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Posts Tagged ‘Academy Award’

“The people of Northern Ireland, Protestant and Catholic, who after 30 years of war sat down, negotiated a peace and proved to the world that the Irish are great talkers.”
Terry George in his Academy Award acceptance speech

“Hundreds of thousands of short films are produced every year around the world and for Northern Ireland to win one really underlines the world class talent we have working in the industry here.”
Richard Williams, chief executive Northern Ireland Screen 

After watching the 2012 Oscars the film that I hadn’t seen that I walked away with wanting to see the most was the Irish film The Shore.  Writer, producer, and director Terry George said the movie is, “the story of one small act of reconciliation which mirrors the courageous achievement of the people who after 800 years of division and blooodshed came together to talk and make their peace with one another.”

George and his producer-daughter Oorlagh also became the first father/daughter combination to win an Oscar together. The film was shot at George’s family cottage at Coney Island near Ardglass in Northern Ireland. (That qualifies as an “unlikely place” referred to in this blogs subtitle.)

“We basically shot this story right outside my front door in Northern Ireland over five days last summer. And it was maybe the best experience in filmmaking I’ve had. It got me back to that thing of communicating with actors and the crew, just focusing both telling the story and having fun.”
Terry George
(On making The Shore)

“There’s the ability to go out an make a film with very little equipment now.”
Terry George

Though this is George’s first Oscar, he had been nominated two before for his screenplays Hotel Rwanda and In the Name of the Father.

The 30-minute film is now available for $6.99 on iTunes as a set with the other Academy Award-nominated live-action short films.

For information on filming in Northern Ireland and other related information visit Northern Ireland Screen.

P.S. The cinematographer for The Shore was Michael McDonough who just happened to shoot Winter’s Bone. I believe he used the RED camera on both Winter’s Bone and The Shore.

P.P.S. For filmmakers, here’s a link to the press kit used by The Shore.

Related Posts: Screenwriting from Ireland

Scott W. Smith

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“(Scent of a Woman) is my favorite only because I feel like I matured and the movie reflects that.”
Screenwriter Bo Goldman

Before Bo Goldman won an Academy Award as a screenwriter he had to experience his own personal life of ups and downs.

His father owned a chain of department stores which afforded Goldman an opportunity to attend prep schools and prepared him for Princeton University. He spent three years in the Army. All of those experiences would come in handy years later in writing Scent of a Woman.

But in the meantime while still in his twenties had his first play performed on Broadway. He was on the fast track. “First Impressions ran about three months. Then I was ten years trying to get my second one on Broadway,” Goldman told William Froug in Zen and the Art of Screenwriting.

That’s when things got tough for Goldman. “I was young and had a large family. And you know the old story about Broadway; You can’t make a living, you can only make a killing. I was starving, and when my parents died around 1970, 71, 72, I kind of bottomed out…It was humiliating.”

He wrote for TV including a Christmas show for PBS that was successful, and at the same time wrote a screenplay about marriages he saw breaking up which was a new trend. It took nine years to get Shoot the Moon made but the script became a calling card and got the attention of director Milos Forman who was having trouble with a script for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Goldman stepped in to get his first produced film credit, as well as his first Oscar. (Shared with Lawrence Hauben, and based on the novel by Ken Kesey and the play written by Dale Wasserman.)

He won his second Oscar four years later for Melvin and Howard.  Scent of a Woman was released in 1992, 13 years after is second Oscar. Goldman explained to Froug where the concept for Scent of a Woman (1992) came from;

“I had been estranged from most of my family, and still am from the ones I grew up with and my long-lost brother, who made millions in mortgage brokerage, became an alcoholic, and had a terribly tragic life. Then I got this SOS from another brother of mine who said the once-rich brother was going to need conservator. He was living in a big expensive New York apartment, a year behind on rent, and had no money at all. I went there and found him living in a kind of shabby elegance. The skeletons of his life were riddled with moral cancer, to strike a phrase. A week later, I came back to California and got a call from Martin Brest, who showed me this sort of forgotten Italian movie, Profuma di Donna. I looked at this movie, and this character struck me as being exactly like my brother, who became the character in Scent of a Woman. The character was crossed with my first sergeant in the Army, a member of the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team, who was the second man I’ve ever really been afraid of, and the first man I was afraid of—my father. The sergeant was a real soldier…So this character became a hybrid of all these people.”

Of course, Al Pacino brought that character to life (and, believe it or not, is Pacino’s only Oscar-winning performance)—a character forged from Goldman’s life in prep school, experience in the military, his father, and a brother who had gone from riches to rags.

That process that Goldman talked about is a perfect example what I wrote about in Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C).

And how about that phrase of Goldman’s—”The skeletons of his life were riddled with moral cancer.” Fine writing and good inspritation for you to write about the characters who have crossed your path who are living in their equivalent world “of shabby elegance” and riddled with moral cancer. Audiences will always find those creatures facinating to watch. (Noah Cross in Chinatown and Gordon Gekko in Wall St. come to mind.)

Scott W. Smith

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“I devoted myself to writing for years without representation or a promise of anything. And there were times when I felt quite down about my prospects.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher

Geoffrey Fletcher walked away with an Oscar for his first produced feature screenplay, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. That part is true.

But what is also true is that he’s been at it for 25 years. The 39 year-old writer first began making films when he was 14. He later graduated from Harvard and earned a master’s degree from NYU. He was able to learn first hand from other NYU grads Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee, he made short films (and even had one shown at Sundance in ’96), he worked temp jobs to pay the bills, and eventually became an adjunct film professor at Columbia and NYU. And by his account the script count of unproduced pages he has written runs into the thousands. Thousands.

“I often felt like Precious — out of the picture and invisible. I was within reach of my dream of filmmaking but also a million miles away. I kept trying. But it’s tough to get people to listen to what I had to say. It’s the nature of the industry — there are so many people trying to get in. All the doors in the industry seemed to close, and I couldn’t seem to do anything right….While working on this project, I felt resurrected and reinvigorated. I poured every ounce of myself into the script. Looking back, it seemed to require every bit of it.”
Geoffrey Fletcher
Combined quote from LA Times article by John Horn and Take Part article by Wendy Cohen

Perhaps the one thing I’ve leaned most about doing this blog for more than two years is Fletcher has followed the time-honored path of every successful screenwriter I have read about– and that is he wrote, and wrote, and wrote. So when you hear “First time screenwriter wins Oscar,” don’t forget the thousands of unproduced pages he wrote before that first script got produced.

Scott W. Smith


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“The most fantastic thing about Mr. Fox is the way he shows that while our flaws can bring us down, sometimes, too, we triumph in spite of them and because of them.”
Nancy Churin, review of The Talented Mr. Fox
Dallas Morning News

“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorn.”
William Cosgreve
The Mourning Bride (1697)


There are no speeches about the dangers of infidelity in the movie Fatal Attraction. No one says, “There is a proverb that goes, ‘For the lips of the adulteress drip honey, And smoother than oil is her speech; But in the end she is bitter like wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword.'”   No, the film does what film does best, it visually and viscerally tells a story. Remember the old adage  — show, don’t tell.

Back in the early 80s producer Stanley Jaffe saw a short film called Diversion by James Dearden and thought it had potential to be a feature. Jaffe’s producing partner Sherry Lansing agreed and they had Dearden write a feature script that both Jaffe and Lansing loved but was turned down by every major studio. Though Jaffe had won a Best Picture Oscar for producing Kramer vs. Kramer a few years earlier it was not thought there was an audience for a film like Fatal Attraction. (No one ever said winning an Oscar made finding funding any easier.)

It took them over four years to get the film made and it not only found a large audience but earned five Oscar nominations. Its altered ending is legendary and may have cost Glenn Close the Oscar, and while it’s possible that the original ending may have been better it also may have been less satisfying for audiences and released and forgotten. We’ll never know.

Here is a key scene in the movie that is a hybrid of the fourth draft of Fatal Attraction and the dialogue as spoken in the finished film. It’s a wonderful scene that captures the essence of fine screenwriting.  The scene appears at 13:30 into the film after Dan (Michael Douglas) and Alex (Glenn Close) who are business associates have trouble getting a cab in the rain and end up sitting down for a drink.

It’s a scene full of subtleties and subtext. A display of simplicity and complexity. An interesting sidenote is the character Alex was originally named Eve, nothing subtle about that which was why it was probably changed.

(We pick up in the middle of the scene where they are sitting down at a restaurant. And you’ll have to endure the funky formatting because my WordPress isn’t allowing me to format this correctly.)

There is a brusqueness in her manner towards the WAITRESS, suggesting a certain lack of empathy with the other women. The WAITRESS goes off. Alex folds her hands and looks at Dan as if to say, ‘What next?’.

DAN
Ahh, it’s funny – being a lawyer’s
a bit like being a doctor. Everyone’s
telling you in their innermost secrets.

ALEX
You must have to be discreet.

DAN
Oh, yeah.

ALEX
Are You?

DAN
Am I what?

ALEX
Discreet.

He looks at her, an ironic smile playing about his lips.

DAN
Yes, I’m discreet.

ALEX
Me too.

She holds his gaze. There is a moment of complicity.

DAN
Can I ask you something? Why don’t you have a
date tonight? Saturday night.

ALEX
I did have a date. Stood him up, that was the phone
call I made. Does that make you feel good?

DAN
It doesn’t make me feel bad.

There is a momentary lull. Finally:

ALEX
So where’s your wife?

Taken by surprise, Dan fumbles for his words.

DAN
Where’s my wife? My wife is in the country with
her parents visiting for the weekend.

ALEX
And you’re here with a strange girl being a naughty boy.

Dan holds up his hands to protest his innocence.

DAN
I don’t think having dinner with anybody is a crime.

ALEX
Not yet.

DAN
Will it be?

ALEX
I don’t know, what do you think?

DAN
I definitely think it’s going to be up to you.

Alex smiles, She is enjoying the game.

ALEX
Can’t say yet. I haven’t made up my mind.

DAN
At least you’re very honest.

ALEX
We were attracted to each other at the party.
That was obvious. You’re on your own for
the night that’s also obvious. We’re two adults…

A beat.

DAN
Check.

—–

It’s a scene that was wonderfully written and acted. It was also well directed by Adrian Lyne. Dearden received and Oscar nomination for the script and the character Alex Forrest was named by AFI as the #7 villain in movie history.

Lastly, while Dearden did receive sole writing credit for Fatal Attraction, I should point out that Nicholas Meyer was brought in to do some additional writing. Meyer is a graduate of the University of Iowa (B.A.–Theater & Film) and best known for writing a couple Star Trek films, but he was also nominated for an Oscar for screenwriting The Seven-Per-Cent Solution that was based on his New York Times #1 bestselling novel of the same name. The Papers of Nicolas Meyer (working scripts, story ideas, galley proofs, reviews, etc.) are available for research at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Related post: Screenwriting Quote of the Day #95 (Nicholas Meyer)

Scott W. Smith

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In 2006 the first person in more than 50 years to win back to back Oscar Awards in screenwriting was Paul Haggis. He then followed his award-winning scripts Million Dollar Baby and Crash with another Academy Award nomination in 2007 for his screenplay Letters from Iwo Jima.

Haggis had a background in theater and construction before moving to Los Angeles in his early twenties from London, Ontario—which makes him almost a Midwesterner as London is less than an hour from the Michigan state line. Soon after arriving in L.A. he landed his first TV credit on Love Boat in 1985 which lead to more opportunities in television, some more memorable than others; Heathcliff, One Day at a Time, Who’s the Boss, L.A. Law, Different Strokes, The Facts of Life, thirtysomething, Walker, Texas Ranger, EZ Streets, Due South, Michael Hayes. Family Law.

He worked on hundreds of TV episodes which is a staggering amount of writing which he credits for teaching him how to write, paid the bills rather well, but also created in him a to write the kind of scripts that feed his soul. That process took a few years.  By the time he won his first Oscar he was in his early 50s with three decades of writing credits behind him.

According to Haggis the impetus for writing Crash was being car jacked in 1991 followed by wondering ten years later who were these young guys who stuck a gun in his face. Where did they come from? He explored that creatively.

“I like asking myself  difficult questions—I don’t think writers should write about answers, I think they should write about questions.”
Paul Haggis
The Dialogue

Below is a ten minute version of the interview from The Dialogue.

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“I picked a difficult subject, a little lost Texas town no one’s heard of or cares about … But I’m at the mercy of what I write. The subject matter has taken me over.”
                                                                 Horton Foote 

“What Foote knew was Wharton (Texas). By now, he was in New York, but everything he had learned about life had come from Wharton — all the eccentric characters he’d grown up around, the stories his loquacious aunts had told in order to pass the time, the family legends. His memories were and are strings of oral histories born from the triumphs and failings of the Texans he knew.”
                                                                 Becca Hensley
                                                                 American Way 

 

Writer Horton Foote died a few days ago, but his writings will live a long, long time. And though he was born and raised in a small town in Texas that was never a hindrance— it was his greatest inspiration.

In 1962 he won an Oscar for the screenplay adaptation for To Kill A Mockingbird. That alone is enough to be remembered by. Here are a couple things to consider about that movie:

Atticus Finch, played by Gregory Peck, was voted the #1 hero in AFI’s Top 50 heroes and top 50 villains 
The film is listed as #34 in AFI’s 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time

In 1983 Foote won another Oscar, this time for Best Original Screenplay, for Tender Mercies.

Foote was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for his play The Young Man from Atlanta (which also was nominated for a Tony).

Foote won an Emmy in 1997 for best writing for a TV miniseries or special for Old Man, (which was based on a novella by William Faulkner).

He also had several plays on Broadway and off-Broadway. Horton Foote was brilliant. Horton Foote was accomplished. But Horton Foote paid his dues. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers he says that it takes an artist 10,000 hours to have a firm grip on his craft. (He uses Mozart and the Beatles as examples.) It is talent, but it is also a numbers game. And those numbers are hours and hours, year after year of learning one’s craft.

Foote’s set out to be an actor and studied at the Pasadena Playhouse and in New York. He wrote his first play in 1940 when he was 24 years old. But it would be another 13 years before you’d find a play he wrote that most people today would recognize, A Trip to Bountiful. (And at that point, counting his acting experience he had invested 21 years in theater.) When he started to write for the TV program Playhouse 90 in 1956 Foote was 40 years old. When he won the Academy Award for To Kill a Mockingbird he was 45-years old, and when he won his second Academy Award 67-years old, and 79-years old when awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1995,  and 81-years old when he won his Emmy in 1997.

He continued to write until he died and was quoted not that long ago saying, “I can’t quit (writing) I woke up last night at 1:30 and had to get up and write. It’s compulsive.”                                            

Horton Foote is that tall tree in the forest that didn’t sprout up overnight. Here are some of his quotes:

“But I don’t really write to honor the past. I write to investigate, to try to figure out what happened and why it happened, knowing I’ll never really know. I think all the writers that I admire have this same desire, the desire to bring order out of chaos.” 
                                                               Horton Foote 

“I knew little about adapting or writing for the screen.”
                                                               Horton Foote  

When you’re a writer, you have to write these stories, even if you don’t get paid.”
                                                               Horton Foote 

Related posts: Screenwriting from Texas

 

Scott W. Smith

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“The Tennessee Williams we know and admire cannot be imagined without his long relationship with the Midwest.”  
                                                                                                                                            David Radavich

“I’m only really alive when I’m writing.”
Tennessee
 Williams

When you think of St. Louis the chances are good that you think of the iconic St. Louis Arch. (I took this picture on one of those perfect clear windy mornings one day when I was driving through town and it is majestic to see up close.) What’s probably lower on your St. Louis list is that writer Tennessee Williams grew up there.

Before I address the writers from Missouri let me first say that there would not be a Tennessee Williams without Iowa. Oh, there probably would still be a great American playwright but he might just be called him by his given name Tom. Tom Williams isn’t quite as memorable.  “I got the name of Tennessee,” said Williams, “when I was going to the State University of Iowa because the fellows in my class could only remember that I was from a Southern state with a long name.”

He was actually born in Columbus, Mississippi but Mississippi Williams doesn’t quite have the proper ring to it either so it’s a good thing his classmates got it wrong. Much of his early childhood was lived with his grandfather at the rectory of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

According to David Radavich, Williams said his childhood there was happy and carefree, but “this sense of belonging and comfort were lost, however, when his family moved to the urban environment of St. Louis, Missouri. It was there he began to look inward, and to write— ‘because I found life unsatisfactory.'” Williams struggled with depression and took comfort in his daily writing as well as the bottle.

“Whether or not we admit it to ourselves, we are all haunted by a truly awful sense of impermanence.”
 Tennessee Williams

The is no doubt that the Mississippi Delta shaped his imagination as it has so many others. Clarksdale is known as the birthplace of the blues and the location of the Crossroads intersection of Highways 61 and 49 where legend has it that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to play the guitar like he did.

Clarksdale’s where musicians Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke, Ike Turner, John Lee Hooker, and  W.C. Handy were born and where The Delta Blues Museum lives today.  If you’re anywhere in the Memphis area it’s worth a trip out of your way to visit.

But from the age of seven through the college years Williams lived in the Midwest mostly in St. Louis. Radavich writes, “In 1931, Williams was admitted to the University of Missouri where he saw a production of Ibsen’s Ghosts and decided to become a playwright. His journalism program was interrupted however, when his father forced him to withdraw from college to work at the International Shoe Company.”

Even though Williams is mostly remembered for his time in New Orleans, Key West, and New York, Missouri is where he would return to again and again, visiting his mother until she died in 1980. Williams died three years later and is buried in St. Louis.

Saturday night I went to see Williams’ 1955 Pulitzer Prize winning play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof here it Cedar Falls just a little over an hour away from where Williams studied playwriting at the University of Iowa where he graduated in 1938. The play brought back many memories.

When I lived in LA I studied acting for three years mostly at Tracey Roberts Actors Studio. Roberts was a talented actress in her day but never became a star. She was a wonderful teacher and encourager and herself had studied and performed with the greats of the Actors Studio – Lee Strasberg, Clifford Odets, Stella Adler, and Elia Kazan. (Sharon Stone and Laura Dern both studied with Roberts.)

It was at her studio that I began to appreciate good writing. In a scene study class I had with Arthur Mendoza we spent three months working on just the opening monologue of “The Glass Menagerie”:

“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion….”

And so it began. There was much to learn in three months just beyond getting the words down. Place, history, psychology, philosophy and sociology wrapped in Williams’ poetic style. Mendoza also stressed learning about the playwrights background so we studied that as well. It would do every writer good to take at least one acting class in their life. You’ll meet some actors and learn the process they go through in approaching your text.

As I did my scene the final day of class it was the one true moment I ever had as an actor where I felt totally in sync. We sometimes look back on any success big or small with regret but I look back on that day with satisfaction. (It was the highlight of my brief acting career, even bigger than the Dominos Pizza commercial I was in later. Though for the record, Domino’s founder Tom Monaghan’s two-story office in Ann Arbor, Michigan still holds the record for the largest office I’ve ever been in.)

Mendoza studied with Stellar Adler for 10 years and became the principal acting instructor at Stella Adler’s Studio where Benicio Del Toro studied with him. (Del Toro won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in Traffic.) Mendoza eventually formed the Actors Theater Circle in Hollywood where he still teaches today. He was the first to open my eyes to the classic playwrights. He threw out names of writers I had never heard of and said as actors we needed to be able to flip our pancakes and do them all.

During that time I found three books at a used bookstore on Main Street in Seal Beach, California that caused a shift in my thinking about the power of writing. For one dollar each I picked up the best plays of Ibsen, Chekhov, and Strindberg. Best three dollars I ever spent.

Strindberg did not stay with me but Ibsen and Chekhov have been lifelong friends. Only recently did I find out Ibsen’s Ghost influence on Williams. Which makes perfect sense given Williams fascination of dealing with the sins of the father being visited on the son. Williams tapped into the southern-family-with-hidden-problems theme.

Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie had a Midwest beginning as it premiered in Chicago. He wrote fragile characters who were on the brink of hysteria. And he was rewarded well for such characters winning two Pulitzer Prizes along with two Oscar nominations.

Two other creative writing giants where also raised in Missouri, Mark Twain in Hannibal and Walt Disney in Marceline and Kansas City. (Both Hannibal and Marceline are less than an hour south of the Iowa border.) Marceline is said to be the inspiration behind Main Street USA at Disneyland and Walt Disney World in Orlando has Tom Sawyer’s Island. Exporting the Midwest for all the world to enjoy.

Other screenwriters born in  Missouri include William Rose who won an Oscar in 1968 for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, John Milius (Apocalypse Now), Langston Hughes (screenwriter & playwright), Dan O’bannon  (Alien), Honorary Academy Award Director/Screenwriter Robert Altman, and Oscar-winning director/writer John Huston (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre). That’s a deep rich heritage.

So Missouri joins the areas we’ve already looked at, Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin as more than capable of producing talented writers.

“Somehow I can’t believe there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secret of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C’s. They are Curiosity, Confidence, Courage, and Constancy and the greatest of these is Confidence. When you believe a thing, believe it all the way, implicitly and unquestionably.
Walt Disney

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Mark Twain

“I’m an airmail pilot. St. Louis to Springfield to Peoria to Chicago. The ocean can’t be any worse than snow, sleet and fog.” (Charles A. Lindbergh the night before his historic flight across the Atlantic ocean.)

The Spirit of St. Louis
Screenplay Billy Wilder
& Wendell Mayes
based on Lindbergh’s book

Photo & text copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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