Backstage magazine. And actors showed up and auditioned and then we were in business….I was lucky in that the director of that is a good dramaturge—her name was Lynn Thomson*. She was teaching directing at  playwriting at Hunter College and she taught me a lot about writing plays. And a lot of it gets taught to you by actors in the rehearsal process.

“It had a nice opening and moved to off-Broadway and investors found it and so forth and through that an agent saw it and got in touch with me and said, ‘Did you ever consider writing for film?’ And I gave her my first screenplay Stock Cars for Christ. 

“I was completely mid-twenties just trying to figure out my own path to get there. I sold a screenplay and stepped into the most remarkable situation that I call ‘learn while you earn.’ I was paid by MGM to rewrite my screenplay endlessly under the tutelage of a wonderful development executive who patiently let me find my way to decent structure. It was an uncommon experience for a beginning screenwriter and I know how lucky I was.”
Robin Swicord

Swicord is a great example of embracing your limitations and just starting somewhere. Her photography skills were good enough to get her a job that helped pay her way through school where she was an English and Drama major—but also had access to watching films while waiting for her film to develop back in the darkroom. Those skills led to doing corporate films for IMB in Atlanta and that led her to New York City where she connected with people from her college who were starting a theater. She wrote a play for them that got her expose to learning from the director and the actors. The play got noticed, got her an agent, which led to her selling a screenplay and launching her career.

*Lynn M. Thomson went on to work as a dramaturge on Rent (Broadway), and she’s currently the Professor of Dramaturgy and American Theater at Brooklyn College.

P.S. “An agent read the play [Last Days at the Dixie Girl Cafe] and asked me if I would like to write for film. I gave her my first screenplay, Stock Cars For Christ, and she sold it to MGM. MGM sent me a plane ticket and moved me into the Del Capri Hotel in L.A. and rented me a pink typewriter so I could rewrite the screenplay (a total of nine drafts!)—which of course was never made into a film.” Robin Swicord, From Book to Screen Interview

Related posts:
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Screenwriting Quote #139 (Robin Swicord)
Screenwriting Quote #155 (Robin Swicord)

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”
LaBron James
Sports Illustrated 7/11/14

“Unless you are hardhearted or a Miami Heat season-ticket holder, this is tough not to love.”
Jason Gay on LeBron James returning to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers
NY Times

“James seems to be following a higher calling with this move. We can’t help but admire his devotion to Flyover Land.”
Rolling Stone article by Jeff Allen 

Years ago when screenwriter Joe Eszterhas moved  from Hollywood to the Cleveland area people thought he was crazy. Now that basketball great LeBron James is moving from Miami to the Cleveland area, it looks like this is just a new hip trend. (Kind of like those artists I keep reading and hearing about who are moving from places like New York City to Detroit.)

“Yeah, I think if you’re off the beaten path in any way it’s always tough. I’ve been off the beaten path my whole life.”
Hollywood screenwriter/Ohio resident Joe Eszterhas
The Hollywood Interview

The sun is in fact shinning brighter this week in Northeast Ohio. Property value in Akon probably went up 2% in the last few days since the world’s greatest basketball player announced he was returning to his home state to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The odds are slim that anyone from Team LeBron ever read my post Fueling Your Imagination, which was about filmmaker Jim Jarmusch who was from Akron, Ohio. But this is what I wrote on June 20, 2010 when James was thinking about leaving Cleveland:

The Akron-Cleveland has changed a lot since Jarmusch was a kid (and even when he shot part of Stranger in Paradise there in the 80s) and I’d like to think that the next Jim Jarmuschs from the area, like current NBA MVP LeBron James, stay in their hometown and do their thing for the world to see.

So it took a LeBron a few years to come around, but I’m glad he’s going to play for his hometown crowd again. (He won two NBA championships playing for the Miami Heat so I don’t think he has any regret leaving.) But he’s now done the Rocky Balboa thing where he’s redefined winning. You remember in Rocky where he realizes he can’t beat Apollo Creed so he redefines winning as just being able to do something that no other boxer has done, and that’s to go the distance—all 15 rounds—with the champ. So at the end of the film even though Rocky loses the spilt decision, in a sense he’s a winner.

LeBron James is refining his vision.

“When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”
LeBron James

Northeast Ohio has a special place in my heart because it’s where my father was from, and my grandfather worked for more than 30 years at Youngstown Sheet & Tube. (YS&T was Ohio’s largest employer the 1930s.)

The area now has had its share of economic problems. LeBron alone won’t be a cure all, but with Heisman Trophy winning QB Johnny Manziel being drafted by the Cleveland Browns just a few months ago, Northeast Ohio is on the upswing and is enjoying its moment in the spotlight.

In honor of LeBron heading home to Ohio, I’ve decided to pull together all my Ohio-centered posts over the years. And there are a lot of them. You may be surprised that  screenwriters Mark Boal, Dudley Nichols, Ernest R. Tidyman, Rod Serling, Willima Golman, and actors Cary Grant, Tom Hanks, Jennifer Garner, and Paul Newman, as well as directors Chris Columbus and Jonathan Demme and former Disney head Michael Eisner  all have roots in Ohio.

The Superman from Cleveland
The Lucky Slob from Ohio
Toy Story 3′s Ohio Connection
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
From Poland, Ohio to a 155-Foot Yach
The Thinking Person’s Playwrights
The Oberlin Express
Oberlin to Oscars
Jailbait, Rejection & Screenwriter Mark Boal’s Start
Screenwriter Dudley Nichols (1895-1960)
Shoot for the Moon
The Original Screenwriting Rock Star
Screenwriter Ernest R. Tidyman
Screenwriting from Sunset Blvd.
Screenwriting Quote #61 (Jonathan Winters)
The Real & Creepy Shawshank Prison
Middle-Earth in the Midwest
Directing Non-professional Actors
Before ‘Friday Night Lights’
Project Greenlight 2 (Part 7)
Genius, Madness, and a Genuine Third Act
Emmy-Winning Writer Rick Cleveland
Cleveland Screenwriter Hits ‘Lottery Ticket’
The Weather Started Getting Rough (Two of the Gilligan’s Island cast members were  from Ohio)
Fueling Your Imagination (Jarmusch Style)
Screenwriting Quote #129 (Bob Peterson)
E.T. was from Youngstown (Kinda)
Youngstown’s Hollywood Connection
Son of a Son of a Steelworker
Screenwriting Quote #116 (Chris Columbus)
The Story of Men on the Moon
William Goldman Stands Alone
The Other Scott Smith
Screenwriting Quote #72 (Michael Eisner)
Screenwriting Quote #42 (Brad Anderson)
Screenwriting Quote #29 (William Blinn)
Screenwriting Quote of the Day #23 (John Grogan)

P.S. Cleveland rocks! Check out this interview with Joe Eszterhas where he talks about when he took Jimi Hendrix to a Hungarian restaurant one night in Cleveland.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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