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Posts Tagged ‘Lawrence Kasdan’

On this repost Saturday, I thought I’d reach back to September 2009 when I wrote this post on Lawrence Kasdan that was originally called From West Virginia to Hollywood:

Since Diablo Cody is my poster child (female) for a screenwriter coming from outside L.A. (and the original inspiration for this blog)  then I think I’ll name Lawrence Kasdan as the poster child (male) screenwriter from outside L.A. Kasdan was raised in Morgantown, West Virginia. Quick, name another screenwriter from West Virginia.

(While Morgantown is the second largest city in West Virginia it only has about 30,000 residents not including the students at the University of West Virginia. My lasting memory of Morgantown goes back to 1994 when I was there for a video shoot and the news broke of O.J. Simpson’s famous low-speed police chase. I remember walking down the main drag and seeing restaurant/bar after restaurant/bar having the same helicopter shot of the Simpson’s white Ford Bronco on their TVs.)

Kasdan left Morgantown to attend the University of Michigan where he was an English major. A gifted writer he would go on to win Hopwood Prize at UM for creative writing. In his 30s he became  one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood with a string of box office hits— Star Wars: The Empire Strikes, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. He has also had  three Oscar nominations for his screenwriting —Grand Canyon, The Accidental Tourist, and The Big Chill.

But what I think you’ll be interested in is that little period between college in Ann Arbor, Michigan and his first sale as a screenwriter. While reading The First Time I Got Paid for It, Writers’ Tales from the Hollywood Trenches I found this retelling by Kasdan when he would have been a 28-year-old advertising copywriter:

“One summer day in 1977 my agent asked to lunch, which was so unusual it made me nervous. It has taken me a long time to get an agent, so naturally, I was worried about hanging on to him. For two years now he had been trying to sell a thriller I had written for my favorite star Steve McQueen, who didn’t know I’d written this thriller for him. Originally, the agent thought he wouldn’t have much trouble selling the script, so he agreed to represent me. But after sixty-seven rejections he was getting discouraged.”

But his agent didn’t want to part ways with Kasdan, but he did want Kasdan to try his hand at writing for television, specifically Starsky & Hutch. Kasden reluctantly agreed to give it a shot. Soon he heard back from the powers that be at Starsky & Hutch that he didn’t have the goods to write for the show. He told the agent not to give up on him that he had a new screenplay in the works that was almost done. He thought that would buy him a little more time to breakthrough.

Then Kasdan writes, “But when I came into my job the next day, there was a message that my agent had called. Could he have changed his mind overnight? Of course he could. After nine years of writing screenplays without success, I believed only bad things were going to happen to me. But what he had to tell me wasn’t bad. It was kind of miraculous. After two years and all that rejection, suddenly two different parties were interested in my thriller—which was called The Bodyguard.”

So while you dream of writing the next  Raiders of the Lost Ark or Return of the Jedi (or get discouraged in your own career) remember Kasden’s line, “After nine years of writing screenplays without success.” And also keep in mind that while that first sale came in 1977 it was fifteen years before the film The Bodyguard was produced and released into theaters. (The film starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in roles that were originally thought would star Steve McQueen & Barbra Streisand. The movie made over $400 million worldwide.)

Related posts:
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Screenwriting from Michigan
Raiders Revisited (part 1)
Postcard #8 (West Virginia Fall Colors)
Quote from the Road #2 (Morgantown)
Jennifer Garner’s Old W.V. Job

Scott W. Smith

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"Snakes are moving in force up the pillar toward Indy's dwindling torch. Indy grasps the pillar for dear life, grimaces with exertion and pushes against the wall with all he's got."
From the script Raiders of the Lost Ark
Written by Lawrence Kasdan

“It’s a hell of a way to make a living.”
Stuntman Terry Leonard

Raiders of the Lost Ark is ranked #11 on AFl’s 100 Year…100 Thrills and #2 on Empires The 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time (just after The Godfather). The movie picked up nine Oscar-nominations and won four. The movie’s score won a Grammy for Best Album.   Even a program about the movie—Great Movie Stunts: “Raiders of the Lost Ark”— won an Emmy. (And with all that critical acclaim, it also made $389 million at the box office back in 1981.)

The film really is a tour de force of stunts. The stunt I remember most from that film was when Indiana Jones in hanging on to the front of the truck and ends up crawling underneath it to the back. The stuntman doubling for Harrison Ford at that point was Terry Leonard. I was reminded when I watch the above video yesterday that Leonard visited my film school (Columbia College—Hollywood) in the 80s to do a stunt workshop with students. Here’s a clip where Leonard and Raiders’ stunt coordinator Glenn Randall Jr. discuss horse stunts and why horses usually fall to their left.

Yesterday was my 1,600 post on this blog and I don’t recall ever writing a post on stunt work so as a tribute to all of the stunt men and women over the years who’ve helped bring the words of writers to life we’ll take a little detour today to spotlight that important role in filmmaking.

“Tunisia was a tough location, everybody was ill. It was just excruciatingly hot and we had to stop shooting at two o’clock when it reached 120 degrees. You didn’t even sweat; all you had was salt on your arms because it evaporated before it hit the air.”
Vic Armstrong on working on Raiders of the Lost Ark
From his book The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman

Another book on stunts is Hal Needham’s Stuntman!: My Car Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Bone-Breaking, Death-Defying Hollywood Life. Needham was a stuntman and stunt coordinator for four decades but he was also a director of Smokey and the Bandit, The Cannonball Run, and a film about a stuntman Hooper.

“When people see my movies, I want to get their adrenaline flowing; if I don’t, I haven’t done my job. Hooper was the story of a stuntman, so I wanted to put in every stunt I could dream up—a motorcycle sliding under a moving semi, car jumps, fire, flights, high falls.”
Hal Needham

And as a reminder that stunt work can be fatal, here’s the documentary on Dar Robinson (1947-1986). The closing credits of Lethal Weapon read:” This picture is dedicated to the memory of Dar Robinson / one of the motion picture industry’s greatest stuntmen.”

Here’s the complete links to the documentary narrated by Harrison Ford on the stunts on Raiders of the Lost Ark, which also serves as a sweeping overview of the history of stunt work:

P.S. If you’d like a live action taste of the movie check out Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular at Disney MGM Studios in Florida.

Scott W. Smith

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“The whole language of the underworld and the understanding that the characters have of each other, you feel like you’re being led into a secret world.”
Raiders of the Lost Ark Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan
On the film Out of the Past (1947)

According to various interviews with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasdan the roots of Raiders of the Lost Ark range from the B-films of the 30s & 40s, Doc Savage novels, the western Nevada Smith (1966) starring Steve McQueen, the episodic Don Winslow of the Navy, to banter found in writer/director Howard Hawks‘ films. Can you see hints of Indy and Marion in this scene from His Girl Friday (1940)?

But according to NPR’s Movies I’ve Seen a Million Times, screenwriter Kasdan gives us one more clue into his personal film influences on the road to writing Raiders of the Lost Ark.

“The the movie I’ve seen a million times is Out of the Past, directed by Jacques Tourneur, starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas. I’ve probably seen it eight or nine times. It is a film noir, and one of the best ever made. Every scene has got great things in it. It’s very funny, very wised up in the manner of film noir.

The Robert Mitchum character is a former private eye who’s been involved with some ugly things and had straightened out and now runs a gas station in a small California town. And the beginning of the movie is all sunlit and cheerful. But as you get deeper into the story, you see his history, and that’s a very dark, complicated history.

And he becomes involved with a beautiful woman, with Jane Greer making her debut.  She’s the girlfriend of Kirk Douglas. Kirk Douglas hires Robert Mitchum to find Jane Greer, who has taken off with some of his money. And Mitchum finds her, falls in love with her, tries to run away with her, gets caught. And they get involved in a terrible scheme, and then they’re separated. There’s one amazing scene when he is reunited with Jane Greer, who has totally betrayed him.  She’s gone back to Kirk Douglas. Now, she comes in secretly to talk to Robert Mitchum, and he’s totally disgusted by her presence, doesn’t believe a word she says. And there’s bitter dialogue that I thought was some of the greatest ever written.”
Lawrence Kasdan

Here’s a couple more scenes from Out of the Past.

Out of the Past was written by Daniel Mainwaring based on his novel Build My Gallows High (under the name G. Holmes. According to IMDB, James M Cain (well-known for writing the novel Double Indemnity) did uncredited work on the Out of the Past script. Mainwaring also wrote the script for the cult classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). The 1984 film Agaisnt All Odds written by was a remake of Out of the Past.

P.S. What originally got Kasdan on Steve Spielberg’s radar was the screenplay for Continental Divide which eventually got made in 1981—the same year Raiders of the Lost Ark came out in theaters. The same year Body Heat which Kasdan wrote and directed. 1981 was a very good year for Lawrence Kasdan. But gets your hand on the script for Continental Divide and watch the movie. Not because it’s a great script or film, but because it shows a simple kind of story that got the former school teacher noticed on his way to writing some great films and receiving four Oscar-nominations.

Related Posts:
From West Virginia to Hollywood The roots of Lawrence Kasdan
Screenwriting from Michigan Kasdan’s college roots
Raiders Revisited (Part 1)
Lawrence Kasdan’s Rejection/Breakthrough–“After nine years of writing screenplays without success, I believed only bad things were going to happen.”—Kasdan

Scott W. Smith

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“Indiana Jones is a master class on how to start a movie. It is a master class.”
Craig Mazin

Congrats to John August and Craig Mazin on their 100th podcast episode of Scriptnotes. They recorded that episode at the end of July and in either episode 100 or episode 101 (the Q&A with the live audience at that event) both August and Mazin said that one of their favorite episodes was where they did an entire episode on Raiders of the Lost Ark.

And if you’ve never listened to an episode of Scriptnotes before Episode 73 is the place to start. I’ve listened to at least 20% of their 100 podcasts and Episode 73 is a gift to the screenwriting community. Here you have two working screenwriters doing something interesting in the world podcasting that I’m not aware has ever been done before—and that is elevating the role of screenwriter to podcasting celebrity.

Throughout film history screenwriters are notorious for being in the background. Sometimes not even in the background but banished to a galaxy far, far way. Again, historically speaking screenwriters have often not even been welcomed on the sets and locations of movies being shot from scripts they wrote.

So while it’s rare to see a screenwriter on a late night talk show, perhaps Scriptnotes signals a new way where screenwriters can have their voices be heard. And Scriptnotes is finding an audience beyond just screenwriters as it’s mentioned somewhere on episode 100/101 that some of the Scriptnotes podcasts have exceeded 200,000 listeners. I don’t think August or Mazin at this point in their career are interested in going the Kickstarter/Indigogo route like Spike Lee or Rob Thomas to fund a film, but if they wanted to their podcast gives them a wonderful platform to build on.

I’d love to see other podcasts pop up where perhaps older and retired screenwriters talking about movies and their writing experiences and challenges. But Scriptcast is great in part because you have two working screenwriters taking the time to talk about the craft and business of Hollywood screenwriting. Keep in mind that both men had a very good February this year.  Frankenweenie, which August wrote, received a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination and Identity Thief, which Mazin wrote, had two weeks at the number one box office position here in the states on its way to a world-wide box-office gross of more than $170 million.

Their Raiders podcast came out in January. Check out the podcast or the trandscript.

“Everything that the movie [Raiders of the Lost Ark] is about is going to happen in the first ten pages. The tone, the characters, their weaknesses, their strengths, their internal flaw, the promise of what the movie will be, the spirit of the adventure, the rules of the world — everything is not only packed in perfectly, but it’s packed in interestingly and dramatically. It is a master class on how to begin a movie.”
Screenwriter Craig Mazin
Scriptnotes podcast, episode 73

And while I’m passing out thanks, why not thank Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman, Lawrence Kasdan and anyone else involved in helping bring Raiders of the Lost Ark to life.

Now August and Mazin take Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat to the whipping post in episode 100, but if you’d like to see how Snyder’s principles breakdown Raiders check out the The Raiders of the Lost Ark Beat Sheet.  Lastly, if you’re in Orlando tomorrow (8/4/13) you can see Raiders of the Lost Ark at the Enzian Theater—one of my all-time favorite theaters to watch a movie.

P.S. I first read about the now legendary Raiders of the Lost Ark story transcript with Spielberg, Lucas, Kaufman, and Kasdan back in 2009 on Mystery Man of Film’s post  The “Raiders” Story Conference.  Anyone ever find out who the Mystery Man on Film was?

P.P.S. It may take a few years but I expect to see an indie film someday based on that Raiders story transcript.

Related Posts:
Movie Cloning (“Raiders”)
Raiders Revisited (part 1)
Raiders Revisited (part 2)
Raiders Revisited (part 3)
Raiders Revisited (part 4)
Lawrence Kasdan’s Rejection/Breakthrough
John Ford’s Advice to Spielberg
Filmmaking Quote #2 John August)
Filmmaking Quote #21 (Spielberg)
Filmmaking Quote #22 (Lucas)

Scott W. Smith

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“Nothing’s ever the way it is supposed to be at all.”
Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd )
The Last Picture Show

We are living in the wild west. Right now, right here in the good ole United States of America.

Last night I watched the classic John Ford/John Wayne western The Searchers, and though the story is set in the wild west almost 150 years ago it only took ten minutes to connect it to current events here in the United States.

The plot of the movie kicks in the first few scenes when a young girl and her older sister are abducted in the wild west. Unfortunately,  just two weeks ago here in the Cedar Valley in Iowa two young girls (cousins) disappeared without a trace. Initially more than 350 people joined the volunteer search locally, eventually FBI divers were brought in search a nearby lake, but as of today there is no news of their whereabouts.

News of their abduction went national, only to replace this weekend with the headlines of the shooting in a movie theater in Colorado where 12 people were killed.

It’s a political season so the right blames the left, and the left blames the right. “It’s movies.” “It’s guns.” Of course, it’s not that simple. But I am fond of saying that movies reflect the culture that it helps produce. Rebel Without a Cause reflected a gang culture in LA in the 50s that resulted in tires being slashed in parts of the country where that was never a problem before the movie. John Travolta hops on a mechanical bull in Urban Cowboy reflecting a Texas trend and mechanical bulls pop in bars around the country.

When Paul Giamatti yells, “I’m not drinking any f___ing Merlot!” in the Oscar-winning film Sideways it was blamed for causing a “Sideways effect” where Merlot sales dipped.  Some wine expert said the movie actually helped get rid of lousy Merlots. But there is no question that the movie Sideways gave the red wine a black eye.

“Merlot acreage has been in steady decline ever since Sideways. Many were removed and planted to other crops in the San Joaquin Valley (where 60-65 percent of all California winegrapes are grown) while many along the coast were grafted to other varietals over the past few years.”
Nat DiBuduo, president and CEO of Allied Grape Growers
Merlot on the rebound  (Feb 2012 article by Bob Ecker)

The bottom line is movies & Tv shows are a major influence what we drive, value, buy, wear, eat & drink, etc.—some of those influences are good, and some of them are not.

After the shooting in Colorado, Warner Brothers pulled some of the trailers for its upcoming movie Gangster Squad, where several gunmen fire their machine guns into a movie crowd. USA Today reported the film’s September 7 release has been postponed and the film is “expected to be reshot and edited.”

Since I’ve been quoting Peter Bogdanovich the last couple of days, I thought you’d be interested in an article in The Hollywood Reporter yesterday titled, Legendary Director Peter Bogdanovich:What if Movies Are Part of the Problem?

“One of the most horrible movies ever made was Fritz Lang’s M, about a child murderer. But he didn’t show the murder of the child. The child is playing with a rubber ball and a balloon. When the killer takes her behind the bushes, we see the ball roll out from the bushes. And then he cuts to the balloon flying up into the sky. Everybody who sees it feels a different kind of chill up their back, a horrible feeling. So this argument that you have to have violence shown in gory details is not true. It’s much more artistic to show it in a different way.

Today, there’s a general numbing of the audience. There’s too much murder and killing. You make people insensitive by showing it all the time. The body count in pictures is huge. It numbs the audience into thinking it’s not so terrible. Back in the ’70s, I asked Orson Welles what he thought was happening to pictures, and he said, ‘We’re brutalizing the audience. We’re going to end up like the Roman circus, live at the Coliseum.’ The respect for human life seems to be eroding.”
Peter Bogdanovich

Of course, other than Gangster Squad, the only other movie I think of that involves a gunman shooting a moviegoers is Bogdanovich’s film Targets, in which is a gunman opens fire at a drive-in theater.

As I watched The Searchers last night I also listened to the commentary which happened to be given by Bogdanovich. He pointed out one scene of hope in the film, “Where [director John] Ford sort of lets the mother tell the theme of the picture”:

“Some day this country’s going to be a fine, good places to be. Maybe it needs our bones in the ground before that time can come.”

Perhaps that was the hope in the 1860s after the Civil War when the movie takes place. Just a little time was needed to heal the wounds of division. Perhaps that was John Ford’s hope when he made The Searchers in the mid 1950s. Just a little more time. But over the last 150 years since the Civil War we’ve put a lot of bones in the ground, and I’m not sure that time is the answer.

When I attended film school at the University of Miami in ’81-’82 there was an average of a murder a day in Miami metro. When our film professor showed us A Clockwork Orange (1971), he joked, “Welcome to Miami.”  The next year Brian De Palma’s Scarface came out that reflected the violent culture of Miami at that time. That film’s almost a cartoon today.

“Writing off a tragedy like the Dark Knight massacre as an instance of simple ‘insanity,’ while technically correct, may miss one dimension of what’s really going on. For what has gradually decayed, in our society of screens, isn’t sanity. It’s empathy.”
Owen Gieibman
Why does pop culture inspire people to kill? EW.com

With the passing of time we seem to becoming increasingly violent. With the passing of time movies seem to becoming increasingly violent.

But there is a movie that comes to mind that’s always been one of my favorites, and one that at least wrestles with the violent culture that we live in—Grand Canyon. Early in the film Simon (Danny Glover) is a tow-truck driver trying to haul a broken down Lexus out of the ‘hood and tells a gang member with a gun:

“Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this.”
Simon (Danny Glover)
Grand Canyon

That film, written by Lawrence and Meg Kasdan and released in 1991, showed that Los Angeles—complete with drive-by shootings—isn’t that far removed from the wild west. But neither is Miami, or even small towns in Iowa today.

“The world ain’t supposed to work like this.” Little girls should be able to ride their bikes without be abducted, and people should be able to go to a movie theater without being shot.

Scott W. Smith

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Since Diablo Cody is my poster child (female) for a screenwriter coming from outside L.A. (and the original inspiration for this blog)  then I think I’ll name Lawrence Kasdan as the poster child (male) screenwriter from outside L.A. Kasdan was raised in Morgantown, West Virginia. Quick, name another screenwriter from West Virginia.

(While Morgantown is the second largest city in West Virginia it only has about 30,000 residents not including the students at the University of West Virginia. My lasting memory of Morgantown goes back to 1994 when I was there for a video shoot and the news broke of O.J. Simpson’s famous low-speed police chase. I remember walking down the main drag and seeing restaurant/bar after restaurant/bar having the same helicopter shot of the Simposn’s white Ford Bronco on their TVs.)

Kasdan left Morgantown to attend the University of Michigan where he was an English major. A gifted writer he would go on to win Hopwood Prize at UM for creative writing. In his 30s he became  one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood with a string of box office hits— Star Wars: The Empire Strikes, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. He has also had  three Oscar nominations for his screenwriting —Grand Canyon, The Accidental Tourist, and The Big Chill.

But what I think you’ll be interested in is that little period between college in Ann Arbor, Michigan and his first sale as a screenwriter. While reading The First Time I Got Paid for It, Writers’ Tales from the Hollywood Trenches I found this retelling by Kasdan when he would have been a 28 year old advertising copywriter:

“One summer day in 1977 my agent asked me to lunch, which was so unusual it made me nervous. It has taken me a long time to get an agent, so naturally, I was worried about hanging on to him. For two years now he had been trying to sell a thriller I had written for my favorite star Steve McQueen, who didn’t know I’d written this thriller for him. Originally, the agent thought he wouldn’t have much trouble selling the script, so he agreed to represent me. But after sixty-seven rejections he was getting discouraged.”

But his agent didn’t want to part ways with Kasdan, but he did want Kasdan to try his hand at writing for television, specifically Starsky & Hutch. Kasden reluctantly agreed to give it a shot. Soon he heard back from the powers that be at Starsky & Hutch that he didn’t have the goods to write for the show. He told the agent not to give up on him that he had a new screenplay in the works that was almost done. He thought that would buy him a little more time to breakthrough.

Then Kasdan writes, “But when I came into my job the next day, there was a message that my agent had called. Could he have changed his mind overnight? Of course he could. After nine years of writing screenplays without success, I believed only bad things were going to happen to me. But what he had to tell me wasn’t bad. It was kind of miraculous. After two years and all that rejection, suddenly two different parties were interested in my thriller—which was called The Bodyguard.”

So while you dream of writing the next  Raiders of the Lost Ark or Return of the Jedi (or get discouraged in your own career) remember Kasden’s line, “After nine years of writing screenplays without success.” And also keep in mind that while that first sale came in 1977 it was fifteen years before the film The Bodyguard was produced and released into theaters. (The film starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in roles that were originally thought would star Steve McQueen & Barbra Stresisand. The movie made over $400 million worldwide.)

Related posts: Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours

Screenwriting from Michigan

Raiders Revisted (part 1)

Scott W. Smith

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