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Posts Tagged ‘Eric Roth’

Think I can segue from two previous posts about Bridesmaids to one about Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close?

No problem. In Bridesmaids there is a scene where the lead character’s life is falling a part and her mother tells her to watch the movie Cast Away saying, “It’s like Forrest Gump on a deserted island.” Forrest Gump was written by Eric Roth, the same writer as Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

I think I’ve written something about every Academy Award-nominated Best Picture and/or its writers except for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. So I’m cramming for finals before the Oscars Sunday night. Here’s an exchange found in the article, ‘Extremely Loud’ Screenwriter On Turning The Novel Into A Film;

Eric Herschthal: A common trope is that no one can capture the tragedy of the Holocaust in art. Do you see something similar happening with Sept. 11 works of art?

Eric Roth: “First off, I don’t like to compare anything to the Holocaust. [Director Stanley] Kubrick. said you can’t make a movie out of the Holocaust; it’s too visceral to capture on film. I think he’s right. But I think you can make stories about grief, about loss, and how you deal with them. That’s what I tried to do.”

Roth received and Oscar-nominated for his script. He’s had a three other screenplay Oscar-nominations:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (shared with Robin Swicord)
Munich (shared with Tony Kushner)
The Insider (Shared with Michael Mann)
Forrest Gump (Sole screenwriting credit and an his sole Oscar win)

A few days ago Roth received the 2012 Laurel Award for Screen, lifetime achievement in outstanding writing for motion pictures, from the  Writers Guild of America, West.

“In a career that spans over four decades, Eric Roth’s work – from Forrest Gump to The Insider, Ali, The Good Shepard, Benjamin Button, and this year’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – has traced the larger span of our history and the smaller, individual arcs of the human life. With poetry and humor, he has illuminated time and love and moral responsibility. He has made going to the movies both a stirring emotional education and a true joy.”
WGAW President Christopher Keyser

Quirky facts about Roth: According to IMDB, he wrote one of Kurosawa‘s last films (Rhapsody in August), and his daughter, Vanessa Roth, won an Academy Award (Best Documentary Short) in 2008 for her film Freeheld.

Related posts:
Eric Roth on Theme & Loneliness
Change the Weather (Tip #44)

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m writing more to a theme rather than to story…if the scene thematically represents what I wanted the picture to say then I feel I’ve been successful…When you discover what you think it’s about—like I would say to you, ‘I think Forrest Gump is about loneliness’ and then you may say, ‘I don’t see that in the movie’ but that’s what it means to me.  Every scene I write is about a guy who’s trying to confront loneliness and not feel like an outsider. Or find a home in a sense…I think a lot of my movies are about loneliness.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Eric Roth 
(Forrest GumpThe Insider, Munich, Ali, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
“Conversations with…” interview at USC Film School

Related posts:
Writing from Theme (Tip #20) 
40 Days of Emotions

Scott W. Smith

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Here’s another quote to add to the longer post Writing from Theme (tip#20).

“I think you have to have a theme.  At least I do. I think you need something to always go back to.”
Eric Roth (Forrest Gump)
Interview with William Froug
Zen and the Art of Screenwriting
page 121

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safetylast-1

Does anybody really know what time it is?
                                                             Robert Lamm/Chicago

Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By
                                                             Humphrey Bogart
                                                             Casablanca 


Did you know that Three Days of the Condor was based on Six Days of the Condor?

That is the movie Three Days of the Condor was based on the novel Six Days of the Condor.

Why do you think the screenwriters Lorenzo Semple and David Rayfiel compressed the novel by James Grady? I haven’t read any comments by the writers, Robert Redford who was the star, or by director Syndey Pollack on why that was done, but I have a pretty good hunch.

Movies do not handle long passages of time well. More often than not films will compress time for the sake of moving the story forward and keeping your interest.

Screenwriters and producers often talk of a time-lock on a film. A specific set of time the story is set when something must happen by. (“If you don’t get the heck out of Dodge by sunset there will be hell to pay.”) It sets the parameters for the story. Here are some films that have a time-lock:
High Noon
Speed
48 Hours
Apollo 13

Lew Hunter in his book Screenwriting 434 says when you use a time-lock “you inject an urgency into your story that can give it additional drive to heighten audience involvement and anxiety.” Of course, the more organic to the story the better.

Some movie deal with time by placing them in a single day, in just a night, or even in real time in the length of the film:

American Graffiti
The Breakfast Club
Halloween
Phone Booth 
Before Sunrise
Rope 
Timecode 
Russian Ark 

In a talk I heard John Updike give at the University of Iowa earlier this year he spoke about the limitations that film has in showing the passing of time. When he’s writing a novel he can take a person from a baby to old age and it’s no problem for the reader, but in movies it doesn’t work as well. He explained that if your main character is a child for the first 30 minutes of the film they have a certain amount invested in that person and to switch to another person is a jolt.

This may be one of the problems Updike is having in bringing the story of Olympic wrestler/famed college coach Dan Gable to to screen. Gable had a great high school, college career before winning a gold medal in the Olympics. Then he went on to win 10 national championships as a head coach at the University of Iowa before retiring. Then he came back as an assistant coach last year to help Iowa win another national championship.

How do you show that in an hour and a half or two hour movie? And even if you found a way, can you really have the same person play Gable as a 15-year-old high school freshman and Gable as a 63-year-old coach? See the problem there? 

Maybe the digital world will help this in the future and it will be interesting to see the effect on Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button where he plays an man born in his eighties and ages backwards. If anyone can pull that off it’s David Fincher & Eric Roth. (Didn’t that once happen on a Star Trek episode?) But it’s still Brad Pitt we are investing in.

Of course there are other exceptions, and generally Hollywood has found some creative ways to deal with the passing of time when needed. For instance, in Forrest Gump we are introduced to Forrest (Tom Hanks) as an adult in the opening scene and while we see Forrest as a child the majority of the film is as an adult. We are invested in Tom Hanks.

In The Natural they chose to have Robert Redford play both the thirtysomething Roy Hobbs as well as the teenage Roy Hobbs. They used soft lighting, shadows (and Redford’s youthful look) to create believability for the audience. 

The remarkable TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman won eight primetime Emmys including two for actress Cicely Tyson. Tyson playing a 110-year old woman reflecting on her life was amazing, and aided greatly by makeup and costume design (that both also won Emmys) as well as a whole creative team that brought the Ernest J. Gaines novel to life. (Leonard Maltin called it “One of TV’s all-time best,” so it’s worth renting of you’ve never seen it.)

One major problem with the passing of time is the amount of money it takes to create different eras. Think of the expense of the cars alone cover the time period of a story set in the 40s, 60s, 80s. Sure it’s been done, but if you are starting out it may be best to avoid that hurdle. (A short time frame also favors lower budget films since you have less continuity issues to worry about. Always good especially if you don’t have a script supervisor.) 

In my post Screenwriting by Numbers (tip #4) I point out some averages related to running time in movies such as most movies tend to be between 90-120 minutes in length and most scenes tend to run between 1-3 minutes long. And if all of this seems cold and artificial let me once again to the great quote by design guru Milton Glazer; “Limitation stimulates the imagination.”

 

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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Vigorous writing is concise.
                                                                         William Strunk Jr.
                                                                         The Elements of Style
 
“I have made this (letter) longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
                                                                          Blaise Pascal 
                                                                          

Have you heard about the six-word story?

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was once asked to write a six-word story and wrote: “For sale; baby shoes, never worn.”

That is indeed a short story.

This inspired Smith Magazine earlier this year to publish “Not Quite What I was Planning” which is a collection of “Six-word memoirs by writers famous and obscure.”

Now I’m not really going to encourage you to write a six-word screenplay but it’s a good jumping point to talk about brevity in screenwriting. One thing you notice if you read through a stack of produced screenplays is how condensed they are. 

In general, gone are the long monologues and thick scene descriptions that you so often see in the novices screenplays. I’ve cover some of this ground in my post “Screenwriting by Numbers” but I have found that most lines and scene descriptions in produced screenplays are limited to three sentences or less. 

When you hold a classic screenplay in your hand it looks deceptively simple. “Lots of white” as script readers are fond of saying meaning there is not a lot of black type. But there is a simplicity on the other side of complexity that I believe is the real secret of writing a great screenplay. 

“The challenge of screenwriting is to say much in little and then take half of that little out and still preserve an effect of leisure and natural movement.”
                                                                      Raymond Chandler
                                                                      
The Big Sleep

 “I think part of being a good screenwriter is being as concise as possible.”  
                                                                      Eric Roth
                                                                    
 Forrest Gump

 

 

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“Of course Nebraska is a storehouse for literary material. Everywhere is a storehouse of literary material. If a true artist were born in a pigpen and raised in a sty, he would still find plenty of inspiration for work. The only need is the eye to see.”
Willa Cather
My Antonia

In other posts we’ve looked at screenwriters from Iowa and some of the surrounding states—Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Minnesota—but today let’s head to the west and take a look at Nebraska.

Before we get to the screenwriting part of that state let me say that Nebraska has produced four giants of cinema on the performing end of feature films; Henry Ford, Fred Astaire, Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando.

Toss in producer Darryle F. Zanuck, TV personalities Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett as well as other actors James Coburn, Nick Nolte, Janine Turner and most recently Hilary Swank and you have a nice roster of entertainment talent from this Midwest state.

But no list of creatives from Nebraska is complete without mentioning Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Willa Cather whose novels O Pioneers! & My Antonia have had lasting success.

As we look at screenwriting from Nebraska there is one name that stands out in bold, Alexander Payne. The Academy-Award winning writer of Sideways grew up just over the Iowa border in Omaha, reportedly on the same street as Warren Buffett. His films Election, About Schmidt, and Citizen Ruth were all shot in Nebraska.

Payne earned his master’s degree at the UCLA where one of his teachers was Lew Hunter. Lew’s also from Nebraska and his resume is more of a creative journey. He earned two master’s degrees, worked as a radio DJ, an NBC page, story executive and wrote the Emmy-nominated script Fallen Angel, before going on to be the co-founder of the M.F.A. screenwriting program at UCLA. His book Screenwriting 434 flowed out of that class.

A couple years ago I was reading a screenwriting book by Skip Press and saw that Lew Hunter now lived part of the year in Superior, Nebraska. Since I was heading from Cedar Falls, Iowa in a few days for a shoot in Colorado Springs, I found Superior on a map and decided I could make a slight detour and pass through there. (Superior, by the way,  is called the “Victorian Capital of the Midwest.”)

I tracked down Lew’s email and sent him a note. He was in town and welcomed me to not only stop by but to stay the night in his writer’s house that he uses for workshops. So I was able to not only spend some time talking with him about his various experiences in the industry but stayed up at night watching old videotapes from his UCLA days with  various people like Billy Wilder talking to his classes.

I later interviewed him for this article that appeared in Create Magazine.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up on a farm outside the small, 392-person village of Guide Rock, Nebraska.

How did growing up on a farm prepare you for a career in Hollywood?
I was given a sense of a work ethic when I was five years old. I did all the things kids do on a farm.

Was there any expression of the arts or creativity in your home?
My mother was quite a different farmwomen. She was a graduate of the University of Nebraska, in music generally and violin specifically.And she went to the New England Conservatory of Music. My mother had me doing piano lessons when I was 3 years old. And she read Shakespere, “Beowulf” and Greek legends with me on her knee. My father was sort of a Will Rogers character in terms of humor and style.

What lead to your Hollywood writing career?
I went over to the story department at Disney Studios. After two years of reading scripts and books trying to get the material into the studio, I was having lunch with Ray Bradbury about doing the “Martin Chronicles,” and we were talking and I said, Ray I’m really thinking about being a writer, and I’ve read about 2,000 scripts and about 90 % are feces. And I think I can be in that top 10 percent of feces. And he gave me two books to read, One was “The Wisdom of Insecurity” by Alan Watts and the other was Dorothea Brande, “Becoming a Writer.”

So how did you actually make that transition to becoming a writer?
I had saved up enough money to focus on writing for a year and wrote six feature-length scripts. The more ponies you pick in the race, the greater your chances of winning. After the year was up my money had run out and I needed a job. My agent called and said that ABC and Aaron Spelling wanted my script, “If Tomorrow Comes” (about Japanese/Americans held captive in California during WWll) and that started my writing career.

The American Screenwriters Association awarded you with a Lifetime Achievment Award a few years ago. But you paid your dues. That’s a valuable lesson for young writers.
Everyone pays their dues to become successful. I’ll give you a perfect example. Screenwriter Brian Price is sitting in my UCLA graduate 434 class and I hold up a Variety (magazine). And on the front page it says first-time writer sells script to Universal. And I said to Brian, “How many scripts did you write before you became a first-time screenwriter?” and he says, “Ten.” I joined WGA (Writers Guild of America) in 1969 and came to Hollywood in 1956.

It seems like more people than ever are writing screenplays. What is your advice anyone wanting to be a screenwriter?
The most important thing I would tell anyone in terms of writing of any kind is when I was at Northwestern, John Steinbeck came and gave a talk and afterwards I went up to him and asked, “What must I do to become a wonderful writer?” Mr. Steinbeck twitched his beard a little with his thumb and forefinger and he said, “Write.” And turned and walked away.

Graduates in the UCLA M.F.A. program are required to write between six and eight screenplays before they graduate. That’s a lot of writing.
It astonishes me when someone telling me they’re a writer and I ask how many screenplays they’ve written and they say, “One.” You’ve got to do the process. Somewhere between four and six scripts is the equivalent of getting up on water skies.

Is it simply talent that separates UCLA Alumni writers David Ward, Francis Ford Coppola, Eric Roth, Alan Ball, David Capthem and former student of yours Alexander Payne from other writers?
It’s three things. Tenacity, focus, and there is an element of luck involved. Of course, there is the street phrase, “The harder I work the luckier I get.” I don’t think they’re smarter than anyone reading this transcript. I believe everyone has the opportunity to be a wonderful screenwriter.

Do you think with the digital technology there is going to be a new style of writing emerging or a revolution in storytelling outside of New York and LA?
I don’t think there will be a new style of writing, but I think it will be easier opportunities for people to knock people off their socks if they have a good story. It will always come doen to story and character and character and story. With a computer editing bay, a DV camera, very little money, and some talented friends and a good script, you’re going to be able to come up with something that’s going to knock people’s socks off. It’s very exciting to think of some boy or girl in some ghetto around the world will get ahold of a computer and tell a story like “Salaam Bombay.” 

Twice a year (June & September) Lew hosts 14-day workshops patterned after the UCLA M.F.A. screenwriting program.  Learn more about Lew and his workshop at lewhunter.com. Lew and his wife Pamela are gracious hosts and I think any screenwriter would benefit from spending a couple weeks in Nebraska learning from Lew.

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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