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Posts Tagged ‘Sideways’

“When you adapt a book, you’re not making another book—you’re making a movie, which operates grammatically very, very differently. The better the book is, the more you have to change it. A good book succeeds with literary effects, but you need cinema so you have to just treat it as raw material. Anyone who expects a movie to be faithful to a book is not really giving the proper respect to cinematic form and literary form.”
Alexander Payne 
Interview with Kevin Conroy Scott
Screenwriters’ Masterclass

Note: Payne has won two Oscars for his hand in adapting two scripts from novels; The Descendants (Kaui Hart Hemmings) and Sideways (Rex Pickett).

Scott W. Smith

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Here’s an exchange found in Creative Screenwriting magazine, Volume 4, #3 (Fall 1997) that should be an encouragement to you wherever you are writing in the world;

Geoff Jordan: You’ve written a couple of scripts set in Omaha, Nebraska. Why?
Alexander PayneBecause I kind of ‘get” Omaha’s world. If you’re going to make movies in whatever country you’re in, you want to somehow “capture” it. It’s kind of a cliche that early in your career you always go to your roots. It’s all about what you know, or think you know, even if you don’t. I just like Omaha. I’ve always lived here. I mean, my grandparents were here; my father was here. My whole life has been here. Even when I left to go to college at eighteen, I’ve always come back here. So, there’s a kind of constant thread that now, as I’m starting to make movies, it’s kind of fun to go back.

Since that interview, Payne has won two Oscars for his screenwriting; Sideways (2005) and The Descendants. Neither which happen to be set in Omaha as were his films Citizen Ruth, About Schmidt, and Election.

P.S. Bonus for readers of this blog in Greece; While Alexander Payne was born in Omaha, Nebraska, he is of Greek decent and was born with the name Alexander Constantine Papadopoulos.

Scott W. Smith

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“As a teacher what I do is I combine passion with the subjects I teach.”
Jaime Escalante (1930-2010)
Inspiration behind the movie Stand and Deliver

“I can’t think of a better way to spend a life than pursuing the imagination.”
Richard Walter
Writer & screenwriting professor

(Richard Walter Interview Part 1)

Today begins a several part series taken from an interview I did with Richard Walter, Chairman of the UCLA screenwriting program. Early in his screenwriting career he wrote the first draft of American Graffiti for George Lucas. He’s taught at UCLA since 1977, where his students have included David Koepp (Spiderman) Audrey Wells (Under the Tuscan Sun), and Alexander Payne (Sideways). He’s also the author of Essentials of Screenwriting: The Art, Craft, and Business of Film and Television Writing.

SS: In the last 30 years there has been an explosion of screenwriting training in books, schools, CDs/DVDs, blogs, and seminars, yet you say that you’ve seen that many writers are merely writing scripts that are “shiny, superficial and soulless.” So what’s the problem that writers today are technically better, but that hasn’t translated into better scripts?

Richard Walter: “They’ve gotten intellectual. I think the downside to some of the books on screenwriting is they do tend to make people become self-conscious and intellectual—’Uh, let’s see is this the inciting incident? Or is it a plot point? On page 17 this is supposed to happen, and that’s supposed to happen.’ How can that do anything other than straight-jacket people?

I do believe in outlining, but at some point you have to let go of that outline and stay open to surprises and live with the uncertainty.

I’ve seen people who have shaped the script correctly, yet it just doesn’t move me. It just doesn’t reach audiences in the solar plexus. It’s too complete in the old spelling of the word C-O-M-P-L-E-T. It’s a little too well made.

One of my favorite movies ever, but certainly my favorite of those that came out of UCLA, was a real UCLA film school Mafia film called Stand and Deliver, the story of Jaime Escalante. He was a dedicated teacher and decided to teach calculus to these Latino kids who live in the barrio in East LA and go to Garfield High. And he succeeded in doing that.

The first thing a teacher has to have is high expectations. And indeed Escalante succeeded in teaching these kids calculus. And indeed they take the Educational Testing Services national test in calculus and they all pass it. Well, back in New Jersey where the ETS is located they get back these results and say, ‘This can’t be true. These Latino kids in East LA could not have passed this calculus exam, they must of cheated,’ and so they make them take the test again. This is the true story upon which the movie is based. So the kids take the test again and pass and demonstrate they indeed were capable of learning calculus.

Now I want you to imagine Tom Musca, who was the producer and co-writer of that movie, saying to me, ‘Now , Richie, imagine me pitching this picture to the town. The climax is these kids take a math test—twice.’ It sounds idiotic, it sounds very stupid. But it works so well. So I would say that the worst mistake that writers make is we outsmart ourselves, and that’s sometimes what happens with these (screenwriting) books, they make us a little too self-observing and that is the enemy of all creative expression. “

Related Posts: Robert McKee Vs. Richard Walter

Screenwriting Quote #16 (Richard Walter)

Scott W. Smith

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And I thought it was pretty cool that Nebraska produced financial guru Warren Buffett, screenwriter Alexander Payne (Sideways, Election), and actor Marlon Brando, but now I’ve learned that ScriptGirl was born and partially raised in Nebraska (and has strong enough ties there to spend Thanksgiving in the Cornhusker state this year). And on top of that she was an Art History major at the University of Iowa.

I always thought that if Diablo Cody wouldn’t have broken through with Juno she would have evolved into something like ScriptGirl. (Actually, they are the same age so I imagine they attended the University of Iowa at the same time. Interesting.)  ScriptGirl for the uninitiated is the persona of a sexy librarian/farm girl-type turned savvy Hollywood script sale reviewer. While she doesn’t cover her breasts much she does a fine job covering recent script sales in an informative and entertaining way.

Her coverage (and lack of coverage) has helped her build a fan base of  around 8,000 You Tube subscribers (one video currently has 890,846 views). She is also well covered on the social media front including Facebook, Myspace, and twitter. Quentin Tarantino is said to be a fan.

So what prepared ScriptGirl for her online success?

“I didn’t go to film school. I studied art history. But, like so many others, I was drawn to the movie business and came to Los Angeles. I’ve tried or suffered through a lot of different industry jobs. But screenwriting to me was always the ultimate destination. After a couple years of flailing around, I managed to find an agent who liked my romantic comedy and shopped it around. It was optioned by the production company of an actor I shall not name, and I had some meetings on other projects. It was a pretty heady time for this Thai/German farmgirl from Nebraska. But before I could even put a down payment on a Prius, the rom-com was out on its keister, promises of other jobs dried up, and I was back to the harsh reality of 9-5 living.”
ScriptGirl
Interview with Kim Townsel

I’m not sure how much of a moneymaker it is for the small team that puts together ScriptGirl (there are You Tube ads and the occasional product placement of Red Bull or Final Draft) but it has to be good exposure. ScriptGirl now has a regular column at Script magazine. From a screenwriter’s perspective it’s a succinct way to follow script sales and it’s always encouraging to hear ScriptGirl’s closing words; “You can’t sell it if you don’t write it.”

So if you’ve never seen the Bellview/Omaha, Nebraska native (and Iowa educated) ScriptGirl in action, welcome to her world. (In case you’re wondering, Bellview is just across the river from Iowa. I’m starting to think this Midwest thing is becoming trendy.)

BTW-Did you know that when Alexander Payne was growing up in Omaha that Warren Buffett was actually a neighbor? And did you know Warren Buffett and Jimmy Buffett are distantly related?

Related Posts:

The Juno-Iowa Connection

Screenwriting from Nebraska

Scott W. Smith

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