Posts Tagged ‘Little Miss Sunshine’

“Winning takes care of everything.”
Tiger Woods quote and now controversial Nike ad

“It took me time to realize plot, characters and all that were important, but it really had to be about something.”
Carl Foreman

“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. If your story isn’t about anything—or your character just wants a pretty girl and a bag of money then it’s not going to add up to anything. It may be funny—but most comedies are funny in the first act, they’re funny in the second act, and then they either get sappy and sentimental in the third act or they just fall apart. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted Little Miss Sunshine to have a climax at the end. One of thing things that was an impetus to write the script is I remember reading this interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger where he was talking to a group of high school students—high school students—and he said, ‘If there’s one thing in this world that I hate it’s losers. I despise them.’ And I thought there is just something so wrong with that attitude. That there is something so demeaning and insulting about referring about anyone as a loser. I wanted to attack that idea that in life you’re either going up or you’re going down, you know, it’s all about status and impressing other people… It’s this winner take all society where one person is going to get the million dollars and everyone else is a loser, and I just despise that mentality. And so I wanted to just totally attack it….And to a degree a child’s beauty pageant is the epitome of the ultimate, meaningless competition that people put themselves through.”
Screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3)
2007 talk at Cody’s Books 

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Writing from Theme (Tip #20)
Sidney Lumet on Theme
Eric Roth on Theme and Loneliness
William Froug on Theme
Aaron Sorkin on Theme, Intention & Obstacles
Diane Frolov & The Theme Zone
Coppola Vs. Serling

Scott W. Smith

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“You always want to start your story with the characters doing what’s essential to them. The most important thing to them.”
Michael Arndt
Little Miss Sunshine DVD Commentary

Examples of this are Rocky opens with Rocky boxing and  Arndt’s story Little Miss Sunshine opening shot of Olive being enthralled watching a beauty pageant on TV. What are some of your favorite and/or most effective scenes of introductions to characters from movies? (If there’s a You Tube link shoot it my way as I’d like to include a few of them in this post.)

Related Post: Starting Your Screenplay (Tip #6) Includes this quote: “Who is your hero, what does he want, and what stands in his way?”—Paddy Chayefsky (Network), Three-time Oscar winner

Scott W. Smith

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“In many ways, though, my life has remained much as it was in 2000. I still rent the same one-bedroom walk-up in Brooklyn, and I still spend my days sitting in a chair and staring at a computer (though the chair is more comfortable and the computer is nicer). The main difference is I don’t worry about having to get a day job. (Not yet, anyway).”
Screenwriter Michael Ardnt
(Writing in 2006 soon after the release of Little Miss Sunshine)

Chaplin, Charlie (Modern Times

“I live in New York, I still rent an apartment in New York, and I taught myself to write living in New York. There is a tiny, tiny little industry there where I can be reading scripts there, but the idea of going to Los Angeles and being a struggling screenwriter in Los Angeles—I just couldn’t do it. It was just too much for me to take. And in a way, I don’t think I would have written Little Miss Sunshine if I’d been living in Los Angeles, just because it’s such a factory town, you know. I hesitated for a long time to write this movie just because I knew it’s such an odd and idiosyncratic movie—and so low budget, and so small scale—that it didn’t seem like anybody was going to be interested in making it. And I think you just internalize the values of that environment. I’m going to move back to New York after I finish with Pixar [writing Toy Story 3] and I hope I stay there. 
Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine)
2007 talk at Cody’s Books (Before he won his Oscar and before Toy Story 3 was released)

Related Post:

Hollywood Hacks & Shipwrecks
The Outsider Advantage
One Benefit of Being Outside of Hollywood
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.
What’s it Like to Be a Struggling Writer in L.A.

Scott W. Smith

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“Hopefully you enjoy what you’re doing [writing screenplays]. I’d written nine scripts and nothing had happened with them. I’m sitting down to write my tenth script—and I’ll confess it’s a silent slapstick comedy—and I’m like, ‘Why the hell am I doing this? This is completely insane to do this.’ But it’s just like— ‘Well, the story is in my head and I want to write it.’ You have to be doing it just for the pleasure of doing it.  And in terms of any sort of perceived payoff just be realistic that probably the best case scenario is a 80 to 90 percent failure rate. And that’s the best case scenario. And then you can be happy because you’re not expecting every script that you write to be produced. That’s just not realistic.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3)
2007 talk at Cody’s Books 

Related Post:

Commitment in the Face of Failure

How to Be a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41) Michael Arndt’s personal journey

Scott W. Smith

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“I made this commitment to myself that I was going to be a writer. I figured, ‘Well I’m going to be a writer for the rest of my life.’ I had a book I got just out of film school that was a writer’s guide and it was interesting because they listed the produced credits of a writer but they also listed all the unproduced scripts the writers had written. So you’d get this many produced credits (indicates a small number) and this many unproduced credits (indicates a larger number). So you see even top writers write way more scripts then ever get made, and these are people who get paid a million bucks a script. So I just thought realistically film is a capital intensive medium. It cost now $50—100 million to make a movie. It’s  a little like architecture. Even someone like Frank Gehry will design 10 buildings and maybe one or two of them will get made. I think as a screenwriter you just have to assume that there’s going to be a 90% failure rate. As so I just thought, ‘Well, okay, I’m a screenwriter—I’m going to write one screenplay a year for the next 50 years so I’ll write 50 scripts. And if I assume a 90% failure maybe five of those scripts will get made and maybe two of them will be good movies.’ That’s just realistic. That’s not being overly pessimistic, that’s just what everyone else goes through. I wrote five scripts, then I wrote Little Miss Sunshine and then I wrote four more before I finally sold Little Miss Sunshine. It’s an endurance race.” 
Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt 
2007 talk at Cody’s Books (at the 38:00 mark of the FORA.tv video)

P.S. It’s worth nothing that it not only took Arndt ten screenplays before he sold one, it took that screenplay more than five years to get made and release into theaters. If you like these post I’d appreciate it if you’d “like” the Facebook page—Screenwriting from Iowa & Other Unlikely Places— I finally set up this week. Seeing faces helps inspire me to keep digging these kinds of quotes up.

Related posts:

How Much Do Screenwriters Make? (This is the most viewed post of everything I’ve written on this blog. Some have said what I wrote there was pessimistic, but in light of Arndt’s quote—and the other produced screenwriters I quoted—I do think it’s realistic.)
How to Be a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41) “When you’re starting out, it’s hard to imagine how you’ll ever ‘succeed.’”—Michael Arndt
Frank Gehry on Creativity “Every artist confronts a series of issues that are constraints.”—Frank Gehry

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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(Opening scene of the Little Miss Sunshine script (PDF dated 10.9.03) written by Michael Arndt.)

“I didn’t really expect that the script [Little Miss Sunshine] was going anywhere. I mean, I was hoping to get an agent out of it but I didn’t bother to register it just because I didn’t think anyone was going to see it. And then I had a friend of mine who was represented by the Endeavor Agency [now WME] and that was sort of my one hope. She read it and liked it and said, ‘Can I give this to my agent?’ so I said, ‘Yes, please do.’ And like six weeks went by and I thought no one had read it and it had falling through the cracks. And I was really unhappy because I’d spent a whole year writing it and I thought I’d have to go back and get a day job again. It was a Saturday afternoon and I got a message on my machine saying, ‘We read your script, we really liked it.’ And I called them on Monday morning and basically they said, ‘We think we can do something with this.’ And I still have those agents today. They basically saved my life. I said it at the Writer’s Guild Awards, the thing that’s standing between me being up here and me being in my basement was this agent who read my script.”
Screenwriter Michael Arndt  (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3)
2007 talk at Cody Books (at the 33:31 mark of the FORA.tv video)

This single post/Arndt excerpt—sums up everything I’ve been writing about on this blog for the past five years. Here’s a sweeping overview of Michael Arndt’s career path:

—Graduated from NYU Film School
—Read 1,000 scripts as a script reader of which only “three or four” were turned into good films
—Wrote 10 scripts before breakthrough where he sold one
—Wrote first draft of Little Miss Sunshine in three days, but took a year—full time— to do rewrites
—Was fired off Little Miss Sunshine project—then rehired a few weeks later
—Won an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine
—Wrote Toy Story 3, Hunger Games: Chasing Fire, and most recently hired to write Star Wars Episode VII

P.S. To register your film script—which is a good idea— contact the WGA East  or the WGA West.

P.P.S. I finally set up a Facebook page under “Screenwriting from Iowa & Other Unlikely Places” so you can track me down there where I’ll link to posts from the past you may not have read as well as share links from other blogs and websites. (If you decide to “like” make sure it says “Screenwriting from Iowa & Other Unlikely Places.”)

Related Posts:
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2)
Insanely Great Endings
How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41)
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours 


Scott W. Smith

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Since this is a blog on screenwriting I often don’t worry about spoiler alerts as a movie reviewer would. In general, I usually deal with films that have been around a while and that have stood the test of time. But for those of you who haven’t seen Little Miss Sunshine…spoiler alert.

“A good character always has a crisis lurking inside them like a ticking time bomb. Once I’d decided who the characters would be in Little Miss Sunshine, it was just a matter of figuring out when those crises would happen. You also want those crises to happen in ascending order of importance. It all fell together pretty easily in the outlining process. The only really noteworthy choice I made, I’d say, was to kill off Grandpa at the midpoint, rather than hold off until the end of the second act. I hate seeing characters die in the late second act or early third act—it’s just such a clichéd time for a character to die. There’s a lot more shock value in a midpoint death, because audiences aren’t used to losing a major character that early in a movie.”
Screenwriter Michael Arndt
Little Miss Sunshine
MovieMaker interview with Jennifer M. Wood
February 3, 2007

Not much need for me to add anything there. But I like Arndt’s description about having a character in crisis—”lurking inside them like a ticking bomb.” Certainly describes many a great movie character; Nicholson in Chinatown, Dorothy in Oz, Charlie Sheen in Wall St., Harrison Ford in Witness, Juno, Oskar Schindler, Butch & Sundance,  Tom Cruise in Rain Man, James Cann in Misery, and Sandra Bullock in Speed.

Character in Crisis = Conflict = Interesting

Scott W. Smith

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“I think every writer harbors—secretly or not-so-secretly—delusions of grandeur. Still, when you’re starting out, it’s hard to imagine how you’ll ever ‘succeed.'”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt 

“There are two kinds of people in this world, winners and losers.”
Quasi-motivational speaker Richard Hoover (Greg  Kinnear), Little Miss Sunshine

Screenwriter Michael Arndt is a textbook example of everything I’ve been writing about on this blog for the past two and a half years. Like Diablo Cody his first produced screenplay (Little Miss Sunshine) not only became a sleeper hit, but it won him an Oscar for best original screenplay. A pretty good start, huh? Except that’s not the start.

Rewind a few years and you’ll find that he’s a New York University film school grad (steeped in the films of Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, and Woody Allen) who spent 10 years working in the film business as an assistant and a script reader. Times that weren’t always fun, but his time as a reader served him well.

“I had read enough mediocre scripts and was determined not to inflict another one on the world.”
Michael Arndt

According to an article by Anne Thompson in The Hollywood Reporter, Arndt quit his job in 1999 and with $25,000. in savings took time to just focus on writing screenplays. And lots of them.

Thompson writes; “(Arndt) holed up in his cheap Brooklyn apartment and knocked out six stories. Six of them didn’t sing. The seventh did. ‘It was the most simple story,’ Arndt says. ‘That’s a mistake a lot of scripts make: Their plots are too complicated, so you don’t have time for characters.’ So he kept working on it, writing it over and over and over, 100 drafts, until it was as good as he could get it.”

That script was Little Miss Sunshine. The script created buzz as soon as it was sent out, but it would still take five years to get it produced and released.

“I read a lot of comedy screenplays and the reason why most of them don’t work is they’re not about anything. If your story isn’t about anything, or your character just wants a pretty girl and the bag of money then—it’s not going to add up to anything…I wanted Little Miss Sunshine to actually have a real climax at the end.”
Michael Arndt

I’m not sure what other writing opportunities the success of Little Miss Sunshine brought Arndt after 2006, but you may be surprised to learn that to date Little Miss Sunshine is his sole feature credited film that has been released. Of course, that will all change next month when Toy Story 3 is released. That’s right, the small indie, philosophical screenwriter who wrote what one reviewer called “a cultural look at the emptiness of America,” follows his Oscar success with a big budget Disney franchise film.

Remember what screenwriter Christopher (The Usual Suspects) McQuarrie said; “(Winning an Oscar) doesn’t make the studios want to make your movie any more than before. It just means they want you to make their movies.”

I’m personally excited to see what Arndt comes up with for Woody and the gang. One thing that I know he came away with on Toy Story 3 is a boat load of money. And let’s be honest, doesn’t every screenwriter want an Oscar and a boat load of money? (In addition to writing satisfactory screenplays that are turned into artistic films, of course.)

So let’s review Arndt’s 10 not so easy steps to becoming a successful screenwriter:
1) Film degree from NYU
2) Toil in the industry at various non-writing/non-production jobs for 10 years
3) Save money
4) Quit job
5) Write six screenplays in less than a year
6) Write one more that you finally think is “the one” in three days
7) Write 100 drafts of “the one” over the next year
8)Send it out
9)Sell it ($150,000) and wait five years for it to get made and become a sensation
10) Collect Oscar

Losers are people who are so afraid of not winning, they don’t even try.” Grandpa Hooper (Alan  Arkin) Little Miss Sunshine

Pop quiz:  What do these comedies all have in common?: The Wedding Crashers, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Groundhog Day, Tootsie, The Apartment, Modern Times.
(Ding, ding) Correct, they are all about something.

Related Posts:
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)
Insanely Great Endings

Scott W. Smith

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