“Producers and directors buy a property because they like the story. Actors buy it because they see themselves in a part. “
The Total Film-Maker
When you read an over 40 year old book on filmmaking you expect there to be some stuff that’s outdated, but here are some screenwriting thoughts from Jerry Lewis found in The Total Film-Maker (1971) that are timeless.
“Finding good properties to film is similar to mining 100 carat diamonds. They don’t come along often. When they do, bidding is high. Even good original screenplays are comparatively scarce. Every studio and independent company is on a constant search for suitable material, and despite the thousands of submissions each year only a few are bought. Of those, only one or two are really outstanding.
“…I tell new writers to study old scripts. Dig up a copy of On the Waterfront, In the Heat of the Night or The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. I have found that the best scripts are written, rewritten, and written again before they ever reach the sound stage. The director and writer have married to the point that chopping or adding isn’t an everyday occurrence once shooting begins…Ben Hecht, Abby Mann, Stirling Silliphant, Reginald Rose and Isobel Lennart are my ideas of heavyweights in screen writing.”
Writer/director/actor Jerry Lewis (The Nutty Professor)
The Total Film-Maker
Ben Hecht (1894- 1964) won two Oscars (The Scoundrel, The Underworld)
Abby Mann (1927-2008) Oscar-winner for writing Judgment at Nuremberg
Stirling Silliphant (1918-1996) Oscar winner for writing In The Heat of the Night
Reginald Rose (1920-2002) won an Oscar for writing 12 Angry Men and also won three Primetime Emmys
Isobel Lennart (1915-1971) won a WGA Award for writing Funny Girl, and was nominated for two Oscars (The Sundowners and Love Me, or Leave me)
P.S. Maybe 2014 is turning into the revival of Jerry Lewis. (Sort of like Johnny Cash experienced in his later years.) Just two days ago in a Rolling Stone online article Peter Relic wrote about an unreleased single the Beastie Boys recorded called The Jerry Lewis that included Ad-Rock rapping “Hey, yo Mike! Let’s do the Jerry Lewis!” and Mike D. responding, “My baby does the Jerry Lewis!”
When Jerry Lewis has Rolling Stone magazine, the Beastie Boys, and Screenwriting from Iowa talking about him in 2014, you know his stock is rising.