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Posts Tagged ‘127 Hours’

“Everyone has a big but. Simone, let’s talk about your big but…You can’t just wish for something to come true—you have to make it happen.”
Pee Wee Herman
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

“The reason why most [comedy screenplays] don’t work is they’re not about anything.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3)

The screwball comedy (living cartoon?) Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is a guilty pleasure for many. I just recently saw the Tim Burton directed film for the first time and think I know why it has such a strong following even though it was released back in 1985. It not only addresses everyone’s “big but”—which I’ll look at in a minute— but it’s a simple story well told.

1) The opening scene begins with Pee Wee doing what he loves to do best—ride his bike.
2) In the first 10 minutes we are introduced to the quirky hero and his colorful world.
3) In the set-up we understand that Pee Wee’s bike is special to him and he wouldn’t sell it for any amount of money.
4) At the 19 minute mark he learns of his stolen bike. A clear inciting incident.
5) Pee Wee’s goal is simple “To find my bike.”
6) He begins a quest to get back what was taken. (Just like John Wayne in The Searchers and Liam Neeson in Taken.  Active hero=Thumbs up.)
7) Along his journey he meets many bizarre characters, including Large Marge—an 18-wheeler truck driving ghost.
8) There are as many roadblocks as there are set-pieces (Western, Biker, James Bond, Godzilla, Beach, etc.).
9) It has a clear ending and Pee Wee returns from his journey a better man.

When the answer to “What’s at stake?” is just a stolen bike, they get by with it because;  A) It’s a comedy, and B) Pee Wee really loves his bike.  And to show his emotional attachment to his bike they have several dream/nightmare sequences that actually gets mentioned in one book.

“Anxiety is a particularly frequent subject of dreams, both in real life and in films. The anxiety dream sequence is typically portrayed as a state of paranoia, in which everyone and everything is menacing and destructive, and the dreamer is confronted by his deepest fear. In Tim Burton’s Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Pee Wee is plagued by terrible nightmares in which his bicycle is destroyed. The dreams cue the audience in to the emotional intensity behind Pee Wee’s anxiety over his beloved bike. “
Psychology for Screenwriters by William Indick

For Pee Wee to lose his bike for good would be a sort of death.

But where the screenwriters Phil Hartman, Paul Reubens, and Michael Varhol really nailed it is in theme. Three different places in the film, by three different people, the words “I’m a loner… A rebel” are spoken. I won’t totally spoil it for those who never seen (or heard of) the movie, but by the end of the film Pee Wee is “humbled” and sees the need for community.

Kind of like the movie 127 HoursSay what? Am I the only one to make that connection?  James Franco starts out riding his bike and boldly proclaims, “I can do everything on my own.”

It you want your movie to be remembered 30 years from now it better be about something.

“Artists are magical helpers. Evoking symbols and motifs that connect us to our deeper selves, they can help us along the heroic journey of our own lives.”
Joseph Campbell
Pathways to Bliss

“Stories are equipment for living”
Kenneth Burke

Which brings us back to the big but.

When I was first told about Pee Wee’s Big Adventure it was a friend paraphrasing Pee Wee— “Everyone has a big but—what’s yours.” Not as in big butt of the Sir Mix-A-Lot variety, rather what’s the “big but” that’s stopping you from doing that thing you’ve always wanted to do. (“I want to _______, but ________.”)  For Simone it was leaving her jealous boyfriend and living in Paris.

For you it’s something else. What’s the “big but” that’s stopping you? Simone was inspired to live her dream and my guess is that audiences over the decades have been inspired by Pee Wee’s words of encouragement: “You can’t just wish for something to come true—you have to make it happen.”

Or as the German writer Goethe put it, “In action there is power, grace, and magic.”

Speaking of magic and bicycles—and if Pee Wee is too silly for you—check out the classic Italian film The Bicycle Thief.  

Happy New Year. And thanks for being a part of this journey. A journey that at times is like a bike ride in country with Pee Wee Herman, Joseph Campbell , Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and  John Wayne riding along side us.  Hope these posts help you and your writing. Here’s a little related JB quote and song to finish out the year.

“I bought a red bike shortly after I decided to stay in Key West, and it served me well. Key West has changed drastically from the days when you didn’t have to lock up your bike, but it’s still the best place I know to ride.”
Jimmy Buffett

 

P.S. If you ever kicked around Burbank, California back in the ’80s you may get nostalgic when you watch Pee Wee’s Big Adventure because they shot some scenes there. Places like the former Golden Mall (“Beautiful downtown Burbank”) and the old drive-in (also used for shooting Grease). And there are many other interesting layers to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure including Oingo Boingo’s Danny Elfman composing the music, and cameos by Milton Berle, Morgan Fairchild and Oscar-winning producer Tony Bill (The Sting).

Related Post:
Writing from Theme (Tip #20)
More Thoughts on Theme
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2) Just learned yesterday via my WordPress annual report that this now almost 3 year old post was the most viewed post this year.
Starting Your Screenplay (Tip #6)  “As long as the protagonist wants something, the audience will want something.”—David Mamet (The Verdict)

Related links: Did you know there is a Bicycle Film Festival. (I once made an award-winning short film called Bicycle Dreams that I wanted to submit to that festival, but I forgot. One of my big buts.)

Get A New Story: What’s Your Story About Not Writing? by Jenna Avery at Script

Scott W. Smith

 

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“My father always said to me I would be a late bloomer.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter David Seidler (The King’s Speech)

The next time you hear a writer complain about not getting the break they think they deserve, or how long it’s taking for their script to become a movie, remind them about David Seidler. Seidler’s life story—like The King’s Speech—follows one of the most basic principles of drama; A strong protagonist who is willing to go to the end of the line to get what they want.*

For Seidler all it took was 73 years to reach the top of the mountain. Diablo Cody’s Oscar win in 2009 gave inspiration to many that it was possible to win an Oscar as a rookie writer** and Seidler’s Oscar gives inspiration to many that toward the end of your career you may finally peak in the way you’ve always dreamed.

And it really was a 70 year journey for Seidler. At age 3 he and his parents fled England due to the outbreak of World War II and the impending danger of German troops. Soon after arriving in the United States Seidler began stuttering, which if you’ve seen The King’s Speech is about King George VI’s desire to overcome stuttering as he prepares to give one of the most important speeches before England’s involvement in World War II. Seidler grew up listening to the King’s speeches on the radio and his father would point out to him that the King had overcoming stuttering. And Seidler, like the King, did overcome his speech impediment.

So out of the gate Seidler seemed destined to write this story. Seidler happened to go to high school with Francis Ford Coppola and before you start into the “it’s who you know” thing remember that Seidler has been paying his dues for decades. And it’s not just who you know, it’s what you learn from who you know. (But with that said, having a classmate like Coppola is a nice bonus.) Seidler in an interview on Jeff Goldsmith’s Creative Screenwriting podcast (January 07, 2011) says he picked up some great advice from Coppola:

“I learned a great deal from Francis. He’s a very, very bright filmmaker. One of the things I learned was—know what your ending is. And that’s something that’s really stayed with me. He said he always knows the big scene at the end of the movie he’s going for. It may not be the last scene, but it’s the apex of the action. And then everything is to move towards that scene.”

“Everything is to move towards that scene”—that’s great advice. In the script you’re working on now, does everything move toward that scene?

As Coppola launched his directing career in the ’60s, Seidler’s first job in the entertainment business was less exciting—transcribing Godzilla movies. In 1966-67 he landed his first writing gig on an Australian TV show called Adventures of the Seaspray. I believe after that he turned to a variety of jobs to pay the bills (advertising, Signal Corps, Playwright in Resident in San Franciscio, and political advisor in Fuji).

His next IMDB credit was not until 1981, an episode for the soap opera Another World.

There’s not much there to think that at that point in his career that the 43-year-old Seidler was on the fast track to have a feature made from his work, much less win an Oscar some day. But way back in 1981 is when he actually began working on what would become The King’s Speech. Obviously there were a few twists and turns in the road before it became a movie. And surprisingly, or not, Coppola—Seidler’s old high school classmate— had a small part in getting The King’s Speech script written.

“I had written Tucker for Francis and was just naive enough to think that that meant it would get made immediately and change my life forever. It took ten years to get made and it didn’t change my life that much. And I also thought that meant I could write anything I wanted in Hollywood. And you’re all wise enough to know that’s not true, but I did.”
David Seidler

And that’s when he began to work on The King’s Speech. But unlike Tucker:The Man and His Dreamsit would not take 10 years to bring The King’s Speech to the screen, or 20 years, but almost 30 years. As Paul Harvey used to say, “You think about that.”

Tomorrow we’ll look more deeply at the actual writing process that Seidler used to write his Oscar-winning script.

* A strong protagonist who is willing to go to the end of the line to get what they want. Other films in this year’s Oscars that fit that description include, Black Swan, 127 Hours, The Fighter, and True Grit. All which also build to a dramtatic ending.

**While Cody’s script for Juno was her first script I like to point out that she had been writing daily for 15 years.

Scott W. Smith

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“Movies are about heroes trapped in extreme situations. They are forced to do outrageous things and overcome impossible odds to achieve a specific goal. It’s much easier to create ideas of value by appealing to the audience’s desire to revel in the sensational.”
Adam Levenberg
The Starter Screenplay

Related posts:
Writing “Black Hawk Down”

Filmmaking Quote #12 (Hitchcock) 
Writing “A Beautiful Mind” (Extreme situations don’t have to be action-adventures)

Scott W. Smith

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