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Posts Tagged ‘Arthur Miller’

The following comments are from five time Oscar-nominated writer/director Sidney Lumet (The Verdict, Dog Day Afternoon, Prince of the City,  12 Angry Men, Network):

“When I first meet with the screenwriter, I never tell him anything, even if I feel there’s a lot to be done. Instead I ask him the same question I’ve asked myself: What is the story about? What did you see? What was your intention? Ideally, if we do this well, what do you hope the audience will feel, think, sense? In what mood do you want them to leave the theater? 

“We are two different people trying to combine our talents, so it’s critical that we agree on the intention of the screenplay. Under the best circumstances, what will emerge is a third intention, which neither of us saw at the beginning….[Arthur Miller] said that he loved seeing what his work evoked in others. The result could contain revelations, feelings, and ideas that he never knew existed when he wrote the play. It’s what we all hope for.

“…Of course, the original intent is present. But all of the individual contributions from all the different departments add up to a total far greater than their individual parts. Moviemaking works very much like an orchestra: the addition of various harmonies can change, enlarge, and clarify the nature of the theme.”
Sidney Lumet (1924-2011)
Making Movies 
Pages 29-30, 46

Related post:
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)
Sidney Lumet on Theme
Arthur Miller on Writing
Sidney Lumet (1924-2011)

Scott W. Smith

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“Baseball players say they don’t have to look to see if they hit a home run, they can feel it. So I wish for you a moment—a moment soon—when you really put the bat on the ball, when you really get a hold of one and drive it into the upper deck, when you feel it.”
Producer/screenwriter Aaron Sorkin
Syracuse University’s 2012 commencement speech 

Just today I learned that I share not only a birthday month with Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), but we were born the same year.  That’s about where the similarities end. (Well, he co-wrote Moneyball and I’ve seen that movie a bunch of times so we have that in common, too.)

One of the themes of Moneyball is how one can have incredible baseball talent in high school—even be a first round pick—and still not have an appreciable career in the major leagues. While I imagine the attrition rate is pretty high of writers, directors, and actors who hit the ground running with Sorkin after he graduated from Syracuse University in 1983, he’s been able to find tremendous and lasting success in both film and television.

In the great production pyramid today, Sorkin is tucked away somewhere in the little corner at the top. So when MasterClass announced last week it was soon releasing Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting, a 5 hour plus video workshop, I was pretty excited about the news.

I haven’t seen the MasterClass videos, but can’t imagine it not being worth the time and money ($90.) to gather a few takeaways on your way to becoming a better writer. Here’s a list of Aaron Sorkin-centered posts I’ve written over the years that give you a glimpse into what he could touch on:

Aaron Sorkin’s Survival Jobs
Aaron Sorkin on Failure
Sorkin’s Emotional Drive
Aaron Sorkin on Theme, Intention & Obstacles
Movie Cloning (Aaron Sorkin)
Screenwriting Quote #43 (Aaron Sorkin)
Writing ‘The Social Network’ (Part 1)
Writing ‘The Social Network’ (Part 2)
Writing ‘A Few Good Men’
‘Moneyball’ & Coach Ferrell 

And since those Sorkin teaching videos won’t be released until later this month, here’s a story from his graduation speech where he talks about a lesson he learned while a student:

“As a freshman drama student, I had a play analysis class—it was part of my requirement.  The professor was Gerardine Clark. The play analysis class met for 90 minutes twice a week.  We read two plays a week and we took a 20-question true or false quiz at the beginning of the session that tested little more than whether or not we’d read the play.  The problem was that the class was at 8:30 in the morning, it met all the way down on East Genesee, I lived all the way up at Brewster/Boland, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but from time to time the city of Syracuse experiences inclement weather.  All this going to class and reading and walking through snow, wind chill that’s apparently powered by jet engines, was having a negative effect on my social life in general and my sleeping in particular.  At one point, being quizzed on Death of a Salesman, a play I had not read, I gave an answer that indicated that I wasn’t aware that at the end of the play the salesman dies.  And I failed the class.  I had to repeat it my sophomore year; it was depressing, frustrating and deeply embarrassing.    And it was without a doubt the single most significant event that occurred in my evolution as a writer.  I showed up my sophomore year and I went to class, and I paid attention, and we read plays and I paid attention, and we discussed structure and tempo and intention and obstacle, possible improbabilities, improbable impossibilities, and I paid attention, and by God when I got my grades at the end of the year, I’d turned that F into a D.  I’m joking: it was pass/fail.”
Aaron Sorkin

And just to make that lesson a It’s a Wonderful Life moment, years later Sorkin was asked by Arthur Miller if he could fill in as a guest lecturer at NYU where the subject was Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. (Cue the Walk of Life music.)

Related posts:
Can Screenwriting Be Taught?
Screenwriting Quote #175 (Arthur Miller) 
Murray, Miller & Mass Appeal (Tip #78)
Volcanic Emotions & Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller on Writing
What Would Miller Do?
The Best Film School 

Related Professor posts:
Professor Stephen King
Professor Jerry Lewis (The Total Filmmaker)
Professor/Pirate Steven Soderbergh

P.S. On a micro doc I made a couple of years ago, I started off a quote from Moneyball:

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“I wish I had a theater that was only open when it rained…I like it when people come up to me the next day or a week later and they say, ‘I saw your play—what happened?'”
Bill Murray as the playwright Jeff in Tootsie

“You can’t have a theater based upon anything other than a mass audience if it’s going to succeed. The larger the better. It’s the law of the theater. In the Greek audience fourteen thousand people sat down at the same time, to see a play. Fourteen thousand people! And nobody can tell me that those people were all readers of The New York Review of Books! Even Shakespeare was smashed around in his time by university people….because he was reaching for those parts of man’s makeup which respond to melodrama, broad comedy, violence, dirty words, and blood. Plenty of blood, murder, and not very well motivated at that.”
Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman)
Playwrights at Work, Page 171

Related Posts:

Screenwriting Quote #175 (Arthur Miller)
Volcanic Emotions & Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller on Writing
What Would Arthur Miller Do?
“Tootsie” at 30
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) “The reason that I am a writer today is Shakespeare.”—John Logan
There’s Something About Jerry“No artist—notably no film or television writer—need apologize for entertaining an assembled mass of people.” Richard Walter (UCLA screenwriting professor)

Scott W. Smith

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 “You’d be hard pressed to remember dialogue in some of the great pictures that you’ve seen. That’s why pictures are so international. You don’t have to hear the dialogue in an Italian movie or a French movie. We’re watching the film so that the vehicle is not the ear or the word, it’s the eye. The director of a play is nailed to the words. He can interpret them a little differently, but he has his limits: you can only inflect a sentence in two or three different ways, but you can inflect an image on the screen in an infinite number of ways. You can make one character practically fall out of the frame; you can shoot it where you don’t even see his face. Two people can be talking, and the man talking cannot be seen, so the emphasis is on the reaction to the speech rather than on the speech itself.”
Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman, The Crucible)
Playwrights at Work

Page 163

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“When I write a script, I am telling a story that comes from my heart.”
Matthew Weiner, 9-time Emmy winning writer/producer (The Sopranos, Mad Men)

“He had a home,
The love of a girl,
But men get lost sometimes,
As years unfurl”
New York Minute
Lyrics by Don Henley, Danny Korthchmar, Jai L. Winding

I’m on a steady Mad Men diet. No, I didn’t see the season premiere of the Emmy-winning AMC TV program earlier this week. Not being a regular TV watcher it takes me a little time to commit to watching a show. But once I’m in, I’m all in. This week alone I’ve watched 9 episodes. (All which aired originally in 2007.)

It’s really more of a workout—literally. At the gym I set either a stationary bike or an elliptical machine for 47 minutes. (The length of an episode.) And I’ve even switched machines and watched shows back to back. So if you had a sedate winter give that Mad Men diet and workout a try. (Results vary.)

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”— but it sure can make for good drama. It worked for Arthur Miller in Death of a Salesman and it works for Matthew Weiner and his writing team for Mad Men. In fact, the subtitle of Man Men could borrow words from Thoreau; “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Mad Men is everything that television usually isn’t; intelligent, philosophical, contemplative, and even spiritual. (Along with a good deal of smoking, drinking, and philandering.) And its use of subtext and visual storytelling* exceeds what you’ll find in the typical Hollywood feature film.

So I thought I’d find a little inspiration today for you from the Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner.

“Writers were idolized in my home. My parents had a big poster picture of Ernest Hemingway on a wall in a hallway in our house. I thought I was going to be a poet and that I would find some other profession, teaching or something, to support me. After I graduated from film school at the University of Southern California, it was about 10 years before I got a paying job in the industry, but I never gave myself a time limit. I wrote the pilot episode for Mad Men in 1999 at night while I already had a job, and finally got it produced in 2006.”
Matthew Weiner
A Conversation with Matthew Weiner by Bob Fisher 

Don’t gloss over that 10 year deal. It was 10 years after Weiner earned his MFA from USC that he got “a paying job in the industry.” He also did his undergraduate work at Wesleyan University where he was in “a Great Books program with philosophy, literature and history mixed together.” Smart cookie, with educated and affluent parents, but it still took him 10 years to get a paying job in the industry. Say he’s 24 when he gets his Master’s degree, that puts him at 34 before his career started to take off.

I don’t know what he did in that ten-year period, but I bet he was cranking out pages. (He did have some scripts optioned for free.)

“I’ve learned that tenacity is a common part of the personalities of successful writers whom I have met. Now, maybe because I have had some success, I can say that the struggling  for the 10 years or so before I got a paying  job, made me a better writer.”
Matthew Weiner

Looking for a word today to put on a 3X5 card to place on the wall behind your computer? Try tenacity. Meaning persistent, relentless—like a dog on a bone.

P.S. From the quirky connection category. Weiner is four years younger than me an attended the all-boys prep school Harvard in Los Angeles (Now the co-ed Harvard-Westlake School). When I was in film school I worked for Yary Photography taking pictures of sports groups throughout Southern California. I did several shoots at the Harvard School when I was 21/22-years-old. Weiner would have been a 17/18-year-old student meaning if he played sports our paths could have crossed for a fleeting moment.

And for what it’s worth, writer-director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) is also an alumni of the Harvard-Westlake School where the tuition for this school year is $30,000.

P.P.S. Care for a Midwest angle on Mad Men? Jon Hamm, who plays creative director Don Draper was born in St. Louis, Missouri and graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Missouri. Same school Brad Pitt attended. Ironically, neither of the future stars and Sexist Men Alive were theater majors at the Columbia, MO college. And January Jones (who plays Don’s wife Betty) was born and raised in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (about 10 miles from the Iowa border).

* Visual storytelling Mad Men example: In the episode Long Weekend, the number #2 man at the advertising agency Sterling-Cooper calls a secretary into his office (who is having an affair with) and just before she closes the door to his office she decides to leave it ajar about a foot. Nothing said, but so much implied. As the scene plays on it turns out she has seen Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960), and  sympathizes with the Shirley MacLaine character and wonders if she herself is just being used.

Related posts:

Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
“Unstoppable” Wesleyan University
Screenwriting Quote #32 (Mad Men)
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) John Logan’s (Hugo, Rango) 10 year struggle as a writer.

Scott W. Smith

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Here are several quotes pulled from the Ralph Keyes book The Courage to Write:

“I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.”
E.B White 

“The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.”
Arthur Miller 

“If we had to say what writing is, we would have to define it essentially as an act of courage.”
Cynthia Ozick 

“When an interviewer asked Anne Sexton what a writing class could offer students, Sexton replied, ‘Courage, of course. That’s the most important ingredient.’ Writing programs can provide a safe haven, a sparsely filled theater in which to practice lines before facing the trauma of an audience.”
Ralph Keyes

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Today I started reading Kazan on Directing, which is based on the notes of director Elia Kazan. Kazan who directed the classic (and Oscar-winning) On the Waterfront. Kazan has been called by Martin Scorsese as, “one of the most important figures in the history of movies. It’s that simple.”

Of course, Kazan first may inroads in the theater first where he was an actor in Clifford Odets plays, before going on to work on Broadway with Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams.

He went on to be nominated for a total of seven Academy Awards, winning two and also an Honorary Oscar Award in 1999.

For the next few days I’ll be pulling quotes and sections from his book.

“The first problem of the director then is to determine what his direction is to be. And as this direction is to give organic unity to the whole production, his first job is to find a ‘center’ or ‘core’ for the work and for production. Once it is established the base decision has been made. All else devolves from this.

The director has to restate succinctly the play, its meaning and form, in his own terms; he has to reconceive it as if he had created it. What does it mean to him? What does it arouse in him? how does the manuscript affect his soul? In short, what is his relationship as an artist to this document, this manuscript?

It is not necessary that the director’s reaction match the author’s intention. Different periods have different values and meanings. And a director might want to produce a work for reasons other than the writer’s. Examples abound; the clearest is Shakespearean productions from Shakespeare’s time to ours.

Therefore, the director’s first question in approaching the script is not what the author intended, but what is his own response as an independent artist.”
Elia Kazan

Now you know why there are creative differences in theater and film productions.

Scott W. Smith

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