Archive for January, 2018


“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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(Note: This is a reworking of a post originally written in 2008.)

“Find a strong-willed character with a nothing-will-stand-in-my-way determination to reach his or her goal confronting strong opposition, add a strong action line, keep throwing obstacles (conflicts) in his or her path, and you’re well on your way to a gripping screenplay.”
William Froug

In 2006 I did  a video shoot in Jackson, Mississippi and then had to drive to Atlanta for another shoot.  On that trip I decided to take a detour off the main highway so I could retrace the Selma to Montgomery march. (This shot was taken as I drove over the bridge in Selma, Alabama where the conflict known as Bloody Sunday occurred back in 1965.)


In route to Atlanta I learned that King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, had died and there would be a public viewing in Atlanta that weekend. I figured that was a more than amazing way to finish my civil rights tour and I took this photo of King’s hearse outside the State Capitol in downtown Atlanta.


Since this is a blog on screenwriting I’d like to address Martin Luther King Jr. from that perspective.

Let’s talk about the characters you chose to write about.

“Strong characters hold our interest in life and on the screen.”                       Andrew Horton, Writing the Character-Centered Screenplay

It’s been said that drama favors the great saint or the great sinner.

We don’t have to go very far in theater, literature and film to see that this is true:

King Lear
Blanche DuBois
The Godfather
Scarlet O’Hara
James Bond
Mad Max
Lawrence of Arabia
The Wicked Witch of the West
Snow White
Norma Rae
William Wallace
Virgil Tibbs
Nurse Ratched
Darth Vader
Dr. Hannibal Lecter
Norman Bates
Bonnie & Clyde
Alex Forrest (Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction)
Alonzo (Denzel Washington in Training Day)
The Joker (Heath Ledger iThe Dark Knight)

In fact, we might as well say that history favors the great saint or great sinner:

Joan of Ark
Al Capone
Pol Pot
Catherine the Great
Genghis Khan
Nelson Mandela

It’s been said that the History Channel should be called the Hitler Channel because he plays such a key role in many programs.

Certainly the words saint and sinner are religious in nature so let’s look there to see if it favors the great saint and the great sinner as far as being remembered:

Adam & Eve
Cain & Abel
King David
St. Augustine
Martin Luther
John Calvin
Mother Theresa
Jim Jones

How memorable are the characters you have created? Do you write characters that are as fascinating to watch as animals at the zoo? In the file under “Truth is stranger than fiction” check out the LA Times podcast Dirty Jim by Christopher Goffard and team to see one of the best accounts in the the last decade of a diabolical human being.

Of course, every character you write won’t be as fascinating as Gordon Gecko in Oliver Stone’s Wall St. or Annie Wilkes in Misery, but your protagonist and antagonist must be somebody we are interested in investing two hours of hours of our lives. (They could be a shark, a robot, or a tornado as well, but whatever they are make them standout.) They don’t even have to shoot the bad guy at the end. Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull is a despicable character but man is he ever an interesting case study.

“I’m not interested in having to root for someone; I’m trying to get some sort of understanding as to what makes people tick and what they’re about.
Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, Basic Instinct

If you do write about a common person it’s best if you put them in an extraordinary situation. (Like Miss Daisy & Hoke’s relationship in Driving Miss Daisy centered around a changing world, or Cary Grant’s character in North by Northwest who must run for his life. And let’s not forget the quintessential common man Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman who is a mirror for all humanity that faces living, as Thoreau said, “lives of quite desperation.”

The truth is it’s easier to write a strong bad guy than a strong good guy. For every Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) there are probably three Norman Bates (Psycho). (And actors love to play a good bad people.) And basic dramatic structure dictates that when you throw your protagonist and antagonist into the ring it should be a fair battle.

Look at Steven Spielberg films and you’ll find a long list of really bad people and creatures.

And here’s a secret. Many great characters are a mix of saint and sinner. Isn’t there a Jekyll and Hyde in all of us? Don’t we love to go to movies and watch characters wrestle with life, with themselves? (Heck, even Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell characters are really wrestling with life.)

Showing that struggle is part of what makes your characters engaging and memorable. It gives your characters dimension.

“It’s rare that you find three-dimensional characters in a writing sample, and when you do, it’s obvious that’s a writer you want to work with.”  Paramount Story Editor 

So as you hear the stories about Martin Luther King Jr. today ask yourself what was it about this man and his work that made him memorable. What obstacles did he have to overcome? How did his character respond to the set-backs? And how in the years after his death has his work been relevant in shaping America today?

The debates I’ve heard on the radio programs have given answers all over the map. Great characters are not lukewarm.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream has not been realized, but it’s a great dream, and I believe great strides have been made over the years.

P.S. And since it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day here’s a quote:

“Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.” 
Martin Luther King Jr.
1967 speech to Barratt Junior High School students

Related posts:
Martin Luther King Jr. Special
25 Links Related to Blacks and Filmmaking
The First Black Feature Filmmaker

Scott W. Smith

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I’ll continue my run of posts on writer/director Greta Gerwig tomorrow but wanted to share a photo I took yesterday of a nicer than average Florida sunset.

As I driving east toward downtown Orlando I saw a man looking to the west with his camera pointed at the sky. “What’s that dude taking pictures of?” I wondered. When I looked into my review mirror I saw the sunset.

Knowing that sunsets fade quickly and that I needed something in the foreground. I drove about 100 yards and just stopped my car in the middle of the street by the Orlando City Stadium and got this shot with my iPhone.


Scott W. Smith

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The way I write is to allow myself to do things kind of unconsciously, and then I try to craft them after I’ve done it unconsciously. I have the distinct experience of tapping into something where I can just write, and write, and write, and it doesn’t feel like I’m doing the choosing of the words. I’m sure everyone who writes at some point feels like that. And then I come back to it later and it’s almost a sense of I don’t know who wrote this. And now I have to make it into something that has form. There’s an odd disconnect with it because in a way it’s like you found something that someone’s left. There are moments where once I start structuring those things and making them have more form then I have to move it from A to B and I do have some teeth pulling moments of getting the story down. But for the most part it comes down like that.

“So in some ways I have this strange experience with a script of knowing that it works on the page but also I have a certain amount of mystery to what I’m saying and how these characters function. And when I have great actors they give me amore understanding of what it is I’ve written. And that informs how I’m going to direct it.”
Writer/director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
Marc Maron Podcast interview

Related post: Where Do Ideas Come From?

Scott W. Smith

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Here’s a quote from back in 2013—a few years before Greta Gerwig made her directorial debut with Lady Bird. (A film that just won Golden Globe awards for Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture.)

“[Directing] was never something I realized I could do for a long time, and I don’t know why exactly, but I just never thought that I would be able to or that I’d never be any good at it, and I think I no longer believe that. …To be honest it’s a lame excuse, but it just seems very male, and it seems like it was just something that men said they wanted to do in college. I didn’t really know any women who said they wanted to do it. It wasn’t until really being out in the world and meeting filmmakers like Lynn Shelton and Lena Dunham and Liz Meriwether, who’s a writer, and Diablo Cody, and there’s so many of them that I didn’t know them. And it wasn’t until meeting them that I think, in my 20s, that I had built up a reserve of confidence and a feeling like it’s not just a boy’s club.”
Greta Gerwig
Miami NewTimes interview with

Related post:
The Fox, the Farm, & the Fempire
Woman of Steel
Lena Dunham, Sundance, & Iowa
Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)

Scott W. Smith

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