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Posts Tagged ‘Carson Reeves’

“Clichés, in particular, have always baffled me. You’d think it’d be as simple as, ‘Don’t use clichés,’ but it isn’t. I’ve fallen in love with plenty of great movies that others have insisted were riddled with clichés. Many times I have to admit they’re correct, and yet I still love the movie. The ending of Die Hard has Bruce Willis limping up to the bad guy with a gun, who’s holding his wife hostage. It’s the most cliché of cliché situations. And yet I’m riveted. I am riveted by a classic cliché. This implies that there are actually plenty of instances where you want to use clichés.”
Carson Reeves
ScriptShadow Article — A Cliché Article

Warning: A couple of spoilers today since I talking about movie endings.

Writer, director, actor Charlie Chaplin once said The Gold Rush was “the picture that I want to be remembered by.” It not only has a happy ending, it has two of them. One version of the film has Chaplin as the Tramp and a saloon girl he’s fallen in love with by an old house and the other is the above ending where they kiss. Anytime the guy and girl end up together there are plenty of people crying “Cliché!”

“I’m not afraid of doing a cliché, if it’s right. We don’t wade through our existence with any sort of originality. We all live and die and eat three meals a day, and fall in and out of love, and the rest of it. So people say, that’s been done before.

“So what? In avoiding clichés I think one can become dull—it’s like Shaw. I love Shaw, but he’s afraid of the clichés. For instance, Pygmalion. Shaw in his afterward goes to a lot of trouble to explain the fact that Liza did not fall in love with the professor. It seems that Shaw has gone out of his way to avoid it, which makes the ending false. I don’t believe it. I believe the girl would finish up as his mistress. Instead, after this man has created her, she falls in love with this cluck who doesn’t mean much at all. 

“Your story begins—once upon a time—and then you can’t escape. It either finishes happily or tragically. And there you have the clichés. And if you’re going to leave it unsaid, then it isn’t perfectly written. Leaving it up in the air—that’s become very clichés now—is to have no curtain to a story. I get so bored with that.”
Charlie Chaplin Interviews edited by Kevin Hayes

The first time I remember seeing a film hammered by critics for having a clichéd ending was An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) written by Douglas Day Stewart. But I wasn’t a jaded film critic when I first saw the film, I was a 20-year-old working for a factory one summer between my sophomore and junior years of film school. I worked along side people who had spent ten, twenty, even thirty years of their lives in the factory making boat windshields in Central Florida. My boss told me if he didn’t take quaaludes he wouldn’t make it through the day. I worked with a grandmother who was only 32-years-old and an attractive young woman who first explained to me what a sugardaddy was as she told about her experiences living at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood—her expenses paid for by a married guy from Long Beach.

Work in a factory can be boring, but the people are usually interesting. I’m sure that experience shaded my perspective watching the the movie. At the end of the movie when Richard Gere struts into the factory and sweeps Debra Winger off her feet it was exhilarating. I only worked in the factory for three months but I could relate to the Winger character and more than I’d like to admit I connected to the Richard Gere character.

I was at a point in my life where the film just resonated with me in emotional ways that I couldn’t explain until many years later. When VHS players came out it was the first tape I bought. And it was also many years later that I appreciated what director Taylor Hackford pulled off on a limited budget.  I felt, to borrow filmmaker Edward Burns’ phrase about It’s a Wonderful Life, that Hackford and Stewart earned their ending.

Time has been good to An Officer and a Gentleman and actually critic Roger Ebert was an early champion of the film.

An Officer and a Gentleman is the best movie about love that I’ve seen in a long time…This is a wonderful movie precisely because it’s so willing to deal with matters of the heart. Love stories are among the rarest of movies these days (and when we finally get one, it’s likely to involve an extra-terrestrial). Maybe they’re rare because writers and filmmakers no longer believe they understand what goes on between modern men and women. An Officer and a Gentleman takes chances, takes the time to know and develop its characters, and by the time this movie’s wonderful last scene comes along, we know exactly what’s happening, and why, and it makes us very happy.”
Roger Ebert review of An Officer and a Gentleman

You can end your screenplay with a happy ending, a sad ending, an ambiguous ending, or an ironic ending—that’s all the choices you have. Take those options and do the best you can to come up with an Insanley Great Ending.

So I think my take away from all of this is partly, “There’s nothing new under the sun” mixed with the fact that good writing engages you in a story and you don’t care what techniques are being used, while bad writing or less effective storytelling makes it easier for audiences and critics to point out the flaws of the movie.  Cliché belongs on the same shelf as voice-overs and flashbacks—screenwriting books and teachers are always saying to not use them, but you don’t watch the Citizen Kane, Casablanca—or more recently Moneyball— and say “Wow, those would have been better films with out those nagging flashbacks.” Nor do you watch Sunset Boulevard, The Shawshank Redemption—or more recently Moonrise Kingdom— and say, “Those filmmakers really missed the boat using voice-overs.”

P.S. I like to believe that Zack and Paula from An Officer and a Gentleman lived happily ever after in a nice house on Whidbey Island overlooking Puget Sound. (If you know otherwise—I don’t want to know about it.)

Update 1/4/13: Found this interview where Richard Gere thought while shooting Officer that it had the “dopiest ending” and it would never work, but later when he saw the edit with the right music said he got chills on the back of his neck.

Related post:

Movie Clonning (Avoding Clichés)
Writing & Rewritng “Pretty Woman” (Part 2) “It is true that I look for the Cinderella aspect when I am making a film. Most good stories are Cinderella. Audiences like to watch characters whose lives change for the better.“—Director Garry Marshall

Scott W. Smith

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“Even in my own life, after 35 years, I feel that I have never done that one thing, that noble thing that defines a life.”
Jerry Maguire’s Mission Statement

“I came here to fire you Jerry.”
Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr) in Jerry Maguire
Written by Cameron Crowe

The now ledgendary 1991 Disney memo written by Jeffrey Katzenberg is said to have inspired Cameron Crowe to write the Jerry Maguire mission statement.  Couldn’t find confirmation of that but both memos stress passion for improving their businesses. Here’s the  entire Jerry Maguire Mission Statement, and below is the abridged version from the film.

“The event you’re writing about should be the most important moment of your hero’s life. If your movie isn’t about the most important moment in your hero’s life don’t write it. Write about whatever WAS the most important moment in his life, because that’s  likely to be more interesting. When we meet Jerry Maguire, his entire life has been derailed. He’s lost his job, his confidence, his financee, and his future. It’s never been worse for him than at this moment, which is excatly why this moment is worthy of a movie.”
Carson Reeves
Scriptshadow Secrets Tip 282

I just realized I haven’t written about the new book Scriptshadow’s Secrets yet so I’ll do that tomorrow. In the meantime here’s another Jerry Maguire nugget from that book:

“Every scene you write, the characters in that scene should have a goal. When Jerry Maguire gets fired by his rival, Bob Sugar, he has a clear goal: keep all his clients. So he starts calling every athlete on his client list to make sure they stay with him. Bob Sugar also has a goal: to STEAL all of Jerry Maguire’s clients. Sometimes goals will be big and sometimes they’ll be small. But in most good screenplays, goals are what keep the energy up and the story alive. “
Carson Reeves
Scriptshadow Secrets

P.S. “Original idea [for Jerry Magauire] was inspired by a magazine photo (of late agent Gary) Wichard and The Boz (Brian Bosworth).”
Cameron Crowe
CNBC article by Darren Rovell

Related Articles:
Where Do Ideas Come From?
Hope & Redemption
Starting Your Screenplay (Tip #6)
Orphan Characters (Tip #31)
The Idea Is King
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO: “DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, ACUTE GOAL.”—David Mamet

 

Scott W. Smith

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“A logline conveys the dramatic story of a screenplay in the most abbreviated manner possible.”
Christopher Lockhart
The Construction of a Logline (Get this free PDF.)

“A good logline usually covers three bases. It gives us the main character, the main character’s goal, and the central conflict in the story (what’s preventing them from getting that goal).”
ScriptShadow Special – How To Craft A Damn Good Logline

Recently I was listening to Adam Levenberg’s podcast Official Screenwriting and he hit on the ever popular topic of writing loglines. Levenberg is the author of The Starter Screenplay and in the communications I’ve had with him he’s always come across as a guy who understands what makes movies and screenplays work. I recommend you give his podcast a listen.

“I really like this [logline] for JAWS:

‘A police chief, with a phobia for open water, battles a gigantic shark with an appetite for swimmers and boat captains, in spite of a greedy town council who demands that the beach stay open .’

I think this is the perfect logline, but it’s also for a nearly perfect movie. Look at how it does these things; A police chief, so we have our hero, we know whose eyes we’re seeing the movie from. And I think that’s key. You want to identify who’s our hero and tell the logline from their point of view just like you’re telling the movie from their point of view….The second thing, ‘with a phobia for open water.’ That’s great because we’re going to be putting him in the water. Why? Because he’s battling a gigantic shark….I like the way it identifies the goal—which is to stop the shark—it identifies the problem which is the shark. It identifies the opponent which is the shark. And it identifies the life and death stakes.”
Adam Levenberg
Podcast Writing Great Loglines (Check out the full podcast as Levenberg goes on to talk about the importance of turning the main character’s world upside down.)

Levenberg goes on to quote Jeffrey Schechter (My Story Can Beat Up Your Story) who passes on four key questions he learned from Michael Roberts when he tried to pitch an idea to the Disney Executive:

Who is your main character?

What are they trying to accomplish?

Who is trying to stop them?

What happens if they fail?

Levenberg doesn’t mention where he found that JAWS logline, but when I Googled it took me to the blog post Writing Good Log Lines written by Stanley D. Williams. (That article also references Schechter.) Williams is the author of the excellent book The Moral Premise.

One additional thing that the above JAWS logline has is irony. A police chief with a phobia for open water must go into the water to do battle.

“The loglines that read the best are the ones with some sort of irony in them, where the character and the situation are at odds with one another. A lawyer who can’t lie (Liar Liar). A king who can’t speak to his people (The King’s Speech). A Detroit cop investigating a case in Beverly Hills (Beverly Hills Cop). A time manager stuck on an island with all the time in the world (Cast Away). An alcoholic superhero (Hancock). These loglines will always catch a reader’s attention, so you’ll have a huge advantage if your concept contains irony.”
ScriptShadow Special —How To Craft A Damn Good Logline

A final tip on writing loglines comes from a post by Don Bledsoe on Script Nurse  stating that the Three C’s of loglines are “Clear, Concise & Conflict.”

“Most story ideas fail at the level of concept. Sad, but true. I’ve learned this the hard way.”
Producer/Writer Erik Bork
Loglines and SAVE THE CAT

These days I’m a big fan of nailing down your concept and logline (they’re related, but not the same) before you invest six months, a year, two years or more writing your script. Before you jump into your next script read Article-GSU! by Carson Reeves (on the importance of goal, stakes, urgency), It’s the Concept, Stupid by Max Adams, and Christopher Lockhart’s I Wrote a 120 Page Script But Can’t Write a Logline: The Construction of a Logline.

Related Posts:
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 1)
“The Inside Pitch”
Script Consultant Adam Levenberg
What’s at Stake?

Related Link:
The “A” List  (Advice from someone who’s read 30,000 scripts. Yes, 30,000.)

Scott W. Smith

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“Find a strong-willed character with a nothing-will-stand-in-my-way determination to reach his or her goal confronting strong opposition, add a strong action line, keep throwing obstacles (conflicts) in his or her path, and you’re well on your way to a gripping screenplay.”
William Froug

“START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. IT MUST START BECAUSE THE HERO HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS.”
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO?

Last week I did something I’ve never done before, I read a screenplay of a film that was just released and then a couple of days later went to the movie. It was a great experience.

The script and movie was Silver Linings Playbook written and directed by David O. Russell from a book by Matthew Quick. Earlier this month the movie, director  and screenplay all received Oscar nominations, along with being the first film in 31 years to be nominated in all for acting categories (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress). I’ll write more about the movie Monday, but the great thing about reading the PDF official screenplay at the website of The Weinstein Company who produced the film is regardless of how well the actors performed—the script totally worked on the page.

Of course, you kind of expect that, but we’ve all read scripts where we think “those actors really made that movie better than the script.” Not to take anything away from Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Jackie Weaver, but I believe several top actors would have made an equally compelling movie because the script is so dang strong. I look forward to reading Quick’s novel to see how different it is from Russell’s script.

You can also find the screenplay of other Oscar-nominated film produced by  The Weinstein Company, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained online.  I happened to see Silver Linings Playbook and Django Unchained back to back last weekend and noticed that while they are different genres and take places in different eras, the core stories are the same—men who want to reconnect with their wives. A pretty simple through-line or story spine.

But read both screenplays and watch each movie to see how the filmmakers develop their stories. The originality come from taking a simple (and shared) concept and mixing it with familiar yet unique settings , along with complex characters surrounded by conflict with much at stake.

My writer friend Matthew sent me this link at Film Buff Online that actually has 30 recently Oscar-nominated scripts offered by the studios. I’m not sure  how long these links will be live so if you’re interested check them out before the Oscar ceremonies.

P.S. Anyone else remember the days when you had to save up $15 and head down to Hollywood to buy a script or go to AFI where you had to hand over your driver’s licence to read a script in their library?

Related Posts:
What’s at Stake? (Tip#9)
Descriptive Writing—Characters

Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting (Tip#7)
“Goal. Stakes. Urgency.” (Tip #60)

Scott W. Smith

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“Every single one of your screenplays should have goals, stakes, and urgency.”
Carson Reeves
ScriptShadow

If there was an official tattoo for screenwriters I think it should somehow incorporate three simple words: Goal. Stakes. Urgency. Maybe just GSU would be enough of a reminder once you understand the basic concept.  I’ll credit Carson Reeves over at ScriptShadow for this simple yet powerful tip since I first read about it in his post Article – GSU!!! — here’s a taste of how he unpacks it:

Goal – “The character goal is the heart of your story. A character must be going after something or else that character is doing nothing. And a character who does nothing is inactive and inactive people are borrrrrrrrrrrr-ing.”

Stakes – “Once you have a character goal, you can establish your stakes. You do this by asking two very simple questions: ‘What does my character gain if he achieves his goal?’ And ‘What does my character lose if he fails to achieve his goal?’ The bigger the gains and losses, the higher the stakes.”

Urgency—”The most common way to do this is via a ticking time bomb, that point of no return by when your character needs to achieve his goal. You can throw ticking time bombs all over your screenplay so that the pace is always quick.”

I started writing these screenwriting tips back in ’08, but if I were starting them today I’d put Goal. Stakes. Urgency. in the top five tips, maybe right after Everything I Learned in Film School (Tip#1) and How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41).

Related post:
What’s at Stake? (Tip #9)
Screenwriting & Time (tip #17)

And if your goal is to be a succesful screenwriter check out this post:
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)

P.S. And goal, stakes, and urgency don’t just apply to big Hollywood films, check out that great little indie film Winter’s Bone and see how long it takes for the filmmakers to get to GSU. (Hint: it’s within the first ten minutes.) Pieces of April and Buried also have GSU.

Scott W. Smith

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“With a screenplay you’re creating a world; consider everything, every character, every room, every juxtaposition, every increment of time as an embodiment of that world. Look at all of this through that filter and make sure it is all consistent.”
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman

“No hero is ever ready for the journey.”
Adam Levenberg

Yesterday I had the single best script critique I’ve ever had. It was also the longest phone conversation I’ve ever had.

My 2 hours and 54 minute conversation with Adam Levenberg was longer than the movie Gone with the Wind. Not that my script is as epic, but Adam wanted to show me what he does as a script consultant. I was impressed and will talk about the experience more in detail in January. But if you’re looking for a gift for that screenwriter in your life who has everything but a produced script—or you want to indulge yourself as a writer—contact Adam.

And while the service was offered free to me, I will warn you that his fee is in the iPad range.  Seriously, writing this blog has brought me into contact with some interesting producers, directors, and screenwriters in Los Angeles and talking with Adam yesterday was a great way to round out the year.

Adam doesn’t guarantee that your script will get made, sell, or that you’ll even get an agent— his goal is to make you a better writer. Over the years I’ve taken plenty of screenwriting classes and workeshops, but having Adam go through my entire script and question choices I made was a whole different level of understanding that you can’t get in a class. You can’t hide. (For instance, while my hero’s backstory was in my head—Adam pointed out that it wasn’t in the script.)

Earlier this year I finished the script Shadows in the Dark (with Scott Cawelti) which while my first collaboration, was actually my ninth feature script completed. (In a conversation with My Cousin Vinny screenwriter Dale Launer this year he told me I had one more script to write before I sold one because it took him ten scripts before his first sale.) Anyway, I was fortunate to have several writer friends around the country read my script and offer lengthy and detail notes on various versions of the script.

So the script that Adam read was probably the sixth draft and he still had enough notes for an almost 3 hour conversation. (Actually, it was probably a solid 2 hours of notes because he let me ramble on talking about movies and such.)

I know there is a mini—debate surrounding script consultants, but I was impressed with Adam’s knowledge and thoroughness. And he’s just a heck of a lot fun to talk to on the phone. Adam’s background includes a degree from USC School of Cinematic Arts and time as a development executive at One Race Films—Vin Diesel’s company. And he’s been featured as a guest blogger on WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart’s blog.

We all have knowledge gaps and have much to learn, which is why even Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) says he’s still a student. If you’re a working writer in Hollywood you have plenty of working relationships to hone your skills. Diablo Cody recently said she sent the first draft of Young Adult to Jason Reitman and he said it wasn’t quite there and kept sending her notes until it eventually became the movie Young Adult. (And even after all of that talent, when I saw Young Adult in the theater just as the credits began to roll a lady behind me said out loud, “That’s it?”)

Most of us can’t slide Jason Reitman a script and expect him to give us notes. So if you’re in say, Iowa—or some other unlikely place in the world to be writing screenplays–you have to be resourceful.  As a small business owner (River Run Productions) I’m all for the entrepreneurial spirit and free market enterprise. So if you have the funds and what to be a better writer I’m all for any classes, workshops, books, and scripts consultants you can afford within your budget to accomplish your goal. But remember the basic solid economic principle— “Make every purchase and investment.”

I do believe that in many cases that experienced script readers, producers, and studio executives can give better script notes than working screenwriters. For instance, you’ll learn more from Carson Reeves’ Script Shadow blog than you will from most blogs by working screenwriters.

I’m sure that there are script consultant scams out there so be careful.  While I don’t really know Adam, I will say that my experience with him was positive. The only way Adam could have given me as detailed notes is spending time going over my script. He typically invests at least two days going through a script.  His notes went quite in depth and covered some key flaws. I know I’ve never able to give as detailed notes to friends scripts I’ve covered, because I simply can’t spend that much time on it. Plus it’s not something I enjoy doing.

Will Adam’s notes get my script sold or produced?  Again, no one’s making that claim. (And if anyone guarantees they’ll get your script sold or even get you an agent is a good sign to run.) But I do believe Adam’s notes will make my Shadows in the Dark script better as well as overall making me a better writer. If you’d like a lower budget version of Adam’s film industry knowledge check out his book The Starter Screenplay.

You can also check out his website HireAHollywoodExec.com and judge for yourself.

P.S. And I offer as a totally free gift to you this Holiday Season, a link to quite an interesting talk Charlie Kaufman gave earlier this year for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).  (A link I first found at the always informative Go Into the Story blog where Scott Myers has posted transcripts of that talk as an eight part series.)

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“Ultimately, it all comes down to one of the grand old rules of screenwriting: whenever possible – show, don’t tell.”
Ray Morton
Script magazine

The Verdict

An early version of The Verdict screenplay by David Mamet:
INT.  COFFEE SHOP - DAY

          Galvin sitting in the deserted coffee shop in his raincoat.
          Reading a section of the paper.  He picks up his teacup, drinks.
          Lowers it to the table.

          ANGLE - INSERT

          Galvin twists tea bag around a spoon to extract last drops of
          tea.  His hand moves to his felt pen lying on the table.  He
          moves his hand to the paper, open at the obituary section.  We
          SEE several names crossed out.  He circles one funeral listing.

          ANGLE

          Galvin sitting, raises cup of tea to his lips.  Looks around
          deserted coffee shop.  Sighs.

Now look again at the above still frame from that movie. Notice anything different? No tea cup, right? Either Mamet, or director Sidney Lumet, or  actor Paul Newman, or somebody else said, "This guy's an alcoholic—what better way of showing that than to have him knocking back a stiff one with his morning donut?" Newman's performance in that scene shows you the desperate state this man is in without a word being spoken. In fact, the whole opening minutes of the film wonderfully shows you a man in need of redemption. 
 
"IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA. IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION, INDEED, OF SPEECH. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN ANEW MEDIUM - TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING).

David Mamet

Memo to The Unit writers

“This is age-old screenwriting advice but it’s so true. SHOW don’t TELL. I can’t tell you how much more impactful it is on a reader to SEE a character take on an issue as opposed to being told of an issue. It would be like Han Solo saying ‘I’m a badass,’ instead of SHOWING him kill Greedo. This is a mistake I see a TON of beginner writers make. They have their characters offhandedly say something like ‘I took a year of karate lessons’ and then later in a key scene kick someone’s ass. It feels false because we never SAW them perform karate.”
Carson Reeves

“Remember, the first rule of film is Show Don’t Tell.” 
William C. Martell
Does Your Script Smell?

“In the eternal struggle to “show” and not “tell” in your screenplays, pictures can be your best friend. Instead of building a whole scene where your characters argue about how good things ‘used to be,’ just show your hero catch a glance of a picture on the fridge showing the family in happier times. In fact, look to use photographs in every aspect of your script to convey quick easy backstory about your characters (i.e. need to convey that one character is adventurous? Show a picture of them rock climbing.”
Carson Reeves
ScriptShadow

 

Show, Don’t Tell (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith


 



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