Archive for June, 2017

What does a passion for passion for writing look like? I’ll let Academy Award-winner  Richard Brooks (1912-1922) answer that question:

“I’d written some short stories before, but none was published. Anyway, every day, another short story. Everything became grist for a short story. It began to drive me crazy . . . a different plotline every day. My ambition: write one story a week instead of a different story every day. In about eleven months I wrote over 250 stories.”
Richard Brooks

Brooks who was born and raised in Philadelphia, started out writing for newspapers, radio stations, and television. After moving to California he tried to get involved in film and theater before joining the military during World War II working with the Marine Corps film. That gave him hands on filmmaking experience. After the war he wrote the novel The Brick Foxhole which got made as the movie Crossfire.

Some of his biggest achievements were co-writing the script for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directing In Cold Blood, and winning an an Academy Award for writing the screenplay for Elmer Gantry.

To reiterate what it looks like to have a passion for writing here’s another quote by him:

“I write in toilets, on planes, when I’m walking, when I stop the car. I make notes. If I am working at a studio, I work at the studio in the morning, then come home. I am really writing two days instead of one. After the studio, I have my second day [at home]. I write whenever I can.”
Richard Brooks

To read more from Brooks (and others writers) check out Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s/Patrick McGilliagan.

Scott W. Smith



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Everyday’s a revolution
Pull it together and it comes undone
Just one more candle and a trip around the sun
Jimmy Buffett/Trip Around the Sun

Scott W. Smith Headshot

Today’s my birthday and it seems like as good a time as ever to reflect on an old headshot of mine taken back when I was 22 and living in Los Angeles. My acting career peaked somewhere between playing Tom in “The Glass Menagerie” and doing a Domino’s Pizza commercial. For some strange reason Tom Cruise, Michael J. Fox, and Johnny Depp got all the good roles. Oh, and Brad Pitt and George Clooney did okay for themselves, too. (Maybe that perm held me back. But more likely the only thing I had in common with those superstars was trying to get a foothold in a tough industry back in the ’80s.)

I honestly believe if I’d had half the success of the above actors I’d long be dead. Either like James Dean in a Porsche or John Belushi in Bungalow 3. Instead, after film school I carved out a little 30+ year career behind the camera and living a relatively normal life. But also thankful to have had a few Jimmy Buffett-inspired adventures traveling to all 50 states and 15+ countries working on various productions.

These days I’m producing mostly educational projects in a studio, but it’s been fun the last decade to write this blog and be an aggregator of screenwriting/filmmaking information that bridged the book centered information era that started after Syd Field wrote Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting and this digital information era we’re in now.  (Still moving forward with plans to land this plane in six months at the 10 year mark. But also working on a 2.0 version of this blog.)

The film industry has been through a world of change since I started this blog in ’08, but the world still needs storytellers—and it always will. I hope you became the screenwriting equivalent of Cruise/Fox/Depp/Pitt/Clooney, but if you don’t let me encourage you with some words an acting teaching once told me, “Just because you’re not Babe Ruth, doesn’t mean you can’t play the game.”

For those of you outside the United States, Babe Ruth was one of the greatest baseball players in the history of the game. So essentially, what my acting teacher was saying was even if you don’t reach the top of the heap, you can still enjoy the game. And if you’re fortunate, you can actually have a creative career, and a life that doesn’t end in a crumpled Porsche or in Bungalow 3.

Scott W. Smith


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David Mamet

Back in 2010 I wrote the post David Mamet’s Bold Memo (?) where I pulled the above quote from, but if you go to this Movieline link you can read the full David Mamet all caps memo that he sent to the writers of The Unit. It’s sort of a modern day screenwriting classic, so if you aren’t familiar with it check it out because it’s full of wisdom from a Pulitzer Prize winning and Oscar/Tony-nominated playwright and screenwriter.

Here’s what a dramatic scene looks like from Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross screenplay. (This scene was not in the play of the same name.)

P.S. Anyone watched that Masterclass video that Mamet does on writing? Was it beneficial? Hard to beat his free memo to The Unit writers, but got to think that he at least gives you $90 worth of advice in that teaching series.

Scott W. Smith

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Writing Castable Characters

Here are some quotes pulled from my older posts Writing Actor Bait (2012) and Writing for Movie Stars (2010):

“Producers and directors buy a property because they like the story. Actors buy it because they see them­selves in a part. ”
Jerry Lewis
The Total Film-Maker

“If you want to attach a star, then you really need to have a great protagonist. A protagonist who is really active, who is really initiating the action of the movie, who’s responsible for the forward momentum of the narrative. And perhaps there’s a transformational arc there, because that’s what actors want to play. They don’t necessarily want to play the same note through the whole movie, so it’s about exploring those layers and really creating an emotional resonance to the character. Because, remember, we experience the story through the characters and because we really care about their experience and what it is that their journey entails—that’s where the emotional element is going to be.”
WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart
Script magazine, January/February 2012

“Who wouldn’t want to play Hans Gruber, Norma Rae Webster, Hannibal Lecter, Ellen Ripley, or Gordon Gekko?”
Jeffrey Hirschberg
11 Laws of Great Stroytelling 

“Movie stars like to play complex, fascinating characters with interesting moral dilemmas. It does’t matter whether you create a completely original character, negotiate the life story rights of a living character based on a true story, or portray a larger-than-life  historical figure: Make your character big, complex and fascinating!”
Kate Wright
Screenwriting is Storytelling

P.S. Because I like to curate quotes, if you have some others that line up with these shoot them my way. Ideally, I’d like to have 10 quotes on writing castable characters.

Scott W. Smith



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“It’s not a movie if it’s not a horror on the set. If you’re dealing with talent…that are passionate…they are going to be opinionated. And there are bound to be differences. And that’s when magic happens.”
Precious director and Empire creator Lee Daniels
Independent Film interview with Corey Boutilier

Quote pulled from my January 17, 2010 post. 

P.S. I’m sure every movie set isn’t a horror—but it’s hard to beat the behind the scenes conflict on Apocalypse Now. Here’s a Vimeo remix by Brian Carroll which takes clips from the 1979 movie and the behind the scene doc Hearts of Darkness.

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Following the Steve Martin advice to “Be so good they can’t ignore you” is the story of Jacob Fray.

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Ramadan is over,
The new moon’s shown her face,
I’m halfway round the planet,
In a most unlikely place
Far Side of the World lyrics by Jimmy Buffett

I’ll end this 10 part look at Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown  with a couple of interviews that gives you a better glimpse of how that show is put together.

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

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‘Parts Unknown’ (Part 9)

“If the show goes badly, we tell that story anyway.”
Parts Unknown host Anthony Bourdain

Every production has its trouble spots, but Parts Unknown hosts Anthony Bourdain takes comfort in knowing that the worst disasters often make for good television. Why? Because conflict holds our attention. And for Bourdain’s show that strives for authenticity, inauthenticity is the enemy. Here’s a scene from Sicily where things got comical.

And here’s a video of Bourdain explaining how things went south for an episode of No Reservations shot in Romania. A show which he said was the worst shoot of his career, but one he also considers a “comedy classic.”

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

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‘Parts Unknown’ (Part 8)

“Is sound going to be a problem? Yeah. Is lighting going to be a problem? Yeah. Does that matter? No.”
Executive Producer Chris Collins while shooting footage on the streets of India

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

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‘Parts Unknown’ (Part 7)

“The day a sound man shows up on this show I’m gone.”
Anthony Bourdain

This is Part 7 of a string of posts of the show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, but technically we’re looking at a quote about Bourdain’s other show The Layover. Those shows are a great example of nimble, small crew storytelling. In other posts I’ve mentioned where Bourdain not only doesn’t like the whole shotgun mic/boom thing for audio—but he doesn’t use an audio person. What else doesn’t he like? Lights!

“Scouting a restaurant has us looking like wayward mental patients. Slowly wandering around the dining room staring at ceiling, whispering and subtly gesturing. Determining the best table to shoot presents a dilemma: maximize the depth of the restaurant, making for nice backgrounds, and we have to sit in the darkest spot. One founding principal of Layover is no lights. I don’t mind things being low key and under-lit; we’ve shot some very dark spots. I have a hard time accepting no eye-light. Need life in the eyes. As a rule, Bourdain hates lights. No time to use them on “Layover” and he likes that. I sit in his seat and my eyes wander around the room looking for a place to hide a small lamp.”
Director of Photography Zach Zamboni (Parts Unknown, The Layover)
Huffpost article

Food for thought, especially for indie filmmakers. Want a feature film example shot without lights? Here it is—The New World. (Embrace your limitations.)

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

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