Archive for the ‘Screenwriting & Life’ Category

“If you’re going to play music or do any art form, just as a hobby or as purely a source of enjoyment, then yeah, you should enjoy it. But I do believe in pushing yourself. If you actually take the idea of practice seriously—to me, practice should not be about enjoyment. Some people think of practice as ‘You do what you’re good at, and that’s naturally fun.’ True practice is actually about just doing what you’re bad at, and working on it, and that’s not fun. Practice is about beating your head against the wall. So if you’re actually serious about getting better at something, there’s always going to be an aspect of it that’s not fun, or not enjoyable. If every single thing is enjoyable, then you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.”
29-year-old Oscar-nominated screenwriter Damien Chazell (Whiplash)
Dissolve interview with Tasha Robinson

P.S. This is my second post of the day to set-up my 2,000th post tomorrow—on the seventh anniversary of this blog. Don’t know if it’ll be as epic as I wanted it to be, but I at least wanted to stay on track.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I attempted to write my first novel when I was twenty-four. Bagger Vance[my first published book] came out when I was fifty-one.

“Twenty-seven years is a long time to labor without success. Can you imagine how many times I was taken aside by spouse, lovers, family, and friends and given ‘the talk?’ Can you imagine how many times I gave it to myself?”
Steve Pressfield (The Legend of Bagger Vance)
My Overnight Success

There’s no guarantee that if you plug way at writing for basically three decades that you’ll eventually not only become a published author, but  also see your first published book turned into a movie starring Will Smith, Matt Damon, Chalize Theron and directed by Robert Redford—but it’s nice to point out when it happens.

In his post Pressfield expands on his “nearly three-decade odyssey” by offering some nuggets like:
1. It’s hard.
2. You gotta be a little crazy.
3. It’s worth it. 

But he also says that it wasn’t all wilderness;

“Within those twenty-seven years, I earned a living for at least a dozen as a professional writer. I worked in advertising. I had a career as a screenwriter. And I spent six years writing unpublishable novels (which counts as work too.)

“In other words the process, although it had many crazy and desperate years, was simply one of relentless, diligent labor and self-education. I was failing. But I was learning. By the time, twenty-seven years in, when I sat down to write The Legend of Bagger Vance, I was a seasoned pro who understood the principles of storytelling, who possessed abundant self-discipline, and who had had enough success in related fields to tackle this particular enterprise with confidence.”
Steve Pressfield

Check out the full My Overnight Success article as well as his book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Winn Your Innner Creative Battles. 

Happy New Year.

Related posts:
Bob DeRosa’s ‘Shortcuts’
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Tennessee Williams on ‘Apparent failure’
‘Failure is an Option’
Aaron Sorkin on Failure
Overnight Success“It doesn’t seem that long ago I had hopes of being the hot kid, selling my first story in ’51 when I was 25. I got on the cover of Newsweek in April 1985, and was seen as an overnight success after little more than thirty years.”—Elmore Leonard
Spectacular Failures 

P.S. Countdown to 2000th special post on January 22, 2015—11 posts

Scott W. Smith




Read Full Post »

“A lot of people think I had such a rosy career, but I wanted to identify that one of the things that helps you have a long career is learning how to deal with adversity, how to get past it.”
19-time All-Star baseball player Cal Ripken, Jr.

“I hated my father long before I knew there was a word for hate…I remember hating him even when I was in diapers.”
Pat Conroy

My father died on this date 19 years ago. September 6, 1995. It was the same night that baseball great Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record of consecutive games played—an event that fans on a MLB.com poll voted as the league’s most memorable moment.

It was the following morning as I prepared to direct a three camera video shoot I learned that my father was dead. But September 6 will always be a landmark day in my life. In some ways my father (who divorced my mother and moved away when I was seven) was a bit player in my life, but his shadow is always nearby. He had an interesting life as a drummer, a steel worker before he graduated from Ohio State, an Air Force pilot, and as an advertising executive. There aren’t many photos of him in my family photo album, but he bought me my first camera that set me on the creative path I’ve been walking since I was 18 years old.

Cal Ripken Jr. probably isn’t a perfect father, but the Hall-of-Fame player who has been heavily involved in charity work since his retirement from playing seems the ideal kind of guy any son or daughter would want to have as a father.  The kind of guy who would teach you how to ride a bike, help you with your homework, and pass on pearls of wisdom at various times of adversity in your life. Complete with a family photo album full of pleasant memories.

Kind of the opposite of novelist Pat Conroy’s father. But Conroy’s own rosy literary career owes a debt to the adversity that his father brought into his life.

“I’ve been writing the story of my own life for over forty years. My own stormy autobiography has been my theme, my dilemma, my obsession, and the fly-by-night dread I bring to the art of fiction. Through the years, I’ve met many writers who tell me with great pride that they consider autobiographical fiction as occupying a lower house in the literary canon. They make sure I know their imagination soar into realms and fragments completely invented by them. No man or woman in their pantheon of family or acquaintances has ever taken a curtain call in their own well-wrought and shapely books. Only rarely have I drifted far from the bed I was conceived. It is both the wound and foundation of my work.”
Pat Conroy
The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son

Chances are your own father falls somewhere between they guy who once told me, “The memories of my father could be written on the back of a postage stamp,” and Ward Cleaver on the classic TV show “Leave it to Beaver.”

And the odds are good that you’ve had your share of adversity in your life. But I hope you’ve overcome them—or are in the process of overcoming them—and somehow can use those experiences for fuel in your writings.

Simple words can become clever phrases 
And chapters could turn into books
If I could just get in on paper
But it’s harder that it ever looks
If I Could Just Get It on Paper
Lyrics by Jimmy Buffett

P.S. Here’s a video of Cal Ripken Jr. in one of his philanthropic ventures as he helps rebuild communities via working with Habitat for Humanity.

Related posts:
Emotional Autobiography (2.0) When you’re going through a period of unhappiness, a broken love affair, the death of someone you love, or some other disorder in your life, then you have no refuge but writing.”—Tennessee Williams
Robert McKee vs. Richard Walter “Decades spent writing and teaching have taught me that writers’ own personal stories are the only story they should write.”—Richard Walter

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Here’s a secret I have learned in 20 years as a screenwriter. Failure is constant for everyone. And I mean it, everybody fails at this all the time. Not just screenwriters, but I think anyone who tries to illuminate the human experience in an authentic way…I think everyone has the permission to fail a little. In fact I think that freefalling feeling you get right on the knife edge of total disaster may in fact be an essential ingredient to doing anything worthwhile at all. So the question then is: How do you reel yourself back from failure in a public way? How do you fall on the right side of that knife edge? And I guess what you need is a little bit of wisdom and honesty to look at something you’ve written that feels false, or boring or derivative, or in poor taste, or bullshitty, or inauthentic to you, and just plain not good enough. And say to yourself ‘I bet I can do better’.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich)
2013 BAFTA and BFI Screenwriters’ Lecture Series

Related post:

Aaron Sorkin on Failure
Filmmaking Baby Steps “It’s  all baby steps. One foot in front of the other.”—Sidney Lumet
Commitment in the Face of Failure —Michael Arndt quote
‘The Lord of the Rings’ Failure
Spectacular Failures
J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“In 11-12 years of writing I can lay claim to this—I’ve never written beneath myself. I’ve never written anything I didn’t want my name attached to.”
Rod Serling in 1959

“No one could know Serling, or view or read his work, without recognizing his deep affection for humanity … and his determination to enlarge our horizons by giving us a better understanding of ourselves.”
Gene Roddenberry

If I could arrange for a dinner  with special guests in The Twilight Zone I love to sit at a table with Rod Serling, Francis Ford Coppola, Tennessee Williams, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, and Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody. (You can invite who you want to your Twilight Zone dinner, but these are who I invited.)

These all happen to be writers who have written and/or spoken quite well about success, struggles, and spirituality in the context of creativity and culture.

“What I tried to suggest dramatically [in The Velvet Alley] is when you get into the big money—particularly in the detonating, exciting, explosive overnight way that our industry permits—there are certain blandishments that a guy can succumb to and many do. A preoccupation with status, with the symbols of status, with the heated swimming pool that’s ten feet longer than the neighbors.With the big car. With concern about billing. All these things. In a sense really minute things really in context, but that become disproportionately large in a guy’s mind. ”
Rod Serling

When Mike Wallace asked Serling when those preoccupation with the symbolism of status becomes large what becomes small, here’s what Serling said in that 1959 interview:

“I think probably the really valuable things. And I know this sounds corny,  but  things like having a family, being concerned with raising children, being concerned with where they go to school, being concerned with a good martial relationship–all these things I think are the essence. Unfortunately, and what I tried to dramatize in The Velvet Alley was that the guy who makes the success is immediately assailed by everybody. And you suddenly find you have to compromise along the line giving so many hours to work and a disproportionately number fewer number of hours to family. And this is inherent in our business.”

Serling went on to say that he worked on The Twilight Zone 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week.

When you comin’ home dad?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then
Cats in the Craddle lyrics written by Harry Chapin

Below is a opening from The Velvet Alley that first aired in 1959 on Playhouse 90 with a cast that included Art Carney, Leslie Nelson, Jack Klugman, Micky Dolenz, Dyan Cannon, and Burt Renyolds. And directed by Franklin J. Schaffner who won an Oscar for directing Patton. You can rent the whole program on Amazon. (I wonder if you go to clip six on the You Tube link you may wonder if Cameron Crowe saw this scene before he wrote Jerry Maguire.)


Related posts:

“The Catastrophe of Success” (Part 1)
“The Catastrophe of Success” (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I’m more interested in politics than anything in the world.  Much more interested in politics than I am in movies, art, or anything. I’m absolutely fascinated by politics and have been all my life…The truth is every piece of art is a political statement. When you deliberately make it you—the audience is going to get dizzy—when you deliberately make it you usually fall into the trap of rhetoric and the trap of speaking to a convinced audience, rather than convincing an audience. I think some movies and some books, and god some paintings, have changed the face of the world. But I don’t believe it’s the duty of every artist to change the face of the world. He is doing it by being an artist.”
Orson Welles at Q&A at USC in 1981
(Welles was most personally politically active during the ’30s and ’40s—”FDR used to say, ‘You and I are the two best actors in America.'”—Orson Welles)

This concludes a week of posts of the Orson Welles Q&A at USC after they screened his film The Trial. It’s interesting to note that in the Q&A he mentioned that he never watched his film after he made them because they are so much better in his mind.

It’s also worth noting that in the last few years before Welles dies in 1985,  filmmaker Henry Jaglom recorded conversations with him at the original Ma Masion restaurant where Welles held court in his later years.Those conversation were edited by Peter Biskin (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls) and recently  published in the book My Lunches with Orson Welles. I have not read the book yet but from what I’ve read it does offer some new—and unplugged—revelations into a man who at just 24-years-old directed one of the masterpieces of cinema—Citizen Kane.

“When asked to describe Welles’s influence, Jean-Luc Godard remarked, simply, ‘Everyone will always owe him everything.'”
Peter Biskin introduction to My Lunches with Orson Welles

For Welles Citizen Kane was his mountaintop experience. The movie was released in 1941 and his journey, and creative & financial struggles, over the years have been well documented. If you were born after his death you may be surprised to learn that in the ’70s—and era before cable TV, DVDs, and Internet streaming—Welles was mostly known to the American public as the spokesman for Paul Mason wine. For his Shakespearean delivery of the line, “We will sell no wine before its time.”

An average young person  today is more likely to know Welles from his drunken outtakes from those Paul Mason commercials. The kind of video that ends up on Funny or Die and I’ve actually seen a video of the outtakes below re-shot with actors today as either a spoof or a class project.

By this time in his life the well had run dry for Welles. In a sense he had become like what became of many legends in their later years (Elvis, Hemingway, Tennessee Williams) a shadow of his former greatness. But like Elvis, Hemingway, and Williams the sun is shinning once again. The good, the bad, and the ugly has turned the man who once stood on the mountaintop to become his own mountain. Welles like a select few people in Hollywood—a place he called “a snake pit”— has become through appointments and mythology reached the status of legend and icon.

In the spirit of who “Who was Charlie Kane?” and “Who was Rosebud?” — Who was Orson Welles?   Biskin and Jaglom I imagine have added another chapter to the growing story of the man now sometimes called Citizen Welles.

The final scene of The Lady from Shanghai is perhaps the most autobiographical truthful metaphor in all of his work. It is ultimately impossible to find the real Orson Welles among all the fun-house mirrors he so energetically set in place.”
Henry Jaglom

And to end this full circle, I found a quote online from Jaglom’s talks with Welles that touched on politics.

“Politics is always corrupting. Even saints in politics. The political world, in itself, is corrupt. You’re not going to satisfy that urge to spiritual perfection in any political movement without being betrayed and without betraying others. Only service, direct service, say, helping a lot of starving kids in a Third World country, is impeccable.”
Orson Welles
My Lunches with Orson Welles

And instead of ending with the a scene from The Lady from Shanghai or a clip of one of Welles’ films I thought you might enjoy this clip of Welles talking about Ernest Hemingway.

P.S. If you happen to be in the Orlando area, the Enzian Theater will have a Saturday matinée of Citizen Kane tomorrow (1/11/14) at noon.

Related links: The USC Spectator Spring of 1982 about Welles visiting USC

There is an entire You Tube Channel dedicated to Citizen Welles which includes the  90 min doc—The Complete Charlie Kane.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Anybody who goes into film has to be a little crazy. And has to be ready for every kind of disappointment and defeat. And must be grateful for any kind of evening such as this that he can get out of it. It’s mathematically almost an impossible medium to succeed in on any sort of important level.”
Writer, director, actor Orson Welles (Citzen Kane) during Q&A at USC in 1981 after screening his film The Trial 

That’s the quote for today. Whatever success this blog has reaching readers over the years is due to standing on the shoulders of some of the most talented people in the film industry. I see my niche as mainly being a conduit for their insights. I actually don’t know the total number of people I’ve pulled quotes from since 2008, but I’m sure it’s over 500.   Welles’ quote does remind me of many similar thoughts on the craziness and difficulties of the entertainment industry I’ve used on this blog in the past. Here are 22 of them for you to ponder:

“It’s an accepted fact that all writers are crazy, even the normal ones are weird.”
William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)

“I got into screenwriting for the best of all reasons: I got into it for self-therapy.”
Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver)   

 “I don’t dress until 5 p.m. I have a bathrobe that can stand…Yes, I am divorced. One writes because one literally couldn’t get another job or has no choice.”
Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind)

“If you get rejected, you have to persist. Don’t give up. It was the best advice I ever got.”
Anna Hamilton Phelan (Mask)

“I spent 18 years doing stand up comedy. Ten years learning, four years refining, and four years of wild success.”
Steve Martin (Roxanne)

“Really, normal people are not attracted to this business.”    
Madonna (on the music business)

“Lawrence Kasdan has three unsold specs. Shane Black has films he wants to get made he can’t get made. When every studio passes on your project, let me tell you, that feeling of being on the inside disappears fast.”
Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean)

“You make your first feature and you just assume the next one will be easier, but it’s kind of not, unless you have an absolute blow-out success and someone will write a check for pretty much whatever you want to do. And it’s not the case. You kind of have to start from scratch really.”
Joel Hopkins (Last Chance Harvey)

“If you’re not hot in Los Angeles, it’s a very lonely town…It’s a lonely town even if you are hot.”
Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show)

“Success is very hard. Nobody prepares you for it. You think you’re infallible. You pretend you know more than you do. Pride goeth before the fall.”
Peter Bogdanovich

“I am widely regarded as the ghost of a writer, a ghost still visible, excessively solid of flesh and perhaps too ambulatory, but a writer remembered mostly for works which were staged between 1944 and 1961.”
Tennessee Williams in 1977

“It doesn’t seem that long ago I had hopes of being the hot kid, selling my first story in ’51 when I was 25. I got on the cover of Newsweek in April 1985, and was seen as an overnight success after little more than thirty years.”
Elmore Leonard in 1998

“I graduated from Northwestern. I had no money. No one had any money. So I got a day job, shelving books at the Northwestern University Law Library. Every morning I would work from nine to five and shelve books, for ten years. Every single day for ten years.”
John Logan (Any Given Sunday)

“For every writer I know that lives high on the hog I know twenty who buy their bacon at Costco.”
Josh Friedman (War of the Worlds)

“I think every writer harbors—secretly or not-so-secretly—delusions of grandeur. Still, when you’re starting out, it’s hard to imagine how you’ll ever ‘succeed.’”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine)

“After nine years of writing screenplays without success, I believed only bad things were going to happen to me.”
 Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

 “Don’t try and compete with Hollywood. Take your lack of resources and make it work for you.”
Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullen)

This is what I believe to be true. This is what I learned in the hospital. You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest, and if you do, if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining.”
Pat (Bradley Cooper) in Silver Linings Playbook by David O. Russell based on the novel by Matthew Quick

“Don’t give up. You’re going to get kicked in the teeth. A lot. Learn to take a hit, then pick yourself up off the floor. Resilience is the true key to success.”
Melissa Rosenberg (Twilight)

“For me, it was a matter of years of trying to develop my writing in the same way that some people spend years learning to play the violin.”
Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)

“By 1995 I was literally down to my last dollar. I called dad to ask for money, which was like pulling teeth. He wanted to know when I was going to get a real job. My car was stolen, so I was riding a bike. I thought I’d end up working in Starbucks.”
Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down)

“There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work. Perseverance. Luck. Craft. Failure. Success. Mistakes. And yes, dreams that come true.”
Bob DeRosa (Killers)

Related Posts:
The Breaking of Peter Bogdanovich
How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41)—Micahel Arndt
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter—John Logan
Don’t Waste Your Life (2.0)
Rejection Before Raiders
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip 70)
Write 2 or 3 Scripts This Year(Tip #87)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: