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Posts Tagged ‘Billy Ray’

“Sometimes I think we have to rescue the business from the very people who own it.”
Screenwriter Billy Ray (Captain Phillips)
2012 Academy Nicholl Fellowship Keynote Speech

“Try to sell Kramer vs. Kramer today, which was a big hit [in 1979].You just can’t do it…I don’t know if there are executives that listen to this, but I believe that 15 years from now, 20 years from now I think there’s going to be some sort of semi-Nuremberg kind of trial where all the executives of today are going to be standing on a docket and someone like you is going to ‘Where were you when the art of movies just went down the sewer? When this uniquely American art form was completely sacrificed? What were you doing about that?’ And I don’t think any of them will have an answer. And that’s a sad thing…And the problem with [CGI-heavy] movies that are generated inside a computer is that when any image is possible, no image is that impressive anymore. And I think we are raising the bar for what it’s going to take to dazzle people to such a degree that eventually you’re just going to have a movie that’s just an hour and 20 minutes of explosions, because I don’t know what else you can do if it’s not going to be about character, story, and theme.”
Writer/director Billy Ray
Scriptnotes podcast interview with John August

Like a lot of feature writers, Ray has a reverence for great TV (Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Wire, Mad Men) and appreciates the Kramer vs. Kramer-like dramatic opportunities that can be found there these days. Just a few days ago his pilot for The Last Tycoon, which Ray wrote and directed and based on old Hollywoodbecame available on Amazon.  

“As I was writing the pilot I had a rule for myself which was if I had written a line that I didn’t think was good enough to be in a Mad Men episode I had to come up with another line.”
Billy Ray

Related posts:
Billy Ray’s Directing Advice
Screenwriting Quote #162 (Billy Ray)
Is TV the Best Place to Tell Your Story?

Writer/director Robert Benton-related posts (He won two of his three Oscars for his work on Kramer vs. Kramer):
Filmmaking Quote #14 (Robert Benton)
Screenwriting Quote #104 (Robert Benton)
Joy vs. Agony = Fun Writing 

P.S. To modern Hollywood’s credit the just a handful of Kramer vs. Kramer-like dramatic films at the ’16 Oscars were Bridge of Spies, Room, Brooklyn, Carol and the Best Picture winner Spotlight. To paraphrase what David Mamet once said of theater in America—movies are always dying, and always being reborn.

Scott W. Smith

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The best advice I ever heard about writing came from Paddy Chayefsky — he, of Network and The Hospital. He also wrote Marty. (That’s three Oscars.)

Chayefsky’s advice to writers was simple: Don’t think of it as art, think of it as work.

Because when a writer is stuck and he or she calls in another writer for help, that second writer doesn’t say, ‘What’s the art problem?’

That second writer says, ‘What’s not working?’ And they get under the hood and fix it together.

That’s most of what you’ll do in your career — work, problem solving. Approach it in that way and then at the end of every day, you’ll at least be able to say, ‘I did my job today.’

If you’re an artist, it’ll come out as art anyway.

…I take my son to his bus stop every morning at 7:30. I’m at my desk working by 8:00. Somebody feeds me at 1:00 and I’m back at my desk by 1:30, working until 6:00.

I don’t surf the web. I don’t gamble online. I don’t go to the local Starbucks for two hours. I don’t try to seek out old girlfriends on Facebook.

I don’t do anything that requires time. I just work.
Oscar-nominated Screenwriter Billy Ray (Captain Phillips)
2012 Academy Nicholl Fellowship awards via Medium.com

Related Posts:
“Art is Work”—Milton Glaser
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic
Writing Quote #34 (Achievable Goals)I told myself that I would only write for 15 minutes a day….”
Time Card Screenwriting
Screenwriting Quote #134 (Paddy Chayefsky)
Paddy Chayefsky Interview
Screenwriting Quote #162 (Billy Ray)
Billy Ray’s Directing Advice

Scott W. Smith

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“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 took a great class taught by Robert McKee—sort of a cliché in Hollywood— but I learned things in there that I use and apply on every script. And even if I’m breaking the rules, it’s helpful to me to know what those rules are. The McKee class taught me a way of thinking about writing, and thinking about structure that has never left me.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Billy Ray (Captain Phillips)

“For [the screenplay] 102 Minutes, it was the adaptation of a book (102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers—best book I ever read. And this was a case where it was a job I had to have. My agent called me one day and said, ‘Here’s this book you ought to take a look at it, but it’s not coming to you exclusively, if you want this job you’re going to have to go battle with some big time guys to get this job.’ And the second I read it I said OK it doesn’t matter how hard I have to work no one is going to out work me I going to get this job. And when I went in to pitch that story I had a 38 page outline. I had every single scene of that movie laid out…I had respect that there were better known writers who had better credits than mine who wanted that job, too. And the goal was to make the studio feel that they’d be missing out if they hired anyone else.”
Screenwriter Billy Ray (The Hunger Games, Shattered Glass)
The Dialogue interview with Mike De Luca

Screenwriting Summer School Homework: Read the five screenplays and watch the five movies that Billy Ray says you need to study in order to understand structure—Broadcast News, Rocky, Ordinary People, Kramer Vs. Kramer, Wizard of Oz. (All stories Ray says in which the main characters are all in horrible situations.) Extra credit: Read McKee’s Story, and 102 Minutes written by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn.

P.S. As far as I know, the script for 102 Minutes hasn’t been produced. If anyone has an update on the status of that project let me know.

P.P.S. Ray’s quote about the McKee class being a cliche is because so many people have taken it over the years. Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman credits McKee’s class in helping him transition from failed novelist to successful screenwriter. But there has been plenty of backlash over the years because of McKee’s popularity. Several working screenwriters have downplayed McKee’s knowledge and/ or influence, one even wrote,To read his [marketing] brochure you’d think that everyone in Hollywood has taken McKee’s course, but the truth is, I don’t know anyone who has.” Guess that writer doesn’t know Goldsman or Ray—perhaps many working screenwriters just don’t admit to taking McKee’s class. I took what I believe was McKee’s first story stucture class in LA (back in, I think, 1984) and he was the first film teacher who showed me how deep the well went. Every writer takes his or her own path, and while McKee may be  too acedemic for some creative people, there is no doubt–because of comments by  Ray and Goldsman–that there are people who benefit from McKee’s teachings.

Related posts:

Writing ‘Rocky’
Art is Work (Milton Glaser)
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)
Billy Ray’s Directing Advice
Screenwriting & Structure (tip #5) Some notes from McKee.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“When I was 18 I said, ‘Dad I think I want to be a screenwriter.’ He said OK and took me in his office…and pulled out the screenplay for Ordinary People and he said, ‘OK, do this.’ He was saying to me that’s where we’re going to set the bar.”
Billy Ray

“I think UCLA [film school] was helpful. I think there’s no actual substitute for actually writing. And UCLA was helpful in that it encouraged me to start. I was not one of those kids in college who was going out and getting wasted with my fraternity buddies. That always seemed kind of boring to me. I was just in a hurry to hit that mountain top. To write something like Ordinary People, or All the Presidents Men—something that great. And I knew that I was not going to write a screenplay like that sitting at the bar face down in my own vomit.”
Oscar-nominated Screenwriter Billy Ray (Captain Phillips)
The Dialogue interview with Mike De Luca

Screenwriting Summer School homework assignment: Read Alvin Sargent’s screenplay for Ordinary People. For extra credit go back and read the book by Judith Guest.

Related posts:
The 99% Focus Rule
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)

Scott W. Smith

 

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Billy Ray’s Directing Advice

“I read a phenomenal book called Directing Actors by Judith Weston, which I would recommend to anybody who wants to direct anything. And then I called up a bunch of young directors and said, ‘You don’t know me, my name is Billy Ray, I’m about to go direct a movie. Could I take you to lunch and ask you some questions?’ And they all said yes. They were very generous with me. And I called people that had produced scripts that I had written and took them to lunch. And said, ‘Okay, what about me makes you think I’d be a good director? What about me makes you think I’d be a bad director?’Just tried to learn. And then decided it was time.”
Writer/Director Billy Ray
Reelz interview with Heather Huntington

Ray is coming off writing two highly successful films in the last two years; Captain Phillips and The Hunger Games, but below is the trailer for his 2003 directorial debut Shattered Glass. The origins of Ray’s script was the Vanity Fair article Shattered Glass written by Buzz Bissinger who wrote the book Friday Night Lights.

Scott W. Smith

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“Every villain is the hero of his own story.”
Actor Tom Hiddleston

“This was my first time acting, or even thinking about acting.”
Actor Barkhad Abdi (Lead freighter hijacker in Captain Phillips)
NPR Interview, October 20, 2013

The thing that surprised me most when I first visited Minnesota more than 15 years ago was how many Somalians lived there. (Today there are more Somalians living in the Twin Cities than any other place in the United States.) So it’s no surprise that Hollywood went to Minneapolis when it was looking for Somalians to cast in the movie Captain Phillips.

Barkhad Abdi was one of more than 700 people who showed up for an open audition in Minneapolis and I bet he was surprised when he walked away with the lead Somalian hijacker role (Muse) acting opposite two-time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips). And maybe even more suprised when he recieved a SAG nomination yesterday. Not a bad first acting gig.

“I hope people understand the culture clash between these very, very different characters, Capt. Phillips and Muse. One had just, the normal life, you know, he went to school, college, graduated, family, and now he [has] a job. And the other one is just someone that grew up in a war-torn country, that had no hope, no school, no job, no government, nothing…A ruthless man who has nothing to lose. A man who has nothing to lose is dangerous. So, that’s how I became his character.”
Barkhad Abdi
NPR Interview

I remember seeing the trailer for Captain Phillips (“Look at me. I’m the captain now.”) thinking of Abdi “that dude looks real.” Film is about illusion so it’s no surprise that he had no acting experience. That’s not uncharted territory. Remember last year when Quvenzhane Wallis received an Oscar-nomination for her first role in Beasts of the Southern Wild? There’s also the trained Cambodian physician Haing S. Ngor who came to the U.S. with no formal acting experience and won an Oscar in his first film, The Killing Fields. (Bruce Robinson also recieved an Oscar-nomination for his script of that 1984 film.)

But good filmmaking is also about experienced, skilled people working together—and the Captain Phillips cast and crew had that in abundance. They were led by documentary trained director Paul Greengrass known for his work directing The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, and United 93 (for which he received an Oscar nomination).

And there was screenwriter Billy Ray (The Hunger Games) to bring his more than 20 years of experience writing the script based on the book A Captain’s Duty by Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty.

“From the beginning we were very determined that we didn’t want cardboard bad guys. That’s just not good writing. You always want to dimentionalize your characters whenever possible, whether they’re good guys or bad guys. You always want them to look like full, actualized human beings. Not so much that audiences can sympathize, but so that audiences can understand and maybe recognize a piece of human behavior in those characters and that was very important to me.”
Billy Ray
Interview with Captain Phillips screenplay writer Billy Ray at NYFF premiere

P.S. A clip that always come to mind of an evil character is from Schindler’s List. (And an example of no dialogue needed.)

Update 12/16/13:

From a Facebook thread on The Inside Pitch here’s a list (off the top of his head) of good bad guys by WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart:
Rob Roy/ Archibald Cunningham  (Tim Roth)
In the Line of Fire/Mitch Leary (John Malkovich
Working Girl/Kathrine Parker(Sigourney Weaver)
Bravehart/ Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan)
RoboCop (1987)/ Clarence J. Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith)
Schindler’s List/ Amon Goeth (Ralph Finnes)
The Wizard of Oz/ Miss Gulch/The Wicker Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton)
Kiss of Death (1947)/ Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark)
White Heat/ Cody Jarrett  (James Cagney)
Training Day/ Det. Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington)
Also noting that Gary Oldman (JFK, Bram Stroker’s Dracula, True Romance, Murder in the First) , Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, The Iceman, Man of Steel) and Kevin Spacey (Se7en) “all play good bad guys when they play them.”

And I found this video on evil characters as well:

P.S. Can anybody  recommend a Solmalian-made film that can give those outside Africa a different view of the country and its people? I did find a Wikipedia link to the Cinema of Somalia—but I’d love to learn about screenwriting from Somalia and the country’s filmmakers.

Related posts:

Screenwriting Quote #172 (Christopher Lockhart) “You just have to ask yourself, “Okay I’ve seen this a million times, so what can I do to make it a little different?” (I think Captain Phillips fits the “unique, but familiar” mold.)
“To Live or Die?” “The best drama for me is one which shows a man in danger. There is no action when there is no danger. To live or die? What drama is greater?”—Howard Hawks / “I would never write about a character who is not at the end of his rope.”—Stanley Elkin
Don’t Bore the Audience! Can Tennesee Williams and UCLA’s Richard Walter both be wrong?
Starting Your Screenplay (Tip #6) “Who is your hero, what does he want, and what stands in his way?”—Paddy Chayefsky
Writing “Black Hawk Down” Another Somalia-based story

Related links:
The Screenwriter’s Guide To Movie Villains Screenwriting Spark as gather more than 40 links related to movie villains
BBC News Somalia Profile
AFI’s 100 Heroes & Villains (
And in this racially sensitive culture we still live in I feel the need to point out that the top villains are all white—except for Bruce the shark in JAWS and the Alien in Alien—and the first film black villain on AFI’s list is #50 Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) in Training Day. (Okay, #3 villain Darth Vader did have James Earl Jones’ voice—but Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, the Wicked Witch of the West and the rest of the AFI list are all crazy white people. So please hold off on the emails.)

Scott W. Smith

 

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