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“[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

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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

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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

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“One of the most famous protagonist in contemporary pop culture is Superman. Now Superman is special because he’s not some ordinary human, he can do things nobody else can. But if he was completely unstoppable, he’d be boring, he would easily win every fight and that would not be suspenceful. So, his creators invented Kryptonite, the one thing that renders him helpless. Your protagonist may not be Superman, but you can treat them the same way. So, we’re going to develop them a little further by giving them a Unique Talent (Superpower) and a Unique Weakness (Kryptonite). In a nutshell, these two traits give your protagonist the capacity for both success and failure, and that creates suspense. You can do this with any of your other characters, too, as long as it’s relevant to your story.”
Mark Tapio Kines 
Screenwriting Fundamentals on lynda.com

Related Posts:
Character Flaws 101 (Tip #30)
Burns, Baseball & Character Flaws
The Superman from Cleveland
Postcard #53 (Metropolis)
Screenwriting Quote #95 (Nicholas Meyer) Will Hamlet kill the king? The job of the dramatist is to raise as much suspence as possible as to the outcome of that question.”
Creative Learning 2.0 (Here’s a post from 2008 where I talked about being an evangelist for lynda.com—I’m still a big fan of their online tutorials.)

Scott W. Smith

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“This is an obscure bit of advice I give writers, don’t write that first thing to sell it or get it made. I mean—that’s great, that’s why we’re all doing this—write it to show that you have a voice. So the first script that I sold, part of me knew that it was never going to get made. What I knew was that it was a great forum for me to flex a certain dialogue, and to get into people’s faces, and have a character that would be very verbose and articulate and do those things, to show yes I could write. Ultimately it’s the equivalent of sort of being the guy who dunks [in basketball] time and time again.  Ultimately as a writer you hope you show that you have a post game, and you have an outside game as well, but sometimes people only respond to the dunks.”
Screenwriter Sheldon Turner (who played football at Cornell University)
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters (Part 3) interview with Mike De Luca

Related Post:
Finding Your Voice
Finding Your Own Voice
Dif·fer·en·ti·ate Yourself

P.S. Here are a couple of unusual dunks early in the careers of two players that went on to have pretty good careers. Even if you’re not a basketball fan it’s not hard to see how that if you want to get people’s attention when you’re starting out you have to bring a little extra mojo to your game.

Scott W. Smith 

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Mike De Luca: How many screenplays did you write before the first one got produced?
Sheldon Turner: A good 15 probably. You have to be resilient.
The Dialogue: Sheldon Turner Interview Part 2
(Sheldon also mentions on The Dialogue that as he was finding his voice he wrote 11 scripts before he even showed one to anybody.)

“I think all too often now we as a society train ourselves to not have time to think. You get home—you turn the TV on. You get in the car—you turn the radio on. I think those moments [of inspiration] come in solitude. It’s themes—you don’t want to put somebody in a position to go down the hall and tell Amy Pascal (Co-Chairman of Sony Pictures) that Sheldon Turner has some wonderful themes he wants to explore in this movie— but I think that’s what makes for really good [movies]. Even something like The Longest Yard which is pabulum and a fun movie and all that, at least for me I’ve gotta know what the themes are.  Something like redemption or whatever it is, that’s what makes interesting movies.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sheldon Turner  (credits on Up In the Air, X-Men, First Class)

Related Posts:

Writing from Theme (Tip #20)
Obligatory Scene=Story’s Theme
David O. Russell on Characters & Theme
Kelly Marcel on Theme
John Carpenter on Theme
Scott Frank on Theme
Diablo Cody on Theme
Shane Black on Theme
Lawrence Konner on Theme
Theme= What Your Movie is Really About
Theme=Story’s Heart & Soul
Michael Arndt on Theme
Sidney Lumet on Theme
More Thoughts on Theme 

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) The Godfather

“Think you used enough dynamite there Butch?”
Sundance (Robert Redford) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

“I think there are certain things that actors look for; everybody wants to say cool dialogue, that’s all there is to it. It’s a lesson that I’ve learned. I remember there was a script that I wrote and there’s a line about ‘hookers and eight ball’ and my manager at the time said—and we’re writing for an actor at this time— and he said, ‘Look you don’t want him saying that the first line in.’ Similarly I’ve written for an actress and I had a line description where I described her as haggard—in the scene, it doesn’t mean she’s haggard—but there are certain ways they want to be perceived.”
Screenwriter Sheldon Turner 
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters (Part 1) interview with Mike De Luca

Relate post:
Writing Actor Bait (Tip #64) “Producers and directors buy a property because they like the story. Actors buy it because they see them­selves in a part. “—Jerry Lewis

Scott W. Smith

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