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Posts Tagged ‘Harry Potter’

“Feeling completely lost is absolutely necessary to finding your way out [of the dark forest] and becoming good.”
Stephanie Foo (@imontheradio)
This American Life producer

Last week Screenwriter John August launched the podcast Launch. It’s a creative way of exploring his getting lost in the woods as a six-year-old, through the inspiration and publication process of his new middle grade novel Arlo Finch in the Valley of the Fire (aimed for 4th-6th graders).

Here’s an excerpt from the first episode of Launch:
 “The book publishing industry in generally huge. In the U.S. alone books are a 28 billion dollar business every year. That’s more than the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball combined. It’s not a dying business at all. Publishers make money. But are authors making money? That’s a little more complicated.”
John August

In the second episode (The Shadow of Harry Potter) August talks about how he overcame one of the challenges of writing the novel in Paris.

“The book is mostly set in winter in Colorado, but I had to write the bulk of it in the middle of summer in an apartment with no air conditioning. I end up finding these tracks on You Tube which are 12 hours of winter storm. I listened to it on my headphones. Seriously, this really helps me get in the right head space.”
John August

Some writers need total silence to write, while Stephen King writes to Metallica. Whatever works, right? One of the joys of writing this blog is seeing the polar opposites that many writers work. Some do their best work early in the morning, while others prefer writing at night. Some write from theme, others avoid theme altogether.

Listening to winter audio tracks while writing a winter story makes sense. Audio tracks of light thunderstorms, ocean waves, and babbling brooks for years have helped people meditate, reduce stress, and sleep. (Yes, there’s an app for that.) Last year when I was working through a coding tutorial I would often listen to the same Steely Dan song over and over again on headphones.  If your writing is lost in the dark forest, try some natural sounds to help get you in the right head space.

I look forward to listening to the whole season of Launch (episode three just dropped this morning), and reading Arlo Finch. And if you’re interested in the craft and business of screenwriting, make sure you check out the Scriptnotes podcast that August does with screenwriter Craig Mazin.

John August Related Posts:
Scriptnotes #300 & the Difference Between Screenwriting and Directing 
The 100th Podcast of Scriptnotes
Is It a Movie? (Touches on Scriptnotes episode #201)

Podcast Related Posts:
Power Your Podcasting with Storytelling (Part 1) 
Finding Authentic Emotions (part 1) Alex Blumberg
‘What’s Your Unfair Advantage?’ (Gimlet Media, Part 1)
S-Town, Brian Reed & Why ‘Podcasting is the Future of Storytelling’
‘Out on the Wire’ Podcast 

Scott W. Smith

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This is a repost of my 2010 post J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure that touches on her life before writing the Harry Potter series of books.

“A mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
J.K. Rowling
The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination
Harvard University Commencement
June 5, 2008

Scott W. Smith

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I really should say “Story Plotting the J.K. Rowling Way,” but Harry Potter seemed more catchy and fun. But it was J.K. Rowling who actually wrote the Harry Potter books  empire. The one that helped create her net worth (as of March 2011) of over one billion dollars. Want to know what part of her magic formula is? Here’s a story grid outline that’s been kicking around the internet for a couple of years and attributed to Rowlings. At Slashfilm, Germain Lusser they wrote, “It’s a piece of loose leaf paper where she outlines several chapters of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and, looking at this page, it’s quite obvious that Rowling knew exactly what was going on with everything in her books.”

Scott W. Smith

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“There comes a time when each of us must make a choice between what is right and what is easy.”
Dumbledore (Harry Potter’s headmaster)

When I wrote the post on J.K. Rowling yesterday I did not know that I would end up today at the Harry Potter ride at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida. But these things happen.

And so not having read any of the Henry Potter books or seen any of the movies I was transported into a new world this afternoon in a breathtaking ride in the 15 story castle. Growing up in Florida I’m not sure there was a building that was 15 stories so that alone was interesting to see on the Central Florida skyline.

There has been talk that the Harry Potter and the Hidden Journey centerpiece which opened this year has helped revive a sagging tourist economy in Florida. Judging by the lines today they are doing okay. And certainly the $250 million that it cost to build over a five-year period provided a job or two for some construction workers in a down economy.

All the results of a story that one writer told. And here is the seed of an idea that turned into an estimated $15 billion empire;

“I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, and all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who did not know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.”
J.K. Rowlings
Biography on The official J.K. Rowlings website
May all of your travel delays result in such fruitful work.

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“A good title should be like a good metaphor: It should intrigue without being too baffling or two obvious.”
Walker Percy

I’m staying on the Up in the Air gravy train (gravy plane?)  just a little bit longer. Not only did I love the film but I love the title. It’s a title that has a literal meaning since it’s a film that deals with traveling via airplanes. But it’s also a common phrase in our culture meaning undecided or uncertain.

Up in the Air is a pretty good description of the Up in the Air main character Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney.  A character whose only real purpose appears to collecting frequent flyer miles. Everything else is up in the air.

Many writers talk about starting with a title and build from there and others say they can’t even decide on a title even after they’ve written the script or book.  Can a movie succeed without a great title? Sure, look at Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Looking at the AFI list of top 100 films and you’ll see a mixture of great, good, and bland titles. A title doesn’t make a film, but in a day and age of the importance of the opening weekend, a great title is desired to help attract an audience.

The most common titles seem to focus a main character or being, place or thing, or an event.

Character or being:
Citizen Kane
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
King Kong
Rocky
Forrest Gump
Spartacus
Bonnie and Clyde
The Godfather
Tootsie
Jaws
Psycho
Raging Bull

A place or thing:
Titanic
The African Queen
Bridge on the River Kwai
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
On the Waterfront
Chinatown
Sunset Blvd.
The Maltese Falcon
The Apartment
Casablanca

An event:
High Noon
Apocalypse Now
Star Wars
2001: A Space Odyssey
Saving Private Ryan
Bringing Up Baby
Sophie’s Choice

And while not a hard and fast rule, great titles tend to be short (three words or less). Just look at the above list.  And my favorites of those listed are Jaws and Psycho. Each one a simple word, but both hit you at a gut level.

Titles like Avatar, Batman, The Matrix are easier to discuss around the water cooler.  Even longer titles (especially sequels) tend to get edited around the water cooler and just called  Harry Potter, Narnia, Pirates, Star Wars, Twilight, Spider-Man.

Up in the Air falls into that minority category of a title that’s a little more obtuse, in line with The Last Picture Show, A Streetcar Named Desire, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Silence of the Lambs, or Gone with the Wind. (All of which happened to have been books or plays first which tend to favor a more intellectual audience.) If you go with a metaphor, it doesn’t hurt to have a movie star in the lead role. As I talk up the film Up in the Air, I find myself calling it “The George Clooney Film.”

What are some of your favorite titles (even if they aren’t one of your favorite films)? Or some of your favorite bad titles.
I love the title of the lesser known 50s film Them. And I like titles such as Black Hawk Down, Meet the Parents, Witness, The Hunt for Red October, Collateral and The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly because they all have built in conflict, mystery and intrigue. And the worst titles off the top of my head goes to Ishtar and Valkyrie, neither of which leave me with a visceral reaction.

Of course, the most bland title ever might just be…Movie Titles (tip #32). (But at least it’s twitter friendly.)

Update: I decided to do a Google search to see what others thought were the best and worst movie titles ever and found one blogger who had a post called Top 10 Worst Movie Titles Ever and the writer put Surf Nazis Must Die at #10. That film was written and directed by Peter George who I happened to go to film school with. (I was always a little upset I didn’t get a small role in the film.) If anyone knows where Mr. George is these days tell him I want my watch back. The one that I left at his Hollywood apartment after I crashed on his sofa one night back before he was making top ten lists.

Scott W. Smith


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Since I agree that creativity is simply connecting influences (not my phrase) today’s post is a good example of that. A few days ago I wrote about writer/director John Hughes and yesterday I wrote about Youngstown, Ohio. In doing that research I stumbled upon a connection between the two—Home Alone.

That little $15 million film that went on to make over $500 million world wide was written by John Hughes and directed by Christopher Columbus. Youngstown? That’s where Columbus spent much of his childhood and graduated from high school. (Technically, the northern suburb of Champion, Ohio where he attended John F. Kennedy High School.) His father was a coal miner.

Columbus headed to NYU to attend film school. (If you look at  a map you see if you head due east on Interstate 80 from Northeast Ohio and drive for 6 hours it will take you right into Manhattan.) While still a student at NYU Columbus sold his first script, which filmbug.com says was called Jocks, and was “a semi-autobiographical comedy about a Catholic schoolboy who struggles with his religion and his inability to succeed on the high school football team.”  After graduating from NYU he sold the script Reckless, “based on his experiences as a factory worker in Ohio. The film was directed by James Foley and starred Aidan Quinn and Daryl Hannah.”

But what really put Columbus on the map was working with Spielberg directly for three years as he developed his writing style and that resulted in his writing Gremlins (1984) and The Goonies (1985). Columbus directed Home Alone in ’90 and two more John Hughes films before directing the first two Harry Potter films.

In a 2003 DGA article it was pointed out about Columbus:

“If there is a common theme to his films, it would be variations on familial relationships. Home Alone is about a boy who loses his family and must find the inner strength to survive alone. Mrs. Doubtfire is about a man who loses his family through divorce and the only way he can reenter their world is by doing the outrageous, dressing up as the family housekeeper. Only the Lonely, which Columbus also wrote, is about a man who needs to extricate himself from his mother’s domineering presence in order to marry the woman he loves. And, of course, there’s Harry Potter, the tale of a boy living a miserable existence with his aunt and uncle who finds refuge with an extended loving ‘family’ at Hogwarts, a school for wizards.”

Columbus clarified the common theme in most of his films:

“It’s always about the search for a family or the redefining of who your family is. I guess it’s the fact that sometimes you play on your biggest fear. My biggest fear in my life would be to lose my family. So I’ve always been drawn to that theme. I mean, it’s odd. I never really talked or thought about it much, but if you look at the films I’ve done, particularly the films I’m really most happy with, and even the films that weren’t that successful, I think there is a thematic link. Most of them are about someone potentially losing their family.”
Christopher Columbus
DGA Magazine January 2003

Columbus is part of a small tribe of filmmakers whose films have made more than $1 billion at the box office. Not bad for a guy from Youngstown who used to work in a factory.

Scott W. Smith

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