Posts Tagged ‘Budd Schulberg’

“Boris was a great artist. He did a beautiful job under difficult conditions. The weather was cold and overcast. We rushed to shoot the film in 35 days. Cheap is fast. Every day costs money. Spiegel, the producer, was on Kazan’s tail to go faster. We were pleased by the way the film turned out. Everybody was against it. We overcame all the obstacles.”
Screenwriter Budd Schulberg on Director of Photography Boris Kaufman who won an Oscar for shooting On the Waterfront which Schulberg won an Oscar for writing
on the waterfront

In the past year and a half I’ve been giving away boxes of my screenwriting and productions books to high schools and colleges. Last week I went through my bookshelves again and came up with two more boxes of books to give away and this batch includes William Froug’s Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade which was first published in 1992.

I flipped through my copy heavy with yellow highlighter marks looking for something I hadn’t covered on this blog before. Here’s the quote that jumped out at me:

“You are almost always better off if your scene is located outside in an interesting location with things happening in the background and all around the talkers. Keeping the characters moving helps. Movies are about moving pictures.”
Producer/writer/professor William Froug
Screenwritng Tricks of the Trade

Since this summer I’ve been calling these posts part of Screenwriting Summer School, it would be an interesting test to write down your all time favorite movie scenes and see if the majority of them are inside or outside. I know some screenwriters have a color coding index card system to see if they have a nice contrast of interior and exterior scenes. (Can’t recall anyone else saying you’re, “almost always better off if your scene is located outside.”)

The first exterior scene that jumped to my mind is the playground scene from On the Waterfronwritten by Budd Schulberg and directed by Elia Kazan. A simple walk and talk scene with Eva Marie Saint and Marlon Brando. It’s an understated scene and a bit of an exposition dump, but the good girl/bad boy scene (and their relationship) is important for the transformation of Brando’s character.

It’s a scene that does move the story forward and ties into the climax at the end of the story. I also like this scene because it’s an indie filmmaker-friendly kind of scene. It would be possible to shoot this scene with two actors and a four person crew. (How? Read The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns.)

The playground scene opens with a dolly shot* that runs a full two minutes without a cut. But it’s an elegant scene that’s not only well written and acted but watch it a couple of times and see how the direction and cinematography of this outdoor shot work to make the shot visually interesting. There’s the smoke from trashcan fires floating by, the swing set, the dropped glove, the stick of gum, the Manhattan skyline across the river, and the wrought iron fence—all of which to help make the three and a half-minutes visually interesting.

Van Gogh once said that he’d be content with water and a Rembrandt painting. I feel that way about On the Waterfront—a 1954 film that won 8 Oscars including Best Picture, and which the AFI lists as the #8 best movie of all time.

P.S. For what it’s worth, the climax of On the Waterfront is set outside. But the scene most played from the movie “I coulda been a contender” is set inside a car, and Karl Malden’s well-known speech is an interior scene. If someone’s expanded Froug’s outside comment please send me the link.

I’ve been watching the first season of The Sopranos (another Jersey-centered mob story like On the Waterfront) and I know cable TV—especially in the 90s before The Sopranos changed the face of TV—doesn’t have the budgets of an average Hollywood movie, but there’s a lot of sitting around and talking on The Sopranos. (Same for the #2 rated all-time TV show Seinfeld.)

Perhaps that’s the nature of the beast and it’s not fair to compare a top Tv show with a top movie.  Last year the Writer’s Guild of America named The Sopranos as the top show in television history. Created by David Chase it stands on it own and paved the way for one of the writers on The Sopranos, Matthew Weiner, to create Mad Men. And while Mad Men has its share of interior shots, the set design and set decorating of show set a new standard in Tv of how visually interesting an interior shot can be. And I’m sure there are plenty of Breaking Bad fans who would rather watch the compelling opening scene of the series a few times over the scene I chose from a black and white film that’s 60 years old.

This isn’t really about is TV more like theater than film, or a debate if TV writing is the best dramatic work being done today. It’s just three sentences by the one-time TV producer/writer and former UCLA professor Mr. Froug that I hopes helps you contemplate about your scene settings.

Here’s the second exterior scene that came to mind:

*A small indie crew couldn’t lay the tracks needed to do that On the Waterfront dolly shot with the large camera they used, but they could quickly set up and use a shorter dolly move using something like a Dana Dolly or what I have the Porta Jib Explorer. (I’ve even set my up in as little as 10 minutes shooting solo.) Or you could ditch the tracks altogether and using something like the MOVI.

Update: I learned that the studios wanted to shoot On the Waterfront on the lot in Los Angeles, but Kazan said it was an ‘East coast movie” and fought and won to shoot it in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Related posts:
The Source of ‘On the Waterfront’
Telling Our Own Shadow Stories
Paying for Transformation (Tip #65)
Kazan on Directing (Part 1) 

Scott W. Smith 

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“In a letter to Brando in which (director Elia Kazan) explores the differences between the Terry Malloy and Stanley Kowalski characters he argues as follows: ‘Marlon, this part is much closer to you and to myself too.’ Kazan also compares Terry’s ‘swagger’ early in the story with his own confidence and pride previously, as the ‘white-haired boy-director.’ At other points in the Notebook he compares Terry’s early relationship with Mickey (Johnny Friendly) with his own relationship with Harold Clurman and with ‘a Commie who regards Jack Lawson, or V. J. Jerome as the authority.’ While there is no distinctive visual style or mise-en-scene that ties this film to Kazan, the striving for autobiographical expression in Kazan’s work is arguably first strongly evidenced in On the Waterfront.” As a child of Stanislavsky, Kazan brings his own ‘affective memories’ to his direction of actors and of the emotional ‘beats’ of the drama.”
On the Waterfront
Joanna E. Rapf

Related posts: The Source of “On the Waterfront”

Screenwriting Quote #100 (Budd Schulberg)

The Priest in “On the Waterfront”

Kazan on Directing (Part 1)


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Yesterday I mentioned that the movie On the Waterfront was based on a series of articles by Malcolm Johnson that were published in 1948.

But before Brando could mumbled those famous words, “I coulda been somebody,” and before the eight Oscar awards the film won, and before the script by Budd Schilberg, and even before the articles by Malcolm Johnson there was crime on the waterfront. Organized crime.

And while I’ll let other debate the role the police and unions had in the situation there was at least one person who stood up to the thugs–John M. Corridan. He was the Catholic Priest who was the inspiration behind the Father Barry charatcer played by Karl Malden in On the Waterfront. 

When screenwriter Budd Schulberg was asked how hard it was to write the speeches that Father Barry gives he basically said he just crafted the words Father Corridan gave. This made me a little more interested in finding out who this man was that stood up against organized crime.

According to Wikipedia Corridan collaborated with Malcolm Johnson on his series of articles that won Johnson the Pulizter Prize in local reporting. Father Corridan also met over the years with screenwriter Budd Schulberg.

Allen Raymond wrote a biography on Corridan called Waterfront Priest Schulberg wrote the introduction and desribed Father Corridan as a “tall, youthful, balding, energetic, ruddy-faced Irishman whose speech was a fascinating blend of Hell’s Kitchen jargon, baseball slang, the facts and figures of a master in economics and the undeniable humanity of Christ.”

Another related book is On the Irish Waterfront by James T. Fisher.

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The classic Hollywood film On the Waterfront almost never came to be. It’s been said that ever great film has been turned down at least once and the Elia Kazan directed film starring Marlon Brando with a script by Budd Schulberg was no exception. 

“Darryl Zanuck turned us down at Twentieth Century-Fox. He told us no one is going to care about a lot of sweaty longshoremen.”
                                                                               Budd Schulberg 

People not only cared back in 1954 when the move was released, it is #8 on AFI’s list of the 100 Greatest American Films.


Scott W. Smith

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Budd Schulberg the Oscar winning writer of On the Waterfront died today. And it’s another reminder of what I call the mountain-top experience. For Schulberg On the Waterfront was his top of Everest script. Released in 1954 and starring Marlon Brando the film went on to win a total of eight Oscars and is considered on of the greatest films of all-time.

That film eclipsed the success of his novel What Makes Sammy Run? Schulberg grew up around the industry as his father was the head of Paramount Studios back in the 1930s. He also went to Dartmouth. Sure having an Ivy league education and a father high-up in the industry helps you get a foot in the door, but I don’t think they ever have been a great combination for writing great screenplays. 

He paid his dues as a script reader making $25 a week and writing short stories that got published.  

Lesser known about Schulberg is after the Watts riots in LA back in the 60s he started the Watts Writers Workshop as a way to help African-Americans hone their craft.  One of the writers to come out of that workshop is Quincy Troupe who became the first Poet Laureate of California in 2002, won an award for his book Miles, the Autobiography (written with Miles Davisand also wrote The Pursuit of Happyness along with Chris Carder (which became the Will Smith film).

Remember if you get to the top of the creative mountain you don’t actually get to live there. Hopefully you get to enjoy the view for a few moments and collect a few awards, but one you come down take a lead from Schulberg and help point the way for others.


Scott W. Smith

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