Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for August, 2014

“There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: he may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. A major writer combines these three — storyteller, teacher, enchanter — but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer.
Russian American Novelist Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977)
From Brain Picking article by Maria Popova

P.S. In the athletic world some unusually talented people have what’s known as an extra gear. (Probably true of any field, but I remember back in the day watching Deion Sanders returning punts and it’s easier to see that extra gear kick in when it happens in real time on national television. For Nabokov that extra gear for the writer is being the enchanter. Do you think Vladimir Nabokov and Deion Sanders have ever been mentioned in the same article ever before? By the way, I’ve worked with Deion and he’s not only a  Pro Football Hall-of-Famer but also a storyteller, teacher and enchanter.

Related post: Postcard #28 (Prime Time) 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

Read Full Post »

“Plays are about conflict. Plays are about people not getting along.”
Edward Albee

oddcouple

“Behavior interests me more than anything. I think in any play that I’ve ever written the people all have options to behave in another way; they don’t, and that’s what makes it so funny and so poignant. It’s generally people who get themselves in all of the problems…Generally in a lot of my plays, two people are in major confrontation with each other, like in The Odd Couple or Barefoot in the Park or The Sunshine Boys.”
Neil Simon
The Playwright’s Art

In that same interview with Simon he also said, “Generally speaking, when a play opens, 95 percent of what’s up there is what I have approved of. With a film, I’m at mercy of the director, and what comes out on the screen is about 10 percent of what I approved of.” Not sure how much he approved of in The Sunshine Boys (1975), but George Burns did win a Best Actor in a Supporting Role as part of a vaudeville duo who can’t stand his partner.

P.S. The Odd Couple was not only a Broadway play, a movie in 1968, a popular TV show in the 70s, but has been remade into several other plays and TV shows including the female and the African-American versions. In 2015, yet another version hits TV.

Related Posts:
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2) —A character comes to a fork in the road and a choice must be made. Take the high road (the healthy responsible choice) or the low road (unhealthy, irresponsible choice). If the character chooses the right thing you really don’t have a story.
Everything I Learned In Film School (Tip #1)
Protagonist=Struggle
Neil Simon on Conflict

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“As the day ended, the five were satisfied, they had done something new, something different, something more!”
The Numberlys
William Joyce & Christina Ellis

Now that my life is so prearranged
I know that it’s time for a cool change
Cool Change/Little River Band (Written by Glenn Shorrock)

Today is post #1,901 on Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places. I know I haven’t done something as “different” as The Numberlys did. After all they took a world that knew only numbers and formed letters and words. Now that was revolutionary.

All I’ve done is spend a few thousand hours laboring over books, magazines, online interviews, etc. looking for a cohesive (and sometimes contradictory) view of screenwriting (sometimes spilling over into other filmmaking disciplines). I think I have 99 more posts in me to make it to 2,000. After that? I don’t know.

But it’s time for a cool change.

My original goal in 2008 was a book and it just grew and grew. I’m actually on the tail-end of editing the “best of” posts down to three 60,000 word books. Sort of a beginning, middle and end. I’m exploring some ebook options and if you have any experience or advice in that world please shoot me an email at info@scottwsmith.com .

I don’t have much more of a game plan than that. When I was in film school I used to have a Nike poster in my dorm of a lone runner with the words, “There is no finish line”—which seemed cool at the time. But on a little reflection, I realized I like finish lines. We need finish lines. Finish lines are useful. It’s a way to measure things.  (You know what doesn’t have a finish line? Hamsters running on a wheel.)  It just seems like 2,000 posts on screenwriting is a good finish line.

theres-no-finish-line

The Regional Emmy Award and shout-outs from Diablo Cody, Edward Burns, and TomCrusie.com–as well as the many readers over the years have all been much appreciated. (Heck, yesterday had the most views all year.) Even if I stop writing daily posts here I’m sure something new will pop up. A new blog or perhaps weekly videos.

Finding a way to monetize it or have it open up more speaking opportunities would be great. Spending time getting more dramatic writing done would be ideal.

Playwright/screenwriter David Mamet was once asked if the theater was dying and replied, “The theater is always dying and always being reborn.” Certainly that definition could be used to explain a lot in our ever-changing society. I just found out today that the cable on our TV has been off for two months because we didn’t get a new box thingy. They credited our account and since we didn’t miss it we dropped cable altogether.

I’m not a Luddite, I’ve been watching The Sopranos via Amazon Prime and movies on Netflix streaming through my BluRay and playing on my TV.  Most college freshman I’ve read don’t have a TV in their room preferring to watch everything on their computers or phones. TV is dying and being reborn.

And so it is with Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places—it’s dying and being reborn. I’m just not sure yet what that new manifestation will look like. All suggestions welcomed.

‘The very impulse to write springs from an inner chaos crying for order, for meaning….”—Arthur Miller

P.S. The Numberlys book, App, and film was created by Oscar-winning Moonbot Studios in Shreveport, Louisiana—Shreveport qualifies as an unlikely place. I wrote some posts about them ( Filmmaking in the Other LA, Old Fashioned & Cutting Edge) a couple of years ago.

Update: Soon after I wrote this post, I heard some people talking about the bowling alley at Downtown Disney (Splitsville Luxury Lanes) and one of the people said, “Bowling’s coming back.” Bowling is always dying, and always coming back.

Related Posts:
Netflix + Emmy Nominations = New World Order
Putting the Bust in Blockbuster

Scott W. Smith 

Read Full Post »

(It’s been almost four years since I originally wrote this post—then titled Screenwriting Obsessionand it seems a fitting time to repost.)

“Most creators — and all would-be creators — simply aren’t obsessed enough.”
Eric Maisel

A few weeks ago I was talking to a couple filmmakers and we got to talking about a favorite topic of mine; Why are so many artists dysfunctional?  Take a handful of painters, writers, actors, musicians and filmmakers and you’ll have more than your share of people who suffer from depression, mental illness or at least some phobia that haunts them. Alcoholism and drug abuse appears more common with this tribe.

So the big question is — why?

One of the filmmakers had an easy answer, obsession.

I instantly thought of Jackson Pollock painting in his barn. I thought of Van Gogh’s passion. I thought of Martin Scorsese and his own demons. Obsession may be as good and answer as I’ve heard.

“One hasn’t become a writer until one has distilled writing into a habit, a habit that has been forced into an obsession. Writing has to be an obsession. It has to be something as organic, physiological and psychological as speaking or sleeping or eating.”
Niyi Osudare
From the book One Hundred Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters/Karl Iglesias

Eric Maisel, PhD has written several books that touch on this issue including Creativity for Life, The Creativity Book, and The Van Gogh Blues. I haven’t read his books, but in his article In Praise of Positive Obsessions he does make the distinction between positive and negative obsessions. He writes:

What exactly do I mean by a positive obsession?

A fair working definition is as follows: positive obsessions are insistent, recurrent thoughts or sets of thoughts, pressurized in feel, that are extremely difficult to ignore, that compel one to act, and that connect to one’s goals and values as an active meaning-maker and authentic human being.

For Van Gogh, for a period of time, sunflowers obsessed him. For Dostoevsky, for decades, the question of whether an innocent–a “saintly man” –could survive in the real world haunted and obsessed him.

Georgia O’Keeffe obsessed about how to represent the desert, thrilling herself when her imagery of bleached bones satisfied her for a time.

It is no accident or coincidence that effective artists harbor preoccupations that rise to the level of positive obsession.

So maybe we just obsess too much about those creative souls who have negative obsessions. After all those are the ones that tend to fascinate us the most. Those are the ones books are written about and movies made of their lives.

If you have any books and articles that explore the similarities and differences of positive and negative obsessions toss them my way. I don’t think my obsession is going away from thinking about it anytime soon.

And as far as screenwriting obsessions—there are many. Why do people spend so much time and money on something when the odds are so against any meaningful return on investment? Why all the books, CDs, workshops, college degrees, screenwriting expos, script consultants, etc. if there wasn’t a screenwriting obsession in this country? Why do produced screenwriters continue though they often feel less than satisfied with the finished results of their script?

Maybe it has something to do with Van Gogh continuing to paint even though the appreciation for his work would come long after he died. I hope you can find that “positive obsession,” and can continue to work on your craft without losing your mind.

Related posts:
“What it means to be a screenwriter.”
Don’t Waste Your Life (2.0) “It’s an accepted fact that all writers are crazy, even the normal ones are weird.”—William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade    
‘The Greatest Gift’“It is a story about depression and disillusionment, alcoholism and attempted suicide. And yet for all that, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life has just been voted the most inspirational film ever made.” 2006 article in The Guardian

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Tom Lazarus (Stigmata) is not only a produced screenwriter, but a longtime instructor at the UCLA Extension program.  Earlier this week I thumbed through a book of his I bought over a decade ago and found this little gem:

The best log line I’ve ever read was for an episode of the old TV show Father Knows Best. It was: Billy loses his house key. That’s what the episode was about. That, and nothing more.

The log line is the simple, one- or two-sentence, description of a movie that appears in TV Guide.

…Log lines are vital in my process of film writing because they force me to distill my idea for the screenplay down to its essence. The log line is what I judge what I’m writing against. The log line forces me to be absolutely clear about what I’m writing.
Tom Lazarus
Secrets of Film Writing 

We could go back and forth over the difference between a logline for a movie and one for a TV program–or if the logline for a Father Knows Best episode is better than, say, the logline for JAWS. But it’s a good to think about as you develop your own stories. And while “Billy loses his house key” may seem a little simplistic, check out the insight in the post (David Wain) What’s at Stake?:

“Any screenplay can be about any stakes. It can be tiny like trying to get a piece of gum off your shoe or saving the world–it’s irrelevant. The point is the stakes are important to the character and that you care as the audience about what the character cares about.”
Screenwriter David Wain

That usually means there is the potential for something meaningful to be lost. Wally on Leave it to Beaver losing his baseball glove and fears his father’s anger, Tony Soprano fears losing his mind, Bruce Willis in Die Hard fears losing his wife, Marlin fears losing his only son in Finding Nemo. 

Here’s another thought I read this week that seems fitting to toss into the mix:

“I received an exorbitant amount of query letters this week. After all these years, I’m still amazed at how many bad ideas inspire screenwriters. Many new writers make a fatal era at the start: Choosing an idea that is neither cinematic nor dramatic. Or an idea that is limited in its appeal. Is the concept best suited for a screenplay? Is it an externalized story best told with moving pictures and through conflict? Is it a story that will attract enough of an audience to warrant its budget in the millions? Many writers will defend themselves with: ‘I’m an artist and must write what’s personal and important to me. I can’t think about those other things.’ That’s fine — but don’t query me. Make your own movie. Not all stories make for good screenplays, by the way. And that’s okay. The story might be a better novel or poem or play. It’s the writer’s job to make that determination. And it’s better to do it at the beginning – before writing the script.”
WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart on The Inside Pitch/Facebook group
And he linked to his 2006 blog post Think “Hallewood” on how to improve the stories you set out to write

P.S. I’ve actually never seen an episode of Father Knows Best, and couldn’t find the “lost key” episode online, but I did find one from the first season written by Phil Davis that has the logline, “Jim has only two tickets to a football game and must decide whom to take with him.” Jim (the father played by Robert Young) decides to have a contest with his three children to see which one will be chosen to go with him to— “the most important football game of the year.”

And while that concept of that 60-year-old program seems dated, the dramatic material between sibling rivalries is deep. Not only to mention the timeless question kids ask their parents, “Which child is your favorite?” And how many billions of dollars have been spent on counseling people with mother/father—son/daughter issues?

“I was very angry with him. It cost me ten thousand dollars in therapy to say that sentence: ‘I was very angry him.’ I do it very well, don’t I? I’ll say it again: I was very angry with him. ‘Hello, my name is Mr. Lewis, I am very angry with my father.'”
Edward (Richard Gere) in Pretty Women

Related links.

The Perfect Logline
Star Wars—The Logline
Juno—The Logline

Links to others who have written about longlines.

The Construction of a Logline (Get this free PDF.)
ScriptShadow Special – How To Craft A Damn Good Logline

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.”
Screenwriter David Mamet
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO?

Everything looks worse
In black and white
Kodachrome by Paul Simon
(I love this song, but everything doesn’t look worse in black and white)

Today wraps up a series of posts taken from Jerry Lewis’s book, The Total Film-Maker. These insights are from chapter 14—OTHER FILM-MAKERS, OTHER FILMS.

“I’m convinced that the best example of a total film­ maker was Chaplin. He was totally in, on, and all over his films. He created them in the fullest sense of the word: ex­perimented to see how widely, how cleverly and skillfully he could work.

“Chaplin also had a powerful family of fine comic people who worked with him picture after picture. He often used one actor for three different roles within the same film, changing costume and make-up to change characters. Ford Sterling played three completely different roles in City Lights.

“…Older men like Chaplin and Hitchcock were masters of their craft during their prime years. They were great artists with people and with the tools of their art. George Stevens, in directing A Place in the Sun, Giant and The Greatest Story Ever Told, shows mastery in almost every frame.

“…The work of a Fred Zinnemann comes from knowledge, care and lots of sweat. Films like High Noon, The Sun­downers and A Man for All Seasons are the product of a master craftsman. Any young director can learn quite a lesson by watching what he did with the camera, how he handled the actors and treated the subject matter as the result of both.”
Actor, writer, director (and one time USC professor) Jerry Lewis
The Total Film-Maker (1971)

P.S. Those first 30 seconds of the clip from the 6-time Oscar-winning film A Place in the Sun (including Best Picture) where Liz and Monty meet and greet is a great example of fine filmmaking. So much subtext in each other’s “Hello” and great exposition in her line, “I see you had a misspent youth.” In fact, that line covers about 100 pages of the Theodore Dreiser novel— An American Tragedy (1925)— from which the Michael Wilson (a two-time Oscar winner from  McAlester, Oklahoma whose credits include Lawrence of Arabia) and Harry Brown based their screenplay. BTW–Patrick Kearney wrote play on the book that premiered on Broadway in 1926. And to come full circle, I have read that Russian Sergei Eisenstein spent some time in Hollywood wrote a screenplay on the book in 1920 that he hoped Charlie Chaplin would produce. If anyone has a link to Eisenstein’s version I’d love to read it. Josef von Sternberg directed the 1931 version of An American Tragedy from a script by Samuel Hoffenstein. If there was ever a timeless title in our 24-7 newscyle era it’s An American Tragedy.

Related Posts:

Comedy, Cruelty, Chaplin
Chaplin on Embracing Cliches

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Breaks will come to the young film-maker, but unless he possesses at least rudimentary knowledge they will be of little use to him. Recently I saw a film made by a twenty­ one-year-old, Steven Spielberg. It was twenty-four minutes of film called Amblin, produced for around $17,000. It rocked me back. He displayed an amazing knowledge of film-making as well as creative talent. He was signed to a director’s contract by Universal. Even at twenty-one, he was ready when the break came.”
Actor, writer, director (and one time USC professor) Jerry Lewis
The Total Film-Maker (1971)

Related posts:
John Ford’s Advice to Spielberg
Filmamking Quote #21 (Spielberg)
The Next Steven Spielberg
Raiders Revisted (part 1) “What we’re just doing here, really, is designing a ride at Disneyland.”—Spielberg

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: