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Posts Tagged ‘screenwriting’

“That’s the part that keeps people back the most—it’s like, ‘Well I don’t have an idea, so I can’t start.’ No, it’s like you only get the idea once you start. It’s this totally reverse thing. You have to act first before inspiration will hit. You don’t wait for inspiration and then act or you’re never going to act. Because you’re never going to have the inspiration—not consistently.”
—Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez
The Tim Ferriss Show #98

That quote reminds me of another well-traveled quote on inspiration:
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
Jack London

Though I’ve read the original word for word quote from London’s 1903 essay Getting Into Print is “Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.” But “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club” rolls off the tongue so much easier and is easier to remember.

Related post:
Stephen King’s Doublewide Trailer
“There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station.”
Stephen King
On Writing 

Scott W. Smith

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“On January 1, 2020, works from 1924 will enter the US public domain, where they will be free for all to use and build upon, without permission or fee.”
Jennifer Jenkins
Public Domain Day 2020 from Duke University Center for the Study of Public Domain

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Thanks to a Facebook post by Ted Hope of the above link from Duke University I became aware of a wide range of films, books, and music that are now in the public domain. Of course, what that means is you are free use those stories without paying any royalties.

This includes the movies by Buster Keaton (The Navigator) and Harold Loyd’s (Girl Shy), books by E.M. Forster (A Passage to India) and Edith Wharton (Old New York), Eugene O’Neil play Desire Under the Elms, and music by George Gershwin (Rhapsody in Blue) and Irving Berlin (Lazy).

In music what is copyright free is the arrangements, not performances from 1924 until now. And the 1984 movie (and the script by David Lean, nor the play Santha Rama Rau) are copyright free, but you are able to go the 1924 source material and use freely.

The topics of copyright law and derivative works have long been the center of many conversations among content creators. As original as everyone seeks to be it’s impossible  to shake connections to past work. Just look at some Oscar nominated films this year: You watch 1917 and you think of Saving Private Ryan and Russian Ark (and Birdmam, and Rope), Marriage Story has traces of Kramer vs. Kramer, The Irishman is a brother to both Goodfellas and The Godfather and a cousin to Hoffa, Joaquin Phoenix is favored to win Best Actor for his Joker that Heath Ledger won an Oscar for in a supporting role as the same character in The Dark Knight.

Inspiration is one thing, copyright infringment is another thing. One of the nice things about adapting stories from 1924 and before is you are building on work that has proven worth. The test will be can you update it for a modern audience? But at least you can do it without the threat of being sued. No shame in following the steps of proven writers. And I think you find—as Francis Ford Coppola has said—at the end of the day, you will make it your own.

“Someone is going to invent a new art form, a new medium—it’s probably not going to be you. So follow in someone’s footsteps. Because if there is someone before you that has made an impact with the acoustic guitar, then we know it is possible. . . . If you would have said to me when I met you, my goal is to change the culture with an outdoor repertory theater that’s only going to be in Iowa, I would say ‘Has anyone ever come close to doing that?’, because your expectations might be mismatched. You said you wanted to change the culture. If on the other hand you say we have typewriters and we know how to deal with people in Hollywood and New York who have carriage and spectrum, I’d say yeah, there’s been a thousand people before you—in their own way—who have done that. Yes, go do that.”
Author/speaker Seth Godin (The Dip)
Interview on The Moment with Brian Koppelman (9/17/19)

P.S. Speaking of Seth Godin and Iowa, Godin’s book Purple Cow was one of the inspirations behind starting the blog Screenwriting from Iowa … and Other Unlikely Places way back in 2008. On the 12th anniversary of this blog (January 23, 2020) I’ll give an update on the progress on my book based on the blog.

Related post:
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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As a music engineer and record producer Jimmy Iovine has worked with a Who’s Who in the music industry— John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Stevie Nicks, and Tom Petty. He also co-produced the movie 8 Mile, co-founded the company Beats with Dr. Dre., and was hired by Steve Jobs to help create Apple Music.

Here’s a snippet from the New York Times article “Jimmy Iovine Knows Music and Tech. Here’s Why He’s Worried”:

Ben Sisario: What’s the secret for an artist to have a long career today?
Jimmy Iovine: Quality —of everything you do. Make quality the priority, not speed. Speed is marketing, but you have to have something great to market.

Which reminds me of this quote I posted back in 2017:

“I think if you put energy into how do I break into the industry, how do I get an agent, how do I – it’s putting the cart before the horse. I think that ultimately first and foremost practicing. Shooting it. And then reshooting it. And reshooting it. And rewriting. And just getting, working on yourself and getting better. But just doing it.

Like getting a camera. Getting whatever camera you can get your hands on. And making stuff. And then getting out there however you can. I actually think practically that’s the industry – you can’t say the industry will be the path to your door, but I think the best way to find your career is just to do what you do and get it out there however you can…. Double down on substance. And that ultimately is what everybody is looking for so hard out there. Everybody wants something that’s interesting and good.”
Writer/director Rian Johnson (Knives Out)
Scriptnotes Q&A with Craig Mazin (Episode 299)

And here’s a music related clip from the movie Walk the Line that seems to belong here.

Scott W. Smith

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“You know, when you first start writing you’re going to suck. And so it’s good to keep it to yourself, until maybe you don’t suck as much.”
David Sedaris

The sweet spot for the essays that David Sedaris writes is five pages. The shortest are the two pages he does for CBS Sunday Morning and on the other end of the spectrum he says he “has a 12 page attention span.” Experience tells him that anything longer is hard to read on stage. He spends much time on the rewriting process, and encourages others to do that as well.

“Nine times out of 10, my only comment is you need to rewrite this, ah, 60 times. And most people don’t even want to hear that you need to rewrite it one time. But that’s what writing is—it’s rewriting. And sometimes something’s not worth rewriting. You think, oh, I’m just so bored with this . . . it’s not worth diving back into. And that’s fine because not everything is worth diving back into. But I would say, personally, I probably write something over 12-18 times before I give it to my editor.”
David Sedaris
Masterclass

While you can see doing 12-18 drafts of a short essay, how big of a climb does 60 rewrites seem. And have you ever done 60 drafts of a script you’ve written—or even 12-18. This is what screenwriter John Logan did on rewriting his first screenplay with Oliver Stone:

“We did 26 drafts of Any Given Sunday, one right after another, so I learned everything about the form from him. He was patient. I’d go to his house, he’d say, ‘Pick up that Oscar, hold it, it’ll feel good, you’ll enjoy it.’ And then we’d work. Any Given Sunday, like all these monstrous big movies,  was hard to get made.”
John Logan

And that was after he spent nine months on his own writing more than 20 drafts. Screenwriter Michael Arndt reportedly wrote 100 drafts of Little Miss Sunshine—his sixth script and the first one he sold.

Sometimes it takes a little time. Here’s a closing quote from another rewriter:

“It’s true I rewrite a lot . . . my talent is I just try and try, and try and try again, and little by little it comes to something that I think is okay.”
Francis Ford Coppola

Scott W. Smith

 

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This is part of the answer Lulu Wang gave when asked what her takeaway was from the success of her film The Farewell. 

“People don’t have to go to the movie to see plot. It’s about connection. And the question that I ask myself for most of The Farewell was not about plot—like what are they going to do? Or who’s going to chase who? Do they tell her or not tell her? That’s not really what it’s about. What drove me to tell the story was how do you say goodbye to somebody that you love, whether they know or don’t know [that they’re dying]? It’s impossible to say goodbye, so what do you do? And I think that’s the way I always want to approach films. That no matter how big a concept it is, what’s the question that it’s exploring? Maybe it’s not important to find the answer, but people are clearly hungry for content that asks the question that they themselves are asking, or maybe they don’t even know they should be asking, right? But it satisfies this desire just to explore, to talk about things—talk about talk about the difficult things—and that’s what art does.”
Writer/Director Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
THR podcast interview with Scott Feinberg

Here’s a scene from The Farewell that shows the connection between Billi (Awkwafina) and her grandmother Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao):

Related Post:
It’s the Relationships, Stupid! A Heart to Hart Talk Talk About Movie Endings with Lindsay Doran and Moss Hart

Scott W. Smith 

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Before writer/director Lulu Wang made an international splash this year for her movie The Farewell, one of her day jobs was producing videos for lawyers to be used in legal cases.

“I was basically going to people’s homes – you know, people who had been severely injured, people who, oftentimes, their injuries weren’t visible to the eye, you know, which meant a lot of brain damage cases. I would go into people’s homes and just interview the – you know, the client and sometimes their family to better understand the extent of their injuries.

“So we – it was called a day in a life video, and so you also would – I would include footage from before the injury occurred and – to see, you know, what they were capable of, what their dreams and aspirations were. And sometimes it would be as mundane as just shooting this person trying to make breakfast, you know, because if this client walks into a courtroom and gets on a stand, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to determine what the extent of their injuries are by just hearing them talk. You might think, well, maybe they’re not the brightest person, but, you know, they seem fine to me. But you would – if I, you know, was with them, watching them make breakfast, they would take the eggs out and then go back to the refrigerator and go grab eggs and forget where they put the eggs. You know, there’s all of these little nuances of how the – of how brain injury affects a person’s day-to-day life that I had to show.

“So there was that. I did some class action cases as well. . . . I found it very fascinating. It was very difficult, too, you know, because you meet somebody for, you know, 10 minutes, and then you’re in their home and you’re asking them to open up their lives to you. And I – you know, I was usually there by myself, maybe with one other person who was helping me set up the camera and maybe a light or something.

“But you know, there’s a lot of stories, and it – I think it also helped me to really stay grounded because no matter what fictional story I was working on, I was still doing this at the same time.”
Lulu Wang
NPR interview with Terry Gross

And in various interviews Lulu Wang has done, here are some other life experiences that show the trajectory of her career before making The Farewell. 
—She was born in China, and moved to the United States (Miami) when she was six.
—She went to a arts conservatory high school where she was a good enough pianist that her teachers thought she could have a career playing the piano, but she didn’t have enough passion for music. (New World School of the Arts in Miami is also where playwright and Oscar-winning Moonlight screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney went to high school.)
—She earned her four year degree from Boston College, where she only took one  photography class and one filmmaking class. But she did well enough in school that she was accepted into law school on a full scholarship. But she didn’t have enough passion for law to continue that route.
—She moved to Los Angeles and because she could speak Mandarin Chinese ended up doing translation work on the film Rush Hour 3.
—She made some short films, and also shot some bar mitzvah videos.
—In 2016, her story What You Don’t Know was part the radio broadcast This American Life. She got an option to write the screenplay version that eventually got produced with her directing and debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
—The film was released in the United States in July.
—Last night Awkwafina won best actress at the Gotham Awards for her lead role in The Farewell.

P.S. After graduating from NYU film school, Sean Baker (The Florida Project) worked on wedding and corporate videos, and explains why it’s good training for filmmakers.

“I was lucky enough to land a job right out of school with a small publishing company that put me in charge of their AV work. So basically I was producing a lot of corporate type videos. I was interviewing authors. Traveling all over the states just to interview them to put together a little EPK [Electronic Press Kit]. But that’s good work. It pays the bills. And I would suggest anybody who’s striving to become a filmmaker to at least stay within the AV world. Because you’re practicing on a daily basis. And even though you think this isn’t me being creative, it is. It really is because you’re still framing shots, you’re still editing, you’re understanding the technical side of things.”
Sean Baker
No Film School podcast interview

Scott W. Smith

 

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Last year when the first version of The Quiet Place screenplay found its way online it was unorthodox in that Scott Beck and Bryan Woods where on one page they used just one word (SNAP…) among other techniques. (See the post Writing an Unorthodox Script.) Well, this year’s unconventional script (or maybe just unconventional page) goes to The Lighthouse written by Max Eggers with the director of the movie Robert Eggers.

In the last day or two, A/24 made the script available for consideration during award season.

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Scott W. Smith 

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