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“There’s no one working in television or theater today who’s not influenced by…the fountainhead of this whole thing, which is Death of a Salesman.”
Mad Men creator & 9-time Primetime Emmy winner Matthew Weiner

“Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman was like a mirror to the story I had written.”
Asgahar Farhadi on The Salesman
Empire
Q&A

Iranian filmmaker Asgahar Farhadi wrote and directed The Salesman which is up for an Oscar tonight. (The film under its original tile, Forushande, won Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival last year. A film he wrote and directed (A Speparation) won an Best Foreign Language Oscar Film back in 2012. Also in 2012, he was named on the Time 100:The List by Time magazine.

In an interview with the Film Experience he talks about his starting point as a screenwriter:

Q. When you’re first starting a screenplay,  do you start with character studies, or a germ of a story and extrapolate from there?

Ashar Faradi: It never begins with a character. It never begins with a theme or the plot. I never start by saying ‘There’s this important thing I want to say and so know I have to look for a story for it!’  For me it always starts with a spark that leads to a succcinct story. For instance in A Separation the image I began with was a man bathing his elderly father. Little by little I expanded it and it became a story. And the story dictated to me how the characters would be. I am never able to have a character before the story because it’s the turbulent circumstances of these stories that reveal the characters. Once I’ve written ten pages of the story I reread it and I ask myself “What is this story talking about?” Prior to that I don’t really know what the subject or theme are.  For instance with The Salesman, once I’d written I realized the story was about humiliation and privacy. In the continuation of my writing I strive to create a harmony within the themes.

P.S. I’ve said this year that I’d like to do more posts about screenwriting/filmmaking outside the United States so if you have some suggests send them my way. Ideally, they’d be films where there is a decent about written about the filmmakers. I love Q&As.

Related Post:
Arthur Miller on Writing
Volcanic Emotions & Arthur Miller
Screenwriting Quote #175 Arthur Miller
What Would Miller Do?

Scott W. Smith

“It took years of struggle. Years of not having anything happen, not even getting meetings, not knowing what I was really doing…Things have turned a corner.  I was really a starving artist for lot of years.  I moved to LA nine years ago, and the first five were really difficult.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Luke Davies (Lion)
Combined from PopEntertainment interview & Spook Magazine article

Note: Davies didn’t arrive in L.A. from Australia until he was in his mid-40s. His first book of poetry was published in 1982 when he was 20 years old. In his mid-30s his first novel was published, and the next year he was named Young Writer of the Year by The Sydney Morning Herald. That novel was made into the film Candy in 2006 with Davies as co-screenwriter. The opportunity to write Lion came about from a “working relationship with See-Saw Films [in Sydney]that went back ten years.”

P.S. Lion is based on the book The Long Way Home by Saroo Brieley.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

“We were actually writing the screenplay at the same time as Margot [Lee Shetterly], the author, was writing the book – all we had was the book proposal. A few years ago, the producers were looking for a writer, and they read my script on Agatha Christie, actually, and they sent me the book proposal – having no idea that I had grown up near Cape Canaveral in Florida, that my grandmother had worked at NASA, and that my grandfather and I had worked at NASA.

“So I got it, and called the producer ‘Please, I have to be a part of this, I was born to write’, or something equally cheesy, and the producer probably rolled her eyes and thought ‘Oh, those Hollywood writers will say anything.’ But when I told her my background – that I’d studied math a lot in college and so on – that was it, I was hired. ”
Oscar nominated screenwriter Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures 
Alex Moreland Interview

Note: Schroeder did her undergraduate work in economics at Stanford and earned an MFA in film at USC. Check out Juggling paid work and spec scripts at JohnAugust.com to read a first hand account of what Schroeder’s life was like just a few years ago—“Before my big break, I worked, and worked hard as a PA, an assistant, and writer-for-free.”

P.S. Schroeder graduated from Melbourne High School, here on the Space Coast of Florida, in 1997 and said in a Florida Today interview,  “Mrs. Steady was my English teacher. She was always an extreme advocate for my writing. She really pushed me to go out and see the world. She urged me at 18, it’s OK, fly across the country. Go experience something new and have an adventure. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Scott W. Smith

Lesson from a Legend

Since I’ve been writing about work this week, it seem like a fitting time to repost this one from seven years ago originally titled Stephen J. Cannell’s Work Ethic:

Primetime Emmy-winning writer Stephen J. Cannell overcame severe learning disabilities (and flunking three grades) to become one of modern televisions most prolific writers. He wrote more than 400 episodes including some of the most popular TV shows of their day; Adam-12, Baretta, The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street, and The A Team.

Dennis McLellan in the Los Angeles Times wrote that “in the spring of 1986, (Cannell) had six hourlong shows on in primetime.” The LA Times also quoted writer David Chase (The Sopranos), who worked with Cannell back in the 70s,  as saying that Cannell’s characters displayed “weaknesses — they were fallible human beings. That was the beginning of viewers seeing a TV protagonist as someone like themselves.”

Cannell, who did not even know he was dyslexic until he was in his 30s, also wrote 15 novels.

“When I was 13-years-old (my father) said to me, ‘you’re going to work,’ and I said, ‘Dad, it’s summer all my friends are going to the tennis club and the golf club and down at the beach’—and he said, ‘No, no you’re going to work.’ So I had to get a work permit—because at 13 you had to have a work permit to work—and I went to work at his wallpaper company. It was about four acres under a roof in Burbank and I was down there working on a screenprinting machine…and I used to come home and think, ‘What am I doing this for?’…(My father) said, ‘This is what people do to feed their family. You’re going to see what this is all about.’ And I was really angry about that, but you know what, he instilled in me a work ethic…and one of the reasons I’ve been so successful is that work ethic.”
Stephen J. Cannell
Interview on TV Legends

 

Scott W. Smith

When Emmy-winner Stephen J. Cannell died in 2010 his IMDB credits were extensive. I can’t image many others who wrote 450 TV episodes or produced more than 1,500 episodes. But there’s really no secret to how he did it—it’s basic math. He began his days at 3:30 AM:

“You know, when you say, ‘He created 42 primetime television series—how’d he do that?’ Well, you’d be surprised at what you can do if you get up and write for five hours a day everyday for 35 years.”
Stephen J. Cannell
Script magazine interview with Ray Morton

How did he get into that position where he was getting paid well to write for five hours? Again no secret—more basic math.

After Cannell graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Oregon he worked for his father. After work he went home and wrote for five hours every night. And he did that for more than five years without seeing anything he wrote get produced.

“I was like a machine. I swear I had a stack of material you could sit on.”
Stephen J. Cannell

That’s a great image to leave you with today. I’m not sure how big that stack of paper was, but if you measure the height of a 100 page stack of paper and multiple it by the height of an average chair you’ll come up with a pretty accurate number. Basic math.

P.S. And Cannell’s IMDB credit list continues to grow after his death. Most recently he was credited for the 2012 movie version of 21 Jump Street and the 2014 sequel 22 Jump Street because he was co-creator of the original TV series starring Johnny Depp.

Scott W. Smith 

“There are two rules that I always adhere to. And that is to work hard and be brave. And I think the essence of hard work is one that’s pretty straightforward. You’ll never be the best looking, you’ll never be the tallest, the most talented, most capable, you’ll never have the most money—there will always be someone better at whatever you’re doing than you are. But you can always be the hardest working person in the room.”
Filmmaker Casey Neistat

P.S. Just after I posted this I saw this Facebook post by my director of photography friend Mac who gives an up-to-date example of what working harder looks like sometimes:

screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-11-36-15-pm

Scott W. Smith

 

 

“If you’re looking for an excuse, you’ll find one.”
Actor/Director Denzel Washington 
60 Minutes interview December 18, 2016

“I’m particularly proud and happy about the young filmmakers, actors, singers, writers, producers that are coming up behind my generation. In particular Barry Jenkins. Young people, understand, this young man made 10-15-20 short films before he got the opportunity to make Moonlight. So never give up. Without commitment, you’ll never start. But more importantly without consistency you’ll never finish. It’s not easy.  If it was easy, there’d be no Kerry Washington. If it was easy, there’d be no Taraji P. Henson. If it were easy there’d be no Octavia Spencer. But not only that, if it were easy, there’d be no Viola Davis. If it were there’d be no Mykelti Williamson, no Stephen McKinley, no Russell Hornsby. If it were easy , there’d be no Denzel Washington. So keep working, keep striving, never give up. Fall down seven times, get up eight. Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship.Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardshipSo keep moving, keep growing, keep learning—see ya at work.”
Denzel Washington
Image Awards
February 11, 2017 /Pasadena, California

Related post:
25 Links Related to Blacks & Filmmaking (2017 Edition)
Art is Work—Milton Glaser
Stephen J. Cannell Work Ethic 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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