Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘screenwriting’ Category

Two Lines of Action

“I try never to go longer than two lines of action because I think the eye naturally drifts away. We all do it. You look at the script and there are breezy reads—Scott Rosenberg (Con Air) to me pioneered how to do a breezy quick read.”
Screenwriter Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air, The Longest Yard)
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters

Related post:
Is 110 the new 120?
Screenwriting by Numbers (Tip#4)
Writing Beyond the Numbers (Tip#8)

Scott W. Smith 

Read Full Post »

“America was born as a rebel country, and Americans have always had a soft spot for the outlaw.”
Professor Maurice Yacowar
Married to the Mob by Mark Sauer

One of my favorite discovers since starting this blog in 2008 is being able to find the connective tissues between ideas, scenes, ideas, characters and sometimes entire stories found in movies and TV shows. Often writers are open about their influences and yet other times plead ignorance for similarities.

Many critics said The Sopranos was indebted to Goodfellas—I can’t remember who called it “the companion guide to Goodfellas.” But there is a key element to The Sopranos that I think was taken from Donnie Brasco. Much was made about how fresh and original it was for Tony Soprano—a mobster—to go therapy.

But Johnny Depp’s character in Donnie Brasco is an undercover agent who has infiltrated the mafia. And when what started out as a six month FBI assignment starts turning into years it causes friction at home with his wife. Like a military man or a truck driver his lifestyle is somewhat unorthodox, yet there is something about the job that he loves. In the scene below his wife (Maggie played by Anne Heche) says tells her husband that he’s becoming like the mobsters he’s investigating.

Eventually Depp’s character’s wife says she wants a divorce. He tells her, “There hasn’t been a divorce in my family since back to Julius Caesar. Divorce someone else.” They settle on going to marriage counseling.

The Sopranos first aired in 1999 , Donnie Brasco was released in 1997. Here’s the beginning of the first counseling scene from a Donnie Brasco script dated 1992.

INT. DAY. OFFICE

SHELLY BERGER, late 40s, flannel shirt, earth shoes -- PSYCHOTHERAPIST -- 
sits with Donnie and Maggie.

                                     MAGGIE
                         ...He comes home at all hours of the 
                         night, without announcing when or 
                         why, or where he's been for three 
                         weeks. Or three months. Then he 
                         expects everything to be just the 
                         way he wants it. He vacuums the entire 
                         house. Do you know another man who 
                         vacuums? It's abnormal. Of course, 
                         he expects the girls to drop their 
                         lives when he shows up...

                                     DONNIE
                         I'm their father, Maggie. I ring 
                         that doorbell I expect them home.

                                     MAGGIE
                         They think it's a Jehovah's witness.
                              (to Berger)
                         You'd think he'd tell me where he 
                         goes or what he's doing --

                                     DONNIE
                         That's for your own protection.

                                     MAGGIE
                         Ha!
                              (to Berger)
                         I know he's cheating on me --

While Donnie Brasco screenwriter Paul Attanasio used the book Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life as his foundation, he said the counseling concept came from his imagination. This doesn’t take any thing away from what the great David Chase created with The Sopranos, it just helps us understand how the creative process works.

And since Donnie Brasco was not a made man in the Mafia, but FBI agent Joe Pistone that means the Tony Soprano—unless there is a film/TV show I’m unfamiliar with—was technically the first Mafia man depicted in a counseling setting. File it under, “the same thing only different.”

In my post Where Do Ideas Come From? I quoted James Young Webb, “ An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.” Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Orson Welles all acknowledged they built on what came before them.

P.S. Of course, Attanasio including a romance into Donnie Brasco accomplished many things including adding pressure (i.e. conflict) in Donnie Brasco/Joe Pistone’s. (On top of his pressure of some in the FBI questioning the operation, pressure from the mob itself, life or death circumstances if his cover is blow, and conflict with himself over his relationship with mobster Lefty Ruggiero, who will be killed or go to prison because of the undercover operations.

The Mike Newell directed film was not a box office hit when it first came out, but it has aged very well.

But about that husband/wife element of Donnie Brasco, Oscar and Emmy-winning director Sydney Pollack once stated something to the effect that each of his film always had a romance element. Certainly true of Out of Africa, The Electric Horseman, The Way We Were, and Tootsie.

P.P.S. I was enjoying The Dialogue series that was put on You Tube, but it went dark yesterday. Anyone know why. It now says those videos are private. If anyone knows why please shoot me an email at info@scottwsmith.com.

Related Post:
(Note: While I’ve used the term cloning before, I now prefer the concept of sampling to describe what goes on in connecting movies.)
Movie Cloning (“Raiders”) Some of the DNA of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Movie Cloning (Pirates) Some of the DNA of Pirates of Caribbean.
Movie Cloning (Part1) 

Scott W. Smith



					

Read Full Post »

“The basic thing that attracted me to Quiz Show was it was a kind of companion piece to Donnie Brasco. Donnie Brasco was about guys who were really dumb but really shrewed. Cause those mob guys are like that, they all have a 75 IQ but they can read people and read the room. And that was Joe’s (Joe Pistone, uncover FBI agent) achievement—getting over on them is not easy. The Quiz Show people as a companion to it—having written them consecutively—were people who were so smart they were dumb. They were so wrapped up in how smart they were that they were getting defrauded and making horrible life mistakes without any ideas that that was going on.”
Two-time Oscar nominated screenwriter Paul Attanasio
The Dialogue interview with Mike De Luca

Quiz Show’s beginning point was a chapter in the book Remembering America: A Voice of the Sixties by Richard N. Goodwin.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“When I started writing Donnie Brasco—first of all, it was right at the beginning of my career so I was just really grateful to have a job. It was the first thing I did with Barry Levinson, and really that experience with Barry—you know Quiz Show came out of that, Homicide came out of that—it was fundamental to my development as a writer because all I’d been hearing up to that point was a lot of that kind of Syd Field, Robert McKee kind of [story structure]. And Barry basically, if you wrote a funny scene—that’s what he was looking for. It was really like the Howard Hawks’ apothegm that a good movie is five or six scenes and something in-between. If you have the five or six scenes the structure would announce itself. That was eye-opening for me. And when found that I could do that, that was the experience of [writing] Donnie Brasco.

It was really zeroing in on this character Lefty (Al Pacino). And what was great with that too is there is a lot of tape because they were eavesdropped on by the feds all the time. You could understand Lefty through how he sounded. And there was just all of this tape. And it was that relationship. The basic spine of it was clear to me early on which was at the end he [Donnie Brasco/Johnny Depp] either had to betray himself or betray his friend. That’s all you really need to find the structure.”
Screenwriter Paul Attanasio on writing Donnie Brasco
The Dialogue interview with Mike DeLuca (part 1)

Donnie Brasco originated from the book Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia by Joseph D. Pistone with Richard Woodley.

“What [Levinson] got from the book was that mob life was really about guys in coffee shops scheming and bullsh*#ing, so that spoke to Diner, and Tin Men (other Barry Levinson films). Perception about people that he has mined for a while, and it wasn’t The Godfather and the beautiful Gordon Willis lighting, and the dignity of those guys. It was low life. And what I found in there is the relationship that gave it some heart and emotion.”
Paul Attanasio

P.S. Several years ago I interviewed former capo in the Columbo family Michael Franzese in Santa Monica for a TV program I was producing. I asked him what his favorite mafia film was and he said that he preferred the term “the family” and singled out Donnie Brasco. Fortune magazine once listed Franzese as number 18 of the “Fifty Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses.”

Related post:
Filmmaking Quote #39 (Howard Hawks)
40 Days of Emotions

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“[Schindler's List] was one of the most beautiful scripts I ever read. But you know, it was only after the film came out — 21 years ago this year — that we saw the really profound effect it had on audiences. And continues to have.”
Liam Neeson (who played Oskar Schindler) in an interview this month with Stephen Whitty.Oskar Schindler

“I don’t think there was any anticipation that Schindler’s List would become a big film, which is why they would entrust it to me. I remember quite vividly reading it for the first time, getting about two-thirds of the way through it, and praying there would be a decent third act. The thing I grabbed onto—which affected almost ever scene in it—was the idea of a man doing something that went against everything he thought he wanted. A reluctant hero.”
Oscar-winning Screenwriter Steven Zaillian of Schindler’s List
(The 7 time Oscar-winning 1993 movie Schindler’s List was based on the book with the same title written by Thomas Keneally)

It’s worth noting that while Oskar Schindler was a reluctant hero, he was still an active protagonist. Here’s a fitting quote from the post Making Dramatic Writing Dynamic: “Protagonists have to be active, they’re making their own fate all the time.”—Screenwriter Robin Swicord (Little Women)

And speaking of active protagonists, Steven Spielberg said the Oscar he won for directing Schindler’s List was not only his first Oscar win (more than 20 years after his first Oscar nomination), but the first Oscar statue he’d actually ever held in his life. Even for the great ones it takes a little time some times.

P.S. A few years after Schindler’s List was in theaters I had the opportunity to videotape two interviews of Holocaust survivors for the foundation that Steven Spielberg started (now known as the USC Shoah Foundation) to help preserve the stories of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides. One of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had working in production.

steven-spielberg-dsc_0503-version-2

Related Post:
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO (?) From a screenwriting perspective Schindler’s List answers clearly Mamet’s first two questions every screenwriter should ask; Who want what and what happens if they don’t get it.
What’s at Stake? (tip #9)
Goal. Stakes. Urgency.” (Tip #60)
What’s at Stake? (David Wain) The stakes don’t always have to be life or death to be compelling.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Kon, Zhou & Williams—sounds like an international law firm, right?

If you enjoy the world of filmmaking and are unfamiliar with Satoshi Kon and Tony Zhou then the following seven minutes and 36 seconds of the video below are going to be a real treat. Guaranteed—or your money back.

Last month, in my post Time For A Cool Change I talked about taking some sort of detour after my 2,000th post in the coming months (as I approach the 7th anniversary of this blog). After seeing Zhou’s videos Martin Scorsese—The Art of Silence and The Spielberg Oner—One Scene, One Shot I started thinking about revisiting doing something more video based. I did a couple early on in this blog—and was encouraged by Scott Myers at Go Into the Story to do more—but I just found them too time consuming to produce.

But Zhou has given me a vision that doesn’t require shooting. I’ve already started a list of topic ideas.

Maybe as I hit the reset button in the coming months instead of writing an every weekday blog, perhaps I’ll create a video once a month. Or perhaps a 1 or 2 minute video once a week. Regardless, I love Zhou’s work (and his voice reminds me of the Richard Dreyfuss VO in Stand By Me). I hope you appreciate his film knowledge and time commitment to produce these as much as I do. Here’s his recent video on Robin Williams.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Back on the first day of summer I wrote a post called Screenwriting Summer School and while most schools are in their Fall session now, it’s technically still summer. Heck, tomorrow it’ll be in the 90s here in Orlando so it’ll feel like summer long after the first day of Fall next Tuesday. So we’re still in summer school mode. Today’s class features Professor Stephen King.

While King has given talks before at various colleges and universities, I’m not sure if he’s technically ever taught a class at the college level. But Professor King just sounds right. Before his writing career took off, King did teach high school English in Maine. Here are a couple of quotes pulled from an interview he did with Jessica Lehey in The Atlantic article, How Stephen King Teaches Writing.

“It went best for me when I could communicate my own enthusiasm. I can remember teaching Dracula to [high school] sophomores and practically screaming, ‘Look at all the different voices in this book! Stoker’s a ventriloquist! I love that!’ I don’t have much use for teachers who ‘perform,’ like they’re onstage, but kids respond to enthusiasm. You can’t command a kid to have fun, but you can make the classroom a place that feels safe, where interesting things happen. I wanted every 50-minute class to feel like half an hour.”
Stephen King

 “Always ask the student writer, ‘What do you want to say?’ Every sentence that answers that question is part of the essay or story. Every sentence that does not needs to go. I don’t think it’s the words per se, it’s the sentences. I used to give them a choice, sometimes: either write 400 words on ‘My Mother is Horrible’ or ‘My Mother is Wonderful.’ Make every sentence about your choice. That means leaving your dad and your snotty little brother out of it.”
Stephen King

P.S. Wouldn’t it be nice if every 2 hour movie felt like it was 90 minutes?

Related Posts:
Stephen King’s Doublewide Trailer “I wrote my first two novels, Carrie and Salem’s Lot in the laundry room of a doublewide trailer.”—Stephen King
Descriptive Writing (Stephen King) ““Good description usually consists of a few well chosen details that will stand for everything else.”—Stephen King
Screenwriting Quote #33 (Stephen King)
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: