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Posts Tagged ‘Jack Nicholson’

“I  never tailor a screenplay to fit the actor. I always demand the actor come to the script – even if it’s Nicholson or Clooney.”
Alexander Payne
Nebraska Coast Connection Q & A

“I’m not there to give an acting class. I’m there to make a movie. And I often don’t know, nor do I often care to know, really, what the actor is thinking about….My basic direction is: please hit your mark and recite your dialogue exactly as written. And you think I mean that somewhat facetiously. But actually, my job I feel is basically done – not done, but on the way to being done when I’ve cast them. And that old cliche is very true, 90 percent of directing is casting, not just the actors, but the technicians, everyone involved in making a film. So in the moment we’re doing a scene, and I work with intelligent actors, they know what the heck the scene’s about, so – and they know what, without being too result-oriented in their thinking, they know what emotional state the character is in. Sometimes I think that if I get too personal with a direction, you know, try doing this or think about that, I may mar what they’re already thinking about.”
Two-time Oscar winner Alexander Payne
NPR/Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross

Some of the fruit of Payne’s casting and directing:

George Clooney (The Descendants) Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Feature
Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt) Golden Globe Award Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture–Drama
Cast (Sideways) Screen Actors Guild  winner Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Bruce Dern (Nebraska) Cannes Award for Best Actor

Related posts:
Directing “Chinatown”
Directing “Mud”
Writing & Directing “Rush”
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 1) Follow the thread for a total of ten tips from Marshall.
Directing Tips from Peter Bogdanovich
Kazan on Directing (Part 1) Follow the thread for ten tips from Kazan

Scott W. Smith

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“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy…”
The Shining (A Stephen King story)

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Iowa is getting blanketed in a snow storm today. About ten inches of show has fallen in the last 12 hours with wind gusts measuring over 40 mph. I took the above photo this morning at my house and it reminded me of the scene in The Shining when Jack Nicholson has a form of writer’s block while writing at a prolific rate.

You really don’t need to go to film school to learn filmmaking—just study how this Stanley Kubrick directed scene is a tour de force of visual filmmaking—and simplicty. Two actors, two minutes, seven words, 10 shots (fewer setups) and just a great example of solid writing, acting, directing, cinematography, editing, location scouting, and sound design.

You could shoot this scene yourself with two friends and one camera in a couple hours. Do what the Renaissance painters did—copy the masters until you find your own style.

Related posts:

Stephen King’s Doublewide Trailer
Descriptive Writing (Stephen King)
Screenwriting Quote #55 (Stephen King)
Beatles, Cody, King and 10,000 Hours

Scott W. Smith

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(The theme of  Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid is) times are changing, and you have to change with them—if you want to survive.”
William Goldman
Adventures in the Screen Trade


“I don’t know if you saw the parting of the Red Sea with the chariots on the horses, I did stuff like that.”
Richard Farnswort
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After I posted the above Goldman comment yesterday on the post titled Writing “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” it jogged my memory of another story about a career transition—both fictional and real life. The Grey Fox was released in 1982 about a decade after Butch Cassidy, but there are some similarities, mostly the concept of change in the Old West.

Richard Farnsworth plays a former stagecoach robber who is released from San Quintin after serving 33 years for his crimes. When he gets out in 1903 it’s a new world—the stagescoaches are out and movies are in. His character, Bill Miner, goes to see The Great Train Robbery and is inspired to take up his old ways yet with a new fresh angle.

It’s been many years since I’ve seen the film so I’ll rely on Rodger Ebert’s account to bring us all up to speed:

“(The Great Train Robbery.) That famous movie is only eleven minutes long, but long enough to make everything absolutely clear to Miner, who realizes he has a new calling in life, as a train robber. All of this could, of course, be an innocuous Disney movie, but it’s well-written and directed, and what gives it zest and joy is the performance by Richard Farnsworth, who plays Miner. Maybe you’ll recognize Farnsworth when you see him on the screen. Maybe not. His life has been one of those careers that makes you realize Hollywood is a company town, where you can make a living for years and never be a star. Farnsworth has been in more than three hundred movies.”
Roget Ebert
Chicago Sun-Times, The Grey Fox
January 1. 1982

Though Farnsworth had been in more than 300 films, they were mostly as a stuntman. He doubled for some of Hollywood’s most well-known actors; Roy Rogers, Gary Cooper, Kirk Douglas, Henry Ford, Montgomery Clift, and Steve McQueen. You think he might have picked up a thing or two about acting from those fellows because after 30 years as a stuntman he began acting.

And he did it well enough to receive a Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination in 1979 for his role in Comes a Horseman and another Oscar nomination for Lead Actor in David Lynch’s The Straight Story (that was filmed right here in Iowa). He was 79 at the time of the nomination making him the oldest actor to ever receive a best actor nomination.

You may also remember his roles in The Natural, The Two Jakes, and Misery. I had the good fortune to meet Richard Farnsworth at a movie theater in Burbank some time in the 80s. Nothing exciting, he was just standing in front of me waiting to buy popcorn or whatever.

“Are you Richard Farnsworth?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I appreciate your work.”
“Thank You.”

He smiled and we shook hands. This was in the days before IMDB so I didn’t know in that simple exchange I was shaking hands with a man who was a real life Forrest Gump in the film industry having been in some legendary Hollywood productions;   Gone with the Wind, Gunga Din, The Ten Commandments, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Roots, Bonanza, The Wild One,  Blazing Saddles, Spartacus and many others.

That means to one degree or another he worked with John Wayne, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando, Mel Brooks, Howard Hawks,  Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood and Cecil B. DeMille.

I don’t know how long stuntman work on a regular basis in Hollywood, but it has to take its toll on your body.  Farnsworth’s last credit as a stuntman was 1975 when he would have been 55. He was almost 60 when his acting career took off. He changed with the times.

By the way, the screenwriter of The Grey Fox, John Hunter,  was no spring chicken himself and was 71 when the movie was released.

Oh yeah, Farnsworth did stunts in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, too.

Scott W. Smith


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“Believe me, for a 28-year-old writer, getting a check for $200,000 was a big deal indeed.”
Aaron Sorkin

Before Aaron Sorkin created the Emmy-winning TV program West Wing and wrote the four-time Oscar nominated film A Few Good Men, he was just another writer in New York trying to make a living.

“I was working as a bartender at the Palace Theater, I had graduated from Syracuse University in 1983 with a degree in theater and I had come to New York to begin my career as a struggling writer. So every night, really eight times a week, during the first act of La Cage Aux Folles I would write notes on cocktail napkins and stuff them in my pockets. I would go home to my apartment that I shared with about 17 other people and kind of spill the cocktail napkins out on the desk and started writing A Few Good Men.”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin

It took him a year and a half to write the play A Few Good Men, and he went through 23 drafts of the play before it made its way to Broadway where it ran for a year and a half. In 1989,  he was awarded Outstanding American Playwright by the Outer Critics Circle. Following the success of the play he was asked to write the screenplay for A Few Good Men, which was directed by Rob Reiner and starred Tom Cruise. On the Special Edition DVD of A Few Good Men Sorkin explains;

“I didn’t know anything about movies. I had grown up just watching plays and reading plays. Plays were all I knew. I went to the movies like anybody else, but I wasn’t paying attention like the way friends of mine were. Other people I know who do what I do can tell you who the make-up guy was on every Hitchcock film, I was never that person. So when I was writing the A Few Good Men screenplay, not only had I never written a screenplay before, I had never read a screenplay before.”

But it worked out well and the movie received an Oscar nomination for best picture. And the trademark line from A Few Good Men— “You can’t handle the truth”— spoken by Jack Nicholson’s was named by the American Film Institute as the twenty-ninth greatest American movie quote. Not bad for your first script.

But where did the original idea for A Few Good Men come from? Sorkin’s sister was a lawyer in the Navy and told her playwright brother about a case she was involved with at Guantanamo Bay involving a Marine killing a Marine.

The Cedar Falls—Aaron Sorkin connection: Actress Annabeth Gish, who was on West Wing for six seasons, grew up in Cedar Falls, Iowa. On Main St., just a block from my office there is a plaque in the sidewalk honoring her, complete with a signature and hand prints.

Related post: Screenwriting Quote of the Day #43 (Aaron Sorkin)

Scott W. Smith

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Ed McMahon played many roles as a spokesman and announcer in a show biz career that spanned more than 60 years.  McMahon, who died yesterday, was best known as the sidekick for Johnny Carson for more than 30 years on The Tonight Show. His trade mark  “Heeeeeeeere’s Johnny” has not been forgotten and probably never will thanks to Jack Nicholson borrowing the phrase for his character in The Shinning.

But as I have done so often for writers, I’d like to show McMahon’s roots and what prepared him for the work that would make him a house hold name.

He was born in Detroit Michigan and raised in Michigan, New Jersey, New York City and Lowel, Massachusetts and began his career as a bingo caller in Maine when he was just 15. I’d put him in the camp of “Dream  big, start small.”

McMahon was also a carnival barker, a pitchman for vegetable slicers, and worked in radio before working his way up to a TV game show emcee. He was also a decorated pilot in the Marines who also served in Korea and  was a late night TV host in Philadelphia. An eclectic background that prepared him for meeting Johnny Carson in 1959 when he would have been 36-years-old.

He never stopped being a pitchman and along the way he also appeared in movies and TV shows along with his work on Star Search, TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes and with the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon’s.  I thought it would be good to find a quote from McMahon that would provide a little inspiration for life’s journey.


”Honesty is the single most important factor having a direct bearing on the final success of an individual, corporation, or product.
                                                Ed McMahon 

 

Scott W. Smith

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“You can’t handle the truth!”
                       Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men 
                       Voted as #29 in AFI’s 100 Movie Quotes in 100 Years. 

 

The truth is at this place in time the Los Angels Lakers are a better team than the Orlando Magic as the 2009 NBA championship shows. The Lakers are two games from winning their 15th NBA Championship and the Magic are still just one win away from winning their first championship game in franchise history.

And as long as I can remember Jack Nicholson has been a fixture court side for the the Lakers. And always wearing sunglasses. Surely, you may wonder why he’s wearing sunglasses. That can’t be the best way to watch Kobe Bryant command the game. So why does he wear them? The 12 time nominated Academy Award actor freely tells the truth:

“With my sunglasses on, I’m Jack Nicholson. Without them, I’m fat and seventy.”
                                                                      
Jack Nicholson

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There was a big spike in readers here at Screenwriting from Iowa yesterday and I think it’s because author John Updike died this week. People’s Internet search that lead them to this blog was not because I’ve written anything about Updike, but because they probably confused him with writer John Irving who I have written a little about. (And who is still alive.)

Both are known as east coast American authors around the same age whose name happens to start with John. I bet the same thing would have happened back in the day if Faulkner’s first name was Ernest. We’d confuse who wrote which book. So just so we’re on the same page, Irving wrote The World According to Garp and Updike wrote Rabbit, Run.

Updike twice received the Pulitzer Prize and also wrote The Witches of Eastwick which became a movie in 1987 starring Jack Nicholson, Cher, Michelle Pfeffer and Susan Sarandon. He was born in Reading, Pennsylvania and raised in the nearby suburbs of  Shillington and Plowville where he was an avid reader. 

“Sometimes writers need no training, and some of the amateur ones who just jump in do better than the ones who have the Ph.D. in creative writing. Colleges are very willing now to teach you, to give you a whole course of creative writing classes. Although I took some when I was a student, I’m a little skeptical about the value….To the young writers, I would merely say, ‘Try to develop actual work habits, and even though you have a busy life, try to reserve an hour say — or more — a day to write.’

Some very good things have been written on an hour a day. Henry Greene, one of my pets, was an industrialist actually. He was running a company, and he would come home and write for just an hour in an armchair, and wonderful books were created in this way. So, take it seriously, you know, just set a quota. Try to think of communicating with some ideal reader somewhere. Try to think of getting into print. Don’t be content just to call yourself a writer and then bitch about the crass publishing world that won’t run your stuff. We’re still a capitalist country, and writing to some degree is a capitalist enterprise, when it’s not a total sin to try to make a living and court an audience. ‘Read what excites you,’ would be advice, and even if you don’t imitate it you will learn from it. All those mystery novels I read I think did give me some lesson about keeping a plot taut, trying to move forward or make the reader feel that kind of a tension is being achieved, a string is being pulled tight.

Other than that, don’t try to get rich on the other hand. If you want to get rich, you should go into investment banking or being a certain kind of a lawyer. But, on the other hand, I would like to think that in a country this large — and a language even larger — that there ought to be a living in it for somebody who cares, and wants to entertain and instruct a reader.”

                                                        John Updike
                                                        Interview in Academy of Achievement 

Now if you are interested in John Irving I have a longer post about him at John Irving, Iowa & Screenwriting.

 

Scott W. Smith

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