Archive for the ‘screenwriting’ Category

Peter Hedges once met an actress on a subway in New York City who eventually told him the story about how some friends went to cook a Thanksgiving dinner but their oven didn’t work so they had to go around the building to get other people to let them cook their meal. Hedges thought, “That is a great idea,” and made a bunch of notes and then forgot about it until a couple of years later when he found out his mom had cancer. (A woman that informed everything he did

“As [my mom] was dying—or fighting to live at that time—she would always ask me what I was working on. And I was always working on getting her better doctors and trying to get her better treatments that would save her life. But she said let’s talk about what you’re working on and I said, Mom I can’t write anything, there’s no point in writing. And she said, well, there’s no point in anything if you’re not making something—so what are you making? And I opened up files and I found this file about the girl cooking the turkey and I asked that question that you ask as you’re writing your scripts or you’re making your films, Why is she cooking the turkey? And I said, because it’s Thanksgiving, that’s why you cook the turkey. But so what? And my notes said the reason she’s cooking the turkey is because she’s estranged from her mother and her mother’s dying of cancer. And I gasped. I couldn’t believe it, and I called my mom and said listen to these notes. And she said, Oh Peter, this sounds like a story you’re supposed to tell.”
Writer/ Director Peter Hedges
Podcast interview The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

Hedges did tell that story—the classic indie film Pieces of April (2003). One of the early films shot on digital tape it was made for under $300K with a stellar cast. It’s a film I’ve written about from time to time on this blog. (It would be a good investment to get the Pieces of April DVD with Hedges director’s commentary to gather tips on indie filmmaking.)

P.S. A little bit of Screenwriting from Iowa trivia—Peter Hedges was born and raised in Iowa.

Related posts:

‘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) 

Scott W. Smith




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“I learned a number of things [working on my first firm]. I remember there is a scene in the film [What’s Eating Gilbert Grape ] that I was so proud of—it was about seven pages too long.  [The director Lasse Hallström ] said the scene is about six and three quarters pages too long. I kept rewriting it and I got the scene down to nine words. So I learn economy. About that time I heard a great story about Peter Shaffer the great, wonderful playwright had adapted Amadeus for Milos Forman. And there’s a very famous monologue in the play where Salieri rages at God—there are still monologues in the film, but this was a particular speech that Peter Shaffer really wanted in the screenplay. He’s like if you’re going to adapt my play as a movie you must have this monologue in the film. Milos Forman said no. Shaffer said, no, no, no you need to understand something, this is the best piece of writing I’ve ever done. Salieri is angry at God—it has to be in the film. No. And they went back and forth, and finally Milos Forman said Salieri there is a cross on the wall, Salieri grabs the cross and he throws it in the fire. There’s your monologue. And that is a great example of learning that you can use image or you can use a cut to tell the story. Whereas I came from the theater where I was always trying to tell the story with dialogue. So I learned a lot there.” 
Writer Peter Hedges (Pieces of April, Ben is Back)
The Q&A Podcast with Jeff Goldsmith 

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Now class, everyone thank Emily and Vanity Fair for making this video. (Virtual applause.)

Scott W. Smith

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“One out of 21 black American males will be murdered in their lifetime. Most will die at the hands of another black male.”
Opening graphic in Boyz n the Hood

”Before I could do long division, I mastered which neighborhoods and housing projects to never step foot in. I can easily remember running full speed from the bullets indiscriminately spraying out of a red IROC-Z Camaro; and the face of the man who put a gun to my temple in high school is forever seared into my brain.”
Gerrick D. Kennedy/ L.A. Times
“How John Singleton’s ‘Boyz n the Hood’ shaped the life of one boy from the hood”

Screen Shot 2019-04-30 at 10.00.19 AM

John Singleton received Oscar nominations for both writing and directing Boyz n the Hood (1991) and it was one of those rare films that taps into the zeitgeist of the times. My last post was on the Aretha Franklin documentary Amazing Grace which was filmed in 1972 at The New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts—which just happens to be located in the heart of South Central L.A. where the story of Boyz n the Hood takes place.

One of the reasons Boyz n the Hood hit me particularly hard when I saw it was just a few years before the movie I spent some time in South Central L.A. as a photographer. While I was going to film school in the early and mid-80s I worked for Yary Photography which at the time was located in Cerritos, California. They are best know for doing team sports photography throughout Southern California.

I remember clearly the cultural close-up I got driving and working in South Central L.A. Once my car broke down in the Lynwood (just north of Compton). This was the days before cell phones so I had to walk on foot to find a mechanic who could help. I was very well aware that I was an outsider in a land known for drive-by shootings. I eventually found a mechanic and my car got fixed with no incident, but I will never forget that walk.

Another time I was doing a photo shoot at Los Angeles Southwest College on Imperial Highway (where the 110 and 105 now meet) and I was taking photos of a football player and asked him if he wanted to take off something that didn’t match his uniform (I think it was a wrist band or bracelet) and his coach said he couldn’t because it was gang related. The player wasn’t in a gang, but he had to wear it for safety.

This was 1983-1986 and I remember thinking there are some stories to be told from here. John Singleton started his career with one of those stories and went on to have a long and successful career working on film and Tv projects.

That same year Lawrence Kasden‘s Grand Canyon touched on some of the same themes as Boyz n the Hood coming at it from a different angle.

Two Years later Menace II Society came out.

And in  2001 Training Day hit theaters.

And though Straight Outta Compton came out in 2015 it is a story set in South Central in the mid-’80s.

P.S. While I was planning on releasing my screenwriting book in April, the death of my mother last week took up much time. Look for it being released in May.

Related post: Filmmaking Quote #41 (John Singleton)

Scott W. Smith

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“***** (5-Stars!) A miracle. Amazing Grace doesn’t have a plot—just a voice touched by God. (An) indispensable gift. Aretha… in all her thrilling glory.”
– Peter Travers, ROLLING STONE

Sometimes these things just line up in the right order. In yesterday’s post I mentioned playing the Judy Collins version of “Amazing Grace” in the hour before my mom took her last breath at the end of a long life. A few minutes ago I learned that the documentary Amazing Grace featuring Aretha Franklin begins playing today at the Enzian Theatre in Maitland, Florida—less than three miles away from where my mother died.

Looking forward to seeing this over the weekend.

Scott W. Smith 

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To paraphrase Carlyle, ‘A writer who could only sit in a chair and write stories would never write any stories worth the reading.’ Your story material naturally will be influenced in quality and quantity by the richness of your own life experience; by your own loving, fearing, suffering, struggling, and achieving. Therefore, as a writer, you are justified in seeking as rich and varied a life as possible. In any event, you need sufficient experience of your own so that you have some basis for understanding the feelings of persons undergoing experiences that suggest dramatic situations. If you have limited range of interests in life, you will be able to comprehend and will be susceptible to only limited lines of experience. By widening the range of your own interests, you will be enabled at least to comprehend additional varieties of experience.”
Screenwriter Frances Marion
How to Write and Sell Film Stories (1937)
page 167

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Poor plot construction is the bane of many a beginner. When a story lacks continuity, that is, breaks into parts that have no close relation, the plot needs additional building up. While I have known those who built up complications and plot tangles so knotted that neither they nor anyone else could unravel them reasonably, a more usual defect is a too weak conflict which, of course, results in a weak climax. The struggles recounted are not important enough, the difficulties are not impressive, and to overcome them requires no interesting activity on the part of the plot actors. It seems almost as if some writers are afraid to hurt their characters, are afraid to make them suffer, or to get them into distressing situations from which they must fight their way out. Yet one of the very first things any fiction writer must learn is that where there is no struggle there is no drama.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Frances Marion (The Champ)
How to Write and Sell Film Stories (1937)

P.S. If you want a mental image of a character in a distressing situation…

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Scott W. Smith

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