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Posts Tagged ‘Quentin Tarantino’

“Now is the time in my career to do the good book, just because it would make a good movie….”
—Writer/director Quentin Tarantino
ReelBlend podcast, July 5, 2021

In the past week I’ve listen to over 10 hours of interviews from various podcasts of Quentin Tarantino talking about his new novelization of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. One of the most common questions is what will his tenth and final film be. Here’s a short list of possibilities that Tarantino has uttered into the world or others have speculated would be a good option for him to pursue.

An R-rated Star Trek

A remake of Reservoir Dogs (his first film) with an all-black cast

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Part 2

Kill Bill, Part 3

First Blood (sticking closer to David Morrell’s novel verses the 1982 version starring Stallone as John Rambo)

Lady in Red a remake of the 1979 film written by John Sayles, but with a proper budget and Tarantino’s 30 years of directing experience

Personally, I’d love to see the new dad Tarantino do a Disney kid’s film for his reportedly final movie. But since he’s vowed to never work with Disney after a dispute over a screening of The Hateful Eight, I’ll stick with him doing Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Here are some of my reasons:

  1. A chance for one of the greatest American filmmakers to outdo another great American filmmaker (John Huston) in doing the definitive version of one of the classic American literary works. (Huston, who directed the 1957 version, said he could never finish reading Melville’s long novel.)
  2. Moby Dick is a violent revenge story, with a layer of transcendence. (Shades of Kill Bill/Pulp Fiction and other Tarantino films). He could have Samuel L. Jackson give the sermon on Jonah.
  3. Having just been to the Whaling Museum in Nantucket in June, I was surprised to find just how eclectic and multicultural the whaling industry was 200 years ago. In re-reading the book for the first time in probably three decades, one of the things that stood out to me was how Nantucket whaling ships dominated the market attracting whalers from around the globe to make up crews: Native Americans, Africans, Italians, Chinese, Tahitian, Irish, English, Spanish, French, Icelanders—basically everywhere.
  4. The ultimate hang-out scenario. Tarantino loves hang-out movies and once said Rio Bravo was one of his favorite hang-out movies. There the cowboys on a cattle drive have enough down time to have Ricky Nelson breakout his guitar and sing a song with Dean Martin.

Of course, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a mini-plot, hangout movie. Other hangout movies Tarantino likes are Fandango and Big Wednesday. As whalers went further and further out to sea they were gone for as many as three or four years at a time. Lots of hangout downtime. In chapter 53, Melville writes about what was called a “gam” where boats would met out at sea far from home (like the South Pacific). Little social get togethers on the high seas to trade stories, news, and songs.

5. Captain Ahab is one of the great characters in literary history. Though Gregory Peck didn’t not care for his performance in the 1956 film version, it was one of his more memorable roles. Other fine actors to tackle the role of Ahab include John Barrymore, Patrick Stewart, and William Hurt. While the dangerous whaling business was a young man’s game, the captain and his first and second mates were older. The older and more weathered Cruise (and his laser focus) could pull off the single mindedness that Ahab has in his quest to find the white whale. It would also help Cruise in his quest for an Oscar. (And Tarantino is a fan of Cruise’s work and the two even met to talk about the possibilty of Cruise playing the role of Cliff in Once Upon (the one in which Brad Pitt won an Oscar). Can you hear Cruise saying, “I’d strike the sun if it insulted me” or “I don’t give reasons, I give orders!”?

6. Now while Tarantino has a list of actors he’d like to work with, one of the actors that Cruise said he’d like to work with is Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson. Tarantino’s Moby-Dick would allow that opportunity.

Here is how Melville describes the 6’7″ Queequeg (who has “otherworldly tattoos” and sleeps with a Tomahawk):

“He looked like a man who had never cringed and never had had a creditor. Whether it was, too, that his head being shaved, his forehead was drawn out in freer and brighter relief, and looked more expansive than it otherwise would, this I will not venture to decide; but certain it was his head was phrenologically an excellent one. It may seem ridiculous, but it reminded me of General Washington’s head, as seen in the popular busts of him. It had the same long regularly graded retreating slope from above the brows, which were likewise very projecting, like two long promontories thickly wooded on top. Queequeg was George Washington cannibalistically developed.”

Queenqueg is from an island “not down in any map” but thought to be in Polynesia. The image of The Rock tossing a harpoon would definitely be included in the trailer.

7. Melville’s Moby Dick starts out from the perspective of Ishmael, who is a polymath who understands ancient history, poetry, philosophy, Shakespeare, biblical scholarship, zoology, and enlightenment anthropology. I’m not sure who would play him, but it’s the person that Tarantino could funnel his intellectual stream of thought.

8. Tarantino says his last film will not be something “frivolous” and Moby-Dick would be anything but frivolous. And since his script for Jackie Brown was based on an Elmore Leonard novel it’s not like he’s breaking a sacred rule by using someone else’s work as a foundation.

9. Details and rabbit trails. Both Melville and Tarantino love to dive into minutiae. One of the reasons Melville’s book is so long is that he seemingly covers not only every aspect of life aboard the Pequad, but a beginner course in Cetology. (Just what every high student steeped in rapid digital technology wants to spend a class assignment learning about between watching and posting YouTube and TikTok videos.)

But Tarantino has also stated that there is a 99% chance that his final film will an original story/screenplay. And while he says he could change his mind, he says that he doesn’t see trying to “out epic” Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. He sees his final film being more like the epilogue of a book. Maybe a video store-centered story in the style of High Fidelity will be how Tarantino rounds out the feature film side of his career. Back to his roots.

But it was fun to speculate.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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In this same New Bedford there stands a Whaleman’s Chapel, and few are the moody fishermen, shortly bound for the Indian Ocean or Pacific, who fail to make a Sunday visit to the spot. I am sure that I did not.
Moby Dick, Chapter 6, written by Herman Melville

I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw the 1956 version of Moby Dick, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t know the director (John Huston), the star (Gregory Peck), or the actor playing Father Mapple (Orson Welles). It was probably something I stumbled upon in my youth while watching TV on a rainy Saturday afternoon. What I do remember is the minister climbing into the pulpit shaped like a boat. It was visually stunning.

Here’s the sermon that Welles reportedly did in one take. It’s not the sermon on the mount, and I don’t know how theologically accurate the sermon is, but Welles has quite a commanding delivery. (The film version sermon written by Ray Bradbury with the director John Huston is significantly shorter than the book version Melville wrote in chapter 9.)

Last week, I revisited the film version of Moby Dick after part of my recent vacation took me to New Bedford, Massachusetts. The film was not shot in New Bedford, but there is a ship shaped pulpit in Seaman’s Chapel there. (When I stopped by on July 4 it was closed for the holiday, so I could only take exterior photos.) Moby Dick author Herman Melville visited this church in 1840 before setting out to sea on a whaling boat.

I imagine someone has written extensively on sermons in movies, but here’s a short list of movies I came up with.

On The Waterfront (1954)

The Apostle (1997)

Tender Mercies (1983)

Sister Act (1992)

I’ll Give My Life (1960)

Places of the Heart (1984)

The Preacher’s Wife (1996)

The Hotel New Hampshire (1984)

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

Elmer Gantry (1960)

Leap of Faith (1992)

MARJOE (1972)

The last three on that list could be filed under hypocritical preachers. And the last one I’d never seen or even heard about until writer/director (and encyclopedia of film history) Quentin Tarantino mentioned the name Marjoe Gortner in passing on his recent interview with Joe Rogan.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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It is basically Stephen King saw A Nightmare on Elm Street [1984] and did his ripoff of it. The [1988] book It is Stephen King’s ripoff of Nightmare on Elm Street. He just replaces Freddy Krueger with Pennywise. It’s just exactly like he sees Nightmare on Elm Street—Oh wow, that’s goes that’s a really neat idea. That’s really clever. That’s cool. Well, let me take that idea and do my version of it. Now, his version of it is going to be a 560 page novel. As opposed to a one-dimensional character, and at most two-dimensional characters, he’s going to have four-dimensional characters. And the whole history of everyone of them as far as the kids and the relationships with their parents, and their parent’s relationships, and the whole town will be a thing. He’s a terrific writer in that regard, so he fills it full with minutia, and he fills it with his good prose. And he fills it full of his good writing, which is what Wes Craven didn’t have. Take away all that cake frosting, and all the little frosting flowers that are put on it and all that—it’s basically a ripoff of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
—Oscar winning screenwriter Quentin Tarantino
Eli Roth’s History of Horror: Uncut podcast

P.S. Back in 2011, I wrote a string of posts on movie cloning. If I ever revisit that concept I’ll call it movie sampling instead. Here are a couple of links showing how and why some movies are similar to other movies:
Movie Cloning (Part 1)
Movie Cloning (Pirates)
Movie Cloning (Raiders)
Stealing for Screenwriters (According to Paul Schrader)
Originality is Just Undetected Plagiarism—Example A: ‘Pulp Fiction’


Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“You’re going to get knocked down a lot. But you got to get back up.”
—Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly
(Good advice in football, and in life.)

Talent is talent. It doesn’t matter if it’s college football players or Hollywood filmmakers. I’m calling it the talent tree, but others have used the pyramid analogy.

It both cases the smallest part of the tree/pyramid is at the top (where the most talented and accomplished hang out), there’s a thick middle, and a wide (crowded) lower section.

In a few days the #7 ranked University of Miami football team plays top ranked Clemson University. Without drilling to deep into that game since this is a screenwriting blog, let me just say that if Miami upsets Clemson it will be the school’s biggest victory in over a decade—maybe since 2002.

There will be a lot of talent on display including Clemson’s QB Trevor Lawrence who is expected to be a number one NFL draft pick and Miami’s D’Eriq King. It’s not a stretch to say that whoever wins this game at quarterback has a solid shot at the Heisman Trophy (for the top NCAA player of the year).

One of the things that makes college and professional football so popular is hierarchies are decided on the field. Sure there’s occasional politics and various metrics you can tweak, but as my old high school football coach Sammy Weir used to say, “The cream rises to the top.” Here’s what that looks like in the arena of football:

Pro Football Hall of Fame (great career)
NFL Pro Bowl players (great season)
Professional (Arena, Canadian, NFL)
Semi-professional
College
High school
Pop Warner/ youth tackle football leagues
Organized flag football
Sandlot/pickup games
Toss the ball around

The University of Miami has had tremendous success over the last four decades resulting in five national championships. Dozens of players have gone on to play in the NFL. And while some have played at the highest level, you couldn’t put 11 UM players on the field who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Miami used to be known as “Quarterback U” for turning out great quarterbacks. Here’s a short list (in alphabetical order):

Ken Dorsey (Led team to 2001 National championship, first team All-American, Two time NCAA QB of the year, played in NFL for five years)
Craig Erickson (QB on 1991 National championship team, and third on UM’s all time passing leaders)
Jim Kelly (Only QB to lead pro team to Super Bowls four consecutive years)
Bernie Kosar (QB on 1983 National Championship team, two-time pro bowler with a successful career with the Cleveland Browns)
George Mira (Miami’s top QB for the school’s first 50 years. Played in the NFL and in CFL. And led his team to a World Football League championship and was the game’s MVP)
Vinny Testaverde (Heisman trophy winner and actually threw more TDs than Kelly in the NFL)
Gino Torretta (1992 Heisman Trophy winner, college football Hall of Fame, five year NFL career )
Steve Walsh (23-1 as starter at UM, QB of 1987 National Championship team)

I labor this point to say that of all the quarterback talent that has flowed through the University of Miami football program only one has made it to the top of the pyramid at the highest level. Only Jim Kelly is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And to show how brutal the talent hierarchy can be— if you field a three quarterback team from the NFL 100th Anniversary All Time Team you’re arguably left with Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and either Johnny Unitas/Dan Marino/ or John Elway.

This reminds me of the meme I saw recently saw on Twitter debating three of the greatest NBA basketball players: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James—start one, bench one, cut one.

You can do this in the animal kingdom, with corporate lawyers, and a pie baking contest at your local county fair. Everywhere. Including Hollywood screenwriters.

On a recent Scriptnotes podcast Craig Mazin talked about the high dollar that top screenwriters can earn doing rewrites (paying upwards of $300,000 a week). But he added that that amounted to only 20-30 writers. He didn’t give any names, but those are the people at the top of the pyramid. Out of 7.5 billion people in the world, there are only 20-30 on the short list. (Probably about the same for current outstanding NFL quarterbacks in the world.)

The good news is thankfully you don’t need to be Tom Brady to play football or enjoy being around the game. Ken Dorsey is now a quarterback coach with the Buffalo Bills. Others coach at the high school level or college level. Others move on from the game, including one who is probably the most financially successful person to ever wear a Hurricane uniform—actor Dwayne Johnson. This year Forbes listed him as the highest paid male actor for the fiscal year ending in June, making an estimated $87.5 million. (And as a reminder to give back, Jim Kelly established the charity Hunter’s Hope.)

All you can do is do what you can, with what you have, where you are. Once upon a time every working screenwriter today didn’t have an agent or a manager, hadn’t even written screenplay yet, and wasn’t even on the talent tree or pyramid.

You may not be the next Quentin Tarantino, but take comfort in knowing that he spent years without getting anyone interested in his writings. Then a few years trying to make a low-budget film. (And while that failed, he says it was a great learning experience.) Then he started getting opportunities to do some re-writes for $5,000 a script. Eventually it all clicked and he moved up to the top of the tree/pyramid and collected some Academy Awards. To paraphrase what FSU football coach Bobby Bowden once to said of a star player, Tarantino may not be in a class by himself—but whatever class he’s in it doesn’t take long to do a role call.

P.S. Speaking of Sammy Weir, I found this photo over the weekend of the two of us on the sideline my senior year. Coach Weir was one of the main influences of me walking-on at Miami. He had been a Little All-American when he played at Arkansas State, and played briefly with the New York Jets (as a teammate with Joe Namath). I think he came to Orlando to play for the Orlando Panthers and eventually coached at several high schools in the area and UCF early in that program’s history. He told me he thought I could play major college football and so I gave it a shot. It didn’t work out like I’d hoped, but I don’t have any regrets.

I wore #42 after my hero Paul Warfield who was a top tier talent. An first team All American at Ohio St., a six time All Pro wide receiver with the Miami Dolphins and the Cleveland Browns, two time Super Bowl champ, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and in 2019 named to the National Football League 100th Anniversary All Time Team. That’s a nice resume.

Related post:
Postcard #23 (Coral Gables)
How Much Do Screenwriters Make?
Filmmaking and Football with Ryan Coogler
Screenwriting and the Super Bowl

Scott W. Smith




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Ramesh Santanam on The Inside Pitch interview with Oscar winning screenwriter Chris McQuarrie (at the 1:58:58 mark) asked a question about how he dealt with notes from studio executive in the development process and McQuarrie told this great story about a writer who said he got a the “dumbest note he’d ever received” from an executive while working on a remake of Walking Tall (1973). The executive wanted Sheriff Buford Pusser to have a 2″x4″ piece of wood that was a character in the story. McQuarrie didn’t think giving the 2×4 a personality was a dumb note at all.

“I said that’s an excellent note. And he said, ‘That’s the dumbest note,’ Because in his mind he saw Tommy the 2X4 that was a character in the story that had some voice, or spoke to Buford. And I said, ‘Buford and his wife are building a house, or his wife to be are building a house, when the villains of the movie come to kill Buford.  And in the process they fail to kill Buford but they burn his house to the ground. And in so doing his wife is killed. And Buford ends up in the hospital. Now when he gets out of the hospital the first thing he does is he goes to the wreckage of his burned home that was going to be the home where he was going to spend the rest of his life with his wife, and he pulls a 2×4 out from one of the unfinished walls, with nails sticking out of it, and he spends the rest of the movie beating the sh— out of people with that 2×4. Now, don’t you think every time you look at that 2×4 it doesn’t have some meaning? And don’t you think that 2×4 becomes his sidekick in the movie?’” 

Once McQuarrie explained it that way the writer admitted that is wasn’t a dumb note after all.  Back in 2011, I wrote a post called Objective Correlative (Tip #48) that is the fancy literary term T.S. Eliot used to explain how objects in stories have meaning. (Though the phrase was used in the 1800s.) It’s the glass unicorn in The Glass Menagerie, Wilson the volleyball in Cast Away, and Rosebud in Citizen Kane. 

McQuarrie says when you get a note from an executive, know that you are getting a note from someone who isn’t a writer. So what you need to try to do is understand the emotion behind the note. Then you find a way to fit that note into your “storytelling philosophy.” Fix their problem with the story with your understanding.

P.S. I don’t think I’ve seen the original walking tall since it played at the Prairie Lake Drive In back in the ’70s (might have caught a few minutes in TV), but I remember that vividly the character of Buford Pusser played by Joe Don Baker. (And I’d bet that Quentin Tarantino loved the original Walking Tall which is set in his home state of Tennessee.That movie just had to influence him. Just like Spielberg has the original sled from Citizen Kane above his writing desk,  I wouldn’t be surprised if Tarantino has the original 2×4 prop from Walking Tall above his writing desk.)

I’ll have to revisit the 2012 version of Walking Tall with Dwayne Johnson to see if the 2×4 (or a chunkier 4″x4″) had a character backstory.

Scott W. Smith 

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“Originality is just undetected plagiarism.”
—Anonymous
(Some version of this quote is attributed to William Ralph Inge, Mark Twain, Herbert Paul, Paul Chatfield, Katharine Fullerton Gerould, and others.)

“I steal from every single movie ever made. I love it—if my work has anything it’s that I’m taking this from this and that from that and mixing them together….I steal from everything. Great artists steal, they don’t do homages.”
Two-time Oscar wining screenwriter Quentin Tarantino
Empire, November 1994

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The Adrenaline shot scene from Pulp Fiction is one of the most iconic scenes in the history of cinema.

Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary won an Oscar for the screenplay of the 1994 film, and it catapulted Tarantino to international fame as a writer/director. Film critic Roger Ebert remembers that when Tarantino went to the Cannes for Reservoir Dogs he was just glad to be there, but said of Tarantino when he went back with Pulp Fiction that ” the whole top floor of the Carlton has been roped off for him.”

And in his 1994 review of Pulp Fiction Ebert wrote that it “situations are inventive and original” and pointed out the scene where John Travolta and John Stolz argue over who is going to plunge the adrenaline-filled syringe into Uma Thurman’s heart: “YOU brought her here, YOU stick in the needle! When I bring an O.D. to YOUR house, I’LL stick in the needle!”

I don’t know who first detected the origin of that scene, but I just discovered it last week when I stumbled on the 1978 documentary American Boy: A Profile of – Steven Prince directed by Martin Scorsese. The Criterion Channel profile of Steven Prince calls him a “former drug addict, road manager for Neil Diamond, and actor who played the gun salesman in Taxi Driver.” Here’s one of the many unusual situations he recounted:

“I managed to get a lot of medical supplies, medical equipment that you didn’t normally have. Like we had oxygen. We had an electronic stethoscope that gave you a tape readout so you could tell how many heartbeats. We had Adrenaline shots . . . the kind of shots to bring you through when you OD. And this girl once OD’d on us. And she was out, man. And it was myself and her boyfriend. And her heartbeat was dropping down. And we got everything out, oxygen, and nothing was working. And he looks at me and says, well, you’re gonna have to give he an Adrenalin shot. And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘You give it to her’ and he said, ‘I can‘t. It’s like a doctor working on someone in his own family.’ I said, ‘That’s bullshit, you’ve known her fucking two days.’ . . .  And he said, ‘No, I can’t do it.’ So we had the medical dictionary—you know how you give an Adrenaline shot? Okay, the Adrenalin needle’s about that big, and you’ve got to give it into the heart. And you have to put it in in a stabbing motion, and then plunge down on the thing. I got a Magic Marker, make a Magic Marker where her heart was, measured down, like, two to three ribs and measured in between there and I just went [motions stabbing the syringe down and injecting the Adrenaline] and she came back like that [snaps fingers].”
—Steven Prince

Might that look something like this?:

I wondered if someone had done a mashup of Steven Prince’s story and the Pulp Fiction scene—and the answer is, of course. (Found the video below on an 2017 IndieWire article by Jude Dry. Can’t believe it took me 26 years to hear that story.)

P.S. “We found adrenaline does not increase your chances of surviving without severe brain damage. In fact, of the survivors, twice as many have severe brain damage.”
— Dr. Gavin Perkins, professor of critical care medicine at the University of Warwick Medical School in England. Source 2018 WebMD article. 

Related post:
Stealing for Screenwriters (According to Paul Schrader) 
Stealing from Shakespeare 

Scott W. Smith 

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“How did I learn screenwriting? Endless hours at the typewriter, then the computer, which came along later. It was really a lot of applied time and effort and self-study. Which is the way most people learn.”
Writer/director Frank Darabont

Long before Shonda Rhimes signed a contract with Netflix for $100 million, she graduated from a series of private schools, Marian Catholic High School in Chicago, Dartmouth College, and and MFA from USC School of Cinematic Arts. Being smart, talented, and driven, I don’t know exactly what scholarships and grants Rhimes received back in the ’80s and ’90s when she was in school, but today that education has a list price of over $500,000.

Perhaps that’s why she gives the following advice to young people interested in going to film school. (And this was before a global pandemic shook up the economy and film industry in ways that will take months or years to sort out.)

“I think that USC was really instrumental for me in getting me contacts and getting me acclimated. I came to Los Angeles not know a single person, and getting an internship, getting to know people, getting the introductions to things—USC was very helpful for that. Here’s what I think, ’cause I think film school is invaluable in that it’s an amazing little lab. And I did come in knowing a lot about production because of it, and that was really helpful as well. But I think it terms of just financially if you are hurting for money if you have to take out a lot of student loans, if there’s not a scholarship waiting for you, and you are worried about that—and frankly it’s different now. Student loans back when I went to school (because I’m an old lady) and going to school now are just different. So, to me, if you have to make the choice between going to film school, and coming out to L.A. and getting a job as a PA [production assistant] on a set, or a job as a PA in some writer’s office or something like that, get the job. Because I think there’s a lot you can get done with you writing at night, and getting a job during the day, and working your butt off and making contacts that way. I think it’s very, very, very expensive to go to school right now. And while I think that everybody should get a college education, I’m not necessarily sure you need a film school education.”
—Writer/Creator Shonda Rhimes  (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal)
MasterClass, Take the Job Over Film School

Now, you don’t need to do much digging to find production assistants in Los Angeles today complaining about the low pay and long hours of working as a PA in the film industry. On top of living in one of the most expensive cities in the United States. On top of, as of this writing, potentially being laid-off or underemployed because of the shutdown over the coronavirus.

It’s a hard business. Would Rhimes have had the same success if she hadn’t taken the educational route she took? We’ll never know. But we do know there are filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Tyler Perry who’ve had phenomenal success without ever attending college. (In fact, both of them dropped out of high school.)

But you have to create. And you have to get good enough at creating something that someone will pay you to create more and you can make a living. That’s the game. And one thing this pandemic has taught us is people still need entertainment (and toilet paper). Actual movie theaters may decline in coming months and years, but streaming content is in ultra growth mode. (Amazon, Netflix, YouTube and others have all had recent jumps in daily viewership.)

Be as creative getting an education as you are with writing stories and creating videos with your friends. Avoid getting monster student loans that follow you for decades and drag you down professionally with house payment-like monthly payments.

Look at inexpensive community colleges with solid digital media programs. (Some two-year schools now offer four-year degrees.) And, yes, there are good film schools out there that aren’t over-the-moon expensive. If you picked up basic production skills in high school, there’s a good chance you can find an entry level production position as soon as the country is back up running again.  “Hire for attitude, train for skill” was an popular expression way back when I went to film school back in the ’80s—and probably long before that.

Which brings up some bonus advice from Rhimes that is helpful if you move to New York, L.A., Atlanta or stay right where you are and take a entry-level PA job:

“A thing that I think can be really helpful for people when they get a job, and people don’t seem to know this right now, and it’s feels very obvious. If you get a job in the industry making someone coffee, making someone copies, running someone’s errands, you better make the best coffee they’ve ever had. And it better be with a smile. The ones that seemed flat out pissed that they’re there, or frustrated, or lazy, or entitled, you want them to go away.  Because you think, man, they’re just sucking the air from the room. . . . People that have a great attitude are the ones that I always end up saying, ‘What’s your script about?’ or ‘What are you doing? What are you interested in?’ Those are the people that get noticed and get their scripts read, and get advice. And get a chance. Because you think, man, they’re working hard.”
—Shonda Rhimes
MasterClass, Do Grunt Work with a Smile

Writer/director Lulu Wang is the most recent filmmaker who did a version of what Rhimes talks about. She did not go to film school but did get her undergraduate degree. (I think she took one or two film/photography classes.) Then she moved to L.A. and did various film-related assistant jobs and wrote and produced her own stuff, networked, until she got the opportunity to make Farewell. Check out the post Lulu Wang’s Day Job Before ‘The Farewell.’

Before Scott Beck and Bryan Woods wrote A Quiet Place they also decided to not got to film school since they’d been making films together since sixth grade. They did get communication degrees before moving to Los Angeles where they had a series of small successes before hitting it big. Read the post How Do You Break Into the Film Industry Without Any Connections to see their abridged version of how they did it.

And lastly, if you‘re into hacks and shortcuts, let me link to a post I wrote back in 2003 that’s one of my favorites on the subject—Bob DeRosa’s ‘Shortcut.’ 

P.S. For those of you graduating from high school or college in 2020, I know this is not how you envisioned the final months of school ideally ending.  But you’ll earn a layer of resilience that will serve you well throughout life. Go back and watch The Shawshank Redemption (1994) again with 2020 glasses. One of the main reasons that film is currently the #1 rated movie of all time on IMDB is that going through a lot of crap in life is a universal experience.

“Hope is a good thing…maybe the best of things.”
—Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) in The Shawshank Redemption
Written by Frank Darabont, based on a story by Stephen King
(Darabont was born in a refugee camp, immigrated with his family to the U.S.,  and also did not go to college. He started his Hollywood career as a PA on low budget movies and writing on the side until he got good enough to be paid for doing it.)

Additional related posts (for those without wealthy parents) and a great ending quote from Amazon’s Ted Hope:
Is Film School Worth It?  A post I wrote as a response to The $330,000 Film School Debt.
What’s It Like to Be a Struggling Writer in L.A.?
Scriptnotes Ep 422: ‘Assistants Aren‘t Paid Nearly Enough’

“If I ran a film school, I would require the students to make a feature film for just a thousand dollars. They’d learn tricks that they could apply for the rest of their lives, no matter how poorly the movie turned out.”
Ted Hope
Hope for Film, page 15

Scott W. Smith 

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“Whenever there is that struggle for power, of who is going to be the leader, that is pure Shakespeare.”
Sam Wanamker (Nicholas Hammond)
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Blu-ray extra scene)

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The other day a friend of mine watched Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood for the first time and really enjoyed it. I told him I’d written several blog posts about that movie, and he said to send him some links. When I did a search on my blog I actually discovered some blog posts I’d written with that title back in 2009.

That’s a full ten years before Quentin Tarantino released his Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood title, that I wrote ten blog posts called Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. …. The only difference was the placement of the ellipses. (My Once Upon were kind of a sweeping overview of some of the changes throughout film history.)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood… (Part 1) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 2) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 3) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 4) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 5) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 6) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 7) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 8) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 9) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 10)

I’m not saying that Tarantino lifted the title from my blog (or even knows it exist), but I did write and publish that title long before his even started writing his script. I don’t recall ever seeing the title Once Upon a Time in Hollywood used before my posts, but it’s possible someone will say that used that title ten years before I did. Or someone else did in 1940-something.

There is a book titled Once Upon a Time in Hollywood  (no ellipsis) by Juliette Michaud, but it wasn’t published until 2013.

There’s nothing new under the sun folks.

Here’s a few of the links I sent my friend:

The Unofficial ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ Film School
Once Upon a Time … in Van Nuys
Once Upon a Time in Modesto (and the American Graffiti influence on Tarantino) 
‘Once Upon a Time …’ Once Again 
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood —in 1987 (How Robert Townsend’s ‘Hollywood Shuffle’ Influenced Tarantino
Once Upon a Time … in Burbank

P.S. After seeing Once Upon nine times in the theaters, I now have the Blu-Ray and will see if the movie holds up as well at home.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“I left the theater [after seeing Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood] thinking that this was Brad Pitt— kind of like his Dirk Nowitzki 2011 Finals title. Where it’s like, oh man, I’d written the chapter on his legacy. I didn’t realize we were going to keep rewriting the legacy.”
Bill Simmons (Comparing Pitt’s now Oscar-winning later career performance to a NBA basketball player who helped his team win a Finals title—and series MVP— later in his All-Star career.)
The Bill Simmons Podcast

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I saw Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood nine times while it was in theaters. That’s right, I saw Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film nine times—don’t judge.  That tripled my viewing record of any film while it was still in theaters. It’s an amazingly rewatchable movie, so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed The Rewatchables podcast where host Bill Simmons and the gang discussed Once Upon at the Sundance Film Festival last month.

Tarantino loves hang-out movies, and I think you could consider The Rewatchables as a hang-out podcast. (In the Once Upon episode, Simmons hung out with Sean Fennessey and Chris Ryan for a lively discussion.)  I’ve been binging on back episodes for the past week, and it was no surprise that Tarantino himself popped up to hang-out on a few of The Rewatchables. These are usually long format podcasts, but here’s a short sample of the episode on the movie Unstoppable where between talking about his love for actor Denzel Washington, Tarantino spoke about how he wrote the Jules character in Pulp Fiction for Laurence Fishburne— and why Fishburne turned down the role.

Simmons comes from the world of sports analyzing (ESPN, HBO, Grantland) and brings to each podcast a fresh take on movies where he mixes his encyclopedia of knowledge on a variety of topics and sprinkles in enough sports analogues to get someone like me jazzed.

The first 20 years of my life were defined by sports. My ’70s childhood/teenage memories are full of watching the ’72 Miami Dolphins go undefeated, and the Big Red Machine winning the ’75 World Series. I played competitive baseball and football for a decade. I read Jim Boudin’s Ball Four, Gary Shaw’s Meet on the Hoof: The Hidden World of Texas Football.  and consumed sports movies like Brian’s Song, Le Mans, The Longest Yard, Rocky, and North Dallas Forty.

All of that lead for a year in college to working as a sports photographer/journalist with the Sanford Herald.  There I interviewed and/or photographed pro athletes Jack Billingham, Doug Williams, and Tim Raines. Then I walked-on to the Miami Hurricane football team and started studying movies and filmmaking.

After dislocating my shoulder in practice and having an operation, I walked-off and moved to Los Angeles in 1982 to finish film school. Back then, sports and movies were essentially two different worlds. My first spec script was titled Walk-On and I was repeatedly told Hollywood didn’t like sports films because they didn’t sell. That was years before Rudy— and a zillion other sports films.  I learned that in filmmaking, as well as sports, that timing is everything. And there’s always a talent pyramid. (One of my football coaches was fond of saying at the beginning of the season “the cream always rises to the top.”)

While in Los Angeles I worked for a few years at Yary Sports Photography, co-owned by Ron Yary. Yary blocked for O.J. Simpson and won the Outland Trophy at U.S.C, before going on to be a seven time pro-bowl player with the Minnesota Vikings. He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

That sets up why Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood and Bill Simmons resonate so much with me. I had the opportunity to drive all over Southern California (including Sunset Blvd. and Hollywood Blvd. hundreds of times) between ’82-‘87 taking team photos (including the L.A. Rams and L.A. Raiders) as well as getting a healthy dose of old Hollywood. I was also able to do business at various movie/TV studios including Disney, Warner Bros., and Paramount. It feels like half of Once Upon takes places driving around L.A., which explains why the Once Upon soundtrack has lived in my car CD player since July.

Perhaps in an alternative world, instead of being a few years older than Simmons, ideally I would have been a few years younger and ready to work on the ESPN’s 30 by 30 sports documentaries that launched in 2009—with none other that Bill Simmons as co-creator with Connor Schell.

One of the first 30 by 30 docs was directed by Billy Corban on the University of Miami National Championship football program in the ’80s and ’90s. A documentary so successful that ESPN did a second doc on on the Hurricanes.

With The U doc (along with Rudy, Friday Night Lights, Sandlot, etc.etc.) it’s easy for me to identify some with Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) about the road not taken, but also Cliff Booth’s (Brad Pitt) life ain’t so bad philosophy. Working in production has paid my bills for over three decades, allowed me to travel widely, and to work with many very creative folks.

And like  Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, I still have hope that at the end of day that just maybe (like Rick Dalton) the gates will open to yet another new chapter of life. Who doesn’t want to have hope we’re “just one pool party away” from whatever it is we’re longing for? To be like NFL great John Elway leading the Denver Broncos to back to back Super Bowl victories in the final two years of his career.

“My father always said to me I would be a late bloomer. I believe I’m the oldest person to ever win this particular award. I hope that record is broken.”
Oscar-winning speech by 74-year old David Seidler (The King’s Speech)

But I’m at a point in my life when I can truly appreciate other people’s success. That includes Simmons own “Apex Mountain” (to use a phrase he’s fond of) who’s selling his L.A. based The Ringer podcast company to Spotify in a deal reported to be in the $200 million range. Not bad for a CEO who was fired by ESPN five years ago.

That’s more stunning than if Tarantino had written an ending with Rick Dalton being cast to star in the Roman Polanski directed film Chinatown (1974) instead of Jack Nicholson. Congrats to Bill Simmons on his team for adding their version to Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood folklore.

P.S. One of the categories of The Rewatchables is nitpicks. For instance, in Once Upon they wondered if Brandy the dog that hangs out in Cliff’s trailer has someone take her out for a bathroom break during the day. I did wonder that. But my real nitpick in Once Upon revolves around a key moment of the film. At Spahn Ranch, Cliff discovers not only that he has a flat tire, but that the knife is still in the tire. First, why would you leave your knife in the tire that you flattened?  And secondly, why was only one tire punctured? If you wanted to mess with someone, wouldn’t you flatten all four tires? The only logical explanation is upon flattening the first tire, the knife got stuck. But I think it’s really an homage to Road House (1989), where Dalton (Patrick Swayze) comes out of a bar late at night (after a rowdy fight) to find a knife in his flat tire. In that case, all four tires were slashed. And it had a nice set-up and payoff in that we see in the prior scene Dalton buying four tires and sticking them in his trunk (implying that he’s two steps ahead of the bad guys, knowing they are going to slash his tires).

Related posts:
The Unofficial ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ Filmmaking School
The Dave Martinez  Redemption and the Drama of the 2019 World Series
Remembering the Friday Night Lights 
Once Upon a Time … in Burbank  (reflecting a little on Burt Reynolds )
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Part 1 of 10)

Scott W. Smith 

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Both the feature film Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood and the HBO/SKY TV program Chernobyl won some Golden Globe awards earlier this week including Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy  (OUATIH) and Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television (Chernobyl).

I was a cheerleader for both of those productions—and won’t confess yet how many times I saw Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood while in was in theaters. (But it was a personal record.)

Here are some links of posts I wrote on both of them:

ONCE UPON A TIME … IN HOLLYWOOD

Once Upon a Time … in Burbank 
The Unofficial ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ Film School
Once Upon a Time … How Quentin Tarantino Made the Leap from Unpaid to Paid Screenwriter
Once Upon a Time … in Van Nuys
Once Upon a Time in Modesto 
‘Once Upon a Time … ’ Once Again
Once Upon a Time … in the UK
Once Upon a Time … in Iowa (with Jean Seberg) 
Once Upon a Time … in Florida 
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Soundtrack)
Once Upon a Time … in Utah
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood —in 1987
Once Upon a Time … in the Harlem of the South
Once Upon a Time … in  Jacksonville 

CHERNOBYL

‘Chernobyl’: Craig Mazin’s Real Life Scary Movie Lands 19 Emmy Nominations 
Emmy-winning Writer Craig Mazin Loses His Umbrage and Finds His Happy Place 

Scott W. Smith 

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