Archive for the ‘screenwriting’ Category

“If you’re gonna throw your life away, he’d better have a motorcycle.”
The concerned mother (Lauren Graham) to her teenage daughter (Alexis Bledel) in the pilot for Gilmore Girls

One of the fringe benefits to the success of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel winning seven Emmy Awards is its given new recognition to the Gilmore GirlsAmy Sherman-Palladino, the creator of both shows said that when Gilmore Girls first aired in 2000 it was up against two of the biggest shows at the time (Survivor, Friends) and she didn’t know if her show would find an audience. The WB moved it to another day where it went up against another popular show, American Idol. 

But they did find an audience and ran for seven seasons. And it continues to find an audience. Part of its evergreen content is there are always going to be a new crop of teenage and early 20-something girls and their mothers trying to help them navigate through life.

Google “best mother-daughter relationships on TV” and the Gilmore Girls is sure at or near the top of the list. The relationships, the struggles, and the banter and humor all resonate with a core audience. In an interview with Danielle Nussbaum, Sherman-Palladino said that DVDs brought the Gilmore Girls a new audience, and Netflix has brought the show a new binge-friendly audience—many who were under 10 years old when the show originally went off the air in 2007.

Sherman-Palladino is now fresh off her two Emmy wins for both writing and directing The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and pleased Gilmore Girls is getting more exposure to her show that was once described as “where the banter is fast, but the journey is slow.”  Here’s how she explained the origins of the Gilmore Girls and the world she created in fictitious Stars Hollow, CT:

“The idea actually came from me just walking into the WB. I really wanted to work with Susanne Daniels, who was head of the WB at the time. I pitched her a bunch of ideas, quite a few that were actually a lot more worked-out than this one. I had been there about 45 minutes, and eyes were glazing over. Everybody was thinking about their lunch, and whether they had calls to return. At the very end, I threw in this one idea about a mother and daughter who are more like friends than mother and daughter, and they’re like, “That’s what we want!” [Laughs.] I didn’t have a show, mind. I had a relationship. I left, and once I verified that they were actually going to pay me to write something, then I had to come up with something.

“Okay, it’s a mother and daughter, and they’re best friends. I was going to put them in a city area, but then I went on vacation to Connecticut, because I wanted to see Mark Twain’s house. I stayed at an inn, and it was very charming, in a tiny town, and everybody seemed to know each other, and there was a pumpkin patch across the street. I went to a diner, and people kept getting up to get their own coffee. No one was there to be waited on. It seemed like a fun environment to put [the characters] in. It happened over a two-day period, as far as place and where they would live. If they were going to live in a small town in Connecticut, the parents needed to be big-city, which–in Connecticut, Hartford is about as big as you’re going to get. Hartford is the insurance capital of the world, so insurance… It all sort of fell into place over that two-day period.”
Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino
2005 A/V Club  interview with Scott Tobias

Related post:
Where Did the Idea for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Come From?


Scott W. Smith


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”We wanted this journey, even though it was 1958, to feel energized and vibrant and for an 18-year-old to look at it and go, ‘I get that. And that is my story, too.’”
Amy Sherman-Palladino on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

After The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel won seven Emmy Awards on Sunday on Sunday (including Outstanding Comedy Series) I decided to check it out. I carved out time at 5:30 Wednesday morning and watched the pilot (which the show’s’ creator—Amy Sherman-Palladino— won two Emmys for writing and directing).

The rapid banter between actors and 1950s world the production team created somehow has a retro-contemporary feel. Sort of like Joan Rivers meets Mad Men meets Amy Schumer. I wondered what the origins were for the show and found this excerpt:

‘My dad was a stand-up comic. So I grew up with a bunch of Jews sitting around trying to make each other laugh. And I knew Lenny Bruce’s mother when I was a kid, because she was sort of the godmother to all the comics. And I worked at the Comedy Store. So the show was not so much a conscious homage to any particular comic as it was something that was in my zeitgeist. I was having a meeting with the guys over at Amazon, and we were just kind of shooting the shit, and [The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel] was a little idea I had standing in the back of my head. They’re like, ‘Great. Go do that and bring it back.’”
Writer Amy Sherman-Palladino
Vanity Fair interview with Hillary Busis

P.S. This morning I got up early again and watched the pilot of Gilmore Girls that Amy Sherman-Palladino also created. That series ran from 2000-2007 and was full of snappy dialogue and some of it by actress Alexis Bledel who played a sassy high school student when the series began. I have to think that when screenwriter Diablo Cody was somewhere between being a student at the University of Iowa and writing Juno (2007) that she probably watched an episode or two of Gilmore Girls.

Related post:
Where Do Ideas Come From? 

Scott W. Smith

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“You can’t write code. You’re not an engineer. You’re not a designer. You can’t put a hammer to a nail. I built the circuit board! The graphical interface was stolen! … So how come ten times in a day I read Steve Jobs is a genius? What do you do?”
Steve Wozniak confronting Steve Jobs in a scene written by Aaron Sorkin

I thought the most dynamic scene in the movie Steve Jobs (2015) was the confrontation between Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak before the launch of the NeXT computer. It’s a confrontation that didn’t literally happen, but one in which Wozniak told Tech Insider that it was the “sentiment” and “feelings”  that others had and that those words “were put into my mouth for the movie.”

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is clear in The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith that the entire film, not just that Wozniak scene, is a restructuring for dramatic purposes. That while the conversations weren’t real, the contents of those confrontations were real.

“I got a sense from all the time I spent with Woz that . . . for the first 10 or 15 minutes that I was with him—he is a man who doesn’t like saying a bad word about anyone, that he’s a man without ego, that he does not have the kind of ambition that Steve Jobs does, that he likes building, that he likes tinkering, and that the things that were important to Steve weren’t important to him. He doesn’t care who gets credit. That’s the first 15 minutes. In minute 16, it starts to become very clear that he cannot understand why in the world he’s Garfunkel. That he really believes Steve has gotten credit for things for which he did not deserve credit. That he really thinks Steve is a person whose integrity can’t be trusted. All this stuff starts coming out. So how do you dramatize that? You can do it one of two ways; you can have a scene that did happen which is between Woz and a screenwriter named Aaron Sorkin, or you can be a dramatist and write a movie, and not a journalist.  And they both have their places. I knew what I didn’t want to do. What I didn’t want to do was dramatize a Wikipedia page.”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin

It’s called dramatic writing for a reason.

BTW— That Q&A that Goldsmith did with Sorkin back in 2015 is easily one of my top ten interviews of all-time in regard to the screenwriting process.

P.S. The group Simon & Garfunkel created beautiful hit music together, but Paul Simon is the one who had a long and successful solo career. Though the began singing together when they were 11, as of 2016 (and now into their 70s), Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle were not on speaking terms. Their hit Bridge Over Troubled Water sums up many dynamic relationships over history “when times get rough, and friends just can’t be found.” (That album sold 25 million copies. The single Bridge Over Troubled Water was released in January 1970. The duo act broke up later that year.)

Related posts:
Blending Truth, Spectacle & Serving the Story
Emotional Climaxes
Dialogue as Music (Aaron Sorkin)
The Journalistic and Cinematic Roots of ‘The Florida Project’

Scott W. Smith





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“You had me at hello.“
Dorothy Boyd (Rene Zellweger) in Jerry Maguire

Most of the time, me writing looks—to the untrained eye—like someone watching ESPN. The truth is if you did a pie chart of the writing process, most of the time is spent thinking. When you’re loaded up and ready to go—when you’ve got that intention and obstacle for the first scene that’s all you need.  For me at least, getting started is 90% of the battle. The difference between page zero and page two is all the difference in the world. So once I had the technical jargon to write [the ‘Hello’ scene in the movie Steve Jobs] and I also knew that scene would take us into a dressing room of some kind. . . . In the dressing room I knew they were going to talk about the overinflated projections and managing expectations, and that was going to get us into Time magazine, which was going to get us into paternity. I was able to see that far ahead. So once I knew everything about what I was doing—once I start typing it’s not going to be finger-painting, I’m not just going to be feeling my way in the dark and ‘let’s see where these characters take me.’ . . . Once you do know what you’re doing—for me, it’s intention and obstacle, for you it could be something else. You do understand there isn’t one way of doing this, right? Whatever way works for you is the right way, for me it’s intention and obstacle. Once you have that, there does come a time when you actually now are ready for your talent to take over. Start writing. Do your thing.”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men)
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

Related post:
Aaron Sorkin on Theme, Intention, and Obstacles

Scott W. Smith

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“Andy Hertzfeld’s reaction to the movie [Steve Jobs] was probably the most accurate—‘My god, none of that happened, but it’s all true.’”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin

This post is three years behind the times since the movie Steve Jobs came out in 2015, so I’m going to begin at the end. So if you haven’t seen it—spoiler alert. But since Jobs’ daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, had her memoir Smal Fry recently published this seems like perfect timing.

In The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith (which is a favorite podcast of mine), Goldsmith does a great job of interviewing Aaron Sorkin about his process of writing the screenplay.

Jeff Goldsmith: Here’s one of the toughest challenges to writing [the screenplay for Steve Jobs], because Isaacson’s book [Steve Jobs] was very clear about [Steve] Jobs having a not so friendly side to him. And you’re writing a story where your protagonist is also your antagonist, and that is not an easy feat. So what were your challenges as a writer? Because audiences love Steve Jobs, but not everybody has read that book yet. For some people, this is new news—this dark side. Part of your task is to get the audience to engage with your characters. And I think you did it, but it’s a tough balancing act to show the dark and the light together and have us care. So what were the challenges in doing that for Jobs?

Aaron: Well, the biggest challenge for sure—I’ll forgive a lot, I was not able to get past his denying paternity of Lisa and the way he treated her. Lisa was the one who got me past that. Now I found the emotional center of the story, because I’m not getting that emotional about the computer that won’t say hello. Here’s the emotional center of the story . . .  she would tell me stories about her father that often weren’t the most flattering stories about him. But she would always at the end of the story, turn it like a prism for me, and say, ‘But you can see how he really did love me.’ Because think about this and this and this. . . .The rest of it goes back to don’t judge the character. See how much you can identify with that character. And I can [identify with Steve Jobs]. . . . It’s not hard for me understanding Steve wanting end-to-end control of all his stuff. ‘Here, you get to buy it or not. I’ve made this thing, but I don’t want you messing with it’ . . .  

While Jobs is not the most sympathetic person to write about, Sorkin said he was looking for a way that showed Jobs change “even just a little bit.” In the closing scene, he does that. Though he’s clear that not everyone liked the ending. One lady at a Q&A in San Francisco even asked Sorkin if he was pressured by the studio or director into writing the final scene with Lisa that humanized Jobs and Sorkin replied he wrote, “exactly the scene I wanted to write.” Goldsmith said it was the right ending.

Goldsmith: Characters need redemption. And if you did a movie like this without a scene like that that where there was absolutely no redemption whatsoever there would be—

Sorkin:—I couldn’t agree more. The story of the movie is Will Steve and his daughter get together? The fact is that in real life they did find each other isn’t even the reason why I did it. Although I like it’s supportable by facts. I did it because I don’t just think there’s a movie if you don’t do it. I think what you’d have is a theater full of people saying, ‘Why did you make me sit here for two hours?’

Related posts:
Insanely Great Endings
What’s Changed?
Martin Luther King Jr. and Writing Strong-Willed Characters
The Major or Central Dramatic Question

Scott W. Smith

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This exchange between playwright Neil Simon and Terry Gross is from a 1996 Fresh Air interview:

GROSS: You have a theory that you write about in [your book Rewrite:A Memoir] that your mind doesn’t know, when you’re writing, that it’s only fiction. Your mind thinks you’re actually living through whatever you’re putting on paper.


GROSS: What has led you to this conclusion?

SIMON: Because my body goes through the pain that I am going through in the writing. I feel the tenseness if I’m writing a scene between, let’s say, a husband and wife who are having a fractious marriage. Things are going wrong. There’s a big argument. There’s a confrontation. I feel the intensity in my body, and I don’t think I’m acting that out. I truly feel it. I’m exhausted when I go home, whereas if I write something that’s a funnier scene, a lighter scene, a more loving, romantic scene, I don’t feel that same tension. I feel a lightness about me. So I don’t think that the mind differentiates about what’s going on in real life or what’s going on in the fiction you’re writing.

GROSS: So fiction really does take its toll on you physically.

SIMON: It does, but it’s been very rewarding for me. I don’t think I would like to have been anything else in life but a writer, but I also don’t think I could have been anything else.

Related posts:
Nostalgia: The Pain from an Old Wound
Power Your Podcast with Storytelling “Everyone wants to find a way out of pain.”-
Alex Blumberg
Method Writing—Write with Your Scars 

Scott W. Smith



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“In the initial writing, I’m just trying to crack the story and make the characters as interesting as I can, and make it feel like a movie story.”
Scott Frank

If you just look at three productions—Minority Report, Marley & Me, Godless— that Scott Frank’s worked on as a writer and/or director you’d have to say he has eclectic tastes. Afterall those three projects include a futuristic sci-fi story based on a 12-page Philip K. Dick short story, a popular book and contemporary story about a dog and a family, and a limited series western on Netflix.

Frank’s involvement with Marley & Me started with his daughter reading the book and telling him the story as they walked their own dog. This is how he found he way into telling the story in screenplay form:

“Elizabeth Gabler, who runs Fox 2000, said,  ‘You know I have a draft of the movie Marley & Me and the writer is going to go off and make his own movie and we’re not done with the [script], do you think you can come take a look at it?’ And I’m like, I know Marley & Me really well—I think I’m the wrong guy. I don’t know how to write a movie like that. And she goes, ‘Yes you do, it’s just storytelling. It needs a story. Can you help me figure out what the story would be?’ I said, alright I’ll read it but I don’t think I’m your guy. And I read it and two things became readily apparent, one this is my life and two there is a giant metaphor here; the messiness of marriage told through the messiness of the dog, and how it’s all chaos. It’s really about a marriage, and my particularly boring marriage at that. And so I’m like I know how to do that—I actually do know how to do that. And so that’s how I ended up doing that. And had a ball—just had the greatest time of all working on it.”
Writer/director Scott Frank
3rd & Fairfax: The WGAW Podcast

Scott W. Smith


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