“It always comes down to the script. Write a great one, you can be a zillion years old living in Antarctica and Hollywood will want you.”
Go Into the Story
Today marks the fifth anniversary of the blog Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places, and I’d like to thank you for reading this blog. My original goals were modest; give it a year and see what happens. I kept writing and people kept reading. And the results are today’s post is number 1,447. It’s definitely a “bird by bird” thing— to borrow Anne Lamott’s phrase (that she borrowed from her father).
And a special thanks to those readers who were there from the start in 2008. Back when it was common for me to write those 1,500-2,000 word posts. (I usually try to land between 250—500 words these days.) And special thanks to those who subscribe via email as they really make me consider whether something is worth posting or not.
The big surprise in 2012 was when I pulled a couple of quotes from the not-so-young writer/director Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, Happy Days) and the response was so positive that I kept pulling quotes from him for an entire month. That’s the first and only time that’s happened and that month of Garry Marshallwas the single most viewed month I’ve had in the five years of blogging. (Garry Marshall’s “Gentle Hilarity” was posted on October 1, 2012 and the entire month was insights from him on writing and directing.)
Just to give you a glimpse of how organic and intuitive this blog is and the part you play as readers let me just say that last year when I was in the Dallas/Irving area to do a video shoot at Deion Sanders’ house, I stopped in a used bookstore and purchased Marshall’s book Wake Me When It’s Funny for a couple bucks and pulled a few quotes I though would be of interest to readers. I thought it might be a gamble because I knew a lot of readers of this blog weren’t even born when Marshall had some of his biggest Tv hits in the 70s. But good insights are good insights and I was just being conduit for those insights.
“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.”
Screenwriting Quote #171 (Garry Marshall)
In the past year I did notice that the quotes I was finding from screenwriters was starting to fall into categories I had already covered. Not really redundant, but I felt it reinforced and shaded in areas I had already covered in the pervious four years. Sometimes a newer writer will turn a new phrase on an old concept and jazz it up a bit.
But after five years of blogging I finally want to hit my goal to condense these insights into a book. Really three books. Sort of beginning, middle, and end. Each book will be approximately 60,000 words and really give a streamlined structure to what this blog is all about. My goal is to get these books into an ebook format by the end of June. (If that’s your field of expertise, I welcome any insights you have. You can always email me at email@example.com)
I know there’s always a lot of talk about reading books only by produced feature screenwriters. But the truth is there just aren’t that many out there. And if the criteria is raised to having written a high quality award-winning screenplay that did great at the box office, I think you’re left with just one or two books.
In fact, I just read a book over the weekend over that was written by a produced and well-respected screenwriter of some wonderful films, but the book just did nothing for me. In fact, it’s the first book in my life that I’ve ever taken back to a book store and asked for my money back. (Thanks to Barnes & Noble for refunding my $28.44.) If you’re going to sell a book for almost thirty bucks that promises to condense a thirty year career you really got to bring it. About 25 pages into the book I was waiting for the meat, by page 50 I realized it was running on fumes.
My point is not really to call out that screenwriting book I returned or the screenwriter who wrote it, just to say that it’s a myth that gifted and produced screenwriters make the best teachers, or that they can really explain what they do in a book. (Or that they can inspire you to do the same.)
“I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Two-time Oscar-nominated actress Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Lining Playbook, Winter’s Bone) on acting
The New York Times article that mentions she’s never had an acting class or acting teacher
To paraphrase Tim Ferriss, despite Michael Phelps having won 18 Olympic gold medals in swimming—he may not be the best person to teach a 35-year-old how to swim. (Especially true during the peak of Phelps’ career.) But just watching Phelps swim might inspire a 35-year-old to seek out a swimming teacher at their local rec center who despite falling short of Olympic glory has taught hundreds of people how to swim over the years.
Save your $28.44 and just read one of the most read posts on this blog Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2) where Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt unpacks the Pixar methods that’s produced hit after hit. I pulled insights off the Toy Story 3 DVD special features the week it was released. Then read one of my favorite all-time posts from last year called The Secret of Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) where the Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Logan (Hugo, Rango) discusses the secrets of his success in BAFTA interview. And a third post that’s proven popular is last year’s Dan Harmon’s Story Circle.—from the creator of the TV program Community.
But ultimately, what separates someone like Michael Arndt from the screenwriting pack is the same thing that separated Michael Phelps from the swimming pack—talent, drive, and determination. All I’m really doing on this blog is helping point the way—the hard part is up to you.
I have said it before and say it again, I’m a much more successful blogger than screenwriter. (As I joke with my production friends, “Did I ever tell you my blog won an Emmy?”) Though I’ve written nine (unproduced) screenplays and have written and directed nine produced short films (on top of producing well over 100 video projects), I think my unique skill is to aggregate the best insights from some of the most talented writers and filmmakers throughout film history, including the up and comers. (I should have learned something from all those books and screenplays I’ve read in the above photo.) Concepts and insights that I hope will inspire you in whatever unlikely place you live in the world.
At last count I have quoted and/or told the story of more than 400 writers and filmmakers over the last five years. The problem with the blog now is there are five years of posts—more than 650,000 words—with very little overall structure for someone who stumbles upon this blog today. It’s almost impossible to wade through 1,447 posts. So phase two—which I’m about 90% done writing—is to whittle down the essentials of this blog—the greatest hits–into user-friendly and inspirational ebooks.
Wish me well with that process, and I wish you well in your writing.
And thanks again for checking out this blog, because without a growing readership there’s no way I would have had the energy or desire to keep this up for five years.
Related Post: Life Beyond Hollywood (the very first post on January 22, 2008)
Scott W. Smith
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