Archive for the ‘screenwriting’ Category

“Any writer that’s listening to me right now, you’ll gain a lot more knowledge by studying editing than you will by studying screenwriting. Screenwriting is something inside of you, it’s what you’re going to do. It’s going to be dictated by so many other things. Watch how movies are built. That’s where it really comes together.  Watch how movies evolve through the process of editing.”
—Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible—Fallout)
The Inside Pitch Facebook live interview with Christopher Lockhart

Of course, the catch—22 is how can you watch a movie be edited unless you”re working on the movie? Here are to three places to start:
1) Read the post: How Great movies are Made (and Why ‘The Godfather’ was Once a Pile of Spaghetti in the Edit Room) 

2) Watch this video featuring Water Murch who was ADR supervisor on The Godfather.

3) Watch The Godfather once again.

4) Buy these books on editing:
In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing by Walter Murch

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Film Editing by Michael Ondaatje

P.S. If you know if some resources showing how a movie evolves in the editing process send that info my way. If I recall correctly, the original script for Annie Hall and the finished film are one of the best examples of being radically different creations. A movie salvaged in the editing. It went on to win four Oscar awards including Best Picture and Best Writing.

Scott W. Smith 

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Today’s post actually uses more than twice as many letters in the title than in the definition of story according to one Oscar-winner:

“Story’s an emotional journey. That’s all it is.”
Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Mission: Impossible—Fallout)
The Inside Pitch Facebook live interview with Christopher Lockhart

Since McQuarrie has made seven films with Tom Cruise (including Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, and the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick) it’s worth repeating this  simplified version of story:

“Story’s an emotional journey. That’s all it is.”
—Christopher McQuarrie

Related post:
40 Days of Emotions
Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie 
‘Move Me’ (advice from Christopher Lockhart)

Scott W. Smith

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Here’s an excerpt from the WTF with Marc Maron podcast, episode 1129.

Marc Maron:  I can clearly see watching [Don] Rickles–whether he’s just doing jokes or however good his timing is, or whatever—that there are moments there where I’m like this is a man filled with rage.

Jerry Seinfeld: I do think we could come up with a number of different words that are in and around rage, but an essential element to be sure in comedy. It is essential. Aggression. Confrontation. Resentment. Irritation. There are varietals, like wines. But you can’t not have it. If you don’t have it I don’t think you’re going to get laughs.

Here’s a classic irritation scene from Seinfeld:

Scott W. Smith 

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The following question and answer is from the Creative Screenwriting magazine article
“Frank Darabont on The Green Mile” by Daniel Argent and Erik Bauer:

Q. When it came down to translating The Green Mile into a screenplay, how did you put it together? Did you work with paradigms, three-act structures, reverse structures?

Frank Darabont: I don’t think I’d know a paradigm if it came up and bit me. I don’t think in terms of three-act structures. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in the third act, ‘cause I ain’t there yet. For me, writing is a much more organic process.

You sit down from page one and you try to experience the story as you go, and you try to make the most of the dramatic potential of the story. I generally have an idea where a story begins and I generally have an idea where a story ends.

Believe me, there are plenty of screenplays I never wrote because I could never figure out where the damn thing was going. Why bother starting then? I tend to know certain signposts along the way, and I start working toward the first signpost. And once I’m there I know that off in the distance is the next signpost, and I have to get to that.

All the structural elements flow from walking down that path, and from what the characters are telling me. That’s not to say the more organized method is wrong. Whatever works for the writer is what the writer ought to do. Left to my own devices, it’s an organic process.

In adaptation you have a leg up, because if the material is good at least you know what those signposts are.



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[M]ost of the characters I’ve known as a writer have traveled something of a path from darkness to lightness. Those are the characters that I love: those who seek some kind of enlightenment or betterment, a nobler sense of themselves. Those are the characters I tend to write. It’s a recurring theme in my work. I love that.

I want more movies showing us the potential of ourselves. People seeking what Abraham Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature,’ rather than necessarily being mired in all the ways in which we can fail— spiritually or emotionally. I want to see more movies about working through those pitfalls and coming to a better place.

Hey, I just described Frank Capra, didn’t I? [Laughs] That’s another thing I’ve always admired so much about Steven Spielberg’s work, and George Lucas’s work.

Not to say that there isn’t room in this world for nihilism, but we seem to be nihilistic at the exclusion of all else in our movies of late. And that’s very disheartening to me.”
—Writer/directorFrank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)
Creative Screenwriting magazine
“Frank Darabont on The Green Mile” by Daniel Argent and Erik Bauer





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“I was going into hiatus on Rawhide, a three month layoff, and they said, well, we got this western we want to make in Europe. Italian company. Made in Spain. German co-production. About a $200,000 budget. And I said, I don’t think so. I‘d really rather take the time off. I got a job and I’m coming back to a job in a few months. And the guy said, well, I promised the Rome office that you‘d read it. I read it and recognized it right away as Yojimbo. So I thought, Yojimbo I thought it was great. I loved that movie. It was a conscious adaptation of Yojimbo. Though the Italians neglected to tell the Japanese they were doing this.”
Clint Eastwood
Inside the Actors Studio interview with James Lipton

A Fistful of Dollars(1964)
Written by Adriano Bolzoni, Mark Lowell, Victor Addres Catena, Jamie Comas Gil, Sergio Leone

Yojimbo (1961)
Written by Akiri Kurosawa and Ryûzô Kikushima

Scott W. Smith

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“Originality is just undetected plagiarism.”
(Some version of this quote is attributed to William Ralph Inge, Mark Twain, Herbert Paul, Paul Chatfield, Katharine Fullerton Gerould, and others.)

“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

Screen Shot 2020-06-25 at 10.47.13 AM

The Adrenaline shot scene from Pulp Fiction is one of the most iconic scenes in the history of cinema.

Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary won an Oscar for the screenplay of the 1994 film, and it catapulted Tarantino to international fame as a writer/director. Film critic Roger Ebert remembers that when Tarantino went to the Cannes for Reservoir Dogs he was just glad to be there, but said of Tarantino when he went back with Pulp Fiction that ” the whole top floor of the Carlton has been roped off for him.”

And in his 1994 review of Pulp Fiction Ebert wrote that it “situations are inventive and original” and pointed out the scene where John Travolta and John Stolz argue over who is going to plunge the adrenaline-filled syringe into Uma Thurman’s heart: “YOU brought her here, YOU stick in the needle! When I bring an O.D. to YOUR house, I’LL stick in the needle!”

I don’t know who first detected the origin of that scene, but I just discovered it last week when I stumbled on the 1978 documentary American Boy: A Profile of – Steven Prince directed by Martin Scorsese. The Criterion Channel profile of Steven Prince calls him a “former drug addict, road manager for Neil Diamond, and actor who played the gun salesman in Taxi Driver. Here’s one of the many unusual situations he recounted:

“I managed to get a lot of medical supplies, medical equipment that you didn’t normally have. Like we had oxygen. We had an electronic stethoscope that gave you a tape readout so you could tell how many heartbeats. We had Adrenaline shots . . . the kind of shots to bring you through when you OD. And this girl once OD’d on us. And she was out, man. And it was myself and her boyfriend. And her heartbeat was dropping down. And we got everything out, oxygen, and nothing was working. And he looks at me and says, well, you’re gonna have to give he an Adrenalin shot. And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘You give it to her’ and he said, ‘I can‘t. It’s like a doctor working on someone in his own family.’ I said, ‘That’s bullshit, you’ve known her fucking two days.’ . . .  And he said, ‘No, I can’t do it.’ So we had the medical dictionary—you know how you give an Adrenaline shot? Okay, the Adrenalin needle’s about that big, and you’ve got to give it into the heart. And you have to put it in in a stabbing motion, and then plunge down on the thing. I got a Magic Marker, make a Magic Marker where her heart was, measured down, like, two to three ribs and measured in between there and I just went [motions stabbing the syringe down and injecting the Adrenaline] and she came back like that [snaps fingers].”
—Steven Prince

Might that look something like this?:

I wondered if someone had done a mashup of Steven Prince’s story and the Pulp Fiction scene—and the answer is, of course. (Found the video below on an 2017 IndieWire article by Jude Dry. Can’t believe it took me 26 years to hear that story.)

P.S. “We found adrenaline does not increase your chances of surviving without severe brain damage. In fact, of the survivors, twice as many have severe brain damage.”
— Dr. Gavin Perkins, professor of critical care medicine at the University of Warwick Medical School in England. Source 2018 WebMD article. 

Related post:
Stealing for Screenwriters (According to Paul Schrader) 
Stealing from Shakespeare 

Scott W. Smith 


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Director Joel Schumacher died a couple of days ago and while he’s known for many films (St.  Elmo’s Fire, The Client, A Time to Kill, Phone Booth, Batman Forever, Phone Booth) the first film of his that came to find when I heard he passed was Falling Down.

Written by Ebbe Roe Smith and starring Michael Douglas as a Los Angeles man who comes unhinged has stayed with me since I first saw it in theaters 17 years ago. Here are three scenes from that movie that are prime example of a character with ”a crisis lurking inside” and a member of the “end of the rope club.”

The release of the film was just a year after the 1992 LA Riots and I don’t recall its cynicism being embraced by critics. But in some ways the 1993 film represents—metaphorically or literally— the first six months 2020. A lot of angst in the air.

(Movies that make an impact are centered around a character during the best or worst days of their lives. These three clips could be summarized in the post CONFLICT—CONFLICT—CONFLICT.)

Scott W. Smith

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“We have to be on the outside so we can see things other people can’t see and tell those stories. Don’t follow. Set trends. Lead us. Tell your stories or help others to tell theirs in your ways. A culture needs its creative people to tell its story, to reflect itself, and to reflect what’s happening to us. To give us perspectives and images about who we are and where we’re going and where we might go. And without those reflections, without those stories, a culture dies. Or at least it gets shallow and meaningless and starts remaking movies from ten years ago because they’re too frightened to make anything original.”
–Screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, Freedom Writers)
2011 Emerson College Commencement Address

Scott W. Smith

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“A good character always has a crisis lurking inside them like a ticking time bomb. Once I’d decided who the characters would be in Little Miss Sunshine, it was just a matter of figuring out when those crises would happen. You also want those crises to happen in ascending order of importance. It all fell together pretty easily in the outlining process. The only really noteworthy choice I made, I’d say, was to kill off Grandpa at the midpoint, rather than hold off until the end of the second act. I hate seeing characters die in the late second act or early third act—it’s just such a clichéd time for a character to die. There’s a lot more shock value in a midpoint death, because audiences aren’t used to losing a major character that early in a movie.”
Screenwriter Michael Arndt
Little Miss Sunshine
MovieMaker interview with Jennifer M. Wood
February 3, 2007

Classic character from The Shining with a “crisis lurking inside ”:



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