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Posts Tagged ‘Sandra Bullock’

“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad—Read!”
William FaulknerOxford

Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winning writer William Faulkner moved to Oxford, Mississippi when he was three and after a long life in literature, and a short career as a screenwriter in Hollywood, Faulkner died at age 64 and is buried in Oxford.

I had been to Oxford before, but never on a college football Saturday, so I’d never seen The Grove in all its glory. The Grove has been called “the Holy Grail of tailgating sites” on the campus of the University of Mississippi. One saying at Ole Miss is, “We may not win every game, but we never lose a party.” They, in fact, didn’t win the game against Texas A & M which was decided by a field goal as time ran out. But before the game I got to witness what sets The Grove apart from other pregame atmospheres. The China ware, the chandeliers, and some of the students wearing jackets and ties.

As people made their way into the stadium I headed over to The Square in Oxford where they have a statue of Faulkner. I stopped in Square Books where I took the above photo that is a parade photos of writers and their work. It seemed to me to a fitting postcard that represents Oxford at its best.

A darker chapter of Oxford can be found in the lyrics of the Bob Dylan song, Oxford Town surrounding the events that happened in 1962 when James Meredith, a black man,  enrolled at the University of Mississippi. But Oxford today is more than Faulkner and race relationships and is home to many artist and writers.  Author John Grisham went to law school at the University of Mississippi and he lived in Oxford for a decade before moving to Virginia. So if you’ve ever enjoyed one of Grisham’s books or movies from his books, you can thank Ole Miss and Oxford for shaping his legal and literary mind.

Over the years several movies have been made in Oxford including several based on Faulkner’s novels.

One more recent connection to Oxford and Hollywood was the movie The Blind Side (2009) for which Sandra Bullock won an Oscar.  That movie centers around the true story of Michael Oher and his transformation from a young homeless teenager to an NFL football player.  He attended Ole Miss. In the movie they handle his steep educational learning curve in a kind of Rocky running up the steps montage. But in the book of the same name by Michael Lewis (which was the basis of the movie) you get a deeper grasp of what it took for Oher to raise his .09 GPA in high school to be eligible for college.  His story is an amazing one, but I think his graduating with a degree in criminal justice in 2009 was an even greater feat than playing football in the NFL.

Scott W. Smith

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“A hero who has no faults probably doesn’t have much of a personality.”
Dale Launer
Therese Walsh Interview

Before screenwriter Dale Launer hit it big with his first produced screenplay Ruthless People (1986) he wrote “about 1o screenplays of dubious quality” while paying the bills at a variety of jobs that included selling stereos, refinishing furniture, and fixing up old Porches and selling them.

After Ruthless People he had the unusual opportunity to meet with Mick Jagger and discuss the possibility of writing a script for Jagger and David Bowie.

“I had an idea that I thought would be a good vehicle for Jagger and Bowie. I remembered an old movie from the early ’60s with David Niven and Marlon Brando playing con men competing with each other. So I called her (Gail Davis at Bowie’s production company) back and told her the story: David Niven is a gigolo-con artist who works the French Riviera pretending to be a deposed prince trying to raise money for an anti-Communist freedom fighters. Rich, middle-aged American women are eager to support his cause and take him to bed.

On a train, Niven runs into Marlon Brando, an arrogant nickel-and-dimer who’s hitting on women for lunch and a few francs with a sob story about his sick grandmother. Brando begs the master con for lessons, but soon thinks he’s surpassed his teacher and starts to work Niven’s territory. To get rid of Brando, Niven agrees to a bet. They’ll find a rich woman, and the first man to extract $50,000 from her is the winner; the loser must leave town.”
Screenwriter Dale Launer
Premiere January 1989

That movie was Bedtime Stories and released in 1964. Jagger and Bowie never made the remake. But Launer got the rights and wrote the script that was an Eddie Murphy vehicle  for a while before becoming a hit movie featuring Steve Martin and Michael Caine.

Launer followed the success of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with the hit My Cousin Vinny, for which Marisa Tomei won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. And I believe Love Potion No. 9 (1992), which Launer wrote and directed, was Sandra Bullock’s first starring role in a feature. A few years ago he sold the spec script Bad Dog to DreamWorks for $3 million, but it has not been produced.

Original credited writers of Bedtime Stories were Paul Henning (1911-2005) who worked as a producer of hundreds of TV shows including Green Acres, The Beverely Hillbillies, and Petticoat Junction, along with Stanley Shapiro who won an Oscar for the 1959 Doris Day/Rock Hudson film Pillow Talk.

And in case you wondered if a remake of the remake is due since it’s been more than 20 years since the release of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels—a couple years ago there was talk of a female version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels being in the works. (And a musical version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels had a 626 performance run on Broadway a couple of years ago.)

Lauder has a website (www.dalelauner.com) with various articles about writing and digital filmmaking. 

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a fun film and is a nice bookend to The Sting for you to view if you’re writing a script about con-men or con-women. Here’s the trailer from the film which Roger Ebert reviewed as,  “Caine goes the high road, with visual and verbal humor. Martin does more pratfalls than in any of his movies since “The Jerk,” and he has one absolutely inspired scene in a jail cell.”

Scott W. Smith

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Last week I was asked this question:

“I’m trying to write more with ‘looks,’ more action, and less dialogue. I find very little advice for how to write these looks into the narrative without ‘directing’ the scene. Also, screenwriting books frequently state that narrative sections rarely get read by readers early in the process. That they typically read through just the dialogue. Have you read/heard this too? Curious if you have any thoughts. Thanks!” —Cindy

The short answer is you want to tell a great story. That is what everyone is looking for. A story that people are willing to invest money, talent and two or three years of their life trying to get it made. You want to write something that frightens the horses. By some accounts 99 out of 100 scripts fail to stir the imagination.

To paraphrase that great line from Walk the Line, “If you only had one story to tell before you died, what story would you tell?”

Now Cindy’s question is about the nuts and bolts of what the script looks like and I have written a lot on that and will supply some links below. The main one is Screenwriting by Numbers. I’m not saying it’s the law, but it is what the majority of good scripts that made good movies look like. The scripts are tight with a lot of white.  Brief description, little dialogue and a lot of white on the page.  Sure there are exceptions to the rules, but I said majority—not all.

Perhaps the reason for that is movies tend to flow quickly from one scene to the next and screenwriters are trying to get reader to imagine the movie. If writers wanted write a pure literary experience then a short story or a novel would be a better choice. But speaking of the reader, let me pass on a quote that I think is an important aspect of screenwriting that is often overlooked.  It comes from screenwriter Pete Chiarelli who wrote The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock. Chiarelli spent ten years being a development creative executive before he turned screenwriter so he has a unique qualifications to tell you who your first audience really is from a studio perspective.

“I definitely have a thing from being an executive and reading so many scripts that I’m always afraid of kind of boring the reader. When you’re writing these screenplays for the studio system…the people reading it are overworked, they’re coming home with ten scripts in their bag—and it’s not so much the first ten pages, it’s about when they’re reading the script they have to put it down, go have a sip of coffee, come back, play Donkey Kong, come back…Or are they going to be sitting there flipping pages? I just think of me on a Sunday night—like those rare scripts where you just sit there and go wap!, wap!, wap! (sound of quick page turning)— that’s the sound that I want. So constantly keeping the story moving and keeping the pace up is something I that I always have in the back of my head. And there’s things that I learned in screenwriting class—things like ‘never write anything that’s never going to be on the screen,’ that it’s a cheat,  which I get, but the thing is your audience at the beginning is a studio executive—they don’t care about that. So if you have to be a little more obvious in your scene description that will help point them along that’s something you should do. Write for your audience, and your audience is a 24-year-old overworked creative executive.”
Pete Chiarelli
Interview with Jeff Goldsmith
Creative Screenwriting Podcast (Friday June 19, 2009)

Descriptive Writing—Part 1 (tip #22)
Descriptive Writing—Part 2 (tip #23)
Descriptive Writing—Part 3 (tip #24)
Descriptive Writing—Part 4 (tip #25)
Descriptive Writing—Part 5 (tip #26)


Scott W. Smith

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Photograph by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

“My bracket has Kansas winning the whole thing. Kansas is that big, fast, strong, deep, good, great, unbeatable.”
Gregg Dovel, CBSSports.com

President Obama was wrong. But he was not alone in picking the Kansas Jayhawks to win the NCAA National Championship in men’s basketball this year. In case you don’t follow such things, Kansas lost yesterday to that little known team from right here in Cedar Falls, Iowa—The University of Northern Iowa (UNI).

One sports writer said the upset victory, “could go down as the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history.” Of course, that’s debatable. What is less debateable is this is the biggest victory in UNI’s history. This was the first time they have ever beaten a top ranked team. To do it in the NCAA Tournament before a national TV audience is all the sweeter.

The above photo of UNI player Ali Farokhmanesh celebrating says it all. It’s one frame that if it were the end of a movie the critics would be rolling their eyes calling it cliché. But movie audiences enjoy a good underdog story time after time. Why do we love underdog stories?

What is it about an underdog story that makes us feel so good? Perhaps it’s as simple as we all feel like underdogs. We can relate. Heck, I have a blog called Screenwriting from Iowa which might as well be called Screenwriting for Underdogs. But then again that would be redundant, wouldn’t it? (Tell me Joe “I’ve been in fights most of my life” Eszterhas hasn’t felt like an underdog his entire career?)

So screw the critics and keep writing underdog stories because the truth is cinematic history is full of great stories of underdog characters and underdog stories. From Rocky, Indiana Jones, and Norma Rae Webster to Hans Solo, Oskar Schindler, and Erin Brockovich they’re all underdogs that are greatly admired.

More recently, The Blind Side (based on the life of Michael Orr) found an audience to the tune of $250 million so far and landed Sandra Bullock her first Oscar. People still want to see Michael Orr stories. And, of course, an underdog doesn’t have to be an athlete.

Both James Cameron’s Avatar and Titanic are the #1 & #2 box office champs—and both underdog stories.

What are some of your favorite underdog characters or stories?

P.S. The University of Northern Iowa is where Kurt Warner played college football before he became one of the greatest underdog stories in contemporary sports history. I should also give a shout out to the University of Iowa’s wrestling team who last night won the 2010 NCAA Division 1 wrestling championship. No underdogs there—it’s the third straight year they’ve won the championship and 23rd in school history.

Related post: Orphan Characters (Tip #31)

Scott W. Smith

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Screenwriter/director John Lee Hancock earned an English degree at Baylor University and a law degree from Baylor Law School, both in Waco, Texas. His first credited film was in 1991 with a film called Hard Time Romance. In 1993 he wrote the script for A Perfect World which starred Kevin Costner and was directed by Clint Eastwood. He considers Eastwood his mentor and went on to write the script for the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil which Eastwood also directed. Among other films Hancock worked on include The Rookie which he directed and My Dog Skip which he was a producer.

But almost 20 years after his first film credit he had his biggest success critically and at the box office with the 2009 film The Blind Side which he both wrote and directed. The movie which he wrote and directed is up for best picture and Sandra Bullock is highly favored to win her first Oscar as best actress for her role as the feisty Leigh Anne Tuohy.

The film which takes place in Memphis is what I would qualify as a regional film. Based on the book The Blind Side; Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis based on the true story of Michael Oher, who made the journey from an under educated homeless youth to playing football in the NFL with the help and guidance from a family in Memphis. If the story wasn’t based on a true story I think I might have walked out of the theater because the story is so unbelievable. Truth is stranger than fiction. And after seeing interviews of the real Tuohy family, I think the real story is even better than the movie as they really talk about how hard the work really was bringing Oher to the point where he could just graduate from high school and be prepared to attend college at Ole Miss.

“I didn’t see it as a sports movie at all, any more than you’d call ‘Jerry Maguire’ a sports film. It was two equally involving stories, one about Michael and the Tuohys, the other about the left tackle position, but they both turned around the same question — how did the stars align so brightly around this one kid from the projects?”
John Lee Hancock
The Blind Side, written by Patrick Goldstein, LA Times

Note: The Blind Side had a $29 million budget and to date has made $250 million domestic. Julie Roberts reportedly turned down the role for which Sandra Bullock received her Oscar nomination. Hancock is at least the third law school grad turned screenwriter that I’ve written about; Sheldon Turner (who is nominated for an Oscar for his part in writing Up in the Air) and John Grisham (though primarily a novelist whose books have been made into many fine movies, but he did write the screenplay for the 2004 Mickey). And from the odd connection category, Grisham graduated from Ole Miss law school, part of the University of Mississippi in Oxford where Michael Oher (the real Blind Side guy) played football.

Scott W. Smith

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“I was sort of stuck in a quandary when I left college because I thought I was going to end up a writer. I found that my work wasn’t as great as I thought it was. So I ended up doing what people from West Philly end up doing–hustling.”
Lee Daniels
Blackfilm.com

Producer/Director Lee Daniels spent two-years at Lindenwood University in the St. Louis area before setting his sights on Hollywood. He ended up working as a nurse, then started a successful company in the nursing industry, all before transitioning to a casting director and manager. Eventually he broke into producing in 2001 with Monster’s Ball, which earned Halle Berry an Academy Award in her leading role.

Most recently he produced and directed Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. At the 2009 Sundance Film Festival it won the Audience Award, Grand Jury Prize and a Special Jury Prize for actress Mo’Nique. It’s won or been nominated at many other festivals and award groups and is sure to get some Academy Award nods.

Somehow Daniels cast an inexperienced actress in the lead role, convinced Mariah Carey to not wear make-up and Lenny Kravitz to wear scrubs. He made a film that is a harsh look at the realities of life in Harlem back in the 80s. Though Harlem today is going through gentrification, is there any doubt issues that Daniels’ film addresses is still a part of the fabric of this country in certain areas?

The film is having an excellent run in the theaters, one that matches the awards it’s won and been nominated for. Though it doesn’t sound like the five weeks of production were conflict free. According to an IMDB post, “Over the course of the shoot the production lost an editor, a cinematographer, three continuity people, three locations managers, two producers, two assistant directors, two sound people, two video playback people, and two caterers.”

Daniels believes that’s part of doing business.

“It’s not a movie if it’s not a horror on the set. If your dealing with talent…that are passionate…they are going to be opinionated. And there are bound to be differences. And that’s when magic happens.”
Precious director Lee Daniels
Independent Film interview with Corey Boutilier

1/18/09 Update: Precious actress,Mo’Nique, won the Golden Globe award for best supporting actress, and The Blind Side actress Sandra Bullock won for best actress. What is interesting there is both Precious and The Blind Side both address a similar theme. Though the films are worlds away in style and content. The Blind Side is based on a true story and takes place in Memphis, where a conservative Christian family takes in a young, homeless, male  African-American high school student with an elementary school reading level, and prepares him for college and for life. The film is motivational and inspirational in tone.

Precious takes place in Harlem, but as a film has elements of the raw aspects of the Memphis-based film Hustle & Flow. Precious plays more like a documentary on the harsh realities of life in the inner-city. Precious is aboutan illiterate teenage African-American  girl who has a child and is pregnant again. She lives with her abusive mother (played by Mo’Nique), who also abuses the welfare system. Precious’ abusive father is long gone. An alternative school teacher and social worker help show her the way, though most wouldn’t bet on Precious going far.

Mo’Nique & Bullock both gave outstanding performances and are deserving of their awards. But both The Blind Side and Precious ultimately ask many disturbing questions about our culture and where we are heading.

Scott W. Smith

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Earlier this week I watched the movie Speed that I hadn’t seen in quite a few years—maybe a decade. Hard to believe that movie came out more than 15 years ago. It holds up well.

Speaking of holding up well, how about Sandra Bullock? (The 45-year-old actress was named by the Quigley Publishing Company list as the top box office star of 2009.)  Before her soon-to-be greatly nominated roll in The Blind Side (which has already made $200. million at the box office), her breakout role was in the blockbuster hit movie Speed.

I thought I’d track down a quote from Graham Yost,  the screenwriter of Speed. Yost is from Ontario, Canada where his now retired dad was a TV host in Canada on several programs including Saturday Night at the Movies.  It was the elder Yost, who told his son about an Akira Kurosawa screenplay The Runaway Train* that provided the seed of inspiration for Speed. (Are you allowed to use seed and speed in the same sentence?)

“When I moved to New York at the age of 22, my plan of action was to write anything that anyone would pay me to write. I wrote jacket-flap copy for Doubleday, I got a job with The Encyclopedia Britannica, I wrote everything. But I always wanted to write for movies and television. After four, five years in New York, I moved to LA and started developing story ideas on a Nickelodeon show called Hey Dude. After that show finished, I had some extra time and wrote Speed.”
Graham Yost
Creative Screenwriting 3/22/04
Edited by David Konow

Yost went on to be nominated for an Emmy as one of the writers of Band of Brothers and won a Primetime Emmy as one of the producers of From the Earth to the Moon. Currently he is the creator and executive producer on the TV series Justified that will première on FX in March 2010. (Justified is based on the Elmore Leonard novella Fire in the Hole.)

*The 1985 American film Runaway Train was based on Kurosawa’s script.

Scott W. Smith

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