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Posts Tagged ‘Roger Ebert’

“My little town blues are melting away.”
New York, New York

 “It’s not a musical; it’s a film with music. I got that definition from Billy Wilder, who said you can’t call it a musical unless the people sing in situations where you don’t expect them to. It’ll be about their marriage breaking up, about their problems in relating to one another…”
Martin Scorsese talking with Roger Ebert about New York, New York (1977) before its release

Just saying New York, New York instantly conjures up the Frank Sinatra standard New York, New York.  But did you know that’s actually a cover song? John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote the song for the 1977 Martin  Scorsese directed movie New York, New York  where Liza Minnelli sings the song. But the neither the film or the original song were an instant success. Three different versions of the film were made (153 minutes, 137 minutes, and 164 minutes) trying to find an audience, and the New York, New York song was not even nominated for an Oscar.

And even the Sinatra version recorded in 1979 wasn’t a number one hit—or even make it into the top 10. It peaked at number 32 on the charts and lost out on the Grammy song of the year to Christopher Cross’ Sailing. But in the 30 years since then the song has become ubiquitous and as recognizable (and as copied) as the “I (heart) New York” logo.

If you need a smile today here’s a version where Frank and Liza sing an impromptu duet of New York, New York. 

But since this is a screenwriting blog…Earl Mac Rauch and Mardik Martin wrote the screenplay for New York, New York from a story by Rauch.

“Martin Scorcesse’s New York, New York never pulls itself together into a coherent whole, but if we forgive the movie its confusions we’re left with a good time. In other words: Abandon your expectations of an orderly plot, and you’ll end up humming the title song. The movie’s a vast, rambling, nostalgic expedition back into the big band era, and a celebration of the considerable talents of Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro.”
Roger Ebert

Looking forward to seeing Scorsese’s latest New York state of mind movie—The Wolf of Wall Street—which hits theaters next week.

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m saying you are stuck in Wichita.”
Del Griffith (John Candy)
Planes, Trains and Automobiles

On Thanksgiving Day 2013 I decided to challenge myself to a movie mash-up. Could I take a classic 26 year old Thanksgiving story (Planes, Trains and Automobiles) and somehow connect it with a movie that is currently number one in the box office this Thanksgiving (Hunger Games: Catching Fire). According to Box Office Mojo Planes had a total gross of just under $50 million—Catching Fire made more than that its opening day and has gone on to make more than $300 million worldwide in the first six days of its theatrical release. 

Granted Planes was released in 1987 so you’d have to adjust those numbers to be an equal comparison, but the truth is that John Hughes written and directed film starring Steve Martin and John Candy was far below the box office winner (Three Men and a Baby) the year it was release. But when was the last time you heard anybody talking about Three Men and a Baby or quoting lines from that movie?

Like every year, 1987 had its share of memorable films that have endured. Some did well at the box office (Fatal Attraction) and others didn’t find their audience until later (The Princess Bride). But what makes Planes, Trains and Automobiles continue to entertain and please audiences today?

“Some movies are obviously great. Others gradually thrust their greatness upon us. When ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ was released in 1987, I enjoyed it immensely, gave it a favorable review and moved on. But the movie continued to live in my memory. Like certain other popular entertainments (‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,’ ‘Casablanca’) it not only contained a universal theme, but also matched it with the right actors and story, so that it shrugged off the other movies of its kind and stood above them in a kind of perfection. This is the only movie our family watches as a custom, most every Thanksgiving….The buried story engine of ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ is not slowly growing friendship or odd-couple hostility (devices a lesser film might have employed), but empathy. It is about understanding how the other guy feels.”
Roger Ebert
Review for Planes, Trains and Automobiles

What Ebert called a “buried story engine” I would call theme and emotion. Here are two of my favorite questions on those subjects:

“I think what makes a film stick to the brain is the theme.”
Screenwriter Bill Martell

“The goal of every screenplay, every movie, every novel, every story of any kind (and ultimately, every work of art) is identical: to elicit emotion.
Michael Hague
Selling Your Story in 60 seconds

Call it “an understanding how the other guy feels” or “empathy,” but 26 years from now people will still be watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I’m not sure the same can be said for Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The studios don’t care about that now, they’re making money. The reviews are good. They’ve done their jobMe? I’ll watch anything with Jennifer Lawrence in it (she had me at Winters Bone), but Catching Fire didn’t warm my bones. I felt like I was watching a middle program in an episodic TV show that was a cross between Survivor, LOST, and The Truman Show. (Please don’t tell me I need to read the books to appreciate the movie. That was never said of The Godfather—or The Wizard of Oz.) 

At first I thought maybe it was just me coming off a long road trip before I saw Catching Fire until I read ScriptShadow’s review of the film.

“The Hunger Games, and movies like it, represents one of the most thankless screenwriting jobs in Hollywood. Sure, you get to write one of the biggest movies of the year, but all the credit will go to the two people who sandwiched you in the process – the author of the original book, and the director who put the movie on the big screen.

To that end, that middle cog, the screenwriter who adapts these huge books, is allowed little to no creativity. His job amounts to that of a translator. Maybe that’s why Catching Fire feels so empty inside. Its two talented screenwriters, Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt, weren’t allowed to do anything but translate. And it’s left this movie without a soul.”
Carson Reeves/ScriptShadow
Movie Review—Catching Fire

Even if you really enjoyed the film (which many of its intended audience did) you have to admit it didn’t have what Arndt calls an “insanely great ending”—the credits just come up and you go, “I guess it’s over.” Just one of the problem of sequels.

BTW—Scriptshadow also had a good post this week on 10 Screenwriting Tips from Thanksgiving favorite: Plane Trains and Automobiles! 

P.S. Films released in 1987 worth going back and watching or re-watching include Empire of the Sun (Christian Bale’s first major film), Wall St. (Michael Douglas won an Oscar for his role created by Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser), Moonstruck, the third Coen Brother film—Raising Arizona, and my personal favorite of that year Broadcast News written and directed by James L. Brooks.

Related Posts:
40 Days of Emotions
Theme: What Your Movie is Really About
Writing from Theme (Tip #20)
Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)
“The Artists” 3— “Hunger Games” 0
Before John Hughes Became John Hughes (And how Planes was inspired by his day job.)

Scott W. Smith

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“I think he’s a national treasure.”
Director Taylor Hackford on Les Blank 

“As his work testifies, [Les]Blank has made a fine art out of making a personal connection with diverse people. He works through the lens, behind the camera, never drawing attention to himself. He makes friends with his subjects, spends weeks with them and acknowledges their dignity.”
A Well-Spent Life
DGA Quarterly/Spring 2013 Betsy Mclane

When Les Blank died last month he left behind a 50-year library of documentary films. Many of which gave an unusual glimpse into life in the United States. Roger Ebert called him, “A brilliant filmmaker,” he received  a Special Jury Award at Sundance one year, and received  a lifetime achievement award from AFI.

In the post Les Blank’s start, I found a quote where he said in an interview, “When I got out of film school, I had a hard time getting into the show business end of the media in Hollywood. I wasn’t a very good fit.” I’m not sure how many of his classmates went on to have a career in Hollywood, but I imagine Blank is the only one who had a filmmaking career than spanned five decades.

Scott W. Smith

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Roger Ebert on Old Films

“I like to sit in the dark and enjoy movies. I think of old films as a resource of treasures. Movies have been made for 100 years, in color and black and white, in sound and silence, in wide-screen and the classic frame, in English and every other language. To limit yourself to popular hits and recent years is like being Ferris Bueller but staying home all day. I believe we are born with our minds open to wonderful experiences, and only slowly learn to limit ourselves to narrow tastes. We are taught to lose our curiosity by the bludgeon-blows of mass marketing, which brainwash us to see ‘hits,’ and discourage exploration.”
Roger Ebert
Great Movies: The First 100

P.S. In light of the death of film critic Roger Ebert yesterday let me recommend the Japanese film Departures. This is part of Ebert’s review of the Academy Award Winning Film:

“I showed Yojiro Takita’s film [Departures] at Ebertfest 2010, and it had as great an impact as any film in the festival’s history. At the end the audience rose as one person. Many standing ovations are perfunctory. This one was long, loud and passionate. That alone doesn’t have anything to do with making a film great, and 2011 may seem too soon to include a 2009 film in this collection of Great Movies. I’m including it because having seen in three times I am convinced that ‘Departures’ will hold its power and appeal.

The Japanese cinema reserves a special place for death. In films like Kurosawa’s ‘Ikiru,’ Ozu’s ‘Tokyo Story,’ Itami’s ‘Ososhiki’ (‘The Funeral’) and Kore Eda’s ‘Maborosi’ and ‘After Life.'”

Related Posts:

Hollywood Hacks & Shipwrecks (“When crap drives out class, our taste grow coarser and the life of the imagination grows smaller.”—Stephen King)
Don’t Waste Your Life 
We’re constantly buying crap we don’t need and devoting ourselves to endeavors which, perhaps on reflection, with a little bit of distance, would reveal themselves to be contrary to our own best interest.”—David Mamet
Screenwriting from Japan
 

Scott W. Smith

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E.T. was a very personal little picture. My motivation for making it was pure and non-profit based – I didn’t think it would be a hit because it was about kids and no films about kids under 18 were doing any business then.”
Steven Spielberg
Total Film interview

“This movie made my heart glad. It is filled with innocence, hope, and good cheer. It is also wickedly funny and exciting as hell. “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” is a movie like “The Wizard of Oz,” that you can grow up with and grow old with, and it won’t let you down.”
Roger Ebert
E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial movie review

In the post Emotional Autobiography I touched on The King’s Speech being the emotional autobiography  of screenwriter Daivd Sielder . His personal childhood story of overcoming stuttering is told in the larger story of King George VI.

In a similar way, the movie E.T. touches on the childhood of director Steven Spielberg. The script written by Melissa Mathison is saturated by the great director’s own Norman Rockwell childhood full of Boy Scouts, toy trains, and 8mm movies. A childhood that was disrupted by his parents divorce and moving to California in high school. Before the divorce his parents moved a lot making it difficult to establish friendships, and he had other issues;

“I was skinny and unpopular. I was the weird, skinny kid with acne. I hate to use the word wimp, but I wasn’t in the inner loop. I never felt comfortable with myself, because I was never part of the majority.”
Steven Spielberg on his youth

“ET is as close to an autobiographical movie as Spielberg has given us with the themes of loneliness, fear of separation and longing for friendship, they seem to come straight from Spielberg’s own lonely, peripatetic childhood.”
Roger Ebert

“A beautiful simple and lyrical parable of interplanetary friendship, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was also the little movie about ‘keeds” Francois Truffaut had been urging Spielberg to make since 1976. Produced for Universal by Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, E.T. was made for comparatively low production cost (about $10. Million) and with few of the elaborate visual effects that accompanied the aliens’ visit to earth in Close Encounters. But, ironically, it was finally delivering the ‘little movie’ he promised himself and the public that Spielberg made the film that accumulated the largest domestic box-office gross in movie history until Star Wars reclaimed the title with its 1997 reissue. What touched the hearts of more than two hundred million moviegoers throughout the world in E.T.’s first year of was release was a disguised emotional autobiography of Steven Spielberg.”
Joseph McBride
Steven Spielberg: A Biography

Related Posts: E.T. Mel & Easter

E.T. Was from Youngstown (kinda)

The Bump In Factor

Scott W. Smith


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“If the British monarchy is good for nothing else, it’s superb at producing the subjects of films.”
Roger Ebert

“I wrote a first draft of the screenplay (The King’s Speech) , which I wasn’t quite sure about. So I showed it to my then-wife and writing partner, and she said, ‘Look, there’s some very nice stuff in here, David, but you’re being seduced by cinematic technique. Why don’t you just, as an exercise, write it out as a stage play because the physical confines of the stage will force you to focus on your key relationships?’ As you’ve seen, The King’s Speech really is, after all, two men in a room. And if you get that tentpole upright, you can then hang everything off of it like Christmas tree ornaments. She’s a smart woman, so I took her advice and wrote it as a play and kind of realized, I think I may have finally done this correctly.”
Screenwriter David Seidler
Interview with Sean O’Connell

The King’s Speech has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards.


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“A hero who has no faults probably doesn’t have much of a personality.”
Dale Launer
Therese Walsh Interview

Before screenwriter Dale Launer hit it big with his first produced screenplay Ruthless People (1986) he wrote “about 1o screenplays of dubious quality” while paying the bills at a variety of jobs that included selling stereos, refinishing furniture, and fixing up old Porches and selling them.

After Ruthless People he had the unusual opportunity to meet with Mick Jagger and discuss the possibility of writing a script for Jagger and David Bowie.

“I had an idea that I thought would be a good vehicle for Jagger and Bowie. I remembered an old movie from the early ’60s with David Niven and Marlon Brando playing con men competing with each other. So I called her (Gail Davis at Bowie’s production company) back and told her the story: David Niven is a gigolo-con artist who works the French Riviera pretending to be a deposed prince trying to raise money for an anti-Communist freedom fighters. Rich, middle-aged American women are eager to support his cause and take him to bed.

On a train, Niven runs into Marlon Brando, an arrogant nickel-and-dimer who’s hitting on women for lunch and a few francs with a sob story about his sick grandmother. Brando begs the master con for lessons, but soon thinks he’s surpassed his teacher and starts to work Niven’s territory. To get rid of Brando, Niven agrees to a bet. They’ll find a rich woman, and the first man to extract $50,000 from her is the winner; the loser must leave town.”
Screenwriter Dale Launer
Premiere January 1989

That movie was Bedtime Stories and released in 1964. Jagger and Bowie never made the remake. But Launer got the rights and wrote the script that was an Eddie Murphy vehicle  for a while before becoming a hit movie featuring Steve Martin and Michael Caine.

Launer followed the success of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with the hit My Cousin Vinny, for which Marisa Tomei won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. And I believe Love Potion No. 9 (1992), which Launer wrote and directed, was Sandra Bullock’s first starring role in a feature. A few years ago he sold the spec script Bad Dog to DreamWorks for $3 million, but it has not been produced.

Original credited writers of Bedtime Stories were Paul Henning (1911-2005) who worked as a producer of hundreds of TV shows including Green Acres, The Beverely Hillbillies, and Petticoat Junction, along with Stanley Shapiro who won an Oscar for the 1959 Doris Day/Rock Hudson film Pillow Talk.

And in case you wondered if a remake of the remake is due since it’s been more than 20 years since the release of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels—a couple years ago there was talk of a female version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels being in the works. (And a musical version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels had a 626 performance run on Broadway a couple of years ago.)

Lauder has a website (www.dalelauner.com) with various articles about writing and digital filmmaking. 

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a fun film and is a nice bookend to The Sting for you to view if you’re writing a script about con-men or con-women. Here’s the trailer from the film which Roger Ebert reviewed as,  “Caine goes the high road, with visual and verbal humor. Martin does more pratfalls than in any of his movies since “The Jerk,” and he has one absolutely inspired scene in a jail cell.”

Scott W. Smith

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