Archive for September, 2016

Writing Quote #61 (Cheever/Stegner)

“The novelist and short story writer John Cheever, when asked why he wrote did not say, ‘To show the upper middle class lives of Connecticut.’ He said, ‘To make sense out of my life.”
Wallace Stegner
On Teaching and Writing Fiction

P.S. Both Wallace Stegner and John Cheever had connections to Iowa. Stegner (who won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1972) was born in Lake Mills, Iowa and received his Master’s and Ph.D at the University of Iowa. He went on to start the writing program at Stanford University where his students (which he did not claim credit for) included Wendell Berry, Ken Kesey, Ernest Gaines, and Larry McMurtry. Cheever, who won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction,  spent a semester teaching (and drinking with Raymond Carver) at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Scott W. Smith

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Epic SpaceX Promo

I grew up watching the Apollo launches from Cape Canaveral dreaming about being a NASA astronaut and traveling into space. The astronaut thing faded away long ago, but the space travel thing never died. Time will tell if SpaceX (or some other group) will realize some kind of space tourism, but this SpaceX promo shows what could happen in the future from Cape Canaveral:

Related posts:
Postcard #104 (SpaceX)
Postcard #83 (Kennedy Space Center)

Scott W. Smith

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“I don’t think there’s any artist of any value who doesn’t doubt what they’re doing.”
5-time Oscar winner Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather)
Academy of Achievement Q&A

Below is a partial list of Francis Ford Coppola related posts I’ve written over the year. I’m going to designate Coppola the Godfather of this blog.  If you’ve never read the post Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio check it out. You’ll see Coppola way back in c. 1979 was way ahead of the curve in seeing a digital revolution.

Related posts:
Heart of Coppola
“Who said art has to cost money?”—Coppola
“Take a risk”—Coppola
Coppola, Castro & Capitalism
Coppola & Roger Corman
Coppola, Criticism & the Internet
The Francis For Coppola Way (Tip #29)
Writing ‘The Godfather’ (Part 1)—A five part series

P.S. I’ve always admired Coppola because he’s a swing-for-the-fence kind of guy. Never afraid to risk failing. This blog has had successes (the Emmy in ’08 and most recently hitting a million total views) but it’s also hit failure (Kickstarter in ’11, and most recently Patreon)—but you learn you either pack up shop or suck it up and forge on. In my case I’m pushing to get the book version of this blog done by the end of the year. If you have any connections to Mr. Coppola I’d love to have him write the introduction the the book, so if you have any magic powers to pull that off I can be contacted at info@scottwsmith.com.

Failure related posts:
Tennessee Williams on ‘Apparent Failure’
Facing the Possibility of Failure (Filmmaker Edward Burns)
Failure is an Option
Susannah Grant on Failure
Aaron Sorkin on Failure
Spectacular Failures
J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure

Scott W. Smith


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Arnold Palmer (1929-2016)

“Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening—and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.”
Arnold Palmer


This morning when I heard he’d died it reminded me of a couple of years ago when I had a meeting at the Golf Channel in Orlando, Florida and took the above photo of his parking space there.

Here’s a nice tribute on Arnold by Golf Digest including thoughts from actor Chris O’Donnell, broadcaster Jim Nantz, and hockey great Wayne Gretzky:

Scott W. Smith



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Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 9)

Today rounds out the nine part series with screenwriter, and author of Bring the Funny: The Essential Companion for the Comedy Screenwriter, Greg DePaul.

Scott W. Smith: What do you tell the writer who’s been in L.A. for ten years who’s had some success, maybe writing on a TV show, and/or some indie films made, but financially they’re not where they thought they’d be at this stage of their life. They’re wondering if they’re ever going to get married, or have kids, or have a life. What’s the average house in L.A. now, in the $500,000 range? And what if they’re still paying on student loans? How does that play into a different kind of reality?

Greg DePaul: Are you asking me to talk to me ten years ago?

Scott: Sure.

Greg: I’m a pretty good writer and I got to L.A. at 29 and that was old. The first manager that ever took me to lunch pulled out a contract and said “sign this contract so I can take 15% of what you make and I’m going to get you connections and help you.” He had heard about me through a friend in a writing group. That’s how I made a reputation. And someone had sent him a script of mine without me knowing, and he liked it. So I’m looking at this contract and he said to me, “How old are you by the way?” I was 29 but I told him I was 27, and he said from now on you’re 25. In other words, I lied and then he lied on top of it. I didn’t end up signing with him, but my point is I was only 29. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go out there at 29, you can make it at any age, but it’s hard. Once you have kids it’s a totally different world. I love my kids, so they’re the priority, but it’s a totally different universe. But it was hard to go there at 29, that was old. When I was trying to get a job as a writer’s assistant, and I had some connections, but nobody would hire me. Because they thought I was too old. They wanted somebody who was 22.

But I did it, I’m one of those people who broke into Hollywood, but I made a choice to leave L.A. I’m not crying about it. There’s just other things than Hollywood in my life. Even when I was in L.A. I sometimes lamented that I wasn’t doing enough playwriting. My way of looking screenwriting was I did it for the money, because screenwriters sell the copyright. They sell it outright. You don’t own anything you write as a screenwriter. Playwrights don’t do that. Mark Stein once told me — If you have a really deep personal story, write a play. So you can control it. You’re not going to make any money on it but you’ll feel better. If you have a story that you think will make money and will entertain people and you can watch while eating popcorn that’s a movie. That’s the way that someone who’s a screenwriter and a playwright might think. It’s not the way a filmmaker thinks.

Scott: Author Seth Godin was asked what advice he’d give a start-up company today and he said, “Don’t push the wheelbarrow uphill.” What he was saying was the success of a new business start-up is so small that you don’t want to start with an idea your pushing uphill. When I heard that I thought that transferred real easy to the world of screenwriting. So many people start out with a concept that they’re pushing uphill. Is that something that Writer’s groups ideally should prevent?

Greg: If you’re writing a spec there’s a point where you need people to give you feedback on before you show it to the industry.

Scott: Some people don’t want to show it to anyone because they don’t want the criticism.

Greg: Yeah, that person’s not going to succeed. That’s why you need other writers, other people, that you show stuff to even if they’re not giving you good notes. Because when you start taking meeting you’re going to start hearing lots of bad notes anyway. You have to get used to that process.

Scott: Bride Wars was directed by the late Gary Winick, [Scott note: Winick also directed Pieces of April, which is one of my personal indie favorites] and you said you didn’t go on the shoot, but did you ever talk with Winick?

Greg: No. This is Hollywood. You think he ever called me and said, “Hey, I like your script?” No, he didn’t. I’m sure he was a really nice guy, just overworked like everyone in Hollywood. That’s the whole thing that people don’t get. People want to believe that there’s some artistic journey to independent films because there’s less money involved. Then when you’re in Hollywood everyone is cynical. It’s cynical from the top to the bottom. Everyone’s got to be selfish that’s part of surviving in Hollywood. It’s better to be more realistic about it. I’ve had three films produced and only got to be on the set for one of them. On the other two I was banned.

Scott: The yellow brick road isn’t paved with gold?

Greg: When they made Bride Wars in China they never called me to say they were making it because they didn’t want me to bill them. I had to discovery it and send them a bill. Even though they were under contract to pay me. They wouldn’t have paid me if I hadn’t said, “you owe me this money.” And even to do that I had to pay a lawyer 5% of what I made to do it, which was fine with me. He deserved it.

To me there’s the writing life and a business life. And you have to distinguish between the two. My way of dealing with it is if I wanna write something that’s very personal, I write a play. I get a catchy, marketable concept idea and I write a screenplay.

Greg teaches screenwriting at NYU and The New School, wrote the book Bring the Funny, and blogs at bringthefunny.com. His writing group is Stillwaterwriters.com.

Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 1)
Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 2)
Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 3)
Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 4)
Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 5)
Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 6)
Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 7)
Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 8)


Scott W. Smith

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Scott W. Smith: Part of my emphasis on this blog is to put the spotlight on filmmakers doing things in unlikely places, which are often micro budget filmmakers. Do you think there’s a place with Amazon, and Netflix , and all the other outlets for indie filmmakers anywhere in the world that could that morph into a farm league for producing bigger budget stuff? Or just doing stuff at a smaller level that brings filmmakers an income stream?

Screenwriter Greg DePaul: I guess so, but I don’t feel like I know what’s going on in the rest of the world. I’m so focused in the mechanics of writing and every little thing that goes on the page. Students have so far to go on the mechanics. Everybody I meet in my classes is making webisodes. Every actor I know is appearing in short films. Some of them are really good and I think that’s a great thing. My friends at The Collective are making short films. They’ve done some really wonderful work, and they’ve performed a lot of stuff I’ve written and I love them. And they’re a perfect example of a New York group of actors who are now getting into making movies, short films, and they’re appearing on the TV show Inside Amy Schumer, and they’re producing plays. If anyone can do it they can do it. And then you have Tyler Perry in Georgia.

Scott: I drove by his studio a couple of years ago and it’s amazing what he’s built.

I like what Edward Burns (a New Yorker) did to reignite his career by making micro-budget films, and one of his lines was don’t try to compete with Hollywood. And it was Tyler Perry who told Burns to “Super-size his niche market.” Focus on what you’re good at. I just heard a Billy Ray quote where he said eventually we’re going to hit a place where we can’t pack any more special effects into a movie. And people are going to revolt. I’d like to think that when that happens that there will be a crop of writers prepare, via playwriting or whatever, and be ready to write the next new thing. Perry followed his own vision there in Atlanta and became one of the wealthiest filmmakers ever.

Greg: There is a difference between those that want to be writer/directors who can probably get a lot out of film school. And there’s people like me who are at their core really writers. For me it doesn’t bother me that Hollywood is going down a peg. Because I’m a dramatic writer. I write plays. I write comedy sketches, I’ve written and sold TV, I’ve written and sold screenplays, and so I have to just focus on the writing. And if you’re a true filmmaker and you’re shooting stuff the writing is just part of it. You either do as much writing as you need to make your low budget film. Or you work with someone who will help you do the writing then you go off and shoot it. They’re both valid and can both lead to great work, but that first group is what I’m more beholden to. And I’m not worried about Hollywood collapsing if that’s what’s going on because relatively speaking, the theater world in New York is really blossoming with lots of small plays kicking up everywhere. And TV is exploding and I think it’s the home of great writing.

Scott: Let’s turn our focus to the new writer. The person who maybe hasn’t written anything. They’re not at NYU, they maybe don’t live in New York or L.A., maybe they’ve read Syd Fields’ Screenplay and Robert McKee’s Story, maybe they’ve tried to read those but found them too technical. Some people think screenwriting gurus are toxic. What’s square one that you like to point people to start writing screenplays. Is it breaking down movies?

Greg: Well, first you should read every book. Like Bring the Funny by Greg DePaul. You should probably buy ten or twenty copies at a time. If you read six or seven copies at a time that’s the best way to do it.

Scott: And give them away to your friends.

Greg: Yeah, give them to all your friends. You should be reading every book, come on, if you’re going to change your whole life, books are pretty cheap. You should have a wall full of screenwriting books and you should be able to compare them. I have a bunch of them; the McKee book, don’t forget Blake Snyder—

Scott: —Save the Cat.

Greg: Yeah, Save the Cat, that’s a great book. And you should read them all and study them, and diagram every script. You should be an expert in movies, that’s the Tarantino lesson. Be an expert in other people’s movies. The most common mistakes of screenwriters are they don’t read enough scripts by other people. So they don’t become expert in their genre, they don’t see the mistakes that others make that they could learn from. They’re scared to watch movies and read scripts that are too close to what they’re writing, which is the opposite of what you should be doing. They think it will ruin their originality. It won’t, it’s just going to inform what they do and help them. And the other mistake is they don’t realize you have to network as much as you write. And you have to do both all the time. And, of course, it’s all about the writing.

Greg teaches screenwriting at NYU and The New School, wrote the book Bring the Funny, and blogs at bringthefunny.com. His writing group is Stillwaterwriters.com.

Scott W. Smith

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[Note: To support this blog, and further interviews, please become a patron at Patreon. Even if just $1 or $3 a month.]

Scott W. Smith: There are dozens of working screenwriters I can think who came to their success in different ways, but the one thing they have in common is it took time to reach their level of success. And there’s no doubt that most of them have a L.A. element to their success. But John Logan is someone who comes to mind that honed his craft for ten years in Chicago writing plays and working in a library until he connected with a agent in L.A. where he eventually moved on his way to writing Any Given Sunday, Hugo, and Rango.

Screenwriter Greg DePaul: Well, sure, you can say the same thing about David Mamet, and David Ives, and a few other playwrights who started in NY or Chicago. Exceptions that prove the rule. The point is you have almost no chance if you don’t move to L.A. And if you do go to L.A., you have a very small chance – but it’s better than almost no chance.

Scott: I think when Tiger Woods stormed on the scene we all thought that there was going to be a whole army of black golfers rising up and winning championships. But that just didn’t happen. Tiger Woods was the exception. And perhaps the lesson of Diablo Cody’s sudden rise from the suburbs of Minneapolis to winning a Academy Award back in 2008 was an exception to the rule. An anomaly.

Greg: Nothing you read about anybody’s success in Hollywood can be trusted. Nothing. I’ve made a fetish out of telling that to students. Once you break in everyone goes back and re-writes their bio. It’s the cult of the author. I can’t tell you how many people don’t tell you the truth about their origins. But also because they want to refashion the story.

I’ll give you an example. Do you remember the N.Y. Giant player 20-30 years ago, that guy, Phil McConkey, who caught a pass in the Super Bowl?

Scott: I’m drawing a blank.

Greg: Back in the late 80s the Giants had Phil Sims, Mark Bavaro, Lawrence Taylor, and a guy named McConkey. He was a blue-coller guy and he walked on to the team [at age 27 after serving in the Navy for 4 years], he was never drafted. He earned his way on the team. And he ended up in the Super Bowl. But would you tell somebody to do it that way? No. You don’t teach the exception.

Scott: Fair enough. Well, you are talking about the traditional Hollywood way of breaking in, but I recently heard a couple of writers on Scriptnotes with John August and Craig Mazin from Australia and they’re doing an online cooking show that has lively banter and is part cooking show and part drama and all of a sudden they’re taking meetings in L.A.

Greg: My teaching is for writers who are writers who aren’t good at anything else. I work with a group here called The Collective in New York, and they’re a group of actors founded by Amy Schumer and Kevin Kane and some other very talented actors. And Amy Schumer is also a screenwriter. I’ve met her, but I don’t know her. The one thing I know about her is she started as a comedian. Well, I’ll tell you right now there is a separate path for comedians. If you tell me you’re moving to New York to be a screenwriter I’ll say you’re making a mistake. If you tell me you’re moving to New York to be a stand-up comic and you might like to be a screenwriter like Amy Schumer, or move up like Louis C.K., I would say that’s smart. Because I have observed in the last ten years there is a real particular path for stand up comics in Manhattan. And if you can then get offered a show then you become a screenwriter because they need you to work on that show. But that’s not a straight screenwriting path. Amy Schumer is not the example of the writer starting from scratch who is not a stand-up comic. She’s the example for a stand-up comic who might also blossom as a film star and screenwriter.

Scott: So you’d also look at Robert Rodriguez down in Austin as example of a filmmaker who produces, directs, writes, shoots, etc not an example of someone who only writes.

Greg: Yeah, most of the people I’m teaching are writers. That’s it, they’re screenwriters. They’re not making their own things. All you have to do is go to IMDB, and go to Box Office Mojo, and see who the names are for screenwriter on like 20 movies and figure out where they live.

Scott: Which will be 98% L.A.?

Greg: Well, maybe 90% live in Los Angeles County. I remember about five years ago I was at a comedy show in New York, and I met a guy who was a writer on 30 Rock. And I said, “You’re a screenwriter, I’m a screenwriter and I just moved to New York, where’s the community of screenwriters here?” and he said, “There isn’t one.” He said there’s just us at 30 Rock , there’s him and like six other writers. And I said But this is New York. And he said, “Get over it.” And this is a guy who’s successful.

Greg teaches screenwriting at NYU and The New School, wrote the book Bring the Funny, and blogs at bringthefunny.com. His writing group is Stillwaterwriters.com.

Related link:
Starting a screenwriting career outside of LA (or New York, or London) at JohnAugust.com

Related posts:
Why You Should Move to L.A.
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.
Are You an Anomaly?

Scott W. Smith

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