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Posts Tagged ‘Francis Ford Coppola’

Francis Ford Coppola‘s prompt book for The Godfather is several inches thick and contains Mario Puzo’s book The Godfather with note after note by Coppola as he details what parts he wants to extract and emphasize in the movie. The prompt book was the foundation for which he wrote the script.

Coppola explains that the prompt book is a tradition carried over from his theater days. (Before Coppola got a master’s in film at UCLA, he received a theater degree from Hofstra University.) Coppola also says he based his prompt book on one that Elia Kazan had done for A Streetcar Named Desire. Kazan has written several books about his life and films including  Kazan on Directing and there are many other books that gleam insights from him that I’m sure was an encouragement to Coppola during his own difficult time of getting The Godfather made.

“When I started On the Waterfront, I was what they call unbankable. Nobody would put up money for me because I had had a series of box office failures…. One of my happiest moments was when I got the Academy Award for On the Waterfront.”
Elia Kazan
Kazan: The Master Director Discusses His Films Interviews with Elia Kazan
Jeff Young

In the below video, Coppola discusses part of the process that he went through in writing the script for The Godfather;

“On page 79 of the book we have the actual shooting of the Don. Whenever I felt there was a really important part of the book that was going to be in the movie I would sit there with my ruler and really underline—so this details the shooting. My margin notes are; THE SHOOTING! GREAT DETAIL. The Don is the main character of the movie, so as in Pyscho , we are totally thrown when he is shot. How would Hitchcock design this? Hitchcock was such a master about manipulating information for the audience, usually telling you things so that you were equipped to enjoy what you were seeing —rather than withholding information, he would give you information.”
Francis Ford Coppola

Scott W. Smith

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“It’s true I rewrite a lot. You know, I don’t have that kind of talent that, you know,  I saw of kids who could draw beautiful pictures…my talent is I just try and try, and try and try again, and little by little it comes to something that I think is okay.”
Five time Oscar winning writer/director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather)
Inside the Actor’s Studio interview with James Lipton

Related post: That Time William Goldman Got a ‘C’ in Creative Writing

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“I don’t think there’s any artist of any value who doesn’t doubt what they’re doing.”
5-time Oscar winner Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather)
Academy of Achievement Q&A

Below is a partial list of Francis Ford Coppola related posts I’ve written over the year. I’m going to designate Coppola the Godfather of this blog.  If you’ve never read the post Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio check it out. You’ll see Coppola way back in c. 1979 was way ahead of the curve in seeing a digital revolution.

Related posts:
Heart of Coppola
“Who said art has to cost money?”—Coppola
“Take a risk”—Coppola
Coppola, Castro & Capitalism
Coppola & Roger Corman
Coppola, Criticism & the Internet
The Francis For Coppola Way (Tip #29)
Writing ‘The Godfather’ (Part 1)—A five part series

P.S. I’ve always admired Coppola because he’s a swing-for-the-fence kind of guy. Never afraid to risk failing. This blog has had successes (the Emmy in ’08 and most recently hitting a million total views) but it’s also hit failure (Kickstarter in ’11, and most recently Patreon)—but you learn you either pack up shop or suck it up and forge on. In my case I’m pushing to get the book version of this blog done by the end of the year. If you have any connections to Mr. Coppola I’d love to have him write the introduction the the book, so if you have any magic powers to pull that off I can be contacted at info@scottwsmith.com.

Failure related posts:
Tennessee Williams on ‘Apparent Failure’
Facing the Possibility of Failure (Filmmaker Edward Burns)
Failure is an Option
Susannah Grant on Failure
Aaron Sorkin on Failure
Spectacular Failures
J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Without a network, creative work does not endure…without Paris, there is no Hemingway.”
Jeff Goins
The Unfair Truth About How Creative People Really Succeed

Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez has his filmmaking network of people down in Austin, but he also has a literal network—El Rey Network. And when you own a network you can line up interviews with your director friends, which is exactly what The Director’s Chair with Robert Rodriguez is all about.

“It was a thrill to be able to feel that I was a director from a studio at 24 or 25, but when I came out to Hollywood and was making Finian’s Rainbow…everything I wanted to do wasn’t somehow permitted. I wanted to make the film on location—it was about sharecroppers in Kentucky and I go, ‘Can I go to Kentucky and have dancers dancing around with tobacco?’, ‘Oh no, no, we gotta do it on the sets from Camelot.’ I used to sit there with George Lucas, who was about 19, and we would just grump about we couldn’t do this and we can’t do that. And we started to fantasize, let’s go make a film driving across the country. And we’ll make a truck that has all the necessary equipment and we won’t even know exactly what we’re going to shoot. If we hear there’s mine disaster we’ll all go to the mine disaster and incorporate that into the movie. We made The Rain People that way. And then we were so mobile that we said, well gee, we have a whole studio in a truck, we don’t have to go back to L.A., we can go to San Francisco and be close enough to L.A. to have the access to the actors and the prop houses, and the resources, and not be in the center of it. I essentially combined the culture of a theater club with the reality of filmmaking as we learned at USC and UCLA and that was Zoetrope.”
Oscar-Winning writer/producer/director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Patton)
Interview with Robert Rodriguez
The Director’s Chair, Episode 5

The Coppola family, food & film model is much of what Rodriguez has created in Austin, Texas—which has an entrenched film community that’s avoided being in the center of the film business. This is what Rodriguez told Coppola in the above interview:

“Family and food and film kind of all seem to go together for you, and it inspired me to do that. I started my own studio [Troublemaker Studios]. I work with my family, and I’ve had other filmmakers come to my sets and see that I’m working with my kids—they’ve gone off and worked with their kids and have done fantastic work. You’ve kind of started this little revolution.”

P.S. If you want to add faith to family, food & film outside L.A., look at what the writer/director team of Alex and Stephen Kendrick of Kendrick Brothers Productions are doing in (an unlikely place) Albany, Georgia. This past weekend their film War Room ended up #1 at the domestic box office, ending Straight Outta Compton‘s three week run in the top spot. Produced by Sony Pictures for $3 million War Room hasn’t even been out two weeks and has passed $30 million at the box office. I think it’s the first time a specifically Christian faith based film has finished #1 at the box office. Back in 2008 I wrote the post Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry and talked about the niche that Perry and the Kendrick Brothers were cooking down in Georgia.

Related posts:
‘Who said art had to cost money?’—Coppola
‘Take a Risk’—Coppola
Coppola & Roger Corman
The Francis Ford Coppola Way
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl from Ohio
‘Super-Serving Your Niche’

Scott W. Smith

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“Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.”
Francis Ford Coppola 
Who said art has to cost money? 

“At this moment, anyone who dreams of becoming a filmmaker is lucky indeed. For the first time in the history of cinema, filmmaking does not need to be a capitalist enterprise. You no longer need millions of dollars or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. You are no longer beholden to someone writing a check. It no longer needs to be a business. it can be your artistic expression…Now you can buy a consumer-model digital camera and the image looks great…You can even shoot a pretty good-looking movie on your smartphone and then edit it on a laptop…You can post your film on YouTube, Vimeo, and any number of digital platforms and slowly build your audience.”
Edward Burns
Independent Ed

As I write this post both Mad Max: Fury Road and Avengers: Age of Ulton are currently in theaters so why have I spent two weeks writing posts about indie filmmaker Edward Burns? It’s because my focus has always been on the outsider. To use a well traveled line, it’s about those who’ve “taken the road less traveled.”

And if you succeed that road may take you to the larger production hubs of Los Angeles or New York City, but I’m really interested inspiring people anywhere in the world in telling their stories. As I’ve said before, that could be a filmmaker in West Des Moines, West Africa or someone just east of the Hollywood sign in West Covina.

I love reading blogs & books, and listening to podcasts, from those on the inside of Hollywood. There are many great insights from those people and over the years I’ve tried to find the most helpful ones and pass them on here.

If you dream of winning the spec script lottery by writing one of the under 200 spec scripts that will be sold in Hollywood this year—great. Dream of being a LA screenwriter on assignment—go for it. There are many talented writers doing that very thing and making a very good living. (Though fewer than you probably think.)

But there is a tertium quid—just to drop what little Latin I know.  A third option if you will. And that’s where Edward Burns comes in to point the way for the outsiders out there—wherever you live. (Burns launched his filmmaking career by shooting parts of his first feature in parents house on Long Island—and he relaunched his career my making three micro budget features. )

“You can learn how to make movies and tell stories by making movies and telling stories. Please don’t listen to the naysayers who complain that we have a glut of movies, that there are too many people making movies and telling stories. Has anyone ever complained about too many poems, songs, or paintings? Because of these technological advances, you are now no different from the kids who keep writing songs on their guitars until they figure out what makes a good song, or the painters who keep throwing colors against a canvas until they realize their vision. Think about that kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, who picked up an acoustic guitar and changed the way we look at the world. Do you think this songs could have been written if Bob Dylan needed to please a money man? Not very likely. That could be you and your camera.”
Writer/director/actor Edward Burns
Independent Ed; Inside a Career of Big Dreams. Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life
page 220

Burns’ TV program Public Morals is scheduled to debut Aug 25 on TNT. The executive producer is Steven Spielberg (can’t get much more inside Hollywood than that) and has been a dream project that Burns has had for at least 20 years. It takes a little time sometimes—even if your first film cleans up at Sundance as Burns did with The Brothers McMullen back in 1995.

P.S. I’m not the biggest gear head out there but when you have cameras like the Blackmagic URSA Mini camera hitting the market—a 4K camera for under $3k—it’s kind of astounding to think where production has come in just the last 10 years. If you don’t shoot or edit yourself, I’m sure with a little creativity you can meet some shooters and editors in your area to help get your short films, indie features, experimental films, and long and short form documentaries made. And remember what Austin-based filmmaker Robert Rodriguez said in a post about The Total Filmmaker;  “If you are technical and creative you will be unstoppable.”

Related Posts:

How to Shoot a Film in Ten Days
Off Screen Quote #22 (Bob Dylan)
‘Shelter from the Storm’ (Dylan)
Screenwriting from Duluth
The Outsider Advantage
The 10 Minute Film School
The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns
“Don’t try and compete with Hollywood.”—Ed Burns
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio (2.0)
A New Kind of Filmmaker   “One of the benefits of being outside of Hollywood…”
Revisiting ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ (2.0) Which includes this passage:

Dylan spent most of his youth in the mining town of Hibbing in northern Minnesota. A group of close-knit Jewish people from Eastern Europe drawn to opportunities in the area known as the Mesabi Iron Range. (See David Mamet’s connection to storytelling and Eastern European Jews.) The ore from the area once made the small town of Hibbing very wealthy. But by the time Dylan (then known as Robert /Bobby Zimmerman) was a teenager in the 1950s the mining town’s heyday was over. But it was fertile ground to listen to blues and country on the radio and learn to play the piano and guitar. Dylan graduated from Hibbing High School in 1959.

Scott W. Smith

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“I like simple stories and complex characters.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade)
Filmmaker Fills Simple Stories with Complex Folks/Roger Ebert

“I’m a big fan of simple stories, complex characters. I love when stories get from here to here. I know then I’ll have room for great character stuff to go on.”
Screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Collateral)

In Stuart Beattie’s screenplay for Collateral (2014) the story is simple, a hit man catches a cab at night with the goal to kill five people before he catches a morning flight out of LAX. That simplicity allowed Beattie to add some complexity to the characters played by Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. (Cruise’s character is a hit man with an appreciation and knowledge of jazz music.)

“[The jazz scene] is modeled after two favorite scenes of mine, True Romance with Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper…and the Luc Besson movie La Femme Nikita when he takes her to the restaurant and you think, oh great—he’s finally taking her out. And here’s the gun, here are the people. And the whole thing changes on a dime. I love those kind of scenes and I wanted that kind of scene in Collateral.
Stuart Beattie
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters (Part 1) interview with Mike De Luca

It’s worth noting that there are echoes of the jazz scene in the 1993 movie Schindler’s List when Amon Goeth (known as the “Butcher of Plaszow” and played by Ralph Fiennes) who appreciated classical music yet had no problem standing on his balcony and casually shooting a couple of Jewish workers in the forced labor camp. It may not be historically accurate, but it’s great cinema in conveying that one can be educated and sophisticated musically —and still be a savage killer.

Screenwriter Steve Zillian, who won an Oscar for writing Schindler’s List, is admired by Beattie. Chances are good that Schindler’s List is in what Beattie calls his “personal reference library.”

“I have a library of probably 100 scripts that are my favorite scripts and I’m going going back and referring to them again and again. How do they do that? How’s that set-up? How’s that written?”
Stuart Beattie

When you watch the below clips in light of the above scene from Collateral keep in mind these five quotes:

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”—Painter Salvador Dalí

”Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.”—Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch

“How does an artist look at the world? Well, first she asks herself, ‘What’s worth stealing?’ And second, she moves on to the next thing.”—Author Austin Kleon

“I think it’s fine for young (filmmakers) to out and out rip off people who come before them because you always make it your own.”
Writer/director Francis Ford Coppola

“Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.”
Composer/ pianist Igor Stravinsky

P.S. Sometimes writers don’t sample or crib other writers, but their own work. Beattie points out that Lawrence Kasdan used two similar love scenes in both of his scripts for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Continental Divide.

Related Posts:

Inspiration Flying Under the Radar
“Steal Like An Artist”
“Impact. Energy. Emotion.” Nice quote from Mike Corrado (from a CreativeLive Rock and Roll Photography class) that describes the jazz scene in Collateral quite well.
Simplicity in Screenwriting (Tip #27) “Let this be our first lesson: Movie stories are usually simple…..Write simple stories and complex characters.”—Paul Lucey
Writing Good Bad Guys (Tip #85)

Scott W. Smith

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Over the weekend I saw Saving Mr. Banks and enjoyed it immensely. And there is a line in the film—that I don’t think is a spoiler—that seems to be what the film was about.

“In every movie house, all over the world, in the eyes and the hearts of my kids, and other kids and their mothers and fathers for generations to come, George Banks will be honored. George Banks will be redeemed. George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”
Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) in Saving Mr. Banks

That sounds like a pretty strong theme. And I’m fascinated by the topic of theme because I’ve read successful screenwriters and directors say these contradictory things:

A) I never think in terms of theme
B) I usually start with theme
C) The theme reveals itself somewhere in the writing
D) Theme is something the audience sees when the film hits the theaters
E) I avoid writing from theme to avoid the story being message driven
F) I have no clue what the word theme means

So one thing we can learn from Rod Serling, Alexander Payne, Francis Ford Coppola, and others is the process of screenwriting varies from writer to writer.  Which is why you have visually strong writers and dialogue driven writers.

Now I don’t think that Disney line is a direct quote from the Mickey Mouse creator, but from the imagination of the Saving Mr. Banks screenwriter Kelly Marcel.  I don’t know at what point she wrote Disney’s monologue—or if she even thinks that was the theme of the movie—but I do know she in facts does think in terms of theme.

“I’m personally a big fan of knowing what your theme is before starting. I think they can arise as you tell the story, but writing within and for a theme seems to me to help the process along. It allows for much more intricate storytelling, ways of speaking to the theme and letting your theme to speak to you, even unconsciously. I said ‘theme’ four times in that last paragraph. I shouldn’t be allowed to be a writer.”
Screenwriter Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks, Fifty Shades of Grey)
Go Into the Story Interview with Scott Myers

Related Posts (and a ping pong of views on theme):

Writing from Theme (Tip #20)
More Thoughts on Theme
Theme=What Your Movie is Really About
Theme=Story’s Heart & Soul
Diablo Cody on Theme
Michael Arndt on Theme
Sidney Lumet on Theme
Shane Black on Theme
Wes Anderson on Theme
Lawrence Konner on Theme
Eric Roth on Theme & Loneliness
William Froug on Theme
Aaron Sorkin on Theme, Intention & Obstacles
Diane Frolov & The Theme Zone
Theme vs. Story
“Network” Notes by Paddy Chayefsky
Writing and Directing “Out of Africa”
Serling vs. Coppola

Scott W. Smith

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