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Posts Tagged ‘Shane Black’

[Movies] have an obligation to be sort of timeless. A good story is a good story, it doesn’t change. The Searchers is still The Searchers. It’s A Wonderful Life is still charming, Dirty Harry is still suspenseful, Jaws is still terrifying. These are movies that are prime, pristine examples of storytelling. The Exorcist is as compelling today and is absolutely frightening as it was when it was first released. It didn’t age. I took a friend of mine to see it recently, it scared her out of her wits.”
Writer/Director Shane Black
Interview with Alex Young

Related post: Study the Masters-Martin Scorsese 

Scott W. Smith

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“Coliving spaces develop unique cultures based on the location and people chosen, their mission statement, and house activities. The underlying culture gives birth to serendipitous connections between residents who share similar values and passions.”
Jessica Reeder

The Artist

If you’ve been following trends in Silicon Valley then you know about Live+Work Mansions (also called Live+Work Space). Basically large homes where entrepreneurs, creatives, and the like live and work together for a few days, weeks, months, or longer. The thought being that dividing where you work and where you live is old school. Plus the fact that the cost of living in California is high, this is an affordable/reasonable option to gather with like-minded people as you work on your business start-up or creative venture. (Or if you work at Google or Apple and don’t want an hour and a half commute.) Think of it as a commune for the 2000s.

I don’t know when the phrase “Live+Work Mansion” hit the scene, perhaps the pharse was coined a few years ago by a cleaver realtor when there was a glut of McMansions on the market due to the downturn in the economy. I do know the concept seems to be growing.  (Here are some examples; Rainbow Mansion, TheGlint, Langton Laboratories.)

I also don’t know if there are similar set ups for filmmakers in LA, Austin or wherever—but I imagine there are. When writer/director Shane Black (Iron Man 3) was starting out he lived in the ’80s version of a Live+Work Mansion known as the Pad O’ Guys. A group of 10-12 guys and girls who were like mined in wanting careers in filmmaking. Here’s how an LA Times article described the place back in 1990:

“The center of [Shane Black’s] social life is the Pad O’ Guys. Conversation at the Pad, a cross between an L.A. Algonquin round-table and a bull session by a couple white guys hanging around a mini-mall, ranges from banter about great-looking babes to semi-serious discussions of favorite movies. “We’re not totally geeks, but we used to be,” he says by way of explaining the bond that keeps a core group of 10 or 15 guys and a couple of girls together seven years after finishing college.”

Several screenwriters emerged from the Pad O’ Guys including Ed Solomon (Men in Black), David Silverman (The Simpsons) and Jim Herzfeld (Meet the Parents). Here’s how Black himself described the Pad O’ Guys helped him early in his career:

“I would do odd jobs. I was a temp guy. I worked as a dispatcher for a computer repair company and I was just writing on the side. I hung out with a group of buddies—about a dozen, some girls, but mostly guys. And together we had this group that all talked about movies and met late at night. There was a sign in the window “Open 24 hours” and it really truly was. Anytime you wanted to stop by there was somebody in there doing some crazy thing—making a movie, arguing about a film, we had our own game of Jeopardy where we’d invite all the chicks over. We were the geek fraternity, we were the nerds. It wasn’t a true fraternity, it was just 12 people who loved film. Of those 12 I’d say 10 succeeded in a fairly substantial, maybe even spectacular way, and helped each other on the way by reaching back down the ladder and pulling someone up a rung. And in turn that person helping their friend. I think for that reason it’s important to surround yourself with as many friends who are like-mined, people that you share this passion for film with, who think along the lines as you do. Get a group of like-minded people together, not for the purposes of networking—it’s not about using—it’s about finding friends who are as excited as you are—and that makes the odds [of succeeding] quadruple. Start a writer’s group or join a writer’s group is my usual advice.”
Shane Black
2005 talk to students in Minneapolis

Shane Black credits his writer friend Fred Dekker as the guy who reached down and pulled him up a rung by giving his script “to his agent to pass around to see if anyone liked it.” After Shane’s early success he and his buddies lived in the Fremont Place house/mansion used as George Valentin’s home in The Artist.

P.S. If you can shoot and edit video I bet you could live in Live+Work Mansion for free producing videos for entrepreneurs in the house. (Plus you’ll pick-up quite a few business skills and connections along the way.)  So many creative options these days.

Related Article: Hacking Home: Coliving Reinvents the Commune for a Networked Age by Jessica Reeder

Scott W. Smith

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“If there’s one thing I learned in prison it’s that money is not the prime commodity in our lives…time is.”
Gordon Gekko
2009 script Money Never Sleeps written by Alan Loeb

On this repost Saturday I’m going back to a 2008 post I wrote after a tornado hit Iowa. When a tragedy hits somewhere in the world or someone famous dies I think of this post. This week actor James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) died at age 51. My thought and prayers go out to the Gandolfini family. If there is a face to the positive change that hit television in the late 90s it is of Tony Soprano played by Gandolfini.

But Dang, 51 isn’t that old. Though that’s how old screenwriter/blogger Blake Snyder (Save the Cat) was when he died. Shane Black who I’ve been quoting all week is still very much alive at age 51. I happen to be 51. So that number did jump out at me when I heard the news.

Death is no respecter of age—or of persons. So this is just a reminder to have a life beyond your work and creative endeavors.

“Screenwriting is a huge part of my life. It’s my profession, it is my vocation. It has been so for nearly two decades now and hopefully for another decade still. It’s not the most important thing in my life by far. By far! You know, my wife, my kids, it’s not the be all, end all.”
Screenwriter Craig Mazin (Identity Thief)
Scriptnotes Ep. 87

Here’s the post that originally ran on May 31, 2008:

“When you drink from the well, remember the well-digger.”
Chinese proverb

Parkersburg, Iowa
©2008 Scott W. Smith

Last Sunday one of my partners at River Run Productions had 15 seconds to make it into his basement with his wife and dog before an EF 5 rated tornado ripped through his Parkersburg, Iowa home.

In less than a minute his house was gone and both cars totaled. But he, his wife and dog were safe. The storm killed seven people, destroyed over 200 homes, and damaged another 400.

Iowa is no stranger to tornadoes, but this one was the most powerful to hit the state in over 30 years. It’s one more reminder that things can change in a New York minute—or even an Iowa minute.

Friday I went to Parkersburg to shoot footage of the destruction and interviews for an insurance company.  I have been through a hurricane in Florida and a major earthquake in California and I have never personally seen the devastation that I saw as the result of that tornado.

From where I took the above photo, every direction I looked basically looked the same. It’s amazing that more people weren’t killed. Human beings tend to have short memories so this is one more thing to help remind us how fragile life is.

I’ve written a lot about writing on this blog but not much about keeping life in perspective with a creative career. The fact is most of us have difficulty balancing our lives.

I’ve collected some of my favorite quotes over the years that are a little random, but I hope there’s something in here that you can hang your hat on—or at least cause you to smile or reflect on your life and dreams. But mainly I want you to understand that whatever creative dreams you have there’s more to life than chasing that rainbow.

“My biggest disappointment so far is that having a career has not made me happy.”
Shane Black
(Quote after being paid $1.75 million for writing The Last Boy Scout and $4M for The Long Kiss Goodnight)

“It’s an accepted fact that all writers are crazy, even the normal ones are weird.”
William Goldman
Adventures in the Screen Trade                                                                  

 “I don’t dress until 5 p.m. I have a bathrobe that can stand…Yes, I am divorced. One writes because one literally couldn’t get another job or has no choice.”
Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind)

“I got into screenwriting for the best of all reasons: I got into it for self-therapy.”
Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver)

“For the first couple of years that I wrote screenplays, I was so nervous about what I was doing that I threw up before I began writing each morning. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s much better than reading what you’ve written at the end of the day and throwing up.”
Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct)

“I’m not very good at writing. If I succeed, it’s by fluke.”
Shane Black (Lethal Weapon)

“If you get rejected, you have to persist. Don’t give up. It was the best advice I ever got.”
Anna Hamilton Phelan (Mask)

“The myth about me is that I sold my first screenplay and it’s true. But I had also worked very hard as a fiction writer for ten years and that’s how I learned the craft of telling stories.”
Akiva Goldman (A Beautiful Mind)
He also has a masters in fiction from NYU

“I spent 18 years doing stand up comedy. Ten years learning, four years refining, and four years of wild success.” (It’s worth noting that Martin was on top when he walked away from stand up comedy and never performed as a comedian again.)
Steve Martin
Born Standing Up

“Starting in 2002, I knew for a fact that I had to get out of this business. It was too hard. It wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough, it was that it was too hard. What kept me in it was laziness and fear. It would be nice to say it was passion and I’m a struggling artist who didn’t give up on his craft. All of that sounds good, but the truth is it was laziness and fear.” 
Alan Loeb (Things We Lost in the Fire)

“Like the career of any athlete, an artist’s life will have its injuries. These go with the game. The trick is to survive them, to learn how to let yourself heal.”
 Julia Cameron
The Artist’s Way

Dee: “Jane, do you ever feel like you’re just this far from being completely hysterical 24 hours a day?”
Jane: “Half the people I know feel that way. The lucky ones feel that way. The rest of the people are hysterical 24 hours a day.”
Exchange from Lawrence Kasden’s Grand Canyon

“We’re constantly buying crap we don’t need and devoting ourselves to endeavors which, perhaps on reflection, with a little bit of distance, would reveal themselves to be contrary to our own best interest.”
David Mamet      

Everything in this town (L.A.) plays into the easy buttons that get pushed and take people off their path; greed, power, glamour, sex, fame.”
Ed Solomon (Men in Black)

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.
Stephen King

So life in general is hard, and being a writer or in the creative arts is a double helping of difficulty.

Several years ago Stephen King was hit by a van when he was on a walk. One leg was broken in nine places and his knee was reduced to “so many marbles in a sock,” his spine was chipped in eight places, four ribs were broken, and a laceration to his scalp required 30 stitches. It was as if his characters Annie Wilkes (Misery) and Cujo had ganged up on him.

But he had learned a thing or two about adversity after an earlier bout with drugs and alcohol that he eventually won. One of thing things he learned was to not to get a massive desk and put it in the center of the room like he did early in his career. That is, writing shouldn’t be the most important thing in your life.

“Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room.  Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”
Stephen King
On Writing 

Two years ago I produced a DVD based on the book Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. The concept was to shoot a Koyaanisqatsi-style video that that showed the arc of life from birth to death. I shot footage from New York City to Denver. I shot footage of a one day old baby in a hospital, people walking into an office building in Cleveland, snow failing in a cemetery and the like.  One of the shots for that video was in Parkersburg, Iowa.

It was a traditional Friday night high school football game at Aplington-Parkersburg High School. (What makes this school unique is though the town only has a population of 2,000 it currently has 4 active graduates playing in the NFL.)  That high school building is a total loss because of the tornado. Here’s a photo of the scoreboard sign that was blown down during the storm.

There will always be the storms of life. And as I’ve written before, movies can help us endure those storms and even inspire us. (“Throughout most of the Depression, Americans went assiduously, devotedly, almost compulsively, to the movies.”-Carlos Stevens) So work on your craft because we need great stories that give us a sense of direction, but don’t waste your life just writing screenplays.

Related Posts:

Don’t Waste Your Life (Part 2)

words & photos copyright ©2008  Scott W. Smith

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“The thing I’m always fighting off is wasted time and writer’s block.”
Edward Burns

photo-40

“I have a shoebox and—I have two of them actually. And every time I have an idea for a scene or a scrap of dialogue, or even just a snippet of an impression I have that seems to connote something in my head, I’ll put it in a shoebox. I’ll let six months go by until there’s all these accumulated papers in there. Napkins and business cards and everything that’s scribbled on and I dump it out. And I read through all of the things I’ve collected in the last six months. And some of the things you don’t even remember writing and you can’t even interpret what in the hell it means. Just see if anything connects. Just see if there is a thread that runs through any of the things that obviously that you’ve been thinking about or has been recurring in your subconscious in the last six months. You see what jells—what suggests a shape.
Writer/Director Shane Black
Speaking to students in Minneapolis

“I have three corkboards and then a wall in my office that I painted with the stuff that you can turn into a chalkboard. So basically what I do is I have one corkboard that is divided into four strips. The first act, the first part of the second act, then the second half of the second act, and then the third act. And within that I have index cards of reminders of every screenwriting book that I’ve read. So it’s just like when I’m writing and I’m stuck I’ll just stand in front of the board and say, ‘Oh, Blake Snyder says this, Syd Field says that, Robert McKee says this.’ And a lot of times I can just bust through that the writer’s block…It’s funny when I saw the documentary on Woody Allen and he has the bedside table with all these strips of paper—my version of that is my corkboards. If I have an idea I write it down and post it on the board. And then my chalkboard is basically—since environment is so important to me I want my world to feel very real—that’s usually a listing of my locations.”
Filmmaker Edward Burns
The Q&A Podcast with Jeff Goldsmith

P.S. The above photo is actually a Nike shoebox of mine that has various ideas for screenplay ideas I’d like to explore. Because I played a little football back in the day, there are always themes there that I like exploring. The CNN article was written in 2009 after former NFL quarterback Steve McNair (whose nickname was Air McNair) was killed by his mistress in a murder-suicide. Then earlier this year I read an article about NBA great Michael Jordan who was quoted as saying basically he’d give up all his wealth and fame if he could just play professional basketball again. And that isn’t just an idea that has been percolating in my brain for the past five years, it goes back more than a decade.

The box has various articles and ideas including an insightful Sports Illustrated piece about former Cleveland Brown QB Bernie Kosar and how he went through the $50 million he made before filing for bankruptcy. (Kosar says he was good at making money, but not good at keeping it.) In my shoebox are reports on the lingering effects of head injuries on NFL players. Former players who’ve committed suicide. Index cards that read things like  “Watch North Dallas Forty and “Watch The Electric Horseman”—a 1979 Sydney Pollack directed and Robert Garland written movie starring Robert Redford who played a former rodeo star trying to hold on to his dignity. I don’t know if all those notes, thoughts, and articles will ever lead to a screenplay—but that’s all part of the process.  Judd Apatow (This is 40) types notes/ideas/dialogue on his phone and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)  says he “tricks himself into writing” by emailing ideas to himself.

So whether it’s a shoebox, a corkboard, cell phone, or email—find what works for you to gather ideas and move forward with writing your screenplay.

Related Post:

Screenwriting Via Index Cards

Scott W. Smith

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Shane Black on Theme

“What I do is I try to figure out what the piece is about and link that to the story arc or the character arc.  I always think there’s two things going on in any script—there’s the story and then there’s the plot.  The plot is the events.  If it’s a heist film, it’s how they get in and out.  But the story is why we’re there, why we’re watching the events.  It’s what’s going on with the characters.  And theme above that.  Once I get those things, once I know what the theme is and what it’s about, I can start trying on story beats and plot beats to see if they feel like they’re moving, but they have to relate to the overall theme.”
Writer/director Shane Black
Creative Screenwriting interview by Peter Clines 

P.S. I can’t find the exact quote but I saw an interview where Black said that no matter how much you’ve been knocked down you can always come back. Seems that would be the theme of Iron Man 3, of its star Robert Downey Jr., and of Black himself.

Related posts:

Theme: What Your Movie is Really About
Theme=Story’s Heart & Soul
Writing from Theme (tip #20)
More Thoughts on Theme
Michael Arndt on Theme

Scott W. Smith

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“[Before writing the script] I try to see the trailer in my head. I watch the preview as I’m writing and get the shape—the overall shape. Not just what happens, but what the whole thing is going to feel like. If I were to cut a mental trailer for the film that would generate the best possible explication of the shape that exists that I’m trying so desperately to define what would those images be that would suggest more fully that particular shape? And then I work and try to create that.
Writer/ Director Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3)
Shane Black Interview

Question for readers of this blog who cut trailers for a living; Do you find cross-overs between cutting trailers and your screenwriting? Have any editing trailer tips that can help fellow screenwriters? And I know some filmmakers actually shoot the trailer to try and help raise funds. Anybody have a story about how a shooting a trailer helped raise funds to make your film?

Wired has an article on The Art of the Trailer written by Jason Kehe and Katie M. Palmer. Wired also has these related articles:
Mark Woolen Spill Secrets of the Movie Trailer Biz
What’s the Best Trailer Ever?
Movie Trailers Are Getting Insanely Fast. Trust Us, We Counted the Cuts
Wolverine: Anatomy of a Trailer Campaign 

And just in case you haven’t seen the video trailer for Every Oscar-winning Movie Ever:

Scott W. Smith

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“You think I’m crazy? You call me crazy, you think I’m crazy? You wanna see crazy?”
Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson)

About 25 years before Iron Man 3 made over a billion dollars at the box office its director/co-writer Shane Black had his first feature film (Lethal Weapon) produced. As part of a panel event sponsored by Scriptwriters Network Black explained how his cop script was influenced by westerns and monster movies.

“I would write a bunch of scenes because I had a sense of the shape and a feel of  a cop film that I like to watch, but gradually something emerged and that was the sense of a Frankenstein story. Sort of an urban western where the old gunslinger is this sort of this wounded Frankenstein who sits reliving the war, reliving the gun fights in his head. And everyone because they’re in sort of a lull, this sort of a gentrified suburban community now where we think in our society that the west is tamed and they can’t hurt us, that evil is somewhere else. But this guy, the gunslinger, knows better. Meanwhile they call him a baby killer and they shun him and they think he’s weird because his skills are so distasteful and horrible. But then violence comes to our classic community—our sweet little lullaby is broken. Then the city all goes out to the gunslinger basically and says, ‘look we hate you, we despise you, we think you’re crazy but we need you now because you’re the only one who knew the truth all along. Which is the west isn’t gentrified, it’s still wild. And now we’re fu#@ed because you’re the last guy who remembers how to handle this sort of thing so we need you.’  And that kind of gunslinger thing was what I set out really to do.”
Screenwriter Shane Black on writing Lethal Weapon
Writing the Hollywood Blockbuster

Related posts:
“Stagecoach” Revisited
Writing “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid”
Living in the Wild West

Scott W. Smith

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