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Posts Tagged ‘Creative Screenwriting’

“There’s no one to tell you it’s bad. So your own grandiosity and pride tells you—’Wow this is great; it couldn’t be any better. I think the audience would be comfortable with a two-hour-twenty-minute comedy. Why not?’ Then you show it to your studio or producers and they go, ‘Ooooh. That’s a little long…do you need this scene?’ At first it’s like someone suggesting you murder your own children. Then you wake up to the fact that you’re not alone in this process and that you are making films for an audience.”
Writer/director Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day) on first cuts of films
Creative Screenwriting January /February 2004

Related Posts:

Emotionally Move the Audience (Tip #55)
Don’t Bore the Audience

Scott W. Smith

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“A screenwriter friend of mine said your number one goal is to get to the end. So write it fast; don’t look back. If you have to have characters yak about something and you don’t have a solution, do it anyway and let it suck. Then go back over it in a couple of weeks, and you’ll be much clearer on what’s strong and what’s not strong and then attack the ones that are too verbose. At least you’ll have a laundry list of things the audience needs to know—but don’t hang up on finding the visual solution and not move forward on your screenplay.”
Oscar-winning writer/director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille)
Interview with Peter N. Chumo II
creative screenwriting magazine, Novemeber/December 2004

Recap:
—Write it fast
—Don’t look back
—Let it suck
—Move forward

Scott W. Smith

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Though it’s now 2013, this blog continues to get many hits on posts I’ve written about Toy Story 3 which was released in 2010. I’m not one to stop that momentum, so here’s my first Toy Story 3 post of the year:

“Andrew Stanton’s rule of thumb is that it takes 10 man-years of labor to make a good screenplay. Either two writers working five years or 10 guys working one year. For Toy Story 3, it was even more than that—probably the equivalent of 10 people each working two or three years. To me, this is what separates Pixar from everyone else. They realize how hard it is to come up with a great screenplay.”
Michael Arndt
Inside Pixar by Danny Munso
Creative Screenwriting, May/June 2010
Page 179

Heck, I may be writing about Toy Story 3 ten years from now. (Just for the record Andrew Stanton has won two Oscars; Finding Nemo and Wall-E.)  And speaking of ten years, here is another quote from that same article which may encourage/discourage you:

“You have to remember, I spent ten years sitting alone in Brooklyn working on my scripts and getting dribs and drabs of feedback every couple of weeks. and suddenly, it’s like your crawling through the desert and one day you drill down and hit a geyser. Sitting on those [Pixar] Brain Trust meetings have been some of the most exhilarating moments of my creative life. I remember the first time I sat in on a Brain Trust meeting. As soon as people started talking it was like the Harlem Globetrotters in your living room.”
Michael Arndt

So keep that in mind as you wander through your own writing desert. Before Pixar brought him on board to help write Toy Story 3, and before he won and Academy Award (Little Miss Sunshine) Arndt was “sitting alone in Brooklyn working on scripts.”  He worked as an assistant in the film business and as a freelance script reader to pay the bills. (one of his employers said he didn’t even know Arndt was a “closet screenwriter.”) I believe it was about 15 years after graduating from NYU film school when he finally saw a feature he wrote get produced.

P.S. Next Christmas I’m going to ask for a one-day pass to sit in on a Pixar Brain Trust meeting.

Related Posts:
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2)
Toy Story 3′s Ohio Connection
Screenwriting Quote #135 (Michael Arndt)
Writing “Finding Nemo”
The Dark Side of Pixar & Disney
Beatles, King, Cody & 10,000 Hours (Diablo Cody proves they can be woman-years as well.)

Scott W. Smith

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“What I react against in other people’s work, as a filmgoer, is when I see something in a movie that I feel is supposed to make me feel emotional, but I don’t believe the filmmaker shares that emotion. They just think the audience will.  And I think you can feel that separation. So any time I find myself writing something that I don’t really respond to, but I’m telling myself, ‘Oh yes, but the audience is going to like this,’ then I know I’m on the wrong track and I just throw it out.”
Writer/director Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises)
Interview with Jeff Goldsmith
Best of Creative Screenwriting Volume 2

Related post: 40 Days of Emotion

Scott W. Smith

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Here’s an exchange found in Creative Screenwriting magazine, Volume 4, #3 (Fall 1997) that should be an encouragement to you wherever you are writing in the world;

Geoff Jordan: You’ve written a couple of scripts set in Omaha, Nebraska. Why?
Alexander PayneBecause I kind of ‘get” Omaha’s world. If you’re going to make movies in whatever country you’re in, you want to somehow “capture” it. It’s kind of a cliche that early in your career you always go to your roots. It’s all about what you know, or think you know, even if you don’t. I just like Omaha. I’ve always lived here. I mean, my grandparents were here; my father was here. My whole life has been here. Even when I left to go to college at eighteen, I’ve always come back here. So, there’s a kind of constant thread that now, as I’m starting to make movies, it’s kind of fun to go back.

Since that interview, Payne has won two Oscars for his screenwriting; Sideways (2005) and The Descendants. Neither which happen to be set in Omaha as were his films Citizen Ruth, About Schmidt, and Election.

P.S. Bonus for readers of this blog in Greece; While Alexander Payne was born in Omaha, Nebraska, he is of Greek decent and was born with the name Alexander Constantine Papadopoulos.

Scott W. Smith

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“You never know what’s going to be great and lasting. Everyone talks about being a writer, but sitting down and actually doing it is a much harder proposition. It’s like telling a filmmaker to get your hands on whatever you can. Don’t be a snob and say, you know, put yourself in debt for $20,000 for your student thesis film. If you can, get your hands on video or shoot Polaroids for that matter, put something together quickly to make it look like it’s a movie. It’s whatever you have to do to practice. It’s like anything, it’s very much a craftsmanship kind of art: You get better at it the more you do it. I’ve heard people give advice, like hearing Oliver Stone say that he writes everyday, even if he throws it away, because the practice of doing it is valuable—getting in that rhythm of doing it. They are not unwise words, really.”
Writer/ Director Neil LaBute  (In the Company of Men, Nurse Betty)
Best of Creative Screenwritng
Interviewed by Marty Nabhan & David F. Goldsmith

P.S. I moved the Q&A with Cindy Gustafson post into April, perhaps as early as next week.

Scott W. Smith

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“I guess what I like in my movies is where you see a character change by maybe two degrees as opposed to the traditional movie change of ninety degrees. I guess that always feels false to me in movies because that doesn’t truly happen. Around me, at least in the life I live, I guess I don’t see people change ninety or a hundred degrees. I see them change in very small increments. I think it’s just a monitor I might have on myself as a writer to not make any false scenes.”
Oscar-nominated writer/director/producer Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood)
Best of Creative Screenwriting Vol. 1 (1994—2000)
Interviewed by Kristine McKenna & David Konow

Do you have a favorite movie (or scene) where a character changed incrementally (for better or worse)? Or a movie where the character change seemed too grand?

P.S. One thing that I find common with message films is the main character doesn’t just change two degrees, or 90-100 degrees, but 180 degrees. Films in general deal with short time spans and movies that feature characters who change 180 degrees usually comes across as trite.

Scott W. Smith

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One of the great things about listening and reading about writers talking about the writing process is you see how everyone’s approach is different. Some write in the morning, some at night, some write quickly in bursts and others methodically take their time. Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone) was very successful writing from theme, but fellow Syracuse University grad Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men) has a little different perspective on theme:

“When you’re talking about things like theme you have to be really careful because that’s not what’s going to make the car go. Okay? It’s what’s going to be what makes the car be good and give you a good ride. But that’s not what’s going to make the car go—at least not for me. You know, everybody writes different. But for me I have to stick—really closely, like it’s a life raft— to intention and obstacles. Just the basics of somebody wants something, something is standing in their way of getting it. Make sure you have that cemented in place. Themes will then become apparent to you and you can hang a lantern on the ones you like. Bring them into relief, you can get rid of the ones that aren’t doing you any good and you can paint the car and make it look really nice. But the car isn’t going to turn over unless you see to the basics of drama, and drama is intention and obstacles, somebody wants something, something is standing in their way of getting it.”
Aaron Sorkin
Creative Screenwriting podcast interview by Jeff Goldsmith
December 24, 2010

Related Post: Screenwriting Via Index Cards (Touches on the writing process of Aaron Sorkin.)

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“What jumped out at me (about the 14 page treatment for Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires) wasn’t Facebook. Facebook wasn’t something I knew a lot about when I started. Frankly, it’s not something I know a whole lot about now. I know more about Facebook in 2003-04 than I do in 2010. But what jumped out at me about it was set against the backdrop of this very modern invention was a story that was as old as storytelling itself.  Of friendship, and loyalty, and betrayal, and class, and power—these things that Aeschylus* would have written about, or Shakespeare would have written about, or Paddy Chayefsky would have written about a few decades ago, and it was just lucky for me that none of those guys were available so I got to write about it.”
Aaron Sorkin on what attracted him to write the screenplay for The Social Network
Creative Screenwriting podcast interview by Jeff Goldsmith
December 24, 2010  

* Greek playwright born circa 525 B.C (That’s his pre-Facebook look on the top right.)

Related post: Screenwriting Quote of the Day #42 (Aaron Sorkin)

Movie Cloning (Part 1)

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“If you want to go toe to toe with any foe, you’ve got to be fearless.”
Boxer Chuck Wepner


Much has been written about Sylvester Stallone writing the first version of the Rocky script in just a few days, but little is mentioned about Rocky actually being his 8th script. (The other seven were never produced.)  Stallone has also said that only about 10 % of that first Rocky script remained in the finished version of the film that would go on to win the Best Picture Oscar.

“Since I was obsessed with the idea of personal redemption, I kept saying to myself, ‘Redemption, redemption, redemption…but whose redemption?’ So I considered a gangster, then a cowboy, then an actor, all kinds of people, until I finally came back to the Wepner* fight. Why not a loser, an over-the-hill boxer? I loved the visuals, and the warrior aspect, and the grand symbolism. Bang! It all crystallized. I said, ‘That’s it,’ and I went to work immediately…I was young, and I wrote it in a fury…The original draft was only about 89 pages long, and it was rather hastily thrown together.”
Sylvester Stallone
Going the Distance article by Bill Baer
Creative Screenwriting magazine
January/February 2003

Since Stallone started with “redemption, redemption. redemption” in mind I’ll put him down as starting from theme. 

* Chuck Wepner was working as a liquor salesman in New Jersey back in 1975 when fought Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali. With some odds 30-1 against Wepner, he lasted until the fifteenth round before Ali won the fight on a technical knocked out . In 2003, Wepner sued Stallone for his name and story being used without his permission in the marketing of the Rocky franchise. (Lawsuit.) In 2006 there were reports that the case was settled out of court. 

Related post: Writing from Theme


Scott W. Smith

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