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“Routine is what it’s all about. You’ve got to get into a [writing] routine that is second nature. Something you love. I wrote the first two books real early in the morning because I didn’t have any extra time. Now it’s about 7:30. Same small office behind the house where I’ve been writing for the last 22 years. Same desk, same computer, same cup of coffee. It’s dark. I love it. There’s no phones, faxes, or internet—I work offline. So I’m in a cocoon for the first three hours, and I just love that. I’ll write for a couple of hours, take a break…then get back into the novel. On a good day I’ll write 2,000 words. A slow day is 1,000. But you do that five days a week for six months and that’s a lot of pages, and that’s how the books are written.”
John Grisham (The Firm, The Client, The Pelican Brief)
Interview with Brian Koppelman

Related posts:
Breakfast Club for Writers (2.0)
T.S. Eliot’s 3 Hour Writing Schedule
Mark Twain
Stephen King’s Doublewide Trailer “I wrote my first two novels, Carrie and Salem’s Lot in the laundry room of a doublewide trailer, pounding away on my wife’s portable Olivetti typewriter and balancing a child’s desk on my thighs.”–Stephen King (It took Grisham, then a working lawyer in Mississippi, three years to write his first novel.)

Scott W. Smith

 

“I’m doing the outline [of my story] upfront so I always know where I’m going. I work on the outline for weeks, months, sometimes even years if I can’t get it right. But when I start the book on January the first to finish by July the first I’ve got a clear outline—I know exactly where the story’s going— I know how it’s going to end. I love John Irving books, and John Irving says he writes the last sentence before he writes the first. I’m not that smart, but I know what the last scene is before I write the first scene….It’s important to outline because if you don’t know where you’re going you can waste huge amounts of time.”
John Grisham (The Firm, The Client, The Pelican Brief)
Interview with Brian Koppelman

P.S. Grisham does say in that interview that he does have some “freedom and flexibility” to change his outline, but the reason “he can’t take a left turn for no reason” is he’s on a deadline to publish a book once a year. He didn’t outline his first book (A Time to Kill) and it took him three years to write and came it at 1,000 words (his editor cut that book by a third). And because his outlines sometimes take an extended time to complete, he can have multiple stories in play to make sure he gets one book done a year.

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #93 (John Grisham)
John Irving, Iowa & Writing
Postcard #48 (Oxford)
Analytical vs. Intuitive Writing
Stuart Beattie’s 5-Page Outline
Story Plotting the Harry Potter Way (It’s worth noting until J.K. Rowling came along, I believe John Grisham was the most financially successful living writer. Maybe ever. But when you look at the combined success of Grisham and Rowling and realize they both outline their stories you have to at least take notice. On the flip side, Stephen King doesn’t outline and Quentin Tarantino says “Basically, my writing’s like a journey.” )

Scott W. Smith

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©2016 Scott W. Smith

The Beach Theatre in St. Pete Beach, Florida was owned by screenwriter Michael France (Cliffhanger) until his death in 2013. The theatre first opened in 1940 and France bought it in 2007.

But unlike The New Beverly Cinema (owned by writer/director Quentin Tarantino) in Los Angeles, The Beach Theatre didn’t have a large cinephile fan base to sustain it and it closed on on Nov. 18, 2012. France died five months later at age 51.

There were some legal issues in its closing months and I’m actually not sure who owns it now or if there are any plans to restore it. But it looks like it’s been dormant in the years since France’s death.

If the theater was in St. Petersburg it’d have a chance to be revived, but St. Pete Beach is a largely tourist and retirement community of under 10,000 people. Downtown Tampa is a good 45 minute drive depending on traffic and already has a thriving and beautiful historical movie house (that I featured in a post last year) so it can’t look for help from there.

It’d be great if the Lowe’s Don Cesar Hotel (a 1920s built grand hotel nearby), the city of St. Pete Beach, or a non-profit group in the area purchased the Beach Theatre and somehow found a way to restore the art deco building and have at least one theatre on St. Pete Beach that played movies at least every once in a while.

For now, the Beach Theatre is one more reminder of the ongoing struggle the movie business has between art and commerce. Not too many screenwriters ever get the chance to buy an old movie theatre so at least Michael France got the chance to carry the torch for a few seasons.

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #122 (Michael France)
St.Pete Screenwriter (Michael France)
Postcard #86 (Tampa Theatre)
Postcard #87 (St. Pete Beach Sunset)

Scott W. Smith

 

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©2016 Scott W. Smith

It’s fitting that I was in the Tampa Bay area on the day that Fidel Castro died over the weekend. A third of all Cubans in America live in Florida. The majority of those of those live in the greater Miami/South Florida, but Cuban immigrants began coming to Tampa in greater number in the late 1800s often working and living near the cigar factories in Ybor City area.

Perhaps I’ll write more about Castro, Cuba and the movies on another post, but for today I’ll say that my views of Castro are shaded by those who fled after Castro took power in 1959, including one college professor I met who left behind everything in Cuba to come to the United States—arriving with 37 cents in his pocket.

The views of Castro are well summed up by Graciela Martinez in The NY Times Sunday,”For those who loved him, he was the greatest. For those who hated him, there was no one worse.” I went to school in Miami just after Mariel boatlift so I was definitely surrounded by people who did not love Castro or what he did to their homeland.

I imagine few would have bet on a 30-year-old exiled Castro arriving in Cuba via boat with Che Guevara and 80 other rebels in 1956 and not only overthrowing the government, but his communistic government staying in power to this day. And much has been written (and will be written) about the pros and cons of Castro’s legacy.  Perhaps the one positive thing most can agree on that flowed from Castro’s dictatorship is the 1983 film Scarface. (AFI’s #10 ranked Gangster film of all time. “Say hello to my little friend” is #61 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Movie Lines of All Time.)

But politics and movies aside, I love the Cuban/Spanish culture that you’ll find all over Florida from St. Augustine to Key West.

I took the above photo in downtown St. Petersburg over the weekend. Believe it or not, St. Petersburg is one of the most transformative, invigorating, an artistic cities in the United States. It’s like a mix of the best of Miami and Minneapolis with a little bit of a Marina del Rey/Santa Monica west coast vibe–and Spanish spices tossed in.  Call it The St. Petersburg surprise.

Home to several financial institutions, the University of South Florida—St. Petersburg,  and the Home Shopping Network, it’s also been ranked #1 in the Top 25 Mid-Size Cities for Art.  (In part due to the Museum of Fine Arts, the Chihuly Collection, and the Salvador Dali Museum.)

The USF sailing team finished sixth in the nation at The 2016 College Sailing Match Racing Nationals just last week. And sure, there’s still the world’s largest shuffelboard club in St. Pete (est. in 1924), but you’ll find hipsters there as well as retirees.  So when you read in Esquire New Brooklyn Gets Into Good Ole’ Shuffleboard, know that trend started in St. Petersburg.

Part of those St. Pete surprises.

P.S. If you ever visit Tampa make sure you eat at the Columbia Restaurant (Florida’s oldest restaurant) in Ybor City. In 2017, I’d like to cover more global cinema and look forward to getting caught up on Cuban movies made over the last 50 years.

Related posts:
Havana Daydreamin’
Coppola, Castro & Capitalism
Cuba to Key West

Scott W. Smith

Thanksgiving Drama

“The last thing I want to be remembered as is an annoying blabbermouth.”
Del (John Candy)
Planes, Trains & Automobiles

It’s Thanksgiving here in the United States and one globally universal thing about holidays is the potential for conflict (drama) as family and friends get together. (At least one crazy family member per get together has probably been the standard since the beginning of the human race.)

This week I heard a great description of a destructive family member on the rebroadcast of This American Life:

“Like some kind of super villain who can’t control her super powers, my mother somehow leaves an accidental trail of carnage wherever she goes.”
Josh Bearman
Duty Calls

Earlier this year I wrote seven posts about Pieces of April (2003)—my favorite Thanksgiving time-related film. (Edging out Planes, Trains and Automobiles.) And it that Peter Hedges film, it is the mother who would basically agree that her daughter (Katie Holmes) is the one who “leaves an accidental trail of carnage wherever she goes.”

Here’s a simple exchange from the movie where the daughter April talks about her mother (Joy) and a Thanksgiving memory:

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May those of you celebrating Thanksgiving today have a conflict free day.

Pieces of April (Part 1)
Pieces of April (Part 2)
Pieces of April (Part 3)
Pieces of April (Part 4)
Pieces of April (Part 5)
Pieces of April (Part 6)
Pieces of April (Part 7)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”
Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) in Annie Hall 

Have you ever had a boyfriend or girlfriend break-up with you?  Raise your hand if you’ve gone through a nasty and emotional break-up? Wow, look at all those hands.

The Social Network opens up with a scene that builds up to a break-up.

“You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”
Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) in The Social Network

If your goal is to be in a healthy, loving relationship and the person you’ve been with calls you an asshole right before they break-up with you have three basic options:

  1. Work through those issues with that person (and perhaps yourself) and eventually kiss and make up.
  2. Shake the dust off your feet and move on to another relationship (or at least begin looking for one).
  3. Listen to the Phil Collins song I Don’t Care Anymore 426 times and swear off personal relationships as impossible and get a dog, throw yourself into your career, or travel to Tahiti and take up big wave surfing.

We could call those three options complications, roadblocks, and reversals. On Scott Myers’ screenwriting blog Go Into the Story here’s how he defines those three things:

Complications: A complication is an event or circumstance which slows the Protagonist’s progress toward their goal.

Roadblocks: A roadblock is an event or circumstance which stops the Protagonist’s progress toward their goal.

Reversals: A reversal is an event or circumstance which reverses the Protagonist’s progress toward their goal.

Now granted screenwriters/screenwriting teachers have plenty of confusing names for various writing techniques that can muddy the water. But I think complications, roadblocks and reversals is simple and helpful way to look at scenes you’re writing.

In the fictitious movie version of Mark Zuckerberg’s life, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin uses the break-up to change not only the computer wizard’s life, but the lives of quite a few people. In the movie, that break-up led to a major reversal that changed the world.

After the break-up Zuckerberg could have walked around campus and thought things over and then taken his ex some flowers and tried to make up. In that scenario the break-up was just a complication.

Or after the break-up he could have said “Fine,  there’s more fish in the sea” and spent a few days or weeks looking for a new girlfriend. The break-up was a roadblock in his quest for a healthy, loving relationship.

But what Sorkin had the Zuckerburg character do is head back to his dorm and with a little computer know-how, a few beers, a couple of friends, and a lot of bitterness launch the “hot or not” website to get back at the woman who broke-up with him.

That leads to he and his friends to starting The Facebook, now known as just Facebook. In that version the break-up led to a major reversal in not just Zuckerberg’s life, but in the way that over a billion people live their daily lives.

As of this writing there are over 1.79 billion active Facebook users and over a billion of those log onto Facebook daily. Talk about disruptive. Facebook is up there with Henry Ford’s Model T, and the birth control pill, as far as disrupting the way people live their lives.  (And according to some reports Facebook could be classified as a modern form of birth control.)

Ultimately when you boil it down, complications, roadblocks, & reversals—slow down, stop, back-up (or change directions)—  when done right are all in the family of conflict & emotions, and are part of engaging an audience in your story.

Related posts:
Conflict—Conflict-Conflict
Major Reversals (Tip #104)
What’s Changed? (TIp #102)?

Scott W. Smith

“Reversals can work physically or emotionally. They can reverse the action or reverse a character’s emotions. In Ghostbusters, our unemployed university professors reverse direction and start their own business. In Jaws, the townspeople think that they’ve caught the shark and start celebrating….The down and out psychic professors in Ghostbusters suddenly change from disappointment to excited. In Jaws, Martin and Matt move from celebration to fear.”
Linda Seger
Making a Good Script Great
page 77

Below is the scene in Jaws of the shark being cut open and the scene proceeding it where Matt (Richard Dyfuss) says that he’s leaving tomorrow to do shark research on a ship at sea for 18 months. After they cut the shark open he reverses his decision because (as he tells Sheriff Brody) “you’ve still got a hellofa fish out there.”

Scott W. Smith

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