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“No one wants to be laid off; it feels embarrassing.”
Author Gillian Flynn

When Up in the Air hit theaters in 2009 it was timely because many people in America were experiencing being laid off from their jobs. The fictious character played by George Clooney tried to encourage people he was firing in Up in the Air by telling them:

“Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you are now. And it’s because they sat there that they were able to do it. That’s the truth.”
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) in Up in the Air

You know who was fired in real life in 2009? Gillian Flynn. She worked ten years with Entertainment Weekly. I bet if she saw Up in the Air the week after she was let go the first thing she thought was, “I wish George Clooney would have been the one to let me go.” The second thing she thought was probably in line with, “What a load of BS.”

But if she saw Up in the Air tonight, she’s say Clooney was absolutely correct. It was because she was let go that it allowed her to write the novel Gone Girl that became a best selling book in 2012 (over 6 million copies sold), was option to be made into a film for $1.5 million, and she was also paid to write the screenplay. The last two weeks Gone Girl has has sat at #1 at the box office and made $140 million worldwide in 10 days.

She may not have built an empire yet, or changed the world, but in just five short years she’s had about as much of a positive shift one can have after being laid off.

“I was a Missouri kid in New York working at my dream magazine 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.”
Gillian Flynn
The Hollywood Reporter

Now Flynn already had a novel published before she was laid off and one shortly after, and was thankful at the time she was laid off that her lawyer husband still had a job, so there are a few variables unique to her sudden rise to fame and success. But don’t let that overshadow the fact that she wrote two novels while working a day job.

As screenwriter Bob DeRosa wrote,“There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work. Perseverance. Luck. Craft. Failure. Success. Mistakes. And yes, dreams that come true.”

Related posts:
How Gillian Flynn Killed It
Bob DeRosa’s ‘Shortcuts’ 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

“There are a million talented writers who are unpublished only because they stop writing when it gets hard.”
Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl)
More magazine October 2014

“I had always, always, always wanted to write, and pictured myself as an author. From third grade on, my mom kept those scrapbooks about ‘what do you want to be when you grow up.’ I always said, ‘An author.’ Either an author or a farmer. But that was my aspiration. I was a big reader. My mom’s a reading professor — she literally taught reading for a living — so I was always surrounded by books and was a bookworm, which is where I think all writers start, with a love for books.

“I got into journalism because I was a practical Midwesterner and thought, ‘I can’t actually write books for a living so I’m going to do journalism, and that’ll be great too.’ And I loved it. I was at Entertainment Weekly for ten years and just had an absolutely great time. Then I started working on Sharp Objects just on my evenings and weekends. I would write at Entertainment Weekly all day doing interviews and going to set visits. I’d be on the set of Jackass: The Movie by day and then come back at night and try my hand at writing the book.”
Author/Screenwriter Gillian Flynn Gone Girl
2013 Interview with Brendan Dowling

Flynn’s debut novel in 2006 was Sharp Objects

Related Post: Don’t Quit Your Day Job (2.0)

Scott W. Smith

“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

“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 

“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



									

“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

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