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Posts Tagged ‘Sidney Lumet’

The following comments are from five time Oscar-nominated writer/director Sidney Lumet (The Verdict, Dog Day Afternoon, Prince of the City,  12 Angry Men, Network):

“When I first meet with the screenwriter, I never tell him anything, even if I feel there’s a lot to be done. Instead I ask him the same question I’ve asked myself: What is the story about? What did you see? What was your intention? Ideally, if we do this well, what do you hope the audience will feel, think, sense? In what mood do you want them to leave the theater? 

“We are two different people trying to combine our talents, so it’s critical that we agree on the intention of the screenplay. Under the best circumstances, what will emerge is a third intention, which neither of us saw at the beginning….[Arthur Miller] said that he loved seeing what his work evoked in others. The result could contain revelations, feelings, and ideas that he never knew existed when he wrote the play. It’s what we all hope for.

“…Of course, the original intent is present. But all of the individual contributions from all the different departments add up to a total far greater than their individual parts. Moviemaking works very much like an orchestra: the addition of various harmonies can change, enlarge, and clarify the nature of the theme.”
Sidney Lumet (1924-2011)
Making Movies 
Pages 29-30, 46

Related post:
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)
Sidney Lumet on Theme
Arthur Miller on Writing
Sidney Lumet (1924-2011)

Scott W. Smith

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“When I first meet with the scriptwriter, I never tell him anything, even if I feel there’s a lot to be done. Instead I ask him the same questions I’ve asked myself: What is the story about? What did you see? What was your intention? Ideally, if we do this well, what do you hope the audience will feel, think, sense? In what mode do you want them to leave the theater?”
Director Sidney Lumet (Network, The Verdict)
Making Movies 

P.S. This quote is actually a nice bridge between the worlds of podcasting/radio and filmmaking. One of the things that makes Ira Glass’s work stand out is he is known to sometimes ask over 150 questions to decide if a person or topic is worthy of a radio program on This American Life. That and he’s also said to have a 40% kill rate of shows they start to produce but do materialize in a way that is worthy of the program. The great thing about asking questions is they’re quite inexpensive.

Related posts:
‘Out on a Wire’ Podcast (A good list of sample questions to ask?)
The Major of Central Dramatic Question
Screenwriting Quote #194 (John Jarrell)
Is It a Movie?
What is it about? (An Oscar-winner weighs in on asking questions.)
What’s Changed (Tip #102)

Scott W. Smith

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“If I take the money I’m lost.”
Lawyer Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) in The Verdict

One of my all-time favorite screenplays and movies is The VerdictI happened to see it when when it first came out in theaters back in 1982 when I was in film school. And as I revisit it from time to time I just appreciate the multi-layers of the film.

The David Mamet screenplay is listed at 91 on WGA’s list of 101 Greatest screenplays  just after Sidways and before Psycho. It was nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture, Sidney Lumet’s direction, and Paul Newman lead role.

I think the film follows the Simple Stories/Complex Characters model, but what the film does is shows us a textured glimpse into the legal world. I haven’t read the Barry Reed book which the screenplay is based on, but my guess is Reed did the heavily lifting.

Reed (1927-2002) served in the Army during World War II before getting his law degree at Boston College. He was in private practice in Boston specializing in, according to Wikipedia, medical malpractice, personal injury, and civil litigation cases.

He’d actually been practicing law for 25 years before The Verdict novel was published so he had plenty life experiences to draw on. But there is a simplicity how the screenplay handles all the complexities of law and medical which make the script a wonderful study even for the new screenwriter.

The core the story is about a fading, alcoholic lawyer whose mentor throws him a case that appears to be an easy cash settlement case. One that will help him get back on his feet. That is until Galvin’s conscience kicks in and he decides to try the case for justice to prevail. And at the same time be a personal redemption for himself.

On page 38 of the screenplay Galvin actually verbalizes to a female friend in a bar what I believe is the theme of the story:

“The weak, the weak have got to have somebody to fight for them. Isn’t that the truth? You want another drink?” 

At the end of a Christopher Lockharts’ post Screenwriting 101 he has an excellent detailed outline of The Verdict which is well worth your time to read. Here’s some of his highlights:

LOG LINE: A drunken, washed-up attorney struggles against a goliath law firm to win a medical malpractice suit.

ACT ONE

PROTAGONIST INTRO

Galvin is introduced as an attorney lower than an ambulance chaser – he chases Hearses. He is a washed-up attorney- glory days long behind him. He is a drunk – who only seems to show signs of life when he is in a bar.

INCITING INCIDENT

For physical/external storyline: MICKEY jolts GALVIN into consciousness, reminding him that he has five-days to prepare for the ONLY case on his docket. This is a definite money-maker that will ensure GALVIN some much needed income (page 6-7).

For psychological/internal storyline: GALVIN visits his comatose client in the nursing home. He comes to understand the severity and enormity of the case before him (page 8).

PLOT POINT: END OF ACT ONE

GALVIN decides to try the case, “I have to try this case. I have to do it, Mick. I’ve got to stand up for that girl” (page 31). NOTE: This is the point in the story where the goal is establinshed. GALVIN’s goal is to win the case. A MAJOR DRAMATIC QUESTION is proposed: WILL GALVIN WIN THE CASE? The MDQ is the linchpin of the dramatic narrative – the purpose for which the story is being told. 

P.S. To find a link to most of the 101 WGA top scripts visit Simply Scripts.

Related links:
The End of the Rope Club (Oscars ’14) Galvin belongs in the end of the rope club Oscars ’83.
Writing ‘Flight’ Another alcoholic/redemption story with some echoes of The Verdict. And one Lockhart actually had a role in getting produced.
Emotional Evolution/Devolution (Part 2)
Sidney Lumet (1924-2011)
Show Don’t Tell (Tip #46) Great example from The Verdict

Scott W. Smith

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It’s all baby steps. One foot in front of the other.”
Writer/Director Sidney Lumet (The Verdict)

ScriptMag

 

A few days ago I was thrilled to find out that the Screenwriting from Iowa and Other Unlikely Places blog was named by Script Magazine as Website of the Week.  That’s pretty cool. I’m a long time fan of the magazine and appreciate the nod from Script Mag editor Jeanne Veillette Bowerman and her team. I’ll metaphorically put that on the same shelf as my 2008 Regional Emmy for this blog, the 2010 shout-out from the official blog of Tom Cruise, and most recently in 2014 named as one of Screenwriting Spark’s Top 25 Screenwriting Blogs and by the New York Film Academy’s The Best Screenwriting Blogs.

A nice pay off to six and half years of blogging more than 1850 posts. Baby steps. Anytime my outsider perspective can be mentioned in the same breath as the insider perspectives of Go Into The Story and John August’s blog I feel like I have something to add to the screenwriting and filmmaking conversation. Thanks to all the readers over the years who have provided the motivation to keep this blog going.

Still exploring ways to publish a book/ebook version of the Screenwriting from Iowa greatest hits as well as monetize the blog, but personal projects are fuel by passion. The best advice I can pass on to you in whatever creative endeavor you chose is what the artist Gary Kelley once told me about pro bono work he chooses to do—basically, if you’re doing it for free make sure it feeds the soul.

final draft script writing screenwriting software screenwriting contests filmmaking books

Being named by “Website of the Week” gives me the opportunity to highlight 10 posts where I pulled quotes from Script Mag over the years:

Normal is Not Funny (tip #28)
The Job of Writing
Writing “The Artist” (Part 3)
Writing “The Social Network” (Part 1)
Will Anyone Read Your Script?
“I can’t keep handling this…rejection.”
Screenwriting Quote #172 (Christopher Lockhart)
Writing Actor Bait (Tip #64)
Writing “Back to the Future”
The Billy Wilder Way

And as a bonus here’s a 2009 post—Screenwriting Quote #24— that’s a quote from Script Magazine that gets to the heart of this blog:
“It doesn’t matter if you didn’t go to the best schools, if you’re a kid or in your 50s. It doesn’t matter if, like me, when I moved to Los Angeles in 1981, you come at the business without friends or relatives in the business. It doesn’t even matter if you spent formative years digging carpet scraps out of dumpsters instead of going to film school. The only thing that matters is the quality of the storytelling. More than hearing about techniques, more than discussing the construction of dialogue, I think that’s the important message; that it’s possible.”
Screenwriting J. Michael Straczynski (Changeling script, Babylon 5 creator, story credit on Thor and World War z)
Script Magazine
Volume 15/ Number 1 Pages 38-39

Scott W. Smith

 

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Filmmaking Baby Steps

“All my career–from television to today–I’ve always felt on the brink of getting something right. Anything. Thirty odd films later I look back and it’s all baby steps. One foot in front of the other. And all that’s kept me going is the feeling that as long as I was improving….”
Mystery director

Before I tell you who said that let’s all read that together outloud:
“All my career–from television to today–I’ve always felt on the brink of getting something right. Anything. Thirty odd films later I look back and it’s all baby steps. One foot in front of the other. And all that’s kept me going is the feeling that as long as I was improving….” 
Sidney Lumet
As quoted in a blog post by Doug Richardson
(
Richardson was one of the screenwriters on Bad Boys and early in his career sold his script Hell Bent…And Back in a $1-million deal with Disney. Read about it the New York Magazine article, Million-Dollar Babies.)

 

As in five time Oscar-nominated writer/director  Sidney Lumet (The Verdict, Prince of the City, Network, Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men). Baby steps.

It’s all baby steps. One foot in front of the other.”

 

Related posts:

Sideny Lumet (1924-2011)
Sideny Lumet on Theme
Show Don’t Tell (Tip #46) Example from The Verdict

Scott W. Smith

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“Ultimately, it all comes down to one of the grand old rules of screenwriting: whenever possible – show, don’t tell.”
Ray Morton
Script magazine

The Verdict

An early version of The Verdict screenplay by David Mamet:
INT.  COFFEE SHOP - DAY

          Galvin sitting in the deserted coffee shop in his raincoat.
          Reading a section of the paper.  He picks up his teacup, drinks.
          Lowers it to the table.

          ANGLE - INSERT

          Galvin twists tea bag around a spoon to extract last drops of
          tea.  His hand moves to his felt pen lying on the table.  He
          moves his hand to the paper, open at the obituary section.  We
          SEE several names crossed out.  He circles one funeral listing.

          ANGLE

          Galvin sitting, raises cup of tea to his lips.  Looks around
          deserted coffee shop.  Sighs.

Now look again at the above still frame from that movie. Notice anything different? No tea cup, right? Either Mamet, or director Sidney Lumet, or  actor Paul Newman, or somebody else said, "This guy's an alcoholic—what better way of showing that than to have him knocking back a stiff one with his morning donut?" Newman's performance in that scene shows you the desperate state this man is in without a word being spoken. In fact, the whole opening minutes of the film wonderfully shows you a man in need of redemption. 
 
"IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA. IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION, INDEED, OF SPEECH. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN ANEW MEDIUM - TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING).

David Mamet

Memo to The Unit writers

“This is age-old screenwriting advice but it’s so true. SHOW don’t TELL. I can’t tell you how much more impactful it is on a reader to SEE a character take on an issue as opposed to being told of an issue. It would be like Han Solo saying ‘I’m a badass,’ instead of SHOWING him kill Greedo. This is a mistake I see a TON of beginner writers make. They have their characters offhandedly say something like ‘I took a year of karate lessons’ and then later in a key scene kick someone’s ass. It feels false because we never SAW them perform karate.”
Carson Reeves

“Remember, the first rule of film is Show Don’t Tell.” 
William C. Martell
Does Your Script Smell?

“In the eternal struggle to “show” and not “tell” in your screenplays, pictures can be your best friend. Instead of building a whole scene where your characters argue about how good things ‘used to be,’ just show your hero catch a glance of a picture on the fridge showing the family in happier times. In fact, look to use photographs in every aspect of your script to convey quick easy backstory about your characters (i.e. need to convey that one character is adventurous? Show a picture of them rock climbing.”
Carson Reeves
ScriptShadow

 

Show, Don’t Tell (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith


 



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“Most people , I believe, initially shun jury duty. The summons always seems to come at the least opportune time, and one might go kicking and screaming.”
David Mamet
Introduction, Twelve Angry Men, Penguin Books

Some writers begin with character, some with a situation, some from theme, but today we’ll look at a writer who once started with setting. A setting most try to avoid—the courtroom.

The first time I stepped foot in a courtroom I was 18 years old and fighting a traffic ticket. It was intimidating, and stimulating to the senses. And it was made all the sweeter in I presented my case, showed some photographs, and won. I was relieved and the police officer even gave me a pat on the back when it was over. That was a good day and left a positive impression of the legal process. My next time in court was a wake-up call.

I was a 22-year-old film school student when I was given a ticket in North Hollywood for what I believed was a mistake of perception on the police officer’s part. I took pictures once again and was confident that the judge would understand the situation and rule in my favor. And he might have, except I didn’t factor in one thing—that the police officer would lie. I was stunned. The judge believed his story, I lost, and the cop called me a punk as we walked out of the building. My hands shook as I drove back to my apartment in Burbank, constantly looking in my rearview mirror.

After that day I started to listen to those who complained of police improprieties. Yes, Virginia, there really are good cops and bad cops. (And  good doctors, bad doctors, good money managers, bad money managers…) Sooner or later you realize we all live outside the garden. Once your eyes are opened, it doesn’t take much to realize the depth of depravity in the world.

But fortunately we live in a country where in general the law and the courts seek the truth. The water may get a little muddy, and it may not always be found, but truth and justice are the goal. And that leads us to Reginald Rose and what led him to write the classic story 12 Angry Men as a successful teleplay (for which Rose won an Emmy), play, and Oscar-nominated screenplay and movie. (In 2005 , the play also won an Tony for “Best Revival of a Play.”)

Rose began writing plays as a teenager and sold his first teleplay when he was 30. Four years later he wrote 12 Angry Men as a one hour teleplay for Studio One and its popularity grew into the play and the 1957 film starring Henry Fonda directed by Sidney Lumet. (A great study for independent filmmakers because the bulk of the movie takes place in one room.) In 1997, another TV version was made starring George C. Scott, Jack Lemmon and Edward James Olmos and would win a collection of Emmy, DGA, SAG, and Golden Globe awards.

And what was the impetus for the story that would go on to win so many awards and be performed so much? A court case where Reginald Rose was part of the jury.

”It was such an impressive, solemn setting in a great big wood-paneled courtroom, with a silver-haired judge. It knocked me out. I was overwhelmed. I was on a jury for a manslaughter case, and we got into this terrific, furious, eight-hour argument in the jury room. I was writing one-hour dramas for ‘Studio One’ then and I thought, wow, what a setting for a drama.”
Reginald Rose
1997 interview with The Daily News.

I don’t know if Rose looked at his jury duty as a pain or a civic duty but I do know that it was that it resulted in a story that was the pinnacle of his career. And since today is Memorial Day let me say that since Rose was a veteran I’d like to think that he, to borrow Mamet’s phrase, saw himself an “essential component of American Democracy.”

Rose enlisted in the Army in 1942 after Pearl Harbor and served in the Philippines and Japan as a First Lieutenant until 1946.

He was nominated for a total of six Emmys winning three and belongs to mentioned with his TV contemporaries Paddy Chayefsky and Rod Serling.

So the next time you get that dreaded jury duty request, remember Reginald Rose and 12 Angry Men.

Twelve Angry Men (Play published by Penguin Books with David Mamet intro)

12 Angry Men (50th Anniversary DVD starring Henry Fonda)

Twelve Angry Men (L.A. Theatre Works CD)

Twelve Angry Men (DVD of original 1954 Studio One production)

Scott W. Smith

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