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Posts Tagged ‘screenwriting’

I did finish watching the HBO mini-series Chernobyl and plan to write a post about it tomorrow. In the meantime, yesterday I saw the trailer for Once Upon a Time in . . . Hollywood and it triggered a few things.

A few days ago a friend of mine was in outside his midcentury home in an Orlando suburb when a location scout started asking him some question. Turns out he was looking for homes for the TV program The Right Stuff. (The Tom Wolfe book of the same name was made into a remarkable movie back in 1983.)

I wasn’t even aware that they were doing a TV show on The Right Stuff—much less one right here in Central Florida. A quick Google search showed that Leonardo DiCaprio (recently starring in Once Upon a Time . . .  in Hollywood) is executive producing. And Emmy-winning director David Nutter is scheduled to direct the pilot.

I went to film school with Nutter at the University of Miami and our paths almost crossed again back in the early 90s when he was editing Superboy at Century III at Universal Studios Orlando and I was in the next bay editing a project. On a break I went over to say hello but he was already gone.

And he was soon gone from Florida and off to incredible success in Hollywood. His long list of directing credits include Band of Brothers, The X-Files, The West Wing, The Pacific, and The Sopranos, and Game of Thrones.

To show what an interconnected world production can be, the location scout for the new The Right Stuff studied film with Ralph Clemente at Valencia College, who Nutter studied with at Miami. (See the post The Perfect Ending).

And while I was editing projects at Century III (the top post house in Orlando back in the day) I worked with Mike Elias (in the pre-AVID/non-linear days) using a video editing technique that used rows of VHS machines to assemble an edit. (I forget what machine was called, but it would be great for production students to see in action to appreciate non-linear editing). Elias was a good friend of Nutters (and also worked on Superboy) and for the last few years has been an editor on Family Guy.  If I recall correctly, Mike’s father is the writer Michael Elias who co-wrote The Jerk starring Steve Martin and The Frisco Kid starring Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford.

The thing that brought David Nutter and Mike Elias to Orlando in the late 80s and early 90s was this thing called Hollywood East—a marking ploy to position Florida as a major player in film and TV production. Disney and Universal Studio opened working film studios at that time. Panavision opened and office and for a decade it appeared to be working.  Parenthood (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990),  Passenger 57 (1992), Marvin’s Room brought some of the biggest names in Hollywood to Florida including Ron Howard, Steve Martin, Johnny Depp, Wesley Snipes, Meryl Streep and DiCaprio.

And then Hollywood East was gone. Not gone-gone…it just relocated from Florida to its currently home in Georgia. But now at least DiCaprio is coming back to shoot at least part of The Right Stuff in Central Florida.

Another  fun connection I just learned yesterday is I edited a video two months ago on sustainability (and learned about things like hyrdroponics) and the person I did that video for was hired to work full time as the Sustainability Lead on The Right Stuff. The goal of the DiCaprio’s production company and Nat Geo is to “become the most sustainable TV production ever.”

I’m not sure this will jumpstart a new wave of film and TV production in Florida but it’s a nice addition to Florida’s production history that goes way back to the early days of cinema. If you’re every in Jacksonville, Florida check out touring Norman Studios which began making silent films in 1916 and produced movies with exclusively African American cast in the 1920s.

P.S. I first arrived in L.A. in the early 1980s and felt like I got a glimpse of the old a fading Hollywood that Tarantino appears to capture in Once Upon a Time in . . . Hollywood, which is set in 1969.

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

 

 

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Author Neil Gaiman was once on his blog was once asked what words or quote would he inscribe “on the wall of a public library children’s area” and this is the core of his answer from his essay Just Four Words (found in his book Stories: All-New Tales) mixed with his Masterclass on storytelling:

I’m not sure I’d put a quote up, if it was me, and I had a library wall to deface. I think I’d just remind people of the power of stories, of why they exist in the first place. I’d put up the four words that anyone telling a story wants to hear. The ones that show that it’s working, and that pages will be turned: 

‘. . .and then what happened?’

The four words that children ask when you pause telling them a story. The four words that you hear at the end of a chapter. The four words, spoken or unspoken, that show you, as a storyteller, that people care. And then what happened? And those words, I think,  are the most important words there are for a storyteller.”
Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, Good Omen)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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Now class, everyone thank Emily and Vanity Fair for making this video. (Virtual applause.)

Scott W. Smith

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Poor plot construction is the bane of many a beginner. When a story lacks continuity, that is, breaks into parts that have no close relation, the plot needs additional building up. While I have known those who built up complications and plot tangles so knotted that neither they nor anyone else could unravel them reasonably, a more usual defect is a too weak conflict which, of course, results in a weak climax. The struggles recounted are not important enough, the difficulties are not impressive, and to overcome them requires no interesting activity on the part of the plot actors. It seems almost as if some writers are afraid to hurt their characters, are afraid to make them suffer, or to get them into distressing situations from which they must fight their way out. Yet one of the very first things any fiction writer must learn is that where there is no struggle there is no drama.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Frances Marion (The Champ)
How to Write and Sell Film Stories (1937)

P.S. If you want a mental image of a character in a distressing situation…

Related post:

Conflict-Conflict-Conflict 

Scott W. Smith

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When you have a clear idea of a plot, write out the entire story as interestingly as you can. Keep in mind that the audience is not interested in seeing actions which people do generally, but in seeing what specific actions specific persons do in specific circumstances.”
Screenwriter Frances Marion 
How to Write and See Film Stories (1937)

Moneyball is a movie I adore and return to often. Here are two scenes from that movie that show something specific about the game of professional baseball. But they are also  scenes that are universal. Since people throughout time have had to do some kind of work to survive and be productive in this world —getting fired or firing people is a part of life.

And Office Space is another work related movie that comes to mind as unpacking specifically what Peter (Ron Livingston) does in a given day to avoid being fired. It’s a great scene because of the twist at the end.

And another scene that comes to mind dealing with specificity is from Breaking Bad.

You don’t have to be a fan of baseball, work in a cubical, or have an interest in chemistry/meth to enjoy the stories of Moneyball, Office Space, and Breaking Bad because the writers drilled deep into the specific aspects of the characters.

P.S. Speaking of work . . . over the weekend I made significant progress on lining up details for the release of my book this month.

Scott W. Smith

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Certain plot patterns long since have won public favor and with fresh treatment doubtless will continue to do so. Among these is the rise to success plot centering on man’s search for the satisfaction of accomplishment. It is found in one version in the story of Jack and the Beanstalk and probably appeared long before that. In modern times, the giant may be a rival business man, a falling market, a soulless corporation, or it may be poverty; but in any version of this plot an appealing underdog comes out on top. Its feminine version is the Cinderella plot centered on the poor girl who, after many heart-breaking situations, wins her prince; but whereas the success plot requires the male protagonist to fight strenuously to achieve his success, Cinderella usually rouses the desire of her prince through her beauty and goodness. This plot has brought more motion pictures actresses to fame than any other. The audience knows it so well that its sympathy is with Cinderella  from beginning to end. Her success, in spite of lowly origin, or pitiful circumstances, or other handicap, always suggests gratifying possibilities to almost every woman who watches her. If done with an appealing heroine, fresh and modern treatment, and a fair degree of reality, it never fails. It can be done with great dignity and charm.”
Screenwriter Frances Marion (The Champ)
How to Write and Sell Film Stories (1937)
page 54-55

If you’re hunting for a story to write, kick some evergreen ideas centered on the rise to success of such and such a character. What are some of you favorite “success” stories? Here are some successful success stories over the decades:

P.S. One thing I noticed about contemporary rise to success stories is there is a tinge of defeat in many of them. True of A Star is Born, Moneyball, Wolf of Wall St., The Social Network, The Founder. So storytelling has evolved, yet remains rooted in timeless traditions. Roots that go back to Dickens’ Great Expectations (1861), Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), and the Biblical story of Joseph.

Scott W. Smith

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Note: I’ve spent the past two weeks visiting my mother in the hospital. The first ten days she was in ICU, but she was moved to a regular room over the weekend.  She’s in the later stages of COPD and, at the moment, kind of in that gray zone of not getting better and not getting worse. My sister and I are meeting with hospice today.

It has been a while since I’ve seen The Hospital (1971), but I’m looking forward to revisiting the satire that  Paddy Chayefsky won an Oscar for writing. After 13 days of dealing with a non-communicative hospital staff and a rotating door of case workers it is amazing how little information (and conflicting information) I’ve been given about my mother’s condition. No need to get into details, but I’ve talked to enough people about their hospital experiences in the past week to know my experience is not unique.

Of course, that didn’t help me hit my deadline of getting my book released in March as I had hoped. But sitting in a hospital ICU room for hours at a time actually did prove some fruitful time to keep working on fine-tuning book details. It was a healthy distraction. And I hope to release the book in April.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to post excerpts from screenwriter Frances Marion’s 1937 book How to Write and Sell Film Stories. Following chapters I’ve already hit on from her book (characterization, theme, and emotions), this week we’ll start with her thoughts on  plot.

Plot is the design, pattern or outline of the story action; it is a statement of the problem or obstacles that confront certain specific characters, their reaction to those problems or obstacles, and the result. It is a series of events or situations affected by the characters involved and affecting them, with the situations building up to a climax. It is a string of relevant and dramatic situations, preferably rising out of character and affecting it, and woven together in such sequence and ascending strength as to make an interesting story. 

A plot must have a definite beginning and ending. Plot structure, says Walter Pater, ‘is that architectural conception of work, which foresees the end in the beginning and never loses sight of it, and in every part is conscious of all the rest, till the last sentence does, but, with undiminished vigor, unfold and justify the first.’”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Frances Marion 
How to Write and Sell Film Stories 
Page 51

P.S. I love that line “which foresees the end in the beginning.” Perhaps it’s my current state of mind, but if you haven’t seen Kurosawa’s  Ikiru (1952) seek it out as a great example of where the end is perfectly matched to the beginning. It’s the story of a man caught up in the bureaucracy of a post-World War II Japan. As the endless paperwork piles up at his job he finds out that he has cancer and seeks meaning in his life. It’s a beautiful films and one of my favorites.

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Scott W. Smith

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