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Posts Tagged ‘David O. Russell’

“I always look for amazing characters who I find are fascinating, charming, flawed, romantic and in trouble. Those are the key elements I look for. And they have to have a very specific world they’re in, as in The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook. They’re a sort of community and they’re having to reinvent themselves. So they’re in trouble of some kind, but their world also has some enchantment in it that they love. There’s love and passion and compassion in it. And then there must be a sizable theme, and in [American Hustle] it’s not just about conning people, but reinvention.
Oscar-winning writer/director David O. Russell
Post magazine Interview with Iain Blair/ January 2014

P.S. American Hustle tied Gravity for the most Oscar nominations (10) and shows the important of execution. I can’t imagine too many screenwriters pitching a film based on the ’70s scandal Abscam getting a request for the script. Now, David O. Russell wanting to do a film on Abscam—that’s an easier sell.  By the way, Oscar-nominated Best Picture Nebraska, would be a hard pitch as well. No matter how you dressed it up it’s still a story about a son who drives his elderly dad from Montana to Omaha. But say that Oscar-winner Alexander Payne wants to make that film and it’s an easier sell to investors and audiences.  Execution trumps concept in those cases. Though it still took Nebraska 10 years to get made after Bob Nelson’s script was first optioned. Here’s how that script got early traction:

“I was working at a Seattle show called The Eyes of Nye. Producer Julie Thompson came up. I had written a screenplay to try and get a TV job. Julie got the script to Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger, who have a company called Bona Fide Productions.  They decided to send it to Alexander [Payne], not with the intention to direct it but just to produce it and raise money. I was very fortunate, very lucky, and it doesn’t happen a lot. The one take-away is that even though I was in Seattle, I was still working in the business.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Bob Nelson
Indiewire Interview with Meredith Alloway

Especially if you live outside of LA you have to be creative in finding find alternative ways of getting people excited about your screenplay. And while not the norm, Nelson—and Diablo Cody— show that you can not only capture the magic while living in Seattle or Minnespolis, but that it can even lead to an Oscar trip.  In fact, there are film people living in LA that say you have to have to live in LA to be taken seriously yet will never see the critical success of Nelson or Cody.

Related posts:
Broken Wings and Silver Linings
Screenwriting Quote #177 (David O. Russell)
Screenwriting from Nebraska
The 20 Year Journey of Craig Borten The Dallas Buyers Club took two decades to make it to theaters,  but joins American Hustle and Nebraska in the Oscar race for Best Picture.
Writing from Theme (tip#20)
Jailbait, Rejection & Screenwriter Mark Boal’s Start Another Oscar-winning screenwriter (The Hurt Locker) who was living outside of LA when his journalist writing opened doors.
Screenwriting Quote #145 (Mike Rich) Rich (The Rookie) launched his screenwriting from Portland by being awarded a Nicholl Fellowship.

Scott W. Smith

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“The thing I’m always fighting off is wasted time and writer’s block.”
Edward Burns

photo-40

“I have a shoebox and—I have two of them actually. And every time I have an idea for a scene or a scrap of dialogue, or even just a snippet of an impression I have that seems to connote something in my head, I’ll put it in a shoebox. I’ll let six months go by until there’s all these accumulated papers in there. Napkins and business cards and everything that’s scribbled on and I dump it out. And I read through all of the things I’ve collected in the last six months. And some of the things you don’t even remember writing and you can’t even interpret what in the hell it means. Just see if anything connects. Just see if there is a thread that runs through any of the things that obviously that you’ve been thinking about or has been recurring in your subconscious in the last six months. You see what jells—what suggests a shape.
Writer/Director Shane Black
Speaking to students in Minneapolis

“I have three corkboards and then a wall in my office that I painted with the stuff that you can turn into a chalkboard. So basically what I do is I have one corkboard that is divided into four strips. The first act, the first part of the second act, then the second half of the second act, and then the third act. And within that I have index cards of reminders of every screenwriting book that I’ve read. So it’s just like when I’m writing and I’m stuck I’ll just stand in front of the board and say, ‘Oh, Blake Snyder says this, Syd Field says that, Robert McKee says this.’ And a lot of times I can just bust through that the writer’s block…It’s funny when I saw the documentary on Woody Allen and he has the bedside table with all these strips of paper—my version of that is my corkboards. If I have an idea I write it down and post it on the board. And then my chalkboard is basically—since environment is so important to me I want my world to feel very real—that’s usually a listing of my locations.”
Filmmaker Edward Burns
The Q&A Podcast with Jeff Goldsmith

P.S. The above photo is actually a Nike shoebox of mine that has various ideas for screenplay ideas I’d like to explore. Because I played a little football back in the day, there are always themes there that I like exploring. The CNN article was written in 2009 after former NFL quarterback Steve McNair (whose nickname was Air McNair) was killed by his mistress in a murder-suicide. Then earlier this year I read an article about NBA great Michael Jordan who was quoted as saying basically he’d give up all his wealth and fame if he could just play professional basketball again. And that isn’t just an idea that has been percolating in my brain for the past five years, it goes back more than a decade.

The box has various articles and ideas including an insightful Sports Illustrated piece about former Cleveland Brown QB Bernie Kosar and how he went through the $50 million he made before filing for bankruptcy. (Kosar says he was good at making money, but not good at keeping it.) In my shoebox are reports on the lingering effects of head injuries on NFL players. Former players who’ve committed suicide. Index cards that read things like  “Watch North Dallas Forty and “Watch The Electric Horseman”—a 1979 Sydney Pollack directed and Robert Garland written movie starring Robert Redford who played a former rodeo star trying to hold on to his dignity. I don’t know if all those notes, thoughts, and articles will ever lead to a screenplay—but that’s all part of the process.  Judd Apatow (This is 40) types notes/ideas/dialogue on his phone and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)  says he “tricks himself into writing” by emailing ideas to himself.

So whether it’s a shoebox, a corkboard, cell phone, or email—find what works for you to gather ideas and move forward with writing your screenplay.

Related Post:

Screenwriting Via Index Cards

Scott W. Smith

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SIlverLinings

“Because I have a son who’s had some of these emotional situations I immediately related to [the novel Silver Linings Playbook] otherwise I never would have. And I said, what a wonderful story, and a wonderful world that is tragic, heartbreaking, emotional, and ultimately funny and uplifting….While I was waiting the five years to make it, I probably rewrote the script over 20 times, and I was able to plumb new depths of it in terms of calibrating the nature of the challenges the main character faces.
Silver Linings Playbook writer/director David O.Russell
Charlie Rose Interview 2012 & WGA,West interview by Rob Feld

Related Posts:
Broken Wings & Silver Linings
Coppola & Rewriting

Scott W. Smith

 

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“I’ve overcome the blow, I’ve learned to take it well…”
Jim Croce/Operator

“Rainy day people all know there’s no sorrow they can’t rise above…”
Gordon Lightfoot/ Rainy Day People

Perhaps the reason I decided to start a post about the movie Silver Linings Playbook with a couple of lines from seventies songs is the movie has a seventies feel. Not disco 70s—Annie Hall 70s.

You know, the kind of movie that centers on great writing and great acting. Movies that transcend entertainment and are about something human. I’m not a tentpole/vampire/contrived comedy kind of guy, so I relish when a film like Silver Linings Playbook comes along. This isn’t a movie review, but a look at the movie from the perspective of the script written by the film’s director David O. Russell. (As of this writing the script can be found at this link by The Weinstein Company.)

STORY/PLOT

The story of Silver Linings Playbook is actually pretty simple. Pat (Bradley Cooper) wants to get back together with his wife. And that happens on page 1 with Pat talking to himself in a psychiatric facility:

PAT: “I blew it. But you also blew it. We can get it back. It’s all gonna be better now. I’m better now and I hope you are, too.”

No big set up of where we are or what happened to Pat, the reader/audience is engaged and playing catch-up. And we also know that Pat is part of the “end-of-the-rope club” which is often a key ingredient in a lead character. So there is a stated goal on page one—get back together with Nikki (who we learn is his estranged wife). Of course, just one of Pat’s problems is he has a court order that prohibits him from coming within 500 feet of his estranged wife.

CHARACTERS
There are two central characters; Pat and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). This is not one of those scripts you read where you’re flipping back and forth trying to keep track of the characters. And keeping with the idea that you should have a really good reason from cutting away from the central character, I believe Pat in the script and in the movie is in every single scene. But there is meat in the supporting roles which is why Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver were attracted to the roles and why both were nominated for Academy Awards (as Bradley and Lawrence were).

There’s no real need for an antagonist role (Officer Keogh may be as close as we get), because both protagonists Pat and Tiffany do a pretty good job of being their own antagonists.

There are a handful of other roles, but essentially the story fits the idea that the audience/reader really can’t get involved in more than seven characters.

CONFLICT
Silver Linings Playbook is full of not only conflict from beginning to end, but the best kind of conflict—meaningful conflict. Pat has inner-conflict with self and his illness, interpersonal with mom, dad, brother ex-wife, friends and Tiffany, and extrapersonal conflcit with neighbors, police, his doctor and people at football game.

STAKES
What’s always at stake for Pat is being sent back to psychiatric facility. But the worst part about that for Pat is that would mean he failed at his goal of getting back together with his wife. And the stakes are even greater than if he has to go back to the hospital losing his freedom and maybe his mind.

PACING
Screenplays are often difficult to read, probably because they are a blueprint to make a movie. But Silver Linings Playbook was a fun and easy read. That was in part due to the pacing. Scene descriptions were kept between 1-3 lines and dialogue was usually kept between one and three sentences.

LENGTH
The script came in at 152 pages which is longer than most tend to be these days, but it is a verbal rather than a visual story so the running time was 2 hours.

TITLE
There have been four films made with the title The Silver Lining (1915, 1921, 1927, 1932) and the expression “every cloud has a silver lining” has been around forever. So the title Silver Linings Playbook takes something familiar and gives it a fresh twist.

REGIONAL
The movie largely takes place in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania—a small working class suburb of Philadelphia.

SETUPS & PAYOFFS
Another writer’s tool used throughout the script/movie to bring a conhesivness to the story.

EMOTIONAL
You don’t have to ever been in a psychiatric facility like Pat, or have the emotional relationship baggage Tiffany has to have an emotional connection to these characters. Everyone has their own emotional baggage and relationship issues and this film taps into what is called the laughter of recognition. What’s happening on screen is a reflection of our friends and family—and ourselevs.

TRANSFORMATION
Last year I pulled a quote where writer/director Garry Marshall talked about himself and audiences being drawn to Cinderella stories, and another quote by writer/director Frank Darabont talking about having an “uplift” and the end of movies. Of course, not all stories are Cinderella stories nor have an uplift, but if you are writing stories for an audience it is important to know that everyone is looking for a silver lining. I didn’t say a “happy ending,” but a silver lining is a plus.

THEME

“I’m gonna take all this negativity and use it for fuel, and I’m going to find a silver lining, that’s what I’m gonna do.”—Pat (Bradley Cooper), Page 14

This is what I believe to be true. This is what I learned in the hospital. You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest, and if you do, if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining.”—Pat, Page 35

There is a handwritten sign “EXCELSIOR” on Pat’s wall at his room at the psychiatric facility that we first read about on page three of the script and becomes a running motifs throughout the script—a rally cry of sorts for Pat. Excelsior is Latin for “ever upward.”

BOX OFFICE
Silver Linings Playbook is not the kind of movie that you would think that would have a long box office run. But despite a limited release in November and a wide release at the end of December it’s still in theaters as we approach the first week of February. Heck, in the traditional Hollywood cycle this movie should already be available on DVD. Instead it was actually third at the box office this weekend. Glad this film is getting good word of mouth reviews. And while it wouldn’t seem the most international movie this little $20 million dollar movie is on its way to breaking $100 million at the global box office.

OSCARS
The film has been nominated for a total of eighth Oscars.

NOVEL
Silver Linings Playbook originated as a novel by Matthew Quick and his real life story of quitting his teaching job and taking off three years to focus on his writing is a post for another day. The date on the screenplay says 2008, the year the book was released. If that’s when the script was written (or even just purchased) that means that it was a four/five-year journey to bring that story to the screen. (And I don’t know how many years it took Quick to write the novel.)

BROKEN WINGS
For those of you who haven’t seen the film I won’t tell you how it ends, just that the film is really about taking a step on the road to redemption believing that broken wings can be mended and silver linings found.

P.S. Didn’t make this connection until after I wrote this post, but singer Jim Croce was born in South Philadelphia and played in many tough bars in Philadelphia before heading to New York City and greater fame. Unfortunately he died at only age 30. His wife Ingrid owns Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar in San Diego. I had a memorable meal there a few years ago while sitting in their outside area and enjoyed watching the people in the historic Gaslamp Quarter walk by.

Related Posts:
Average Length of a Movie Scene (Tip #21)
Writing Actor Bait (Tip #64)
What’s at Stake? (Tip  #9)
“Goal. Stakes. Urgency.” (Tip #60)
40 Days of Emotions
Screenwriting by Numbers (Tip #4)
Writing Beyond the Numbers (Tip #8)
Setups & Payoffs (Tip #57) 

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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Via a Twitter prompt by director Edward Burns (@edward_burns) I just discovered Ghetto Film School. It fits well with the blog here…Screenwriting from Iowa, and other unlikely places.  I think the ghetto qualifies as an unlikely place to write screenplays and make films. The Ghetto Film School (GFS) was founded in 2000 by Joe Hall. Based in New York City their mission is, “to educate, develop and celebrate the next generation of great American storytellers.”

So far more than 400 students have participated in the 15 month film program. The not-for-profit school has a well-connected Board of Directors, Filmmaker Council, and Advisory Board that includes Mark Wahlberg, Edward Burns, Spike Jonze, Lee Daniels, and Evan Shapiro (President of IFC TV and Sundance Channel).

In a recent article in The New York Times Joe Hall said, “We get people who apply from everywhere, but our commitment is to the Bronx in particular and the city in general.” In the TImes article written by Larry Rohter he quotes director David O. Russell (Three Kings) as saying of the work of The Ghetto Film School, “It’s an inspiring thing to do. Hollywood is so unreal and weird that you really cherish experiences that are real and down-to-earth with people who have compelling stories to tell.”

That sounds like a good plan to me. From the farm to the ghetto, from military bases to retirement homes, I believe there are many, “people who have compelling stories to tell.”

Scott W. Smith

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