Archive for December, 2010

Judging from the Christmas list (or Cristmis list) that my wife and I received recently from a seven-year-old, LEGOs are a little different then when I was a kid. (And, yes, this list is 100% authentic.) And if this is a common list this Christmas, and every kid gets one or two Star Wars LEGOs this year, then it will be a very good year for George Lucas. The total of this list comes to $1,384.91.

Star Wars, the movie that just keeps on earning.

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Here are several quotes pulled from the Ralph Keyes book The Courage to Write:

“I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.”
E.B White 

“The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.”
Arthur Miller 

“If we had to say what writing is, we would have to define it essentially as an act of courage.”
Cynthia Ozick 

“When an interviewer asked Anne Sexton what a writing class could offer students, Sexton replied, ‘Courage, of course. That’s the most important ingredient.’ Writing programs can provide a safe haven, a sparsely filled theater in which to practice lines before facing the trauma of an audience.”
Ralph Keyes

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“(Blake Edwards) is not a trick director. A number of directors, for no reason at all, will suddenly shoot a scene through a keyhole or over a doorway just because it seems like a clever thing to do. Blake doesn’t do those things; he doesn’t try to show his ego on film.”
Julie Andrews

“Characters make your story.”
Blake Edwards


For some reason film writer/director Blake Edwards always seemed British to me. That’s probably because I always associated him with Peter Sellers (The Pink Panther), Dudley Moore (“10″) and Julie Andrews (actress & Edwards’ wife for 41 years) who were all born in England. But Edwards, who died last Wednesday, was actually born in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Edwards film that had the biggest impact on me? That’s easy, the movie “10.” I was 18. Sure I can still see Bo Derek running down the beach in slow motion, and Dudley Moore’s bumbling efforts in pursuing a woman who he considered a perfect 10—falling backwards down the hillside and such.

“When you start analyzing the great film comics they were constantly beating each other up and falling down stairs and tripping over pants. They got their laughs through a sort of carnage, and I think I started doing that, too.”
Blake Edwards
DGA Quarterly

But the movie “10” wasn’t just a comedy wrapped in the stylish branded hair, it was a social commentary. Roger Ebert in his 1979 review of the film said that it was “a lot more than a comedy: It’s a study in the follies of human nature.”

Perhaps what made it one of Edwards better films is that he was 58 when he made the film. Like Dudley Moore’s character he had it all, but it wasn’t enough. He had directed Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and wrote and directed the The Pink Panther (1963) so the 60s were good to him. His contract at one time had him making 10% of the gross. He made a lot of money on those Pink Panther movies that were so popular.

But after the failure of Darling Lily (1970) he fled Hollywood for Switzerland. For all his success did not bring him happiness. In interviews and in his writings he wrote and spoke about struggling with depression, alcoholism, and he whe was disillusioned and hurt by the dishonesty of Hollywood. But the problem was he was happiest when he was working, so he keep working into his 80’s.

So there were some scars, mixed with a little depth and reflection when Edwards wrote and directed the movie “10.” The take away for an eighteen year old at the time was more than just a bookend for a Farrah Fawcett poster. I think that was the first film that showed me what a mid-life crisis was. Though I don’t recall having seen the film since it first came out, I think tucked in there was a theme that landed somewhere between “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” and “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.”

Be careful what you wish for
‘Cause you just might get it
And if you get it then you just might not know
What to do wit’ it, ’cause it might just
Come back on you ten-fold
Careful What You For

Now if you can write a script that makes people laugh and makes people think, that’s quite an accomplishment. (The Apartment and The 40 Year Old Virgin territory.) And if you can get it made with someone that looks like Bo Derek  then you also might have a #1 movie the weeks it opens on its way to making a lot of money as well.

But be careful what you wish for…

Scott W. Smith

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Last night I watched the Monday Night Football game which happened to be the first outdoor Vikings game in Minnesota in 29 years. It proved to be a historic game in that the Chicago Bears broke the record for special teams touchdowns in a season. It was also a night when the Minnesota Viking’s honored the 50 Greatest Vikings.

One of the player’s honored was Ron Yary. When I was in film school, and a few years after graduating, I work as a photographer for Yary Photography. A company that Ron and his brother Wayne owned in Southern California. Ron was an Outland Trophy winner in 1967 when he helped lead USC to a national championship. In 1968, he became the first lineman to ever be the overall NFL #1 pick in when the Vikings drafted him. He played in four Super Bowls and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001. Quite a career.

Ron lives in Southern California and in 1986 “was the guiding force” in starting the Southern California Viking Club which is said to be the largest Viking fan club outside the state of Minnesota. Of course, all of this fuels L.A. football fans because despite Los Angeles being the second largest media market they currently do not have an NFL team.

What lead the game being played outside last night was a damaged roof on the aging indoor stadium where they usually play. The Vikings would like a new stadium to stay in Minnesota. Of course, many in L.A. would love to have the Vikings move to Southern California. Various reports (rumors) have the Vikings’ front office in talks with businessmen in LA. An article on Forbes.com has a Minnesota Senator promising a stadium tax bill in January 2011 that will help keep the Vikings in Minnesota.

Either way, look for some Minnesota Vs. LA drama in the future. (For the record, L.A. has already lured screenwriters such as Diablo Cody, the Coen Brothers, Nick Schenk from Minnesota.) I don’t know, the Venice Vikings just doesn’t have the right ring.

Congrats to Ron Yary for yet one more honor to add to his career.

P.S. Here’s one of the photos I took when I worked for Yary Photo. It’s of the Los Angeles Rams in 1985. It was signed by Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson and is in my office at work. (One additional personal meaning is in this photo is Chuck Scott, a number #2 draft pick from Vanderbilt, who I played football with in high school.)

That ’85 Ram team won their division, but eventually lost to the Chicago Bears in the playoffs. The Bears lead by Walter Payton. Jim McManhon, and Mike Singletary would go on to win the Super Bowl that year. And just to come full circle with a screenwriting connection—before Chicago-raised screenwriter Diablo Cody wrote Juno she thought about writing about the ’85 Bears team as her first screenplay.

Scott W. Smith

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Since yesterday I found a couple quotes from screenwriter Bob Gale about he came up with the idea for Back to the Future in his parent’s basement in St. Louis, I thought I’d find a quote today from the other half of that screenwriting team, Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis also directed the film as well as  Romancing the Stone, Forrest Gump, and Castaway.

“You have to hope that you can get your investment back, which is what we [filmmakers] all try to do. What we really want to do is make one dollar profit back, so that nobody gets hurt and the movie exists. Anything else is arrogant and unrealistic. All of us in this business are a bit superstitious as well. We don’t really talk about that, although I must say that [Paramount Motion Picture Group chair] Sherry Lansing would always talk about what she thought the success of the movie would be. And she was wrong by about $150 million. Nobody in their right mind is going to say a movie is going to make $300 million.”
Robert Zemeckis
DGA Interview with Ted Elrick

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“Studio executives kept saying, ‘Eh, time travel movies don’t make any money. Time travel movies don’t make any money.'”
Screenwriter Bob Gale

Twenty-five years ago the world embraced the movie Back to the Future starring Michael J. Fox based on a script written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis. Though Gale and Zemeckis had teamed up on Used Cars (1980) it did not have a strong release and didn’t make getting their next script made easier. Gale explains the process of writing the script and the trouble they had getting others interested in it.

“We outline the story on index cards before we start detailing the individual scenes. And we come up with our index-car structure nonlinearly; we always like to know what the ending’s going to be before we really got started. You can’t take a trip if you don’t know where you’re going…The (Back to the Future) script was rejected over 40 times. Nobody read it said, ‘Oh, we’ve got to make this.’ You know there had been no time-travel movies that had made that much money prior to Back to the Future, and again the mashup of genres was confusing for some people. We’re talking 1981, 1982…Porky’s was around that time, and that’s what everybody’s idea of comedy was—fart jokes and naked girls.”
Bob Gale
Script magazine interview with Sara Scott
Volume 16/Number 4

According to Box Office Mojo, Back to the Future ended up with a domestic gross of $210 million  and a worldwide gross of $318 million. All on a $19 million budget. Gale and Zemeckis were also nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay. And, of course, two sequels were made that added around $500 million to the worldwide gross.

And where did the original idea come from? A basement in St. Louis.

“The inspiration for making the movie, for coming up with the story is that I was visiting my parents in the summer of 1980, from St. Louis Missouri, and I found my father’s high-school yearbook in the basement. I’m thumbing through it and I find out that my father was the president of his graduating class, which I was completely unaware of. So there’s a picture of my dad, 18-years-old, and I’m thinking about the president of my graduating class, who was someone I would have had nothing to do with. He was one of these “Ra-Ra” political guys, he was probably Al Gore or something. Captain of the debate team, all this stuff. So the question came up in my head, ‘gee, if I had gone to school with my dad would I have been friends with him?’ That was where the light bulb went off.”
Bob Gale
Interview with Matt Patches 

P.S. Zemeckis was raised in the South Side of Chicago and Gale was raised in the suburbs of St. Louis. They met at USC film school.

Related posts: Screenwriting from Missouri

Scott W. Smith

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“You’re trapped now by how seductive (the Internet) is, by how much you need it.”
Steve Lisbeger

Steve Lisberger was the writer/director of the 1982 Disney film TRON and was brought on as one of the producers of TRON:Legacy and acted as a consultant/Obi-Wan of sorts to TRON:Legacy screenwriters Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. Lisberger was asked by Mali Elfman about the differences that the character Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges) experiences in the updated TRON:Legacy movie:

“I think that one of the themes in the story being expressed is where Flynn’s allegiances really lie. He created breakthrough technology in the day, so it means something very special to him. But he also has a real world family, and he’s being asked to decide who he loves more. Then it gets really tricky because there’s a tendency for people to say, ‘The best thing I could do for my kid is bless them with the best technology,’ and maybe the kid doesn’t really want your technology, he just wants you.”
Steve Lisberger
ScreenCrave interview by Mali Elfman

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