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”It’s sad, this is my last downhill, I wish I could keep going. I have so much fun, I love what I do…but my body can’t take another four years.”
Downhill racer Lindsey Vonn

Last night I caught Lindsey Vonn’s final downhill run at the Winter Olympics in South Korea. It was great to see her end with a Bronze medal it what is most likely her last Olympics. At 33 she is already the oldest female Alpine skier to ever medal at the winter games. She’d won a gold medal at the 2010 Olympics and then missed the 2014 Olympics because of various injuries.

Here’s a video of one of Vonn’s worst accidents. I never get tired of sports stories of athletes overcoming the odds (and often crushing injuries) to bounce back and accomplish great things in their sport.

And speaking of downhill skiing, here’s a trailer from Downhill Racer starring Robert Redford from a script by James Salter. (The 1969 film is part of The Criterion Collection.)

P.S. Back in ’87 when I was a 16mm camera operator and editor I shot a downhill skiing event in Aspen, Colorado. I think it was my first real gig after graduating from film school. Love that sport.

Aspen.jpg

Scott W. Smith

”I was going to make [This Is Us] as a movie. It had been a 70 page script. Or it was up to page 80, actually. And I had seven or eight different storylines of a bunch of different people all turning 36 on the same day. And the reveal at the end was they were a set of octuplets born on the same day in 1978. It didn’t feel like a movie. I loved the characters, and I liked the writing. But I was like, ’I don’t know how to end it, it doesn’t feel right.’ And I put it away for a while. And then I decided to turn it into a TV series. Were it came from is I was just—I didn’t think about it, I just started writing…Writing is a business [in Los Angeles], so much of it is based off of ‘What’s the concept?’—‘What type of genre stuff is working?—‘What’s selling in TV?’ and ‘What specs are selling in film?’ With a few exceptions when I was younger, I’ve always just written everything. The reason I’ve gotten stuff made is I write everything. I write on spec.”
Writer/ director Dan Fogelman (Tangled, Cars, This Is Us)
3rd & Fairfax: The WGA Podcast, Episode 47

P.S. “I just started writing” also sums up how Dan Fogelman launched his career. After studying a couple years at the University of Pennsylvania, he graduated from Oxford in England where he studied Victorian novels and “watched Dumb and Dumber 400 times.” Because a college roommate had a girlfriend living in Los Angles he went to live with her family for four months while he searched for his first job. He ended up working on “Howie Mandel’s short-lived day time talk show” which he calls “the best job I’ve ever had.” Working on what he called the outer edges of the entertainment industry, he decided to write a screenplay.

He’d never even seen a screenplay and bought a book on what a screenplay looked like and Final Draft software. He said,  “I wrote a Wonder Years-style screenplay—I wrote it in like a week—about my bar mitzvah.” A friend from college was working as an assistant for a management company. His friend thought the Wonder Years-like screenplay was good and took it to his work where the script resonated with Eryn Brown and she started showing it around. And the short story is his screenplay got attention and work, and before you know it he was working on Cars with Pixar. Simple, right? Eryn Brown is still Fogelman’s manager and now a partner with Management 360.

So if you’re looking for a screenwriting anomalies you can put Dan Fogelman on the same shelf as Diablo Cody. Screenwriters who got work/traction with their very first screenplay. It may not happen much, but it does happen. Just start writing. (If that doesn’t work, try watching Dumb and Dumber 400 times.)

Related post:
Film vs. TV Writing (10 Differences)

Scott W. Smith

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Genesis 4:9

Writer/director Ryan Coogler is having quite a run these days. He followed Fruitville Station and Creed with Black Panther. While all three have had critical acclaim, Black Panther‘s global box office launch has made $400 million plus coming out of the gate.  (Over $200 million of that coming from the U.S. over the last few days.)

“The theme of the film is, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Each character has a different answer to that question and only one changes his answer…My favorite action movies have themes that are deep, that you can chew on. and that what waas what we were trying to do, to make a movie that functions the way it was supposed to but has some depth to it.”
Ryan Coogler on Black Panther
Interview with Nell Minow

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Scott W. Smith

 

“I have a whole bunch of little life hacks to break through whatever it is blocking me [from writing]. A bunch of little writing exercises…Write the absolute worst version of the scene. Just get it out of your system. Be as horrible as possible. It shuts up the voice in the head saying, ‘This isn’t any good.’ Good it shouldn’t be.”
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Arrival)
Basic Brainheart podcast interview with Hannah Camacho

 

 

”I don’t particularly like [the writing process], but I don’t dislike it either. I can tell you that I’ve come to a somber acceptance that…my tastes as a consumer of movies and TV exceeds my talents, so all I can do is try my best to close that gap and to get as best a version of what it is in my head on the page.”
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Arrival)
Basic Brainheart podcast interview with Hannah Camacho

 

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Scott W. Smith

 

“It’s an odd business in that it is either one of two extremes, it’s either feast or famine…Rejection is [a part of] the business and you gotta figure out how to roll with it.”
Eric Heisserer on the film busienss

Screenwriter Eric Heisserer grew up in Norman, Oklahoma where his father was a professor. He bypassed college, taught himself Photoshop, and at 19-years-old landed a job at Space Industries in Houston. He helped put together for proposals that were submitted to NASA.

He then took a job doing design work with a consulting firm in Houston, and writing short stories at night. He also submitted ideas for board games and when one was rejected as being too linear and movie-like he decided to try his hand at writing screenplays.

He bought copy of the scripts Butch Cassidy and and Sundance Kid and Star Wars, then sat down and wrote a “bad” screenplay. But it felt good. So he kept writing screenplays. But he wasn’t ready to make the move to Los Angeles.

“I sort of made a promise to myself that if I get a little bit of traction on one project that I don’t give up everything and move out right away. I’ll wait and see if I can do it a second time.  And it took twelve screenplays for me to finally get two in a row that got a little bit of money, a little bit of heat. And I thought—OK, with two in a row here, I need to head out…So I had two projects that were optioned and felt like there was some forward motion on at least one of them, so I moved from Houston to L.A. and within a few months both of those project fell through. So I found myself hemorrhaging money in a city where I didn’t really know anybody.”
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Arrival)
Basic Brainheart with Hannah Camacho
With an assist by Screencraft

He came with the idea for a horror film and called his manager who told him that people weren’t interested in original material anymore, but rather something on a comic book or novel. And secondly his manager told him he was leaving the business. So he wrote an online story that he ended up selling to Warner Bros., and that opened the door for a number of projects.

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From Houston to Hollywood

“This time I’m going to kick that football clear to the moon!”
Charlie Brown (seconds before Lucy pulls the ball away)

On The Moment with Brian Koppelman, screenwriter Eric Heisserer recounts how he first decided to pursue turning Ted Chiang‘s short story Story of Your Life into a movie in 2006.

In 2011, after several years of hard passes from producers, Heisserer finally got Dan Cohen  and Dan Levine interested. But it would take another five years before Arrival would get made and be released into theaters. short story the Story of Your Life  into a movie in 2006.

Koppelman asked him about the 11 year journey to see the film come to fruition, and why he stuck with an idea that no one else thought was worth pursuing. (He seemed to lose producers interest somewhere when he said it was a story about a linguist.)

Eric Heisserer: I learned something about myself that I think is kind in a weird way—it’s rough, a little bit masochistic—but it’s also how you stay in this business—which is you kind of have to accept you’re Charlie Brown trying to hit the football. And that goes with jobs you chase, and scripts that you work on, and projects that may never see the light of day. Brian I’ve written 61 screenplays, and a fraction of them have made it to the screen.

Brian Koppelman: I want to do the Mike Wallace thing—61 screenplays?

Eric: Yes. By the end of the year at least 62. 

Brian: Are you counting re-writes of other people’s scripts?

Eric: Well, if it’s a page one re-write, yes.

Brian: But not if you come in and do a three week polish or something?

Eric: It does include pilots. 

Brian: And six movies have been made?

Eric: Yeah. Ten percent is still a good average when I think about it…And so like with that I guess came my understanding that if I love a thing, I just got to accept that I still love it regardless. And that’s what got me back in the room to talk about the Story of Your Life over and over again.

Here’s a link to the Arrival screenplay that producers Dan Levine and Dan Cohen at 21 Laps championed. The movie received a total of 8 Oscar-nominations, including one for Heisserer.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

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