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Posts Tagged ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’

“It’s all those movies from my youth that made me want to get into this—all the popcorn movies.  The Die Hards, Empire, the Star Wars films. Those are the films that made me want to be a filmmaker. Recalling those—the excitiment of  being a 10-year-old kid in a theater again, writing for that kid is a big part of doing those kinds of films.”
Writer/director Stuart Beattie

A couple of years ago I worked on a small video project with Deion Sanders who was not just one of those rare athletes who could play both professional football and professional baseball, but he’s the only athlete in the history of civilization who has played in both a World Series and in a Super Bowl.  That is he played two completely different sports at the highest level possible. If anyone earned his nickname it was Prime Time.

A few days ago in my post Simple Stories/Complex Characters (Tip #95) I quoted screenwriter Stuart Beattie saying, “I’m a big fan of simple stories, complex characters. I love when stories get from here to here. I know then I’ll have room for great character stuff to go on.” But in yesterday’s post I wrote how he was one of the credited screenwriters on one of the most successful blockbuster franchises in Hollywood history—Pirates of the Caribbean. The lesson, of course, is that it’s really not an either/or question. The film world is big enough for Blanche DuBois and James Bond.

Human beings have an amazing ability to enjoy contrasting things. Off the top of my head I recall being one of about 100,000 people once at a Bruce Springsteen rock concert at the Los Angeles Coliseum, but also going to a small theater with a couple hundred people to hear a concert with classical guitarist Christopher Parkening. Granted, both concerts had guitars on stage, but they were two totally different experiences. And both enjoyable as I watched talented performers at the top of their fields.

Movies are no different. This year I went to see the intimate character driven Polish film Ida three times in the theater. But that doesn’t mean that the blockbusters Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark aren’t some of my favorite all-time movie going experiences.

Stuart Beattie explains the differences between writing a character driven story and a Hollywood blockbuster.

“The big blockbusters—you have to have a certain amount of spectacle, that’s why they’re blockbusters. You have to have that eye candy that people come back to see again, again and again.  So that usually means more complicated plots and just more stuff going on. Car chases, explosions, exciting moments—all that kind stuff. The plot stuff expands and the character stuff shrinks. You don’t have a lot of time to set up characters, you’ve got to get the plot rolling, things like that. Something like Collateral takes its time. In blockbusters you’re hitting [the audience] in their seats, you’ve got to provide those thrills, have them jumping all around. It’s a ride. It’s the difference between a roller coaster ride and a ride in a horse carriage around the park. It’s a different beast completely. Just as fun, just as many challenges [to write], but a completely different beast.”
Stuart Beattie
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters 
interview with Mike De Luca

Joss Whedon wrote and directed the blockbuster The Avengers and then turned around and wrote the script and directed Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Jon Favreau directed the blockbuster Iron Man and this year has a hit with the character driven Chef, which is closer in scope to the first indie film he wrote (Swingers). Swingers in turn was directed by Doug Liman who went on to direct The Bourne Identity.  All great examples of writers and directors at the highest level who’ve made character driven stories and blockbusters—and done it at the highest level.

But if there’s a Deion Sanders of filmmaking my vote goes to director Steven Spielberg who made Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List back to back—and that was just a couple of years after he directed The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun back to back. Spielberg is Prime Time+Oscar TimeX3.

P.S. A good example of a complex story and simple characters is Edge of Tomorrow. Maybe a little too complex. As I walked out of the theater it was interesting listening to various audience members trying to explain the film to each other (especially the ending). While the $178 million film is doing fine globally ($341 million) one of the reasons I think it was a disappointment in the States is the story—despite solid reviews and being full of spectacle (and exposition)was a little too complex to get good world of mouth advertising.

But you’ve got to give Hollywood credit for producing such an ambitious none-sequel project.

Scott W. Smith

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“I think 10 bucks to escape to a different world is worth the 10 bucks.
Stuart Beattie

“No survivors? Then where do the stories come from, I wonder?”
Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp)

Though I was a lover of the Walt Disney World ride Pirates of the Caribbean since my childhood, when I originally heard they were making a movie based on the ride my first thought was, “Well, that’s not going to be any good.”  Pirates of the Caribbean, Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) ended up being nominated for five Oscars, earned over $650 million worldwide, and made the IMDB Top 250 listed tied with The Graduate, The Hustler, A Fistful of Dollars, Rope and Jurassic Park.

Empire Magazine’s list of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters named pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) as #8—just behind The Dude (Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). To date, the Pirates franchise of four films has a box office gross of  just over $3.7 billion. And as the word billion resonates in your head, you may be surprised to learn that the seeds of that franchise came from college students in Corvallis, Oregon. 

“Basically I was at Oregon State and I was hanging out with a friend and we were like, ‘Let’s write a movie.’ He’d never written a screenplay, but he liked that I was writing. I was like, ‘let’s do that–what’s a movie that hasn’t been done in a while?’ And we were thinking and thinking and suddenly we both said, ‘pirates.’ That hadn’t been done since Errol Flynn. And I end up writing this thing called Quest of the Caribbean, because I couldn’t use the actual Pirates of the Caribbean. But it had all the scenes from the [Disney] rides. The tongue in cheek Raiders of the Lost Ark version of pirates. And we sent that around town—got a lot of meetings, a lot of people interested, but it never ended up getting bought. And then years later I sold Collateral—this was in the period before it got made—and I submitted it again to Disney and  said, ‘Come on, you gotta do this.” And they said, “no, no, no—we’re actually working on our own now.” And so they had hired an in-house writer and he was doing a draft, but they wanted me to work on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. So I was working on that and they were like, ‘We not happy with this draft [of Pirates] would you like a go of it?’ And I was like, ‘Well, I’ve been asking for 10 fucking years, yes please!’ So I went in—pitched and got the job. I did two drafts basically. The draft that got it going and got a draft to [Jerry] Bruckheimer and Johnny [Depp], and then [screenwriters] Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio came on.”
Screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Story credit on Pirates of the Caribbean, Curse of the Black Pearl, and character credit on the other Pirate films)
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Mike De Luca

Screenwriting from Oregon

Related post: Movie Cloning (Pirates) Ted Elliott talks about the movie The Prisoner of Zenda  (1937) as an inspiration.

Scott W. Smith

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“We didn’t intend to have sequels. The first [movie] is a story in and of itself, a sort of capital ‘r’ romance in The Prisoner of Zenda* sense that ends in an idealized love between Elizabeth and Will.”
Screenwriter Ted Elliot, co-writer on the first Pirates of Caribbean movie

Having grown up in Orlando and spending a chunk of my youth on the Disney World ride Pirates of the Caribbean I was not thrilled when I first heard that there was going to be a movie based on the ride. Just the whole concept seemed a step down from movies that became rides. Casting Johnny Depp at that time made it a little more interesting to think about the possibilities.

Depp’s three films before Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) were From Hell, Blow, and Chocolat. (Mix that around and it’s a pretty decent title: “Chocolat & Blow from Hell.”) Depp was also the actor who was in the off-beat roles Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands. He just wasn’t the kind of actor who you thought would pop up in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.

A few Pirate film sequels & a gazillon box-office dollars later it was a fine move by several people. (Of course, I love the story kicking around that Disney executives didn’t care for Depp’s pirate interpretation when they saw the first dailies.)

“I think it was Michael Eisner, the head of Disney at the time, who was quoted as saying, ‘he’s ruining the movie.’”
Johnny Depp
BBC

Now, Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow has become one of the most memorable characters in modern blockbuster cinema.

The first Pirates of the Caribbean first script (which created the franchise that still has legs) was written by Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, from a story that Stuart Beatie and Jay Wolpert. What DNA did they tap into for creating Johnny Depp’s iconic character?

“We wrote a very specific character and Johnny played that character but his performance was one neither of us could have imagined. We wanted to create this trickster. If you go all the way back to [Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel] Treasure Island, we kind of borrowed the moral ambiguity of that story. The whole thing comes down to [young boy] Jim Hawkins making the call as to whether [pirate] Long John Silver is a good man or a bad man—that’s the emotional crux of that story. Silver does kill people—he betrays everybody—and this moral ambiguity is inherent in the pirate/swashbuckler genre. To that regard, the trickster archetype seemed appropriate. That’s what we wanted to do with Jack Sparrow. Whether Johnny identified that consciously, he definitely found a perfect performance.”
Ted Elliot
Interview with Scott Holleran

I’ve also read on the DVD commentary that Elliot and/or Rossio say there was originally a little Bugs Bunny and Groucho Marx influence in the concept stages of Jack Sparrow. Of course, Depp himself said his inspiration behind Captain Jack Sparrow was Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.

* The Prisoner of Zenda is an adventure novel written by Anthony Hope and published in 1894.  It has been made into a film several times: 1913, 1915, 1922, 1937, 1952, & 1979 as well as a couple TV movies, a play, and an operetta. The 1937 movie, produced by David O. Selznick, has been called by Halliwell’s Film Guide as, “One of the most entertaining films to come out of Hollywood.” The bulk of the script appears to have been written by John L. Balderston (with five others writers said to play a part).  So before they spent a lot of money, they new they had the bones of a story that worked. Toss in a very popular theme park ride, a the classic novel Treasure Island —that’s movie cloning.

Scott W. Smith

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eldoniowajan092

Yeah, it’s kinda cold throughout the Midwest these days.  According to the weather channel’s website as I type this it’s -13 and feels like -35 here in Iowa. Is that legal? 

The cold weather is one of the reasons that half the people in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin drink so much and why the other half are screenwriters. Visit the various posts I’ve written on those states and you’ll know I’m only half kidding.

Yesterday I was shooting video all day in Tom Arnold’s old stomping grounds of Ottumwa, Iowa. Even shot some footage at his old school, Indian Hills Community College, and was told he was kicked out of the dorms there for rowdy behavior. (If you ever find yourself in Ottumwa make sure to eat a loose meat sandwich at the Canteen Lunch in the Alley which was the inspiration for The Lunchbox in the Roseanne Barr sitcom Roseanne.)

The last shot of the day was a short shot (a very short shot because it was zero outside) in Eldon, Iowa where the house sits that was the inspiration for the house in Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic.

But nothing quite warms my bones like the news of Nick Schenk’s Gran Torino script (that he wrote in Minneapolis) being the number one movie at the box office this week. 

But when I think of cold weather now I think of Canada, and of course they have there fair share of creatives up there so I found  a screenwriting quote that I dedicate to the them. It’s from the excellent Wordplayer website by writers Terry Russio and  Ted Ellott (whose writing credits include Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl).

“If there are two writers, one living in Toronto obsessively focused on quality and craft, and another in Hollywood, looking to make contacts — my money’s on the out of town writer all the way.”
                                                           Terry Rossio
                                                            I Love LA
                                                            Wordplayer Screenwriting Column 33

american_gothic

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“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

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