Archive for July, 2015

According to screenwriter Jim Uhls, reading screenplays—”as many as you can”—is the best way to analytically as well as intuitively learn screenwriting structure. And while he did his undergraduate theater work at Drake University and his graduate work in dramatic writing at UCLA, he doesn’t believe that a formal education in film school is imperative to working in the business.

“What [college] gave me was a workshop where I did have plays fully produced, I had scenes that I’d written in screenplay structure shot on video tape so I was able to get immediate gratification, and immediate feedback from other artists. So that kind of environment is valuable, no matter where it is or what circumstances—it doesn’t have to be college.”
Jim Uhls
The Dialogue interview with Mike De Luca

Keep in mind that Uhls went to college over 30 years ago and the environment has changed considerably since then. College was not only cheaper, but it was one of the few places you could get your hands on quality production equipment. Nor was there the internet to gain free access to screenwriting and production advice as well as screenplays themselves.

Tuition for UCLA grad school runs $15,582.09 per year. (Other schools can run $40-50K per year. ) Read the article Leaving Los Angeles and consider what it would mean for a writer/filmmaker to have $100,000+ of student loan debt heading into a career in the arts.

Considering today that for under $4,000 you can buy a decent camera, lens, SD cards, tripod, a computer, a microphone, a couple of lights, and editing software and still have enough left over for a couple months subscription to lynda.com— you can get that “immediate gratification” of seeing your work produced by shooting and editing it yourself. Of seeing actors say your lines. And you can do that wherever you live in the world. And if $4,000 is too much buy used gear for $2,000—or find a buddy who already has the gear.

Also, consider starting in your area a writer/actor workshop/lab. Uhls is a founding member of Safehouse in L.A. which consists of working screenwriters, playwrights, and actors presenting material for feature films, TV pilots, shorts films, plays and free standing scenes.

“[Safehouse] is a safe space for writers to workshop their work without any judgment. It’s a place where you can feel free to fall flat on your face and no one’s going to laugh at you or think less of you. We’re going to give you constructive criticism, and whatever you do with that criticism is your business.”
Screenwriter  (and producer of The Dialogue series) Aleks Horvat
LATimes article by Jay A. Fernandez on Safehouse

“That’s why we call it Safehouse. What’s wholesome about the group is that we all know that [the writer’s looking for input] and we’re all helping with that. Everybody’s got something to work out in the material they’re bringing.”
Jim Uhls from the same article

“The idea is that writers bring in about 15-minutes of material from a screenplay, or a play, and they direct the actors in the scenes—in rehearsals—the lines aren’t memorized, the actors are working off a script but it’s blocked and acted out and afterwards the other writers and actors present that evening will give comments”
Jim Uhls 
The Dialogue interview with Mike De Luca

Feel free to comment or email me (info@scottwsmith.com) about your workshop experiences, or where there are other similar groups are meeting—especially ones in unlikely places.

P.S. Speaking of unlikely places and learning about film on the internet, believe it or not, the first place you should go is Cinephilia and Beyond (@LAFamiliaFilm) which comes from Zagreb, Croatia. This is what director Peter Webber (Girl with a Peral Earring) says about that site, “I’ve learned more from Cinephilia & Beyond than I ever did from film school.” Since I’m on a run of posts on Jim Uhls, check out Cinephilia & Beyond’s Fight Club section where there’s a link to Uhls’ Fight Club screenplay and audio commentary.

Scott W. Smith

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“There’s an old cliché: ‘work smarter, not harder.’ As it turns out, the process of skill acquisition is not really about the raw hours you put in…it’s what you put into those hours.”
Josh Kaufman
The First 20 Hours, How to Learn Anything…Fast

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”
Painter Salvador Dalí

Is it possible to write a screenplay in one day? A feature film screenplay? Even if you’ve never written one before? Yes, to all of the above. What’s the catch? You’re not going to write that original screenplay in your head, but one that’s already been produced.

You’re going to transcribe a film. As in you are writing the script based on an existing movie you’re watching on your TV, computer, tablet or phone. (If you happen to be a court reporter that skill could come in handy here.)

I heard this “Transcribe a Film” piece of advice over the weekend from screenwriter Jim Uhls (Fight Club) on a CreativeLive seminar he gave called The Screenwriters Toolkit.

“Here’s an assignment for you, transcribe a film. Everybody has a way of pausing and rewinding films as they’re watching them—this is a big assignment. It’s a big job. But it’s a very, very valuable thing to do. When we’re writing we’re seeing a movie while we’re writing our movie. We’re imagining it. So that’s similar to watching a film, and transcribing what’s happening. Don’t read the screenplay first and cheat that way. Transcribe it the way you’re experiencing it. Put in the slug lines, put in the action description lines, transcribe that dialogue, put in the parentheticals where you think that makes sense. It’s a very, very good exercise. And what it will eventually do is create a facility to handle transcribing your own imagination as you’re thinking of your film story…You should transcribe the whole film without questions.”
Screenwriter Jim Uhls (Fight Club)
CreativeLive seminar/ Vocabulary & Basic Style Rules

That’s the freshest screenwriting tip I’ve heard in the last decade. It should instantly go into the screenwriting advice hall of fame.

Why do I think it’s such great advice? Because there are many people who for years have been in love with the idea of being a screenwriter—but they’ve never finished writing even one screenplay. This fixes that in one day. Granted it’s not a screenplay that totally came out of your imagination—but it’s a start. (And it might take you all day—as in 24 hours. To help yourself here pick a movie that has a sub-100 minute running time like Pieces of April—80 min., verses The Godfather—175 min.)

But at the end of the day (or the end of the week if you chunk it out) you’ll have a feature script you wrote. Then you can track down the screenplay of the movie you transcribed and compare how the screenwriter(s) who got paid to write the screenplay did it.

Then you can begin to analyze how that script is different from yours. But for now we’re just going to get it written. (No pressure here. You don’t have to show this to anyone.)

If you’ve never read a screenplay, read a book on screenwriting, or taken a screenwriting class there are just three things I want you to do as you dive into writing your first screenplay; Slug line, scene description, and dialogue.

1) Slug line/ scene headings

This is what’s written at the beginning of every scene. Examples:


Does that seem simplistic? Those are slug lines from the Oscar-nominated screenplay The Verdict by David Mamet. There are other slight variations (DUSK, DAWN, AFTERNOON, etc.) but INT or EXT (for interior or exterior) and DAY or NIGHT are the most commonly used.

2) Scene description / action

Example (again from The Verdict screenplay);

Gavin and Laura are in a booth. The remains of a dinner and drinks around them. They are both smoking cigarettes, intent on each other. Both a little drunk.

Four sentences that give you a clear idea of the setting.

(For the sake of economy try to limit those descriptions to three sentences or less. If you have to write more use another paragraph. In writing action movies you may have a burst of short sentences and paragraphs flowing down the page.)

3) Dialogue

Here you’re going to just write down the dialogue the characters say. Put the character’s name in ALL CAPS with the dialogue under it in the center of the page. (Screenwriting software makes the formatting a breeze.)

Example from Oscar-winning Juno screenplay by Diablo Cody. (Major spoiler alert.)

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 1.37.38 PM

You can do that, right? Now, there are other aspects of basic screenwriting like  parentheticals, transitions, character introductions, capping SOUNDS, camera directions, MORE, CON’T, etc., but unless you already know how to use those just stick with slug lines, scene description, and dialogue.

Here’s what those three look like when put together from the start of one scene by Damien Chazelle from the Oscar-nominated Whiplash script.


There are many other nuances involved in screenwriting (structure, subtext, subplots, theme, etc.) but I’m trying to demystify just the core process as much as possible for this assignment. If you have screenwriting software like Movie Magic Screenwriter ($179.95), Final Draft (on sale today for $169.), Highlander ($29.95 and from screenwriter John August and his team) or Celex (free) it simplifies the formatting process, but if you don’t just do it in Word or Pages using 12-pont Courier font. Some working screenwriters handwrite their scripts so you can even do that. (It’ll just take you a little longer and you won’t be able to have the satisfaction of having your screenplay look like a real screenplay.)

While doing this you’ll be developing muscle memory. Building confidence. Not getting caught up in analytical aspects—and sometimes esoteric concepts—of screenwriting.

One of the hardest aspects of learning how to surf is actually learning how to catch a wave. And if the waves are 3 feet or bigger it can seem like an impossible task. But go out with a surfer/surf instructor on a calm 1-2 foot day and have him or her give you a little push at the right time and all you have to do is watch your balance and stand up. You won’t be Kelly Slater, but you’ll be surfing in an hour or two.

Transcribing a film is like that. Just giving you a little nudge before you head out into the big waves by yourself.

And for the doubters out there, this method is in the ballpark of how Oscar-winning screenwriter Quentin Tarantino started his writing career. While taking acting classes he used to write scenes from memory of movies he’d seen. Along the way an acting coach realized that the writing was not only deviating some from the actual movies, but was actually better written in some cases and encouraged Tarantino to begin writing his own scripts.

P.S. The day after I wrote this post I decided to try this out for one scene to see how long it would take. I went to Netflix and landed on indie film Swingers (1996). Using a yellow pad and pen it look me 20 minutes to write out the opening dialogue driven scene. What I wrote lined up within one sentence of the Jon Favreau script. It was a good exercise. If I was typing it could have been done in 10 minutes so I’m guessing it would take anywhere from 6-12 hours to do a whole script. 

Related Post: Dumb Little Writing Tricks That Work:Transcribe Screenplays (Scott Myers)

Scott W. Smith

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“”In my experience it takes about twenty hours of practice to break through the frustration barrier: to go from knowing absolutely nothing about what you’re trying to performing noticeably well….If you invest as little as twenty hours in learning the basics of the skill, you’ll be surprised at how good you can become.”
Josh Kaufman
The First 20 Hours

“I’ve never read a screenwriting book. I’m really superstitious about it too. I don’t even want to look at them. All I did was I went and bought the shooting script of  ‘Ghost World’ at Barnes and Noble and read it just to see how it should look on the page because I like that movie.”
Screenwriter Diablo Cody

So much has been written about the “10,000 hour rule” that I think Josh Kaufman has done the world a favor by talking about it a little bit more in his book The First 20 Hours; How to Learn Anything…Fast. Kaufman writes in his opening chapter:

“In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book titled Outliers:The Story of Success, In it, he sets about trying to explain what makes certain people more successful than others. 

“One of the idea Gladwell mentions again and again is what he calls the ‘10,000 hour rule.’ Based on research conducted by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University, expert level performance takes, on average, ten thousand house if deliberate practice to achieve.” 

Kaufman isn’t trying to do any myth-busting on the 10,000 hour rule (though others have)—he just clarifies the conclusion that Dr. Ericsson discovered. Because knowing that something can take on average a decade to master can be overwhelming. A wall too big to attempt climbing.

“World class mastery may take ten thousand hours of focused effort, but developing the capacity to perform well enough for your own purposes usually requires far less of an investment.”
Josh Kaufman

It’s easy for “expert level” and “world-class mastery” to get left out of the 10,000 hour discussion.

If you’re just starting out in screenwriting—and especially if you live outside of L.A.—then screenwriter Diablo Cody is a great example of someone who did not have 10,000 hours of screenwriting before selling her first screenplay (Juno) —which just happened to win her an Academy Award in 2008. (Cody was much closer to 20 hours than 10,000 hours of actual screenwriting experience.)

But I did point out in the post Beatles, King, Cody & 10,000 Hours in the 15 year run between the ages of 12 & 27 Cody probably spent 10,000 hours reading books, watching TV shows & movies, getting a Media Studies degree, and doing her own creative writing (short stories, poems, etc.) in Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. It helps that she’s wicked smart and found a cheerleader in Hollywood with producer Mason Novak (who discovered her unique voice via her blog).

“Here’s my unsolicited advice to any aspiring screenwriters who might be reading this: Don’t ever agonize about the hordes of other writers who are ostensibly your competition.  No one else is capable of doing what you do.”
Diablo Cody
Introduction, Juno: The Shooting Script

You may not be the next Diablo Cody, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get your start the way Oscar-winning Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio did—by writing spec scripts for nothing that led him to independent producers who’d pay him $5,000 to write a script—or as he says, “on a good day maybe 10,000 bucks. Or just here’s lunch if you’ll let me be the guy to take your screenplay around, and you’re grateful for that.”

But the bottom line as screenwriter Bob DeRosa says, “There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work. Perseverance. Luck. Craft. Failure. Success. Mistakes. And Yes, dreams that come true.”

And sometimes dream don’t come true. There are plenty of decent golfers who spent 10,000 playing golf who not only didn’t become the next Tiger Woods—but didn’t even make the PGA Tour. There are no guarantees even if you hit the 10,000 hour mark. May you find joy in the journey.

Over the seven years of writing this blog I’ve come to see my role as a curator of sorts—a place to gather some of the best screenwriting and filmmaking thoughts found in books, interviews, and movie commentaries. Starting next week I’ll start a string of posts by Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls.

P.S. This week I put Kaufman’s 20 hour test to work by doing a deep dive learning Apple Motion 5 for a motion graphics opening I’m working on. I started the week never having touched Motion 5, did about half of a lynda.com tutorial with Ian Robinson, and with the help of a Videoblocks Motion template, and completed a nicely polished opening. I tell you that because, while I’ve worn a lot of production hats over the decades working in video production—motion graphics have always terrified me a little. Something that I was all to pleased to farm out to talented motion graphics artists. But sometimes, for various reasons (usually budget related), you just have to step up to the plate and swing the bat for yourself.

P.P.S. A good companion book to The First 20 Hours is The Art of Leaning by Josh Waitkin. (He was the subject of the movie Searching for Bobby Fisher. Someone who was not only a chess champion, but also a World Champion in the martial art Tai Chi Chuan.) It’s a book that has come up a couple of times on screenwriter Brian Koppelman’s podcast The Moment.

Related posts:
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)
Can Screenwriting Be Taught? (2.0)

Scott W. Smith

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“I thought, ‘This will never get made.'”
Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls on reading the Fight Club novel before it was published 

All roads don’t lead to Iowa, but I’m no longer surprised when a couple of Hollywood stories do. The movie Fight Club does in fact have a connection with Iowa. Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls was born and raised in Missouri, but did his undergrad work at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. (The same school screenwriter John August attended several years after Uhls.)

Uhls earned a theatre degree at Drake excelling in playwriting. He then added screenwriting to his repertoire at UCLA earning an MFA in dramatic writing. In Los Angeles he was also part of a Pad ‘o Guys in L.A. which included screenwriters Shane Black (Lethal Weapon), Ed Soloman (Men in Black) and eventual Fight Club director David Fincher.

After all his schooling and before his screenwriting career took off Uhls worked as a journalist, as a high school English teacher with the L.A. Unified School District, and as a bartender. Here’s a story he tells about his bartending days:

“I was working at a dive, dive bar in North Hollywood and one afternoon— hardly anyone was in there— and a very small man comes in. He’s old, seems a little frail—wearing a fishing cap, and sits down and very quietly orders a Crown Royal on the rocks. And he doesn’t really say much, but he seems fairly friendly.  Maybe kinda lost in his own thoughts. And there were a few other people there, some at the bar and at different tables, and the phone rang. And this was such a dive that even though I’d been there four months I did know where the phone was, and I just had to follow the ring. But I found it and picked it up and this very sophisticated British female voice said, ‘Is Mr. Peckinpah there?’ And I said, ‘Mr. Peckinpah?’ ‘Yes, Mr. Sam Peckinpah.’  And I put my hand over the receiver and looked around this bar and I couldn’t imagine the answer being yes, and I said, ‘Is there a Mr. Sam Peckinpah in here? And, of course, it was the old man with the fishing cap on. ‘Yeah, it’s me I’ll take it.’ At first he’s really quiet and then his voice goes up to a booming scream and a stream of obscenities.” And then throws the phone— it goes to the back bar and I hand it up. And I realize the timing sucks, but I walk over to him and say, ‘I couldn’t help but noticing your name is Sam Peckinpah’—he’s still steaming—so I came it right away with Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, various [films he’d directed and told him] how masterful they were. And that worked and he warmed up to me. We started talking and I asked him specific questions about what were the hard parts about filming this and filming that and he really enjoyed talking about it a lot. Then he insisted on buying me a Crown Royal on the rocks. And the manager of the bar who was a real tight person who basically would fire you if you were drinking on the job. And I said I’d really like to put it in a coffee cup if you don’t mind. And he said, ‘YOU’RE HAVING  A DRINK WITH SAM PECKINPAH, NOW PUT IT IN A REAL GLASS, AND LET’S HAVE A DRINK.’ So I filled both the glasses and we had a toast…six months later he was no longer alive.”
Jim Uhls in an interview with producer Mike De Luca
The Dialogue: Jim Uhls

Director Sam Peckinpah died in 1984. Fifteen years later Uhls earned his first screenwriting credit with Fight Club. Like I keep saying, it takes a little time sometimes. Uhls had written a spec script called Hard Hearts that was ‘a dark edge comedy about a man and a woman’ that Uhls said Fincher liked.

P.S. Uhls story of having a drink with Peckinpah reminded me of the time in 1987 when I was working as a 16mm cameraman/editor and walked out of FotoKem in Burbank after having a print timed on a project I was working only to see director/actor/writer John Huston in the parking lot in a wheelchair. Except here there was no Crown Royal involved. I didn’t even walk over and talk about Chinatown, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, or The African Queen. I just stood by my car and stared as he was pushed inside. A month or two later he was dead. His last film as a director (The Dead) came out in December 1987.   

P.P.S. Professional golfer Zach Johnson—a Ceder Rapids, Iowa native— was the number two golfer on the team when he was at Drake University. But on Monday he became one of just a handful of golfers ever who have won both the Masters and the British Open. Johnson said after his win Monday at St. Andrews in Scotland, “When you’re trying to accomplish lofty goals and when you’re attacking something of great magnitude, you have to have help,”  In the post Sneaky Long Screenwriting I talk about Johnson and how learning screenwriting is a lot like learning how to golf.

Related Posts:
Writer/Diesel Mechanic Chuck Palahnuik (Author of Fight Club novel)
‘Nobody was that interested in hiring me.’—Fincher
‘Fight Club’—First Punch
Live + Work Mansions Shane Black talking about the Pad ‘o Guys, “Of those 12 I’d say 10 succeeded in a fairly substantial, maybe even spectacular way, and helped each other on the way by reaching back down the ladder and pulling someone up a rung”

Scott W. Smith

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The instructor once he told me
I could work on any line
I could tune and make a diesel sing
Just like Patsy Cline
Broken Man’s Lament
Lyrics by Mark Germino

Some people claim there is a mystery of how writers have breakthroughs in their career, but I really don’t think there is much mystery involved. Over and over again I’ve written on this blog how talent, drive, persistence, and a lot of writing is the tried and true path that most writers take.

Author Chuck Palahniuk is no exception. He is however the first writer I’ve read about who was a diesel mechanic before becoming a published author. Here’s an exchange I found from an interview with Palahniuk on DVD talk: 

Question: How did you first get your break in writing, and what were you doing before writing Fight Club?

Chuck Palahniuk: “I worked at Freightliner for thirteen years right after college. I worked on the assembly line for several years. Then I moved into working as sort of a research mechanic, I would do repair and vehicle modification procedures and then write about them. So I worked on trucks and wrote about them.”

Before Palahniuk published 15 works of fiction, he also graduated from the University of Oregon School of Journalism. Another part of his creative journey was attending a writing workshop by author Tom Spanbauer. Here’s a quote by Spanbauer on the art of teaching; “Excellence only comes with not being afraid of who you are. To learn to speak your truth honestly with a clear voice takes lots of practice, and every trick in the book to keep you going down the arduous, cruel, lonely, glorious path of a writer.”

According to the Dangerous Writing link on his website Spanbauer “teaches an ongoing weekly critique group in Portland and focused 3-5 day intensive workshops occasionally with his co-teacher and partner Michael Sage Ricci and teacher-in-training Kevin Meyer.”

P.S. Here’s a great version of Broken Man’s Lament by Emmylou Harris from her album All I Intended to Be.

Related posts:
Stephen King’s Doublewide Trailer
Billy Wilder on Writing “(Writing) is blood, sweat, and tears, believe me. ”
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic
Start Small…But Start Somewhere “When I wrote 3:10 to Yuma. I sold the original [short] story for $90.”—Elmore Leonard
Mike Rich & Hobby Screenwriting (Another writer from Portland)
How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (Advice from an Oscar-winning screenwriter)

Scott W. Smith

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“I never took advertising seriously enough to worry about whether or not there was any sort of moral ambiguity about—I mean [Fight Club] probably more accurately depicts my take on advertising and what it provides for society than any of the advertising that I did. But, you know, you work where you can. I would have much rather started off making movies but nobody was that interested in hiring me to make movies early on so I did music videos and commercials as a way to just, you know, play with the tools.”
Two-time Oscar-nominated director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network)
Fight Club Blu-ray director’s commentary 

At 18-years-old Fincher began working for Korty Films in Mill Valley, California before going on to work for ILM in San Francisco. Next Fincher began directing commercials and music videos, and eventually feature films. “Work where you can.” Here’s an anti-smoking commercial directed by Fincher in 1984 when he was 21 or 22 years—starting at an early age being provocative with interesting visuals.

P.S. Fincher’s short time at Korty Films can’t be overlooked in setting the tone for his career. John Korty won an Emmy for his 1974 TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman which film critic Pauline Kael called “…possibly the finest movie ever made for American television.” An article by Paul Liberatore called Korty the “undisputed father of filmmaking in Northern California.”  He’s said to have inspired George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola to join him in creating “Hollywood North.” Korty also won an Oscar for his documentary Who Are the Debolts? [And Where Did They Get 19 Kids?]

And even his story has Midwest roots in that Korty was born Lafayette, Indiana and inspired to make films in 11th grade in Kirkwood, Missouri after a art teacher showed the class films by Norman McLaren.

“I had interests in music and art and writing and everything, and they were all separate things in my mind. When I saw McLaren’s films, I thought, ‘Wait a minute. Film is the one thing you can do that combines all these different elements.’ From that moment on, I was hooked on the idea of becoming a filmmaker.”—John Korty

Related posts:
Filmmaking Quote #25 (David Fincher)
1 Scene + 2 Actors = 99 Takes
‘Fight Club’—The First Punch

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.”
Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt)

I’m breaking the first two rules of Fight Club today by talking about Fight Club. But it’s okay because it’s really Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk talking about where he got the original idea for his novel Fight Club. (I had never read or heard this account until a few days ago when I watched the movie version and listened to the commentary by Palahniuk and Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls.)

“I had gone on a vacation hiking and camping. I’d gotten into a really big fight with some people over noise at night in the woods. Some people who just had to camp right next to our camp—just had to bring some huge radio some 3,000 feet up the Pacific Crest Trail and have some big blow out party in the middle of the night. And I came back to work at the end of my vacation with my face just bashed—like Jack in the urinal next to his boss. My face was so awful, so trashed that nobody would acknowledge it, because to acknowledge it somehow they would have to find out something about my private life they just didn’t want to know. So for three months as my face slowly changed color and started coming back to white people would look at my chest, and they would talk to my Adam’s apple, and they would say, ‘So, how was your weekend? Did you do anything interesting?’ And I’d be looking at them with two huge black eyes and say, ‘No. How about you/’It just seemed so ludicrous that I thought if you looked bad enough no one would ever dare ask you what you did with your free time, and that was the genesis of Fight Club.”
Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk

The irony, of course, is people often go hiking and camping to disconnect from their everyday worlds and reconnect with nature and have a peaceful experience—unplugged from the everyday noise. Yet if Palahniuk has a peaceful hiking and camping experience he doesn’t end up getting in a fight and perhaps Fight Club never gets written.

P.S. A few days ago Jeff Goldsmith  (@yogoldsmith) tweeted this; “So @chuckpalahniuk told me he’s working with David Fincher & @trent_reznor to do a rock opera – an enhanced version of the film!”

P.P.S. Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls taught a class on CreativeLive called The Screenwriters Toolkit that is currently on sale for $41. I haven’t watched the class, but in general I love what the CreativeLive team produces. And since people often complain about the lack of teaching material by working screenwriters of well done produced films this would seem a good opportunity to fill that void.

Scott W. Smith

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Third World Filmmaking

“Digital equipment that allows you to shoot a film and edit it on your own computer to professional standard is the biggest innovation since the beginning of the history of cinema. The medium becomes accessible to people who cannot raise the funds usually associated with making a film….I’m more enthusiastic about films from the third world, which is the large part of the planet where they’re only just starting to have access to the technology. A lot of this is not cinema in the sense of a feature film of 95 minutes. In Africa, for example, where there are limited resources, soap operas that are entirely specific to the area and language where they’re filmed are made on very basic video cameras, and then distributed through a completely alternative network as cinema. There’s an immediacy and a really wonderful use of economy in these films. And they’re very good stories, human stories with the specifics of the area they’re set in. These are really vibrant forms of film-making.”
Oscar-nominated writer/director Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas)
2009 interview with Daniel Trilling 

P.S. I don’t know much about Nollywood (cinema of Nigeria) except that it’s been called the third largest producer of feature films—between 500 and 1,000 a year. In the documentary This is Nollywood you learn many of those films are shot in 7-10 days for under $15,000. and has become a $250 million a year business. (Sure a lot less than Jurassic World made alone last month, but still interesting to learn of the filmmaking heartbeat from unlikely places.)

Scott W. Smith

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Running from Failure

“I’m not a person who runs to something. I’m not running to quality. I’m running from failure. And I know you would think having done this the way I’ve done it and having worked on the things I’ve worked on, that worked the way a lot of them worked, that at a certain point I would go, ‘At this point, having done this 20 plus years, I kind of know what I’m doing.’ I don’t feel like that at all. I feel like I know less now about how to do it than I did when I started. What I know is I think I have a better idea of what doesn’t work…I just am much better at identifying flaws.”
Seven-time Emmy nominated producer/writer Alec Berg (Seinfeld, Silicon Valley)
Scriptnotes interview with Craig Mazin

Related Posts:

Tennessee Williams on ‘Apparent Failure’
Susannah Grant on Failure
Aaron Sorkin on Failure
Emma Thompson on Failure 
Who to Blame for Your Failures
‘Failure is an option.’
Commitment in the Face of Failure
Facing urge Possibility of Failure I made eleven movies in twenty years, and half were considered failures.”—Edward Burns
Hollywood Failure—Robert Altman
Spectacular Failures
J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure

Scott W. Smith

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“Most of the screenplays I’ve written have not been made. And the ones that haven’t been made I’ve worked very, very hard on, believed in and loved, and thought they were good, but they haven’t been made. Or you know I’ve handed them in and then somebody years later has made it with a different script and said, ‘Oh yeah, we just left yours.’ So I’ve often left completely on the scrapheap without anyone even telling me. So I don’t get very well treated as a writer either. So that’s comforting isn’t it really?”
Two-time Oscar-winning actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson
BAFTA Guru Screenwriters’ Lecture Series

“And in the same way as you might begin a script and you can write five scenes in and then suddenly discover that actually you need to drop the first four scenes because they’re not, that’s happened to me a lot. That’s what I mean about just write, because you can dive in later, but you’ve got to create the shape, you’ve got to have the stuff, you’ve just got to have the stuff there to work with because that’s what it is. It’s your material, you’ve got to create you material first, do the knitting, spin the wool. It’s spinning the wool. It doesn’t matter whether it’s bad because you can make it better later, but if you’ve got nothing to work on then it’s neither bad nor good, it’s just nothing. So just write, it doesn’t matter what you write. It does not matter, just sit at that desk and write. And then the next day you may come down and think, ‘Oh, that sentence is quite good actually, the rest of it isn’t, but that’s okay, I got that sentence. I can work with that.’ That’s the rule, just drawing the chair up to the writing desk and writing, that’s all, and it’s the only thing that works for me.”
Emma Thompson
Transcript of 2014 BAFTA and BFI Screenwriters’ Lecture 

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Scott W. Smith

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