Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Robin Swicord’

“There’s a little bit of pink and blue coding that goes on in the film business in terms of material that you’re offered for sure. Every now and then I will feel in a meeting a little bit as though I’m out of place because there are so many men in the room. Certianly nothing that they’re trying to do, it’s not a harassment situation. But I’ll just have a sense that they’re looking at me like I’m a girl and that doesn’t come up for my husband (screenwriter Nick Kazan). We sort of have a lab thing going on at our house — he has one experience, I have another. There’s a certain amount of overlap, and the ways that they are different—some of them have to be put down to gender. I don’t let it bother me. I just go on doing my silly stuff…Statistically we know there aren’t as many women working in film as there should be. Having said that, I’ve had a wonderful career and I have many opportunities ahead of me and I have nothing to complain about.”
Screenwriter Robin Swicord
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Jay Fernandez  (Part 3)

P.S.   Having Nick Kazan as a husband means that Robin’s father-in-law was Elia Kazan, the Oscar-winning director of On the Waterfront.  Robin and Nick’s have two daughters in the entertainment business—  Zoe Kazan graduated from Yale with a theater degree, and Maya Kazan graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in film studies. This rounds out a nice run of posts taken from Robin’s interview on The Dialogue. Next week I’ll pull some quotes from Nick’s own interview on The Dialogue.

Related posts:

On What Makes a Director
Screenwriting Quote #143 (Elia Kazan)
Kazan on Directing (Part 1)
‘Unstoppable’ Wesleyan University
The Most Important Two Hours  “My life as a writer began in the theater…”—Nicholas Kazan
‘What it means to be a screenwriter’

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I see the movie very clearly when I’m writing. I try to put down what I see and let other people in on the joke, and hope they are seeing the movie that’s in my head. It’s important to do that whether you’re writing so that another director will take it and interpret your work, or whether you’re trying to get financing and get actors attached to it. They need to know what the movie is and so I try to put as much on the page as I know how.

“…If you’re writing visually you’re seeing so much, and there’s a tendency to see every bit of behavior and everything that’s in the room and so forth because it’s vivid to you if you’re seeing the movie in your head. But part of the craft of screenwriting is to write in such a pity way—it’s almost like being  a combination of a poet and a journalist. You’re trying to get the important information out there, but you’re trying to do it with enough concision and accuracy that you’re almost like a poet describing something in as few words as possible, but as vividly as possible. You don’t want there to be a lot of confusion because it is the blueprint of the film.

“Later you will have prop people, working with set dressers, working with art directors, and production designers and they will be looking at that little piece of description and they’ll be saying ‘Is it this or is it that?’ So you do have to help them out a little bit by trying to write precisely… I don’t think there’s any screenwriter working—that’s getting their films produced— that doesn’t try to direct a little bit on the page. Because if you know this is a sad moment at the end of something you’re going to try to write a transition that allows that sadness to sit there for a moment. And you don’t want to just bluntly go to the next scene, you want to describe something—but that’s technically direction.

“If you’re saying what the character looks like or emotion that they’ve making or even if they’re sitting still for a moment, you are providing direction. But if you don’t put that there, the scene isn’t going to land in quite the same way and allow the reader to have that moment to experience it before you move on to the next scene. So slowly you learn to hide this direction so that it’s not intrusive, it doesn’t become the point of the scene, and it allows the director room to interpret and say I know they wrote them sitting still here but instead I’m going to go to leaves outside of a window for instance. As long as they are giving something that allows a resting places it doesn’t matter. You’re just giving one version of it.”
Screenwriter Robin Swicord
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Jay Fernandez  (Part 3)

Related posts:

Descriptive Writing (Frank Darabont)
Descriptive Writing (Stephen King)
Postcard #65 (Tennessee Williams)  “The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks! The world thirsts after sympathy, compassion, love.”—T.W.
Descriptive Writing—Part 1 (Tip #22) “The future always looks good in the golden land because no one remembers the past.”—Joan Didion
Descriptive Writing—Part 2 (Tip #23)
Descriptive Writing—Part 3 (Tip #24)
Descriptive Writing—Pt. 4, Action (Tip #25)
Descriptive Writing—Pt. 5, Setting (Tip #26)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I think it’s impossible to be a writer and not draw from your own life…I see shadows all of the time in my work—things from my life.”
Robin Swicord

“I see shadows of certain characters from script to script. I’m interested in ambition certainly. I see that strain running through [my work]—like The Rivals* a script I sold on [actresses] Eleonora Duse and Sarah Bernhardt. And that thing of Eleonora Duse being the newcomer, the one no one expected much of because she was from Podunk little Italy, and theater was really happening in Paris and London. I found echos of my small town childhood and her desire to leave there and sort of take on the world. So I do think that’s one of the things we can’t escape— that we end up telling our own story behind the mask of whatever story we take on.”
Screenwriter Robin Swicord
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Jay Fernandez  (Part 3)

P.S. The flip side to yesterday’s post about the long journey to get Little Women (1994) produced is The Rivals still hasn’t been produced, though Steven Speilberg was once attached to produce and/or director the movie with  Nicole Kidman said to be cast as Sarah Bernhardt.

Related posts:
Emotional Autobiography (2.0)
Emotional Autobiography (‘On the Waterfront’)
Robert McKee vs. Richard Walter
Screenwriting Quote #129 (Bob Peterson) Pixar lets the directors create an ‘autobiography.’ In other words, things that are important to us make it into the film.”
E.T. & Emotional Autobiography

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Protagonists have to be active, they’re making their own fate all the time.”
Screenwriter Robin Swicord (Little Women)

“David Mamet says the one question an audience asks is WHAT’S NEXT? I agree. Let each scene drive the story forward. Make sure each moment is vital no matter what page it’s on.”
Ken Levine (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Fraiser)
Post on his blog The World As Seen By A TV Comedy Writer

“I think of [story beats] more in terms of one scene pushing the next scene into existence. And within a scene there will be certain beats because there’s a kind of progress that happens in every scene. And I think everybody who knows much about drama understands that the character is starting here, certain revelations or actions take place in the scene and you’re in a different place at the end of that scene. And what happens in that scene then makes the other scene happen. And so there’s this kind of because, because, because, that runs all the way through dramatic writing.  And so I don’t create schematics the way so many screenwriting books have done. I don’t think there’s anything magical about a certain page number, but I do know that the story happens in three large sweeps. The three act structure is not that artificial. Some people break it down into five— I think that’s quite legitimate, because act two is very long, so that can be broken down into whatever size you want. But generally speaking there is a progress toward and that is what makes dramatic writing dynamic.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Robin Swicord
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Jay Fernandez  (Part 2)—at the 14:25 point of the above clip.

Related Posts:
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO?
Screenwriting Quote #94 (David Mamet) “Each scene must end so that the hero is thwarted in pursuit of his goal—so that he, as discussed elsewhere, is focused to go on to the next scene to get what he wants.”

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“To speak technically, photography is the art of writing with light.”
Gerardo Suter 

“I think that you should make as much film as you possibly can —long and short. But I don’t think it’s smart to start screenwriting without at least having carried a camera around. I really think you have to teach yourself to see the world cinematically in order to write cinematically. The thing I think that’s poorly understood about screenwriting from people who aren’t close to the film business is that screenwriters don’t just write the dialogue, we don’t just make up the story and structure the dramatic beats, but we also describe the images on the page which are then transferred into film images by everybody else. And carrying a camera, which I did for many years, really taught me to see the world in terms of photographs. It gave me a leg up in terms of learning to write visually.”
 Writer/director Robin Swicord (The Jane Austen Book Club)
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters interview with Jay Fernandez  (Part 1)

Related post:

John Ford’s Advice to Spielberg
Descriptive Writing—Part 1 (Tip #22)
Descriptive Writing—Part 2 (Tip #23)
Descriptive Wriitng—Pt. 5, Setting (Tip #26)
10 Cinematography Tips (Roger Deakins)
Cinematography & Emotions

Recommended Book: The Visual Story by Bruce Block

Recommended Website: The American Society of Cinematography (ASC)

P.S. I didn’t attended Vincent Laforet’s Directing Motion Workshop that toured the country the last three months, but the trailer looks great. And it’s available as a digital download and DVD. (I’m trying to get my hands on the material to review.)

Scott W. Smith

 

Read Full Post »

“I started writing ever since I could pick up a pencil, but I had been orientated to novels and short stories because that’s what we studied in school. I really didn’t know movies were written until I was probably about 20-years-old.
Screenwriter Robin Swicord

Chances are good that even if you live in a small town in North America you have quite a bit of access to learning about the screenwriting and filmmaking processes. But if you were in a small town in the United States back in the 1970s—and even if you attended a college like Florida State University in Tallahassee—you didn’t have access to cable TV, DVDs with writer and director commentaries, movies streamed online, screenwriting blogs, or even that many books on the screenwriting/filmmaking process. (Syd Field’s classic book on screenwriting didn’t even come put until 1979.)

Yet that’s where Oscar-nominated screenwriter Robin Swicord (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) came from on her way to writing Little Women and Memoirs of a Geisha. She worked as a photographer to pay her way through college and then started to think she could write screenplays.

“I was intimidated. I didn’t have a teacher and I didn’t know how to get started. And it was that thing of being in a small town and knowing that there’s a big world out there, and not knowing quite how to get out of that small town and go to the big world knowing that I wanted to write for film but I’d never met a filmmaker. So there was a period of self invention were I was trying to figure stuff out. Then there weren’t things that are so available now; all the books on structure, interview series like this where you hear writers talking about their work—just being able to go in an rent a DVD and study one filmmaker’s work.”
Robin Swicord
The Dialogue interview with Jay Fernandez (Part 1)

But the road to Hollywood began for Swicord in Northwest Florida where her photography skills led to some corporate production work in Atlanta for IBM, which led to IBM asking their ad agency in New York if they’d hire Swicord as a copywriter and they did. That got her to New York City where she began to met people in the film business. She was told the best chance a female has to work in the film industry was to be a script supervisor, but her goal was screenwriting.

“I got in touch with some people who had gone to Florida State a little bit after me who were in New York City and hoping to start a theater. And I said, ‘I’ll write a play for you.’ I wrote this play called Last Days at the Dixie Girl Cafe, and we had like $500 between us and we rented the theater and we put an ad in Backstage magazine. And actors showed up and auditioned and then we were in business….I was lucky in that the director of that is a good dramaturge—her name was Lynn Thomson*. She was teaching directing at  playwriting at Hunter College and she taught me a lot about writing plays. And a lot of it gets taught to you by actors in the rehearsal process.

“It had a nice opening and moved to off-Broadway and investors found it and so forth and through that an agent saw it and got in touch with me and said, ‘Did you ever consider writing for film?’ And I gave her my first screenplay Stock Cars for Christ. 

“I was completely mid-twenties just trying to figure out my own path to get there. I sold a screenplay and stepped into the most remarkable situation that I call ‘learn while you earn.’ I was paid by MGM to rewrite my screenplay endlessly under the tutelage of a wonderful development executive who patiently let me find my way to decent structure. It was an uncommon experience for a beginning screenwriter and I know how lucky I was.”
Robin Swicord

Swicord is a great example of embracing your limitations and just starting somewhere. Her photography skills were good enough to get her a job that helped pay her way through school where she was an English and Drama major—but also had access to watching films while waiting for her film to develop back in the darkroom. Those skills led to doing corporate films for IMB in Atlanta and that led her to New York City where she connected with people from her college who were starting a theater. She wrote a play for them that got her expose to learning from the director and the actors. The play got noticed, got her an agent, which led to her selling a screenplay and launching her career.

*Lynn M. Thomson went on to work as a dramaturge on Rent (Broadway), and she’s currently the Professor of Dramaturgy and American Theater at Brooklyn College.

P.S. “An agent read the play [Last Days at the Dixie Girl Cafe] and asked me if I would like to write for film. I gave her my first screenplay, Stock Cars For Christ, and she sold it to MGM. MGM sent me a plane ticket and moved me into the Del Capri Hotel in L.A. and rented me a pink typewriter so I could rewrite the screenplay (a total of nine drafts!)—which of course was never made into a film.” Robin Swicord, From Book to Screen Interview

Related posts:
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Screenwriting Quote #139 (Robin Swicord)
Screenwriting Quote #155 (Robin Swicord)

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

Read Full Post »

“You don’t learn how to write a screenplay by just reading screenplays and watching movies. It’s about developing the kind of mind that sees and makes drama. You can do this in a kind of holistic way by reading history and theology and psychology, reading great fiction and poetry, and plays. You develop an eye for the structures of everything and look for the patterns that help you become a dramatist.”
Robin Swicord
Oscar-nominated screenwriter, The Curious Case of  Benjamin Button
The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, Karl Iglesias
page 134

Read Full Post »

ini-fl300dsc_4750

“There’s enough land here (Florida) to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine.”
Walt Disney

Florida has had an awkward dance with movies for the past 100 years. While it’s had its share of feature films and TV programs filmed there over the years it’s almost as if the industry there is a façade. (Just like the above New York façade I shot on the Universal Studios Florida back lot last week.)

It looks real, but upon further investigation you see that it’s not–but stick with me there is a silver lining. You may recall in the 80s & 90s when Florida was calling itself “Hollywood East” as Disney and Universal were building studios. Some believe the studios were built for tourism from the start and word was that Disney even once hired people to push movie lights around when a tram went by.

But for a while it seemed to be working. Ron Howard and Steve Martin came to Orlando to make Parenthood, Wesley Snipes made Passenger 57, Nickelodeon was busy on the Universal lot, TV programs The Mickey Mouse Club, Superboy and Sea Quest were also shooting around Orlando.

Adam Sandler went to Central Florida to make The Waterboy, Director John Singleton to make Rosewood, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp to make Edward Scissorhands, Michael J. Fox to become Doc Hollywood, and Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro to make Marvin’s Room. Then it seemed like every other state and country got into the tax incentives for filmmakers game.

And then like a crew wrapping a production on location and returning home “Hollywood East” disappeared.  Around the same time a handful of filmmakers educated in Orlando colleges made one of the biggest splashes in independent film history making The Blair Witch Project landing two of the filmmakers on the cover of Time Magazine. Then they all but disappeared as well.

Perhaps the greatest illusion of Florida is the fact that two of the greatest films ever made are set in Florida but neither were shot in the Sunshine State. Both Citizen Kane (listed as AFI’s top film) and Some Like it Hot (AFI’s top comedy film) were shot in California adding to the irony of the Florida film industry.

And most of Scarface, with a story set in Miami, was shot in California. But if you want to see what Miami’s South Beach looked like 25 years ago (gritty) then Scarface is the film to see because they captured well those great art deco exteriors. Even the classic Lauren Bacall & Humphrey Bogart film Key Largo was filmed mostly in California. See what I mean about Florida’s strange dance with the movie industry? But while movies about Florida are not always shot in Florida, Florida did doubled for the Amazon underwater scenes in the cult favorite Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The film industry first came to Florida at the turn of twentieth century and it looked like Jacksonville in North Florida would be a major player in film production. Dozens of films were made there and studios began to pop up to take advantage of the warm sunny days. But eventually the film industry chose Hollywood as it’s go to place to film around the year.

The greater Ft. Lauderdale-Miami -Palm Beach area has seemed positioned over the years to be a leader in the film industry and some fine films and TV programs have been made down there: Body HeatThe Jackie Gleanson Show, Flipper, Gentle Ben, Miami Vice, and most recently CSI Miami, Burn Notice, and Marley & Me written by South Florida reporter and author John Grogan.

And some iconic stars and well know have made films in Florida including Elvis Presley (Follow that Dream), Gary Cooper (Distant Drums), Frank Sinatra (Lady in Cement) and Paul Newman (Absence of Malice). Not to mention a cast of more recent movie stars including John Travolta, Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Jim Carrey, and Demi Moore, as well as Florida’s own legend Burt Reynolds have made movies in Florida.

On the surface when  you step back from the picture what you see emerge in Florida’s 100 year movie history is that Florida doesn’t so much have a unified film industry –it’s one giant back lot. A great place for New York & California filmmakers to come and make movies and commercials. And they have made a lot of them over the years.

But when you look beyond the smoke and mirrors of “Hollywood East” you begin to a deeper foundation.  Since I like to talk about screenwriting and regionalism you can’t get any more regional in Florida than The Yearling written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize Novel in 1939 and it became a great  film in 1947 and also was made as a TV film in 1994.

In a similar vein is Minneapolis born writer Theodore Pratt who after a time freelancing in New York spent most of the last 35 years of his life living in Florida and writing more than thirty novels that were set in Florida. His most well-known novel The Barefoot Mailman was made into a movie in 1951.

Zora Neale Hurtson was part of the Harlem Renaissance movement  in the 20s & 30s and used her hometown of Eatonville, Florida as the backdrop for her most well-known novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Oprah Windfrey produced the TV version of that book in 2005 starring Halle Berry.

As a quirky side note my high school and college creative writing/English teacher  (and Zora Neale Hurston scholar) Annye Refore got me interested in Hurston’s work back in the early 80s and when I was in film school in California I talked to an actress named Cyndi James-Reece who I was taking an acting class with saying she’d be great in the role that Berry eventually played. (Reece went on to win Star Search one year and married Lou Gossett Jr.)

And of course there are a whole list of writers who have called Florida home over the years some whose work has become movies; Ernest Hemingway, James Michener, E.B. White, Harry Crews, John D. McDonald, Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry to name a few.

But what about…screenwriters from Florida? Yes. Let’s see what we can find. Let’s start with writer/director Victor Nunez who though a UCLA film school graduate is known for his un-Hollywood films. In fact, he could be the poster child for regional filmmakers. The first film I saw of his was A Flash of Green that not only introduced me to his talent but also that of a young actor named Ed Harris. His next film Ruby in Paradise was Ashely Judd’s first film as a lead actress.

Nunez’s Ulee’s Gold starred Peter Fonda (who received an Oscar nomination) and was just the second film for a young actress named Jessica Biel. Nunez continues to make films but his day job is currently teaching film at Florida State University.

Which leads us to Tallahassee where FSU is and where screenwriter Robin Swicord graduated from. She recently got a screen story credit on The Curious Case of Behjamin Button, the David Fincher and Brad Pitt film that just opened yesterday. She also wrote the scripts for The Jane Austen Book Club, Memiors of a Geisha, and Little Women.

We are Marshall screenwriter Jamie Linden is also an FSU grad and Fort Lauderdale native Steve Conrad briefly attended FSU before going to Northwestern and eventually writing the script The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith.

And while famed FSU football coach Bobby Bowden may not be a screenwriter I heard or read many memorable one liners come from him while growing up in Orlando. My favorite was when he talked about one player, “He doesn’t know the meaning of the word fear, in fact, looking at his grades he doesn’t know the meaning of a lot of words.

Screenwriter Melissa Carter who wrote Little Black Book starring Brittany Murphey and Kathy Bates is an FSU alum.

And while not a screenwriter (and who actually was an advertising-marketing major at FSU)  I must give Cherylanne Martin a special mention because she has worked on a magic carpet ride list of feature films (about 30 total). Beginning as a production assistant in 1983 on Jaws 3-D (shot in Orlando), she worked her way up to second assistant director on Rain Man, first assistant director on Forrest Gump, unit production manager on Castaway, and more recently was one of the producers of Nancy Drew. Quite a career, right?  (Years ago I crossed paths with Cherylanne when in a happy accident I met her father and he kindly past a script of mine on to her.)

And lastly (but the most  highly rewarded FSU grad) is Alan Ball, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of American Beauty. (From the theater school where Burt Reynolds graduated from back in the day.)

I know there are many colleges in Florida doing media and theater training but none that have the fruit of the FSU program. (This coming from a Miami Hurricane mind you. Though it is worth mentioning that Sylvester Stallone did attend a few semesters at the University of Miami and later went back using his script for Rocky to finally earn his degree. It’s good to see that writing a film that wins an Academy Award for best picture is worth a few college credits.)

Native Floridian writer Connie May Fowler wrote the book and script Before Women Had Wings (BTW–I love that title) that became an Emmy winning movie starring Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Barkin.

Florida will always be place to shoot films and TV programs like the classic Sea Hunt starring Loyd Bridges, because of the local and weather. But I also believe there is a remnant left over from “Hollywood East” made up of actors and production people who will keep turning out independent features from time to time.

While I was in Orlando last week I stopped by and visited some old haunts; Building 22-A at Universal, Panavison Florida and some friends who now work at Full Sail (which does have the most amazing sound stages I’ve ever seen for students). The good news is Universal has had a solid run of booking their sound stages for the past 18 months with a variety of productions and we’ll have to see what this new economy brings.

The talent, studios, desire, film commission offices, and other infrastructures are in place for things to take off in Florida. But for whatever reason it seems like Florida as a whole as been in rehearsals for 100 years. I believe Florida is ready for its close-up beyond just attractive people running around on the beach. And that’s where screenwriters from Florida come into the picture.

Producer's Building-22A Producer’s Building-22A
Panavision Florida

Panavision Florida

Full Sail Stage

Full Sail Stage

Florida is fertile ground for writers. It has an eclectic multi-cultural mix of characters and a large transient culture. (Heck, Jimmy Buffett’s had a long career writing songs about such people. And if you haven’t seen Errol Morris’ early documentary Vernon, Florida I’d recommend checking that out.)   There are stories to be told from there and there  just needs to be some screenwriters who can tap into the real Florida rather than Hollywood’s version of Florida.

Sidenotes: Orlando-based editor Oliver Peters who has edited features and documentaries (and a heck of a lot of corporate and commercials) has a helpful and informative blog called Digitalfilms for those of you interested in filmmaking. And to find out  about production news in Florida (including tax incentives) contact Film in Florida. Florida also has over 50 film festivals including the Florida Film Festival hosted by the wonderful Enzian Theater in Maitland, Florida.

Text & Photos Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: