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Posts Tagged ‘screenwriting’

When Emmy-winner Stephen J. Cannell died in 2010 his IMDB credits were extensive. I can’t image many others who wrote 450 TV episodes or produced more than 1,500 episodes. But there’s really no secret to how he did it—it’s basic math. He began his days at 3:30 AM:

“You know, when you say, ‘He created 42 primetime television series—how’d he do that?’ Well, you’d be surprised at what you can do if you get up and write for five hours a day everyday for 35 years.”
Stephen J. Cannell
Script magazine interview with Ray Morton

How did he get into that position where he was getting paid well to write for five hours? Again no secret—more basic math.

After Cannell graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Oregon he worked for his father. After work he went home and wrote for five hours every night. And he did that for more than five years without seeing anything he wrote get produced.

“I was like a machine. I swear I had a stack of material you could sit on.”
Stephen J. Cannell

That’s a great image to leave you with today. I’m not sure how big that stack of paper was, but if you measure the height of a 100 page stack of paper and multiple it by the height of an average chair you’ll come up with a pretty accurate number. Basic math.

P.S. And Cannell’s IMDB credit list continues to grow after his death. Most recently he was credited for the 2012 movie version of 21 Jump Street and the 2014 sequel 22 Jump Street because he was co-creator of the original TV series starring Johnny Depp.

Scott W. Smith 

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“Some of the drafts I wrote, if you would have showed them to a studio executive, they would have called an emergency meeting…That’s the nature of writing. You kind of have to get lost. You go down a bunch of wrong paths and then you find the right path.”
Screenwriter Robert  D. Siegel on his script The Wrestler
Script magazine
Script to Screen article by David S. Cohen

This quote was pulled from my 2009 post Screenwriting Quote #17. Siegel, who was once an editor for The Onion, also wrote the recently released movie The Founder. He’s one gifted writer tackling difficult subjects and characters.

Scott W. Smith

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“I steal from every single movie ever made. I love it—if my work has anything it’s that I’m taking this from this and that from that and mixing them together….I steal from everything. Great artists steal, they don’t do homages.”
Two-time Oscar wining screenwriter Quentin Tarantino
Empire, November 1994

Note: I’m pretty sure he stole that last line, too.

Related Posts:
Stealing from Shakespeare
Screenwriting Quote #39 (Woody Allen on be a “shameless thief”)
“Steal Like an Artists”
Fueling Your Imagination (Jarmusch Style)
Where Do Ideas Come From?

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Scott & Scripts 1725

Me in 2012 with some of the books that were the starting foundation for this blog

When I started this blog in 2008 I don’t recall the word curate being quite as in vogue is it is today. But curating has been a large part of what I’ve done. It started with a mountain of over 200 books on screenwriting and filmmaking that I’d collected since my film school days.

Most of them with yellow highlight marks of quotes and paragraphs that stood out to me. And that was the foundation to build on for the past nine years. This year I’m going through those 2,300+ posts and pulling the best.

Here one of my all-time favorite writing quotes from the Spanish playwright Lope de Vega—and happens to be 400 year old advice. It comes from the introduction to a book written by David Howard and Howard Mabley.

“My hope is that the reader will take all the rational and reasonable body of knowledge this book offers, that he or she will digest it in the manner recommended by Lope de Vega…in his comprehensive study of dramatic theory and practice, Writing Plays in Our Times (published in 1609 and written in verse) he stated openly and bravely, after having introduced all the ‘rules’: ‘When I have to write a play, I lock up the rules with six keys.’”
Frank Daniel (First dean of the American Film Institue)
The Tools of ScreenwritingIntroduction 

The basic thought there is whatever “rules” you have embraced along the way, lock them away when you start the writing process.

Note: This quote was originally published in 2009 on this blog in the post Screenwriting Quote 25 (400 Year Old Advice).

Related posts:
Rules, No Rules, Breaking Rules
There Are No Rules
There Are No Rules, But…

Scott W. Smith

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“One of the classic rules of coincidence is that fate — if it must be present — should always favor the antagonist. If our hero has a gun on the villain and the hero’s gun jams, it’s called drama. If the villain has our hero dead in his sights, and the villain’s gun jams, it’s called a lousy cheat, a not-very-inventive way to sneak the hero out of his predicament.”
Screenwriter Terry Rossio (Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean)
Wordplay/Column 14

And if you don’t believe Rossio, here’s a similar quote:

“Use coincidence to get characters into trouble, not out of trouble.”
Writer/director Alexander Mackendrick (Sweet Smell of Success)
On Filmmaking (edited by Paul Cronin)
page 41

Note: Both quotes pulled from the 2013 post Screenwriting & Coincidence 2.0.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”
Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) in Annie Hall 

Have you ever had a boyfriend or girlfriend break-up with you?  Raise your hand if you’ve gone through a nasty and emotional break-up? Wow, look at all those hands.

The Social Network opens up with a scene that builds up to a break-up.

“You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”
Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) in The Social Network

If your goal is to be in a healthy, loving relationship and the person you’ve been with calls you an asshole right before they break-up with you have three basic options:

  1. Work through those issues with that person (and perhaps yourself) and eventually kiss and make up.
  2. Shake the dust off your feet and move on to another relationship (or at least begin looking for one).
  3. Listen to the Phil Collins song I Don’t Care Anymore 426 times and swear off personal relationships as impossible and get a dog, throw yourself into your career, or travel to Tahiti and take up big wave surfing.

We could call those three options complications, roadblocks, and reversals. On Scott Myers’ screenwriting blog Go Into the Story here’s how he defines those three things:

Complications: A complication is an event or circumstance which slows the Protagonist’s progress toward their goal.

Roadblocks: A roadblock is an event or circumstance which stops the Protagonist’s progress toward their goal.

Reversals: A reversal is an event or circumstance which reverses the Protagonist’s progress toward their goal.

Now granted screenwriters/screenwriting teachers have plenty of confusing names for various writing techniques that can muddy the water. But I think complications, roadblocks and reversals is simple and helpful way to look at scenes you’re writing.

In the fictitious movie version of Mark Zuckerberg’s life, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin uses the break-up to change not only the computer wizard’s life, but the lives of quite a few people. In the movie, that break-up led to a major reversal that changed the world.

After the break-up Zuckerberg could have walked around campus and thought things over and then taken his ex some flowers and tried to make up. In that scenario the break-up was just a complication.

Or after the break-up he could have said “Fine,  there’s more fish in the sea” and spent a few days or weeks looking for a new girlfriend. The break-up was a roadblock in his quest for a healthy, loving relationship.

But what Sorkin had the Zuckerburg character do is head back to his dorm and with a little computer know-how, a few beers, a couple of friends, and a lot of bitterness launch the “hot or not” website to get back at the woman who broke-up with him.

That leads to he and his friends to starting The Facebook, now known as just Facebook. In that version the break-up led to a major reversal in not just Zuckerberg’s life, but in the way that over a billion people live their daily lives.

As of this writing there are over 1.79 billion active Facebook users and over a billion of those log onto Facebook daily. Talk about disruptive. Facebook is up there with Henry Ford’s Model T, and the birth control pill, as far as disrupting the way people live their lives.  (And according to some reports Facebook could be classified as a modern form of birth control.)

Ultimately when you boil it down, complications, roadblocks, & reversals—slow down, stop, back-up (or change directions)—  when done right are all in the family of conflict & emotions, and are part of engaging an audience in your story.

Related posts:
Conflict—Conflict-Conflict
Major Reversals (Tip #104)
What’s Changed? (TIp #102)?

Scott W. Smith

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“In the entire history of theater, it would be difficult to think of a play that’s more purely American than Bleacher Bums.”
Los Angeles Times review 

If the Chicago Cubs lose tonight there will be some happy Cubs fans. That’s not a typo. Yes, the Cleveland Indians fans will be happy if there team wins game 6 and become World Series champs for the first time since 1948.

Why, you may asked, would some Chicago Cubs fans be happy if their team loses another World Series? That is a rational question. But you see, the Cubs haven’t won a World Series game since 1908. Part of what’s baked into being a Chicago Cubs fan is your team is a perennial loser.

Several generations of Cubs fans have a shared camaraderie that their team is not going to win a World Series. I doubt there is anyone in Chicago (maybe in the world) who was alive and remember the last time the Cubs the World Series.

And, Yahoo! Sports reports that while the majority of Cub fans (91%) would like to see the Cubs finally win the World Series, that “1 in 4 Cubs fans will miss their identity of losing if they win the World Series.”

An identity of losing—that’s a theme worth exploring dramatically. And in fact, if I recall correctly, that was the basis for the play and TV movie Bleacher Bums. According to Wikipedia the 1977  play was “written collaboratively by members of Chicago’s Organic Theater Company, from an idea by actor Joe Mantegna.

I saw the play at a small theater in Los Angeles in the early or mid-80s and actually don’t remember much about it except it was enjoyable to watch. The play takes place in the cheap seat, outfield bleachers during an afternoon game at Wrigley Field as the ensemble cast of Cubs fans interact with each other.

Two Tv versions were made based on the play including this one from 1979 which aired on PBS:

If the Cubs lose tonight (or tomorrow night) Cubs fans in Chicago can still “celebrate” by catching the tail end of an updated Bleacher Bum run at the The Broadway Theater of the Pride Arts Center in Chicago. (According to the Chicago Tribune the play closes November 6.)

P.S. Back when the Indians won in 1948 one of their pitchers was Satchel Paige who on October 10, 1948 became the first black pitcher to to pitch it World Series history. That’s 45-years after the first World Series game was ever played. Which reminds be of another baseball film, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976). Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins wrote the screenplay based on William Brashler’s novel.

Related Posts:
Screenwriting, Baseball & Underdogs
Burns, Baseball & Character
‘The Battered Bastards of Baseball’
Baseball, Bergman & Bull Durham
Moneyball & Coach Ferrell

Scott W. Smith

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