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Posts Tagged ‘A Few Good Men’

Aaron Sorkin is that rare breed of dramatic writers who has had success with Broadway theatre, Hollywood feature films, and broadcast television. But did you know part of his start was in small southern towns?

After he graduated from Syracuse University in 1983 with a degree in musical theater he moved to New York City, but he got work as an actor not off-Broadway, or off-off Broadway, but way the hell off Broadway.

“When I was twenty-one or twenty-two, I traveled the South with a touring children’s theater company called The Traveling Playhouse. When I say the South, we weren’t playing in Atlanta, we were playing Jasper, Alabama. We’d do six or seven shows in elementary school gymnasiums at about ten o’clock in the morning, then pile into a station wagon, and a van carrying the costumes and sets. We did The Wizard of OzRip Van Winkle, and Greensleeves. We were paid thirty dollars a performance.”
Aaron Sorkin
Zen and the Art of Screenwriting
Interview with William Froug
Page 31

Sorkin says he had no interest in writing until one day at a “Motel Six or something” somewhere in Georgia when, “I don’t know why, I all of a sudden felt like Sam Shepard. I felt like I ought to be writing something. That’s the first time that thought went into my head, and it just kept nagging at me and I just felt like a writer without ever having written anything.”

His first completed play was Hidden in This Picture, a single-scene one act play involving four characters. A few years later he found breakthrough success.

“His older sister, a naval lawyer, told him about a 1986 incident at the U.S. Marine base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when an informal disciplinary action had gotten out of hand, resulting in the death of a young soldier. Sorkin immediately recognized the possibilities of a courtroom drama based on the event. In November, 1989, his play, ‘A Few Good Men,’ about two naval lawyers defending two Marines accused of murdering a fellow corpsman, began a 14-month run on Broadway.”
Patrick Pacheco
1992 Los Angeles Times article 

That led to Sorkin writing the film version of A Few Good Men (1992) with a star cast that included Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, and Demi Moore. He would go on to win an Oscar award for writing The Social Network, and multiple Emmys for his work on The West Wing.

Now to come full circle, earlier this year NBC announced plans to stage a live version of A Few Good Men in early 2017.

I’m not saying all that wouldn’t have happened if Sorkin career path didn’t take to Jasper, Alabama and who knows where Georgia, but magical things can happen on the road—even in a Motel Six.

Dream big, start small.

P.S. Jasper, Alabama is also where stage and film actress Tallulah Bankhead spent some of her childhood, and where SciFy channels docuseries Town of the Living Dead was shot.

Related posts:
(Because I love writing about a sense of place, here’s some love I’ve written over the years centered around Alabama and Georgia.)

Alabama:
Tuscumbia to Hollywood
Muscle Shoals Music & Movie
Shooting a Feature Film in 4 Days
Postcard #82 (Selma)
Postcard #46 (Huntsville)
Revisiting ‘Highway 61 Revisted’
Bama, Bobby & The U
Screenwriting from Huntsville, AL
Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting 

Georgia:
25 Links Related to Blacks & Filmmaking
Postcard #43 (Savannah)
Postcard #35 (Villa Rica)
‘Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus’
Writing Quote #40 (Harry Crews)
Writing from Rural Georgia…to Dreamworks
Screenwriting, Baseball & Underdogs
Truett Cathy–Bird by Bird
Screenwriting Quote #70 (James Dickey)
Writing Quote #39 (Writing in Paris)
Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry
‘Super-Serving Your Niche’

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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“I’d counsel anyone that as soon as they see a movie which starts ‘Based on a true story’ should look at it the way you do with a painting and not a photograph.”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin

In yesterday’s post Emotional Climaxes I pulled a quote from Aaron Sorkin on how he used “emotional climaxes” in writing A Few Good Men. That made me think about the ending of The Social Network. When we think of climaxes in movies it’s easy to think of things like the shark exploding at the end of JAWS.

But you don’t hear much about emotional climaxes. We’re back in the realm of the outer story and the inner story. The outer story of The Social Network, written by Sorkin, has to do with a law suit surrounding Facebook. But the inner emotional story is what packs a punch in the very last scene of the movie.

Sorkin sets up The Social Network story in the dynamic opening scene by showing the Mark Zuckerberg character’s emotional mindset of wanting to be popular and accepted, so that he can have a better life. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sorkin wrote the first and the last scenes first because they make such a tidy bookend.

If The Social Network were a proverb it could be, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the world, but forfeit his friends?” The following comment by Sorkin give some insights into how he went about developing the Zuckerberg character. (Yes, based on a real life character who just happens to be the richest man in the world under 30-years old—but Sorkin was painting with a broad brush.)

“Just because you have money, it’s not like you no longer have emotions. (Zuckerberg) spends the first hour and 55 minutes of the movie being an anti-hero and the last five minutes being a tragic hero. I’m not judging, I want to respect and defend him so I locate the things in him that are most like myself…I’m awkward socially, and I’ve spent a lot of time with my nose pressed up against the glass feeling like an outsider.” 

That Sorkin quote was pulled from an interview with Trevor Johnston/Time Out London. An interview where Sorkin also revealed that he is the first actor playing the roles in his scripts, which includes him saying the lines out loud and getting into arguments with himself.

Aaron: “In fact, when I was writing The West Wing the head of NBC sent a package to my office: it was one of those headsets you used to get for a phone while you were in the car. There was a note saying: ‘I stopped beside you at a traffic light today and you looked like a madman—please wear the headset, even if you don’t plug it in.'”

Trevor : So the car’s a really productive space for you…

Aaron: “And I take maybe six or eight showers a day when I’m writing. Not because I’m a germophobe, but it just gives me a little energy shot, and putting on fresh clothes makes me feel, especially if I’m not writing well, and started the day on the wrong foot—that I’m getting a do-over. Listening to music in the car is another one for me. If I hear a song that takes me to a certain place emotionally, I try to think about writing a scene that gets me there.”

The odds are pretty good that Sorkin’s name will pop up on an Oscar nomination this year for his hand in writing Moneyball—so if you’re looking for a jolt in your writing you may want to keep an eye on those emotional climaxes, act out your scenes, use listening to music in your car as a springboard emotionally, and don’t forget those six to eight showers a day.

Related Post: Writing to Music (Tip #52)

Scott W. Smith

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One of the great things about listening and reading about writers talking discussing the writing process is you see how everyone’s approach is different. Some write in the morning, some at night, some write quickly in bursts and others methodically take their time. Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone) was very successful writing from theme, but fellow Syracuse University grad Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men) has a little different perspective on theme:

“When you’re talking about things like theme you have to be really careful because that’s not what’s going to make the car go. Okay? It’s what’s going to be what makes the car be good and give you a good ride. But that’s not what’s going to make the car go—at least not for me. You know, everybody writes different. But for me I have to stick—really closely, like it’s a life raft— to intention and obstacles. Just the basics of somebody wants something, something is standing in their way of getting it. Make sure you have that cemented in place. Themes will then become apparent to you and you can hang a lantern on the ones you like. Bring them into relief, you can get rid of the ones that aren’t doing you any good and you can paint the car and make it look really nice. But the car isn’t going to turn over unless you see to the basics of drama, and drama is intention and obstacles, somebody wants something, something is standing in their way of getting it.”
Aaron Sorkin
Creative Screenwriting podcast interview by Jeff Goldsmith
December 24, 2010

Related Post: Screenwriting Via Index Cards (Touches on the writing process of Aaron Sorkin.)

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“Believe me, for a 28-year-old writer, getting a check for $200,000 was a big deal indeed.”
Aaron Sorkin

Before Aaron Sorkin created the Emmy-winning TV program West Wing and wrote the four-time Oscar nominated film A Few Good Men, he was just another writer in New York trying to make a living.

“I was working as a bartender at the Palace Theater, I had graduated from Syracuse University in 1983 with a degree in theater and I had come to New York to begin my career as a struggling writer. So every night, really eight times a week, during the first act of La Cage Aux Folles I would write notes on cocktail napkins and stuff them in my pockets. I would go home to my apartment that I shared with about 17 other people and kind of spill the cocktail napkins out on the desk and started writing A Few Good Men.”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin

It took him a year and a half to write the play A Few Good Men, and he went through 23 drafts of the play before it made its way to Broadway where it ran for a year and a half. In 1989,  he was awarded Outstanding American Playwright by the Outer Critics Circle. Following the success of the play he was asked to write the screenplay for A Few Good Men, which was directed by Rob Reiner and starred Tom Cruise. On the Special Edition DVD of A Few Good Men Sorkin explains;

“I didn’t know anything about movies. I had grown up just watching plays and reading plays. Plays were all I knew. I went to the movies like anybody else, but I wasn’t paying attention like the way friends of mine were. Other people I know who do what I do can tell you who the make-up guy was on every Hitchcock film, I was never that person. So when I was writing the A Few Good Men screenplay, not only had I never written a screenplay before, I had never read a screenplay before.”

But it worked out well and the movie received an Oscar nomination for best picture. And the trademark line from A Few Good Men— “You can’t handle the truth”— spoken by Jack Nicholson’s was named by the American Film Institute as the twenty-ninth greatest American movie quote. Not bad for your first script.

But where did the original idea for A Few Good Men come from? Sorkin’s sister was a lawyer in the Navy and told her playwright brother about a case she was involved with at Guantanamo Bay involving a Marine killing a Marine.

The Cedar Falls—Aaron Sorkin connection: Actress Annabeth Gish, who was on West Wing for six seasons, grew up in Cedar Falls, Iowa. On Main St., just a block from my office there is a plaque in the sidewalk honoring her, complete with a signature and hand prints.

Related post: Screenwriting Quote of the Day #43 (Aaron Sorkin)

Scott W. Smith

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“You can’t handle the truth!”
                       Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men 
                       Voted as #29 in AFI’s 100 Movie Quotes in 100 Years. 

 

The truth is at this place in time the Los Angels Lakers are a better team than the Orlando Magic as the 2009 NBA championship shows. The Lakers are two games from winning their 15th NBA Championship and the Magic are still just one win away from winning their first championship game in franchise history.

And as long as I can remember Jack Nicholson has been a fixture court side for the the Lakers. And always wearing sunglasses. Surely, you may wonder why he’s wearing sunglasses. That can’t be the best way to watch Kobe Bryant command the game. So why does he wear them? The 12 time nominated Academy Award actor freely tells the truth:

“With my sunglasses on, I’m Jack Nicholson. Without them, I’m fat and seventy.”
                                                                      
Jack Nicholson

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It’s interesting to me that the screenwriter who wrote one of the most memorable lines in recent cinema didn’t start out wanting to be a writer.

Before Aaron Sorkin wrote the Jack Nickolson line “You can’t handle the truth” in A Few Good Men, and before his multiple Emmy’s for West Wing, he was an actor. After graduating from Syracuse University with a BFA in musical theater in 1983 he moved to New York City.  And he got work as an actor…not on Broadway, or even off-Broadway, but way, way far off from Broadway.

“When I was twenty-one or twenty-two, I traveled the South with a touring children’s theater company called The Traveling Playhouse. When I say the South, we weren’t playing in Atlanta, we were playing Jasper, Alabama. We’d do six or seven shows in elementary school gymnasiums at about ten o’clock in the morning, then pile into a station wagon, and a van carrying the costumes and sets. We did The Wizard of Oz, Rip Van Winkle, and Greensleeves. We were paid thirty dollars a performance.”
Aaron Sorkin
Zen and the Art of Screenwriting
Interview with William Froug
Page 31

Sorkin says he had no interest in writing until one day at a “Motel Six or something” somewhere in Georgia when, “I don’t know why, I all of a sudden felt like Sam Shepard. I felt like I ought to be writing something. That’s the first time that thought went into my head, and it just kept nagging at me and I just felt like a writer without ever having written anything.”

Magical things can happen on the road—even in a Motel Six.

Dream big, start small.

Scott W. Smith

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