Archive for October, 2015

Garry Marshall Month—Day 31

Today concludes Garry Marshall month and I’ll end with a post that originally ran on October 31, 2012 under the title Garry Marshall Survivor:

“Kindness is free.”
Garry Marshall

Garry Marshall survived bad health as a child. He survived long cold winters in Chicago as a college student. He survived a tour of duty in Korea as an Army soldier. He survived producing stressful TV shows. He survived bad investments that almost forced him into bankruptcy. He survived making a few bad films to make a few more good ones. He survived critics, cancer, and canned laughter.

He did all of that and lived to tell about it. In two books actually (Wake Me When It’s FunnyMy Happy Days in Hollywood).

Producer/writer/director/actor Garry Marshall is a survivor.

I’m not sure why of all of filmmakers in the last 100 plus years Marshall became the first one that I spent an entire month writing about on this blog, but I suspect it has something to do with his incredibly long run as a producer, director, writer, and actor spanning stand-up, radio, television, books and theater.

If you look at the peaks (The Odd Couple, Pretty Woman, Happy Days, Fonzie, Julia Roberts, Robin Williams) and the longevity of his career—it’s been an amazing run. Factor in how he was able to balance all of that with his personal and family life and you have one amazing life well lived. A true Hollywood survivor.

“The truth is that I always wanted a more stable life than my intellectual idols had. People like Arthur Miller, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Sylvia Path, Anton Chekov and Albert Camus all had unconventional family life. I was a product of the 50s and was charmed by The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, and the drawings of Norman Rockwell. Whether they were true or not didn’t matter. I wanted to come home to a wife, children, and a sane family dinner hour. This is probably why I have been married for forty-nine years and have three children and six grandchildren.
Garry Marshall
My Happy Days in Hollywood (written with Lori Marshall)

As I was looking for a fitting way to end a Month of Marshall with an exclamation point, I came across the clip below where Marshall is brilliant—though less than kind—as a TV executive giving Louis C.K. a little Hollywood pep talk.

Related links:

Flaming Rejection
Screenwriting Quote #171 (Garry Marshall)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 1)
Writing & Rewriting “Pretty Woman” (Part 1)

Scott W. Smith

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Garry Marshall Month—Day 30

“A producer has to make friends fast. A producer’s nothing without a writer, without a director, so go out find them. Get the ones who are coming up and work with them. A producer has to integrate people. A producer has to convince people of the basic sports theory that sometimes you gotta work with people, you don’t have to go to lunch with them. A lot of producers don’t understand that—they only want to work with people they like. You can’t make movies and TV with all nice people. It doesn’t happen that way. So you gotta realize you need someone who can do the job—you don’t need to go to lunch— just let them do the job.”
Producer/director/writer Garry Marshall
Archive of American Television interview

P.S. Back in 1972-1973-1974 the Oakland A’s baseball team was a talented group full of egos, talent, and melodrama. With superstars Reggie Jackson, Vida Bue, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Blue Moon Odom and others they won three straight World Series titles. It was also a team known for colorful uniforms, cool moustaches, and “locker-room meltdowns and intra-squad theatrics.” I remember a coach, owner, or player at that time saying what made them such a great team was that no matter their personal differences, that when they ran onto the field they put their differences aside and played as a team. I think that’s the metaphor that Marshall was talking about that you need to foster on film/Tv/video production teams.

Related posts:

Burn, Baseball & Character Flaws
‘The Battered Bastards of Baseball’
Screenwriting, Baseball & Underdogs
Baseball, Bergman & Bull Durham
The Day the Field of Dreams Burned
Screenwriting & Pete Rose

Scott W. Smith

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Garry Marshall Month—Day 29

“A lot of people direct one movie and then never do it again, because it’s a pretty strange job. Very difficult in the sense that you can’t keep a consistent emotion. As a producer you can keep a consistent emotion. A producer has to be an adult. That’s why I became a producer at first. I came to this town and saw that nobody wanted to be an adult, so I decided to pretend to be an adult, even though I was a bigger baby than any of the other people here! As a writer, you can be a great, temperamental baby, because that’s your part. Same with actors. The problem with directing is that you have to be an adult part of the time so you can work with the crew, and a baby the other part, so you can get your creative way. It’s back and forth each day. That’s the toughest part. The other tough thing is whether you can still be creative when you’re exhausted. That’s all it’s about, directing. Anyone can create, but try when you’re exhausted. That’s a whole other thing, and that’s why most people quit. They don’t want to go that fast. They don’t want to make decisions that fast. So you surround yourself with people who love you and who you love and they’re always pumping you up. So those are the factors: work under exhaustion, get a dual personality, and always try your best. If you think you can’t do it, find a way!”
Garry Marshall
Interview with Alex Simon

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Garry Marshall Month—Day 28

“The biggest lesson a screenwriter can learn is how to master a rewrite of his own script, or someone else’s, and make the change a studio wants without destroying the story. It’s like a football game: If you think of writing an original screenplay as ‘offensive’ creativity, then rewriting is all about ‘defensive’ creativity.

“There are some screenwriters who are great on offense while others excel only at defense. The greatest screenwriters–and the ones who are in demand—are those who can handle both kinds of creativity. The problem I’ve found is that young writers usually change too much in a rewrite and old writers often don’t change enough. What writers should remember is to read a first draft or a rewrite twice, not once but twice, before handing it in. First read it for pacing and plot, and then read it a second time to see if there are good parts for the stars, because that’s exactly how the stars are going to read it.”
Writer.director Garry Marshall
Wake Me When It’s Funny (written with Lori Marshall)
pages 114-115

Scott W. Smith

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Garry Marshall Month—Day 27

This post first ran in 2012 under the title Telling the Truth=Humor:

“Just when I thought I understood how to write a good line, Phil Foster headed me in a different direction. He was one of the first comedians to break out of the traditional one-line joke format and venture into personal narratives. He would talk about his wife, his childhood, politics—anything he could put his personal spin on. Through his tales of family and friends, Phil taught us that the best way to write comedy was to view everyday life with a comic eye. He encouraged us to abandon our sophomoric gag humor and said, ‘Look at people and pick up on their mistakes and inadequacies. Watch human behavior. Telling the truth about people will make them laugh.’”
Producer/Writer/Director Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman
Wake Me When It’s Funny (written with Lori Marshall)

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Garry Marshall Month—Day 26

This post originally ran in 2012 under the title Flaming Rejection:

“Be prepared at all times for rejection, even after you break in. One night I was backstage at Jack Silberman’s International Nightclub in New York City. I nervously handed a page of jokes I had written to a famous veteran comedian. He read my jokes without laughing or even cracking a smile, removed a silver monogrammed cigarette lighter from his coat pocket, and set my page of jokes on fire. He then very nonchalantly tossed the burning page into a small metal trash can and walked away. Unable to speak, I simply stood there staring at the can as the bright red flames turned my jokes into ashes. It was my first flaming rejection. I went home that night to my apartment feeling like quitting the business.”
Garry Marshall
Wake Me When It’s Funny (written with Lori Marshall)

Of course, Garry Marshall didn’t quit the business, though he did eventually leave New York and head to Hollywood. There he would write and produce some of the most watched TV in the decade of the 70s, including The Odd Couple, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, and Happy Days. In the 80s he starred directing feature films including Pretty Women, Runaway Bride, and mostly recently New Year’s Eve.

Hang in there folks.

Scott W. Smith

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Garry Marshall Month—Day 25

Buddy Hackett held up a matchbook and said, ‘What jokes can you write about this?’ I pitched a few about the advertisement on the outside of a matchbook, then a few behavior jokes about trying to light a match with one hand to impress a girl.

“‘That’s good,’ Hackett said, ‘but the trick is not only to think about the exterior of the subject like the cover and the matches, but also remember the interior and the lit match. See the flame burn. Part is yellow with blue around it and as it burns the tip twists, turns, tilts, and then drops to one side like a small penis. You must think not only about what matches do, but what they’re made of, too.’

“I never forgot from then on to examine a comedy subject from all sides: What it looks like. What comedy smells like. What it tastes like. Years later I wrote a joke that went, ‘My wife’s cooking is like sucking a burnt match.’”
Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall
Wake Me When It’s Funny
Page 53

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Garry Marshall Month—Day 24

Producer/writer/director Garry Marshall was raised in the Bronx, educated at Northwestern in Chicago, and kinda broke into the entertainment business with an unlikely group—The United States Army. In an unlikely place—Korea.

“Then they sent me to Korea. They didn’t know how to run the radio stations. I was a private but they put me in charge of the six station network. So I ran six stations all throughout Korea as a private—everyone was [ranked] higher than me, but nobody quite knew how to do it. I liked that. I could make shows. You got a captive audience, there are men sitting there with rifles dozing off. So everyone did music, I was the first person who came and said ‘you need more than music fellows. You need humor.’ We started to do joke shows. It was great. I was living terrific, because I had a band—a 16 piece band playing the officers’ club, I had the six station network. That was best [for my] self-esteem those three years in Korea. I was like a celebrity. On a hill with men with guns, but they would say, ‘Heard the show last night’ and that made me think, ‘Maybe entertainment may be good for me.'”
Garry Marshall
Archive of American Television interview

When he got back to the states he worked in nightclubs in New York City as a drummer (including gigs with Lenny Bruce).  In 1959 Marshall and another Army buddy (Fred Freeman) began as alternative writers for Jack Parr’s Tonight Show before becoming staff writers.  It’s 56 years later and Marshall is still racking up credits.

Scott W. Smith

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Garry Marshall Month—Day 23

This post ran in 2012 under the title The Odd Monks:

“If you pretend the characters can’t speak, and write a silent movie, you will be writing great drama.”
David Mamet

“Many Odd Couple fans have their favorite episodes, whether they be ‘The New Car,’ ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ ‘That Is the Army, Mrs. Madison,’  ‘Password,’ ‘The Ides of April,’ ‘It’s All Over Now,’ ‘Baby Bird,’ or ‘The Rain in Spain.’ My favorite is called ‘The Odd Monks’ because I wrote it out of desperation….This episode came at a point in the season when Jack [Klugman] and Tony [Randall] said they were getting tired of the long, complicated scripts we were giving them. The truth was they didn’t want to memorize so many lines. So I offered a compromise. I said, ‘Everybody take the week off. I’m writing the script this week.’ In the script Felix and Oscar go to a monastery and have to take a vow of silence. For nearly forty pages there was no dialogue, thus eliminating the need for two stars to memorize anything. The entire script was based on physical and visual humor, which I had learned from the scripts I had written for Lucille Ball. I think it was not only a funny script but one that varied the rhythm of the show. Sometimes when I watch TV with my wife I’ll come across “Odd Monks” on cable, and I have to sit and watch it through to the end. Jack and Tony, in my opinion, knocked that episode out of the ballpark.”
Garry Marshall
My Happy Days in Hollywood (written with Lori Marshall)

Scott W. Smith

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‘Back to the Future’ in 2015

“It seems like 2015 kinda sucks.”
Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) on Jimmy Kimmel Live 10/22/2015

“Nobody read it said, ‘Oh, we’ve got to make this.’”
Bob Gale on the Back to the Future script he co-wrote

After thinking about yesterday’s post Garry Marshall’s “Stuckinna” concept he used, some more situations came to mind where characters are stuck:

Dorothy stuck in Oz (The Wizard of Oz), Bogart and Hepburn stuck on a boat (The African Queen), Tom Hanks stuck in a grown up body (Big), James Cann stuck in Kathy Bates house (Misery), several movies where characters are stuck in prison including The Shawshank Redemption, E.T. stuck on earth, and most recently, Matt Damon stuck on Mars (The Martian).

And of course, the very title Back to the Future is based on Michael J. Fox needing to not get stuck in the past.

Let’s go back to 1984 for a minute. That’s when they were shooting Back to the Future and Michael J. Fox was having one of those windows that actors get every once in a while. He was the star of Family Ties which he taped in the day and then headed over to the Back to the Future set to shoot at night.

I’m the same age as Fox and having just graduated from film school in 1984 I was living in L.A. not far from where they shot the film. In the 1985-86 Tv season Family Ties was the number 2 most viewed show on television (behind The Cosby Show) and Back to the Future was the #1 box office film in ’85. Fox also had an endorsement deal with Pepsi so he was pretty close to being ubiquitous.

I remember reading an L.A. Times article at that time where they talked about Fox taking a limo from one set to the other and standing up through the sunroof waving at girls that recognized him. Definitely a “I’m king of the world moment.”

In 1987 I was working as a 16mm cameraman and editor with Motivational Media in Burbank and pretty stoked when I found out I was supposed to shoot an interview with Fox in New York City. Then I got word that the studio would only allow a union cameraman to do the shoot and I only got to edit the footage. (Everyone whose worked in any level of production has their sad stories of missed great opportunity from for one reason or another.)

Here’s a related post I wrote a few years ago called Writing ‘Back to the Future’ which talks about the Midwest roots of Back to the Future:

“Studio executives kept saying, ‘Eh, time travel movies don’t make any money. Time travel movies don’t make any money.'”
Screenwriter Bob Gale

Twenty-five years ago the world embraced the movie Back to the Future starring Michael J. Fox based on a script written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis. Though Gale and Zemeckis had teamed up on Used Cars (1980) it did not have a strong release and didn’t make getting their next script made easier. Gale explains the process of writing the script and the trouble they had getting others interested in it.

“We outline the story on index cards before we start detailing the individual scenes. And we come up with our index-car structure nonlinearly; we always like to know what the ending’s going to be before we really got started. You can’t take a trip if you don’t know where you’re going…The (Back to the Future) script was rejected over 40 times. Nobody read it said, ‘Oh, we’ve got to make this.’ You know there had been no time-travel movies that had made that much money prior to Back to the Future, and again the mashup of genres was confusing for some people. We’re talking 1981, 1982…Porky’s was around that time, and that’s what everybody’s idea of comedy was—fart jokes and naked girls.” 
Bob Gale
Script magazine interview with Sara Scott
Volume 16/Number 4

According to Box Office Mojo, Back to the Future ended up with a domestic gross of $210 million  and a worldwide gross of $318 million. All on a $19 million budget. Gale and Zemeckis were also nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay. And, of course, two sequels were made that added around $500 million to the worldwide gross.

And where did the original idea come from? A basement in St. Louis.

“The inspiration for making the movie, for coming up with the story is that I was visiting my parents in the summer of 1980, from St. Louis Missouri, and I found my father’s high-school yearbook in the basement. I’m thumbing through it and I find out that my father was the president of his graduating class, which I was completely unaware of. So there’s a picture of my dad, 18-years-old, and I’m thinking about the president of my graduating class, who was someone I would have had nothing to do with. He was one of these “Ra-Ra” political guys, he was probably Al Gore or something. Captain of the debate team, all this stuff. So the question came up in my head, ‘gee, if I had gone to school with my dad would I have been friends with him?’ That was where the light bulb went off.”
Bob Gale
Interview with Matt Patches 

P.S. Zemeckis was raised in the South Side of Chicago and Gale was raised in the suburbs of St. Louis. They met at USC film school.

Related post: Screenwriting from Missouri

Scott W. Smith

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