Archive for July, 2018

“David Lynch’s The Elephant Man is the one Lynch film that found a mesmerizing middle ground between conventional Hollywood story structure and its director’s surreal dreamscapes. Yet today it seems on the verge of being forgotten, and that’s a shame.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

The Elephant Man is currently available on Amazon Prime and I had forgotten what an extraordinary film it is. The direction (David Lynch), the acting (John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud), the make-up (Christopher Tucker), the black & white cinematography (Freddie Francis), and the screenwriting (Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren, Lynch) are brilliant.

It was nominated for eight Oscars and the winner of BAFTA Best Picture in 1981. I saw the film in theaters when I was a teenager and it definitely peaked my early interest in what films could be.

Rewatching the movie makes me want to go read the original source material on the life of John Merrick; The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences by Sir Frederick Treves and The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu.

And here’s a super article that fills in more about the movie.

P.S. The Elephant Man opened in theaters in October 1980 and that was a great time to be a teenager newly interested in movies. This was the pre-internet days and VHS or cable TV hadn’t come into my world yet. My movie tastes were evolving so I went to see everything I could. Here’s an eclectic—and partial— sample of what I saw in theaters in 1980:

The Shining 
Raging Bull
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
The Blues Brothers 
The Fog
Urban Cowboy (worth watching just to see Scott Glenn eat the worm)
Stir Crazy (Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor)
Coal Miners Daughter 
My Body Guard 
Private Benjamin 
Used Cars
The Gods Must be Crazy
The Blue Lagoon
Melvin and Howard
Atlantic City
Ordinary People (Oscars: Best Picture, screenplay, direction, supporting actor) 

Then there’s a list of 1980s films I didn’t catch until later Breaker MorantAltered States, Stardust Memories, and Alligator (early John Sayles screenplay). A couple that slipped by me I need to check out: Kurosawa’s Kagemusha and Jim Jarmusch’s Permanent Vacation. And some interesting titles I never saw and probably never will; Cannibal Apocalypse, Fists of the White Lotus, Eaten Alive!, Blood Beach.

Cheers to the class of 1980. Lots of talent on display that year.

Related post:

Legacy Filmmaking (and Your Bank Account): “They’re never going to talk about your bank account when you’re dead, but they will talk about maybe the movies you left behind if you really cared about what you did.”—Frank Darabont

Scott W. Smith





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I come out of a background — I was a private detective for years after I started as a filmmaker. I like to think, of course I could be completely wrong, that there’s this detective element in everything I do. My movies start from interviews. Everything that I’ve really done —The Thin Blue Line started from  bizarre, odd interviews. But interviews that are investigative. … The element of spontaneity is not knowing what someone is going to say in front of the camera, having really no idea, of being surprised. I know that there’s this moment in all of the interviews that I’ve loved where something happens. I had this three-minute rule that if you just shut up and let someone talk, within three minutes they will show you how crazy they really are. And it has happened time and time again.”
Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris (The Fog of War)
The Believer — Errol Morris talks with Werner Herzog


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“What do you think the devil’s going to look like if he’s around? … Nobody is going to be taken in by a guy with a long, red, pointy tail!”
Aaron (Albert Brooks) in Broadcast News

“The prince of darkness is a gentleman.”
King Lear

Academy Award and Emmy Award-winning producer/writer/director James L. Brooks has had one of the most remarkable careers in Hollywood. There’s his credits as creator or co-creator of The Simpsons, Taxi, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. His credits as a producer include Jerry Maguire and Big. And he wrote and directed As Good As it Gets and Broadcast News. 

Today I came across this 2016 interview with Brooks by Scott Huver for moviefone and found the following question and answer interesting since Brooks’ career has spanned more than 50 years.

Scott Huver: This is a loaded question for anybody, but what are you proudest of as far as your legacy as a writer of film and television?

James L. Brooks: Today? The devil speech in “Broadcast News.”

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

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“Plot is just not my gift. I’m fascinated with complex characters, and that doesn’t mix well with complex plots. . . . I’ve made up little mantras for myself, catchphrases from a screenwriting book that doesn’t exist. One is ‘Write the movie you’d pay to go see.’ Another is ‘Never let a character tell me something that the camera can show me.’ Then there’s ‘You always want the audience wondering what’s going to happen next, never what’s happening.’ Maybe if I’d graduated college or read a book on screenwriting, I’d do things differently. But this is how I do ’em.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water)
Vulture interview with David Marchese

Related posts:
Simple Stories/Complex Characters 
Simplicity in Screenwriting 

Scott W. Smith

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“[For First Reformed] I had the character from Diary of a Country Priest, I had the premise from Winter Light, I had the ending from Ordet, I had the levitation from Tarkovsky’s The Mirror, I had the credits from Voyage to Italy—I was stealing all over the place. . . .The secret of stealing is that you have to steal around. You can’t go back to the same 7-Eleven every time. They catch you. So you go to the floral shop. Then you go to the gas station. Then you go to that hotdog stand that nobody goes to. And you keep grabbing this stuff and eventually, somebody will think you made it up.”
Writer/Director Paul Schrader
The Moment with Brian Koppelman (5/22/18)

Related posts:
Stealing from Shakespeare
Fueling Your Imagination (Jarmusch Style) “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.”
Creating Under the Influence “Oh, I’ve stolen from the best. I mean I’ve stolen from Bergman. I’ve stolen from Groucho, I’ve stolen from Chaplin, I’ve stolen from Keaton, from Martha Graham, from Fellini. I mean I’m a shameless thief.”Woody Allen
Movie Cloning (Part 2) “I think it’s fine for young (filmmakers) to out and out rip off people who come before them because you always make it your own.” Francis Ford Coppola
Writer/Director Paul Schrader 

Scott W. Smith

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Afflicting the Comfortable

“There are some cases where you want to afflict the comfortable, and there are other cases where you want to comfort the afflicted.”
Katie Couric on the journalist’s job
Interview on The Tim Ferriss Show

According to a Poynter article by David Shedden the roots of that sentiment go back to a one-act play with this line “The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” But Shedden writes that original version of that quote appeared in the 1902 book Observations by Mr. Dooley by the Chicago newspaperman Peter Finley Dunne (1867-1936):

“Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.”

P.S. Heard Couric’s quote this morning and thought that movies—along with being able to entertain—also have the ability to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. The Shawshank Redemption and The Florida Project are two different movies that come to mind.

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Make a difference today for someone who is fighting for their tomorrow. You don’t need to be a Russell Wilson, an Aaron Rogers, to make a difference out there. Every single person in this roon can be a difference maker. You can be just a normal person that gets up every morning and goes to work—but you can be a difference maker, putting a smile on those faces. So I urge anybody out there, if you have somebody out there suffering—it doesn’t have to be cancer—it could be somebody not having a good day. It could be your mom, your dad, it can be your grandparent. What you say to them, the smile that you have on your face—that can be the difference in them making it to the next day.”
Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly (who has also gone through years of cancer treatment)
Jimmy V Award for Perseverence acceptance speech
July 18, 2018

Kelly for Kids Foundation

Related Posts:

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“Sometimes people will say to me, why do you always have these characters act so badly? Why are they behaving terribly? Why do they think this way? And I always say because they need to learn a lesson. If they’re smart, and self-actualized, and kind, and compassionate there’s no story. Stories are about people who are messed up, and need to figure out a way through it. Or a way to grow.”
Writer/Director Judd Apatow (Knocked Up)


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“I like to think about sequences. I really believe less in a three-act structure and much more in sequences that are sort of eight-to-12 pages. Roughly about ten-minutes that work almost like chapters in a story. Nobody is better at building a story this way than Steven Spielberg… The sequences have their own beginning, middle, and end that are satisfying—it really pulls you along.”
Director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind)

Related post:

Sequence Writing (Tip #105)

A look at Chris Soth’s sequence version called the “mini-movie method”—mixed with a little Blake Snyder

Scriptshadow’s Sequence Approach to writing

Scott W. Smith

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Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 1.52.55 PM

Yesterday I picked up the Blu-Ray of A Quiet Place. I haven’t bought a movie on the day of its release in years. I wanted to fit in another post about it and landed on this first frame from the movie—DAY 89.

That’s minimalistic exposition at its best. It hooks the audience and forces them to wonder, “Day 89 of what?” And the mysterious part is we’re not given the answer. No tired voice-over of someone explaining what happened. Just “DAY 89.” It pulls the audience into the story and makes them put together the puzzle.

The opening scene of an abandoned town and a family of five having an unorthodox shopping spree would work without DAY 89—but I don’t think near as well. Don’t know if that came from writer/director John Krasinski, the other credited screenwriters Scott Beck & Bryan Woods, or someone else, but good choice.

It reminds me of another minimal bit of exposition from Sicario (2015) where a fellow tells Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), “Sorry for your loss.” But we’re not told what that loss is until much later in the film, where that information will have its most impact.

Until then we just have Del Toro’s face and body language to tell us that this is a man who has had a hard life. At the 2:29 mark of the video below, you’ll find Taylor Sheridan’s writing, Denis Villeneuve’s direction, Del Toro’s and Emily Blunt’s acting—before her role in A Quiet Place—keeping us intrigued about what mystery man Alejandro lost.

“You’re asking me how a watch works.”= Mysterious Minimal Exposition

Related posts:
Screenwriting & Exposition (an oldie from 2008 post)
“Exposition is BORING unless…”
10 Solid Exposition Examples
‘A Quiet Place’ Meets ‘Screenwriting from Iowa’

Scott W. Smith

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