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“I would say 99% of your effort should go to writing a good script.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt

Tomorrow I’ll try to get my post on The Unofficial Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood Film School published.  Concepts based on Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film that I’ve now seen seven times in theaters. But today, I found this nugget from Tarantino from a “lost” interview he did with Jeff Goldsmith back in 2009. Here Tarantino talks about going from an unpaid screenwriter to a paid screenwriter.

“No one was interested in my stuff at all. What actually got me going as far as a writing career was concerned—I’d never had any success ever and finally I met a really good buddy of mine, his named Scotty Spiegel —he wrote Evil Dead 2. He’d just sold a big script. It was a big deal. He was involved in low budget horror films and stuff, so all his friends started calling up say, hey, would you do a re-write on my stuff? And he was like, well I can’t, I’m busy. But I have a friend of mine named Quentin maybe you should give him a call. So then all the sudden I was getting paid like $4,000 to do a little dialogue polish on somebody’s thing, and I got paid $6,000, and then I got paid $10,000 to do something. Well F—! I’d gotten paid $10,000 a year working for minimum wage. So for the first time I was actually making a living as a writer. It was unfathomable to me. I can tell you, from going from even that low amount of money, to actually directing a movie—which happened in about a year later, well that was kind of  a big leap—but there was no leap bigger than working at a video store and actually being able to exist from writing. That was the hugest leap. That was the Evel Knievel Snake River Canyon leap. Everything else was small by comparison to that leap. When I actually didn’t have to do a day job again that was a big deal.”
Writer/director Quentin Tarantino
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

Of course, buried in that answer is Tarantino was writing stuff that was solid enough that made a produced and working screenwriter recommend him to others. Talent mixed with the The 99% Focus Rule.

Related posts:
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter—John Logan
How to Become a Successful Screenwriter —Michael Arndt
Once Upon a Time …. in Hollywood— in 1987 (How Robert Townsend’s ‘Hollywood Shuffle’ Inspired Quentin Tarantino)

Scott W. Smith

“Convincingly creepy while also slightly thought-provoking, it warns about deceiving facades, because what hides underneath masks is possibly much worse.”
Carlos Aguilar review of HAUNT
Los Angeles Times 

Filmmakers Scott Beck & Bryan Woods were working on the screenplay for their new movie Haunt at the same time they were working on the script for A Quiet Place. Last year A Quiet Place found a worldwide audience and made $340 million at the box office. Yesterday Haunt opened in select theaters with a wider release next week.

It’s not playing in Orlando yet, so I’ll round out my extended run of posts on Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood in the next few days. Then I’ll turn my attention toward Beck and Woods’ recent film.

But if you happen to be in Davenport, Iowa tonight Beck and Woods will be returning to their hometown Quad Cities area for a screenwriting at the Putnam followed by a Q&A session. Next week Haunt opens in Iowa City where Beck and Woods went to college and they’ll also be on hand for a Q&A there as well— September 21 at FilmScene as part of the theater’s grand opening of their Chauncey location.

“To come back to meet some of the founders of FilmScene who just have a love for film as much as people in California is incredible. We couldn’t be more excited to come back to Iowa.”
Bryan Woods
Isaac Hamlet, Iowa City Press-Citizen

The next project for Beck and Woods is adapting Stephen King’s short story The Boogeyman. They’re not doing too bad for a couple of guys who started out screenwriting from Iowa.

Congrats both of them. May they be a major inspiration to you—especially to those of you working on screenplays and making movies outside of Los Angeles.

P.S. Haunt is also currently available On Demand and digitally. 

Related posts:

A 20 Year Journey to ‘A Quiet Place’
Writing an Unorthodox Script (‘A Quiet Place’)
Scott Beck and Bryan Woods on Theme
‘A Quiet Place’ Meets ‘Screenwriting from Iowa’

Scott W. Smith

I learned all the rules of a modern day drifter
Don’t you hold on to nothin’ too long
My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys
Written by Sharon Vaughn
(Recorded by Willie Nelson for The Electric Horseman sound track)

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The Van Nuys Drive-In Theatre opened in 1948 and was demolished in the 1990s—but it found a new life in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. It’s where Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) lives in an Airstream trailer with his pit bull.

Actress Jane Russell began working in theater at Van Nuys High School on her way to becoming a Hollywood star working along side Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, and Clark Gable. Natalie Wood (Rebel Without a Cause) graduated from Van Nuys High School in 1956.

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Jane Russell in “The Outlaw” (1943)

Another Van Nuys High School student who was more interested in sports than theater also went on to become a Hollywood star. Actor/director Robert Redford graduated in 1954 while Russell was still in her prime. Six years later Redford began his rise in the western Maverick— a show where Once Upon a Time’s Rick Dalton could have been a guest star.

Redford teamed up with Paul Newman on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), had an incredible run throughout the 70s, won an Oscar for directing Ordinary People (1980), started the Sundance Institute in 1981,  and got to use his athletic skills in The Natural (1984).

It’s near impossible to see Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood circa 1969—in Aviator sunglasses and a denim jacket no less— and not think of Redford circa 1970.

 

Redford directed Pitt in A River Runs Through It (1992) and they co-starred in Spy Game (2001).

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I did watch Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood for a seventh time today and it still holds up. It’s turning into the ultimate hangout movie for me as the two hour and 41 minutes flew by as I admired the craftsmanship on so many levels. And each time I see it I pull back a few more layers. Today was actually the first time I noticed that the movie rating at the Van Nuys rating was GP which was a pre-1972 PG and meant the film was intended for general audiences but parental guidance was suggested.

And since Redford came up in this post, one of his films I’d consider a spiritual cousin to Once Upon a Time… is The Electric Horseman. Redford plays a Rick Dalton/Easy Breezy-like character who is a past his prime rodeo star who drinks too much and—to pull a line from Tarantino’s movie— is “coming to terms with what it means to be slightly more useless each day.”

 

P.S. New Beverly Cinema double feature suggestion:

The Natural starring a 47-year-old Robert Redford and Moneyball starring a 48-year-old Brad Pitt. Two of my favorite films.

P.P.S. Van Nuys, California also had a small part in the classic Casablanca as the Van Nuys Airport doubled for an airport in Morocco. 

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Scott W. Smith

“I saw the beginning of the sixties as a real transition in the culture, because of the Vietnam war and the things we were going through, and I wanted to make a movie about it.”
Director George Lucas on American Graffiti

“References to Modesto abound in American Graffiti, right down to the Ramona Avenue address where Carol lives and where Lucas grew up. The cruising loop, Mel’s Drive-In, Burger City  … the radio station—all have real-life antecedents in the crowded nighttime streets of Modesto in the late 1950s and early ’60s.”
Dale Pollack
Skywalking:The Life and Films of George Lucas
(American Graffiti was shot primarily in San Rafael north of San Francisco)

“I wasn’t thinking about [American Graffiti] when I was writing [Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood] but when I made the decision that I can use these [1960s KHJ] commercials—I can use this DJ stuff, we created a really interesting thing in the movie and I can kind of duplicate big chunks of that on the sound track album. And then that brought to mind American Graffiti— we can definitely do this. And then upon realizing that I realized how much the film had actually been influenced by American Graffiti between like characters in cars driving around all day seemingly aimlessly. Right down to the fact that Margaret Qualley’s Mason character Pussycat could be Suszanne Summers in the T-Bird. The girl [Richard Dreyfuss’ character] keeps seeing all over town. …But the thing is that ended up being a seminal album for me when I got it because I had just really started listening to oldies radio—that was during the 50s revival in the 70s—so I’m only like 13. I hadn’t even seen the movie. So  I’m loving the American Graffiti soundtrack on its own. I didn’t see the movie until it was re-released after Star Wars which was like ‘78.
Writer/Director Quentin Tarantino
Soundtracking, Episode 155, podcast interview with Edith Bowman 

You could also argue that the Margaret Qualley character in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is closer Mackenzie Phillips’ character in American Graffiti. The underage girl  that ends up driving the Modesto, California strip in cool guy Paul Le Mat’s hot rod.

P.S. The layers of Once Upon a Time go on and on. Mackenzie Phillips is the daughter of John Phillips  who wrote the songs on the  Once Upon a Time … soundtrack.Twelve Thirty recorded by the Mama’s and the Papa’s which he was a part of, and California Dreamin’ with Michelle Phillips (the Jose Feliciano version was used in the movie).

This isn’t the place to dive deep into the connections between John Phillips, Terry Melcher, Roman Polanski and Charles Manson, but let’s just say there’s no prince in shining armour in that group. I prefer Tarantino’s “fable”—as he calls his movie.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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Yesterday I went to see Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood for the sixth time.

That’s more than twice the number of times I’ve ever seen any movie while it’s still in theaters. But I must put an asterisk by it. In August I signed up for the new Regal Unlimited Movie Pass Subscription allowing me unlimited viewing of movies at specific Regal cinemas for just $22 a month.

While I think Once Upon a Time ... is an extremely well made and enjoyable film, I’m not sure it would have broken my personal record without the unlimited card.  I never signed up for MoviePass as it looked like one of those too good to be true offers (and it was), but they did start the “Netflix for theaters” concept back in 2012 and paved the way for a new price structure for going to movie theaters.

On this sixth (and probably not my final viewing) of Once Upon a Time … I really took in the roles of the supporting cast. (Because I’ve mentioned Julia Butters,  Bruce Dern, Margaret Qualley in pervious posts I won’t repeat myself.)

Nicholas Hammond as the director Sam Wanamaker could be the center of a whole  Tarantino film. His credits are as a varied as General Hospital,  Eight is Enough, The Love Boat, and back to the classic The Sound of Music. I’m sure Hammond has many personal stories of the changes in Hollywood he’s seen over the years. Partly because I was not familiar with his face, he’s the one person in the entire film who truly felt like he was transported from 1969 to be in this film.

Dakota Fanning plays Squeaky Fromme so effectively in her Spahn Ranch sequence with Brad Pitt that even if you didn’t know that real life character’s background, you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she would  one day try to kill the president of the United States.

Zoë Bell and Kurt Russell play a husband and wife team that are so dynamic together that if the story would have followed them for 10 or 15 minutes I would have been game for the ride.

Timothy Olyphant as James Stacy and Luke Perry  as Wayne Maunder bring their star persona to two brief cameo roles. Both understated performances that you appreciate on multiple viewings.

Mike Moh as Bruce Lee. Since this story is a fable I have one fantasy that I would like to see in this film and that is somehow Moh and his martial arts skills were utilized in the climatic ending. Moh is grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota and spent a decade in LA. pursing an acting career before moving to Madison, Wisconsin to open a martial arts school. It’s not a stretch to bet that someday he’ll star in a film about Bruce Lee.

Al Pacino has been such a great actor in so many fine movies it’s easy to overlook is role as the agent Marvin Schwartz. He really only has one key scene, and it’s a hard one to pull off. It’s a long exposition scene in which he has to explain to Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) that his career has been on a downward trajectory. There are so many layers to Once Upon a Time that I didn’t fully appreciate Pacino’s performance until the fourth or fifth viewing.

Quentin Tarantino? —There is a brief clip (just a second or two) of the film The 14 Fists of McCluskey that shows a person (solider?) is a beret that sure looks like it could be Tarantino. It’s a quick shot and I can’t be sure. But if so it would be a brilliant Alfred Hitchcock-style way of sneaking the writer/director into the film. He is uncredited as the voice of the director of Red Apples’ cigarette commercial in the end credits. So regardless, he did make the final cut.

The Dogs. Brad Pitt’s pit bull and the dogs wandering around Spahn Ranch add a dimension to the movie that looking back you can’t imagine the movie without them.

And even after writing over a month of posts about this film, I still have a week of posts to go. Look for Once Upon a Time … Film School and Once Upon a Time … Spahn Ranch next week.

P.S. If the New Beverly Cinema ever has a double-double feature with Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood and Sunset Blvd. at night and La La Land and The Player in the afternoon matinee please let me know).

Scott W. Smith

“[T]here is much here that represents a film-maker at the top of his game. The delight he takes in the details that anchor the story in time and place: who else but Tarantino would include entire montages dedicated to vintage fonts? The heart-tugging music choices; the limber camerawork and tawny nostalgic warmth of Robert Richardson’s cinematography.”
Wendy Ide reviewing Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
The Guardian 

Over the weekend Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood was the top movie in the UK—for the third week in a row. Screen Daily stated it was “Tarantino’s biggest UK box office release.” According to Box Office Mojo the film has now made $283 million worldwide.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is one of those rare original movies that’s done extremely well at the box office as well as having solid reviews. But not everyone is enthralled with the movie. I read one comment where the writer said it was “boring and meandering.”

I’ve seen the movie five times so far and even if I didn’t care for the 2 hour and 40 minute movie I would still dig the meandering just to listen to the music. And a large part of the outstanding soundtrack was the British tracks.

Here’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood … with a touch of England:

Hush, Kentucky Woman / Deep Purple (England)

Paxton Quigley’s Had the Course/ Chad and Jeremy  (England)

The Letter/Joe Cocker (England)

Out of Time/ The Rolling Stones (England)

Funky Fanfare/ Keith Mansfield (England)

Scott W. Smith

“I never knew until I came here to Hollywood that somebody could be really nice to you for years and really hate your guts. Happens all the time here.”
Jean Seberg

Yesterday I not only went to see Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood for a fifth time (a personal record for seeing a movie in theaters), but I also realized that I have now been blogging about that movie for a whole month now (something I’ve never done before).

And I still have a few more posts to write—and imagine I’ll see the movie at least one more time while it’s in theaters. If I fly to L.A. to see it at Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema you know it’s time to call Movie Addiction Anonymous.

Today we’ll look at someone who is briefly touched on in Once Upon a Time who was born and raised in Iowa, and though she’s been dead for 40 years is currently having a revival.

Actress Jean Seberg was born in Marshalltown, Iowa which is about an unlikely place as any for someone to end up starring in the François Truffaut written and Jean-Luc Godard directed New Wave French classic Breathless (1960).

If you don’t recognize Seberg’s name and/or aren’t familiar with her movies, you’ve probably seen her short cropped pixie haircut duplicated time and  time again over the last several decades. Of course, Seberg wasn’t the first movie star to have short hair but it could be argued that she was the first modern actress to kick start the trend that reverberates to this day (in one form or another).

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Jean Seberg

 

When Amazon Studios releases Seberg starring Kristen Stewart I imagine there will be an uptick in women sporting a pixie haircut.

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Kristan Stewart as Jean Seberg

When Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) goes to Westwood to buy a book in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood she passes a movie theater that has the 1969 movie Pendulum with stars names (George Peppard and  Jean Seberg) on the marquee.

Back in 2013, I drove through Seberg’s Iowa hometown (see the post on Marshalltown) a month before a film festival held there in her name. Seberg’s real life was even more tumultuous than the fictitious Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) character in Tarantino’s movie. When she was just 18-years-old she was chosen from over 18,000 people in a talent search to star in Otto Preminger’s St. Joan.

“I have two memories of Saint Joan. The first was being burned at the stake in the picture. The second was being burned at the stake by the critics. The latter hurt more.”
Jean Seberg

Her personal and professional life went through many ups and downs until she died from what the Paris police ruled as a probable suicide in 1979.

P.S. In this audio clip Tarantino explains Godard’s influence on him. In fact, Tarantino’s company A Band Apart was named after Godard’s film Bande à part. 

Scott W. Smith

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