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Posts Tagged ‘filmmaking’

For various reasons when The Right Stuff landed in movie theaters in 1984 it did not find a wide audience. But I was glad to experience it in all its glory on the big screen. I was in film school at the time and just delighted by the overall filmmaking of the movie. I was familiar the Pulitzer Prize playwright Sam Shepard who was in the early stages of being the movie star Sam Shepard when he played pilot Chuck Yeager. I still think it was one of the best matches of two larger than life characters. The following scene captures Yeager —who was the first to break the sound barrier (and who died yesterday)—and Shepard, who had a face that didn’t need any words to communicate volumes.

Of course, there is no doubt tucked in that scene Philip Kaufman’s direction and script (based on Tom Wolfe’s book), Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography, Bill Conti’s music, and a wealth of other people from production design, art direction, and editing that made that scene (and the whole movie) special.

From a screenwriting perspective, in Yeager and his life-threatening feat in 1947 you have conflict, character, emotion, and a climatic scene all rolled into one.

Here’s a little more about the real Yeager who was World War II vet from West Virginia.

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

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“[Screenwriter Bo Goldman told me] that while the dialogue was essential, the actors’ reactions to things were even more important. . . . Later, when I met director Blake Edwards, he said the same thing. ‘The reaction to the action is critical.’ To have a great line is nice, but to have a strong and memorable reaction is even better.”
—Writer/producer/director Garry Marshall
My Happy Days in Hollywood (written with Lori Marshall)
Pages 127-128

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

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After almost 13 years of writing blogs I did my first podcast interview on Alex Ferrari’s Bulletproof Screenwriting podcast. For my first time out of the gate, overall I thought it went pretty well. Alex did a super job trying to keep in on the topic of my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles. (Otherwise we could have talked about Burt Renyolds for an hour.)

Alex has been building his whole Indie Film Hustle empire for years and has a wealth of screenwriting and filmmaking podcasts, articles, interviews, and courses on production and distribution. Alex is a filmmaker (On the Corner of Ego and Desire) and author of Rise of the Filmtrepreneur: How to Turn Your Independent Film into a Profitable Business.

P.S. I actually hesitated is agreeing to do this interview because it’s a whole different game than crafting a blog post where you can weigh each word your write. You can edit your meandering when you drift off topic. But I’m glad I did it because it lets me know how to prepare for the next one I do—give shorter answers. And it fired me up to record the audio version of my book which I’m editing now. And have hopes to start a podcast in the coming months.

Scott W. Smith

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“You like race horses? I love ‘em. Beautiful, expensive racehorses. You are looking at six hundred thousand on four hoofs . . . I bet even Russian Czars never paid that kind of dough for a single horse.”
Jack Woltz (John Marley) in The Godfather
Screenplay by Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola

The first film director that I think I was ever aware of was Francis Ford Coppola. I was in middle school when other students were talking about a movie featuring a scene with a severed horse’s head. Being 11-12 years old I didn’t see The Godfather in theaters in its original release—but I learned the name Francis Ford Coppola.

Everything before in my world was about actors— as in, “It’s a Paul Newman film.” When I saw Apocalypse Now (1979) in theaters just before my senior year of high school I was mesmerized. I’d just never seen anything like it. Coppola got a lot of press back then for going over budget and possibly going out of his mind. (The doc Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse is required viewing for any filmmaker.)

Then I was in film school when The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and The Cotton Club came out—and that’s when I also got caught up on The Rain People and The Conversation— cementing him as one of my favorite directors. Plus he’d written the Oscar-winning screenplay for Patton, was a producer on American Graffiti, and an executive producer on Koyaanisqatsi so he’s always been a giant in my book.

But here’s what the five-time Oscar winning producer/director/writer has to say about his career that’s spanned seven decades:

“My father [composer Carmine Coppola] was always struggling with his career. I was said to him, ‘Are you as great a composer as Beethoven or Mozart?’ He said, ‘Well, no, I’m not.’ I said, ‘Are you the worst?’ He said, ‘No, I’m certainly not the worst. There are many worst than me.’ So I said, ‘You’re somewhere between the worst and the best, and that’s a wonderful thing.’ That’s how I feel about myself. I don’t see myself as a big deal or a big shot. Even when you hear me talk about myself in relation to other filmmakers, I’m proud that I’m one of the group of filmmakers who are important in my generation. To me, it’s not vital to be considered one the five most important; I just want to be somewhere between the best and the worst. And that’s where I am, let’s face it. Compared to the greats, I’m a second rate film director, but I’m a first-rate, second rate director.”
— Producer/writer/director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather I, II, III)
Haute Living, “Francis Ford Coppola: Protecting His Legacy During The Pandemic” by Laura Schreffler
October 15, 2020

Coppola may be the only person in the world that would call Francis Ford Coppola a second rate film director. But in a business that has no shortage of oversized egos, it’s is refreshing to hear someone so prolific speak so humbly. Same guy who bought a small vineyard in Napa Valley and hoped to make some wine for friends and family—and ended up building a wine empire with The Francis Ford Coppola Winery.

P.S. The first chapter of my book is on conflict, because conflict gets our attention. Horse’s head= conflict.

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

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It is basically Stephen King saw A Nightmare on Elm Street [1984] and did his ripoff of it. The [1988] book It is Stephen King’s ripoff of Nightmare on Elm Street. He just replaces Freddy Krueger with Pennywise. It’s just exactly like he sees Nightmare on Elm Street—Oh wow, that’s goes that’s a really neat idea. That’s really clever. That’s cool. Well, let me take that idea and do my version of it. Now, his version of it is going to be a 560 page novel. As opposed to a one-dimensional character, and at most two-dimensional characters, he’s going to have four-dimensional characters. And the whole history of everyone of them as far as the kids and the relationships with their parents, and their parent’s relationships, and the whole town will be a thing. He’s a terrific writer in that regard, so he fills it full with minutia, and he fills it with his good prose. And he fills it full of his good writing, which is what Wes Craven didn’t have. Take away all that cake frosting, and all the little frosting flowers that are put on it and all that—it’s basically a ripoff of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
—Oscar winning screenwriter Quentin Tarantino
Eli Roth’s History of Horror: Uncut podcast

P.S. Back in 2011, I wrote a string of posts on movie cloning. If I ever revisit that concept I’ll call it movie sampling instead. Here are a couple of links showing how and why some movies are similar to other movies:
Movie Cloning (Part 1)
Movie Cloning (Pirates)
Movie Cloning (Raiders)
Stealing for Screenwriters (According to Paul Schrader)
Originality is Just Undetected Plagiarism—Example A: ‘Pulp Fiction’


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

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This is one of the best of all the Abbott and Costello features.”
—Marjorie Baumgarten
Austin Chronicle
An October 2002 review of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

“To some degree or another, I even think Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein affected me as an artist—i.e. the fact that at five I was able to make genre distinctions. This is the Abbott and Costello slapstick comedy part of the movie, this is the Universal horror film part of the movie. And this exists here, and this exists here, and they combine them together. So now they’re combining my two favorite genres together [comedy and horror]. I was even able to make those distinctions. That, oh, this is that type of movie, and this is that type of movie. And this is the best movie ever made because the put my two favorite types together. I’ve been mixing and matching my favorite genres ever since I started putting pen to paper. None of my movies are just one thing. They’re a lot of different genres and subgenres crammed into it.”
—Writer/director Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Eli Roth’s History of Horror Uncut podcast
May 9,2019

Related posts:
Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood in 1987 (How Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle Influenced Quentin Tarantino)

‘Once Upon a Time … ’ in Modesto (& the ‘American Graffiti’ Influence on Quentin Tarantino)

The Unofficial Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood Film School

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

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“My steadiest survival job was working as a bartender in Broadway theaters. I wrote most of A Few Good Men on cocktail napkins at the Palace Theatre during the first act of La Cage aux Folles.”
—Writer Director Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)

P.S. Here’s a quote where Sorkin expanded that thought about his survival jobs:

“I bartended in Broadway theaters, I dressed up as a moose and handed out leaflets. I drove a limousine, I delivered singing telegrams. I did all kinds of things you’re going to do, because it’s unlikely that you’re going to graduate and instantly be hired to do what you dream of doing.”
—Aaron Sorkin
The Hollywood Reporter interview with Stephen Galloway

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles which in available in paperback and eBook.

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“Reversals are a more compelling form of discoveries or revelations because they turn the story upside down.”
Karl Iglesias
Writing for Emotional Impact

CBS Sports headline Nov. 9, 2020

Last week was historic—I did my first podcast interview about my book . (When that interview about my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles is posted I’ll write about it here.)

This week was historic, too. On Sunday, Tampa Bay’s quarterback Tom Brady lost a game by the biggest margin of his entire career. And his former team, the New England Patriots, are on track to have their worst season in 20 years. That’s quite a reversal from just a few years ago when Brady was with the Patriots and led them to Super Bowl victories in 2016, 2017, 2018. (And three others a little further back.)

The year 2020 could be called one gigantic reversal. Thanks to the disruption of COVID-19 life as we know it may never go back to the way it was at the beginning of the year.

Back in 2016 I wrote a post about the United States Presidential Election that was a great example of a major reversal. A reversal that favored Donald Trump. So it’s fitting to look at the 2020 election in terms of reversals and the takeaway lessons from a screenwriting perspective.

Do you remember early February of 2020? Bernie Sanders won the most votes in the Iowa caucuses and Pete Buttigieg won the most delegates in the race to pick a Democratic Presidential candidate. Then those two duked it out in New Hampshire. On February 22 Sanders won Nevada. At that point, 77-year-old Joe Biden had never won a single primary and seemed to be on his way out of the race. (Maybe even out of politics.)

Yet here we are less than nine months later and Biden not only became the Democratic candidate, but (unless there is another reversal) he’s been elected as the 46th President of the United States.

“A reversal changes the direction of the story 180 degrees…Reversals can work physically or emotionally. They can reverse the action or reverse a character’s emotions.”
Linda Seger
Making A Good Script Great
Page 67

Minor reversals (good and bad) are a daily part of our lives, but major reversals really get our attention.  It’s a divorce, a death, or the loss of a job. But it’s also a marriage, a birth, and a promotion. It’s been said that there really are only two emotions, happy and sad.

Movies are also full of minor reversals. Just about every scene has some kind of reversal in it.  The uncertainty holds our attention. But what sets a major reversal apart is scope and magnitude.

In Rocky, when Adrian finally accepts a date from Rocky that’s a reversal in their relationship up unto that point. When Rocky loses his locker, that’s a reversal. But when Rocky, a low-level, club boxer is chosen to fight the champion Apollo Creed, that is a major reversal in the story. It’s such a major reversal that five Rocky movies have flowed from the reversal.

If Rocky isn’t chosen for that fight, perhaps he realizes that boxing really isn’t his calling in life and takes a factory job where he ends up fighting the system like Erin Brockovich and Norma Rae. But Rocky fought for the championship and it resulted in a franchise that’s made over a billion dollars at the box office.

Robert Mckee says a film needs to have at least three major reversals to “satisfy the audience” and I’d agree with that. But I’d add that there are five places in script where major reversals are not only common, but needed:

  1. The inciting incident. (What others call the “Knock at the door.”) It’s the thing that sets your story in motion.
  2. Act 1 Turning point
  3. Midpoint conflict
  4. Act 2 Turning point
  5. Crisis/Climax toward the end of your story.

Many memorable movie scenes are major reversals that loosely fit in one of the above categories.

“Reversals go a long way toward helping writers confront the twin-edge sword of predictability.”
Richard Walters
Essentials of Screenwriting
Page 74

Off the top of my head here are some major reversals:

—”I see dead people.” (If you don’t know the reference I won’t spoil it for you.)
—”She’s my sister and my daughter.” (Ditto the above note.)
—The ______ in the box in Se7en.
—The tornado in The Wizard of Oz.
—The plane crash in Cast Away.
— The super posse shows up in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
—Matt Damon gets stranded on Mars (The Martian).
—Sandra Bullock gets lost in space (Gravity).
—A command module malfunctions (Apollo 13).
—Jerry Maguire gets fired.
—Zoltar grants the young boy Josh his wish and he wakes up as a man (Big)
—The warden throws a rock through a Raquel Welch poster in Shawshank.
—Woody in the box at the end of Toy Story 3. (Yes, I shed a tear or two.)
Both Fight Club and A Beautiful Mind have major reversals where the audience learns the main character has a mental illness.
—When Tom Cruise learns who the Rain Man is (Rain Man).
—And the Keyser Soze ending to The Usual Suspects.

In the “Marge vs. the Monorail” episode of The Simpsons, what appears to be a great way to spend a $3 million dollar windfall to Springfield turns out to endanger lives and the town.

And then there is the reversal in The Social Network when the co-founder of Facebook (Eduardo Saverin) learns his stock worth millions even in the early days of Facebook had been diluted to be worth less than $20,000. Reversals can be very emotional.

P.S. But don’t feel too sorry for Saverin—for he had his own major reversal. He won a lawsuit against Facebook and today the investor has a net worth estimated to be over $13 billion. (Yes, that’s thirteen billion. A chunk of which came off a $15,000 investment in a start up then called The Facebook.)

Scott W. Smith

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Last year Matthew McConaughey starred in The Gentlemen looking every bit a movie star.

But last year—while making The Gentlemen— he was also Professor of Practice and teaching the class Script to Screen (RTF 367Q along with Scott Rice) at the University of Texas. Here’s a small part of the syllabus for the class held in the spring of ’19.

Here’s an idea for the UT Radio/Film/TV program: Why not create a MasterClass-like production of Matthew McConaughey leading a class and sell it for $99? It’d be a big seller and it would give some students/recent graduates a project to produce.

P.S. In the past week or so I’ve listened to McConaughey read/perform his book Greenlights and at least seven one-hour interviews that he’s done on various podcasts. I wish there was a Matthew McConaughey app that changed all audio books to McConaughey’s Texas drawl.

Related posts:
Matthew McConaughey’s Red Lights, ‘Greenlights,’ and Forced Winters
Matthew McConaughey Reaches the End of His Rope

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

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“Create structure so you can have freedom.”
—Matthew McConaughey

Today I started listening to the audio version of Matthew McConaughey’s book Greenlights. His Texas drawl is worlds away from Orson Welles’ voice, but they share that gift in that their voices could make reading the federal income tax code sound interesting. Or an ad for a Lincoln.

At 38 minutes into the first chapter of McConaughey’s storytelling memoir I was inspired to get back in the saddle. My original goal in writing the book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles was to have the audio version released last month with the book. I failed.

Just getting the book done and out was a marathon. I had trouble getting getting psyched up for the the audio version. All the more so because I’m the voice talent, the audio engineer, the director, and the editor. I have a simple basic audio recording setup in my home office closet, and know how to use the gear, but being mentally prepared to record has proven difficult.

But after listening to McConaughey I’m ready to just say “Alright, alright, alright”—and am setting a goal to record a chapter a day. Or to finish recording by November 14 at the latest.

“Creativity needs borders.”
—Matthew McConaughey
One of his “bumperstickers” (one word) in Greenlights

Yes, that music stand does say “Bitch” in the corner. I bought it a Minneapolis antique store and was told it was from an area public school. (Who hates the music teacher?)

Now I’m not going to sound as cool as McConaughey, but you do what you can, with what you have, where you are, right?

Funny thing about the McConaughey vibe is he feels like an old school friend no matter your age or where you grew up. Just someone you liked to hangout with. Then there’s the Texas thing on top of that. Even before he came on the scene in Dazed and Confused (1993), Texas was on my radar.

I was conceived in San Angelo, Texas where my father was stationed as an Air Force pilot. In the early 70’s (in Florida) I pulled for the Dallas Cowboys even though the Miami Dolphins where heading for a undefeated and Super Bowl winning season. As a high school football player in the late ’70s I read Gary Shaw’s book Meat on the Hook: The Hidden World of Texas Football and oddly dreamed about playing football in Austin.

I first spent a little time in Austin in the ’90s and thought it was an ideal down. Part hippy town, part college town (with a top film school at UT—Austin), part political town, part tech town, and part musicians town. I bought an cool old piano stool there for my pianist wife because I was told it came from a “Hacienda in Mexico.” No shortage of storytellers in Austin. And no shortage of people wanting to move there.

McConaughey calls Austin “the blueberry in the tomato soup” and the influx of Californians won’t change that politically, but come back in 2030 and see who’s changed who the most. One thing that can stop the Californication of Texas is the Minster of Culture—Matthew McConaughey. Who also has a side gig teaching at class at UT called Script to Screen.

And, I should end this post mentioning that Austin is home to the Austin Film Festival which just happens to being going on this week.

P.P.S. Here’s a famous example of Orson Welles showing how difficult recording audio can be.

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

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