Posts Tagged ‘Lethal Weapon’

“You think I’m crazy? You call me crazy, you think I’m crazy? You wanna see crazy?”
Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson)

About 25 years before Iron Man 3 made over a billion dollars at the box office its director/co-writer Shane Black had his first feature film (Lethal Weapon) produced. As part of a panel event sponsored by Scriptwriters Network Black explained how his cop script was influenced by westerns and monster movies.

“I would write a bunch of scenes because I had a sense of the shape and a feel of  a cop film that I like to watch, but gradually something emerged and that was the sense of a Frankenstein story. Sort of an urban western where the old gunslinger is this sort of this wounded Frankenstein who sits reliving the war, reliving the gun fights in his head. And everyone because they’re in sort of a lull, this sort of a gentrified suburban community now where we think in our society that the west is tamed and they can’t hurt us, that evil is somewhere else. But this guy, the gunslinger, knows better. Meanwhile they call him a baby killer and they shun him and they think he’s weird because his skills are so distasteful and horrible. But then violence comes to our classic community—our sweet little lullaby is broken. Then the city all goes out to the gunslinger basically and says, ‘look we hate you, we despise you, we think you’re crazy but we need you now because you’re the only one who knew the truth all along. Which is the west isn’t gentrified, it’s still wild. And now we’re fu#@ed because you’re the last guy who remembers how to handle this sort of thing so we need you.’  And that kind of gunslinger thing was what I set out really to do.”
Screenwriter Shane Black on writing Lethal Weapon
Writing the Hollywood Blockbuster

Related posts:
“Stagecoach” Revisited
Writing “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid”
Living in the Wild West

Scott W. Smith

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“I just felt like I didn’t come to Vancouver not to pull out the big guns.”
Shaun White

Watching Shaun White win a gold medal last night at the Olympics in Vancouver brought back memories of Tiger Woods’ first big win at Augusta National back in ’97 when he won by a margin of 12 shots–the most in the tournament’s history. Woods was in uncharted territory. And so it is with White and his “Double McTwist 1260.”

You don’t have to know a lot about snowboarding to know that White is way ahead of the competition. And actually the comparison to Woods at this point in his career is fitting.  White began skiing with his family at age four which is around the time Woods began playing golf. Both were mentored by their fathers. And while White’s mother was also an avid skier, it was White’s father who would literally carry White on his back at times because White was so small that he would sink into the snow walking back up to get his runs on the halfpipe. White entered his first amateur snowboard contest at seven and won. He soon had his first sponsor.

White’s dedication and  talents stood out early and by the age of 12 he turned pro and soon began winning events and gaining more sponsors. By the time he was 16 he owned three cars and three homes. These days he earns $10 million a year. And after his gold last night those earning are just going to–like him on a snowboard–soar.

It’s easy to look at 23-year-old Shaun White with his casual smile and long red hair and forget that it’s taken him 19-years of work to put him in the position where he is now. It all goes back to the 10,000 rule–which White probably hit with snowboarding before he hit puberty. But along the way he also had a few major set-backs. The first came just after he was born when he had to have two major surgeries to correct a heart defect. About ten years later as a rising star skateboarder he collided on a doubles skateboarding run with Bob Burnquis that knocked him out and left him with broken bones and fractured skull. And a desire to quit. But his mom wouldn’t let him.

Then in 2002 he missed earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team by three tenths of a point. All of those things set the stage for him to win the gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics. His money and fame haven’t seemed to diminish his passion for the sport.  But keep in mind that before he was cruising around in a Lamborghini he was cruising in a converted van/motorhome improving his skills far from his San Diego home.

“It was insane because we’d all just camp out in the motorhome. It would be my brother Jesse, myself, my sister Kerri, my dad and my mom all in a van. We’d take trips up to Mammoth and all over the place. It is funny now to fly first-class out to a mountain and stay in a nice hotel. It means so much more because of that.”
Shane White
Snowboarding Magazine

I wish White the best. But one thing we can learn from Tiger Woods (and quite a few other atheletes) is an early success does not mean there won’t be some bumps ahead in the road professionally and personally. Since this is a screenwriting blog I came across a fitting quote on that topic by Shane Black:

“I sort of slid off the map a little bit after Long Kiss Goodnight was such a failure back in the nineties, and I don’t know quite how I got back on the map. Because the turnover in these offices, the executives at the studios are now twenty-five, and they saw Lethal Weapon when they were eight—so there’s a sense of being an old-timer before I’m even an old-timer. I had to reinvent my career at age forty. That’s the disadvantage of succeeding early.”
Shane Black
Tales from the Script
Page 292

P.S. It’s funny to think that when I first started skiing in Colorado in the 80s snowboarding wasn’t allowed on some of the mountains. Times change. I’ve read in some places that snowboarders now make up more than half of the ticket sales. After watching Shaun White last night I wonder if any kids starting out want put on a set of skis.

Scott W. Smith

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This weekend I picked up the book Tales from the Script; 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories edited by Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman. The book flows from a 105-minute film that is a series of interviews with–I’m guessing 50–screenwriters including Shane Black (Lethal Weapon),  Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) and William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). Visit the Tales from the Script website to learn about screenings in L.A. and New York in March or to order the DVD which will begin shipping also in March.

The book is full of more quotes that reinforce what I’ve been blogging about here for the last two years. I’ll pull a few quotes from it this week beginning right here:

“The first screenplay you write is rarely going to be sold and made into a movie, but it might be a good sample to get you hired to write something else. I probably wrote a dozen scripts before I ever got paid to do one.”
Screenwriter Mick Garris (The Stand, Amazing Stories, Master of Horror)

Scott W. Smith

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I saw where highly regarded screenwriting teacher Michael Hauge will be teaching a one-day workshop in Minneapolis Saturday (9/26/09) and this offers a good chance for Midwest writers to get a taste of whom Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) said, “When I pick up the phone for help, Michael Hauge is the call I make.” He’s taught screenwriting at UCLA, USC and AFI.

Two of Hauge’s books that I’ve read are Writing Screenplay that Sell and Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds. So in light of him coming to this neck of the woods I thought I’d pull some quotes the next couple of days.

“‘Lack of originality’ is consistently a stated reason for the rejection by producers and studios of screenplays and story concepts. And it is true that while audiences seem to support ‘more of the same’ in TV and theaters, people still want to see something they’ve never seen before when they go to the movie theater.”
                                                                         Michael Hauge 
                                                                         Writing the Screenplays That Sell
                                                                         page 26 

(Something that’s never been a problem from Minneapolis-raised Coen Brothers.)


The Michael Hauge workshop is sponsored by the Midwest Fiction Writers

Fee for non-members is $109.

Location: Crowne Plaza Hotel, Bloomington, MN


Scott W. Smith

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When you think of classic actions films a few of these might pop into your mind; Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, 48 Hrs., The Last Boy Scout, The Matrix. Those films all have at least on thing in common —they were produced by Joel Silver. Orphan currently in theater was also produced by Silver.  His first producing credit was back in 1976, so what’s his box-office secret?

Let’s once again turn to the book The Secrets of Action Screenwriting for part of the answer:

Action film producer Joel Silver says, ‘You’ve got to have a ‘whammo’ every ten minutes; an explosion, a car chase, a fight scene, to keep the audience interested.’ Silver believes this is the most important thing in action films, and he’s probably right. Silver has made the most successful action films ever, and launched Schwarenegger as an Action Lead in the low budget Commando. 
    Pacing and Timing are critical to action films.
         Long dead spots and an abundance of talk scenes will sink your script before it ever gets made. Action scripts contain action scenes and you’ve got to keep those car chases and shoot outs coming, or the audience will get up and leave.”
                                                                                          William C. Martell 

Of course, Martell’s book came out in 1998 and I don’t know how old the Joel Silver quote is but it seems like the whammo factor has been bumped up to every ten seconds in some action movies these days.

Scott W. Smith


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Since I just covered descriptive writing for screenwriting in five parts I think it’s important to address the Shane Black factor. When Black came on the scene in the 80s he was the latest hotshot screenwriter to come on the scene.

He quickly had a couple hit movies (Lethal Weapon, Last Boy Scout) and made a ton of money. Along the way he gathered a cult following that continues to this day. One of the things that set Black a part was he was a rule breaker. And the main rule he broke in terms of traditional Hollywood writing is he interjected notes into his scripts. Here’s an example from Lethal Weapon:


       The kind of house that I’ll buy if this movie is a huge
       hit. Chrome. Glass. Carved wood.

When I was a kid Willie Mays was towards the end of one of the greatest careers in baseball history. It was a career than spanned 22 years. There were many skills that set Willie Mays a part from the crowd, but a lasting image I have was his trademark basket catch.

It was unorthodox way of catching the ball that, of course, many little league and sandlot players tried to emulate. Coaches hated this because it was never considered the most effective way to catch a baseball. I remember one coach saying, “When you are as good as Willie Mays, then you can make basket catches.” (Meaning never.)

And that’s probably the best advice to follow in regard to writing quirky notes in your script like Shane Black was famous for. When you’re the hottest young rising talent in Hollywood you can get by doing things a little more unorthodox.

Here’s how screenwriter and teacher Robin U. Russin tells it:

(Shane Black’s Lethal Weapon is) the one script that broke all the rules and got made anyway. Remember that crucial word: It was the one script that broke all the rules and got made anyway. In the four years I worked as a reader and script analyst, I read perhaps a hundred other scripts that attempted to copy Shane’s flamboyant style, but not a single one of them copied his success. You may want to thank a spouse, a teacher, or a friend, but it will only make your script look unprofessional. Send them a thank you care but leave it off the script.

Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen a baseball player since Willie Mays retired in 1973 make a basket catch from a routine fly ball.

But perhaps too much is made of Black’s not so subtle technique. If you go back and read his scripts probably 99% of the script is written in the tradition style as I wrote about this week in descriptive writing Parts 1-5. The bottom line is he wrote a script that did become a big hit and at least put him in position to buy a posh Beverly Hills home. (With Chrome. Glass. Carved wood. I hope.)

Scott W. Smith

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Shane Black stormed on the scene back in the early 80s when as a 23-year-old he sold his script Lethal Weapon. That film came out in ’87 and was a solid hit that turned into a franchise. Black was then paid a reported $1.75 million for his script The Last Boy Scout, and then made $4 million writing The Long Kiss Goodnight.

“Here’s what it is…here’s what I didn’t know when I was starting out that I now know…I thought when you were starting out it was really hard to write because you hadn’t broken in yet, you hadn’t really hit your stride yet. What I found out paradoxically is that the next script you write doesn’t get easier because you wrote one before …each one gets harder by a factor of ten.” 
Shane Black
                                  Speaking at Sherman Oaks Experimental College 

That may somewhat explain why Black has only had two produced screenplays in the last 13 years, why Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have just a total of two produced screenplays in the last 12 years after winning an Oscar for writing Good Will Hunting and why Callie Khouri has just two features produced since she won an Oscar back in 1991 for writing Thelma & Louise. That doesn’t take anything away from these artists as writers, directors and/or actors  — it just points out how hard it is to write a good script that gets produced and finds an audience.


Scott W. Smith

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