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“After a checkered career like mine, it’s nice to be an overnight success.”
Screenwriter David Seidler (The King’s Speech)
LA Times

“I had no real money, no reputation, no real career.”
David Seidler
Reflecting upon arriving in L.A. at age 40 (33 years before winning an Oscar)

How long did it take for David Seilder to really prepare for his Oscar speech? All his life.

From a variety of sources and interviews this is what I believe was the process, the journey that Seidler took in his quest to write the script for The King’s Speech . (Granted some of these are easier to follow than others.)

“I work on 3×5 cards and there can be hundreds of them. And then I start spreading them over the walls and the floors and post them to the ceiling. Start spreading them around getting them into some sort of organization. Then I like to sit down and have a very detailed outline. I take longer to write the treatment than I take to write the script.”
David Siedler
Creative Screenwriting podcast with Jeff Goldsmith

  • Seidler was born in England in 1937
  • He began stuttering at age three
  • Moved to the United States as a child
  • Was inspired by King George’s speeches during World War II and overcame stuttering himself
  • Graduated from Cornell University in 1959
  • Beginning in 1981, at age 43, pursued writing the King’s story (the King’s nickname was Birtie)
  • Discovered the story  of Lionel Logue who would not only helped Birtie overcome his stuttering, but become the King’s friend as well.
  • Discovered that Logue’s son had his father’s diary which included notes of working with the king
  • Got permission from the son to use them as long as the Queen gave permission
  • Wrote the Queen asking for permission, he waited, and then heard the answer was “Not in my lifetime”
  • Waited for Queen to die… 20 years of waiting (2002)
  • Got cancer, got treatment
  • Decided it’s “now or never” to write script
  • Using hundreds of 3X5 cards, wrote down script ideas
  • When research phase was over, spent 8-10 hours a day writing (despite age/cancer)
  • Took 15 minute naps as needed
  • When he got stuck, he took a walk
  • Wrote first draft in two months
  • Send to friends, who sent to friends
  • Snuck 5-page treatment to Geoffrey Rush and got him attached to the script
  • Somewhere in here got divorced. Was also declared cancer free
  • In 2005 there was a staged reading
  • Director Tom Hooper’s parents were in attendance
  • Hopper’s mother tell her son about the story and he gets on board
  • They shop script to BBC and HBO only to have them fall through
  • Writer and director work together for 4 months honing the script.
  • They got more talented actors together
  • The got funding
  • The film got made
  • The film found favor with critics and audiences
  • The film won many awards
  • In 2011 the film won 4 Oscars; best picture, best actor, best director, best original screenplay
  • David Seidler gave his Oscar acceptance speech 30 years after first starting to work on the screenplay

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Screenwriter David Seidler

Writing “The King’s Speech”

Scott W. Smith


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“My father always said to me I would be a late bloomer.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter David Seidler (The King’s Speech)

The next time you hear a writer complain about not getting the break they think they deserve, or how long it’s taking for their script to become a movie, remind them about David Seidler. Seidler’s life story—like The King’s Speech—follows one of the most basic principles of drama; A strong protagonist who is willing to go to the end of the line to get what they want.*

For Seidler all it took was 73 years to reach the top of the mountain. Diablo Cody’s Oscar win in 2009 gave inspiration to many that it was possible to win an Oscar as a rookie writer** and Seidler’s Oscar gives inspiration to many that toward the end of your career you may finally peak in the way you’ve always dreamed.

And it really was a 70 year journey for Seidler. At age 3 he and his parents fled England due to the outbreak of World War II and the impending danger of German troops. Soon after arriving in the United States Seidler began stuttering, which if you’ve seen The King’s Speech is about King George VI’s desire to overcome stuttering as he prepares to give one of the most important speeches before England’s involvement in World War II. Seidler grew up listening to the King’s speeches on the radio and his father would point out to him that the King had overcoming stuttering. And Seidler, like the King, did overcome his speech impediment.

So out of the gate Seidler seemed destined to write this story. Seidler happened to go to high school with Francis Ford Coppola and before you start into the “it’s who you know” thing remember that Seidler has been paying his dues for decades. And it’s not just who you know, it’s what you learn from who you know. (But with that said, having a classmate like Coppola is a nice bonus.) Seidler in an interview on Jeff Goldsmith’s Creative Screenwriting podcast (January 07, 2011) says he picked up some great advice from Coppola:

“I learned a great deal from Francis. He’s a very, very bright filmmaker. One of the things I learned was—know what your ending is. And that’s something that’s really stayed with me. He said he always knows the big scene at the end of the movie he’s going for. It may not be the last scene, but it’s the apex of the action. And then everything is to move towards that scene.”

“Everything is to move towards that scene”—that’s great advice. In the script you’re working on now, does everything move toward that scene?

As Coppola launched his directing career in the ’60s, Seidler’s first job in the entertainment business was less exciting—transcribing Godzilla movies. In 1966-67 he landed his first writing gig on an Australian TV show called Adventures of the Seaspray. I believe after that he turned to a variety of jobs to pay the bills (advertising, Signal Corps, Playwright in Resident in San Franciscio, and political advisor in Fuji).

His next IMDB credit was not until 1981, an episode for the soap opera Another World.

There’s not much there to think that at that point in his career that the 43-year-old Seidler was on the fast track to have a feature made from his work, much less win an Oscar some day. But way back in 1981 is when he actually began working on what would become The King’s Speech. Obviously there were a few twists and turns in the road before it became a movie. And surprisingly, or not, Coppola—Seidler’s old high school classmate— had a small part in getting The King’s Speech script written.

“I had written Tucker for Francis and was just naive enough to think that that meant it would get made immediately and change my life forever. It took ten years to get made and it didn’t change my life that much. And I also thought that meant I could write anything I wanted in Hollywood. And you’re all wise enough to know that’s not true, but I did.”
David Seidler

And that’s when he began to work on The King’s Speech. But unlike Tucker:The Man and His Dreamsit would not take 10 years to bring The King’s Speech to the screen, or 20 years, but almost 30 years. As Paul Harvey used to say, “You think about that.”

Tomorrow we’ll look more deeply at the actual writing process that Seidler used to write his Oscar-winning script.

* A strong protagonist who is willing to go to the end of the line to get what they want. Other films in this year’s Oscars that fit that description include, Black Swan, 127 Hours, The Fighter, and True Grit. All which also build to a dramtatic ending.

**While Cody’s script for Juno was her first script I like to point out that she had been writing daily for 15 years.

Scott W. Smith

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“Over and over again we have tried to find a peaceful way out of the differences between ourselves and those who are now our enemies.”
King George VI (Colin Firth)
The King’s Speech, Oscar winner; Best Film, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Screenwriter

That above quote is the kind of the history of the world in just 25 words.

Suggestion: For the 2012 Oscars, Anne Hathaway and Steve Martin. Or Billy Crystal and Anne Hathaway. Seasoned entertainer and an attractive, youthful, spunky newcomer. Old and young. Think about it. (One 30-something friend posted on Facebook this morning, “no more ‘yang and hip’, can we have old and funny.”)

Personally I felt like I got a little closer to the Oscars last night.  I once produced a TV show with a group in Chicago and the editor of one Communicator Award-winning programs we worked on once dated now Oscar-winner Trent Reznor in his pre-Nine Inch Nails days in high school in Pennsylvania. (That’s like two degrees of separation. Every step counts. I can practically see it on the shelf next to the Addy Awards I won last week.)

I enjoyed the Oscars last night and watched the entire program for the first time in more than a decade. And while it’s common for people to focus on what they didn’t like about the Oscars, I thought the montage using the closing speech from The King’s Speech was just one of several incredibly well done segments.  The year 2010 goes down in my book as a fine year for movies.

In fact, watching the Oscars last night I came up with a top ten list of life lessons I learned from the movies last year and the Oscars this year.

1)   Don’t fear change.

2)   You can overcome staggering challenges in your life.

3)   Good friends are good to have.

4)   Don’t screw over your good friends.

5)   If you do screw over your friends, you’ll be friendless.

6)   It can take decades to win an Oscar.

7)   You can win an Oscar on your second film.

8)   Artistic perfection can kill you.

9)   Meth is bad and screws up families and communities.

10) Don’t go rock climbing alone.

And for all the screenwriters out there over 40-years-old, the grey-haired, 73-year old screenwriter David Seidler won the Oscar for writing The King’s Speech (which also won best picture) proving that sometimes it takes a little time.  And even if you broke into the business back in 1965 translating Gozzila scripts and your previous credits include the TV movie, Come on, Get Happy: The Partridge Family Story (as were both the case for Seidler) that doesn’t mean that one day you won’t write something that leaves people speechless.

Congrats to all the winners last night.

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Winter’s Bone” (Debra Granik)

Scott W. Smith

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“If the British monarchy is good for nothing else, it’s superb at producing the subjects of films.”
Roger Ebert

“I wrote a first draft of the screenplay (The King’s Speech) , which I wasn’t quite sure about. So I showed it to my then-wife and writing partner, and she said, ‘Look, there’s some very nice stuff in here, David, but you’re being seduced by cinematic technique. Why don’t you just, as an exercise, write it out as a stage play because the physical confines of the stage will force you to focus on your key relationships?’ As you’ve seen, The King’s Speech really is, after all, two men in a room. And if you get that tentpole upright, you can then hang everything off of it like Christmas tree ornaments. She’s a smart woman, so I took her advice and wrote it as a play and kind of realized, I think I may have finally done this correctly.”
Screenwriter David Seidler
Interview with Sean O’Connell

The King’s Speech has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards.


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