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“At a writing workshop, purely as a courtesy, I attended the poetry workshop presented by a friend, University of Hawaii professor Steven Goldsberry…Perhaps the most useful advice Goldsberry gave was to encourage writers to consider every sentence to be a joke, and to remember that jokes end on the punch line.

“This is useful to screenwriters struggling with issues regarding both dialogue and description. Don Corleone in The Godfather does not say: ‘He won’t be able to refuse the offer I’m going to make.’ The punch line in this sentence has to be ‘refuse.’ That’s where the drama resides. That’s the most powerful word, the one carrying the greatest stress. With the sentence ending on the punch line it becomes among the most timeless lines ever uttered in any movie: ‘I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.'”
UCLA Screenwriting Chairman Richard Walter
Essentials of Screenwriting

P.S. After I wrote this post I found out that Professor Goldsberry earned his PhD from the University of Iowa—all roads may not lead back to Iowa, but a whole bunch of them do. Goldsberry also wrote The Writer’s Book of Wisdom: 101 Rules for Mastering Your Craft

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Screenwriting Quote #16 (Richard Walter)
Robert McKee vs. Richard Walter
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Keeping Solvent & Sane

Scott W. Smith

“We found out this really simple rule that maybe you guys heard before, but it took us a long time to learn it. We can take these beats, which are basically the beats of your outline, and if the words ‘and then’ belong between those beats, you’re fu*ked—basically. You’ve got something pretty boring. What should happen between every beat that you’ve written down, is either the word ‘therefore’ or ‘but’. So you come up with an idea and write ‘and this happens…and then this happens…’ no, no, no. It should be ‘this happens and therefore, this happens’. ‘But, this happens, therefore, this happens….'”
Trey Parker (South Park)
mtvU, Stand In at NYU

This deals with causality, change, and conflict. (See the posts What’s Changed and Conflict-Conflict-Conflict.) It’s not that Clarice Starling  (Jodie Foster) in The Silence of the Lambs goes for a jog and then has a meeting with Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), but that Clarice is on a run training to be an FBI agent but her run is disrupted with news from a guy that she has to meet with Crawford. Something caused a change in the scene.

P.S. How much would you pay to see Trey Parker and Matt Stone do a South Park-like satire on screenwriting and filmmaking and all the training material, films schools, workshops, blogs, etc? Until then there’s always the episode where the Sundance Film Festival decides to move to recapture its small town mountain roots and move the festival to South Park.

Related posts:
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Rules, Breaking Rules, No Rules
‘There are no rules’
There are no rules, but…

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

” I don’t know why I’m so hard on you Beth, when you’ve always been the daughter of my dreams. We’re almost the same person, except I don’t have your weight problems.”
Joy (Patricia Clarkson) in Pieces of April

Happy Mother’s Day.

I picked today to round out my set of posts on Pieces of April (2003)  because even though it’s a film set on Thanksgiving Day—it’s kind of a Mother’s Day film as well. And of the six posts I’ve written on the movie (starting with this post on April 1) I needed to give a special mention to actress Patricia Clarkson.

Clarkson plays Katie Holmes’ mother, Joy, in the film written and directed by Peter Hedges. Clarkson’s had a solid 30+ year career (which followed getting a Master’s in theater from Yale), yet her sole Oscar-nomination is from Pieces of April.

So if you know Clarkson from one of her many film, Tv and/or theater roles, including her role in Six Feet Under where she won two Emmys, her 2015 Tony Award-winning Broadway performance in The Elephant Man—or even from the so wrong Motherlove music video featuring Justin Timberlake and Adam Sandler—but haven’t seen her in Pieces of April check it out.

(And if you’re estranged from your mother, really check it out.)

Related Posts:
Pieces of April (Part 1)
Pieces of April (Part 2) 
Pieces of April (Part 3) 
Pieces of April (Part 4) 
Pieces of April (Part 5)
Pieces of April (Part 6) 

 

 

Scott W. Smith

 

“Harry Crews has a talent all his own. He begins where James Dickey left off.”
Norman Mailer

“I wrote four novels and short stories before I even published anything, and the reason I didn’t publish any of those things was because it wasn’t any good.”
Harry Crews

In his interview on The Tim Ferriss Show, Cal Fussman mentioned that he’s only had writer’s block once in his life and writer Harry Crews (1935-2012)  helped him work through it.

Fussman was so moved reading the novel A Feast of Snakes by Crews that he got in his car and drove 20 hours to meet Crews unannounced at his Gainesville, Florida home. Fussman’s Esquire article Drinking at 1,300 FT: A 9/11 Story About Wine and Wisdom was the result.

I grew up in Central Florida and first became familiar with Crews’ writing back in the 80s. His essay A Day at the Dogfights (from Florida Frenzy) is hard hitting in the Hunter S. Thompson-style of immersive journalism.

From the late 60s to 1997 Crews not only published books, but taught creative writing at the University of Florida. Crews wrote about what he was after in his classes:

“Part of my job as a teacher is first to try to help my students determine what’s worth writing and what is not. If they want to write science fiction or detective stories, that’s fine with me; I just want to make sure they know what they’re doing, to make sure they realize they are not writing the kind of fiction that can crush the heart of the living memory. I want to show them that they are writing nothing but entertainment. It is not that the greatest fiction, the kind I want them to spend their energies on, is not entertaining. It is. But it is so much more than that. It is the ‘more than entertainment’ that I want the writers who work with me to know about, be concerned with, even consumed by.”
Harry Crews
Essay Teaching and Writing in the University
From the book Florida Frenzy

And this is as good a time as any to throw in another quote of his on writing:

“Writing fiction or plays or poetry seems to me to be a very messy business. To be a writer requires an enormous tolerance for frustration, for anxiety, for self-doubt.”
Harry Crews

P.S. Two other names that came up in the Fussman/Ferriss interview were legendary fitness expert Jack LaLane and the great wrestler & coach Dan Gable. I have mentioned them both on this blog before and had the opportunity to work on video/TV productions with both of them. As they sing a few hundred times everyday here in Central Florida, “It’s a small world after all.”

Related link:
Harry Crews: On Writing and Feeling Like a Freak, NPR (1988)

Related posts:
‘Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus’
Jack LaLanne (1914-2011)
Screenwriting Quote #70 (James Dickey)
Thanks for the Plug TomCruise.com (Touches on Dan Gable being Cruise’s hero back when he was a high school wrestler.)
John Irving, Iowa & Writing Touches on the novelist love of wrestling and how he was trying to get a screenplay done on Gables life.

Scott W. Smith

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
Proverbs 12:15

BillboardListen2.jpg

Yesterday I listened to the longest podcast I’ve ever heard. The Interview Master: Cal Fussman and the Power of Listening on The Tim Ferriss Show is over 3 hours and 22 minutes long and full of storytelling gems.

Fussman is perhaps best known for his Esquire features What I learned, where over the years he’s had the opportunity to interview a wide variety of people including Tom Hanks, Muhammad Ali, Dr. Dre, Helen Mirren, Mikhail Gorbachev, Faye Dunaway, George Forman and Johnny Depp.

Here’s one bit of advice I pulled from that interview.

Q—Tim Ferriss: If you could have a billboard anywhere, with anything on it, what would you put on it?

A—Cal Fussman: One word, listen…I don’t know what reaction that would get, but I would like to see the reaction on people’s faces when they saw that. Listening is an art form, people just aren’t using it as an art form. But it is an art form. And a lot of great things could be achieved through listening.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) was also interviewed by Tim Ferriss and his answer below is a nice bookend to Fussman’s answer.

Q—Tim Ferriss: If I watch Inside Man or 30 Days I’m consistently impressed  with how you get people to embrace you from different worlds and get people to accept you and trust you. How did you develop that? Or have you always been hardwired for that?

A—Morgan Spurlock: Well I think the biggest thing you have to do is—you just have to listen. The minute you start listening it’s amazing how people will talk to you, and how people will embrace you. We live in a culture where we don’t listen to begin with. I think that’s one. And I think we also live in a culture, and live in a world, where people aren’t honest with each other. And just don’t kind of openly have conversations with you, and talk about things that are hard to talk about…I think that if you come into those kinds of moments wanting to understand, and wanting to understand where someone is coming from—it doesn’t have to be confrontational, it doesn’t have to be ugly—you can have a really honest, above board conversation that is meaningful. So for me I think that’s the biggest thing. I think the best thing I do sometimes is shut up and listen.   

Scott W. Smith

Before Cal Fussman interviewed Mikail Gorbachev for Esquire magazine he was told that he only had 10 minutes with the one time Soviet Union leader. Instead of jumping in with a question about nuclear disarmament, the Cold War, or Ronald Reagan, he asked this question:

“What’s the best lesson your father ever taught you?”

This turned into a long answer about how Gorbachev’s father took his family to get ice cream before he went off to serve in World War II. When the publicicst showed up ten minutes later Gorbachev wasn’t even finished with the story, much less deeper answers. Fussman thought he’d blow his opportunity.

But Gorbachev said he wanted to speak with Fussman further and ended up connecting the ice cream story—and fears that his father could be killed during the war— to Ronald Reagan and ending the Cold War.

“What I realized was the power of the first question going straight to the heart and not the head. Because it was that first question that went into his head that took us to that very deep place and enabled the interview to continue to go. And because the interview could go, I was able to fill out the page for Esquire. Otherwise that would have been it, there’s no way the interview would have run. So lesson number one is aim for the heart, not the head. Once you get the heart, you can go the head. Once you get the heart and head, then you’ll have a pathway to the soul.”
Cal Fussman
Interview with Tim Ferriss 

Here’s the interview as it appeared in Esquire in 2008:
What I’ve Learned: Mikhail Gorbachev

Esquire What I’ve Learned: The Meaning of Life According to 65 Artists, Athletes, Leaders & Legends

P.S. From the unlikely places file, Gorbachev was from a remote farm in the Soviet Union and Reagan was raised in various Midwestern towns in the United States, but mostly in the small town of Dixon, Illinois. Both would rise up for a season to be the two most powerful people in the world. And for what it’s worth, Fussman went to journalism school in Columbia, Missouri (I visited the University of Missouri back in 2011 and wrote about in the post Brad Pitt & the Future of Journalism).

Related posts:
40 Days of Emotions
Finding Authentic Emotions
Theme= Story’s Heart & Soul
A Beautiful Heart
Storytelling Soul Game
The Creative Fight
Mind, Spirt, Emotion
Filmmaker/Entrepreneur Robert Rodriguez (quote from The Tim Ferriss Show)

Scott W. Smith

 

“One of those lines from the how-to-write-movies books finally became real to me: The script is only a blueprint. During filming, last-minute decisions have to be made because of weather or budget, an individual’s availability or the director’s flash of insight. Pushing for greater naturalism, [director Lenny Abrahamson] often got the actors to improvise within a scene and I was startled by how much I liked the results.

“…A novelist shouldn’t write the screenplay unless she embraces the chance to change everything, to try to make the same magic over again, out of different ingredients. (For instance, ‘Room’ the novel gives him an expressive child’s body. The book is one boy’s story, and his mother is only shown in flashes, through his limited perspective; the film is a two-hander, with Brie Larson’s extraordinary performance bringing Ma right into the spotlight.)

“Adapting fiction for the screen is an act of mysterious translation, and working on ‘Room’ taught me much about both forms that I’d never known.”
Novelist/screenwriter Emma Donoghue (Room)
Novel Ideas for a Script/LA Times

Related post:
Good in a Room—Literally
Up in the Air—The Book vs. The Film
Up in the Air—The Book vs. The Film (part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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