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Posts Tagged ‘LA Times’

 

Success is dangerous to longevity. It’s just a dangerous thing, it’s an overwhelming thing, and used in the wrong way it’s really destructive.  Surviving that in our earliest days was—we came out of that pretty lucky. We had a lot of good people around us.  A lot of good advice.

But you don’t ever want to be complaining about how hard it is to be successful, but it is hard. It’s hard to keep your feet on the ground. To trust people. To not get isolated, because with success and fame it tends to isolate people. It tends to push you away. You’ll go anywhere for privacy or just to feel normal. So I’ve had to grow up with that. Kind of grow up in public, I guess. But very early on Elliot Roberts, who worked with [our manager Tony Dimitriades] for about ten years, had a lot of experience with Neil [Young], and Crosby, Stills & Nash and all that— I just saw him at the [Hollywood] Bowl the last night we were there, and I love Elliot— but he told me very early on, I think it was before Damn the Torpedoes had come out, he said, ‘look I got a feeling that this record is going to a big hit, but that doesn’t mean that it’s good. Think about how many things are hits that aren’t good. You don’t want to get tied up in that. What you want to think about is making good work. You’re going to make a lot of records—they’re not all going to go to the top of the charts. But they can all be good.’ And he said the thing is worry about the product, not anything else, and over time that will sustain you. And I thought that made a lot of sense… Don’t get caught up trying to top yourself every time commercially, because nobody does.”
Tom Petty (who sustained in the music business for 40+ years)
LA Times interview with Randy Lewis 

Related Post: The 99% Focus Rule (Screenwriter Michael Arndt quote)

Scott W. Smith

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“After a checkered career like mine, it’s nice to be an overnight success.”
Screenwriter David Seidler (The King’s Speech)
LA Times

“I had no real money, no reputation, no real career.”
David Seidler
Reflecting upon arriving in L.A. at age 40 (33 years before winning an Oscar)

How long did it take for David Seilder to really prepare for his Oscar speech? All his life.

From a variety of sources and interviews this is what I believe was the process, the journey that Seidler took in his quest to write the script for The King’s Speech . (Granted some of these are easier to follow than others.)

“I work on 3×5 cards and there can be hundreds of them. And then I start spreading them over the walls and the floors and post them to the ceiling. Start spreading them around getting them into some sort of organization. Then I like to sit down and have a very detailed outline. I take longer to write the treatment than I take to write the script.”
David Siedler
Creative Screenwriting podcast with Jeff Goldsmith

  • Seidler was born in England in 1937
  • He began stuttering at age three
  • Moved to the United States as a child
  • Was inspired by King George’s speeches during World War II and overcame stuttering himself
  • Graduated from Cornell University in 1959
  • Beginning in 1981, at age 43, pursued writing the King’s story (the King’s nickname was Birtie)
  • Discovered the story  of Lionel Logue who would not only helped Birtie overcome his stuttering, but become the King’s friend as well.
  • Discovered that Logue’s son had his father’s diary which included notes of working with the king
  • Got permission from the son to use them as long as the Queen gave permission
  • Wrote the Queen asking for permission, he waited, and then heard the answer was “Not in my lifetime”
  • Waited for Queen to die… 20 years of waiting (2002)
  • Got cancer, got treatment
  • Decided it’s “now or never” to write script
  • Using hundreds of 3X5 cards, wrote down script ideas
  • When research phase was over, spent 8-10 hours a day writing (despite age/cancer)
  • Took 15 minute naps as needed
  • When he got stuck, he took a walk
  • Wrote first draft in two months
  • Send to friends, who sent to friends
  • Snuck 5-page treatment to Geoffrey Rush and got him attached to the script
  • Somewhere in here got divorced. Was also declared cancer free
  • In 2005 there was a staged reading
  • Director Tom Hooper’s parents were in attendance
  • Hopper’s mother tell her son about the story and he gets on board
  • They shop script to BBC and HBO only to have them fall through
  • Writer and director work together for 4 months honing the script.
  • They got more talented actors together
  • The got funding
  • The film got made
  • The film found favor with critics and audiences
  • The film won many awards
  • In 2011 the film won 4 Oscars; best picture, best actor, best director, best original screenplay
  • David Seidler gave his Oscar acceptance speech 30 years after first starting to work on the screenplay

Related posts:
Screenwriter David Seidler

Writing “The King’s Speech”

Scott W. Smith


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“You do things sometimes as a writer subconsciously, things you’re not even aware of. I’m always comfortable doing things instinctively because I see it as tapping into this vein of archetype that works for a broader audience base.”
James Cameron
Writer/director of Titanic and Avatar

“I think it’s fine for young (filmmakers) to out and out rip off people who come before them because you always make it your own.”
Francis Ford Coppola
World News interview


Yesterday we looked at several films that share some of the same DNA. I mentioned several words and phrases used to explain why some movies resemble other movies. Blake Snyder in Save the Cat added one more phrase—”Hollywood’s Dirty Little Secret.”

“Look at Point Break starring Patrick Swazye, then look at Fast and Furious. Yes, it’s the same movie almost beat for beat. But one is about surfing, the other is about hot cars. Is that stealing? Is that cheating? Now look at The Matrix and compare and contrast it with the Disney/Pixar hit Monsters, Inc. Yup. Same movie. And there’s a million more examples. Who Saved Roger Rabbit? is Chinatown…In some instances, the stealing is conscious. In other, it’s just coincidence.”
Blake Synder
Save the Cat

So let’s have some screenwriters weigh in on the topic.

“I wrote the screenplay (for The Magnificent Seven), Johnny Struges, the director, asked me to make a screenplay out of Kuroisawa’s (Seven Samari), setting it in the West.”
Walter Brown Newman

“(The movie Red River) was Mutiny on the Bounty. I had always thought what a great Western.”
Red River screenwriter Borden Chase as told to William Bowers

Okay, but do screenwriters have to be at retirement age to admit to taking from other films? Well, writer/director James Cameron prefers to use the words “reference point” when talking about films that he watched before he made Avatar.  Here’s an Q&A interview that he did with the Los Angeles Times that addresses if Avatar is Dances with Wolves in space.

Geoff Boucher: There’s also maybe some heritage linking (“Avatar”) to “Dances with Wolves,” considering your story here of a battered military man who finds something pure in an endangered tribal culture.

James Cameron: Yes, exactly, it is very much like that. You see the same theme in “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” and also “The Emerald Forest,” which maybe thematically isn’t that connected but it did have that clash of civilizations or of cultures. That was another reference point for me. There was some beautiful stuff in that film. I just gathered all this stuff in and then you look at it through the lens of science fiction and it comes out looking very different but is still recognizable in a universal story way. It’s almost comfortable for the audience – “I know what kind of tale this is.”

Dances with Wolves was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and Avatar was nominated for 9. Combined they both they won ten Oscars. And while only Dances with Wolves won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Screenplay based on Material from Another Medium (Michael Blake), Avatar became the all-time box office champ making $2.7 billion worldwide.

As a sidenote Avatar’s production designer saw shades of The Wizard of Oz in the script. (The Wizard of Oz just happens to be one of Cameron’s favorite films.)

Scott W. Smith

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Screenwriter David Webb Peoples was born in Connecticut, went to school at Berkeley, and was a film editor before making his mark as a writer. He’s been called “anti-Capra” because he finds the films of Frank Capra at their worst, “corny, preachy and sanctimonious.” He credits the film Taxi Driver in the early 70s with opening the door for showing violence as violent.

He wrote five screenplays before he sold one as is most known for his work on Blade Runner and for writing Unforgiven, which which starred Clint Eastwood and earned 4 Oscars including Best Picture.

David Webb Peoples was actually 36 years old when he sold the script Unforgiven (1976), but  52 years old when the film finally got produced and released in 1992. That’s a long journey from script to screen. He also received an Oscar-nomination for the Unforgiven screenplay.

In regards to Unforgiven’s journey, he was asked many years ago by Elaine Dutka of the LA Times,  “Why did it take so long getting that project off the ground?

“Francis Ford Coppola optioned it in ’84. He took it around, but couldn’t get financing. Clint picked up the option in 1985 and said he was making it “next year” a couple of times. The year before last, my wife was at the Telluride Film Festival and Clint walked on stage. He was overwhelmed by the scenery, he told the audience, and figured it was probably time to make his Western. I was thrilled.

Francis would have done it brilliantly as he does everything else, but it’s hard to imagine anyone making it as straightforwardly and uncompromisingly as Clint. No studio would have made it that way–dark, moody. With a lot of voices, things generally end up becoming blander and more accessible. “Unforgiven” was Clint Eastwood saying “This is what I’m going to do . . . get out of my way.”
David Webb Peoples

I don’t know how long it took Peoples’ to write Unforgiven, but its 15+ year journey is one more reminder that it takes a little time sometimes.

Scott W. Smith

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“I devoted myself to writing for years without representation or a promise of anything. And there were times when I felt quite down about my prospects.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher

Geoffrey Fletcher walked away with an Oscar for his first produced feature screenplay, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. That part is true.

But what is also true is that he’s been at it for 25 years. The 39 year-old writer first began making films when he was 14. He later graduated from Harvard and earned a master’s degree from NYU. He was able to learn first hand from other NYU grads Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee, he made short films (and even had one shown at Sundance in ’96), he worked temp jobs to pay the bills, and eventually became an adjunct film professor at Columbia and NYU. And by his account the script count of unproduced pages he has written runs into the thousands. Thousands.

“I often felt like Precious — out of the picture and invisible. I was within reach of my dream of filmmaking but also a million miles away. I kept trying. But it’s tough to get people to listen to what I had to say. It’s the nature of the industry — there are so many people trying to get in. All the doors in the industry seemed to close, and I couldn’t seem to do anything right….While working on this project, I felt resurrected and reinvigorated. I poured every ounce of myself into the script. Looking back, it seemed to require every bit of it.”
Geoffrey Fletcher
Combined quote from LA Times article by John Horn and Take Part article by Wendy Cohen

Perhaps the one thing I’ve leaned most about doing this blog for more than two years is Fletcher has followed the time-honored path of every successful screenwriter I have read about– and that is he wrote, and wrote, and wrote. So when you hear “First time screenwriter wins Oscar,” don’t forget the thousands of unproduced pages he wrote before that first script got produced.

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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Since The Hurt Locker is Mark Boal’s first screenplay I wondered how he first made contact with producer/director Kathryn Bigelow. According to an LA Times article by Claudia Eller Boal & Bigelow first met “years earlier when she developed a TV series for Fox based on an article he wrote about an undercover drug agent.”

With that answer out of the way, I began to wonder where Boal’s picked up how to write a screenplay since he was a trained journalist. And I found the answer in the  article “Inside The Hurt Locker with writer Mark Boal” by Jen Yamato.

Yamato:  Coming from a background in journalism, were you prepared to write in terms of cinematic storytelling?

Boal: No, not really. I was really lucky in that I had worked before that on In the Valley of Elah with Paul Haggis, so that was my introduction to screenwriting. I learned a lot from Paul. Kathryn was very generous with her time and taught me a lot, too, so between the two of them I got my feet wet.

The time in Iraq was really research, and I did additional research after that. What it did was it enabled us to make something that was pretty faithful to what life was like in 2004.

Ahhhh, it all makes sense. Haggis (who I quoted back in November) cut his writing chops back on shows like the Love Boat back in 1985 and many other TV programs before winning back to back Oscar awards for writing the scripts for Crash and Million Dollar Baby. I kept wondering how Boal pulled off such a great first script. Not to take anything away from Boal or the research he did in Iraq, but what a great opportunity he had to have mentor-like relationship with an multiple Academy Award-winning screenwriter who has picked up a few things in his 20+ year career. And then add Bigelow’s experience on top of that I’m guessing that Boal has a pretty solid understanding of screenwriting and I look forward to his next film.

The Writer’ Store is selling The Hurt Locker script published by Newsmarket and Storylink  will also be hosting a live Q&A with Boal on February 16, 2010. You can submit questions online at Storylink.

Related posts: Pandora vs. Baghdad

First Screenplay= 9 Oscar Nominations

Scott W. Smith

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