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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Zemeckis’

“My story is like an American dream story. I grew up on the south side of Chicago [in a] working poor family…I was a freshman in high school when I saw Bonnie and Clyde, and I remember very profoundly there is a scene where Gene Hackman’s character gets shot in the head and he’s in this field and he’s dying. And I remember being overwhelmed with sadness and emotion. And that was the seminal moment where I go I gotta be a movie director. Right around the same time I’m watching Johnny Carson and his guest that night is Jerry Lewis. In the 60s he was like the Spielberg of the movie industry. He had like total autonomy of making his movies. So Johnny says, ‘Hey Jerry, I hear your teaching school at a university,’ and he goes, ‘Yeah, I’m teaching at USC Cinema School.’ And I went, there’s cinema school? I thought there’s a place where you can actually learn cinema. I said I gotta go to this place. I got accepted into the USC film school and that was my connection to the movie business. I came out cold turkey. I had no relatives in the movie business, nobody had a union card, and I basically got into the industry through the film school.”
Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump)
The Director’s Chair
interview with Robert Rodriguez

In 1975 Zemeckis won at the The Academy’s Student Film Award for his film A Field of Honor. Over the years his filmography includes Back to the Future, Cast Away, Flight, and The Walk (which is released in theaters next week).

Related posts:
Professor Jerry Lewis (The Total Filmmaker)
Professor Jerry Lewis (Screenwriting)
Professor Jerry Lewis (Great Filmmakers)
Jerry Lewis (Directing)
Professor Jerry Lewis (Actors)
Filmmaking Quote #13 Robert Zemeckis
Postcard #43 (Savannah)
40 Days of Emotions

Scott W. Smith

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“What Sandy [Alexander] Mackendrick did for myself and my classmates was he was the first cold water we were hit with and he prepared us how to face the business.”
CalArts film student

“Storytelling without dialogue. It’s the purest form of cinematic storytelling.”
Oscar-winning writer/director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E)
(And CalArts Grad)

“One of the tasks of the director as he transfers a screenplay to the medium of the moving-image-with-sound is almost to forget what the characters are saying and reimagine their behavior as being mute, so that all thoughts, feelings and impulses are conveyed to the audience through sound and vision—without speech. There is a curious paradox here, for when a scene has been reconstituted in this fashion the director is often able to reincorporate elements of the original dialogue in ways that make it vastly more effective. Moreover, when a script has been conceived in genuinely cinematic terms, its sparse dialogue is likely to be free of the task of exposition and will consequently be much more expressive.”
Alexander Mackendrick
On Film-making
page 6

A great example of feelings and emotions conveyed without dialogue is in Cast Away (2000) written by William Broyles Jr. and directed by Robert Zemeckis. At a big holiday family dinner, Chuck (Tom Hanks) looks down at his pager and then glances across the table at his girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt) and her expression says it all, like—”You’re not going out of town on Christmas?”

It’s a quick moment and a simple one, but one that is so core to the story. Of course, Hanks is later cast away on an island following a plane crash, but there’s a sense that he is casting away the relationship with his girlfriend for his job commitments. The moment is captured in six quick shots without a single spoken word. I couldn’t find the scene online, but it’s a great example of what Mackendrick said about conveying “thoughts, feelings and impulses” without dialogue.

Related posts:
Show, Don’t Tell (Tip #46)
Show, Don’t Tell (Part 2)
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO (?)  “IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.”
“Storytelling without Dialogue” (Tip #82) 

Scott W. Smith

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“I would never write about a character who is not at the end of his rope.”
Stanley Elkin

On Saturday I watched the movie Flight starring Denzel Washington and couldn’t help think about the last two posts I wrote quoting WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart. Mainly because the Robert Zemeckis directed film from a script by John Gatins (Real Steal, Hardball) follows the two central concepts Lockhart hit on:
1) Writing a role that would attract a star actor (Writing Actor Bait)
2) Twisting story elements a little bit to make it fresh (Screenwriting Quote #172)

In an interview with The Root Washington said of his pilot role in Flight, “The complexity was wonderful to play…this was an adventure. Starting with the screenplay and the collaboration with the filmmaker, getting a chance to fly around in flight simulators, hanging upside down in a plane and playing a drunk.” Yes, actors the caliber of Washington pick roles partly based on the “chance to fly flight simulators.” But the character Gatins created also has layers of complexity and goes through a transformational arc.

And if you have a good grasp of basic film history you’ll notice that Gatins didn’t create a totally original story (Lockhart basically says there aren’t any), but he twisted what we’ve already seen before. We’ve seen planes crash before—Fearless, Hero, The Gray, United 93, The Flight of the Phoenix, Alive, Lost, and of course, Cast Away also directed by Zemeckis. Plane crashes are primal with built-in conflict and life or death stakes.

And we’ve seen alcoholics on-screen before—Leaving Las Vegas, The Lost Weekend, The Verdict, 28 Dyas, Barfly, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, Days of Wine and Roses, Pollack, Affliction, Tender Mercies, Crazy Heart.  (Note there are quite a few Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning performances in there.) Again built-in conflict with life or death stakes.

What Gatins did was combine the plane crash with an alcoholic pilot, plus add a few lines of cocaine and the twist of a heroic act. Fresh.

It’s as if he took the headlines of the occasional pilot who is escorted off a plane because he shows up for work drunk and mashed it together with the pilot who safely landed a plane in the Hudson River saving all of the lives on board. Of course, that oversimplifies what Gatins accomplished in writing the script, but that is exactly how you start the process of making something familiar seem fresh. For the record, Gatins said he began writing Flight on spec in 1999—that’s a 13 year journey from idea to screen. It takes a little time sometimes.

“With something like Flight, I didn’t have a boss. I didn’t have a studio. It wasn’t an assignment. It wasn’t a rewrite. It wasn’t a pitch that I sold, that I had to sit down and write. There was none of that. It was literally…Interior, Hotel Room, Night…I started there. And I could go. If I am writing a sports drama, I have to limit myself. Which are movies that I love. I grew up watching them, and I have worked on a fair amount of them. Its like, they have a specific structure to an extent. You have to find your moments inside that, and be creative. You have to create those movie moments, and invest your audience in different characters, and themes, and the things that happen. But that is a specific thing. In a sports movie, you wouldn’t have a seven page monologue from the gaunt young man, who is smoking a cigarette, and you have three people close to death, and he is talking about God. That doesn’t happen. That scene doesn’t survive many movies. It just doesn’t. Its one of my favorite moments in this movie, because of the fact that we take a right turn. It serves a great purpose, because our two characters meet. But you could argue that the movie would exist without it. Or even a much shorter version of that scene. We shot it exactly as I wrote it, and there it is in the movie.”
John Gatins
LA Times article by Nicole Sperling

The movie Flight is also a great example of emotional screenwriting mixing a simple concept and a complex character.

Lastly, coming full circle with those Lockhart posts, I should point out that Flight was one of the last projects Washington’s agent Ed Limato gave him before he passed away. Limato’s client list at one time or another included Russell Crowe, Meryl Streep, Sylvester Stallone, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Marlon Brando—so he had a long track record of picking the right roles for his stars. Lockhart worked with Limato for more than a decade.

November 6 update: I missed in the credits where the movie Flight was dedicated to Ed Limato. Check out the link Paramount Taking Box Office Success ‘Flight’ Directly To Academy Voters; Film Is Dedicated To Ed Limato written by Pete Hammond.

Related posts:
Where Do Ideas Come from (A+B=C)
40 Days of Emotions
To Live or Die?  —“To live or die? What drama is greater?”–Howard Hawks
What’s at Stake (tip# 9)

Remembering Ed Limato by Christopher Lockhart

Scott W. Smith

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“Studio executives kept saying, ‘Eh, time travel movies don’t make any money. Time travel movies don’t make any money.'”
Screenwriter Bob Gale

Twenty-five years ago the world embraced the movie Back to the Future starring Michael J. Fox based on a script written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis. Though Gale and Zemeckis had teamed up on Used Cars (1980) it did not have a strong release and didn’t make getting their next script made easier. Gale explains the process of writing the script and the trouble they had getting others interested in it.

“We outline the story on index cards before we start detailing the individual scenes. And we come up with our index-car structure nonlinearly; we always like to know what the ending’s going to be before we really got started. You can’t take a trip if you don’t know where you’re going…The (Back to the Future) script was rejected over 40 times. Nobody read it said, ‘Oh, we’ve got to make this.’ You know there had been no time-travel movies that had made that much money prior to Back to the Future, and again the mashup of genres was confusing for some people. We’re talking 1981, 1982…Porky’s was around that time, and that’s what everybody’s idea of comedy was—fart jokes and naked girls.”
Bob Gale
Script magazine interview with Sara Scott
Volume 16/Number 4

According to Box Office Mojo, Back to the Future ended up with a domestic gross of $210 million  and a worldwide gross of $318 million. All on a $19 million budget. Gale and Zemeckis were also nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay. And, of course, two sequels were made that added around $500 million to the worldwide gross.

And where did the original idea come from? A basement in St. Louis.

“The inspiration for making the movie, for coming up with the story is that I was visiting my parents in the summer of 1980, from St. Louis Missouri, and I found my father’s high-school yearbook in the basement. I’m thumbing through it and I find out that my father was the president of his graduating class, which I was completely unaware of. So there’s a picture of my dad, 18-years-old, and I’m thinking about the president of my graduating class, who was someone I would have had nothing to do with. He was one of these “Ra-Ra” political guys, he was probably Al Gore or something. Captain of the debate team, all this stuff. So the question came up in my head, ‘gee, if I had gone to school with my dad would I have been friends with him?’ That was where the light bulb went off.”
Bob Gale
Interview with Matt Patches 

P.S. Zemeckis was raised in the South Side of Chicago and Gale was raised in the suburbs of St. Louis. They met at USC film school.

Related posts: Screenwriting from Missouri

Scott W. Smith

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“Reflect on your present blessings, of which every man has many; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens has been dead for 139 years but that didn’t stop him from having a $132 million film this year. Dickens first wrote A Christmas Carol in just six weeks back in 1843. The book sold well from the start and also received good reviews from critics. I’m not sure how many versions of A Christmas Carol have been made into feature films and TV programs, but I believe the story first appeared in 1910 during the silent film era.

The Robert Zemeckis animated version featuring the voice of  Jim Carrey shows the lasting value (and box office value) of a good story well told.

“He went to the church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and for, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of homes, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed of any walk, that anything, could give him so much happiness.”
Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol

Scott W. Smith

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“I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America.”
Sarah Bernhardt

“You’re Abe Froman… the sausage king of Chicago?”
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

“I give you Chicago. It is not London and Harvard. It is not Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail.
H. L. Mencken

“They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way, and that’s how you get Capone!”
The Untouchables

Last week a 5.4 earthquake hit Illinois and was felt in Indiana and as far away as Iowa. Just one more way the Midwest is following those California trends. You know, I’m doing my part to export screenwriting from the Midwest and other unlikely places where people are writing so it makes sense to make another road trip and head over the Iowa state line to the east and travel into Illinois.

The epicenter of last week’s earthquake was West Salem, but from a screenwriting and filmmaking perspective the epicenter for the Midwest is Chicago. It’s the third largest city in the United States and sits with a commanding view of Lake Michigan and can rightly be called The Third Coast.

Everyone should have the opportunity once in their life to have their own version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in the windy city. Here’s my perfect Chicago day: The Art Institute in the morning, a walk and lunch at the Navy Pier, see the Cubs play at Wrigley Field, ride an architectural boat tour, a sunset dinner at the Signature Room high atop the John Hancock Center , a play at one of the zillions of theater options, a carriage ride around the Chicago Water Tower downtown and a nice room at The Drake Hotel on the Magnificent Mile with a room overlooking the Gold Coast (and where they welcome my golden retriever).

And if you have the weekend you can fit in a concert at Millennium Park and a list that just gets longer and longer. Chicago is a great city. And it alone has produced a wealth of creative talent that shines as bright as a city. (Maybe that’s why Dan Quayle once said, “It is wonderful to be in the great state of Chicago…”)  Here’s a list of writers from Illinois though I’m sure to leave out many people. (Feel free to email me additional writers with connections there.)

Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding)
Sam Shepard (True West)
David Mamet (The Verdict)
Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451)
Preston Sturges (Sullivan’s Travels)
Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan)
Ernest Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea)
Mark Brown (Barbershop)
John Hughes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
Andy and Larry Wachowski (The Matrix)
Harold Ramis  (Groundhog Day)
Bill Murray (The Razor’s Edge)
Greg Glienna (Meet the Parents)
Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness)
John Logan (Gladiator)
Jon Favreau (Swingers)
Tina Fey (Mean Girls)
Michael Mann (The Insider)
Phil Vischer (VeggieTales movies)
Roger Rueff (The Big Kahuna)
Robert Zemeckis,  (Back to the Future)
Edward Zwick, (The Last Samurai)
Diablo Cody (Juno)
John Logan (Hugo
Garry Marshall (The Odd Couple-TV)

From the odd connections category, Evangelist Billy Graham (who used to have a film studio in Burbank) and horror specialist Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street) both graduated from Wheaton College about 30 miles from downtown Chicago. Blues Brother, and writer/actor John Belushi graduated from Wheaton High School.

Film critic and produced screenwriter Roger Ebert (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) and screenwriter/Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee (Eat Drink Man Woman) are both are both graduates of the University of Illinois system.

Filmmaker and book publisher Michael Wiese is originally from Illinois. I have at least a dozen production books that Michael Wiese Productions has produced. If you’re not familiar with their books three to check out are Save the Cat (Blake Snyder) , Shot by Shot (Steven D. Katz) and The Hero’s Journey (Christopher Vogler).

A special mention must be made to two pillars of writing from Chicago: Pulitzer Prize winner Saul Bellow (Humboldt’s Gift) and Studs Terkel (Hard Times).

The list of well-known actors with Chicago ties is too long to list but here are a few;  Harrison Ford, Vince Vaugh, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, John and Joan Cusack, Virgina Madsen, Kim Novak, Bill Murray, Terrance Howard, Red Foxx, Bonnie Hunt, Patricia Arquette, Karl Malden and Gary Sinise.

Chicago is the kind of place where probably every night of the week you could attend a film related function between the various school, colleges and professional groups. There are plenty of ways to avoid writing if you live in the Chicago area.

But, of course, your goal is probably to write while living outside L.A., get sold and get produced. (I’ve said before you could live in West Africa or West Covina and feel like you’re far from the Hollywood system.)

Let me tell you about a fellow I just found out about via the DVXuser.com forum. Kyle is a radiologists living in the suburbs of Chicago. He owns a DV camera package and writes screenplays. In other words he was like every other writer with a dream…until a couple weeks ago.

He wrote a screenplay called The Lemon Tree and had a lawyer he met in Chicago rep him in L.A. and earlier this month sold the script for $300,000 against $600,000. He has no plans to quit his job and move to L.A. The next step is seeing if the film gets made and then if it finds an audience. But as far as a writer outside the system Kyle has hit the jackpot, and proves it can be done.

(You can read the entire thread and download a well-informed screenwriting document Kyle has put together at DVXuser.com. Look under filmmaking–screenplay/writing/Sold it! The DVXuser forum is a wealth of info for the independent filmmaker and a supportive community. Here’s a little poser shot of me with my DVX camera back in ’06 when I was shooting a documentary in Chicago.)

If you want further proof that screenplays can be sold by screenwriters outside L.A. here is a quote that screenwriter and author of Save the Cat! Blake Snyder sent me when I asked him about writers living outside L.A. selling their work:

“I have said often that geography is no longer an impediment to a career in screenwriting. I know of one woman who decided to be a screenwriter in Chicago, wrote 5 scripts, sold 2 and got an agent and manager, all while never leaving the confines of her condo.  It starts with a great concept! You have a great idea and a great poster, if you execute that well, you will get phone calls — and deals.  The key is: the great script!  And that starts with the step by step process I outline in Cat!  Go get ‘em!”

On the footsteps of The Dark Knight (Batman) being filmed last summer in Illinois, the current big movie being shot there is Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant starting Matt Damon with a funky mustache. The story takes place in Decatur and is based on Kurt Eichenwald’s book about a scandal at Archer Daniels Midland’s Company (ADM) that involved the FBI. Ultimately ADM was fined $100 million for a conspiracy involving replacing sugar with high fructose corn syrup. Shades of Soderbergh’s other film about corporate greed,Erin Brockovich?

Other helpful sites about the filmmaking scene in Illinois here are a few recommended sites:

Reel Chicago

Chicago Script Works

Midwest FIlm

Chicago Screenwriters

Illinois Film Biz


So come on, if Abraham Lincoln can go from a one room log cabin to become the 16th President of the United States (via Illinois) certainly that should give you some motivation to overcome a few obstacles in your life to get your scripts written and sold. Or maybe to buy a camera and make your own films. Even if you live in Springfield or Kankakee.

Speaking of Kankakee, if Screenwriting from Iowa had a theme song it might be Chicago native Stevie Goodman’s City of New Orleans because it captures a flavor of a life beyond Hollywood:

Riding on the City of New Orleans
Illinois Central Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail
All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields
Passin’ towns that have no names
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles

Chorus
Good morning, America, how are you
Don’t you know me, I’m your native son
I’m the train they call The City of New Orleans
I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done

And if I can pick a B-side song I’ll go with, Jim Croce’s tribute to the South Side of ‘ole Chicago — Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.

Photographs & Text Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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Thanks in part to the plethora of new books and seminars on screenwriting, a new phenomenon is taking over Hollywood: Major scripts are skillfully, seductively shaped, yet they are soulless. They tend to be shiny but superficial.”

                            Richard Walter
UCLA Screenwriting Professor

 “Where do we go to solves life’s problems? We go to the movies… Stories are the language of the heart.”

John Eldredge

In my post “Screenwriting by Numbers” I pointed out some basic numbers common to the majority of produced screenplays. But now we’re going to go beyond mere numbers and talk about what make movies work beyond the level of entertainment.

The only time I watch cable TV is when I’m on the road. And it seems like every trip I take The Shawshank Redemption is on some channel. Maybe they should just dedicate a channel to that movie.  The Shawshank Channel. The simple reason that film is on so much is people love that film. It trades places with The Godfather on IMDB.com as fans’ favorite film.

It’s the highest rated film by Yahoo! Movies and by the 2006 the readers of Empire magazine.

The Shawshank Redepmtion is a movie people identify with. Not because they were once in a prison in Ohio back in the day, but because through all of life’s danger, toils and snares — we need hope. We can sympathize with Andy Dufresne and his predicament. An early Jimmy Buffett song comes to mind, “There’s nothing soft about hard times.”

For any writer looking for excuses don’t look to Stephen King. Long before he wrote the novella that would become The Shawshank Redemption he was an unpublished writer with a stack of rejections, teaching high school English in Hampden, Maine and living in a trailer with his wife and kid and having trouble making ends meet. He wrote his first novel (Carrie) in a laundry room balancing a typewriter on his knees. (Please read the February 12 post Screenwriters Head Back-to-Work (Tip #2) if you want to get rid of the “artist” monkey on your back.)

Once King had success then he had to deal with a drug and alcohol addiction as well as getting hit by a van while the driver was reaching for “one of those Mars bars.” A collapsed lung, a broken leg in nine places, a shattered hip and after who knows how much physical therapy and pain, he is still writing away.

Stephen King understands hard times.

We understand hard times. That’s a universal theme that doesn’t need explaining.

“Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.”
                 Forrest Gump, (While Jenny throws rocks at the house she grew up in.)

“Are you going to be something else I have to survive?”
                                                                                          Erin Brockovich
“I coulda been somebody.”
                                                                                          On the Waterfront 

“You don’t throw a whole life away just cause it’s banged up a little.”
 Seabiscuit 

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”
William Butler Yeats
poem, The Second Coming 

“You’re breaking up with me?! I thought you were proposing.”
                                                                                          Legally Blonde

“I wish I could tell you that Andy fought the good fight, and the Sisters let him be. I wish I could tell you that, but prison is no fairy-tale world.”
                                                                             The Shawshank Redemption 


I think Shawshank’s ongoing popularity is because the story simply transcends film. Director Frank Darabont talks about getting many letters from people thanking him for making that film because it helped them through a difficult time in their life.

It’s doubtful that when King wrote the Shawshank story or when Darabont wrote the script that either were thinking that this male dominated prison story would bring comfort to a woman going through a divorce. But good stories have a way of creeping into our lives in unexpected ways.

In seminars I’ve given it’s amazing to see how the same films pop up when I ask what films people watch over and over again:

The Wizard of Oz
Forrest Gump
Apollo 13
Star Wars
Casablanca
When Harry Met Sally
Princess Bride
Good Will Hunting
Rain Man
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Sound of Music
Braveheart

Something resonates in those films with large groups of people. I heard director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future) recently say on a DVD commentary that his films were a mixture of spectacle and humanity. I think that would be true of most of the above films.

When we write we are writing about ourselves. A good part of writing is self-discovery. The odds are good that in the films you see over and over again you are identifying with a character or a situation.

This is where we tap into writing beyond the numbers. It’s the reason that films that don’t fit the typical Hollywood mold find an audience.

Have you ever walked into a show home and been impressed at first only to feel that it’s well decorated but impersonal? The house I grew up in had a place in our kitchen where we had a growth chart on a wall. It was fun to look back over the years and see how you had grown. I’ve never seen a growth chart in a show home. No worn out carpet, no stacks of paper, no drawings by the kids on the refrigerator. Nothing authentic. No sign of life.

Just as your home should be full of stories and memories- and life- so should your screenplays.

“There should be something in the writing that indicates that it was written by a person.”

William Zinsser
On Writing Well

What sets your writing apart? The same thing that sets you apart from the crowd.

Your vision, your life experiences, and your worldview. It is why first time writers (like Diablo Cody) sometimes break in with an original story. (By the way, speaking of Cody, the Juno DVD is out this week.) This is also where Screenwriting from Iowa…or wherever you live outside LA comes into play big time. Here is why I think writers from outside LA, or writers in LA that keep their hometown non-LA roots, have a better chance of showing audiences something new.

“If you try to write honestly about yourself, you’re writing about every single individual in the world.”
                                                                 Walter Brown Newman
Oscar & Emmy nominated Screenwriter

I heard a speaker once say that basically we all grew up in the same neighborhood. I took that to mean we all long for the same basic things; Food, shelter, love, dignity, purpose.

Primal needs as Blake Snyder would say.

You don’t have to be a salesman to identify with Willy Loman’s need for significance in Death of a Salesman.

Sometimes as writers we jump through all kinds of strange hoops trying to guess what will sell. We err on one side by trying to write the sensational story that everyone will love and on the other side by writing the small personal story where nothing really happens.

“It’s all one story, really, the story of who we are and how we relate and how we get it wrong.”
                                                                                                Ron Bass
Rain Man

“We spend much of our lives trying to reconcile these two halves of our spirit and soul — call it identity –as we struggle to figure out just what and who we genuinely are…The reason we go to movies is precisely to explore these perpetually unanswerable questions regarding our identity.”

                                                                                                   Richard Walter

Think how these films deal with the theme of identity (who am I?):

Babe
Big
Toy Story
Shriek
Stand By Me
Fight Club
Elf
Lion King
Finding Nemo
Seabiscuit
An Officer and a Gentleman
Sense and Sensibility
Office Space
The Incredibles

They’re all about identity. Yes, we can identify with not only people, but pigs, orges, fish, and horses.

“Each film tells a story in which the central character seeks only to discover his own true identity.”

     Richard Walter

We never know how high we are, until we are called to rise and then if we are true to form, our statues touch the skies.”

Emily Dickinson

“I finally became the man I always wanted to be.”

Jerry Maguire, mission statement
written by Cameron Crowe


“Good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are.”

                 Anne Lamont 

“Stories are equipment for living”

Kenneth Burke

One of the female writers at a seminar I once gave said movies were cheap therapy. Perhaps you’ve seen the book Cinematherapy which develops with that concept. And cinematherapy is not just a chick thing. Once when I was at Blockbuster I saw a guy pick up Braveheart to rent and his girlfriend said, “You’ve watched that 100 times,” to which he said, “And I’ll watch it 100 more times.”

We want to be the hero of our story and we are inspired by heroes of stories we read and watch. We identify with them. We identify with William Wallace, Hans Solo, Erin Brockovich and Cinderella.

Not all films have identity themes but those that do tend to not only have a long following, but they tend to do well at award time as Linda Seger points out in her book Advanced Screenwriting, “If we look at some Academy Award winners of the 1980s and 1990s, we can see an identity theme shimmering though the philosophical, theological, and/or psychological ideas.”

That trend hasn’t stopped in the 2000s, nor is it likely to as longs as human beings roam the earth.

 “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

                                                                                 The Shawshank Redemption

Get busy writing, too.

Related posts:
Broken Wings & Silver Linings
Writing from Theme (Tip #20)
Diablo Cody on Theme
Theme=What Yor Movie is Really About

 

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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