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Q&A Part 3:

Screenwriter Rick Ramage (Stigmata) was still doing studio feature work while continuing to live with his family in Denver when his manager opened doors for him to create (with Andrew Cosby) the TV show Haunted (which starred Matthew Fox) and the USA show Peacemakers with Larry Carroll.

The “meat grinder” writing demands on Haunted required Ramage to rent a home in the Hollywood Hills for a time, but the show was not picked up for a second season. Then Peacemakers went into pilot mode and soon went into production in Vancouver.

Scott W. Smith: In a five year period you had two features released, and co-created two different television programs that made it to air. That was a good run, why did you step back?

Rick Ramage: I was fairly burned-out. I was tired. So I came home to Denver and took a couple of years off. I was really drained.  

SWS: Robert Redford once said something to the effect that you need to hit the reset button every ten years. What was your reset button?

RR:I wanted to go back to the classics for kids. So I came back home [to Denver] and was introduced to a guy who owns some banks and he said I have some money do you have any ideas? And I said, “yeah I do, I want to do this thing called Timeless Tales. The classics for kids. I want to do ten or 12 and they’d be a million dollars each. He said, “Well, let’s do one.”

So I went to a couple of friends who are songwriters and we adapted Ichabod, a play that I had produced years earlier into a film. We built Sleepy Hollow on a massive sound stage in Denver. And it was the most fun because as Bob Gunton [the warden in The Shawshank Redemption] said, it’s a hybrid between film and theater.

The premise was that Washington Irving tells the story of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but he goes back in time to do it. Eventually you find out that Ichabod was Washington Irving. It was his experience in the Hollow. If you remember Ichabod disappeared into the hollow, so my take was he was actually Washington Irving telling the tale of redemption and forgiveness. There’s no violence in it. Ichabod! was the best experience of my life. I had fun directing it and it aired on PBS, then 2008 hit and the world went into turmoil.

SWS. Tell me about your most recent produced feature, Heaven Sent (2016).
RR: A guy I went to film school [Michael Landon Jr.] called me and said, “I’m looking at IMDB, it’s been a while.” And I said I’d taken some time off, and he said, “That’s great, now I can afford you. So let’s work together.” I was flattered because I liked Michael a lot. We were going to do a six-hour mini-series called the Nazarene. And it was supposedly funded, and realized the producer who shall remain nameless isn’t going to come through. Michael’s really an honorable guy and said, “Well, do you have anything else? We’ll set it up.” I said, yeah, I got a little Christmas story and I sent it to him and he loved it. We helped develop it and put it out for a weekend read. First script in a couple of years that I’d put out and it sold that weekend. And we had our green light by the end of that week. So it was another one of those magic carpet rides. And we set out to make it. It was a small budget like $3.6 million, but Michael and I produced it and it was a wonderful experience. We were in the final mix to finish it and we got a call that the company that financed it was going out of business. Though no fault of ours, our movie hadn’t even been seen yet. Then it went into receivership and it’s just now coming out later this year.

SWS: What are you working on now?
RR: I just finished a pilot with Michael so we’re about ready to go out with that. I’m working on a re-write which is a western, been approached to do a book adaptation, so life is good right now.  

SWS: Your story from North Dakota and Denver, to AFI, to working on projects with Spielberg and Pollack, a #1 box office movie, to many spec scripts sales, along with  work in TV and indie world, How do you sum up your career to this point?
RR: For me it comes down to one thing. if people like your work, if you continually turn in good scripts or good writing you’re going to stay employed. And the rest takes care of itself. Because Hollywood is a place where new talent, or talent they can rely on is always embraced. Like no other place on earth. In L.A. they’re looking for that guy or girl they can count on. And they’re also looking for that new talent. It’s pervasive. What I tell people all the time, especially new writers is read your third act as much as your first. Because we have a tendency to write fade out and think it’s done, but it’s not. That’s going to be your first calling card, and if you make it bullet proof—which doesn’t mean perfect (there’s no such thing). Bullet proof just means don’t let anybody sit there and shoot holes in it. Cause that’s what they’re looking to do. From the first reader, to the next reader, to the producer, to the executive, they’re all looking for reasons to say no. You know, when I’d put a spec out the company would say, “No, this isn’t for us, but you know we have something we’d like Rick to look at.” That’s a job. That keeps you employed. You’re doing a rewrite even if your spec didn’t sell. That’s the writing sample, not personality. I wasn’t part of the Hollywood scene at all. I flew in and did my business, and I flew out usually within two days. I had a life outside of L.A. and I think that kept L.A. fresh for me. Sometimes you forget you’re in the movie business in Denver, you’re just Rick Ramage to your friends, it’s no big deal. But then just walking through the gates a Paramount after a couple of months would really invigorate me. I was always in awe of the business. I felt bad for writers who got cynical over the years because it is a tough business and it can wear you down.

SWS: There’s been a lot of changes in the film business since you started your career. But indie films are still getting made, and many people are saying TV in its new modern golden era, and companies like Amazon and Netflix are creating content, what encouragement do you have for writers outside of L.A. who for whatever reason can’t uproot and go to L.A.? Can they they do it if they live in North Dakota or South Africa?

RR: I believe they can. From the bottom of my heart I believe they can, because it’s all about great stories. The one thing that’s worth a lot of money is a story. And if you have a good one, they’ll find you. Agents will find you because word will get out. I have this saying, “Don’t be afraid of rejection, be afraid of not being read.” At least if it’s a rejection you’ll know. That’s what scares me still. I still have a lot of phobias. When I write a script one of them is, “Will I be able to do it again?” and “How will it be received? Will it be read?” Those insecurities are indicative of our profession. We all go through it. It’s just part of gig.

Scott W. Smith

 

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This is part two (of what I think will be four parts) of an interview with screenwriter Rick Ramage (Stigmata). In part one we covered how he was born in Fargo, North Dakota, raised in Denver, Colorado, where in his mid-twenties he was selling tractors when he wrote his first screenplay. That led him to getting accepted at the American Film Institute  in L.A. where he got a formal education writing and making short films.

Scott W. Smith: I read that when you were at AFI you had the  opportunity to work with and up an coming young actor named Tobey Maguire.

Rick Ramage: Yeah, that was an unbelievable day. He wasn’t a star then; I think he was 12 or 13 years old. He walked in an just nailed that audition. Tobey and I became fast friends. We’ve lost touch now, but we hung out for quite a while after that. He was just a wonderful kid. Bright and cocky, he had all the right stuff. He was a wonderful actor. He just had it. I always tell that story when I’m at a party, “Oh, I know Spiderman. He was in one of my movies.” “Really, which one?”, “Ah…it was a student film.” But it’s still fun.

SWS: What did you do after your formal film education at AFI?

RR: After film school I worked at Omega Cinema Props for almost a year while I continued to write, and I got lucky and I optioned a script. I actually optioned my script right before I got out of film school.

SWS I think I read where that first script optioned for $5,000.

RR: Yep, Five thousand bucks, but it felt like a million though. It never got made. But I had a serious sale after that and was busy. I started to work on the project Shakespeare’s Sister which turned into The Proposition [1998] which was the first movie that I had written get made. Ted Field and Diane Nabatoff who were at Interscope bought that script. I never looked back after that.

the-proposition-863469l

SWS: So you had success right out of the gate.

RR: This is the truth— but I almost hesitate to tell it because I had such a dream experience—I sold Shakespeare’s Sister and literally in the next week or ten days the first director I ever met was Steven Spielberg and the second director I ever met was Sydney Pollack. Both on the same day and both gave me a job so I was thrust into a level for which I was in no way prepared. Those guys are massive storytellers and massive directors, but they read Shakespeare’s Sister and were intrigued enough to give me a shot. So here I went from having $17 to having Shakespeare’s Sister sell. As you know, you get half up front and half upon production, so I had a couple hundred thousand there. So I went to work with both of those directors. It was phenomenal. I thought “great, this is how it works”. Everybody wants that to happen. And I stayed in the studio system for the next 15 years. I would do re-writes. I’d sell a spec—I’ve sold 10 or 11 spec scripts. I was pretty spoiled.

[Note: Ramage is taking all the experienced he’s gather over the years and putting them together in The Screenplay Show.]

SWS: Stigmata, of which you are co-credited as writer with Tom Lazarus, is one of your highest profile projects. How did you get on that project?

RR: I was asked to do a rewrite on Stigmata by Frank Mancuso and it was shortly after The Proposition was made. I didn’t even know what stigmata was. I got a call from MGM and they asked if I’d look at it. I love projects where I don’t necessarily know the answer that I’m looking for. I have a theory that if I can get you to identify in the first few pages and ask, “What would I do here?”, I got ya.

SWS. I thought the scene in Stigmata where Patricia Arquette gets a stigmata raised a major dramatic question and it made me think “What’s going to happen to her?” and carried that through to the climax when that was resolved.

RR: I tend to look for God a lot through character and scripts. I love that because there is no answer, right? It’s what you arrive at dramatically that counts. As long as you approach anything with reverence, I think people will respect it.

I had a director ask me once, “What’s the one thing you come out of the movie theater with?” and I’m like, “Duh, I don’t know.” He goes, “An opinion. It’s the one thing that everybody has when they leave a movie.” And he said, “The gift is they’re discussing your movie or engaging about it on the way home.” Because you’ve accomplished something. It’s not Spam in a can. You got people talking about it. I thought that was great advice.

SWS: Stigmata and Se7en were thrillers with religious overtones—both made in the 90s—do you think those films get made today given that the middle class of filmmaking has all but disappeared?

RR: I’m glad you put it that way, middle class. Where did the middle class go? I don’t know. It disappeared shortly after the Writers Guild strike. I think a story like Stigmata would definitely more so than a story like The Proposition. As a a society we’ve moved so far past what might have been considered salacious back in the 30s to now is commonplace.

Stigmata would. It touches on the spiritual aspect. The horrific elements of Stigmata came out of a real place. The Father named Padre Pio would be attacked in his cell, another word for his room in Italy every month or two (something) would go in there and throw him around. That’s when it got interesting to me, because it’s the yin and yang, good and evil at work.

Right after the movie came out—and it was number one that week—I did a radio interview out of New York and the guy said, “I really liked your movie and we’re about to go on the air.” And I said “Good”, because at least he liked the movie. And he came back after the commercial break and said, “we’re with Rick Ramage screenwriter of the number one movie Stigmata, Rick what do you have against Catholics?” I felt my stomach sink into my knees. I said “I don’t have anything against Catholics; I’m married to one. Why?” He said, “Well, you know, in The Proposition the priest sleeps with the woman, and in Stigmata your priest is a bad guy.” I go, “Well, my priest in The Proposition finds God because there is an old saying that ‘Priests are in search of God, and sinner know him.’ And for Stigmata the priest is a bad guy, but so is the good guy. It’s called a power struggle. Certainly the church is a wonderful place for a power struggle.” He said, “That makes sense”, but you get the point, you never know how something is going to be interpreted.  

I was in awe of what Patrica Arquette did with the role. One of the gifts of a screenwriter is you write it down and then you watch somebody do it better than you ever hear it in your head. That’s a gift. She made it better, and that’s one of the fun parts of getting something made. When I watched her performance, she didn’t blink she went for it. Gabriel Byrne went to seminary so he’d know how a priest would think and act. So it was a great experience.

In Part 3 we’ll look at how Rick transitioned to television and other projects. Until then check out The Screenplay Show’s Indiegogo page to learn how you can get involved in that project.

Related posts:
Screenwriter Rick Ramage Q&A (Part 1)
Screenwriter Rick Ramage Q&A (Part 3)

Scott W. Smith

 

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Screenwriter Rick Ramage (Stigmata) has had a career which includes some interesting peaks; he had his first script optioned while he was still a student at AFI, developed projects with Steven Spielberg and Sydney Pollack, had a number one hit movie the week it opened, has sold many spec scripts—and been based in Denver, Colorado for most of his career. Now he’s launching The Screenplay Show to pass on what he’s learned over the years to new and/or unproduced writers. Here’s a Q&A I did with Ramage just two weeks ago that I hope you find helpful in your own journey.

Scott W. Smith: I read you were born in Fargo, North Dakota, what road did you take to get to Hollywood, California?

Rick Ramage: I moved to Denver when I was in fifth grade and my parents split up almost right away. My mom married a guy who owned a tractor dealership. I worked for him my entire adolescents through high school and I went to university for a year, but I was making way too much selling tractors and college didn’t interest me. I thought, “What’s the point? I’m going to go into the family business anyway.” I thought that was going to be my life. But when I quit school I wanted to be read and well-spoken so what I did is promise myself that I’d read 100 of the classic books. I was about 15 novels into that promise when I realized I wasn’t just reading stories but I was following the ways different writers were presenting their tales and working the elements. 

SWS: Did you buy the leather bound The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written you used to see advertised in magazines?

RR:No, I was haunting this place called the Tattered Cover. I was a bookstore stalker. I would just roam up and down the aisles and if I recognized it as a classic, I’d shift my weight in front of it, and then I’d buy three or four books I found. I didn’t expect anything except to get an informal education. All my friends pretty much went away to college. By the time they got back I was already daydreaming about being a writer. 

SWS: My wife is from Denver so I’m familiar with a the Tattered Cover Book Store that once had many more locations in the pre-Internet days than they do now. Which one did you frequent?

RR: The Tattered Cover in Cherry Creek was the one I was going to. It was a department store for books, a really fun place. They had a great atmosphere. And they had a great attitude about book lovers. I would hang out there for hours. 

SWS: That was a cool vibe.

RR: Totally. I would stop by on my lunches, or on the way home. It was a staple for me. It really gave me—and this will sound corny— a longing to be a part of that world. After daydreaming about being a writer I decided, “I’m going to write a book.” And I thought for sure it was going to be the great American classic. And for the next seven or eight months I worked on it at night when I got home. It was more of a novella, and I sent it to someone I trusted. And the story kind of ends with him saying it wasn’t a very good novel and I was crushed. I felt like I’d been hit with a gut punch. But he was kind enough to say, “But you’re a really good writer. You’re really visual, you should consider writing screenplays.” I had never seen a screenplay presented; I’d never read one. So I went to the Tattered Cover and bought Brian’s Song.

SWS: The first movie I ever cried watching. In fact, I think for a lot of men that’s the first movie they ever cried watching.

RR: I know! Let’s not talk about it or I might start crying again. But the formatting appealed to me. And so I turned my bad book into a bad screenplay, but I was hooked. I could see a definite structure into how screenplays were written. It appealed to me. 

SWS. What did you learn from those novels you were reading? And how did it inform your screenwriting?

RR:. I think the thing I began to identify quickly when I picked up a novel was a distinctive voice. An author with a very distinct delivery and style would really pull me in quickly. That really stuck with me and I worked very hard at developing the correct voice for one of stories. By that I mean the tonal quality of it. Great writers have this tonal quality to their writing that’s very distinctive. You can tell Dickens from Flaubert. I think that was very conscious with me. 

I’ll never forget The Scarlet Letter was one of my favorite books because I think it has one of the greatest antagonists ever written. Because Chillingworth didn’t just want to kill Dimmesdale, that was too easy, he wanted to ruin his soul. And I thought, “That’s a bad guy,” you know? Later when I told my agent I wanted to be known as a guy who could adapt books, I think it helped get me a lot of jobs. They knew I wasn’t going down to Blockbuster to get my next idea. 

SWS: When you were reading all those great novels and started writing your first screenplay you would have been in your mid-twenties, were you still working in the tractor business all that time?

RR: You bet. Full time. 

SWS: Well, since my blog is called Screenwriting from Iowa, I have to ask—what kind of tractors did you sell?

RR: I love it. We sold Allis-Chalmers, Owatonna, and Kubota. I was in Denver and my territory was the Front Range. I was selling to a lot of industrial places, rail yards and construction companies. My specialty was Kubotas, and forklifts and backhoes and stuff like that. 

SWS:. Screenwriter Dale Launer (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) told me he sold stereos in LA before he sold a screenplay, and I’ve pointed out before the great job former insurance salesman, Pete Jones, did on selling his screenplay on the first Project Greenlight. Do you think being a salesman helped you to become a screenwriter?

RR: It did teach me to sell. How to conduct myself in a room when there is a buyer in front of you. I never lost sight of that. I never went in and reduced myself to just explaining to a producer what my dream was. I knew I was in there to sell a product called a script. 

SWS. Sales is a transferable skill.

RR: I really think so. I wasn’t Rico Sauvé. My very first pitch I pretty much got thrown out of Hutch Parker‘s office because I forgot the title of the script. I’m not kidding. I went in there with two producers. They said, “You sure you don’t want to pitch it to us?” I’m like, “No, I’m fine, I’ll be good.” I walked into Hutch’s office at Orion at the time. He said, “Hi Rick, how are you?” You could tell he was busy. We sat down and he said “Go.” And it was like someone fired a gun at my temple. There was no preamble. This was no foreplay. He was very cordial, but “go.” And the producers where like “The Masterpiece.” They actually reminded me of the title and I just looked at them and I started to laugh, and I said I’m sorry I’m not going to be able to do this. And Hutch clapped his hands and said thanks for coming in and out the door I went. And I didn’t pitch again for like three years. It rattled my cage. 

SWS: Let’s back up a few steps. There must have been a step between being a tractor salesman in Denver and pitching a project to a Hollywood executive.

RR: I decided, “If I’m really going to do this, I’m going to go to film school.” I didn’t have a degree and here I was applying to AFI, which is a master program. All of my friends who had degrees at this time said I was chasing rainbows—“Don’t waste your registration fee.” I wrote David Shaw at the AFI a letter and said if it’s about a pedigree I get it, I don’t have a degree. But if it’s about the writing, here’s a sample of my work. And I sent him 5-6 pages of a script I was working on. And sure enough I got a letter that I’d been accepted. And I thought, “there you go, I’m going to be a screenwriter.” So I sold my house, I had a little boy at the time, and talked my wife into going out there. We had two cars and I sold one of those. I needed loans and stuff, but we bit the bullet and moved to L.A. Couldn’t afford to live in Hollywood where AFI was located so we lived way out in Rancho Cucamonga. It was about two, two and a half hours a day one-way. We could get a two-bedroom apartment out there for a reasonable price.

This ends Part 1 of my Q&A with Ramage. But just like in a good screenplay the goals, obstacles, and stakes are clear. He desires to be a screenwriter, but he (A) Didn’t go to college, (B) Didn’t start writing until he was in his mid-twenties, (C) Was told his first writing effort wasn’t a very good novella, (D) Lives and works in Colorado, (E) Decides to uproot his wife and child and go to film school in California, and (F) Ends up renting a place that means he will have a significant commute to school.

Who’s betting on that guy? Reminds me of this screenwriting adage:

“Find a strong-willed character with a nothing-will-stand-in-my-way determination to reach his or her goal confronting strong opposition, add a strong action line, keep throwing obstacles (conflicts) in his or her path, and you’re well on your way to a gripping screenplay.”
— William Froug

Part 2 of this interview will continue Ramage’s own personal Hero’s Journey and discover how he found success in a competitive field. Until then you see a promo video on The Screenplay Show’s Indiegogo page and read more about that project.

Related posts:
Spielberg on Good Drama
Screenwriting Quote #29 (William Blinn writer of Brian’s Song)
Flaming Rejection
Do You Have To Live in L.A. to Make It as a Screenwriter?
What’s it Like Being a Struggling Writer in L.A.?
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.
Why You Should Move to L.A.
Screenwriter/Salesman Pete Jones 

Scott W. Smith

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Today I’ll round out my recent run of Aaron Sorkin related posts with a little bit of a twist of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The twist being an oh so loose connection I have to Aaron Sorkin that I just discovered.

Over the weekend I flipping through an old notebook gathered from my L.A. days and discovered some notes from an acting workshop I attended given by actor/director Lou Antonio.

What a career 82-year-old Mr. Antonio has had. He was born in Oklahoma City and began studying acting at the University of Oklahoma. He performed in theaters throughout the Midwest before landing in New York City where he became part of the The Actors Studio studying with Lee Strasberg.

He performed in off-Broadway plays and on Broadway before moving to California in the ’60s where be acted in classic TV shows including Gunsmoke, Mission Impossible, Star Trek and The Fugitive. He also racked up an impressive list of directing projects over five decades; everything from The Flying Nun, The Rockford Files, and The Partridge Family in the 60s & 70s to Chicago Hope, Dawson Creek, and Boston Legal in the 90s & 2000s.

He also was cast in Elia Kazan‘s America, America. (Kazan was a co-founder of The Actors Studio and won an Oscar for directing On the Waterfront.)  And Antonio also happened to have a role in the Cool Hand Luke. What a career, right?

So what’s all this have to do with Aaron Sorkin? Well, Antonio also directed a episode of The West Wing which Sorkin created. And since Sorkin wrote A Few Good Men—there’s the quick connection between both Antonio and Kevin Bacon.

The acting workshop I was a part of was at Tracy Roberts Acting Studio back in the 80s. (My acting career peaked somewhere between playing Tom in The Glass Menagerie and doing a Domino’s Pizza commercial.)  Roberts was also a part of The Actors Studio in its early heyday with Clifford Odets and Stella Adler. (She was an encouragement to me in my L.A. years.)

She was sometime credited as Tracey Roberts and when I put that in The Oracle of Kevin Bacon it says that she was in the movie Actor’s & Sin (1952) with Eddie Albert, and that Albert was in The Big Picture which starred Kevin Bacon. (The Big Picture, by the way, was co-written by Gary Kroeger who I got to know when I lived in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Never forget that it is a small, small world.)

Here’s a couple of quotes from my workshop with Antonio:

“Actors get me out of trouble more than they get me into it.”

“If you know where you are going you’re okay. There are lots of ways to get there.”

“Shape the performance you want, don’t try to change the actor. Work with their training, not against it.”

“Kazan once told me to bring 100 ideas and he may use one. It keeps the actor alive and thinking.”

And lastly, one bit of advice I was actually given at Tracy Roberts Acting Studio after I was disappointed with a scene I did, was from a teacher I can’t remember who told me, “Just because you can’t be Babe Ruth doesn’t mean you you can’t play baseball.”

Not every actor or actress is going to Paul Newman or Meryl Streep, not every writer is going to be Aaron Sorkin, or director Steven Spielberg, but there are many actors, writers, and directors who are less than household names who have had solid careers in the entertainment business.

In fact, tomorrow I’ll begin a series of posts on a screenwriter you may not know much about, but he optioned his first script while still in film school, developed a project with Steven Spielberg, had one film debut number one at the box office, and had a seven digit spec sale. And for most of his career he’s been based outside of Hollywood. Come back tomorrow to learn from his career journey.

Update: Found this Gunsmoke clip that features Lou Antonio (who along with Bruce Dern) torture a town drunk. (For what it’s worth, Bruce’s daughter Laura Dern studied acting with Tracy Roberts.)

Related posts:
Jerry Seinfeld (Part 5) Has Gary Kroger/Larry David clip
The Shakespeare of Hollywood Ben Hecht who wrote Actor’s & Sin
Postcard #49 (Yazoo City) 
Kevin Bacon’s connection to a small Mississippi town

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

Scott W. Smith

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“I know when I write a line that I like. When musically it feels right. What the words sound like are as important to me as what they mean….I don’t know [while writing] we’re going to be saying ‘You can’t handle the truth,’ however many years later.”
Aaron Sorkin
Interview with David Brooks

“I’m not writing something that’s meant to be read; I’m writing something that’s meant to be performed. Just having written a screenplay is no more satisfying to me than if a songwriter handed out pieces of sheet music.”
Aaron Sorkin
Inside Aaron Sorkin’s Writing Process
by Christy Groaz, Variety  

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is one of those exceptions to the rule. Movies are a visual medium so there is much emphasis to write visually. (Visual Conflict, Visual Subtext, George Miller Masterclass in Visual Storytelling, Show Don’t Tell.) Which explains these quotes found on the ScreenCraft website.

“A good film script should be able to do completely without dialogue.”
Screenwriter/playwright David Mamet (The Verdict)

“Dialogue is a necessary evil.”
4-time Oscar-winning producer/director Fred Zinnemann (High Noon)

And this one from a Timeout interview:

‘I’m not one of those people who writes long soliloquies… And I just think that visual storytelling, for me, is more interesting. So if I can show something rather than say it, I will. And to have a character who almost says nothing is perfect for me, I love that.’
Oscar-winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List)

But Sorkin wasn’t a hyper movie buff growing up, his parents took him to plays and he developed an ear and appreciation for dialogue. He majored in musical theatre. And so one of the things that set Sorkin apart was his knack for writing sharp dialogue.

P.S. Ironically the two credited screenwriters on Moneyball are Sorkin and Zaillian. A film which happens to have some moments that play out visually and others that play out with dialogue that flows like music. Sorkin & Zaillan—yin & yang.

Related posts:
‘Everyone wants to say cool dialogue.’
‘Storytelling Without Dialogue’
Writing Actor Bait (Tip #64)
Directing Tips from Peter Bogdanovich  “Silent looks between people—to me, that’s what movies are about.”—Peter Bogdanovich
The Four Functions of Dialogue 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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“It’s both surprising and fascinating to learn that people are more creative in the shower than they are at work….The relaxing, solitary and non-judgmental shower environment may afford creative thinking by allowing the mind to wander freely, and causing people to be more open to their inner stream of consciousness and daydreams.”
Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.
Co-author, Wired to Create: Unravelling the Mysteries of Creative Mind Psycho

You’ve tried everything, right? Everything to improve your writing. Your creativity.

Well, maybe not EVERYTHING.

“I’ve got plenty of quirks. I go to an office early in the morning. Early in the morning is really good writing time. I take anywhere between six to eight showers a day. I’m not exaggerating. I’m not a germaphobe. It has nothing to do with germs. I’m writing, writing—it’s not going well. Writing, writing—it’s going badly. Take a shower. Put on different clothes and you’ll feel refueled and start again.”
Oscar & Emmy-winning writer Aaron Sorkin
Bloomberg interview with Emily Chang

So while sure concept,  conflict, interesting characters, that Mamet stuff on drama, and an insanely great ending are all important, give that six to eight showers a day a try.

Let me know how it goes.

P.S. If I recall correctly, in one of Julia Cameron’s book (The Artist’s Way or The Right to Write) she mentioned how water (either showers or swimming), walking, and driving all seemed to been means of improving the creative thought process. It not only works for Sorkin, because two time Oscar-winning screenwriter Quentin Tarantino talks about how swimming is part of his creative process (and how instead of spending money on drugs, he has a heated pool at his home). And two time Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was known to actually write screenplays while sitting in a bathtub.

Dalton-Trumbo-Bathtub-1100x1390

P.P.S. “In the shower, with the hot water coming down, you’ve left the real world behind, and very frequently things open up for you. It’s the change of venue, the unblocking the attempt to force the ideas that’s crippling you when you’re trying to write.”
Four time Oscar-winning writer/director Woody Allen
Esquire 

Related post:
Professor Aaron Sorkin
Aaron Sorkin on Good vs. Great
Sorkin on Revealing Character 
‘Bird by Bird’

Scott W. Smith

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Aaron Sorkin is that rare breed of dramatic writers who has had success with Broadway theatre, Hollywood feature films, and broadcast television. But did you know part of his start was in small southern towns?

After he graduated from Syracuse University (where Rod Serling also went to college) in 1983 with a degree in musical theater he moved to New York City, but he got work as an actor not off-Broadway, or off-off Broadway, but way the hell off Broadway.

“When I was twenty-one or twenty-two, I traveled the South with a touring children’s theater company called The Traveling Playhouse. When I say the South, we weren’t playing in Atlanta, we were playing Jasper, Alabama. We’d do six or seven shows in elementary school gymnasiums at about ten o’clock in the morning, then pile into a station wagon, and a van carrying the costumes and sets. We did The Wizard of OzRip Van Winkle, and Greensleeves. We were paid thirty dollars a performance.”
Aaron Sorkin
Zen and the Art of Screenwriting
Interview with William Froug
Page 31

Sorkin says he had no interest in writing until one day at a “Motel Six or something” somewhere in Georgia when, “I don’t know why, I all of a sudden felt like Sam Shepard. I felt like I ought to be writing something. That’s the first time that thought went into my head, and it just kept nagging at me and I just felt like a writer without ever having written anything.”

His first completed play was Hidden in This Picture, a single-scene one act play involving four characters. A few years later he found breakthrough success.

“His older sister, a naval lawyer, told him about a 1986 incident at the U.S. Marine base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when an informal disciplinary action had gotten out of hand, resulting in the death of a young soldier. Sorkin immediately recognized the possibilities of a courtroom drama based on the event. In November, 1989, his play, ‘A Few Good Men,’ about two naval lawyers defending two Marines accused of murdering a fellow corpsman, began a 14-month run on Broadway.”
Patrick Pacheco
1992 Los Angeles Times article 

That led to Sorkin writing the film version of A Few Good Men (1992) with a star cast that included Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, and Demi Moore. He would go on to win an Oscar award for writing The Social Network, and multiple Emmys for his work on The West Wing.

Now to come full circle, earlier this year NBC announced plans to stage a live version of A Few Good Men in early 2017.

I’m not saying all that wouldn’t have happened if Sorkin career path didn’t take to Jasper, Alabama and who knows where Georgia, but magical things can happen on the road—even in a Motel Six.

Dream big, start small.

P.S. Jasper, Alabama is also where stage and film actress Tallulah Bankhead spent some of her childhood, and where SciFy channels docuseries Town of the Living Dead was shot.

Related posts:
(Because I love writing about a sense of place, here’s some love I’ve written over the years centered around Alabama and Georgia.)

Alabama:
Tuscumbia to Hollywood
Muscle Shoals Music & Movie
Shooting a Feature Film in 4 Days
Postcard #82 (Selma)
Postcard #46 (Huntsville)
Revisiting ‘Highway 61 Revisted’
Bama, Bobby & The U
Screenwriting from Huntsville, AL
Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting 

Georgia:
25 Links Related to Blacks & Filmmaking
Postcard #43 (Savannah)
Postcard #35 (Villa Rica)
‘Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus’
Writing Quote #40 (Harry Crews)
Writing from Rural Georgia…to Dreamworks
Screenwriting, Baseball & Underdogs
Truett Cathy–Bird by Bird
Screenwriting Quote #70 (James Dickey)
Writing Quote #39 (Writing in Paris)
Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry
‘Super-Serving Your Niche’

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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