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“I haven’t seen too many films since Blade Runner (1982) to be honest with you.”
Director William Friedkin in a 2012 interview

William Friedkin tells of something he did on the road to becoming an Oscar-winning director (The French Connection) that I imagine a small percentage of people who want to be filmmakers have ever done—watch one movie five times in a single day. That one film changed his life. But before I tell you which film that is, let me give you a quick recap of the skills he acquired before he directed his first feature film in his early thirties.

Friedkin was the son of Russian immigrants and grew up in a one-room apartment in the north side of Chicago, but “didn’t know we were poor until I left high school.” He left high school without a degree, and got a job in the mail room at a local television station. He made his way into production and worked on 2,000 local tv programs. His Tv work included even thing from kids programs to the documentary The People vs. Paul Crump (1962).

Citizen Kane is the film that made me want to become a filmmaker. I saw it when I was 20-years-old. I had no idea what I wanted to do. And somebody told me there was this really interesting old film playing at the Surf Theatre in Chicago on Dearborn and Division. And I trusted this guy’s opinion so I went there on a Saturday at noon, and I left the theater at midnight. I saw it five straight times. Whatever that was, that was what I wanted to do. To me it’s the greatest film ever made, because it synthesizes everything that was found in the past, and it points the way to the future.”
William Friedkin
Fade In/William Friedkin’s Favorite Films of all Time

P.S. While I don’t know how many times Friedkin has seen Citizen Kane, I imagine it’s over 50 times. I saw a list recently where he talked about 10 of his favorite films—all of which he’d seen at least 50 times each. Oscar-winning director Mike Nichols (The Graduate) once commented that anyone wanting to be a film director should watch the George Stevens’ classic A Place in the Sun 50 times.

Related posts:

Orson Welles at USC in 1981 (part 1)
Study the old masters.’—Martin Scorsese
Orphan Characters (Tip #31)
‘Stagecoach’ Revisited  “[Citizen Kane director Orson] Welles not only watched the film 40 times, but when once asked who his favorite three film directors where said, ‘John Ford, John Ford, John Ford.'”
Screenwriting Quote #38 (Orson Welles) And the early roots of Welles who also had a connection to the greater Chicago area.
Screenwriting da Chicago Way (2.0)

Scott W. Smith

This has been a good week for hip-hop artist Lecrae as his new album Anomaly sits at number 1 on the Billboard album charts. Thursday night he was on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon performing with the band The Roots, and on Monday Lecrae was featured in the Washington Times.

While less known than Maroon 5 and its lead sing Adam Levine, who Lecrea replaced at the top of the Billboard Album charts,  the 34-year-old  is not a newcomer. Now based in Atlanta, he’s actually sold over a million albums. The former drug dealer turned Christian has been outspoken against how some rappers and hip-hop artist glamorize the gangsta lifestyle with references to drugs, gangs, and guns.

It just so happens that a few years ago I was a cameraman on a video production in Chicago that featured Lecrae. Perhaps that will give me some street cred the next time I give a talk to high school and college students. (Perhaps I can bookend it with that certificate I showed in yesterday’s post for helping shoot some interviews for Spielberg’s Shoah project. )

Below is a clip from the Jimmy Fallon website where Lecrae talks about how the song Nuthin’ came to be, followed by the song  itself from the Anomaly album.

P.S. Oregon filmmaker Edd Blott who I’ve featured a few times on this blog, directed the Lecrae music video Don’t Waste Your Life which currently has 7 million views on You Tube. Related Post: Don’t Waste Your Life (2.0) Scott W. Smith

A Reluctant Hero

“[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

Kon, Zhou & Williams

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

Professor Stephen King

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

“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

“I believe as long as you have a compelling story and talent, you could be on a farm in Iowa and start your screenwriting career. Although I now live and work in New York City, I originally got my start in Orlando, Florida.”
Amanda Caswell
How I Started My Screenwriting Career From Outside LA

Related Posts:

Outsider Paul Haggis & Your Voice I think it’s good for a writer to always be an outsider of some sort.”—Canadian-born screenwriter Paul Haggis
The Outsider Advantage
The World Outside of Hollywood Fine quote by The Graduate screenwriter Buck Henry
One Benefit of Being Outside Hollywood “(In Texas) you’re so removed you get to examine (how films are made) and say, ‘That doesn’t really make sense for us out here. Let’s do what makes sense.’ Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.
Screenwriting Outside L.A. 101 “I think that the Internet is going to effect the most profound change on the entertainment industries combined. And we’re all gonna be tuning into the most popular Internet show in the world, which will be coming from some place in Des Moines.” Steven Spielberg in 1991

Scott W. Smith

 

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