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Posts Tagged ‘James L. Brooks’

“A lot of people think that my films are attempting to be moral in some way. And they usually say it as an insult. But I do think that’s probably true to some extent because I want people to be better. I want people to try to be better. And I like showing the struggle that people go through to try to make that happen. And I also like to let them get better because that’s hope. 

“If you could watch a movie about a person whose struggling and at the end they’re a better person than at the beginning it’s hope for yourself, it’s hope for the people you love, it’s hope for the human race and I do think that’s why people go to the movies.

“Sometimes it’s to see a superhero protect the earth. But other times it’s to see everyday problems reflected and to see how people deal with that. And to meet people you like and to root for them to figure something out and to evolve in some way.

“And that’s a big thing I always took from James Brooks, from his movies and his television work, is that there was always a grace note at the end of the stories. The stories would be hysterical, but a lot of the time there would be a moment that would just touch your heart.

“For instance, there’s a great episode of Taxi that I always think about. And in the episode, Louie De Palma is dating a blind woman. And the idea is that she doesn’t know that he’s not some handsome guy. And now he finds there’s going to be an operation where she’s going to get her sight back. And he’s terrified that she’s not going to love him when she sees him. And it’s very emotional and heartbreaking and a very funny episode. And then there’s the big moment where they take the bandages off and what will she do when she sees him? And she thinks he’s beautiful. And it’s very moving. And it makes you cry. It’s very touching. And then he leaves the room and one of his friends says ‘how’d it go?’ and he basically says it went great. And then he takes this ring that he got her and he says ‘I guess I got to get her a real ring.’ (Laughs) And to me that’s perfect. It’s just perfect storytelling. It got me emotionally, it touched my heart, and it has the funny, awful, edgy joke that stays true to the character. And that’s what I’m always trying to do, in some way find a James Brooks grace note.”
Writer/Director Judd Apatow
Masterclass/ Judd Apatow Teaches Comedy

If you want to track down to watch, it’s Louie and the Blind Girl from season 5, episode 19.

Here’s what I think qualifies as one of Brooks’ most well-known grace notes:

P.S. If you’re unfamiliar with the work of James L.Brooks track down his scripts for Broadcast News, As Good as It Gets, Taxi, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. That’s a good start. He’s also the creator of The Simpsons which has been on the air since 1998.

Scott W. Smith

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“Only emotion endures.”
Ezra Pound
A Retrospect

Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News are two James L. Brooks films that I can just watch over and over again…I strive to make movies like those where you’re laughing and you’re crying. That’s what all of it is for; It’s to experience the range of emotions within and hour and a half or two hours.”
Writer/Director Mike Birbiglia (Don’t Think Twice)
Interview on The Tim Ferriss Show

Check out the Don’t Think Twice website to see when the movie will be playing in your area. Select theaters with include Q&A with cast and/or crew including Mike Birbiglia tonight and tomorrow in Los Angeles. I’ll look forward to seeing it in Central Florida at the Enzian in August.

Related posts:
“It’s all about emotions”—Jamusz Kaminsky
Pity, Fear, Catharsis
Del Close & Emotional Discovery
James L. Brooks on Chayefsky
40 Days of Emotions (The longest single sting of posts on this blog.)

P.S. The posts Finding Authentic Emotions (Part 1) and Part 2 touch on how Alex Blumberg found the emotional core of an interview he did with artist Ann Rea on the CreativeLive class Power Your Podcast with Storytelling.I just watched that class again online and I think Alex’s pre-interview and interview with Rea (and the finished edited results) are the best example discovering and capturing the creative process/emotions in real time that I’ve ever seen. (And a gamble that could have gone wrong in several places since it was recorded live.)

Alex learned a lot about storytelling from Ira Glass when the two worked together producing This American Life. Ira is also one of the producers of Don’t Think Twice.  (Read the post Ira Glass on Storytelling.) 

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m saying you are stuck in Wichita.”
Del Griffith (John Candy)
Planes, Trains and Automobiles

On Thanksgiving Day 2013 I decided to challenge myself to a movie mash-up. Could I take a classic 26 year old Thanksgiving story (Planes, Trains and Automobiles) and somehow connect it with a movie that is currently number one in the box office this Thanksgiving (Hunger Games: Catching Fire). According to Box Office Mojo Planes had a total gross of just under $50 million—Catching Fire made more than that its opening day and has gone on to make more than $300 million worldwide in the first six days of its theatrical release. 

Granted Planes was released in 1987 so you’d have to adjust those numbers to be an equal comparison, but the truth is that John Hughes written and directed film starring Steve Martin and John Candy was far below the box office winner (Three Men and a Baby) the year it was release. But when was the last time you heard anybody talking about Three Men and a Baby or quoting lines from that movie?

Like every year, 1987 had its share of memorable films that have endured. Some did well at the box office (Fatal Attraction) and others didn’t find their audience until later (The Princess Bride). But what makes Planes, Trains and Automobiles continue to entertain and please audiences today?

“Some movies are obviously great. Others gradually thrust their greatness upon us. When ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ was released in 1987, I enjoyed it immensely, gave it a favorable review and moved on. But the movie continued to live in my memory. Like certain other popular entertainments (‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,’ ‘Casablanca’) it not only contained a universal theme, but also matched it with the right actors and story, so that it shrugged off the other movies of its kind and stood above them in a kind of perfection. This is the only movie our family watches as a custom, most every Thanksgiving….The buried story engine of ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ is not slowly growing friendship or odd-couple hostility (devices a lesser film might have employed), but empathy. It is about understanding how the other guy feels.”
Roger Ebert
Review for Planes, Trains and Automobiles

What Ebert called a “buried story engine” I would call theme and emotion. Here are two of my favorite questions on those subjects:

“I think what makes a film stick to the brain is the theme.”
Screenwriter Bill Martell

“The goal of every screenplay, every movie, every novel, every story of any kind (and ultimately, every work of art) is identical: to elicit emotion.
Michael Hague
Selling Your Story in 60 seconds

Call it “an understanding how the other guy feels” or “empathy,” but 26 years from now people will still be watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I’m not sure the same can be said for Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The studios don’t care about that now, they’re making money. The reviews are good. They’ve done their jobMe? I’ll watch anything with Jennifer Lawrence in it (she had me at Winters Bone), but Catching Fire didn’t warm my bones. I felt like I was watching a middle program in an episodic TV show that was a cross between Survivor, LOST, and The Truman Show. (Please don’t tell me I need to read the books to appreciate the movie. That was never said of The Godfather—or The Wizard of Oz.) 

At first I thought maybe it was just me coming off a long road trip before I saw Catching Fire until I read ScriptShadow’s review of the film.

“The Hunger Games, and movies like it, represents one of the most thankless screenwriting jobs in Hollywood. Sure, you get to write one of the biggest movies of the year, but all the credit will go to the two people who sandwiched you in the process – the author of the original book, and the director who put the movie on the big screen.

To that end, that middle cog, the screenwriter who adapts these huge books, is allowed little to no creativity. His job amounts to that of a translator. Maybe that’s why Catching Fire feels so empty inside. Its two talented screenwriters, Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt, weren’t allowed to do anything but translate. And it’s left this movie without a soul.”
Carson Reeves/ScriptShadow
Movie Review—Catching Fire

Even if you really enjoyed the film (which many of its intended audience did) you have to admit it didn’t have what Arndt calls an “insanely great ending”—the credits just come up and you go, “I guess it’s over.” Just one of the problem of sequels.

BTW—Scriptshadow also had a good post this week on 10 Screenwriting Tips from Thanksgiving favorite: Plane Trains and Automobiles! 

P.S. Films released in 1987 worth going back and watching or re-watching include Empire of the Sun (Christian Bale’s first major film), Wall St. (Michael Douglas won an Oscar for his role created by Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser), Moonstruck, the third Coen Brother film—Raising Arizona, and my personal favorite of that year Broadcast News written and directed by James L. Brooks.

Related Posts:
40 Days of Emotions
Theme: What Your Movie is Really About
Writing from Theme (Tip #20)
Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)
“The Artists” 3— “Hunger Games” 0
Before John Hughes Became John Hughes (And how Planes was inspired by his day job.)

Scott W. Smith

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“[Shane Black] isn’t Hollywood’s most prolific writer — he only has a handful of credits, including the first Lethal WeaponKiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Last Boy Scout— but for a time, he was its most highly paid, and the $4 million he earned for the 1996 action film The Long Kiss Goodnight is still a Hollywood record for a spec script. How did Black do it? Simple: He made reading his screenplays way too much fun.”
Kyle Buchanan
Why Iron Man 3 Director Shane Black Was Once Hollywood’s Hottest Screenwriter

“I recommend if you haven’t read it go back and read Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid , the original screenplay by William Goldman who was sort of my mentor, my rabbi, along with James L. Brooks. There’s plenty to be found in these old writers especially Goldman. Walter Hill and William Goldman are two of my favorites and if you’re going to write screenplays, or if you already are and you want a boost or a shot in the arm—look at the structure, they way they’re written, the style of those two authors—Walter Hill and William Goldman— because between the two of them they account for the bulk of the stylistic stuff I do on the page as a writer.”
Writer/Director Shane Black speaking to students in Minneapolis in the above video

Here are a few examples pointed out in Kyle Buchanan’s Vulture article of Black’s writing style:

Joshua  and Riggs. Two soldiers. Their eyes lock. And you better hand on to your popcorn, boys and girls, because it’s about to get ugly.
Lethal Weapon

Dark. Depressing. Sprawl of furniture. Stack after stack of sports magazines. Drop all your belongings out of a plane. They will land like this.
The Last Boy Scout

The LEADER: a haggard-looking man sporting a soup stain on his tie, whoops, that’s the design, sorry.
The Long Kiss Goodnight

P.S. If you’ve never read William Goldman’s classic book Adventures in the Screen Trade make it your next read as it not only includes insights into screenwriting and the film industry, but his entire screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It’ll give you a better jolt than a can of Red Bull—and cost about the same amount. (You can find a used copy on Amazon for under three bucks.)

Related post:

Screenwriting Quote #118 (William Goldman)
William Goldman Stands Alone
Screenwriting Quote #65
Shane Black & Willie Mays (A word of warning on trying to copy Black’s style)
Meet Your First Audience (Tip #36)
Descriptive Writing (Frank Darabont)
Descriptive Writing (Stephen King)
Descriptive Writing—Part 1 (tip #22)

Scott W. Smith

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As you watch the documentary Dreams on Spec you wonder if writers as a group aren’t just plain delusional. They live in a world where they are creating fictious stories in their head. Stories that are sometimes clear in their minds but that others don’t always see.  And there is a fine line between being delusional in your writing and being delusional in your life. It’s no wonder why so many writers struggle with drugs, alcohol, depression and strained relationships. (And sadly being published and produced doesn’t seem to be the cure.)

Every writer who has struggled with a story for years believes that there is a hill just beyond the horizon that if they can get over that hump then the waiting world will finally see their brilliance and shower them with adoration. (Or at least they’ll be able to pay the bills for a while.) So if you need a little hope today here’s a quote pulled from Dreams on Spec that may help you keep writing another day.

“I had a screenplay once where I was 90 pages in and I knew it was all over—I knew it was a disaster. It was driving me crazy because the studio had gone down a path with me so there was no getting out, and I didn’t knew how to get past these 90 pages. And then it all worked out. And the change which made it from absolute despair—that there was no way to save it— to it all working out was minute, but key.”

Producer/Director Writer James L. Brooks speaking about his script Terms of Endearment which went on to win five Academy Awards including three for Brooks (Best Director, Best Picture, & Best Writing).

Scott W. Smith

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Last night I watched the documentary Dreams on Spec which is a look at screenwriting from the perspective of those who’ve made it and those who are trying to make it. It’s reminiscent of Comedian which features Jerry Seinfeld’s behind the scene look of those trying to build a career as stand-up comedians. Both should be required viewing as they give a glimpse of the uphill battles, pitfalls, and realties of a creative career.

Dreams on Spec was written and directed by Daniel Snyder and in between profiling three screenwriters at various stages of trying to break into the industry he shows interviews with screenwriters Ed Solomon (Men in Black), James L. Brooks (As Good as it Gets), Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally) and others. I thought I’d pull some quotes for you this week, but I encourge you to watch the doc.

First up is writer/director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit):

“I think that it’s very easy to kind of give it away—give the definition of success away—empower other people in determining whether or not you have talent. And here’s the catch-22, the more you do that the less you’ll be able to write. That’s the hard thing, because writing is all about preservation, and strength and authority in your own voice. So if you give that voice away by guessing (Ross points to others) what you think, or what you think, or what you think as you go, you’re gonna have less to say and less to be able to write about, and less of an authoritative voice and then it goes away.”

Each of the up and coming screenwriters featured in the doc represents three common  stages of writing. There is one who keeps plugging away despite year after year of rejection, one who has mild success in actually getting a low budget script produce (walking away with around $20,000 and keeping his day job), and one that appears to quit. That probably covers 99& of the writers who will write the tens of thousands of scripts this year.


Scott W. Smith

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