Archive for the ‘Screenwriting Quotes’ Category

“When analyzing any film, two specific questions need to be asked of each beat — 1) What is the ultimate purpose of each scene? 2) What does it accomplish structurally?…There are no random beats in a great screenplay.”
Screenwriter John Jarrell (Romeo Must Die)
Tough Love Screenwriting: The Real Deal from a Twenty-Year Pro
Page 164

This ends posts the past two weeks centered around Jarrell’s book, and as a bonus, below is how he answers those two questions regarding the second scene of the David Ayer written movie Training Day.

A) Alonzo (Denzel Washington) immediately establishes the balance of power between them — veteran/new guy, strong/weak, big dog/little dog, top/bottom. This keeps Hoyt’s character off-balance from the very start.

B) Hoyt’s lackluster drunk-stop tale fails to impress. Why is this seemingly innocent exchange of special note? Because this normal, first day on the job meet-and-greet actually confirms Hoyt’s lack of experience for Alonzo.

Think Big Picture. As we’ll later learn, Alonzo has plotted out the entirety of this training day well in advance. But to make it all work, he needs a young, green cop he can fully manipulate and control.
John Jarrell

Related posts:
‘Tough Love Screenwriting’
‘Learn from the very best’
Five Must-Read Screenplays If for some ridiculous reason you haven’t seen or read Training Day, put this book down RIGHT NOW and go do it.”—Jarrell
Screenwriting with Brilliant Simplicity
‘Little Green Envelopes of Love’

Scott W. Smith

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Can you have a day job (or a night job) and still find time to write? Yes.

“I was a sound engineer. That was my day job when I started writing. I sort of did my day job every night. I would write from ten to six every day and at six, leave my apartment and head down to one of these rock clubs I worked at and mix for bands, or I would go into my studio… I had a little studio that I started with friends on the Lower East Side, and record bands there and I remember we did a series of Garnier shampoo commercials that like paid my rent for a year.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Graham Moore (The Imitation Game)
Interview with Brad Brevet/ Rope of Silicon

In case you missed it, Moore (whose roots are in Chicago) wrote from “ten to six everyday”—that’s eight hours a day, 40 hours a week if he did that five days a week. Over 160 hour of writing a month, all while working another job that paid his bills.

The Imitation Game was written as a spec script and was chosen as the top script on the 2011 The Black List. For what it’s worth, Moore’s degree from Columbia University is in religious studies.

Related post:
“I can’t keep handling this…rejection”—Graham Moore
“Art is Work”—Milton Glaser
The Breakfast Club for Writers (2.0) Elmore Leonard on writing two hours before work each morning— for ten years!—before his writing career really took off.
Iowa Kutcher on Jobs/Work —”Opportunities look a lot like work.”
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70) Hint—it’s not screenwriting contests, screenwriting workshops, or screenwriting blogs and podcasts.

Scott W. Smith

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“I want my movies to be about regular people that are caught up in extraordinary moments in their lives, usually by their own doing. It’s not like a meteor movie where something’s coming from space that the people had nothing to do with. The characters have to either go right or left—there’s no option for them to stay where they are.”
Writer/director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, A Most Violent Year)
Film Comment interview with Emma Myer

Related post:
David O. Russell on Character & Theme—”I always look for amazing characters who I find are fascinating, charming, flawed, romantic and in trouble.”

Scott W. Smith

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“I believe as long as you have a compelling story and talent, you could be on a farm in Iowa and start your screenwriting career. Although I now live and work in New York City, I originally got my start in Orlando, Florida.”
Amanda Caswell
How I Started My Screenwriting Career From Outside LA

Related Posts:

Outsider Paul Haggis & Your Voice I think it’s good for a writer to always be an outsider of some sort.”—Canadian-born screenwriter Paul Haggis
The Outsider Advantage
The World Outside of Hollywood Fine quote by The Graduate screenwriter Buck Henry
One Benefit of Being Outside Hollywood “(In Texas) you’re so removed you get to examine (how films are made) and say, ‘That doesn’t really make sense for us out here. Let’s do what makes sense.’ Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.
Screenwriting Outside L.A. 101 “I think that the Internet is going to effect the most profound change on the entertainment industries combined. And we’re all gonna be tuning into the most popular Internet show in the world, which will be coming from some place in Des Moines.” Steven Spielberg in 1991

Scott W. Smith


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“I am not in danger, Skyler—I am the danger.”
Walt (Bryan Cranston) in Breaking Bad

“In the early days, especially writing the [Breaking Bad] pilot, I worried so much that Walt wouldn’t be likeable. It’s funny, I bent over backwards to give the audience reasons to sympathize with him. I was nervous – anxiety-ridden, as I typically am – that what I was saying in that script was interesting enough for the audience. Watching that first episode, I probably overdid that a bit. In hindsight, I’ve learned the audience will go along with a character like Walt so long as he remains interesting and active, and is capable about his business. People like competency. What is it people like about Darth Vader?  Is it that he’s so evil, or that he’s so good at his job? I think it might be the latter. All the fears I had – ‘Boy, no one’s gonna sympathize with this guy’– turned out to be unfounded, which was a very interesting revelation.”
Two-time Emmy winning producer/writer and Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan
Rolling Stone article by Rob Tannenbaum

Related bonus quote: “Television is really good at protecting the franchise. It’s good at keeping the Korean War going for 11 seasons, like M*A*S*H. It’s good at keeping Marshal Dillon policing his little town for 20 years. By their very nature TV shows are open-ended. So I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to have a show that takes the protagonist and transforms him into the antagonist?”
Vince Gilligan on creating Breaking Bad
The Dark Art of Breaking Bad by David Segal
2011 New York Times 

Related posts:
Simple Stories/Complex Characters (Tip #95)
David O. Russell on Characters & Theme “I always look for amazing characters who I find are fascinating, charming, flawed, romantic and in trouble.”
Protagonist= Struggle
Movie Flaws, Personality & DNA “Scorsese is often called ‘America’s greatest director’ on the strength of a body of work in which all the characters in his movies are various degrees of wicked and miserable people.”—William Froug
Martin Luther King & Screenwriting (Tip #7) “Strong characters hold our interest in life and on the screen.” —Andrew Horton, Writing the Character-Centered Screenplay

Scott W. Smith


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“I usually work on the script throughout the whole process—I re-wrote whole sections of Ida in prep, during rehearsals and even during the filming. It’s not like there’s a script and then I go and execute it. The script is always growing, evolving in my own peculiar method. It’s not like the usual film made in the U.S. or even in Britain. It’s more like an ongoing process based on a simple structure that then gets complicated, simplified again, complicated again, introduces some characters, takes them out, and slowly distills something in the end that’s very simple.”
Pawel Pawlikowski, director and co-writer of Ida
Interview in Film Comment by Violet Lucca

Related posts:

Filmmaking in Poland
Writing Quote #50 ( Rebecca Lenkiewicz)


Scott W. Smith

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Former Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden once said of a standout player, “He may not be in a class by himself, but whatever class he’s in— it doesn’t take long to take roll.” (That’s from memory, but you get the point.)  I thought of that quote I heard decades ago when I read the following quote by Rod Serling.

You have to compromise all the way down the line no matter who you are. Unless, of course—you say I’m an affluent screenwriter and all that—I’m a known screenwriter, but I’m not in the fraternity of the very, very major people. I would say a guy like Ernie Lehman, William Goldman, and a few others are quite a cut above. There’s a marvelous and unique man named Frank Gilroy. He’s the only writer I know who absolutely, pointedly refuses to do any changes that he doesn’t feel are absolutely essential and totally in keeping with his own view and perspective. But not too many writers are that independent and that strong-willed.”
The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling
Rod Serling:The Facts of Life interview with Linda Brevelle

P.S.  I found the link to Brevelle’s interview via nofilmschool and it’s believed to be his last interview before Serling died in 1975 at age 50. Serling’s work was great at giving people a fresh perspective on life. When I read the interview the first thing that jumped out at me was the above quote because it’s a reminder that there’s always a food chain. That’s true not only in the world of screenwriting—but if you play professional sports, become a world-class surgeon, or become the President of a great county. Don’t be discouraged by that, but it should help keep you humble. Simply do the best you can, with the skills you have, wherever you live. Stay in your lane because you can’t run William Goldman, Ernest Lehman, or Rod Serling’s race.

P.P.S. And not to take anything way from 6-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest), but time has been very good to Rod Serling’s legacy and I don’t think Serling’s “quite a cut above” comment is true. Despite not attracting a wide audience when it first ran in 1959-1962, in 2013 The Twilight Zone ranked fifth on TV Guide Magazine’s 60 Best Series of All Time. (Following The Sopranos, Seinfeld,  I Love Lucy, and All in the Family. )

Related links:

Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
Rod Serling’s Binghamton Roots
Stories that Will Always Sell (Tip #89)
Spike, Woody, and The Twilight Zone
Screenwriting Quote #111 (Ernest Lehman)
William Goldman Stands Alone


Scott W. Smith  

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