Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19’

Walker Percy once stated that every writer secretly wanted to be Aleksandr Solzhistsyn. That they would write something so powerful that it would tick off the Soviet government to the point that they would be arrested and sent to the Gulag. A life of forced labor until you died.

But the Gulag and the Soviet Union are a part of the past so writers will have to find other ways to impact the culture.

Producer/screenwriter Craig Mazin angered the Russians leaders enough with his HBO mini-series Chernobyl last year that a month after the five-part series aired it was announced that Russian State TV was producing its own version of what really happened. That’s not as good as going to the Gulag, but maybe better than all the Emmys the HBO version won.

But if I was Mazin, I wouldn’t plan on taking any vacations soon to Moscow, and I’d be aware of anyone walking behind me carrying an umbrella—especially in sunny Los Angeles.

Apparently, the Russian backed version will correct all the lies of Mazin’s version. Mainly their version of the disaster was caused by a CIA agent.

Back in July, in my post ‘Chernobyl’: Craig Mazin’s Real Life Scary Movie Lands 19 Emmy Nominations, I said that I not only thought it was Tv’s best show of the year, but stood with the best throughout TV history. (I was glad to hear Tom Hanks just say something to that effect a few days ago.)

Apparently, a few months after the airing of Chernobyl is when COVID-19 appeared on the scene leaving a tremendous impact on the world. (The cost so far is 1.7 million lives globally.) We may never even know the truth of where and how this virus started and spread. But the shot clearly heard in Chernobyl is we need to be careful of leaders who tell lies.

Chernobyl even plays better now than it did last year. And with that mini-series Mazin joins Euripides, Shakespeare, and Arthur Miller in being a social critic.

“We’ve lost the technique of grappling with the world that Homer had, that Aschylus had, that Euripides had. And Shakespeare. How amazing it is that people who adore the Greek drama fail to see that these great works are works of a man confronting his society, the illusions of the society, the faiths of the society. They’re social documents, not little private conversations. We just got educated into thinking this is all ‘a story,’ a myth for its own sake. [There will be a return to social drama] if theater is to survive. Look at Moliere. You can’t conceive of him except as a social playwright. He’s a social critic. Bathes up to his neck in what’s going on around him.”
—Arthur Miller
Interview in 1966 with Olga Carlise and Rose Styron found in Playwrights at Work

Here are the links to the scripts of all five episodes.

Script | Episode 1, “1 : 23 : 45”
Script | Episode 2: “Please Remain Calm”
Script | Episode 3: “Open Wide, O Earth”
Script | Episode 4: “The Happiness Of All Mankind”
Script | Episode 5: “Vichnaya Pamyat”

P.S. With my junior Photoshop skills I’ve created my first meme based on the terrific Chernobyl poster with a COVID-19 twist. An idea I had kicking around in my head for a few months.

Related post: ‘Tell all the truth, but tell it slant’—Emily Dickinson

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

Read Full Post »

“In 1968, Allen [Daviau] and I started our careers side by side with the short film AMBLIN’. Allen was a wonderful artist, but his warmth and humanity were as powerful as his lens. He was a singular talent and a beautiful human being.”
—Steven Spielberg

Screen Shot 2020-04-20 at 1.52.26 PM

Cinematographer Allen Daviau died last week from complications due to COVID-19. He was nominated for five Academy Awards in Best Cinematography for his work on Bugsy, Avalon, Empire of the Sun, The Color Purple and E.T. the Extra-Terrestial. (All incredibly done in a ten year run.)

He was part of the visual team that created one of the most iconic shots in movie history—Henry Thomas and E.T. magically riding in the air on a bicycle, silhouetted by the moon.

It’s hard to watch that scene on YouTube in 2020 knowing what a powerful moment that was when the movie hit theaters in 1982. I was in film school at the time and did not have cable TV or a VHS machine. (The majority did not back then.) So I went to a packed theater and had a shared mystical movie experience.

The sole Oscar-nomination for E.T. was for Melissa Mathison’s script. A script and that gave the film its mystical, spiritual aspect. This is how she described the interior of the space ship, ” We are in a greenhouse—a Gothic cathedral of a structure.” Much as been written about the death and resurrection of E.T. as well as his healing powers.

From the script I have, the “moon shot” isn’t even on the page. It just says:


The bicycle glides five feet over the tall grass and circles the landing site. 

                             Not so high! Not so high!

E.T. feels Elliott’s joy, and in the excitement of his own triumph, E.T. allows the ride to continue. The bicycle rises to the treetops. Elliot rides the bicycle, pedaling as hard as he can, steering through the treetops. He screams, laughing. 

Nothing about an iconic silhouetted “moon shot.”

Here’s what the “moon shot” looks like brought to life.

I’m not sure what role Daviau had in that shot. Oscar winner and effects cameraman Mike McAlister scouted for a week to find the right location and spent two night shooting it in Nicasio, California. All for a shot not originally in the script, but one that Spielberg obviously thought was necessary.

And Daviau was the director of photography on the film so one way or another that shot was his responsibility.  I was fortunate to hear Daviau speak when I was in film school, and while I don’t remember anything about that talk, he left images that I’ll never forget.

Screen Shot 2020-04-20 at 2.38.05 PM

Empire of the Sun (1987)

Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 4.33.59 AM

The Color Purple

Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 4.52.01 AM


P.S. A little more tucked inside Daviau  credits is the lesser remembered by the masses Fearless (1993). Written by Radael Yglesias and directed by Peter Weir, it is well worth your time to revisit the story of a man (Jeff Bridges) surviving a plane crash. (And another film that has a trail of writings about the spiritual aspects of that movie, including this one from the almways informative site Cinephilia & Beyond; Peter Weir’s ‘Fearless’ as a Soulful Slice of Life That Gently Examines the Human Condition.)

Related ASC article: The Cinematography of E.T.


Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Let’s move to the big story—the only story that everybody is talking about, Tiger King. The new Netflix series that is somehow more viral than COVID-19.”
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah

NOTE: Starting today, I’m going to try a little experiment. I’m calling it The Coronavirus Writers’ Room. I don’t mean to downplay the seriousness of the deadly situation around the world. But this is just one way to creatively process all the information coming at us. And in the spirit of books I’ve read where an older writer has a conversation with a younger writer, I bring you a small writers room of just two people trapped in my mind that I’ll just call OLD PRODUCER (OP) and YOUNG WRITER (YW). They’re not fully formed characters, so don’t be surprised if they morph some in the coming days. And it’s not really a writers’ room—it’s all done online using Zoom to keep with social distancing practices.

Their goal is see how to turn this events of the coronavirus into a movie, tv, or streaming/online script. I imagine something like this is going on in many places in the world.

OLD PRODUCER: How was your weekend?

YOUNG WRITER: There was the weekend?

OP: One day blends into the next.

YW: Exactly. I’m not even sure of the month. Or the year.

OP: It’s the year of the Tiger King.

YW: You didn’t watch that did you?

OP: Was there anything else on? I think it’s now mandatory viewing during the coronavirus lockdown.

YW: Like moving to Florida once you turned 60—it’s the law.

OP: You stole that from Seinfeld.

YW: Only steal from the best.

OP: You stole that from Woody Allen.

YW: For an old man, your mind is pretty sharp.

OP: Are you age-shaming me?

YW: No, I think it’s great that you’re still at it.

OP: There’s a few of us still kicking;  Carl Reiner and Betty White are 98, Norman Lear’s 97, and Roger Corman is the spring chicken at 94.

YW: You’re going to be the first to 100.

OP: Then like George Burns—exit stage right.  

YW: Can you imagine all the changes Burns saw in his lifetime?

OP:  World War I, The Great Depression, World War II, Korea, Civil Rights, Viet Nam—

YW: —Milli Vanilli winning a Grammy.

OP: Oy.

YW: I may not be totally up on American history, but I’m a pop history queen.

OP: Burns was the real deal. He was one of the few performers who crossed over from vaudeville, to film, to radio, to TV. He was known for his comedy—

YW: —And his cigar.

OP: And his cigar. And Gracie. But he could really sing, too.

YW: He died before 9/11, right?

OP: ’96.

YW: I wasn’t even born yet.

OP: So this pandemic is your first life-changing event?

YW: I was too young to remember anything about 9/11 or the dot com crash. Even the housing crash didn’t invade my world. But I was pretty distraught when Nate Newby dumped me in third grade.

OP: But you got over it?

YW: It’s amazing what years of therapy will do.

OP: You need to watch Tiger King—then you’ll never have a bad day again.

YW: Pitch me Tiger King in five words.

(Pause. Thinking.)

OP: Oklahoma man. Florida woman. Shakespeare.

YW: Is there a body count?

OP. Yes. Plus baby tigers and a guy with a mullet. 

YW: Sold. I’m watching it tonight.

OP: The struggle for power is universally interesting because it has built-in conflict. That makes it inherently dramatic.

YW: Boom.

(YW imitates a mic drop.)

OP: Are we done?

YW: We haven’t even started. We have a whole coronavirus story to develop.

OP: That’s right. What’s our way into the story?

YW: I don’t even know where to start.

OP: I’ve done stories based on a character, or a situation. But this is so big I kind of think we ought to tap into what Mamet wrote about 20 years ago in Three Uses of a Knife—thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

YW: Doesn’t take my breath away.

OP: We’re just trying to get some traction to get out of the gate. I’ve never seen the world shutdown like it has been over this virus. During The Great Depression people went to the movies. After 911 people went to the movies. They ate out. They went to church. They went to work.

YW: The world didn’t stop.

OP: Right. I think there’s going to be a new reality after this. That’s where thesis, antithesis, synthesis fits in.

YW: Sounds a little too academic for my blood. Anti-creative.

OP: You said you wanted to learn.

YW: I just have trouble seeing how that academic thing works in storytelling.

OP: Can you envision A+B=C?

YW: Not helping.

OP: Basically two different things come together and make a new thing. Think peanut butter over here and chocolate over here—they come together and you have Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

YW: Can you give me one writer who writes this way?

OP: When Mike Birbiglia—who wrote Don’t Think Twice

YW: —Loved it.

OP: When he was writing his Netflix special The New One, he said that his thesis was “All of the reasons no one should ever want to have a child.” His antithesis, “How I had a child and how I was right.” His synthesis was “how I was wrong.”

YW: That’s kinda brilliant.

OP: Being a couple is cool, kids mess that up, but becoming a family is worth it all. 

YW: So do you have a Mamet-thingy for this story?

OP: Order. Chaos. New Order. 

YW: I don’t hate it. I see where you’re going.

OP: At least it’s a starting place.

YW:  Let me chew on that before we continue.

More to come in Part 2.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: