Posts Tagged ‘Ernest Lehman’

This mini-lesson from Lawrence Turman is from his 2005 book So You Want to be a Producer. Turman has produced over 40 films including The Graduate. At 93 he’s still professor and chair of the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC Cinematic Arts:

“The great Ernest Lehman began writing for New York press agents, and then moved on to short stories, one of which he sold to Hollywood, starting his movie career; the classic North by Northwest was his original. He gave me a important touchstone about script development: ‘Each scene should be an arrow into the next scene.’

“Think about that, and then think about it some more, and it will make great sense. Here’s the best example I know of: Three friends are having a heated discussion, which leads to an argument, during which one pulls a knife, stabs another, and then flees. That’s pretty damn dramatic, right? Wrong. It’s theatrical. But what would make the scene a dramatic arrow into the next scene would be for the remaining person, after the stabbing, to say, ‘I’m going to get that son of a bitch if it’s the last thing I do.’ Now people are leaning forward in their seats, saying, ‘Whoa. What’s he going to do? How’s he going to get him? What’s going to happen Next?’

—Lawrence Turman

P.S. Here’s an interview at Columbia College Hollywood where Turman talks about why they cut a scene from The Graduate that they’d shot at a great expense. (Followed by the scene itself.)

Scott W. Smith, author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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Did you know that before screenwriter Ernest Lehman wrote North by Northwest that he actually went to South Dakota to research climbing Mount Rushmore? It all started with a suggestion by Alfred Hitchcock who told him,  “I always wanted to do a chase across the faces of Mount Rushmore.”

So Lehman took a train to Rapid City and hired a forest ranger to help him climb to the top just to see the view. But Lehman didn’t make it as he realized the danger involved and gave the ranger a Polaroid camera to take some pictures for him instead.

And just as Leham had trouble climbing to the top of Mount Rushmore he also had trouble writing the script for North by Northwest. Though he was over forty at the time and had over ten film and TV writing credits including the feature The Sweet Smell of Success Lehman later admitted;

“The truth is, even with all my experience, I really didn’t know how to write the script. I’d never written a movie like that before, but gradually I eked it out — or, at least, the first sixty-five pages — and then Hitch went off to make Vertigo. So I’d sit there in my lonely office, and many times I’d go home at night having written less than half a page, completely discouraged. And several times I tried to quit while he was away, but my agent wouldn’t let me, saying, “You’ve already quit The Wreck of the Mary Deare, you can’t quit this one too.” So I was kind of trapped into doing it…wondering, “How can I get out of this?” And the only way I could get out of it was to write my way out of it. And I think that, despite the unpleasantness of having to work under those conditions, I wound up at the top of my form as a writer, and, later, Hitch was at the top of his form when he directed the picture. In a sense, it’s unlike any picture he ever made. And it seems to have legs…It’s just incredible what endurance it has. It’s kind of timeless.”
Ernest Lehman
Creative Screenwriting Journal

His endurance paid off on North by Northwest and he received an Academy Award nominations. And in 2001 he received his an Honorary Oscar for his body of work that included West Side Story, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Sabrina, Hello Dolly!, The King and I, Black Sunday, Somebody Up There Likes Me, and The Sound of Music.

Mountain climbing and screenwriting—both are a tricky business that require endurance.

Scott W. Smith

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