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



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“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 fu##ed.”
Oscar-winning Birdman producer/director/writer Alejandro González Iñárritu
Esquire, January 2015

Related post: The Rhythm of Writing

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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

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“[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


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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

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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  


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“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

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