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Archive for May, 2016

“I was 21, maybe I was 22 [when I began writing].  It was shortly after I graduated from college, moved to New York, got a number of survival jobs. I bartended in Broadway theaters, I dressed up as a moose and handed out leaflets. I drove a limousine, I delivered singing telegrams. I did all the kinds of things you’re going to do, because it’s unlikely that you’re going to graduate and instantly be hired to do what you dream about doing. And I would only urge you — and I know this is a lot easier said than done — but I would only urge you to get on the bottom rung of a ladder you want to climb, and not the middle of a ladder you don’t care about.

“Or even the second rung of a ladder you don’t care about. Get on the bottom of a ladder you want to climb, and that really hard work you’re doing for no money is not going to seem quite so hard. You’re going to have a hard time paying your bills, it’s going to be a hard life, everything is going to be hard, but there’s going to be something fun about it. Your soul is going to feel good. You’re going to like yourself. And work hard and you’ll get to the second rung, the third, the fourth, and fifth.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)
The Hollywood Reporter interview with Stephen Galloway

 

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“The etymology of freelance is exactly as it sounds. In medieval days if you were a ‘free lance’ you were a knight without a lord. You were a mercenary. And I loved the idea of going to Hollywood without an agent, without a manager, without a publicist, without a lawyer, and booking as much work as I could. I didn’t care about the work. I didn’t care about the quality of the work.  I didn’t care if it was infomercials. I didn’t care if it was books on tape. I didn’t care if it was sitcom or talk shows, it didn’t matter—I did it all. Or tried it all. And got my share. And by 1995 I’d had dozens and dozens of jobs in Hollywood, and in New York, and feeling kind of arrogant in the way you do when you think you’ve figured out what most people haven’t. And so I was freelancing. And many, many jobs—eight months on, four months off. I’d pattered that whole part of my career after John D. MacDonald and Travis McGee. A guy who took his retirement in early installments. And I just loved it. And American Airlines was one of maybe 300 jobs that I Forrest Gumped my way into.”
TV host/narrator Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs, Deadliest Catch)
Podcast interview with Tim Ferriss

I’ve been a fan of Mike Rowe’s for a while, but John D. MacDonald & Travis McGee—fuhgeddaboudit. Discovered those cats over three decades ago. In college I even did a report on MacDonald for an American Lit class. No one told me that you weren’t supposed to write about a pulp fiction writer of detective stories. (Besides now that we know that William Faulkner lied his way through his non-fiction classic Travels with Charlie— MacDonald is holding his own these days—long after his death.) Stephen King said MacDonald was, “the great entertainer of our age, and a mesmerizing storyteller.”

Now if George Clooney would just play Travis McGee in a film or two that part of my life would be complete.

What I also love about Rowe’s above comments is it just shows a great degree of hustling to have the kind of success he’s had. Rowe also said he’s not the one to tell people to “follow their passions” but to follow the opportunities that come their way—and take their passion with them.

And here’s a nice bookend comment (also from a Tim Ferriss interview):

“I love being a storyteller right now. I love being a content creator, being a filmmaker, a director, whatever you want to call it, because there is a place now to tell all these stories. Whether it’s 90 minutes, or 30 minutes, or 20 minutes, or 10 minutes, or three minutes. Like we made an amazing bunch of movies a few years ago called Focus Forward that GE paid for where we basically made these 3 minute short films about innovators around the world. People who were doing incredible things. And each one of these movies were three minutes long and they were powerful. They’re so beautiful and inspiring and now they’ve been seen by a 100 million people around the world.”
Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me
Podcast interview with Tim Ferriss

Related posts:
‘Art is Work’—Milton Glaser
Stephen King’s Doublewide Trailer
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Iowa Kutcher on Jobs/Work

 

Scott W. Smith

 

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“At a writing workshop, purely as a courtesy, I attended the poetry workshop presented by a friend, University of Hawaii professor Steven Goldsberry…Perhaps the most useful advice Goldsberry gave was to encourage writers to consider every sentence to be a joke, and to remember that jokes end on the punch line.

“This is useful to screenwriters struggling with issues regarding both dialogue and description. Don Corleone in The Godfather does not say: ‘He won’t be able to refuse the offer I’m going to make.’ The punch line in this sentence has to be ‘refuse.’ That’s where the drama resides. That’s the most powerful word, the one carrying the greatest stress. With the sentence ending on the punch line it becomes among the most timeless lines ever uttered in any movie: ‘I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.'”
UCLA Screenwriting Chairman Richard Walter
Essentials of Screenwriting

P.S. After I wrote this post I found out that Professor Goldsberry earned his PhD from the University of Iowa—all roads may not lead back to Iowa, but a whole bunch of them do. Goldsberry also wrote The Writer’s Book of Wisdom: 101 Rules for Mastering Your Craft

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #16 (Richard Walter)
Robert McKee vs. Richard Walter
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Keeping Solvent & Sane

Scott W. Smith

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“We found out this really simple rule that maybe you guys heard before, but it took us a long time to learn it. We can take these beats, which are basically the beats of your outline, and if the words ‘and then’ belong between those beats, you’re fu*ked—basically. You’ve got something pretty boring. What should happen between every beat that you’ve written down, is either the word ‘therefore’ or ‘but’. So you come up with an idea and write ‘and this happens…and then this happens…’ no, no, no. It should be ‘this happens and therefore, this happens’. ‘But, this happens, therefore, this happens….'”
Trey Parker (South Park)
mtvU, Stand In at NYU

This deals with causality, change, and conflict. (See the posts What’s Changed and Conflict-Conflict-Conflict.) It’s not that Clarice Starling  (Jodie Foster) in The Silence of the Lambs goes for a jog and then has a meeting with Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), but that Clarice is on a run training to be an FBI agent but her run is disrupted with news from a guy that she has to meet with Crawford. Something caused a change in the scene.

P.S. How much would you pay to see Trey Parker and Matt Stone do a South Park-like satire on screenwriting and filmmaking and all the training material, films schools, workshops, blogs, etc? Until then there’s always the episode where the Sundance Film Festival decides to move to recapture its small town mountain roots and move the festival to South Park.

Related posts:
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Rules, Breaking Rules, No Rules
‘There are no rules’
There are no rules, but…

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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” I don’t know why I’m so hard on you Beth, when you’ve always been the daughter of my dreams. We’re almost the same person, except I don’t have your weight problems.”
Joy (Patricia Clarkson) in Pieces of April

Happy Mother’s Day.

I picked today to round out my set of posts on Pieces of April (2003)  because even though it’s a film set on Thanksgiving Day—it’s kind of a Mother’s Day film as well. And of the six posts I’ve written on the movie (starting with this post on April 1) I needed to give a special mention to actress Patricia Clarkson.

Clarkson plays Katie Holmes’ mother, Joy, in the film written and directed by Peter Hedges. Clarkson’s had a solid 30+ year career (which followed getting a Master’s in theater from Yale), yet her sole Oscar-nomination is from Pieces of April.

So if you know Clarkson from one of her many film, Tv and/or theater roles, including her role in Six Feet Under where she won two Emmys, her 2015 Tony Award-winning Broadway performance in The Elephant Man—or even from the so wrong Motherlove music video featuring Justin Timberlake and Adam Sandler—but haven’t seen her in Pieces of April check it out.

(And if you’re estranged from your mother, really check it out.)

Related Posts:
Pieces of April (Part 1)
Pieces of April (Part 2) 
Pieces of April (Part 3) 
Pieces of April (Part 4) 
Pieces of April (Part 5)
Pieces of April (Part 6) 

 

 

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Harry Crews has a talent all his own. He begins where James Dickey left off.”
Norman Mailer

“I wrote four novels and short stories before I even published anything, and the reason I didn’t publish any of those things was because it wasn’t any good.”
Harry Crews

In his interview on The Tim Ferriss Show, Cal Fussman mentioned that he’s only had writer’s block once in his life and writer Harry Crews (1935-2012)  helped him work through it.

Fussman was so moved reading the novel A Feast of Snakes by Crews that he got in his car and drove 20 hours to meet Crews unannounced at his Gainesville, Florida home. Fussman’s Esquire article Drinking at 1,300 FT: A 9/11 Story About Wine and Wisdom was the result.

I grew up in Central Florida and first became familiar with Crews’ writing back in the 80s. His essay A Day at the Dogfights (from Florida Frenzy) is hard hitting in the Hunter S. Thompson-style of immersive journalism.

From the late 60s to 1997 Crews not only published books, but taught creative writing at the University of Florida. Crews wrote about what he was after in his classes:

“Part of my job as a teacher is first to try to help my students determine what’s worth writing and what is not. If they want to write science fiction or detective stories, that’s fine with me; I just want to make sure they know what they’re doing, to make sure they realize they are not writing the kind of fiction that can crush the heart of the living memory. I want to show them that they are writing nothing but entertainment. It is not that the greatest fiction, the kind I want them to spend their energies on, is not entertaining. It is. But it is so much more than that. It is the ‘more than entertainment’ that I want the writers who work with me to know about, be concerned with, even consumed by.”
Harry Crews
Essay Teaching and Writing in the University
From the book Florida Frenzy

And this is as good a time as any to throw in another quote of his on writing:

“Writing fiction or plays or poetry seems to me to be a very messy business. To be a writer requires an enormous tolerance for frustration, for anxiety, for self-doubt.”
Harry Crews

P.S. Two other names that came up in the Fussman/Ferriss interview were legendary fitness expert Jack LaLane and the great wrestler & coach Dan Gable. I have mentioned them both on this blog before and had the opportunity to work on video/TV productions with both of them. As they sing a few hundred times everyday here in Central Florida, “It’s a small world after all.”

Related link:
Harry Crews: On Writing and Feeling Like a Freak, NPR (1988)

Related posts:
‘Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus’
Jack LaLanne (1914-2011)
Screenwriting Quote #70 (James Dickey)
Thanks for the Plug TomCruise.com (Touches on Dan Gable being Cruise’s hero back when he was a high school wrestler.)
John Irving, Iowa & Writing Touches on the novelist love of wrestling and how he was trying to get a screenplay done on Gables life.

Scott W. Smith

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“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
Proverbs 12:15

BillboardListen2.jpg

Yesterday I listened to the longest podcast I’ve ever heard. The Interview Master: Cal Fussman and the Power of Listening on The Tim Ferriss Show is over 3 hours and 22 minutes long and full of storytelling gems.

Fussman is perhaps best known for his Esquire features What I learned, where over the years he’s had the opportunity to interview a wide variety of people including Tom Hanks, Muhammad Ali, Dr. Dre, Helen Mirren, Mikhail Gorbachev, Faye Dunaway, George Forman and Johnny Depp.

Here’s one bit of advice I pulled from that interview.

Q—Tim Ferriss: If you could have a billboard anywhere, with anything on it, what would you put on it?

A—Cal Fussman: One word, listen…I don’t know what reaction that would get, but I would like to see the reaction on people’s faces when they saw that. Listening is an art form, people just aren’t using it as an art form. But it is an art form. And a lot of great things could be achieved through listening.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) was also interviewed by Tim Ferriss and his answer below is a nice bookend to Fussman’s answer.

Q—Tim Ferriss: If I watch Inside Man or 30 Days I’m consistently impressed  with how you get people to embrace you from different worlds and get people to accept you and trust you. How did you develop that? Or have you always been hardwired for that?

A—Morgan Spurlock: Well I think the biggest thing you have to do is—you just have to listen. The minute you start listening it’s amazing how people will talk to you, and how people will embrace you. We live in a culture where we don’t listen to begin with. I think that’s one. And I think we also live in a culture, and live in a world, where people aren’t honest with each other. And just don’t kind of openly have conversations with you, and talk about things that are hard to talk about…I think that if you come into those kinds of moments wanting to understand, and wanting to understand where someone is coming from—it doesn’t have to be confrontational, it doesn’t have to be ugly—you can have a really honest, above board conversation that is meaningful. So for me I think that’s the biggest thing. I think the best thing I do sometimes is shut up and listen.   

Scott W. Smith

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