Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Frank Darabont’

“The best thing for me was reading other scripts and then writing, writing, writing.”
Stuart Beattie on launching his screenwriting career

Since 1999 Stuart Beattie has been screenwriting for a living. But before that success he wrote a dozen screenplays “and lots and lots of drafts of that dozen” that didn’t sell. He was working as a waiter in L.A. and while working in a deli he pitched his script of Collateral to Frank Darabont’s fiancé—who was a friend he knew at UCLA.

Collateral was a story that began as an idea just after Beattie graduated from high school in Australia. The sale of Collateral would launch his career. One that had roots back when he was in 3rd and 4th grade and writing 50-100 pages stories. Beattie also earned a journalism degree in Sydney before moving to L.A. to live.

“[Being from Australia] gave me an outsider perspective on everything—gave me a different look at things. And then once people met me it might helped stay in their minds a bit ’cause I had a funny accent. I had other stories than growing up in L.A.”
Stuart Beattie

And after coming to the United States he took classes from working professionals at the UCLA Extension program where Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) and David Koepp (Jurassic Park) were guest speakers he heard. It was there that he won a screenwriting award which led to him getting an agent.

“I like outlines a lot. I usually actually try and do a five-page outline. Act one is one page. Act two is [pages] two, three, four. And act three is page five. ‘Cause I know if I can boil it down to that essence then I’ve got  ‘what is the story?.’ I don’t like to do the 40 page outline because I think that takes away some of the creativity in the moment of writing the script.”
Screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Collateral, I, Frankenstein)
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters interview with Mike De Luca

P.S. When Beattie was waiting tables at that deli in L.A. Darabont’s fiancé was technically not one of the tables he was waiting on, and he was a little embarrassed to talk to her since he was in fact waiting tables. As Christopher Lockhart says, “Take the shot when you think you’ve got that moment.” So many things had to fall in place for Collateral (2004) to get made that the odds are good that if Beattie doesn’t take that shot, Michael Mann never directs Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx from a screenplay that Beattie wrote.

Related post:
Getting Your Script Read (Tip #51)
Who to Blame for Your Failures 
Paul Haggis echoes Beattie’s words about what it takes to become a working screenwriter, “In order to get any good at it you have to write and write and write. It took me a long time to get any good.”
The Outsider Advantage

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I’m not interested in characters who aren’t broken.”
3-time Oscar nominated screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator)

“All characters are wounded souls, and the stories we tell are merely an acting out of the healing process. They are the closing of open wounds, the scabbing-over process.”
Richard Krevolin
Screenwriting from the Soul

Today is the sixth anniversary of Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places, and I’m pleased to announce my loose and distant connection to a recent (and controversial) Oscar nomination. In fact, Deadline called it the “Academy’s Most Obscure Nominee—Maybe EVER.” Since one of the inspirations for starting this blog was the movie Juno, let me start there.

When Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) was 17 she got pregnant. When Joni Eareckson was 17 she broke her neck. The movie character Juno gave her baby up for adoption and went back to singing indie songs. The real life person Joni became a quadriplegic and went back to singing gospel hymns.  Screenwriter Diablo Cody walked away with an Oscar for writing Juno. Joni spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair—but also recorded a song that’s just been nominated for an Oscar.

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”
Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms

The now 64-year-old Joni also become a speaker, author of 50 books, married Ken Tada, and for the past 35 years has provided a global outreach to people with disabilities—including an organization that restores 10,000 wheelchairs per year and ships them to people in need around the world. If you like heroic underdog stories then you’ll enjoy Joni’s.

The Hollywood Reporter says the Oscar nominated song she sings (Alone Yet Not Alone) caused a “mini-controversy.”  The Week called the nominee “shady” and a “genuine head-scratcher.” You can read those links, but what’s speculated is the song (music by Bruce Broughton and lyrics by Dennis Spiegel—the two who actually got the nomination) benefited from a little Hollywood back scratching.

Hollywood studios spend millions—sometimes $10-15 million on promoting their movies. There’s much written about the fierce battles to win Oscars and how every front door, back door, side door, trap door—and even no door— is explored to win the coveted award that can result in millions of dollars on the back-end of a movie. The stakes are high.  (My friend Matthew recommends the book The Men Who Would Be King which gives insights into the Oscar process. He told me, “In short, it’s ugly. Makes a UFC bout look like a Tupperware party.”)

Hollywood has been called the world’s biggest high school and at this year’s Academy Awards Alone Yet Not Alone is not sitting at the cool kids table. It’s the kid in the wheelchair sitting alone in the cafeteria.  And I hate to throw out the C word here, but adding to the controversy is the song  (which beat out songs by Coldplay, Taylor Swift, Celine Dion and other heavyweights) is from a little seen Christian film shot in the Ohio Valley.

Who knows, maybe the song’s nomination was the Academy’s version of adding a little diversity to the Oscars. A wild card—like sprinkling in Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa into the Oscar nominations (Steve Prouty for hair & makeup). And maybe, just maybe, the song was nominated on merit. Broughton after all does have an Oscar (Silverado) and 8 Primetime Emmys. (Talent not typically found on a smaller independent film.)

But keep in mind there are four Biblical films coming out this year including Russell Crowe as Noah and the February release of Son of God —and even the book that’s the basis for the Angelina Jolie directed Unbroken (scheduled for a December release) has a Christian theme. Studios are concerned about every Christian with ten dollars in their pocket and just the Academy nominating Alone Yet Not Alone (for whatever reason) I imagine is seen as an olive branch by many Christians.  That olive branch didn’t hurt a little Mel Gibson film a decade ago.

Several years ago when I was based in Cedar Falls, Iowa I provided camerawork for an episode of a TV program that Joni and Friends produced.  (Couldn’t find that program online, but Wheels for a Kid’s World gives you a solid glimpse into Joni’s work and world.) I also produced a video of Joni talking at the Minneapolis Convention Center and remember it well because she quoted a classic Frank Darabont script and movie.

(Here’s a similar context I found online from a book Joni wrote about visiting someone she knew in intensive care and unresponsive after a tragic accident. )

“I sat there by Gracie’s hospital bed. I read Scriptures to her. I sang to her: ‘Be still my soul, the Lord is on thy side.’ I leaned over as far forward as I could and whispered, ‘Oh Gracie, Gracie, remember. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.’ She blinked at that point, and I knew she recognized the phrase. It’s a line from the movie The Shawshank Redemption.
Joni Eareckson Tada
Hope…the Best of Things

While I did talk with Joni it’s doubtful she’d remember me, but I remember her well. And I got a signed book out of the deal.

Because Joni can’t use her arms she signs books with a pen in her mouth. (And singing is no simple task either for Joni. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Her lung capacity is just 51 percent of what it ought to be — so weak, in fact, that her husband needed to push on her diaphragm while she recorded the Oscar-nominated song to give her enough breath to hit the high notes.”) She’s an amazing woman and I’m thrilled to see her in the spotlight. And the best thing about a little Oscar controversy is it puts the spotlight on the global work she’s done and continues to do for people and their families dealing with disabilities. You know the old cliché , “Hollywood couldn’t have written a better story”—but I’m glad they added a chapter to Joni’s story.

photo

That book,  Joni, An Unforgettable Story, is an updated version of the book she wrote that became the feature film Joni (1979) written and directed by James F. Collier and stars Joni herself.

“How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these things.”
George Washington Carver

1/29/14 Update: According to Indiewire tonight, “The Academy’s Board of Governors voted to take back the Original Song nomination for ‘Alone Yet Not Alone,’  music by Bruce Broughton and lyric by Dennis Spiegel. The decision was ‘prompted by the discovery that Broughton, a former Governor and current Music Branch executive committee member, had emailed members of the branch to make them aware of his submission during the nominations voting period.'”

No additional song will be added. One good thing that came out of this Oscar controversy is it shed a little light on the work Joni is doing.

And really, if you’re a producer of Alone Yet Not Alone you have to take this news like Bill Murray in Scrooged did when he’s told about a woman who had a heart attack over a TV promo his network ran. Murray at first looks distraught, then exclaims, “You can’t buy this kind of publicity!” Alone But Not Alone was put on the radar because of this controversay and today’s news seals the deal on it being locked in as a permenat footnote in Oscar history. Can’t hurt ticket or DVD sales when the film is released. And in ten or twenty years people may forget who won for best picture, or best actor—but will remember the Alone But Not Alone controversy. Call it the year of the “Oscar-nomination but not an Oscar-nomination.”

P.S. When I lived in Burbank, California back in the ’80s I would sometimes get calls to my house asking if I was “the editor Scott Smith.” At the time I was a 16mm operator/editor, but I knew who they were really looking for—  M. Scott Smith. Smith at that point had edited  To Live and Die in L.A. and Some Kind of Wonderful. Other big projects he’s edited are The Crow and Ladder 49 starring John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix. Turns out he’s the editor on Alone Yet Not Alone.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Looking for a New Year’s screenwriting resolution? Here’s one nicely tucked in just two sentences that you can adopt:

“The road to Hollywood is neither a sprint nor a marathon…it’s a death march. The smartest things you can do to advance your craft and career are to read scripts, watch movies, be up to date on the current script marketplace/industry, network, and write 2-3 scripts a year.”
Christopher Lockhart
WME Story Editor, Producer
@TheInsidePitch1

And as a bonus link to learn how to get started today (and exactly what equipment you’ll need) to write those 2 or 3 screenplays this year, check out screenwriter Brian Koppelman’s video Six second screenwriting lesson No. 121.

P.S. And that second Lockhart sentence is good even if your goal is making indie films in unlikely places. (My WordPress annual report said last year this blog had readers in 191 countries. Thanks for stopping by and best wishes for you and your writing this year.)

Related Posts:
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70)   “I would say 99% of your effort should go to writing a good script.”—Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3)
Bob DeRosa’s “Shortcuts” “There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work. Perseverance. Luck. Craft. Failure. Success. Mistakes. And yes, dreams that come true.” Bob DeRosa (The Killers)
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2) “For me, it was a matter of years of trying to develop my writing in the same way that some people spend years learning to play the violin.” Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)” “I lived in a tiny studio apartment…” John Logan (Hugo)
How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41) “When you’re starting out, it’s hard to imagine how you’ll ever ‘succeed.'” Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I’m often asked by younger filmmakers, ‘Why do I need to look at old movies?’ I’ve made a number of pictures in the past 20 years and the response I find that I have to give them is I still consider myself a student. The more pictures I’ve made in the past 20 years, the more I realize I don’t know. And I’m always looking for something or someone I can learn from. I tell the younger filmmakers, the young students that they should do it like painters used to do it—painters do it—study the old masters. Enrich your palette. Expand the canvas. There’s always so much more to learn.”
Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese (The Departed, Goodfellas, Hugo)  
A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995)
Section The Director as Smuggler

Related Post:
Learning from Others (Tip #42) Post the touches on Orson Welles watching Stagecoach 40 times while making Citizen Kane, Frank Darabont watching Goodfellas while making The Shawshank Redemption, and Christopher Nolan watching Blade Runner 100 times.
Can Screenwriting Be Taught? (2.0)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“When you read a good screenplay, you know it—it’s evident from page one.”
Syd Field

“Shakespeare knew his audience; the groundlings standing in the pit, the poor and oppressed, drinking freely, talking boisterously to the performers if they didn’t like the action on stage. He had to ‘grab’ their attention and focus it on the action.”
Syd Field

Syd Field’s book Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting came out in 1979 putting him at the center of a new wave of interest in screenwriting that continues to this day. Sure there were books on screenwriting before Field’s released his “Step-by-Step Guide from Concept to Finished Script” but he had a flair of looking at then contemporary films like Chinatown, Taxi Driver, Midnight Cowboy as well as more mainstream movies;  Star Wars, Rocky and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

By the mid-70s, the party was over for many baby boomers born between 1946-1964 and they were looking for a new guru to lead them into actually finding an income stream. Field’s, who died last month at age 77, filled that void. (And it certainly did provide an income stream for at least one person.)

I bought the “New Expanded Edition” of his book Screenplay when I was in college. To show how times have changed, I bought that book when I was in film school in the early ’80s. I think it was the first book on screenwriting I ever bought. This was long before the Internet became a great free resource for people wanting to learn about screenwriting. Before DVD commentaries featuring screenwriters. In fact, if you go back to 1979 I bet the average American couldn’t have named one screenwriter.

These days I’m often amazed at the way film savvy high school students can talk about movie structure and their favorite filmmakers (including screenwriters). These days the book Screenplay doesn’t exactly take your breath away, but you have to remember that the gems Field’s tossed out—”The first ten pages of your screenplay are absolutely the most crucial”—were not common knowledge back then.

Field wrote from the perspective of the script reader. He had spent several years as the head of the story department at Cinemobile Systems and began to wonder why so few good scripts were recommended for possible development and why other films succeeded.

“My reading experience gave me the opportunity to make a judgment and evaluation, to formulate an opinion. This is a good screenplay, this is not a good screenplay.”
Syd Field

And just as he was formulating his experiences, he was asked to teach a screenwriting class at Sherwood Oaks Experimental College. His book flowed from the years of teaching that class. Of course, not all of his students became working screenwriters. And one could even argue that the ratio of scripts recommended verses rejected today has basically remained unchange—despite the wealth of screenwriting info out there today.

Field addressed that reason in the introduction to his first book—talent. It’s the same reason sometimes that even gifted college athletes (even Heisman Trophy winners) don’t have sustainable pro careers.

Field ended up giving screenwriting workshops all over the world, and took a lot of blame over the years for basically starting a cottage industry that has made a lot of money over the years out of the pockets of dreaming screenwriters, but after his death there were some accomplished screenwriters that had some positive things to say about him.

“What I learned in Syd Field’s class was here’s how Annie Hall works, and here’s how Witness works, and then I begin to think, ‘OK now how would I do it differently than that?’ That concept of ‘Always being in learning mode’ has stuck with me to this day” 
Producer/director/writer Judd Apatow 

“I did a million drafts. And then I did the thing everybody does—I read Syd Field and I used my index cards.”
Producer/writer/actress Tina Fey

“RIP Syd Field. We can argue about formula and dogma, but Field introduced countless screenwriters to the craft. He was an inciting incident.”
Screenwriter John August

“I’m not surprised to have seen the many acknowledgements from screenwriters, professional and non-pros, about Field today. I know I never would have broken into the business without the insights into the basics of screenwriting his book gave me.”
Screenwriter/Go Into The Story blogger Scott Myers

 “I’ve gone from reading [Field’s] books, to being taught by him in courses! I think one of us must have done something right! I thank him all the time for inspiring me.”
The Shawshank Redemption writer/director Frank Darabont

Field went on to write several books which reportedly sold over a million copies. Just this past September he delivered the Keynote address at STORY EXPO on Why We Are Storytellers. (I’ll try to track that talk down for a future post. ) You can find several videos of Field teaching online, but here’s a short clip of him interviewing screenwriter Micahel Ardnt. (It’s worth pointing out that Ardnt was a co-screenwriter of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire which has been at the top of the box office the last two weeks and pulled in over $500 million worldwide.)

According to the Syd Field website, they list three places charitable donations can be made in Syd’s name:

P.S.  An interesting sidenote: Field was said to have written nine screenplays, none of which were produced. I have also written nine feature scripts, but have only had my short film scripts produced. I like to point out on this blog that there are several Oscar-winning & nominated screenwriters who have mentioned having no scripts made (or even sold in some cases)  after writing nine scripts including Oliver Stone (Platoon), Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air), and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine). So I think persistence is the bookend to talent. Arndt said well before his success that he made a commitment to be “a screenwriter for life.” (In his case, he wrote ten scripts before selling one.)

Related posts:

How To Become a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41)
The Secret of Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)
Screenwriting Quote #144 (Syd Field)
Screenwriting Via Index Cards
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
‘Up in the Air’—Take 2 “I wrote 12 screenplays before I gave one to anybody.”—Sheldon Turner
Screenwriting from Pixar (Part 2) One of the all-time most popular posts on this blog. Arndt, who wrote Toy Story 3 with the Pixar team, breaks down what he found in studying previous Pixar movies.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“When did you last see a movie that engaged your mind a week or a month later?…When crap drives out class, our taste grow coarser and the life of the imagination grows smaller.”
Stephen King
What’s Next For Pop Culture?

Recently I looked at what movies were playing at a four-plex theater by my house and couldn’t help but notice (thanks to the app I was using) something they all had in common—very low Rotten Tomatoes scores (28%, 24%, 16%, 12%). Doesn’t really matter what films they were, they were just typical Hollywood movies. Go back a few years, or look forward in a few years and there’s a good chance you see a repeated pattern. The big question is why haven’t Hollywood movies evolved?

Here’s a barrage of soundbite reviews of those movies at the four-plex:

“The comedy equivalent of mud-wrestling without the mud.”
“Uninspired trudge.”
“Unfunny, predictable, and vulgar.”
“Filled with the sentimental schmaltz.”
“Hallmark romance that ranges from the dull to the ridiculous.”
“Forget dialogue, character development, or logic.”

So why did those films get made? Why did they get made in the past? And why will they get made in the future?

The easy to answer—money.

Movie 24% and movie 16% both spent at least one week #1 at the box office and movie 12% was written by one of the most financially successful writers in history. (My wife did go to movie 12% but left before the movie was over when it got “too cheesy.” But Hollywood got the ticket sale.)

Hollywood is in the money-making business. And it’s trying to make movies that people want to see, so they can make a profit. Business 101. It’s the same reason all those trite reality TV shows that people complain about are on the air.

This all reminds me of a writing class I had in L.A. back in the ’80s taught by a playwright/screenwriter who told us that Sidney Sheldon (1917-2007) was not a good writer—but that Sheldon was a rich and famous writer. He went on to make his case against Sheldon known for his many novels, Broadway plays, movies, and for creating the TV shows Hart to Hart and I Dream of Jeannie.  The teacher concluded his talk saying that though he considered Sidney Sheldon a hack he wished he could write like Sidney Sheldon.

I’m not an expert on Sheldon, though I confess to enjoying both Hart to Hart and I Dream of Jeannie as a kid. (I don’t remember any storylines, but I remember Stefanie Powers and Barbera Eden well.) But I don’t think Sheldon was a hack. A hack to me doesn’t really care what he writes. I don’t remember the teacher’s name either, but that class was a memorable moment that’s stuck with me.

Looking at the work of other writers and filmmakers is often a mix of subjectivity, objectivity, education, temperament, envy and jealousy. I always think it’s best to judge any artist by their best work. And to be fair, Sheldon did win an Academy Award for writing The Bachelor and the Bobby-Sock (1947), won a Tony, received a nomination for an Emmy, was a New York Times best-selling author, and is listed as the seventh best-selling fiction author of all time—ahead of even J.K. Rowling and Dr. Seuss.

But it is surprising why Hollywood films as a whole aren’t better. All of the other crafts related to filmmaking have overall arguably evolved significantly. (Cinematography, editing, special effects, sound effects, acting, set design, etc.,etc.) The reason some say those crafts are better is technology has improved and they had a great tradition to build on. But the types of movies that get made don’t really seem to improve. Certainly screenwriters also have opportunities to build (not just try to duplicate) on a body of work that went before them.

Who do we blame? Screenwriters? Audiences? Studios?

“The logic behind the Hollywood development process for a motion picture goes something like this: no matter where you are making movies in the world , if you are producing a product for a mass audience, the various funnels through which your story (the entertainment you are creating) must pass will narrow in order to appeal to the most people waiting on the other side. Typically, mass audiences reduce characters to white hat/good guy and black hat/bad guy. Consequently they like the familiarity and comfort of a twice told tale…The trick for the Hollywood writer is to create a script that is intensely personal, yet still manages to resonate with a mass audience by virtue of its universal theme.”
Michael Lent
Breakfast with Sharks
Page 4

The good news if you want to—and have the desire, skill, and opportunity— to write those poorly reviewed films that pull in a big mass audiences—you can make a lot of money. (Like all that money spent at fast food restaurants and Thomas Kinkade paintings, maybe not the most nourishing things but someone’s making money.)  These days writers who aim a little higher tend to find refuge in independent films or cable TV. Or you can turn to teaching where you can breakdown why the Sidney Sheldon of the day is a hack and where one professor at a well-known film school reportedly said, “I prepare students for unemployment.”

To really end this post on a positive note.;What about those handful of great Hollywood films made every year? Perhaps Frank Darabont explained it best when he said Hollywood is like a big shipwreck, and while most of the ship sinks to the bottom of the ocean, every once in a while a couple of pieces of wood made it to shore.

And 2012 was actually a pretty solid year, wasn’t it? Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook are just three well-done Oscar-nominated films that crowd the top of the Hollywood pyramid. In every level of production there is a pyramid. The best thing you can do wherever you are on the pyramid is to focus on what you do best and hope your work can find an audience. First with a small audience of investors (a studio, an investment group,  kickstarter) and then with a larger audience that brings a return on investment (ROI).

But if you can do that with a little heart and soul, there’s a few of us that would appreciate it.

P.S. Sidney Sheldon was raised in Chicago during the depression and attended Northwestern so I’ll see if I can find some interviews so he can get some stage time to defend himself. But since he was raised during the depression I imagine he may just say, “I wasn’t trying to be Shakespeare or Hemingway— just looking for a way to feed my family and pay some bills.”

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“A whole new UNIVERSE of ADVENTURE is about to open up for you!
Trailer for Robinson Crusoe on Mars

“Here’s my guilty secret, I have always loved the literature and the cinema of the fantastic. From earliest memory. The earliest movies I saw on television when I was a kid were Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein—the first movie I ever saw in a movie theater, my older brother took me  took me when I was five years old to see to see Robinson Crusoe on Mars which was so cool….It goes back to Melies. ‘Here, here—look what we can do. This is impossible in real life.’ Of course, you can do a stage version I suppose, but film does the illusion better. I always loved black and white for that reason because that doesn’t exist in real life. It’s an artificial representation of something remarkable.  Movies show you experiences you don’t necessarily have every day in life. And the more magical they get the more out of our experience they are, but they make me feel rather childlike when they work.

This is my favorite story about Tom Hanks. (One of my favorite stories.) When we were shooting The Green Mile —it was a long shoot— we spent lots of time on the set and I remember one day when I turned to him and I said, ‘What are you doing here? What made you want to be an actor? What brought you to this life?’ And he said, ‘When I was a kid…,’ eight years old or something like that he saw the skeleton fight in Jason and the Argonauts, and he said ‘I saw Jason, I saw guys fighting skeletons with swords and I said that’s what I want to do!’  That where Tim Hanks’ passion springs from. I love hearing where the passion comes from.”
Frank Darabont
Frank Darabont at Masterclass —Zurich Film Festival

P.S. The trailer for Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) states that Crusoe is “struggling for survival in a cruel environment.” That could said of many films—from Winter’s Bone (which I’ve written a little bit about) to Life of Pi (which I’ll write about on Monday.)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: