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Here’s the difference between an idea and a premise; An idea is ‘what if I wrote a show about gangsters?’ A premise is really filling that out. It’s ‘what if I wrote a show about modern day gangsters who lived in New jersey, and that gangster went to see a therapist on a weekly basis because they had problems?’ —The Sopranos…You should be able to tell someone your premise in a couple of sentences. And have it be clearly stated so that they can understand it. ‘I want to do a show about competitive surgical interns at which the center is Meridith Grey, a woman who is hiding the fact that her mother has Alzheimers.’ (Grey’s Anatomy). You really want to be concise so that when you’re telling your story you know what you’re talking about. If you don’t know what you’re talking about no one else will either. “
Writer/Producer/Creator Shonda Rhimes 
(Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal)
Masterclass

 Related post: TV vs. Film (10 Differences)

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Is there a thematic narrative question that’s being asked? And is it answered? Because without that it’s not very fulfilling storytelling.”
Director Ron Howard
(On one of the questions he asks when considering a screenplay.)

The screenplay for the 1984 film Splash received an Acadamy Award nomination (Bruce Jay Friedman, Lowell Ganz, Brian Grazer, Babaloo Mandel).  Splash director Ron Howard, fresh off directing Solo: A Star Wars Story, explains an angle he brought to the fish out of water story that he directed early in his career.

Splash is an example of basically a 30s romantic comedy. It makes all the boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, all the obstacles—they’re right out of the screwball comedies. Which I always adored. Even in the 80s when we made Splash it was already too tired to do it in a literal way, yet adding the fantasy element of her being a mermaid it made all of that okay. So sort of the traditional idea, the sort of quaint idea, was suddenly fresh, visual, funnier, and more interesting. Along the way, I also came up with this other theme that love is not perfect. I actually got the John Candy character to say that line. And it became really important to me. It was the idea that you’re going to have that initial rush of romance and excitement and then may discover there’s some complications, there’s some problems—yet what are you going to do with that love? Is that going to be the thing that chases you away or are you going to accept it?”
Oscar-winning director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind)
Masterclass

It’s hard to hear John Candy say, “Nobody said love’s perfect” and miss the echo of the line “Well, nobody’s perfect” from the end of the 1959 movie Some Like It Hot. And to show what’s old is new again, check out the video below to show the connection between Splash and the 2018 Best Picture Oscar-winner The Shape of Water. 

I don’t think we’ve seen the last of literal fish out of water stories. A couple of years ago there was a reboot of Splash in development with Channing Tatum and Jillian Bell attached with this twist—Tatum as the mermaid.

Related posts:

Writing from Theme 
More Thoughts on Theme
Michael Arndt on Theme
Diablo Cody on Theme
Scott Frank on Theme
Sidney Lumet on Theme

 

Scott W. Smith

 

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Below is an excerpt from a Go Into The Story interview that screenwriters Bryan Woods & Scott Beck did with Scott Myers. This exchange is from part 6 of the interview.

Bryan Woods: With A Quiet Place, we weren’t comfortable writing the script until we knew that the theme was going to be about communication. We liked how that paralleled the idea of a world and a story that’s scary because the characters can’t talk and they can’t make noise.

We didn’t feel good about the story until we were like, “OK, we are comfortable with this theme.” One of the interesting things about theme is that you can start off with one thing in your head, and then the ultimate movie teaches you what it’s really about.

While I think that theme of communication that we started with is very much prevalent in the finished film, I think another theme emerged, which is the theme of, what would you do to protect your children and how hard is it to protect your children?

I think that theme is maybe an obvious one that we didn’t intellectualize but comes through very boldly in the finished film. I think that’s the best way to do it. I think you should be thinking about making sure your story has layers and that it can resonate on a deeper level.

At the same time, you’ve got to let it teach you what it wants to be and not be so constricted that you’re forcing it into a certain box.

Scott Beck: I will say like any time that we’ve gone off and written things where we haven’t really honed in on any theme whatsoever, that’s where you start getting into the weeds and you start losing your sight. It’s always important to hone in on some certain ideas that can at least be the starting point.

Related posts:

Writing from Theme 
More Thoughts on Theme
Michael Arndt on Theme
Diablo Cody on Theme
Scott Frank on Theme
Sidney Lumet on Theme

Scott W. Smith

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Yesterday I finished listening to The Wright Brothers by David McCullough on Audible and I couldn’t help make the connection between the two brothers from Dayton, Ohio who pulled off the first powered and controlled flights of an airplane and filmmakers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods who wrote the original drafts A Quiet Place screenplays.

On one level not Hollywood hit movie can compete with the efforts of performing a feat that had never been done before—and that many thought never could be done. But the portrayal of the Wright brothers by McCullough is one of two hard-working Midwestern men who ran a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio and worked diligently on designing and testing the first powered and controlled aircraft until they found wild success in their 30s.

Scott and Bryan made films for 20 years without breakout success until A Quiet Place when the film received critical and financial success in April. (To date it’s made over $300 million worldwide and two month’s after its release it’s still playing in 1,000 theater in the U.S.)

They haven’t started building a wing at the Smithsonian for Scott and Bryan quite yet, but I’m sure they’re hometown heroes back in Davenport, Iowa where the two met in sixth grade and began making their first films.

McCullough wrote that the Wright brothers remained unchanged by the international fame they received for their rock star status (long before there were rock stars). In the spirit of the Midwest, they rolled up their sleeves and kept working and making longer and longer flights.

And that appears essentially what Scott and Bryan are doing. They are already in post-production on Haunt they the co-wrote and co-directed. And to show just how level-headed they appear to be, read these words they wrote just days before A Quiet Place hit theaters:

“But very soon, as the Hollywood fairydust settles, we will go back into the silence of writing the next project, an idea we’re dying to make that may be perceived as too weird, too silly, or too adventurous.  Perhaps we’ll have to return to Iowa to make the movie for a fraction of the catering budget on ‘A Quiet Place.’ But for now, we’ll appreciate our moment with Michael Bay, and encourage everyone to follow their strange cinematic ideas, never knowing just where they might lead.”
Scott Beck and Bryan Woods
IndieWire, April 2, 2018
‘A Quiet Place: How Two Indie Filmmakers Accidently Wrote a Studio Film for Emily Blunt and John Krasinski

P.S. When I started writing this blog in Cedar Falls, Iowa I had this famous picture of the Wright brothers on my office wall.

Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 4.16.15 PM.png

Related posts:

Art is Work—Milton Glaser 
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic
What could be made on a farm in Iowa for $50K? (That would be a movie people want to see.)—‘A Quiet Place’

Scott W. Smith

 

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“The perfect movie doesn’t have any dialogue. So you should always be striving to make a silent movie.”
David Mamet
On Film Directing 

“It’s good not to follow the herd. Go the other way.”
Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez
From the post Are You an Anomaly?

Over the weekend I went to see A Quiet Place in theaters for the third time. I’ve only seen a few films three times in theaters in my life. They include this eclectic mix:

Tender Mercies
Jean de Florette
Hoop Dreams
Grand Canyon
Seabiscuit

The Artist 
Ida

The only connection I can make to that list and A Quiet Place is there is a strand of contemplativeness in all of them. (That and Ida is a Polish film and A Quiet Place director/actor/co-writer John Krasinski has Polish roots.)

But since the other screenwriters of A Quiet Place (Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) have Iowa roots I thought it would be fun to go back over the past decade of posts here at Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places and find some things that resonate between this blog and A Quiet Place.

(I realized after writing this post that it essentially curates a greatest hits shortlist of sorts from posts over the years gleaned from various sources— books, DVD commentaries, interviews, etc.— where writers and filmmakers talked about some of the most common visual storytelling principles.)

CONFLICT
Conflict-Conflict-Conflict
The Key is Conflict
Protagonist = Struggle 
The Key Thing I Learned in Film School (Tip #1)
Don’t Bore the Audience!
What is Drama?—According to Alfred Hitchcock

CONCEPT
Concept-Concept-Concept

“The conceit behind A Quiet Place is simple: if you make a sound, you die.”
Bryan Woods and Scott Beck
IndieWire

STAKES
What’s at Stake (Tip #9)
“Goals.Stakes. Urgency.” (Tip #60)
To Live or Die?

EXPOSITION
Screenwriting and Exposition (Tip #10)
Exposition is BORING Unless…
10 Exposition Examples
Cody on Exposition 
Show Don’t Tell (Tip #46)
Show Don’t Tell (Part 2)
(One of the many great things about A Quiet Place is lack of exposition.)

THEME
Writing from Theme (Tip #20)
More Thoughts on Theme
Obligatory Scene= Story’s Theme
John Carpenter on Theme
Diablo Cody on Theme 
Theme=What Your Movie is Really About
Theme= Story’s Heart & Soul 

EMOTION
Emotion-Emotion-Emotion
Emotion Transportation Biz (Tip #68)
No Emotion? Your Screenplay Sucks
40 Days of Emotion
Emotionally Silent Dialogue 

HORROR (MONSTER IN THE HOUSE)/SUSPENCE
Horror: A Universal Language
Fear of the Unknown
The Creature from…
Jordan Peele’s ‘Favorite Scares’ List
Nick Kazan’s ‘Chainsaw’ Inspiration
Shooting a Feature Film in a Coffin
Storytelling is Just Suspense & Every Movie’s a Thriller 
Stephen Susco Q&A at Full Sail —Think primal. Fear and personal loss are the foundations of many fine films.

CHARACTER
Writing Good Bad Guys (Tip #85)
Character Flaws 101

STRUCTURE
Starting Your Screenplay
The Central or Dramatic Question
Pity, Fear, Catharsis
Screenwriting the Pixar Way
Insanely Great Endings
Earn Your Ending

HARD WORK
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)/John Logan
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic
Writing Quote #66 (Frank Darabont)
10 Quotes on Paying Your Dues
Bob DeRosa’s Shortcuts
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Honing Your Craft
The 99% Rule
The 12th Script was the Deal Breaker for Eric Heisserer (Sort of)
How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (Michael Arndt)

“For me, it was a matter of years of trying to develop my writing in the same way that some people spend years learning to play the violin.”
Writer/director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)

SILENT MOVIES
Mr. Silent Films
Writing ‘The Artist’ (Part 1)
Writing ‘The Artist’ (Part 2) 
‘A Quiet Place’–It all started with Charlie Chaplin… and Jacques Tati
Storytelling Without Dialogue (Tip #82)
The Four Functions of Dialogue 

IOWA
Sneaky Long Screenwriting 
Sam Shepard on a Farm in Iowa
Lena Dunham, Sundance & Iowa 
Postcard #55 (Iowa Writers’ Workshop Library)
Iowa Kutcher on Jobs/Work
A ‘Giant’ Iowa Connection
Iowa’s Oscar Winning Native
James T. Kirk, Iowa & the Future
The Day the Music Died in Iowa
A Surprise in the Top 10 U.S. Bookstore List
Sundance, Sugar, and the Strange Land of Iowa
Sleeping with the Enemy
David Lynch in Iowa 

“I’m telling you Iowa is incredible. We should all move to Iowa and start the revolution.”
Hannah (Lena Dunham) in Girls, Season 4 episode 2

UNIVERSITY OF IOWA
The Juno—Iowa Connection
Straight Outta Iowa
John Irving, Iowa & Writing
Writing Quote #61 (Cheever/Stegner)
Hawkeye Gene Wilder (1933-2016)
Everybody’s got a story—Ethan Canin
Diablo Cody Day
Writer David Morrell
John Gardner on Original Style
(Yawn)…Another Pulitzer Prize
Writing ‘Rebel Without a Cause’
Screenwriting Quote of the Day #95 (Nicholas Meyer)
On The Road Screenwriting 
Tennessee Williams’ Start 

SCOTT BECK & BRYAN WOODS
A 20 Year Journey to ‘A Quiet Place’
A Quiet Place…in Iowa

What could be made on a farm in Iowa for $50k? (That would be a movie people want to see)—‘A Quiet Place’

‘Let’s screw all the rules of screenwriting’—Scott Beck
Writing the Opening Scene of ‘A Quiet Place’
The Best Film School
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A. 
Why You Should Move to L.A.
They Will Find You

A QUIET PLACE
‘A Quiet Place’: A Western/Family Film—with Critters
‘A Quiet Place’ Mother’s Day Special
‘A Quiet Place’—A Love Story
John Krasinski—Notes on a Scene from ‘A Quiet Place’

VISUAL STORYTELLING
George Miller Masterclass in Visual Storytelling
Visual Conflict 

STARTING SMALL
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Aaron Sorkin in Jasper, Alabama
Aiming for Small Scale Success First 
Go Big or Go…Small
Starting Small
Telling Smaller Stories
Writing ‘Buried’
The Rise of Regional Cinema

This isn’t even an exhaustive list, but all that I had time to track down today.

P.S. While the dvd/Blu-ray of A Quiet Place comes out July 10, 2018 this really is a movie that ideally you’ll first see in theaters with an audience.

Scott W. Smith

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My advice is always that your path to success is to do the things that you’re the best at. And I think a lot of time the things that you’re the best at are the things that you have the most passion for. And I think those are the two areas I would always recommend people focus on. I think that it’s more likely that a fantastic amazing stunt coordinator is going to get hired to direct a big movie than someone who has made another big movie really badly. Like I just don’t think that – it’s an industry where you get over-rewarded for things that you do really well. And I think that those are the things that you need to focus on.

I think it was Guillermo del Toro said that all of the things that are flaws about you when you start doing well just become your voice. And when you’re not doing well they’re all the things people point out as problems.
Indie Producer Keith Calder
Interview with John August on Scriptnotes. Ep. 343

P.S. On a similar note writer/director Francis Ford Coppola said the things that they criticize you for early in your career are what you get honors for later in your career.

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Screenwriter/playwright David Mamet began working in show business at seven or eight years old portraying Jewish children on a 6:30am radio/television programs, then as a kid in community theater in Chicago. At 16, he began working as a busboy in the early days of Second City watching actors like Peter Boyle, Fred Willard, Judy Graubart, and David Steinberg work their improv magic.

“So I was exposed to the whole idea of a seven-minute scene with a payoff. Which was extraordinarily influential in me because that’s what every scene’s got to me. If you look at what passes as improv comedy now some of it’s pretty funny but it doesn’t have a punchline. Like sketch comedy like Saturday Night Live they just dial it out. But what Second City said was they had to have an out. You gotta get off stage. So that really taught me a lot about drama because if the scene doesn’t have an ending there’s no reason to go on to the next scene. The reason to go on to the next scene in the play is because the first scene didn’t work. Somebody found out something that made them go on to the next scene.”
David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, The Verdict)
WTP with Marc Maron podcast interview 

Related posts:
Every Scene Must Be Dramatic—David Mamet
Mission: Rip Off David Mamet
What Happens Next?—Mamet

Scott W. Smith

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