Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘screenwriting’ Category

Once upon a time I started a little blog called Screenwriting from Iowa. It was meant to be a one year experiment—but here I am nine years later. My original goal was to gather some notes together and eventually organize them into a 50,000 word book.

More on the book and the direction of this blog later this month, but this year will be heavy on revisiting some of the over 2,000 blog posts I written. Sometime they will be the full post slightly updated, and other times it will be just a quoted pulled from a longer post that deserves to stand on it’s own.

Today’s quote is pulled from the 1510 word post Can Screenwriting Be Taught (2.0): 

“I felt the years go by without accomplishment. Occasionally I wrote a short story that no one bought. I called myself a writer though I had no true subject matter. Yet from time to time I sat at a table and wrote, although it took years for my work to impress me.”
Bernard Malamud (The Natural and Pulitzer Prize winner The Fixer)

Note: Malamud was born in 1914 and didn’t have his first novel published until 1952. That novel finally made its way to the big screen in 1984 with Robert Redford starring as The Natural.  The screenplay was written by Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry. The film was directed by Barry Levinson between directing Diner and Rain Man (for which Levsinson won his sole Oscar)—three personal favorite films of mine.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“A new heart for a New Year, always!”
Charles Dickens
(From his short novel The Chimes written in 1844, a year after he published A Christmas Carol)

grand-bohemian

This afternoon I took this photo at the Grand Bohemian hotel in downtown Orlando which is less than two miles away from the Pulse nightclub where 49 people on June 12 last year. Then tonight I watched the 60 Minutes report on murders in Chicago this past year (the total number: 762). Sober reminders of 2016.

I know 2016 wasn’t all bad, it just felt like it. May 2017 be at least a less violent year than 2016—for the entire world. Is that too much to hope for?

Happy new year to you. I wish the best for you and your creative endeavors this year.

Read Full Post »

“I’m telling an old myth in a new way. That’s how you pass down the meat and potatoes of your society to the next generation.”
George Lucas on creating Star Wars

Related Posts:
Star Wars & The Four Functions of Mythology
Screenwriting Structure, Snake Oil, & Star Wars
Before Star Wars (Screenwriter Kasdan)
Jim Mercurio on Theme/Star Wars
Star Wars—The Logline

Scott W. Smith

 

Read Full Post »

John wanted to be a screenwriter. He was born to public school teachers in Longview, Texas and raised in Texas City, Texas. Eventually he earned an English degree from Baylor in Waco. Then after graduating from law school he became a lawyer in Houston.

What are the odds of John making it as a Hollywood screenwriter?

[Dramatic pause]

The odds are against him, right? Well, if you’ve seen The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks, The Rookie, or A Perfect World then you’ve seen movies where John from Texas (John Lee Hancock) is credited as writer and/or director.

In an interview with Craig Mazin on Scriptnotes, Episode 27 John unpacked how he made the initial transition from a lawyer/actor in Houston to Hollywood writer/director:

“I really fell in love with movies. Not when I was a kid, but when I was in college and I would go to movies a lot. And so I started thinking hard about kind of movie stories, and how they looked on the page, and — this was back in the days before you could walk into a bookstore and get, like, 17,000 books on how to write a screenplay.They didn’t exist. I mean, and you were lucky, you could — there was no online at that time.”

Hancock just turned 60-years-old so I’m guessing this was the late 70s or early 80s. Not only before the internet, but possibly even before Syd Fields’ book Screenwriting: The Foundations of Screenwriting was originally published in 1979.

So he found a place in the San Fernando Valley (probably Burbank) where he could order a few scripts. After learning the format of a screenplay he wrote his first script on the side while practicing law.

But even before tackling a feature script Hancock was studying acting with a teacher who had been a working actor in Los Angeles. It was there where he first started writing monologues and short scenes. Writing that provided “instant gratification.” (A similar experience that Tarantino had in acting classes. Read the post ‘The way I write’—Tarantino)

Hancock said that first feature script (“a story about a guy in his 20s in Houston, Texas who’s angst-ridden and doesn’t know what to do with his life”) was awful. But that “awful” script changed his life.

He sent it to the newly formed Sundance Institute that was doing a workshop in Austin with John Sayles and Bill Wittliff and others and Hancock thought that would be a great opportunity because he’d “never even met anybody who writes screenplays.” (To keep this in perspective he was probably in his mid-twenties at this time.)

“And I signed up, and it also had a thing that said you could — they were going to select, I think, eight screenwriters to go through an intensive four-day worship with Frank Daniel (who had been the head of Columbia Film School and USC).”

I don’t recall if Hancock says on that interview how he started to get traction and work in L.A. (or when he moved there), but that initial thrust began like many others—a desire to write, then writing a screenplay and sending it to some people, and that writing getting him some recognition and eventually leading to his becoming a working Hollywood screenwriting.

Hancock’s experiece in Houston is an echo of what Diablo Cody did in Minneapolis a decade ago and served as the inspiration for starting this blog. (Read the post Juno Has Another Baby). He may not happen everyday, but it happens.

P.S. Keep in mind that Hancock made that transition began over 30 years ago. If he were a lawyer in Houston today he might connect with some filmmakers in Austin, write something that gets on The Black List, or perhaps fund his own low-budget filmmaking. He would find a different path because times and opportunites change.

Related post:
The 99% Focus Rule (via screenwriter Michael Arndt)
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Starting Small
Screenwriting from Texas

Scott W. Smith

 

Read Full Post »

Looking for an Excuse?

“If you’re looking for an excuse, you’ll find one.”
Actor/Director Denzel Washington 
60 Minutes interview December 18, 2016

I’m not sure where this quote originated, but hearing it from Denzel Washington was the first time I’ve heard it. While you can apply that thought to many areas of life, he said it in reference to diversity in Hollywood. Washington, a two-time Oscar winner, answer to #OscarSoWhite was not to protest or quit the business, but to make a film that comes out this month based on the play/screenplay Fences by August Wilson.

Me thinks Denzel won’t be absent at the 2017 Oscars.

Related posts:
25 Links Related to Blacks & Filmmaking
18 Hours X Six Days=Denzel Washington
Rocky Mountain Oscars
Writing ‘Flight’
Writing Quite #23 (August Wilson)
August Wilson’s St. Paul Roots

Scott W. Smith

 

Read Full Post »

Thanksgiving Drama

“The last thing I want to be remembered as is an annoying blabbermouth.”
Del (John Candy)
Planes, Trains & Automobiles

It’s Thanksgiving here in the United States and one globally universal thing about holidays is the potential for conflict (drama) as family and friends get together. (At least one crazy family member per get together has probably been the standard since the beginning of the human race.)

This week I heard a great description of a destructive family member on the rebroadcast of This American Life:

“Like some kind of super villain who can’t control her super powers, my mother somehow leaves an accidental trail of carnage wherever she goes.”
Josh Bearman
Duty Calls

Earlier this year I wrote seven posts about Pieces of April (2003)—my favorite Thanksgiving time-related film. (Edging out Planes, Trains and Automobiles.) And it that Peter Hedges film, it is the mother who would basically agree that her daughter (Katie Holmes) is the one who “leaves an accidental trail of carnage wherever she goes.”

Here’s a simple exchange from the movie where the daughter April talks about her mother (Joy) and a Thanksgiving memory:

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-11-09-39-am

May those of you celebrating Thanksgiving today have a conflict free day.

Pieces of April (Part 1)
Pieces of April (Part 2)
Pieces of April (Part 3)
Pieces of April (Part 4)
Pieces of April (Part 5)
Pieces of April (Part 6)
Pieces of April (Part 7)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”
Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) in Annie Hall 

Have you ever had a boyfriend or girlfriend break-up with you?  Raise your hand if you’ve gone through a nasty and emotional break-up? Wow, look at all those hands.

The Social Network opens up with a scene that builds up to a break-up.

“You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”
Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) in The Social Network

If your goal is to be in a healthy, loving relationship and the person you’ve been with calls you an asshole right before they break-up with you have three basic options:

  1. Work through those issues with that person (and perhaps yourself) and eventually kiss and make up.
  2. Shake the dust off your feet and move on to another relationship (or at least begin looking for one).
  3. Listen to the Phil Collins song I Don’t Care Anymore 426 times and swear off personal relationships as impossible and get a dog, throw yourself into your career, or travel to Tahiti and take up big wave surfing.

We could call those three options complications, roadblocks, and reversals. On Scott Myers’ screenwriting blog Go Into the Story here’s how he defines those three things:

Complications: A complication is an event or circumstance which slows the Protagonist’s progress toward their goal.

Roadblocks: A roadblock is an event or circumstance which stops the Protagonist’s progress toward their goal.

Reversals: A reversal is an event or circumstance which reverses the Protagonist’s progress toward their goal.

Now granted screenwriters/screenwriting teachers have plenty of confusing names for various writing techniques that can muddy the water. But I think complications, roadblocks and reversals is simple and helpful way to look at scenes you’re writing.

In the fictitious movie version of Mark Zuckerberg’s life, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin uses the break-up to change not only the computer wizard’s life, but the lives of quite a few people. In the movie, that break-up led to a major reversal that changed the world.

After the break-up Zuckerberg could have walked around campus and thought things over and then taken his ex some flowers and tried to make up. In that scenario the break-up was just a complication.

Or after the break-up he could have said “Fine,  there’s more fish in the sea” and spent a few days or weeks looking for a new girlfriend. The break-up was a roadblock in his quest for a healthy, loving relationship.

But what Sorkin had the Zuckerburg character do is head back to his dorm and with a little computer know-how, a few beers, a couple of friends, and a lot of bitterness launch the “hot or not” website to get back at the woman who broke-up with him.

That leads to he and his friends to starting The Facebook, now known as just Facebook. In that version the break-up led to a major reversal in not just Zuckerberg’s life, but in the way that over a billion people live their daily lives.

As of this writing there are over 1.79 billion active Facebook users and over a billion of those log onto Facebook daily. Talk about disruptive. Facebook is up there with Henry Ford’s Model T, and the birth control pill, as far as disrupting the way people live their lives.  (And according to some reports Facebook could be classified as a modern form of birth control.)

Ultimately when you boil it down, complications, roadblocks, & reversals—slow down, stop, back-up (or change directions)—  when done right are all in the family of conflict & emotions, and are part of engaging an audience in your story.

Related posts:
Conflict—Conflict-Conflict
Major Reversals (Tip #104)
What’s Changed? (TIp #102)?

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: