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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Newman’

“If I take the money I’m lost.”
Lawyer Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) in The Verdict

One of my all-time favorite screenplays and movies is The VerdictI happened to see it when when it first came out in theaters back in 1982 when I was in film school. And as I revisit it from time to time it I just appreciate the multi-layers of the film.

The David Mamet screenplay is listed at 91 on WGA’s list of 101 Greatest screenplays  just after Sidways and before Psycho. It was nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture, Sidney Lumet’s direction, and Paul Newman lead role.

I think the film follows the Simple Stories/Complex Characters model, but what the film does is shows us a textured glimpse into the legal world. I haven’t read the Barry Reed book which the screenplay is based on, but my guess is Reed did the heavily lifting.

Reed (1927-2002) served in the Army during World War II before getting his law degree at Boston College. He was in private practice in Boston specializing in, according to Wikipedia, medical malpractice, personal injury, and civil litigation cases.

He’d actually been practicing law for 25 years before The Verdict novel was published so he had plenty life experiences to draw on. But there is a simplicity how the screenplay handles all the complexities of law and medical which make the script a wonderful study even for the new screenwriter.

The core the story is about a fading, alcoholic lawyer whose mentor throws him a case that appears to be an easy cash settlement case. One that will help him get back on his feet. That is until Galvin’s conscience kicks in and he decides to try the case for justice to prevail. And at the same time be a personal redemption for himself.

On page 38 of the screenplay Galvin actually verbalizes to a female friend in a bar what I believe is the theme of the story:

“The weak, the weak have got to have somebody to fight for them. Isn’t that the truth? You want another drink?” 

At the end of a Christopher Lockharts’ post Screenwriting 101 he has an excellent detailed outline of The Verdict which is well worth your time to read. Here’s some of his highlights:

LOG LINE: A drunken, washed-up attorney struggles against a goliath law firm to win a medical malpractice suit.

ACT ONE

PROTAGONIST INTRO

Galvin is introduced as an attorney lower than an ambulance chaser – he chases Hearses. He is a washed-up attorney- glory days long behind him. He is a drunk – who only seems to show signs of life when he is in a bar.

INCITING INCIDENT

For physical/external storyline: MICKEY jolts GALVIN into consciousness, reminding him that he has five-days to prepare for the ONLY case on his docket. This is a definite money-maker that will ensure GALVIN some much needed income (page 6-7).

For psychological/internal storyline: GALVIN visits his comatose client in the nursing home. He comes to understand the severity and enormity of the case before him (page 8).

PLOT POINT: END OF ACT ONE

GALVIN decides to try the case, “I have to try this case. I have to do it, Mick. I’ve got to stand up for that girl” (page 31). NOTE: This is the point in the story where the goal is establinshed. GALVIN’s goal is to win the case. A MAJOR DRAMATIC QUESTION is proposed: WILL GALVIN WIN THE CASE? The MDQ is the linchpin of the dramatic narrative – the purpose for which the story is being told. 

P.S. To find a link to most of the 101 WGA top scripts visit Simply Scripts.

Related links:
The End of the Rope Club (Oscars ’14) Galvin belongs in the end of the rope club Oscars ’83.
Writing ‘Flight’ Another alcoholic/redemption story with some echoes of The Verdict. And one Lockhart actually had a role in getting produced.
Emotional Evolution/Devolution (Part 2)
Sidney Lumet (1924-2011)
Show Don’t Tell (Tip #46) Great example from The Verdict

Scott W. Smith

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“The idea for The Glass Menagerie came very slowly, much more slowly than Streetcar, for example. I think I worked on Menagerie longer than any other play. I didn’t think it’d ever be produced. I wasn’t writing it for that purpose. I wrote it first as a short story called ‘Portrait of a Girl in Glass,’ which is, I believe, one of my best stories. I guess Menagerie grew out of the intense emotions I felt seeing my sister’s mind begin to go.”
Tennessee Williams
The Paris Review interview 

Watching actors perform Tennessee Williams’ words on stage, TV, and in movies—or even on the Internet—may not make you a better writer, but I believe they can make you more human.  If you’re tired of, or need a break from special effect extravaganzas or high-concept schlock that, to borrow Shakespeare’s phrase, are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” get a copy of The Glass Menagerie and read it slowly.

When I was driving through Mississippi last month I picked up a used copy of the printed play The Glass Menagerie for under five dollars at Square Books in Oxford. The pages had fallen out of my old original copy of the book and there was something poetic about buying the play again by the Mississippi born Tennessee Williams in the town square where Mississippi born William Faulkner used to wander. (And for what it’s worth Faulkner wrote a book titled The Sound and the Fury.)

The Glass Menagerie, a four character play, premiered in Chicago in 1944 and it debuted on Broadway the following year where it won the  New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play of that year. Critics championed the play from the very beginning. Even today when critics question a revival performance it tends to be in casting choices and stage direction.  I recall one reviewer who once wrote something to the effect that poorly performed Williams was better than no Williams at all.

One of the greatest creative opportunities of my life was doing a three month acting workshop with Arthur Mendoza working on The Glass Menagerie. This was back in the ’80s in Los Angeles shortly after Williams died and just before the Paul Newman directed version was released in 1987.  Mendoza had studied with Stella Adler for ten years before turning to teaching himself, and embraced the view that it was worth it for the actor to study the playwright as well as the play. (Some acting teachers stress importance only on the written word.)

Believe it or not we only worked on the opening monologue of Tom. Three months of working on a long monologue which begins:

“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”

I didn’t know much about acting, writing—or life—back then, but I knew that both Tennessee Williams and The Glass Menagerie were special. Beyond Williams’ poetic style of writing is a primal story. A story of loss and broken dreams. It’s an emotional story full of external and internal conflict that touches on basic human relationships between mother and son,  father and son, mother and daughter, husband and wife, brother and sister—can you get any more universal? Mix in themes of love, hope, and dreams and it’s no surprise that the play still has life today.

In fact, just two months ago The Glass Menagerie once again opened on Broadway (for a limited run through February) and the reviews have been outstanding.

“This production makes clear that ‘The Glass Menagerie’ belongs on the same exclusive shelf as ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night,’ ‘Death of a Salesman’ and Williams’s own ‘Streetcar Named Desire.’ It is not a lovely little memory play; it’s a great memory tragedy.”
Wounded by Broken Memories
NY Times, September 26, 2013

Below are some links to past productions of The Glass Menagerie, including the full 1973 version starring Katharine Hepburn.  Another thing that keeps The Glass Menagerie in circulation is there is never a lack of great actors who would like their shot at playing one of the four roles.

Scott W. Smith

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One of the great things about watching films over and over again is you begin to notice little details and see patterns emerge.  Ideally the first time you watch a movie you are simply engaged in the story.  Then you go back as a screenwriter looking for clues as to what made the films work, and more importantly what will make you a better screenwriter and filmmaker. One things you’ll notice in many films—off the top of my head The Verdict, A Beautiful Mind, Erin Brockovich and Juno come to mind—is in those films the main characters (Paul Newman, Russell Crowe, Julia Roberts and Ellen Page) are in almost every scene in the movie. There’s a reason for that.

Stay with the money. The audience came because you advertised the star. Shoot the star. (NB: Howard Lindsay,* coauthor of the plays Arsenic and Old Lace, Life with Father, State of the Union, et cetera, once privately printed a small volume of stage wisdom. One of his axioms was: take the great lines from the secondary characters and give them to the lead. This works like gangbusters in film and on stage).”
David Mamet
Bambi VS. Godzilla
page 112

*Lindsay (1889-1969) along with writing partner Russel Crouse won the Pulitzer Prize for their 1946 play State of the Union, but they are better known for their work on the Tony Award-winning The Sound of Music. Lindsay’s had more than 25 films made from his work and was the co-screenwriter of the Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers movie Swing Time. That movie features the Oscar-winning song The Way You Look Tonight, which has been covered by many people including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. The song was also featured in the 1991 film Father of the Bride and sung by Steve Tyrell. Today many people are most familiar with the Rod Stewart rendition.

Related Post: Screenwriting Quote #143 (Elia Kazan)” ‘Have your central character in every scene.’ This is a way of ensuring unity to the work and keeping the focus sharp.”

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“Ultimately, it all comes down to one of the grand old rules of screenwriting: whenever possible – show, don’t tell.”
Ray Morton
Script magazine

The Verdict

An early version of The Verdict screenplay by David Mamet:
INT.  COFFEE SHOP - DAY

          Galvin sitting in the deserted coffee shop in his raincoat.
          Reading a section of the paper.  He picks up his teacup, drinks.
          Lowers it to the table.

          ANGLE - INSERT

          Galvin twists tea bag around a spoon to extract last drops of
          tea.  His hand moves to his felt pen lying on the table.  He
          moves his hand to the paper, open at the obituary section.  We
          SEE several names crossed out.  He circles one funeral listing.

          ANGLE

          Galvin sitting, raises cup of tea to his lips.  Looks around
          deserted coffee shop.  Sighs.

Now look again at the above still frame from that movie. Notice anything different? No tea cup, right? Either Mamet, or director Sidney Lumet, or  actor Paul Newman, or somebody else said, "This guy's an alcoholic—what better way of showing that than to have him knocking back a stiff one with his morning donut?" Newman's performance in that scene shows you the desperate state this man is in without a word being spoken. In fact, the whole opening minutes of the film wonderfully shows you a man in need of redemption. 
 
"IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA. IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION, INDEED, OF SPEECH. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN ANEW MEDIUM - TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING).

David Mamet

Memo to The Unit writers

“This is age-old screenwriting advice but it’s so true. SHOW don’t TELL. I can’t tell you how much more impactful it is on a reader to SEE a character take on an issue as opposed to being told of an issue. It would be like Han Solo saying ‘I’m a badass,’ instead of SHOWING him kill Greedo. This is a mistake I see a TON of beginner writers make. They have their characters offhandedly say something like ‘I took a year of karate lessons’ and then later in a key scene kick someone’s ass. It feels false because we never SAW them perform karate.”
Carson Reeves

“Remember, the first rule of film is Show Don’t Tell.” 
William C. Martell
Does Your Script Smell?

“In the eternal struggle to “show” and not “tell” in your screenplays, pictures can be your best friend. Instead of building a whole scene where your characters argue about how good things ‘used to be,’ just show your hero catch a glance of a picture on the fridge showing the family in happier times. In fact, look to use photographs in every aspect of your script to convey quick easy backstory about your characters (i.e. need to convey that one character is adventurous? Show a picture of them rock climbing.”
Carson Reeves
ScriptShadow

 

Show, Don’t Tell (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith


 



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“Being born in Dodge City, I really wanted to know where the trains were going. The first real light I saw was in a movie theater. I just wanted to know where they were making those movies.”
Dennis Hopper

“He was a Midwestern boy on his own…”
Bob Seger
Hollywood Nights

Dennis Hopper was born in Dodge City, Kansas and spent his early years on farm. When he was nine he moved to Kansas City, Missouri (where he took Saturday art classes with Thomas Hart Benton) and then on to San Diego area when he was 13, eventually being named “Most Likely to Succeed” at  Helix High School in La Mesa.

Hopper succeeded at a lot of things—unfortunately they weren’t all good for him.

His acting career started by performing Shakespeare as a teenager at The Old Globe at San Diego’s Balboa Park, and he then headed to Los Angeles when he was 18 and did some TV work before landing a role in classic James Dean films Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. On a PBS interview, Hopper would say of the actor from Marion, Indiana, “James Dean was the best actor that I ever saw work, really. He was just incredible.”

Hopper also worked with four other Midwestern actors who made their mark in Hollywood (Marlon Brando & Montgomery Cliff/Omaha, John Wayne /Iowa-Nebraska, and Paul Newman/Ohio). When Hopper died yesterday he had more than 200 credits as an actor. But he’s probably known best for just a handful or so roles on top of the James Dean films; Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, True Romance, Speed, and his Oscar-nominated role in Hoosiers. When the dust all settles he may be best remembered for directing and starring in Easy Rider for which he also received an Oscar nomination for co-writing the screenplay.

“There are moments that I`ve had some real brilliance, you know. But I think they are moments. And sometimes, in a career, moments are enough.”
Dennis Hopper

Hopper rode motorcycles with Steve McQueen, hung out with Miles Davis, Lenny Bruce and Jack Nicholson, he collected and created art, he was at the civil-rights march from Selma to Montgomery which was led by Martin Luther King Jr., along with his Hollywood career that spanned 56 years.

And while Hopper had his days in the sun, he had his years (decades?) in the darkness. His was a life of excess— alcoholism, cocaine, heroin, LSD, hallucinations, abuse, violence, multiple failed marriages, detox clinics, jail, psychiatric wards, and orgies. But somehow he managed to rebound time and time again and somehow lived to be 74. (Even in his final days as he was in the midst of a divorce, he reportedly had “marijuana joints throughout his compound’ and loaded guns nearby to help ease the pain of his cancer and perhaps provide an exit—Hopper was Shakespearean to the end.)

I’ll always prefer to remember Hopper as his role in Hoosiers as the brilliant, yet alcoholic, Shooter. The story of a town drunk and a disgraced coach who both have a shot at redemption. That’s the hope I have for everyone, especially the artists—the crazy ones who seem to have a harder time than most dealing with demons.

“I am just a middle-class farm boy from Dodge City and my grandparents were wheat farmers. I thought painting, acting, directing and photography were all part of being an artist. I have made my money that way. And I have had some fun. It’s not been a bad life.”
Dennis Hopper
USA Today

Scott W. Smith

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“I don’t know if any studio would make Butch Cassidy today.”
William Goldman

When I was a kid there was a place in Florida called Six Gun Territory that was an old west theme park near Ocala. They had a rail road, a saloon complete with can-can dancers, old-time photo studio, and most importantly they staged bank robberies and shootouts in the street. I still remember being around 9-years-old and the feel and the sound of walking on the gravel streets wearing cowboy boots.

I have many fond memories of that place and even shot my first 16mm film there. I remember ending that film paying homage to The Great Train Robbery by ending with a shot of a gunfighter shooting into the camera for no other reason than I thought it looked cool.

Every time I watch the opening scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid I think of Six Gun Territory. I don’t know if that was the first movie I ever saw set in the old west but I know it’s the one I go back to the most. It’s also the second highest rated western (after High Noon) on AFI’s top 100 films (1997) joining just a handful of other  Westerns that  made the list (Shane, Stagecoach, The Wild Bunch, Unforgiven).

Paul Newman and Robert Redford speaking screenwriter William Goldman’s words—that’s great stuff.  It took Goldman eight years to write the script which paid him a record fee up to that date of $400,000.  He also took home the Oscar for the 1970 film.

I sometimes watch favorite films with the sound off to get a different perspective. The movie holds up well without the great banter (“Think you used enough dynamite there Butch?”) With the sound off you follow the story easily and it plays as a visually stunning action film. (Though personally I could do without the trendy zoom lens shots.)

On this viewing I also realized that it perfectly matches Goldman’s “stay with the money” theory. Studios pay actors a lot of money, because audiences pay money to see stars. How many scenes do you think there are in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid that don’t include Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and/or the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford)? The grand total is…zero. In fact, there is one scene where the town’s men talk about what to do about these bank robbers, and it’s more humorous by having Butch and Sundance listening to the discussion from a hotel balcony. Stay with the money.

“The essential opening labor a screenwriter must execute is, of course, deciding what the proper structure should be for the particular screenplay you are writing. And to do that, you have to know what is absolutely crucial in the telling of your story—what is its spine? Whatever it is, you must protect it to the death…(The theme of  Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid is) times are changing, and you have to change with them—if you want to survive.”
William Goldman 

Adventures in the Screen Trade

If I recall my philosophy class correctly, it was Heraclitus who said a long, long time ago that “you can’t step in the same river twice.” I think the times are always changing and that’s a good thing to realize. It was true of the old west, and it’s true of the new west, the Midwest, Key West—wherever you live. “The times they are a-changin’.”

By the way, Six Gun Territory pre-dated Disney World but closed in 1984. The land where it sat is now a strip mall. If you want to survive….

Scott W. Smith

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Screenwriter Stewart Stern has popped up on this blog before because he was educated at the University of Iowa and he wrote the screenplay for Rebel Without a Cause. Yesterday, I discovered an interview with himStewart Stern; Out of the Soul, Interview by Margy Rochin, which is part of the UC Press E-Books Collection online.

Anytime you can read about someone who has worked Marlon Brando, James Dean, Paul Newman, Dennis Hopper and Rebel Without a Cause director Nicholas Ray, and has been nominated for two Oscars (Teresa and Rachel, Rachel), I think you might be able to learn something. I always like hearing how an idea was formed so I enjoyed the reading Stern’s description of the ground work and inspiration behind Rebel Without a Cause;

“Nick told me about all of the research that he had done: about middle-class young people. He wanted it to be specifically about them because he said that there was a big misconception that so-called juvenile delinquency was a product of economic deprivation. He felt that it was emotional deprivation…That’s when, at my request, he called his contacts at Juvenile Hall, and I went down and began researching it. I spent ten days and ten nights there, or two weeks, posing as a social worker, talking to the kids or just being there when they were processed. Then they opened up all of the psychological workups that they had done down at Juvenile Hall on the kids they brought in. Family backgrounds, records of their behavior. Whatever they had, they opened up to me. So, I was able to dig as far as it was possible to dig, in order to understand who these kids were and to create a prototype.

I couldn’t figure out what to write until I went to see On the Waterfront [1954] and got all charged up and came home and just began writing.”

Towards the end of the interview Rochin asked a question about why Stern believed Rebel Without a Cause speaks to every generation of youth.

“I think one of the things that it talked about was love, a real need for connection. And for the recognition that everything that people condemn in us as some kind of nefarious behavior—experimental behavior, dangerous behavior—is absolutely pure, sweet, incorrect reaching-out. Living on the assumption that people are trustworthy. On the assumption that, as Marlon said, we all come out of the same crucible of pain. That we are all human and that nothing stands in the way of that.”

Isn’t that the kind of guy you’d like to sit under and glean a little writing wisdom? Well, you actually can. In 2004, Stern was one of the founders of The Film School in Seattle, and also teaches through the University of Washington’s Extension Program, and does a writing workshop every summer at the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Lab.

Scott W. Smith

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