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Posts Tagged ‘Harold Ramis’

“There’s no one to tell you it’s bad. So your own grandiosity and pride tells you—’Wow this is great; it couldn’t be any better. I think the audience would be comfortable with a two-hour-twenty-minute comedy. Why not?’ Then you show it to your studio or producers and they go, ‘Ooooh. That’s a little long…do you need this scene?’ At first it’s like someone suggesting you murder your own children. Then you wake up to the fact that you’re not alone in this process and that you are making films for an audience.”
Writer/director Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day) on first cuts of films
Creative Screenwriting January /February 2004

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Emotionally Move the Audience (Tip #55)
Don’t Bore the Audience

Scott W. Smith

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“I like to say a prayer and drink to world peace.”
Phil (Bill Murray) in Groundhog Day
Written by Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin

If you’ve never seen Groundhog Day, all you need to know to appreciate the scene above is Bill Murray’s character is an unhappy SOB who magically is reliving the same day over and over again until he can get it his life together. The story fits the concepts I’ve touched on in past posts of “transformation,” “slavery to freedom”“cheap therapy” and the Garry Marshall’s idea that, “Most good stories are Cinderella. Audiences like to watch characters whose lives change for the better.”

“I remembered an idea I had about a guy repeating the same day and I realized that having a person repeat the same day turns an eternity into a circle and that’s when all the dramatic possibilities came and the comedic possibilities and all the resonances with repetition… The very first thing I thought of was the date scene, being able to use your superior knowledge to pick up women.  As soon as I thought of that I knew I had a movie.”
Screenwriter Danny Rubin on coming up with the idea for Groundhog Day
Big Think Interview 

Groundhog Day was directed by Harold Ramis and listed as the #8 fantasy film by AFI, and #34 of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs.

“Frank Capra said a great thing, he said if you’re gonna have the privilege of talking to an audience for two hours in the dark you have to take it as a great responsibility. And I take it that way whether it’s comedy, or tragedy, or anything. So I think there is a responsible kind of comedy that enlightens us to some extent, makes us think, exposes real hypocrisy, and the real contrictions in society.”
Harold Ramis speaking at Columbia College Chicago 

Related Posts:
Before ‘Groundhog Day’
Movies from Main Street

Scott W. Smith

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“I can barely watch [Caddyshack]. All I see are a bunch of compromises and things that could have been better. Like, it bothers me that nobody except Michael O’Keefe can swing a golf club. A movie about golf with the worst bunch of golf swings you’ve ever seen! It doesn’t bother golfers, though.”
Caddyshack director and co-writer Harold Ramis
GQ/Harold Ramis Gets the Last Laugh

When I heard the news that writer/director/actor Harold Ramis died in Chicago this morning there was a cacophony of movie quotes that went off in my head from some of his most watched films.   It was like a party for the characters from Ghoastbusters, Goundhog’s Day, Animal House, Back to School, Stripes and Caddyshack.

So this week I thought I’d take time to explore Ramis and his work. Today will be Caddyshack’s moment in the spotlight.

Scott W. Smith

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“Stop me if this seems familiar: There’s a new cop comedy coming out that pairs a loose-cannon SNL veteran with a growling, resentful partner in a semi-sendup of the 80’s buddy comedy genre. “
Kyle Buchanan
The Other Guys Trailer: Cop Out with Jokes

I didn’t see Cop Out last year, but I’ve read that it was a similar buddy cop spoof as The Other Guys. So I don’t know if it would qualify as a movie clone, but Cop Out director Kevin Smith on his blog Silent Bob Speaks fills in the blanks about the Hollywood process:

“Ideas cost NOTHING & require ZERO risk. And yet, oddly, the LEAST amount of time’s usually spent in the idea stage before a small fortune is dumped on a whimsy that’s still half-baked.

Case in point: Cop Out.

When I was brought in, there was talk of spending $70mil on a Will Ferrell/MarkyMark version of A COUPLE OF DICKS (the pre-COP title). Then WB didn’t wanna pay the actors’ full quotes, so off go they go to do the over-$70mil+ OTHER GUYS. WB then made WAY less expensive deals with Bruce & Tracy, I cut my salary by over 80%, and we were off to the races with what became a $32mil flick (which is why, hate on it all you must, but – as per two high-level studio sources & one of our producers – Cop Out turned a profit already; it did what it was designed to do). All of that came from Jeff Robinov’s idea stage. The idea that the movie could go on without Will & Mark resulted in Cop Out. And while some may harp about whether the flick was their cup of tea or not, the people who paid to have it made were content we all hadn’t wasted money.”

So now you have the inside scoop to why Ben Joseph (and his readers) in his article Attack of the Clones: Suspiciously Similar Movie Showdown find common DNA in the following films:

The Truman Show/EdTV (1998/1999)
Mission to Mars/Red Planet (2000)
The Cave/The Decent (2005)
Garden State/Elizabethtown (2005/2006)
The Illusionist/The Prestige (2006)
Juno/Knocked Up (2007)
The Arrival/Independence Day (1996)
Jurassic Park/Carnosaur (1993)

And way back in 1994/95 audiences could choose Mel Gibson (Braveheart), Richard Gere & Sean Connery (First Knight), and/or Liam Neeson & Jessica Lange (Rob Roy) for their medieval movie feast. And the lists could go on and on.  These things go in cycles.
In Vanity Fair (December 2010) Jim Windolf had an article titled “Is The King’s Speech Really Just The Karate Kid in Royal Vestments?” You’d have to read the whole article to see why he thinks that, but here’s the shorthand list:
1. A circumstance beyond the hero’s control compels him to learn a new skill or fail utterly.
2. The hero is humiliated in the presence of his future teacher.
3. The teacher’s unorthodox methods humble the student and even cause him to quit, albeit temporarily.
4. The teacher may be a quack.
5. The teacher is an outsider, with low social status in his new land.
6. The unorthodox, uncredentialed teacher is contrasted with a cruel—but more respected—educator.
7. In the teacher’s backstory lies patriotic wartime service.
8. The teacher helps fill a void left by the student’s absent father.
9. The teacher prepares the student for a grand stage, where he must display everything he has learned or suffer public defeat.
10. The teacher looks on with pride at the moment of his student’s final triumph.

I don’t remember how old I was when I actually realized that the Chevy Camero and the Pontiac TransAM were basically the same car, but I remembered it confused the heck out of me. Now that I’m all grown up I realize that some people want a Toyota and some people want a Lexus. Hollywood confuses me a little less these days as well. And even the creative process confuses me a little less. I realize that painters, cameramen, editors, actors and the rest of the freaky people who’ve joined the creative circus are drawing on a mix of creative influences to create something new that will help put food on the table.
And the stew isn’t always fresh and original, but every once in a while the right combination falls into place and it’s a large feast.
I think it was writer/director Frank Darabont who said Hollywood is like a shipwreck, and that every once and a while a survivor makes it to shore. You don’t get to make The Shawshank Redemption—quality films every year.  Actually, with even the giants two or three memorable films is a good career.
So don’t get caught up in all this talk about cloning. Like in the 1996 Harold Ramis film Multiplicity some of the clones of Michael Keaton were helpful and some were a little odd.  Tomorrow we’ll look at what Joseph Campbell has to say on the topic of monomyth and why there is really only one story. But for today we’ll let Kevin Smith have the last word of encouragement,“Ideas cost nothing yet have the potential to yield inexplicably long careers & happy lives. So go ahead: dream a l’il dream.”

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“It is self-evident that St. Louis affected me more deeply than any other environment has ever done. I feel that there is something in having passed one’s childhood beside the big river, which is incommunicable to those people who have not. I consider myself fortunate to have been born here, rather than in Boston, or New York, or London.”
T.S. Eliot

The St. Louis Walk of Fame on The Loop honors those who have ties to St. Louis who have made a name for themselves in various fields. It’s a long eclectic mix from Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Berry, and Yogi Berra to Miles Davis, Bob Gibson, and William T. Sherman.

And, of course, there are those with ties to film, TV and theater including Vincent Price (House of Usher), Redd Foxx (Sanford & Son), Shelly Winters (A Patch of Blue),  Harold Ramis (Ghost Busters),  William Inge (Picnic), and Tennessee Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire).

We often don’t connect Williams with St. Louis but that is where he moved as a youth and lived for 24 years, and where he is buried. His feeling of being an outsider (which dominate many of his plays) was developed growing up poor in St. Louis. (Or at least he felt poor compared to the rich people he saw.)  His play The Glass Menagerie is set in St. Louis. The character of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire is said to have been based on a man he worked with in a shoe factory in St. Louis.

Just another reminder that talent (and inspiration) comes from all over. It also reminded me of a few post I’ve done in the past touching on Missouri.

Screenwriting from Missouri

The Spirit of St. Louis & Screenwriting

Screenwriting Quote of the Day #54 (Walt Disney)

Scott W. Smith

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“Small town people are more real, more down to earth.”
                                                             Groundhog Day 
                                                             Phil (Bill Murray) 

 

“A growing number of Americans are seeking a larger life in a smaller place. Many are finding it.” 
                                                                                      Life 2.0
                                                                                      Richard Karlgaard 

You hear a lot about Main St. these days and I thought I’d explore what that means from a screenwriting & filmmaking  perspective. A couple days ago my travels took me to northern Illinois and to the town of Woodstock which happens to be where much of the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray was filmed.

The above photo is the corner where Ned confronts Bill Murray’s character again and again and where Murray steps off the curb into the puddle of water. The town, which is about an hour north east of Chicago, has improved much over the last 15 years and continues to embrace the fact that Groundhog Day was filmed there.

 

That’s right, Woodstock doubled for Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Director Harold Ramis thought the town square there worked better as a location than the real deal. I wonder how many people go out of their way to go to Punxutawney and are disappointed that it doesn’t look like the town in the movie? That’s showbiz.

In fact, the town even has a life-imitating-art groundhog day celebration and a nice map you can follow to see the various filming locations of the Danny Rubin and Ramos screenplay. The bar scene where Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell drink to world peace is now the Courtyard Grill and has a signed script on the wall by where they sat.

 

Certainly, if you’re in the area it’s worth it to stop to see where one of the great comedy films (#34 on the AFI Greatest American Comedy list) was filmed. If you’re there at the beginning of February you can even take part in the groundhog days celebration. 

From my home where I am typing this I can see Main St. here in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It’s just a block to the west and is quite a lively Main St. USA. Shops, a playhouse, art galleries, several bars and restaurants (a new one opening next month will feature a respected Chicago chef) and even a comedy club. It’s also worth a stop if you are ever driving the Avenue of the Saints between St. Louis and St. Paul.

There’s something endearing about Main Streets in general. Of course, sometimes they aren’t even called Main St., but they are the historic main road through the heart of smaller towns. It’s not hard for me to think back at some of my favorite main drags (Telluride, Colorado, Winter Park, Florida., Franklin, Tennessee,, Holland, Michigan, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Seal Beach, California, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania  and Galena, Illinois).

Places that for the most part that have been around for 100 years. Places with history and character. Perhaps in a response to sprawling suburbs there has been an architectural movement to design areas that look a little like small towns complete with a Main St. (Some even have a small movie theaters.)

I first became aware of this while a student at the University of Miami in the ’80s when two Miami architects (Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk) began to design the beach community of Seaside, Florida. (Seaside is so idyllic, it is where they filmed The Truman Show.) The success of Seaside has been well documented.

On the Seaside website you’ll find the history and the philosophy of what they set out to create after doing extensive research:
“Most of the buildings were studied in the context of small towns, and gradually the idea evolved that the small town was the appropriate model to use in thinking about laying out streets and squares and locating the various elements of the community. 

Seaside is a great place and today you can go throughout the country and find other areas that were designed in its wake; Celebration, FL,  Baldwin Park, FL, Harmony, FL, Prospect New Town in Boulder County, Colorado, and Kentlands in Gaitherburg, Maryland. 

That is not to say that this new urbanist master planned communities idea doesn’t have its critics. The most common charge is they say the towns are more like film sets or some kind of fantasyland — sentimental and far removed from reality.  Some felt it a little strange when Thomas Kinkade (The Painter of Light) got into the act outside the San Francisco Bay area by inspiring a development called The Village at Hiddenbrook that feature homes that would be at home in one of his glowing paintings. Where are the Rod Serling/Twight Zone inspired writers on that one?

But for many (including Walt Disney, and perhaps Kinkade) small towns represent the ideal. (Community, honesty, fullness of life, etc.) The way life ought to be, or the way it was.  Many movies and TV programs tap into this mystique: It’s a Wonderful Life, American Graffiti, The Last Picture Show, My Dog Skip, The Andy Griffith Show, Cars, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Truman Show, Northern Exposure, Places in the Heart, and Hoosiers.

(And some books, films and songs are critiques and satires of small town living such as Pleasantville, Harper Valley PTA, and Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street.

Either way Main St. (and all that it represents) is a part of Americanna and will continue to be probably forever and is fertile ground for you to explore in your screenwriting, and perhaps even in your life. As Don Henley (who was raised in the small town of Linden, Texas) sings in The End of the Innocence:
Who know how long this will last
Now we’ve come so far so fast
But somewhere back there in the dust,
that same small town in each of us

On a closing note, I remember when I lived in L.A. there was a popular radio host named Dr. Toni Grant who used to encourage her callers/listeners to write the script of their life. I always thought that was an interesting concept and worth exploring as you take a few more trips around the sun. 

Come to think of it, isn’t that what Bill Murray’s character did in Groundhog Day? He rewrote the script of his life and became a better person — and got the girl to boot. It is a wonderful life…

 

Photos and text 2008 copyright Scott W. Smith

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“I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America.”
Sarah Bernhardt

“You’re Abe Froman… the sausage king of Chicago?”
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

“I give you Chicago. It is not London and Harvard. It is not Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail.
H. L. Mencken

“They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way, and that’s how you get Capone!”
The Untouchables

Last week a 5.4 earthquake hit Illinois and was felt in Indiana and as far away as Iowa. Just one more way the Midwest is following those California trends. You know, I’m doing my part to export screenwriting from the Midwest and other unlikely places where people are writing so it makes sense to make another road trip and head over the Iowa state line to the east and travel into Illinois.

The epicenter of last week’s earthquake was West Salem, but from a screenwriting and filmmaking perspective the epicenter for the Midwest is Chicago. It’s the third largest city in the United States and sits with a commanding view of Lake Michigan and can rightly be called The Third Coast.

Everyone should have the opportunity once in their life to have their own version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in the windy city. Here’s my perfect Chicago day: The Art Institute in the morning, a walk and lunch at the Navy Pier, see the Cubs play at Wrigley Field, ride an architectural boat tour, a sunset dinner at the Signature Room high atop the John Hancock Center , a play at one of the zillions of theater options, a carriage ride around the Chicago Water Tower downtown and a nice room at The Drake Hotel on the Magnificent Mile with a room overlooking the Gold Coast (and where they welcome my golden retriever).

And if you have the weekend you can fit in a concert at Millennium Park and a list that just gets longer and longer. Chicago is a great city. And it alone has produced a wealth of creative talent that shines as bright as a city. (Maybe that’s why Dan Quayle once said, “It is wonderful to be in the great state of Chicago…”)  Here’s a list of writers from Illinois though I’m sure to leave out many people. (Feel free to email me additional writers with connections there.)

Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding)
Sam Shepard (True West)
David Mamet (The Verdict)
Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451)
Preston Sturges (Sullivan’s Travels)
Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan)
Ernest Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea)
Mark Brown (Barbershop)
John Hughes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
Andy and Larry Wachowski (The Matrix)
Harold Ramis  (Groundhog Day)
Bill Murray (The Razor’s Edge)
Greg Glienna (Meet the Parents)
Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness)
John Logan (Gladiator)
Jon Favreau (Swingers)
Tina Fey (Mean Girls)
Michael Mann (The Insider)
Phil Vischer (VeggieTales movies)
Roger Rueff (The Big Kahuna)
Robert Zemeckis,  (Back to the Future)
Edward Zwick, (The Last Samurai)
Diablo Cody (Juno)
John Logan (Hugo
Garry Marshall (The Odd Couple-TV)

From the odd connections category, Evangelist Billy Graham (who used to have a film studio in Burbank) and horror specialist Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street) both graduated from Wheaton College about 30 miles from downtown Chicago. Blues Brother, and writer/actor John Belushi graduated from Wheaton High School.

Film critic and produced screenwriter Roger Ebert (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) and screenwriter/Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee (Eat Drink Man Woman) are both are both graduates of the University of Illinois system.

Filmmaker and book publisher Michael Wiese is originally from Illinois. I have at least a dozen production books that Michael Wiese Productions has produced. If you’re not familiar with their books three to check out are Save the Cat (Blake Snyder) , Shot by Shot (Steven D. Katz) and The Hero’s Journey (Christopher Vogler).

A special mention must be made to two pillars of writing from Chicago: Pulitzer Prize winner Saul Bellow (Humboldt’s Gift) and Studs Terkel (Hard Times).

The list of well-known actors with Chicago ties is too long to list but here are a few;  Harrison Ford, Vince Vaugh, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, John and Joan Cusack, Virgina Madsen, Kim Novak, Bill Murray, Terrance Howard, Red Foxx, Bonnie Hunt, Patricia Arquette, Karl Malden and Gary Sinise.

Chicago is the kind of place where probably every night of the week you could attend a film related function between the various school, colleges and professional groups. There are plenty of ways to avoid writing if you live in the Chicago area.

But, of course, your goal is probably to write while living outside L.A., get sold and get produced. (I’ve said before you could live in West Africa or West Covina and feel like you’re far from the Hollywood system.)

Let me tell you about a fellow I just found out about via the DVXuser.com forum. Kyle is a radiologists living in the suburbs of Chicago. He owns a DV camera package and writes screenplays. In other words he was like every other writer with a dream…until a couple weeks ago.

He wrote a screenplay called The Lemon Tree and had a lawyer he met in Chicago rep him in L.A. and earlier this month sold the script for $300,000 against $600,000. He has no plans to quit his job and move to L.A. The next step is seeing if the film gets made and then if it finds an audience. But as far as a writer outside the system Kyle has hit the jackpot, and proves it can be done.

(You can read the entire thread and download a well-informed screenwriting document Kyle has put together at DVXuser.com. Look under filmmaking–screenplay/writing/Sold it! The DVXuser forum is a wealth of info for the independent filmmaker and a supportive community. Here’s a little poser shot of me with my DVX camera back in ’06 when I was shooting a documentary in Chicago.)

If you want further proof that screenplays can be sold by screenwriters outside L.A. here is a quote that screenwriter and author of Save the Cat! Blake Snyder sent me when I asked him about writers living outside L.A. selling their work:

“I have said often that geography is no longer an impediment to a career in screenwriting. I know of one woman who decided to be a screenwriter in Chicago, wrote 5 scripts, sold 2 and got an agent and manager, all while never leaving the confines of her condo.  It starts with a great concept! You have a great idea and a great poster, if you execute that well, you will get phone calls — and deals.  The key is: the great script!  And that starts with the step by step process I outline in Cat!  Go get ‘em!”

On the footsteps of The Dark Knight (Batman) being filmed last summer in Illinois, the current big movie being shot there is Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant starting Matt Damon with a funky mustache. The story takes place in Decatur and is based on Kurt Eichenwald’s book about a scandal at Archer Daniels Midland’s Company (ADM) that involved the FBI. Ultimately ADM was fined $100 million for a conspiracy involving replacing sugar with high fructose corn syrup. Shades of Soderbergh’s other film about corporate greed,Erin Brockovich?

Other helpful sites about the filmmaking scene in Illinois here are a few recommended sites:

Reel Chicago

Chicago Script Works

Midwest FIlm

Chicago Screenwriters

Illinois Film Biz


So come on, if Abraham Lincoln can go from a one room log cabin to become the 16th President of the United States (via Illinois) certainly that should give you some motivation to overcome a few obstacles in your life to get your scripts written and sold. Or maybe to buy a camera and make your own films. Even if you live in Springfield or Kankakee.

Speaking of Kankakee, if Screenwriting from Iowa had a theme song it might be Chicago native Stevie Goodman’s City of New Orleans because it captures a flavor of a life beyond Hollywood:

Riding on the City of New Orleans
Illinois Central Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail
All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields
Passin’ towns that have no names
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles

Chorus
Good morning, America, how are you
Don’t you know me, I’m your native son
I’m the train they call The City of New Orleans
I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done

And if I can pick a B-side song I’ll go with, Jim Croce’s tribute to the South Side of ‘ole Chicago — Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.

Photographs & Text Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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