Archive for the ‘screenwriting’ Category

Statistically, in my own case, I suppose half of the screenplays I’ve written have actually seen production. And I am being dead honest when I tell you this: I have absolutely no more idea as to why some of them happened than why some of them didn’t. Of course it’s more than possible that my work wasn’t much good. But remember, executives are not necessarily in pursuit of quality.”
William Goldman
Adventures in the Screen Trade

Screenwriter Scott Frank (Minority Report, Get Shorty), in an interview with Brian Koppelman, said there was a five year period between 2007 and 2012 where “one script after another” that he spent up to a year and a half on that didn’t get made.  A process he found “agonizing” and said of those experiences, “It makes me feel that I’ve just wasted a year and a half of my life.” But part of the process that led Frank to get Oscar and Emmy nominations in 2018 for his work on Logan and Godless. 

Scott W. Smith

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As a writer I believe that all the basic human truths are known. And what we try to do as best we can is come at those truths from our own unique angle, to reilluminate those truths in a hopefully different way.”
William Goldman
Adventures in the Screen Trade


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Writing a screenplay is in many ways similar to executing a piece of carpentry. If you take some wood and nails and glue and make a bookcase, only it topples over when you try to stand it upright, you may have created something, but it won’t work as a bookcase.”
Screenwriter William Goldman (Misery, The Princess Bride)
Adventures in the Screen Trade

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“[William Goldman]was the dean of American screenwriters and still is.”
Aaron Sorkin (after learning of Goldman dying in November)
LA Times

Where were you in 1983? Some of you weren’t even born yet. But that’s when William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade came out. I was in film school in 1983 and had never lived in a house or apartment that had cable TV, had never used a personal computer, was still a year away from owning a VCR to rent VHS movies, and more than a decade away from using the Internet for the first time.

Yes, 1983 was a different world. Movies for a large number of people were still the chief form of entertainment. Like many Americans then, my high school and college years were full of weekly movie going. Often multiple movies in the same week. And I even remember once going to three different movies on the same day.

I remember movie lines that wrapped around the theater when ET came out in 1982.

Contrasts that with high school and college students today who tell me they rarely go to movie theaters, and when they do stream movies they do it in spirts (often in the background while playing video games).

So the movie-going experience has evolved greatly from the world that Goldman wrote about in 1983. But Adventures holds up well and it’s well worth your time to read, or re-read.

It’s the book that Aaron Sorkin read when he was learning to learn and write screenplays. The original book version included the screenplay for Goldman’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (back when you couldn’t just go to the Internet and find screenplays) which proved instructional to Sorkin because it was “an incredibly readable screenplay” (as opposed to the screenplays as just a blueprint idea of screenwriting).

“Bill wanted you to have the movie experience while writing screenplays. . . . So now when I’m writing a screenplay I want whoever is reading it, the studio, a director, an actor, I want to come as close to the experience that you’re going to feel in the theatre as possible, I want to put that on the page.“
Aaron Sorkin
TIFF Masterclass via Mentorless

Goldman later actually became a personal mentor to not only Sorkin, but others including Scott Frank, Tony Gilroy, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

If you’re just starting your screenwriting journey consider cutting through all the clutter out there a read Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade and his book Four Screenplays with Essays—which include his scripts for Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride, and Misery.  

Then watch those movie versions as well.

That’s a pretty solid education from the dean of American screenwriting.

You’ll be learning from a two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter who was born during the Great Depression, was enthralled by the classic movies of the 30s and 40s, who after college and a stint in the Army became a novelist in the 1950s, a screenwriter beginning in the 1960s, and when he’s screenwriting career slow in his fifties he became known for his non-fiction writing including Which Lie Did I Tell?, Hype & Glory, and The Big Picture: Who Killed Hollywood.  

William Goldman lived a full life of 85 years and lived to write about it, and be apart of Q&As at various film festivals in his closing years.

Scott W. Smith





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“Silicon Valley has already won. It’s just that Hollywood hasn’t quite figured it out yet.”
Nick Bilton

Later this month I’m going to hit my 11th anniversary of writing this blog. A blog that I initially thought I’d do for one year. The first blog post was on January 22, 2008 so I’m hoping by this January 22 I’m going to have some big information about the release of my book.

Every year I wonder if I’ll have material to keep the blog fresh for another year. Then things just happen. Like when 2018 ended with Netflix announcing that its original film Bird Box, starring Sandra Bullock, had 41 million Netflix account views in just its first 7 days. Things are getting interesting.

In 2018, Netflix paid a lot of money to A-list writers and locked down some accomplished emerging writers are well. With more companies jumping into streaming content this year, 2019 promises to get more interesting for both viewers and content creators.

All the major tech companies are competing viciously for the same thing: your attention. Four years after the debut of House of Cards, Netflix, which earned an astounding 54 Emmy nominations in 2016, is spending $6 billion a year on original content. Amazon isn’t far behind. Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are all experimenting with original content of their own.
Nick Bilton
Vanity Fair, 2017

No need to get into the blending of Hollywood and Silicon Valley here, but did you know a key player in laying the foundation for Silicon Valley was born, raised and educated in Iowa? Robert Noyce was born in Burlington, Iowa in 1927 and a graduate of Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. (The same college that actor Gary Cooper and writer/director/actor Kumail Nanjiani attended.)

Noyce went on to earn his doctorate in physics from MIT and become a physicist who co-founded Fairchild Semiconductor, and the Intel Corporation. Wikipedia states Noyce is  “credited (along with Jack Kilby) with the realization of the first integrated circuit or microchip that fueled the personal computer revolution  and gave Silicon Valley its name.”

That earned Noyce the nickname “The Mayor of Silicon Valley.”  I only learned about Noyce and his Iowa connection a few days ago when I read Tom Wolfe’s essay “Two Young Men Who Went West” in his book Hooking Up (Wolfe called Noyce “the father of Silicon Valley.”)

Just why was it that small-town boys form the Middle West dominated the engineering frontiers? Noyce concluded it was because in a small town you became a technician, a tinker, an engineer, and an inventor, by necessity. ‘In a small town,’ Noyce liked to say, ‘when something breaks, you don’t wait around for a new part, because it’s not coming. You make it yourself.’”
Tom Wolfe
“Two Young Men Who Went West”

You can also learn more about Noyce and the key role he played in the early days of Silicon Valley by watching the documentary Silicon Valley: Where the Future was Born.

And in the spirit of Robert Noyce, 2018 brought another story of two young men who went west—and actually from Iowa—and found success in California. Screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods after years of making low-budget films in Hollywood had a box office and critical hit with A Quiet Place. 

The majority of posts this month will be centered around another Midwesterner who found success in Hollywood. William Goldman’s was born and raised in Chicago and did his undergraduate work in Ohio before eventually going on to write the screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, and The Princess Bride.

After Goldman died last November, Aaron Sorkin called him “The dean of American Screenwriting.” Seems like a good way to start 2019. Oh, another good way to for you to start 2019 is to look at the open script submission for Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaws Productions. 

Scott W. Smith





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I try to make my screenplays as readable an experience as I can, for a good reason and greedy reason— I want the executives, who read them and who have the power to greenlight a flick, to say ‘Hey, I can make money out of this.’

Obvious truism: we all want the movies we write to get made. And that’s only going to happen if someone likes the script. Execuatives read a guh-zillion scripts a weekend. It would be idiotic for me to not have him try and enjoy the ride.”
Screenwriter William Goldman (The Princess Bride)
Four Screenplays with Essays (first published in 1997)

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Here are some of the first lines of dialogue in the screenplay and movie Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid:

BUTCH: What was the matter with that old bank this town used to have? It was beautiful?

GUARD: People kept robbing it.

BUTCH: That’s a small price to pay for beauty.

One of the great true [Butch] Cassidy stories was when he was young and in jail in Wyoming, I think it was, and he came up for parole and the Governor met with him and said, ‘I’ll parole you if you promise to go straight.’ And Butch thoght a moment and then said this: ‘I can’t do that.’ In the stunned silence he went on: ‘But I’ll make a deal with you—if you let me out, I promise to never work in Wyoming again.’

And the Governor took the deal, and Butch never robbed in Wyoming again.

Even today, that’s probably the best character intorduction I ever came across. When I was researching material, reading whatever I could find all those years, I knew this was how we would meet Butch. And that kind of building block is essential when you’re stumbling through material, trying to get a grip on the best way for you to tell this particular story. The entire Superposse chase, almost half an hour of screen time, was only writable for me because I knew the Sundance Kid couldn’t swim, something I’d read was true of a lot of western figures of that period. I don’t know how it is for others, but building up confidence is the single hardest battle I face every day of life.”
William Goldman, screenwriter of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid
Four Screenplays with Essays 

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Scott W. Smith

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