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Posts Tagged ‘Karl Iglesias’

(It’s been almost four years since I originally wrote this post—then titled Screenwriting Obsessionand it seems a fitting time to repost.)

“Most creators — and all would-be creators — simply aren’t obsessed enough.”
Eric Maisel

A few weeks ago I was talking to a couple filmmakers and we got to talking about a favorite topic of mine; Why are so many artists dysfunctional?  Take a handful of painters, writers, actors, musicians and filmmakers and you’ll have more than your share of people who suffer from depression, mental illness or at least some phobia that haunts them. Alcoholism and drug abuse appears more common with this tribe.

So the big question is — why?

One of the filmmakers had an easy answer, obsession.

I instantly thought of Jackson Pollock painting in his barn. I thought of Van Gogh’s passion. I thought of Martin Scorsese and his own demons. Obsession may be as good and answer as I’ve heard.

“One hasn’t become a writer until one has distilled writing into a habit, a habit that has been forced into an obsession. Writing has to be an obsession. It has to be something as organic, physiological and psychological as speaking or sleeping or eating.”
Niyi Osudare
From the book One Hundred Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters/Karl Iglesias

Eric Maisel, PhD has written several books that touch on this issue including Creativity for Life, The Creativity Book, and The Van Gogh Blues. I haven’t read his books, but in his article In Praise of Positive Obsessions he does make the distinction between positive and negative obsessions. He writes:

What exactly do I mean by a positive obsession?

A fair working definition is as follows: positive obsessions are insistent, recurrent thoughts or sets of thoughts, pressurized in feel, that are extremely difficult to ignore, that compel one to act, and that connect to one’s goals and values as an active meaning-maker and authentic human being.

For Van Gogh, for a period of time, sunflowers obsessed him. For Dostoevsky, for decades, the question of whether an innocent–a “saintly man” –could survive in the real world haunted and obsessed him.

Georgia O’Keeffe obsessed about how to represent the desert, thrilling herself when her imagery of bleached bones satisfied her for a time.

It is no accident or coincidence that effective artists harbor preoccupations that rise to the level of positive obsession.

So maybe we just obsess too much about those creative souls who have negative obsessions. After all those are the ones that tend to fascinate us the most. Those are the ones books are written about and movies made of their lives.

If you have any books and articles that explore the similarities and differences of positive and negative obsessions toss them my way. I don’t think my obsession is going away from thinking about it anytime soon.

And as far as screenwriting obsessions—there are many. Why do people spend so much time and money on something when the odds are so against any meaningful return on investment? Why all the books, CDs, workshops, college degrees, screenwriting expos, script consultants, etc. if there wasn’t a screenwriting obsession in this country? Why do produced screenwriters continue though they often feel less than satisfied with the finished results of their script?

Maybe it has something to do with Van Gogh continuing to paint even though the appreciation for his work would come long after he died. I hope you can find that “positive obsession,” and can continue to work on your craft without losing your mind.

Related posts:
“What it means to be a screenwriter.”
Don’t Waste Your Life (2.0) “It’s an accepted fact that all writers are crazy, even the normal ones are weird.”—William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade    
‘The Greatest Gift’“It is a story about depression and disillusionment, alcoholism and attempted suicide. And yet for all that, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life has just been voted the most inspirational film ever made.” 2006 article in The Guardian

Scott W. Smith

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“This may shock you, but most beginners fail at the concept. It’s the single most common problem I’ve found with scripts. Concept is the core of the script.”
Karl Iglesias
Writing for Emotional Impact

“The other overwhelming weakness with these ninety-out-of-a-hundred rejected screenplays is with initial concept.”
Michael Hauge
Writing Screenplays that Sell
(Formatting being the other weakness according to Hauge)

How do you test your story concept? What filter system do you have in place that tells you, “This concept is worth investing my time and talent to write into a feature screenplay.” Despite knowing the best time to test your concept is before you write your screenplay—many writers ignore any warning signs and the concept flaw is not fully revealed until after their script is completed.

But what if your concept sucks?

If the concept is weak all that’s left is, as the saying goes, “polishing brass on a sinking ship.”

“One lesson I’ve learned in Hollywood is that right out of the gate a screenplay will be judged solely on its concept or premise.”
Chandus King
Now Write! Screenwriting

Last week I did a one-hour concept consultation with Adam Levenberg and time will tell what fruit that conversation will bear, but I will say that I’m more jazzed about my latest concept and coming at the story with a clearer focus than I’ve had in the past.  I walked away with seven specific ways to turn the concept into a solid (and castable) screenplay. Adam also sent me two scripts that were similar but different to my concept. But perhaps most importantly is our one-hour conversation convinced me that this is the script I should be writing. I was prepared to move down the concept list if Adam didn’t think my #1 concept had legs.

I’m a fan of Adam’s work because of his development background, his Official Screenwriting podcast, and the fact that last year I spent three hours on the phone going over my last script Shadows in the Dark.  I wrote in the post Script Consultant Adam Levenberg that it was the most detailed feedback I’d ever gotten on a script I’d written. We went over characters, plot, structure, the ending—pretty much everything. I walked away with many pages of notes—on top of the notes he sent me— on how to make it better.  And the only way he could have that three-hour conversation about my script is that he spent at least a day–maybe two–dissecting my script before we had our conversation.

But Adam was also honest in saying he didn’t think the basic concept could get traction in Hollywood. And he told me why. And that began my conversion from structure, structure, structure to concept, concept, concept. Both are important, but I think concept trumps structure. Which is why you’ll hear stories of scripts being sold solely on concept.

I know there are plenty of naysayers about paying anything to anybody in regards to furthering your career. Ironically, one of the biggest voices against paying a consultant has what today amounts to $400,000 in college education. I’m certainly not against going to college (have a film school degree myself) but I also think Adam’s $99 concept consulting fee can be a better investment in your screenwriting career than 20 hours of a free screenwriting podcasts and blogs—even the best ones.  (Came up with 20 hours because that’s about what it would take to pay $99 making minimum wage minus taxes and such. )

“What you choose to write is far more important than any decision you make about how to write it.”
John Truby
The Anatomy of Story

A few years ago, before online training took off, I was looking at attending an all day Final Cut Pro seminar in Chicago. The class promised an 8-hour day with a Final Cut guru. I lived about five hours from Chicago at the time and figured by the time I added in costs of  the hotel, food, gas and the seminar itself the hard cost to me were going to be over $600.

Being self-employed I had to look at other  variables. Five hours driving each way and the seminar itself would cost me two days of down time. Two days where nothing was billed meaning the real cost where much more than $600. Sure I’d learn a few cost saving tips from the guru, might even make some interesting connections, but in the end I found a solution that worked better for me—I found DVD tutorials that included 47 hours of training for $300.

If you aren’t doing it already, start thinking of yourself as a small business owner. Sure you’re a creative person who writers screenplays, but don’t forget the business side. One of the key principles of any business is to make every purchase an investment. When I had a corporate video producing gig I looked forward to attending seminars in Seattle, Washington and Rockport, Maine. Learned a lot, too. But these days I take advantage of lynda.com for $25 a month and the free seminars produced by creativeLIVE. (Less fresh king crab and lobster, but you have to make sacrifices in life.)

Keep in mind that all those free screenwriting blogs and podcasts cost you something—time. The books and seminars cost you time and money. Undergraduate and graduate degrees can take a lot of time and a lot of money. None of use will make great decisions 100% of the time.  But crunch the numbers, asks questions, and move forward.

“Repeatedly, after reading a screenplay, I asked myself in amazement how the author could possibly think that the story idea would be of interest to anyone besides him and maybe his mom. Had the writer even chosen a concept that had the slightest degree of interest, uniqueness, or artistic and commercial potential, he would have already elevated his screenplay into the top 10 percent.”
Michael Hauge
Writing Screenplays That Sell
(Chapter 2 on Story Concept)

If you’re like many writers you have a computer list or shoebox full of story ideas and concepts. One option is to jealously guard that concept until you send the script out, another is talking to the one or two friends whose opinions you cherish (if one of your friends is Steven Spielberg that’s a bonus) , and another option now is using Adam Levenberg’s concept consultation.

P.S. Years ago I shopped a coming of age story—my Stand By Me-type script—and one production company fellow was kind enough to tell me I had made a big mistake. I didn’t have a single castable adult character of any weight. He went on to explain how a strong adult lead was needed to get funding and hope to attract  people to the movie. I went back and watched Stand By Me and sure enough there was the Richard Dreyfuss and Kiefer Sutherland roles.  I went back and watched The Sandlot and sure enough there was the James Earl Jones character. That’s the kind of stuff that you gotta know at the concept stage.

Related Post:
Screenwriting Books (Touches on Adam’s book The Starter Screenplay.)
Investing in Screenwriting
Screenwriting is Expensive

Related Links: Think Hallewood  “Why do most concepts suck?—Christopher Lockhart

Scott W. Smith

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“People have a great need to have their emotions expressed and affirmed by stories.”
Dona Cooper

Writing Great Screenplays for Film and TV, written by Dona Cooper, was first published back in 1994. But it wasn’t until I flipped through it last night that I really connected with her chapter on emotions.

They say when you re-read a book years after the first read through that the book hasn’t changed but you have.  That is definitely the case for me in part because last year I wrote the longest thread ever on this blog around one topic: Emotions. Beginning with Filmmaking Quote #25 (David Fincher) where he said, “Directors make things that you are supposed to get an emotional hit off of.  You’re supposed to feel something,” and ending with 40 Days of Emotions, which concluded by a great quote by Karl Iglesias, “Emotion is your screenplay’s lifeblood.”

So this time around, I was better primed when I came upon these words:

“Audiences like stories because stories give them emotional experiences they often can’t have in real life. Just like riding a real roller coaster gives people an opportunity to enjoy experiences that are more exciting than their everyday lives, a captivating story roller coaster provokes the same sense of exhilaration that makes audiences feel truly alive.

Yet most stories are entirely fictional and even those based on fact are still somewhat artificial, so why should a fictionalized story event have such emotional impact on audiences? How can emotions provoked by such an artificial medium be so compelling?

The reason is that people think in stories. Dreams, worries, gossip, religion, myth, and science are all stories that humans have created to give some sense of order and meaning to their lives that they can’t always find in everyday experiences…. In order to be emotionally involving, the pieces of the story eventually have to become personally meaningful, and the more direct the connection, the more power the story has.” 
Dona Cooper (Former AFI instructor now at UNC School of the Arts)
AFI’s Writing Great Screenplays for Film and TV
Pages 14-15

Scott W. Smith

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“Find what gave you emotion: what the action was that gave you excitement. Then write it down making it clear the reader can see it too.”
Ernest Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea)

“For me, it’s about setup and payoff. I try to set things up so that they pay off in a way I hope evokes a strong reaction,”
Eric Roth (Forrest Gump)

“What you are doing is feeling the emotions that your characters are feeling, and finding the best way to express those emotions in the most powerfully felt, truthful, effective, moving way to yourself.”
Ron Bass (Rain Man)

The title 40 Days of Emotions sounds epic and Biblical, so I brought out the big guns (Hemingway, Roth, Bass) to lead off this post that marks the end of 40 consecutive days writing about emotions in regard to screenwriting and filmmaking.

I didn’t start out with this 40-day goal in mind. I was inspired by the book Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias (all the above quotes above were pulled from that book or his other book, The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters) and I got on the emotion train and it just kept going.

What make emotions so powerful in screenwriting and movie making is they are closely connected to conflict and theme—two areas that are crucial in connecting with an audience. If you wonder how a film can have a good plot, solid structure, and interesting characters, and be totally unremarkable I’d blame it on the writers and filmmakers failing to make an emotional connection with the audience.

Over the years I’ve written about writers who start with plot, character, theme, or a situation.  But I had never heard about a writer starting from emotion until I read that’s how Tennessee Williams started his plays.

“Some screenwriters, and many playwrights, begin with the emotional story, or inner story…They layer key dramatic moments between the protagonist and antagonist in conflict with each other, creating heightened emotional moments that serve as climaxes and story beats. By intuiting  the depth of character conflict, without emphasizing plot and structure, they work through the unconscious movement of the story by way of external character, revealing ‘story’ as a by-product. Tennessee Williams worked this way.”
Kate Wright
Storytelling is Screenwriting

Recently I listened to an old CD (circa 1951) recording of The Glass Menagerie written by Tennessee and featuring Montgomery Clift as Tom. The emotional symbolism Tennessee uses is powerful stuff. Four actors, one apartment, one mediocre recording, and it still has plenty of emotional impact.

It’s fitting that I close this post with what I consider the most emotional scene I personally have ever scene on film. It’s from the film Glory that I saw in the theaters when it opened in 1989. While it’s the film where Denzel Washington won his first Oscar, it’s the first time I recalled ever seeing him on screen. Part of what gave the scene below its impact on me was I wasn’t watching a movie star or even an actor. It was like I was in that moment. That’s an emotional connection.

(This You Tube clip doesn’t compare to the experience of seeing it on the big screen. You don’t really see the scars, the twitch, the tear or know the backstory that leads to this powerful moment—but here it is just the same.)

When we use terms like head and heart to separate intellect and emotions it’s really a metaphor. Because emotion really does flow from the brain as well. Perhaps a different part than the logic part, but emotion is not anti-intellectual. Part of what gives that scene from Glory its emotion impact is knowing the history of slavery in the United States and the resulting racism that overflowed into our culture.

“I was called a nigger almost every day in Texas.”
Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx (Ray) born in 1967
O, The Oprah Magazine

In ’65 tension was running high at my high school
There was a lot of fights between the black and white

There was nothing you could do…
Bruce Springsteen (Graduated in 1967 from Freehold High School in New Jersey.)
My Hometown 

Personally it’s growing up in Florida in the 60s & 70s and being well aware of racial tensions. I was aware of the Ku Klux Klan. I remember what a cultural event it was in the pre-internet, pre-cable Tv days of 1977 when Alex Haley’s Roots first aired. It was said that 85% of the homes in the United States saw some of the eight part series and the final episode was watched 100 million viewers. (The Roots finale is still the number #3 watched Tv program in U.S. history.)  It won eight Emmy Awards including Best Writing in a Drama Series—Ernest Kinoy and William Blinn (for part II).

I doubt that if Roots aired today that it would be anywhere near the cultural phenomenon it was back in 1977.  We live a world a way from there. (Not perfect, but a long way from 1977.) I remember back in the late 70s when the debate around Tampa Bay QB Doug Williams was whether blacks could really be successful playing quarterback. Seriously. Williams went on to be the MVP of Super Bowl XXII with Washington. And also since 1977 we’ve seen the rise of successful and visable African-American leaders like Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and President Obama.

All that to say that emotion is not void of thinking—it’s not disconnected from cognitive knowledge. The opening scene of Saving Private Ryan was emotional for me even though I was never in the military. But I imagine if you were in the military during World War II, or Korea, or Viet Nam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan or Iraq—or really any war in any country—that that scene would have even a deeper emotional impact because of your personal life experiences and the memories and knowledge you have of watching those around you die in battle.

Lastly, the screenplay for Glory was written by Detroit-born Kevin Jarre (who passed away earlier this year) and the movie was directed by Edward Zwick.  The script was nominated for a WGA award, but lost to Alfred Uhry/Driving Miss Daisy. Jarre told the L.A. Times of Glory, “I never thought I could interest anybody in it. A Civil War epic, about black people. But I’d got really attached to the story….I’d end up in tears when I got through writing.”

Notice in the scene above how many words it takes for Denzel to communicate a wide range of emotions—zero. There have been enough people over the years pounding “structure-structure-structure” that I think it’s time to balance that with “write visual stories full of emotional meaning.”

So there you have it—from Hitchcock to Hemingway and beyond—40 days on the importance of emotion. For good measure let’s memorize one sentence written by Karl Iglesias; “Emotion is your screenplay’s lifeblood.” 

P.S. From the odd connection department—Screenwriter Craig Mazin (The Hangover II) also graduated from Freehold High School where Springteen attended.

Scott W. Smith

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“I used to have this inner critic, but I got rid of him a long time ago, A professor once said to me, ‘Remember, no one will ever see what you’re writing until you want them to see it.’ This really freed me up to just write. It’s like playing jazz guitar and you’re just riffing, and the stuff that sounds really good is the stuff you record. The rest of it just floated away into the cosmos. You’ll just be paralyzed if you labor over every sentence because it happens to be perfect. I have friends who take six to eight months to write a script, and I think it’s stupid. First, the chances of selling a script are so ridiculous no matter who you are, why spend so much time? Then, if you don’t sell it, you’ll feel devastated. Second, you’re talking about 120 pages with a lot of white in them. How can it take you six months to write that? Especially if you have an outline. The reality is that if you can write three pages a day, and that’s really low, that’s 40 days, a month and a half. So, to think it has to be perfect is a dangerous habit. It should be vomited out as fast as you can manage to get it out. Nobody ever has to see it. Then finesse it, massage it, sweeten it, and do everything you can to make it better.”
Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg (Con Air)
The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters/Karl Iglesias

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“Most creators — and all would-be creators — simply aren’t obsessed enough.”
Eric Maisel

A few weeks ago I was talking to a couple filmmakers and we got to talking about a favorite topic of mine; Why are so many artists dysfunctional?  Take a handful of painters, writers, musicians and filmmakers and you’ll have more than your share of people who suffer from depression, mental illness or at least some phobia that haunts them. Alcoholism and drug abuse appears more common with this tribe.

So the big question is — why?

One of the filmmakers had an easy answer, obsession.

I instantly thought of Jackson Pollock painting in his barn. I thought of Van Gogh’s passion. I thought of Martin Scorsese and his own demons. Obsession may be as good and answer as I’ve heard.

“One hasn’t become a writer until one has distilled writing into a habit, a habit that has been forced into an obsession. Writing has to be an obsession. It has to be something as organic, physiological and psychological as speaking or sleeping or eating.”
Niyi Osudare
From the book One Hundred Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters/Karl Iglesias

Eric Maisel, PhD has written several books that touch on this issue including Creativity for Life, The Creativity Book, and The Van Gogh Blues. I haven’t read his books, but in his article In Praise of Positive Obsessions he does make the distinction between positive and negative obsessions. He writes:

What exactly do I mean by a positive obsession?

A fair working definition is as follows: positive obsessions are insistent, recurrent thoughts or sets of thoughts, pressurized in feel, that are extremely difficult to ignore, that compel one to act, and that connect to one’s goals and values as an active meaning-maker and authentic human being.

For Van Gogh, for a period of time, sunflowers obsessed him. For Doestovshy, for decades, the question of whether an innocent–a “saintly man” –could survive in the real world haunted and obsessed him.

Georgia O’Keeffe obsessed about how to represent the desert, thrilling herself when her imagery of bleached bones satisfied her for a time.

It is no accident or coincidence that effective artists harbor preoccupations that rise to the level of positive obsession.

So maybe we just obsess too much about those creative souls who have negative obsessions. After all those are the ones that tend to fascinate us the most. Those are the ones books are written about and movies made of their lives.

If you have any books and articles that explore the similarities and differences of positive and negative obsessions toss them my way. I don’t think my obsession is going away from thinking about it anytime soon.

And as far as screenwriting obsessions—there are many. Why do people spend so much time and money on something when the odds are so against any meaningful return on investment? Why all the books, CDs, workshops, college degrees, screenwriting expos, script consultants, etc. if there wasn’t a screenwriting obsession in this country? Why do produced screenwriters continue though they often feel less than satisfied with the finished results of their script?

Maybe it has something to do with Van Gogh continuing to paint even though the appreciation for his work would come long after he died. I hope you can find that “positive obsession,” and can continue to work on your craft without losing your mind.

Scott W. Smith



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“(Screenwriting  is) all pretty much sitting alone in a room staring at a screen. That solitude is interesting to me.”
Screenwriter David Koepp (Spider-Man, Jurassic Park)

“Solitude is the school of genius.”
Edward Gibbon (Writer of the classic book, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)

Playing off the quote I heard and wrote about yesterday —“Solitude is creativity’s best friend.”—I thought I’d explore that a bit from the perspective of screenwriting. Of course, there are many layers and definitions of solitude than is fitting to cover here, so this is only meant as a quick overview.

In a happy accident yesterday I stumbled upon Anthony Storr’s book Solitude. I picked it up at a used bookstore years ago but never read it and had it in my car to donate to the library. So I read a chunk of it last night and found it an interesting read on the subject.

“The majority of poets, novelist, composers, and, to a lesser extent, of painters and sculptors, are bound to spend a great deal of time alone.”
Anthony Storr

In Karl Iglesias’ book, The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, he quotes several screenwriters on the topic of working alone.

“Something like 20 percent of the general population is introverted, but I think most writers probably fall into that category. They feel very comfortable with solitude. They are probably better in one-on-ne situations rather than dealing with lots of people. I know that when I’m in a room full of people, I tend to fall back as an observer.”
Robin Swiscord (co-writer, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)

“As a screenwriter, you need to be comfortable with that solitude for long periods of time, unless you work in television where’s it’s a more social environment.”
Amy Holden Jones (Mystic Pizza)

“You need to create solitude so that you can hear the voices, and you need a willingness to to live in the world of the story for long periods of time, forcing yourself into the world of the story for long periods of time, forcing yourself into the world of the characters so that you can believe they exist. Many spouses understandably complain that we’re not living in the present.”
Tom Schulman (Dead Poets Society)

Solitude in the sense they are talking about is working by oneself.  But it can also be defined as withdrawing from normal activities for a time as Thoreau did on Walden Pond and wrote about in Walden.

“I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
Henry David Thoreau

There are many positive aspects this kind of solitude. A spirit of contemplation and reflection.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up. Left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.”
Mark 1:35

“Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely.”
Hara Estroff Marano
Psychology Today article “What is Solitude?”

“Solitude is painful when one is young, but delightful when one is more mature.”
Albert Einstein

But the other side of solitude has a darker perspective. The former monk and reformer Martin Luther was not fond of solitude for that is when he believed Satan attacked him the most. It could be a place that the Eagles sang about, “Your prison is walking through this world all alone.” We’re talking Howard Hughes territory. And it’s clear if you read many bios or watch many movies on well-known artists, solitude was not always their friend—or even their choice.

“Creative talent of a major kind is not widely bestowed. Those who possess it are often regarded with awe because of their gifts, They also tend to be thought of as peculiar; odd human beings who do not share the pains and pleasures of the average person. Does this difference from the average imply abnormality in the sense of psychopathology? More particularly, is the predilection of the creative person for solitude evidence of some inability to make close relationships?

It is not difficult to point to examples of men and women of genius whose interpersonal relationships have been stormy, and whose personalities have been grossly disturbed by mental illness, alcoholism, or drug abuse. Because of this, it is easy to assume that creative talent, mental instability, and a deficient capacity for making satisfying personal relationships are closely linked.”
Anthony Storr
Solitude

That is they were forced into a kind of solitude because they either could not stand to be with other people or other people could not stand to be with them. That often freed them to hyper focus on their art. And often to focus on things that led to their demise. Of course, not every creative genius falls into that category—but the list is pretty extensive of those that do.

So I guess like many things, solitude for any of us can be a benefit or a hindrance in life.

Scott W. Smith




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