Archive for May, 2014

You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Maya Angelou, poem Still I Rise

It’s like the boy who cried wolf—all those over-the-top Facebook titles that are meant to entice us. Daring us click and watch the video. “What this woman did at this end of this video will make your jaw drop and your entrails spill out.” But the below video of Heather Dorniden  really is exceptional, and is a great lesson on what to do  after you fall on your face.

File this one under “Who does that?”

“All great victories, be they in politics, business, art, or seduction, involved resolving vexing problems with potent cocktail of creativity, focus, and daring. When you have a goal, obstacles are actually teaching you how to get where you want to go—carving a path. ‘The Things which hurt,’ Benjamin Franklin wrote, ‘instruct.'”
Ryan Holiday
The Obstacle is the Way

Related Posts:
Earn Your Ending (Tip #76)
“Returning to Zero—Robert Redford “I was a failure at everything I tried.”—Redford
Arron Sorkin on Failure
‘The Lord of the Rings’—Failure
Spectacular Failures
Iowa Kutcher on Jobs/Work
J.K. Rowlings on the Benefits of Failure

Scott W. Smith

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“I write for myself and that reader who will pay the dues. There’s a phrase in West Africa, in Ghana; it’s called ‘deep talk.’ For instance, there’s a saying: ‘The trouble for the thief is not how to steal the chief’s bugle but where to blow it.’ Now, on the face of it, one understands that. But when you really think about it, it takes you deeper. In West Africa they call that ‘deep talk.’ I’d like to think I write ‘deep talk.’ When you read me, you should be able to say, Gosh, that’s pretty. That’s lovely. That’s nice. Maybe there’s something else? Better read it again. Years ago I read a man named Machado de Assis who wrote a book called Dom Casmurro. Machado de Assis is a South American writer—black father, Portuguese mother—writing in 1865, say. I thought the book was very nice. Then I went back and read the book and said, Hmm. I didn’t realize all that was in that book. Then I read it again, and again, and I came to the conclusion that what Machado de Assis had done for me was almost a trick: he had beckoned me onto the beach to watch a sunset. And I had watched the sunset with pleasure. When I turned around to come back in I found that the tide had come in over my head. That’s when I decided to write. I would write so that the reader says, That’s so nice. Oh boy, that’s pretty. Let me read that again. I think that’s why Caged Bird is in its twenty-first printing in hardcover and its twenty-ninth in paper.
Maya Angelou
the Paris Review interview with George Plimpton

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“There’s a statement by [the Roman dramatist] Terence: ‘I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.’ If you know that, accept that, then you can tell a story. You can make people believe characters are just like they are. Jack and Jill went up the hill, one fell down and the other came tumbling after. The listener thinks, ‘Oh, I’ve fallen down, so I can understand,’ even if it happened in Holland or Kowloon. Human beings should understand how other humans feel no matter where they are, no matter what their language or culture is, no matter their age, and no matter the age in which they live. If you develop the art of seeing us as more alike than we are unalike, then all stories are understandable.”
Author Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
2013 Harvard Business Review interview by Alison Beard

P.S. Maybe I should write a post called Screenwriting from Kowloon.

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The Immigrant is one of those rare, strikingly beautiful film experiences that transport you to another world.”
Colin Covert
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[The Immigrant] earns its dissonances. It’s richer than anything onscreen right now.”
David Edelstein

In light of the extravaganzas X-Men:Days of Future Past and Godzilla pulling in $120 million over the weekend, it’s nice to know that I’m not the only voice in the wilderness talking about The Immigrant which is also in theaters now. This film works on every level you can demand of cinema. Directed by James Gray from a script he wrote with Ric Menello, the film stars Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner.

At one point I’m pretty sure Phoenix was tapping into his inner-Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) from On the Waterfront. I don’t think The Immigrant will win 8 Oscars like the Elia Kazan/ Budd Schulberg/Malcolm Johnson 1954 classic film—but I imagine you’ll see it receive a few Oscar-nominations.

May 29, 2014 Update: “James Gray’s ‘The Immigrant’ is the best movie in theatres right now, a work of nuanced writing, eruptive emotion, and vast psychological complexity.”
Richard Brody
The New Yorker

Scott W. Smith

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“Screenwriting is so hard. Anyone who’s ever done it or tried to do it learns very quickly how cruel it can be. It’s so dependent on things that are out of your control. I mean, the chemistry between actors, the director’s pacing, and all of a sudden you either look really good or really inept. The idea of creating something from a blank page is about a challenging as it gets. I have tremendous respect for someone that can create an original piece of material in screenplay form.”
Writer/Director James Gray (The Immigrant, We Own the Night)
WGA article by Dylan Callaghan

Related post:
Billy Wilder on Writing “(Writing) is blood, sweat, and tears, believe me.”—Wilder

Scott W. Smith

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“Someone told me some critics are not enthused about Blended. What?!! Unbelievable! … I know I could be upset, but I’m kind of enjoying the madness… Anyway, don’t worry about me, I’m lovin every minute and every aspect. It’s all a crazy wonderful ride!!”
Clare Sera (Co-screenwriter of Blended)
Facebook post 5/23/14

Imagine you’re from some unlikely place connected to Hollywood (say, Glasgow, Scotland) and dream of being a screenwriter in the United States. You dream of being paid to have name actors say lines you wrote. You dream of driving all around Los Angeles and seeing posters of your movie everywhere–with your name on it. You dream of walking the red carpet. You dream of watching your movie with total strangers in a theater. Can you imagine that?

That’s the short version of Clare Sera’s life. Yesterday the film Blended that she co-wrote with Ivan Menchell opened across the country starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. I’ve been tracking Clare’s Facebook posts the last couple of weeks and she’s been enjoying the ride.

I met her close to 20 years ago in Orlando when she was with the SAK Comedy Lab. I’m guessing she moved to L.A. about 15 years ago and among other things picked up acting roles (including The Princess Diaries directed by Garry Marshall), was part of the creative team that produced the Doritos commercial Sling Baby that was the top ad of the 2012 Super Bowl, and she wrote and directed an award-winning short film called Pie’n Burger. She’s worked on several produced scripts over the years, but I believe Blended is the first feature credit she’s received.

Clare is funny and talented and chipped away to have this moment the way a lot of writers do–through perseverance, patience and years and years— heck, decades and decades— of writing. Clare is also a giving person and as been a long-time mentor with WriteGirl which is a group that “promotes creativity, critical thinking, leadership skills to empower teen girls.”

She’s also taken the time to read a couple of my screenplays and I’ve always appreciated her direct and honest feedback.

Congrats Clare. It’s a long way from Glasgow to Hollywood—enjoy the madness.

And while Blended may not beat X-Men or Godzilla at the box office this weekend, or find much love from the top movie critics, those that have seen the film are giving favorable responses. And this is what the LA Times had to say about the Blended;

Though the film, directed by Frank Coraci (“The Wedding Singer”) and written by Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera, contains a somewhat protracted, will-they-or-won’t-they third act (two guesses — no, make that one — how Jim and Lauren end up), the story ultimately earns its feel-good stripes.”
Gary Goldstein review of Blended in the LA Times

Related post: Writing Killer Screenplays On screenwriter Bob DeRosa—another writer with Orlando roots and about Ashton Kutcher and Kathrine Heigl starring in a film he wrote, Killers.

May 29, 2014 update: While Blended in fact did not beat X-Men:Days of Future Past or Godzilla at the box office over the Memorial Day weekend it did beat everyone else coming in third. Blended also received an A- from audiences according to CinemaScore.

Scott W. Smith



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‘Cannery Row’

“Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitant are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gambler and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, ‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holymen’ and he would have meant the same thing.”
John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

The screenplay from Steinbeck’s novel was written by David S. Ward who also directed the movie.


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“When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate.”
Pulitzer-Prize winner John Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men)
Travels with Charley: In Search of America

I generally try to discover my own quotes but this one came via a tag team effort—From The Black Board via @GoIntoTheStory (Scott Myers). Both worth following.

P.S. This is in line with the well-known saying; “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” And echoes of the classic Anne Lamott insight “Bird by Bird.”

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #66 (John Steinbeck)
Pages Per Day
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Stephen King’s Double Wide Trailer “There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station.”—Stephen King
Travels with Steinbeck

Scott W. Smith

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“I want to do things that are very outside of the box, and I want to do movies that no one else can do.  If someone else can make the movie that I’m making, then I shouldn’t do it.  I want to make these films that I think other people would be scared to do.  I don’t think anyone can go off and make a rock opera.  I think it’s a very specific niche, with what it actually takes to do one of these things.  For me, I’m very proud of the fact that I can actually say that I’m the guy who can do that.  When is the last time that these types of things were released?  It was back in the ‘70s.  There was Jesus Christ Superstar, Tommy and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  That was the last time these things were put out.  Now, in a couple of years, I’ve gotten two of them put out.  So, they’re not for everyone, but they’re for me.”
Writer/Director Darren Lynn Bousman
Collider interview with Christina Radish

One of those rock operas (Repo! The Genetic Opera) was panned by the Los Angeles Times, but years later The Hollywood Reporter said the movie, “Could become the next Rocky Horror Picture Show.” A niche market for sure, but remember the advice of Tyler Perry to Edward Burns about , “Super-serving your niche.”

You can check out Bousman’s website and blog at www.darrenlynnbousman.com.

P.S.  At Stephen Susco’s Full Sail Q&A last week he gave a shout-out to Bousman (director of Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV) who in 2011 was inducted into the Full Sail Hall of Fame. Here’s a bonus quote by the writer/director originally from Overland Park, Kansas:

I didn’t have Hollywood connections, I didn’t know anybody, I just refused to take no as an answer. One of the most important things about being a filmmaker is that you have to believe in yourself. There are two types of people when you get out into the entertainment industry, those who wait for that knock at the door, and those that go out and kick it open. I was one of those guys who kicked it open.”
Darren Lynn Bousman 

Scott W. Smith





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Winter Park , Florida

Winter Park , Florida

Last week  I went to hear screenwriter Stephen Susco do a Q & A at Full Sail University. It wasn’t open to the public but I know some people who know some people, so I dropped in and found some worthwhile advice from a Hollywood veteran that I’ll pass on here in bullet points.

Back in 2009 in the post Screenwriting Post #83 (Stephen Susco) I mentioned that Susco wrote 25 screenplays before he had one produced (The Grudge). His numbers as of 2014…he’s now written 63 scripts and had a grand total of 7 produced.

Welcome to the Jungle
We’ve Got fun ‘n Games 

(But that’s Susco’s experience, he has a writer friend who’s written 28 scripts and had 20 of them produced.)

Sucso wore a Notre Dame hat during his Q&A which is where he did his undergraduate work before getting his master’s at USC film school. Some of his other credits are Red, High School, and Texas Chainsaw 3D. His next film to hit theaters is The Reach starring Michael Douglas. Here are ten takeaways form the Q&A with students, followed by an interview with Susco via Movie Greeks United!

* Filmmaking is a battleground of art and commerce.

* To investors, films are like widgets. Watch Shark Tank to see how investors think. When talking to investors think in terms of heart, mind, and pocket book.

* Screenwriters give up the copyright when they sell their script.

* Writing for Tv is attractive to feature screenwriters because writers are considered important in TV.

* Write what you’re passionate about (big Hollywood movie, horror, whatever) because even if it doesn’t get made, if it’s good it will open doors and people will ask, “What else do you have?” As an example Travis Beachman’s script Killing on Carnival Row got a lot of attention in Hollywood, but still hasn’t been produced. But it opened the door for writing assignments on Clash of the Titans and Pacific Rim.

* After his first script sold he couldn’t believe he was getting paid to do what he’d do for free. That first script sold for $38,000–but he had a partner so his half was $19,000. After taxes, attorney and agent fees he netted $7,500. It took them 2 years to write that script.

* He once spent four years on a script that ultimately wasn’t used for the movie that eventually got produced. He received an associate producer credit. It’s a business where a screenplay about your mother gets turned into a movie about Elvis and your name isn’t in the credits—or worse ,it is in the credits.

* You will hear the word “no” a lot and you’ll need to forget hearing it before the syllable “o” has faded from their lips.

* Pitching stories and ideas is not as common as when he first started in the mid-90s, but it’s easier than ever to make your own film. He mentioned writer/director Oren Peli and his film Paranormal Activity as an example.

* Think primal. Fear and personal loss are the foundations of many fine films.

Related Post:
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) —John Logan’s journey
How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (Tips #41) —Michael Arndt’s journey
How Much Do Screenwriters Make?

Scott W. Smith


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