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Posts Tagged ‘Joe Eszterhas’

“HOLLYWOOD is easy to hate, easy to sneer at, easy to lampoon.”
Raymond Chandler’s essay Writers in Hollywood published in the Atlantic in 1945

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that novelist/screenwriter Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity) was not in a happy place when he wrote the essay  Writers in Hollywood which was published in the Atlantic back in 1945.

“The making of a picture ought surely to be a rather fascinating adventure. It is not; it is an endless contention of tawdry egos, some of them powerful, almost all of them vociferous, and almost none of them capable of anything much more creative than credit-stealing and self-promotion. Hollywood is a showman’s paradise. But showmen make nothing; they exploit what someone else has made.”
Raymond Chandler
Writers in Hollywood 

“The first picture I worked on was nominated for an Academy award (if that means anything), but I was not even invited to the press review held right in the studio. An extremely successful picture made by another studio from a story I wrote used verbatim lines out of the story in its promotional campaign, but my name was never mentioned once in any radio, magazine, billboard, or newspaper advertising that I saw or heard – and I saw and heard a great deal. This neglect is of no consequence to me personally; to any writer of books a Hollywood by-line is trivial.
Raymond Chandler
Writers in Hollywood

“Few screenwriters possess homes in Bel-Air, illuminated swimming pools, wives in full-length mink coats, three servants, and that air of tired genius gone a little sour. Money buys pathetically little in Hollywood beyond the pleasure of living in an unreal world, associating with a narrow group of people who think, talk, and drink nothing but pictures, most of them bad, and the doubtful pleasure of watching famous actors and actresses guzzle in some of the rudest restaurants in the world. I do not mean that Hollywood society is any duller or more dissipated than moneyed society anywhere: God knows it couldn’t be. But it is a pretty thin reward for a lifetime devoted to the essential craft of what might be a great art.”
Raymond Chandler
Writers in Hollywood

But that essay was written over 65 years ago, and he was talking about a Hollywood studio system of the 30s & 40s. One we ironically look back on as the golden era of Hollywood—the era before TV muddied the waters. Time and time again you hear 1939 named as the best year ever in the history of motion pictures: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz. (And 1941 wasn’t too bad either: Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, Meet John Doe, Suspicion, Sergeant York, How Green Was My Valley, Sullivan’s Travels.)

Every era produces its share of bad people and bad movies, but given a little time all of that is forgotten and we remember mostly the great movies—and the great filmmakers who made those movies. My guess is back in 1945 Chandler was too close to the egos—the sauguage making—to step back and see that some great movies were made.

When I first saw Double Indemnity 40 years after it was made I knew nothing of Raymond Chandler (screenwriter), Billy Wilder (screenwriter/director), or James M. Cain (who wrote the novel).  I was unaware of the tension Chandler and Wilder had in writing the script—I just knew it was a great film.  (I did know Fred MacMurray from the TV show My Three Sons, so it did take some effort seeing him as the bad guy.)

It would be interesting to see what Raymond Chandler would write today about Hollywood, independent filmmaking, global cinema, and even television. But he did end his 1945 essay with a little hope:

“In spite of all I have said, the writers of Hollywood are winning their battle for prestige. More and more of them are becoming showmen in their own right, producers and directors of their own screenplays. Let us be glad for their additional importance and power, and not examine the artistic result too critically. The boys make good (and some of them might even make good pictures). Let us rejoice together, for the tendency to become showmen is well in the acceptable tradition of the literary art as practiced among the cameras.
Raymond Chandler
Writers in Hollywood

Chandler would have liked Joe Eszterhas a lot.  And I imagine if Chandler were alive to watch the 2008 Academy Awards he would have smiled when screenwriter/”showman” Diablo Cody won her Oscar for Juno and simply said, “You go girl.” And I think he’d be proud—and amazed— of the modern filmmakers that produced Winter’s Bone, The Artist, and Life of Pi.

To paraphrase what David Mamet said of theater, “Cinema is always dying, and always being reborn.”

Related post: The Original Screenwriting Rock Star

And since it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day— Martin Luther King Jr Special

Scott W. Smith

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Do you have a picture of “when I’m 64″?
“No, no. I hope we’re a nice old couple living off the coast of Ireland or something like that —looking at our scrapbook of madness.”
John Lennon Interview
1971 Rolling Stone Interview

John Lennon never had a chance to flip through his scrapbook of madness. He was shot and killed 30 years ago today. He was 40 years old. I was a teenager in Orlando when I heard the news and what I remember most about that day—or I guess the day after the shooting—is how the many cars around Central Florida drove around with their lights on during the daytime. Like a big funeral procession. I had never seen that before and haven’t seen it since. And I don’t know if that was a local thing or was going on all over the country and/or world.

I was looking for a story about Lennon that was different from ones you’ve heard or will hear today and this is what I came up with:

“There’s a wonderful story that took place up in the north of Scotland that not many people know about. (John Lennon) crashed his car up in Scotland soon after he had married Yoko Ono. And as a result of that he was hospitalized. They ran the car into a ditch. And so here he is way in the wilds of Scotland in a tiny, wee country hospital. And the local minister comes to make his rounds. And in one of the beds sits Lennon, you know, with his hair way down his back. And the man, bless his heart, duly goes up and introduces himself and says who he is. And he actually, I believe, from those who were part of this man’s congregation, had a wonderful opportunity to talk with him beyond the level of superficial things. And a couple of days later Lennon was stitched up and packed off and he left. And within a week or ten days the local minister was seen driving around the town in this lovely new car. And apparently what had happened was that Lennon, when he was discharged from the hospital, had gone to the local garage and had written a check and asked the garage owner to call the minister and offer to him any car of his choice at Lennon’s expense. And that was an indication again of this heart.”
Alistair Begg
Dick Staub 2004 Interview, Alistair Begg on Spirituality of The Beatles

By the way, Alistair Begg happens to be a minister in the Chagrin Falls, Ohio but also had a role as a Scottish golfer in the feature film Bobby Jones: Stroke of a Genius which starred Jim Caviezel. (Chagrin Falls also happens to be the area where screenwriter Joe Eszterhas now lives.)

Scott W. Smith

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Now that it’s almost been three years since I started the Screenwriting from Iowa blog and have written over 700 posts, I thought October 10, 2010 (10/10/10) was a fitting day to pick a mix of ten of my favorite, most viewed, and  most helpful posts that you may have missed depending when you started reading this blog or how often you check your RSS feed.

One word of warning is the first year of posts were generally longer than they are today. It was not uncommon that they weighed in between 1,000 & 2,000 words. I’ve added a quote to give you a feel of each post and hope you can take the time to read one or two links. Thanks to everyone for frequenting this blog. Watching the numbers increase really does help keep me plugging away daily. (Hope to get it in book ready shape by the end of the year.)

1) Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)
“The way to have a great idea is to have lots of ideas.”
Linus Pauling

2) Can Screenwriting Be Taught?
“I wrote screenplays as a way to get into production. I wrote six or seven before I sold one.”
Lawrence Kasden
screenwriter, Raiders of the Lost Ark

3) Everything I Learned in Film School (tip #1)
“If real estate’s mantra is location, location, location, then for screenwriters it’s conflict, conflict, conflict.”

4) Starting Your Screenplay (tip #6)
“Who is your hero, what does he want, and what stands in his way?”
Paddy Chayefsky, Three-time Oscar-winning screenwriter

5) Screenwriting & Structure (tip #5)
“Structure is the most important element in the screenplay. It is the force that holds everything together.”
Syd Field

6) Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio

“One day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart.”
Francis Ford Coppola

7) Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
“I don’t think that calling something commercial makes it stink.”
Rod Serling

8) The Serious Side of “Gilligan’s Island”
“(Gilligan’s Island) is about, people learning to live together.”

9) Re-Writing Screenwriter John August
If you write a script anywhere and send it to an agent in Chicago or Detroit or Cleveland or wherever…and if that agent sends it to an agent in Hollywood who loves it…you can sell your script.”
Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas

10) How Much Do Screenwriters Make?
“Most screenwriters are unemployed, chronically unemployed.”
Screenwriter Tom Lazarus (Stigmata)

10a—bonus) Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy)
Don’t ever agonize about the hordes of other writers who are ostensibly your competition.  No one else is capable of doing what you do.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno)

Scott W. Smith

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“I think the moment you try to make something for kids, you are making something really cruddy that even kids don’t want to watch most of the time.”
Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 3 director

Chagrin Falls, Ohio has actually popped up a few times on my posts. Mostly because that’s the area where screenwriter Joe Eszterhas moved to in part because he believed it was a better place than Malibu to raise his family.

I’ve been to Chagrin Falls a couple of times and the Cleveland suburb appears to be an idyllic place to grow up. Newsweek has named Chagrin Falls High School several times as one of the top 100 high schools in the country. And grow up in Chagrin Falls and graduate from Chagrin Falls High School is exactly what Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich did.

Long before Unkrich co-directed the Pixar films Finding NemoMonsters, Inc. and Toy Story 2, he joined the Cleveland Play House as an 11-year-old and spent four years working on children’s shows.Unkrich told Clint O’Connor of The Plain Dealer of his four years of performing children’s plays and musicals in Cleveland,  “I loved it. We got to put on our shows on the big sets and on the big stages.”

An interesting (and Toy Story-connected) side note is since Lee Unkrich was born in 1967 and began doing theater in Cleveland when he was 11, that means he started in 1978. In 1978-79 there was a young actor in Cleveland cutting his chops performing Shakespeare (and moving sets) with the Great Lakes Theater Festival, where artistic director Vincent Dowling had lured the student away from California.

That student was Tom Hanks who would go on to win two Best Actor  Academy Awards as well as be in a few other films, including providing the voice for Woody in the Toy Story movies. That’s right, before he starred in the TV show Bosom Buddies in 1980, Hanks was performing Hamlet night after night in Cleveland, Ohio.

“[I have] an artistic bent, almost a philosophy, which I learned for the first time onstage in Cleveland.”
Tom Hanks

Unkrich graduated from high school in 1985 and headed to USC to attend film school where he graduated in 1990. He won some awards for his short films, edited some TV programs, and eventually joined Pixar in 1994.

In an article in The Columbus Dispatch Unkrich was interviewed by Nick Chordas:

Chordas: Does it feel as if you’ve come a long way from Chagrin Falls?

Unkrich: It does. I headed off from Chagrin Falls with dreams of making movies, although I don’t think I really understood what that meant then. But, yes, I do have to pinch myself that I’m here doing this now.

My mom still lives in Chagrin Falls, and she’ll be at the premiere on Hollywood Boulevard. I’m sure it will be a thrill for both of us.

You can follow Unkrich on Twitter @leeunkrich .

P.S. Pixar’s Bob Peterson (who directed Up) is from Wooster, Ohio. And next door in Michigan, they can claim the voice of Buzz Lightyear provided by Tim Allen.  Allen went to high school in Birmingham, Michigan, earned a degree in TV from Western Michigan University, and started his stand up comedy routine in Detroit.

Some of the “Screenwriting from Iowa” related posts on Ohio:

Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio
Screenwriting Quote #129 (Bob Peterson)
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
First Screenplay=9 Oscar Nominations
Youngstown’s Hollywood Connection
Screenwriting Quote #116 (Chris Colunbus)
William Goldman Stands Alone
Screenwriting Quote #72 (Michael Eisner)
Screenwriting from Sunset Blvd.

And though I haven’t written about him yet, writer/director Jim Jarmusch is from the Akron, Ohio area. For what it’s worth, Jarmusch’sfascinating film Stranger Than Paradise was released in 1984—the same year that basketball’s “King James,” LeBron James, was born in Akron.

Scott W. Smith

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Orson Welles was only 25-years-old when he made his first film Citizen Kane. It is considered one of the greatest films ever made. He won his sole Oscar on that film. He was 43 when he directed his last significant film Touch of Evil. Welles died in 1985 at age 70. Though he worked as an actor, voice-over talent, director, and even had his own TV show in his later years,  he was most well known to the general public for his Paul Masson commercials; “We will sell no wine before its time.”

When Clint Eastwood was 25-years-old he was digging swimming pools in Los Angeles.  While in his thirties he started to build a name for himself as an actor, but it was not until he was in his forties when he turned his hand to directing. And that was a 12 minute film called The Beguiled: The Storyteller. He followed that with the feature Play Misty for Me and has gone on to direct more that 30 films. He’s won four Academy Awards (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby) the last one at age 74. He was 78 when he directed and starred in Gran Torino, which to date (according to Box Office Mojo) is the highest grossing film that he’s ever starred in or directed.

“Some people glow really early, in their twenties and thirties, then in their fifties they are not doing as much. but I feel that growing up and maturing, constantly maturing—aging is the impolite way of saying it-—I like to think there is an expansion going on philosophically.”
Clint Eastwood
Devil’s Guide to Hollywood
Joe Eszterhas
Page 361

Scott W. Smith

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“Writing a good movie brings a writer about as much fame as steering a bicycle.”
Ben Hecht

“The job of turning good writers into movie hacks is the producer’s chief task.”
Ben Hecht

Screenwriter Ben Hecht was born in 1894 just as moving pictures were being invented. Before he died in 1964 he worked on 70+ films and wrote many plays and books. He was the first screenwriter to ever win an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story. He’s considered  one of the greatest screenwriters in the history of motion pictures.

Hecht was born in New York City and spent time on the lower east side before moving to Racine, Wisconsin. where his mother worked in downtown Racine. For those keeping score, Racine is not far from Kenosha, WI where Orson Welles was born.

After graduating from high school in Racine and briefly attending college at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (for all of three days), Hecht went to Chicago where he eventually began working for newspapers (Chicago Journal and The Chicago Daily News). His first novel (Erik Dorn) was published in 1921. His Chicago-basedplay The Front Page was written in 1928 and was made into films several times. His time in Chicago covering murders and gangster would serve him well in Hollywood as those stories translated well to the big screen.

Jumping into the world of movies just as they were using sound, his script for Underworld was released in 1929 and earned him an Oscar award. He sometimes wrote a script in a matter of days and said that he never took longer than eight weeks. Scarface (1932) was written in nine days. He is quoted as saying of his screenwriting career that he was paid, “tremendous sums of money for work that required no more effort than a game of pinochle.”

He was called The Shakespeare of Hollywood but had this to say of his own career: “Out of the seventy movies I’ve written some ten of them were not entirely waste product. These were Underworld, The Scoundrel, Wuthering Heights, Viva Villa, Scarface, Specter of the Rose, Actors and Sin, Roman Holiday, Spellbound, Nothing Sacred.
Ben Hecht

Some of the other movies he worked on (credited and uncredited) include:

Gunga Din
Notorious (Oscar Nominated)
Gone with the Wind
The Shop Around the Corner
His Girl Friday
Stagecoach
Angels Over Broadway (Oscar Nominated)
Viva Villa (Oscar nominated)

He won his second Academy Award for The Scoundrel (shared with Charles MacArthur). Because he sometimes used a pseudonym (partly because he was blacklisted in Europe) we’ll probably never know exactly how many novels, plays and movies Hecht actually wrote. But it’s safe to say that he cranked out his share of pages. Combine the tough-talking gangster persona Hecht carried with the rapid exchange found in His Girl Friday (based on Hecht/MacArthur play The Front Page) and it’s hard to think that Hecht didn’t pave the way for writers Joe Eszterhas and Quentin Tarantino.  (Eszterhas in his book Hollywood Animal called Hecht “the most successful screenwriter in Hollywood history.”

Later in life Hecht had his own TV talk show in New York City (you can find a weak interview he did with Jack Kerouac on You Tube) and was critical of the culture that American movies had helped produce:

“The movies are one of the bad habits that corrupted our century….Of their many sins, I offer as the worst their effect on the intellectual side of the nation. It is chiefly from that viewpoint I write of them — as an eruption of trash that has lamed the American mind and retarded Americans from becoming a cultured people.”
Ben Hecht

What would he say of TV and the Internet today?

Scott W. Smith

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“Every cell of your body has to be aligned so that you’re making the best possible image.”
Photographer and Oscar-winning filmmaker Louie Psihoyos

His name is Louie Psihoyos. He won an Oscar Sunday. And he’s originally from Iowa.

That’s the short version.

If Louie Psihoyos doesn’t sound like a traditional Midwestern German Lutheran name to you, you’d be correct.  A little over fifty years before he accepted his best documentary Oscar for The Cove, he was born to Greek immigrants and raised in Dubuque, Iowa.

And it was in Dubuque were he first got turned on to art, eventually focusing on photography. In perhaps an odd connection you’ll probably only find on a blog called Screenwriting from Iowa, Psihoyos had an interesting experience with an Oscar-nominated screenwriter in of all places Dubuque, Iowa.

In the 1970s, the movie F.I.S.T. was filmed in Dubuque starring Sylvester Stallone.  F.I.S.T. was Stallone’s first film after the Oscar-winning best picture Rocky. Rocky, of course, put Stallone on the map as he was nominated for an Oscar as best actor and for best original screenplay. (F.I.S.T. also just happens to be the first script that Joe Eszterhas ever had produced.)

Psihoyos was a teenager at the time F.I.S.T. was being filmmed but was already an accomplished photographer having won some contests and somehow was able to met and photograph Stallone. (Update: Photographer Brian Smith actually said Psihoyos appeared in the film so I looked into it and found on Psihoyos’ website the Stallone photograph and this account by Psihoyos: “As a photographic intern for the local newspaper, I was sent to stake out Stallone at the local hotel where the crew was staying. He came in from the airport dressed in costume and I took the photograph in a hotel elevator. Stallone loved the photograph and invited me to stay on the set… He put me in the movie F.I.S.T. as his wedding photographer. I have one speaking line, ‘smile now!'”)

Psihoyos went on to graduate from the highly esteemed journalism school at the University of Missouri and won the National Geographic annual College Photographer of the Year contest. That helped him launch into a long career as a photographer for National Geographic.

A couple years ago he decided to turn his talent and resources into his vision of what became the documentary The Cove.

So once again while Psihoyos appears to be another filmmaker who won an Oscar with his first film—there is a 30+ year accomplished creative career behind him. Here’s some advice from him;

“What I like to tell newcomers is that there’re about 30,000 working photographers in Manhattan. Those are people who, by their IRS statements, are making a living and are profitable, and a lot of them are pretty damn good. You have to give of yourself 200 percent in everything you do; then the right people find you like a beacon.”
Louie Psihoyos
2006 Interview with Ted Fry
—–

Psihoyo’s acceptance speech was cut off during the Oscars broadcast so here is what he intended to say;

“We made this film to give the oceans a voice.

We told the story of The Cove because we witnessed a crime. Not just a crime against nature, but a crime against humanity.

We made this movie because through plundering, pollution and acidification from burning fossil fuels, ALL ocean life is in peril from the great whales to plankton which incidentally is responsible for half the oxygen in this theater.

Thank you, Black OPS Team for risking your lives in Japan — and thank You Academy for shining the brightest lights in the world on THE COVE……

Japan, please see this movie for yourselves!  Domo Arigato!”

Psihoyos is based in Boulder these days. I don’t know if he has reasons to come to Iowa anymore, but I’d thought it interesting that he got his start here. Much in the spirit of screenwriter Diablo Cody who graduated from college in Iowa where she developed her skills on her way to writing the Oscar-winning script for Juno. (Which I should mention to any new readers is who inspired me to start blogging two years ago.)

Scott W. Smith

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“I’d wake up at night with the smell of the ball park in my nose, the cool of the grass on my feet… The thrill of the grass.”
Field of Dreams
Shoeless Joe Jackson

Yesterday I wandered over the Iowa state line into Omaha, Nebraska to watch the final game of the 2008 College World Series. The Georgia Bulldogs played the Fresno State Bulldogs.

That’s the first time in my life I’ve ever seen two teams play that have the same mascot. What are the odds?Probably a little worse than getting a script you’ve written made. Since every screenwriter is an underdog there are a few things every screenwriter can learn from the game of baseball.

In the end the Bulldogs from California won the school’s first ever baseball national championship. One sports announcer proclaimed it “one of the greatest stories in sports history.” I don’t know about that but those Fresno St. ‘dawgs were true underdogs. They lost 12 of their first 20 games and finished the regular season only 32-27 but somehow won when they needed to and ended up in the College World Series where they were ranked dead last.

No team had ever come from the last ranked team to win a national championship…until last night. As I said about this year’s Super Bowl, if it had of been a movie you would have said it was full of cliches. But everyone has a dream.

Before we get to screenwriting I want to go back to 2003 where Chris Moneymaker changed the face of poker playing when playing in his first tournament he began as an unknown and turned $39 into a $2.5 million winning purse.

“I got lucky along the way. I also bluffed a lot during this tournament, but somehow I got away with it.” 
Chris Moneymaker

The screenwriting equivalent may be Diablo Cody who won an Oscar for her first film script Juno. These are rare cases, and it is important to have a real understanding of how difficult it is to have a screenwriting career or even get one of your scripts made. But it’s also important to know that Hollywood needs good scripts because the Hollywood system needs good movies.

I found this little nugget of information in Joe Eszterhas’ The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood:
Director Phillip Noyce: “I realized that the Hollywood system–based as it is on the employment of branch offices all over the world promoting and selling movies–is totally dependent on a continual flow of product, and it’s been set up to promote that product into the hearts and minds of people all over the world. In essence, movies represent marketing opportunities for Hollywood.” 

That should encourage you in your writing. And keep in mind:

“The only essential requirement to launch a successful screenwriting career is a terrific script.”
                                                                                     Cynthia Whitcomb

The Fresno St. baseball team, Chris Moneymaker, and Diablo Cody are a group of talented people who were all considered underachivers before their breakthroughs. And what do you do until that breakthrough? You keep dreaming and you write scripts and continue to find key people to read your scripts.

When former baseball players Logan Miller and Noah Miller dream to play professional baseball failed they turned their attention to screenwriting and filmmaking. Once they wrote their first script they cornered actor Ed Harris at a film festival where he was receiving an award and he agreed to read the script. Last year that film, Touching Home (which they also directed and star in) was completed with Ed Harris playing the Logan brothers father.

Editor Walter Murch said this about the film:  “With its crisp photography, concise editing and excellent use of sound, I found Touching Home to be a thoughtful and emotional exploration of the forgotten corners of the American Dream.”

Driving back home today I made a slight detour to Winterset, Iowa which is where The Bridges of Madison County was shot and where John Wayne was born in a house not far from where Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep did scenes together in downtown Winterset.

And if that’s not enough, George Washington Carver lived in Winterset for a while where the former slave was encouraged to attend college which he did, both Simpson College and Iowa State Agricultural College where in 1891 he became their first black student and would go one to earn a Master’s degree before going on with many agricultural discoveries.

George Washington Carver and John Wayne are two more examples of coming from a small town before finding global success.

P.S. I noticed on TV’s at the stadium that Orel Hershiser was calling the game on ESPN. In my Cedar Falls office I have a signed baseball from Hershiser for a project I helped produce for his retirement celebration. It’s also worth noting, before Hershiser became a World Series MVP he played minor league ball in Clinton, Iowa and when he played for the LA Dodgers manger Tommy Lasorda gave him the nickname “Bulldog.”

I really don’t make this stuff up, you know?

 

Word and Photos ©2008 Copyright Scott W. Smith

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“I think screenplays should be written with as much speed as possible.” 

William Goldman, Two-time Oscar Winner

(All the President’s Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)

 

Do you want to do something foolish this April?

Why not write a screenplay in one month?

I’m not joking.

I know there are a zillion reason why you can’t do it…but it can be done. Stallone wrote Rocky in less than a week. Ditto that for Joe Eszterhas writing Basic Instinct.

Granted it took Arthur Miller six weeks to write Death of a Salesman, but let’s not shoot for such lofty goals this time around.

 

“It’s important to write quickly because creativity comes from the unconscious.

William Mastrosimone

(Extremities)

When you write quickly you write from the subconscious. It was said that Jack Kerouac used to take a butcher roll of paper and just keep writing. (Let me sneak an Iowa reference in here…In “On the Road,” Kerouac wrote, “the prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines.”)

But those moments seem to be rare for any writers so you need to grab a hold of them when they come.

(To see a great shot of Kerouac’s roll of writing check out the trailer for a new documentary call One.Fast.Move.or.I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sir directed by Curt Worden. That looks like a great film.)

I think if you read the tips on this blog it will help you get out of the gate. There is a wonderful book on screenwriting by Viki King titled, How to Write a Movie in 20 Days that is a fitting book to recommend.

The title isn’t the only thing that’s kept this book in circulation longer than most. Most books on screenwriting tend to be written by men and tend to be analytical in nature. Viki brings some nurturing skills to the table. Like, it’s okay to write. And all artists need encouragement .

But the main thing I like about the book is she says day one—write ten pages. Just like that. The crazy thing is you can do it. It may be like learning the game of chess, you may not be any good at the game but at least you’re playing.

Don’t have a computer or screenwriting software? That’s okay, there are still successful screenwriters who prefer to write on a typewriter (Joe Eszterhas, his films have earned over a billion dollars at the box office) or to hand write their scripts (Emma Thompson, Oscar winner for Sense and Sensibility)

Need a little more inspiration? Accountability? Competition?

Script Frenzy may be for you. I don’t know much about it but beginning today there are 6,460 writers signed up to write at least a 100 page original screenplay within the next 30 days. Check it out at http://www.scriptfrenzy.org/ (Kids and teens can get into the act as well through a separate challenge.)

And once you hit that deadline you can turn around and send your script to The Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting whose deadline is May 1, 2008. 

That fellowship attracts the best screenwriters who have never sold a script. Past winners include Michael A. Rich (Finding Forrester), Doug Atchison (Akeelah and the Bee), Susannah Grant (who went on to write Erin Brockovich). It’s not free to enter and the competition is stiff. But remember, we are talking about screenwriting here.

Heck, half the writers in the WGA didn’t earn any money writing last year. You do this because you have a passion and desire to write and tell stories. And like riding a bike the more you do it the better you’ll get. (And not too many people get paid to ride a bike either. But there’s satisfaction there.)

Then after you’ve written your script in 30 days, and entered it in the Nicholl Fellowship you can take a month or so and polish your script for the June 15, 2008 deadline for Final Draft’s Big Break screenwriting contest.   

I still think most screenwriting contests are money makers for the groups and people that sponsor them, but if it keeps you turning out pages that’s good. And writers have launched careers through them so don’t rule them out. Just be careful where you send your money because at $50. a pop that adds up.

But mainly focus on writing and marketing your writing.  Meaning you should be contacting producers, agents, and anyone related to the industry that can get your work read. That includes the local production talent wherever you live.

Be like that protagonist you are writing about; willing to overcome obstacles to go to the end of the line to achieve a goal. And if you can write a screenplay in 30 days you can at least cross that off your bucket list.

 

Scott W. Smith

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The Writers Guild of America strike has finally ended and now the “We Support” signs can come down and go on ebay. But I do have a couple of questions. Who is the “we” in the above photo? And why does Gary Kelley have it on his door at work? Kelley is not a screenwriter though he did spend time in Los Angeles on the picket line during the writer’s strike.  His daughter is a screenwriter and a member of the WGA, so that’s probably the reason the sign’s there.

Kelley is an artist who can be found most days (and often nights) working in his upstairs studio in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  Yes, downtown Cedar Falls does resemble Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life. Yes, it was snowing when I took the photo below last week, and yes, the Christmas lights are still up in mid February. (Talk about a long December….)

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If you don’t recognize the name Gary Kelley I’m sure you are familiar with his art work. As an illustrator his work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Time, New Yorker Magazine, Newsweek and many other publications and national advertising campaigns. He has won over 25 medals from the Society of Illustrators and last year was elected into their Hall of Fame. He’s kind of the William Goldman of illustrators. But he is most known for the murals he’s done of writers that can be found in every Barnes & Noble Booksellers across the country. Including two 70 foot murals at the most recently renovated Barnes & Nobel on 5th and 48th street in Manhattan.

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When you walk into Kelley’s studio it’s like walking onto a movie set. It’s exactly what you’d expect a working artist’s studio to look like. During the day beautiful natural light spills into the loft like area and onto a large easel where he is often painting. What he’s usually not doing is sipping a glass of wine, waxing philosophically about art.

He can do that, but he’s got work to do most of the time. It was from Kelley that I learned the phrase “Art is work.” It originated from the book with that as the title by Milton Glaser, the designer of the ubiquitous “I (heart shape) NY” design.

It’s a book Kelley likes to recommend. “First off Glaser is a giant in my eyes,” Kelley told me in his studio, “He’s extremely articulate and he shares everything he knows in this book which is wonderful. It’s such an honest book. Art is Work that’s a pretty honest statement. The thing that makes it so great is that he’s not afraid to talk about inspiration and influence. Many artists are very secretive about that. They want you to think that ideas come from some kind of magical, middle-of-the-night revelation. Creativity is assembling influences. It’s not about having something totally original pop into you head all of a sudden.”

That explains why Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, who are basically film historians as well as filmmakers, are known for their original work. But even a director of Scorsese’s stature hits creative dry spots as he has talked about before he made Raging Bull. How does work fit into that predicament? (Or, say,  a financially drained screenwriter after a three-month strike? Or a mother of two trying to squeeze in a script writing at night?)

Thomas Moore writes in Dark Nights of the Soul, “Don’t work only when the mood is right. Let the dark night come and go, but keep doing your work. Igor Stravinsky said, ‘Even when I do not feel like work I sit down to it just the same. I cannot wait for inspiration.’ He liked to quote Tchaikovsky who said that composing was like making shoes. In that sense, it was a job.”

Screenwriting is a job. It’s work. Just show up and ply your trade.  Do that whether you get paid or not and even if you live in Memphis, Des Moines or Fairbank. These things take time.  Steve Martin in his book Born Standing Up, recounts how he did thousands of performances over a 10 year period getting his act down and then another four years fine tuning it before he found wild success for four years. It took a lot of work to discover how to be a wild and crazy guy.

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There is an old saying that writers don’t like writing but they like having written. And the only way to have written is to write. If you look at the lives of writers you will find all kinds of styles. But the one thing many successful ones have in common is a discipline (desire, obsession?) to write on a regular basis.

John Grisham is one of the most financially successful writers in history. But before he made a name for himself as a writer he was a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. Lawyers aren’t known for having a lot of free time so on top of his 60-80 hour days as a State Representative he would wake up at five 5 AM to fit in an hour of writing on his first novel.  After he did that for three years, he could not find anyone interested in publishing the book. So he continued to wake up early and write the next novel that eventually got published and went on to make him a very wealthy man.

Ron Bass & Stephen King are also known for their dedicated daily writing schedules.

Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) was a struggling novelist for ten years before he found success with his first screenplay The Client based on Grisham’s novel.

I grew up with laid back musician Jimmy Buffett as one of my heroes, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized Buffett didn’t spend much time in Margaritaville because he is a workaholic who’s usually on the road or in the studio. That’s why he’s had a 30+ year career and why he made around $30 million back in 2006. Don’t let those flip-flops fool you – it takes a lot of work to be that carefree.

A few years ago I was producing a TV program in LA with director of photography Peter Biagi who shot on the first HBO Project Greenlight movie. On our last day of shooting a group of us had dinner with Stolen Summer writer/director Peter Jones. The HBO Greenlight show projected Jones as merely an insurance salesman from Chicago which was partially true. I asked him how many screenplays he had written before Stolen Summer and he said six. This wasn’t a guy who went from writing insurance claims to screenplays overnight. It was a process where he worked on his writing.

“For me, it was a matter of years of trying to develop my writing in the same way that some people spend years learning to play the violin.” Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)

“My average UCLA student who’s been successful wrote at least six complete, polished screenplays before finally selling one.” William Froug

“I wrote maybe 10 screenplays before I was able to sell one.” Nicolas Kazan, At Close Range

“We wrote six scripts before anything was produced.” Jack Epps, Jr., Top Gun

“Before I got adept at it, I had to write about ten scripts.” Brian Helgeland, L.A. Confidential

Those are encouraging quotes when you’ve written seven unproduced feature scripts, and help keep you sane when you see Diablo Cody knock her first script out of the park with her Oscar nominated Juno. (Congrats once again to Cody for winning the Writers Guild of America best original screenplay award.) For those of you who haven’t read The Juno-Iowa Connection on this site, Cody is a graduate of the University of Iowa.

But Cody is not a freak of nature.While her first screenplay won an Oscar, Cody mentions writing everyday sice she was 12. That’s fifteen years of writing before she wrote Juno.  Oliver Stone wrote 12 screenplays before he sold one. Are you getting the picture? Screenwriting is work. But let’s get more specific and look at work on a day-to-day basis.

Joe Eszterhas’ (Basic Instinct) advice in his screenwriting book The Devils Guide to Hollywood is; “Write six pages of script a day. Stick to this schedule no matter what. You’ll have a finished first draft in roughly twenty days. Then go back and edit what you’ve written. Spend no more than five days on this edit.”

Any way you look at it it comes down to work.

Gary Kelley’s work made it to the big screen this past November when I photographed and produced an HD production of his artwork for Holst’s The Planets performed by the Waterloo-Ceder Falls Symphony under the direction of conductor Jason Wienberger. Viewed on a 20 foot screen it received a triple standing ovation from the 1,300 in attendance. (Newspaper Review.) I took this photo at rehearsals.

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I don’t think Kelley has any desire to make the feature film leap as Julian Schnabel’s (The Diving Bell and Butterfly) has done, but it was fitting for him to walk the picket line during the Writer’s strike because he did get his first paid gig though the movies–sort of…”In eighth grade I did a drawing of Gary Cooper for the local newspaper,” Kelley said.  “I got a free pass to the movies for a year.” So it makes sense that he would come full circle and illustrate his picket line experience with a piece of work that will appear on a future cover of the North American Review.

Welcome back to work.

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© Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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