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There was [The Wizard of Oz actor] Bert Lahr sitting with the cast of his latest vehicle . . . Stash [Prager] introduced me, saying ‘This is Doc Simon. The kid’s written a funny play Bert.’ Bert looked at me an said quite earnestly, but still in that Cowardly Lion’s voice, ‘Is it about anything? If it’s not about anything, they won’t like it. Make sure it’s about something, kid,’ then wished me good luck and turned back to his party.”
Playwright/screenwriter Neil Simon
Rewrites, A Memoir

P.S. That brief exchange happened in a restaurant in Philadelphia shortly before the opening night of his first play (Come Blow Your Horn) in 1961. The first performance received, according to Simon, “a partial standing audience.” Critic Ernie Schier of the Philadelphia Bulletin agreed with the audience writing, ”The theater season has bounced to its feet with Come Blow Your Horn, a laugh happy, bell-ringing farce which opened last night at the Walnut.”

And that’s how Neil Simon launched his playwriting career. That success in Pennsylvania paved the way for the play to make it to Broadway and eventually get produced as a movie featuring Frank Sinatra, Molly Picon, Jill St. John, Barbara Rush, Lee Cobb, and Tony Bill.

Related post:

How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (and where Michael Arndt gives basically the same advice as Bert Lahr)

Scott W. Smith

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.

SIMON: Yes.

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
Emotion-Emotion-Emotion
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

 

 

“Did I relax and watch my boyhood ambitions being fulfilled before my eyes? Not if you were born in the Bronx, in the Depression and Jewish, you don’t.”
Emmy, Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winner Neil Simon

When I heard that playwright/screenwriter Neal Simon died over the weekend I thought back to when I read that back in the ’60s he once had three plays he’d written being performed on Broadway at the same time. I though that was remarkable.

Then I read in the New York Times today that he actually had four plays on Broadway at the same time:

For seven months in 1967, he had four productions running at the same time on Broadway: “Barefoot in the Park,” ”The Odd Couple,” ”Sweet Charity,” and “The Star-Spangled Girl.”

He started out writing in television in the late 40s and in the 50s with legends Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, and Mel Brooks. He followed his TV success as a Tony award-winning playwright and a four-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter.

I thought I’d put up links to posts that feature his work and quotes:

Writing ‘The Odd Couple’
Two People, One Confrontation
Neil Simon on Conflict  
Neil Simon on Critics 
The Odd Couple vs. The Odd Couple 
Can Screenwriting Be Taught? (Simon claimed he learned to write from his brother Danny)

Scott W. Smith 

 

Ted Quotes

 


Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 7.24.02 PM

Yesterday producer Ted Hope (@tedhope.fanpage on Facebook) gave a nice shout-out to this blog, so I thought I’d use that to wrangle together 10 Hope-centric quotes from various places. Many are from his Hope for Film book.

‘A new and vibrant cinema’—Ted Hope 
‘If I ran a film school  …’ — Ted Hope
You vs. Kurosawa (and the History of Cinema)
Ted Hope on Finding a Film’s Theme
My Formula for the Perfect Sundance Film—Ted Hope
Ted Hope on Finding a Safe Harbor from Liars and Cheats 
‘Helping others rarely hurts anyone, particularly yourself’—Ted Hope
Define What You Love & Ted Hope’s List of ‘32 Qualities of a Better Film‘
‘A Quiet Place‘…  in Iowa 
The Case for Making a Not So Good Film

His blog Hope for Film—with a focus on the business side of filmmaking—is still online, but not updated anymore because he’s too busy with his role at Amazon. But he’s active on his Facebook fan page so check that out for his wisdom, inspiration, filmmaking experiences and film recommendations.

And if you want short Ted (Hope) Talk, here you go:

Scott W. Smith

 

I know there is a lot of noise and distractions out there— in regard to finding filmmaking information and inspiration—but I’m enjoying producer Ted Hope’s Facebook posts recently. Here’s just a short excerpt from yesterday’s post.

“To make a great film, you generally have to make a good one first — and to make the good one, you have to make a not-so-good one even before that. Sure, the exceptions come out of the gate strong, but that is not most of us, and certainly not the ones who have to run the long distance race.”
Ted Hope,  Amazon Studios
Facebook post 8/20/18

P.S. The best example of that is Quentin Tarantino. His first feature film was not Reservoir Dogs—that was his first completed feature film. Before that he spent three to eight years (reports vary) shooting and editing  My Best Friend’s Birthday which was never completed.  Along with watching movies, Tarantino considers that his film school. It’s estimated that he spent $5,000 on My Best Friend’s Wedding—which makes for a pretty inexpensive film school.

Related posts:
‘If I ran a film school…’—Ted Hope
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
‘A new and vibrant cinema’—Ted Hope
Failure, Failure—Wild Success (Larry David’s Journey to Co-creating ‘Seinfeld’)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

“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

 

Back in the ’70s actor Lee Majors was The Six Million Dollar Man. I don’t know what $6 million dollars in 1974 would be worth today, but Kenya Barris’ $100 million dollar deal with Netflix makes him—if not bionic (like Lee Majors character)—quite a wealthy writer/producer by any measure.

And Barris wasn’t hurting for coin. The creator of Black-ish (who also just happens to be married to a doctor) earlier this year donated $1 to his alma mater, Clark Atlanta University. 

Here’s a glimpse into his early inspiration as a writer:

“I am what I am as a writer because of Norman Lear [All in the Family, Sanford & Son] and Spike Lee. Norman Lear in particular. I feel like Norman had this amazing ability to have the foresight to talk about real things at a time when they needed to be talked about.

“For some reason, television went through this amazing hibernation of not talking about things. [The Evans family, from Good Times] in particular affected me, and it affected my family and it affected other families that didn’t look like my family. It really showed that at the core — rich or poor — family is about love and about sticking together. And I think that that is one of those specific universalities that really influenced and informed what my show does.”
Kenya Barris (Twitter: @funnyblackdude)
NPR, Fresh Air, 2016

P.S. To show you how organic writing this blog is . . . I didn’t know that I’d write about Barris today when I wrote the Spike Lee post two days ago, or the one that touched on Good Times/Jimmy Walker last week. These things tend to happen in clumps. And I may be closer to Barris that I am to Kevin Bacon. No 7 degrees here. On April I wrote a post about Cydney Kelley—a writer friend of mine from Iowa— who’d just won a Daytime Emmy. Kelley also worked alongside Barris on the TV show The Game that was shot in Atlanta.

Related posts:
The First Black Feature Filmmaker
25 Links Related to Black & Filmmaking 
How Much Do Screenwriters Make? “It’s either very lucrative and exciting, or nothing.”—Screenwriter Anthony Peckham

Scott W. Smith

 

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