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Archive for December, 2012

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy…”
The Shining (A Stephen King story)

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Iowa is getting blanketed in a snow storm today. About ten inches of show has fallen in the last 12 hours with wind gusts measuring over 40 mph. I took the above photo this morning at my house and it reminded me of the scene in The Shining when Jack Nicholson has a form of writer’s block while writing at a prolific rate.

You really don’t need to go to film school to learn filmmaking—just study how this Stanley Kubrick directed scene is a tour de force of visual filmmaking—and simplicty. Two actors, two minutes, seven words, 10 shots (fewer setups) and just a great example of solid writing, acting, directing, cinematography, editing, location scouting, and sound design.

You could shoot this scene yourself with two friends and one camera in a couple hours. Do what the Renaissance painters did—copy the masters until you find your own style.

Related posts:

Stephen King’s Doublewide Trailer
Descriptive Writing (Stephen King)
Screenwriting Quote #55 (Stephen King)
Beatles, Cody, King and 10,000 Hours

Scott W. Smith

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 “You’d be hard pressed to remember dialogue in some of the great pictures that you’ve seen. That’s why pictures are so international. You don’t have to hear the dialogue in an Italian movie or a French movie. We’re watching the film so that the vehicle is not the ear or the word, it’s the eye. The director of a play is nailed to the words. He can interpret them a little differently, but he has his limits: you can only inflect a sentence in two or three different ways, but you can inflect an image on the screen in an infinite number of ways. You can make one character practically fall out of the frame; you can shoot it where you don’t even see his face. Two people can be talking, and the man talking cannot be seen, so the emphasis is on the reaction to the speech rather than on the speech itself.”
Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman, The Crucible)
Playwrights at Work

Page 163

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Teenage Time Lock (Tip #66)

“Generally, the shorter the period of time depicted, the more intense the drama. The longer the period of time depicted on a film, the more chance there is that its narrative line will become episodic, making it difficult to keep the film flowing.”
Linda Seger
Advanced Screenwriting
Page 33

The great Milton Glaser once said, “Limitation stimulates the imagination.” Several years ago I wrote a post called Screenwriting & Time (Tip #17) and I reminded of that post when I flipped though an old book by Linda Seger today and saw the above quote highlighted. Long before I started this blog back in ’08 I had book after book full of yellow highlighted sections. This blog gave me a nice outlet to pass some of those on and add some new thoughts and quotes. And dang, here we are five years—and more than 1,400 posts—later. Time flies.

And, in general, the quicker the time flies in your screenplay the better off you’ll be. If you’re looking for a challenge in the next year, why not aim to write a story that takes place in a single day? You want more limitations to embrace? Okay, make it a story about teenagers in a single day. Here’s a short list of pretty good films that fall under those parameters:

American Graffiti
Ferris Buelller’s Day Off
Rebel Without a Cause
The Breakfast Club

Can you think of others?

Scott W. Smith

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“I would say just start writing. You’ve got to write every day. Copy someone that you like if you think that perhaps could become your sound too. I did that with Hemingway, and I thought I was writing just like Hemingway. Then all of a sudden it occurred to me, he didn’t have a sense of humor. I don’t know anything he’s written that’s funny.”
Elmore Leonard when asked for advice for young writers
Time magazine March 29, 2010

Related posts:
The Dickens of Detroit (Elmore Leonard)
The Breakfast Club for Writers 

Scott W. Smith

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“One of the questions I am always asking when I’m writing is ‘How can I show it rather than say it?’ Characters are best defined through action, and in screenwriting in particular it is very important to find visual ways to convey character because, with the exception of voice-over, it is very difficult to get inside a character’s head and know what he or she is thinking. 

This is why I often introduce one the favorite devices I learned in film school; the emotionally charged icon. This is very much what the phrase would imply: an object that has been charged with some emotional resonance because of what it represents. An obvious example would be a locket that contains a photo of a deceased loved one. If the owner of the locket suddenly got a blank look on her face and started to fiddle with the locket, we would know that she is thinking of her long lost loved one. It’s a fantastic way to shorthand a glimpse into a character’s psyche.

Two of my favorite examples of the emotionally charged icon are the wristwatch in Pulp Fiction and the harmonica in The Shawshank Redemption.”
Karey Kirkpatrick (Over the Edge, Charlotte’s Web)
Now Write! Screenwriting edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson
page 130-131

Related posts:

Objective Correlative (Tip #48)
Show, Don’t Tell (Tip #46)
Show, Don’t Tell (Part 2) 

Scott W. Smith

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“Coincidence may mean exposition is in the wrong place, i.e. if you establish the too-convenient circumstances before they become dramatically necessary, then we feel no sense of coincidence. Use coincidence to get your characters into trouble, not out of trouble.”
Writer/director Alexander Mackendrick (Sweet Smell of Success, The Ladykillers)
On-Filmmaking: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director
Page 41

I love the simplicity of that line, “Use coincidence to get your characters into trouble, not out of trouble.” Be nice if every filmmaker could memorize that sentence. It would spare a lot of eye-rolling while watching movies.

Related post: Screenwriting & Coincidence (tip #11)

Scott W. Smith

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“A week later [my agent] called with news that the folks at Starsky and Hutch had read my screenplay and didn’t think I had what it took to work on the show. I told my agent I was on page 108 of my new script and he should not to anything rash. I’d call him as soon as I was done. I thought I had bought myself another week or so.

But when I came into my job the next day, there was a message that my agent had called. Could he have changed his mind overnight? Of course he could. After nine years of writing screenplays without success, I believed only bad things were going to happen.

But what he had to tell me wasn’t bad. It was kind of miraculous. After two years and all that rejection, suddenly two different parties were interested in my thriller—which was called The Bodyguard.”
Four time Oscar-nominated writer/director Lawrence Kasdan (Grand Canyon, The Big Chill)
Kasdan also wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat, and Star Wars: Episode IV—Return of the Jedi
From The First Time I Got Paid For It edited by Peter Lefcourt and Laura J. Shapiro
Page 105

P.S. Kasdan sold The Bodyguard in the 70s but it would take more than a decade for the film to get made.

Related post:

From West Virginia to Hollywood (Kasdan’s journey)

Scott W. Smith

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