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In the podcast Launch novelist John August gives an insider look into the book making process, down to the font selections and the voiceover narrator for the audio book. Because August is also a screenwriter, there’s a better than average chance that his book Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire will become a book.

But in another podcast this month he answers the question from a frustrated novelist named Matthew who’s had novels optioned, even screenplays written based on his books and stars attached to the projects, but still not a single movie from his work has come to fruition. Here’s part of John August’s answer why:

“Most books that get optioned don’t get made into movies. Most scripts that get written don’t get made into movies. And when I see authors being so excited about the film rights sold, or it’s going to be a movie, I’m happy for them, but I also want to pull them aside and let them know that like if it gets made into a movie, that’s winning the lottery. That so rarely happens…But other times, like Big Fish, it happens. And so you just don’t know. And you have so little control over it, Matthew. That’s the remarkable thing. As the author you control everything. And every word and every comma. Movies seem like they’re made by magic. Like 200 people are off making your movie. Except most times they don’t get made. They get optioned, they pay someone to write a script. That script sits on a shelf and it doesn’t happen.”
John August
Scriptnotes, Ep. 334

P.S. Speaking of Big Fish (screenplay by John August, based the book by Daniel Wallace), I had breakfast with several people Saturday to remember a man named Jim who died recently at age 85.. At one point they wanted everyone to share a story about this him. I shared a story and then I recommended to Jim’s adult children that they watch Big Fish. Jim was from Kentucky and like a lot of people from the south, Jim could tell a yarn are two. In fact, you never were sure which stories were true and which weren’t. Which is part of the Big Fish story.

Scott W. Smith

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Well she was an American girl
Raised on promises
She couldn’t help thinkin’ that there
Was a little more to life
Tom Petty/ American Girl

You’ll probably never watch a double feature one night of Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) and Silence of the Lambs (1991), but one thing that connects those movies together is the Tom Petty song American Girl.

And for good measure here’s Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers playing the song during the NFL Super Bowl half-time show in 2008.

Scott W. Smith

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“Kindness is free.”
Garry Marshall

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When I learned Hollywood legend Garry Marshall died yesterday, I recalled fondly his career in film, theatre, and TV. The producer, writer, director and actor has a special place on this blog as he’s the only person I’ve ever blogged about for 31 days in a row. In fact, I called last October Garry Marshall Month where I re-posted previous wisdom that Marshall passed on through his books and interviews.

What follows are quotes by Marshall (unless otherwise noted):

Garry Marshall’s ‘Gentle Hilarity ’ “I wanted to make films that celebrated the human spirit and high lighted the good in human beings through both comedy and drama.”

Writing and Rewriting ‘Pretty Woman’ (Part You just have to believe that the more you write, the greater the chances are that you can write something that will sell.”

Writing and Rewriting ‘Pretty Woman’ (Part 2) “When Disney first sent me the script for Pretty Woman, it was a dark tale about a cold and heartless corporate raider and a drug-addicted prostitute.

‘The Power of Gentleness’ “Directing is about more than just the nuts and bolts and technological process. That can be learned. It’s also about the people, which is much more difficult to master.”

Screenwriting Quote #171 (Garry Marshall) “It is true that I look for the Cinderella aspect when I am making a film. Most good stories are Cinderella. Audiences like to watch characters whose lives change for the better.”

Garry Marshall Directing Tips (Part 1) “If you want to be adored on a movie set, don’t be a director, be the caterer. Everyone loves lunch.”

Garry Marshall Directing Tips (Part 2) “A director has to be part psychiatrist, part teacher, and part parent to everyone on the set.”

Garry Marshall Directing Tips (Part 3) “The truth is that there are a few stars who are just one taco short of a combo platter. The director’s job is to deal with it all.”

Garry Marshall Directing Tips (Part 4)  “Yes, I’m a filmmaker and I chart menstrual cycles.”

Garry Marshall Directing Tips (Part 5) “One of the best characteristics a director can have is the ability to compromise wisely.”

Garry Marshall Directing Tips (Part 6) “A brief but important moment for me as an actor was when I needed an angle on the character Barnard Thompson, the hotel manager in Pretty Woman. I went to Garry. He paused for a moment and said, ‘Just create the guy you’d like to work for.’ Simple as that. No long discussion. No deep analysis. A slight suggestion and I made it my own. We’ve done 17 movies that way.”—Hector Elizondo

Garry Marshall Directing Tips (Part 7)  “To have a great line is nice, but to have a strong and memorable reaction is even better.”

Garry Marshall Directing Tips (Part 8) “For the sake of the story, you never want to mislead the audience, unless it’s intentional.”

Garry Marshall Directing Tips (Part 9) “Film directors should jump at any chance to direct a play because it can improve their relationship with actors.”

Garry Marshall Directing Tips (Part 10) “I will always protect the actor.”

Garry Marshall’s Chicago Detour “Academically, Northwestern opened many new doors for me. It was the first place I learned that words mattered and could lead to a real job.”

Jumping the Shark “People come up and ask me all the time about the phrase jumping the shark and if I find it offensive…”

Happy Days in Hollywood  “Happy Days was for me the quintessential television success story. I had followed my instincts, and they had turned out to be right.”

Wanted: Writers with No Lives “When you hire actors or actresses for a series, you look for people who have well-rounded-lives with supportive friends and family. But when hiring writers…”

The ‘Stuckinna’ Plot “in which the main characters would get ‘stuck in’ something because it helped reduced the number of sets and kept production values down.”

Garry Marshall—Survivor “The truth is that I always wanted a more stable life than my intellectual idols had…. I wanted to come home to a wife, children, and a sane family dinner hour.”

Offensive & Defensive Screenwriting “The biggest lesson a screenwriter can learn is how to master a rewrite of his own script, or someone else’s, and make the change a studio wants without destroying the story.”

Telling the Truth=Humor “[Phil Foster] encouraged us to abandon our sophomoric gag humor and said, ‘Look at people and pick up on their mistakes and inadequacies. Watch human behavior. Telling the truth about people will make them laugh.’”

Tasting & Smelling Comedy Buddy Hackett held up a matchbook and said, ‘What jokes can you write about this?…”

Flaming Rejection “Be prepared at all times for rejection, even after you break in.”

Scott W. Smith

 

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The extended title of this post could be called, Dramatic writers don’t all agree on various techniques, but when Aaron Sorkin, David Mamet and Paddy Chayefsky all basically agree on the same approach it’s wise to follow their lead—but I thought that was a little too wordy.

“Rather than tell the audience who the character is, I like to show the audience what a character wants. It all boils down to intentions and obstacles.  Somebody wants something; something is standing in their way of getting it. They want the girl, they want the money, they want to get to Philadelphia — it doesn’t matter, but they have to want it bad. If they need it, that’s even better. Something formidable is in standing in their way, and the tactics that character uses to overcome the obstacle is going to define who the character is. It’s like having a Christmas tree and then hanging ornaments on it…I worship at the temple of intention and obstacle. That’s the drive shaft of the car.”
Producer/screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, West Wing)
The Aspen Institute interview with David Brooks

And if Sorkin, Mamet, and Chayefsky don’t sway you how about a Pixar example from the same interview?

“If you look at the characters in Toy Story, beginning with Woody on down, they had one big desire which was to be there for Andy. To fulfill their essence of a toy, which is to make him happy. A ton of obstacles were thrown at them. And their characters were defined by how they overcame them.”
Aaron Sorkin

P.S. Intentions and obstacles leads to Conflict-Conflict-Conflict and helps you follow Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule: Don’t be boring. And Intentions, obstacles, and conflict are all cousins of The Major or Central Dramatic Question.

Related posts:
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO (?)
Screenwriting Quote #94 (David Mamet)1. Who wants what from whom? 2. What happens of they don’t get it? 3. Why now?”
Starting Your Screenplay (Tip #6) “Who is your hero, what does he want, and what stands in his way?” Paddy Chayefsky
‘There is only one plot’—A person, or group or an entity (an animal, or an alien, or whatever) wants something…” David Morrell
Character Introductions (Tip #71)
Show Don’t Tell
Show Don’t Tell (Part 2)
Writing the Pixar Way 

Scott W. Smith

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“The purpose of a ticking clock: to inject urgency and tension into the story or an individual scene.”
Screenwriter Doug Eboch (Sweet Home Alabama)
Let’s Schmooze blog

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 11.05.48 PM

The last movie I saw (Eye in the Sky) was full of anticipation, and that was set up by the ticking clock scenario. Time was of the essence for the entire film. While I have touched on the ticking clock concept in pervious posts, I realized I had not done a post dedicated to unpacking the concept in detail—so here it is:

The ticking clock is simply a device writers use to create a sense of urgency—in both the characters and the audiences. It’s not found in every film and TV show, but there are plenty of examples over the years of stories across all genres that show it’s something worthwhile to have in your toolbox.

Sometimes the ticking clock is used in a single scene and other times it basically spans the entire film.

Two examples that come quickly to mind are Back to the Future (1985) and Taken (2008). Situations where major stakes are on the line if such and such doesn’t happen within in a specific time frame.

It doesn’t have to be a literal clock ticking down (though it can be) but it must be clear to those involved (and those watching) that there will be dire consequences if some terms aren’t met before a specific deadline.

“An example of a ticking clock would be the movie Armageddon, where the team had only a short time to blow up the asteroid, or all of mankind would be destroyed when it hit Earth. This gives an underlying tension to the entire movie”
Stephen Cannell

“A time endpoint, also known as a ticking clock, is a technique in which you tell the audience up front that the action must be completed by a specific time. It is most common in action stories (Speed), thrillers (Outbreak), caper stories (where the characters pull off some kind of heist, as in Ocean’s Eleven), and suicide mission stories (The Guns of Navarone, The Dirty Dozen).”
John Truby
The Anatomy of Story

“Always helps to have a ticking clock. In Millions, the two boys have only a limited amount of time before the fortune in cash they found is worthless, as all currency is about to be converted to Euros. They are forced to solve their problem before the suitcase of money is useless.”
William M. Akers
Your Screenplay Sucks

Here are other films with ticking clocks:

127 Hours —A solo adventurer must find a way to get his arm released from being wedged in a rock crevasse before he dies from lack of food and water.
48 Hours
The  Hunt for Red October
United 93
Notorious
Back to the Future

Silence of the Lambs
Little Miss Sunshine
The Hangover
High Noon
Blue Brothers
Happy Gilmore
Unstoppable
The African Queen
and more recently The Martian.

Here’s what the ticking clock looks like on the page from the Drew Goddard written screenplay The Martian (based on Andy Weir’s book). This scene starts at page 16 after astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) survives being left behind on Mars.

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 10.53.39 PMScreen Shot 2016-04-27 at 10.54.24 PM

Even terrific indie films Winter’s Bone, Buried, and Ida have ticking clocks. Tv programs like Breaking Bad and Empire have ticking clocks related to the health issues of the lead characters.

Like any technique there are times when its use can seem heavy handed and forced—even a cliche. But that doesn’t negate that in the right hands it is a time trusted (pun intended) way to produce a sense of urgency.

Remember in Saving Private Ryan when Tom Hanks and his troop are charged with finding (and returning) Private Ryan before he’s killed on the battlefield? That qualifies as a ticking clock. As does finding (and killing) the shark in Jaws before it wrecks the town’s tourist economy.  And, now that I think about it, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, E.T. and Schindler’s List all make uses of ticking clocks. So if Spielberg doesn’t shy away from ticking clocks why should you?

Related Posts:
Conflict-Conflict-Conflict
The Bomb Under the Table 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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“When you map your life in retrospect there’s a bit of a blind cartographer at work.”
Jim Harrison
Off to the Side: A Memoir

This is a screenwriting blog that strays off the reservation (the reservation being Hollywood). Or as the official blog of Tom Cruise said a few years ago, “For a more off-beat look at writing, the Screenwriting from Iowa blog provides screenwriters with a slightly removed take from the Hollywood norm.”

We’ve been remembering writer Jim Harrison who died last Saturday so I thought we’d take a little trip today down to Key West and introduce you to a little off-beat film— Tarpon (1973)—that featured Jim Harrison and the music of Jimmy Buffett.

There’s been plenty written and said about Superman v Batman in the last few days since its release but for some reason here’s the only thing I could find recently said about the obscure 40+ year old documentary on tarpon fishing:

“[Director] Guy de la Valdene had all the money and sent a crew that was all French. I speak French now, but I didn’t at the time, so there was a huge communication issue. So we’re in the Keys and taking out boats with [poet] Richard Brautigan and [novelist] Tom McGuane. It really captured the Key West of the ‘70s. It’s sort of a treasure today. But we didn’t really get paid for it. I wrote the music and Harrison was going to do the narration.”
Jimmy Buffett
Men’s Journal

And here’s another memory of Harrison that Buffett tells in the Men’s Journal that rounds out well this round of posts on Harrison:

“One time Jim and I drove his Ford Cortina from Montana to Michigan together. Just the two of us. We seemed to have all these road trips that we did together that were kind of, kind of hilarious. I loved to hear Jim’s view of the world. I don’t know how much he cared about mine. On another trip in Florida, we talked about Cuba a lot. I told him about my grandfather, who was a ship captain who took his family on board in those days, back in the early 1920s. My father spent his first birthday in Havana Harbor, and there’s a family story that my grandfather put up a signal flag to celebrate my dad’s first birthday, and all of the other ships in the harbor started signaling back. So all the sailing ships in Havana Harbor had their flags up for my dad’s first birthday. And he loved that story. Well, the next thing I knew, he told me to look at Legends of The Fall when it came out. The opening of one chapter it says Tristan took a ship to somewhere, and there’s this passage about it. And he told me later, he said ‘Yeah, I did that for your grandpa and your dad.’ He put it in the book.”

P.S. “Jim [Harrison] became famous for his fiction, celebrated internationally as a storyteller of genius, but through all the years, and the novels and novellas and films that came with them, he remained a poet, his life syncopated with contrapuntal complexities and the chromatic cadences of rural landscapes.”
Terry McDonell
The New Yorker, Jim Harrison, Mozart of the Prairie

P.P.S. In 2008 Tarpon became available on DVD. Here are a couple of quotes about the doc:

“Tarpon is a timeless and beautifully executed film about life, sport and culture. You’ll be moved, amused, outraged and, most of all, entertained.” 
Tom Brokaw, Journalist and Author

“This long-lost gem of a film has acquired cult status in the fly fishing world, and with good reason. It has the most breathtaking footage of the tarpon-stalking experience that you’ll ever see. Like the fish itself, this is a work of art.” 
Carl Hiaasen, Author

Related posts:
Writer Jim Harrison
Pat Conroy & Rehearsing for Death
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (Part 1)
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (Part 2)
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (Part 3)
Havana Daydreamin’

Scott W. Smith

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Today my wife and I celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We met in an elevator in Burbank, California and married in a covered bridge in Vail, Colorado, and have experienced many of the ups and downs of any relationship that has endured 30 years.

I put together 30 pictures that symbolized the sweeping overview of our marriage and shared it with friends. I’ll spare you 30 pictures but will share a favorite one of mine that was taken in 1999 when we backpacked across Europe in our most memorable travel adventure together.

15-VeniceThis afternoon we went to a movie that is easily one of the best I’ve seen this year— Brooklyn. It also happens to be a movie about new adventures, the search for love, and the complexity of choices we face in life. (With a nice Ireland/Italian/American mix to the story.)  John Crowley directed the script written by Nick Hornsby (High Fidelity) based on the New York Times best selling  best selling novel Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín. I should add that is was beautifully shot by cinematographer Yves Bélanger. (But across the board, from cast to crew, this is a finely crafted movie.)

Scott W. Smith

 

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