Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘screenwriting’ Category

“Plays are about conflict. Plays are about people not getting along.”
Edward Albee

oddcouple

“Behavior interests me more than anything. I think in any play that I’ve ever written the people all have options to behave in another way; they don’t, and that’s what makes it so funny and so poignant. It’s generally people who get themselves in all of the problems…Generally in a lot of my plays, two people are in major confrontation with each other, like in The Odd Couple or Barefoot in the Park or The Sunshine Boys.”
Neil Simon
The Playwright’s Art

In that same interview with Simon he also said, “Generally speaking, when a play opens, 95 percent of what’s up there is what I have approved of. With a film, I’m at mercy of the director, and what comes out on the screen is about 10 percent of what I approved of.” Not sure how much he approved of in The Sunshine Boys (1975), but George Burns did win a Best Actor in a Supporting Role as part of a vaudeville duo who can’t stand his partner.

P.S. The Odd Couple was not only a Broadway play, a movie in 1968, a popular TV show in the 70s, but has been remade into several other plays and TV shows including the female and the African-American versions. In 2015, yet another version hits TV.

Related Posts:
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2) —A character comes to a fork in the road and a choice must be made. Take the high road (the healthy responsible choice) or the low road (unhealthy, irresponsible choice). If the character chooses the right thing you really don’t have a story.
Everything I Learned In Film School (Tip #1)
Neil Simon on Conflict

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“As the day ended, the five were satisfied, they had done something new, something different, something more!”
The Numberlys
William Joyce & Christina Ellis

Now that my life is so prearranged
I know that it’s time for a cool change
Cool Change/Little River Band (Written by Glenn Shorrock)

Today is post #1,901 on Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places. I know I haven’t done something as “different” as The Numberlys did. After all they took a world that knew only numbers and formed letters and words. Now that was revolutionary.

All I’ve done is spend a few thousand hours laboring over books, magazines, online interviews, etc. looking for a cohesive (and sometimes contradictory) view of screenwriting (sometimes spilling over into other filmmaking disciplines). I think I have 99 more posts in me to make it to 2,000. After that? I don’t know.

But it’s time for a cool change.

My original goal in 2008 was a book and it just grew and grew. I’m actually on the tail-end of editing the “best of” posts down to three 60,000 word books. Sort of a beginning, middle and end. I’m exploring some ebook options and if you have any experience or advice in that world please shoot me an email at info@scottwsmith.com .

I don’t have much more of a game plan than that. When I was in film school I used to have a Nike poster in my dorm of a lone runner with the words, “There is no finish line”—which seemed cool at the time. But on a little reflection, I realized I like finish lines. We need finish lines. Finish lines are useful. It’s a way to measure things.  (You know what doesn’t have a finish line? Hamsters running on a wheel.)  It just seems like 2,000 posts on screenwriting is a good finish line.

theres-no-finish-line

The Regional Emmy Award and shout-outs from Diablo Cody, Edward Burns, and TomCrusie.com–as well as the many readers over the years have all been much appreciated. (Heck, yesterday had the most views all year.) Even if I stop writing daily posts here I’m sure something new will pop up. A new blog or perhaps weekly videos.

Finding a way to monetize it or have it open up more speaking opportunities would be great. Spending time getting more dramatic writing done would be ideal.

Playwright/screenwriter David Mamet was once asked if the theater was dying and replied, “The theater is always dying and always being reborn.” Certainly that definition could be used to explain a lot in our ever-changing society. I just found out today that the cable on our TV has been off for two months because we didn’t get a new box thingy. They credited our account and since we didn’t miss it we dropped cable altogether.

I’m not a Luddite, I’ve been watching The Sopranos via Amazon Prime and movies on Netflix streaming through my BluRay and playing on my TV.  Most college freshman I’ve read don’t have a TV in their room preferring to watch everything on their computers or phones. TV is dying and being reborn.

And so it is with Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places—it’s dying and being reborn. I’m just not sure yet what that new manifestation will look like. All suggestions welcomed.

‘The very impulse to write springs from an inner chaos crying for order, for meaning….”—Arthur Miller

P.S. The Numberlys book, App, and film was created by Oscar-winning Moonbot Studios in Shreveport, Louisiana—Shreveport qualifies as an unlikely place. I wrote some posts about them ( Filmmaking in the Other LA, Old Fashioned & Cutting Edge) a couple of years ago.

Update: Soon after I wrote this post, I heard some people talking about the bowling alley at Downtown Disney (Splitsville Luxury Lanes) and one of the people said, “Bowling’s coming back.” Bowling is always dying, and always coming back.

Related Posts:
Netflix + Emmy Nominations = New World Order
Putting the Bust in Blockbuster

Scott W. Smith 

Read Full Post »

(It’s been almost four years since I originally wrote this post—then titled Screenwriting Obsessionand it seems a fitting time to repost.)

“Most creators — and all would-be creators — simply aren’t obsessed enough.”
Eric Maisel

A few weeks ago I was talking to a couple filmmakers and we got to talking about a favorite topic of mine; Why are so many artists dysfunctional?  Take a handful of painters, writers, actors, musicians and filmmakers and you’ll have more than your share of people who suffer from depression, mental illness or at least some phobia that haunts them. Alcoholism and drug abuse appears more common with this tribe.

So the big question is — why?

One of the filmmakers had an easy answer, obsession.

I instantly thought of Jackson Pollock painting in his barn. I thought of Van Gogh’s passion. I thought of Martin Scorsese and his own demons. Obsession may be as good and answer as I’ve heard.

“One hasn’t become a writer until one has distilled writing into a habit, a habit that has been forced into an obsession. Writing has to be an obsession. It has to be something as organic, physiological and psychological as speaking or sleeping or eating.”
Niyi Osudare
From the book One Hundred Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters/Karl Iglesias

Eric Maisel, PhD has written several books that touch on this issue including Creativity for Life, The Creativity Book, and The Van Gogh Blues. I haven’t read his books, but in his article In Praise of Positive Obsessions he does make the distinction between positive and negative obsessions. He writes:

What exactly do I mean by a positive obsession?

A fair working definition is as follows: positive obsessions are insistent, recurrent thoughts or sets of thoughts, pressurized in feel, that are extremely difficult to ignore, that compel one to act, and that connect to one’s goals and values as an active meaning-maker and authentic human being.

For Van Gogh, for a period of time, sunflowers obsessed him. For Dostoevsky, for decades, the question of whether an innocent–a “saintly man” –could survive in the real world haunted and obsessed him.

Georgia O’Keeffe obsessed about how to represent the desert, thrilling herself when her imagery of bleached bones satisfied her for a time.

It is no accident or coincidence that effective artists harbor preoccupations that rise to the level of positive obsession.

So maybe we just obsess too much about those creative souls who have negative obsessions. After all those are the ones that tend to fascinate us the most. Those are the ones books are written about and movies made of their lives.

If you have any books and articles that explore the similarities and differences of positive and negative obsessions toss them my way. I don’t think my obsession is going away from thinking about it anytime soon.

And as far as screenwriting obsessions—there are many. Why do people spend so much time and money on something when the odds are so against any meaningful return on investment? Why all the books, CDs, workshops, college degrees, screenwriting expos, script consultants, etc. if there wasn’t a screenwriting obsession in this country? Why do produced screenwriters continue though they often feel less than satisfied with the finished results of their script?

Maybe it has something to do with Van Gogh continuing to paint even though the appreciation for his work would come long after he died. I hope you can find that “positive obsession,” and can continue to work on your craft without losing your mind.

Related posts:
“What it means to be a screenwriter.”
Don’t Waste Your Life (2.0) “It’s an accepted fact that all writers are crazy, even the normal ones are weird.”—William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade    
‘The Greatest Gift’“It is a story about depression and disillusionment, alcoholism and attempted suicide. And yet for all that, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life has just been voted the most inspirational film ever made.” 2006 article in The Guardian

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Tom Lazarus (Stigmata) is not only a produced screenwriter, but a longtime instructor at the UCLA Extension program.  Earlier this week I thumbed through a book of his I bought over a decade ago and found this little gem:

The best log line I’ve ever read was for an episode of the old TV show Father Knows Best. It was: Billy loses his house key. That’s what the episode was about. That, and nothing more.

The log line is the simple, one- or two-sentence, description of a movie that appears in TV Guide.

…Log lines are vital in my process of film writing because they force me to distill my idea for the screenplay down to its essence. The log line is what I judge what I’m writing against. The log line forces me to be absolutely clear about what I’m writing.
Tom Lazarus
Secrets of Film Writing 

We could go back and forth over the difference between a logline for a movie and one for a TV program–or if the logline for a Father Knows Best episode is better than, say, the logline for JAWS. But it’s a good to think about as you develop your own stories. And while “Billy loses his house key” may seem a little simplistic, check out the insight in the post (David Wain) What’s at Stake?:

“Any screenplay can be about any stakes. It can be tiny like trying to get a piece of gum off your shoe or saving the world–it’s irrelevant. The point is the stakes are important to the character and that you care as the audience about what the character cares about.”
Screenwriter David Wain

That usually means there is the potential for something meaningful to be lost. Wally on Leave it to Beaver losing his baseball glove and fears his father’s anger, Tony Soprano fears losing his mind, Bruce Willis in Die Hard fears losing his wife, Marlin fears losing his only son in Finding Nemo. 

Here’s another thought I read this week that seems fitting to toss into the mix:

“I received an exorbitant amount of query letters this week. After all these years, I’m still amazed at how many bad ideas inspire screenwriters. Many new writers make a fatal era at the start: Choosing an idea that is neither cinematic nor dramatic. Or an idea that is limited in its appeal. Is the concept best suited for a screenplay? Is it an externalized story best told with moving pictures and through conflict? Is it a story that will attract enough of an audience to warrant its budget in the millions? Many writers will defend themselves with: ‘I’m an artist and must write what’s personal and important to me. I can’t think about those other things.’ That’s fine — but don’t query me. Make your own movie. Not all stories make for good screenplays, by the way. And that’s okay. The story might be a better novel or poem or play. It’s the writer’s job to make that determination. And it’s better to do it at the beginning – before writing the script.”
WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart on The Inside Pitch/Facebook group
And he linked to his 2006 blog post Think “Hallewood” on how to improve the stories you set out to write

P.S. I’ve actually never seen an episode of Father Knows Best, and couldn’t find the “lost key” episode online, but I did find one from the first season written by Phil Davis that has the logline, “Jim has only two tickets to a football game and must decide whom to take with him.” Jim (the father played by Robert Young) decides to have a contest with his three children to see which one will be chosen to go with him to— “the most important football game of the year.”

And while that concept of that 60-year-old program seems dated, the dramatic material between sibling rivalries is deep. Not only to mention the timeless question kids ask their parents, “Which child is your favorite?” And how many billions of dollars have been spent on counseling people with mother/father—son/daughter issues?

“I was very angry with him. It cost me ten thousand dollars in therapy to say that sentence: ‘I was very angry him.’ I do it very well, don’t I? I’ll say it again: I was very angry with him. ‘Hello, my name is Mr. Lewis, I am very angry with my father.'”
Edward (Richard Gere) in Pretty Women

Related links.

The Perfect Logline
Star Wars—The Logline
Juno—The Logline

Links to others who have written about longlines.

The Construction of a Logline (Get this free PDF.)
ScriptShadow Special – How To Craft A Damn Good Logline

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.”
Screenwriter David Mamet
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO?

Everything looks worse
In black and white
Kodachrome by Paul Simon
(I love this song, but everything doesn’t look worse in black and white)

Today wraps up a series of posts taken from Jerry Lewis’s book, The Total Film-Maker. These insights are from chapter 14—OTHER FILM-MAKERS, OTHER FILMS.

“I’m convinced that the best example of a total film­ maker was Chaplin. He was totally in, on, and all over his films. He created them in the fullest sense of the word: ex­perimented to see how widely, how cleverly and skillfully he could work.

“Chaplin also had a powerful family of fine comic people who worked with him picture after picture. He often used one actor for three different roles within the same film, changing costume and make-up to change characters. Ford Sterling played three completely different roles in City Lights.

“…Older men like Chaplin and Hitchcock were masters of their craft during their prime years. They were great artists with people and with the tools of their art. George Stevens, in directing A Place in the Sun, Giant and The Greatest Story Ever Told, shows mastery in almost every frame.

“…The work of a Fred Zinnemann comes from knowledge, care and lots of sweat. Films like High Noon, The Sun­downers and A Man for All Seasons are the product of a master craftsman. Any young director can learn quite a lesson by watching what he did with the camera, how he handled the actors and treated the subject matter as the result of both.”
Actor, writer, director (and one time USC professor) Jerry Lewis
The Total Film-Maker (1971)

P.S. Those first 30 seconds of the clip from the 6-time Oscar-winning film A Place in the Sun (including Best Picture) where Liz and Monty meet and greet is a great example of fine filmmaking. So much subtext in each other’s “Hello” and great exposition in her line, “I see you had a misspent youth.” In fact, that line covers about 100 pages of the Theodore Dreiser novel— An American Tragedy (1925)— from which the Michael Wilson (a two-time Oscar winner from  McAlester, Oklahoma whose credits include Lawrence of Arabia) and Harry Brown based their screenplay. BTW–Patrick Kearney wrote play on the book that premiered on Broadway in 1926. And to come full circle, I have read that Russian Sergei Eisenstein spent some time in Hollywood wrote a screenplay on the book in 1920 that he hoped Charlie Chaplin would produce. If anyone has a link to Eisenstein’s version I’d love to read it. Josef von Sternberg directed the 1931 version of An American Tragedy from a script by Samuel Hoffenstein. If there was ever a timeless title in our 24-7 newscyle era it’s An American Tragedy.

Related Posts:

Comedy, Cruelty, Chaplin
Chaplin on Embracing Cliches

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Producers and directors buy a property because they like the story. Actors buy it because they see them­selves in a part. “
Jerry Lewis
The Total Film-Maker

When you read an over 40 year old book on filmmaking you expect there to be some stuff that’s outdated, but here are some screenwriting thoughts from Jerry Lewis found in The Total Film-Maker (1971) that are timeless.

“Finding good properties to film is similar to mining 100­ carat diamonds. They don’t come along often. When they do, bidding is high. Even good original screenplays are comparatively scarce. Every studio and independent com­pany is on a constant search for suitable material, and de­spite the thousands of submissions each year only a few are bought. Of those, only one or two are really outstanding.

“…I tell new writers to study old scripts. Dig up a copy of On the Waterfront, In the Heat of the Night or The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. I have found that the best scripts are written, rewritten, and written again before they ever reach the sound stage. The director and writer have married to the point that chopping or adding isn’t an everyday occurrence once shooting begins…Ben Hecht, Abby Mann, Stirling Silliphant, Reginald Rose and Isobel Lennart are my ideas of heavy­weights in screen writing.”
Writer/director/actor Jerry Lewis (The Nutty Professor)
The Total Film-Maker 

Ben Hecht (1894- 1964) won two Oscars (The Scoundrel, The Underworld)
Abby Mann (1927-2008) Oscar-winner for writing Judgment at Nuremberg
Stirling Silliphant (1918-1996) Oscar winner for writing In The Heat of the Night
Reginald Rose (1920-2002) won an Oscar for writing 12 Angry Men and also won three Primetime Emmys
Isobel Lennart (1915-1971) won a WGA Award for writing Funny Girl, and was nominated for two Oscars (The Sundowners and  Love Me, or Leave me) 

P.S. Maybe 2014 is turning into the revival of Jerry Lewis. (Sort of like Johnny Cash experienced in his later years.) Just two days ago in a Rolling Stone online article Peter Relic wrote about an unreleased single the Beastie Boys recorded called The Jerry Lewis that included Ad-Rock rapping “Hey, yo Mike! Let’s do the Jerry Lewis!” and Mike D. responding, “My baby does the Jerry Lewis!”

When Jerry Lewis has Rolling Stone magazine, the Beastie Boys, and Screenwriting from Iowa talking about him in 2014, you know his stock is rising.

Related posts:
The Prophet Ben Hecht
Rock, Paper, Scissors & Screenwriting
Writing Actor Bait (Tip #64)

Scott W. Smith 

Read Full Post »

Jake Gittes: There’s some black in the green part of your eye.
Evelyn Mulwray: Oh, that. It’s a…it’s a flaw in the iris.
Chinatown written by Robert Towne

“Scorsese is often called ‘America’s greatest director’ on the strength of a body of work in which all the characters in his movies are various degrees of wicked and miserable people.”
William Froug
Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade

“As a human being I have faults, you have faults, we all have faults. Even a great movie has faults. I think a great movie should have personality. And personality means that there are flaws, and you don’t have to correct the flaws. When you correct the flaws you’re eliminating personality. The Greek word for tragic flaw actually means, in Greek, defining characteristic. So the thing which makes the character is the thing which makes the flaw.  Charlie Kaufman’s movies are highly admired and yet if you analyze them almost all of them have some problem in the third act, things that don’t really work—but they’re part of the fabric. And if you were to clean it up entirely maybe the whole thing won’t work as well…Every script, every movie has a certain DNA, and things which seem illogical may work…Because movies have gotten so expensive, executives feel more fear. And that fear rules. And that fear forces executives to make your screenplay perfect. Perfection is the enemy of art. It’s the enemy of character. It’s the enemy of anything that’s dynamic and interesting.”
Screenwriter Nick Kazan
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters (Part 3) interview with Mike De Luca

Related posts:

Nick Kazan’s Chainsaw Inspiration (Part 1 of this interview)
Burns, Baseball & Character Flaws
Emotional Evolution/Devolution (Part 1)
Character Flaws 101 (Tip #30)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I never studied writing. I never studied screenwriting. I just hear voices and I see visions, and instead of being locked up I’m a screenwriter.”
Nick Kazan
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters (Part 1) interview with Mike De Luca

“I don’t like roller coasters.”
Kevin Hart

In the first part of screenwriter Nick Kazan’s interview on The Dialogue he mentioned he liked roller coasters. Kazan’s latest script set to be produced is a good example of how much of a roller coaster the film business can be. The Whole Truth was set to be shot earlier this year in Boston starring Daniel Craig, but The Hollywood Reporter said Craig pulled out at the 11th hour—”days before filming.” Part of what that means is an entire crew who had blocked out x-amount of months for work on that project now had to scramble for new opportunities. It also means a loss of millions of dollars in hotels, meals, rentals, etc. in the Boston area.

Fast forward a few months and I’ve read reports that instead of the story being about a lawyer in Boston, it will now be a southern lawyer as production has shifted to New Orleans. Keanu Reeves to replace Craig with Renee Zellweger co-starring and Courtney Hunt (Frozen River) directing. While one article said the changing of locations was a “slight shift in the story” think about what that means from Kazan’s perspective.

Boston and New Orleans are two different cultures. Perhaps the plot stays the same, you could even change the setting of a historic building in Copley Square to a historic building in the French Quarter. A downtown waterfront scene set in Boston Harbor can be shot on the Mississippi River.  But the whole background and mindset of a lawyer from New Orleans and a lawyer from Boston can be as different as their accents. Worlds apart.

I guess they could cheat and make it a Boston lawyer in New Orleans. I’m sure there’s more than one Harvard-educated lawyer kicking around Louisiana. Kind of a fun contrast to think about. Image a lawyer from a wealthy  Boston family who when thinking of heading south, thinks of Martha’s Vineyard. Give that man a shrimp po’boy and toss him into the mix of a post-Katrina New Orleans.

But Kazan’s a writer and so he’ll make it work–new visions and new voices.

And just in case you’re wondering why producers would make such a major shift in locations so late in the game the answer is simple—money. Louisiana has been aggressive in the last few years in courting film production via film incentives. In fact, at this year’s Oscar awards “four of the six highest-profile Academy Awards went to New Orleans-shot films.” (Including the Best Picture, 12 Years a Slave.)  You may be surprised that one report said that in 2013 Louisiana overtook California in film production.

“We have been on a steady upward trajectory since Louisiana adopted its incentive program in 2002… 2013 was our biggest year.”
Chris Stelly, executive director of Louisiana Entertainment
Move over Hollywood! Louisiana is top for film production, CNN Money

When I started this blog Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places in 2008 it was meant to have built-in irony. My Purple Cow to borrow Seth Godin’s phrase. But with the change in the economy since ’08—plus changes in digital filmmaking— and seeing Louisiana become a major player and Atlanta being called The New Hollywood—somehow filmmaking outside New York and L.A. seems less ironic.

I’ll write more about that later, but it would be interesting to read an interview where Kazan unpacked how his voices and visions changed as he had to transpose his script from Boston to New Orleans.

BTW—That roller coaster of change happens at every level of production. I have a DP friend who was booked on a big broadcast shoot recently who invested $3,000 in new equipment for the shoot only to have it cancel. That roller coaster effect is probably one of the top five reasons crew people leave the production business. It’s hard enough if you live in LA and are booked on a 2 or 3 month shoot away from your family, but harder when that shoot cancels and you end up not landing another gig quickly. The whole truth is roller coasters can be fun, you just don’t want to live on one.

Related post:
Nick Kazan’s Chainsaw Inspiration
Sex, Lies & Mr. Bill (Screenwriting from Louisiana)
Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“[The Texas Chainsaw Massacre] captures the syntax and structure of a nightmare with astonishing fidelity. The quality of the images, the texture of the sound, the illogic by which one incident follows another —all confirm to the way we dream. No one’s done that before, at least not in a commercial, mass market movie…What makes Chainsaw interesting is that since we are watching it with our eyes open, it’s a nightmare which we can’t wake up.”
Michael Goodwin/ Village Voice 
Celluloid Mavericks: The History of American Independent Film by Greg Merritt

Before Nick Kazan became an Oscar-nominated screenwriter (Reversal of Fortune)—or even a working screenwriter—he was a playwright in Berkeley, California with a fondness for the writings of Harold Pinter—but he also found early inspiration from an unlikely place.

“Eventually I moved to Los Angeles and I was writing movie scripts—some with friends—I wrote a great many of them; 10, 15, 20—I don’t know how many I wrote before I had any success. Then one day I read an article by Michael Goodwin in the Village Voice about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Well, I grew-up in New York City—I went to a high-toned college (Swarthmore College) so I can be a little bit of a snob.  So Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not a film I normally would have gone to see. But I read this article where he talked about how film functions like dream. About how this movie was very scary and very funny the way dreams are, and I had to go out and see the movie. I saw the movie and I came home and I had an idea. And in four or five days I wrote a script which had the same feeling, the same ethos, as Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Well I read it over and thought, ‘This is horrifying,’ and I put it in my drawer. And I went about working on other things, and about a month later I said, ‘You know, maybe I should take a look at that script, maybe it wasn’t quite as terrible as I thought. And it was a script with very little dialogue in it—it was mostly visual. And what dialogue it had was peculiar, Pinter-esque in a kind of way, but also Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque in a way…I sold that script and that’s how I became a screenwriter.”
Screenwriter Nick Kazan (At Close Range)
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Mike De Luca

That film actually got made but Kazan felt it was so poorly done he had his name taken off the movie. And while a time or two I’ve been accused launching a screenwriting career difficult— consider Kazan’s path:
1) Swarthmore College—4 year degree in today’s dollars $57,000 per year=A $228,000 education
2)
Became a produced playwright
3)
Wrote “10-15- 20″ scripts before launching his career

Kazan earned his keep in the same way I’ve pointed out in past posts the paths that John Logan (Hugo) and Michael Ardnt took—which is a lot of writing before they were discovered. And though Kazan downplays it in interviews, it should be mentioned that his father was Elia Kazan—the Oscar-winning director On the Waterfront (of one of my all-time favorite films). And one of the reasons he downplays who his dad was I imagine, is because when he was writing those 10-15-20 scripts without success his dad’s legacy wasn’t helping much.

P.S. Tobe Hopper directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a small cast and crew made up of college teachers and students. He also wrote the script with Kim Henkel.

Related posts:
Directing Tips from Peter Bogdanovich  “Silent looks between people—to me, that’s what movies are about.”—Bogdanovich
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO? “IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.”—Mamet
Write 2 or 3 Screenplays this Year (If you can write a screenplay in a few days like Kazan did, this shouldn’t be a problem)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“It’s a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be an unstoppable avalanche.”
Harold Pinter (1930-2008)

Today I planned to start a run of posts on screenwriter Nick Kazan today but as I was listening to part one of his interview with Mike De Luca Kazan pulls out a sheet of paper and starts reading part of playwright Harold Pinter’s speech for being awarded The Noble Prize in Literature 2005. Kazan who started out as a playwright as well, and without knowing it came to writing in the same organic, perhaps unorthodox manner as Pinter laid out in his Noble Prize speech.

“I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image. I shall give two examples of two lines which came right out of the blue into my head, followed by an image, followed by me.

The plays are The Homecoming and Old Times. The first line of The Homecoming is ‘What have you done with the scissors?’ The first line of Old Times is ‘Dark.’

In each case I had no further information.

In the first case someone was obviously looking for a pair of scissors and was demanding their whereabouts of someone else he suspected had probably stolen them. But I somehow knew that the person addressed didn’t give a damn about the scissors or about the questioner either, for that matter.

‘Dark’ I took to be a description of someone’s hair, the hair of a woman, and was the answer to a question. In each case I found myself compelled to pursue the matter. This happened visually, a very slow fade, through shadow into light.

I always start a play by calling the characters A, B and C.

In the play that became The Homecoming I saw a man enter a stark room and ask his question of a younger man sitting on an ugly sofa reading a racing paper. I somehow suspected that A was a father and that B was his son, but I had no proof. This was however confirmed a short time later when B (later to become Lenny) says to A (later to become Max), ‘Dad, do you mind if I change the subject? I want to ask you something. The dinner we had before, what was the name of it? What do you call it? Why don’t you buy a dog? You’re a dog cook. Honest. You think you’re cooking for a lot of dogs.’ So since B calls A ‘Dad’ it seemed to me reasonable to assume that they were father and son. A was also clearly the cook and his cooking did not seem to be held in high regard. Did this mean that there was no mother? I didn’t know. But, as I told myself at the time, our beginnings never know our ends.”
Harold Pinter
Art, Truth & Politics 

The great thing about finding insights like this from a highly accomplished writer is you see how mystical the writing process can be. More than once I’ve read in books and articles things like, “Know your characters inside and out before you start” —yet Pinter says, “I always start a play by calling the characters A, B and C.” Forget starting with writing character bios, Pinter doesn’t even know his character’s names when he starts writing.

Another common concept I’ve heard is “Know your ending before you start–you don’t take a trip without knowing where you’re going,” yet here’s Pinter saying he starts with “no further information” than a “word or an image.” It’s like he’s pulling a big vine in the grass in his backyard and just keeps pulling it.

People are all wired differently—find what works for you and just tell your stories.

Pinter’s entire 46 minute talk (which is heavy on politics) was pre-recorded and shown in Stockholm on December 7, 2005, and available free online.  There is also a PDF of the lecture.

P.S. Many of Pinter’s plays (including The Homecoming for which he also wrote the screenplay) made it to the big screen.  In total, Pinter had a run of work in film and TV beginning in 1960 and that spanned six decades.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: