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Posts Tagged ‘Seabiscuit’

“I’m very lucky that I had a movie that allows me to do something as enormous as staging what at that point was the largest sporting event in American history. And at the same time investigate small emotional moments like when Howard loses his son.”  
Seabiscuit writer/director Gary Ross

ScriptSea

Recently I re-watched Seabiscuit (2003) again and found a great interview on the DVD extras where the director/screenwriter Gary Ross explains how he broke down an auto accident scene which becomes a “pivoital point” in the movie.

The movie set-up is about moving forward into the future. Americans at this time have moved into the age of the automobile. A young boy (around age 12) decides to have an adventure and take his father’s car down river to go fishing. The following quotes are all from Gary Ross and the sections in italic are from his notes:

“What I like to do when I develop a shooting plan for the movie is sort of take the early parts of the prep to do it privately.  And at that point I’m sort of pretending that someone else wrote the script and I’m interpreting it. The shooting plan can encompass a lot of things—it can be the way I see the lighting. It can be performance notes. It can be blocking notes. It isn’t just as dry and clinical as a shot list. When I make these notes I’m still connected to the emotional intentions”

(Sc#67.) SERIES OF INSERTS. Fishing pole insert. Rafters. INSERT loading the tackle box. Showing his purpose now- pleasing his father. Getting ready. (All the material that will be scattered across the river bottom later…

“I understand that I’m using these inserts to set up something for later on.”

Last insert is the key in the ignition. His hand fights with the gear shift. It should probably be up shift to emphasize his shortness, craning over the dashboard. 

SeabiscuitCar

(Sc#74.) Whizzing by on the road. His car one way. The Logging truck the other. Yeah. That would work great. 

“(Laughing) I don’t know that it will work great, but I’m sort of talking to myself saying, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea. Keep going with that.'”

Let’s not show the collision. Let’s allow that to stay in the imagination. Let’s show perspective—into Howard’s perspective at that moment. Getting a phone call [about his son being killed in an accident]. The moment of the accident is not as important as the news of the accident.

SeabiscuitRunning copy

Howard racing toward the camera. The world has gone quiet now.

“I think it’s important to say what you’re going to do with sound before you shoot something. Because the sound and picture are so completely fused. Sometimes the loudest things are a distant or silent scream…Those things obviously turn into a shot list, which is more dry or clinical, but when you have both things they enhance one another. One is almost the emotional roadmap to be able to read the other.

I did find a online version of the clip here but was not able to embed it into this post. Great to watch to understand the whole context. Consider it a solid free five-minute film school lesson that shows the intentionality of an Academy Award-nominated movie and screenplay.

And yet one more reminder of the importance of emotions in filmmaking.

Related posts:
Seabiscuit Revisited in 2008
Writing ‘Seabiscuit’ On writer who also wrote Unbroken.
Shelter from the Storm (‘Unbroken’)
Big’ Emotions (Another Gary Ross written screenplay.)
The Creature from… (Ross’ father—Arthur A. Ross—was also a screenwriter.)
‘It Take Guts To Be a Screenwriter’ (Gary Ross quote.)
40 Days of Emotions
Writing ‘The Godfather’ (Part 3) Includes a video showing the shooting book Coppola put together to shoot The Godfather. 

Scott W. Smith

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“Remember the old days, when movies were glorious, magical and mute? Neither do I. But the passing of the silent era from memory into myth is what ‘The Artist,’ Michel Hazanavicius’s dazzling cinematic objet d’art, is all about.”
A.O. Scott
New York Times article The Artist (2011) 

Yesterday I went to see The Artist for the third time in a movie theater. There have only been a few films in my life that have resonated with me enough to see the film three times in the theater. The last film I saw three times in a theater was Seabiscuit back in the summer of ’03.

I love everything about The Artist— Michael Hazanavicus’s writing and direction, the acting, the cinematography, the editing, the music, the sets, the dog, the costumes, etc., etc. All things which I appreciated more and more on repeated viewings. Heck, I just love the era of the 20s & 30s. And I was pleased when The Artist was awarded five Oscars including Best Motion Picture of the Year.

But as they touch on in The Artist— it’s out with the old in with the new.

When I left the theater yesterday I saw a line forming for the midnight showing of The Hunger Games. No, it wasn’t just a line, it looked more like some kind of protest mixed with a Justin Bieber concert. There was a line of teenage girls and tents. Tents—as in camping. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen tents outside a movie theater before. Granted it looked like it might rain little, and who wants to wait six hours in the rain? And my guess is that scene was repeated in theaters across the United States last night.

It will be showing this weekend in a staggering 10,000 theaters. According to The Washington Post, The Hunger Games set the record for advanced ticket sales of a non-sequel film. The midnight showing sold out 1,400 theaters and made $20 million just last night/this morning. I’m going to go way out on a limb and say that it’s going to be the box-office champ this weekend and pull in more than $100 million.

I don’t know the cultural phenomenon behind The Hunger Games other than the books have a diehard following. But I look forward to seeing the film because it  stars Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) and was directed by Gary Ross. (Ross, if you recall, directed Seabiscuit.) He also credited as screenwriter along with Billy Ray and Suzanne Collins (who wrote the book that the movie is based on). Ross has been quoted as saying of his work on The Hunger Games, “I’m as proud of this as anything I’ve ever done in my life.”

So by the end of the weekend it’ll probably be The Artist 3—The Hunger Games 1.

P.S. Just realized that both The Artist and Seabiscuit both deal with the same time period in and around The Great Depression and address issues of loss, obsolescence and redemption. The past was rough, but judging from the previews of The Hunger Games, the future looks worse. (Are there any movies where the future looks positive?)

Related posts:

Writing “The Artist” (Part 1)

Writing “The Artist” (Part 2)

Writing “The Artist” (Part 3)

Seabiscuit Revisted in 2008

It Takes Guts to Be a Screenwriter (Gary Ross)

Writing “Seabiscuit”

Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)

Related Links: Interesting article by Anne Thompson comparing why The Hunger Games killed it at the box office and why John Carter didn’t.

Scott W. Smith

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Big is one of those rare films that will tickle the funny bone and touch the heart.”
Movie critic Peter Travers (then with People magazine)

“(As a screenwriter) I’m in that emotional place where there is room for idealism. In Big (1988) and Dave (1993) there is a similar question being asked: Is innocence redemptive? And I want people to come away with renewed optimism.”
Four-time Oscar nominated producer/screenwriter Gary Ross (Seabiscuit)
1993 LA Times article 

The following exchange between screenwriters Anne Spielberg and Gary Ross can be seen on the second disc of the expanded edition of Big. The 1988 film brought the screenwriters an Oscar nomination, as well as landing Tom Hanks his first Academy Award nomination.

Gary: If there was a punch line on top of the situation where you could feel the writer—we’d yank it out.  If you were organically laughing at the situation, then than was great, that’s where the comedy should come from. If we went through pages and pages (in reading the script for Big) when you weren’t laughing, that was okay.

Anne: And that’s what gave the poignancy to it—that you’re always on that edge of being a kid on his own, and he can’t go home again. There’s always that little moment of sadness just right around the corner.

Gary: And under a lot of the movie there is a lot of sadness. A loss of childhood is a wonderful and sad thing, and I think we respected both of those emotions. And I think one of the things we did that was good was when the story wasn’t funny to us, but was true to the story—that was okay.

An interesting sidenote to the casting of big; Tom Hanks originally turned now the role in Big, and Anne and Gary (and director Penny Marshall) were working with Robert De Niro to play the role of the boy who wakes up a man. Imagine how different that film would be.

And way back in 1959 a Twilight Zone episode written by Rod Serling called Walking Distance first aired. It’s the story of an ad man who mysteriously returns to his childhood town—and nothing has changed. Rod said it was one of his most personal episodes and the theme of returning to one’s youth was never far from his thoughts. You can read that script at rodserling.com. The small boy in the clip below from that episode was played by Ron Howard.

(Yes, Hollywood is one big family–Ron’s dad, Rance Howard, is an actor, Anne’s brother is Steven, and Gary’s dad, Arthur A. Ross, was a screenwriter —deal with it. Write a script as good as Big and you’ll be in the family as well. One more reason Diablo Cody should be your screenwriting hero—a total Hollywood outsider…until she had a hit film and won a Oscar.)

I think the Big commentary by Anne and Gary is the single best commentary I’ve ever heard on a movie from the perspective of a screenwriter, because it is the only one I know that has the original recordings of the creative process as they developed the story right out of the gate.

Related posts:

It Takes Guts to be a Screenwriter (Gary Ross quote)

Rod Serling’s Binghamton Roots

Writing “Seabiscuit”

The Juno—Iowa Connection

Scott W. Smith

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“The future has arrived!”
Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges)
Seabiscuit

“But I’m not; I’m not obsolete!”
The Obsolete Man written by Rod Serling
The Twilight Zone

Thinking about my recent posts that touched on the theme of the Old West changing, represented in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1970) as well as The Grey Fox (1982), made me think about another movie that begins in those years of transition—Seabiscuit (2003).

Back in 1996 magazine journalist Laura Hillenbrand stumbled upon an article that would change her life.

“That day I found just a tidbit of information, a few passages about how Charles Howard was a modern automobile man and Tom Smith was a plains cowboy. Something about that tugged at me, and I kept turning it over in my head. I thought it was fascinating that a man who would find his true greatness by teaming up with a frontier horseman who had been rendered obsolete by the automobile. I started poking around in more documents and doing a few interviews, and a spectacular story tumbled out of the research.”
Laura Hillenbrand

Her research became an article, then a best-selling book, and then a wonderful film based on Seabiscuit and the people that were touched by that horse. One of the side benefits of research is what you can stumble upon along the road you thought you were headed down. Serendipity happens in writing, in traveling, and in life.

Speaking of life, the movie was produced and released in wake of the September 11, 2001. A film about struggle was timely then, and it’s timely in 2010. A public speaker once told me that if you talk about pain and suffering, you will always have an audience. This is how the book starts:

“In the winter of 1937, America was in the seventh year of the most catastrophic decade in its history. The economy had come crashing down, and millions upon millions of people had been torn loose from their jobs, their savings, their homes.”

It was the task of screenwriter and director Gary Ross to take Hillenbrand’s research and best-selling book and somehow tell the story in two hours.

Seabiscuit is about these broken characters coming together, how they helped heal one another. It’s about people redeeming each other, getting past their own barriers and isolation to live again, and to re-engage in life. That’s what I found so amazing about it, was the struggles these three guys had out of despair. As the country was engaging in a similar struggle. That’s what really drew me to it.”
Gary Ross
DVD Talk Interview

Themes about hardship and the hope for change and transformation will never go out of style. Perhaps that is not only the history of American cinema, but of the history of civilization.

Related Posts: Seabiscuit Revisited in 2008
Writing Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid

Scott W. Smith

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That’s it, Eric Guggenheim is the final straw. Is it me or are screenwriter’s names getting longer? Today I’m officially change one of the categories on this blog from “Screenwriting Quote of the Day” to simply “Screenwriting Quote #___.” The last writer I quoted was Mark D. Rosenthal and the post heading just looked too long.

So let it be said, so let it be done.

Wonder what took me so long to edit that down. It’s not like I’m paid by the word like my first writing gig at the Sanford Herald. I think it was 10 cents a word. But, heck, I was nineteen and thrilled to being paid anything to write. (Wish I was making 10 cents a word to write this blog.)

Anyway, back to Eric Guggenheim. Guggenheim sold his first script at age 23 just after he graduated from NYU before going on to write the script for Miracle (on the 1980 US Hockey team).  In an interview he did with Debra Eckerling he was asked, “What separates a good sports movie from a bad one?”

Guggenhiem: If all you have is that big game, you’re lost. The film has to be about something else. Take Seabiscuit for example. It’s a story about loss and healing that just happens to be set against the backdrop of horseracing. Jeff Bridges’ character lost his son, Tobey Maguire’s character lost his family. Chris Cooper’s character lost his way of life. Working with the horse and each other helped to ease those losses.

Since I’ll go on record as Seabiscuit being my favorite movie of the last decade (and most watched), I never get tired of talking about that movie. (And am always surprised by how many people haven’t seen the film.) Sports film, horseracing, big Hollywood film—I get why some people would not be attracted to the film, but if you haven’t seen it give it a try. It really is a well-crafted film that is enjoyable to watch on many levels.

Is your favorite sports film about more than the big game? I know Rocky & Hoosiers are both about broken characters looking for redemption.

And by the way, Debra Eckeling writes for Storylink and has the website Write On Online (which is full of Q&A with writers). And you can follow her on Twitter @writeononline.

Scott W. Smith


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Last night I watched the documentary Dreams on Spec which is a look at screenwriting from the perspective of those who’ve made it and those who are trying to make it. It’s reminiscent of Comedian which features Jerry Seinfeld’s behind the scene look of those trying to build a career as stand-up comedians. Both should be required viewing as they give a glimpse of the uphill battles, pitfalls, and realties of a creative career.

Dreams on Spec was written and directed by Daniel Snyder and in between profiling three screenwriters at various stages of trying to break into the industry he shows interviews with screenwriters Ed Solomon (Men in Black), James L. Brooks (As Good as it Gets), Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally) and others. I thought I’d pull some quotes for you this week, but I encourge you to watch the doc.

First up is writer/director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit):

“I think that it’s very easy to kind of give it away—give the definition of success away—empower other people in determining whether or not you have talent. And here’s the catch-22, the more you do that the less you’ll be able to write. That’s the hard thing, because writing is all about preservation, and strength and authority in your own voice. So if you give that voice away by guessing (Ross points to others) what you think, or what you think, or what you think as you go, you’re gonna have less to say and less to be able to write about, and less of an authoritative voice and then it goes away.”

Each of the up and coming screenwriters featured in the doc represents three common  stages of writing. There is one who keeps plugging away despite year after year of rejection, one who has mild success in actually getting a low budget script produce (walking away with around $20,000 and keeping his day job), and one that appears to quit. That probably covers 99& of the writers who will write the tens of thousands of scripts this year.


Scott W. Smith

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“You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?”
                                         Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro)
                                         Taxi Driver
                                         Written by Paul Schrader 

deniro500

No Bobby, I’m not talkin’ to you. But I did spend a couple days talking to students (and a few visitors) at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan the last couple days and the above photo was one of the movie posters hanging outside the video theater where I spoke.  Calvin’s most famous film alumni is Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader.

I would like to thank Prof. Bill Romanowski for the invite and and all the support staff, other professors, and students for the opportunity to speak, as well as the sponsorship by the Gainey Institute and Communication Arts & Sciences department. It sure is more fun to talk about this stuff than write about it.

I not only got to meet a lot of eager students, but had lunch yesterday with a New York actor who’s recently been on Law and Order and had a director from L.A. sit in on one of my seminars. (He was in town raising funds for a film that would take advantage of Michigan’s 40%-42% tax incentives.)

Those tax incentives are bringing a film called The Genesis Code not only to Michigan, but they will be shooting part of the film at the Calvin College campus. But Michigan is learning quickly about Hollywood’s ways as people have gotten excited about films starring people like Samuel L. Jackson, Joe Mantegna and Robert Duvall scheduled to shoot in Michigan only to see them postponed for one reason or another.

It was an interesting time to be in Michigan because not only is Detroit hurting because of the decline in auto sales, but the whole economy of the state is effected because many of the smaller cities are made up of manufacturing plants that produce parts for the  automobiles that people aren’t buying.

So people are both excited and skeptical about the possibilities of a film industry bringing jobs. Enrollment at schools and colleges that teach film and video is up. I saw people shooting footage around the Calvin campus including this young fellow that I snapped a picture of as he was in action. This kind of thing is happening all over the country. 

calvinstedicam1858

While at Calvin College I learned that they have a few other grads who are working in the film industry, but the most impressive to me is Jeannie Claudia Oppewall. She’s is a four time Oscar nominated production designer/art director who’s worked on two of my favorite films, Seabiscuit and Tender Mercies.

And for what it’s worth, she’s worked in Iowa twice on The Bridges of Madison County and the yet to be release Ellen Page film Peacock. And just to come full circle she was once married to Paul Schrader.

Schrader’s divorce played a part of his state of mind before writing Taxi Driver, as did Jean-Paul Sartre, “Before I sat down to write Taxi Driver, I reread Sartre’s Nausea, because I saw the script as an attempt to take the European existential hero…and put him in an American context.” Schrader has also said that part of the inspiration for picking a taxi driver to represent loneliness was based on the  Harry Chapin song Taxi about a taxi driver who used to dream of being a pilot and one night gives a lift to his old girlfriend.

…And me, I’m flying in my taxi, 
Taking tips, and getting stoned, 
I go flying so high, when I’m stoned.

                                          Taxi
                                          Harry Chapin 

Before that song was a hit in 1972, Chapin had actually written and directed a documentary called Legendary Champions which was nominated for an Oscar in 1969.

And lastly, AFI lists “Are you talking to me?” as the 10th most popular movie quote of the last 100 years. So yes, it is possible to be born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan and to write a screenplay that leaves an imprint on film history. (Though it’s okay to start out with slightly lower aspirations.) 

Scott W. Smith

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