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Posts Tagged ‘Hugo’

Marcus Coral Ridge Cinema—Coralville, Iowa

Oops, I did it again. This weekend I watched both Hugo & The Artist in the theaters—just like I did last month to start the new year. (Saw Hugo at the Coral Ridge Cinema which has a nice movie tribute in their lobby—pictured above. Directly off Interstate 80 in the Iowa City area. )

I love those movies. Apparently others do as well. Yesterday, The Artist picked up seven BAFTA awards including Best Picture and for Michel Hazanavicus’s script, and Hugo picked up four awards and its director, Martin Scorsese, received the Academy Fellowship—”The highest accolades bestowed upon an individual in recognition of an outstanding and exceptional contribution to film.” (Hugo leads the Oscar pack with 11 nominations, followed by The Artist with 10.)

In my January 4th post Hugo & The Artist  I wrote, “I can’t remember when I’ve been as impressed seeing two films back to back.” Seeing them a second time allowed me to see more how they overlap and contrast each other.  They are similar in that parts of both of the stories occur in 1931 and represent a tribute of sorts to the history of cinema—and both represent broken characters. But they are also quite different in that The Artist is a black and white silent film in 4X3 format and Hugo is a colorful widescreen 3-D visual feast full of seamless special effects. Both have gotten great reviews, but unfortunately neither blazed any trails at the box office.

Those films (and their love of movies) have also set the tone for this blog this year, to weave in the history of film with more specific and contemporary issues related to screenwriting and filmmaking.

And since Valentine’s Day is tomorrow—a day to celebrate love— I thought I’d give you a few options other than roses & chocolate to give your loved one (or yourself).

1) Hugo: The Shooting Script published by Newmarket Press/Harper Collins will be made available tomorrow. I was fortunate to get an early copy and read it this weekend. The book features the John Logan screenplay, an introduction by Logan, a forward by the author Brian Selzick who wrote the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret (from which the film is based), various production notes and 23 photos from the production. Over the years I’ve purchased about 10 of The Shooting Scripts and find them wonderful additions for those who love movies in general and screenwriting in particular. I’ll write more about the Hugo: The Shooting Script tomorrow, but you can order it at Amazon or perhaps find it at a bookstore tomorrow.

The other two Valentine specials are L.A.-centric, but I’m sure with a little creativity you can find something similar in your area.

2) Walt Disney’s Lady and the Tramp is currently playing (February 3-16,2012) at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. This theater was built in 1926 and restored in 1991. It’s where Citizen Kane had its world premiere in 1941. Across the street, and later this month is where the Academy Awards will be held at The Kodak Theatre. And for a total Hollywood evening (if you can get a reservation) eat at The Musso & Frank Grill which has been serving meals in Hollywood since 1919. According to its website, its literary guests over the years have included; F.Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, T.S. Elliot, John Steinbeck and many others, and Raymond Chandler is said to have written part of the The Big Sleep in the Back Room bar.

3) F.W. Murnau‘s classic 1927 silent film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans will be playing at  The Cinefamily theater in LA on Valentine’s Day (2/14/12).

4) In Chicago at the Music Box Theatre they are showing The Princes Bride on Valentine’s Day. Inconceivable!

5) Or you can always stay home and watch The Bodyguard. The Lawrence Kasden written and Mick Jackson directed film starring Kevin Costner and the late Whitney Houston.

“I hope life treats you kind
And I hope you have all you’ve dreamed of.
And I wish to you, joy and happiness.
But above all this, I wish you love.”

I Will Always Love You
performed by Whitney Houston in My Bodyguard
written by Dolly Parton

What interesting film related things are going on in your neck of the woods this Valentine’s Day?

P.S. If anyone in LA goes to Lady and the Tramp, Sunrise, or The Princess Bride shoot me a note about the experience.

Related posts:
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)–Insights from Hugo screenwriter John Logan
Writing “The Artist” (Part 1)
Writing “The Artist” (Part 2)
Writing “The Artist” (Part 3)

Scott W. Smith

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“The reason that I am a writer today is Shakespeare.”
Three-time Oscar nominated screenwriter John Logan (Hugo)

Unlock the Secret

Here it is, in just under 1,000 words, the secret of being a successful screenwriter. (From the lips of a bona fide and currently successful screenwriter.)

There was some disappointment yesterday when the Oscar nominations were announced. (Isn’t there always?) While there were some new faces, in general, many felt it was a lot of the usual suspects; Scorsese, Spielberg, Sorkin, etc.

It’s a little bit like the Super Bowl this year— The Patriots verses the Giants. Brady verses Manning. Haven’t we seen that before? In fact, we have—Super Bowl XLII back in 2008 when the New York Giants and Manning defeated a then undefeated New England Patriot team led by Brady. There is one simple reason why these those two quarterbacks are in facing each other in the Super Bowl again—they are two of the best quarterbacks in professional football.

Ditto that from a filmmaking perspective for Scorsese, Spielberg, Sorkin…Clooney, Pitt, Streep, Malick, Alexander Payne, and Woody Allen.

But there is one screenwriter that is not a household name outside of Hollywood (as someone like, say, Diablo Cody) who had a killer year in 2011—John Logan. Though a top A-list Hollywood screenwriter, I think by design, he flies a little under the radar for even the average moviegoer.

He’s nominated for writing the film Hugo. A film that led the field for the 2012 Oscars with a total of  11 nominations. But wait, there’s more! He also wrote Rango (featuring Johnny Depp) which received an Oscar nomination for Animated Feature Film. But wait there’s still more! He also wrote Coriolanus which was released in 2011 and picked up a BAFTA nomination for its director Ralph Fiennes. Yes, 2011 was a very good year for John Logan.

And it’s not like he’s a newcomer. He’s fifty-years-old and has been nominated for an Academy Award twice before; The Aviator (2004) and Gladiator (2000). On top of that his credits also include Any Given Sunday, The Last Samurai, and Sweeney Todd.

So here’s the really important question? What’s his secret? Glad you asked. John Logan has the answer;

“I graduated from Northwestern. I had no money. No one had any money. So I got a day job, shelving books at the Northwestern University Law Library. Every morning I would work from nine to five and shelve books, for ten years. Every single day for ten years. 

I lived in a tiny studio apartment where you could practically touch the walls. Outside the window was a place that installed car alarms, so at all hours it was car alarms. I lived on tuna fish, which I still will not eat to this day. I learned to de-bone a chicken because it was cheaper. And it was hard. And it was the greatest time of my life because I had no expectations of anything but learning how to do my job, which was to be a playwright….And my plays were put on in teeny little church basements or in back allies, in theaters that were condemned while the play was going on. It was fantastic. It was a very vibrant time in Chicago theater, and I loved it. I spent ten years learning how to do my job and it was fantastic.”

His writing eventually got noticed and he landed an agent in L.A., Brian Siberell at CAA. He didn’t have any assignments, but moved to L.A. and took nine months to write his first screenplay, which eventually became the movie Any Given Sunday. But not, according to Logan, until he and Oliver Stone did a few re-writes;

“We did 26 drafts of Any Given Sunday, one right after another, so I learned everything about the form from him. He was patient. I’d go to his house, he’d say, ‘Pick up that Oscar, hold it, it’ll feel good, you’ll enjoy it.’ And then we’d work. Any Given Sunday, like all these monstrous big movies,  was hard to get made.”

In case you missed it—26 drafts. That’s after his spending nine months writing and re-writing it on his own. 26.

Still with me? Still want to be a screenwriter? If so, here’s the bomb. From the lips of John Logan, here’s the most powerful, and potentially life-changing advice as you’ll ever find for being a screenwriter;

“If you want to be a screenwriter—a successful screenwriter—here’s the secret…This is what you have to do, it’s great—don’t tell anyone. You have to read Hamlet, and you have to read it again, and you have to read it until you understand every word. And then you move onto King Lear. And then maybe treat yourself to Troilus and Cressida

And then you know what? Then you’re going to go back and read Aristotle’s Poetics until you can quote it. And then you’re going to read Sophocles, and then you’re going to read Ibsen, and then you’re going to read Tony Kushner, and then you’re going to read Chekhov.  You’re going to understand the continuum of what it is to be a dramatist, so you have respect for the form in which you are trying to function. So you understand what comes before you. Then, if you chose, watch a couple of movies.”

On Monday I was a guest speaker at a college and asked, “Is screenwriting hard?” I think Mr. Logan answers that question quite well.

Here are the CliffsNotes on John Logan’s path to successful screenwriting:
* Study acting and playwriting in well-established Midwestern college that has a alumni history of successful writers/actors
* Devour Shakespeare
* 10 years of starving and learning his craft (while working a non-creative day job)
* Writings (finally) get him an L.A. agent
* Sells script to Oliver Stone and then does 26 drafts
* Becomes a wealthy and in demand writer complete with a house in Malibu
* Receives several Oscar nominations

The above quotes from Logan are from his BAFTA talk on September 20, 2011. Below is the You Tube 2-minute teaser which as of this writing only has 339 views. (Link to PDF of full talk.) Seriously, if there is one post I’ve ever written that I think you should pass on to fellow writers via Twitter, Facebook, text, email, or whatever— it’s this post.

Special thanks to BAFTA and the BFI Screenwriters Lecture Series in association with the JJ Charitable Trust for the work they do.

Tomorrow we’ll be back looking at the continuum of film history. (Inspired by my seeing Hugo and The Artist earlier this year.)

P.S. As big a year as Logan has had in 2011, 2012 doesn’t look like it’s going to be bad for him either. On top of possibly winning his first Oscar, he’s credited on the soon to be released Lincoln directed by Spielberg, and is also credited on the new James Bond film Skyfall which is currently being filmed.

Update 1/26/11: Found this nice little nugget about Logan:

“What I value most of all is his extraordinary knowledge of everything under the sun — film, theater, painting, literature, world history, you name it. I can tell you he’s absolutely unique is that sense and it gives him a real advantage as a writer.”
Martin Scorsese
LA Times article

Related posts: Screenwriting da Chicago Way
Sam Shepard’s Start
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Screenwriting Quote # 43 (Aaron Sorkin)
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)
Screenwriting Quote #82 (John Logan)

Scott W. Smith

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Inspired by seeing the silent film The Artist (2011) I’ve spent most of the past week or so reflecting on the early days of motion pictures, and since the Academy Award nominations are today it seems fitting to look back on the first Academy Awards on May 18, 1929.

One of the most significant things about that date is it was just five months before the Stock Market Crash in October of 1929, which began the Great Depression. Another interesting fact is the award ceremony only last 15 minutes—a far cry from the marathon 3 hour plus modern ceremonies. It also reflected not on one year of films as done today, but on a two-year period of 1927 & 1928.

So the first Academy Awards really represent a shift from the early silent era into what is known as “The Golden Age of Hollywood.” The beginning of syncretized sound pictures in 1927 through sometime around 1930 when detailed attendance records began being kept, film going attendance in the USA was at an all time high of 90 million moviegoers per week (which was around 60% of the population). Just as a comparison, these days in the United States the weekly movie going attendance is less that 30 million people (or 10% of the population).

Back in 1929, the First Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story went to Underworld by Ben Hecht, beating out The Last Command by Lajos Biro. (Ironically, a movie titled Underword happened to be the box office winner this past weekend).  And Best Writing, Adapted Story went to Benjamin Glaser for Seventh Heaven (beating out Glorious Betsy by Anthony Coldway and The Jazz Singer by Alfred A. Cohn.). The best picture was the silent film Wings. 

And you know those title cards that sometimes popped up on silent movies? They had an Oscar for that in 1929. (The only year it was given.) Best Writing, Title Writing went to George Marion Jr. (for No Specific Film) beating out The Private Life of Helen of Troy by Gerald Duffy.

What’s interesting about the Best Writing, Original Story for Underworld and Ben Hecht is look at the other people who are listed on credits who did not partake in Oscar victory; Adaptation by Charles Furhmann, Screen play by Rober N. Lee and Titles by George Marion, Jr.

Related Post: The Shakespeare of Hollywood (Ben Hecht)

Hugo & The Artist (Both of these films lead the 2012 Oscar nominations with a combined total of 21.)

Scott W. Smith


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