Archive for April, 2017

The Myth of Total Creative Freedom

When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost—and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.”
Poet and Playwright T.S. Eliot 

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I was eighteen and an aunt gave me a copy of Mixed Company, a book of his (Irwin Shaw) collected stories. I’d never read a word by him, never heard his name. But I remember the lead story in the book was The Girls in Their Summer Dresses. About a guy who looked at women.

Followed by The Eighty Yard Run… Well, The Eighty Yard Run is about a football player. Shit, I remember thinking, you can do that? You can write about stuff I care about?…At eighteen, I began writing stories. Not a whole lot of acclaim. I took a creative writing class at Oberlin.  Everyone took it because it was a gut course. I wanted a career. Everyone got A’s and B’s, I got the only C…. I have, somewhere, hundreds of rejection slips…My confidence is not building through these years. I hope you get that.”
Two-time Oscar Winning screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men)
The First Time I Got Paid for It, Writers’ Tales from the Hollywood Trenches edited by Peter Lefcourt and Laura J. Shapiro


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Reversal, Reversal, Reversal

“It’s like a good news, bad news joke. The bad news is, you get thrown out of an airplane. The good news is, you’re wearing a parachute. the bad news is, your rip cord breaks. The good news is, you have a back up ‘chute. The bad news is you can’t reach the cord. Back and forth, just like that, until the character reaches the ground. He’s gonna die…no he’s not…Reversal, reversal, reversal.”
Screenwriter Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3)
As quoted in The Secrets of Action Screenwriting by William C. Martell

P.S. And it’s worth noting, reversals work in any genre. Last night I watched A Separation the Iranian film written and directed by Asghar Farhadi (which won the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2012) and it’s full of reversals.

Related post:
Pirates, Raiders & Reversals
Sharks, Ghosts & Reversals
Reversals, Roadblocks & Complications

Scott W. Smith

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I worked in a video store for like ten years, which is probably the best film school you can go to…and I get this phone call. They say, ‘My name is Andrea McCall and I work at Dreamworks. I read your script and I was wondering if you could come in for a meeting.’I went in, sure I was going to sell a script, and the first thing she said was, ‘Listen, we’re not buying your script. We have this other movie in the works called Gladiator that has some similar, period themes, but I really like your writing and I just wanted to reach out say, here’s a lawyer, here’s an agent.’ And she actually gave me a start in the career, just by being a guardian angel—one of the kindest people ever.”
Screenwriter Chris Morgan (The Fate of the Furious)
Creative Screenwriting article by Brock Swinson

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I’ve always felt that if you look at what lasts, in cinema and in art in general, it tends not to be a modernist or postmodern approach with ironic distance and narrative dysfunction. It would be easy for us to find self-reflexive poets from post-Virgilian Rome, but nobody reads them except for graduate students. In the end, what matters to us is story, it’s how we make sense of the birth/death/life cycle. I’m obsessed with trying to find details of peoples’ behavior and see how their behavior affects the story itself.”
Writer/Director James Gray
Tribeca Film interview with Zachary Wigon

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“Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.”
Marilyn Monroe

James Gray is a working writer/director who back in 1994 made his first feature film at age 24, and his latest film (The Lost City of Z) is hitting theater this month. But in the recent article Jame Gray and the Struggle of the Middle-Class Filmmaker he lays out the difficulties beyond student loans and getting movies made:

“You know, people assume that because I’m a director, I make tons of money. I am struggling financially. Now, I’m very lucky I get to do what it is I want to do. I’ve made, good or bad, very uncompromising movies, the movies exactly that I wanted to make, and that’s a beautiful gift, so I’m not complaining about that. But I struggle. I have a hard time paying my bills. I’m 47 years old, I live in an apartment, I can’t buy a house. If I were coming of age in 1973, I would be in Bel Air. The whole reason for this is…the middle is gone. So now you have franchises, and you have, ‘I made a movie on my iPhone.’ This is the economic system in a nutshell, right? Five directors make Marvel, and then there’s the rest of us who are trying to scrounge around to find the money to make films.”
Director James Gray (The Immigrant)
Vulture article by Kevin Lincoln (4/14/17)

P.S. The most read post I’ve ever written on this blog over the years is the 2009 post How Much Do Screenwriters Make? It’s not a perfect post, but I think it’s a fair reality check and discussion starter. By the way, if you read that post and would like to clarify how writers (and how much) working writers are paid—from Hollywood to Nollywood—shoot me an email at info@scottwsmith as I’d like to clarify the process and reality as much as I can for others.

Related Posts:
Screenwriting Quote #189 (James Gray)
‘The Immigrant’

Scott W. Smith

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1,908 Chicago Cubs Stories

“Every ring is a team story, and this is the Cubs story.”
Miran Armutlu, Master Jeweler

Last week the Chicago Cubs received their World Series rings. Everyone in the organization got a ring, not just the players. That’s a total of 1,908 pieces. That’s 1,908 stories. Here’s the only one I have a loose connection to.

One ring went to Dave Martinez who has been the Cubs bench coach since 2014. Martinez started his big league career as a player for the Cubs back in 1986. After a 15 year career where he collected 1,599 hits he began coaching for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Martinez played high school ball at Lake Howell High School where I also once played second base. The year after I graduated from high school I worked as a sports reporter and photojournalist for the Sanford Herald and was covering the game when Martinez hit his first home run of the season.

He had the purest swing of any high school player I ever saw. Over the years I lost track of his career until the Cubs won World Series last year and I saw his name pop up.

And for a little more circle of life stuff, after Martinez graduated from Lake Howell he played ball at Valencia College in Orlando where I’m a multimedia producer. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1983. This year is the 50th anniversary of Valencia College and while they no longer have a sports teams, it’s a nice part of the school’s history to have an alumnus wearing a Chicago Cubs World Series ring.

And how’s this for an Iowa connection; back in 1986 Martinez played minor league ball for the Iowa Cubs in Des Moines. He finished that year playing in Wrigley Field. That’s a year I’m sure he’ll never forget.

Congrats to the 1,908 Chicago Cubs employees. And what a classy move by the organization to give all of them a little bling. (And I love the little billygoat logo they included in the design.)

P.S. Since this is a blog on screenwriting and filmmaking I should add that two of Valencia College’s alumni  are Ben Rock and Greg Hale (of The Blair Witch Project), and actor Scott Porter (Friday Night Lights) and screenwriter Jamie Linden (We Are Marshall) are graduates of Lake Howell.

Related Posts
The Perfect Ending
Postcard #119 (Tim Raines)
Ralph Clemente (1943-2015)
The Night Baseball Got Born Again
Postcard #105 (Wrigley Field)
Screenwriting da Chicago Way (2.0)

Scott W. Smith

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