Posts Tagged ‘Alvin Sargent’

“One of the things I’d like to pass on to any aspiring writers out there— very simple litmus test about what you should be writing or what you shouldn’t be writing; Never ever write a movie that you yourself wouldn’t pay to see.”
Screenwriter Billy Ray (The Hunger Games, Captain Phillips)
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters interview with Mike De Luca

“We’re all really lucky if we can make a living in this business, and we’re all overpaid. And it’s really hard to get paid as a screenwriter and to do well. But I’ve never once sat down at the computer because I was being paid. Never. It’s just not enough reason to write. Writing’s just too hard. You gotta have something that inspires you more than the money. Something has to speak to your spirit.”
Billy Ray

P.S. Here we are on day four of the Screenwriting Summer School and one interesting thing I learned from The Dialogue interviews is that both Billy Ray and Susannah Grant, before they became working screenwriters, had early connections with Oscar-winning screenwriter Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People, Julia). Grant’s aunt was married to Alvin’s brother (Herb Sargent) who was a six-time Emmy-winning writer with Saturday Night Live.  Ray’s father was actually Sargent’s agent. I’m not saying that connection helped their careers—but I’d bet it sure didn’t hurt either career. (Sargent’s first credit was in 1957 and his last one was in 2012 —The Amazing Spider-Man.

Summer School homework: If you can meet a living screenwriter whose career has spanned 50+ years—do it.

Related post: How Much Do Screenwriters Make?

 Scott W. Smith

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“I have no daily process. I have trouble calling myself a writer. It was never a plan of mine. I learned to type in the Navy’s communication corps, learned Morse code and how to type at 100 words a minute (I never went to war). Typing was a skill I took advantage of. I like dialogue, exploring behavior. Behavior takes you everywhere – beyond imagination for a character. It runs you into other people’s behavior and so the battleground is set.”
Two-time Ocar-winning screenwriter Alvin Sargent
WGA Interview by Denis Faye  

Ordinary People (1980) won four Oscars including Best Picture and Alvin Sargent’s screenplay.  It’s a movie full of conflict, including this “battleground” scene on a golf course—that’s also a great example of sweeping emotional change that transpires in just two minutes:

P.S. Over the weekend Sargent turned 87 years old. Happy Birthday Alvin.

Related post:
Everything I Learned in Film School (Tip #1)
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Conflict: What? vs. How?

Scott W. Smith





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Paper Moon (1973) was Tatum O’Neal’s first film and she walked away with the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She was 10 years old, which is still the record for the youngest Oscar-winning actor or actress. And while she’s terrific the entire film, her line, “I want my $200!” (see the scene below) was her “Show me the money!”-like line from Jerry Maguire. Never underestimate the power and resonance of one emotional line on an audience.

Paper Moon was the third Hollywood studio film directed by Peter Bogdanovich and his third successful film in a row following The Last Picture show and What’s Up, Doc?  To have a streak of three critical and financial successes out of the gate was an amazing feat, but as we’ll see in tomorrow’s post, it would not last.

Bogdanovich’s life after Paper Moon, after he’d reached the mountain top, would become a cautionary tale. As the saying goes, “Success is a poor teacher.” But he’s a survivor and he still has stories to tell—lessons to pass on—which is why when the dust settles I will have written about him for two straight weeks.

At the 4:40 mark when Tatum O’Neal’s character says, “Then get it,” the direction Bogdanovich gave her was to say it like John Wayne would. Also, if you notice the up until the 2:00 mark the perspective of the scene is played from the inside looking out and then it shifts to outside (though technically inside the restaurant) looking in breaking the 180 rule. But Bogdanovich covers it “by cutting on movement”—when Ryan O’Neal leans over to get some relish— so the audience doesn’t notice the perspective shift. A trick he said he learned from Howard Hawks.

Paper Moon was written by Joe David Brown and  Alvin Sargent (based on Sargent’s novel Addie Play). It was Brown’s last film and he died in 1976, Sargent later won two-Oscars (Ordinary People, Julia) and was one of the co-writers on The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).

P.S. On the Paper Moon director’s commentary Bogdanovich says that though the novel was a southern story, he thought it would be more interesting to put it somewhere else and remembered how flat Kansas was when he once drove through the Midwest. They shot the movie in and around Hays, Kansas and St. Joseph, Missouri. The opening of the scene above was shot in  Gorham, Kansas. (Named after E.D. Gorham once described by the Kansas City Star as “the largest landowner in western Kansas, and perhpas the richest man in that part of the state.” Always comes back to money, right?) The opening title graphics were found in Kansas City by the film’s production designer Polly Platt when scouting locations.

Scott W. Smith

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