Archive for February, 2015

“You need to have a lot of perseverance and persistence in order to get things through, which was certainly true for The Theory of Everything.”
Producer/screenwriter Anthony McCarten
(Who said he worked on The Theory of Everything “more or less, for 10 years.”)

Oscar-nominated and  BAFTA-winning screenwriter Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) started his writing career as a journalist with a small newspaper in New Plymouth, New Zealand. Along his writing journey the 53-year-old has written plays, novels and TV programs.

“When I left university, I tried making it as a poet for a while, but there was no money in poetry. So, I turned up at an unemployment office and they said, ‘We have no positions for poets at the moment, but can you act?’ I said yes, of course, but it was a complete lie. And I found myself performing a reduced Shakespeare for schools. This threw me into the world of actors and opened a door for me to write a play. It’s how I morphed from someone who wrote poems to someone who wrestled with plot and structure and character and movement and so forth.

“I was 10 years into being a playwright and, during that time, nurtured a desire to write a novel. While I was developing my skills as a novelist, opportunities arose where I was asked if I would be happy to turn my novels into movies. And that returned me to my first love, which was TV, and the stories I grew up watching in black and white.”
Anthony McCarten
MovieMaker interview with Mark Sells

Related posts:
“I can’t keep handling this…rejection” Advice from a now Oscar-winning screenwriter.
Perseverance (Werner Herzog)
Tennessee Williams on ‘Apparent Failure’
Bob DeRosa’s ‘Shortcuts’
How to Become a Successful Screenwriter “I think every writer harbors—secretly or not-so-secretly—delusions of grandeur.” Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (whose own writing journey echoes McCarten’s—Perseverance & Persistence).

Scott W. Smith



Read Full Post »

“I see only one requirement you have to have to be a director, or any kind of artist: rhythm. Rhythm, for me, is everything. Without rhythm, there’s no music. Without rhythm, there’s no cinema. Without rhythm, there’s no architecture. The cosmos is a system of rhythms that come in many ways: Images. Sounds. Colors. Vibrations… . And if you don’t get that, if you don’t have that, it’s impossible to do something that vibrates. You can have the craft, the knowledge, the information, the tools, even the ideas—but if you don’t have rhythm, you are f- -ked.”
Oscar-winning Birdman producer/director/writer Alejandro González Iñárritu
Esquire, January 2015

Related post: The Rhythm of Writing

Read Full Post »

Everything is Awesome!!!

Have you heard the news, everyone’s talking
Life is good ’cause everything’s awesome
Everything is Awesome!!! from The Lego Movie

Okay, maybe not everything is awesome. In fact, if we just look at a few of last night’s Academy Award-winning films we’ll see a lot of the harder aspects of life represented; Birdman, Still Alice, American Sniper, Whiplash, Ida, Selma.

(The same was true of last year’s films—12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers Club, Captain Phillips, Gravity— and the year before that, and throughout the 100+ years of the history of movies.)

Congrats to last night’s winners and nominees. And best wishes in your own writing, filmmaking and life as you deal with the less awesome times of your life—the ones full of strife and conflict.

Capture the magic.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“[Foxcatcher] was kind of an orphan movie for a while. There was no financing. There were no actors, and we were just trying to get the script right.”
Foxcatcher co-screenwriter Dan Futterman
The Wall Street Journal 

In the post Wrestling for an Oscar Nomination I wrote about screenwriter Jason Hall physically wrestling with someone while he was researching the story that would become the movie American Sniper.

While Foxcatcher is a story actually centered around wrestling—and up for 5 Oscars this year—I didn’t find any physical wrestling the filmmakers had to endure while bringing the story to film life, but director Bennett Miller and screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman had plenty of metaphorical wrestling along the eight-year journey to get the film made.

“In spring 2006, a total stranger handed me an envelope at an event at Tower Video that contained newspaper clippings about the story. That was my first exposure.”
Bennett Miller on the early seeds for Foxcatcher

Frye and Futterman worked on the screenplay seperatley—Frye before the 2007/2008 writers’ strike and Futterman afterwards.

“Bennett… became obsessed with it, and I think for, oh, six months at least, began to really do a lot of research and compile a lot of articles and public domain material and histories of the du Pont family, etc., etc. But he also did another really important thing, which was he went around and he interviewed and videotaped a lot of wrestlers who knew the Schultz brothers and/or were at Foxcatcher during that time period. And for me that was really essential to understand the world. I’m an ex-jock but I’m a basketball player and not a wrestler. So wrestling is a very, very particular kind of person and personality that becomes involved in it, in the sport, and it was really interesting for me to…I feel like that’s what I really…my research, you know, aside from the nuts and bolts and the facts and how to crack the story, my research really involved getting to know wrestling in a way and really understanding the mentality of people that wrestle, because that was, certainly for Mark and Dave, that was essential to understanding their characters.
E. Max Fry
Final Draft interview with Pete D’Alessandro

Apart from nailing the script, finding the right actors and securing financing were the major battles in getting the film made.  Miller set the project aside and made Moneyball (2011) before things finally fell in place to get Foxcatcher produced.

The payoff is Miller received an Oscar-nomination for directing Foxcatcher, and both Fry and Futterman were nominated for writing the screenplay. A win-win even if they don’t win.

P.S. To see how Miller launched his career go back and watch the documentary The Cruise (1998). Dream big, start small.

Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

Can you have a day job (or a night job) and still find time to write? Yes.

“I was a sound engineer. That was my day job when I started writing. I sort of did my day job every night. I would write from ten to six every day and at six, leave my apartment and head down to one of these rock clubs I worked at and mix for bands, or I would go into my studio… I had a little studio that I started with friends on the Lower East Side, and record bands there and I remember we did a series of Garnier shampoo commercials that like paid my rent for a year.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Graham Moore (The Imitation Game)
Interview with Brad Brevet/ Rope of Silicon

In case you missed it, Moore (whose roots are in Chicago) wrote from “ten to six everyday”—that’s eight hours a day, 40 hours a week if he did that five days a week. Over 160 hour of writing a month, all while working another job that paid his bills.

The Imitation Game was written as a spec script and was chosen as the top script on the 2011 The Black List. For what it’s worth, Moore’s degree from Columbia University is in religious studies.

Related post:
“I can’t keep handling this…rejection”—Graham Moore
“Art is Work”—Milton Glaser
The Breakfast Club for Writers (2.0) Elmore Leonard on writing two hours before work each morning— for ten years!—before his writing career really took off.
Iowa Kutcher on Jobs/Work —”Opportunities look a lot like work.”
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70) Hint—it’s not screenwriting contests, screenwriting workshops, or screenwriting blogs and podcasts.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Wrestling for an Oscar Nomination

“When anyone challenges this story or thinks that I didn’t try to put the whole story out there, I’m like, ‘You know what? I bled for this thing,’”
Jason Hall on a wrestling confrontation with a Navy SEAL while researching American Sniper
Time magazine article by Eliana Dockterman

Here’s a little background on screenwriter Jason Hall on his road to writing American Sniper which to date has made over $375 million at the worldwide box office and earned six Oscar nominations including best screenplay.

“I sought out Hall because I find it instructive to see how a guy with one screen credit (2009’s Spread) and another coming (an adaption of the Joseph Finder novel Paranoia) gets white-hot so quickly. Every writer’s trajectory is different, but there’s a common thread: there is no such thing as an overnight success screenwriter. It’s years of struggle to find a voice, and then maybe a lucky break. Hall came to Hollywood to be an actor, and only found his way to screenwriting because things were going so badly. ‘I did TV parts in Buffy The Vampire Slayer and other shows, playing the bad guy or the MacGuffin bad guy, with the half-baked mustache,’ Hall told me. ‘I would read these terrible movie scripts, and I couldn’t get auditions. I thought, maybe I could write a terrible script for myself.'”
Mike Fleming Jr.
Deadline article How Jason Hall Went From Struggling Actor To Hot Screenwriter With American Sniper And Two More Deals Coming

P.S. If you read the whole Deadline article you’ll discover that Hall actually got into  a second physical confrontation while doing fact-finding on Chris Kyle’s life. It helps that Hall is 6’3″ and wrestled in his youth because I don’t think any film schools or writing workshops include wrestling as part of their curriculum. It’s also worth noting that Hall wrestled with the story for three years before turning in the American Sniper script. And since Hall is 42-years-old, I’d guess that his journey to wild Hollywood success took about 20 years.

Related posts:
Screenwriting & Brass Knuckles
Screenwriting Quote #52 (Darren Aronofsky)The Wrestler
John Irving, Iowa & Writing (Irving was a high school wrestler and coach.)
Screenwriter Thomas McCarthy (On the high school wrestling film Win-Win.)

Scott W. Smith  


Read Full Post »

“I want my movies to be about regular people that are caught up in extraordinary moments in their lives, usually by their own doing. It’s not like a meteor movie where something’s coming from space that the people had nothing to do with. The characters have to either go right or left—there’s no option for them to stay where they are.”
Writer/director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, A Most Violent Year)
Film Comment interview with Emma Myer

Related post:
David O. Russell on Character & Theme—”I always look for amazing characters who I find are fascinating, charming, flawed, romantic and in trouble.”

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

‘Whiplash’ is astounding. Believe the hype. My heart was still pounding 10 minutes after the credits rolled.”
Diablo Cody
November 26, 2014 Tweet by @diablocody

Damien Chazelle has a few things in common with Diabo Cody. Both are screenwriter/directors, both have cool names with the initials D.C., and both were 29-years-old when they received their first Oscar nominations for solo credited screenplays with single world titles. (She for Juno and he for Whiplash).

A film critic after interviewing Cody said she was ‘wicked smart,” and Chazelle graduated from Harvard (and his father—a Yale graduate— is a professor a Princeton). We’ll know in a couple of weeks if Chazelle walks away with an Oscar like Cody did seven years ago.

But there is one more similarity that I’d like to point out—they both had a long creative history before their breakthrough Hollywood success. Cody said she’d written everyday (short stories, poems, etc.) since she was 12-years-old, and Chazelle had even an earlier start by making films when he was elementary school age.

“I always wanted to make movies. Basically, there’s nothing else I ever wanted to do. So it just became a matter early on of figuring out how I was gonna do that. You and I were talking last night about some of my early masterpieces with my dad’s shitty camcorder, just making little movies with friends in my house…. I was too young to know how to actually operate the camera, so I would just stage stuff and have my dad shoot it. My dad got sick of that really quickly. He never really liked it to begin with, and he started messing up the shots and at a certain point I realized, as a lot of actors actually often do, that I’d be better off getting behind the camera. So, I was in fourth or fifth grade when I started actually getting behind the camera.”
Damien Chazelle
Issue Magazine interview with Whiplash actor Miles Teller

P.S. While in college Chazelle spent two years making his first feature film Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.

Related posts:
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic
Stephen J. Cannell’s Work Ethic
Screenwriting Quote #87 (Ray Bradbury)
Bob DeRosa’s ‘Shortcuts’
Differentiate Yourself

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

If you check out the Whiplash screenplay currently on the Sony Pictures website this is how screenwriter/director Damien Chazelle starts the opening scene— followed by a New York Times video of Chazelle explaining what he was after beginning the now Oscar-nominated Best Picture:

We hear a HIT. A drumstick against a drum head. Crisp, sharp.

Then a second hit. Then a third and a fourth. The hits growing so fast they start to blur together. Like gunfire…


A cavernous space. Sound-proofed walls. And in the center, a DRUM SET. Seated at it, in a sweat-marked white T, eyes zeroed on his single-stroke roll, is ANDREW NEIMAN.

He’s 19, slight, honors-student-skinny — except for his arms, which have been built from years and years of drumming.

Suddenly — a MAN enters the practice room. Stopping, rising–

Sorry… I’m — I’m sorry–

It’s ok. Stay there.

The MAN steps forward, removes his coat. He’s tall. Late fifties. Black T-shirt, black slacks, black shoes. We’ll know him as FLETCHER.

Related Posts:
Damien Chazelle on Pushing Yourself
Screenwriting Straight Outta Harvard
‘The Visitor’
Different Dummer from Linden, Texas

Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

Screenwriter Damien Chazelle didn’t really write Whiplash straight out of Harvard University—he’d actually sold a few spec scripts after he graduated with a degree Visual & Environmental Sciences. He’d even had a couple of features produced from his scripts. But it wasn’t until after he tapped into his own experience as competitive jazz ensemble drummer in high school that he became an Oscar-nominated screenwriter.

“[Whiplash] was the most personal thing I’d ever written—the most embarrassing in that sense as well. It sounds very cliche to say this but it was that kind of pouring out on the page sort of thing. And wrote it very quickly and kinda put it in a drawer, and was too embarrassed to show it to anyone for a while because I didn’t like what it said about myself. And then tinkered with it a little bit and finally got up the courage to show it to a few people and then it sort of became, ‘okay, let’s try to actually make this.’ But it started out more as just a, ‘This [other script’s] not working I need to just do something completely different, I’m going to write what happened to me as a drummer.”
Screenwriter Damien Chazelle on his screenplay Whiplash
DP/30 Interview

P.S. The day after the New England Patriots won their fourth Super Bowl it seems fitting to have a Boston/Cambridge related post. If you go back to 2008 post Screenwriting from Massachusetts you’ll find that Chazelle joins of list of at least 20 writers who attended Harvard and had their work end up as movies. 

Other Massachusetts related posts:

‘The Verdict’ Revisited
Tony C
Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski (‘Prisoners’)
Will Simmons’ Road to Hollywood
Mad Men (and Women) Writers
Screenwriter Thomas McCarthy
Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg
Writing ‘Good Will Hunting’
(Yawn)…Another Pulitzer Prize
Screenwriting Quote #3 (Charlie Kaufman)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: