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“Some of the drafts I wrote, if you would have showed them to a studio executive, they would have called an emergency meeting…That’s the nature of writing. You kind of have to get lost. You go down a bunch of wrong paths and then you find the right path.”
Screenwriter Robert  D. Siegel on his script The Wrestler
Script magazine
Script to Screen article by David S. Cohen

This quote was pulled from my 2009 post Screenwriting Quote #17. Siegel, who was once an editor for The Onion, also wrote the recently released movie The Founder. He’s one gifted writer tackling difficult subjects and characters.

Scott W. Smith

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“I steal from every single movie ever made. I love it—if my work has anything it’s that I’m taking this from this and that from that and mixing them together….I steal from everything. Great artists steal, they don’t do homages.”
Two-time Oscar wining screenwriter Quentin Tarantino
Empire, November 1994

Note: I’m pretty sure he stole that last line, too.

Related Posts:
Stealing from Shakespeare
Screenwriting Quote #39 (Woody Allen on be a “shameless thief”)
“Steal Like an Artists”
Fueling Your Imagination (Jarmusch Style)
Where Do Ideas Come From?

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Scott & Scripts 1725

Me in 2012 with some of the books that were the starting foundation for this blog

When I started this blog in 2008 I don’t recall the word curate being quite as in vogue is it is today. But curating has been a large part of what I’ve done. It started with a mountain of over 200 books on screenwriting and filmmaking that I’d collected since my film school days.

Most of them with yellow highlight marks of quotes and paragraphs that stood out to me. And that was the foundation to build on for the past nine years. This year I’m going through those 2,300+ posts and pulling the best.

Here one of my all-time favorite writing quotes from the Spanish playwright Lope de Vega—and happens to be 400 year old advice. It comes from the introduction to a book written by David Howard and Howard Mabley.

“My hope is that the reader will take all the rational and reasonable body of knowledge this book offers, that he or she will digest it in the manner recommended by Lope de Vega…in his comprehensive study of dramatic theory and practice, Writing Plays in Our Times (published in 1609 and written in verse) he stated openly and bravely, after having introduced all the ‘rules’: ‘When I have to write a play, I lock up the rules with six keys.’”
Frank Daniel (First dean of the American Film Institue)
The Tools of ScreenwritingIntroduction 

The basic thought there is whatever “rules” you have embraced along the way, lock them away when you start the writing process.

Note: This quote was originally published in 2009 on this blog in the post Screenwriting Quote 25 (400 Year Old Advice).

Related posts:
Rules, No Rules, Breaking Rules
There Are No Rules
There Are No Rules, But…

Scott W. Smith

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“One of the classic rules of coincidence is that fate — if it must be present — should always favor the antagonist. If our hero has a gun on the villain and the hero’s gun jams, it’s called drama. If the villain has our hero dead in his sights, and the villain’s gun jams, it’s called a lousy cheat, a not-very-inventive way to sneak the hero out of his predicament.”
Screenwriter Terry Rossio (Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean)
Wordplay/Column 14

And if you don’t believe Rossio, here’s a similar quote:

“Use coincidence to get characters into trouble, not out of trouble.”
Writer/director Alexander Mackendrick (Sweet Smell of Success)
On Filmmaking (edited by Paul Cronin)
page 41

Note: Both quotes pulled from the 2013 post Screenwriting & Coincidence 2.0.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“I was just a guy with a pen and paper and an idea for a book.”
Sebastian Junger
Author of The Perfect Storm

“Writing is sweat and drudgery most of the time. And you have to love it in order to endure the solitude and the discipline.”
Peter Benchley
Author of Jaws

With the New England Patriots winning Super Bowl LI, I thought this would be a fitting time to repost a Massachusetts-centered post featuring writers with connections to that state.

In the years since I wrote the original post I know I’ve added several more related posts, but I don’t think anyone has emerged shinning brighter than writer/director Damien Chazell. The Harvard grad’s movie La La Land received 14 Oscar nominations. And since Chazell won the top award from the Director’s Guild of America Saturday night he is favored to win Best Director Oscar. (Screenwriting Straight Outta Harvard)

While I’ve centered on Massachusetts in general and Boston specifically, a good number of the writers below attended Harvard.

Frank Pierson  (Dog Day Afternoon) 1976 Oscar winner
James Agee (The African Queen) 1952 Oscar nomination
James Torback (Bugsy), 1991 Oscar nomination
Whit Stillman (Metropolitan) 1991 Oscar nomination
Ron Bass (Rain Man) 1988 Oscar winner (shared with Barry Morrow)
Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) 1989 Oscar Nomination
Erich Segal (Love Story) 1971 Oscar Nomination
Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line) 1999 Oscar Nomination
Douglas Kenney (co-writer Animal House, Caddyshack) Co-founder of National Lampoon magazine
Norman Mailer (The Executioner’s Song) 1983 Primetime Emmy Nomination
Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream)
Sooni Taraporevala (Salaam Bombay!)
William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch)
John Updike (Rabbit, Run)
George Plimpton (Paper Lion)
Ben Mezrich (21)
Ethan Canin (The Emperor’s Club)
Scott Turow (Presumed Innocent)
Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park)
Peter Benchley (Jaws) Novel and co-wrote script that became the first film to make over $100 million
Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) 1998 Oscar winner
Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) Oscar-nomination

(I’m sure that’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a decent start.)

Eugene O’Neill (Long Day’s Journey Into Night) winner of four Pulitzer Prizes for drama studied playwriting at Harvard and honed his craft writing one-act melodramas for the Provincetown Players on the northern tip of Cape Cod.  From there he became one of a handful of giants in American theater.

While he was born in New York and found his greatest success on Broadway, O’Neil is one more example of someone developing their talent in smaller towns.

But not all writers from Massachusetts have had the benefit of a Harvard connection. In fact, there is one writer from Belmont, Massachusetts who is a nice role model for this entire blog. Sebastian Junger was armed with a degree in cultural anthropology (from Wesleyan College in Connecticut) when he kicked around as a freelance writer until he had an accident while working as a tree cutter in 1991.

In just so happened that at the same time a six fishermen who had left Gloucester on the Andrea Gale died at sea. Junger became fascinated by what happened and used his down time recovering from his injury to write an article, that became a book, that inspired the movie The Perfect Storm.

Junger writes in the introduction of The Perfect Storm:

“My own experience in the storm was limited to standing on Gloucester’s Back Shore watching thirty-foot swells advance on Cape Ann, but that was all it took. The next day I read in the paper that a Gloucester boat was feared lost at sea, and I clipped the article and stuck it in a drawer. Without even knowing it, I had begun to write The Perfect Storm.”

But what really separates him from everyone else who heard about that story is he followed his curiosity and eventually did the research, wrote the article, then the book that became a #1 New York Times Bestseller and a George Clooney movie. He ended up on Oprah, with a career as a writer, and even part owner of The Half King bar and restaurant in New York.

Of course, Massachusetts has a long literary tradition going way back to the Puritans founding the Massachusetts Bay in Colony in 1630, and then with Thoreau, Hawthorne and Emerson that I won’t touch on here. I’m not as interested in an exhaustive history lesson as much as encouraging you to write.

But the well does appear deep in Massachusetts. And here’s one more example for you to focus on your writing not where you live:

“New York’s playwright find of the year (Eugene O’Neill) lives obscurely in a clean little cottage, miles from nowhere on Cape Cod.”
Olin Downs
Boston Sunday Post (August 1920)

Additions since the original post: Screenwriters from Boston may be interested in the Screenwriting Certificate Program at Emerson College and the group that calls itself New England’s oldest screenwriters network is the Harvard Square Scriptwriters. If you are interested is shooting in Massachusetts contact the Massachusetts Film Office. Paul Sherman has a book out called Big Screen Boston that goes into detail about some of the many movies that have been made in the Boston area. Two-time Oscar winner Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) is from Rockport, Massachusetts.

Related New England area posts:
Writing ‘Spotlight’
‘The Verdict’ Revisited
Tony C
Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski (‘Prisoners’)
Will Simmons’ Road to Hollywood
Screenwriter Paul Attansio
Screenwriting Quote #179 (Chris Terrio)
Nora Ephron (1941-2012) Graduated from Wellesley College.

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In light of Super Bowl LI today I thought I’d repost this from 2012:

“When we speak of silent comedy we speak instantly of three names—Chaplin, Loyd, Keaton.”
Walter Kerr
The Silent Clowns

 

I thought it would be a fun challenge  to see if I could connect the silent film era with the Super Bowl. And so here’s the Harold Loyd Vs. Buster Keaton debate—in the battle of football movies.  (I didn’t include Chaplin because he recently had his own post—Mr. Silent Films—plus he didn’t make a film about football.)

“It is taking nothing from Keaton or Loyd to say that Chaplin built the road along which they swept to success.”
Kevin Brownlow
Hollywood; The Pioneers 

Despite Loyd being famous for his clock management, and Rudy-like zeal (Indiana reference #2) of not being that gifted athletically—he was only a first year player in The Freshman (1925):

Keaton would appear to have the advantage because as Walter Kerr  pointed out, “Keaton ran so often during the twelve features he made in the 1920’s that the sprint became a trademark.”   And, in fact, he did run a good deal in  Three Ages  (1923):

And the winner is—Buster Keaton. Why? Three reason:

1) First, Keaton not only starred in Three Ages, but he’s also credited as producing, directing and writing the film.
2) The Freshman was said to be pirated from H.C. Witwer’s short story, The Emancipation of Rodney.
3) I trust drama critic Walter Kerr’s (1913-1996) assessment of Keaton in his book The Silent Clowns:  “Let Chaplin be king and let Keaton court jester. The king effectively rules, the jester tells the truth.”

P.S.  Just for some added Midwest mojo, Buster Keaton was born in Piqua, Kansas and Harold Loyd was born in Burchard, Nebraska—more unlikely places for Hollywood icons to come from. Talent comes from everywhere. Kerr (who was also a produced playwright, on top of writing for the New York Times) was born in Evanston, IL and received his BA and MA from Northwestern, on his way to becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer in criticism.

Scott W. Smith 

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Shortly before he died I had a brief email exchange with Save the Cat author Blake Snyder.  I asked him if he had any encouragement for screenwriters living outside of L.A. and this is what he wrote back:

“I have said often that geography is no longer an impediment to a career in screenwriting. I know of one woman who decided to be a screenwriter in Chicago, wrote 5 scripts, sold 2 and got an agent and manager, all while never leaving the confines of her condo.  It starts with a great concept! You have a great idea and a great poster, if you execute that well, you will get phone calls — and deals.  The key is: the great script!  And that starts with the step by step process I outline in Cat!  Go get ‘em!”
Blake Snyder

*Pulled from the 2008 post Screenwriting da Chicago Way.

Scott W. Smith

 

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