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Archive for March, 2010

“It’s universality is obvious. Who among us, sometime in his life, hasn’t shared living quarters with another human being?…The play represented everyone in the world, including, I imagine, astronauts in space for weeks at a time.”
Neil Simon on his play/screenplay The Odd Couple

While my post on Scent of a Woman showed a movie that was first based on a character, In Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, the initial inspiration seems based more on a situation. Of course, the characters were part of what made the situation interesting, so maybe it’s unfair to divorce the two. Speaking of divorce…

“Anyone who has ever read anything about my career probably knows the oft-told story of how The Odd Couple was born. The birth was the result of the union of my brother Danny and his friend Roy Gerber, an agent, who in the early sixties, were each divorced. They decided to move in together to save expenses., helping to defray the cost of alimony, which they were both paying. What inevitably happened to these two roommates is that the fights and squabbles they had recently left behind, after their marital breakups, suddenly resurfaced in their own new relationship in the apartment they now shared. The odd thing about this off couple was that Roy and Danny were having the same problems with each other as they did with their wives. Perhaps worse. The point being that if you have annoying traits, habits and idiosyncrasies, you bring them with you no matter where you go. Felix (my brother Danny) was the stereotypical ‘housewife,’ who puffs up the cushions immediately after someone gets up from a chair or tells you to eat your slice of pizza over the dish to avoid leaving crumbs on the floor. Oscar (Roy Gerber) was the complete opposite. He would rather leave crumbs on the floor well past the following Christmas than to get out a vacuum clearer, which was probably broken from lack of use. Hence an idea was born.”
Neil Simon
Introduction by Neil Simon in The Odd Couple I & II The Original Screenplays

Neil’s brother Danny was a gifted comedy writer who worked alongside people like Jackie Gleason, Red Buttons,Buddy Hackett, Carl Reiner and Larry Gilbert (Tootise). He was eight years older than Neil and taught Neil a lot about writing. He taught others as well.

“I learned a few things on my own since, and modified some of the things he taught me, but everything, unequivocally, that I learned about comedy writing I learned from Danny Simon.”
Woody Allen

Back in the 80s & 90s Danny gave workshops on comedy writing. I met him once in L.A. and wanted to attend his workshop but didn’t for one reason or another. But I have always wonder what kind of things he covered in the workshop. Can’t find out much about it online, either. But if anybody did, I’d love to hear about it. Danny did the workshop for 15 years so I’d surprised if there isn’t a book of material or some CDs kicking around somewhere.

Danny originally started to write what became The Odd Couple but couldn’t get past the 14 page mark. Danny later told the Post, “Neil thought it was the greatest idea ever and kept calling me up every four weeks to see how the play was coming, But I kept looking for excuses not to write it.” He eventually told his brother, “Doc, I’ll never get around to writing this play. You better take it.”

Neil took it and ran and it became Neil’s most preformed play. In the last year it’s probably played somewhere near where you lived. Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Art Carney, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman are just a few of the hundreds of actors who have played Felix and Oscar. Sally Struthers and Rita Moreno were the original Broadway cast of The Female Odd Couple. There were other spin-offs as well such as The New Odd Couple and even an animated series. Neil reportedly paid Danny 10% of the royalties from the play.

Scott W. Smith


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“(Scent of a Woman) is my favorite only because I feel like I matured and the movie reflects that.”
Screenwriter Bo Goldman

Before Bo Goldman won an Academy Award as a screenwriter he had to experience his own personal life of ups and downs.

His father owned a chain of department stores which afforded Goldman an opportunity to attend prep schools and prepared him for Princeton University. He spent three years in the Army. All of those experiences would come in handy years later in writing Scent of a Woman.

But in the meantime while still in his twenties had his first play performed on Broadway. He was on the fast track. “First Impressions ran about three months. Then I was ten years trying to get my second one on Broadway,” Goldman told William Froug in Zen and the Art of Screenwriting.

That’s when things got tough for Goldman. “I was young and had a large family. And you know the old story about Broadway; You can’t make a living, you can only make a killing. I was starving, and when my parents died around 1970, 71, 72, I kind of bottomed out…It was humiliating.”

He wrote for TV including a Christmas show for PBS that was successful, and at the same time wrote a screenplay about marriages he saw breaking up which was a new trend. It took nine years to get Shoot the Moon made but the script became a calling card and got the attention of director Milos Forman who was having trouble with a script for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Goldman stepped in to get his first produced film credit, as well as his first Oscar. (Shared with Lawrence Hauben, and based on the novel by Ken Kesey and the play written by Dale Wasserman.)

He won his second Oscar four years later for Melvin and Howard.  Scent of a Woman was released in 1992, 13 years after is second Oscar. Goldman explained to Froug where the concept for Scent of a Woman (1992) came from;

“I had been estranged from most of my family, and still am from the ones I grew up with and my long-lost brother, who made millions in mortgage brokerage, became an alcoholic, and had a terribly tragic life. Then I got this SOS from another brother of mine who said the once-rich brother was going to need conservator. He was living in a big expensive New York apartment, a year behind on rent, and had no money at all. I went there and found him living in a kind of shabby elegance. The skeletons of his life were riddled with moral cancer, to strike a phrase. A week later, I came back to California and got a call from Martin Brest, who showed me this sort of forgotten Italian movie, Profuma di Donna. I looked at this movie, and this character struck me as being exactly like my brother, who became the character in Scent of a Woman. The character was crossed with my first sergeant in the Army, a member of the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team, who was the second man I’ve ever really been afraid of, and the first man I was afraid of—my father. The sergeant was a real soldier…So this character became a hybrid of all these people.”

Of course, Al Pacino brought that character to life (and, believe it or not, is Pacino’s only Oscar-winning performance)—a character forged from Goldman’s life in prep school, experience in the military, his father, and a brother who had gone from riches to rags.

That process that Goldman talked about is a perfect example what I wrote about in Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C).

And how about that phrase of Goldman’s—”The skeletons of his life were riddled with moral cancer.” Fine writing and good inspritation for you to write about the characters who have crossed your path who are living in their equivalent world “of shabby elegance” and riddled with moral cancer. Audiences will always find those creatures facinating to watch. (Noah Cross in Chinatown and Gordon Gekko in Wall St. come to mind.)

Scott W. Smith

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Screenwriter Stewart Stern has popped up on this blog before because he was educated at the University of Iowa and he wrote the screenplay for Rebel Without a Cause. Yesterday, I discovered an interview with himStewart Stern; Out of the Soul, Interview by Margy Rochin, which is part of the UC Press E-Books Collection online.

Anytime you can read about someone who has worked Marlon Brando, James Dean, Paul Newman, Dennis Hopper and Rebel Without a Cause director Nicholas Ray, and has been nominated for two Oscars (Teresa and Rachel, Rachel), I think you might be able to learn something. I always like hearing how an idea was formed so I enjoyed the reading Stern’s description of the ground work and inspiration behind Rebel Without a Cause;

“Nick told me about all of the research that he had done: about middle-class young people. He wanted it to be specifically about them because he said that there was a big misconception that so-called juvenile delinquency was a product of economic deprivation. He felt that it was emotional deprivation…That’s when, at my request, he called his contacts at Juvenile Hall, and I went down and began researching it. I spent ten days and ten nights there, or two weeks, posing as a social worker, talking to the kids or just being there when they were processed. Then they opened up all of the psychological workups that they had done down at Juvenile Hall on the kids they brought in. Family backgrounds, records of their behavior. Whatever they had, they opened up to me. So, I was able to dig as far as it was possible to dig, in order to understand who these kids were and to create a prototype.

I couldn’t figure out what to write until I went to see On the Waterfront [1954] and got all charged up and came home and just began writing.”

Towards the end of the interview Rochin asked a question about why Stern believed Rebel Without a Cause speaks to every generation of youth.

“I think one of the things that it talked about was love, a real need for connection. And for the recognition that everything that people condemn in us as some kind of nefarious behavior—experimental behavior, dangerous behavior—is absolutely pure, sweet, incorrect reaching-out. Living on the assumption that people are trustworthy. On the assumption that, as Marlon said, we all come out of the same crucible of pain. That we are all human and that nothing stands in the way of that.”

Isn’t that the kind of guy you’d like to sit under and glean a little writing wisdom? Well, you actually can. In 2004, Stern was one of the founders of The Film School in Seattle, and also teaches through the University of Washington’s Extension Program, and does a writing workshop every summer at the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Lab.

Scott W. Smith

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“It is self-evident that St. Louis affected me more deeply than any other environment has ever done. I feel that there is something in having passed one’s childhood beside the big river, which is incommunicable to those people who have not. I consider myself fortunate to have been born here, rather than in Boston, or New York, or London.”
T.S. Eliot

The St. Louis Walk of Fame on The Loop honors those who have ties to St. Louis who have made a name for themselves in various fields. It’s a long eclectic mix from Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Berry, and Yogi Berra to Miles Davis, Bob Gibson, and William T. Sherman.

And, of course, there are those with ties to film, TV and theater including Vincent Price (House of Usher), Redd Foxx (Sanford & Son), Shelly Winters (A Patch of Blue),  Harold Ramis (Ghost Busters),  William Inge (Picnic), and Tennessee Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire).

We often don’t connect Williams with St. Louis but that is where he moved as a youth and lived for 24 years, and where he is buried. His feeling of being an outsider (which dominate many of his plays) was developed growing up poor in St. Louis. (Or at least he felt poor compared to the rich people he saw.)  His play The Glass Menagerie is set in St. Louis. The character of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire is said to have been based on a man he worked with in a shoe factory in St. Louis.

Just another reminder that talent (and inspiration) comes from all over. It also reminded me of a few post I’ve done in the past touching on Missouri.

Screenwriting from Missouri

The Spirit of St. Louis & Screenwriting

Screenwriting Quote of the Day #54 (Walt Disney)

Scott W. Smith

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A popular quote attributed to composer & musican Scott Joplin is, “When I’m dead twenty-five years, people are going to begin to recognize me.” And here we are almost 100 years after his death still talking about “The King of Ragtime” and playing his music.

I thought of Joplin yesterday when I drove by the Scott Joplin House in St. Louis where he lived for part of his life. It actually took more than 25 years for Joplin to be properly recognized. But it happened.

Part of the rediscovery of Joplin was the recordings by Joshua Rifkin and the movie The Sting in the early 1970s which featured Joplin’s The Entertainer.  In 1976 he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize, 59 years after he died.

So you can make a name for yourself while you’re alive, but sometimes it takes a little while for your talent to be fully recognized. But blaze away on your vision that may put you a little out of step with the times.

Scott W. Smith

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“Let it roll off the tongue: Ali Farokhmanesh. Get used to it: Fuh-ROAK-muh-NESH.”
Brett McMurphy
NCAA Fanhouse

“When you’re a small program like this, you want to get your name out there.”
Ali Farokhmanesh


The name Ali Farokhmanesh is not a common name in Iowa. Probably not common in entire the United States. But it is a popular one here now and across the country. This week’s  Sports Illustrated has a picture of Ali on the cover and I thought I’d explore how Ali made a name for himself and found national fame. (Screenwriters and non-sports fans stick with me a minute.)

When his parents moved to Iowa when Ali was a teenager he took up the game of basketball because of its popularity here. His parents helped train him with techniques such as having Ali shoot over them holding a broom with a yardstick to simulate playing against taller players. At Iowa City West High School he was a two-time all-conference player, conference MVP, and first team All-State.

Are you starting to get the picture? That darn Iowa work ethic at play again.

But all those accolades did not result in a Division I scholarship that he had hoped for because Ali was not tall enough to be considered a major prospect. Nor did he receive a Division II scholarship. He ended up playing basketball in Ottumwa, Iowa at Indian Hills Community College his first year and Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids his second year. He played well enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Northern Iowa where he started his Junior year. This season as a senior he lead the team in three-point shots with 75, including six in one game.

Of course, his biggest three pointers were last week when one beat UNLV at the NCAA basketball tournament and the one that broke the back of the number one ranked Kansas Bluejays. Ali said after the Kansas game, “That’s what you dream for is to make a shot like that.” But along with his dreaming he also normally practices shooting between  600-700 jumps shots a day—and he’s been doing that since his junior high days. (Remember the 10,000 hour rule?)

That’s how he ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That’s how he made a name for himself (albeit a hard one to pronounce).

“I just remember coming out of high school and not knowing if I was even going to play anymore. To go from that to, we’re in the Sweet Sixteen, we just beat the No. 1 team in the country. I mean, if someone would have told me that back then I would have laughed at them probably. But I think it shows that hard work really does pay off.”
Ali Farokhmanesh

I don’t know if Ali is interested in screenwriting (he’s a marketing major) but he’s got a heck of a story, and I think he just became the current poster child for Screenwriting from Iowa. That person who is talented but underrated and overlooked, and ends up in a community college in Ottumwa, Iowa dreaming of hitting a game winning shot in the spotlight. The person who works on his game far from the spotlight, but who with one shot makes a name for himself. And who ends up on the first page of Google search for “Ali,” replacing a slot usually reserved for one of the most well-known names in sports history, Muhammad Ali.

The funny thing is if he would have gotten a scholarship out of high school to his dream school (the University of Iowa) the odds are pretty good that he wouldn’t have hit the game-winning shot against Kansas that will be talked about for years, he wouldn’t be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and he wouldn’t be playing tonight as the Northern Iowa tonight in the Sweet Sixteen game for the first time in the school’s history.

(Below are a couple photos I took Wednesday as Ali and the team boarded the bus here in Cedar Falls before they headed to St. Louis for their next game agaist Michigan St.)

Go Panthers!

And just to bring this home to screenwriting;  embrace your limitations, your odd location, hold on to your dreams, and practice the equivalent of 600-700 jump shots everyday.

P.S. And for the record Ali Farokhmanesh’s favorite film is Gladiator. “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

Related post: David & Goliath (and Screenwriting)

Scott W. Smith

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“IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.”
David Mamet (?)

My friend Carolynn sent me an email yesterday in regard to an alleged David Mamet memo. I had not see it before, but whether he wrote the memo or not, I think it is going down as instant legendary material that writers will be quoting for years. There was a TV show called The Unit which ran between 2006-2009 and David Mamet was the executive producer.

The memo said to have been written by Mamet was sent to staff writers of the show to, how do I say it, encourage them to write more dramatically. I have read enough Mamet to say that the encouragement has his not so subtle touch. (Heck, this whole memo even appears in all-caps, with plenty of bold type.) Mamet knows how to provoke, but he also understands drama. And he wants is writers to understand drama.

I was so fired up after reading this memo that I cranked out ten pages of a script and I haven’t done that much writing in one day in over a year. If this memo turns out to be apocryphal. I don’t care. Don’t tell me. I want to believe it’s Mamet speaking from on high. I don’t even want Mamet to say he did or didn’t write it. Preserve the mystery, the drama.

You can read the whole memo that Seth Abramovitch calls Davd Mamet’s Master Class Memo to the Writers of The Unit at Movieline.com. Because I know you have mountains to climb and pages to write, I’ve pulled a few helpful gems for you.

QUESTION:WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, ACUTE GOAL.

SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES OF EVERY SCENE THESE THREE QUESTIONS.

1) WHO WANTS WHAT?
2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?
3) WHY NOW?

THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE LITMUS PAPER. APPLY THEM, AND THEIR ANSWER WILL TELL YOU IF THE SCENE IS DRAMATIC OR NOT.

—-

THERE IS NO MAGIC FAIRY DUST WHICH WILL MAKE A BORING, USELESS, REDUNDANT, OR MERELY INFORMATIVE SCENE AFTER IT LEAVES YOUR TYPEWRITER. YOU THE WRITERS,  ARE IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE EVERY SCENE IS DRAMATIC.

EVERY SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. THAT MEANS: THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE A SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRESSING NEED WHICH IMPELS HIM OR HER TO SHOW UP IN THE SCENE.

THIS NEED IS WHY THEY CAME. IT IS WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT. THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET THIS NEED MET WILL LEAD, AT THE END OF THE SCENE, TO FAILURE – THIS IS HOW THE SCENE IS OVER. IT, THIS FAILURE, WILL, THEN, OF NECESSITY, PROPEL US INTO THE NEXT SCENE.

ALL THESE ATTEMPTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, WILL, OVER THE COURSE OF THE EPISODE, CONSTITUTE THE PLOT.

ANY SCENE, THUS, WHICH DOES NOT BOTH ADVANCE THE PLOT, AND STANDALONE (THAT IS, DRAMATICALLY, BY ITSELF, ON ITS OWN MERITS) IS EITHER SUPERFLUOUS, OR INCORRECTLY WRITTEN.

——-

START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. IT MUST START BECAUSE THE HERO HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS.

LOOK AT YOUR LOG LINES. ANY LOGLINE READING “BOB AND SUE DISCUSS…” IS NOT DESCRIBING A DRAMATIC SCENE.

—-

HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS. ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

—-

IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION, INDEED, OF SPEECH. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN A NEW MEDIUM – TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING)

I CLOSE WITH THE ONE THOUGHT: LOOK AT THE SCENE AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT ESSENTIAL? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT?

ANSWER TRUTHFULLY.

IF THE ANSWER IS “NO” WRITE IT AGAIN OR THROW IT OUT. IF YOU’VE GOT ANY QUESTIONS, CALL ME UP.

LOVE, DAVE MAMET
SANTA MONICA 19 OCTO 05

Here are a few other posts that I’ve written about Mamet in the past:

Screenwriting Quote of the Day #94 (David Mamet)
Dickens vs. Mamet
Screenwriting, Mamet & Teachable Moments
Screenwriting Quote of the Day #6 (David Mamet)

Scott W. Smith

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Recently I came across a post called Selling Screenplays From Outside L.A.? by Hal Croasmun where at an event he says he asked the question, “Is it possible to create a screenwriting career from outside L.A.?” to 16 L.A. producers and two agents.  Croasmun writes;

Up until recently, the typical answer to the “selling from outside L.A.” question was “The odds are against you.”  But this year, there was a change.

QUESTION:  Can writers sell scripts from outside L.A.?

15 producers said YES.

1 producer and both agents said NO.

QUESTION:  Have you optioned or bought a script from outside L.A.?

8 producers said YES.

3 producers had already made movies with writers from outside the U.S.

It’s not a perfect score, but it means that it is possible for a writer to succeed from anywhere in the World.

Honestly, when I started the blog Screenwriting from Iowa…or wherever you live outside L.A. just over two-year ago the title was a little tongue in cheek mixed with a little bravado. I picked the place that gets picked upon as representing the middle of nowhere. Iowa is the poster child for obscurity, yet a deeper look reveals that it has produced some amazing creative talent. And Iowa is just a springboard to show the writers who have come from all over the world and found success to one degree or another.

But it’s also given me a front row seat to watch the film industry slowly evolve into being more open to embracing writers from outside Los Angeles. Mix that with low-cost, high quality digital cameras and the proliferation of non-linear editing systems with self-distributed micro-films and film incentives popping up all over the world and this is one exciting time for screenwriters.

Croasmun on his Screenwriting U website has an excellent post called 15 Ways to Sell Screenplays Online which includes in a Twitter link to 87 Producers you can follow. I’m not going to say that this all started with Diablo Cody and her blog, but I think it’s safe to say to her Oscar success was a sign of a signficant change in an industry that doesn’t change quickly.

The secret Hollywood handshake has always been a great script. And now thanks to the Internet it is easier than ever to connect to agents and producers. Of course, writing a great script is just as hard as ever. Happy writing.

Scott W. Smith

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“I write in toilets, on planes, when I’m walking, when I stop the car. I make notes. If I am working at a studio, I work at the studio in the morning, then come home. I am really writing two days instead of one. After the studio, I have my second day [at home]. I write whenever I can.”
Richard Brooks
Oscar-winning screenwriter (Elmer Gantry)

The only thing that stopped Richard Brooks from writing was his death in 1992. Before that the writer/director originally from the slums of Philadelphia racked up four decades of credits on films such as In Cold Blood, Blackboard Jungle, The Professionals, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof—all of which were nominated for Academy Awards.

As a side note, I am working on a script now that has some parallels to In Cold Blood (1967) and I just watched the film last year for the first time. From the story angle that Truman Capote wrote and for which the movie is based on, to the cinematography by Conrad Hall, to the performances on screen, In Cold Blood is a fine tuned movie. (Check out the film Capote, too. How many movies are made on the research done for a book & movie?)

In Cold Blood was based on events that occurred in a small town in Kansas back in 1959,  it is also a disturbing movie as it offers glimpse into the human heart.

In Cold Blood was also directed by Brooks giving you a deeper understanding of his talent. He directed a total of 24 films getting Oscar-nominated performances out of ten different actors including Paul Newman, Lee J. Cobb, and Elizabeth Taylor. I’m always interested in the events that paved the way for writers to break into Hollywood and Brooks did it the usual way—he wrote. He wrote a lot.

After studying journalism at Temple University, he struggled to land a job at a newspaper during the depression because they were letting reporters go, not hiring them. (Sound familiar?) He eventually landed in New York doing radio and started directing plays before heading to Hollywood.  But long before Brooks spent his final days in his house in Beverly Hills (which was paid for by his creative endeavors) he wrote stories and learned his craft before anyone paid him a dime.

“I’d written some short stories before, but none was published. Anyway, every day, another short story. Everything became grist for a short story. It began to drive me crazy . . . a different plotline every day. My ambition: write one story a week instead of a different story every day. In about eleven months I wrote over 250 stories.”
Richard Brooks
Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s/Patrick McGilliagan

So before he won an Academy Award, and before he adapted (with John Huston) the script for the classic Humphrey Bogart/Edward G. Robinson film Key Largo, he wrote—in case you missed it—250 short stories. Two, five, zero. Next time you hear a writer complain about not getting anyone to buy (or even read their script) ask them how many stories they’ve written.

And I should point out for good measure that Brooks, who served in World War II, is one more Marine in Hollywood folklore.

Big hat tip to Scott Myers at Go Into The Story for the extended passage on Brooks that he pulled from McGilliagan’s book.

Scott W. Smith


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Last week I was asked this question:

“I’m trying to write more with ‘looks,’ more action, and less dialogue. I find very little advice for how to write these looks into the narrative without ‘directing’ the scene. Also, screenwriting books frequently state that narrative sections rarely get read by readers early in the process. That they typically read through just the dialogue. Have you read/heard this too? Curious if you have any thoughts. Thanks!” —Cindy

The short answer is you want to tell a great story. That is what everyone is looking for. A story that people are willing to invest money, talent and two or three years of their life trying to get it made. You want to write something that frightens the horses. By some accounts 99 out of 100 scripts fail to stir the imagination.

To paraphrase that great line from Walk the Line, “If you only had one story to tell before you died, what story would you tell?”

Now Cindy’s question is about the nuts and bolts of what the script looks like and I have written a lot on that and will supply some links below. The main one is Screenwriting by Numbers. I’m not saying it’s the law, but it is what the majority of good scripts that made good movies look like. The scripts are tight with a lot of white.  Brief description, little dialogue and a lot of white on the page.  Sure there are exceptions to the rules, but I said majority—not all.

Perhaps the reason for that is movies tend to flow quickly from one scene to the next and screenwriters are trying to get reader to imagine the movie. If writers wanted write a pure literary experience then a short story or a novel would be a better choice. But speaking of the reader, let me pass on a quote that I think is an important aspect of screenwriting that is often overlooked.  It comes from screenwriter Pete Chiarelli who wrote The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock. Chiarelli spent ten years being a development creative executive before he turned screenwriter so he has a unique qualifications to tell you who your first audience really is from a studio perspective.

“I definitely have a thing from being an executive and reading so many scripts that I’m always afraid of kind of boring the reader. When you’re writing these screenplays for the studio system…the people reading it are overworked, they’re coming home with ten scripts in their bag—and it’s not so much the first ten pages, it’s about when they’re reading the script they have to put it down, go have a sip of coffee, come back, play Donkey Kong, come back…Or are they going to be sitting there flipping pages? I just think of me on a Sunday night—like those rare scripts where you just sit there and go wap!, wap!, wap! (sound of quick page turning)— that’s the sound that I want. So constantly keeping the story moving and keeping the pace up is something I that I always have in the back of my head. And there’s things that I learned in screenwriting class—things like ‘never write anything that’s never going to be on the screen,’ that it’s a cheat,  which I get, but the thing is your audience at the beginning is a studio executive—they don’t care about that. So if you have to be a little more obvious in your scene description that will help point them along that’s something you should do. Write for your audience, and your audience is a 24-year-old overworked creative executive.”
Pete Chiarelli
Interview with Jeff Goldsmith
Creative Screenwriting Podcast (Friday June 19, 2009)

Descriptive Writing—Part 1 (tip #22)
Descriptive Writing—Part 2 (tip #23)
Descriptive Writing—Part 3 (tip #24)
Descriptive Writing—Part 4 (tip #25)
Descriptive Writing—Part 5 (tip #26)


Scott W. Smith

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