Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Forrest Gump’

Savannah

Even if you’ve never been to Savannah, Georgia the odds are good that you’ve seen this church before. The roots of  Independent Presbyterian Church go back to 1755, but that’s not why you’ve seen the church before. The steeple and building get a cameo in opening shot of the movie Forrest Gump. You know, the one where there feather floats in the air until it lands at the feet of Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks).

Check it out at around the one minute mark.

I took the photo yesterday from a similar view as Forrest Gump had from where he sat on that bench in Chippewa Square. The bench was just actually just a movie prop so it’s no longer in the Square, but placed at the Savannah Historical Museum. I don’t know where that bench would be in ionic props in film history, but it has to be high on the list.

But what’s cooler than the bench is the city of Savannah itself.

“Architect John Massengale has called Savannah’s city plan ‘the most intelligent grid in America, perhaps the world’, and Edmund Bacon wrote that ‘it remains as one of the finest diagrams for city organization and growth in existence.’—Wikipedia

I first visited the city more than 20 years ago and enjoy taking the detour off I-95 to at least drive through the city even if I don’t have time to stay the night. The city was founded in 1733 by General  General James Oglethorpe. (A large bronze statue of Oglethorpe also gets a cameo in the opening scene of Forrest Gump at the 2:40 mark of the above clip. But it’s not a prop so if you visit Chippewa Square it’ll be there.)

There is also a marker in Chippewa Square for Dr. William. A. Caruthers (1802-46), an early American Novelist who lived one block away. His first novel The Kentuckian in New York was published in 1834.

Lastly, Savannah not only has a rich back story (you know it used to be a debtor’s colony), but you can see future stories being written as students from Savannah College of Art & Design walk around town carrying their large portfolios.

P.S. I’ve stayed in several bed and breakfasts in Savannah over the years, but my favorite is the Ballastone Inn.

Related Posts: Eric Roth on Theme & Loneliness

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Think I can segue from two previous posts about Bridesmaids to one about Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close?

No problem. In Bridesmaids there is a scene where the lead character’s life is falling a part and her mother tells her to watch the movie Cast Away saying, “It’s like Forrest Gump on a deserted island.” Forrest Gump was written by Eric Roth, the same writer as Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

I think I’ve written something about every Academy Award-nominated Best Picture and/or its writers except for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. So I’m cramming for finals before the Oscars Sunday night. Here’s an exchange found in the article, ‘Extremely Loud’ Screenwriter On Turning The Novel Into A Film;

Eric Herschthal: A common trope is that no one can capture the tragedy of the Holocaust in art. Do you see something similar happening with Sept. 11 works of art?

Eric Roth: “First off, I don’t like to compare anything to the Holocaust. [Director Stanley] Kubrick. said you can’t make a movie out of the Holocaust; it’s too visceral to capture on film. I think he’s right. But I think you can make stories about grief, about loss, and how you deal with them. That’s what I tried to do.”

Roth received and Oscar-nominated for his script. He’s had a three other screenplay Oscar-nominations:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (shared with Robin Swicord)
Munich (shared with Tony Kushner)
The Insider (Shared with Michael Mann)
Forrest Gump (Sole screenwriting credit and an his sole Oscar win)

A few days ago Roth received the 2012 Laurel Award for Screen, lifetime achievement in outstanding writing for motion pictures, from the  Writers Guild of America, West.

“In a career that spans over four decades, Eric Roth’s work – from Forrest Gump to The Insider, Ali, The Good Shepard, Benjamin Button, and this year’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – has traced the larger span of our history and the smaller, individual arcs of the human life. With poetry and humor, he has illuminated time and love and moral responsibility. He has made going to the movies both a stirring emotional education and a true joy.”
WGAW President Christopher Keyser

Quirky facts about Roth: According to IMDB, he wrote one of Kurosawa‘s last films (Rhapsody in August), and his daughter, Vanessa Roth, won an Academy Award (Best Documentary Short) in 2008 for her film Freeheld.

Related posts:
Eric Roth on Theme & Loneliness
Change the Weather (Tip #44)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I’m writing more to a theme rather than to story…if the scene thematically represents what I wanted the picture to say then I feel I’ve been successful…When you discover what you think it’s about—like I would say to you, ‘I think Forrest Gump is about loneliness’ and then you may say, ‘I don’t see that in the movie’ but that’s what it means to me.  Every scene I write is about a guy who’s trying to confront loneliness and not feel like an outsider. Or find a home in a sense…I think a lot of my movies are about loneliness.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Eric Roth 
(Forrest GumpThe Insider, Munich, Ali, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
“Conversations with…” interview at USC Film School

Related posts:
Writing from Theme (Tip #20) 
40 Days of Emotions

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Since yesterday I found a couple quotes from screenwriter Bob Gale about he came up with the idea for Back to the Future in his parent’s basement in St. Louis, I thought I’d find a quote today from the other half of that screenwriting team, Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis also directed the film as well as  Romancing the Stone, Forrest Gump, and Castaway.

“You have to hope that you can get your investment back, which is what we [filmmakers] all try to do. What we really want to do is make one dollar profit back, so that nobody gets hurt and the movie exists. Anything else is arrogant and unrealistic. All of us in this business are a bit superstitious as well. We don’t really talk about that, although I must say that [Paramount Motion Picture Group chair] Sherry Lansing would always talk about what she thought the success of the movie would be. And she was wrong by about $150 million. Nobody in their right mind is going to say a movie is going to make $300 million.”
Robert Zemeckis
DGA Interview with Ted Elrick


Read Full Post »

“God help you if you use voice-over in your work my friends. God help you! That’s flaccid, sloppy writing. Any idiot can write voice-over narration to explain the thoughts of the character.”
Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox) in Adaptation

“You see, the body of a young man was found floating in the pool of her mansion – with two shots in his back and one in his stomach. Nobody important, really. Just a movie writer with a couple of ‘B’ pictures to his credit.”
William Holden VO in Sunset Blvd.

Last night I watched The Holiday listening to the director’s commentary by writer/director Nancy Meyers and she mentioned that while writing The Holiday that she watched Billy Wilder’s The Apartment three times. I haven’t quoted Wilder in a while so now is as good a time as any unearth another one from the great six-time Oscar winner.

In some circles having voice-over narration is taboo, but Wilder didn’t shy away from it. Heck, Wilder (and additional writers  Charles Brackett & D.M. Marshman, Jr.) in Sunset Blvd. even had a dead guy give VO. And the writers won an Oscar for the story. Granted that was 60 years ago, but is voice-over narration really sloppy writing?

What about these films?

The Shawshank Redemption
Forrest Gump
Days of Heaven
Taxi Driver
To Kill A Mockingbird
The Big Lebowski
Election
A Christmas Story
Goodfellas
Stand by Me
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Fight Club
The Usual Suspects
American Beauty
The Princess Bride
Double Indemnity

 

Unless someone changed the definition of sloppy writing there isn’t a whole lot of fat in those films. And just for good measure, Nancy Meyers is fond of using voice-over narration and she’s the most successful female box office money-making director. And she takes her lead in the voice-over department from Wilder.

“In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.”
Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder’s sreenwriting tips as told to Cameron Crowe

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Never quit. It is the easiest cop-out in the world. Set a goal and don’t quit until you attain it. When you do attain it, set another goal, and don’t quit until you reach it. Never quit.”
Coach Bear Bryant

Tonight’s BCS game between the 13-0 Alabama Crimson Tide and the 13-0 Texas Longhorns is high drama. Two long-standing, unbeaten college football programs battling for the national championship. (Mini-screenwriting lesson; Drama is conflict and there’s nothing like putting two equal (and successful) opponents against each other and taking them to the end of the line in a battle that will crown one as the victor.)

Over the years I’ve been to both Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Austin, Texas and found them both have their own unique vibe.  The University of Alabama has played college football since 1892 and has won 12 National Championships and has had a cast of characters over the years including Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler as well as the coach of coaches, Paul “Bear” Bryant. (Heck, even Forrest Gump played ball there.) This year’s team has Heisman Trophy winner  Mark Ingram on its side.

But in the last decade or so Alabama’s football teams have not shined so brightly. They’ve  shuffled through five coaches over that time trying to get back that winning tradition. They brought Nick Saben in to get them back on track and gave him a $32 million contract. The September 2008 cover of Forbes magazine asked about Saben,  “Is he worth it?” Even if the doesn’t win tonight, the answer is yes.

The University of Texas at Austin on the other hand has won four national, has had two Heisman Trophy winners, and their legendary football coach is Darrel Royal.  If you want to read a knock your socks of book on college football read Gary Shaw’s Meat on the Hoof, about his days as a player at the University of Texas.

The championship game tonight pitting #1 against #2  in Pasadena should be a great game. Drama at its best.

This week is the first time since 1954 where Bobby Bowden is not coaching college football. Last week he won his last game as the head football coach at Florida State University, where he had been head coach since 1976. Bowden also has an Alabama connection having been born in Birmingham, played his freshman year at the University of Alabama before transferring to Howard University (now Samford University in Birmingham), where he also began his coaching career.

Bowden led FSU to two national championships and is the second winningest coach in Division 1 college football history.  Congrats on a great career Coach Bowden–one that is not only  measured in wins, but in respect and appreciation. He also helped change how football teams from Florida are perceived. Since 1984 teams from the state of Florida have won nine national championships in football which is a staggering number. Bowden probably would have had a couple more national championships if they would have made a couple field goals against the University of Miami.

Speaking of the University of Miami, when I was in Florida last month I happened to catch Billy Corben’s documentary The U that was featured on ESPN’s 30 for 30. One write-up on the documentary said, “For Canes fans, this will be a reminder of what they loved about this team. For Canes haters, this will be a reminder of what they hated about this team.”

Many don’t know how controversial the documentary is in Miami. In the film, the Miami football program is not always shown in a positive light and it’s been reported that the school made it known to former players and coaches they would rather they not participate in the documentary. Corben definitely played up the bad boy image of the program (yes, rapper Luther Campbell is featured so that gives you a hint), but I think he also did a fair job of showing the rough areas where many of the players were from. They were playing for respect and they got it. (Well, respect mixed with a little hatred. Is calling a program “classless” its own form of trash-talking?) Miami’s program hasn’t been around since the 1800’s so it’s still working on being refined like those southern gentlemen in Alabama.

The U also takes time to show how Howard Schnellenberger was the architect for building a championship program out of a school that just a few years earlier was thinking about dropping football. The football program has not been without its scars, which makes it all the more amazing that in the last 25 years they have won five national championships—more than any other school during that time.

And who was Schnellenberger’s mentor? That happened to be none other than Bear Bryant. Schellenberger was an assistant at Alabama and helped Bryant lead the school to win three national championships in the 60s. Schellenberger was also an assistant on the 1972 Miami Dolphins Super Bowl championship team that is the only pro team to ever go undefeated in a single season. In fact, I’d love to produce a documentary on just Schnellenberger.

In fact,  to the University of Miami officials and/or alumni who didn’t care for the documentary The U and want to produce another angle to the story, give me a call. I was a briefly a walk-on player in the early 80s (still have my letter from Coach Schnellenberger), was a film major there, and have a couple decades of experience producing, directing, writing, shooting and editing many award winning projects.

The Miami football team doesn’t need a sugar coated version of the program, but their are other dimensions that could be covered that were missed on The U documentary. A good start would be  interviewing players like Jim Kelly, Warren Sapp, Vinny Testaverde and coaches Bowden, Larry Coker, Steve Spurrier and Mark Richt (the Georgia coach who was also a player at Miami, and an assistant at FSU). Corben and his rakontur production team covered a lot of ground, but Miami football  is its own mini-series & soap opera rolled into one, and you can only cover so much ground in an hour and a half.

Anyway, many eyes will be on Southern California tonight, but not because of USC, UCLA or the latest movie—but for two teams from fly-over country who have risen to the top of their field.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“A good title should be like a good metaphor: It should intrigue without being too baffling or two obvious.”
Walker Percy

I’m staying on the Up in the Air gravy train (gravy plane?)  just a little bit longer. Not only did I love the film but I love the title. It’s a title that has a literal meaning since it’s a film that deals with traveling via airplanes. But it’s also a common phrase in our culture meaning undecided or uncertain.

Up in the Air is a pretty good description of the Up in the Air main character Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney.  A character whose only real purpose appears to collecting frequent flyer miles. Everything else is up in the air.

Many writers talk about starting with a title and build from there and others say they can’t even decide on a title even after they’ve written the script or book.  Can a movie succeed without a great title? Sure, look at Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Looking at the AFI list of top 100 films and you’ll see a mixture of great, good, and bland titles. A title doesn’t make a film, but in a day and age of the importance of the opening weekend, a great title is desired to help attract an audience.

The most common titles seem to focus a main character or being, place or thing, or an event.

Character or being:
Citizen Kane
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
King Kong
Rocky
Forrest Gump
Spartacus
Bonnie and Clyde
The Godfather
Tootsie
Jaws
Psycho
Raging Bull

A place or thing:
Titanic
The African Queen
Bridge on the River Kwai
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
On the Waterfront
Chinatown
Sunset Blvd.
The Maltese Falcon
The Apartment
Casablanca

An event:
High Noon
Apocalypse Now
Star Wars
2001: A Space Odyssey
Saving Private Ryan
Bringing Up Baby
Sophie’s Choice

And while not a hard and fast rule, great titles tend to be short (three words or less). Just look at the above list.  And my favorites of those listed are Jaws and Psycho. Each one a simple word, but both hit you at a gut level.

Titles like Avatar, Batman, The Matrix are easier to discuss around the water cooler.  Even longer titles (especially sequels) tend to get edited around the water cooler and just called  Harry Potter, Narnia, Pirates, Star Wars, Twilight, Spider-Man.

Up in the Air falls into that minority category of a title that’s a little more obtuse, in line with The Last Picture Show, A Streetcar Named Desire, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Silence of the Lambs, or Gone with the Wind. (All of which happened to have been books or plays first which tend to favor a more intellectual audience.) If you go with a metaphor, it doesn’t hurt to have a movie star in the lead role. As I talk up the film Up in the Air, I find myself calling it “The George Clooney Film.”

What are some of your favorite titles (even if they aren’t one of your favorite films)? Or some of your favorite bad titles.
I love the title of the lesser known 50s film Them. And I like titles such as Black Hawk Down, Meet the Parents, Witness, The Hunt for Red October, Collateral and The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly because they all have built in conflict, mystery and intrigue. And the worst titles off the top of my head goes to Ishtar and Valkyrie, neither of which leave me with a visceral reaction.

Of course, the most bland title ever might just be…Movie Titles (tip #32). (But at least it’s twitter friendly.)

Update: I decided to do a Google search to see what others thought were the best and worst movie titles ever and found one blogger who had a post called Top 10 Worst Movie Titles Ever and the writer put Surf Nazis Must Die at #10. That film was written and directed by Peter George who I happened to go to film school with. (I was always a little upset I didn’t get a small role in the film.) If anyone knows where Mr. George is these days tell him I want my watch back. The one that I left at his Hollywood apartment after I crashed on his sofa one night back before he was making top ten lists.

Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

Here’s another quote to add to the longer post Writing from Theme (tip#20).

“I think you have to have a theme.  At least I do. I think you need something to always go back to.”
Eric Roth (Forrest Gump)
Interview with William Froug
Zen and the Art of Screenwriting
page 121

Read Full Post »

Time it was, and what a time it was,
it was a time of innocence…

Simon & Garfunkel
Bookend Theme

While songwriter Ellie Greenwich never wrote a screenplay that I know of she lived dramatic enough of a life to have a show based on it, Leader of the Pack, make it to Broadway in the 1980s. Greenwich, who died Wednesday, had a hand in writing the hit songs Chapel of Love, Da Do Ron Ron and Leader of the Pack. She ended up with 25 gold and platinum records and a part of tens of millions of records sold.

Even if her name is not familiar to you I’m sure her work made it onto the soundtrack of a film or two you’ve probably seen;
Bedtime Stories (I Can Hear the Music)
Baby Mama (Be My Baby)
Forrest Gump (Hanky Panky)
The Bridges of Madison County (Leader of the Pack)
My Girl (Do Wah Diddy Diddy)
Goodfellas (Then He Kissed Me)
Full Metal Jacket (Chapel of Love)
Dirty Dancing (Be My Baby)

There was a window of a few years in the early 60s where pop culture was open to a certain kind of innocence. Then the late sixties happened;  Viet Nam ,leaders being shot, drug use, Woodstock and the sexual revolution—and into the 70s,Watergate. There was a certain amount of cynisism and despair that followed and that didn’t really lift pop-culture wise until the optimism of Rocky and the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976. Greenwich’s own life wasn’t quite as romantic as her songs either. A bitter divorce and a nervous breakdown followed her wild success.

“I know people that have gotten married in the past two years who have used ‘Chapel Of Love’ as their wedding song. I think, no matter how much of a feminist one claims to be … Lord knows, if you go by my songs, and the way my personal life has gone, you’d say, ‘Oh my, this lady was dreaming.’ It didn’t exactly happen the way I was writing it. However, I would have liked it to have gone that way. I am a very firm believer in equality, women and men: if you can do the job, by all means go ahead and do it. But I still feel it would be nice if that romance can be there, birds could sing if you fell in love, and you could hear violins. I think that would be really terrific – I don’t care how old you are, or what generation.”
Ellie Greenwich
by Charlotte Greig

Scott W. Smith
River Run Productions

Read Full Post »

“Coincidence. It’s a screenwriter’s stock in trade. It lies at the very heart of storytelling; it’s been around even before Oedipus slept with his mother. It’s the essence of the ‘what if.’ Coincidence comes into play for inciting incidents, chance meetings, clever plot twists, surprising revelations. It’s a very necessary dramatic tool.”
Terry Rossio
Pirates of the Caribbean

“There’s nothing wrong with coincidence, per se. Almost every movie is going to have some incidents where one character just happens to be in the right place at the right time.”
Screenwrtier John August
Big Fish

Last week I spent two days in a town I had never been before and both mornings went to the same Starbucks at different times in the morning. And both times the same person was standing behind me in line. What are the odds? It’s hard to miss that kind of coincidence. It made me think about how coincidence is used in screenwriting,

All of us have real stories of coincidence ranging from simple to complex. Things like hearing a song you haven’t heard in years playing on the radio at the same time on two different stations. Or like the time I got on a connecting standby flight in Dallas and ended up on the same flight as a guy I went to high school with who I hadn’t seen in years.

Coincidence is a part of life so we shouldn’t be surprised when coincidence is used in the movies. But if it’s not a law it should at least be a rule that coincidence not be used throughout your story unless you are writing a farce (Groundhog Day) or a story where coincidence is built into the story. For instance we expect Forrest Gump to bump shoulders with Elvis, John F. Kennedy and John Lennon. It’s part of the fun.

But since coincidence must be used to one degree or another it’s best if you don’t use them at important moments of your script.

Coincidence is best used in the first act and as early as possible. Sure it’s a coincidence that the swimmer in Jaws just happens to take a swim at feeding time. But something has to start the story. Inciting incidents are often a fitting place for coincidence.

The worst time to use coincidence is at the end of the film.  You will find coincidence abuse across every genre. Perhaps the biggest offender is romantic comedies as writers work to get two people together. Could there be a bigger coincidence (or heavy handed metaphor) than after a man’s wife dies to have him  and fall in love with the recipient (via heart-transplant) of his dead wife’s heart? Critics used words like gimmick, contrived, and  creepy to refer to the plot of Return to Me. Yet the quirky comedy did find a satisfied audience.

So you can overcome heavy-handed coincidence but it takes work to avoid. The real secret of using coincidence is to sneak it in where needed. Avoid using coincidence at key moments of the story.

Terry Rossio writes in his Wordplay Columns:

One of the classic rules of coincidence is that fate — if it must be present — should always favor the antagonist. If our hero has a gun on the villain and the hero’s gun jams, it’s called drama. If the villain has our hero dead in his sights, and the villain’s gun jams, it’s called a lousy cheat, a not-very-inventive way to sneak the hero out of his predicament.

When the audience rolls back their eyes and has one of those “you’ve-got-to be-kidding” moments you know that coincidence has been misused.

It’s best when the audience doesn’t even realize the coincidence. For instance in Mystic River the novelist and/or screenwriters start and end the movie with coincidence, but the story is so compelling it’s not a stumbling block. (Spoiler alert) Sean Penn’s daughter is killed the same night that his friend Tim Robbins kills a man — big coincidence. And Sean Penn kills Robbins thinking he killed his daughter the same night that detectives arrest the real killers of Penn’s daughter–another big coincidence.

Perhaps coincidence is like subtext, exposition and other tricks of the trade in that it can be handled well or poorly. The best way to handle coincidence in your scripts is to do so organically. For instance it is not just a coincidence that at the end of Jaws Roy Scheider has a gun and knows how to use it (he is the police chief) or that there is an oxygen tank on the boat. Those were built into the story.

Scheider is simply forced to go to the end of the line because he has run out of options. May you strive with the same diligence to fight off heavy-handed coincidence in your scripts.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: