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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Gere’

“Clichés, in particular, have always baffled me. You’d think it’d be as simple as, ‘Don’t use clichés,’ but it isn’t. I’ve fallen in love with plenty of great movies that others have insisted were riddled with clichés. Many times I have to admit they’re correct, and yet I still love the movie. The ending of Die Hard has Bruce Willis limping up to the bad guy with a gun, who’s holding his wife hostage. It’s the most cliché of cliché situations. And yet I’m riveted. I am riveted by a classic cliché. This implies that there are actually plenty of instances where you want to use clichés.”
Carson Reeves
ScriptShadow Article — A Cliché Article

Warning: A couple of spoilers today since I talking about movie endings.

Writer, director, actor Charlie Chaplin once said The Gold Rush was “the picture that I want to be remembered by.” It not only has a happy ending, it has two of them. One version of the film has Chaplin as the Tramp and a saloon girl he’s fallen in love with by an old house and the other is the above ending where they kiss. Anytime the guy and girl end up together there are plenty of people crying “Cliché!”

“I’m not afraid of doing a cliché, if it’s right. We don’t wade through our existence with any sort of originality. We all live and die and eat three meals a day, and fall in and out of love, and the rest of it. So people say, that’s been done before.

“So what? In avoiding clichés I think one can become dull—it’s like Shaw. I love Shaw, but he’s afraid of the clichés. For instance, Pygmalion. Shaw in his afterward goes to a lot of trouble to explain the fact that Liza did not fall in love with the professor. It seems that Shaw has gone out of his way to avoid it, which makes the ending false. I don’t believe it. I believe the girl would finish up as his mistress. Instead, after this man has created her, she falls in love with this cluck who doesn’t mean much at all. 

“Your story begins—once upon a time—and then you can’t escape. It either finishes happily or tragically. And there you have the clichés. And if you’re going to leave it unsaid, then it isn’t perfectly written. Leaving it up in the air—that’s become very clichés now—is to have no curtain to a story. I get so bored with that.”
Charlie Chaplin Interviews edited by Kevin Hayes

The first time I remember seeing a film hammered by critics for having a clichéd ending was An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) written by Douglas Day Stewart. But I wasn’t a jaded film critic when I first saw the film, I was a 20-year-old working for a factory one summer between my sophomore and junior years of film school. I worked along side people who had spent ten, twenty, even thirty years of their lives in the factory making boat windshields in Central Florida. My boss told me if he didn’t take quaaludes he wouldn’t make it through the day. I worked with a grandmother who was only 32-years-old and an attractive young woman who first explained to me what a sugardaddy was as she told about her experiences living at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood—her expenses paid for by a married guy from Long Beach.

Work in a factory can be boring, but the people are usually interesting. I’m sure that experience shaded my perspective watching the the movie. At the end of the movie when Richard Gere struts into the factory and sweeps Debra Winger off her feet it was exhilarating. I only worked in the factory for three months but I could relate to the Winger character and more than I’d like to admit I connected to the Richard Gere character.

I was at a point in my life where the film just resonated with me in emotional ways that I couldn’t explain until many years later. When VHS players came out it was the first tape I bought. And it was also many years later that I appreciated what director Taylor Hackford pulled off on a limited budget.  I felt, to borrow filmmaker Edward Burns’ phrase about It’s a Wonderful Life, that Hackford and Stewart earned their ending.

Time has been good to An Officer and a Gentleman and actually critic Roger Ebert was an early champion of the film.

An Officer and a Gentleman is the best movie about love that I’ve seen in a long time…This is a wonderful movie precisely because it’s so willing to deal with matters of the heart. Love stories are among the rarest of movies these days (and when we finally get one, it’s likely to involve an extra-terrestrial). Maybe they’re rare because writers and filmmakers no longer believe they understand what goes on between modern men and women. An Officer and a Gentleman takes chances, takes the time to know and develop its characters, and by the time this movie’s wonderful last scene comes along, we know exactly what’s happening, and why, and it makes us very happy.”
Roger Ebert review of An Officer and a Gentleman

You can end your screenplay with a happy ending, a sad ending, an ambiguous ending, or an ironic ending—that’s all the choices you have. Take those options and do the best you can to come up with an Insanley Great Ending.

So I think my take away from all of this is partly, “There’s nothing new under the sun” mixed with the fact that good writing engages you in a story and you don’t care what techniques are being used, while bad writing or less effective storytelling makes it easier for audiences and critics to point out the flaws of the movie.  Cliché belongs on the same shelf as voice-overs and flashbacks—screenwriting books and teachers are always saying to not use them, but you don’t watch the Citizen Kane, Casablanca—or more recently Moneyball— and say “Wow, those would have been better films with out those nagging flashbacks.” Nor do you watch Sunset Boulevard, The Shawshank Redemption—or more recently Moonrise Kingdom— and say, “Those filmmakers really missed the boat using voice-overs.”

P.S. I like to believe that Zack and Paula from An Officer and a Gentleman lived happily ever after in a nice house on Whidbey Island overlooking Puget Sound. (If you know otherwise—I don’t want to know about it.)

Update 1/4/13: Found this interview where Richard Gere thought while shooting Officer that it had the “dopiest ending” and it would never work, but later when he saw the edit with the right music said he got chills on the back of his neck.

Related post:

Movie Clonning (Avoding Clichés)
Writing & Rewritng “Pretty Woman” (Part 2) “It is true that I look for the Cinderella aspect when I am making a film. Most good stories are Cinderella. Audiences like to watch characters whose lives change for the better.“—Director Garry Marshall

Scott W. Smith

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The following quotes are pulled from Garry Marshall’s book, Wake Me When It’s Funny:

“I don’t storyboard. I don’t lay out each days shots, and I don’t always follow the dozen of other so-called rules of directing. I improvise as I go along while always remembering to protect the structure of the story and script and the integrity of the characters. Every character must want something and the main character must want to the most noble thing of all. There must be constant heat and tension that puts the main character’s future in jeopardy until the end of the film. Those were the major rules that guided me on each film I directed.”
Garry Marshall

“On Frankie and Johnny, one of the first questions I asked Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino was, ‘So, fine actors tell me about your lives.’ I wanted to know their hobbies, interests, and quirks so I could put them in the film to enhance the characters. It’s much more difficult to teach actors new hobbies…Michelle Pfeiffer told me she lived to bowl, so in Frankie and Johnny, we wrote in a scene at a bowling alley.”
Garry Marshall

(Note while actors are great at acting, performing an athletic feat with skill requires muscle memory. It often takes years (or intense training for several months) to make an actor look like they know what they’re doing playing tennis, throwing a football/baseball, surfing, and the like. Not an uncommon casting error in big and low budget films and TV programs. )

“I went from being a wise old sage of television to the new kid on the block in film. One minute I was at the top of the totem pole and the next minute I wasn’t even on it. I was forty-seven years old and regardless of what anybody tells you, to start a new career at forty-seven is daunting. Moving into film was like the first day at a new school where everybody knows the rules but you. They also seemed to know each other. When you don’t know the rules, you have to do your homework. I asked all my friends for advice on directing. The designer and producer Polly Platt reminded me of William Wyler’s words: ‘The key to directing is to resist the temptation to be a swell fellow.’ Everyone wants to be liked, but the key to directing is that you don’t want everyone to like you all the time. If you want to be adored on a movie set, don’t be a director, be the caterer. Everyone loves lunch.”
Garry Marshall

P.S. Richard Gere (who Marshall directed in two films) was asked by James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio what his favorite word was and Gere replied, “Lunch.” On student films (and micro budget features) you might be the director and the caterer. One of the most practical things I learned in film school was to properly feed the crew. Especially when you aren’t paying full rates (or they are volunteering their time) BTW—True of small video shoots as well. A couple weeks ago I worked on a nine person crew for a reality program and made sure they were feed. (Actually, nine people is bigger than some micro-features.)

P.P.S. Michelle Pfeiffer lives to bowl—who knew? Marshall didn’t just toss a bowling scene in the movie, he chose to use the bowling alley as a place for a key piece of character revelation. (Warning—Michelle can cuss like a league bowler, too.)

Scott W. Smith

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“J.F. Lawton wrote something like twelve unproduced screenplays before he sold Pretty Women. This doesn’t mean that every screenwriter is destined for financial success. You just have to believe that the more you write, the greater the chances are that you can write something that will sell.”
Director Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman)

“[The movie] Ed Wood is the story of my life.”
Screenwriter J.F. Lawton (Pretty Woman)

The success of the movie Pretty Woman is an interesting case study in the world of filmmaking. The original script was written by J. F. Lawton. His journey to being a million dollar screenwriter by the time he was 30 is also worth a look.

Lawton was born in 1960 and raised in Riverside, California (about an hour directly east of L.A.) where his father (Harry Lawton) was a writer who wrote the novel Willie Boy: A Desert Manhunt, which became the movie Tell Them Willie Boy is Here starring Robert Redford.

Despite being dyslexic J.F. Lawton wrote short stories, plays and screenplays through high school before going to Cal State Long Beach to study filmmaking. There he made a couple award-winning short films. According to Wikipedia, after college he moved to a seedy section of Hollywood and landed editing jobs and wrote screenplays on spec.

I’m not exactly sure when Lawton sold his first script, but things seemed to take off from him around age 29. He wrote and directed two low-budget features starring his friend Bill Maher, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death and Pizza Man. And he used the backdrop of hookers, pimps and drug dealers around where he lived to write a script called $3,000— which was the amount a businessman paid a prostitute to be his escort for the week.

“Dressed in a tight purple leather mini-skirt, black stockings and a white imitation fur jacket, Vivian is twenty-two years old. She has been hooking for over six years. Heavy make-up gives her pretty face a dangerous and hard look.”

Page one introduction of Vivian (the Julia Roberts character) in a draft of the J.F. Lawton script that would become Pretty Woman

The script got accepted into the Sundance Institute for further development, and despite being a story that involved a drug addicted prostitute was sold to Disney. Disney in turn brought on director Garry Marshall to turn the story into a romantic comedy. Which he successfully did with several writers.

In part 2, we’ll look at the transformation that took place to turn $3,000. into Pretty Woman. But yesterday I read a version of $3,000 written by Lawton and I was amazed at how much of the story and the characters were intact. It’s not like the script was like Se7en or Chinatown in tone like I was lead to believe over the years. More realistic than fantasy. And it has a darker ending, but doesn’t end with Vivian in a pool of blood.  I actually liked the small, quiet victory at the end of $3,000. But wish-fulfillment was one of the key elements that made Pretty Woman one of the biggest box office hits in romantic comedy history.

Lawton was not happy with the changes made to his script, but its success helped bring him more attention and more money. Around this time he sold his spec script Dreadnought for a million-dollars and it became the movie Under Siege.

I had a hard time finding interviews online of Lawton, so if you have any links please pass them on.

P.S. While I was in film school in the ’80s I worked as a driver for BERC (Broadcast Equipment Rental Company) which was located in Hollywood, and I got used to seeing hookers on the streets at all hours of the day and night (even at 6 :30 AM ) when I made my deliveries. BTW—None of them looked like Julia Roberts. During the 20th anniversary of Pretty Woman some people said that they should do a sequel. Really? What do you think the odds are that Gere and Roberts lived happily ever after? Pretty slim, I’d say. I have an idea, why don’t we let Lawton get his revenge by letting him write and direct the sequel?

P.P.S. Last week it was announced that a remake of the Garry Marshall directed film The Flamingo Kid (1984) was in the works, so how far can we be from a reboot of Pretty Woman? (I’m sure a Diablo Cody version of Pretty Women would be fun.) But heck, I’d really pay to see David Fincher’s version of the original $3,000. script.

Scott W. Smith

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“Stop me if this seems familiar: There’s a new cop comedy coming out that pairs a loose-cannon SNL veteran with a growling, resentful partner in a semi-sendup of the 80’s buddy comedy genre. “
Kyle Buchanan
The Other Guys Trailer: Cop Out with Jokes

I didn’t see Cop Out last year, but I’ve read that it was a similar buddy cop spoof as The Other Guys. So I don’t know if it would qualify as a movie clone, but Cop Out director Kevin Smith on his blog Silent Bob Speaks fills in the blanks about the Hollywood process:

“Ideas cost NOTHING & require ZERO risk. And yet, oddly, the LEAST amount of time’s usually spent in the idea stage before a small fortune is dumped on a whimsy that’s still half-baked.

Case in point: Cop Out.

When I was brought in, there was talk of spending $70mil on a Will Ferrell/MarkyMark version of A COUPLE OF DICKS (the pre-COP title). Then WB didn’t wanna pay the actors’ full quotes, so off go they go to do the over-$70mil+ OTHER GUYS. WB then made WAY less expensive deals with Bruce & Tracy, I cut my salary by over 80%, and we were off to the races with what became a $32mil flick (which is why, hate on it all you must, but – as per two high-level studio sources & one of our producers – Cop Out turned a profit already; it did what it was designed to do). All of that came from Jeff Robinov’s idea stage. The idea that the movie could go on without Will & Mark resulted in Cop Out. And while some may harp about whether the flick was their cup of tea or not, the people who paid to have it made were content we all hadn’t wasted money.”

So now you have the inside scoop to why Ben Joseph (and his readers) in his article Attack of the Clones: Suspiciously Similar Movie Showdown find common DNA in the following films:

The Truman Show/EdTV (1998/1999)
Mission to Mars/Red Planet (2000)
The Cave/The Decent (2005)
Garden State/Elizabethtown (2005/2006)
The Illusionist/The Prestige (2006)
Juno/Knocked Up (2007)
The Arrival/Independence Day (1996)
Jurassic Park/Carnosaur (1993)

And way back in 1994/95 audiences could choose Mel Gibson (Braveheart), Richard Gere & Sean Connery (First Knight), and/or Liam Neeson & Jessica Lange (Rob Roy) for their medieval movie feast. And the lists could go on and on.  These things go in cycles.
In Vanity Fair (December 2010) Jim Windolf had an article titled “Is The King’s Speech Really Just The Karate Kid in Royal Vestments?” You’d have to read the whole article to see why he thinks that, but here’s the shorthand list:
1. A circumstance beyond the hero’s control compels him to learn a new skill or fail utterly.
2. The hero is humiliated in the presence of his future teacher.
3. The teacher’s unorthodox methods humble the student and even cause him to quit, albeit temporarily.
4. The teacher may be a quack.
5. The teacher is an outsider, with low social status in his new land.
6. The unorthodox, uncredentialed teacher is contrasted with a cruel—but more respected—educator.
7. In the teacher’s backstory lies patriotic wartime service.
8. The teacher helps fill a void left by the student’s absent father.
9. The teacher prepares the student for a grand stage, where he must display everything he has learned or suffer public defeat.
10. The teacher looks on with pride at the moment of his student’s final triumph.

I don’t remember how old I was when I actually realized that the Chevy Camero and the Pontiac TransAM were basically the same car, but I remembered it confused the heck out of me. Now that I’m all grown up I realize that some people want a Toyota and some people want a Lexus. Hollywood confuses me a little less these days as well. And even the creative process confuses me a little less. I realize that painters, cameramen, editors, actors and the rest of the freaky people who’ve joined the creative circus are drawing on a mix of creative influences to create something new that will help put food on the table.
And the stew isn’t always fresh and original, but every once in a while the right combination falls into place and it’s a large feast.
I think it was writer/director Frank Darabont who said Hollywood is like a shipwreck, and that every once and a while a survivor makes it to shore. You don’t get to make The Shawshank Redemption—quality films every year.  Actually, with even the giants two or three memorable films is a good career.
So don’t get caught up in all this talk about cloning. Like in the 1996 Harold Ramis film Multiplicity some of the clones of Michael Keaton were helpful and some were a little odd.  Tomorrow we’ll look at what Joseph Campbell has to say on the topic of monomyth and why there is really only one story. But for today we’ll let Kevin Smith have the last word of encouragement,“Ideas cost nothing yet have the potential to yield inexplicably long careers & happy lives. So go ahead: dream a l’il dream.”

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“David took a stone from the bag and slung it… knocking the Philistine to the ground.”
Scene from the movie Hoosiers

Today the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) men’s basketball team from here in Cedar Falls, Iowa plays the #1 team in the country, Kansas. For many it’s just another game as part of March Madness. But if UNI wins today it would be the biggest win in the school’s history. Of course, the term David & Goliath is being thrown around.

The epic Biblical story of David & Goliath is mentioned just about every time there’s a battle between the little guy and the big guy. It could be a sporting event, a corporate clash, a movie, or any number of references that pit the little guy against the big guy. The term David & Goliath is mentioned so much that like “Catch-22″ many don’t even know the original reference.

We could go to the movies to get caught-up on our history. Did you know Orson Wells played David in the 1961 movie David & Goliath? Richard Gere played David in the 1985 movie King David. I’m not sure just how many movies feature David and Goliath but there are a few, including at least one musical.

And though this is a blog about screenwriting I think it’s worth a look at the original context of David & Goliath. After all “Screenwriting from Iowa” is all about the little guy. To any new reader; Iowa is just a metaphor for coming from a place far from Hollywood. But time and time again over the last two years I’ve shown that writers really do come from all kinds of unusual places.

What we mostly remember about the original biblical story is simply that David as a youngster slew a giant. We actually don’t know exactly how old David was or how tall Goliath was, but it’s enough to say that it was a mismatch. David was young and the giant was tall. On the day of the famous battle the only reason David was there was to take food to his older brothers who were in the fight. But when David sees and hears the trash talking Philistine warrior he decides to take him on.

Goliath is not impressed when David grabs five smooth stones and a slingshot, “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks? Come to me and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the fields.” (Nice dialogue.) Game on.

David says he comes in the name of the Lord and then plants a stone in Goliath’s forehead. Goliath falls on his face and David uses Goliath’s own sword to finish the job and cuts off the giant’s head. Game over. And David, who was just the food delivery guy a few minutes prior, is on his way to becoming the King of Israel.

No doubt a great story and it’s no surprise we’re still talking about it centuries later.

But let’s not over look a couple things. Yes, David came in the name of the Lord so maybe he wasn’t quite the underdog that we think. But there is one more detail about David that is always overlooked—He was prepared.

Prepared like a teenage Olympian who has trained a lifetime to win a gold metal. Prepared like screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher who wrote thousands of (unproduced) pages over a couple decades before he won an Oscar (adapted screenplay, Precious).

While David was off tending the sheep in some far away place that is the equivalent of Iowa in Israel, he had killed “both lion and bear.” We’re not talking about a video game. How many people do you know that have killed a lion and a bear? I imagine David passed 10,000 hours practicing sling shot techniques. He stepped into the situation with Goliath with confidence because he was prepared.

Bringing this home to screenwriting is this quote I’ve mentioned before;

“When it comes to screenwriting, it’s the writing. You don’t hear people who want to play professional tennis ask to be introduced to the head of Wimbledon. No, they’re out there hitting a thousand forehands and a thousand backhands.”
Screenwriter Scott Frank

Lastly, I’m not saying UNI will win today. But I am saying they could win today because they having been preparing for this for a long time. And just because I like odd facts, let me add that writer Robert Waller (The Bridges of Madison Country) played basketball at the University of Northern Iowa.

Update: This is why they call it March Madness…This afternoon UNI defeated the top-seeded team (Kansas) 69-67. Some have called it one of the biggest upsets in March Madness history. (It is the first time in the school’s history when they have beaten a top ranked team.) At Yahoo sports they even called Ali Farokhmanesh’s bold three-point shot toward the end of the game, “The shot that felled Goliath.”

Related post: Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)

First Screenplay, Oscar— Percious


Scott W. Smith

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