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“When Sofia Coppola, the director of Lost in Translation, sent me the script, she included a photo and said, ‘This is what I have in mind.’, It was Brad Pitt in an ad for espresso in a can, and he had the same grimace: ‘I can’t believe I’m selling this can of coffee.’, That influenced me when I had to do my own shtick.”
Bill Murray

When people think of actor Bill Murray and golf I imagine 99.99% of the time the movie Caddyshack comes to mind first. But there’s actually another movie that features Murray on a golf course—Lost in Translation (2003). Written and directed by Sophia Coppola, she received an Oscar for Best Writing, Original Screenplay. (Murray was also nominated for an Oscar. )

So once again tapping into the mystical side of golfing…

Related Posts:
Postcard #74 (Bill Murray)
Harold Ramis on ‘Caddyshack’
Murray, Miller & Mass Appeal (Tip #78)

Scott W. Smith

Epiphany: A moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.
Merriam-Webster definition 

“Inside each and every one of us is our one, true authentic swing. Something we was born with. Something that’s ours and ours alone. Something that can’t be learned… something that’s got to be remembered.”
Bagger Vance (Will Smith)
The Legend of Bagger Vance
Screenplay by Indiana-born Jeremy Leven, from a novel by Trinidad-born Steve Pressfield

There’s a mystical side to golf where, along with various sand traps and water hazards, there are inner demons to battle. Since it’s Good Friday, I thought a scene from The Legend of Bagger Vance would be fitting*. (I think it was screenwriter Gary Ross who said Seabiscuit is not a sports film about victory but about life’s struggle. (Same could be said about Rocky and many other fine films)

In this Robert Redford directed scene, Will Smith helps golfer Matt Damon work through his inner and outer struggles.

P.S. Steve Pressfield who wrote the novel The Legend of Bagger Vance: A Novel of Golf and the Game of Life is an avid golfer and counts screenwriting guru Robert McKee (Story) as his golfing buddy. He’s quoted as saying, “I’ve stolen concepts from Bob over and over and they’ve always worked. And he’s a pretty good golfer too.” He covers some of this ground in his book The War on Art. 

P.P.S. Bagger Vance screenwriter Jeremy Leven earned a graduate degree in Child Psychology from Harvard and was a fellow at Yale medical schools.

* In the book Gita on the Green: The Mystical Tradition Behind Bagger Vance by Steve Rosen (and a forward by Steve Pressfield) writes that Bagger Vance  was loosely based not  after the Christian tradition of light, but the ancient Hindu spiritual poem Bhagavad-Gita. But Pressfield is also Jewish so maybe we can say Bagger Vance, like The Shawshank Redemption and Groundhog Day, is more ecumenical than dogmatic.

Related posts:

Writing Quote #38 (Steve Pressfield)
“More Light”
‘Groundhog Day’ And Cheap Therapy
Screenwriting Quote #171 (Garry Marshall) Audiences like to watch characters whose lives change for the better.”
Screenwriting and Slavery to Freedom

Scott W. Smith

“I think people trying to get into the spotlight are much more interesting than people in the spotlight. That’s why I think Tin Cup is a really well conceived and executed movie, because it’s about a guy who’s trying to get there. And when he gets there, he doesn’t know how to stay there. I think stories about movie stars or great athletes are almost always boring.”
Ron Shelton
Interview with Jon Zelazny

There’s more than one golf scene in Tin Cup (1996) because the movie is about a golf pro. Also thrown into the mix is not only competition on the golf course between Kevin Costner and Don Johnson, but they compete for the affections of Rene Russo.

Directed by Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) from a script by John Norville and  Shelton.

Scott W. Smith

One of the people I got to know when I lived in Iowa was actor Gary Kroeger who was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Kroeger left Iowa to attend Northwestern University where he started an improv group with Julia Louis Dreyfus. The two ended up with Second City in Chicago and then on Saturday Night Live.

Kroeger went on to work on various TV shows (LA Law) and movies (The Big Picture) and co-wrote the script for The Chameleon before returning to Iowa in 2003 to work as a creative director. And he continues to do theater, TV and films. A few years ago I saw an exceptional theater performance by Kroeger as “Professor” Harold Hill in The Music Man–written by Meredith Willson from Mason City, Iowa. (I wrote about it in the post Talent and Trouble in River City.)

In 2004 he had the opportunity to work with Seinfeld creator Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm.  (The two met while working on Saturday Night Live.) Since I’ve been blogging about golf the last few days I thought a fitting scene to show was one from Curb Your Enthusiasm where Gary Kroeger (as a weatherman) and Larry David have a nice confrontation.

Today I asked Kroeger about getting the role and how it was shot and here’s his reply:

“I auditioned for Larry by improvising a weathercast. Once on the sets there is no script, only an outline for where the scene needs to go.  When I got to the golf course I was told ‘This is where Larry will confront you with his notion that you say it’s going to rain to empty the course.’ I wasn’t even told whether or not my character consciously did that, it was left to me to decide. They roll a camera on each actor and just ‘go.’ Every line is made up. Larry and a producer may then make a couple of suggestions and we’d do it again.”
Gary Kroeger

 

P.S. It’s interesting how many times Northwestern has come up on this blog. Here’s some other talent that’s come from Northwestern.

Scott W. Smith

“I have no daily process. I have trouble calling myself a writer. It was never a plan of mine. I learned to type in the Navy’s communication corps, learned Morse code and how to type at 100 words a minute (I never went to war). Typing was a skill I took advantage of. I like dialogue, exploring behavior. Behavior takes you everywhere – beyond imagination for a character. It runs you into other people’s behavior and so the battleground is set.”
Two-time Ocar-winning screenwriter Alvin Sargent
WGA Interview by Denis Faye  

Ordinary People (1980) won four Oscars including Best Picture and Alvin Sargent’s screenplay.  It’s a movie full of conflict, including this “battleground” scene on a golf course—that’s also a great example of sweeping emotional change that transpires in just two minutes:

P.S. Over the weekend Sargent turned 87 years old. Happy Birthday Alvin.

Related post:
Everything I Learned in Film School (Tip #1)
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Conflict: What? vs. How?

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

“Courage is like a muscle. We strengthen it with use.”
Screenwriter and actress Ruth Gordon

After writing 1,700+ posts on screenwriting and filmmaking (on top of probably 1,700+ other blogs out there on screenwriting, filmmaking and movies) it’s hard to write something fresh, but today I want to touch on an Oscar-nominated husband and wife screenwriting team.

Sticking with my golf inspired posts lately, Pat and Mike is a 1952 George Cukor movie starting Katharine Hepburn (as a golfer) and Spencer Tracy.  It was written by wife and husband team Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin. Those two wrote three Oscar-nominated scripts;  A Double Life, Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike.

Gordon won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in Rosemary’s Baby, and she won an Emmy for a guest appearance on the TV show Taxi. But many remember her most for her role as Maude in Harold and Maude. Gordon’s career in professional in theater began in 1915 when she appeared n Broadway (that year she was also an extra in a silent film) and it 1986 she published her autobiography My Side in 1976.

Kanin, who served in the US Army in 1941-1945, was uncredited as co-director on the 1945 Oscar-winning documentary The True Glory

I don’t know how many produced screenwriters are husband and wife teams, but I imagine it takes a lot of spunk to work and live together. Almost as much spunk as Katharine Hepburn in this scene from Pat and Mike:

Scott W. Smith

On this day six years ago I wrote the post below reflecting on a relatively unknown golfer named Zach Johnson who beat Tiger Woods in his prime at the Masters Tournament. Since the Masters was today I thought I’d have a special repost Sunday and add a fitting quote by writer Carl Hiaasen that shows a parallel between all those screenwriting and golf instructions.

“Golf books and golf magazines sell like crazy because every player is searching for the formula, the secret, the code, the grail—how do I conquer this impossible, godforsaken game? 

“And the more you read, the more hopelessly muddled you become. After digesting an article by David Leadbetter advocating and early cocking of the wrists on the backswing, I came upon the following quote by Byron Nelson: ‘Make a takeaway with no wrist break, and you’ll like what happens through impact.’

“Now what? Chose between Leadbetter, tutor of champions, or Nelson, the only guy to win eleven consecutive PGA tournaments?

“Because no two experts play, teach or analyze golf the same way, the instructions are often contradictory and vexing.”
Carl Hiaasen
The Downhill Lie; A Hackers Return to a Ruinous Sport

Here’s the original 2008 post called Sneaky Long Screenwriting —(back when my posts where a lot longer):

“If you follow your passion, the money will follow. Success, in my opinion, involves sheer luck, hard work and humility.”
Anthony Zuiker, creator CSI TV programs

“I’m Zach Johnson and I’m from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That’s about it, I’m a normal guy.”
Zach Johnson, professional golfer

Last year at this time Zach Johnson’s above quote caused laughter from the press corp in Augusta, Georgia as he spoke those words before a national TV audience after winning the prestigious Masters at Augusta National golf tournament.

But do normal guys come from seemingly nowhere to win their first major tournament against the greatest golfers in the world? Do normal guys fend off Tiger Woods, one of the greatest golfers in the history of the game?

Zach Johnson was sneaky long.

Sneaky long is a golf phrase which describes a golfer, a golf shot, or a particular hole that looks deceptively underrated. Think of it like an Adam Sandler/Bill Murray-like fellow in his goofiest outfit coming up to some serious golfers and saying, “You guys want to put a little money on who can hit the next ball the longest?” They take the bet thinking the guy doesn’t have a chance and he ends up taking their money.

Sneaky long is the underdog that causes snickers. Rocky, Seabiscuit, and Erin Brockovich were all sneaky long. Audiences love an underdog mainly because the underdog represents us and our deepest wishes.

When a 36-year-old writer broke into the TV business (in a business where 30 is old) with a script for an episode for the TV show Hunter (followed by scripts for even lesser remembered TV shows) few probably thought that within ten years this guy was going to write a movie that would win five Oscars. But that’s what happened after Randell Wallace wrote Braveheart.

Johnson’s hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa has had its share of sneaky long characters. Former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner not only grew up in Cedar Rapids but went to the same high school as Johnson. When no large schools offered him a football scholarship, he signed with the University of Northern Iowa, a Division II college right here in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

It wasn’t the big-time college football that he’d hoped for, but at least he thought he’d start all four years. However, he sat the bench for three years before making his marking mark his senior year by becoming the Gateway Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Following graduation, he worked as a grocery stocker at HyVee  and then played arena football in Des Moines. Next was pro ball in Europe before joining the St. Louis Rams where he was booed in his first game. He went on to be twice voted the top player in the NFL and Super Bowl XXXIV MVP. Someday they’ll do a movie about his life.

One could even say that artist Grant Wood was sneaky long. He was a schoolteacher and artist who lived in a small apartment above a carriage house in (you guessed it) Cedar Rapids, where he eventually painted one of the most recognizable (and copied and parodied) paintings in the history of art—American Gothic.

Wood once said, “I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa.” He also coined the term regionalism to define his belief that an artist should “paint out of the land and the people he knows best.”

Isn’t that what Van Gogh did in Arles? Isn’t that what Winslow Homer did in Maine? Isn’t that what Faulkner did in Oxford, what Steinbeck did in Monterey, what O’Connor in Georgia, what Ibsen did in Norway, what Willa Cather did in Nebraska, and what Horton Foote (Tender Mercies) has done in Texas?

This is the heartbeat of Screenwriting from Iowa. Hollywood will always make its tent pole movies. Movies will always have a LA/New York thrust because that’s where the majority of studios, crews, and talent are located.

But if the writer’s strike signaled one thing it’s the times are changing. As the founder of The Geek Squad said recently, “What people don’t understand is the internet hasn’t yet started.” I believe new forms of distribution will fuel a revival in regionalism.

“What regional filmmaking means to me is not only utilizing the actors of your area, the musicians and the artists, but probing what it means to that region. And for me, the thing about Memphis that I’ve always responded to is its music scene, from Sam Phillips recording Howlin’ Wolf, Rudus Thomas, Elvis Presely, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich.”
Craig Brewer, writer/director Hustle & Flow

Audiences for years have been complaining about the lack of originality and seemingly endless repetition of remakes and sequels. And writers have struggled with the pressure to write what they think will sell to the masses rather than writing what they know and really want to write.

Every year the entertainment industry experiences some minor tremors. Like the era from silent movies to sound pictures the industry is shifting.

Hollywood is stocked with talent from all across the United States and Canada. We enjoy hearing stories of Katie Holmes being from Toledo, Ohio and Julia Roberts from Smyrna, Georgia. Even the greater Cedar Rapids area alone has its share of actors in recent films and TV programs.

Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings)
Eric Rouse (Superman Returns)
Michele Monaghan (Mission Impossible III)
Tom Arnold (The Final Season)
Michele Emerson (Lost)
Ron Livingston (Office Space)
Ashton Kutcher (The Guardian)

But wherever the sneaky long actor, writer, or director lives they need to keep plugging away at the craft. Work through that “contradictory and vexing” advice they get from friends, teachers, books, and blogs. Keep learning and keep creating.

I’ve said before in workshops I’ve given, “Don’t quit your day job, because you never know how that can serve your work.” (Not to mention it pays the bills.) Johnny Depp says he used to use different voices in the telemarketing job he had when he first moved to L.A. from Florida.

Then there is Illinois born  Anthony Zuiker’s story. After the show he created, CSI, became the top rated scripted show he told Creative Screenwriting magazine, “Three years ago I was living in Vegas as the night manager of the Mirage Hotel tram line.” (Zuiker whose creation has since grown into the hit shows CSI:New York and CSI:Miami has Chicago roots. How many years until CSI: Cedar Falls?)

But when Zuilker was a night manager he was also writing. It was while working at a motel when he actually found the inspiration for his first TV script. “The police and I are in this motel room searching for evidence when an officer lifts up the bed skirt. All I see is a pair of eyes before she leaps from beneath the bed clawing at my face. And I thought, ‘There’s a show here.’”

Certainly golfer Zach Johnson has followed Zuilker’s advice: “If you follow your passion, the money will follow. Success, in my opinion, involves sheer luck, hard work and humility.” Johnson was not the top golfer on his college team at Drake.  Johnson even wasn’t the #1 golfer on his high school team.

But he had passion and kept improving his game until he got to slip on the famed green jacket at Augusta on his way to making $4 million dollars in 2007.

Whether you’re making music videos in Minneapolis, turning out B-grade cable scripts, teaching high school theater in Tulsa, a grocery store stock boy, a night tram manager in Vegas, a daytime tram operator in Orlando,  or someone sweeping up Cheerio dust in a factory you have to believe that you’re sneaky long and can surprise a lot of people with what you write. But you have to be writing to get there.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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