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Posts Tagged ‘John Logan’

“We wrote a script but didn’t really have a clue on how to get it made.” 
Neal Purvis

Before Robert Wade and Neal Purvis became working screenwriters Robert Wade and Neal Purvis—credited on several James Bond scripts (Skyfall, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace)—they wondered if they’d ever see a script they’d written get made. As the writing partners wondered—they also  played a little golf.

Note: They did not write the above clip of James Bond (Sean Connery) on the golf course. In fact, Goldfinger (script written by Richard Malbaum and Paul Dehn) came out in 1964, just a few years after Wade and Purvis were born. (And for what it’s worth, Malbaum studied acting at the University of Iowa)

Here’s part of a Q&A with Purvis and Wade found in the book Screenwriters’ Masterclass, edited by Kevin Conroy Scott.

Neal Purvis: We got a big six-page article about us in The Face magazine. And so we thought that we’d arrived. But the option on the script went to a couple of different people over a couple of years and nothing came of it.

Robert Wade: What happened then was that we took a year off and played golf. That’s the other good thing about having a partnership.

Neal Purvis: There was the assumption that you write one script, get it made and then write another one. So when this one wasn’t really happening, we played golf.

Question: How long did it take from when you were first writing screenplays till you got your first screenplay produced?

Robert Wade: Six years.

Neal Purvis: That was Let Him Have It, which was a departure for us, because it was more serious than what we had done before. We set out to make it light throughout, and then it got serious. We really thought if that didn’t get made, we might give up on screenwriting.

Question: What sort of work did you do to make ends meet?

Robert Wade: We’d get option money for different things and sign on a lot, social security. And we also would ghost-write pop-videos.

P.S. In the video below Wade and Purvis talk about the third writer on Skyfall, John Logan.

Related posts:

James Bond, Spy/Orphan
James Bond is Philip Marlow
“I can’t keep handling this…rejection” (Screenwriter Graham Moore talks about his struggles.)
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)—Insights from screenwriter John Logan

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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“I personally get up at four, because I’ve found the hush of silence and darkness very conducive to me writing. The phone’s not ringing, there are no distractions, it’s just me and the whimsical characters moving about. So I start very early. I write until I’m tired and then I stop. And if I’m writing a first draft it’s total immersion, I don’t do anything else and I can work for 12 hours at a stretch, take a break and go back to work because my methodology is ‘Always do the research first, as much as it takes’… No first draft has ever taken me more than three weeks, but then I go back and just work and work forever, and then when I think it’s in a position that’s not entirely embarrassing or will end my career, I’ll give it to whoever my key collaborators are.”
Screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator, Hugo, Skyfall)
BAFTA 2011 Interview

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #167 (John Logan)
The Breakfast Club for Writers
Sidney Sheldon’s Early Start
Screenwriting Quote #82 (John Logan)
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)

Related Blogs: The 3 a.m. Screenwriter

Scott W. Smith

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“I would say 99% of your effort should go to writing a good script.”
Michael Arndt

If you look at the last decade of screenwriter Michael Arndt’s career it’s rather amazing. He won an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine, then he wrote Toy Story 3 which was not only a brilliant screenplay but became a great movie that made over a billion dollars at the box office, he wrote the script for Hunger Games: Chasing Fire which comes out this year, and a few months ago it was announced that he would be writing Star Wars Episode VII. But it’s important to look at the decade before he had an agent and before he sold a single script and see if there are any clues that prepared him for the career he is currently having.

“The question is ‘How do you meet an agent?’ or get your script to an agent—It’s a mystery to me. Everyone sort of is able to find a different path, and usually it just comes to referrals. You can submit your script to contests, blah, blah, blah crap like that. For the real top-tier agents they just don’t care about contests or anything like that. I would recommend just working in the industry. Just by virtue of working in the industry you make contacts with people. If you keep talking to people you’ll find a way to get your script on the right desk. I was a [script] reader and I read at least a thousand scripts, and I’d say that out of those thousand scripts maybe twenty got made into movies, and maybe three or four were good movies. So it’s much easier to get your script read and it’s much easier even to get your script made into a movie then it is to write a really good script. So I would say 99% of your effort should go to writing a good script.  And my story is a testament to that. I spent a whole year—10 years—teaching myself how to write. It went to one [agent’s] desk basically and once it hit that desk though it was like the doors were flying open. They were going to send it to Spielberg, and to Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Soderbergh—once they find something they think they can do something with it’ll just go straight up. So as a writer you can only control what’s on the page. You can’t control what happens to your script after it gets out the door, so just try and focus on making the script as good as possible.”
Screenwriter Michael Arndt  (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3)
2007 talk at Cody’s Books (at the 35:53 mark of the FORA.tv video)

It’s also important to know that Arndt’s career path is different than Diablo Cody took in Minneapolis (blogging & non-fiction author) and different than John Logan took in Chicago (playwriting)— but the one thing they all have in common is they focused (99%?) on writing a solid script that made the doors fly open. And both Cody and Logan also had one cheerleader in Hollywood that became aware of their work while the writers still lived in the Midwest.

P.S. So the Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places Facebook page is live and less than 24 hours old. Thanks to those who’ve already jumped on board. Like those on the email list it helps inspire me while searching for quotes and insights that will help you in your writing and career. Plus there will be some things different on the Facebook than on the daily blog posts.

Related Posts:
The Secrets to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) —John Logan’s foucs and journey
Screenwriitng Outside L.A. 101 —Touches on Chris Sparling’s focus before Buried was produced and picked up at Sundance
Screenwriting Quote #10 (Nick Schenk) Schenk’s focus in Minneapolis before Gran Torino was produced
Self-Study Screenwriting—The focus of Frank Darbont and Sheldon Turner before they became  Oscar-nominated screenwriters

Scott W. Smith

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“It always comes down to the script. Write a great one, you can be a zillion years old living in Antarctica and Hollywood will want you.”
Scott Myers
Go Into the Story

Scott & Scripts 1725

Thank you.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the blog Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places, and I’d like to thank you for reading this blog. My original goals were modest; give it a year and see what happens. I kept writing and people kept reading. And the results are today’s post is number 1,447.  It’s definitely a “bird by bird” thing— to borrow Anne Lamott’s phrase (that she borrowed from her father).

And a special thanks to those readers who were there from the start in 2008. Back when it was common for me to write those 1,500-2,000 word posts. (I usually try to land between 250—500 words these days.) And special thanks to those who subscribe via email as they really make me consider whether something is worth posting or not.

The big surprise in 2012 was when I pulled a couple of quotes from the not-so-young writer/director Garry Marshall  (Pretty Woman, Happy Days) and the response was so positive that I kept pulling quotes from him for an entire month. That’s the first and only time that’s happened and that month of Garry Marshallwas the single most viewed month I’ve had in the five years of blogging. (Garry Marshall’s “Gentle Hilarity”  was posted on October 1, 2012 and the entire month was insights from him on writing and directing.)

Just to give you a glimpse of how organic and intuitive this blog is and the part you play as readers let me just say that last year when I was in the Dallas/Irving area to do a video shoot at Deion Sanders’ house, I stopped in a used bookstore and purchased Marshall’s book Wake Me When It’s Funny for a couple bucks and pulled a few quotes I though would be of interest to readers. I thought it might be a gamble because I knew a lot of readers of this blog weren’t even born when Marshall had some of his biggest Tv hits in the 70s. But good insights are good insights and I was just being conduit for those insights.

“It is true that I look for the Cinderella aspect when I am making a film. Most good stories are Cinderella. Audiences like to watch characters whose lives change for the better.”
Garry Marshall
Screenwriting Quote #171 (Garry Marshall)

In the past year I did notice that the quotes I was finding from screenwriters was starting to fall into categories I had already covered. Not really redundant, but I felt it reinforced and shaded in areas I had already covered in the pervious four years. Sometimes a newer writer will turn a new phrase on an old concept and  jazz it up a bit.

But after five years of blogging I finally want to hit my goal to condense these insights into a book. Really three books.  Sort of beginning, middle, and end. Each book will be approximately 60,000 words and really give a streamlined structure to what this blog is all about. My goal is to get these books into an ebook format by the end of June. (If that’s your field of expertise, I welcome any insights you have. You can always email me at info@scottwsmith.com)

I know there’s always a lot of talk about reading books only by produced feature screenwriters. But the truth is there just aren’t that many out there. And if the criteria is raised to having written a high quality award-winning screenplay that did great at the box office, I think you’re left with just one or two books.

In fact, I just read a book over the weekend over that was written by a produced and well-respected screenwriter of some wonderful films, but the book just did nothing for me. In fact, it’s the first book in my life that I’ve ever taken back to a book store and asked for my money back. (Thanks to Barnes & Noble for refunding my $28.44.)  If you’re going to sell a book for almost thirty bucks that promises to condense a thirty year career you really got to bring it. About 25 pages into the book I was waiting for the meat, by page 50 I realized it was running on fumes.

My point is not really to call out that screenwriting book I returned or the screenwriter who wrote it, just to say that it’s a myth that gifted and produced screenwriters make the best teachers, or that they can really explain what they do in a book. (Or that they can inspire you to do the same.)

“I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Two-time Oscar-nominated actress Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Lining Playbook, Winter’s Bone) on acting
The New York Times
article that mentions she’s never had an acting class or acting teacher

To paraphrase Tim Ferriss, despite Michael Phelps having won 18 Olympic gold medals in swimming—he may not be the best person to teach a 35-year-old how to swim.  (Especially true during the peak of Phelps’ career.) But just watching Phelps swim might inspire a 35-year-old to seek out a swimming teacher at their local rec center who despite falling short of Olympic glory has taught hundreds of people how to swim over the years.

Save your $28.44 and just read one of the most read posts on this blog Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2) where Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt unpacks the Pixar methods that’s produced hit after hit. I pulled insights off the Toy Story 3 DVD special features the week it was released. Then read one of my favorite all-time posts from last year called The Secret of Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) where the Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Logan (Hugo, Rango) discusses the secrets of his success in BAFTA interview. And a third post that’s proven popular is last year’s Dan Harmon’s Story Circle.—from the creator of the TV program Community.

But ultimately, what separates someone like Michael Arndt from the screenwriting pack is the same thing that separated Michael Phelps from the swimming pack—talent, drive, and determination. All I’m really doing on this blog is helping point the way—the hard part is up to you.

I have said it before and say it again, I’m a much more successful blogger than screenwriter. (As I joke with my production friends, “Did I ever tell you my blog won an Emmy?”) Though I’ve written nine (unproduced) screenplays and have written and directed nine produced short films (on top of producing well over 100 video projects), I think my unique skill is to aggregate the best insights from some of the most talented writers and filmmakers throughout film history, including the up and comers. (I should have learned something from all those books and screenplays I’ve read in the above photo.) Concepts and insights that I hope will inspire you in whatever unlikely place you live in the world.

At last count I have quoted and/or told the story of more than 400 writers and filmmakers over the last five years. The problem with the blog now is there are five years of posts—more than 650,000 words—with very little overall structure for someone who stumbles upon this blog today. It’s almost impossible to wade through 1,447 posts.  So phase two—which I’m about 90% done writing—is to whittle down the essentials of this blog—the greatest hits–into user-friendly and inspirational ebooks.

Wish me well with that process, and I wish you well in your writing.

And thanks again for checking out this blog, because without a growing readership there’s no way I would have had the energy or desire to keep this up for five years.

Related Post: Life Beyond Hollywood (the very first post on January 22, 2008)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“I’m not interested in characters who aren’t broken. I’m not interested in happy people. It just doesn’t draw me as a writer. Theater people say you are either a comedian or a tragedian, and I’m a tragedian. And the vexing, dark characters, the ones where I don’t understand their pain or their anguish, they are the characters that appeal to me.”
Screenwriter John Logan (Hugo, Rango, The Aviator, Gladiator)
“A Precise, Beautiful Machine”: John Logan on Writing the Screenplay for Hugo
Smithsonian.com

Note: “I’m not interested in character’s who aren’t broken,” is a nice bookend to the Stanley Elkin’s quote, “I would never write about someone who is not at the end of their rope.”

Related Posts:

The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)
The Heart of “Hugo” (Part 1)

Scott W. Smith


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Marcus Coral Ridge Cinema—Coralville, Iowa

Oops, I did it again. This weekend I watched both Hugo & The Artist in the theaters—just like I did last month to start the new year. (Saw Hugo at the Coral Ridge Cinema which has a nice movie tribute in their lobby—pictured above. Directly off Interstate 80 in the Iowa City area. )

I love those movies. Apparently others do as well. Yesterday, The Artist picked up seven BAFTA awards including Best Picture and for Michel Hazanavicus’s script, and Hugo picked up four awards and its director, Martin Scorsese, received the Academy Fellowship—”The highest accolades bestowed upon an individual in recognition of an outstanding and exceptional contribution to film.” (Hugo leads the Oscar pack with 11 nominations, followed by The Artist with 10.)

In my January 4th post Hugo & The Artist  I wrote, “I can’t remember when I’ve been as impressed seeing two films back to back.” Seeing them a second time allowed me to see more how they overlap and contrast each other.  They are similar in that parts of both of the stories occur in 1931 and represent a tribute of sorts to the history of cinema—and both represent broken characters. But they are also quite different in that The Artist is a black and white silent film in 4X3 format and Hugo is a colorful widescreen 3-D visual feast full of seamless special effects. Both have gotten great reviews, but unfortunately neither blazed any trails at the box office.

Those films (and their love of movies) have also set the tone for this blog this year, to weave in the history of film with more specific and contemporary issues related to screenwriting and filmmaking.

And since Valentine’s Day is tomorrow—a day to celebrate love— I thought I’d give you a few options other than roses & chocolate to give your loved one (or yourself).

1) Hugo: The Shooting Script published by Newmarket Press/Harper Collins will be made available tomorrow. I was fortunate to get an early copy and read it this weekend. The book features the John Logan screenplay, an introduction by Logan, a forward by the author Brian Selzick who wrote the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret (from which the film is based), various production notes and 23 photos from the production. Over the years I’ve purchased about 10 of The Shooting Scripts and find them wonderful additions for those who love movies in general and screenwriting in particular. I’ll write more about the Hugo: The Shooting Script tomorrow, but you can order it at Amazon or perhaps find it at a bookstore tomorrow.

The other two Valentine specials are L.A.-centric, but I’m sure with a little creativity you can find something similar in your area.

2) Walt Disney’s Lady and the Tramp is currently playing (February 3-16,2012) at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. This theater was built in 1926 and restored in 1991. It’s where Citizen Kane had its world premiere in 1941. Across the street, and later this month is where the Academy Awards will be held at The Kodak Theatre. And for a total Hollywood evening (if you can get a reservation) eat at The Musso & Frank Grill which has been serving meals in Hollywood since 1919. According to its website, its literary guests over the years have included; F.Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, T.S. Elliot, John Steinbeck and many others, and Raymond Chandler is said to have written part of the The Big Sleep in the Back Room bar.

3) F.W. Murnau‘s classic 1927 silent film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans will be playing at  The Cinefamily theater in LA on Valentine’s Day (2/14/12).

4) In Chicago at the Music Box Theatre they are showing The Princes Bride on Valentine’s Day. Inconceivable!

5) Or you can always stay home and watch The Bodyguard. The Lawrence Kasden written and Mick Jackson directed film starring Kevin Costner and the late Whitney Houston.

“I hope life treats you kind
And I hope you have all you’ve dreamed of.
And I wish to you, joy and happiness.
But above all this, I wish you love.”

I Will Always Love You
performed by Whitney Houston in My Bodyguard
written by Dolly Parton

What interesting film related things are going on in your neck of the woods this Valentine’s Day?

P.S. If anyone in LA goes to Lady and the Tramp, Sunrise, or The Princess Bride shoot me a note about the experience.

Related posts:
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)–Insights from Hugo screenwriter John Logan
Writing “The Artist” (Part 1)
Writing “The Artist” (Part 2)
Writing “The Artist” (Part 3)

Scott W. Smith

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“The reason that I am a writer today is Shakespeare.”
Three-time Oscar nominated screenwriter John Logan (Hugo)

Unlock the Secret

Here it is, in just under 1,000 words, the secret of being a successful screenwriter. (From the lips of a bona fide and currently successful screenwriter.)

There was some disappointment yesterday when the Oscar nominations were announced. (Isn’t there always?) While there were some new faces, in general, many felt it was a lot of the usual suspects; Scorsese, Spielberg, Sorkin, etc.

It’s a little bit like the Super Bowl this year— The Patriots verses the Giants. Brady verses Manning. Haven’t we seen that before? In fact, we have—Super Bowl XLII back in 2008 when the New York Giants and Manning defeated a then undefeated New England Patriot team led by Brady. There is one simple reason why these those two quarterbacks are in facing each other in the Super Bowl again—they are two of the best quarterbacks in professional football.

Ditto that from a filmmaking perspective for Scorsese, Spielberg, Sorkin…Clooney, Pitt, Streep, Malick, Alexander Payne, and Woody Allen.

But there is one screenwriter that is not a household name outside of Hollywood (as someone like, say, Diablo Cody) who had a killer year in 2011—John Logan. Though a top A-list Hollywood screenwriter, I think by design, he flies a little under the radar for even the average moviegoer.

He’s nominated for writing the film Hugo. A film that led the field for the 2012 Oscars with a total of  11 nominations. But wait, there’s more! He also wrote Rango (featuring Johnny Depp) which received an Oscar nomination for Animated Feature Film. But wait there’s still more! He also wrote Coriolanus which was released in 2011 and picked up a BAFTA nomination for its director Ralph Fiennes. Yes, 2011 was a very good year for John Logan.

And it’s not like he’s a newcomer. He’s fifty-years-old and has been nominated for an Academy Award twice before; The Aviator (2004) and Gladiator (2000). On top of that his credits also include Any Given Sunday, The Last Samurai, and Sweeney Todd.

So here’s the really important question? What’s his secret? Glad you asked. John Logan has the answer;

“I graduated from Northwestern. I had no money. No one had any money. So I got a day job, shelving books at the Northwestern University Law Library. Every morning I would work from nine to five and shelve books, for ten years. Every single day for ten years. 

I lived in a tiny studio apartment where you could practically touch the walls. Outside the window was a place that installed car alarms, so at all hours it was car alarms. I lived on tuna fish, which I still will not eat to this day. I learned to de-bone a chicken because it was cheaper. And it was hard. And it was the greatest time of my life because I had no expectations of anything but learning how to do my job, which was to be a playwright….And my plays were put on in teeny little church basements or in back allies, in theaters that were condemned while the play was going on. It was fantastic. It was a very vibrant time in Chicago theater, and I loved it. I spent ten years learning how to do my job and it was fantastic.”

His writing eventually got noticed and he landed an agent in L.A., Brian Siberell at CAA. He didn’t have any assignments, but moved to L.A. and took nine months to write his first screenplay, which eventually became the movie Any Given Sunday. But not, according to Logan, until he and Oliver Stone did a few re-writes;

“We did 26 drafts of Any Given Sunday, one right after another, so I learned everything about the form from him. He was patient. I’d go to his house, he’d say, ‘Pick up that Oscar, hold it, it’ll feel good, you’ll enjoy it.’ And then we’d work. Any Given Sunday, like all these monstrous big movies,  was hard to get made.”

In case you missed it—26 drafts. That’s after his spending nine months writing and re-writing it on his own. 26.

Still with me? Still want to be a screenwriter? If so, here’s the bomb. From the lips of John Logan, here’s the most powerful, and potentially life-changing advice as you’ll ever find for being a screenwriter;

“If you want to be a screenwriter—a successful screenwriter—here’s the secret…This is what you have to do, it’s great—don’t tell anyone. You have to read Hamlet, and you have to read it again, and you have to read it until you understand every word. And then you move onto King Lear. And then maybe treat yourself to Troilus and Cressida

And then you know what? Then you’re going to go back and read Aristotle’s Poetics until you can quote it. And then you’re going to read Sophocles, and then you’re going to read Ibsen, and then you’re going to read Tony Kushner, and then you’re going to read Chekhov.  You’re going to understand the continuum of what it is to be a dramatist, so you have respect for the form in which you are trying to function. So you understand what comes before you. Then, if you chose, watch a couple of movies.”

On Monday I was a guest speaker at a college and asked, “Is screenwriting hard?” I think Mr. Logan answers that question quite well.

Here are the CliffsNotes on John Logan’s path to successful screenwriting:
* Study acting and playwriting in well-established Midwestern college that has a alumni history of successful writers/actors
* Devour Shakespeare
* 10 years of starving and learning his craft (while working a non-creative day job)
* Writings (finally) get him an L.A. agent
* Sells script to Oliver Stone and then does 26 drafts
* Becomes a wealthy and in demand writer complete with a house in Malibu
* Receives several Oscar nominations

The above quotes from Logan are from his BAFTA talk on September 20, 2011. Below is the You Tube 2-minute teaser which as of this writing only has 339 views. (Link to PDF of full talk.) Seriously, if there is one post I’ve ever written that I think you should pass on to fellow writers via Twitter, Facebook, text, email, or whatever— it’s this post.

Special thanks to BAFTA and the BFI Screenwriters Lecture Series in association with the JJ Charitable Trust for the work they do.

Tomorrow we’ll be back looking at the continuum of film history. (Inspired by my seeing Hugo and The Artist earlier this year.)

P.S. As big a year as Logan has had in 2011, 2012 doesn’t look like it’s going to be bad for him either. On top of possibly winning his first Oscar, he’s credited on the soon to be released Lincoln directed by Spielberg, and is also credited on the new James Bond film Skyfall which is currently being filmed.

Update 1/26/11: Found this nice little nugget about Logan:

“What I value most of all is his extraordinary knowledge of everything under the sun — film, theater, painting, literature, world history, you name it. I can tell you he’s absolutely unique is that sense and it gives him a real advantage as a writer.”
Martin Scorsese
LA Times article

Related posts: Screenwriting da Chicago Way
Sam Shepard’s Start
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Screenwriting Quote # 43 (Aaron Sorkin)
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)
Screenwriting Quote #82 (John Logan)

Scott W. Smith

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