Posts Tagged ‘Ray Morton’

“I [write] everyday: bankers’ hours—10 a.m. to 4:00—5:00 p.m. It’s a job…On a script that goes well, I’d say I spend three months outlining and two months writing. That’s ideal.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian (Shindler’s List)
Script Magazine
Interview with Ray Morton

P.S. And for what it’s worth, Zaillian writes on a legal pad sitting at his back patio. He also wrote Moneyball, Searching for Bobby Fischer Awakenings The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

P.P.S. You may not be able to write bankers’ hours, nor able to dedicate 6 or 7 hours to writing, but it is beneficial to think of screenwriting as a job and to do it everyday—even if you just chip away at it an hour a day.

Scott W. Smith

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“Ultimately, it all comes down to one of the grand old rules of screenwriting: whenever possible – show, don’t tell.”
Ray Morton
Script magazine

The Verdict

An early version of The Verdict screenplay by David Mamet:

          Galvin sitting in the deserted coffee shop in his raincoat.
          Reading a section of the paper.  He picks up his teacup, drinks.
          Lowers it to the table.

          ANGLE - INSERT

          Galvin twists tea bag around a spoon to extract last drops of
          tea.  His hand moves to his felt pen lying on the table.  He
          moves his hand to the paper, open at the obituary section.  We
          SEE several names crossed out.  He circles one funeral listing.


          Galvin sitting, raises cup of tea to his lips.  Looks around
          deserted coffee shop.  Sighs.

Now look again at the above still frame from that movie. Notice anything different? No tea cup, right? Either Mamet, or director Sidney Lumet, or  actor Paul Newman, or somebody else said, "This guy's an alcoholic—what better way of showing that than to have him knocking back a stiff one with his morning donut?" Newman's performance in that scene shows you the desperate state this man is in without a word being spoken. In fact, the whole opening minutes of the film wonderfully shows you a man in need of redemption. 

David Mamet

Memo to The Unit writers

“This is age-old screenwriting advice but it’s so true. SHOW don’t TELL. I can’t tell you how much more impactful it is on a reader to SEE a character take on an issue as opposed to being told of an issue. It would be like Han Solo saying ‘I’m a badass,’ instead of SHOWING him kill Greedo. This is a mistake I see a TON of beginner writers make. They have their characters offhandedly say something like ‘I took a year of karate lessons’ and then later in a key scene kick someone’s ass. It feels false because we never SAW them perform karate.”
Carson Reeves

“Remember, the first rule of film is Show Don’t Tell.” 
William C. Martell
Does Your Script Smell?

“In the eternal struggle to “show” and not “tell” in your screenplays, pictures can be your best friend. Instead of building a whole scene where your characters argue about how good things ‘used to be,’ just show your hero catch a glance of a picture on the fridge showing the family in happier times. In fact, look to use photographs in every aspect of your script to convey quick easy backstory about your characters (i.e. need to convey that one character is adventurous? Show a picture of them rock climbing.”
Carson Reeves


Show, Don’t Tell (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith


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“You have to over perform. It’s the secret that almost nobody’s willing to do.”
Stephen J. Cannell

Earlier this month, after Emmy-winning writer-producer Stephen J Cannell died I wrote a post (Stephen J. Cannell’s Work Ethic) on how prolific a writer he was in writing over 400 TV episodes. But yesterday I stumbled upon an older article in Script magazine that cements Cannell’s work ethic. Here are some excerpts from a Ray Morton article and interview he did with Cannell in ’08 when Cannell was the recipient of the Final Draft Inc. Hall of Fame Award.

“Working for his father during the day Cannell would come home and write for five hours every night. He did this routine for five and a half years.”
Ray Morton

(Keep in mind that this was before a single word was produced. Five and a half years of writing five hours every night.)

“I was like a machine. I swear I had a stack of material you could sit on.”
Stephen J. Cannell

“I would spend nine days getting ready for a 45-minute (pitch) meeting. My rule was that when I did pitch (I would) have six or seven fully worked-out three act plays where I could tell you every scene. Then I would come up with four or five ‘springboards.’ A springboard was a set-up and a solution—’Here’s what happens and here’s how it ends’— but I didn’t have the second act. And then I would have four or five ‘what ifs.’ A ‘what if’ is ‘What if this happened?’ I wouldn’t know the ending—it was a jump ball. So I would have 15 to 20 ideas and I would go in—and I never missed.”
Stephen J. Cannell

Morton pointed out it was that drive that lead Cannell to not only write more than 450 episodes of television, but co-create over 40 television series and start his own production company that at one point employed 2,100 people. (That’s more than a lot of towns here in Iowa.) After some FCC changes in 1995 changed the way Cannell could do business in the TV world and he turned much of his attention to writing novels and his 16th novel was just released two days ago.

When Morton asked the multiple lifetime achievement award-winner for advice to aspiring writers this was Cannell’s response:

“You have to write everyday. It’s like lifting weights. It’s just the way it is—you get stronger the more you do it, and if you aren’t working, you aren’t getting stronger. I’m very disciplined about the way I go about (writing). You know, when you say, ‘He created 42 primetime television series—how’d he do that?’ Well, you’d be surprised at what you can do if you get up* and write for five hours a day everyday for 35 years.”

* Just for the record, Cannell began his days at 3:30 AM. One more writer to add to  the Writer’s Breakfast Club.

Scott W. Smith

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Following a couple posts of Jack Kerouac and touching on his book On the Road, I found an extended passage that connects writing with traveling. I was reading this into my iPhone so I tried to stay word for word but may be off a little. It comes from screenwriter Nicholas Meyer who was asked by Ray Morton in Script magazine, “Your scripts are so well structured, how much do you think about structure when writing?”

“Structure is the most important thing to me in drama. For me to get going, I really have to have an over-arching concept of how the thing’s supposed to work and the details of it, and I suspect, are much less important to me because I think if I get that big thing right…then I’m inclined to be much more comfortable doing what I’m doing, ….once I’m know where I’m starting and where I’m going to end, the middle is going to take care of itself. I think there ought to be room…for a kind of spontaneity.  When I was at the University of Iowa,  Max Shulman,who was a very well-known humorist at the time,  came to visit the (Iowa) Writer’s Workshop. He’d written some novels and I remember somebody asking him, “Do you always have an outline when you write a novel?” And he said, “Of course!…I would no more start a novel without an outline then I would a car trip without a road map.” I remember thinking… it sounds like a boring trip, because if you’re completely  bound to the road map, you would seem to deny yourself the possibility of spontaneity, of spontaneous meaningful detours.

The analogy I give myself–-about outlining is that —-once I have the over-arching thing, the rest of it is a little to me like the headlights on a car at night, which is–-that the outline— illuminates the next stretch of the road,  but does not illuminate the whole thing. You just make the assumption by the time you catch up with where the headlights are, they’ll illuminate the next stretch of the road of the road. You try to strike a balance between a structure that seems to accommodate the overall purpose of the story in one hand on the other gives yourself room latitude to wander, to be spontaneous, and to fold all that stuff into the larger skeletal support.
Nicholas Meyer

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