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Posts Tagged ‘Nicholl Fellowship’

“Sometimes I think we have to rescue the business from the very people who own it.”
Screenwriter Billy Ray (Captain Phillips)
2012 Academy Nicholl Fellowship Keynote Speech

“Try to sell Kramer vs. Kramer today, which was a big hit [in 1979].You just can’t do it…I don’t know if there are executives that listen to this, but I believe that 15 years from now, 20 years from now I think there’s going to be some sort of semi-Nuremberg kind of trial where all the executives of today are going to be standing on a docket and someone like you is going to ‘Where were you when the art of movies just went down the sewer? When this uniquely American art form was completely sacrificed? What were you doing about that?’ And I don’t think any of them will have an answer. And that’s a sad thing…And the problem with [CGI-heavy] movies that are generated inside a computer is that when any image is possible, no image is that impressive anymore. And I think we are raising the bar for what it’s going to take to dazzle people to such a degree that eventually you’re just going to have a movie that’s just an hour and 20 minutes of explosions, because I don’t know what else you can do if it’s not going to be about character, story, and theme.”
Writer/director Billy Ray
Scriptnotes podcast interview with John August

Like a lot of feature writers, Ray has a reverence for great TV (Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Wire, Mad Men) and appreciates the Kramer vs. Kramer-like dramatic opportunities that can be found there these days. Just a few days ago his pilot for The Last Tycoon, which Ray wrote and directed and based on old Hollywoodbecame available on Amazon.  

“As I was writing the pilot I had a rule for myself which was if I had written a line that I didn’t think was good enough to be in a Mad Men episode I had to come up with another line.”
Billy Ray

Related posts:
Billy Ray’s Directing Advice
Screenwriting Quote #162 (Billy Ray)
Is TV the Best Place to Tell Your Story?

Writer/director Robert Benton-related posts (He won two of his three Oscars for his work on Kramer vs. Kramer):
Filmmaking Quote #14 (Robert Benton)
Screenwriting Quote #104 (Robert Benton)
Joy vs. Agony = Fun Writing 

P.S. To modern Hollywood’s credit the just a handful of Kramer vs. Kramer-like dramatic films at the ’16 Oscars were Bridge of Spies, Room, Brooklyn, Carol and the Best Picture winner Spotlight. To paraphrase what David Mamet once said of theater in America—movies are always dying, and always being reborn.

Scott W. Smith

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The best advice I ever heard about writing came from Paddy Chayefsky — he, of Network and The Hospital. He also wrote Marty. (That’s three Oscars.)

Chayefsky’s advice to writers was simple: Don’t think of it as art, think of it as work.

Because when a writer is stuck and he or she calls in another writer for help, that second writer doesn’t say, ‘What’s the art problem?’

That second writer says, ‘What’s not working?’ And they get under the hood and fix it together.

That’s most of what you’ll do in your career — work, problem solving. Approach it in that way and then at the end of every day, you’ll at least be able to say, ‘I did my job today.’

If you’re an artist, it’ll come out as art anyway.

…I take my son to his bus stop every morning at 7:30. I’m at my desk working by 8:00. Somebody feeds me at 1:00 and I’m back at my desk by 1:30, working until 6:00.

I don’t surf the web. I don’t gamble online. I don’t go to the local Starbucks for two hours. I don’t try to seek out old girlfriends on Facebook.

I don’t do anything that requires time. I just work.
Oscar-nominated Screenwriter Billy Ray (Captain Phillips)
2012 Academy Nicholl Fellowship awards via Medium.com

Related Posts:
“Art is Work”—Milton Glaser
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic
Writing Quote #34 (Achievable Goals)I told myself that I would only write for 15 minutes a day….”
Time Card Screenwriting
Screenwriting Quote #134 (Paddy Chayefsky)
Paddy Chayefsky Interview
Screenwriting Quote #162 (Billy Ray)
Billy Ray’s Directing Advice

Scott W. Smith

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“When I was writing Finding Forrester, I was writing it as a hobby.”
Screenwriter Mike Rich

“I knew (Finding Forrester) was a special story. I had confidence that it was. I still couldn’t get anybody to look at it. So I entered it in a competition.”
Mike Rich

The phrase “hobby screenwriter” pops up from time to time often with a derogatory tone. Much like people talk about the guys down the street with their little garage band. But the truth is— you gotta start somewhere. Before screenwriter Mike Rich (Finding Forrester, Secretariat) was paid to write screenplays he started writing screenplays as a hobby.

Rich was born in 1959 so he was almost 40 when his script for Finding Forrester was awarded a Nicholl Fellowship in 1998. So the big question is—what was he doing before that? Rich was a news director and DJ in Spokane and Portland (sometimes working the night-shift).

“A radio anchor by trade, he started writing screenplays in his late 30s as a creative outlet. Every day after work and before his children returned from school, he would sneak in two hours in front of the computer. After a few practice scripts, Rich wrote Finding Forester, a story about the relationship between a fatherless teen and a reclusive author. The screenplay won the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship award and Rich’s career was launched. Soon after, he was hired to write The Rookie for Disney, which grossed $75 million and further advanced his career. He’s been busy ever since.”
Christianity Today article by Drew Dyck

But what about that gap between completing writing Finding Forrester and winning the Nicholl Fellowship? (A place where many writers find themselves.)

“Rich tried all means to get his script out into the world: contacts, query letters and contests. Studios and production companies passed, which left the contests as his only hope. Though he didn’t make the cut in the Austin Film Festival’s screenwriting competition, winning the Academy’s prestigious Nicholl Fellowship more than made up for it.”
Yahoo! Movies

Any questions why Rich has found success writing inspirational underdog stories? Do you think there are perhaps a few parallels between Rich’s life and the character in The Rookie played by Dennis Quaid? (Rich’s second produced script about a late-blooming baseball pitcher in the major leagues.)

And now that he’s completed a decade long run throughout his 40s (in a business where 40 is considered old) his career doesn’t appear to be slowing down. A few years ago he was asked about his writing schedule.

“I get up in the morning at about 6:30 a.m. Read the newspaper and do the morning thing for an hour or so. And then I write for four hours or so. Take a lunch break. Go to the (fitness) club, maybe, just to get a break. Then I’ll write for another couple of hours. And then that’s usually it. Six hours is about my ceiling, because after six hours, you may think it’s good but … So, then you call it a day. And do it again the next day. I do it Monday through Friday and I take the weekends off.”
Mike Rich
Absolute Write interview by Jennifer Dirks

Writers are great at writing excuses. But let’s review all the excuses Rich had to not write and break in;
1) Full time job
2) Wife and kids
3) Lived outside L.A. (For the record, he still does)
4) Didn’t try hand at screenwriting until his 30s
5) Could only sneak in two hours a day writing
6) Wrote a few screenplays without success
7) Wrote Finding Forrester, but couldn’t get it optioned
8) Decided to go the contest route
9) Didn’t win contests
10) Sent script to the Nicholl Fellowship with several thousand other people

But there he is today with a screenwriting hobby turned career, and a nice stack of hit films in the last ten years. An example of the good ole’ patience, practice, perseverance school of screenwriting.

P.S. Mike Rich also did uncredited writing on the 2004 Disney film Miracle. Here’s a 2 1/2 minute video I made earlier this year surrounding the events of that team and movie.

Related  post: Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl from Ohio

Scott W. Smith

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“I start by spending as much time as possible with the people involved. And I try to be as quiet as possible, and listen and observe.”
Susannah Grant  (on her writing research of real life people)

Screenwriter Susannah Grant graduated from Amhert College and the American Film Institute, and in 1992 won the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. She then spent several years working on the TV show Party of Five and writing scripts (28 Days, Ever After, andPochantas) which all paved the way for her biggest success to date, writing the script for Erin Brockovich. In the introduction to The Shooting Script book of the script Grant explains:

I set out trying to turn a huge, complicated five-year chunk of (Erin Brockovich’s) life and work into a 120 page cohesive screenplay. The question I’m asked most about this movie is how much of it is true. And my answer is, it’s almost entirely true, but it’s not the whole truth. Any life is complex, and Erin’s, especially in the years of the PG&E trial, was a labyrinth. Writing the script was a matter of figuring out which parts of that labyrinth were essential to the story I was telling; which were germane; which were expendable; and which were inessential. but so damn funny, you couldn’t possibly leave them out.

I holed up in my office and, several months later, emerged with a finished first draft. And let me tell you—handing over a first draft over to anyone is a nerve-wracking experience, but I promise you, nothing compares to the anxiety that comes with giving it to the person on whom it is based.

The real life Erin Brockovich liked the script.  Stephen Soderbergh liked the script. Julia Roberts liked the script. Audiences liked the movie. And the Academy liked Julie Roberts enough as Erin Brockovich to give her an Oscar as Best Actress in a Leading Role. Grant also received and Oscar nomination for her script.

In a Storylink interview with Debra Eckerling, Grant further explains her writing process:

I always have a road map. It is an outline that gets revised as I move along. I start with, “How does this movie start? What’s the first scene? What’s the scene after that?” And I bite off a little piece at a time. It’s like climbing a mountain. You can’t look at the mountain top, you just have to look at the ridge you’re on.

I start with a full outline. Not every beat will be hammered down and I rarely stick to the original file. I always over-outline. … As I write, I amend and revise and condense. I wouldn’t call it an outline, I’d call it a road map that I detour from.

PS. In total, Erin Brockovich received five Academy Award nominations including Albert Finney in his supporting role as Brockovich’s boss, Ed Masry.  Finney, by the way, happens to turn 74 today. Finney came from theater where he was known for his work on Shakespeare plays. If you’ve never seen his roles in Murder on the Orient Express, Under the Volcano, or Shoot the Moon, put them on your Netflix list. Happy Birthday Mr. Finney.

FYI: If you keep track of such things, Grant’s education at Amhert College and the American Film Institute would easily cost $200,000 in today’s dollars, and take a six year commitment.

Scott W. Smith

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