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Archive for the ‘Screenwriters’ Category

“I had this kind of 1930s childhood because my dad was really into radio serials, and my parents were also very, very anti-TV… It certainly was helpful having grown up with my dad as a film professor, and I studied movies and worked at EW for 10 years…If you’re wondering if I’ve always written dark stories—yes. Starting at age 8.”
Author Gillian Flynn (Dark Places, Sharp Objects) who was born in 1971
(Pieced together from three different articles.)

I’m always curious where writers come from and since Gillian Flynn went from being unemployed just a few years ago to be a multimillionaire, NY Times best selling author and screenwriter (Gone Girl) I thought I would show that she may have come out of the Midwest—but she didn’t exactly come from nowhere.

She was raised in Kansas City, Missouri and both of her parents taught at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley Community College. She did her undergraduate work at the University of Kansas and graduate work at Northwestern University—not far from where the 43-year-old writer lives now in Chicago.

“I was a Missouri kid in New York working at my dream magazine (Entertainment Weekly) and got laid off and had to figure out what to do with my life next. I did have more time to write; [Gone Girl] was the first of the three books that I wrote while I didn’t have a day job. I think it let me overwrite — I probably wrote two books and had to chop it back to one. I had done journalism school at KU and gotten my master’s at Northwestern, and I thought I wanted to be a crime reporter. Very quickly, I discovered I did not have what it takes to be a good crime reporter: I was too unassertive and a little bit wimpy. It was very clear that was not what I was going to do, but I loved journalism, and I’m the daughter of a film professor, and my mom taught reading. I grew up in a house full of books. So I applied straight to EW right out of Northwestern.”
Gone Girl author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn
Hollywood Reporter article by Kimberly Nordyke

In other words, she followed a similar (yet different) path of fellow Northwestern University grad, screenwriter John Logan. She wrote a lot. If she was writing stories when she was eight, then it was a about a 30 year journey before her literary success.

Related posts:
How to Be a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) “I graduated from Northwestern. I had no money. No one had any money. So I got a day job, shelving books at the Northwestern University Law Library. Every morning I would work from nine to five and shelve books, for ten years. Every single day for ten years. “—Three-times Oscar nominated John Logan (Gladiator, Hugo, Aviator)
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70)
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours

Scott W. Smith

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“To make a good film, to write a screenplay, is surprisingly hard. It shouldn’t be that hard. You’re really creating a diversion for people for two hours. But because of the length—it’s almost like writing a villanelle, or one of those forms that has so many requirements, that to hit the marks you need to hit and to express something is incredibly hard. And the result is there are a handful of people who know how to do it.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Paul Attanasio (Donnie Brasco, Quiz Show)
The Dialogue interview with Mike De Luca

Screenwriter Paul Attanasio, like screenwriter Sheldon Turner, came into the film world not through film school but through law school.  He also says he was not “one of those clerk in a video store” kind of guys, but that his writing is based in literature. After graduating from Harvard Law School he turned an internship with the Washington Post into a four-year stint as a film critic.

I’m not sure how he made the jump onto the filmmaking side, but he had the advantage of being mentored by Oscar-winning writer/director Joseph Mankiewicz (All About Eve). His first produced screenplay (Quiz Show) was directed by Robert Redford, his second film Disclosure was directed by Barry Levinson and starred Michael Douglas and Demi Moore, and his third film (Donnie Brasco) starred Al Pacino and Johnny Depp. He had two Oscar-nominations right out of the gate. A pretty good start, huh?

In the ’90s Attanasio also made his mark in TV when he created Homicide:Life on the Street (based on the book by David Simon) and from 2002-2012 he’s credited as executive producer on House M.D.

Here’s a glimpse into his writing process:

“I’m a late convert to outlining. I used to really try to know where I was going to end up and feel my way through it. And [Steven] Soderbergh when we did The Good German said, ‘no, why don’t you outline.’ And I was at the point where my process had gotten so amorphous—it wasn’t quite as amorphous as my friend Alvin Sargent—but it was semi-amorphous. And I said, “Okay, I’ll try that.” And it’s good. It’s like having a road map on a family trip. What happens is the kids have to go to the bathroom, you leave the road, you see something interesting, you go to it, then they’re hungry and you go there. But then when you have to get back to the highway, you know where the highway is, or at least you have a general direction to find your way back to the highway. Writers who stick rigidly to an outline, and never go up those blind alleys aren’t real writers. But on the other side of it is if you’re collecting scraps of paper you can take a long time to write a screenplay.”
Paul Attanasio
The Dialogue interview with Mike De Luca

P.S. Here’s part of Attanasio’s 1987 review of the movie Hoosiers;
“In Hoosiers, director David Anspaugh and screen writer Angelo Pizzo have taken the tired ‘go for it!’ dramatics of a David-and-Goliath story and revived it with the fervor of real experience. Hoosiers demonstrates that it’s not the tale but the telling, for beneath the cliche’s lies a rich and detailed portrait of a time, a place and a way of life.” (I’m pretty sure that should be “beneath the cliches” or “beneath the cliche” but who am I to correct the Washington Post or Attanasio? Anyway, you get the idea of what he was saying. My guess is his years reviewing films was Attanasio’s substitute film school.)

P.P.S. Paul’s brother, Mark Attanasio, is the principle owner of the Milwaukee Brewers Major League Baseball team. Talented family.

Scott W. Smith

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“I believe in the affirmation of life. If we lose that hope, if we lose the possibility of it, we’ve lost an awful lot.”
Writer/Director Paul Mazursky
Film Comment 1978 Interview

“I never thought, I’m going against the grain, I’m going to inform America about the problem of women, about society, about the bums on the street. I just thought, is this a good story, and can I make it work? The European directors I love really showed me that. You make the movie you want to make, that engages you, the movie that you have to make. They got away with it for a long time. And I guess I did too.”
Paul Mazursky
TheWrap

Oscar and Emmy nominated Paul Mazursky’s died a couple of weeks ago.  The  career of the producer, director, writer and actor spanned seven decades. I was in film school when his 1982 film Tempest came out and once remember seeing Mazursky walking across W. Olive Ave. in Burbank as I waited at the stoplight next to Warner Bros. Studios. (When you’re 21-years-old and from outside L.A. you don’t forget those Forrest Gump-like moments.)

At that time in his career he already had two Primetime Emmy nominations (The Danny Kaye Show) and  four  Oscar-nominations (writing Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,  Harry & Tonto, An Unmarried Woman— the later also was nominated for Best Picture). But some of his more popular films were still to come including Moscow on the Hudson,  Enemies, A Love Story, and Down and Out in Beverly Hills.

“[Down and Out in Beverly Hillsmade me laugh and harder and more delight than any movie I’ve seen since Lost in America.”
Roget Ebert
1986 movie review on Siskel and Ebert

As an actor he also worked on a wide variety of  films and TV programs; Blackboard Jungle, The Twilight Zone, Antz, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Kung Fu Panda 2.

But when I think of Mazursky, Tempest is what comes to mind first. He directed the film from a script he wrote with Leon Capetanos based on the Shakespeare play.  It won the audience award at the 1982 Toronto International Film Festival.

The reason I link Mazursky to that film is not even the film itself that starred John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands and Susan Sarandon (and which just happens to be Molly Ringwald’s big screen debut), but because  Mazursky wrote a making of book on the film–fittingly called Paul Mazursky’s Tempest.

Keep in mind that in 1982 there was no Internet so behind the scene books were a key place to get a glimpse into the filmmaking process. I still have my copy of that book. Here’s a couple of shots from the book that may help you in scheduling your film.

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The Director’s Guild of America has a video interview of Mazursky online. And here are a couple of videos interviews the Writers Guild of America did with Mazursky did last year.

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Harold Ramis Earned His ‘Stripes’

 “I’m a writer-director-actor, which I’ve always kind of enjoyed. I compared it to the Olympic biathlon. “Not only can he cross-country ski, but he’s a terrific marksman as well.”
Writer-director-actor Harold Ramis

“Harold Ramis and I together did the ‘National Lampoon Show’ off Broadway, ‘Meatballs,’ ‘Stripes,’ ‘Caddyshack,’ ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Groundhog Day.’ He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him.”
Bill Murray on the death of Harold Ramis
New York Daily News

When you look at the run Harold Ramis had between 1978 and 1984 it’s a rather prolific string as a writer (Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, and Ghostbuster).  But don’t forget to add that to that his longer career (including Back to School, Groundhog Day, Analyze This) and a career which also included his wearing the hats of producer, director and actor. For someone with such a grasp of writing humor it may seem odd that he took a serious approach to writing movies.

“I have a great respect for the moviegoing experience. It’s such a unique thing. You’re not getting up and walking around the house or flipping channels during the dull parts. You’re in a dark space, and the movie fills most of your field of vision. You’re surrounded by sound, and the colors are deeply saturated, and faces are fifteen feet high. If it’s done well, you’re really going to feel some big emotions or have some big belly laughs. That’s why I’ve tried to stay away from mild satire. I want an audience to feel something more powerful for their ten bucks. If they’re going to spend two hours with me, I’d like to take them someplace special. I’m thinking of doing a marital comedy for one of the studios, but I want it to be so painful that it’ll have a profound effect on married couples who see it together. I want husbands to cringe, and their wives to glare at them, and couples to talk about it later and ask, ‘Do you feel that way?’ ‘What? No, no, of course not.’ I want to explore marriage without the usual Hallmark-card platitudes. Life is difficult, and I like movies that acknowledge that.”
Harold Ramis
The Believer interview in 2008

Scott W. Smith

Harold Ramis 

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“Without people who believe in you as a writer, or in your screenplay, or in the film itself, it would have been impossible.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Craig Borten (Dallas Buyers Club)

In the post Screenwriter Melisa Wallack I mentioned how she co-wrote Dallas Buyers Club with Craig Borten. Wallack waited for more than 10 years so see the film get made, but Borten actually had a vision of this film for more than 20 years. Dallas Buyer Club producer Robbie Brenner read one of Borten’s early drafts before Wallack came on board to co-write the script.

Brenner  told Alexandra Cheney at Variety of her journey with the script. (A script that Brad Pitt was once attached to.):

“It’s such an amazing story but throughout the time it took we wanted to kill ourselves. And the frustration, the peaks and valleys and not getting the movie made and then getting the script back, I feel like this is just the most amazing completion. The whole thing came full circle. We spiritually and emotionally made this movie and all of the wrongs, all of the frustrations have been righted. This is what you dream of.”
Robbie Brenner
Oscars: Emotional End To Long Road For ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

Borten had a personal connection to Ron Woodroof’s story. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “I had gone through some similar experiences with my father having lymphoma, in terms of the doctors, and dealing with the medical establishment, the protocol, the coldness. My father was thinking of seeking out alternative treatments in Mexico – so Ron’s experiences spoke to my heart.”

Borten is originally from Philadelphia and studied international relations at Syracuse University. He’s credited as one of the writers of The 33 that will be released later this year.

“I’ve sold some other screenplays, and I sold some other pitches, and adapted some stuff over the years. But I’ve never got anything to the finish line. [Until the Dallas Buyers Club was produced.] People ask, if you knew it would be 20 years, would you still have done it? And that’s been a tough question to answer. But sitting here today, I can tell you it was worth it.”
Craig Borten
Interview with Steven Rea, The Philadephia Inquirer 

Related Post: Jailbait, rejection & Screenwriter Mark Boal’s Start (“You have to be willing to get your teeth kicked in continually before you achieve even a modicum of success.—Oscar winning screenwriter Mark Boal)

Scott W. Smith

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As I looked over the names of the 2014 Oscar nominees one named jumped out at me that I knew I had not pulled any quotes from in the six years of doing this blog. In fact, the name was totally off my radar. Melisa Wallack is now on a lot more radars than she was a few days ago. She’s now Oscar-nominated screenwriter Melisa Wallack.

She’s nominated along with Craig Borton for writing Dallas Buyers Club. I decided to dig around on the Internet and see what I could find out about Wallack. And surprise, surprise her hometown is the Minneapolis area. (One of the inspirations of this blog was this unknown writer in Minneapolis who pounded out a spec script on her way to becoming Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody.)

Wallack moved to LA in ’95 as a businesswoman and by ’05  was named by Variety as one of the top 10 screenwriters to watch. But her Midwest upbringing paved the way for her to write a story about a about an electricians and hustler with AIDS who fights the system for himself and others to get the medication they need.

“I grew up in an idyllic town outside Minneapolis with my parents and five siblings. We had dinner together almost every night … My father would listen to us recount what we had learned at school that day. One of my most vivid memories of this nightly ritual was my father’s insistence that we tell him how we knew something was true. Who said it? Where did we read it? How did we know it was, in fact, true? It wasn’t until many years later that I understood what my father was doing.

“…For me, Ron’s [Ron Woodroof played by Matthew McConaughey] story transcends AIDS. It applies to every one of us in every aspect of our lives. It speaks to the danger of becoming passive participants who follow written protocols and so-called experts’ opinions instead of our own instincts. It reminds me of my nightly conversations with my father and his insistence that we distinguish opinion from fact. It reminds me that it is important to be an active member of society and, in the words of Ron Woodroof, that ‘everyone should ask questions.’”
Melisa Wallack
LA Times, Spirit of Champions drove the ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ script

BTW—That 2005 Variety article about Wallack mentions the Dallas Buyers Club script was what made her a screenwriter to watch. It also said that was her first script and that she began writing in 1999. I’m not sure when she and Borton completed the script but it appears that Dallas Buyers Club took at least 10 years to get produced. Add to that Borton interviewed Ron Woodroof for three days back in 1992 (a month before Woodroof died) and wrote a couple version of the script before he met Wallack,  meaning in total it took over two decades for that story find its way to earning 6 Oscar-nominations including Best Picture.

P.S. Wallack was born in Wayzata, MN which is not far from the Minneapolis suburb of Crystal, MN where Diablo Cody wrote her Juno script. Back in ’08 I visited the Starbucks where Cody wrote much of the script. See the post Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy).

Related Post:

The Oscars Minnesota-Style
The Coen Brothers on Raising Money (Joel & Ethan Coen are also from Minneapolis)
Screenwriting Postcard from Minneapolis
Screenwriting Quote #3 (Charlie Kaufman) Many don’t connect the Oscar-winning screenwriter with Minneapolis, but that’s where he was living before he moved to LA .

Scott W. Smith

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The Secret Life of Steve Conrad

“Life is about courage and going into the unknown.”
Cheryl Merhoff  (Kristen Wiig)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) written by Steve Conrad

“I never left [Chicago]. I just feel good here. Ever since I got off the (“L”) train for my interview at college, it felt right to me…It’s an easy city to write in; half the year you’re inside. My friends are here. I’ve made working relationships in other places that have proved really vital to me. I don’t think you can hide away here and hope that you’ll just be served by the quality of your writing.”
Screenwriter Steve Conrad (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty)
Chicago Tribune article by Nina Metz
(Conrad does spend 15-20 weeks away from home on business.)

Conrad is scheduled to direct a biopic he wrote on John Belushi—who was from the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, IL.

P.S. Live outside L.A.? “Try to contact reputable managers who are open to new writers. A scribe who lives in Colorado needs a mouthpiece here [Los Angeles] in town who can work on her behalf.”Christopher Lockhart

Related Posts:

Screenwriting da Chicago Way (2.0)
Before John Hughes was John Hughes (Part 3) “The Tribune referred to me as a ‘former Chicagoan.’ As if, to do anything, I had to leave Chicago. I never left.” Writer/director John Hughes
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) About John Logan, who like Conrad went to Northwestern University, and spent 10 years living in Chicago working a day job, living in a studio apartment, and honed his writing on the way to becoming an Oscar-nominated screenwriter.
Screenwriting Quote #40 (Valentine’s Special)“I think the lesson in everything that happened to me, for people, is don’t listen to the odds, not to listen to the naysayers, to listen to the odds of you getting hit by lighting and getting kidnapped by terrorist are greater than your screenplay being done–if you have a story to tell just write it.” Screenwriter Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) who spent time in Chicago doing comedy with Second City.
Four Year Annivesary Includes this quote from an Oscar-winning screenwriter who was born and raised the Chicago area: “Here’s my unsolicited advice to any aspiring screenwriters who might be reading this: Don’t ever agonize about the hordes of other writers who are ostensibly your competition.  No one else is capable of doing what you do.”–Diablo Cody

Scott W. Smith

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