Posts Tagged ‘John Grisham’

“If you can’t pitch an idea — if you’ve got an idea for a story, whether it’s a book, a TV show or a movie, if you can’t pitch it in like 30 seconds and hook somebody and make them believe in it, you’re probably in trouble…Many, many years ago, I had just finished A Time to Kill, and [my wife] Renee was in the kitchen cooking. And I said, hey, I’ve got an idea for you. Listen to me. Give me your attention. I said, okay, here’s the deal. A young associate finishes law school. He goes to work or a law firm set in Memphis, of all places, not one of your big, powerful Washington or New York firms. And he joins a firm that’s secretly owned by the Mafia. And once you join the firm, you can never leave. That was my spiel, just like that. I made that pitch. And Renee just stopped and she said, wait a minute. Do that again. And I did it again. And she said, that’s a big book. And that was The Firm. So that’s the way I get the ideas going.”
John Grisham
Interview on The Diane Rehm Show

The Firm became a best-selling book and then a film starring Tom Cruise based on a script by David Rabe, Robert Towne & David Rayfiel.

This is what Grisham told Rehm about having your novel turned into a movie by others:

“When you deal with Hollywood, you have to be realistic. It’s going to be something different. It is very difficult to adapt a 400 or 500-page novel into a screenplay that’s 120 pages and a two-hour film. And it can be done, it’s done all the time, but it’s not always that easy. Something is always going to be left out, something’s going to be changed, and you have to know that up front. It’s going to be something different. I don’t get too close to it. I keep my distance. I don’t go to the set and hang out. I go and meet everybody one time and then go home and wait for the movie to come out.”

Related post:
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)
John Grisham’s Writing Routine
John Grisham’s Outlining Process
Bad Ideas & Writing Poorly
Is It a Movie?

Scott W. Smith

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“I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.” 
Oscar-winning screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love)

The old Hollywood adage is “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” The thought there is people don’t want “message films”—they simply want to be entertained. Yet as I’ve explored over the years, one of the things that sets many fine movies apart is they’re about something. Call that something theme, call it a message, or give it some other name, but it’s the thing that resonates with people long after they’ve been entertained.

Movies as diverse as On the Waterfront, Toy Story 3, An Officer and a Gentleman, Erin Brockovich, The Verdict, The Maxtrix, Spiderman, The Shawshank Redemption, The Wizard of Oz, Driving Miss Daisy and It’s a Wonderful Life are all movies about something.

Many of John Grisham’s books and movies deal with some sort of injustice. And in the following lightly edited and abridged exchange from The Moment with Brian Koppelman podcast Grisham talks about that delicate balance between having something to say and writing something that’s entertaining.

John Grisham: I’m still grateful for what’s happened to me. I don’t take it for granted. I keep my feet on the ground. And I just try to help people and treat them fairly. And write the best fiction I can write year after year. My dreams have all been fulfilled, which is kind of sad. There’s nothing left to dream for—but I never dreamed I’d be here. And so I’ve very content where I am and very grateful.

Brian Koppelman: So what’s the reason you write now?

John Grisham: Some books and some issues really tick me off and I want to go after people. I want to expose something. I want to shed some light on an issue that maybe we hadn’t thought about. For example, the more I read about student debt in this county the more ticked off I get. At what the government has done, what the lenders have done, what some of these schools have done to entice students to come to school there with false claims of big jobs. So these kids finish college and have a mountain of debt—can’t get a job—anyway, it’s not fraudulent, but it’s not really right either. And that’s an issue that the more I read the more I want to explore it. And I can see a novel coming with that background, with that issue.

Brian Koppelman: That’s great.

John Grisham: Stuff like that can keep me awake at night. 

Brian: When you see injustices you want to write an entertaining book, but you want to get in there and expose it in some way and make us think about it.

John Grisham: Yeah.

Brian Koppelman: What do you think is the responsibility of your position?

John Grisham: I don’t feel responsibility just because of who I am and how big my megaphone is. Sure I have an audience. But you got to be careful with your audience because they don’t all share my politics. You can’t be intrusive with your politics in popular fiction when you’re trying to entertain people. So I really have to watch that. And I do watch it. I don’t feel a responsibility next year that might change something. My responsibility is to write a book that will entertain.  

Brian Koppelman: Even if the thing that fires you up to do it though is something that bothers you. You’ll try to wrap it in a package that’s digestible.

John Grisham: Sure. Oh yeah. Look forward to it. That’s what I want to do every time out.

P.S. For John Grisham and others interested in the student loan debate; Read the interview I did with friend and filmmaker Calvin Johannsen on his doc Broke, Busted & Disgusted.

Related Posts:
Sidney Lumet on Theme “The picture had better have some meaning to me.”
Put the Megaphone Down! “You’ve got to find a way of saying it without saying it.”
Duke Ellington
Diane Frolov & The Twilight Zone  “I think of a theme and then chose a story line or a plot to go with it….” Rod Serling
Michael Arndt on Theme “I read a lot of comedy screenplays and the disappointing thing—the reason most of them don’t work is because they’re not about anything.”
Writing from Theme

Scott W. Smith




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“I’m doing the outline [of my story] upfront so I always know where I’m going. I work on the outline for weeks, months, sometimes even years if I can’t get it right. But when I start the book on January the first to finish by July the first I’ve got a clear outline—I know exactly where the story’s going— I know how it’s going to end. I love John Irving books, and John Irving says he writes the last sentence before he writes the first. I’m not that smart, but I know what the last scene is before I write the first scene….It’s important to outline because if you don’t know where you’re going you can waste huge amounts of time.”
John Grisham (The Firm, The Client, The Pelican Brief)
Interview with Brian Koppelman

P.S. Grisham does say in that interview that he does have some “freedom and flexibility” to change his outline, but the reason “he can’t take a left turn for no reason” is he’s on a deadline to publish a book once a year. He didn’t outline his first book (A Time to Kill) and it took him three years to write and came it at 1,000 words (his editor cut that book by a third). And because his outlines sometimes take an extended time to complete, he can have multiple stories in play to make sure he gets one book done a year.

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #93 (John Grisham)
John Irving, Iowa & Writing
Postcard #48 (Oxford)
Analytical vs. Intuitive Writing
Stuart Beattie’s 5-Page Outline
Story Plotting the Harry Potter Way (It’s worth noting until J.K. Rowling came along, I believe John Grisham was the most financially successful living writer. Maybe ever. But when you look at the combined success of Grisham and Rowling and realize they both outline their stories you have to at least take notice. On the flip side, Stephen King doesn’t outline and Quentin Tarantino says “Basically, my writing’s like a journey.” )

Scott W. Smith

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When I was walking in Memphis
I was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Marc Cohn/Walking in Memphis

BealeStreetLate Monday night I stopped in Memphis to eat dinner on Beale Street expecting it to be a very light crowd—but the action was in full swing. Turns out the Memphis Grizzlies had just finished their NBA game and people were pouring onto Beale Street. Though the music has changed some you can imagine a teenage Elvis Presley walking down the same street being inspired by the music and dress of the performers there back in the late ’40s and early ’50s. Would there be an Elvis without Beale Street?


But not without Memphis, and not without the Blues music that flowed to the city from the Mississippi Delta.

If you’re ever just driving through Memphis it’s worth a stop to take in Beale Street. Just last month Beale Street was named “Best Iconic Street” in America in a USA TODAY Poll.

And since this is a blog on movies I thought I’d find a list of movies shot in Memphis. Here a list I found by Teresa R. Simpson.

1) Castaway
2) Hustle and Flow
3) The Client
4) Walk the Line
5) 21 Grams
6) The Firm
7) Great Balls of Fire
8) Forty Shades of Blue
9) The People Vs. Larry Flint
10) The Rainmaker

Since John Grisham has three films on that listed from his books—and he used to live and work in Memphis—I thought I pick my favorite of that bunch to showcase. Check out The Firm if you haven’t seen it.

P.S. BTW—I had a shrimp po-boy which is something you should try if you’re not from the South, have never had one, and visit there sometime. Also, hope you enjoy my subtle visual wink in the Beale Street photo that took a little work to time right to give it the Marc Cohn tie-in. Keeps life interesting.

Related Posts:
The Elvis of Screenwriting?
Screenwriting Quote #93 ( John Grisham)
Postcard #51 (Cotton Fields)
Postcard #47 (Tupelo)

Scott W. Smith

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“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad—Read!”
William FaulknerOxford

Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winning writer William Faulkner moved to Oxford, Mississippi when he was three and after a long life in literature, and a short career as a screenwriter in Hollywood, Faulkner died at age 64 and is buried in Oxford.

I had been to Oxford before, but never on a college football Saturday, so I’d never seen The Grove in all its glory. The Grove has been called “the Holy Grail of tailgating sites” on the campus of the University of Mississippi. One saying at Ole Miss is, “We may not win every game, but we never lose a party.” They, in fact, didn’t win the game against Texas A & M which was decided by a field goal as time ran out. But before the game I got to witness what sets The Grove apart from other pregame atmospheres. The China ware, the chandeliers, and some of the students wearing jackets and ties.

As people made their way into the stadium I headed over to The Square in Oxford where they have a statue of Faulkner. I stopped in Square Books where I took the above photo that is a parade photos of writers and their work. It seemed to me to a fitting postcard that represents Oxford at its best.

A darker chapter of Oxford can be found in the lyrics of the Bob Dylan song, Oxford Town surrounding the events that happened in 1962 when James Meredith, a black man,  enrolled at the University of Mississippi. But Oxford today is more than Faulkner and race relationships and is home to many artist and writers.  Author John Grisham went to law school at the University of Mississippi and he lived in Oxford for a decade before moving to Virginia. So if you’ve ever enjoyed one of Grisham’s books or movies from his books, you can thank Ole Miss and Oxford for shaping his legal and literary mind.

Over the years several movies have been made in Oxford including several based on Faulkner’s novels.

One more recent connection to Oxford and Hollywood was the movie The Blind Side (2009) for which Sandra Bullock won an Oscar.  That movie centers around the true story of Michael Oher and his transformation from a young homeless teenager to an NFL football player.  He attended Ole Miss. In the movie they handle his steep educational learning curve in a kind of Rocky running up the steps montage. But in the book of the same name by Michael Lewis (which was the basis of the movie) you get a deeper grasp of what it took for Oher to raise his .09 GPA in high school to be eligible for college.  His story is an amazing one, but I think his graduating with a degree in criminal justice in 2009 was an even greater feat than playing football in the NFL.

Scott W. Smith

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Screenwriter/director John Lee Hancock earned an English degree at Baylor University and a law degree from Baylor Law School, both in Waco, Texas. His first credited film was in 1991 with a film called Hard Time Romance. In 1993 he wrote the script for A Perfect World which starred Kevin Costner and was directed by Clint Eastwood. He considers Eastwood his mentor and went on to write the script for the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil which Eastwood also directed. Among other films Hancock worked on include The Rookie which he directed and My Dog Skip which he was a producer.

But almost 20 years after his first film credit he had his biggest success critically and at the box office with the 2009 film The Blind Side which he both wrote and directed. The movie which he wrote and directed is up for best picture and Sandra Bullock is highly favored to win her first Oscar as best actress for her role as the feisty Leigh Anne Tuohy.

The film which takes place in Memphis is what I would qualify as a regional film. Based on the book The Blind Side; Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis based on the true story of Michael Oher, who made the journey from an under educated homeless youth to playing football in the NFL with the help and guidance from a family in Memphis. If the story wasn’t based on a true story I think I might have walked out of the theater because the story is so unbelievable. Truth is stranger than fiction. And after seeing interviews of the real Tuohy family, I think the real story is even better than the movie as they really talk about how hard the work really was bringing Oher to the point where he could just graduate from high school and be prepared to attend college at Ole Miss.

“I didn’t see it as a sports movie at all, any more than you’d call ‘Jerry Maguire’ a sports film. It was two equally involving stories, one about Michael and the Tuohys, the other about the left tackle position, but they both turned around the same question — how did the stars align so brightly around this one kid from the projects?”
John Lee Hancock
The Blind Side, written by Patrick Goldstein, LA Times

Note: The Blind Side had a $29 million budget and to date has made $250 million domestic. Julie Roberts reportedly turned down the role for which Sandra Bullock received her Oscar nomination. Hancock is at least the third law school grad turned screenwriter that I’ve written about; Sheldon Turner (who is nominated for an Oscar for his part in writing Up in the Air) and John Grisham (though primarily a novelist whose books have been made into many fine movies, but he did write the screenplay for the 2004 Mickey). And from the odd connection category, Grisham graduated from Ole Miss law school, part of the University of Mississippi in Oxford where Michael Oher (the real Blind Side guy) played football.

Scott W. Smith

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“A man’s got to know his limitations.”
                                  Clint Eastwood (as Harry Callahan in Magnum Force)


John Grisham didn’t get to see his dream come true. His childhood dream was to play professional baseball and he made it all the way to playing junior college ball before he realized his limitations. So at 20 years old he shifted his focus to school and becoming a lawyer.

Once he graduated from law school at Old Miss he saw his new dream come true and then he got an itch to write. While he didn’t have instant success with his writings, according to CNN, he sold 60 million books in the 90s alone.  His books translated to film well and attracted a talented group of actors over the years including Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Susan Saradon, Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Matt Damon, John Cusack, Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman.

From a box office standpoint Grisham had a dream year in 1993 when two films made from his books (A Time to Kill & The Firm) both made over $100 million. Not bad for an old jock from Mississippi.

“The writing has come fairly late in life. I never dreamed of being a writer when I was a kid, even a student, even in college. In fact. I’d been practicing law for about three or four years in the early ’80s, when I decided to make a stab at writing a story that I’d been thinking about. And the story eventually became A Time to Kill.

It took three years to write, and I was very disciplined about doing it. It was very much a hobby. By the time I finished it, I had developed a routine of writing every day. When I finished it, I went to the next book, which was The Firm. Once that was written, everything started changing. I wouldn’t use the word ‘accident,’ but it certainly wasn’t planned. I never dream it….

A Time to Kill and The Firm, those books were written over a five-year period, back-to-back, from about 1984 to about 1989. The bulk was written at five o’clock in the morning, from five ’til seven in the morning. I’d get up and go to the office that early. And again, it wasn’t any fun, but it was a habit. It got to be part of the daily routine. And I remember several times being in court at nine o’clock in the morning, really tired, because writing takes a lot out of you. It’s draining.”
                                                           John Grisham 
                                                           Academy of Achievement website


Scott W. Smith


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