Posts Tagged ‘Charlie Kaufman’

Jake Gittes: There’s some black in the green part of your eye.
Evelyn Mulwray: Oh, that. It’s a…it’s a flaw in the iris.
Chinatown written by Robert Towne

“Scorsese is often called ‘America’s greatest director’ on the strength of a body of work in which all the characters in his movies are various degrees of wicked and miserable people.”
William Froug
Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade

“As a human being I have faults, you have faults, we all have faults. Even a great movie has faults. I think a great movie should have personality. And personality means that there are flaws, and you don’t have to correct the flaws. When you correct the flaws you’re eliminating personality. The Greek word for tragic flaw actually means, in Greek, defining characteristic. So the thing which makes the character is the thing which makes the flaw.  Charlie Kaufman’s movies are highly admired and yet if you analyze them almost all of them have some problem in the third act, things that don’t really work—but they’re part of the fabric. And if you were to clean it up entirely maybe the whole thing won’t work as well…Every script, every movie has a certain DNA, and things which seem illogical may work…Because movies have gotten so expensive, executives feel more fear. And that fear rules. And that fear forces executives to make your screenplay perfect. Perfection is the enemy of art. It’s the enemy of character. It’s the enemy of anything that’s dynamic and interesting.”
Screenwriter Nick Kazan
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters (Part 3) interview with Mike De Luca

Related posts:

Nick Kazan’s Chainsaw Inspiration (Part 1 of this interview)
Burns, Baseball & Character Flaws
Emotional Evolution/Devolution (Part 1)
Character Flaws 101 (Tip #30)

Scott W. Smith

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As I looked over the names of the 2014 Oscar nominees one named jumped out at me that I knew I had not pulled any quotes from in the six years of doing this blog. In fact, the name was totally off my radar. Melisa Wallack is now on a lot more radars than she was a few days ago. She’s now Oscar-nominated screenwriter Melisa Wallack.

She’s nominated along with Craig Borton for writing Dallas Buyers Club. I decided to dig around on the Internet and see what I could find out about Wallack. And surprise, surprise her hometown is the Minneapolis area. (One of the inspirations of this blog was this unknown writer in Minneapolis who pounded out a spec script on her way to becoming Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody.)

Wallack moved to LA in ’95 as a businesswoman and by ’05  was named by Variety as one of the top 10 screenwriters to watch. But her Midwest upbringing paved the way for her to write a story about a about an electricians and hustler with AIDS who fights the system for himself and others to get the medication they need.

“I grew up in an idyllic town outside Minneapolis with my parents and five siblings. We had dinner together almost every night … My father would listen to us recount what we had learned at school that day. One of my most vivid memories of this nightly ritual was my father’s insistence that we tell him how we knew something was true. Who said it? Where did we read it? How did we know it was, in fact, true? It wasn’t until many years later that I understood what my father was doing.

“…For me, Ron’s [Ron Woodroof played by Matthew McConaughey] story transcends AIDS. It applies to every one of us in every aspect of our lives. It speaks to the danger of becoming passive participants who follow written protocols and so-called experts’ opinions instead of our own instincts. It reminds me of my nightly conversations with my father and his insistence that we distinguish opinion from fact. It reminds me that it is important to be an active member of society and, in the words of Ron Woodroof, that ‘everyone should ask questions.'”
Melisa Wallack
LA Times, Spirit of Champions drove the ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ script

BTW—That 2005 Variety article about Wallack mentions the Dallas Buyers Club script was what made her a screenwriter to watch. It also said that was her first script and that she began writing in 1999. I’m not sure when she and Borton completed the script but it appears that Dallas Buyers Club took at least 10 years to get produced. Add to that Borton interviewed Ron Woodroof for three days back in 1992 (a month before Woodroof died) and wrote a couple version of the script before he met Wallack,  meaning in total it took over two decades for that story find its way to earning 6 Oscar-nominations including Best Picture.

P.S. Wallack was born in Wayzata, MN which is not far from the Minneapolis suburb of Crystal, MN where Diablo Cody wrote her Juno script. Back in ’08 I visited the Starbucks where Cody wrote much of the script. See the post Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy).

Related Post:

The Oscars Minnesota-Style
The Coen Brothers on Raising Money (Joel & Ethan Coen are also from Minneapolis)
Screenwriting Postcard from Minneapolis
Screenwriting Quote #3 (Charlie Kaufman) Many don’t connect the Oscar-winning screenwriter with Minneapolis, but that’s where he was living before he moved to LA .

Scott W. Smith

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“The main thing in writing a movie is to have a good ending.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects)

Thelma & Louise

Thelma & Louise

In terms of the Academy Awards, the morning of the Oscar-nominations in January and the night of the Oscar Awards in March make fitting Hollywood bookends. And it’s a time where the drama isn’t left on the big screen as the debating begins about which movies and people will win alongside speculation on why other movies and people were snubbed.

And some of the best writing happens the night of the Academy Awards like when Thelma & Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri said holding her Oscar statue, “For everyone who wanted to see a happy ending for Thelma and Louise, to me this is it.”

Yesterday after a long conversation with Jason McKinnon of Screenwriting Spark I decided to pull together 50 screenwriting posts that feature Oscar-winners (in no particular order).

By the way, to download some of the most recent Oscar-nominated screenplays check out the links at Screencraft and Go Into The Story.

1) The Shakespeare of Hollywood (And the first screenwriter to win an Oscar)

2) Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie

3) Writing Quote #9 (Chayefsky)

4) Screenwriting Quote #110 (Paul Haggis)

5)  Screenwriting Quote #143 (Elia Kazan) “Have your central character in every scene…”

6) Screenwriting Quote #173 (Akiva Goldsman)

7) Screenwriter Ernest R. Tidyman

8) Screenwriter/Director Richard Brooks

9) Screenwriting Quote #44 (John Patrick Shanley)

10) Screenwriting Quote #38 (John Huston)

11) Screenwriting Quote #3 (Charlie Kaufman)

12) Screenwriting Quote #179 (Chris Terrio) 

13) Screenwriting Quote #148 (Edward Zwick)

14) Screenwriting Quote #161 (Frank Pierson)

15) Screenwriting Quote #54 (Walt Disney) Who’s won more Oscars than anyone.

16) Screenwriting Quote #139 (Stephen Gaghan)

17) Writer Budd Schulberg (1914-2009)

18) Horton Foote (1916-2009)

19) Screenwriting “To Kill A Mockingbird”

20) Writing “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid”

21) Filmmaking Quote #19 (Robert Towne) “Filmmaking is dictated by fear…”

22) Filmmaking Quote #14 (Robert Benton)

23) Writing Quote #33 (Tom Stoppard)

24) The Making of Woody Allen in 10 Simple Steps

25) James L. Brooks on Chayefsky

26) Writing Quote #26 (Waldo Salt)

27) Woman of Steel (Diablo Cody)

28) Insanely Great Endings 

29) Tarantino on Leonard

30) Eric Roth on Theme & Loneliness

31) Sorkin’s Emotional Drive

32) Filmmaking Quote #27 (Frank Capra) “I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries.” 

33) Writing “Thelma & Louise”

34) Writing “Good Will Hunting”

35) Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio (Francis Ford Coppola)

36) “Network” Notes by Paddy Chayefsky

37) First screenplay, Oscar—Precious

38) Filmmaking Quote #34 (Ben Affleck)

39) 4 Weeks + 8 Years = 1 Oscar ” “Once you start writing, go like hell—but don’t fire till you’re ready.”—William Goldman

40) Preparing for an Oscar Speech (David  Seidler-Style)

41) The Oscars & Screenwriting East of L.A.

42) First Screenplay= 9 Oscar Nominations

43) Jailbait, Rejection & Screenwriter Mark Boal’s Start

44) The Oscars Minnesota-Style

45) The Job of Writing Quote by Oscar-winner Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List)

46) Writing and Directing “Out of Africa”

47) The First Academy Awards

48) Writing “A Beautiful Mind” “I was the worst writer in my seventh grade class.”—Akiva Goldsman

49) Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2)

50) How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41)—Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine)

Related links:
Best Screenplay Oscar Winners A to Z at Biography.com
Oscar Winning Screenplays 1928 to present at SimplyScripts

Scott W. Smith

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“With a screenplay you’re creating a world; consider everything, every character, every room, every juxtaposition, every increment of time as an embodiment of that world. Look at all of this through that filter and make sure it is all consistent.”
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman

“No hero is ever ready for the journey.”
Adam Levenberg

Yesterday I had the single best script critique I’ve ever had. It was also the longest phone conversation I’ve ever had.

My 2 hours and 54 minute conversation with Adam Levenberg was longer than the movie Gone with the Wind. Not that my script is as epic, but Adam wanted to show me what he does as a script consultant. I was impressed and will talk about the experience more in detail in January. But if you’re looking for a gift for that screenwriter in your life who has everything but a produced script—or you want to indulge yourself as a writer—contact Adam.

And while the service was offered free to me, I will warn you that his fee is in the iPad range.  Seriously, writing this blog has brought me into contact with some interesting producers, directors, and screenwriters in Los Angeles and talking with Adam yesterday was a great way to round out the year.

Adam doesn’t guarantee that your script will get made, sell, or that you’ll even get an agent— his goal is to make you a better writer. Over the years I’ve taken plenty of screenwriting classes and workeshops, but having Adam go through my entire script and question choices I made was a whole different level of understanding that you can’t get in a class. You can’t hide. (For instance, while my hero’s backstory was in my head—Adam pointed out that it wasn’t in the script.)

Earlier this year I finished the script Shadows in the Dark (with Scott Cawelti) which while my first collaboration, was actually my ninth feature script completed. (In a conversation with My Cousin Vinny screenwriter Dale Launer this year he told me I had one more script to write before I sold one because it took him ten scripts before his first sale.) Anyway, I was fortunate to have several writer friends around the country read my script and offer lengthy and detail notes on various versions of the script.

So the script that Adam read was probably the sixth draft and he still had enough notes for an almost 3 hour conversation. (Actually, it was probably a solid 2 hours of notes because he let me ramble on talking about movies and such.)

I know there is a mini—debate surrounding script consultants, but I was impressed with Adam’s knowledge and thoroughness. And he’s just a heck of a lot fun to talk to on the phone. Adam’s background includes a degree from USC School of Cinematic Arts and time as a development executive at One Race Films—Vin Diesel’s company. And he’s been featured as a guest blogger on WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart’s blog.

We all have knowledge gaps and have much to learn, which is why even Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) says he’s still a student. If you’re a working writer in Hollywood you have plenty of working relationships to hone your skills. Diablo Cody recently said she sent the first draft of Young Adult to Jason Reitman and he said it wasn’t quite there and kept sending her notes until it eventually became the movie Young Adult. (And even after all of that talent, when I saw Young Adult in the theater just as the credits began to roll a lady behind me said out loud, “That’s it?”)

Most of us can’t slide Jason Reitman a script and expect him to give us notes. So if you’re in say, Iowa—or some other unlikely place in the world to be writing screenplays–you have to be resourceful.  As a small business owner (River Run Productions) I’m all for the entrepreneurial spirit and free market enterprise. So if you have the funds and what to be a better writer I’m all for any classes, workshops, books, and scripts consultants you can afford within your budget to accomplish your goal. But remember the basic solid economic principle— “Make every purchase and investment.”

I do believe that in many cases that experienced script readers, producers, and studio executives can give better script notes than working screenwriters. For instance, you’ll learn more from Carson Reeves’ Script Shadow blog than you will from most blogs by working screenwriters.

I’m sure that there are script consultant scams out there so be careful.  While I don’t really know Adam, I will say that my experience with him was positive. The only way Adam could have given me as detailed notes is spending time going over my script. He typically invests at least two days going through a script.  His notes went quite in depth and covered some key flaws. I know I’ve never able to give as detailed notes to friends scripts I’ve covered, because I simply can’t spend that much time on it. Plus it’s not something I enjoy doing.

Will Adam’s notes get my script sold or produced?  Again, no one’s making that claim. (And if anyone guarantees they’ll get your script sold or even get you an agent is a good sign to run.) But I do believe Adam’s notes will make my Shadows in the Dark script better as well as overall making me a better writer. If you’d like a lower budget version of Adam’s film industry knowledge check out his book The Starter Screenplay.

You can also check out his website HireAHollywoodExec.com and judge for yourself.

P.S. And I offer as a totally free gift to you this Holiday Season, a link to quite an interesting talk Charlie Kaufman gave earlier this year for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).  (A link I first found at the always informative Go Into the Story blog where Scott Myers has posted transcripts of that talk as an eight part series.)

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Sure screenwriter Charlie Kaufman was born in New York and attended Boston University and NYU but perhaps the secret of his success is (get ready for Midwest connection) he lived in Minneapolis in the late 80s for more than four years working in the circulation department at the Star Tribune.

According to the Being Charlie Kaufman website Kaufman said, “I would take missed-newspaper calls at 5 in the morning. It was a hard job, especially in the winter. I’d get up at 4 and take the bus downtown. It was freezing and everybody looked really sad on the bus. I worked at the art institute as well. I was the person who said ‘The museum will be closing in 15 minutes’ over the loudspeaker.”

That’s that ole’ Midwest work ethic for ya.

I’m not sure what lead him to Minneapolis but that’s where he was before he moved to LA in 1991 eventually going on to win an Academy Award in 2005 for best original script (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ) as well as two additional Oscar nominations in 2003 (Adaptation) and 2002 (Being John Malkovich). And according to the critics Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, that he directed as well as wrote, is said to be lining up for more awards this year.  

For someone who has said that he doesn’t know what a third act is he’s done pretty well for himself. I recently discovered some videos online that have been produced by the Writers Guild of America and today’s screenwriting quote comes from an interview I saw there with Kaufman (I’ve smoothed over some stumbles):

“I don’t really have any advice because I feel like the circumstance that I find myself in I think is attributable to luck to a large extent. I wrote for a lot of years in obscurity, and I wrote the script Being John Malcovich which got me attention but was never going to be made, and I got the lucky break of Spike Jonze being interested in making it and having the power at that point in his career to get a movie made that nobody wanted to get made. The only thing I can say is if you’ve got a thing that you’re exploring, then explore it truthfully. I mean if you want to do that and are interested in doing what you want to do in the world, then do it.”
                                                                                          Charlie Kaufman
WGA/ Angle On

So for Kaufman the road to an Academy Award took him through waking up at 4 in the morning to catch a bus downtown and a lot years of writing in obscurity.  While his screenplays are unique, you’ll find that his long and winding road to success is quite common. 

By the way, I think the definition of luck is writing “for a lot years in obscurity.”  Even Diablo Cody who found success with her first screenplay spent well over a decade writing in obscurity.

Scott W. Smith

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