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Posts Tagged ‘All the Presidents Men’

Driving from Minneapolis to Cedar Falls feels like a long commute because the three and a half hour drive literally involves heading south on Interstate 35 and making one turn. It’s a pretty mellow drive. There’s not much worth looking forward to once you’ve made the slight detour to visit the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota, the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa (where Buddy Holly played his last concert),and  The Music Man Square in Mason City (A museum dedicated to hometown writer Meredith Willson who wrote The Music Man).

There are a couple casinos along the way but they personally bore me. I am still fascinated by the hundreds of wind turbines scattered along the way, but my point is you have work a little to break up the drive a little if you take the Interstate. This past weekend I stopped at a discount bookstore and ended up picking up The First Time I Got Paid for It, Writers’ Tales from the Hollywood Trenches. It was edited by Peter Lefcourt and Laura J. Shapiro and has various stories by writers such as Cameron Crowe, Robin Swicord, and Gary Ross telling their stories of making their first bucks from writing.

The forward by William Goldman alone is worth the $1.99 I paid for the book. Here’s an excerpt:

“I was eighteen and an aunt gave me a copy of Mixed Company, a book of his (Irwin Shaw) collected stories. I’d never read a word by him, never heard his name. But I remember the lead story in the book was The Girls in Their Summer Dresses. About a guy who looked at women.

Followed by The Eighty Yard Run… Well, The Eighty Yard Run is about a football player. Shit, I remember thinking, you can do that? You can write about stuff I care about?…At eighteen, I began writing stories. Not a whole lot of acclaim. I took a creative writing class at Oberlin.  Everyone took it because it was a gut course. I wanted a career. Everyone got A’s and B’s, I got the only C…. I have, somewhere, hundreds of rejection slips…My confidence is not building through theses years. I hope you get that.”
William Goldman
Two-time Oscar Winner
Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid
All the President’s Men

It’s good to hear those kind of stories.

By the way, the first time I got paid to write anything was when I was a 19-year-old staff writer/photographer  for the Sanford Evening Herald and Sam Cook, the sports editor, paid me 10 cents a word (and a little extra for photos). That may not seem like much but those dimes add up, you know? (And it’s more than I’m paid for writing this blog.) And at 19 I also discovered Irwin Shaw’s The Eighty Yard Run. Still dreaming of an Oscar.

Update 9/30/09: I tracked Sam Cook down via the internet and found out he is now an award-winning columnist for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Florida where he specializes in stirring up trouble reporting on the local government. I sent him an email and he called me today and we spoke for the first time in a long time.

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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