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Posts Tagged ‘screenwriitng’

“I had a wonderful teacher, Irwin Blacker, and he was feared by everyone at the school because he took a very interesting position. He gave you the screenplay form, which I hated so much, and if you made one mistake on the form, you flunked the class. His attitude was that the least you can learn is the form. ‘I can’t grade you on the content. I can’t tell you whether this is a better story for you to write than that, you know? And I can’t teach you how to write the content, but I can certainly demand that you do it in the proper form.’ He never talked about character arcs or anything like that; he simply talked about telling a good yarn, telling a good story. He said, ‘Do whatever you need to do. Be as radical and as outrageous as you can be. Take any kind of approach you want to take. Feel free to flash back, feel free to flash forward, feel free to flash back in the middle of a flashback. Feel free to use narration, all the tools are there for you to use.’ I used to tell a screenwriting class, ‘I could teach you all the basic techniques in fifteen minutes. After that, it’s up to you.’”
Screenwriter John Milius (Apocalypse Now )
Creative Screenwriting, March/April 2000

Related posts:

Screenwriting #142 (Irwin R. Blacker)
The Four Functions of Dialogue 
Screenwriting Quote #14 (Irwin R. Blacker)

Scott W. Smith

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John wanted to be a screenwriter. He was born to public school teachers in Longview, Texas and raised in Texas City, Texas. Eventually he earned an English degree from Baylor in Waco. Then after graduating from law school he became a lawyer in Houston.

What are the odds of John making it as a Hollywood screenwriter?

[Dramatic pause]

The odds are against him, right? Well, if you’ve seen The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks, The Rookie, or A Perfect World then you’ve seen movies where John from Texas (John Lee Hancock) is credited as writer and/or director.

In an interview with Craig Mazin on Scriptnotes, Episode 27 John unpacked how he made the initial transition from a lawyer/actor in Houston to Hollywood writer/director:

“I really fell in love with movies. Not when I was a kid, but when I was in college and I would go to movies a lot. And so I started thinking hard about kind of movie stories, and how they looked on the page, and — this was back in the days before you could walk into a bookstore and get, like, 17,000 books on how to write a screenplay.They didn’t exist. I mean, and you were lucky, you could — there was no online at that time.”

Hancock just turned 60-years-old so I’m guessing this was the late 70s or early 80s. Not only before the internet, but possibly even before Syd Fields’ book Screenwriting: The Foundations of Screenwriting was originally published in 1979.

So he found a place in the San Fernando Valley (probably Burbank) where he could order a few scripts. After learning the format of a screenplay he wrote his first script on the side while practicing law.

But even before tackling a feature script Hancock was studying acting with a teacher who had been a working actor in Los Angeles. It was there where he first started writing monologues and short scenes. Writing that provided “instant gratification.” (A similar experience that Tarantino had in acting classes. Read the post ‘The way I write’—Tarantino)

Hancock said that first feature script (“a story about a guy in his 20s in Houston, Texas who’s angst-ridden and doesn’t know what to do with his life”) was awful. But that “awful” script changed his life.

He sent it to the newly formed Sundance Institute that was doing a workshop in Austin with John Sayles and Bill Wittliff and others and Hancock thought that would be a great opportunity because he’d “never even met anybody who writes screenplays.” (To keep this in perspective he was probably in his mid-twenties at this time.)

“And I signed up, and it also had a thing that said you could — they were going to select, I think, eight screenwriters to go through an intensive four-day worship with Frank Daniel (who had been the head of Columbia Film School and USC).”

I don’t recall if Hancock says on that interview how he started to get traction and work in L.A. (or when he moved there), but that initial thrust began like many others—a desire to write, then writing a screenplay and sending it to some people, and that writing getting him some recognition and eventually leading to his becoming a working Hollywood screenwriting.

Hancock’s experiece in Houston is an echo of what Diablo Cody did in Minneapolis a decade ago and served as the inspiration for starting this blog. (Read the post Juno Has Another Baby). He may not happen everyday, but it happens.

P.S. Keep in mind that Hancock made that transition began over 30 years ago. If he were a lawyer in Houston today he might connect with some filmmakers in Austin, write something that gets on The Black List, or perhaps fund his own low-budget filmmaking. He would find a different path because times and opportunites change.

Related post:
The 99% Focus Rule (via screenwriter Michael Arndt)
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Starting Small
Screenwriting from Texas

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Sometimes your convictions are the greatest stumbling blocks to fixing a story problem. It’s that thing that you’re certain of, that you don’t challenge — that you just know is right about a scene — that stops you from finding the inventive solution. It’s a good idea to have this general rule: challenge everything. Go through the problem scene step by step and consider the effect of doing the exact opposite of your story decisions.

“The audience will come to ‘know’ the character through their actions. When characters can make decisions that run counter to expectations, bringing immediate reversals into the story, that’s of immediate interest. (When Indiana Jones ties up Marion instead of releasing her [In Raiders of the Lost Ark], it’s a marvelous reversal, and we gain huge insights into Indy’s character by that one action.”
Screenwriters Terry Rossio & Ted Elliott (Pirates of the Caribbean)
Wordplay Columns/ Plot Devices

I couldn’t find the Indy/Marion scene online, but the classic opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great reversal that goes from positive to negative.

And speaking of Rossio & Elliot, how about this reversal from their Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl script“You are without a doubt the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of” to “That’s got to be the best pirate I’ve ever seen.”

P.S. If you’re not familiar with Rossio & Elliot’s Wordplayer screenwriting columns you’re missing out on some of the best free screenwriting advice on the Internet—for almost 20 years!

Scott W. Smith

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“You think I’m crazy? You call me crazy, you think I’m crazy? You wanna see crazy?”
Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson)

About 25 years before Iron Man 3 made over a billion dollars at the box office its director/co-writer Shane Black had his first feature film (Lethal Weapon) produced. As part of a panel event sponsored by Scriptwriters Network Black explained how his cop script was influenced by westerns and monster movies.

“I would write a bunch of scenes because I had a sense of the shape and a feel of  a cop film that I like to watch, but gradually something emerged and that was the sense of a Frankenstein story. Sort of an urban western where the old gunslinger is this sort of this wounded Frankenstein who sits reliving the war, reliving the gun fights in his head. And everyone because they’re in sort of a lull, this sort of a gentrified suburban community now where we think in our society that the west is tamed and they can’t hurt us, that evil is somewhere else. But this guy, the gunslinger, knows better. Meanwhile they call him a baby killer and they shun him and they think he’s weird because his skills are so distasteful and horrible. But then violence comes to our classic community—our sweet little lullaby is broken. Then the city all goes out to the gunslinger basically and says, ‘look we hate you, we despise you, we think you’re crazy but we need you now because you’re the only one who knew the truth all along. Which is the west isn’t gentrified, it’s still wild. And now we’re fu#@ed because you’re the last guy who remembers how to handle this sort of thing so we need you.’  And that kind of gunslinger thing was what I set out really to do.”
Screenwriter Shane Black on writing Lethal Weapon
Writing the Hollywood Blockbuster

Related posts:
“Stagecoach” Revisited
Writing “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid”
Living in the Wild West

Scott W. Smith

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“Theme is not only the spine and core of your movie but the Heart and Soul of your story. It’s the moral and lesson of your story that gives your screen or teleplay universal meaning. Ultimately, it’s what unifies your story and makes it emotionally significant. It’s your ‘voice’ – it’s what you want to say. Stories teach us how to be human through symbolic experiences…..I think the most important and effective way to illustrate theme is through your main character. Theme is expressed through your main character’s transformational arc during the journey. How do you show this transformation? To express transformation, the need for transformation has to be established – hence the Character FLAW. Remember this: Theme is the opposite of the character’s flaw
Tawnya Bhattacharya (writer on USA Network’s Fairly Legal and the blog Script Anatomy)
Scriptshadow Interview

Related posts:

Writing from Theme (Tip #20)

More Thoughts on Theme

Michael Arndt on Theme

Character Flaw #101 (Tip #30)

Writing Quote #22 (Dara Marks)

Scott W. Smith

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