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Posts Tagged ‘Massachusetts’

“Just focus on the writing and everything else will fall into place.”
Aaron Guzikowski

While the name Aaron Guzikowski may not roll off the tongue as easy as saying Diablo Cody,  there are similarities between the two screenwriters . Cody is a writer with Chicago/Iowa City/Minneapolis roots who worked a regular (non-creative) job at an advertising agency until her writing got the attention of a Hollywood insider. Guzikowski is a writer from the greater Boston area (Brockton), who had been living in Brooklyn, NY and working a regular (non-creative) job in advertising until his writing got the attention of a Hollywood insider.

Both had been writing since their youth and followed that path through college. Cody studied media studies at the University of Iowa and Guzikowski studied art and film at the Pratt Institute. Cody’s Juno made The Black List before it got produced and became a well reviewed movie and a box office hit—and she won an Academy Award for the script. Guzikowski’s Prisoners also made The Black List, and though just released in theaters it has been well reviewed and is on its way to being a box office hit. (It finished #1 at the box office this past weekend.) Time will tell about any Academy Awards.

One of the big differences between the two writers is Cody was discovered while writing a blog, while Guzikowski via an old school query letter sent in the mail. Cody says she wrote the first draft of Juno in six weeks, and Guzikowski said he took two years to write Prisoners. Regardless, if you’re looking for contemporary success stories of screenwriters who were once living outside of L.A. and working regular day jobs then Cody and Guzikowski (one female, one male) are as solid  examples as you can find.

And they both did it not by writing a great script but by writing material that had a voice and connected them with people inside Hollywood who could help develop that voice. The great scripts and the great movies—and the big money— came later.

“[Guzikowski] finished the screenplay for Prisoners while working at an ad agency in New York – getting up at 5 a.m. to write most workdays, penning his thoughts whenever he could at work, then coming home again to write.”
Maria Papadopoulos
The Enterprise

Back in 2009, I wrote the post called The Breakfast Club for Writers where I pointed out how Elmore Leonard, John Grisham, and Ron Bass all once got up at 5 AM to write before their day jobs. So I guess Guzikowski’s in the club.

But the real take away from Guzikowski is the commitment to craft.

“When it comes to submissions, the only thing you want to stand out is the writing, so it pays to adhere to industry standards. As for competition, there’s not much point thinking about it. Just concentrate on the story you’re trying to tell….I signed with my manager first (through a query letter), worked with him for two years developing Prisoners, then after I completed it, I signed with my agent. You don’t really need an agent until you have something that’s ready for market. In terms of how hard it was, working on the script was the hard part, and if you pay enough dues on that end, then securing representation — even without having previously sold anything — becomes a lot easier.”
Aaron Guzikowski
2009 Q&A/Limite Magazine

P.S. The Boston area sure has a solid history of producing excellent screenwriters.

Related Posts:
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70)
The Idea is King (Focus not writing the great script, but the “right script”)
Screenwriting from Massachusetts
Will Simmons’ Road to Hollywood (Black List writer who was delivering pizzas in Boston a few years ago.)
Writing “Good Will Hunting” These former no-name writers won an Academy Award for their first produced screenplay.

Scott W. Smith

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“After graduating in 2007 [University of Miami], I knew I wasn’t ready to move to LA. My chops as a writer weren’t sharp enough to survive the Hollywood meat grinder. I needed time to hone my craft, so I moved back to Boston and worked at an Italian restaurant delivering pizzas. The best part about living at home was that my expenses were minimal, so every cent I earned went toward my wagons-west-fund. I wanted to make the most of this interim period, so I dove headfirst into writing feature specs. I wrote nonstop. Most of the scripts never saw the light of day, but my skills evolved with each completed draft. I was finding my voice.

During this time, I also made five short films. It was startling how much my directorial endeavors informed my writing. Listening to actors breathe life into your dialogue is a humbling and instructional experience. You start to understand how conversations translate from the page to the set, and how to craft dialogue with a naturalistic ear, while still retaining the narrative thrust essential to story progression.”
Screenwriter Will Simmons (His script Murder City made The Black List in 2012)
Go Into the Story interview with Scott Myers

P.S. Often we only read interviews of writers after they’ve received a measure of success in the films they’ve made or after their first film has been a box office hit. What’s great about the six-part interview Will Simmons did with Scott Myers is it shows us a screenwriter in mid-step. Though none of Simmon’s feature scripts have been produced, he does have deals in the works at Warner Bros.  and is repped by UTA and Energy Entertainment. It’s important to point out that Simmons made a couple short films in college, and five short films after graduating. And his early writing in school led him to an independent study in screenwriting during his senior year of high school. So while he’s a hot young writer now, keep in mind that his writing journey so far has taken 10+ years. As screenwriter Bob DeRosa wrote, “There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work. Perseverance. Luck. Craft. Failure. Success. Mistakes. And yes, dreams that come true.”

In his Go Into The Story interview Simmons said, “I have sort of an old-school, blue-collar mentality when it comes to work ethic, so instead of making excuses I just write nonstop.”

Will Simmons on Twitter @willsimmons_

Related Posts:

The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70) “99% of your effort should go to writing a good script. “—Michael Arndt
Screenwriting from Massachusetts
Don’t Quit You Day Job
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Writing “Good Will Hunting”
Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg
Why You Should Move to L.A.
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)

Scott W. Smith

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“I was just a guy with a pen and paper and an idea for a book.”
Sebastian Junger
Author of The Perfect Storm

“Writing is sweat and drudgery most of the time. And you have to love it in order to endure the solitude and the discipline.”
Peter Benchley
Author of Jaws

Yesterday I had a video shoot in Cedar Rapids and ate lunch the Irish Democrat Pub & Grille which is the kind of local, non-chain restaurant many people hope to find when they stop in a new town. I’m not sure if their cheese wontons are Irish but they were good.  The place has been around for more than 20 years and taps into that whole John F. Kennedy thing for their theme.

Somehow Kennedy, a Harvard grad, got me thinking about screenwriters from Massachusetts. A lot of talent has flowed through that state because of the colleges.  In fact, look at this list of writers who’ve attended Harvard alone and have had their books and screenplays made into movies:

Frank Pierson  (Dog Day Afternoon) 1976 Oscar winner
James Agee (The African Queen) 1952 Oscar nomination
James Torback (Bugsy), 1991 Oscar nomination
Whit Stillman (Metropolitan) 1991 Oscar nomination
Ron Bass (Rain Man) 1988 Oscar winner (shared with Barry Morrow)
Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) 1989 Oscar Nomination
Erich Segal (Love Story) 1971 Oscar Nomination
Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line) 1999 Oscar Nomination
Douglas Kenney (co-writer Animal House, Caddyshack) Co-founder of National Lampoon magazine
Norman Mailer (The Executioner’s Song) 1983 Primetime Emmy Nomination
Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream)
Sooni Taraporevala (Salaam Bombay!)
William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch)
John Updike (Rabbit, Run)
George Plimpton (Paper Lion)
Ben Mezrich (21)
Ethan Canin (The Emperor’s Club)
Scott Turow (Presumed Innocent)
Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park)
Peter Benchley (Jaws) Novel and co-wrote script that became the first film to make over $100 million
Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) 1998 Oscar winner
Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) Oscar-nomination

Eugene O’Neill (Long Day’s Journey Into Night) winner of four Pulitzer Prizes for drama studied playwriting at Harvard and honed his craft writing one-act melodramas for the Provincetown Players on the northern tip of Cape Cod.  From there he became one of a handful of giants in American theater.

While he was born in New York and found his greatest success on Broadway, O’Neil is one more example of someone developing their talent in smaller towns.

But not all writers from Massachusetts have had the benefit of a Harvard connection. In fact, there is one writer from Belmont, Massachusetts who is a nice role model for this entire blog. Sebastian Junger was armed with a degree in cultural anthropology (from Wesleyan College in Connecticut) when he kicked around as a freelance writer until he had an accident while working as a tree cutter in 1991.

In just so happened that at the same time a six fishermen who had left Gloucester on the Andrea Gale died at sea. Junger became fascinated by what happened and used his down time recovering from his injury to write an article, that became a book, that inspired the movie The Perfect Storm.

Junger writes in the introduction of The Perfect Storm:

“My own experience in the storm was limited to standing on Gloucester’s Back Shore watching thirty-foot swells advance on Cape Ann, but that was all it took. The next day I read in the paper that a Gloucester boat was feared lost at sea, and I clipped the article and stuck it in a drawer. Without even knowing it, I had begun to write The Perfect Storm.”

But what really separates him from everyone else who heard about that story is he followed his curiosity and eventually did the research, wrote the article, then the book that became a #1 New York Times Bestseller and a George Clooney movie. He ended up on Oprah, with a career as a writer, and even part owner of The Half King bar and restaurant in New York.

Of course, Massachusetts has a long literary tradition going way back to the Puritans founding the Massachusetts Bay in Colony in 1630, and then with Thoreau, Hawthorne and Emerson that I won’t touch on here. I’m not as interested in an exhaustive history lesson as much as encouraging you to write.

But the well does appear deep in Massachusetts. And here’s one more example for you to focus on your writing not where you live:

“New York’s playwright find of the year (Eugene O’Neill) lives obscurely in a clean little cottage, miles from nowhere on Cape Cod.”
Olin Downs
Boston Sunday Post (August 1920)

Update November 2008: Screenwriters from Boston may be interested in the Screenwriting Certificate Program at Emerson College and the group that calls itself New England’s oldest screenwriters network is the Harvard Square Scriptwriters. If you are interested is shooting in Massachusetts contact the Massachusetts Film Office. Paul Sherman has a book out called Big Screen Boston that goes into detail about some of the many movies that have been made in the Boston area.

Update June 2010: Just learned that two-time Oscar winner Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) is from Rockport, Massachusetts.

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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