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“Making a living writing movies is a privilege, something that’ll come hard- earned, if at all. Hollywood doesn’t need you, doesn’t give a sh** whether you live or die, and nobody — and I mean NOBODY — is gonna cry if your Tinseltown dreams don’t come true.” Screenwriter John Jarrell (Romeo Must Die) Jarrell-Tough-Love-Screenwriting-A Screenwriter and instructor John Jarrell’s book Tough Love Screenwriting: The Real Deal From A Twenty-Year Pro is not a feel-good read—but screenwriting is a hard business, so this book is meant to toughen you up for the battle. By his own admission, Jarrell is a “less nurturing version of Sgt. Hartman in Full Metal Jacket.”

So along with the occasional swipe at soccer moms, hipsters, trophy wives, smartphone spawns, and malnourished Millennials (with a Goodfellas-sized amount of f-bombs), Jarrell offers his screenwriting insights ranging the importance of using notecards to WGA Arbitration. I’ll spend the next week or so pulling some Jarrell quotes that’ll give you a taste of the book, and I hope you find useful in your own writing.

“One of the finest character descriptions I’ve ever seen is found in Tony Gilroy’s The Bourne Identity. It’s of Chris Cooper’s C.I.A. character Chester Conklin — ‘Ivy League Oliver North. Buttoned down. Square jaw.’ How’s that for specific? Eight words tell us everything we need to know — the first four alone putting it in the hall of fame.”
John Jarrell
Tough Love Screenwriting,
page 240

P.S. If you’re in L.A. and would like to take a screenwriting class with Jarrell, check out his website howtoscreenplay.com.

Related post:
Character introduction (Tip #71) from Michael Arndt
Descriptive Writing-P3, Characters (Kasden, Cody, Cameron)
Bourne Again The Six-Word Screenplay (And Hemingway’s six-word novel)
Tony Gilroy’s ‘Rules’
Scott W. Smith

“The only thing I can control is how hard I play, my effort and my attitude.”
George Springer
USA Today interview
photo 2

You may have never heard of George Springer, but I think his career can help your career. Springer is not a screenwriter or filmmaker, but a professional baseball player with the Houston Astros.

This is the last week of spring training for Major League Baseball and since this past Monday it was a 75 degrees, perfect blue sky day in central Florida I drove out in Kissimmee, FL for a baseball game between the Astros and the Toronto Blue Jays.

I don’t follow baseball like I did as a kid and didn’t recognize a single player in the line-up for either team. It didn’t take long to learn Springer’s name because he made a spectacular play in right field when he saved a ball from being a home run to end the inning and on the next play hit a home run.

Turns out the 25-year-old Springer is starting his second year in the big leagues. Time will tell if he’ll become a star but he certainly has a lot of potential.  What does that have to do with screenwriting and filmmaking? This is the way I see it…Springer has had a lot of small victories to bring him where he is today.

He was a high school baseball star in Avon, Connecticut who attended the University of Connecticut on a scholarship. His freshman year of college he was named to the Baseball America Freshman All-America First Team. Two years later he was named the Big East Player of the Year and to several first team All-American teams.

In 2011 he was a first round draft pick of the Astros and had a nice signing bonus of $2.52 million. To develop as a player he played for several minor league teams in Corpus Christi, TX, Oklahoma City, Ok, Landcaster, CA and Troy, NY. His play was good enough in Texas he was voted the Texas League Player of the Year.

Last April he made his MLB debut, and the following month was named Rookie of the Month, before going on to hit 20 home runs in his rookie season. So when I saw him play earlier this week and make that great catch crashing into the right field fence, followed by his home run over the same right field fence—he’s been on a steady upward path for at least the past decade.

Dream big, start small. Consider it spring training for screenwriters. (And sometimes those small victories are just completing a script and starting the next one.)

P.S. Below is a micro doc I made on Tinker Field last year after I learned it was going to torn down. There were some protests which delayed the process, but I just learned that next week the demolition will begin on the former spring training facility.

4/19/15— Just ten days after I wrote this post Springer made perhaps the greatest catch of his career basically duplicating the catch I saw in spring training, but this time robbing a player of a walk-off grand slam home run in the 10th inning of a regular season game. See Springer’s game saving catch.

Related Post:
How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41) Advice from Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt
Play Ball!
Baseball, Bergman & Bull Durham
The Day the Field of Dreams Died
Screenwriting & Pete Rose “Anybody in this business has to hustle.”—WME’s Christopher Lockhart
First Script Home Run
Screenwriting, Baseball & Underdogs

Scott W. Smith

“Our film project, The Emperor of All Maladies, is about as close to the bone as filmmaking gets for me.”
Filmmaker  Ken Burns

“More will die from cancer over the next two years than died in combat in all the wars the United States has ever fought, combined.”
Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies
PBS documentary based on the book by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee

The above documentary directed by Barak Goodman will air on PBS the next three nights (March 30, 31, April 1) and I’m sure be available on DVD afterwards. As someone who personally just finished chemo and radiation treatment for cancer earlier this year I plan on watching the entire documentary. But few people are not affected in one way or another by the disease.

Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times wrote of the doc; “The result is possibly the least live-tweetable six hours of television you will ever see and also among the most important.”

Because cancer is a part of life it has popped up in many films over the years including Love Story, A Walk to Remember, My Life, The Fault in Our Stars, and Kurosawa’s Ikiru. Two additional films I’d of special note are Terms of Endearment (1983) where James L. Brooks walked away with three Oscar Awards (producing, screenwriting, and directing), and The Doctor (1991).

Related posts:
Filmmaking Quote #33 (Ken Burns)
Ken Burns on 1+1=3
Burns, Baseball and Flawed Characters “In the United States words are medicine.”—Ken Burns
Christmas & Cancer
Screenwriting & Cancer

Scott W. Smith

 

Bourne Again

“The idea of the movie came out of the very first meeting, was if I don’t know who I am, and I don’t know where I come from, I can only identify myself by the things I do, know how to do. What if I find out that all the things that I know how to do are bad?”
Screenwriter Tony Gilroy speaking about The Bourne Identity

jason bourne

“The Bourne Identity” Opening

 

I’ve never read any of the Robert Ludlum novels centered around Jason Bourne—and as it turns out neither has screenwriter Tony Gilroy. Which is interesting since Gilroy is credited as co-screenwriter all three movies featuring Matt Damon as Jason Bourne.

Gilroy says that only the first ten minutes of The Bourne Identity (2002) are Ludlum’s and after that the character and story head off in a different direction. (The term Gilroy uses for explaining his work on the Bourne movies is “fig leaf adaptations.”)

One of Gilroy’s screenwriting rules is to start small and specific. As he said in his 2013 BAFTA talk,  “Something small that has access, that feels like it in association with has access to something larger. It can be a character, it can be a moment in time, it can be a situation between two people, it can be a point in history, it could be anything but something really, really small, something very specific.”

Here’s a real life example of how Gilroy started with something small (and something not a part of the Ludlum novels) that became a core part of the first three Bourne films.

“But day one, literally day one, on Bourne, in my office waiting for [director] Doug Liman to show up for the next day’s craziness, I’m there sketching away, and a scene came up…I don’t know where it goes in the movie, I don’t know… maybe I know who he’s talking to, I’m not really sure. But this scene is where what the movie’s about and this sort of lighthouse kind of scene co-exist together. 

The movie that we ended up building, and the idea that there’s that morning, and the idea that’s underlying this scene is if I think I’m good I’m sort of re-born – Bourne, right there you have it, built into the name. I’m fresh, and dewy eyed, and I think I’m good, and everything I find out about myself is bad, and that’s not who I feel I am. 

God, that goes from everything from Joseph Campbell straight through to the New Testament and beyond. It’s really the epic, crazy thing, and this stupid little scene – it’s not dazzlingly shot, it’s just a really simple scene, it’s beautifully, simply acted. But this scene contains the genetic DNA that will ride all three Matt Damon Jason Bourne films.”
Writer/director Tony Gilroy
2013 BAFTA Screenwriting Lecture

The first three Bourne films connected with a world wide audience to make over one billon dollars at the box office.

P.S. If you’d like to see Matt Damon as Jason Bourne again, a new film has been announced for 2016. But at this point it will be the first Bourne film without Gilroy connected to the project.

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Writing ‘Rocky’ “I was obsessed with the idea of personal redemption.” —Sylvester Stallone
Pity, Fear, Catharsis (Tip #69)When you release the character from the jeopardy or whatever the situation they’re in, the audience experiences a catharsis.—Julian Friedmann
Screenwriting & Slavery to Freedom
Screenwriting Like a Chemist “It is growth and decay, and then transformation.”—Walter White

 Scott W. Smith

“I’ve ignored most of the things I’m going to tell you tonight, which is why this lecture is for me as much as you, to remind me of what an asshole I am for ignoring my own rules. And I’m serious about that.”
Tony Gilroy

My last post covered screenwriter, novelist, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright  Frank D. Gilroy’s rule for writing, and today will look at what his son Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity, Michael Clayton) says are his rules for screenwriting.

The following quotes are pulled from his 2013 BAFTA talk (an abridged version of the video is above and the entire transcript can be found here).

Gilroy’s background before selling his first screenplay at 30-years-old includes growing up surrounded by screenwriters who were friends of his father (including William Goldman), leaving home at 16 to be a musician,  working “a lot of odd jobs” including tending bar for six years, and he studied and wrote screenplays “until he figured it out.”

SCREENWRITING IS IMAGINATIVE WORK
“If there’s any single theme from tonight that would be of value, I would want you to leave here being reminded, or confirmed, that this is imaginative work. We make stuff up and it’s not magic mushroom ring, Stonehenge special, but we make stuff up, there is a level of romance and imagination to this that is not found in any screenwriting book or in any seminar or in any class or anything like that….You cannot teach someone to be imaginative. You can’t. You can kill it, you can sure kill it. And it can be trained and you can magnify it and do all kinds of things, but you can’t teach it.”

START WITH A SMALL SPARK
“We need a spark, we need some place to start, and for me – for us, me will be us now – we need something really small. Small is good, small is really, really good for me. Something small and very, very specific. The big ideas don’t work. It’s death if you say ‘I want to do a movie about class warfare’ or ‘I want to do a movie about corporate malfeasance or I want to do.”

LET YOUR IMAGINATION RUN WILD
“I want to do a movie about a fixer, a fixer in a law firm, well that’s a fascinating… that’s a pretty interesting place to start. And then what do I do? I literally play with it. I sit at my desk, I sit in front of the keyboard, and I just run with it. I write around it. The analogue is painting, really, with charcoal and pencil, and it’s sketching, really, really sketching. It goes up for an hour, it goes up for a month, or I keep coming back to it [and] when it stops getting interesting I stop playing with it. But it really is play, and it’s almost entirely dialogue. It’s stuff that happens, it’s like chit- chat, and ‘what if they do this?’ but I’m really swinging free and I’m really playing with things. My office is just littered, my life is littered with…you see the auto graveyard where all the parts of all the cars stretch out to the horizon, of all the broken toys. Well, that’s what this is, you’re taking this little piece of idea and playing with it.”
(Note: Gilroy’s Michael Clayton starred George Clooney as a corporate fixer.)

STOP THE MADNESS AND FIND THE MOVIE
“And really what has to happen is the mess really has to stop, it really has to stop someplace, and we have to say to ourselves ‘where is the movie? What is the movie? I have all this stuff, I’m building this whole world, I need to know what the movie is about’. And at a certain point you cannot pass go without doing this. You can get, if you’re in the system, you can get seduced past this because sometimes you’re coming up with a bunch of groovy stuff.”

BUILD A WORLD
“Alright so we have an idea, we know what the movie’s about and we’ve made sort of a mess, but we’re going to make a much, much bigger mess now. And we’re going to make a world, we have to make a whole world around all this, and that’s what this is. And that’s the sort of second unteachable part of this process. If you can’t teach people to be imaginative, you certainly also can’t teach them to know things that they don’t know.”

BECOME AN EXPERT IN HUMAN BEHAVIOR
“There is one thing that you have to know, that is a deal breaker on all of it. You have to know human behavior, you cannot pass go, you cannot move forward, you are dead stopped right here, right now, if you do not know human behavior and the quality of your writing is absolutely capped at your understanding of human behavior. You will never write above what you know about people. The writers that I’m talking about that have made a great living, without writing action, are experts in human behavior…The quality of your writing will be a direct reflection of your understanding of the contradictions and complexities of human behaviour‘the quality of your writing will be a direct reflection of your understanding of the contradictions and complexities of human behavior.

WRITE AN OUTLINE
“So now we have to write an outline. I’ve heard writers over the years say ‘oh, I don’t like to do outlines, cause it’s too constricting’. I think they’re completely wrong, if you go onto screenplay form and try to figure out your movie it’s like putting on a tuxedo to go to a diner or something. I don’t know what you’re doing, I don’t want to be in screenplay form until the bitter end, and I’ll get to that at the very end of this thing. I do not want to want to put on my tuxedo until the very end. I want to continue to make a mess, I want to write an outline now. I want to write the movie. The faster we can do it the better. I’ve done it in as little as four days…These documents are 30, 50, 60, they can be 80 pages long, but it is the whole movie…it’s like every scene, that’s what we want. We want this loose, ugly, but really proper version of the movie altogether.”

TALK TO YOURSELF
“You can have big ideas in the shower, but not typically about plotting. I have to sit down, literally and it sounds so stupid— I have to sit down at the keyboard and talk to myself. I have, I don’t know, thousands of pages of files of me talking to myself in some sort of weird Socratic conversation about ‘okay, if he does this, what does that mean? And what will ABC do? He can do this or that or this’. And then ‘oh my God I’ll write a scene and dialogue will push me forward for the plotting’. But it’s not easy pickings, that, if it’s done really well.”

WRITE FOR THE ENDING
“If you know the ending (which is critical), you not only have the sense of completion and you have the sense of roundness and you have the sense of satisfaction and you know that it really works, you‘re also not wasting time. Because everything writes into the ending. And all the pages that you wasted time on in the first 30 or 40 pages – and I don’t know how many writers are here tonight but you know exactly what I’m talking about. Those 30 or 40 pages, the first 40 pages of the movie that you spent months on, well they are vulnerable by the time you get to the end, because they are just dead meat. Those 40 pages, they’re going to be 15 pages, they’re cooked, they seemed so important at one time as you were getting lost. They’re not that important anymore, and you need to know that they’re not important.”

WRITE THE SCRIPT
“So we’re at the end, and now it really is time, now I’ll go to screenplay, now whatever Final Draft or Movie Magic or whatever it is, and now it really is fun. For me, it’s when it’s fun. It’s when it’s precise. The other great thing about having this document is when you go to work every day you can build up a momentum, you know what you’re supposed to do today, and all you’re doing it making it better than you had in the outline before. You’re cutting things out all the time. I like things to be very pretty, I’m obsessed with my scripts being exquisitely pretty, and I’m a crazy freak for how they look and how they lay out and how they’re paginated. I use that as a way of editing and cutting. I use it as a way of keeping myself interested, but there are times when everything seems perfect and a speech breaks and I don’t like the way it breaks into another page. I know there’s a line, I know there’s three lines, something’s got to go in that script. I’m not kidding you, I will edit it down. And if you do that 4 or 5, or 15 times, it’s shocking what comes out.” 

So there you go, free advice from a A-list successful, working screenwriter. Granted he  prefixed his talk by saying he ignored most of what he was going to tell them. Maybe he was being contradictory and maybe what he meant was he only found success when he followed his rules.

P.S. Speaking of rule breaking, track down Gilroy’s script for Michael Clayton in which he not only opens with voice-over and large chunks of scene description and dialogue—but he does so for four straight pages. For that screenplay he was nominated for both Oscar and BAFTA awards.

Related posts:
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)—John Logan
How to Become a Successful Screenwriter—Michael Arndt
The 99% Focus Rule
Dustin Lance Black Screenwriting Tutorial

 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

“What have you done for me recently? That’s part of the American ethic, and one just accepts it. Nothing’s old in America…It’s very tough, and if you start thinking that people owe you something, you can go around feeling very sorry for yourself.”
Writer/director Frank D. Gilroy

You can file this under, “The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

When you see the name Gilroy on a screenwriting blog the odds are good you first associate it with Oscar-nominated writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) or Oscar-nominated screenwriter Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawlers).

But let’s put Frank D. Gilroy in the spotlight, because before he had two Hollywood screenwriter sons (and other—John Gilroy— who is two-time BAFTA-nominated editor) the elder Gilroy had quite a run. After serving in the Army during World War II he studied at Dartmouth College where he wrote his first plays (and ran the school newspaper) and then attended the Yale Drama School.

His play The Subject Was Roses opened on Broadway in 1964 and ran for 834 performances, and won the Drama Critics Award, the Tony Award for Best Play, and the Pulitzer Prize. (The play was also compared to Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night.)

The 1969 film version of The Subject Was Roses won actor Jack Albertson an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. While never reaching the level of success of that early play, the now 89-year-old Gilroy has written plays, novels, TV programs, and feature films for six decades. (He published a Kindle single just last year.)  I don’t know if he ever passed on writing advice to his sons—say when Tony and Dan were writing The Bourne Legacy—but here’s some advice from him I found in an old interview:

“The best rule I ever heard is: Please yourself, and hope you’ll please someone else. I know no other way to operate. I’m very open to opinion. In a movie, particularly, you have to be. I’ll change anything is someone can convince me that they have a better line, a better thought. But my starting point is always that I have to please myself. It stops you from going crazy, because to try to guess what critics are going to like, or what the public’s going to like, would be suicidal. I’d have nothing to cling to…Everything you do, if you do it wholeheartedly, changes you. And in the midst of changing, you should be very careful what you commit yourself to.”
Frank D. Gilroy
Interview with Dennis Brown published in Shoptalk 

P.S. If you go to Amazon you’ll find many of the elder Gilroy’s books and plays including a book on writing— Love and/or Money: Outtakes from a Life Spec, the Early Years which I’ll have to get. He writes in the introduction:  “As the man introducing me at the Community College goes on about my loftier achievements and awards, the audience (kids from families straining so they can get a higher education) openly yawns. Scrapping my prepared remarks, I tell them 90 percent of my career has been failure. I’ve been dead broke six times and if I don’t sell something soon it’ll be seven.”

On the cover of that book there’s this quote from William Goldman, “The Best book on becoming a playwright since Moss Hart’s Act One.”

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

My St. Patrick’s Day Special on the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Eugene O’Neill (1888-1952) :

“I spent a year in Professor Baker’s famous class at Harvard. There, too, I learned some things that were useful to me—particularly what not to do. Not to take ten lines, for instance, to say something that can be said in one line.”
Eugene O’Neill
The American Magazine
November, 1922, page 32

And also from that article:

“And here is an interesting fact: O’Neill has a regular habit of work. The craving for freedom, for the indulgence of his own desires, which controlled him in his early manhood, is subordinated now to the good of his work. He, who used to be a rebel against routine, voluntarily follows a routine now, in this one direction. Like the rest if us, he has found that he must follow a regular habit of work if he is to accomplish anything.”
Mary B. Mullett
The Extraordinary Story Of Eugene O’Neill

P.S. The professor that Eugene O’Neill referenced was George Pierce Baker with whom O’Neill began studying under in the fall of 1914. O’Neill said of Baker,  “The plays I wrote for him were rotten… Yes, I did get a great deal from Baker–personally. He encouraged me–made me feel it was worth while going ahead.”

Scott W. Smith

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