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Posts Tagged ‘Flashdance’

Pearl Harbor is a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle.”
Roger Ebert
Chicago Sun-Times

“I’ve always said that you should have different critics like in the music press – you don’t have an expert on opera reviewing Kid Rock.”
Jerry Bruckheimer
Producer, Pearl Harbor (domestic gross $198 million)


What is it about Jerry Bruckheimer that has allowed him to tap into films and TV programs that people want to see? Here’s just a partial list of some of the films that he has produced:

Beverly Hills Cop
Top Gun
Flashdance
Crimson Tide
Bad Boys
Black Hawk Down
National Treasure
Pirates of the Caribbean
(All of them)

And just this past weekend Bruckheimer’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time opened with $37.8 milion. (And his soon to be released The Sorcerer’s Apprentice will probably make a dollar or two this summer.)

Which means he’s been able to work with some of the biggest names in Hollywood; Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Sean Connery, and Johnny Depp. And for good measure he produces for TV as well. (CSI, CSI Miami, Cold Case, The Amazing Race)

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s box office secret is really no secret at all, he simply says, “I just make movies I want to see.” Simple, right?

CSI creator Anthony Zuiker says Bruckeimer is “ferociously commercial.” He makes the kinds of films that a large group of people want to see on any given Friday and Saturday night. Of course, it’s his ferociously commercial spirit that brings more than a few critics to his work. But he is called Mr. Blockbuster not Mr. Small Contemplative Art House Producer.

“If I made films for the critics, or for someone else, I’d probably be living in some small Hollywood studio apartment.”
Jerry Bruckheimer

And here are two more quotes that some would scoff at if Bruckheimer himself would have said them.

“No artist—notably no film or television writer—need apologize for entertaining an assembled mass of people.”
Richard Walter (UCLA screenwriting professor)
Screenwriting, page 12

“I like (audiences) to enjoy the film. It’s an arcade amusement; it’s not penicillin. It’s an arcade amuesment—take people’s minds off their troubles and give’em a little bit of fun. And sell some popcorn.”
David Mamet
Conversations with Screenwriters
Interview with Susan Bullington Katz, page 200

And while Bruckheimer’s films have allowed him to own nice digs (slightly nicer than a studio apartment) in Los Angeles and Ojai, California, as well as a horse ranch in Kentucky, he grew up in humble circumstances with Jewish-German immigrant parents in Detroit, Michigan. At a young age Bruckheimer developed a love for photography and movies.

“I’m a big fan of David Lean. Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, and Doctor Zhivago are movies that were seminal films for me when I was growing up. I admire the filmmaking and the storytelling ability of Lean and [screenwriter] Robert Bolt, so that’s what I look toward for inspiration.”
Jerry Bruckheimer
Barnes & Noble Interview

Many people also overlook that Bruckheimer has also produced the more down-to-earth and inspirational films Glory Road, Remember the Titans, and Dangerous Minds.

He went to college at the University of Arizona where he didn’t major in film but psychology. He returned to Detroit where he began making automotive commercials. He did that well enough to take his talents to New York while still in his early and mid-twenties, but left the lucrative world of commercial work to try to make his mark in Hollywood.

And for the last 30 years that’s what Bruckheimer has done. To the tune of four billion plus box office dollars. (Yes, $4 billion.) An average $110 million per picture on over 40 films. A couple of weeks ago Bruckheimer got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Tom Cruise was on hand to add his sentiments:

“We’re here to celebrate the greatest producer in modern history. He certainly stands very tall in the pantheon of producers in Hollywood. He’s not only a hard-working, dedicated filmmaker but he’s a loyal friend to everyone within our industry and to all the fans around the world.”

And even though Bruckheimer is as connected to Hollywood as you can get, he’s still connected to the world outside of Hollywood.

Bruckheimer’s wife Linda (who is a novelist and producer) has bought and restored several buildings in her hometown of Bloomfield, Kentucky where she and her husband own a house. Last year Jerry & Linda gave the commencement address to Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Jerry told the class, “God has given everybody a gift, and your task is to find yours, develop it, and dream beyond your ability. Look to your past and preserve what’s most valuable for your future…just as the next generation will look to you for guidance.”

Tomorrow I’ll look at two screenwriters also from Detroit that Bruckheimer has recently worked with.

PS. Interesting Kentucky connection—Johnny Depp (who Bruckheimer has made a film or two with) is from Owensboro, Kentucky. Tom Cruise, who moved a lot as a youth, lived (and was a paperboy) in Louisville, Kentucky for a short time, not far from Bloomfield. (Toss in that George Clooney was born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky and it’s fun to think that at one time in the late sixties or early seventies Depp, Cruise, and Clooney all lived— at the same time— in the state of Kentucky.)

Related post: Screenwriting from Michigan

Scott W. Smith

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“You’ve got to find a way of saying it without saying it.”
Duke Ellington

My message is simple—put down the megaphone! Megaphones have a useful purpose. I used to use one when I took photos of large groups of people. It was the only way to be heard. But when writing screenplays there are more subtle ways to be heard. Often times it’s just a simple action or a single sentence. And the real danger when you pull out the megaphone in a movie theater is it tends keep people out of the theater.

In the post Writing from Theme (Tip #20) I covered the importance of theme and in a later post (More Thoughts on Theme)  found this little nugget :

“Themes in screenwriting can be tricky because in real-life we love to talk about our themes—share our philosophies of life, tell people our beliefs about life’s meaning. But themes we talk about are not our life’s real themes. Out true themes are lived out by our actions. “
Linda Seger
Making a Good Writer Great
page 71-72

And I know this is an area that is a little subjective, but I’m going to tread on that delicate topic of  theme and message. The line for me is really blurred between the differences. (And some say it’s fair to use them interchangeably.)  So let me just say that every film addresses some point of view (yes, even Porkey’s) that the audience receives in one degree or another. (And The Matrix proves that not everyone will agree what that message is.)

Joe Eszterhas has written about how he’s received many letters and heard first hand accounts of people who told them they were motivated to follow their dreams after watching the film Flashdance that he wrote (co-written with Thomas Hedley Jr.) after hearing the simple line ,”When you let go of your dream, you die,” and watching Jennifer Beals follow her dream.

Frank Darabont has heard similar stories about his film The Shawshank Redemption. Who doesn’t get motivated by the message/theme, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” Anyone know if that line is even in the Stephen King short story that Shawshank was based on?

Here are a couple more quotes to throw into the mix as you walk that fine line in your own scripts between subtle theme and overt propaganda.

“If a writer has a genuine story to tell, as opposed to a message to smuggle in, and is faithful to his storytelling and skillful in technique, the audience may get a message. In fact, they may get more and deeper messages than the audience ever intended. But for that to happen, the work must be a  compelling story, not a homily, and the characters must come to life in some real sense. It can’t be a puppet show in which the author simply stands behind his characters with a bullhorn.”
K.L. Billingsley
The Seductive Image

“In life, we lead by example. In storytelling, we make our points by showing the world what’s wrong with it through characters who say and do things that are so very wrong.  Avoid speeches.  Show things going wrong in your protag’s world to make your points and create meaning.  Everything that goes right for your protag goes wrong for the story.”
Mystery Man on Film
Who is John Galt? article at The Story Department

“Didactic screenplays sacrifice character and story to prove the theme correct. This results in propaganda, a story in which the characters are only mouthpieces for the author’s message.”
Robin U. Russin and William Missouri Downs
Screenplay, Writing the Picture

“Don’t have your hero come right out and say what he’s learned. This is obvious and preachy and will turn off you audience. Instead you want to suggest your hero’s insight by the actions he takes leading up to self-revelation.”
John Truby
The Anatomy of Story

If you want to say something important, God bless you, but the world already has enough preachers. What the world needs now (besides love, sweet love) is more storytellers who thrill and entertain; and after you’ve been enthralled by the wonderous tale of the master yarn-spinner, you might find that the good storytelling also includes subtle messages which are covertly hung on the clothesline of compelling story.”
Richard Krevolin
Screenwriting for the Soul
page 75

Scott W. Smith


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The year 2008 was a good one for screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg. She was nominated for a Primetime Emmy as one of the writers of the TV program Dexter and the movie from her Twilight script made $191 million domestically.

Rosenberg also wrote the script for The Twilight Saga; New Moon which opens Friday.

“If someone sees a story at a certain point in their lives, they can see this character (Bella), albeit a fictional character, has survived something, and not only survived it, but grown from it. That’s what all of the things in our lives, even the negative, painful experiences, they all I think provide an opportunity to learn and grow. You just never know what someone’s going to walk away from a movie with, and hopefully we can provide that. I remember when I was a dancer and I had to do this performance and I was really nervous about it, and I happened at that moment to go see Flashdance. I mean, it’s silly, but I walked out of that movie going ‘what a feeling!’ I walked out with confidence. You don’t know what someone’s going to walk away from a movie with, but you hope it’s something positive, but if nothing, you want them most basically to be entertained and engaged. That’s your job.”
Melissa Rosenberg
Interview with Todd Gilchrist
Cinematical, Nov. 13, 2009

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There is so much ground to cover with Sunset Boulevard I think I’ll focus on it a few days. And while we’re looking at a movie about a screenwriter who is thinking about moving back to Ohio I thought I’d find a quote from a real Hollywood screenwriter who actually did move back to his home state of Ohio.

“You don’t want to turn into Joe Gillis. In Sunset Boulevard, Joe Gillis, screenwriter  (played by William Holden), wound up as a kept man of a broken-down movie star who hasn’t made a movie in decades. She spoiled him, belittled him, and finally killed him. In the last scene of the film , we see him floating facedown in her swimming pool.

Someone asks him in the film, ‘Don’t you sometimes hate yourself?’

Joe says, ‘Constantly.'”
                                             Joe Eszterhas
                                             The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood
                                             page 353

I wonder how many times Eszterhas watched Sunset Boulevard as he rode the success of screenwriting more than a billion dollars of box office hits including Basic Instinct, Flashdance, and Jagged Edge. And did Sunset Boulevard play any part in him moving back to Bainbridge Township outside Cleveland?

Scott W. Smith


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