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Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Goldsmith’

Peter Hedges once met an actress on a subway in New York City who eventually told him the story about how some friends went to cook a Thanksgiving dinner but their oven didn’t work so they had to go around the building to get other people to let them cook their meal. Hedges thought, “That is a great idea,” and made a bunch of notes and then forgot about it until a couple of years later when he found out his mom had cancer. (A woman that informed everything he did

“As [my mom] was dying—or fighting to live at that time—she would always ask me what I was working on. And I was always working on getting her better doctors and trying to get her better treatments that would save her life. But she said let’s talk about what you’re working on and I said, Mom I can’t write anything, there’s no point in writing. And she said, well, there’s no point in anything if you’re not making something—so what are you making? And I opened up files and I found this file about the girl cooking the turkey and I asked that question that you ask as you’re writing your scripts or you’re making your films, Why is she cooking the turkey? And I said, because it’s Thanksgiving, that’s why you cook the turkey. But so what? And my notes said the reason she’s cooking the turkey is because she’s estranged from her mother and her mother’s dying of cancer. And I gasped. I couldn’t believe it, and I called my mom and said listen to these notes. And she said, Oh Peter, this sounds like a story you’re supposed to tell.”
Writer/ Director Peter Hedges
Podcast interview The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

Hedges did tell that story—the classic indie film Pieces of April (2003). One of the early films shot on digital tape it was made for under $300K with a stellar cast. It’s a film I’ve written about from time to time on this blog. (It would be a good investment to get the Pieces of April DVD with Hedges director’s commentary to gather tips on indie filmmaking.)

P.S. A little bit of Screenwriting from Iowa trivia—Peter Hedges was born and raised in Iowa.

Related posts:

‘Pieces of April’ (Part 1) 
‘Pieces of April’ (Part 2) 
‘Pieces of April’ (Part 3) 
‘Pieces of April’ (Part 4) 
‘Pieces of April’ (Part 5) 
‘Pieces of April’ (Part 6) 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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“You had me at hello.“
Dorothy Boyd (Rene Zellweger) in Jerry Maguire

Most of the time, me writing looks—to the untrained eye—like someone watching ESPN. The truth is if you did a pie chart of the writing process, most of the time is spent thinking. When you’re loaded up and ready to go—when you’ve got that intention and obstacle for the first scene that’s all you need.  For me at least, getting started is 90% of the battle. The difference between page zero and page two is all the difference in the world. So once I had the technical jargon to write [the ‘Hello’ scene in the movie Steve Jobs] and I also knew that scene would take us into a dressing room of some kind. . . . In the dressing room I knew they were going to talk about the overinflated projections and managing expectations, and that was going to get us into Time magazine, which was going to get us into paternity. I was able to see that far ahead. So once I knew everything about what I was doing—once I start typing it’s not going to be finger-painting, I’m not just going to be feeling my way in the dark and ‘let’s see where these characters take me.’ . . . Once you do know what you’re doing—for me, it’s intention and obstacle, for you it could be something else. You do understand there isn’t one way of doing this, right? Whatever way works for you is the right way, for me it’s intention and obstacle. Once you have that, there does come a time when you actually now are ready for your talent to take over. Start writing. Do your thing.”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men)
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

Related post:
Aaron Sorkin on Theme, Intention, and Obstacles

Scott W. Smith

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“Andy Hertzfeld’s reaction to the movie [Steve Jobs] was probably the most accurate—‘My god, none of that happened, but it’s all true.’”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin

This post is three years behind the times since the movie Steve Jobs came out in 2015, so I’m going to begin at the end. So if you haven’t seen it—spoiler alert. But since Jobs’ daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, had her memoir Smal Fry recently published this seems like perfect timing.

In The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith (which is a favorite podcast of mine), Goldsmith does a great job of interviewing Aaron Sorkin about his process of writing the screenplay.

Jeff Goldsmith: Here’s one of the toughest challenges to writing [the screenplay for Steve Jobs], because Isaacson’s book [Steve Jobs] was very clear about [Steve] Jobs having a not so friendly side to him. And you’re writing a story where your protagonist is also your antagonist, and that is not an easy feat. So what were your challenges as a writer? Because audiences love Steve Jobs, but not everybody has read that book yet. For some people, this is new news—this dark side. Part of your task is to get the audience to engage with your characters. And I think you did it, but it’s a tough balancing act to show the dark and the light together and have us care. So what were the challenges in doing that for Jobs?

Aaron: Well, the biggest challenge for sure—I’ll forgive a lot, I was not able to get past his denying paternity of Lisa and the way he treated her. Lisa was the one who got me past that. Now I found the emotional center of the story, because I’m not getting that emotional about the computer that won’t say hello. Here’s the emotional center of the story . . .  she would tell me stories about her father that often weren’t the most flattering stories about him. But she would always at the end of the story, turn it like a prism for me, and say, ‘But you can see how he really did love me.’ Because think about this and this and this. . . .The rest of it goes back to don’t judge the character. See how much you can identify with that character. And I can [identify with Steve Jobs]. . . . It’s not hard for me understanding Steve wanting end-to-end control of all his stuff. ‘Here, you get to buy it or not. I’ve made this thing, but I don’t want you messing with it’ . . .  

While Jobs is not the most sympathetic person to write about, Sorkin said he was looking for a way that showed Jobs change “even just a little bit.” In the closing scene, he does that. Though he’s clear that not everyone liked the ending. One lady at a Q&A in San Francisco even asked Sorkin if he was pressured by the studio or director into writing the final scene with Lisa that humanized Jobs and Sorkin replied he wrote, “exactly the scene I wanted to write.” Goldsmith said it was the right ending.

Goldsmith: Characters need redemption. And if you did a movie like this without a scene like that that where there was absolutely no redemption whatsoever there would be—

Sorkin:—I couldn’t agree more. The story of the movie is Will Steve and his daughter get together? The fact is that in real life they did find each other isn’t even the reason why I did it. Although I like it’s supportable by facts. I did it because I don’t just think there’s a movie if you don’t do it. I think what you’d have is a theater full of people saying, ‘Why did you make me sit here for two hours?’

Related posts:
Insanely Great Endings
What’s Changed?
Martin Luther King Jr. and Writing Strong-Willed Characters
Emotion-Emotion-Emotion
The Major or Central Dramatic Question

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m the kind of guy who wants to know the entire movie before I write it.”
Screenwriter Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith podcast

P.S. Peele also said on that podcast that while he wrote the first draft of Get Out in 2 1/2—3 months, the idea had been kicking around in his head for five years. “Follow the fun,” is his bonus writing advice.

P.P.S. Just to point out how different writers are, Stephen King says that the story comes to him as he writes his novels. He’s the first reader as well as the writer. That’s the exact opposite method that Jordan Peele used. “Different strokes for different folks.”

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“One of the lessons I took from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—which is one of the influences here—is that one of the reasons that film was so effective in its discussion with race is because it started with a situation that was universal. Take the race out of it, everybody can relate to the fear of meeting your potential in laws for the first time. At some point I had a revelation that was also the way to get into [Get Out]. ”
Writer/Director Jordan Peele (Get Out)
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith podcast

Scott W. Smith

 

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“My favorite Christmas film is It’s a Wonderful Life and I think Capra did a great job of balancing the light and the dark, the comedic and the dramatic—but George Bailey from the mid-point on he’s got to go through some really tough, dark stuff. And I think the reason that that film lives on today, and the reason every time you watch it is you get choked up at the end is because—I don’t care how tough you are—it’s because it’s earned. He had to go to the tough place and when he gets that reconciliation, his redemption— and not only the reunion with his family, but all those folks from the town come—you bought it and it’s okay to get sappy, mushy, dusty, whatever because I felt Capra and Jimmy Stewart earned that.”
Filmmaker Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullen, The Fitzgerald Family Christmas)
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

P.S. Capra always gets a lot of credit for It’s a Wonderful Life for obvious reasons, but if you look at the IMDB credits for that film here’s what you’ll see in the writing credits:
Francis Goodrich (screenplay) and
Albert Hackett (screenplay) and
Frank Capra (screenplay)
Jo Swerling (additional scenes)
Philip Van Doren Stern (story)
Michael Wilson (contributor to screenplay (uncredited)

Goodrich and Hackett won the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for their play The Diary of Anne Frank. They both also received 4 Oscar nominations including their script for The Father of the Bride (1950). Swerling, who was born in Ukraine, was a Tony-Award winning writer and lyricist and received an Oscar nomination for co-writing The Pride of the Yankees. Stern was born in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania and was an accomplished historian who wrote over 40 books. So there was a lot of talent behind the story/script of It’s a Wonderful Life. How many people mention Stern as the original source of It’s a Wonderful Life?  Tomorrow I’ll write about how Stern couldn’t get his short story that became It’s a Wonderful Life published so— in the true independent spirit—he published it himself.

Related Posts:

Insanely Great Endings
Insanely Great Endings (Part 2)
It’s a Wonderful Prison (“Shawshank is basically It’s a Wonderful Life in a prison.”—Frank Darabont)
Filmmaking Quote #28 (Frank Capra)
Emotional Screenwriting (Tip #53)
Writing Quote #22 (Dara Marks)
Hope & Redemption
Screenwriting Quote #146 (Edward Burns)
The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns

Scott W. Smith

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“What I react against in other people’s work, as a filmgoer, is when I see something in a movie that I feel is supposed to make me feel emotional, but I don’t believe the filmmaker shares that emotion. They just think the audience will.  And I think you can feel that separation. So any time I find myself writing something that I don’t really respond to, but I’m telling myself, ‘Oh yes, but the audience is going to like this,’ then I know I’m on the wrong track and I just throw it out.”
Writer/director Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises)
Interview with Jeff Goldsmith
Best of Creative Screenwriting Volume 2

Related post: 40 Days of Emotion

Scott W. Smith

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