Archive for the ‘screenwriting’ Category

This post originally ran on October 8, 2012 as Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 1) , and the following quotes are pulled from Garry Marshall’s book Wake Me When It’s Funny:

“I don’t storyboard. I don’t lay out each days shots, and I don’t always follow the dozen of other so-called rules of directing. I improvise as I go along while always remembering to protect the structure of the story and script and the integrity of the characters. Every character must want something and the main character must want to the most noble thing of all. There must be constant heat and tension that puts the main character’s future in jeopardy until the end of the film. Those were the major rules that guided me on each film I directed.”
Producer/writer/director Garry Marshall

“On Frankie and Johnny, one of the first questions I asked Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino was, ‘So, fine actors tell me about your lives.’ I wanted to know their hobbies, interests, and quirks so I could put them in the film to enhance the characters. It’s much more difficult to teach actors new hobbies…Michelle Pfeiffer told me she lived to bowl, so in Frankie and Johnny, we wrote in a scene at a bowling alley.”
Garry Marshall

(Note while actors are great at acting, performing an athletic feat with skill requires muscle memory. It often takes years (or intense training for several months) to make an actor look like they know what they’re doing playing tennis, throwing a football/baseball, surfing, and the like. Not an uncommon casting error in big and low budget films and TV programs. )

“I went from being a wise old sage of television to the new kid on the block in film. One minute I was at the top of the totem pole and the next minute I wasn’t even on it. I was forty-seven years old and regardless of what anybody tells you, to start a new career at forty-seven is daunting. Moving into film was like the first day at a new school where everybody knows the rules but you. They also seemed to know each other. When you don’t know the rules, you have to do your homework. I asked all my friends for advice on directing. The designer and producer Polly Platt reminded me of William Wyler’s words: ‘The key to directing is to resist the temptation to be a swell fellow.’ Everyone wants to be liked, but the key to directing is that you don’t want everyone to like you all the time. If you want to be adored on a movie set, don’t be a director, be the caterer. Everyone loves lunch.”
Garry Marshall

P.S. Richard Gere (who Marshall directed in two films) was asked by James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio what his favorite word was and Gere replied, “Lunch.” On student films (and micro budget features) you might be the director and the caterer. One of the most practical things I learned in film school was to properly feed the crew. Especially when you aren’t paying full rates (or they are volunteering their time) BTW—True of small video shoots as well. A couple weeks ago I worked on a nine person crew for a reality program and made sure they were feed. (Actually, nine people is bigger than some micro-features.)

P.P.S. Michelle Pfeiffer lives to bowl—who knew? Marshall didn’t just toss a bowling scene in the movie, he chose to use the bowling alley as a place for a key piece of character revelation. (Warning—Michelle can cuss like a league bowler, too.)

Scott W. Smith

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The was originally posted October 5, 2015 as Screenwriting Quote #171 (Garry Marshall):

I just came across an interview with Garry Marshall and loved the simplicity of the following quote so much I snuck it into the post Writing & Rewriting Pretty Woman (Part 2). But I also thought it needed its own post:

“It is true that I look for the Cinderella aspect when I am making a film. Most good stories are Cinderella. Audiences like to watch characters whose lives change for the better.”
Garry Marshall
Interview with Leslie Elizabeth Kreiner

One of the most popular versions of Cinderella was Cendrillon written by Charles Perrault and first published in 1697. He is the one credited with introducing the glass slippers into the story. And the 1950 classic Disney version is perhaps the most well-known:

One of the earliest films version of Cinderella was Georges Méliès’ film in 1899:

P.S. According to Wikipedia,  “Thousands of variants [of Cinderella] are known throughout the world. The title character is a young woman living in unfortunate circumstances that are suddenly changed to remarkable fortune.” Regardless of its published origins from France or Italy, the folk story itself I imagine is much older than 400 years old.

Scott W. Smith

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This was originally posted on October 3, 2012 as Writing & Rewriting ‘Pretty Woman’ (Part 2). Who would have thought three years ago Donald Trump would seriously be running for president of the United States? In one interview, as you’ll read in this post, director Garry Marshall said Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman was a “Donald Trump-style executive.”:

“All stories are about transformation.”
Blake Snyder

“Movies are all about rewriting.”
Garry Marshall

“When Disney first sent me the script for Pretty Woman, it was a dark tale about a cold and heartless corporate raider and a drug-addicted prostitute who had been hooking for six years. The relationship ended with the raider’s giving the prostitute three thousand dollars and knocking her to the ground. Vivian then screamed, ‘You go to hell! I hate you! I hate your money! I hate it! as he drove away leaving her in the gutter where he found her….What bothered me about the script was that it didn’t make me care about either of the characters. Neither of them generated much sympathy and I rooted for no one.”
Garry Marshall

In the book Wake Me When It’s Funny, Garry Marshall mentions that Jeffrey Katzenberg (then with Disney) brought him in to “supervise the rewrite and lighten it up” the script that would become the movie Pretty Woman.

“We had five different writers on Pretty Women and the first to attempt the rewrite was the original screenwriter, J.F. Lawton. Even after Lawton took a stab, the studio still felt that the script needed some more work. Our approach to the film was to make it the story of two people from totally different backgrounds united in a fairy tale. In all the rewrites, the part of Vivian, the prostitute, came quite easily. It was the character of the businessman, Edward Lewis, that presented the most problems. Only Barbara Benedek, the sole woman writer in the group, got the voice of Edward down by creating a Donald Trump-style executive with a vulnerable side.”
Writer/Director Garry Marshall

One of the writers was Stephen Metcalfe;

“Whenever people ask me what I’ve ‘done’ as a writer, the easiest answer is Pretty Woman. Instant credibility. But what I don’t go into is the fact I never got screen credit on it. I feel I should have, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really bother me. It wasn’t my story. The original script – 3000 – was written by a fine writer, J.F. Lawton. The Julia Roberts character was a coke addicted street walker. The Richard Gere character was a manipulating socio-path. It was gripping, dark and moody and was very real. What it wasn’t was a romantic comedy. And yet someone at Disney – perhaps it was Jeffrey Katzenberg – thought it could be. They believed it so much they’d already hired the director, Gary Marshall, who was sort of the Sidney Lumet of comedy and they’d hired Julia Roberts, who was not yet Julia Roberts but was undoubtably going to be.”
Stephen Metcalfe
From 2008 article Pretty Woman on his website

So if you’re keeping track, so far the writers attached to Pretty Woman were J.F. Lawton, Barbara Benedek and Stephen Metcalfe. Robert Garland did a version of the script and I don’t know if Marshall counted himself as the fifth writer or if it was someone else. I don’t know who to credit with writing this excellent opening description of the Richard Gere character:

EDWARD HARRIS stands at the window, impassively looking down at the party. Edward is a handsome, well groomed man around forty. He looks tired: the kind of fatigue that can’t be cured by a night’s sleep.

What I do know is that Lawton is single credited on the screenplay and received an WGA nomination for the script.

And while there is no shortage of essays about Pretty Women’s role in feminism, capitalism, and morality, or debates about the cliche of the “hooker with a heart of gold” and the businessman with daddy issues—the simple fact is Pretty Women captured the magic.

The film has sold more tickets in the United States than any other romantic comedy (yes, including My Big Fat Greek Wedding). And I think it captured the magic many ways using several tried and true methods including sex, shopping, and Cinderella. Along with a touch of Pygmalion, rags to riches, fish out of water, low class/high class, the American dream of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps (even if they are knee-high hooker boots), finding the love of your life, and the classic transformation theme.

Of all of those, I think the transformation theme is what resonates the strongest. It’s one we put the put our personal hopes in.

“It is true that I look for the Cinderella aspect when I am making a film. Most good stories are Cinderella. Audiences like to watch characters whose lives change for the better.”
Garry Marshall
Interview with Leslie Elizabeth Kreiner

Yes, one side of Pretty Woman is silly, superficial, and demoralizing to women, etc., etc.—but another aspect of it touches a universal longing. And that is that no matter how low we are in life that there is hope that the winds of change will blow in our direction.

Have you ever seen a scarecrow filled with nothing but dust and weeds?
If you’ve ever seen that scarecrow then you’ve seen me
Have you ever seen a one-armed man punching at nothing but the breeze?
If you ever seen a one-armed man then you’ve seen me
Bruce Springsteen
The Wrestler

While I’m no expert on world religions, I imagine that most deal with the concept of the broken made whole, the weak becoming strong, and the lost being redeemed. And for the broken, weak, and lost—what else is there but hope?

Hope is why some people buy lottery tickets, some go to church, and why others go to movies. Check out my post Hope & Redemption to see a list of films that I think follow those themes and have found large audiences, critical acclaim, and awards. Kind of the triple crown of filmmaking.

P.S. Interesting Pretty Women triva—considered for the role that Julie Roberts shined in were Molly Ringwald, Jennifer Connelly, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Daryl Hannah, Mary Steenburgen, Karen Allen, and Meg Ryan. Film historian David Thomson compared Roberts beauty in Pretty Woman with Elizabeth Taylor’s role in George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun. (A once every fifty years kind of thing.)

P.P.S. Screenwriter Ben-Hur Sepehr wrote a screenplay called Temporary Arrangement in 1984 and sent the screenplay to an employee at Disney. He sued for copyright infringement but lost in court in 1992. The Entertainment Law Reporter wrote, “Sepehr argued that in both stories ‘a Hollywood  Boulevard prostitute is transformed emotionally, socially and morally through her employment by a super-rich business tycoon. A further result of the encounter is the transformation of the businessman also.’ The theme of ‘transformation’ was an unprotectible plot idea, stated the court. Judge Byrne, citing the ‘well established’ principle that broad character types are not protected by copyright law, concluded that the characters in the two works were not substantially similar – other than the fact that the two heroines were both prostitutes, they were entirely different characters, as were the two ‘successful, hardworking business executives.”

Scott W. Smith

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Note: This post was originally posted in 2012 as Writing & Rewriting ‘Pretty Woman’ (Part 1). Earlier this year, there was a 25th Anniversary celebration for the movie Pretty Woman. But as this post shows, the original script was far from a romantic comedy.

Let me also update the post by adding add a 2015 J.F. Lawton interview where he gives credit to producer Arnon Milchan (Fight Club, Birdman) for discovering his original script (3000) that became Pretty Woman. Lawton added this thought, “I was a new writer and Garry [Marshall] fought so I could do the first revisions. Garry operates in a very collaborative way: as rewriters were brought on, he would call me to ask what I thought about the changes so I could continue to give input.  Much of the script was redone by Garry himself and ad-libbed on the set, including the critical scene where Vivian talks about wanting the ‘fairytale.’  Those lines put a warm glow on the story. But it isn’t really a fairytale. People forget it starts with a dead prostitute being pulled out of a dumpster, something that Garry added. ‘I want people to know the stakes right away,’ he said.”

“J.F. Lawton wrote something like twelve unproduced screenplays before he sold Pretty Women. This doesn’t mean that every screenwriter is destined for financial success. You just have to believe that the more you write, the greater the chances are that you can write something that will sell.”
Director Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman)

“[The movie] Ed Wood is the story of my life.”
Screenwriter J.F. Lawton (Pretty Woman)

The success of the movie Pretty Woman is an interesting case study in the world of filmmaking.   J. F. Lawton wrote the original script, and his journey to being a million dollar screenwriter by the time he was 30 is also worth a look.

Lawton was born in 1960 and raised in Riverside, California (about an hour directly east of L.A.) where his father (Harry Lawton) was a writer who wrote the novel Willie Boy: A Desert Manhunt, which became the movie Tell Them Willie Boy is Here starring Robert Redford and Katharine Ross.

Despite being dyslexic J.F. Lawton wrote short stories, plays and screenplays through high school before going to Cal State Long Beach to study filmmaking. There he made a couple award-winning short films. According to Wikipedia, after college he moved to a seedy section of Hollywood and landed editing jobs and wrote screenplays on spec.

I’m not exactly sure when Lawton sold his first script, but things seemed to take off from him around age 29. He wrote and directed two low-budget features starring his friend Bill Maher, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death and Pizza Man. And he used the backdrop of hookers, pimps and drug dealers around where he lived to write a script called $3,000— which was the amount a businessman paid a prostitute to be his escort for the week.

“Dressed in a tight purple leather mini-skirt, black stockings and a white imitation fur jacket, Vivian is twenty-two years old. She has been hooking for over six years. Heavy make-up gives her pretty face a dangerous and hard look.”

Page one introduction of Vivian (the Julia Roberts character) in a draft of the J.F. Lawton script that would become Pretty Woman

The script got accepted into the Sundance Institute for further development, and despite being a story that involved a drug addicted prostitute was sold to Disney. Disney in turn brought on director Garry Marshall to turn the story into a romantic comedy. Which he successfully did with several writers.

In part 2, we’ll look at the transformation that took place to turn $3,000. into Pretty Woman. But yesterday I read a version of $3,000 written by Lawton and I was amazed at how much of the story and the characters were intact. It’s not like the script was like Se7en or Chinatown in tone like I was lead to believe over the years. More realistic than fantasy. And it has a darker ending, but doesn’t end with Vivian in a pool of blood.  I actually liked the small, quiet victory at the end of $3,000. But wish-fulfillment was one of the key elements that made Pretty Woman one of the biggest box office hits in romantic comedy history.

Lawton was not happy with the changes made to his script, but its success helped bring him more attention and more money. Around this time he sold his spec script Dreadnought for a million-dollars and it became the movie Under Siege.

I had a hard time finding interviews online of Lawton, so if you have any links please pass them on.

P.S. While I was in film school in the ’80s I worked as a driver for BERC (Broadcast Equipment Rental Company) which was located in Hollywood, and I got used to seeing hookers on the streets at all hours of the day and night (even at 6 :30 AM ) when I made my deliveries. BTW—None of them looked like Julia Roberts. During the 20th anniversary of Pretty Woman some people said that they should do a sequel. Really? What do you think the odds are that Gere and Roberts lived happily ever after? Pretty slim, I’d say. I have an idea, why don’t we let Lawton get his revenge by letting him write and direct the sequel? Or let David Fincher take a crack at it.

Related posts:
What’s at Stake?
Goal. Stake. Urgency.
What’s at Stake? (David Wain)

Scott W. Smith

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Yesterday’s post—George Miller Masterclass in Visual Storytelling—was one of the most viewed and shared posts I’d written all year and a fitting end to a month of posts centered around Austin, Texas—based filmmaker Robert Rodriguez.

The only other time I’ve done something like that was back in 2012 when I ran a month of posts centered around writer/director Garry Marshall (who has 55-years of credits involving producing/directing/acting/writing) . I was in Dallas on a video shoot and found a book of his at a used book store and just kept tossing quotes from him and before you know it a month had gone by.

Like the Rodriguez posts they were informative and well-received, so I thought I’d do something I’ve never done before in seven years of blogging and rerun that entire month of Garry Marshall quotes this month. Here’s the first one that I originally titled  Garry Marshall’s Gentle Hilarity:

“Gentle Hilarity” is not a movie but rather a filmmaking philosophy of Garry Marshall, the director of Frankie and Johnny, The Flamingo Kid, Nothing in Common, and Pretty Woman.  A philosophy that’s helped him work with a wide range of talented actors including Julie Roberts, Richard Gere, Tom Hanks, Jackie Gleason, Hector Elizondo, Matt Dillon, Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino.

“I always wanted to direct positive, uplifting films that reached for the heart rather than the mind, the emotions rather than the intellect. I liked romantic and sentimental film and movies that could be classified under the heading ‘Gentle Hilarity.’ I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a great stunt director who made films filled with never before-seen-special effects or an avant-garde director who shot Freudian moments or used snow as an existential metaphor. I wanted to make films that celebrated the human spirit and high lighted the good in human beings through both comedy and drama.”
Garry Marshall
Wake Me When It’s Funny (written with Lori Marshall)

P.S. It also explains why Marshall made changes to an already super script by J.F. Lawton that would become the movie Pretty Woman. Changes that without question had a huge box office payoff (and helped make Julia Roberts a star), but changes that didn’t necessarily make a better script—or truly reflect the vocation of prostitution. Less grit, more fairy tale. Call me crazy, but I like both Marshall’s version and Lawton’s original script. Call it a head and heart battle. More on the writing and re-writing of 3000/Pretty Women in the coming days.

Scott W. Smith

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“I saw Dr. Strangelove in 1963 when I was in Madison, Wis., where I was an undergraduate, and it was a revelation. What struck me is that it was possible to make a film as a real auteur for a mass audience….I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Strangelove but it’s as fresh and exciting today as it was in 1963.”
Michael Mann
2015 NPR interview with Arun Rath

Before Michael Mann directed Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Heat, or Johnny Depp and Christian Bale in Public Enemies, or Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx in Collateral, or Daniel Day Lewis and Madelene Stowe in The Last of the Mohicans, the 4-time Oscar-nominated producer/writer/director landed his first professional gig writing an episode for the TV show Starsky & Hutch in 1975.

Before that he attend The London Film School, and before that the Chicago-born Mann was an English major in Wisconsin with no real background in the visual arts until one cold winter night…

“I got into film when I took a film history course at the University of Wisconsin. It was freezing, Ten below zero, 10:30 at night and you’re coming down the hill where the buildings were from a screening, and I was so sweep away from what I’d seen. This experience we all have, kind of a wide awake dreaming where you’re transported and part of your brain hopes it doesn’t end too soon.  It just occurred to me the first time, what a minute, you’ve got to do this. I remember exactly where I was on the sidewalk half way down Bascom Hill, looking up—starry night, dry cold— you got to do this, you’re going to make films. An epiphany —that’s what you’re going to do—there’s no question about it….Changed my life. I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”
Michael Mann
Interview with Robert Rodriguez on The Director’s Chair

For what it’s worth my favorite Mann directed film is The Insider (1999) starring Russell Crowe and Al Pacino. The film was nominated for 7 Oscars including the screenplay by Eric Roth and Mann (from an article written by Marie Brenner on events from the life of Jeffrey Wigand).

Related posts:
Michael Mann & Subtext
Screenwriting from Wisconsin
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany

Scott W. Smith

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“I remember very distinctly [while shooting Forrest Gump] where I’d go through waves of absolute terror. I’d go, ‘This is the worst movie I’ve every made. How is this ever going to work?'”
Director Robert Zemeckis
(The film would go on to be a box office hit and win six Oscar Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role—Tom Hanks, and Best Director for Zemeckis’ work.)

On The Director’s Chair interview filmmaker Robert Rodiguez asked filmmaker Robert Zemeckis this question about Forrest Gump; “When did you know you had something special?”

Robert Zemeckis: “It was that scene at Jenny’s grave. We shot Viet Nam in the morning, and my AD [assistant director] said to me, ‘You know what? The company’s parked here [the production crew], the oak tree’s right there, let’s shoot this after lunch.’ ‘Hey Tom [Hanks], how ’bout we do Jenny’s grave after lunch?’ And Tom, you know, ‘Great.’ And [we did] four takes, and the second one is in the movie. I remember he started doing the scene and I started getting really emotional, and I said cut and I looked behind me and the entire crew was dissolved into tears.”

Rodriguez also asked Zemeckis what his methods were as a director:

“I love to, what I call rehearse, but isn’t really rehearsal. Basically I just have a really long, elaborate table read with my key cast. And I basically act the movie out, and then they start chiming in and we take each character and put them into deep therapy, and that’s sort of my rehearsal process…I think an actor only wants to know one thing from a director and that is ‘What is the character feeling?’ What’s a character feeling in that moment in that scene? Well, he’s young, he’s really sad. Wait, cut. Not that sad. You just have your hand on his throttle… My favorite quote is a Truffaut quote; ‘The definition of a great movie is the perfect blend of truth and spectacle. And spectacle is why you go to the movies. Films have always been the marriage between art and science. It’s a technical art form. All the technology that we use to create a modern movie, to me is all equal. I don’t give any more weight to a visual effect or a close-up which is a visual effect—It’s to serve the story…There’s great power in letting the camera just kinda witness everything. And let the camera be this invisible thing that’s just floating around….I always approach the camera from the story. How can the camera tell the beats of the story and give the audience the information they need when they need to know it.”
Robert Zemeckis

P.S. I only have three more workdays in my self-prescribed month of posts with a Robert Rodriguez emphasis. I haven’t even touch on his book, Rebel Without a Crew, so I think I’ll make my goal.

Related posts:

The Shocking Truth (Tip #84) I set out to tell the truth. And sometimes the truth is shocking.”—Tennessee Williams
Hunting for Truth
Telling the Truth=Humor
Eric Roth on Theme & Loneliness (Forrest Gump screenwriter)
Mike Nichols on Comedy, Tragedy & Truth

Scott W. Smith

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