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Archive for August, 2018

When Neil Simon was 31 years old and had yet seen a play of his produced, he was called into a meeting with Max Gordon, who was “the archetypical cigar-smoking Broadway producer” known for producing many Kaufman-and-Hart classic comedies. This is how Simon, in his book Rewrite,  recounted the story of meeting Gordon around 1960:

In this business you look for bread crumbs and settle for what the pigeons couldn’t get that day. The meeting with Max Gordon in his office was brief.

‘I read your script, kid. Good dialogue. Funny. Someday you’re going to write a great play. This isn’t it.’

I nodded, waiting for more. None was forthcoming so I pushed my luck. ‘Can you tell me what’s wrong with it?’

He looked up, surprised to see I was still there. Out of some sense of benevolence, he shared his wisdom with me. ‘A play is like a house. It has to be built on a solid foundation. You don’t have a solid foundation here. What you’ve got is a house built on sand. Once the curtain goes up, your play is going to sink right into the sand. You understand what I’m saying?’

‘Yes. Too much sand.’

’Right. One last thing before you go.’

I hadn’t even made a move toward the door.

‘Characters.’

‘Characters?’

‘There’s no play without characters. First you get your characters, then you get your story, then you get your dialogue. If you got a story and dialogue but no characters, what have you got?’

‘A sand castle.’

’Now you understand. Okay. Nice meeting you, kid. If you ever write a great play, let me read it first. Close the door.’”

Simon would go on to earn a Pulitzer Prize, be nominated for 17 Tony Awards (win three),  and be nominated for four Oscars. May you find (or give) breadcrumbs of encouragement in the coming days.

P.S. I’m not sure what play that was (probably Come Blow Your Horn)—or what version of the early play it was. Or if he made any changes based on what Gordon told him. But Come Blow Your Horn soon afterward had a three-week summer stock run at The Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania. (Simon called summer stock “a last ditch for his play.”)

That playhouse—which first opened in 1939— is still operating and tonight the play Million Dollar Quartet (book by Colin Escott & Floyd Mutrux) begins at 8:00.

Related post:
Flaming Rejection—Garry Marshall’s brutal run-in with a famous veteran comedian

Scott W. Smith

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There was [The Wizard of Oz actor] Bert Lahr sitting with the cast of his latest vehicle . . . Stash [Prager] introduced me, saying ‘This is Doc Simon. The kid’s written a funny play Bert.’ Bert looked at me an said quite earnestly, but still in that Cowardly Lion’s voice, ‘Is it about anything? If it’s not about anything, they won’t like it. Make sure it’s about something, kid,’ then wished me good luck and turned back to his party.”
Playwright/screenwriter Neil Simon
Rewrites, A Memoir

P.S. That brief exchange happened in a restaurant in Philadelphia shortly before the opening night of his first play (Come Blow Your Horn) in 1961. The first performance received, according to Simon, “a partial standing audience.” Critic Ernie Schier of the Philadelphia Bulletin agreed with the audience writing, ”The theater season has bounced to its feet with Come Blow Your Horn, a laugh happy, bell-ringing farce which opened last night at the Walnut.”

And that’s how Neil Simon launched his playwriting career. That success in Pennsylvania paved the way for the play to make it to Broadway and eventually get produced as a movie featuring Frank Sinatra, Molly Picon, Jill St. John, Barbara Rush, Lee Cobb, and Tony Bill.

Related post:

How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (and where Michael Arndt gives basically the same advice as Bert Lahr)

Scott W. Smith

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This exchange between playwright Neil Simon and Terry Gross is from a 1996 Fresh Air interview:

GROSS: You have a theory that you write about in [your book Rewrite:A Memoir] that your mind doesn’t know, when you’re writing, that it’s only fiction. Your mind thinks you’re actually living through whatever you’re putting on paper.

SIMON: Yes.

GROSS: What has led you to this conclusion?

SIMON: Because my body goes through the pain that I am going through in the writing. I feel the tenseness if I’m writing a scene between, let’s say, a husband and wife who are having a fractious marriage. Things are going wrong. There’s a big argument. There’s a confrontation. I feel the intensity in my body, and I don’t think I’m acting that out. I truly feel it. I’m exhausted when I go home, whereas if I write something that’s a funnier scene, a lighter scene, a more loving, romantic scene, I don’t feel that same tension. I feel a lightness about me. So I don’t think that the mind differentiates about what’s going on in real life or what’s going on in the fiction you’re writing.

GROSS: So fiction really does take its toll on you physically.

SIMON: It does, but it’s been very rewarding for me. I don’t think I would like to have been anything else in life but a writer, but I also don’t think I could have been anything else.

Related posts:
Nostalgia: The Pain from an Old Wound
Emotion-Emotion-Emotion
Power Your Podcast with Storytelling “Everyone wants to find a way out of pain.”-
Alex Blumberg
Method Writing—Write with Your Scars 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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Neil Simon (1927-2018)

“Did I relax and watch my boyhood ambitions being fulfilled before my eyes? Not if you were born in the Bronx, in the Depression and Jewish, you don’t.”
Emmy, Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winner Neil Simon

When I heard that playwright/screenwriter Neal Simon died over the weekend I thought back to when I read that back in the ’60s he once had three plays he’d written being performed on Broadway at the same time. I though that was remarkable.

Then I read in the New York Times today that he actually had four plays on Broadway at the same time:

For seven months in 1967, he had four productions running at the same time on Broadway: “Barefoot in the Park,” ”The Odd Couple,” ”Sweet Charity,” and “The Star-Spangled Girl.”

He started out writing in television in the late 40s and in the 50s with legends Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, and Mel Brooks. He followed his TV success as a Tony award-winning playwright and a four-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter.

I thought I’d put up links to posts that feature his work and quotes:

Writing ‘The Odd Couple’
Two People, One Confrontation
Neil Simon on Conflict  
Neil Simon on Critics 
The Odd Couple vs. The Odd Couple 
Can Screenwriting Be Taught? (Simon claimed he learned to write from his brother Danny)

Scott W. Smith 

 

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Ted Quotes

 


Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 7.24.02 PM

Yesterday producer Ted Hope (@tedhope.fanpage on Facebook) gave a nice shout-out to this blog, so I thought I’d use that to wrangle together 10 Hope-centric quotes from various places. Many are from his Hope for Film book.

‘A new and vibrant cinema’—Ted Hope 
‘If I ran a film school  …’ — Ted Hope
You vs. Kurosawa (and the History of Cinema)
Ted Hope on Finding a Film’s Theme
My Formula for the Perfect Sundance Film—Ted Hope
Ted Hope on Finding a Safe Harbor from Liars and Cheats 
‘Helping others rarely hurts anyone, particularly yourself’—Ted Hope
Define What You Love & Ted Hope’s List of ‘32 Qualities of a Better Film‘
‘A Quiet Place‘…  in Iowa 
The Case for Making a Not So Good Film

His blog Hope for Film—with a focus on the business side of filmmaking—is still online, but not updated anymore because he’s too busy with his role at Amazon. But he’s active on his Facebook fan page so check that out for his wisdom, inspiration, filmmaking experiences and film recommendations.

And if you want short Ted (Hope) Talk, here you go:

Scott W. Smith

 

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I know there is a lot of noise and distractions out there— in regard to finding filmmaking information and inspiration—but I’m enjoying producer Ted Hope’s Facebook posts recently. Here’s just a short excerpt from yesterday’s post.

“To make a great film, you generally have to make a good one first — and to make the good one, you have to make a not-so-good one even before that. Sure, the exceptions come out of the gate strong, but that is not most of us, and certainly not the ones who have to run the long distance race.”
Ted Hope,  Amazon Studios
Facebook post 8/20/18

P.S. The best example of that is Quentin Tarantino. His first feature film was not Reservoir Dogs—that was his first completed feature film. Before that he spent three to eight years (reports vary) shooting and editing  My Best Friend’s Birthday which was never completed.  Along with watching movies, Tarantino considers that his film school. It’s estimated that he spent $5,000 on My Best Friend’s Wedding—which makes for a pretty inexpensive film school.

Related posts:
‘If I ran a film school…’—Ted Hope
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
‘A new and vibrant cinema’—Ted Hope
Failure, Failure—Wild Success (Larry David’s Journey to Co-creating ‘Seinfeld’)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“In the initial writing, I’m just trying to crack the story and make the characters as interesting as I can, and make it feel like a movie story.”
Scott Frank

If you just look at three productions—Minority Report, Marley & Me, Godless— that Scott Frank’s worked on as a writer and/or director you’d have to say he has eclectic tastes. Afterall those three projects include a futuristic sci-fi story based on a 12-page Philip K. Dick short story, a popular book and contemporary story about a dog and a family, and a limited series western on Netflix.

Frank’s involvement with Marley & Me started with his daughter reading the book and telling him the story as they walked their own dog. This is how he found he way into telling the story in screenplay form:

“Elizabeth Gabler, who runs Fox 2000, said,  ‘You know I have a draft of the movie Marley & Me and the writer is going to go off and make his own movie and we’re not done with the [script], do you think you can come take a look at it?’ And I’m like, I know Marley & Me really well—I think I’m the wrong guy. I don’t know how to write a movie like that. And she goes, ‘Yes you do, it’s just storytelling. It needs a story. Can you help me figure out what the story would be?’ I said, alright I’ll read it but I don’t think I’m your guy. And I read it and two things became readily apparent, one this is my life and two there is a giant metaphor here; the messiness of marriage told through the messiness of the dog, and how it’s all chaos. It’s really about a marriage, and my particularly boring marriage at that. And so I’m like I know how to do that—I actually do know how to do that. And so that’s how I ended up doing that. And had a ball—just had the greatest time of all working on it.”
Writer/director Scott Frank
3rd & Fairfax: The WGAW Podcast

Scott W. Smith

 

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