Feeds:
Posts
Comments

photo-5

I started this postcard thing on the blog years ago to give myself a break from writing and researching posts when I was on the road working on various productions. Hard to believe today is the 80th postcard. I’m posting this on the tail end of a long video production day and drive home. One of the perks of a 14+ hour day on the road was the crew was able to eat breakfast at the Over Easy Cafe on Sanibel Island, Florida and dinner at Pinchers Crab Shack in Ft. Myers where I took the above picture overlooking the Caloosahatchee River.

The restaurant is next door to the historic winter estates of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, but that’s not the only history tied to the area.

According to Kimberly Ripley’s blog, “Caloosahatchee means ‘River of the Calusa.’ It searved as the main highway inland to the Calusa Indians…Also known as ‘Shell People’ the later Calusas, from approximately the 1500′s to their demise in the early 1800′s, used seashells as foundations. They built their cities on them.”

P.S. My first postcard (Downtown Kansas City)  was August 11, 201. And for what it’s worth, my 28th postcard (Prime Time) was on a shoot I did with Deion Sanders at his Dallas-area home . The great Pro Football Hall-of-Fame football player was born and raised in Ft. Myers, Florida. To read an interesting article about Sanders’ ties to the area read the Sam Cook article about where “Prime Time” developed his personality. And to come full circle Cook was the sports editor who hired me as a 19-year-old photojournalist when he was the sports editor with the Sanford Herald Evening Herald.  

Scott W. Smith

amazon

In honor of the 2014 FIFI World Cup Brazil championship game yesterday I decided to dig up a photo I took in Brazil back in ’07. I was part of a team that shot footage in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro (where I bought a Pele jersey) and in Manaus. I took the above shot from a seaplane at the Meeting of the Waters where the Amazon and Rio Negro Rivers meet. Pretty cool Indiana Jones-type experience.

Congrats to Germany for beating Argentina, and congrats to Brazil for pulling off what has to be one of the hardest events to pull off in a peacetime setting.

Scott W. Smith

“I believe in the affirmation of life. If we lose that hope, if we lose the possibility of it, we’ve lost an awful lot.”
Writer/Director Paul Mazursky
Film Comment 1978 Interview

“I never thought, I’m going against the grain, I’m going to inform America about the problem of women, about society, about the bums on the street. I just thought, is this a good story, and can I make it work? The European directors I love really showed me that. You make the movie you want to make, that engages you, the movie that you have to make. They got away with it for a long time. And I guess I did too.”
Paul Mazursky
TheWrap

Oscar and Emmy nominated Paul Mazursky’s died a couple of weeks ago.  The  career of the producer, director, writer and actor spanned seven decades. I was in film school when his 1982 film Tempest came out and once remember seeing Mazursky walking across W. Olive Ave. in Burbank as I waited at the stoplight next to Warner Bros. Studios. (When you’re 21-years-old and from outside L.A. you don’t forget those Forrest Gump-like moments.)

At that time in his career he already had two Primetime Emmy nominations (The Danny Kaye Show) and  four  Oscar-nominations (writing Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,  Harry & Tonto, An Unmarried Woman— the later also was nominated for Best Picture). But some of his more popular films were still to come including Moscow on the Hudson,  Enemies, A Love Story, and Down and Out in Beverly Hills.

“[Down and Out in Beverly Hillsmade me laugh and harder and more delight than any movie I’ve seen since Lost in America.”
Roget Ebert
1986 movie review on Siskel and Ebert

As an actor he also worked on a wide variety of  films and TV programs; Blackboard Jungle, The Twilight Zone, Antz, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Kung Fu Panda 2.

But when I think of Mazursky, Tempest is what comes to mind first. He directed the film from a script he wrote with Leon Capetanos based on the Shakespeare play.  It won the audience award at the 1982 Toronto International Film Festival.

The reason I link Mazursky to that film is not even the film itself that starred John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands and Susan Sarandon (and which just happens to be Molly Ringwald’s big screen debut), but because  Mazursky wrote a making of book on the film–fittingly called Paul Mazursky’s Tempest.

Keep in mind that in 1982 there was no Internet so behind the scene books were a key place to get a glimpse into the filmmaking process. I still have my copy of that book. Here’s a couple of shots from the book that may help you in scheduling your film.

photo-4

photo-3

The Director’s Guild of America has a video interview of Mazursky online. And here are a couple of videos interviews the Writers Guild of America did with Mazursky did last year.

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It’s all those movies from my youth that made me want to get into this—all the popcorn movies.  The Die Hards, Empire, the Star Wars films. Those are the films that made me want to be a filmmaker. Recalling those—the excitiment of  being a 10-year-old kid in a theater again, writing for that kid is a big part of doing those kinds of films.”
Writer/director Stuart Beattie

A couple of years ago I worked on a small video project with Deion Sanders who was not just one of those rare athletes who could play both professional football and professional baseball, but he’s the only athlete in the history of civilization who has played in both a World Series and in a Super Bowl.  That is he played two completely different sports at the highest level possible. If anyone earned his nickname it was Prime Time.

A few days ago in my post Simple Stories/Complex Characters (Tip #95) I quoted screenwriter Stuart Beattie saying, “I’m a big fan of simple stories, complex characters. I love when stories get from here to here. I know then I’ll have room for great character stuff to go on.” But in yesterday’s post I wrote how he was one of the credited screenwriters on one of the most successful blockbuster franchises in Hollywood history—Pirates of the Caribbean. The lesson, of course, is that it’s really not an either/or question. The film world is big enough for Blanche DuBois and James Bond.

Human beings have an amazing ability to enjoy contrasting things. Off the top of my head I recall being one of about 100,000 people once at a Bruce Springsteen rock concert at the Los Angeles Coliseum, but also going to a small theater with a couple hundred people to hear a concert with classical guitarist Christopher Parkening. Granted, both concerts had guitars on stage, but they were two totally different experiences. And both enjoyable as I watched talented performers at the top of their fields.

Movies are no different. This year I went to see the intimate character driven Polish film Ida three times in the theater. But that doesn’t mean that the blockbusters Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark aren’t some of my favorite all-time movie going experiences.

Stuart Beattie explains the differences between writing a character driven story and a Hollywood blockbuster.

“The big blockbusters—you have to have a certain amount of spectacle, that’s why they’re blockbusters. You have to have that eye candy that people come back to see again, again and again.  So that usually means more complicated plots and just more stuff going on. Car chases, explosions, exciting moments—all that kind stuff. The plot stuff expands and the character stuff shrinks. You don’t have a lot of time to set up characters, you’ve got to get the plot rolling, things like that. Something like Collateral takes its time. In blockbusters you’re hitting [the audience] in their seats, you’ve got to provide those thrills, have them jumping all around. It’s a ride. It’s the difference between a roller coaster ride and a ride in a horse carriage around the park. It’s a different beast completely. Just as fun, just as many challenges [to write], but a completely different beast.”
Stuart Beattie
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters 
interview with Mike De Luca

Joss Whedon wrote and directed the blockbuster The Avengers and then turned around and wrote the script and directed Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Jon Favreau directed the blockbuster Iron Man and this year has a hit with the character driven Chef, which is closer in scope to the first indie film he wrote (Swingers). Swingers in turn was directed by Doug Liman who went on to direct The Bourne Identity.  All great examples of writers and directors at the highest level who’ve made character driven stories and blockbusters—and done it at the highest level.

But if there’s a Deion Sanders of filmmaking my vote goes to director Steven Spielberg who made Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List back to back—and that was just a couple of years after he directed The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun back to back. Spielberg is Prime Time+Oscar TimeX3.

P.S. A good example of a complex story and simple characters is Edge of Tomorrow. Maybe a little too complex. As I walked out of the theater it was interesting listening to various audience members trying to explain the film to each other (especially the ending). While the $178 million film is doing fine globally ($341 million) one of the reasons I think it was a disappointment in the States is the story—despite solid reviews and being full of spectacle (and exposition)was a little too complex to get good world of mouth advertising.

But you’ve got to give Hollywood credit for producing such an ambitious none-sequel project.

Scott W. Smith

“I think 10 bucks to escape to a different world is worth the 10 bucks.
Stuart Beattie

“No survivors? Then where do the stories come from, I wonder?”
Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp)

Though I was a lover of the Walt Disney World ride Pirates of the Caribbean since my childhood, when I originally heard they were making a movie based on the ride my first thought was, “Well, that’s not going to be any good.”  Pirates of the Caribbean, Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) ended up being nominated for five Oscars, earned over $650 million worldwide, and made the IMDB Top 250 listed tied with The Graduate, The Hustler, A Fistful of Dollars, Rope and Jurassic Park.

Empire Magazine’s list of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters named pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) as #8—just behind The Dude (Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). To date, the Pirates franchise of four films has a box office gross of  just over $3.7 billion. And as the word billion resonates in your head, you may be surprised to learn that the seeds of that franchise came from college students in Corvallis, Oregon. 

“Basically I was at Oregon State and I was hanging out with a friend and we were like, ‘Let’s write a movie.’ He’d never written a screenplay, but he liked that I was writing. I was like, ‘let’s do that–what’s a movie that hasn’t been done in a while?’ And we were thinking and thinking and suddenly we both said, ‘pirates.’ That hadn’t been done since Errol Flynn. And I end up writing this thing called Quest of the Caribbean, because I couldn’t use the actual Pirates of the Caribbean. But it had all the scenes from the [Disney] rides. The tongue in cheek Raiders of the Lost Ark version of pirates. And we sent that around town—got a lot of meetings, a lot of people interested, but it never ended up getting bought. And then years later I sold Collateral—this was in the period before it got made—and I submitted it again to Disney and  said, ‘Come on, you gotta do this.” And they said, “no, no, no—we’re actually working on our own now.” And so they had hired an in-house writer and he was doing a draft, but they wanted me to work on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. So I was working on that and they were like, ‘We not happy with this draft [of Pirates] would you like a go of it?’ And I was like, ‘Well, I’ve been asking for 10 fucking years, yes please!’ So I went in—pitched and got the job. I did two drafts basically. The draft that got it going and got a draft to [Jerry] Bruckheimer and Johnny [Depp], and then [screenwriters] Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio came on.”
Screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Story credit on Pirates of the Caribbean, Curse of the Black Pearl, and character credit on the other Pirate films)
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Mike De Luca

Screenwriting from Oregon

Related post: Movie Cloning (Pirates) Ted Elliott talks about the movie The Prisoner of Zenda  (1937) as an inspiration.

Scott W. Smith

“You don’t know what the story is 30 pages in, you don’t know who the main character is going to be, scenes that go on too long and don’t get buttoned, the scene ends but it drags on for three lines more—or starts three lines earlier [than it should], lack of momentum, lack of pace, tone that’s all over the place—saw a lot of that kind of stuff.”
Stuart Beattie
(On common problems he saw reading screenplays when he was a script reader)

“I have like five basic rules that I try to follow:
1. No book-ends. Meaning like an old man is sitting down by a fire saying, ‘Let me tell you a story,’ and then coming back to a guy at the end. Really bugs me. I think you can always take them out and it means nothing. 
2. Rule number two is no book-ends—for emphasis.
3. You don’t kill the dog. If there’s a dog in the film you don’t kill it. 
4. Four is saving the kiss until the end. That last moment. 
5. Feel free to disagree with the above four. Because at the end of the day there are really no rules. It’s just what you feel is a good story. And take all the experiences of all the films you’ve seen, and all of your life experiences and put that in as objectively as you can. 

Pulp Fiction broke tons of rules, I love that. Just in terms of structure, and character, and time, and all that stuff. I thought The Usual Suspects broke rules. You think Keaton is going to be the main character and it’s not. Breaking rules—I’ve often thought it’d be great to write a serial killer film, a cop chasing a serial killer you’ve seen a thousand times, and have the serial killer killing the cop half way through—and who are you left with? I’m left with a serial killer the rest of the film? Well, that’ll be interesting, wouldn’t it? And seeing how that comes about. That’s breaking a mold.  The most exciting, innovative storytelling kind of stuff. Trying to be on that cutting edge. Not just for the sake of being on that cutting edge, but because it’s interesting. It’s different, You haven’t seen it before. I think audiences are craving originality. I know I am in films. Just something different that I haven’t seen before. That’s at least worth the price of admission.”
Screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Derailed, Australia)
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters (Part 3) interview with Mike De Luca

P.S. Hard to believe that interview has been online for almost a month and only has 51 views as I type this. It’s also hard to believe that audiences accept people getting killed all of the times in films, but killing a dog in a movie really disturbs people. You can show a character kicking a dog to show he or she is a villain, but if you shoot and kill a dog the odds are good you’ll have to edit that out or reshoot (like Beattie said they had to do in the movie Payback). I’m sure psychologist can tell us why. (And, for the record, dogs are the only animals that seem to get this immunity in Hollywood.)

“A lot of people die in Seven Psychopaths. It is brutal and it is bloody and it revels in its own excess: throats are slashed, people are burned alive, women are shot in the stomach, men get blown to pieces. CBS, which funded the film, was delighted when it read the screenplay, director Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to the much-loved In Bruges. Delighted, except for the bit where someone kills a dog. Hollywood doesn’t like dog-killing, and the studio suggested it would be prudent for him to remove that bit. Not a word about the women who die horribly and slowly, but a dog? You can’t kill a dog. ‘Of course,’ says McDonagh. ‘It’s rule number one.’”
Alex Godfrey, Seven Psychopaths: ‘You can’t kill dogs in Hollywood’

Of course, dogs do die in movies—sometimes gracfully in old age, and sometimes they are killed—and you could probably spend a whole day tracking down threads about it on internet. But I think the general consensus (at least in the United States) is that killing a dog in a movie hits people at such a gut level that it takes them out of the film going experience.

Related post:

“There are no rules.” (Tip #92)
There are no rules, but…(Tip #93+)
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Everything I Learned in Film School (Tip #1)

 

Scott W. Smith 

 

“I need silence. I turn off the phone. I turn off the email, and I just sink into that world and I disappear.”
Screenwriter Stuart Beattie (I, Frankenstein)

“I have kids so I have to be disciplined. I do [my writing] from 9 to 5:30 everyday, Monday through Friday—keep those bankers’ hours. Otherwise I’d never get anything done. You have to know when to start and when to stop. Before I had a family I’d just go, go, go and just burn-out and flame-out and all that crap. So actually having those boundaries of starting and stopping is really good ’cause it lets you recharge. Play with the kids, run in the pool and recharge. And usually once they go to bed I go back to it like 8:30-9:00 and I write for another three or four hours.”
Stuart Beattie
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters (Part 2) interview with Mike De Luca

And just in case you’re saying to yourself, “It must be nice to have 8 to 12 hours a day to write in silence without having to worry about a regular day job”—keep in mind that Beattie says he wrote “seven or eight scripts”—”and tons of drafts of all of those” before he sold his first one—and he was working as a waiter at the time he sold his first script.

P.S. I think the original phrase bankers’ hours was a reference to a short work day (say, 10-3), but Beattie is actually working overtime when he kicks in that extra 3-4 hours at night.

Related posts:
The Breakfast Club for Writers
Stephen J. Cannell’s Work Ethic
Stephen J. Cannell’s Work Ethic (Part 2)
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic
Stephen King’s Doublewide Trailer —“I wrote my first two novels, Carrie and Salem’s Lot in the laundry room of a doublewide trailer.”—King (I’ll add he did that while working as a high school English teacher in Hampden, Maine “making sixty-four hundred dollars a year.”)
Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Scott W. Smith

 

%d bloggers like this: