Archive for January, 2018

In the podcast Launch novelist John August gives an insider look into the book making process, down to the font selections and the voiceover narrator for the audio book. Because August is also a screenwriter, there’s a better than average chance that his book Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire will become a book.

But in another podcast this month he answers the question from a frustrated novelist named Matthew who’s had novels optioned, even screenplays written based on his books and stars attached to the projects, but still not a single movie from his work has come to fruition. Here’s part of John August’s answer why:

“Most books that get optioned don’t get made into movies. Most scripts that get written don’t get made into movies. And when I see authors being so excited about the film rights sold, or it’s going to be a movie, I’m happy for them, but I also want to pull them aside and let them know that like if it gets made into a movie, that’s winning the lottery. That so rarely happens…But other times, like Big Fish, it happens. And so you just don’t know. And you have so little control over it, Matthew. That’s the remarkable thing. As the author you control everything. And every word and every comma. Movies seem like they’re made by magic. Like 200 people are off making your movie. Except most times they don’t get made. They get optioned, they pay someone to write a script. That script sits on a shelf and it doesn’t happen.”
John August
Scriptnotes, Ep. 334

P.S. Speaking of Big Fish (screenplay by John August, based the book by Daniel Wallace), I had breakfast with several people Saturday to remember a man named Jim who died recently at age 85.. At one point they wanted everyone to share a story about this him. I shared a story and then I recommended to Jim’s adult children that they watch Big Fish. Jim was from Kentucky and like a lot of people from the south, Jim could tell a yarn are two. In fact, you never were sure which stories were true and which weren’t. Which is part of the Big Fish story.

Scott W. Smith

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“Feeling completely lost is absolutely necessary to finding your way out [of the dark forest] and becoming good.”
Stephanie Foo (@imontheradio)
This American Life producer

Last week Screenwriter John August launched the podcast Launch. It’s a creative way of exploring his getting lost in the woods as a six-year-old, through the inspiration and publication process of his new middle grade novel Arlo Finch in the Valley of the Fire (aimed for 4th-6th graders).

Here’s an excerpt from the first episode of Launch:
 “The book publishing industry in generally huge. In the U.S. alone books are a 28 billion dollar business every year. That’s more than the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball combined. It’s not a dying business at all. Publishers make money. But are authors making money? That’s a little more complicated.”
John August

In the second episode (The Shadow of Harry Potter) August talks about how he overcame one of the challenges of writing the novel in Paris.

“The book is mostly set in winter in Colorado, but I had to write the bulk of it in the middle of summer in an apartment with no air conditioning. I end up finding these tracks on You Tube which are 12 hours of winter storm. I listened to it on my headphones. Seriously, this really helps me get in the right head space.”
John August

Some writers need total silence to write, while Stephen King writes to Metallica. Whatever works, right? One of the joys of writing this blog is seeing the polar opposites that many writers work. Some do their best work early in the morning, while others prefer writing at night. Some write from theme, others avoid theme altogether.

Listening to winter audio tracks while writing a winter story makes sense. Audio tracks of light thunderstorms, ocean waves, and babbling brooks for years have helped people meditate, reduce stress, and sleep. (Yes, there’s an app for that.) Last year when I was working through a coding tutorial I would often listen to the same Steely Dan song over and over again on headphones.  If your writing is lost in the dark forest, try some natural sounds to help get you in the right head space.

I look forward to listening to the whole season of Launch (episode three just dropped this morning), and reading Arlo Finch. And if you’re interested in the craft and business of screenwriting, make sure you check out the Scriptnotes podcast that August does with screenwriter Craig Mazin.

John August Related Posts:
Scriptnotes #300 & the Difference Between Screenwriting and Directing 
The 100th Podcast of Scriptnotes
Is It a Movie? (Touches on Scriptnotes episode #201)

Podcast Related Posts:
Power Your Podcasting with Storytelling (Part 1) 
Finding Authentic Emotions (part 1) Alex Blumberg
‘What’s Your Unfair Advantage?’ (Gimlet Media, Part 1)
S-Town, Brian Reed & Why ‘Podcasting is the Future of Storytelling’
‘Out on the Wire’ Podcast 

Scott W. Smith

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One thing I learned from my experience writing scripts with Noah Baumbach for two movies, is that he’s relentless about trying to get it right on the page, because you only answer to yourself during that period of time, so you can really make it as perfect as possible. I don’t do any improvisation, and I don’t change anything once I’m on set. Because I spent so long on the script, I didn’t really have to fine tune the edit, which really serves the document and honors the performances that were given. The final cut is very, very close to the shooting script. Something like 95% of the script is exactly what’s in the cut, and in the same order.”
Writer/ Director Greta Gerwig
Script interview with Andrew Bloomenthal

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Here’s writer/director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) hitting on a theme that’s been central to this blog for ten years.

I’m interested in cinema representing places that don’t usually get representation. I think cinema is one of the better documenters of place. When I go to movie theaters  and I see a world that I haven’t known, or haven’t been a part of, but it feels known intimately by the people who made there’s something—it’s like a visceral experience you get through the screen…I think audiences can breath a certain amount of truth through the screen…So setting [Lady Bird] in Sacramento was a big part of writing it, and starting to find the story. And it’s not only movie I want to make in Sacramento. It’s place I know and I love, and I think you shoot things that are close to you with more care and love than you would a place that means nothing to you.”
Greta Gerwig
Slate’s Represent podcast #70

Here are three movies with a distinct sense of place from Texas to Tokyo with a stop in Denmark.

Scott W. Smith

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“I wanted to make something set in Sacramento, because I am from Sacramento and I love it. I had the idea of wanting to make a love story between a mother and a daughter, but the line I actually started with was the moment in college when someone says, ‘Where are you from?’ and she says, ‘Sacramento.’ And they [not understanding here] say, ‘Where were you from?’ and she says, ‘San Francisco.’ And that was actually the first thing I wrote for [Lady Bird]. And I almost had the sense of wanting to reverse engineer the movie from that moment. What if when she says that line the audience feels like ‘but I know all the people that you’re selling out”? And I know the details. And you sold it out to look 10% cooler to a person you just met at a party.”
Writer/Director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
The Director’s Cut podcast interview (Pe. 111) with Spike Jonze

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“I have a theatrical temperament…. I think it comes out of being a ‘daughter of the Golden West.’ A lot of the stories I was brought up on had to do with extreme actions-leaving everything behind, crossing the trackless wastes, and in those stories the people who stayed behind and had their settled ways-those people were not the people who got the prize. The prize was California.”
Joan Didion
NY Times/Staking Out California

Congrats to writer/director Greta Gerwig on he Best Director Oscar nomination this morning for her work on Lady Bird.  I don’t think Gerwig wrote the screenplay for Lady Bird in literally Sacramento (she’s based in New York these days), but Sacramento is where she emotionally wrote this movie.

And that’s central to what I’ve been trying to convey for the past decade on this blog.  A sense of place. That’s what I’ve tried to encourage. The same way Horton Foote wrote about the Texas he knew, and Tennessee Williams wrote about the South he knew.

After reading and listening to interviews with Gerwig there were many things that informed the look and feel of her story set an partially shot in Sacramento, California.

Besides growing up there there is the writing of Joan Didion (who also was raised in Sacramento), there was the John Huston film movie Fat City about two boxers heading in different direction in their lives (Which was shot in Stockton, CA), the paintings of William Eggleston, Greg Kondos, and Wayne Thiebaud (who once taught at Sacramento City College).

“I think California in general in terms of ghosts, it’s got some lost dreams. And the quality of lost dreams is different depending on what place your in. Los Angeles has a lot of lots dreams of a certain kind, but so does northern California, so San Francisco definitely. And Sacramento does, too. Sacramento is a place that came up because of the gold rush and later the dust bowl. There’s got to be a better life, and maybe I will strike it rich. Maybe I will be a gentleman farmer, or get gold. And I think these mythologies about places actually seep into how people think about themselves and their lives. And it’s an different kind of mythology that California has than say Connecticut has…. When we were working on figuring out how to shoot [Lady Bird] there was a whole discussion ‘Can you write it as a different city?’—just because of tax breaks. It would be cheaper to shoot it in Ohio, and I was like, ‘But I don’t know the mythology of Ohio the way that I know the mythology of California. This is a California story in its bones and if I shift it it’ll just feel arbitrary.’ And I feel like the more specific something can be the more universal it can be.”
Writer/Director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
Crew Call 18/The Deadline Podcast

P.S. If you’re not familiar with Joan Didion’s work check out her collection of essays at We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, and the Netflix documentary Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold.

Scott W. Smith

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“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”
Dory in Finding Nemo

While today won’t be the release of the book based on this blog, I’m getting closer to a release date. And since today is the 10th anniversary of starting this blog, I thought I’d at least share with you the artwork done by Predrag Capo for Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles. (More on that process and working with 99 Designs in the coming weeks.)

Way back in 2008, just a few months after starting this blog, I wrote a post called Screenwriting & Brass Knuckles. And as I went through the 2,500+ posts over the past decade, imagery from that post is what I decided to build the book around.

Also, a year ago I announced my intentions to end this blog on the 10th Anniversary— Yeah, that’s not going to happen. While I’m still working on shifting gears, there are several reasons to keep this train on its current track throughout this year.

While I wish I had more fanfare, those are my two big announcements for the day.

I plan on finishing my master’s degree in Digital Journalism and Design from the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg in December, and then have things in place in January of next year for some kind of creative new direction. (Perhaps start a podcast or pursue more speaking opportunities. If you have some ideas shoot me an email at info@scottwsmith.com .)

In the meantime, thanks for stopping by today—and thanks to everyone who’s kept coming back year after year. It’s still a blast to sift through interviews and pass on information gleaned from writers and filmmakers from around the world. I hope there’s been a post or two that has helped you on your own creative journey.

P.S.  Expect to see more posts this year on global cinema in my attempts to carve a new path.  And if you’ve never done it, check out the excellent work being done at Cinephilia and Beyond. 

Scott W. Smith

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“The way that I conceptually looked at it was I wanted it to be one person’s coming of age is another person’s letting go. With just as much attention on the letting go side of it, as the coming of age side of it.”
Greta Gerwig on writing Lady Bird
WTF with Marc Maron podcast interview

And elsewhere in that interview she says this about Lady Bird, which she also directed:

“It’s a love letter [to Sacramento] through the eyes of somebody who thinks she wants to get out…One of the things about particularly being a teenager is you have this certainty that life is going on somewhere else, and you’re just positive about it. And then you get to the place where for whatever reason you think life is and you think ‘Oh, no, this is not it. Wait, maybe it never happens.’”
Greta Gerwig



“There’s a line in the film where they’re sitting in the tree that’s been knocked over in a storm and my producer Shih-Ching Tsou while we were location goes ‘You know why I love this tree? Because it’s uprooted, but it’s still growing.‘ Beautiful line, and to tell you the truth, it probably sums up the whole movie right there.”
Director/Co-writer Sean Baker on The Florida Project
Filmspotting podcast interview

This is how they worked that thought into lines in the movie between the two young girls. Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 11.12.44 PM.png



Guillermo Del Toro co-wrote The Shape of Water with Vanessa Taylor and says there’s syncretism at play behind his story that’s a blend of fairy tales, his Catholic upbringing, and growing up watching Universal Studios monster movies like The Creature from The Black Lagoon on TV.

“The movie is about connecting with ‘the other.’ You know, the idea of empathy, the idea of how we do need each other to survive. And that’s why the original title of the screenplay when I wrote it was A Fairy Tale for Troubled Times, because I think that this is a movie that is incredibly pertinent and almost like an antidote to a lot of the cynicism and disconnect that we experience day to day.

“…A very Catholic notion is the humble force, or the force of humility, that gets revealed as a god-like figure toward the end. It’s also used in fairy tales. In fairy tales, in fact, there is an entire strand of tales that would be encompassed by the title ‘The Magical Fish.’ And [it’s] not exactly a secret that a fish is a Christian symbol.”
Director/Co-writer Guillermo Del Toro on The Shape of Water
NPR Morning Edition with Tori Whitney

Related posts:

Writing from Theme (tip #20)
Sheldon Turner on Theme
Sidney Lumet on Theme
David O. Russell on Character and Theme
Theme=What Your Movie is Really About
Theme=What Your Movie’s Really About 

Scott W. Smith

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Yeah, what he said…

Related post:
Don’t Try and Compete with Hollywood—Edward Burns
Shooting a Feature Film in 4 Days (Joe Swanberg)
The Best Film School (Robert Rodriguez)

Scott W. Smith

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”With the actors [on Lady Bird] I’d always say don’t play the comedy, play it truthful and it will be funny.”
Writer/Director Greta Gerwig
The Deadline Podcast

P.S. This quote reminds me of one that Tina Fey said of one of the father’s of modern improv:
“I remember taking workshops with Del Close, and he always used to ask the same question of a scene: ‘Is it true?’ He didn’t give a rat’s ass if it was funny. Telling the truth was always held in higher regard than making an audience laugh.”
Writer/actress Tina Fey (30 Rock, Saturday Night Live)
The Believer interview with Eric Spitznagel
 Related post: Telling the Truth=Humor

Scott W. Smith

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