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Posts Tagged ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade’

Live. Learn. Lead.
Motto of Oberlin, Ohio

Oberlin, Ohio map

Last year Oberlin was voted the “Best Hometown” in northeast Ohio by Ohio Magazine.  The city of just under 10,000 people was founded in 1833 by two Presbyterian ministers, and just happens to also be the place that helped develop two top Hollywood screenwriters. And while the city sits between Cleveland and Toledo it’s interesting to head over to Europe to see the original roots that links Oberlin to the Oscars.

Oberlin, Ohio was named after Jean-Frederic Oberlin (1740-1826) who was a German minister who worked to build a better community in the Le Ban de la Roche region in France.  (Known for his work in medicine, agricultural, helping to build roads, bridges and oraphanages—along with his spiritual teachings.)  The J.-F Oberlin Museum in Waldersbach is dedicated to celebrating his 59 years of ministry work in the remote valley.

Oberlin-Hollywood

Oberlin College was established in 1833 by the same two ministers who founded the town. According to Wikipedia, Oberlin was a key stop for the Underground Railroad in assisting escaped slaves and  the college  “was the first college in the United States to regularly admit African-American students, beginning in 1835.” And while Oberlin College is strong in the arts, and today has a Cinema Studies program, the school’s most successful screenwriters majored in different disciplines.

Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman was an English major at Oberlin before he wrote the novel Harper which led to a career in Hollywood. His best known films are Marathon Man, The Princess Bride, Misery, All the Presidents Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Goldman also wrote the insightful book Adventures in the Screen Trade:  A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting. That book includes the entire screenplay to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Though first published in 1982, it’s the first book any inspiring screenwriter should read. Here’s how Goldman introduced Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) in the screenplay.

A MAN idly walking around the building. He is BUTCH CASSIDY and hard to pin down. Thirty-five and bright, he has brown hair, but most people, if asked to describe him, would remember him as blond. He speaks well and quickly, and has been all his life a leader of men, but if you asked him, he would be damned if he could tell you why.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Written by William Goldman

The other screenwriter from Oberlin is Mark Boal who majored in philosophy. While the much respected Goldman is on the tail-end of his career, Boal who graduated from Oberlin in ’95 is at the front end of his career but already has four Oscar nominations for his work writing and producing Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, resulting in two-Oscar wins. Here’s how Boal introduced Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) in The Hurt Locker:

Working the joystick on the laptop is SERGEANT J.T. SANDBORN, a type-A jock, high school football star, cocky, outgoing, ready with a smile and quick with a joke…or, if you prefer , a jab to the chin. Think Muhammad Ali with a rifle.

I couldn’t tell you another connection between Goldman and Boal, but for the sake of this blog, two great screenwriters passing through the same small city decades apart makes it a city of interest. And a reminder that talent comes from everywhere.

Related posts:

William Goldman Stands Alone
Screenwriting Quote #118 (William Goldman)
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio
Toy Story 3’s Ohio Connections
Screenwriter Ernest R. Tidyman
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
Descriptive Writing—Pt 3, Characters

Scott W. Smith

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(The theme of  Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid is) times are changing, and you have to change with them—if you want to survive.”
William Goldman
Adventures in the Screen Trade


“I don’t know if you saw the parting of the Red Sea with the chariots on the horses, I did stuff like that.”
Richard Farnswort
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After I posted the above Goldman comment yesterday on the post titled Writing “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” it jogged my memory of another story about a career transition—both fictional and real life. The Grey Fox was released in 1982 about a decade after Butch Cassidy, but there are some similarities, mostly the concept of change in the Old West.

Richard Farnsworth plays a former stagecoach robber who is released from San Quintin after serving 33 years for his crimes. When he gets out in 1903 it’s a new world—the stagescoaches are out and movies are in. His character, Bill Miner, goes to see The Great Train Robbery and is inspired to take up his old ways yet with a new fresh angle.

It’s been many years since I’ve seen the film so I’ll rely on Rodger Ebert’s account to bring us all up to speed:

“(The Great Train Robbery.) That famous movie is only eleven minutes long, but long enough to make everything absolutely clear to Miner, who realizes he has a new calling in life, as a train robber. All of this could, of course, be an innocuous Disney movie, but it’s well-written and directed, and what gives it zest and joy is the performance by Richard Farnsworth, who plays Miner. Maybe you’ll recognize Farnsworth when you see him on the screen. Maybe not. His life has been one of those careers that makes you realize Hollywood is a company town, where you can make a living for years and never be a star. Farnsworth has been in more than three hundred movies.”
Roget Ebert
Chicago Sun-Times, The Grey Fox
January 1. 1982

Though Farnsworth had been in more than 300 films, they were mostly as a stuntman. He doubled for some of Hollywood’s most well-known actors; Roy Rogers, Gary Cooper, Kirk Douglas, Henry Ford, Montgomery Clift, and Steve McQueen. You think he might have picked up a thing or two about acting from those fellows because after 30 years as a stuntman he began acting.

And he did it well enough to receive a Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination in 1979 for his role in Comes a Horseman and another Oscar nomination for Lead Actor in David Lynch’s The Straight Story (that was filmed right here in Iowa). He was 79 at the time of the nomination making him the oldest actor to ever receive a best actor nomination.

You may also remember his roles in The Natural, The Two Jakes, and Misery. I had the good fortune to meet Richard Farnsworth at a movie theater in Burbank some time in the 80s. Nothing exciting, he was just standing in front of me waiting to buy popcorn or whatever.

“Are you Richard Farnsworth?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I appreciate your work.”
“Thank You.”

He smiled and we shook hands. This was in the days before IMDB so I didn’t know in that simple exchange I was shaking hands with a man who was a real life Forrest Gump in the film industry having been in some legendary Hollywood productions;   Gone with the Wind, Gunga Din, The Ten Commandments, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Roots, Bonanza, The Wild One,  Blazing Saddles, Spartacus and many others.

That means to one degree or another he worked with John Wayne, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando, Mel Brooks, Howard Hawks,  Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood and Cecil B. DeMille.

I don’t know how long stuntman work on a regular basis in Hollywood, but it has to take its toll on your body.  Farnsworth’s last credit as a stuntman was 1975 when he would have been 55. He was almost 60 when his acting career took off. He changed with the times.

By the way, the screenwriter of The Grey Fox, John Hunter,  was no spring chicken himself and was 71 when the movie was released.

Oh yeah, Farnsworth did stunts in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, too.

Scott W. Smith


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Every once in a while I pick up William Goldman’s book Adventures in the Screen Trade and flip through it. I don’t know if that or Syd Fields’ book Screenplay was the first book on screenwriting I ever read, but I remember discovering them both while in film school. Many have built on the foundation of structure that Fields laid out, but I don’t think that any writer has come close to writing a better overall book on screenwriting than Goldman’s since it was published back in 1983.

Goldman stands alone in being able to have a long lasting career as a screenwriter with a string of great movies as well as being able to explain the process of screenwriting. I’d guess that 90% of all screenwriting teachers and screenwriting book authors have never had a feature film produced from their work, and probably 8% have had movies made that were made but you’ve never heard of, never saw, did poorly at the box office, or did okay at the box office but really weren’t that good.

So for  William Goldman to write the national bestseller Adventures in the Screen Trade and also write the screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, The Princess Bride, Misery, and All the President’s Men is unbelievable. And that doesn’t include all his films or all the script doctoring he’s done, or the two Oscars he’s won.

As a living, breathing screenwriter William Goldman is a giant and he stands alone. So if you haven’t read Adventures in the Screen Trade, seen his movies, or read his scripts, you now know where to start to begin understand screenwriting. All I’m doing here is pointing the way.

I’d also like to point out that Goldman has strong Midwest roots. He was born in Chicago and raised in Highland Park, Illinois and received his undergraduate degree in English from Oberlin College in Ohio.  After getting his master’s at Columbia, Goldman wrote the novel Harper which got the attention of Paul Newman who would star in the film version of that book. (It’s worth noting that Newman was just a few years older than Goldman and had graduated from Kenyon College, also in Ohio.)

It’s also worth noting that before Goldman turned his talents to screenwriting he had already written five novels and had three plays on Broadway.

“If you want to be a screenwriter and you live in Des Moines, that’s a terrible curse to bear. It’s a terrible curse in Los Angeles, too—but at least you’re not alone. And oh boy, when you’re beginning, does that matter….”
William Goldman
Adventures in the Screen Trade
page 84

Now Goldman wrote those words over 25 years ago and while it still may be a curse to want to be a screenwriter, at least the Internet has helped writers have one big support group. A great place to get information and network. And these days there are writers groups all over the country—even in Des Moines, Iowa. Not to mention filmmakers, too. (And don’t forget those film incentives.)

Tomorrow we’ll look at a couple recent success stories that couldn’t have happened 25-years ago.

(And just for the record, Des Moines is so hip these days it’s now known as DeMo. At least that’s what is known as by some of the creatives who live and work in the East Village.)

Scott W. Smith

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William Goldman is a great writer. And a pretty good prophet.

His book Adventures in the Screen Trade was one of the first books I read about the movie business. And I read it when it first came out back in 1983 when I was living in Burbank and lusting after that Kaypro II computer that was going to help me buy a house in Malibu.

I never did get a Kaypro II and here I am in Iowa. 

But I have read (and flipped through) Adventures in the Screen Trade so many times its spine is broken in three places. It looks kinda how you’d imagine Billy Graham’s bible to look like.

Goldman is another Chicago-born writer, who also just happened to win two Oscars for the screenplays All the President’s Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  He also wrote the scripts for The Princess Bride and Misery. He could afford a house in Malibu, but he lives instead in New York City.

Goldman’s book is full of insights and wisdom from the inside. I’ll avoid his more commonly quoted writings in favor of this one:

      “There’s a whole world of subject matter that will never be touched by the major studios. Because the executives know the sort of film that may work.  Just like the bright boys in Detroit knew, a while back, that what the American public really wanted was a great big glossy gas-guzzling car. And all that interest that was starting in Japanese cars?
     Just another nonrecurring phenomenon….”
                                              William Goldman
                                               Adventures in the Screen Trade
                                              Page 52

It’s interesting that he wrote that over 25 years ago. You’d think Detroit would have learned something in that time. And it’s interesting that I read that yesterday when it was announced that car sales in December were down more than a third ending the weakest year in over a decade. Chrysler had sales drop by 53 present. I’m guessing my Durango SUV is worth just a little more than a Kaypro II. 

And you’d think Hollywood studios would have learned something in that time. And maybe they have on the distribution side with the success of independent films over the years. And fortunately today there are many other ways today  to get those films made that normally wouldn’t be touched by major studios. And once the Internet-driven distribution door opens up for independent filmmakers then the winds of change that rocked the music industry will happen throughout the land.

And for that reason you should keep writing about subject matters you are passionate about.  And check out the post
Screenwriting and the Little Fat Girl in Ohio.

 

copyright 2009 Scott W. Smith

Bonus Kaypro hacker quote from the movie The Score:  “Give me a Kaypro 64 and a dialtone and I can do anything.”

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“When you drink from the well, remember the well-digger.”
Chinese proverb

©2008 Scott W. Smith

Last Sunday one of my partners at River Run Productions had 15 seconds to make it into his basement with his wife and dog before an EF 5 rated tornado ripped through his Parkersburg, Iowa home.

In less than a minute his house was gone and both cars totaled. But he, his wife and dog were safe. A total of seven people were killed in the storm and over 200 homes were destroyed and another 400 damaged.

Iowa is no stranger to tornadoes, but this one was the most powerful to hit the state in over 30 years. It’s one more reminder that things can change in a New York minute—or even an Iowa minute.

Friday I went to Parkersburg to shoot footage of the destruction and interviews for an insurance company.  I have been through a hurricane in Florida and a major earthquake in California and I have never personally seen the devastation that I saw as the result of that tornado.

From where I took the above photo, every direction I looked basically looked the same. It’s amazing that more people weren’t killed. Human beings tend to have short memories so this is one more thing to help remind us how fragile life is.

I’ve written a lot about writing on this blog but not much about keeping life in perspective with a creative career. The fact is most of us have difficulty balancing our lives.

I’ve collected some of my favorite quotes over the years that are a little random, but I hope there’s something in here that you can hang your hat on—or at least cause you to smile or reflect on your life and dreams. But mainly I want you to understand that whatever creative dreams you have there’s more to life than chasing that rainbow.

“My biggest disappointment so far is that having a career has not made me happy.”
                                                                        Shane Black
Was paid $1.7m for The Last Boy Scout 

“It’s an accepted fact that all writers are crazy, even the normal ones are weird.
William Goldman
                                                                         Adventures in the Screen Trade                                                                  

 “I don’t dress until 5 p.m. I have a bathrobe that can stand…Yes, I am divorced. One writes because one literally couldn’t get another job or has no choice.”
Akiva Goldsman
 A Beautiful Mind
 

“I got into screenwriting for the best of all reasons: I got into it for self-therapy.”
                                                                                      Paul Schrader
                                                                                      Taxi Driver

“For the first couple of years that I wrote screenplays, I was so nervous about what I was doing that I threw up before I began writing each morning. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s much better than reading what you’ve written at the end of the day and throwing up.”
Joe Eszterhas

“I’m not very good at writing. If I succeed, it’s by fluke.”
Shane Black
Lethal Weapon

“If you get rejected, you have to persist. Don’t give up. It was the best advice I ever got.”
Anna Hamilton Phelan
                                                                                      Mask

“The myth about me is that I sold my first screenplay and it’s true. But I had also worked very hard as a fiction writer for ten years and that’s how I learned the craft of telling stories.”
Akiva Goldman
                                                                                       A Beautiful Mind
                                                                                       (He also has a masters
in fiction from NYU)

“I spent 18 years doing stand up comedy. Ten years learning, four years refining, and four years of wild success.” (It’s worth noting that Martin was on top when he walked away from stand up comedy and never performed as a comedian again.)
Steve Martin
                                                                                         Born Standing Up
           

“Starting in 2002, I knew for a fact that I had to get out of this business. It was too hard. It wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough, it was that it was too hard. What kept me in it was laziness and fear. It would be nice to say it was passion and I’m a struggling artist who didn’t give up on his craft. All of that sounds good, but the truth is it was laziness and fear.”
Alan Loeb
Things We Lost in the Fire

“Like the career of any athlete, an artist’s life will have its injuries. These go with the game. The trick is to survive them, to learn how to let yourself heal.”
                                                                                        Julia Cameron
The Artist’s Way
Dee: “Jane, do you ever feel like you’re just this far from being completely hysterical 24 hours a day?”
Jane: “Half the people I know feel that way. The lucky ones feel that way. The rest of the people are hysterical 24 hours a day.”

                                                                                       from Lawrence Kasden’s
                                                                                       Grand Canyon


“We’re constantly buying crap we don’t need and devoting ourselves to endeavors which, perhaps on reflection, with a little bit of distance, would reveal themselves to be contrary to our own best interest.”
                                                               David Mamet      

Everything in this town (L.A.) plays into the easy buttons that get pushed and take people off their path; greed, power, glamour, sex, fame.”
                                                                                       Ed Solomon
  Men in Black

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.
Stephen King

So life in general is hard, and being a writer or in the creative arts is a double helping of difficulty.

Several years ago Stephen King was hit by a van when he was on a walk. One leg was broken in nine places and his knee was reduced to “so many marbles in a sock,” his spine was chipped in eight places, four ribs were broken, and a laceration to his scalp required 30 stitches. It was as if his characters Annie Wilkes (Misery) and Cujo had ganged up on him.

But he had learned a thing or two about adversity after an earlier bout with drugs and alcohol that he eventually won. One of thing things he learned was to not to get a massive desk and put it in the center of the room like he did early in his career. That is, writing shouldn’t be the most important thing in your life.

“Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room.  Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”
Stephen King

Two years ago I produced a DVD based on the book Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. The concept was to shoot a Koyaanisqatsi-style video that that showed the arc of life from birth to death. I shot footage from New York City to Denver. I shot footage of a one day old baby in a hospital, people walking into an office building in Cleveland, snow failing in a cemetery and the like.  One of the shots for that video was in Parkersburg, Iowa.

It was a traditional Friday night high school football game at Aplington-Parkersburg High School. (What makes this school unique is though the town only has a population of 2,000 it currently has 4 active graduates playing in the NFL.)  That high school building is a total loss because of the tornado. Here’s a photo of the scoreboard sign that was blown down during the storm.

There will always be the storms of life. And as I’ve written before, movies can help us endure those storms and even inspire us. (“Throughout most of the Depression, Americans went assiduously, devotedly, almost compulsively, to the movies.”-Carlos Stevens) So work on your craft because we need great stories that give us a sense of direction, but don’t waste your life just writing screenplays.

words & photos copyright ©2008  Scott W. Smith

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“I think screenplays should be written with as much speed as possible.” 

William Goldman, Two-time Oscar Winner

(All the President’s Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)

 

Do you want to do something foolish this April?

Why not write a screenplay in one month?

I’m not joking.

I know there are a zillion reason why you can’t do it…but it can be done. Stallone wrote Rocky in less than a week. Ditto that for Joe Eszterhas writing Basic Instinct.

Granted it took Arthur Miller six weeks to write Death of a Salesman, but let’s not shoot for such lofty goals this time around.

 

“It’s important to write quickly because creativity comes from the unconscious.

William Mastrosimone

(Extremities)

When you write quickly you write from the subconscious. It was said that Jack Kerouac used to take a butcher roll of paper and just keep writing. (Let me sneak an Iowa reference in here…In “On the Road,” Kerouac wrote, “the prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines.”)

But those moments seem to be rare for any writers so you need to grab a hold of them when they come.

(To see a great shot of Kerouac’s roll of writing check out the trailer for a new documentary call One.Fast.Move.or.I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sir directed by Curt Worden. That looks like a great film.)

I think if you read the tips on this blog it will help you get out of the gate. There is a wonderful book on screenwriting by Viki King titled, How to Write a Movie in 20 Days that is a fitting book to recommend.

The title isn’t the only thing that’s kept this book in circulation longer than most. Most books on screenwriting tend to be written by men and tend to be analytical in nature. Viki brings some nurturing skills to the table. Like, it’s okay to write. And all artists need encouragement .

But the main thing I like about the book is she says day one—write ten pages. Just like that. The crazy thing is you can do it. It may be like learning the game of chess, you may not be any good at the game but at least you’re playing.

Don’t have a computer or screenwriting software? That’s okay, there are still successful screenwriters who prefer to write on a typewriter (Joe Eszterhas, his films have earned over a billion dollars at the box office) or to hand write their scripts (Emma Thompson, Oscar winner for Sense and Sensibility)

Need a little more inspiration? Accountability? Competition?

Script Frenzy may be for you. I don’t know much about it but beginning today there are 6,460 writers signed up to write at least a 100 page original screenplay within the next 30 days. Check it out at http://www.scriptfrenzy.org/ (Kids and teens can get into the act as well through a separate challenge.)

And once you hit that deadline you can turn around and send your script to The Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting whose deadline is May 1, 2008. 

That fellowship attracts the best screenwriters who have never sold a script. Past winners include Michael A. Rich (Finding Forrester), Doug Atchison (Akeelah and the Bee), Susannah Grant (who went on to write Erin Brockovich). It’s not free to enter and the competition is stiff. But remember, we are talking about screenwriting here.

Heck, half the writers in the WGA didn’t earn any money writing last year. You do this because you have a passion and desire to write and tell stories. And like riding a bike the more you do it the better you’ll get. (And not too many people get paid to ride a bike either. But there’s satisfaction there.)

Then after you’ve written your script in 30 days, and entered it in the Nicholl Fellowship you can take a month or so and polish your script for the June 15, 2008 deadline for Final Draft’s Big Break screenwriting contest.   

I still think most screenwriting contests are money makers for the groups and people that sponsor them, but if it keeps you turning out pages that’s good. And writers have launched careers through them so don’t rule them out. Just be careful where you send your money because at $50. a pop that adds up.

But mainly focus on writing and marketing your writing.  Meaning you should be contacting producers, agents, and anyone related to the industry that can get your work read. That includes the local production talent wherever you live.

Be like that protagonist you are writing about; willing to overcome obstacles to go to the end of the line to achieve a goal. And if you can write a screenplay in 30 days you can at least cross that off your bucket list.

 

Scott W. Smith

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