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Posts Tagged ‘Deliverance’

I’m paring down some of my film books, but flipping through them again before I give them away and looking for some less known quotes I can post at the same time. You can file this one under “embrace your limitations.”

“Warners insisted I cut the budget [on Deliverance] before they would go ahead with the film. Slashing my fee was not enough. I had wanted to use Appalachian music as an element, but the nature of the film seemed to call for a dramatic orchestral score. This fiscal pressure forced me into a decision. I had $65,000 in the budget for the orchestra and composer. I decided to do the whole score with a banjo and guitar playing variations on a single traditional folk piece called ‘Duelling Banjos.’ We recorded it with two musicians in an afternoon. There were no royalties to pay since there was no composer. The total cost was $1,500. The $63,500 savings brought the budget down to the figure Warners were demanding. Against their better judgement I forced Warner Records to release the music. It became a number one hit and Warner’s royalties for the record paid for the whole cost of making the movie.”
5-tim Oscar-nominated writer/director John Boorman (Hope and Glory, Deliverance)
The Emerald Forest Diary; A Filmmakers Odyssey
Pages 219—220

“Duelling Banjos” not only saved money, made money, and worked for the film Deliverance—it became one of the most recognizable themes of any movie in the 70s. Maybe in the history of cinema.

P.S. Most of Boorman’s book is about making The Emerald Forest, the 1985 film that became one of the reference films for James Cameron’s Avatar.

Related Post:
Screenwriting Quote #69 (John Boorman)
Screenwriting Quote #70 (James Dickey)
Movie Cloning (part 2) —James Cameron links themes in Avatar and The Emerald Forest.

Scott W. Smith

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“I won a competition with the first (short story) I ever wrote. Which gave me an unrealistic notion of how easy this was going to be.”
Daniel Woodrell

The movie Winter’s Bone is one of those movies that hits you in the mouth. And if you’ve ever been hit hard in the mouth, you recall that nothing really prepares you for the distinct bitter taste of your own blood.

Winter’s Bone is not a date movie. Nothing really prepares you for what you’re about to see—though a good start would be reading Flannery O’Conner’s short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find. (Followed by reading Faulkner unpack the Snopes family and watching Deliverance.)

Before I actually talk about the finely crafted movie by director Debra Granik, I want to go back to the roots of the novel Winter’s Bone and its writer Daniel Woodrell. Because without those roots you could be tempted into thinking that Granik was just slumming. At first glance Granik, who was educated at Brandeis University and NYU film school, seems primed to look for art in the plight of the rural poor and downtrodden.

And that’s where Woodrell comes in. Woodrell was not only born and raised in Missouri, but today lives in the small town of West Plaines near the Missouri/Arkansas border. While I imagine the meth and poverty world depicted in Winter’s Bone is foreign to many (most?) people in Missouri, Woodrell in an interview with The Southeast Review said,  “I honestly live among some of the people I’ve written about… All of my research, as far as that goes, just comes from the world around me. I see people who live that kind of life every day.”

That’s what regional writing is all about.

Woodrell, like Flannery O’Conner, is a product of The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Since receiving his MFA he has published eight novels—and gone through his share of hard times. But in 1999, his novel Tomato Red won the PEN USA award for fiction and his novel Woe to Live On became the Ang Lee film Ride with the Devil.

In an article titled The Least Governable Region of America you’ll find this exchange between Dustin Atkinson and Woodrell in regard to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop:

DA: Did Iowa prepare you well?

DW: “Yeah. Probably did. It’s a rough racket, trying to be a writer. I have a nephew who kind of wants to be a writer, but he’s heard the stories about me and my wife (writer Kate Estill) after we got our MFAs. We lived way below the poverty level for most of our years together. It didn’t bother me. I’ve never really had money, so life was normal. And my nephew, who’s grown up very comfortably, has said, “I want to be a writer, but I don’t want to make those sacrifices.” Well, for many writers, being willing to make the sacrifices is the first requirement.”

Tomorrow we’ll look at the film Winter’s Bone, based on Woodrell’s book and which was the winner of the 2010 Sundance Grand Jury Prize.

P.S. If you’re curious, I didn’t even realize there was an Iowa connection to Winter’s Bone until after I saw the movie and thought to myself, “Who writes this stuff?”  I started digging around and discovered Woodrell. So as you can see from one of my earliest posts (over 750 posts ago) The Juno-Iowa Connection, I often haven’t had to travel very far for material.

Related posts: Screenwriting from Missouri

Scott W. Smith


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In the past week I watched two modern classic films (Deliverance & Scent of a Women) and read the script again for Juno. Though these movies are different in genre and were made in three different decades they have at least one thing in common – they are simple stories.

Four guys go take a boating trip, a prep school kid takes a caretaker job to make a little money over the Thanksgiving weekend, and a teenage girl gets pregnant. Simple.

“The story line idea (of In the Line of Fire) involves a Secret Service agent who survived the Kennedy assassination in Dallas and who must now prevent an assassin from killing the current president. That situation is complicated by the intensity of both the hero and the villain as they conflict over who will prevail. This brief statement summaries the movie. Many films are equally simple when reduced to a sentence or two in this way. Let this be our first lesson: Movie stories are usually simple…..Write simple stories and complex characters.”
Paul Lucey
Story Sense
Page 5

So while Deliverance, Scent of a Woman and Juno are simple stories certainly Burt Renyolds, Al Pacino, and Ellen Page played complex characters. Revisit the scripts of those films written by James Dickey, Bo Goldman, and Diablo Cody to see how they weaved their magic. And don’t confuse simplicity with being simple.

Robert McKee is fond of pointing out the complexity of the simple french toast scene in Kramer Vs. Kramer. While on the surface it’s a scene simply about a father making breakfast for his son. But it’s really a complex scene as the Dustin Hoffman character is in conflict with himself (inner-conflict), his son who is telling him he’s doing it wrong (personal conflict), he’s at conflict with the kitchen (enviroment/extra-personal), and he’s even at conflcit with his wife who isn’t even there but the main reason he is having all these other conflicts.

McKee writes in is book Story, “My advice to most writers is to design relatively simple but complex stories. ‘Relatively simple,’ doesn’t mean simplistic. It means beautifully turned and told stories restrained by these two principles: Do not proliferate characters; Do not not multiply locations. Rather than hopscotching through time, space, and people, discipline yourself to a reasonably contained cast and world, while you concentrate on creating a rich complexity.”

Related Post: Screenwriting & Time
(Notice the time lock on the first three films I mentioned? Deliverance & Scent of a Woman basically take place over a weekend and Juno takes place over the term of her pregnancy.)

Scott W. Smith

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“I don’t believe the American public will believe, itself, what comes up on that panavision screen next March.”
James Dickey in a letter to a friend
while the movie Deliverance was being shot

Since I mentioned both director John Boorman and Liberal Arts in the last few days that lead me to the writer of Deliverance, James Dickey. It took Dickey ten years to write the novel and he also wrote the screenplay for the 1972 movie that would be his only feature film release. (Though he did also write the TV version of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild.) 

Dickey was born and raised in the Atlanta area and was an athlete in high school and began writing poetry while serving in the Army during World War II flying combat missions in the South Pacific. He didn’t want the girls back home to forget him. After the war he attended Vanderbilt and earned a B.A. in philosophy and minored in astronomy and then went on to earn an M.A. in English.

After school he taught at what is now Rice University before being recalled to active duty in the U.S. Air Force due to the Korean War. He later worked as a copywriter in Atlanta and in New York where he said he was “selling his soul to the devil in the daytime and buying it back at night.”

He published his first book of poetry in 1960 and appointed in 1966 he as the Poet Laureate Consultant to the Library of Congress.  In 1977 he was invited to read his poem “The Strength of Fields” at President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. And just to top off an interesting life, he played Sheriff Bullard in Deliverance. 

Though Dickey’s popularity exploded after the movie Deliverance was released he taught and wrote poetry until he died in 1997. His limited role with Hollywood  may have something to do with the stories of the behind the scene drama of the Deliverance location shoot that sometimes matched the drama on-screen of Burt Reynolds and his buddies little boating adventure. In short, Dickey was banned from the set.

Dickey was like many a classic southern writer – greatly talented and greatly flawed. Given to drink and sometimes hard to get along with Dickey was an exaggerator and liar on par with the father in the movie Big Fish. (While Dickey was in many flight missions over the South Pacific during World War II he was never the pilot he claimed to be.)

Dickey’s oldest son, Christopher Dickey, an accomplished writer and speaker (who also has a website and blog) , wrote the book Summer of Deliverance about his father and the film. (Christopher worked on the film including standing in as Ned Beatty’s character in the famous pig scene.)

Christopher also has done us all a favor by setting up the blog, James Dickey: Deep Deliverance, devoted to his father and his writings. And where I found this quote from a You Tube link where James says in a distinctly slow southern draw:

“To anyone who reads my work, I would like to have it deepen him and make him more aware of possibilities… of the mystery of things, and the strangeness of the creation — the universe. Although as much as I write about death, disease, and mutilation, and so I on, I essentially consider myself an affirmative poet. I remember hearing that Beethoven once said, ‘He who truly knows my music can never know unhappiness again.’ I would like to think it had some effect of that sort.” 

And as a side note here’s something interesting to ponder from one of Dickey’s letters, “I heard from John Boorman day before yesterday, and he says Marlon Brando is definitely going to play Lewis (Burt’s character) in the film version of Deliverance. I certainly hope so, for that would bring Nicholson in, and after that the rest would be easy, provided we don’t get Brando’s and Nicholson’s heads bashed in on some of those rocks up in north Georgia, which is quite easy to do.”

Scott W. Smith

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So Lucas came up with the bullwhip idea and Spielberg scored with the snake concept, where did the girl come from in Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Well, first let’s back up a step and realize that Casablanca did influence Raiders. And Casablanca is many things, part a detective story, part mystery, part wartime story, and practically a Max Steiner musical—but when it lands on its feet it’s a love story. And love stories sometimes find themselves in usual places. Look over your list of favorite films and see how writers use a love story as at least a subplot.

Stories of romance often offer a contrast to the action and sometimes give meaning to the main plot.   Where is Rocky without Adrian? And where is Indy without Marion? The screenplay describes her as “twenty-five years old, beautiful, if a bit hard-looking.” When she punches Indy seconds after seeing him we know a lot about her and something about their relationship.

Here’s part of the discussion about Marion in the Story Conference with Lucas, Spielberg and Kasden:

 S — …She’s not just somebody to be around for comic relief or romantic relief. Rather than being a kind of quasi…In the the Dietrich mold like a double agent.

G — It’s more of a plot thing. I had her a German double agent who was stuck over there. Then we can use her in the plot. She sort of has access to information. She is useful and tied in. It has to be something where they’re sort of tied in together on this thing , where it’s conceivable. Again she doesn’t have to be German, she could be American, she could be French or whatever. But I don (a typo in the transcript  I think means do)  think that we should come up with some reason to keep her from being just a tag along. The only thing I can come up with is that she’s some sort of mercenary, and she’s somehow involved. Like she has a piece of the puzzle, rather than being forced into the situation.  Because if she’s forced into it, you’re constantly fighting to try to keep her there. Every scene you’re going to have to explain why she’s there and why she doesn’t leave. Half her dialogue is going to end up being “Smokey and the Bandit” dialogue. 

So that’s how Marion, tough as nails, became an integral part of the story in Indy’s quest to find the Art of the Covenant rather than just a side kick. But, hey, speaking of Smokey and the Bandit, did you know that Burt Reynold’s name was kick around as a possibly playing Indiana Jones? It’s hard to think about now but at the time of the story conference in 1978 Burt was the man. Fresh off Deliverance (72), The Longest Yard (1974), as well has the hugely popular Smokey and the Bandit (1977), I would have easily picked Reynold’s in a fight with Hans Solo. 

But Harrison Ford was a brilliant pick as Indy as he added a little more of that reserved professor quality to the character. And Karen Allen packed a punch as Marion. And just to drop in yet one more Midwest angle, both Ford and Allen were born in Illinois, near Chicago. 

 

Scott W. Smith

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