“I want to do something splendid…something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.”
Louisa May Alcott (Little Women)
Writer/director Edward Burns once said filmmaking is “overcoming obstacles”—here’s the expanded version of that concept from Oscar-nominated screenwriter Robin Swicord:
“[Little Women director] Gillian Armstrong had the very difficult task of coming in on a project that had been in the minds of the writer and my executive Amy Pascal for about 12 years. I had developed this more or less along with Amy without a producer as an interface at all. It was something she and I had talked about since we met. We kept trying to find a working situation where we’d be able to produce Little Women, and it took about 12 years for her to call me up one day and say, ‘I have a hit with Groundhog Day and with A League of Their Own, and I’m going to be able to do something now that I want and I want to do Little Women.’ And so we began our work together and she was my really my creative partner.
“And Gillian came about because the studio had resistance to making a movie with female protagonists. And we were able to find a wonderful ally, Sid Ganis, who at that time was in charge of their marketing and today is a terrific producer. Sid had four daughters and I told him there was a strong marketing idea for Little Women, which was to reach a multigenerational audience. A big broad audience, and not worry so much whether men would come to see this movie. But understand that every women would come, and that she would probably attend multiple times. And he bought that argument and that is in fact what played out at the marketing level.
“Then from higher up in the studios we got this edict that if you can get Winona Ryder to be Jo then we will make this movie. And in order to approach Winona Ryder we looked around for the strongest producer that would have a relationship with her and we were very lucky to find Denise Di Novi and so she came in as the producer. And so she was able to bring in Winona Ryder and the studios said, not so fast—you’re going to have to get Susan Sarandon. And so we went to Susan Sarandon. And because we had a well-respect actress,Winona Ryder, she agreed— yes, this looks like a healthy thing.
“And then Winona Ryder said I’d really like to work with a female director. And at that time that was a very short list of people. But fortunately on that list was Gillian Armstrong who had made My Brilliant Career, which is a film the studio could see enough parallels in that they would green light it with Gillian Armstrong.
“And so she had to come into the situation that was pretty much ready-made, and [the studios] said we want it for next Christmas—and it was now December. And so she just had to hit the ground running. We had to make decisions of where to shoot it. And for the amount of money they were giving us we had no choice but to got to Canada [to shoot the movie].
“That’s just what it means to be a screenwriter. I know there’s a lot of derision about it being a collaborative field –what that really means, and David Mamet’s well-known quote, ‘It’s a collaboration, bend over’—but, in fact, it is a collaboration and if you’re not drawn to collaborative work you probably shouldn’t find yourself in the midst of film. I like the problem solving aspect that comes up, and there are frustrations but they’re the frustrations we’ve chosen in chosing this field.”
Screenwriter Robin Swicord (Little Women)
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Jay Fernandez (Part 2)
I’m pretty sure in my six and a half years of blogging that’s the longest chunk I’ve ever transcribed. A lot of insights about how and why movies get made packed into several paragraphs.
P.S. Little Women was released in 1994. For an interesting perspective on fast forwarding 20 years, read last month’s Forbes article by Melissa Silberstein stating “Young Women Are The Hottest Box Office Demographic.” (And that’s before the July 4. 2014 weekend that’s been called the the worst 4th of July box office in decades when the traditional young males didn’t show up as expected.) Also, this is how Brent Lang explained it in Variety last month.
“Maleficent” rode “Frozen’s” coattails to a decisive victory at last weekend’s box office, analysts say.
More than any other Hollywood player, Walt Disney Studios has adroitly tapped into the strength of the female moviegoing audience, keeping this potent demographic in mind while cooking up everything from princess lines to “Let it Go”-style empowerment anthems.
“Right now Disney is pushing all the right buttons with regards to young girls,” said Eric Handler, a media and entertainment analyst at MKM Partners. “The ‘princess brand’ is a very, very strong brand.”
The 10 year ‘Get Low’ Journey
The 20 Year Journey of Craig Borten
Screenwriter David Seidler (and his 70 year journey)
Film Collaborating, Mismatched Souls & Pizza Making
Ron Howard & the Story Biz (2.0) What really gets me out of bed in the morning is this lifestyle that I’ve always been a part of: the creative problem-solving, the collaboration.”—Ron Howard
How to Be a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41)
Scott W. Smith