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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Haggis’

“What is it about?”

thirtysomething was the first sort of comedy/drama on which I really figured out how to write. And that was due to the show runners and wonderful filmmakers, Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick. I wrote my first script for them, and they came to me and said, ‘really good script Paul, now what is it about?’ I didn’t know what they were saying, because it was all there.

“They amplified what they were saying with ‘where does it come from within you, what questions are you asking about yourself?’ I thought, ‘I’m suppose to do that?’ It was an epiphany to me that writers had to look inside themselves. You can date most of my writing from that moment, when I began to really look inside myself.”
Two-time Oscar-winning producer/writer/director Paul Haggis
Hollywood Chicago interview with Patrick McDonald

Note: The TV show thirtysomething began airing in 1987 and Haggis was born in 1953 so he’d have been thirty something himself (35ish) when he had his writing epiphany. It would be hard to find a more electic writer than Haggis. His early credits include writing Scooby-Doo cartoons and The Love Boat, the sitcoms One Day at a Time and Diff’ent Strokes, the TV dramas L.A. Law and thirtysomething, he was one of the creators of Walker, Texas Ranger, he’s written two James Bond movies, co-wrote the video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and most remarkable wrote and co-wrote the Oscar-winning best pictures of 2005 and 2006—Million Dollar Baby and Crash. His most recent film is Third Person.

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Emotional Autobiography (2.0)
Cheap Therapy
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Scott W. Smith

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“I think all stories are emotionally based. From comedies to action adventures. If you don’t have the emotional center of a piece then you lose everything else.”
Writer/director Paul Haggis

“In L.A. nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into each other just so we can feel something.”
Det. Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) in Crash

“I was carjacked in 1991 and we writers don’t react like human beings, rather than rage or anger I became curious about who these kids were that stuck guns in my face. It took a long time, every year I’d ask myself questions about them because they were never caught. I just wondered who they were. Were they best friends? Had they just met each other that night? What was their worldview? I didn’t know. I never  intended to write about them, but about ten years later I woke up in the middle of the night…and I just kept following the characters. So 10 o’clock in the morning I had this entire 30 page outline done. I thought it was a TV series at first and tried to pitch it and no one wanted to buy it. And a year later after writing Million Dollar Baby on spec I was still unemployed, so I called my friend Bobby Moresco and I said, ‘I’ve got these pages and I think it’s a movie,’ and he said,’no it’s not.’ I said, ‘I think it is.’ He said, ‘we can make it into one,’ and two weeks later we had a first draft.”
Writer/ Director Paul Haggis
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters interview with Mike De Luca

Haggis and Moresco won an Oscar for their Crash (2004) screenplay and the film won the Oscar for Best Film of the Year. And Haggis’ gut was right in the  Crash (2008-2009) was developed by creator Glen Mazzara into a TV series in 2008 starring Dennis Hopper.

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Emotional Archaeology
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Scott W. Smith

 

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“Usually the characters are where I start [the writing process] and then I continually ask myself, ‘what’s the worst thing that can happen to this character?’ I love finding the worst things happening at the best moments of a person’s life.”
Paul Haggis

“Trust is the most important thing in any relationship. Never lie to an actor. Often as directors we are asked to lie, because the producer says, ‘you can only shoot for 10 more minutes,’ because of this reason or that. And you want to keep the actor on your side. You don’t want to tell them you can only shoot for 10 more minutes because it’s a budgetary thing. And so you say, ‘no, no it’s this reason’—and it comes back and bites you in the ass each time. You got to go up and say, ‘I’m really sorry, we just took seven hours shooting the other side on her coverage, and now we have to turn around and do yours in 10. That’s what we got.’ And then the actor can deal with that and go, ‘OK.’ So trust is incredibly important. The great thing about hiring really skilled actors is they can take it to a level that you never imagined. And if they trust themselves they’ll discover things in those moments that they didn’t know was going to happen and you didn’t know. And you just hope the camera’s in focus.”
Two-time Oscar-winning producer/director/writer Paul Haggis (Crash)
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters interview with Mike De Luca

Here’s the trailer from Crash (2004) which is full of horrible things happening. BTW–Horrible things=conflict. Followed by a well written, acted and directed scene from Crash.

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Protagonist = Struggle

Scott W. Smith

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“I think it’s good for a writer to always be an outsider of some sort.”
Canadian-born screenwriter Paul Haggis

“When I’ve spoken at colleges and schools and—after you give the long spiel about writing from the heart, and all that stuff—the writers always ask, ‘What are people looking for?’ And I say, ‘Stop, stop thinking that right now.’ The really great producers don’t look for that anyway. They’re looking for an individual voice. They’re looking for a story that moves them.  And if you start thinking, ‘What do they want?’ and write that, then you’re never going to reach down to that great place.”
Two-time Oscar-winning producer/director/writer Paul Haggis (Crash)
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters interview with Mike De Luca

Note: Haggis co-wrote both Crash and Million Dollar Baby on spec. The end result was a total 13 Oscar nominations, and seven wins for those movies.

P.S. Screenwriting Summer School homework: Take all advice with a grain of salt. Plenty of people  started their careers with Roger Corman by asking what he wanted. Keep in mind that the above quote is from an Oscar-winning screenwriter. But when Haggis was starting out in his career he wrote for The Richie Rich/Scooby-Doo Show and The Love Boat. And despite Billy Ray’s quote (Screenwriting Litmus Test) “Never ever write a movie that you yourself wouldn’t pay to see”—I’m not 100% sure Oscar-nominated writer/directed John Sayles wanted to see Piranha (1978) or Alligator (1980), scripts he worked on early in his career. But as far a spec scripts, I say absolutely write something from the heart that you would want to see (and hopefully one a few other people would also like to see ).

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The Outsider Advantage
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Finding Your Own Voice Henry Miller quote
The ‘Piranha’ Highway “It’s funny the things you would do when you’re starting out in your career that you probably wouldn’t do the same later.”—Director Joe Dante (Piranha)
Coppola & Roger Corman
Filmmaking Quote #7 (James Cameron) The Canadian-born writer/director who stands at the top of the Hollywood box office.

Scott W. Smith

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Since The Hurt Locker is Mark Boal’s first screenplay I wondered how he first made contact with producer/director Kathryn Bigelow. According to an LA Times article by Claudia Eller Boal & Bigelow first met “years earlier when she developed a TV series for Fox based on an article he wrote about an undercover drug agent.”

With that answer out of the way, I began to wonder where Boal’s picked up how to write a screenplay since he was a trained journalist. And I found the answer in the  article “Inside The Hurt Locker with writer Mark Boal” by Jen Yamato.

Yamato:  Coming from a background in journalism, were you prepared to write in terms of cinematic storytelling?

Boal: No, not really. I was really lucky in that I had worked before that on In the Valley of Elah with Paul Haggis, so that was my introduction to screenwriting. I learned a lot from Paul. Kathryn was very generous with her time and taught me a lot, too, so between the two of them I got my feet wet.

The time in Iraq was really research, and I did additional research after that. What it did was it enabled us to make something that was pretty faithful to what life was like in 2004.

Ahhhh, it all makes sense. Haggis (who I quoted back in November) cut his writing chops back on shows like the Love Boat back in 1985 and many other TV programs before winning back to back Oscar awards for writing the scripts for Crash and Million Dollar Baby. I kept wondering how Boal pulled off such a great first script. Not to take anything away from Boal or the research he did in Iraq, but what a great opportunity he had to have mentor-like relationship with an multiple Academy Award-winning screenwriter who has picked up a few things in his 20+ year career. And then add Bigelow’s experience on top of that I’m guessing that Boal has a pretty solid understanding of screenwriting and I look forward to his next film.

The Writer’ Store is selling The Hurt Locker script published by Newsmarket and Storylink  will also be hosting a live Q&A with Boal on February 16, 2010. You can submit questions online at Storylink.

Related posts: Pandora vs. Baghdad

First Screenplay= 9 Oscar Nominations

Scott W. Smith

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In 2006 the first person in more than 50 years to win back to back Oscar Awards in screenwriting was Paul Haggis. He then followed his award-winning scripts Million Dollar Baby and Crash with another Academy Award nomination in 2007 for his screenplay Letters from Iwo Jima.

Haggis had a background in theater and construction before moving to Los Angeles in his early twenties from London, Ontario—which makes him almost a Midwesterner as London is less than an hour from the Michigan state line. Soon after arriving in L.A. he landed his first TV credit on Love Boat in 1985 which lead to more opportunities in television, some more memorable than others; Heathcliff, One Day at a Time, Who’s the Boss, L.A. Law, Different Strokes, The Facts of Life, thirtysomething, Walker, Texas Ranger, EZ Streets, Due South, Michael Hayes. Family Law.

He worked on hundreds of TV episodes which is a staggering amount of writing which he credits for teaching him how to write, paid the bills rather well, but also created in him a to write the kind of scripts that feed his soul. That process took a few years.  By the time he won his first Oscar he was in his early 50s with three decades of writing credits behind him.

According to Haggis the impetus for writing Crash was being car jacked in 1991 followed by wondering ten years later who were these young guys who stuck a gun in his face. Where did they come from? He explored that creatively.

“I like asking myself  difficult questions—I don’t think writers should write about answers, I think they should write about questions.”
Paul Haggis
The Dialogue

Below is a ten minute version of the interview from The Dialogue.

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