Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Ben Affleck’

“A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing, always be closing.”
Blake (Alec Baldwin) in Glengarry Glen Ross


Do you remember Pete Jones? He’s the guy who was the first writer/director picked by Project Greenlight to have a movie made. He has a new movie out today called Hall Pass starring Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis. (Jones is credited as co-writer with Kevin Barnett, along with the Farrelly bothers from There’s Something About Mary fame.)

Ten years ago Jones was this guy in Chicago selling insurance and hoping to be one of the lucky ones chosen by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to have their script plucked from the Internet to be made into a movie. The result was the movie Stolen Summer. It was far from a blockbuster film, but it launched Jones’ career.

Back in ’03 or ’04 I met Jones in West Hollywood. I was in LA for a TV program I was producing and the cameraman on that shoot was Pete Biagi. Biagi is well-known in indie circles in Chicago and was the director of photography on Stolen Summer. So when we wrapped our shooting after a of couple of days Biagi called up Jones and a small group of us had dinner at the Formosa Cafe in West Hollywood.

The Formosa is one of those classic old Hollywood restaurants that’s been around since the ‘30s and whose guests over the years have included Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Lana Turner, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Depp and so on. The Formosa was also featured in the movies L.A. Confidential and The Majestic.

So I’m at this restaurant with this Chicago-connected gang and I’m the outsider from Orlando. So I don’t say much but I learned something important that night.

I asked Jones how many screenplays he had written before he got discovered on Project Greenlight. He said six. If you remember the HBO special made on the making of Stolen Summer you may recall how they played up the fact that Jones was an average Joe insurance salesman who wrote a script. I know people who call themselves screenwriters who haven’t written six scripts—I don’t know any average Joe salesmen who have written six screenplays.

Playing up that Jones was a salesman is called PR. Because everyone wants to think, “I could probably do that if I tried.” The fact is Jones was an insurance salesman, but he had also graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. (That school has turned out a lot of accomplished writers.) Keep in mind that he was in his early thirties when he was chosen for Project Greenlight. His sales training played a critical part of his success. Graduating from J-School couldn’t have hurt. But he still wrote six dang screenplays before being discovered.

You can pick up a used DVD set of the complete first season of Project Greenlight for under $10 on Amazon, and that’s a solid investment in getting a foundation of what it takes to make a film. I’ll go as far as to say that I think it’s the single best example on DVD I’ve ever seen of watching the entire filmmaking process unfold.

But my favorite part of Project Greenlight is when Affleck, Damon, producer Chris Jones and others have narrowed their selection down to three screenwriters. It’s late at night and after six hours of deliberations the producers have to finally make the call on what film they are going to spend a million dollars to make.

In desperation Affleck asked the sound guy working on shooting the HBO special who they should choose, and he says, “Pete. Pete’s the guy that’ll never get the chance unless you do it.” Miramax VP Jon Gordon jokes that they should just have the screenwriters wrestle for it.

What they do is bring the three finalists back individually to have them make a final pitch on why their script should be chosen.

That’s when Jones’ insurance sales background kicks in. Where the others talk about their story, Jones hits the producers emotions. He tells the group;

“It’s about making the best film. And I’m getting a little emotional and I shouldn’t be, but it’s about making the best film…and the HBO thing is great—I would personally love it. Call me narcissistic, but I enjoy that. That’s not what it’s about, it’s about you guys screwing the studio system and saying let’s make the best film. Market the film? F*#K you. Who cares? We’re making the best film, we’re putting out a million bucks. I don’t have a million bucks, but studios have some money and a million dollar budget is not going to crush them. So he’s let’s make the best film that we can make. And, obviously, I’m biased, I think my movie’s the best film to make. I think my film probably wouldn’t get made by a studio—by a big studio, you know? I think that Greenlight is the kind of project  that would make a film like this.  I’m not a Hollywood expert, so I don’t know—I’m just going on a stereotype here.”

You can tell by the faces of those in the room that it’s a done deal. Sold.  Damon and Affleck are either dead tired, stoned or mesmerized. Chris Jones says, “I don’t have any other questions after that answer. “ Remember people invest in passion. And the part where Jones says, “F*#K you. Who cares? —I’m pretty sure Jones was channeling Mamet/Baldwin from Glengarry Glen Ross. “Coffee’s for closers only.” Jones was a closer that day.

And that was the turning point in Pete Jones’ career. The man was good in a room. He understood the basic sales principles of features and benefits and hitting human emotions. Next thing you know Jones was directing Aidan Quinn and Bonnie Hunt.

The movie Stolen Summer had a limited theatrical release making only $140,000.  But Jones got to make another film. Oddly he chose to follow a kid film with the gay-themed movie Outing Riley (2004) which went direct to DVD. And the next year he sold the spec script Hall Pass for high six figures and it eventually, six years later, became the movie that opens in theaters today.

Everyone’s got a story, right? (Even if you haven’t seen Jones’ movies or like the ones you have seen, you have to appreciate his journey.)

The common recurring theme on this blog is Pete Jones did the leg work before he got a shot. He wrote six screenplays before he was discovered. Just like fellow Chicagoan screenwriter Diablo Cody, Jones had been writing for over a decade before his big break.  And he used that sales experience from his day job to sell Hollywood producers and actors that he was the right person to be chosen for Project Greenlight.

Related posts:

Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours

Learning to be “Good in a Room.” (part 1)

Screenwriting Quote #87 (Ray Bradbury)

Stephen J. Cannell’s Work Ethic

Screenwriting da Chicago Way

Writing “Good Will Hunting

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“At first the screenplay (Good Will Hunting) seemed perhaps a little wordy. As Matt (Damon) joked on the set when we shot the movie, the Good Will staging was usually two people sitting in chairs across from each other and talking. Only the backgrounds and the characters changed, and usually only one of the characters changed since Will is in virtually every scene. “
Director Gus Van Sant
Introduction to Good Will Hunting; A Screenplay

Perhaps the reason that Good Will Hunting has so many scenes of two people talking is that its writers (and co-stars), Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (then in their early 20s), wrote much of the screenplay with just the two of them driving a car across the country between Boston and LA.

“A lot of Good Will was written on such cross-county road trips. We tell each other stories while in a particular character, usually to make each other laugh or to make sure that Ben doesn’t nod off…So it sort of ups the ante as far as the story goes. When we both get into an improv that we both like, that we both think is going well and dialogue we are relatively excited by, I will open up the glove compartment where I keep a notebook and write down a few notes that we will use later to recall the entire improvisation.”
Matt Damon

Damon and Affleck won an Oscar in 1998 for their script. Best Writing. Check out this video as Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau present the award to the childhood friends turned actors/writers and eventually Hollywood superstars. Because over the years since then Damon and Affleck haven’t written another script together some speculated if they really wrote the script. Writers and directors from William Goldman, Kevin Smith to Rob Reiner have been mentioned at one time or another. But since Damon and Affleck’s careers took off after their early success, they probably haven’t had much time together for many cross-country roads trips. More recently Damon as mentioned a little help from an Oscar nominated director.

“We just asked if we could have a meeting with (Terrence Malick) . We went to Boston to see him. And we had it in the script that my character and Minnie’s left together at the end of the movie. Terry didn’t read the script but we explained the whole story to him, and in the middle of the dinner, he said, ‘I think it would be better if she left and he went after her.’ And Ben and I looked at each other. It was one of those things where you go: of course that ‘s better. He said it and he probably doesn’t even remember that he said it. He started talking about Antonioni. ‘In Italian movies a guy just leaves town at the end and that’s enough.’ And we said of course that’s enough. That’s where we come from. If you just leave that’s a big enough deal. It doesn’t have to build up to anything more.”
Matt Damon
Interview with Tom Shone

So you can add writer/director  Michelangelo Antonioni (Blow-Up) to those said to have had a hand (a finger?) in making Good Will Hunting work. But there are only two names on that Oscar—Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. How does the expression go? Success has many fathers, but failure has no mother.

P.S. Four years after Good Will Hunting’s Oscar win, another story about another math genius with ties to Boston (A Beautiful Mind) won four Oscars including Best Screenplay and Best Picture. More movie cloning?

Related post: Writing “A Beautiful Mind”

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Will you do me a kindness?”
Jack Rebney

“Listen when you’re in f**king Iowa baby it’s accoutrama.”
Jack Rebney
(Responding to a question at a film festival.)

Forest City, Iowa is a small town about an hour and a half north from Cedar Falls where I live, but a video shot there that has an international following. Ah, the power of screenwriting from Iowa.

Jack Rebney may not be as well known as some of the others I’ve written about with an Iowa connection; John Wayne, Tennessee Williams, Johnny Carson, Ashton Kutcher, Ron Livingston, and Diablo Cody. But he joins those others thanks to a viral video made up of profanity-laced outtakes from an industrial video made in Iowa more than 20 years ago. Some people know Rebney as “The Angriest Man in the World” or “The Angriest Person on Earth” and others simply know him as “Winnebago Man.”

Back in 1988, Rebney was the on camera talent for a promotional video showcasing a Winnebago RV. Outtakes that showed Rebney getting upset during the shoot leaked into the world. Some of his lines found their way into movies, commercials and video games. (In the movie Surviving Christmas, Ben Affleck repeats the words, “Will you do me a kindness?”) Then in 2005 the video went viral with the advent of You Tube and today it has been viewed more than 20 million times.

Filmmaker Ben Steinbauer decided to find the man behind the video and made the award-winning documentary Winnebago Man. The result is what The New Yorker called, “An intriguing meditation on character, celebrity and the filmmaking process itself.” It played in theaters this summer and was released on DVD last week.

One of the most famous lines from the outtake video is Rebney saying, “The accoutrama that you will need… ‘Accoutrama? What is that sh*t?” Of Steinbauer’s own personal 10 favorite lines from the Winnebago Man this is his #1;  “I don’t want any more bullsh*t anytime during the day from anyone…And that includes me.”

But there is more bullsh*t from Rebney and Winnebago Man falls short of giving any true insights into Rebney. Not that Steinbauer didn’t try. Instead the film ends in a sense like taking the Elephant Man to the circus.  If Steinbauer has the time, money, and interest perhaps other people will pop up and fill in the blanks on what made Rebney so angry, or maybe Rebney will pull the mask down before he dies and give Steinbauer “the rest of the story.”

It doesn’t need the climatic ending of Grizzly Man, but another layer is needed to complete the story. Perhaps that will come now that Rebney has a larger platform and following to expose the world to his thoughts. I’ve read his book, called Jousting the Myth, which is mentioned in the movie will be out soon.

But for now the lesson here is never underestimate the power of written words performed on hot summer days in a small town in Iowa. Don’t be surprised if they find their way to theaters from San Francisco to New York.

Update: The official verified Twitter account for the film WinnebagoMan and Jack Rebney is @WinnebagoMan. Just read this post: “Jack Rebney says: “The WINNEBAGO MAN documentary has become something of joy to me.”

P.S. If you ever find yourself driving up I-35 in Iowa between Des Moines and Minneapolis, stop in Forest City, Iowa and take a tour of the Winnebago factory. If you have time you can also tour the Spam Museum not far away in Austin, Minnesota.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Pearl Harbor is a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle.”
Roger Ebert
Chicago Sun-Times

“I’ve always said that you should have different critics like in the music press – you don’t have an expert on opera reviewing Kid Rock.”
Jerry Bruckheimer
Producer, Pearl Harbor (domestic gross $198 million)


What is it about Jerry Bruckheimer that has allowed him to tap into films and TV programs that people want to see? Here’s just a partial list of some of the films that he has produced:

Beverly Hills Cop
Top Gun
Flashdance
Crimson Tide
Bad Boys
Black Hawk Down
National Treasure
Pirates of the Caribbean
(All of them)

And just this past weekend Bruckheimer’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time opened with $37.8 milion. (And his soon to be released The Sorcerer’s Apprentice will probably make a dollar or two this summer.)

Which means he’s been able to work with some of the biggest names in Hollywood; Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Sean Connery, and Johnny Depp. And for good measure he produces for TV as well. (CSI, CSI Miami, Cold Case, The Amazing Race)

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s box office secret is really no secret at all, he simply says, “I just make movies I want to see.” Simple, right?

CSI creator Anthony Zuiker says Bruckeimer is “ferociously commercial.” He makes the kinds of films that a large group of people want to see on any given Friday and Saturday night. Of course, it’s his ferociously commercial spirit that brings more than a few critics to his work. But he is called Mr. Blockbuster not Mr. Small Contemplative Art House Producer.

“If I made films for the critics, or for someone else, I’d probably be living in some small Hollywood studio apartment.”
Jerry Bruckheimer

And here are two more quotes that some would scoff at if Bruckheimer himself would have said them.

“No artist—notably no film or television writer—need apologize for entertaining an assembled mass of people.”
Richard Walter (UCLA screenwriting professor)
Screenwriting, page 12

“I like (audiences) to enjoy the film. It’s an arcade amusement; it’s not penicillin. It’s an arcade amuesment—take people’s minds off their troubles and give’em a little bit of fun. And sell some popcorn.”
David Mamet
Conversations with Screenwriters
Interview with Susan Bullington Katz, page 200

And while Bruckheimer’s films have allowed him to own nice digs (slightly nicer than a studio apartment) in Los Angeles and Ojai, California, as well as a horse ranch in Kentucky, he grew up in humble circumstances with Jewish-German immigrant parents in Detroit, Michigan. At a young age Bruckheimer developed a love for photography and movies.

“I’m a big fan of David Lean. Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, and Doctor Zhivago are movies that were seminal films for me when I was growing up. I admire the filmmaking and the storytelling ability of Lean and [screenwriter] Robert Bolt, so that’s what I look toward for inspiration.”
Jerry Bruckheimer
Barnes & Noble Interview

Many people also overlook that Bruckheimer has also produced the more down-to-earth and inspirational films Glory Road, Remember the Titans, and Dangerous Minds.

He went to college at the University of Arizona where he didn’t major in film but psychology. He returned to Detroit where he began making automotive commercials. He did that well enough to take his talents to New York while still in his early and mid-twenties, but left the lucrative world of commercial work to try to make his mark in Hollywood.

And for the last 30 years that’s what Bruckheimer has done. To the tune of four billion plus box office dollars. (Yes, $4 billion.) An average $110 million per picture on over 40 films. A couple of weeks ago Bruckheimer got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Tom Cruise was on hand to add his sentiments:

“We’re here to celebrate the greatest producer in modern history. He certainly stands very tall in the pantheon of producers in Hollywood. He’s not only a hard-working, dedicated filmmaker but he’s a loyal friend to everyone within our industry and to all the fans around the world.”

And even though Bruckheimer is as connected to Hollywood as you can get, he’s still connected to the world outside of Hollywood.

Bruckheimer’s wife Linda (who is a novelist and producer) has bought and restored several buildings in her hometown of Bloomfield, Kentucky where she and her husband own a house. Last year Jerry & Linda gave the commencement address to Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Jerry told the class, “God has given everybody a gift, and your task is to find yours, develop it, and dream beyond your ability. Look to your past and preserve what’s most valuable for your future…just as the next generation will look to you for guidance.”

Tomorrow I’ll look at two screenwriters also from Detroit that Bruckheimer has recently worked with.

PS. Interesting Kentucky connection—Johnny Depp (who Bruckheimer has made a film or two with) is from Owensboro, Kentucky. Tom Cruise, who moved a lot as a youth, lived (and was a paperboy) in Louisville, Kentucky for a short time, not far from Bloomfield. (Toss in that George Clooney was born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky and it’s fun to think that at one time in the late sixties or early seventies Depp, Cruise, and Clooney all lived— at the same time— in the state of Kentucky.)

Related post: Screenwriting from Michigan

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Shane Black stormed on the scene back in the early 80s when as a 23-year-old he sold his script Lethal Weapon. That film came out in ’87 and was a solid hit that turned into a franchise. Black was then paid a reported $1.75 million for his script The Last Boy Scout, and then made $4 million writing The Long Kiss Goodnight.

“Here’s what it is…here’s what I didn’t know when I was starting out that I now know…I thought when you were starting out it was really hard to write because you hadn’t broken in yet, you hadn’t really hit your stride yet. What I found out paradoxically is that the next script you write doesn’t get easier because you wrote one before …each one gets harder by a factor of ten.” 
                                  
Shane Black
                                  Speaking at Sherman Oaks Experimental College 

That may somewhat explain why Black has only had two produced screenplays in the last 13 years, why Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have just a total of two produced screenplays in the last 12 years after winning an Oscar for writing Good Will Hunting and why Callie Khouri has just two features produced since she won an Oscar back in 1991 for writing Thelma & Louise. That doesn’t take anything away from these artists as writers, directors and/or actors  — it just points out how hard it is to write a good script that gets produced and finds an audience.

 

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: